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When The Skies Go Black

Chapter Text

Tenzou wakes up to victory; they tell him they won the war

He comes home to ash and rubble, bodies wrapped in white, hundreds of them, lining up an entire field protected by a temporary sealed barrier. People looking for family trickle in slowly in this field, going through the dead one by one, looking for their loved ones. It’s the single most busy area in what had one been a thriving village.

Tenzou steps into what’s left of Konoha with a collar of fear tight around his throat. This isn’t the first time he’s done something like this, or feels something like this; this isn’t new when what feels a lifetime ago, Pain had near obliterated Konoha from the map. The thick band of despair and guilt around Tenzou’s neck tightens with each step he takes, exactly like back then, his feet as heavy as lead, cold sweat beading around his temples and neck, trickling slowly down the length of his spine.

He did not think he’d go through this kind of walk again, this odd bodily reaction of having adrenaline coursing madly through his veins like poison, his heart drumming in his chest, saliva thickening in his throat, his entire world tilting side ways, nausea inducing, as he walks straight through cracked earth, bypassing relieved tears of joy and anguished grief. Just like when Pain had rained his unmerciful anger at a village full of innocents, Tenzou walks through it all, looking left and right, the blood pumping in his veins going cold as he searches through the masses, trying to find a familiar, beautiful face until daylight turns to twilight, orange bleeding out to dusky purple.

Finding what’s left of his world back then had been quicker. Easier. It had taken minutes. Because back then, Tenzou had known that in case of an emergency, Academy students are to retreat to the stronghold in the mountains. Academy students are to be accompanied by adults and while Iruka has not been there per se, there had been others who knew where he would be, where he may be assisting.

But there is no stronghold here, Konoha’s citizens scattered, displaced in groups.

Finding Iruka now is almost impossible.

The worst part about it is that Tenzou had been too weak to not get captured, had been powerless, a puppet, useless, obsolete, to put a stop to the swarm of clones that rampaged through the destruction. His body had fueled a loss so great, that as he makes another round through the lines of the deceased, hoping he won’t have to stop and identify a family member, Tenzou realizes that this would be his fault. He would have taken the one thing that somehow made him whole, made him of any value other than the weapon he was forged to be, and destroyed it. It might as well have been his hands, when that army of clones was born of his blood, his DNA, everything that made him a living, breathing, man.

There is no one else to blame this time.

No mad man in a black and red cloak, no individual with a thirst for vengeance, no attack on a village, not even a war.

The guilt, this time, doesn’t just sit on Tenzou’s chest the way it had when Pain attacked. This time, it sits on his mind too, deep in his brain, logic and emotion at war. Logic, because he had been outnumbered, outpowered, out-everything. Emotion because he shouldn’t have been, he should have been better, stronger, he’s got the first Hokage’s DNA in his veins, that should have amounted up to fucking something. That should have been more than enough. 

As his feet slows down when he reaches the last body, as he stands there, watching people walk with lanterns, holding them over shadowed faces, Tenzou finds himself caged, trapped in his fear that suffocates him in open air, leaving the after taste of infection and rot permeating into flesh wounds that no longer bleed at the back of his throat. 

He doesn’t have any training for this.

They don’t teach you in ANBU on how to deal with the loss of a loved one. There’s no manual, no guide, not even a little bullet point list on what you should follow should you be experiencing something so asphyxiating that isn’t caused by a jutsu or a wound.

They certainly don’t tell you how to handle something like this during any of the psychiatric-evaluation.

The last time he had looked for Iruka, Tenzou had found him within an hour of entering Konoha, dusty, a little bruised, a little haggard, but whole and alive with an armful of medical supplies. 

Iruka is nowhere to be seen now. Or found. When Tenzou asks, no one can provide him with an answer that he can actually work with. 

This toxic fear becomes his challenge, his own demon to slay as he festers in guilt and the buzz in the back of his head reminding him of how he could have - should have - been better, stronger. It’s a mantra that comes out faster and faster in its repetitiveness, it’s accusation, should have, should have, should have until it turns to a continued buzz in Tenzou’s ears. The thing in him screeches that’s he should have been here, with Iruka, orders be damned when a lot of good that had done. The fear in his body becomes a monster he must slay, screaming like a banshee. It comes before Tenzou’s bravery, his perseverance, crushing logic between gnarly teeth and razor sharp talons. 

Tenzou is powerless to it as he makes his way to the tents.

It’s only there, when his feet slows to a stop in the middle of lit lanterns, the glow of the multiple fires shinobi and civilians have going for the cold night ahead, he realizes that this is the only way he can force his brain to function, to appeal for solutions instead of this circling madness; regroup, strategise.

And although Tenzou’s bones have no more strength, his muscles all out of power, every part of him shutting down as the softest parts of him slowly turns to ash, a part of him, the one thing that still remains functional, the razor sharp weapon, forces him to remain still. Just quiet and long enough to choose how to move forward.

(No, not fight. The good he could see in this world, the good he found, it’s gone.)


*

Someone finds him later, a little close to sunrise, seated on a crate, staring at the pebbles on the ground. Konoha’s soil is devoid of life too, no ants crawling in between the cracks. Someone is speaking, saying something about establishing patrols, setting up a rotational guard duty with the other shinobis, some sort of order. 

Tenzou looks up, finds not one, but two dark eyes looking at him with an expression he can’t seem to find the energy to comprehend.

Or care about.

Kakashi falls quiet all of a sudden, his lips stopping all movement, pausing as something gradually softens in his gaze. It comes slow, like ash dissolving in the wind. 

It’s that look that becomes the crack of lightning in the sky that makes Tenzou blink, snuffing out the embers of whatever light that still struggled to burn somewhere in the center of Tenzou’s chest, throwing him into complete darkness. He stands then, forgetting his fatigue, forgetting the war and destruction, the dead, the wounded, his legs incredibly steady. Ready.

Tenzou balls his hands to fists once then releases it to something deceptively lax.

“Taichou,” Tenzou responds, neutral, expression relaxed, patient, ready to be commanded, ready to get back to work.

No emotion. No past. No future.

There is only the mission.

*

They spend days setting up a boundary wall. 

Days digging up the dead, segregating bodies, setting up bigger temporary camps. 

It drags on forever.

They they start laying upon foundation onto a barren wasteland.

Tenzou doesn’t care.

He channels chakra through his palms, puts foundations for structures deep in the earth. He helps rebuild a bigger, better, stronger world that is not his.

Not anymore, anyway.

*

Displaced citizens of Konoha arrive in batches, temporarily scattered throughout neighboring towns and camps across Fire.Those that arrive first are those with medical and engineering skills, closely followed by those with muscle and not incapacitated by the war.

Their faces all blur to one after a while, their voices all sounding the same.

Konoha start to resemble something that isn’t a mound of nothing nine weeks in.

Tenzou looks at it, acknowledges the effort his fellow shinobi and citizen has put in. What had been nothing now stands something, a show of a strong, united front, where there is no divide, no one higher than the other, where family names, rank and achievements means nothing. It’s compelling effort put forward, and here, in the clouds of dust of construction, of Konaha picking up what’s left of her, is a true, shining moment of pride.

Of peace.

Tenzou recognizes this glorious effort. 

Their forefathers would be proud; this is what they’ve dreamed of achieving, what they all have been fighting for.

And yet…

Tenzou sees it as structures. Ephemeral. Unreal in permanency.

It means nothing to him.

*

Nightfall brings an invisible gust of frost that permeate deeper than the skin. It’s almost microbial, how the cold creeps into one’s bloodstream, a deadly infection that spreads, silently turning one catatonic before they realize what’s happening. Tenzou hasn’t said a word beyond what’s necessary when accepting or clarifying orders. Now, when he’s got people assigned to him, he doesn’t speak unless he has to. ANBU’s force is significantly decreased; they’re the first line of defense, the first to be dispatched ahead of the bulk of their forces. What had been thousands are now only mere hundreds in numbers.

Tenzou has been given the task to run the entire force temporarily. 

It’s hard work, but not impossible. 

He is told to keep up the good work.

They are dressed with whatever they have left on their backs, maskless save for the haunted looks in their eyes after carrying bodies home as high as Konoha’s walls. They’ve been working on the village barrier for the past week, most of their chakra depleted by the end of the day, leaving them scattered around the camp, huddled by the fire, quietly chewing on rations that taste like cinders.

It goes on like this, the campsites getting more packed with each envoy that moves in from the temporary refugee camps beyond Konoha. Each night, they expand wider in number of live bodies, higher in terms of skyline.

Until one night, as Tenzou stares at the crackle of the fire, embers drifting up into the air, Kakashi finds him. 

They separated weeks ago, each assigned with something else. Tenzou forgets how many days it’s been since they had last seen each other.

It doesn’t really matter, either way.

“Did you find him?” Kakashi asks, casual, cool. 

“There are more important things to do,” Tenzou responds, quiet, factual. It’s a response that would be expected of a man like him.

It’s the best answer Tenzou is capable of forming at this point; it’s the only answer he knows how to give.


*

The truth is, Tenzou has entertained the idea that perhaps there will be no body to bury.

The thought sinks like a rock tossed into a placid lake, coming to rest at the bottom center of Tenzou’s mind. 

It sits there like a tumor, immovable, steadily growing until it becomes a part of his mind. His scenery. His reality.

It becomes all of him.

Tenzou makes another round in the village. They’re bigger in number now, more than they were when he had tried to look for Iruka.

He doesn’t find him.


*

Tsunade names Kakashi as Hokage. She also makes it known to the present ANBU force that once the last of the wall is up, the rest of Konoha’s citizens will finally be able to come home. 

It’s a moment of hope for those that remains. Tenzou can see something a little positive gleam in the deadened eyes of his force.

A tentative schedule for a village wide memorial is also set. A tentative date after that for the official Hokage inauguration is set, too.

Tenzou keeps his gaze pinned on Tsunade’s face, the focus only breaking when the Hokage dismisses them. Outside, he waits for Kakashi to pass on his congratulations. Kakashi takes it the way he usually would with such praises. Uninterested, bored, maybe even a little dull. All a front that hides a plethora of uncertainty, maybe even shock, perhaps some insecurity.

Tenzou tells him they’ll be in good hands, that he has faith in his ability. That Tsunade cannot have chosen someone better. 

“I’m a seat warmer for the actual, real Hokage,” Kakashi points out, deadpanned.

“The finest seat warmer there is, then; that’s hard to screw up,” Tenzou answers, neutral, despite the dry humor.

Kakashi is watching him again, eyebrows knitting, something creeping into his dark gaze that Tenzou wishes, in this very moment, he did not know how to read. He did not want pity. 

Tenzou takes that look as his queue to get back to work.

*

Konoha’s lack of drainage doesn’t prepare them for the sudden onset of heavy rains. To minimize damage on whatever structural integrity they have, Tenzou ends up working with ANBU and Jounin with earth affinities in making trenches to drain rainwater off Konoha’s main streets. They work for days, popping one soldier pill after the other, rushing construction the best they can to avoid further damage. 

After a while, Tenzou becomes indifferent to the cold weight down on his back. The wet fabric of his uniform becomes nothing, as he moves block by block, pausing only long enough to catch his breath before channeling chakra again.

It’s a Tuesday when Tenzou pauses mid-way in popping a solider-pill into his mouth, when his attention is suddenly drawn to a familiar summon staring up at him, tail wagging. Tenzou stares at Pakkun, wondering why he’s standing there, by Tenzou’s feet, looking up at him expectantly. 

Tenzou pops the pill into his mouth anyway, swallows past the dryness before asking, “Everything all right?” 

“Follow me,” Pakkun near orders, turning immediately and breaking for a run.

Tenzou sucks in a deep breath, turns to leave orders to continue working with the unit he’s currently working with, before following the summon.

Pakkun leads him to the other end of the village, towards the hospital that is surrounded by the latest escorted civilian envoy from Turtle Island. It’s chaos trying to get everyone registered, with Tenzou pushing past bodies of anxious men, women, children, the injured and other fellow shinobis trying to maintain some sort of order.

He follows Pakkun to the far corner of the massive crowd, where there, under a plastic shelter acting like a pitiful makeshift roof of sorts, obscured only the pouring sheets of rain, stands Kakashi, conversing with a group of shinobis. Tenzou can pick up a few words from his current distance, something about the number of bodies that is currently arriving in wagons, casualties of the severely injured during the journey, how many requires immediate medical attention, if it can be spared. 

As Tenzou draws closer, his feet drags to a slow stop until he remains standing there like a sentinel, the crowd moving around him, transfixed on the person currently conversing with his yet to be inaugurated Hokage. Slender, gaunt, the ponytail replaced with a tight high bun, a bit of dark scruff on his face, fatigue lining his eyes, yet still ever so fucking beautiful. 

Iruka pauses in his report when Kakashi looks away from him, clearly distracted. Iruka lips thin, because Iruka has strong beliefs on good manners and etiquette. He follows Kakashi’s line of sight, a frown on his gods, still attractive face. 

Their eyes meet like this, between sheets of cold rain, water pooling around their boots, the sea of tired, exhausted faces constantly moving them. Iruka, whose lips slack, parting into something breathless. Iruka who turns his entire body to face Tenzou, the color leaving his entire face as Tenzou’s world spins out of control.

Tenzou doesn’t move, doesn’t gravitate towards Iruka who, however small, however seemingly unimportant that no one seems to remember him every time Tenzou had asked, Iruka who is just another star in the spec of the vast universe all around him, remains as bright as ever. People don’t notice him, people don’t recognize him, they don’t part for someone unimportant. They don’t notice Iruka even as he steps away from his commander and future Hokage in a daze without so much of a polite excuse or an apology, manners be fucking damned, as he bumps into the crowd, gets jostled, tossed here and there unmoored, slowly sloughing his way towards Tenzou.

Tenzou, who knows that he was born into this world out of nothing, filled with only a piece of the dark, a hollow place that sits in the middle of his chest  that can never be filled. It’s been there to serve as a reminder that there is no past nor a future, an emptiness that swallows him whole, near impossible to banish if given the time to grow and thrive. This emptiness cannot be dispelled. This is something Tenzou has been trained to endure most of his life until just recently, until Iruka and his tiny little apartment, because Tenzou has been proven wrong. 

It can be filled with all the good, all the sunshine in the world.

It can be filled with a thousand teaspoon sized neutron stars, tiny in its light, never enough to illuminate, but dense in its mass. Its meaning.

Its love.

Iruka opens his mouth, as Tenzou endures the stutter in his chest, of things collapsing inwards, filling that huge, galactical size of a blackhole with specks of light that spinspinspsins until they fade to nothing, sinking into the depths of him greedily. Tenzou stares transfixed until Iruka’s trembling hand shoots forward, wrapping around his.

Heat explodes.  And suddenly, Tenzou is burning, expanding, mouth opening as he lets out a choked incredibly fucking loud stumbling exhale, all that air leaving him in a rush like a punch to the gut just as all the air and the breath of his name leaves Iruka’s lips.

“Tenzou…”

Tenzou’s arms are too full, suddenly too weak, shakingshakingshaking, as he wraps them so tight, too tight, around flesh that is far too delicate, smaller, slighter from hunger, sharp edges of bone poking through the navy uniform. He smells ash, rain, death, rot, fatigue, the remnants of war. Under it all, a traitorous hope, the oh so distant and faint sweet tang of orange, cinnamon, of warmth, and home, clean sheets and a garden long buried in the rubble.

Something burns, for a just a nano-second, small, almost microscopic in size, somewhere around the corners of Tenzou eyes as he stares dead ahead, across the sea of people, face unreadable as he stares at the man who must have sent his summons searching up and down, inquiring and sniffing through the crowds when he, the man who carries the surname of Umino had surrendered to the call of duty. 

Tenzou didn’t even try hard enough. 

No words can ever express the depth of Tenzou’s gratitude, as he holds Iruka in his arms, unwilling to unclench his fingers from flesh that will surely mark. No language can ever express how grateful he is, to a man that surely deserves to be the village’s leader.

Tenzou continues to stare ahead of him, unseeing, as his vision blurs, staying right there as the crowd eventually thins, seconds turning to minutes and longer.

Warm hands, softer hands, wonderful hands cups him by the face, gives him something else to focus on other than keeping still and silent. Iruka who looks up at him with a smile so wide, so relieved, so goddamn beautiful it  makes Tenzou wonder how he had walked through weeks with the sky being pitch black.

Iruka who laughs nervously, messily, openly cries with shuddering relief, and asks, “Did you miss me?”

Tenzou digs inwards, past the jagged razor glass in his chest, the gleaming blades, the bloodied barbwire, the dark, finds a part of him that he had forcibly buried, that part of him that yearned for this, hoped for this. The part of him he suffocated, choked and buried because he does not have a past nor a future.

“Y-yes...” Tenzou chokes, cracking, falling to pieces around the rainwater by their feet. “Yes…”  

With that admission comes shame, bitter and hot, as Tenzou closes his eyes to shield his eyes from the brightness of Iruka's smile, tucking his face into the crook of his neck. He did not try hard enough to find his works, he had given up before he had even truly begun.

In the fall of rain, Tenzou swears, that no matter what, he's never, ever going to make that mistake again.

TBC

Chapter Text

They loose everything in the war. 

Their home for two years is buried under rubble that is far too high to sift through. Two years worth of irreplaceable memories, gone; in its place is a desolate area of what had once been paved by eggshell yellow pavements and trees. There is no whisper of the eden that had once sat on top of their apartment building, an ever flowering garden of yellow acacias, white arbutus blossoms that had turned to fruits, red carnations, chrysanthemums, hibiscus, gladiolus, mallows, a four foot tall growing olive tree, roses of all colors, red, blue and yellow tulips, and golden ylang ylangs. 

They had spent hours in that garden, protected by wards for privacy, counting the stars, making love, sharing a meal by the gazebo. They had spoken at length in that garden about their relationship, how they have enough room for a cat and perhaps, one of the younger children.

But then Tenzou had been reassigned to Team Seven, tasked with keeping an eye on Sai when trust between the Hoakge and Danzou had been fickle. Then Pain had attacked.

And then the war.

Time doesn’t seem to be very kind to them; at the end of the day, they always had their home to come back to.

Iruka stares at the pile of concrete and wood in front of him, an ache going through him so great that it takes everything in him to swallow past the tightness in his throat and get back to work on cleaning up. 

Iruka is aware that what is lost is nothing but material things.

But it is exactly those material things, the last of the very few precious possessions he had left of his family - his mother’s jewelry box and his one and only family picture, two things that survived the Kyuubi and several other attempts to obliterate Konoha -- that makes the ache in his chest burn all the more stronger. 

They were irreplaceable .

Iruka tells himself it’s okay, that this pain too shall pass.

He tells himself that despite everything, unlike others who have truly lost everything, he at least still had Tenzou and Naruto.


*

It takes at least six months for the village to restore major roads and property boundaries.

It takes another six for most of the rushed rebuild effort to be mostly completed. At least, completed enough for most people to vacate the temporary barracks and into their own homes and compounds. The Hokage Tower, Academy and administration building become fully operational just as winter ends and spring rolls into its warmer temperatures.

The academy will remain closed until the construction efforts are completed to eighty percent.

Because of this, Iruka gets assigned to the administration building, and when he’s not so overwhelmed with the bureaucracy of everything, he’s pulled into the Hokage’s office to assist with triaging all the accumulating paperwork and contracts. 

The exhaustion becomes a permanent fixture in Iruka’s body.

Then again, the same could be said for everyone else.

*

Iruka and Tenzou gets assigned with tasks on opposite ends of the spectrum throughout this effort.

They rarely see each other.

When they do, it’s quiet, tired, both of them unable to do much but hold each other in silence, arms wrapped tightly around the other until it’s time for them to separate again. 

More often than not, it is usually on Iruka’s small, narrow bed in the barracks, shared between seven other shinobis with no family or loved ones left.

They talk about their home, the delays in construction, how Iruka gets notified that that it’ll be a month longer, or another two months, or another fifteen days. Iruka gets notified because Tenzou isn’t around half the time. Iruka tells Tenzou that the bed is enough for now, that sooner or later, they’ll get their home back.

“Let’s be patient; things are moving quite fast, all things considered,” Iruka would say with a smile full of optimism.

*

It is dawn when Iruka wakes up with his senses flaring loud and open. Tenzou is kneeling beside his bed in the barracks, a hand coming up to his lips as he gestures for Iruka to come with him. 

Iruka is especially tired that morning, an ache festering so deep in his joints that he hopes it is not an early onset of a goddamn fever. He’s been getting it more often these days and isn’t at all surprised by how frequent they’ve become. Environmental stress plays a huge impact with these things. Like every other day, Iruka brushes it aside and moves forward, taking it a day at a time.

Tenzou kisses his temple once they’re outside in the breezy morning and says, “You don’t have to stay here anymore. Come with me…”

Iruka sighs softly but doesn’t argue.

Throughout the year, Iruka has watched Tenzou bury his disappointment for not being present during the times when they, as a household, should be together. He’s watched Tenzou’s jawline pull taut, each time the summoning hawk perches by the window near Iruka’s bed, or flies over their heads if they spend the precious hour or two outside, somewhere private and secluded. Iruka has watched Tenzou stubbornly ignore his summons, resisting the call of duty, arms going impossibly tight around Iruka, as Tenzou buries his face deeper into the crook of Iruka’s neck. Iruka sees guilt tug at the corners of Tenzou’s eyes more often these days, aging him, making the dark rings of exhaustion more prominent, sinking lower into his skin and eye sockets. He sees the unspoken apology reflected reflecting over Tenzou’s carefully neutral gaze. Tenzou tries to hide with a small smile, and it would have worked, had it not been for the slight twitch around the corner.

It’s funny, how good Iruka’s has gotten with reading the fine details that comes with Tenzou’s silence. 

But then eventually, Tenzou has to go. Eventually, he can’t keep ignoring the call of duty. So Tenzou apologizes anyway, the syllables brushing over skin, like butterfly wings. It comes out with reverence each time he has to step away to put the mask back on. It’s the way he says, I’m sorry , whisper-soft, almost an exhale of soft breath when the syllables are as heavy as lead.

Today, they walk in silence, crossing roads that are half constructed, establishments still covered with temporary construction panels. They walk until dawn paints the skies in gold, pushing twilight out the way. Tenzou steers him towards the outskirts of Konoha, past the lines of elite, high fenced compounds of prominent families and towards a smaller road into the forest.

What waits at the end of their walk is small wooden bridge over a babbling brook. Here, Tenzou takes Iruka’s hand in his, leads him over the six foot bridge, past the short grassy incline to what opens up to a canopy of towering, flowering orange and mango trees. Sunshine sparkles like diamonds past the leaves. Iruka cranes his head up, closing his eyes as they slow down in their walk, basking in the warmth and fresh smell of leaves and rich earth, when just a  year ago, Konoha’s forests had been decimated. Nothing like this remained.

The canopy of trees eventually ends; Iruka suddenly gets an idea of where they may be going because in front of him is a large field of lavender. It’s purple everywhere, as far as the eye can see surrounding a fenced property five hundred meters ahead of them. Iruka’s feet doesn’t budge until Tenzou tugs him forward. Iruka walks ahead, fingers tight in Tenzou’s hand in a daze, until they reach the fencing of what looks like a modest two storey home of wooden panels and black tiled rooftop. 

They stop on the front porch, that is open and airy, complete with grassy lawn paved with flowerbeds. There’s a birdhouse hanging from the pine tree, humming birds fluttering around the birdfeeder while sparrows sing on the branches. Iruka is busy taking this all in when Tenzou gently clicks his tongue. Sure enough, a large, brown, striped tabby cat pokes its head out from around the corner, feet pattering across the lawn towards Tenzou’s feet.

“This is Mango. I found him in the area when I finally secured the property. I think he’s made himself the unofficial groundskeeper.” Tenzou says, as Mango brushes his tail over Tenzous calf.

“Mango?” Iruka crouches down to allow the cat to familiarize with him. His gesture is acknowledged with a lazy tail brush.

“He looks like one, don’t you think?” Tenzou sounds sheepish. 

It makes Iruka tilt his head and stare at Mango, who has chosen to flop down on his back by their feet. Oddly enough, Iruka sees it. “Ah...  he kind of does…”

“I know you said that we should be patient. But I can’t,” Tenzou says, without much of a warning, getting straight to the point. Iruka turns to stare at Tenzou, who is now looking at him with the apologetic lines sinking deep into his face. An expression that had not been there just seconds ago.  “I promised you the world when I married you. I have not fulfilled that this past year. I know you’ll say that I didn’t have to; I know we’re eventually going to get our apartment back. But this is — I mean — I am not quite sure how to explain...”

Tenzou is nervous.

Tenzou is unsure if he’s over-stepping his limits, which is so, so silly. So foolish of him to allow the storm in his chest to fester like this, so much so that the rot of it all shows on his face. It breaks Iruka’s heart a little bit, just the tiniest chip. Iruka’s throat tightens as he drops his gaze back to the cat, wanting to grab Tenzou and shake him, tell him he didn’t have to do all this, didn’t have to force things so quickly, he doesn’t have to feel bad for war taking away their home. It’s not your fault, it really isn’t! I never blamed you, I will not blame you!  

(But then, it doesn’t matter if no one blames you; it never does when you already blame yourself.)

Iruka blinks several times to ward away the dam threatening to break free from his chest, spill past his mouth and eyes.

Tenzou sees this, because his breath stills to a point that he is statuesque beside Iruka, his body an unmoving guardian by the steps of their would be home.

“I - I think it’s beautiful. It is different from what we’ve lost, but not at all in a bad way. Maybe different is good, hmm? A new beginning, if you will. Show me around?” Iruka says, the words gradually coming out steady as he looks up with a soft smile that dissolves to a sudden huff of laughter when Tenzou picks him from the ground so suddenly, proceeding to carry him over the threshold.

“I’ve always wondered how that would feel,” Tenzou says, as he maneuvers in pushing the door open, letting Mango scuttle in first before stepping into the slightly dusty but otherwise very airy genkan.

“Like fucking me off my feet doesn’t give you any idea at all?” Iruka asks, theatrically incredulous.

“I haven’t done that in a while; I may need a reminder for comparison purposes, of course,” Tenzou chuckles, amused, roguishly handsome as a grin cheekily splits his face.

It’s a face Iruka can’t help but kiss, right there with sunrise spilling into their wide open doorway, as Tenzou gradually lowers him down in favor of pulling him closer until their bodies are flush against each other.

“Still no idea?” Iruka asks, lips tingling and breath coming in breathless, soft puffs. Tenzou’s pupils are blown wide and dark, heat coiling in the depths of it as his gaze drops briefly to Iruka’s mouth before coming up again.

Tenzou doesn’t respond verbally, but the slow forming lopsided smirk is enough to make Iruka’s knees turn to cotton. It’s a quiet promise, as Tenzou gently takes Iruka by the shoulders and turns him around to face the interior of the house.

The house is welcoming, warm despite its emptiness. The floor is an old-fashioned parquet with a blend of deep homely browns, the kind that would shine like black honey after a polish. The walls aren’t painted yet, but Iruka imagines perhaps a nice green shade would suit this home when their previous one had grays to go with the white baseboard. The banister of the staircase twirls like a branch, the grain of the wood flowing like water in waves of comforting woodland hues. It stands there, proud, their home’s centerpiece, where beyond it is the open concept kitchen, lined with boarded up window frames that would brighten up the entire house with sunshine once the glass is installed. The ceilings are a little higher than most houses. It is modern yet traditional, the usual paper screens that would line the living area replaced with boarded up frames. This took, would be glass and from where they would presumably have their sofas, low tables, comfortable floor cushions, Iruka can only imagine what the glow of sunrise and sunset would look like permeating through the glass, spilling into their home. 

Tenzou tells him that he’s found a contractor who can get the glass, tiles and plumbing installed, that it wouldn’t take more than a week to have the house a hundred percent habitable, that he’s already set up the wards into the pillars of the house and every window frame. Iruka follows him up the stairs, where there are four bedrooms, their bedroom being the biggest. Iruka looks up at the ceiling out of habit, unable to stop the slow smile from spreading across his face when he notices the boarded up frames. 

“You kept the glass ceiling,” Iruka murmurs.

“I remember how fond you were of that one,” Tenzou says, craning his neck up  to look as well. “We’re a little further out from the main village square; we ought to get a clearer view of the night sky here. I am hoping you’ll like this ceiling better.”

“You’ve put a lot of thought into this,” Iruka says gently, appreciatively, turning to wrap his arms around Tenzou’s middle, stepping into his space. Tenzou’s arms come up to rest on Iruka’s shoulders, fingers twiddling with loose strands coming off the tight bun Iruka had hastily pulled his hair into. 

“I have,” Tenzou nods. “There’s a reason I - I chose to have more space. When I married you, one of the things I promised you was the possibility of children.” Iruka cannot stop the audible hitch of his breath; Tenzou’s hands come to rest on his neck, extremely warm, borderline on clammy, probably the only obvious sign that he is a nervous wreck. “Things before the war didn’t really — it probably wasn’t the best time. I’ve realized, however, that there really is no best time. So, three extra rooms. One for Naruto for whenever he needs it. And the two others...”

“You sound like Naruto,” Iruka stammers, the syllables coming out thick as the idea of having children in their home, little ones that would grow with them, adopt their behaviors, their mannerisms, boys and girls who may one day take up Tenzou’s love for gardening, or maybe even walk and stand like Tenzou. Iruka can see it as clear as day, an image so vivid of Tenzou standing atop a plane of grass and lavender, just outside their new home,  and next to him, two, or three, or even four little ones, trying their best to stand tall and strong like their father. 

The image makes a hot flush of excited joy course through Iruka’s veins, softening his joints as nervousness starts make him quake. A good kind of nervous; the welcomed kind when all Iruka had for weeks during the war was nervous apprehension, waiting for news on Tenzou, on Naruto. He had more luck on the latter than on Tenzou. 

(You still remember when news reached you on Tenzou being captured, how you had stared at a somber faced Raidou, who delivers the news - old news - to you. You don’t ask how he knows, you don’t really say anything. You remember nodding, remember asking Raidou if he’s injured, hurt, does his team require assistance. You remember finding a quiet corner later, in the dark, away from prying eyes, sitting under the shadows of a leafless tree, faced tucked between your knees and trying not to scream as your chest continuously gets ripped open, slowly, bit by bit, muscle fiber by muscle fiber.)

“Well, he did learn from the best. I’m doing quite well if I sound even remotely like him, wouldn’t you say? Gold star worthy,” Tenzou’s words are soft, murmured against Iruka’s temple, the brush of the syllables a warm caress over Iruka’s ear.

“You really want this?” Iruka asks, pulling back to look at Tenzou, searching for any sort of hesitation.

It’s hard to find any.

Tenzou has always been very good in making final, swift decisions. Except for that one time, when he couldn’t make any sense of whether or not he wanted Iruka in his life. Iruka can’t think of another moment after that where Tenzou wavered in his decision making. Iruka had always felt that Tenzou approached their marriage, decisions around their marriage like the seasoned ANBU leader he is. He communicates his points clearly, addresses concerns when he needs to and doesn’t bullshit. All of which Iruka appreciates because out of the two of them, Iruka can confidently say that it’s Tenzou’s extremely clear communication that has made things run relatively smooth. Iruka never second guesses what Tenzou may want, nor does he ever have to read into his words for hidden meanings. Tenzou doesn’t waste his time with sugar coating or puzzles, nor does he dance around a topic; Iruka can count on an answer every single time.

Iruka has no reason to doubt this , either.

He just can’t help himself in asking again, because a family is a responsibility on a different level.

“I’ve wanted this before I married you,” Tenzou admits, sighing and burying his face into the crook of Iruka’s neck. “Maybe even before I realized it myself.”

“I have the obligation to warn you, that children are not easy,” Iruka pulls back, holding Tenzou at an arm’s distance. “Real talk, Tenzou; a lot of marriages fail because children put a strain on the couple. And I’m not saying this because I think you’re going to leave me, or because I think you may hate it once the children are here and blame me for it. I’m not saying this because I doubt you. I’m saying this because it’s — it’s not just you and me anymore. I’m a walking target as it is for someone like you, even though you take great lengths in remaining anonymous behind the mask. But with children in the mix, the target just got a whole lot bigger. Children and secrets, they can slip. Are you sure you’re ready for something like that?”

There’s a brief pause and Iruka takes that opportunity to see a quake of hesitation in Tenzou’s gaze, his body.

There is none.

Iruka doesn’t realize he’s holding his breath until he exhales slowly.

“It’ll be a challenge, I’m sure,” Tenzou agrees. “You have to admit one thing, though. It cannot be harder than managing team seven with Sasuke-separation issues.”

Iruka cannot stop the huffing laugh that rips past his throat at that. “Is that what we’re calling it?”

“Well, that’s what I’m calling it,” Tenzou rolls his eyes. It makes Iruka laugh even more because if anything, and he’ll never admit it outside the walls of their new home, Tenzou may be onto something. “I can’t be that far off the grid mark on that one.”

Iruka continues to laugh, as he succumbs to Tenzou’s embrace and says, “You’re right. It could be a lot easier than that.”

*

Iruka moves into the house that evening, uncaring if its not exactly fit for living yet.

That night, Tenzou opens up the boarded up ceiling of their bedroom. They make love under the stars with nothing between their bodies and floor boards but a thin mattress, taking their time in exploring each other after so long. It’s hard to be intimate like this in shared spaces. 

Iruka remembers how it feels to be alive again.


*

In a week, the tinted glass, kitchen marble, bathroom tiles, plumbing and electricity is installed. Their walls of the house are painted a soft pastel green, their bedroom a soothing gray and the children’s bedrooms, a very mild shade of yellow and dark blue ceilings. Iruka makes three more follow ups with the electricians to correct a few wiring issues after that. Tenzou builds most of their furniture while the rest gets delivered within the same week along with their house appliances.

In exactly twelve days, Tenzou screws in the last light bulb in their front porch just as Iruka finishes wiping the new tiles of their living room guest bathroom, pressing the flush button as a whiff of citrus fills the air from the toilet-bowl freshener.

Their home, as it is, is relatively minimalistic. They choose the same sectional sofa in dark beige. Their living room is a lot bigger than the one they had in their apartment, and with children not too far on the horizon, they opt to add two square-arm sofa in dark, forest green. They find a soft, plush dark gray rug to stick under the coffee table and  two large abstract paintings they hang up behind the couch. On the floor, closer to the television, are two large floor cushions, in bright yellow and olive green. 

Their television is a lot bigger this time, a little more indulgent, leaning towards extravagance. Despite the still vacant spaces, everything about the house leans towards luxury that Iruka still isn’t very accustomed to. Their apartment, he thought at the time, had been a luxury. He stands corrected as he looks at the space of their home, at the light fixtures on the ceiling. He takes this all in, this little palace of comfort in the middle of a never ending stretch of eden that Tenzou thoughtfully and lovingly built, invested on. As Iruka stands stands there in the middle of it all, drying his hands on a towel, watching Tenzou arrange a few potted plants in the corner of the living room, right next to Mango’s scratching post, right by the glass, it’s like they never lost anything. Their home may still be empty, devoid of books and photographs and little trinkets; yet, Iruka can’t help the sudden wave of deja vu, like he’s done this exact same thing, sometime, somewhere. Like he’s been living here, in this home, once upon a time, drying his hands, watching his husband crouch down to pet Mango’s head, smoothing fingers over the tabby’s shiny coat.

Perhaps in a dream.

He’s not sure.

(That war, this time, is truly over.)

“Everything okay?” Tenzou asks, looking from across the room, concern etched on his features, hand pausing in its caress.

“Yes,” Iruka sighs, breathing deeply, lungs feeling full for the first time in what feels like a long, long time. “Everything is perfect.”


*

Iruka cooks dinner that night for the first time in forever. They use their new pots and new dining ware. That night, they eat dinner on their dining table with the windows open, the fresh smell of lavender filling the house.

“I just realized something,” Tenzou says, candidly open as he swallows a mouthful of rice. “Beige couch — was that smart?”

“Because of the children, you mean?” Iruka confirms.

“Hmm. I’m going by what I hear, here. And television.” Tenzou pauses for a beat. “Naruto is a bit of a messy eater, too.”

Iruka snorts. “I hear you. The good thing is that our couch happens to be of the kind where couch covers are very easy to find. So that’s an easy fix, if the need for it arises.” Iruka pauses, watching as Tenzou hums and takes another bite from his fish. “I was also wondering if perhaps you’re not opposed to having slightly older children? They don’t usually get adopted because… well… it’s just a thought...”

The corners of Tenzou’s lips twitch up a little, before he answers softly, “I am not opposed to that at all.”


*

Iruka is brushing his hair by the dresser when Tenzou steps out of the bathroom in a towel. Cool fingers gently brush over the damp strandes that now fall till the middle of Iruka’s shoulder blades. This the longest Iruka has kept and he is reminded once more of how he should have cut it months ago. He tells Tenzou he’s going to cut it tomorrow.

“Keep it,” Tenzou says, tucking a strand behind Iruka’s ear as Tenzou comes to stand behind him, leaning forward and meeting Iruka’s eyes through the mirror. “I can have a better grip on you when I fuck your mouth.”

The flush that ignites Iruka’s face is instant, just as a stab of something hot and sharp goes through his lower abdomen at the serious, very pointed request and justification for said request is delivered.

“I fail to see how your argument makes your request valid,” Iruka quips, setting the brush down on smooth, polished surface of their new dresser. 

“You’ll enjoy it better,” Tenzou says; it sounds like a warning.

“Arrogant of you to assume to know my thoughts,” Iruka points out, tartly, almost haughtily, even if the words have no bite to it.

Tenzou forcefully turns Iruka’s head to the side, his grip firm around the curve of Iruka’s chin, dragging him forward with purpose. Iruka is forced to shift his seating position on the dresser bench, straddling the wooden surface as his robe parts obscenely at the swift change of posture. Tenzou is already semi-hard when his hand fists in a silent command around the base of Iruka’s skull, when he yanks Iruka close to his cock, silent, wordlessly, the gesture of it all saying, get to work. 

Iruka’s mouth is open, pliant, hot and hungry, taking in the semi-hard flesh in his mouth, moaning with abandon when it hardens to full mast in his mouth, stretching the corners of his lips, the sheer length of it, the weight of it, brushing against the back of his throat. Iruka leans forward, his chin a hot mess of pre-cum and saliva, dripping down his chest and onto the gleaming surface of the wooden bench. Iruka’s robe slips down his shoulders when he is forced to grip the edge of the bench by his knees, when Tenzou pushes deeper down his throat, fucks his mouth with dark strands tied around his white knuckles fists like tight, leather reigns. Tenzou is merciless, quick, and Iruka swallows around the quick slide of his husband’s cock down his throat. The hot, slick slide of it, how hard it is, how Tenzou lets out the softest, barely audible hiss through gritted teeth is enough to make Iruka’s thigh quiver, his own cock heavy and standing hard, ruddy-tipped, precum glistening the length from between the folds of his new robe. Iruka doesn’t need to touch himself, he can get off like this, held tight at the base of his skull, the burn of it all making him see stars, making his head spin as he tries to breathe through the brutal pace Tenzou knows - gods, how he knows - Iruka loves. Like this, nothing else outside the two of them matters, them and their bodies, their want for each other, their love for each other.

Iruka knows he’s close, his hand coming to wrap around his cock in hopes to prolong the experience, to put a clamp down on his body ready to climax.

But Tenzou shifts his grip, turning Iruka’s head just the slightest so that Iruka catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror. Iruka, whose face is flushed, heat beading around his temples, his lips swollen, gossamer strands of saliva and pre-cum dripping down his chin. Tenzou holds his head in that position, as his hips continues to snap forward, a barely there smirk curling around the corners of his lips, and his eyes, beautiful, dark, heated, so focused, as his thick cock disappears into Iruka’s mouth salaciously, and gods, Iruka can come like this, he really, really can.

Then Tenzou outright smirks, knowingly, confidently, silently and very pointedly saying, I told you so .

Iruka comes with a violent shudder, a ferocity that has his entire frame trembling with how hard his climax slams into him, his knuckles bone white, his eyes scrunching shut, his choked cry muffled as Tenzou pulls him forward, forces Iruka to ride out his orgasm with his breath limited, his throat plugged with cock. And when it’s over, before Tenzou allows him to breathe, heat floods the back of Iruka’s throat, thick, copious.

Tenzou yanks Iruka’s head off his cock in one quick, sharp pull. It sends cum dribbling down Iruka’s chin, splattering on his cheek and chest as Iruka’s loud gasp for desperate air cuts through the silence of the house.

Iruka is breathing hard, cum on his cheek, lips, and chin cooling in the night air as Tenzou just stands there, cheekbones flushed, body relaxed, his head tilted to the side patiently, like he’s waiting for a response to the point he’s been trying to make. 

Iruka grins, wide, toothily, uncaring of the sight he makes, with cum all over his robe, his chest, under his chin, a entire fucking mess on the bench. He licks the corner of his lips, his tongue swiping up at cum as he swallows and raspily says, “Okay, so maybe you do have a point after all.” 


*

Iruka is getting ready to join Tenzou on the bed when the flutter of wings makes both their heads turn towards the window. There, on their bedroom window sill, is a summoning hawk. The mood sombers immediately, like glass shattering and spreading all over the floor.

Tenzou’s hands are tight fists on the bed, the rest of him pulled taut like a cocked bowstring, his silence frozen and deafening in the room that suddenly feels devoid of warmth.

“Go,” Iruka says softly, getting into bed and pressing a long, lingering kiss to Tenzou’s temple. “And come back safe. I’ll be here.”

Tenzou doesn’t say a word. Not until he’s dressed, armor gleaming under the glow of the starlight spilling into their bedroom from the glass ceiling.

“I want you to start the paperwork for the adoption procedure,” Tenzou says, once he secures his travelling cloak. “Meet some of the children, if it comes to that.”

Iruka nods slowly, something thick and tight in his chest, goodbye at the tips of his tongue but refusing to fully form. “I will…”

“I’ll try to be quick,” Tenzou says; it sounds more like an apology.

Iruka pushes himself out of bed and forcing a smile to his lips. He picks up Tenzou’s mask from the table, holding it up to Tenzou’s face. “You know better…”

Tenzou says nothing. Iruka watches his throat bob once as he swallows what might be another apology. The guilt is back, making lines appear all over Tenzou’s face, aging him, making him as quiet as the dead. Everything about him goes as still as the shadows of their home, hushed. Iruka presses their mouths together, kissing him with a purposely desperate ferocity, forcing warmth into the sudden cold shadow that stands before him. Tenzou has his arms around Iruka’s naked skin, deepening the kiss, leather gloves rubs against Iruka's bare sides.

When they separate, Iruka whispers softly, “Fight strong.” Iruka brings the mask up, placing it gently over Tenzou’s face. He then tugs the hood over his beloved husband’s face, his last gesture of farewell to the man disappearing into the void to become the village’s weapon. “You must. You’re going to be a father…”

“I will.” 


*

Iruka gets no number this time.

*

The days stretch to weeks with Iruka coming home to Mango’s welcome. He gets too attached too quickly to their house pet, with Mango keeping him warm in their bed in Tenzou’s absence. Mango's presence makes the suddenly too big a house not feel too empty. 

True to his word, Iruka goes through the legality of the adoption process. The war turns out to be a favor for Iruka because the procedure happens rather swiftly; the amount of deaths had left the orphanages overflowing with children, and with the village still not at a hundred percent, every bit of body the orphanage can offload to willing and qualified parents helps free up whatever time and resources they have for others. Iruka goes through the mandatory interviews, one after the other; their home also gets inspected by two different parties. He gets told that there are a limited numbers of infants, that if that is his goal, he may have to wait. When Iruka tells them he’s more interested in adopting the older children, it earns him favors. It certainly earns him a relieved smile that the staff can't quite contain, looking professional be damned.

It all happens too quickly.

Iruka passes all the required criteria with little to no problems. He is also informed on the day they pencil in a tentative schedule for Iruka to meet the children that his husband has earned glowing recommendations from his superiors. Iruka isn’t exactly sure what that exactly means; he doesn’t question it.

By the seventh week of Tenzou’s absence, Iruka gets his third invitation to meet with the children.

Iruka gives it another week, in case Tenzou shows up. 

Tenzou doesn’t.

By the eighth week, Iruka sets a confirmed date for the ninth week. 

Just in case Tenzou does return within that time frame.


TBC

 

Chapter Text

Tenzou does not show up on the eighth week nor does he show up on the ninth week.

Iruka decides then that there’s no point delaying his appointment with the orphanage further; he doesn’t cancel the appointment, resolute in going ahead just as Tenzou had wanted.

A distraction in the shape of an official announcement that the Academy is to finally re-open once the summer is over is most welcomed. Iruka finds out about this new information when he is suddenly summoned from the administration office to the Hokage’s office one overcast afternoon, a drizzle pelting against the glass windows behind Kakashi’s chair.

Kakashi tells him, without much warning or any sort of aplomb that he is delegating him as vice principal temporarily.

“You will spearhead orientation and the necessary training process for new staff. While we have all of our teachers in place, the positions of teaching assistants, particularly for the younger students have not been filled. You will be in charge with screening and selecting them. With your record, reputation and understanding of the Academy system, this is something I am confident you will be able to handle.” Kakashi drawls, leaning back against his chair, his Hokage hat and robe hanging on the far wall of his office. 

Iruka can’t pretend that he isn’t stunned. His slack jaw and several blinks betrays it. “I - thank you for considering me for the position. Though, with all due respect, Hokage-sama, the decision will still belong to the principal, does it not?”

“That’s true, but the candidate for the principal’s seat is currently away on a mission. There’s no telling when she will be back. In the interim, the decision will fall on you,” Kakashi responds.

“I understand,” Iruka nods, even though it sounds like he doesn’t. 

Because he doesn’t.

Out of all the things he had expected to happen when the Academy re-opened, this definitely had not been one of them. He never viewed himself as substitute vice principal before.

“I trust you’ll do your best, as always, Iruka-sensei,” Kakashi’s eyes arc into crescents, as he quips his dismissal.

“Y-Yes, Hokage-sama, I will do my best to not disappoint,” Iruka straightens, swallowing thickly, flushing equal parts embarrassed and honored for the opportunity.

Kakashi hums, picking up a bright green book from his desk. Iruka is unable to stop himself from rolling his eyes, uncaring that he is doing so right at his Hokage’s face. He takes the gesture as a dismissal, turning to head for the door. 

“One more thing,” Kakashi says lazily, “It’s also come to my attention that you have a very strong grasp of the kind of work we do here, in this office. That you are in fact a lead when it comes to performance.”

“That’s a bit aggrandized, Hokage-sama, I only help when I’m asked,” Iruka flushes, a little unsure of how to handle the positive feedback. He doesn’t think he’s doing better than anyone else, especially when everyone is working so hard trying to get the village running as quick as possible.

“Well,” Kakashi continues, “you are better utilized in this office. Effective tomorrow, you’re to report here. Once the Academy starts, your timings will be accommodated post-teaching hours. We can be flexible with your shifts; mostly I want you to be oversee the running of this office. A man of your experience can juggle two separate duties without trouble, hmm?”

“As your assistant. Here. With you.” Iruka is unable to stop the mortified expression from spreading on his face, nor can he stop the acrimonious response, as he looks around the mountains of paper, stacked high like white towers lining an entire wall of the office. On the opposite side, there are pyramid stacks of scrolls coated with a very thin film of dust. Kakashi’s desk is piled high on both corners with brown dockets, little yellow notes sticking out haphazardly from nearly every face. Iruka has no clue what all these paperwork may be; he’s been stuck trying to manage the hot mess (when required) outside the Hokage’s office. 

The entire place is a nightmare. 

Kakashi doesn’t respond, but he’s got both eyes giving Iruka the deadest look on the face of the planet. 

“You’re serious,” Iruka sounds incredulous.

“Did I sound like I was joking?” Kakashi drawls. 

“Of course not, Hokage-sama,” Iruka sucks in a deep breath. The work ought to be a challenge; it’s not like Iruka has anything to do these days, or a house to run at a full capacity. If anything, the distraction will provide extremely useful. Iruka thinks that his time is better utilized getting work done rather than being apprehensive at home waiting for his husband that he is starting to wonder if Tenzou is ever coming back. The thought of it, just the fleeting whisper of it crossing his mind at that moment, makes something tightens like a vice around his throat, bleeding into his voice. “It’ll be an honor,” Iruka says, a little quieter, dipping his head politely and trying to keep his voice steady. 

“You’ll start tomorrow,” Kakashi dismisses.

Outside, the rain begins to pour, darkening the village in gray.

*

Iruka throws himself into work with renewed determination and vigor, making it a very personal challenge to clear the Hokage’s office of everything that’s remained stagnant for months and hopefully, iron out kinks in the archive system that is still not being managed too efficiently. If they were, then Kakashi’s office wouldn’t look like the paper factory that it currently resembles.

Iruka doesn’t have to report to the Academy for another four weeks. 

He gives himself four weeks to meet his challenge.

Iruka promptly stops spending time at home, and starts spending longer hours at the office. He’s lost count on how many sunrises he’s watched from the Hokage’s window, lost count on how many nights he’s unintentionally dozed off at the desk that’s been temporarily set up adjacent to Kakashi’s, bent over numbers and a calculator he’s been crunching on since lunch.

He’s lost count on how many walks in the dark he’s made to their home, how many times he’s picked up Mango from the entryway and held him to his chest, burying his face into his soft, smooth coat, pretending that the empty disappointment in his chest does not hurt at the fact that their home is still devoid of the man he’s also pretending not to be worried about.

(They’ve just gone through a war, of almost a year of complete separation, of not knowing, of waiting, waiting, waiting for news that no one can share.)

Mango’s presence at least, is a steadfast reminder that Iruka isn’t on Turtle Island, that they are most definitely not in the middle of war anymore.

It doesn’t make it any easier.

*

Iruka ends up meeting with the children indirectly during recreational time at the orphanage. The orphanage is a four-story building surrounded by a six foot fence, which then opens up to a stretch of grass and a playground that is still relatively empty, save for three see-saws, a set of swings, a sandpit, a funnel climber and a monkey-bar. The empty patches where more playground equipment are to be eventually installed. There are empty garden pots lining one wall of the property, where Iruka assumes will eventually be filled with plants. The older property had a vegetable and flower garden that they made the orphans take care of to practice responsibility. 

The inside resembles more like an ICU unit as opposed to its former glory. The notice boards on the walls lining the corridors are empty, the plastic of the cork boards still in place. The glass display unit that used to be lined with awards, photos with the Hokages’ visits, charity events and festival performances are also empty. The smell of new paint and varnish still lingers quite heavily in the air. There used to be cracks on some of the walls, around the corners, imperfections that had given the orphanage a little more personality; none of it is present. The orphanage back then was not built in one go compared to this one. It had started off as a small building, gradually expanding over the years, extension and layers added to the original; nothing truly matched. It reminded Iruka of haphazardly put together children’s building blocks. 

This one is too perfect, too structured. 

Iruka doesn’t think it’s a bad thing, per se. Good structure always makes for a solid foundation.

But watching the children play in what looks like a very sterile environment in their recreational room, away from the pouring summer rain outside, with nothing but a few books, sketchbooks, crayons and colored pencils to keep them entertained, something in his heart tightens. He knows that most of the children in the orphanage, the ones that do not get adopted, will be trained and groomed to fill in Konoha’s shinobi forces. They’ll never be unwanted.

But they’ll never be seen as children, either.

Iruka is quiet as he watches through the glass, looking at the children, their interaction with each other, their mannerisms. When Iruka had looked through the children’s profile, medical history, when and how they lost parents, a few faces had leapt up at him. One in particular, stood out like a beacon simply because Iruka has already spent time with him.

Masafumi Toshio is seated in the corner by the window, uninterested in the hubbub going on around him, his chin pillowed on his arms as he watches the train trickle down the glass. Iruka remembers teaching him during his first year in the Academy when he had been five, three years ago. Now, at 8, Toshio had grown about two inches taller, is still all sharp elbows and knees, lanky, far too small for his age; the clothes he wears is ill fitting, dwarfing him in its bagginess. His hair is a lot longer, a lot messier, sticking up in all directions. Other than a little bit of height, Toshio has not changed much.

In fact, Toshio’s face had leapt up at Iruka from the booklet, the only odd eight year old in his age group that had not been adopted. The younger children between four to five are all gathered in front of the television, staring up at the show currently playing. The six and seven year olds are also watching television but are seated a little more separately and away from the younger kids. The older kids are in the back of the room, mostly nine, ten and eleven year olds. They’re bigger, a lot stronger looking because of their Academy training and judging from how they scowl at the younger kids giggling at the television shows, they think they’re the wiser lot of the bunch. 

Toshio remains alone. Separated. He doesn’t fit with the older kids and he’s too old for the younger kids.

Iruka isn’t sure why he hasn’t been adopted yet; Toshio is polite, hard working, quite intelligent, with a bright future as a shinobi. 

Iruka remembers feeling like that, once upon a time, neither fitting here nor there, counting minutes while staring out at the window. 

Iruka doesn’t realize he’s made his choice until the thought of, I hope Toshio says yes, forms in his mind.

*

Iruka decides not to meet with Toshio in the very last moment, scheduling the meeting in another three days. After his trip to the orphanage, he makes a quick stop for a very late breakfast and lunch at Ichiraku’s, where, much to his pleasant surprise, Naruto is sitting and polishing off his fourth bowl.

Naruto looks a little haggard, a little tired like he hasn’t been sleeping well. Iruka knows it’s an adjustment period, that he’s going through treatment after the loss of his arm. The last time Iruka saw Naruto, one sleeve had been empty. Now, Iruka is pleased to see that it’s not, even if the limb is covered in bandages, leaving no skin visible.

Overall, had it not been for the visible exhaustion, Iruka thinks Naruto looks quite good.

“Iruka-sensei!” Naruto crows, mouth full of fishcake and pork slice that he ends up choking on in his surprise and excitement. He thumps at his chest, trying to clear his passage way, coughing a few times before grinning. “It’s been a while.”

“It has,” Iruka slides on to the seat, nods at Ayame for his usual before turning to look at Naruto more fully. “You’re looking alright. How’s the arm?”

“Ehhh, it’s okay. I’m getting used to it after not having it there for a while, you know? It’s weird.” Naruto holds up his bandaged hand, making a fist and then releasing it. “But old-lady-Tsunade cleared it so!”

“I’m glad,” Iruka smiles, reaching up and giving Naruto’s good shoulder a warm squeeze. “I’m really, really happy to see you’re okay. You always did bounce back faster than most. The last time I saw you…”

“Yeah…” Naruto sniffs, rubbing the back of his head. “I’ve been meaning to come see you, check in on you; but you know — you don’t look very good though, sensei. You know an old man like you needs to take care of himself better, you know —”

“Who’s an old man?” Iruka twitches, giving Naruto’s shoulder a firm squeeze.

Naruto laughs sheepishly. “But no, really, Iruka-sensei, you’re so skinny! Is Yamato-taichou being a stingy husband or something?” Naruto has Iruka’s wrist in his hand, shaking it a few times, as if to demonstrate his point. “I knew he was a suspicious guy…”

“Come now, Naruto, you know he’s not stingy,” Iruka cajoles with amusement, tugging his wrist away. “And yes, I’m aware that I’ve lost a bit of weight. It has been a difficult year and it’s hard to be indulgent. But things are getting better and we are all adjusting. Just like you and your new arm, hmmm?”

“I guess…” Naruto eyes Iruka carefully, a frown deepening between his eyebrows. “How is Yamato-taichou doing, anyway? I haven’t seen him in a while, too.”

“He’s currently away on a mission,” Iruka responds, just as Ayame sets a large bowl of ramen in front of him. “He’s been gone a while but shouldn’t be long before he’s back.” Before Naruto can ask anymore questions, Iruka steers the conversation away to more positive topics. “We’ve moved to a new home a few weeks ago; it’s a bit of an adjustment, but it’s up an running. You should come by and meet Mango, some time.”

“Mango?” Naruto’s face scrunches in curiosity.

“Our very chubby house cat,” Iruka smiles, helping himself to a mouthful of noodles. 

“Oh! That’s a start!” Naruto grins, all wide and toothy, eyes arching up into happy crescents. “First stop pet, next stop kids. Though, I don’t think you and Yamato-taichou can make kids, it doesn’t work like that. Maybe if you adopt, or something. Wait! You can’t start a family like that without a proper wedding. I’m still pissed at you guys for not having a proper wedding, you know? It’s not right, you know?”

Iruka chuckles around his mouthful of noodles. “It’s a little too late for that now.”

“At least make a tiny party, or something, you know, like in your new house and stuff, or something; Sakura keeps going on and on about a reception — ahhh, I don’t know, but she’s right.” Naruto frowns. “You can’t do family stuff without a wedding, Iruka-sensei. You know that!”

“Well, maybe once we have the children adopted, Tenzou and I can see about having a small gathering at the house. Maybe,” Iruka consoles, 

“It’s weird you call him that,” Naruto grumbles, one cheek puffing out. “Just make sure I’m there this time around. I still can’t believe you got married and didn’t tell me for like, forever, you know?” Iruka flushes, and bursts out laughing. “It’s not funny.”

“It’s a little funny,” Iruka points out, throwing an arm around Naruto and ruffling his hair as Naruto grumbles under his breath.

And it was. Iruka will never forget the day that he bumped into Naruto after his training, dirty, dusty, his orange jacket torn in some places, Tenzou and Kakashi trailing after him. They were going home for a change as opposed to spending the night at the training grounds. When Tenzou has moved to follow Iruka, Naruto has asked him where he was going. Iruka has made Naruto aware that he was legally married; that Naruto should come by when he has the time to meet his husband, that his name was Tenzou. Naruto never did come by, having left for Sand shortly after returning to Konoha. Things kept happening and at that point, when Tenzou had said that he’s going home with his husband of course, Naruto had exploded at Iruka. 

You married him?! Why?! He’s a weird guy!

Naruto’s face had been priceless . Even throughout dinner at their apartment, Naruto sat across Tenzou eyeing him suspiciously, stubbornly refusing to cow before Tenzou’s Doom Face that Naruto had claimed, was creepy. That Tenzou claims, terrifies the shit out of him.

Just remembering it is enough to make Iruka chuckle. He and Tenzou still share a laugh every time they talk about the incident. He pacifies Naruto with another bowl of ramen. 

“I just came from the orphanage,” Iruka says into his ramen bowl. “We are going to adopt. I haven’t met with him yet, but I will soon. I’m hoping he says yes.”

Naruto turns to look at him with the biggest smile that softens into something so sincere that it makes something catch in Iruka’s throat. “He will. He should. He is going to be a really lucky kid. He’s going to be with the best parents.” Naruto looks at his new steaming bowl. “He’s got you on his side.”

“You say that like you’re not part of this family,” Iruka says softly. It makes Naruto look up at him, a certain vulnerability tugging at the corners of his eyes. “My biggest regret, even now, is that I couldn’t adopt you at the time. I didn’t qualify, didn’t make enough, didn’t have the space. It wasn’t like I didn’t try. I didn’t tell you at the time that I was trying because I didn’t know how to tell you later that it wasn’t going to work out.” Iruka smiles humorlessly, a touch bitter at his bowl. “You didn’t need more disappointment.”

Naruto is quiet, a tremble passing through him as he continues to stare at Iruka.

“And now that I can do this, that I do qualify, you’re a grown young man. You’re serious about Hinata, you’re the next Hokage. You’re responsible for our peace. You’ve grown to be a beacon to all of us, so it may seem a little silly, maybe even a little late, to offer this to you now,” Iruka huffs a nervous laugh, reaching up to rub the back of his head. “But if you would like, I would be honoured to be your official and legal next of kin…”

Naruto’s eyes are wide, his jaw slack, and for a fleeting moment, Iruka sees the little five year old who stared up at him the first time when he realized that he had someone on his side. That someone cared about him, acknowledged him, understood that he was a good boy. That he was worthy.

“Y-Yeah…” Naruto responds, voice cracking around the edges. “Y-Yeah, I - I’d really like that, Iruka-sensei.”

*

Three days later, Iruka is at the orphanage, sitting at a desk, trying to keep calm and not fidget too much in his seat. He’s not sure what could possibly be taking too long for Toshio to be brought to him. Iruka looks at the clock on the wall, counting the seconds until three minutes go by.

The door opens and Toshio, dressed in a shirt a size too big for him, stops at the doorway with open surprise coming to his face. It makes him look even younger, brown eyes blown wide as he stands there, by the door, confused.

“Iruka-sensei?” He says, soft, feet moving when he is gently ushered forward by the Hikaru-san, the representative Iruka has been working with throughout this entire process. 

“I’ll let you two talk,” Hikaru says gently, patting Toshio on the shoulder. “I’ll be outside the door if you need me, okay, Toshio?”

Toshio nods dumbly, unable to take his eyes off Iruka. Iruka, whose cheeks start to slowly heat up, the warmth spreading all the way to the tips of his ears. “Hello, Toshio. It’s been a while, huh?”

“Yeah…” Toshio sniffs a little, crossing his arms across his chest. 

“I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m here,” Iruka offers, watching as Toshio cows a little bit, face scrunching in a brave attempt to look unaffected; Toshio nods. “Do you have an idea?” Toshio shrugs uncaringly, even when his gaze drops to the edge of the table. Iruka understands. It’s hard to be hopeful about anything in an orphanage at this particular age. “My husband and I want to start a family.”

“Why are you alone, then?” Toshio asks, still not looking up from the table.

“He’s away on a mission. My husband’s name is Tenzou. He has asked me to start the adoption process,” Iruka responds gently; his response makes Toshio look up, eyes wide. “I was hoping, if you’d like to, of course, be a part of our family.” Iruka offers, quiet, whisper soft. 

Iruka tells him what Toshio can expect if he chooses to say yes. He tells him of their home, where it is, how it’s surrounded by an eden of green and flowers that remain in bloom for most of the year. He tells him about Tenzou, his hobbies, a little bit of how they spend their weekends together now, as a couple, watching television shows or lying under the sun in their garden. He tells him how they play cards together, board games, and sometimes, when their schedules allow it, how they’d go to the theater together, try out new restaurants. How sometimes, they go for afternoon walks together in the village, and later, pick up some groceries together.

Through it all, Toshio listens, enraptured. He is quiet, something glowing in his eyes at the idea of being a part of all that. To experience that kind of warmth again, when Iruka knows, that a year or two after your parents’ death, at that young age, you start to forget what they look like, what they sound like. You start to forget what their likes and dislikes were, or how much they loved you. Iruka is lucky and unlucky to have lost his parents when he was a little older; he’s able to retain most of his memories of them. Toshio became an orphan three years ago. At five, you don’t remember much.

Toshio doesn’t respond immediately, but his eyes are impossibly wide. “W-Why me?”

“Because I know you,” Iruka answers with confidence. “You’re a good, honest boy, hard working, polite. You’re strong and compassionate, very understanding. Why wouldn’t I pick you?”

“But Tenzou is not here.” Toshio argues, unfolding his arms and refolding them again across his chest, as if the gesture is supposed to squish the hope, the excitement of being able to be with a family. Iruka recognizes the gesture; it’s a gesture of trying to stay in control.

“He’s not,” Iruka agrees, swallowing. “It’s a very, very long mission.”

“What if he doesn’t like me? Most people want the younger kids,” Toshio argues, a tinge of hysteria creeping into his tone. “You’ll change your mind!”

Iruka reaches out, placing a hand on Toshio’s shoulder. “Why don’t you think about it for a while, take all the time you need. I am not sure when Tenzou will be back. But, at any time, if you want to meet me again, if you have any questions, you just let Hikaru-san know, and I’ll be here. You let her know what your decision is, whatever it may be. Okay?”

Toshio nods slowly, but doesn’t pull away from Iruka’s warm grip. “Okay…”


*

“Everything all right?” Kakashi asks from his desk, not looking up from his orange book, his drawl cutting through the silence of the office, startling Iruka out of his thoughts.

It’s at that point that Iruka notices that he’s been clicking his pen repeatedly, in a nervous, anxious gesture. He didn’t even realize he’s been doing it for a while. 

It’s been a full week since his meeting with Toshio with no word of his decision. 

It’s been eleven weeks since Tenzou’s departure for his mission.

“Yes,” Iruka answers, flushing to the roots of his hair in sheer embarrassment. “Sorry, I - ahh — it’s been a long week.” Iruka carefully tucks the pen away, opting to use a pencil, just so that he wouldn’t make any clicking noises any more.

“Hmmm,” Kakashi hums, but then says nothing further.

Iruka wills himself to focus.

He doesn’t get much work done that day.


*

Week twelve creeps in one humid, and hot rainy dawn with a knock on the door that has Iruka jolting up from Tenzou’s side of the bed. He is down the stairs and pulling the door open when his heart comes to an abrupt stop at the sight of a porcelain mask that isn’t Cat's standing just past the door’s threshold.

“Umino-san, the Hokage sent me,” she says, breathless, her voice familiar. Iruka connects the dots and recognizes the mask as Sparrow after blinking a few times to clear the sleep from his gaze. A wet, torn, slightly muddied trembling gloved hand holds out a signed slip; it’s a pass with Kakashi’s signature and the Hokage’s seal. “Please come with me.”

Iruka cannot stop the strangled noise that leaves his throat as he nods.


*

In the halogen lit corridor, Iruka stands damp from the rain, the cold air of the hospital seeping through the fabric of his hurriedly pulled on clothes. His hair falls loose around his face, sleep marks still on his cheeks as he stands there, next to an eerily quiet Kakashi, staring past the glass as the room glows with healers’ chakra, all eight of them, fighting to keep the body at the center alive.

The body in the middle is just a body, barely breathing, soaking in crimson, even when half his chest cavity is lying exposed. Tenzou isn’t moving, eyes glazed over and dark, head lolled to one side facing the glass window, his right eye completely bloodshot, possibly due to an internal bleeding, hideously swollen like a grape. Streaks of soot and mud decorate his face amidst the crimson in a grotesque camouflage all over his face. From the distance, it's hard to tell if the pieces on Tenzou's face are blood clots or just dirt. It is impossible to look away, Iruka's lungs seizing inwards with an inahale that just gets stuck somewhere under his ribs, as Tenzou continues to stare unseeingly across the room, right at him, blood pouring from his nose and mouth, a pool of it collecting under his body. Iruka watches with a breath refusing to form as more healers pile into the room, as they hook Tenzou up with wires and monitors, countless bags of fluids and blood. Through it all, Tenzou’s body reamins nothing but a marionette in a sea of white gloved hands.

Iruka doesn’t know how long he stands there, how long he watches all this as his entire world freezes over, staring into the eyes of his husband that is probably as good as dead. Tenzou suddenly jolting off the table as a healer presses down on his chest snaps Iruka back into reality, shocking him as he takes a step back away from the glass, something tearing past his throat as he drowns in the air around him.

It happens in an instant, clarity reflecting for a split second over Tenzou’s pupils, the corners of his lips twitching upwards for just barely even a second, before long lashes flutter down and close.

It happens fast. So, so fast, that Iruka thinks he must have imagined it. 

So fast that he steps closer to the glass, palms that shaking, pale, devoid of color, pressing on the icy glass surface as he stares, stares even more, trying to determine if what he's seen is real. 

A healer comes out, uniform blood stained, saying something in Iruka’s direction after seeing the yellow badge on his shirt, also addressing the Hokage who is standing next to Iruka. Iruka hears bits and pieces of the conversation, about their current prognosis, medical terms that goes over his head, something about an explosion, hemoptysis, concerns of hypoxia. Something about Tenzou's body not being able to handle the trauma and the healing process. It makes Iruka's stomach clench into a tight vice, twisting, turning like a python squeezing everything in him. Iruka's lungs crumples like paper in his chest, deflating like balloons under his rib-cage as he struggles to let out a normal, controlled breath at all this information, at this medic telling him their current concerns, their course of action like he's reading off a newspaper. Iruka's world starts to spin, his ears ringing with what might as well have been a heads up for a death that's approaching; Iruka mutters an apology, asking to be excused.

He stumbles forward, away from the chaotic, bloody scene happening beyond the class, away from the call of his name falling from the Hokage's mouth, walking down the corridor as all his organs behave like they're slowly shutting down, one by one. The shock hits him like a punch in the gut. It makes Iruka look around the endless white corridor, his entire world swaying from left to right, a boat threatening to be capsized by the sea. 

Gods, he’s going to be sick.

Iruka finds a sign for the bathroom, steps in noisily, clumsily, hurriedly, falls to his knees by the toilet and empties his entire stomach out. He heaves until there's nothing left in him, until his eyes are bloodshot and the rining in his ears is as loud as a the siren to retreat during a war. The sound that rips out of his mouth when he flushes the toilet is raw, terrified. Iruka brings a hand up to his mouth force himself to be quiet, to swallow the grief that is threatening to drown him, a wall of torrential wave hitting him as the salty sea fills every part of him. Iruka leans against the wall of the bathroom stall, gathering himself, tucking his arms between his abdomen and thighs, both hands pressing against his mouth to remain silent, to stay in control, to not let fear win. To not show anyone how he's not handling this as well as he should, when he's known this entire time, that a day like this will come. They've talked about, he and Tenzou. They know what the other will do if one dies, what gets left behind. All their paperwork are in perfect order for a day like this. 

(They'll call you one day, Tenzou says, as Iruka helps him in changing the dressing to the new wound on his side, a little after their return from tracking down Sasuke. They'll ask you to come in and sign a consent form for the cremation process. You won't even get the ashes. But it'll happen.

I know, Iruka had responded, quiet, understanding. I just hope it isn't too soon.)

Iruka is powerless to the quakes that wracks his body. He is weak against the sobs that chokes around his throat, unable to swim through the grief that he has been mentally prepped for for years. It's not like he didn't know this wouldn't happen. It's not like Iruka didn't know what kind of relationship they're both in, what he has agreed to, the context of being with someone like Tenzou, one of the longest field-active ANBU there is. Most people retire at Tenzou's age, either by the Hokage's order or by choice. 

But they didn’t declare Tenzou dead. 

They didn’t say it’s over.

They didn’t apologize for the loss. Not yet. 

Hope is hard to have when your husband looks at you, barely alive like that, and smiles like it’s his last goodbye. It’s hard to continue to be hopeful when Iruka's skies have gone eerily dark, when he can’t see anything except the light dulled out of Tenzou’s eyes, his body remaining still, motionless.

(Turns out, no one is prepared to lose someone they love. They never are.)

Iruka buries his head between his knees, brings a hand up between his teeth and bites down, as he thinks, please, please, not just yet. 


TBC

Chapter Text

Hours pass with Iruka sitting perfectly still  in the waiting room under the glare of white light, staring at a spot on the floor, his heart thundering under his ribcage. It leaves him heady as stress fuels his body, forcing him in a mental and physical state of extremely high alert. He can hear everything going on around him from the squeak of the rubber soles on linoleum, the rattle of gurney wheels to the sudden screeching brakes of a wheelchair coming to an abrupt halt. To his left, where the desk is, he listens to paper shuffling, pen scratching, drawers opening and slamming, plastic rattling, record books being sliding across the table. He hears bits of conversation here there, medics doing inventory, medics stepping out of rooms with new diagnosis, medics asking their assistants to draft a patient’s release.

Someone is pouring coffee. Someone is also sipping the coffee a little too loudly. There’s a hiss, the kind that passes through clenched teeth, followed by a soft curse. Iruka closes his eyes, tries to not get irritated by the clumsy behavior, because what follows it is another curse simultaneous with a splash, a cardboard cup thunking somewhere on the ground. It shouldn’t affect Iruka, the noise, the humdrum around him;  it did not even matter matter at all, people drop things all the time, including ANBU in their own hospital. It’s not their fault.

But it does.

It crawls under his skin like poison, makes the fingers deceptively at rest on his knees clench, knuckles going white from how hard Iruka forms fists. The tremble travels down the length of Iruka’s spine like aftershocks of an earthquake, making him hunch just a little further inwards, an effort contain an animosity that is like acid - burning, slicing, potent. The sudden smell of coffee floods his nose right then - dark roast with sour undertones, disgusting, cheap, stale - all of this combined with the nauseating smell of bleach and disinfectant. Iruka’s right fist shifts from his knees to his stomach that decides to churn once more in that very moment, sheer disgust coating Iruka’s tongue with bitterness, going all the way down his throat that it’s hard to stay still and not react to his gag reflex choosing to make itself known to the world in that instant. 

Iruka brings his other hand up to his mouth, another tremble passing through his body as he keeps his head down, breathing through the fabric of his sweater sleeve, focusing on the neutral clean scent of cotton and faint, far more pleasant detergent, trying his damndest to block out the noise and smell all around him.

He counts one to ten. 

He counts it again backwards, slower, elongating each syllable of numbers in his mind, trying to get the roiling nausea in his stomach to calm down, gods, he doesn’t want to be sick again. He tries — by the gods, he tries to stomp down on the irrational anger that wants to claw itself out of his chest, to lash out at the ridiculous clumsiness all around him, to tell them to be quiet , to throw that fucking coffee away for heavens sake, to stop slamming drawers, why can’t you just close the drawer like a civilised person, stop clicking your damn pen, stop dragging your record book across the table, stop, stop, stop, stop—

Iruka wants to scream

He almost does until dark, knee high navy sandals appears in his peripheral vision and the calming smell of ginger wafts up his nose. 

Kakashi - the Rokudaime - stands before him, holding out a papercup with a ginger tea bag dangling on the side. Iruka looks up at the inscrutable expression, takes stalk of the considerate gesture; Iruka wants to feel grateful, he should feel grateful for the display of concern. Most decent people would, and somewhere in the back of his mind, Iruka gets reminded that civilized men with manners should at this point, say thanks. Kakashi certainly is under no obligation to give comfort to a man and his grief. He had bigger, better things to worry about that Iruka’s current state.

Iruka’s tries to smile, isn’t sure if he manages it, as he reaches up to take the offered cup. But his hands shake so bad, his grip not at all steady that the liquid sloshes around the rim. Kakashi’s gloved hand reaches forward again and steadies the cup by keeping a grim grip on Iruka’s hand, not letting go, his expression remaining vacuous, devoid of judgment, as Iruka curses under his breath and retracts his hand like he’s been burned.

“I’m sorry,” Iruka apologizes softly, swallowing the senseless scream that almost rips past his throat. Iruka  turns his gaze to the empty seat beside him. “Could you please just set it down here, Hokage-sama?”

The paper teacup is set down wordlessly. Iruka makes no movement to reach for it, going back to staring at a spot on the floor, covering his nose and mouth with his sleeve, keeping very still. Across for him, Kakashi stands leaning against the wall, his arms folded across his chest, the weight of his gaze heavy upon Iruka. 

“It was an ambush,” Kakashi’s voice is quiet in its offering.

It’s the first Iruka is given any sort of information of what may have happened. He should be happy to be getting something, even if they’re scraps.

He isn’t. 

A part of his analytical mind points out that the statement equates to nothing. It wars with his logical reasoning, the one that reminds him of his rank, how he isn’t exactly privy to information just because he’s married to someone with extremely high security clearance.

“It happens,” Iruka responds, glad that his voice, despite its raspiness, doesn’t come out shaky. 

“I’m sorry…” Kakashi says, whisper-soft, barely even audible.

Something about the apology, the delivery of it, the heaviness of its syllables, shatters the last struggling grip Iruka had on the anger that’s been trying to claw its way out for hours. He looks up sharply at Kakashi, at the softness in his gaze that blinks away like a candle light being snuffed away in the storm Iruka directs at his Hokage, insubordination and respect be damned. The entire hospital is pin drop quiet all of a sudden, the constant ringing in Iruka’s ears suddenly engulfed in a vacuum, the thunderous beat of his heart muting, just as the roiling nausea in Iruka’s stomach comes to a standstill, like a ship stuck at a dead sea, no wind to push it forward.

Time halts, everything suspended in space, and all of Iruka’s focus zeroes in on his his Hokage, looking at him and apologizing for something that Kakashi should not be apologizing for.

“Why?” Iruka asks, his voice clear, his head tilting, clarity evident in his gaze, as he brings his hand down from his mouth to his lap. “Did you know?”

Kakashi doesn’t answer immediately; it’s a pause that could mean anything, that could mean yes, could mean no, could be a calculated risk — that pause means everything that Iruka knows a Hokage must make in a split second decision, risk consequences and lives. It didn’t matter what the answer would have been, whether or not the probability of his decision was justified at the time or not. 

Iruka is on his feet, fixating unflinchingly at Kakashi, insulted to the very depths of his being, livid at an apology that has no meaning, no weight, because at the end of the day, the village comes first. To have to apologize for that, for something that Iruka knows, respects, and understands, something he’s been teaching for years, something he believes in, something he and his husband lives by, flushes his skin crimson like wildfire.

“Was his mission a success?” Iruka asks, unyielding, firm. Kakashi nods at his question without pause. It is a moment in the future that Iruka will forever be ashamed of, a moment he will regret. But right then and there, as his leader apologizes to him, Iruka doesn’t give a damn. “Then you insult my husband with your apology; you insult his sacrifice and his loyalty and that is something, Rokudaime-sama, that I will not accept, especially not from you.” Iruka doesn’t remember taking two steps forward, doesn’t even remember closing the distance between himself and Kakashi. “Shove that apology up your ass. I don’t want it. He won’t want it.”

The words cut through the air between them. The moment it leaves Iruka’s mouth, his anger deflates almost immediately. He takes a step back, the roar in his chest now a mere echo just as the rattle of the gurney reaches his ears from down the hallway. Time flows again, with it the smell of bleach and disinfectant slamming up Iruka’s nose once more. The nausea returns with a vengeance as does the distant ring in the depths of Iruka’s ears. 

Kakashi remains a sentinel against the wall, whatever expression he had on earlier ironing out to something Iruka is more familiar with; the weight of his stare remains heavy, sharp, even when the rest him of him gives off the image of nonchalance. 

A medic chooses to make his presence know in that moment, his expression wooden. “He’s in recovery if you wish to see him,” the medic says, tone passive. “Down the hall, first left, third door on your right.”

Iruka doesn’t dignify the medic with a response. He doesn’t bother excusing himself from the Hokage, either. He side-steps around the medic and wordlessly makes his way towards the recovery room.


*

The recovery room is a windowless small space and private this time around. The lighting behind the ceiling panel just above the bed is dimmed. In the middle of the room is a bed, with Tenzou lying bare under the sheets, unmoving, hooked onto a respirator that keeps his chest moving at calculated intervals. Half his face is bruised, a mess of blue and purple, the edges of the discoloration tinged in green and yellow. His left eye is covered with a plastic cap and gauze, his temple held together with butterfly clips. Tenzou’s left arm is covered in bandages from wrist to forearm; it trails off to mottled bruises, followed by gauze on his tricep and bicep. His right arm isn’t any better, equally bruised and beaten, this one encased in a cast from knuckle to elbow. Tenzou’s mangled state on his upper body leaves little to no room for the intravenous needle to be inserted. The intravenous line disappears under the covers, and is instead, hooked on to Tenzou’s right ankle. 

Iruka stands there by the foot of the bed, staring with a hurt so palpable in his chest, at how small and fragile Tenzou is under the covers. It’s hard to breathe in the recovery room, the air thin, not enough oxygen. Iruka stands there,gripping the side of the bed as he suffocates on his feet, chest folding inwards, as his shoulders hunch further up, his hand covering his mouth and nose as he stands there so incredibly helpless. 

He doesn’t know how long he stands there for, how quick time passes. 

Iruka is only aware of a medic coming in to take the time to explain that they’re not done with regenerating tissues and organs. Iruka learns that Tenzou’s lungs has suffered the most, that airway passage is barely held together by what they could regenerate in the past eight hours. They will have to stagger the sessions, give the body time to adjust to cells that are forced to grow and multiply at an unnatural speed, or risk the body failing and shutting down. Tenzou will have to stay in the hospital for a while, at least a week, maybe two, with an open possibility of longer, depending on the progress and how well his body adapts. 

Iruka gets handed a badge, a bright cyan with a sequence of numbers printed in black on the front. 

The medic is impersonal, distant; there’s nothing soft in his delivery, nothing sympathetic. “Hokage-sama has provided instructions that you be allowed within the premises without an escort. Please keep this badge visible when you approach the building; the desk will inform you if we move him to a different room.” 

The medic leaves after that taking with him whatever strength Iruka had.

In the privacy of the empty, somber room, Iruka sinks heavily onto a chair, closes his eyes and allows himself the luxury to weep.


*

Kakashi is not in his office when Iruka reports for duty that evening.

The Hokage makes no appearance the next morning either, nor the next.

Iruka is used to Kakashi coming and going as he pleases, so he doesn’t give the absence much thought. Iruka does his work, makes sure everything on his end is complete and arranges neat stacks on Kakashi’s desk from most important to least important. 

On the fourth day, when Iruka comes in a little before seven in the morning, Kakashi is sitting on his desk and reading his orange book. 

Iruka is polite in his usual morning greeting. Like clockwork, Iruka tells Kakashi his schedule for the day, explains the three new piles on his desk. Kakashi doesn’t respond, he rarely does when Iruka goes through this part of the day with him. Iruka knows, however, that Kakashi hears everything he says even when he’s hell bent on pretending that he doesn’t care.

“Thank you for giving me the clearance to approach the medical facilities without an escort. I am grateful,” Iruka says, swerving the topic to something else completely. “I also would like to apologize for my behavior nights ago. I didn’t mean to turn you into a punching bag. I am sorry. I spoke out of line. It will not happen again.” 

Kakashi remains quiet, punctuating the silence between them by turning a page in his book. “These are done, by the way,” Kakashi tips the spine of his book at the pile of stacked brown folders by his left elbow.

Iruka nods, the gesture probably pointless since Kakashi is busy reading. He picks up the pile of dossiers with an affirmative verbal response. Iruka is about to turn away to return to his desk when the question just spills out of his mouth. “If I get you lunch will you at least look at the red dossiers? Preferably before lunch and not by this evening.”

“My, my, first disrespect and insubordination, and now demanding and bribery. You really are shameless,” Kakashi deadpans.

“Says the man reading bad porn at work, oh I’m so shameless,” Iruka grouches with a tart snap, rolling his eyes and going back to his desk. 

If Kakashi heard his response, he doesn’t make it obvious. The hokage is too busy chuckling at a text passage to care, anyway.

*

An olive branch in the shape of a lunch box is left on Kakashi’s desk. 

Iruka doesn’t get his stack of papers before lunch. But he does get it the next morning. 

It’s a little silly but it makes Iruka smile to find them on his table, waiting for his attention.


*

Iruka has it upon himself to softly read to his husband, choosing a paperback that is filled with dark humor and sarcastic narration that he knows would have amused Tenzou to no end. 

Iruka goes through several books in a span of a week, his voice also going hoarse from continuously reading out loud - albeit softly - for hours to a man who continues to sleep.

Sometimes, Iruka reads till dawn. Sometimes the exhaustion wins and he falls asleep in his chair, only startling awake when the book slips from his hand and thumps on the floor. 

Within a week, the butterfly clips disappear, the bruises gradually looks less mottled as some of the swelling recedes, the bandages around Tenzou’s chest gets less thick and by the seventh day, the bandages on his upper arm disappears completely, leaving in its place a new jagged scar. On the eighth day, the respirator is removed, replaced only by an oxygen mask that mists and fades with each breath Tenzou is finally able to take on his own. The medic explained that his body is reacting well to the treatment, that he’s had periods of lucidity during the treatment. The medic also clarifies that they are keeping him sedated on purpose, just until the next round of regenerative healing is complete.

Tenzou looks a little better, even if he still a shadow of his former, whole and uninjured self. 

The ninth round of healing comes and goes. It is officially the day Tenzou is no longer being sedated. Perhaps it is a trick of the light, but Iruka swears he sees Tenzou’s lip twitch while he reads an amusing dialogue exchange from his new book of choice for the evening.

*

Iruka is shocked out of his almost dozing state sometime around mid-morning, when a messenger calls for him. The messenger hands him an envelope, sealed with the orphanage’s stamp on the backside. It sobers up Iruka quicker than the three piping hot cups of black coffee he's drank in two hours, as he tears the envelope open carefully and pulls out a two paged official letter just as he reaches his seat. 

Iruka reads the content over and over again, slowly lowering himself shakily on his chair. In all the mess that has taken place the past nine days, Iruka had completely forgotten his nervous apprehension on Toshio agreeing to be their son. Any if not all thoughts on the orphanage and the entire process of adoption had been purged from Iruka’s active thoughts in favor of staying up all night, keeping watch of his husband. 

“Everything okay?” Kakashi asks from his desk, not looking up from what he’s writing.

Iruka dazedly and breathlessly answers, "Yes. Everything is fine...” 

Iruka stares at the letter again.

Iruka can take Toshio home as early as tomorrow. Toshio had agreed.

He and Tenzou are officially fathers. 


*

Iruka goes home that afternoon to freshen up and change, to take one last look at the bedroom Toshio will be using and to make a list of things he should pick up from the store, basics that is suited for a child, enough to be used temporarily until Toshio becomes a little more adjusted and confident with the idea that he is allowed to have things, that he has the right to choices and not just hand-me-downs. He had a plan in mind to stop by briefly at the hospital first, tell the Tenzou the wonderful news and then head to the store to pick up what he needs.

Except when Iruka comes down the stairs, nausea slams up and into him with a force of a powerful jutsu that leaves him reeling. He reaches out to grab the bannister, knuckles going bone white, just as his world careens to one side and his knees give out, causing him to slip on the last three steps, tumbling forward on to the wooden floor. He comes crashing down in a tangle of limbs right there at the foot of the stairs, wincing at the jolt of pain at the impact.

Iruka groans as he rolls to his side, suddenly realizing just how worn and tired he truly is now that he’s lying on his back for the first time in days. It feels good to lie down for a change, when Iruka's been confided to resting on a chair or standing on his feet. Iruka sighs, bemused at his silly self because of course his body would give out at some point. He closes his eyes for a moment, with the intention to just move to the sofa, lie there for a few more minutes, just until he can gather enough energy to make his way to the hospital.

Iruka doesn’t make it to the sofa.

He doesn’t make it to the hospital.


*

Tenzou wakes up to the sound of the rain and the steady beat of the heart monitor somewhere above his head. The smell of ozone makes him reach up with the first hand that is able to move the quickest to tug the oxygen mask off his face. He sucks in a lungful of air that makes him hiss, visibly flinching as he turns to curl on his side at how tender his chest feels like from the inside, how it burns just the tiniest bit. Tenzou knows in that instant that he has incurred dangerously fatal damage, if the pain that goes through his body is anything to go by. It isn't agonizingly painful now. But it burns enough that Tenzou knows that if he had been conscious during the healing process, it would have been absolute torture. He wouldn't have been able to remain conscious through it all.

Tenzou remembers what happened with clarity.

He remembers the explosion, how it had thrown him backwards, blowing his chest open, the impact of it directly hitting him. Fearing that the call of distress may be a trap and not wanting to compromise the mission, Tenzou had sent Sparrow and Stag ahead with the information they had spent weeks extracting from the Land of Iron, a mission that had come at the request of the Fire daimyo.

In the middle of the open field, right by the river, the distress signal had been fired by their own fellow ANBU. Tenzou had approached with caution, Raccoon four steps behind him on high alert, bowstring cocked and ready when Tenzou asks for identification. The ANBU on the ground had coughed out an affirmative, had recited his registration number, turning his head so that they can see his mask — Ram. 

Tenzou recognizes the ANBU operative, registers the voice, connects the dots with his registration number. He remembers continuing to approach with caution despite recognizing the operative, because any shinobi worth their salt knew better than to take things at face value; anything and everything can be a trap. Peace may have been declared in the land but it never reaches the shadows. In the shadows, they are always at war. 

Tenzou remembers barking an order for his mask to come off. He remembers Ram complying with a trembling hand. The mask had fallen to the ground, forgotten, and discarded, just as Ram collapses to the ground then, crumpling to his left side, as if remaining on his knees had been too much of an effort.

And in the space of exactly three seconds as Tenzou gets close enough to be within arm's reach, he is suddenly trapped in Ram’s iron grip, dark grey eyes looking up at him with all the ferocity of the thunderstorm, clear, no longer injured or unfocused, not rolling backwards as he struggles to stay conscious — Ram had been lucid, purpose gleaming like the edge of a short blade in his eyes. And it is that faltering, quarter of a second that traps Tenzou.

Ram’s entire body had glowed red with explosive seals. 

It is from this point onward that Tenzou loses time. He remembers reacting to dislodge the vice grip on his arm, to snap Ram's arm four different places. He remembers seeing the explosive before he hears it, remembers channeling chakra too little, too late for some sort of buffer, instincts to survive kicking into overdrive. The next thing Tenzou realizes is that he can’t breathe and the treetops above him are moving. 

He assumes Raccoon had carried him back to the village.

He hopes that Racoon didn’t sustain any injuries, that he had been able to put distance between himself and the blast zone to some degree.

Tenzou pushes himself off the bed, his hand that isn’t hindered by a cast gripping the metal bed rail as he sits there for a moment, catching his breath.

“They almost lost you, you know? Kosuke tells me you took the full blast of the explosion.” 

Tenzou exhales slowly, shoulders slumping forward, turning his head towards where Kakashi is leaning against the windowsill, reading his red book under the glow of the dim light. 

“Not willingly, no,” Tenzou sighs, tone laced with mild sarcasm, testing his mobility range. He tries to flex his toes, his fingers, carefully rotating his neck. He stops a little to his left when something catches, making him wince and rub at the tender skin around his shoulder. “How long was I out?”

“More or less twelve days.” Kakashi’s book claps shut, disappearing into his utility pouch. “You look like shit.”

“Thank you, senpai, I feel like it too,” Tenzou mutters, running his fingers through sticky, greasy, longer hair. The itch on his face also makes itself known, the stubble now a lot darker, a lot thicker. Gods, he can’t wait to properly wash off almost twelve goddamn weeks from his body. He turns to Kakashi again, getting straight to business. “What did Kosuke tell you?”

“There was a distress call, you answered it. Ram had required assistance, you approached. Kosuke is of the opinion that it had been a trap. That Ram was bait.” Kakashi crossing his arms across his chest. “Was he?”

“He’s not wrong,” Tenzou answers, his hesitation obvious. 

It’s not entirely a wrong assessment. It had been a trap, Ram had been bait. Tenzou had fallen for it hook, line and sinker. 

“Oh?” 

Tenzou stares at his left arm, the one Ram had grabbed in a grip that had been so powerfully imprisoning, so strong. Tenzou can still feel Ram’s clawed gloves digging into his forearms. The bandages around his forearm is probably hiding the stitches from where the claws had cut through his flesh. “He knew what he was doing.”

“I see,” Kakashi pushes himself off the wall, tucking his hands into his pockets. “It was a trap then.”

It comes out dismissive, too curt, too accepting. To anyone who doesn’t know Kakashi, they’d read it as nothing. But Kakashi is looking at Tenzou rather sharply, pupils glinting with something sharp, calculating, eerily focused. Kakashi’s jaw is tightly locked, even though his shoulders remains slouched. Tenzou understands that look, understands better than to take it face value.

Kakashi doesn’t believe in mere coincidence, not after a war. 

“Yes, it was,” Tenzou agrees, going with act of letting ears within the walls, if any at all, believe that they had fallen for it.

Whatever it is.

“Your official report can wait one you’re out of here,” Kakashi drawls, heading for the door. “I’m keeping you in the village indefinitely. Iruka will be happy to see you.”

The mention of Iruka’s name is enough to give Tenzou the strength to stand on his feet.


*

Tenzou manages to swallow some warm tea and ignores the rest of the contents of his food tray. He is told that the bandages are kept in place for pressure rather than anything else. 

At the crack of dawn, he is standing in the connecting bathroom, unraveling the dressing from his torso, his arms, from his eye, around his head and leg. He abandons them all on the bathroom floor, standing still under the warm spray, washing away weeks of dirt and dried blood a sponge bath isn’t able to truly rid off. The sourness on his skin swirls down the drain, leaving him calmer, his mind fading to dullness. He stands there with his head tilted heavenwards, suddenly so glad to be home, even when every part of him hurts. 

The shower tells him more about his range of motion, too little for comfort, but not unexpected. Tenzou thinks that time in the village to recuperate is exactly what he needs. He knows that he’ll be good in a week, better in two, excellent in three. 

He’s in the middle of rinsing his face after shaving with the disposable razor the medic hard brought in with the toiletries earlier, drying his face with a towel when he hears the door to his room open and close. The presence that floods through the room makes his breath catch, his eyes coming up at his own foggy reflection, something achingly warm filling his lungs because there, right there by the doorway, looking gaunt than he remembers, long hair held up in a thicker bun, bags that betrays countless sleepless nights, and still so, so damn beautiful, stands Iruka. 

Iruka who looks at Tenzou through the mirror. Iruka whose got tears forming around the corners of his eyes. Iruka who flushes and smiles, so, so happily, both dimples hollowing his cheeks as he leans heavily against the door frame, his lean, narrow body sagging with obvious relief.

“Miss me?” Tenzou asks softly, as he carefully turns in nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist and new jagged scars decorating his torso.

Iruka steps over the bandages on the floor, reaching over carefully, slimmer fingers carefully cupping Tenzou’s face. “Yes…” Iruka exhales, lips trembling as he blinks away the film of salt in his eyes. "Gods, yes."

Tenzou rests his hands on Iruka’s narrower hips, sliding his palms upwards, going over the sharper edges of Iruka’s body before he wraps his arms around him, carefully buries his face into the crook of Iruka’s neck, where there, the skin is the warmest, the softest, as the homely scent of oranges and cinnamon tea fills Tenzou's nose.

Gods, he’s missed this. He’s been away too long. Far, far too long. 

“It’s good to be home,” Tenzou murmurs, tightening his arms around Iruka who shakes with quiet relieved sobs.

He can’t imagine what Iruka must have felt, watching him sleep that long.


*

Tenzou learns the next night, when they allow him to go home and rest with strict orders to not strain himself and a large paper bag of medicine and supplements, that Iruka had been there when they had brought him in. That Iruka had watched him struggle as the medics fought for hourse to keep him alive. 

They are in the bathroom of their bedroom, the sound of snipping scissors filling the silence between them.

“I’m sorry I put you through that,” Tenzou murmurs, shame dripping in his tone, as he keeps his gaze strained on the floor tiles.

“I was afraid I’d lose you,” Iruka says, a little hesitant in his delivery as he snips more hair. “I know we’ve talked about it. I know you go through missions that are too high of a risk, sometimes with very low success rates. I know that each time you leave, it’s possible that it’ll be the last time I see you. I understand that. But when I saw you, how you looked like, I just — I’m not — I don’t think I’m as strong as you think I am. I know I’m not as strong as I believe I am, or sometimes pretend to be. Not when it comes to losing you, you know?” Iruka sniffs a little, quickly clearing his throat. He continues to cut Tenzou’s hair, the flow of his movements undisturbed, his hands remarkably steady in hits task. “I’m not complaining. Please don’t take this as a complaint.”

“I’m not.” Tenzou looks up at the mirror, watching Iruka focusing on the task at hand. 

“Good. Because others would interpret that as a demanding and indirect request to change your line of work, to maybe consider doing something less ‘dangerous’. Not that it’s realistic. Not being in ANBU means being less exposure to danger. It's a fool's hope.” Iruka lets out a shaky exhale.

“I’m not other people,” Tenzou gently says.

“I just — I just want you to know, that when you’re out there, whenever, wherever, no matter what happens, whether you make it or you don’t, I want you to remember that you are dearly loved. That nothing can ever fill the void you’re going to leave behind. Nothing.” Iruka reaches up to brush the heel of his hand over his cheek.

“Iruka…”

“I’m not ready to lose you.” Iruka shrugs, wrinkling his nose as he continues to snip more hair. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can ever be. Please don’t think less of me because of that.”

“I don’t,” Tenzou reaches up to take Iruka’s hand, bringing Iruka’s wrist to his lips to press a kiss on the soft skin over the quickly racing pulse. “And I never will. Remember that.”

In the glow of their bathroom light, Tenzou isn’t able to get over how remarkably beautiful Iruka is. He stands there, in sweat pants and a shirt that now sits a little too loosely on his frame, long dark lashes brushing against his cheek with each blink. His hair is held up in a loose, clumsily tied up bun, a little damp from his earlier shower. He had helped Tenzou wash up the last bit of the hospital off his skin, had knelt there in the shower carefully running a sponge over Tenzou body, his touch careful, intimate, gentle. Tenzou didn’t have the heart to tell him that he didn’t need to do this, that Tenzou is capable of moving. But something had stilled Tenzous tongue in the last moment, and now, as Iruka snips the last bit of long hair, carefully removing the towel from Tenzou’s shoulders and starts to clearing up the mess on the floor, Tenzou is glad he didn’t stop him.

The entire gesture is probably Iruka reaffirming with his own hands that Tenzou is alive.

Iruka is kneeling in front of Tenzou helping him into loose sweatpants. “On a less depressing note, I did what you asked. I went to the orphanage, saw some of the kids. Got all our papers sorted.”

Tenzou carefully stands, bracing himself on the wall, because he isn't exactly completely stead on his feet yet. He’s been given a single crutch to use as support when required. Iruka tugs the pants upwards, knotting the drawstring as he looks up at Tenzou with a smile that warms everything in Tenzou’s body. “Oh?”

“He said yes.” Iruka’s left dimple hollows, his entire face glowing with a warmth that makes Tenzou forget there’s even a world beyond the two of them. He forgets how much his body even hurts, for just one brief second. 

“Then we shouldn’t keep him waiting any longer. You think Kakashi-senpai would mind if you ask for a few hours off?” Tenzou asks, unable to stop himself from returning the smile. 

“I’ll let him know,” Iruka says, standing up and pressing a kiss to Tenzou’s jaw.

*

They lie in bed, Mango settling like a comfortable weight between their feet on top of the blanket. Iruka sighs tiredly, the breath staggering out of him in a way the belies countless sleepless nights. Tenzou lies there on his side, watching the shadows dips over the planes of Iruka’s chest, how the shadows cuts sharper over his collarbones, neck and the curve of his shoulders. Tenzou shifts a little closer, tugging Iruka until he's flushed against Tenzou's chest, forcing Mango to find a new spot on the corner of the bed with a throaty meow as he presses his palms flat on Iruka’s stomach. Spooning his husband like this makes him more aware of the sharper edges of Iruka’s shoulders blades. He sits far too small in Tenzou’s arms, breakable, delicate, when Tenzou remembers a more solid frame, deceptively strong in its slenderness. 

The difference isn’t alarmingly obvious when Iruka is dressed. But lying with nothing else other than sweatpants, the bare skin of Iruka's upper body flushed against Tenzou, it’s very obvious.

“You haven’t been taking care of yourself,” Tenzou says, concerned. 

“Guilty,” Iruka sighs sleepily, voice already thick with sleep. “I’ll do better, I promise. Don’t worry.” 

Tenzou listens to his husband fall asleep almost immediately, far too exhausted than he lets on.

Sleep doesn’t come easy to Tenzou that night.

An hour before dawn, he finds himself unable to go back to sleep. Iruka remains unmoving on the bed, his breaths deep and even. Tenzou gets out of bed carefully, quietly making his way towards the corner of the room where he takes out a notepad and a pen. Mango’s head perks up from the bed, green eyes blinking at him with something a little judgmental, a little unimpressed. He purrs deep in his throat, the noise filling the comfortable quiet of their room. Tenzou hushes him gently, rubbing between his ears a few times before finding a spot by the window where he proceeds to write down his report on Ram.

He draws diagrams of what he remembers of the glowing seal that had appeared on the visible skin of Ram's body, revisiting the image in his mind over and over again. He recognizes some of the seal sequences, the binding elements that makes up its outer core. It’s intelligent, now that he stares at the rendition of it on the notepad. It’s a shame that he doesn’t know how the rest of it looks like underneath the ANBU uniform.

By the time the sun is over the horizon warming their bedroom with gold, Tenzou tucks the report into an envelope, seals it and sets it on the table. He’ll have Iruka drop it off to Kakashi when he asks for permission to have half the morning off. It shouldn’t look suspicious, not when it’s in a regular mailing envelope, anyway. It should pass off as one the many documents in the office. 

Tenzou joins Iruka on the bed once more, expecting him to stir awake as he usually is already up at this time of the morning.

Iruka doesn’t stir at all.

Tenzou cannot remember the last time he had to shake his husband awake. He can’t recall if he ever has. Iruka wakes up with a soft noise of complaint, turning to lie on his back, flushed and still so beautiful in the morning light, wincing a little bit at the change of position. Tenzou isn't able to stop himself from leaning forward, pressing his lips to Iruka's temple, the kiss lingering as Tenzou indulges in the sudden bloom of affection filling his chest. 

“What time is it?” Iruka asks, voice hoarse.

“Ten minutes to seven,” Tenzou murmurs, dragging his kiss downwards to the corner of Iruka's lips, frowning when Iruka goes still under him once more. “You’re exhausted. Do you want to sleep in a little more?”

“No, no,” Iruka groans, pushing himself up from the bed. “I’m up…”

*

Iruka is a little shamefaced and embarrassed when he enters the office a little late that morning. He pulls out the envelope from his pocket and hands it over to Kakashi wordlessly. Kakashi takes it and proceeds to read its content. Iruka gives him a moment, waits until Kakashi reads all four pages before he sets it aside.

“Hokage-sama, I was hoping I could get your permission to take a few hours off to attend to personal matters? I have an appointment at the orphanage and it shouldn’t, hopefully, take too long. Or so I hope.

“Take the whole day off,” Kakashi answers. “In fact, take the next two days off too. You’ve earned it. You’ve done good work here.”

“Oh…” Iruka blinks, surprised. “T-Thank you for your kindness and understanding. But there’s no need to —”

“I insist,” Kakashi says, leaning back in his chair. 

“Right,” Iruka answers dumbly, a little taken aback by how easy it is to get Kakashi’s approval on his sudden request for a few hours of leave. He's surprised Kakashi doesn't him for a better explanation. A part of him wonders if it's because he's Tenzou's spouse. The thought is fleeting, gone as soon as it is formed. “I’ll be taking my leave then. Please don’t forget that this pile over here really does require your immediate attention. The contractors for the southern region of the village has not been honoring the terms of their contract. Our inspectors have failed them on numerous fronts already and while we’re not under budget or late on payments, they are —”

“Iruka.” Kakashi leans over his desk, cocking an eyebrow.

“S-Sorry, just, please, please don’t forget that and the other issue with reviewing the medical board’s recommendation for —”

“Go home; that’s an order,” Kakashi sounds amused, not at all unkind. There’s even a ghost of a smile tugging around the corners of his eyes. “I’ll see you in three days.”

“Yes, Hokage-sama.” Iruka dips his head politely, swallowing and resigning himself to following that order.

“Oh and Iruka,” Kakashi calls out, making Iruka turn to look over his shoulder at his Hokage. “Congratulations.”

Iruka can’t stop the smile from stretching widely on his face at that, the excitement of what is brightening his entire face.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

In the sunlight bright waiting room of the orphanage’s main lobby, Tenzou stands staring out at the playground where children have been let out to play. From inside the building, the cheerful laughter can be heard loud and clear, distant bells that belies excitement, enthusiasm and clusters of energy being released. From the pieces of dialogue Tenzou picks up, there seems to be a loud group of children playing pretend-shinobi, fighting off an invisible enemy, each of them coming up with very creative names for their pretend-jutsus. It’s a little amusing, listening to things like thunder-wall-jutsu, fire-sky-jutsu, demon-shadow-jutsu, or giant-ice-bear-jutsu. Tenzou supposes it’s ambitions that they all think they can channel all five elements, including special blood-line limits like ice and wood. Tenzou gives them credit for being creative and ambitious at least. He catches a reflection of himself, the corner of his upper lip twitched upwards in open amusement, right there in public with no other reason other than the fact that he is amused at children playing a silly game.

The smile is quickly ironed out to something a little more neutral, as he adjusts himself on the single crutch he has tucked under his right arm. 

Beside him, Iruka is sitting on one of the chairs, facing the reception amd away from the window, back rigidly straight, his entire body language a shell for his very obvious nervousness -- obvious to Tenzou, at least. Iruka’s right thumb is tapping rapidly and silently over the fabric of his pants, the gesture so small it could have been missed easily at a glance. They’re both dressed in comfortable dark pants, shoes and a t-shirt, foregoing their forehead protectors. They had decided last minute to dress down for this, not wanting to come off as intimidating, or a little too official with their Chuunin and Jounin uniform. Tenzou supposes the tactic is to disarm the child, to not make Toshio feel like he’s walking into something he may not be ready for.

As it is, Tenzou still looks a little dire with his left eye still covered with gauze and parts of his jaw still splashed with fading bruises. The thick bandages on his left arm is at least gone, replaced instead by smaller square patches of taped gauze where the wound is still a little tender, but otherwise healing remarkably well. His right arm remains encased in a short-arm cast for another week. Over Tenzou’s white t-shirt, he’s wearing a shoulder brace on his right, one of the conditions he had to follow in light of his slightly earlier discharge. Tenzou’s casual state of dress does nothing to soften his hard edges. It does nothing to disguise the power that is clearly visible in his stance, his solid built and the visible scars. 

And no matter how alluring Iruka is in his simplicity and charm, in his light gray v-neck t-shirt that Tenzou has the biting urge to want to pull off him the moment Iruka had put it on that morning, Iruka’s high, tight, thick bun where the strands glint gold under the bright sunshine, how welcoming his overall aura is, Toshio is going to freak out at the sight of his other father.

No doubt about that.

Tenzou is proven right when Iruka stands slowly, as Toshio freezes at the sight of them three meters away, ushered by Hikaru-san who is murmuring soft words of encouragement. Tenzou sees all this from the reflection of the glass window. Tenzou only turns when Toshio is about two steps away, dressed in sandals, baggy black shorts and a slightly oversized fading printed t-shirt, his silver hair a wild mess that it’d give Kakashi a run for his money. And just as Tenzou predicts, Toshio’s brown eyes are wide, staring up at him as all the color drains from his face. 

Tenzou doesn’t miss how Iruka’s smile falters just the tiniest bit at Toshio’s reaction, his heart probably sinking at the sight of the child looking so fearful of his husband; Iruka recovers very quickly to thank Hikaru-san, engaging her in a conversation. Hikaru-san gives Iruka a run down of contacts, handing him a few more documents that contains copies of Toshio’s immunization records, medical records, academy records and his birth certificate -- all this while Tenzou holds Toshio’s gaze with his own, waiting for the boy to fidget, to be cowed, to look away or to break his current reaction of staring unabashedly terrified and wide eyed at Tenzou’s face.

Impressively, Toshio doesn’t shy away, doesn’t break eye contact, even when every part of him is wound tight like coiled spring.

Tenzou likes that. 

It reminds him of Iruka, how he doesn’t shy away from anything, no matter what the rank of the person.

Iruka is thanking Hikaru-san, wrapping up their conversation when Tenzou carefully lowers himself to a crouch, coming down to Toshio’s eye level, one hand remaining braced on his crutch. Toshio inhales sharply, audibly, his chest halting with that inhale as he holds his breath, eyes impossibly wide. Tenzou watches him swallow, and can’t help it when his lips twitch up to a small smile.

“I’m Tenzou,” he says, tilting his head a bit to the side. “We finally meet.”

“A-Are you okay?” Toshio stammers, pupils shifting its focus just the tiniest bit to the gauze covering Tenzou’s left eye and the hideous bruises on that side of his face. Tenzou catches sight of a missing tooth, wonders why that is so.

“I will be.” Tenzou nods, something tender flaring in his chest at the display of concern. “It looks worse than it is.”

“Oh…” Toshio swallows again, his entire small, skinny frame shaking with his next shuddering inhale. “Okay...”

“You’re missing a tooth,” Tenzou points out, nodding as if to emphasize his point. “What happened?”

Toshio’s nose wrinkles in distaste, as his purses his lips into a thin line and for the first time, Toshio looks away, a flush rising high to his cheeks. The reaction, the entire sequence of it all,  tugs at the softest parts of Tenzou, parts of him he did not know existed because for a moment, however brief, he sees Iruka. It knocks the breath out of his chest like a punch, stiffening the muscles of his back, catching Tenzou completely off guard; it leaves him a little heady too, as he rides the sudden rise of emotions he cannot begin to explain, let alone name, before it settles to something calm, something Tenzou recognizes as the primal urge to protect That feeling has stopped being a foreign concept to him since Iruka, and later on, team seven.

(He’s felt this way several times, whenever he looks at Iruka marking his papers, or falling asleep at his study. It flares each time Tenzou wakes up to answer the call of a hawk’s wings, when he has to leave Iruka behind and on good days, the best days, it creeps into his chest during dawn, like early spring melting the cold frost of winter, when Iruka lies beside him in bed, his hair fanned out on the pillow, blissfully trusting of Tenzou, tucked close to his warmth.)

“I got punched in the face,” Toshio explains. “By Makiko. I pushed her first because she was picking on the younger kid, kept taking his and his sister’s stuff when she shouldn’t. She said a lot of wrong things too, that’s why I pushed her.”

“That doesn’t explain the missing tooth,” Tenzou points out, cocking an eyebrow. He watches the flush come higher on the apples of Toshio’s cheeks, his nose wrinkling again as he defensively crosses his arms across his chest. He probably doesn’t even realize he’s doing it.

“She didn’t like that. So she punched me in the face.” Toshi looks embarrassed, ashamed even. “The tooth came off then.”

“Ahh.” Tenzou nods slowly, waiting for more. He is not disappointed.

“I got up and hit her back. She’s missing a tooth too,” Toshio swallows. “She left the kid alone at least. Stopped picking on him and his sister. Do you still want me now?” 

Tenzou looks up at Iruka, whose staring back at him with apprehension and something so incredibly vulnerable. Hikaru-san had already left seconds ago during the conversation, leaving Iruka to watch the entire exchange, lips slightly parted in awe, wonder and nervousness. Tenzou isn’t sure about the nervousness, why it’s even present, if he’s being honest with himself. He watches Iruka ball his hands to a fist, before forcibly relaxing their hold on Toshio’s plastic dosier. Tenzou stands up, pointedly looking at Iruka, a smile curling around the corners of his lips that leaves Iruka heaving a sigh of relief. 

Iruka didn’t have to be nervous. He really, really didn’t.

“You know what, kid?” Tenzou, reaches out with his good hand, gently ruffling Toshio’s head, pleased that the gesture gets him a flushed, wide-eyed look, maybe even a little pleased. “You and I are going to get along just fine.”

Toshio doesn’t respond verbally, but his face looks absolutely incandescent.


*

“I get to live here?” Toshio asks, breathless, as they stand in their living room having finished the tour of the house; Toshio had remained quiet through out, the look of wonderment not leaving his face since he’s learned that he’s got a spacious room to put his things, that he gets to have an actual cabinet as opposed to the locker-like storage unit at the orphanage.

“Yes,” Iruka says gently. “Do you like it?”

“It’s really big. And nice.” Toshio looks over at the spread of purple, staring at the expanse of purple just beyond the green of their garden. “It’s like the Academy Lavender Garden. Before the war…”

Tenzou’s gaze flicks up at Iruka, smirking at how the flush ignites all over his husband’s face. He cannot stop the grin from spreading across his face when Iruka scowls rather adorably at his amusement, actually directing the not-a-word-out-of-your-mouth look he sometimes makes when he feels a little embarrassed. 

“Is it now?” Tenzou responds, watching Iruka swallow this time and flush a little redder. 

“Yeah…” Toshio’s voice trails off, his attention shifting to the newcomer who decides to stroll into the living room, a frown on his yawning face. Toshio is fixated on Mango, staring at their house cat who decides to flop on the floor, leaning against the edge of a sofa in a reclined slouch, an ear twitching. 

“This is Mango,” Iruka introduces. “Our house cat. He tries to keep things in order around here.” Toshio looks up at Iruka and Tenzou, like he’s waiting for permission to move from his spot. “You can take care of him, too.” 

Toshio vibrates on his spot, torn between standing still and wanting to pet the cat. 

“Go on. He doesn’t bite. He’ll just look at you funny.” Tenzou tips his chin towards Mango, watching as Toshio takes a hesitant step forward, and then another, his toes curling in the plush rug of their living room, relishing at its softness as he kneels on the ground and cautiously pets Mango’s head. 

The smile that spreads over Toshio’s face makes Iruka sighs in relief. Tenzou stands next to Iruka, wrapping an arm around his shoulders, pressing a kiss to his temple,  as they both watch Toshio adjust on the rug, gathering Mango up in his arms and petting the length of his coat. Mango purrs at the attention, quite pleased with himself despite the lazy eye, draping all over Toshio’s front, his golden belly against Toshio’s chest. 

“He’s so warm! And soft! And big!” Toshio says, grinning up at them both.

Iruka looks like he’s about to cry with absolute joy, huffing a laugh as he crosses his arms across his middle. “Right?” 

Tenzou thinks that he’ll never forget this moment.

*

Their first dinner together is an interesting affair. 

Toshio is too short to reach the table properly, not without having to use his elbows to prop himself a little higher on the chair, anyway. Tenzou fixes this by modifying one of their dining room chairs, adding extra height around the legs just so that Toshio won’t have to struggle so much. Toshio had looked at him with his mouth slightly open, impressed, flushing when Tenzou simply winked at him before helping up his new chair.

They had spent most of the afternoon outside in the market and stores, getting Toshio clothes that fit and a few other essentials. Toshio had been visibly hesitant in choosing, always looking up at them like he needs permission even if he had been told to choose something. He eventually warms up to it by the time they reach the grocery store a little bit. The time in between his hesitance and making a selection shortens, but doesn’t completely disappear.

The hesitance is back full force now that they’re sitting at their table, take out meals served in proper serving plates and bowls. On the floor, Mango is already face deep in his bowl of tuna. Tenzou is pouring Toshio a glass of orange juice as Iruka serves them their portions of rice and gyudon. They settle down, Tenzou and Iruka tucking into their meals in comfortable silence when they both notice that Toshio isn’t exactly eating, busy staring at the food on his plate.

“Everything okay?” Iruka asks, peering at Toshio who jolts at the question. “You don’t like it?”

“No, no, Iruka-tou-- Iruka-sensei -- that is --” Toshio stammers, looking up in alarm at the both of them; Tenzou doesn’t miss the slip up, and judging by Iruka sudden sharp intake, neither does he. “It’s a lot. We were told not to waste food. I don’t think I can finish this…”

“That’s okay,” Iruka encourages. “It’s a good habit to keep and one that you should; we also believe in not wasting anything in this house. That being said, it shouldn’t scare you and I am glad you told us what’s worrying you. How about I reduce your portion and you promise to ask for seconds, or thirds, or even fourths should you want more -- this is your home now. This is the place where you should be able to be yourself the most. Is that something we can agree on?”

Toshio nods slowly, his shoulders visibly relaxing. Toshio is looking at Tenzou while Iruka reduces the portion on his bowl by half. Tenzou watches Toshio swallow thickly again, carefully reaching up to pick up his tall glass of orange juice with both hands to take a slow sip. He continues to fidget a little in his seat, clearly something weighing on his mind. 

“Anything else you want to add, Toshio?” Tenzou prompts, making Toshio sit up a little taller in a false display of bravery, when he isn’t even able to meet Tenzou’s gaze.

It leaves Tenzou a little winded, the similarity between Toshio and Iruka. It’s ridiculous.

The flush is back full force on Toshio’s cheeks. “Should I call you Tenzou-san? And Iruka-sensei as Iruka-sensei?” 

“We are legally your fathers now,” Tenzou points out, wanting that idea to be fully cemented in Toshio’s mind. It still fully hasn’t with Tenzou; identifying himself as a father is a foreign concept.

“So… it’s okay to call you t-that?” Toshio asks, a knit appearing between his eyebrows, looking very small and vulnerable.

Tenzou looks at Iruka then, not quite sure how to approach the matter. Toshio has lost his parents young enough to remember their identities, but also young enough for the memory of them, their personalities and their mannerisms to be forgotten. Unlike Tenzou, Toshio knew his parents to some degree. They’re gone and dead, their memory not even clear at this point. They’re just ideas of something that existed in the past. Whatever they had intended to pass down, it is likely that Toshio has not retained any of them, if at all. 

Tenzou would prefer to just have Toshio just address them as his fathers from the start, have him get used to it already, society’s delicate constitutions be damned. Then again, Tenzou prefers not to beat around the bush, as well. He believes in clear, definitive lines. 

A part of him, however, that soft, tender part of him, stills his tongue; he reminds himself that this is a child, not a teenager, with limited understanding of the world and how it turns. Tenzou digs down for patience, some of the empathy he’s seen Iruka display and looks to his husband for guidance on how to address what may seem like a sensitive topic to a child whose been suddenly doused with a new environment and a new reality. All in one day.

“Well,” Iruka pauses, clearly measuring his words as he looks away from Tenzou to hold Toshio’s gaze. “Tenzou is the head of this household, the breadwinner of our family. So why don’t you think about how you want to address the both of us while keeping that in mind? Try saying it out loud to yourself a few times. See how you feel about potentially addressing us as your fathers. Take your time, there is no rush. And when you’re ready, well, we’re right here.”

Iruka’s hand finds Tenzou’s on the table, a tremble going through his fingers. Tenzou is quick to lace their fingers together, finding the answer rather adequate. Having Toshio think on and then conquer the turmoil in himself is a good strategy to build strong character. 

Tenzou keeps this strategy in mind. If this is Iruka’s plan of approach to raise their son together, then this is the plan of action Tenzou will use and apply to all future interactions.

“Okay…” Toshio nods a few times, before hesitantly picking up his chopsticks.

*

In the comfort of their bedroom, after tucking Toshio into bed, Tenzou finds Iruka unravelling his hair from its high bun, shaking the long locks loose in front of the bathroom mirror. Tenzou presses up against Iruka’s back, fisting his fingers on the hem of Iruka’s light gray t-shirt. Something he’s been wanting to do all day since Iruka put it on.

Tenzou closes his eyes, his chin propped on Iruka’s shoulder, releasing the fabric from his fist, letting the soft cotton, nothing especially remarkable per se, or expensive, smooth under his palms. He listens to Iruka’s heart rate pick up just a little bit, listens to it quicken even more when he drags the palms of his hands over Iruka’s sides, over the muscles of his stomach, up to his upper abdomen and back down again to rest on his stomach. Iruka’s hands are on the table, the hand that had been on his brush now lax. Whatever Iruka had in mind earlier forgotten.

Tenzou meets Iruka’s eyes through the mirror, heated, wanting and without warning, Tenzou steps back long enough to flip his stunningly, ridiculously attractive husband around, boxing him against the bathroom sink, just as a gasp tears past Iruka’s throat, his hands seeking purchase on Tenzou’s good shoulder and the sink.

Tenzou dips downwards to capture Iruka’s parted lips, their chest flushed close, Iruka now halfway up the marble counter top of their sink. Tenzou nudges him up, his good arm going around Iruka’s hip as he fully hoists Iruka upwards, sitting him on the countertop, nudging his legs apart, comfortably settling himself between Iruka’s lips and stealing all the breath Iruka had in chest for himself.

Iruka is breathless when he breaks the kiss, flushed, dishevelled, his lips swollen, and gods, just so, so beautiful. Tenzou watches Iruka chew his lower lip hesitantly, the flush darkening on his cheeks.

“Your shoulder,” Iruka warns, arousal thick in his voice, peppered with a little concern.

“What of it?” Tenzou asks, genuinely curious as he nips at Iruka’s lower lip. 

“Well…” Iruka shudders, unable to really stop himself from kissing Tenzou, either, an unbridled hunger trying to be reigned in. 

The attempt is futile, this much Tenzou knows. He hasn’t kissed his husband like this since his return home, since leaving the hospital. And Tenzou knows, gods, how he knows, that Iruka’s hunger for him, Iruka’s need for him, always, always wins, despite Iruka’s good intentions and concerns for his well being.

It’s cute, that Iruka still gets concerned like this when Tenzou has fucked him several times with injuries far worse than his current one, sometimes too tender in places where tissues have been regenerated. The cast, admittedly, is new to the scenario. Tenzou is not at all perturbed by it’s presence, dragging his lips down to Iruka’s neck, teeth sinking into the soft flesh of his peeking collarbone. Tenzou pointedly bites down hard, sharp enough to send a jolt of shock up Iruka’s spine, purging whatever reason that head of his is trying to cook up all in honor of Tenzou’s well being. 

Iruka hisses loudly. A little too loudly that he brings a bist up to his mouth, biting down on a knuckle.

“Are you honestly complaining?” Tenzou asks, dragging his tongue over the sharp definition of Iruka’s collarbone. 

“You know I’m not!” Iruka shudders, his attempt to be reasonable failing as almost thirteen weeks of frustration, of need, comes rising up to the surface. 

“I don’t know.” Tenzou takes a full step back, his gaze brushing over Iruka’s body like a warm brush. Propped up on the marble counter, Iruka is already fully aroused, his pants tenting in the front, abdomen heaving with breaths he’s trying to catch, to control. A stab of want goes up and through Tenzou’s abdomen, his fingers reaching up to undo the brace on his shoulder, velcro peeling in one loud, sharp yank. It falls to the ground, Iruka’s gaze following it before coming back up to stare at Tenzou, flush darkening on his cheeks. “I mean, it does sound a little like a complaint.”

“It’s not,” Iruka murmurs, lowering himself back to the ground, his hands remaining on the counter, knuckles bone white in his grip for balance and perhaps, some reminder to remain in control.

Tenzou tugs his white t-shirt off, dropping it carelessly on the ground, reaching forward to undo the button of his pants. The zipper comes down, and before Tenzou can do anything else, Iruka is stepping forward, sealing Tenzou’s mouth in a kiss, his fingers sliding past Tenzou’s waistband, pushing his pants down and freeing his quickly hardening cock. Tenzou grits his teeth at the touch, at Iruka caressing the length of it, stroking him to full hardness, familiarizing himself with the cock he hasn’t had in thirteen weeks.

“You’re going to have to be quiet, you know?” Tenzou murmurs between their kisses. “Can’t scare the kid on his first night here.” 

“Or you will have to control yourself,” Iruka counters, dropping to his knees and without preamble running his tongue over the length of Tenzou’s cock, agonizingly slow, from root tip, swirling around the head once as if to punctuate his statement. 

I should control myself? Really?” Tenzou huffs a soft laugh at the ceiling, eyes sliding shut at the warmth of Iruka’s mouth, gods, he’s too good at this.

“Yes, you should,” Iruka emphasizes, wrapping his lips over the head of Tenzou’s cock, and without warning, he sucks long, deep and hard, draining whatever precum buildup there may be, milking Tenzou for more.

Tenzou sways forward at the heat that flares his senses, his hands fisting into Iruka’s hair, teeth gritting as he bares them at the ceiling, eyes scrunching shut as every line of his body clenches, trying to mute the natural reaction to gasp out loud. 

Iruka releases Tenzou’s cock with a popping noise, and when Tenzou looks down to see Iruka looking up at him, very much aware of what he’s done but still trying to play coy, trying to pass the entire outright display of provocation as something innocent, teeth peeking out from between his lips, looking so goddamn beautiful -- well. 

Tenzou empties his next breath slowly, his heart throbbing as all the blood rush down to his cock, heat spreading over the length of his body like wildfire.

“We’ll see,” Tenzou responds, calm, collected and proceeds to push his cock into his husband’s eager and parted lips.


*

In the moonlight washed comfort of their bed, Tenzou scrunches his eyes tight as climax slams into him like a tidal wave, teeth bared at the full moon above their glass ceiling, his body pulled taut as Iruka trembles in his lap, impossibly tight around his cock, his hands white knuckled on the headboard, a sheen sweat glistening on his face and chest. 

Iruka came earlier, stroking himself while he had sucked Tenzou’s cock off on the floor of their bathroom. 

And now, a while later, with Tenzou’s softening cock in his ass, Iruka is half hard again, lips split open from where he’s bitten through the skin in an effort to keep quiet.

Iruka is shaking, knees weak, as he releases his hold on the headboard to slowly lower himself to kiss Tenzou, taking his time, languid, gentle in his tongue’s caress, dragging lips down Tenzou’s chin and cupping his face with his fingers. Tenzou shudders, the sound barely even a whisper, a sound that Iruka swallows, takes whatever noise Tenzou makes for himself, tucking it away safely.

“Gods, you feel so good,” Iruka murmurs, purposely rolling hips. It makes a shudder go through Tenzou’s body, his hand snapping up to Iruka’s thigh in a firm grip, almost bruising to still him from stimulating his still oversensitized, softening cock -- it makes Tenzou inhale sharply, a soft throaty moan reverberating deep in his throat. “So, so good…”

Tenzou keeps his eyes closed, humming throatily, letting Iruka kiss down the length of his neck, peppering kisses all over his chest as he catches his breath. It takes a few minutes but when Tenzou opens his eyes, when he looks up at his dearest husband, he sees Iruka looking at him with a smile that makes something catch in Tenzou’s throat. Iruka’s fingers are brushing the damp strands off Tenzou’s forehead, coming through the spikes with gentle affection that makes the heat spread all over Tenzou’s chest, setting something aflutter in his stomach, as soft as feathers, gentle like butterfly wings. 

Iruka is tracing the line of Tenzou’s jaw with his fingers, brown arises bespeckled with gold, benevolence glowing in its depth, devotion glimmering on the surface. Iruka looks at Tenzou like he’s staring at the vastness of the universe, the endless possibilities of worlds beyond theirs, vast in its reach, glorious in its spread, all of this with robbed breath and in awe, an admiration that makes Tenzou suddenly very self-aware of himself.

“What?” Tenzou murmurs, looking up at Iruka form under the fall of his damp lashes.

“Nothing,” Iruka sighs, dimples hollowing, one hand coming to rest comfortably over Tenzou’s neck, his fingers caressing the soft, short hairs of Tenzou’s nape.

There’s a serenity in this moment, the kind that staves off sleep because this is a better reality than what can ever exist in Tenzou’s dreams. Under the moonlight, Iruka isn’t just beautiful; he is other worldly, almost bewitching in how he holds Tenzou’s full attention prisoner. Looking at him now, like this, Tenzou wonders how he’s even remained away from him for as long as he did, how twelve weeks even managed to be bearable.

“Are you happy?” Tenzou asks quietly, watching as the doting smile slowly curl around the corners of Iruka’s mouth. 

“Yes. Very, very much so,” Iruka sighs, closing his eyes after a moment, the tip of his tongue brushing over the curve of his lower lip, shrugging one shoulder in a manner that is almost self-deprecating. “I am -- I am not sure what I have done to deserve all this happiness. To deserve you.” 

Tenzou straightens a bit at that statement, propping himself a little higher on the headboard, the headiness of his orgasm parting to make way for focus and clarity. His hands curl firmly on Iruka’s hip, thumb caressing the soft, warm, bruising skin. “I should be saying that…”

“No. No, you had a choice,” Iruka shakes his head. “You had a choice and you made it; you came back and chose me. Sometimes -- sometimes I wonder why, when you can have anyone else, stronger and better in every way, you know? Isn’t that how clans look to wed off their heirs?”

“It’s a good thing that I’m not part of any clan then.” Tenzou reaches up to brush Iruka loose hair back, tucking it behind his ear, spreading that palm out to cup one side of Iruka’s face.  “And to answer your question, well, that’s easy. You are all the good there is this world. You’re the reason we -- ANBU -- fight for. People like you. Good people.” Tenzou thumbs Iruka’s cheek. “You are Konoha. I am not afraid to take a beating if it means keeping you safe.”

Iruka swallows, his throat bobbing. “Aren’t you scared?”

“Of?” Tenzou tilts his head, blinking, confused.

“This,” Iruka gestures, looking around the house, at the right hand side wall of their bedroom where just beyond, Toshio and Mango are fast asleep in bed. “Us.”

“I wouldn’t call it fear. I referred to it at the time as an inconvenience, a distraction,” Tenzou huffs a bemused exhale at the memory of how he had tried to deny the affection that had found itself so deeply seated in his being that it had been impossible to get rid of by the time he realised it. Iruka is looking at him with something Tenzou doesn’t like, doubt creeping into that soft look, sharpening the edges of it with something ugly. It shadows Iruka, throws him against a dark backdrop that he does not belong in; even then, as Tenzou continues to watch insecurity drown out the speckles of gold in Iruka’s eyes, Iruka still remains so damn beautiful. “I started thinking and wanting you instead of the person I was fucking with at the time. Before I knew it, I just kept coming back. To you. I thought if I could get you out of my system, that’ll be that. But then I stopped coming, because, you know.”

Iruka’s eyebrows knit, his gaze dropping away from Tenzou to the new jagged scar cutting right across his chest. Tenzou tilts Iruka’s face up, forcing him to lock gazes. Tenzou tilts his head a little lower, peering up at Iruka as he clarifies his statement. 

“Now that became distracting. Not having you. Not being with you. Not coming home to you. I was fine when I didn’t know you. One day I was working well and then suddenly I just wasn’t. And not being able to carry out your duty to the village is unacceptable. Not with ANBU.”

“And now?” Iruka asks, softly, hesitantly, throat bobbing as he clarifies his question, cutting through the thick silence that had settled around them. “Are you still still distracted and unable to carry out your duties well?”

“No,” Tenzou leans up, pressing his lips against Iruka’s with his answer. “I’ve never been more focused now that I know you’re mine.”

*

Iruka comes with a ferocity with Tenzou’s hand wrapped around his throat and one hand clamped tight over his mouth to stop the cry from coming out. Under Tenzou’s palm, as he continues to roll his hips upwards, Iruka’s keens, deeper in his throat, the sound coming from the depths of his abdomen. It doesn’t stop, not until Tenzou comes too, his head tipping forward, mouth falling open as he comes and comes, deep in Iruka’s body before he shudders with an inhale that leaves him far too heady, bright spots appearing around the corners of his visions like fireflies.

Iruka has his eyes closed, sweat clamping his lashes together, the first light of dawn bathing him in hues of purple. Tenzou lowers his hands from Iruka’s mouth and neck, carefully settling them on Iruka’s knees. Iruka looks down at Tenzou from underneath the fall of the lashes, chest heaving, lips parted into a slack smile that spreads wider to a grin. Tenzou can’t stop the slight shake of his head when Iruka is looming over him like this, cum splattered on his chest.

“Gods, I’ve missed you,” Iruka says, sucking in one last breath before he carefully slides off Tenzou’s cock, falling on his back on the bed with a deep, satisfied sigh that would have made any man preen with pride.

Tenzou cannot stop the amusement peppered with pride from curling up his lips, watching as Iruka cleans up the mess on his chest, quickly doing the same with Tenzou before he settles back down on the bed. It stretches out to a grin as he lies there completely relaxed next to his husband, staring up at the brightening sky. 

“I’ve missed you too,” Tenzou sighs, reaching out with rub Iruka’s thigh, tracing the chords of muscle under the still too warm skin. 

Tenzou closes his eyes, dozing off for a few minutes when the soft thump from beyond the wall reaches his ears; Tenzou knows that its Mango, probably hopping off the bed, paws padding across the wooden floors. They will be preparing breakfast soon, sitting together at their dining table. It’s bound to be another interesting meal. Toshio would probably be quiet, would still not feel at ease. It’ll definitely be another subconscious cause for stress in Iruka, but it is to be expected, understandable even. Tenzou is of the opinion that it didn’t matter who they end up adopting. He is confident that the end result will be the same: the children will be -- without a shred of doubt -- happy because they would have Iruka.

(Tenzou knows this like his body knows how to breathe; he knows this because he is happy.) 

Beyond the wall of the bedroom, there’s a soft creek, followed by light pitter-patter of hesitant footsteps, exploratory in its pattern, moving around the bedroom that makes Tenzou crack a smile. 

“Toshio is up,” he murmurs slowly, turning his head towards Iruka. “I’ll help you with--”

The words still on Tenzou’s lips at the sight of Iruka unintentionally fast asleep on the pillow. The sight of it, the relaxed glow on his face hushes the words on Tenzou’s tongue, making him lean forward instead to press a kiss to Iruka’s temple, before he gets out of bed.


*

In the kitchen, Tenzou involves Toshio in the preparation of breakfast. He shows him how to prepare the coffee, teaching him how to work machine, telling him to remember how Iruka likes his coffee. Toshio demonstrates the willingness to learn, recites what he’s been told like a good student trying to memorise important Academy text and then looks up at Tenzou to ask how he likes his coffee. The question had been so unexpected that Tenzou takes a few seconds to respond. When he does, Toshio repeats what he’s learned verbally.

The boy is a quick learner.

Tenzou isn’t impressed with the fact that Toshio is a quick learner; he is more impressed at Toshio’s willingness to learn about both his parents’ likes and dislikes.

Toshio is a bit more talkative this morning. He asks intelligent questions that demonstrates the eager willingness to integrate and understand their household, like their schedules at home, what Iruka does when he’s not teaching at the Academy, what are the things he can do to help around the house. They are questions that Tenzou finds easy to answer, a part of him quite impressed to see that Toshio seems unperturbed by how direct and concise Tenzou’s responses are. 

They prepare omelettes and toast together. They set up the table and Toshio volunteers to fill Mango’s bowl with fresh water and dry food. Toshio picks up on the fact that Iruka is not downstairs to join them, his gaze fixed upon the staircase for a while, like he’s listening or trying to get a sense of Iruka from where he stands.

“Just the two of us?” He asks, curious, confused.

“Yes.” Tenzou pulls Toshio’s chair back gesturing for him to take a seat. Toshio does. “Your father is tired and can use a little more sleep.” 

“Oh…” Toshio looks at his breakfast plate and warm chocolate milk, a frown forming between his eyebrows. 

“He’s been working very long hours for several weeks. The hokage has granted him three days of leave; there is nothing wrong with letting him catch up on much needed rest, hmm?” Tenzou responds, as he picks up his mug and takes a sip of his coffee. 

“I guess so…” Toshio nods, but does not seem completely convinced, brown pupils sliding to the empty chair that Iruka had occupied the night before during dinner. 

The enthusiasm from earlier is a little dampened as Toshio goes about eating his breakfast. Tenzou watches him eat with a stiffness that speaks of how Toshio is trying to maintain his proper manners at the table. He picks up all the crumbs that end up falling off his plate with his finger, collecting them on one side of his plate. They are all disciplinary actions that no doubt had been enforced at the orphanage for the sake of keeping order. Tenzou doesn’t think it’s something he should be concerned with. Having discipline of this degree is integral when it comes to learning, when it comes to being a good ninja.

Toshio is sipping the last of his chocolate milk when Tenzou decides that he should make one point rather clear.

“Toshio,” Tenzou begins, setting his empty coffee mug down, turning his entire body to face the boy. “I need you to listen to me very carefully because I’m only going to say this once.” 

Toshio straightens, turning a little in his chair, nodding slowly, apprehension forming in his wide brown eyes.

“As long as you are our son, Iruka will be expecting you to be honest, hardworking, and aware of your surroundings. He will want you to be the strongest version of yourself and most of all, the best version of yourself. Iruka doesn’t appreciate being lied to, he abhors dishonesty, and doesn’t tolerate it. If you commit anything that falls anywhere near lying, you will hurt him very, very much. And when you hurt Iruka, that’s where you and I may develop a problem.” Tenzou allows that stew a little, watches as the color drains from Toshio’s face. “Hurting Iruka is something I will not tolerate. He is the man that I respect the most.”

“More than the Hokage?” Toshio asks, almost timid.

Tenzou thinks on that for a moment. 

Kakashi will always be one of the men that Tenzou will have an infinite amount of respect for. Tenzou would follow his orders, would support him not just because he is the Hokage, but because Kakashi’s judgment when it comes to the village, his comrades, his duty is something Tenzou can always stand behind on. Kakashi will have his support, his loyalty and his maximum effort when it comes to executing a mission and his vision as the Hokage. 

Kakashi has all that. Always will.

What Kakashi will never have is Tenzou’s heart, the softest parts of him that defined who he is. Those parts that had remained nothing dormant, a cold seed somewhere in the middle of his chest, untouched by sunshine until Iruka had come into his life. Tenzou was never even aware that it existed to be given away until Iruka. Years of fucking and getting fucked by Kakashi never developed the way it had with Iruka, because when Tenzou thinks about it now, Iruka had been nothing but a convenient - albeit incrdibly attractive - body to fuck the first time they met. Iruka was just a means to scratch an itch. Tenzou and Kakashi used to fuck because there is trust between them, because it was convenient and because they both had an itch they wanted to scratch, too.

Tenzou likes to think that one of the reasons Iruka has surpassed Kakashi has nothing to do with bravery, rank, ability or intelligence.

It is simply his ability to speak his mind, openly, unabashedly, without fear of consequence no matter how weak or insubordinate it might make Iruka look. It was how he gave every part of him, not just while having sex, but beyond that.

And Tenzou knows - oh how he knows - how deep Kakashi’s silence goes, the plunging depths of his guilt, the amount of guess-work Tenzou has had to do over the years, guess-work he still does and gets right a good portion of the time if only because he’s learned through trial and error how to read a man like Kakashi, how to interpret Kakashi’s speech patterns, to read underneath the underneath. There’s nothing Tenzou wouldn’t do to protect his Kakashi's back in the line of duty. 

But Kakashi will never get to hold the parts Tenzou has willingly handed over to Iruka with both hands. 

He can never even begin to match Iruka in any way at all. No matter how hard Kakashi tries.

It’s just impossible.

So Tenzou’s answer in unflinchingly honest.

“Yes.” He nods, emphasizing his point. “More than the Hokage. Hokage-sama has my utmost respect, he has my loyalty and my friendship. But Iruka is my most precious person. He is the man that I love the most. He is the reason I fight hard. He’s the reason I am not afraid to get hurt.” Tenzou gestures at his side of his face that remains swollen. “why I’m stronger now than I was before.” 

The shock on Toshio’s face melts away into something that looks like concentration, a genuine attempt to understand. “Because you love him...”

“You’ll understand and see why.” Tenzou leans back in his chair. “As long as you don’t do anything that will hurt Iruka, you’ll find that I am understanding and willing to listen to reason so long as you communicate clearly while you’re under this roof. Iruka and I are not mind readers. We can’t know what’s bothering you if you don’t tell us. I’d rather you ask a hundred questions to clear your doubts than do any sort of guess work. Make sense?”

Toshio nods slowly. “I think so…” 

Tenzou reaches out to ruffle Toshio’s hair affectionately, pleased to see that the action elicits a flush and a small smile that Toshio tries to hide with a duck of his head. “Want to share an orange?”

“Yes, please,” Toshio sounds a little more relaxed in his response. 

*

Tenzou is peeling an orange when Iruka’s presence upstairs shifts. Toshio’s behavior doesn’t change as they share the slices between them; he doesn’t pick up on the movement upstairs until Mango gets up from his flopped position on the empty chair with a throaty meow, feet padding up the stairs.

Sure enough, Iruka comes bounding down the stairs with Mango in tow, a little damp from a quick rinse, gathering his brushed hair up into a bun. 

“Good morning,” Iruka greets, his smile wide, a glow in his face that easily lights up the entire room. He reaches forward to brush a hand affectionately over Toshio’s head, ruffling his hair gently before he leans over to kiss Tenzou. Tenzou watches the flush bloom over Toshio’s cheeks at their open display of affection. “Did you sleep okay, Toshio?”

“I did. The bed is really soft!” Toshio looks a little shy, but his response still comes across as enthusiastic, a little grateful, even.

“Good. I’m glad to hear that,” Iruka sounds pleased, relief around the edges of his voice. “I see that you’ve finished your breakfast.”

“We had eggs and toast.” Toshi answers, looking over at the carafe of coffee and then at Tenzou.

Tenzou tilts his head in a go-ahead gesture, which makes Toshio spring into action. Iruka is startled for a moment, something Tenzou calms down by placing a hand on Iruka’s arm, stopping him from getting up. 

Toshio drags the stool from the corner of the kitchen, confidently stepping up and pouring a cup of coffee into an empty mug that Tenzou had kept on the side earlier. His tongue sticks out at the corner of his mouth, as he concentrates in stirring in exactly two tea-spoons of creamer and half a tea-spoon of sugar. Tenzou is impressed, and judging by the surprised look on Iruka’s face, he is too.

Toshio comes up to Iruka, offering the warm cup of freshly made coffee with both hands. Iruka turns his chair to face Toshio accepting the mug of coffee and taking a careful sip. Tenzou watches Toshio’s chest still, the boy holding his breath as Iruka swallows his first sip. 

“It’s perfect,” Iruka murmurs, reaching out with his hand to brush Toshio’s messy hair off his face, dimples hollowed, affection brimming in waves of warmth. “Thank you, Toshio.” 

Toshio’s chest puffs out, his teeth peeking out in a proud grin. He looks at Tenzou, his expression excited, pleased, as if saying, did you see? Did you see that?

Tenzou dips his head in encouragement, quietly depicting his approval. 

He doesn’t miss the way Iruka looks over at him, all the love in the world glowing in the depths of his eyes.

*

“Are you going to bring others home from the orphanage?” Toshio asks during dinner later that night.

“Why do you ask?” Iruka asks, his gaze flicking over at Tenzou.

“There are three other rooms…” Toshio murmurs, chewing on the edge of his chopstick. He catches himself quickly and stops the motion immediately, setting his chopsticks down for a moment, instead.  

“One room doubles as Naruto’s room and a guest bedroom if we really, really need it,” Iruka explains, which prompts the shock and awe to spread all over Toshio’s face.

“Uzumaki Naruto? The hero?” Toshio’s eyes are wide.

“Yes, that Naruto,” Iruka smiles gently. “We are his legal guardians too, though he doesn’t live here.”

“N-Naruto is like -- like my older brother?” Toshio looks breathless.

“Pretty much, yeah,” Tenzou chuckles. “He hasn’t been around because he’s going through a lot of important training and recuperation after the war, but you should see him often enough once that’s done.”

“Wow…” Toshio looks at his bowl, eyes big. “That’s really cool.”

Tenzou looks over at Iruka who is biting his lower lip to stop himself from grinning a little too widely. Under the table, Tenzou reaches over to press a hand over Iruka’s knee, just as he prompts his next question. “How do you feel about being an older brother, Toshio?”

“An older brother?” Toshio cants his head to one side. “Me?”

“Yes, you. You’re not wrong in your observation. We would like to have more children here, we planned for it, that’s why your room is big and there’s extra space.”

Toshio looks between them both, torn. For a moment, it looks like he’s about to panic. Iruka’s hand comes down on to Tenzou’s hand, gentle, squeezing, a warning to tread carefully. That perhaps the question is a little too soon.

“And they have to call me nii-san?” Toshio asks, soft. 

“That would be the right way to address you, yes. Just like how you should probably address Naruto as Naruto-nii-san, or Naruto-nii, maybe,” Iruka says softly. Toshio’s pupils dart back and forth, left to right, belying a rapid onslaught of thoughts. Iruka looks over at Tenzou, worry etched on his face. “Toshio, it’s not --”

“I can be an older brother,” Toshio says quick, cutting Iruka off. “I - I can do it.”

Iruka blinks in surprise, unexpecting the quick response. Iruka is still looking at Tenzou when he asks, “But is that something you would like?”

It’s like Iruka is asking if Tenzou is ready for more children.

Tenzou can only smile at him, reaching up to brush his thumb over the curve of Iruka’s cheek. Warmth blooms over it, flushing Iruka’s cheeks with a blush that spreads down his neck as his lips parts in surprise at Tenzou’s response to the question. His lips tremble as he carefully tears his attention off Tenzou, forcing his focus to be on Toshio who his now looking at them both, determination ablaze in eyes that glows like liquid ambers under the soft, yellow light above their dining table.

“We get to be a big family?” Toshio asks, his chin wrinkling as he .

“Sure.” Tenzou gives Iruka’s knee a squeeze, releasing it to lace their hands together. “It’s a big responsibility. You sure you’re ready for it too soon?”

“I can do it,” Toshio answers, determination filling his chest as he straightens in his seat. “I’ll make you proud! I will not disappoint you! I’ll take care of them and play wth them and share my room with them!”

“Okay then.” Tenzou nods, pleased. 

Iruka laughs, one that trails off to a sound that’s half sob, half whimper. Iruka looks over at Tenzou, the corners of his eyes, brimming with emotion that he presses down to control. Tenzou brushes a strand of lose hair off Iruka’s face, tucking it behind his ear with gentle affection before they both turn to his meals

“Can we go get them tomorrow?” Toshio asks, practically vibrating in his seat.

That, rips a laugh out of Tenzou’s throat, sudden and a little loud just Iruka’s answering and encouraging smile follows. “We’ll see…”


*

Tenzou pads up the stairs later during hte evening, stopping by the door in the bathroom as Iruka fusses gently around Toshio, helping him clean up for bed. From the shadows in the hallway, Tenzou can guess that Iruka is folding Toshio’s clothes he’s worn all day, a little dirty from playing out in the garden all afternoon with Mango. Toshio’s hands are in his hair arranging it this way and that, attempting to flatten it but failing.

“Uhm, can I cut my hair like otou-san?” Toshio asks softly.

The way he addresses Tenzou makes him go as rigid as a board in the hallway, his eyes widening. He’s not sure what exactly happens in the span of five heartbeats, roughly around the same time Iruka recovers from his shocked silence having caught completely off guard. Something flutters in Tenzou’s stomach, a flutter that is completely foreign that makes his feet dig harder into the ground, his breath comes out a little measured in an attempt to ground himself.

“T-That short?” Iruka asks, his voice trembling, emotion thick and raw in every syllable. 

“Yeah,” Toshio doesn’t seem to notice, the shadow of his hands still trying to flatten his hair. His hand stills. “Before the Academy starts… is that okay?”

“I think you’ll look quite handsome, just like your otou-san,” Iruka answers. “Want to do it now?” 

“Can we?” Toshio sounds excited, the pitch of his voice rising.

“Absolutely! Here, why don’t you sit down over here and let me go get the scissors. We’ll surprise your otou-san with your new, fresh look, hmm?” Iruka offers.

“Okay! Thank you, otou-chan!” 

Tenzou quietly slips away to their bedroom, waiting by the doorway until Iruka comes in, the breath completely knocked out of his lungs. 

“Otou-chan,” Tenzou murmurs, which makes Iruka bring a hand up to his mouth, tears flowing down his cheeks, thick and joyful. Tenzou reaches forward to wrap his arms around Iruka, pressing his lips over the tears trickling down Iruka’s face as he murmurs again, “Otou-chan~”

“O-Otou-san,” Iruka chokes, the grin spreading as he snifs and tucks his face into the crook of Tenzou’s neck. 

Tenzou holds him tight, grinning in the dim light of their bedroom, gently swaying as Iruka gets his emotions under control, before pulling away with the widest smile in the world, the absolute happiest to grab the scissors and give their son the haircut he wants.

*

“O-Otou-san,” Toshio calls out standing with toes curling by the doorway of the bedroom, dressed in his pajamas for the night, a flush high on his cheeks. 

Iruka is standing behind him, hands on Toshio’s shoulder. The longer silver strands are gone, now replaced by a neater, tapered haircut. It makes Toshio look more put together, accentuates the brightness of his brown eyes. 

“Iruka, when did we get a new, handsome kid? Does Toshio know?” Tenzou asks, purposely sounding serious, watching as Toshio’s grin melts to a giggle. “Oh look, it’s you.”

“It’s me.” Toshio grins. “Otou-chan helped me.”

“You look good, kid,” Tenzou says, dropping to a crouch in front of Toshio, coming his fingers through the softer, now more tamed silver strands. “Really good. You’ll make a fine, respectable older brother.” 

Toshio does something neither of them expects. He throws his arms around Tenzou’s neck in a tight embrace before doing the same to Iruka’s legs and running to his room with a loud good night, picking up Mango on the way.

In the privacy of their room, iruka steps up into Tenzou’s space, pressing a kiss to his mouth, slow and languid. “You’re a fantastic father.”

“I learn from the best. Gold star for me?” Tenzou grins, just as laughter bubbles out of Iruka’s mouth, wonderful like silver bells caught in a warm, summer breeze.

TBC

 

Chapter Text

Securing an appointment to meet with the children the next morning at the orphanage had been impossible. But they manage to find a slot the next afternoon a little after lunch time. Because their home was already previously inspected and deemed fit to house six children, going through the formalities from the beginning is no longer necessary. The fact that they are still interested in adopting children four years old and above also works greatly in their favor. 

Hikaru-san is once more eager to assist them in any way she can, going out of her way by allowing Tenzou and Iruka to read through their children’s profiles in the waiting room while she tries to work something outearlier than their already secured appointment. She had seen the drastic change in Toshio’s aura, how Toshio looks more confident, less recluse, secure standing next to his new parents, his eyes bright. 

From the glass window of the waiting room, beyond the shrubbery and potted plants, the children are playing outside now that the earlier, brief summer shower had stopped. The sunny, hot afternoon dries the wet earth within a few hours, giving the children an opportunity to be a lot more active. They are louder than Tenzou’s last visit. He chalks it up as a lot of pent up energy being released after remaining indoors all day.

They leaf through the profiles together, looking at the pictures and reading their summaries. Toshio is watching the kids through the glass, his knees carefully propped on the chair, elbows on the backrest as he watches them play. Tenzou’s concentration only breaks when he sees Toshio move, fingers waving at someone at the playground, a small smile tugging at his lips.

From beyond the glass, a little boy is jumping up and down, waving his little arm enthusiastically. He cannot be more than five years old, thick brown hair long and brushing past his shoulders, swaying in the air with every little jump. Tenzou watches as the little boy disappears, only to return with a girl, dragging her by the wrist and pointing at Toshio. The girl is a good half a head taller, brown hair equally long held back in a bit of a messy braid. She sees Toshio, eyes widening and begins to wave too, albeit not as enthusiastically as the younger one.

Tenzou nudges Iruka, who looks up to catch a little bit of the exchange. Toshio is still waving and smiling at the kids in the playground when Iruka prompts the question, “Who are you waving at, Toshio?” 

“Ren and Reiko,” Toshio answers, sliding off the chair. From beyond the glass, Tenzou catches a glimpse of the crestfallen looks that wash over the two children’s faces.

“Are they good friends of yours?” Iruka prompts again, keeping the question open ended.

“We eat lunch together sometimes; Ren gets picked on a lot because he’s small. And he cries a lot, gets scared easy. Reiko is his sister. Nobody likes her because she always looks upset.” Toshio shrugs. “I think she’s just trying to protect Ren because a lot of the older kids make fun of him.” 

“How so?” Iruka gently urges.

Toshio shrugs again. “The older kids say that he’s never going to be a ninja. That he’ll never pass the Academy and that he’ll die soon and no one will care because he’s a crybaby, because ninjas aren’t supposed to cry.” 

“Is this the same kid you tried to help and got punched in the face for?” Tenzou asks, turning to look at the playground again. Outside, Ren and Reiko are now conversing with two identical looking boys, Ren pointing in their direction as the boys stare at him rather stoically.

“Yeah,” Toshio pushes his tongue between the gap of his missing tooth once, before he sniffs and turns to look out the window again. At the sight of the identical looking boys, he waves again, the smile just a little bigger. “That’s Kenji and Hideki. They got punched in the face too. But they didn’t lose any teeth like me.”

Iruka and Tenzou stare at each other for a long time in silence, watching the exchange happen. Tenzou raises both eyebrows, shrugging a little that makes Iruka stare at him like he’s lost his mind. Tenzou mouths Team Seven, a reminder of their inside joke. It makes Iruka huff a small incredulous laugh before he turns back to Toshio.

“You want to go say hello to them? We can ask Hikaru-san if they’ll let us,” Iruka offers.

“Can we?” Toshio looks hopeful.

“Let’s try,” Iruka closes the profile book, standing up and heading towards the desk. 

Hikaru-san looks hesitant, a little fidgety even but she looks at her wrist watch and puts on a determined face. Tenzou is on his feet just as Iruka waves for them with a smile. 

They follow Hikaru-san down the hallway, past a side entrance that opens up to the playground. They get told to wait near the benches where Hikaru-san waves for the four children to approach. They do so with a lot of hesitance, coming to stop within a polite distance.

This close, Tenzou is a little caught off guard at how Ren and Reiko resemble Iruka. Brown hair and brown eyes are common traits amongst the citizens of Konoha; the odds that the children are actually Iruka’s are very slim. But the dimples that dots both of Ren’s cheeks, how wide his eyes are, dark brown depths with bits of glittering gold visible under the sun, the caramel skin tone and how his chin wrinkles in an attempt to hide his intimidation -- it’s uncanny.

Reiko has one dimple visible on her left cheek, hollowed now as she keeps her lips pressed to a thin line, also a show of bravery, refusing to be cowed or to hope that the two adults standing there, watching them may take her and her brother home. She firmly places herself in front Ren, acting like a defensive barrier. There is beauty in her simplicity, in the will of fire that burns in her equally dark brown eyes. 

Tenzou has to tear his eyes off the pair, blinking away Iruka’s image from the back of his mind as he turns to focus on the identical twins -- twins that Iruka is staring at with his lips slightly parted. They’re built narrow, long limbed, even when their cheeks remain a little rounded, dusty brown hair unkempt that is almost as wild as Toshio’s when Tenzou and Iruka had brought him home. But underneath the fall of their long bangs are eyes as dark as the night sky, as inky as the shadows, framed by shapely eyebrows and long lashes. Iruka is blinking at the twins, and Tenzou can guess why.

He’s a little taken aback too, at how the twins remind him of how he looked like in mirror all those years ago. Except the boys actually look more masculine than Tenzou ever did during his younger years.

Hikaru-san briefs them on the four children’s backgrounds, how the twins had been abandoned at their step, wrapped in blankets and placed in a box at four months old. The mother had left them with their documentation, so there’s a record of sorts on file. The mother was then reported deceased two months later, a mission gone wrong in Sky.

Ren and Reiko lost both parents during Orochimaru’s attack five years ago. The math didn’t add up until Hikaru-san explains that Ren was born months earlier, had spent a good portion of his earlier days in an incubator at the neonatal ward of the hospital, that he was not expected to survive, especially when the hospital had to be evacuated at the time. Ren never met his parents and his parents died never having been able to hold him, either.

A silence falls upon them as Tenzou places his good hand around Iruka’s shoulders, thumb rubbing over the curve of it as the children engage in a conversation, Ren is doing most of the talking, sounding a little excited over Toshio’s new haircut. They continue to watch this interaction happen, how Toshio tells them that his otou-chan cut his hair; the four listen to Toshio with enraptured focus, the flow of questions and conversation easy as five children speak to each other in hushed tones even long after Hikaru-san excuses herself to rush back to the reception. They ask Toshio questions about his room, if they’ll still see him at the Academy.

Tenzou leans over to whisper, “What do you think?”  

“Which one?” Iruka sounds breathless again, a little gobsmacked, perhaps a touch heartbroken too, given the background they’ve been given. “We can’t separate them. They’re siblings.” 

“Who said anything about separating them?” Tenzou counters.

“All four?” Iruka whispers, his eyes going comically wide. “Tenzou, are you sure?” Iruka turns to full face them, giving the children his back. “We're talking about five children living under our roof. Think this through. Are you sure?” 

“Iruka, look me in the eye and tell me you’re not in love with them,” Tenzou counters. “Tell me, in good faith, that you’re not interested. At all. We will go home right now, make up shit and Toshio will move on. It'll be a good lesson for him that we don't always get what we want.”

“That’s beside the point, Tenzou,” Iruka sounds weak in his argument, a futile attempt, the blush already blooming over his cheeks.

“That’s exactly the point, Otou-chan, look.” Tenzou turns Iruka around, one hand remaining comfortably on his hip as Toshio narrates a story about Mango to the other kids. It earns him a laugh from all of them, smiles remaining broad on their faces. Toshio is currently demonstrating how Mango walks, sticking his belly out and puffing his cheeks as big as he can manage, narrowing his eyes into a grumpy face. That earns him a more enthusiastic round of laughter. “Look at them, Otou-chan…”

“Oh goodness…” Iruka breathes, a tremble going through his body as he watches them talk. “You’re not going to regret this?”

“As long as it’s with you?” Tenzou presses his lips to the shell of Iruka’s ear to whisper, “Never.”

*

They tell Toshio their plan that night at dinner, explaining to him that while they've already filed an expression of interest for all four,  the final say will still come from the twins, Ren and Reiko. Toshio remains wide eyed, unable to form words at the candid way Tenzou had pitched the plan of action towards him.

He manages to choke something out eventually, the shock unable to fully recede from his face. “All of them?” 

“Well, we can’t separate them…” Iruka weakly argues, clearing his throat. 

Tenzou finds it amusing that Iruka is having a bit of a hard time digesting this new reality, when he had expected Iruka to be the forerunner in all this. It doesn’t escape Tenzou’s attention that he’s manning the Umino ship at eighty percent, given Iruka’s slightly slower ability to adjust. Tenzou doesn’t fault Iruka for it; Iruka has loved a good portion of his life thinking he’s never going to have a family like this, that such things exists only in dreams, only ever attainable when one closes their eyes. Iruka still hasn’t adjusted to the fact that he can live outside the modest way he’s more used to, that a beautiful man like him deserves all the good there is in the world, that if anything, Iruka deserves to be treated like a prince.

Iruka suddenly getting not one, but hopefully five children, six now if Tenzou counts Naruto all within such a short time — well, Tenzou doesn’t blame Iruka for being slow.

It’s actually a little cute.

“They’ll get live here? With us? Eat here at the table together? And take care of Mango?” Toshio asks, all in one breath.

“That’s the idea, yes,” Tenzou agrees, as he scoops up more salad into his mouth. He’s enjoying his seared salmon dinner despite the conversation that he fully believes no one has any reason to be stressed about, unlike Iruka who is yet to touch a single thing on his plate and looks like he’s about to have a panic attack.

“And we all go to the Academy together? And play in the garden together?” Toshio asks again. 

“Of course,” Iruka answers softly. “If they say yes, you are going to be the older brother who makes sure that you leave together and come home together from the Academy, too. You also may have to share your room with Hideki and Kenji, if they say yes--”

“I hope they say yes!” Toshio proclaims loudly, hope brimming in his eyes. “I’ll share anything!” 

“Then let’s hope they do, hmm?” Iruka smiles, a trembling hand reaching out to grasp at Tenzou’s knee under the table. “Now, your dinner is getting cold. Eat up.”

“Yes, Otou-chan!”

*

Tenzou is unable to sleep the entire night despite the dull ache that still courses through his body. Iruka is fast asleep on their bed having succumbed to exhaustion the moment his head hit the pillow, managing to only place a hand over Tenzou’s stomach, fingers brushing the soft hairs trailing down Tenzou’s lower belly briefly.

He dozes off briefly, waking up a good three hours before dawn, staring up at the bright stars beyond their glass ceiling.

Tenzou’s entire household remains in stasis; he takes the opportunity to get out of bed, tugging the blanket over Iruka’s shoulders before he gets dressed and leaves the house.

He picks up his briefing packet from the ANBU headquarters, something he's delayed for several days since being discharged from the hospital; he also makes a stop at the medical wing, requesting for another round of healing to get rid of the cast and crutch. They accommodate him immediately because of the slow night, a team of three working on mending the last of the remaining injury on Tenzou’s body. Tenzou succumbs to the pain of bone mending, of the swelling receding, a horrid discomfort. Tenzou likes to think that going through regenerative treatment for years would have made him used to it -- it doesn’t.

The nausea hits like a tidal wave, as he knew it would, coming in highs and lows, not quite receding as quick as Tenzou had hoped. It's a testament to his still weakened state, that he's handling the entire treatment that way he normally would. It forces him to think of new ways to train, to build more strength; a lofty idea hits him halfway through the treatment to train to a point where he can perhaps work towards developing a third element -- maybe wind. It's a little ambitious, but the thought is distracting enough. 

When dawn peeks over the horizon, Tenzou is still a little nauseous from the treatment, going through a prefunctural rinse to wash off the ink from his body. By the time he’s walking back home under the dusky light without the hindrance of the cast and the crutch, his briefing pack tucked under his arm, he feels a whole lot better. 

The house, as he expects, remains still and quiet. Tenzou takes the opportunity to catch up on what’s been going on in the village, reading through reports on the kitchen island while he nurses a cup of coffee.

There isn’t much to note other than tension among incoming trade lines, potential threat analysis given said tension, and a minor detected unrest around Konoha’s north-eastern border with skirmishes occurring to any shinobi that crosses the Valley of Hell; Lizard’s team has been dispatched two weeks ago to investigate the area. Tenzou leafs through the village’s rebuilding progress, huffs a pleased noise when he reads that the Academy is to resume very, very soon, notes which points of their boundary wall still remains weak until he reaches the updated wanted, missing and death list.

Ram’s information is listed among the deceased.

It makes Tenzou pause because it isn’t Ram’s name that puzzles him; it’s the two paged list of deceased field ANBU that is odd. Their force is already depleted given the war, but a two paged death list isn’t exactly a very good thing. That’s a sizable chunk from their force. All dead within the last thirteen weeks, no pattern in their location of death, no body to bury. 

Tenzou leafs through the missing list; there are no updates on that one.

Neither is there an update on the wanted list.

The last page of his packet is a report that’s been circulated to all active shinobi, a call for open recruitment into ANBU, as well as an invitation to reinstate retired ANBU. The circular was issued a few days ago, the day Tenzou handed in his report on what had happened when he encountered Ram.

It can't be a coincidence.

Tenzou frowns at the circular, looking at the death list again. He recognizes a lot of the names, most of them individuals he had worked with in the past. Tenzou tries to workout a pattern, tries to find the common denominator. Other than a few times he`s crossed paths with them in a joint mission at least once, there isn't anything that stands out immediately. It isnt odd for Tenzou to have worked with almost everyone currently active and retired; he's one of the remaining oldest members in the force. 

Tenzou gives the death list another look, committing the information to memory before he gathers the packet and drops it in the sink to be destroyed. 

Tenzou is rinsing out the ashes just as footsteps descend the stairs. Iruka is yawning behind a fist, gathering his hair up into a ponytail once he reaches the bottom landing; he stops behind Tenzou, wrapping his arms around Tenzou's middle and pressing a cheek over a shoulder-blade.

“I thought you were done with your rounds of healing,” Iruka murmurs, fingers brushing over Tenzou’s forearm, the one that is no longer encased in a cast.

“I am,” Tenzou responds. “But then I can’t do this.” Iruka makes a surprised noise in his throat when Tenzou turns and lifts Iruka up with an arm, sitting him easily on the kitchen counter. “When I have a cast and a crutch on me, hmm? Not as easily, anyway.”

Tenzou boxes Iruka in, elbows on the counter on either side of Iruka’s thighs, chin tipped upwards, tracing the pillow marks on Iruka’s cheek and temple with his gaze. Iruka is smiling, both dimples hollowed, his fingers brushing over the short spikes of Tenzou’s hair. “I’m aware of how regenerating tissue hurts, you know?” Tenzou hums at that, straightening up a little to trace a hand over the patch of raised scars between Iruka’s shoulder blades. “You’re not being summoned, are you?”

Tenzou shakes his head. “A man can’t be in good shape to please his husband?” 

“I can’t think of anyone who’d want to go through treatment like that just for sex, Tenzou,” Iruka sighs. “It’s not exactly painless.”

Otou-chan is scolding me,” Tenzou pouts playfully, his voice dropping, brushing the syllables over the curve of Iruka’s neck, hiding his grin.

“You are not, I repeat, you are not going to associate that with something shameless. I am not going to accept it,” Iruka warns, flushing furiously, all the way to the roots of his hair..

“I didn’t say it shamelessly, nor was I associating it with anything remotely sexual,” Tenzou counters, allowing himself to be pushed back when Iruka does so with both hands on Tenzou’s shoulders.

“Really?” Iruka challenges.

“Really.” Tenzou nods.

“You sure about that, taichou?” Iruka drops his voice, honey notes dripping from the title.

“Don’t.” Tenzou warns, pressing his lips to a thin line, trying not to grin as warmth coils lazily in his lower belly, like slow rising smoke. He allows Iruka to slide off the counter, making room for him by leaning back just as a fraction. They remain chest to chest like this, with the small of Iruka’s back pressing against the marble counter.

“Don’t what, taichou?” Iruka tilts his head to the side. There is nothing remotely innocent about the gesture. Tenzou knows that Iruka knows this too well, the cheeky little shit.

Tenzou is grinning now, wide and broad, no longer able to help himself. It’s a little amusing to be aroused like this. Iruka is probably the only person in the world who can turn him on like this.

(Then again, Iruka is the only person in the world who can make him feel.)

“Stop it," Tenzou warns again, aware that it doesn’t exactly come out with enough bite.

“See how annoying that is, taichou? You’re going to hear it like that all the damn time every time someone tries to call you that. That’s how you sound like when--”

Tenzou leans over, pressing his lips over Iruka’s to silence him, unable to quite kill the smile even in the middle of brushing his tongue over the curve of Iruka’s mouth. Iruka makes a throaty noise of protest, his hands coming to press over Tenzou’s chest, pushing him away enough to break the kiss, long enough to actually look accusatory.

“You like it,” Iruka huffs, sounding incredulous.

“Kissing you? Yes, very much,” Tenzou agrees, dipping to kiss Iruka again, bringing a hand up to the back of Iruka’s neck, slanting their mouths together once more. They kiss like that, under the pouring morning light of their kitchen, arms around each other, forgetting time. Tenzou can taste the smile under his tongue, can see how Iruka is grinning in the middle of their kisses. 

“Then fuck me, taichou,” Iruka grins, wretchedly beautiful with his bruised lips and flushed, disheveled self, delivering not a request, but a demand. It almost sounds like an order.

Almost.

It makes Tenzou’s throat go dry, his body forcefully going still as he tries not to inhale a little too sharply at that, tries to clamp down hard on everything out of habit rather than anything else. The arousal flares like a large forest fire, all consuming in its heat and sudden ferocity.

Tenzou almost curses, planting his hands carefully on the counter on either of Iruka’s sides, tipping his head down, closing his eyes while Iruka’s fingers dances over the curve of his bicep, sliding down to rest on Tenzou’s hips, his thumbs tracing the sensitive skin around the sharp, prominent V-dip of his lower abdomen. Iruka’s voice resonates in his ears, the tenors of Tenzou’s title going  straight to his cock, his stomach swooping inwards as it echoes, over and over again. He knows there’s hardly any time left, that any moment now, Toshio is going to come down the stairs. He looks up at Iruka, the flush now spreading down Iruka’s slender throat, cocking an eyebrow, trying to see if Iruka means it or if he’s just trying to make a point.

“You’re going to be late,” Tenzou murmurs, somewhat a little neutrally despite the growing arousal.

“You’re making an excuse? For me? Wow.” Iruka pushes him away, a little firmly, punctuated with a full laugh as he moves towards the carafe. 

“No, not an excuse,” Tenzou corrects, leaning a hip against the counter. “Because I would, I could. But I don’t think you’d appreciate it if you’re standing before Kakashi-senpai and you’re unable to move properly without discomfort. Or sit without being obvious that you just got fucked.”

Iruka rolls his eyes, huffing in exasperation. “I know he’s the Hokage and he’s supposed to be very perceptive, but he is not a mind reader. Unless he was one of your sexual conquests in the past, there’s no way he’s going to know how hard you’ve pounded my ass this morning. Not the specifics, anyway.” Iruka is mixing himself his cup of coffee, shaking his head in amusement, chuckling a little under his breath. “I know he’s your senpai, but come on. He knows I’m a married man with a husband whose been away for so, so long. It’s natural for any couple to be extra passionate when they’ve been separated from their loved ones for too long. And you, taichou, have been gone for a very, very long time.”

Something shifts uncomfortably in Tenzou’s chest at the statement. Not because they’re talking about Kakashi but because, Tenzou thinks, as he watches Iruka pour himself a cup of coffee, still smiling quite broadly in his amusement, that he could just brush this under the rug, pretend that the answer to that question is not: actually he would because I used to fuck him exactly like that, exactly the way I would fuck you. It would burn for days. Not because he was an itch that needed to be scratched. Or because he was in love with me. He just needed me and I gave him what he needed. I have been for years.

Not that it’s any of Iruka’s business what had taken place prior to Tenzou’s commitment to him. 

That part of Tenzou’s life, of being the giver of everything Kakashi may need, a door that’s always open, is over.

It isn’t coming back.

The thought of even being remotely intimate with Kakashi, to have his gloved fingers brush on Tenzou’s neck before they turn to a vice, controlling the amount of air Tenzou is allowed to have, to have Tenzou’s mouth parted wide open, filled with hard flesh, to have bruises on his body that does not belong to Iruka’s slender, softer, less scarred fingers — it makes the hairs on the back of Tenzou’s neck stand, goosebumps that belies a horrible discomfort breaking all over his arms and back. Tenzou makes a noncommittal hum, tearing his gaze off Iruka to pick up his cold coffee, draining its contents, trying to wash away the sudden swell of disgust that coats his tongue and the back of his throat with something cold, as sharp as shards of broken glass.

The magnitude of self disgust shocks Tenzou; never in his life did he imagine that the thought of being with Kakashi would ever repulse him.

It’s perplexing, completely unheard of.

It’s almost shamefully shocking.

(Tenzou doesn’t know what to do with this -- this pressure in his chest that’s as strong as Kamui’s pull. He’s helpless to it.)

In a split second decision, as he sets down his empty mug on the counter, Tenzou reaches the same conclusion; his past relationships or arrangement has nothing to do with his loyalty and commitment to his husband now.

Tenzou wonders if traitors go through what he’s going through, right there, in that moment when he makes the decision to not disclose anything, when he chooses silence -- a lie screaming right there, under the light. 

Iruka is looking at him, head tilted curiously, the smile and amusement from his face slipping for just a moment. Tenzou knows he’s made a huge mistake the moment he sees that happen; that small falter in Iruka’s expression that he tries to hide when Toshio’s presence upstairs shifts fuels something strangely foreign in Tenzou's stomach, twisting it, some kind of apprehension, something that shatters the controlled calm state of mind that Tenzou always tries to keep himself in. 

Regret slams into him like a chakra induced punch in the gut when he sees Iruka's hand shake, when he sees the expression on his husband's face plummet, only to be pulled taut in a strained effort to bury whats bursting to the surface. Tenzou has seen that expression before; it's too close to the expression Iruka had worn on his face when Tenzou came to him littered with hand shaped bruises all over his body, when Iruka had stepped back in shock, in dawning realizaion and had asked him to leave immediately, snipping at Tenzou's threads with all the efficiency expected of a shinobi.

Iruka didn't look back after that.

Tenzou suddenly cannot breathe, the thing in his stomach churning to rot as he takes a step forward, to say something, to console, to correct.

He doesn’t get a chance to correct his mistake because Toshio comes down the stairs, Mango in tow, a cheerful, energetic bounce in step, excitement in his face at what they had planned for the day.

Tenzou stands there rooted on the spot, unable to quite move, like he’s being skinned with the edges of a poorly sharpened blade, as he watches Iruka smile and fuss, coming down to a knee to affectionately finger-comb Toshio’s hair back, reminding him about how truly handsome he is, asking him if he's ready for the day, if he's excited -- everything a wonderful, perfect father would ask, say and do to their beloved child.

Iruka doesn’t look at him for the rest of the morning.

*

The petrifying thing about silent lies is the power they hold to diminish one from within. It isn’t quite like exposed ones. Undiscovered lies chips away at inner strength, at one’s self esteem. It wouldn’t matter how strong one’s core is. 

Undiscovered lies can bring down the very foundation of a man.

Tenzou spends the rest of the day suspended in two different ways -- total equilibrium on the outside, absolute discord from within.

It’s a feeling Tenzou doesn’t like. 

It’s a feeling he shouldn’t have to go through. 

It’s pointless.


*

Working with half his concentration plunged deep into a vacuum of senseless insecurity is a challenge Iruka readily faces, for it isn’t entirely a foreign concept to him. He comes into an empty office that morning and more paperwork than what’s necessary in the three days he had been out of the office. It sours his mood, plummeting his entire sense of decorum in to depths shrouded in black, as he picks up one document, takes note of what is written before slamming it down rather audibly to one side.

He does the same to countless others; a sizeable portion of the mess in the Hokage's office is paperwork that could have been taken care of by the front office. Work that didn’t even have to end up with the Hokage in the first place. 

Iruka sorts the mountain on his table into two new neat piles. He reorganizes the chaos on Kakashi’s table into four new piles. When finds paperwork that he had prepared for Kakashi to review three days ago, important ones, documents that should have gone to their financial team to pay their contractors currently reinforcing their western walls, Iruka loses it.

He storms out of the office, dossiers tucked under both arms. Dossiers that he slams down on the front desk so hard that the table shakes, where he then proceeds to dress down the staff that not only he had trained for exactly times like these in preparation for Iruka's notable morning absence when the Academy starts, but had clear standing instructions on how to handle documentation that he had so unceremoniously handed back to them.

The front office staff dissolve from their slow, tardy mulling t to what they should have been all along: efficient.

When Iruka steps back into the office, Kakashi is already sitting on his chair, leaning back, a book propped on the edge of the table, the window beside him blowing in a gentle pre-autumn breeze that would have been pleasant on any other day.

Not today. 

From across the room, Iruka stares at the form of the Hokage, seated with his Hokage hat hanging on the wall, the white robe draped over the back of his chair. Iruka's eyes roamsover the sharp curve of Kakashi's jaw, the lines of his face that is shadowed by the fall of thick, uneven, silver hair. Kakashi is comparatively broad to Tenzou, all sharp lines, power tucked under the dark uniform, the deceptive slouch of his shoulders, the lazy eye that Iruka know would sharpen when they focus; it reminds Iruka of ashes and smoke blowing in the wind, coming from a fire that had burned everything to the ground. They are intense, a window to a fire ignited by lightning that burns deep within, the sheer, raw power that is almost god-like.

Iruka can see what people can find attractive about a man like Hatake Kakashi. Kakashi is fiercely loyal. He takes care of all those he holds dear, is about as selfless as they come. And if rumors can be facts, then Iruka would assume that Kakashi’s reputation on being a good lover is a hint to what he can become if he commits.

Kakashi is not at all bad to look at. Not at all now that Iruka is actually taking the time to.

He sees things that he's never quite noticed before, Kakashi's aura a natural magnetic pull, alluring in a strange way. 

Shamefuly, Iruka thinks Kakashi could be his type. He would be the kind of guy Iruka would have approached at the bar, would have loved to get down on his knees for, would love to grin up at all that power, when Iruka's mouth is the one truly in control.

It makes Iruka wonder, if the whisper at the back of his head, that misery-inducing raspy, bitter and still guarded part of him is right. It’s the part of him that refuses to trust, that refuses to believe that he deserves good things, too. That he can live a dream, that he can be loved, that he isn’t someone’s second option. It’s the part of him that claws at baseless reasons like the silence of his husband, that look on Tenzou’s face at the unintentional mention of a past relationship -- something that Iruka had pulled out of his ass, a fucking exaggeration for heaven's sake, a shot at the dark -- when lines of guilt had formed between Tenzou's eyebrows, guilt that makes his jaw tighten, makes the line of Tenzou’s back coil with a tightness that is only reserved for moments when one one is trying not to lash out, when one is trying to push down something that shouldn’t be rising to the surface.

Iruka knows it.

Oh by the gods, he knows it. Recognizes it.

And these are all rising to the surface now, of all times, whe Iruka is in the middle of a marriage, an adopted child and in a few hours, he’s going to be a father to four more, assuming they all say yes. 

Everything in him wants to take a step back, wants to dust off his hands and walk the other way. Everything in him despises what he sees seated across from him, a man who his husband holds his highest respects for, has history with because they worked together not just with Team Seven, but long before that. Something wretchedly ugly tries to claw its way out of Iruka’s throat. It is not grief that rears its ugly green head behind the prison of Iruka’s ribcage. 

Far from it.

Kakashi looks up from his book, his quirked eyebrow smoothing out to something else, something foreign that makes Iruka swallow thickly, warning bells ringing like evacuation sirens at the back of Iruka's head, as Kakashi closes his book and straightens in his chair, all signs of the standard laziness and devil-may-care attitude disappearing. 

“Iruka?”

Suddenly, Kakashi’s presence seems to engulf Iruka, the heat of his presence, the weight of it, the smell of something like open fields, or pine, or something filling Iruka's senses with each gentle sway of the breeze that blows past the open window closest to Kakashi.

It surrounds Iruka in a buzzing swarm that he isn’t able to swat away. Iruka has to wrench his gaze away from the highest ranking individual in the country, second to only the daimyo himself. Iruka has to remind himself that this initial hate, this toxic swirl of irrationality will pass. He has to remind himself that he’s better than this, that he’s past this, that he has a loving husband who comes home to him, has a son that he is meeting in a few hours to head to the orphanage, that the past is the past.

That Kakashi is not the kind of man who destroys homes -- he wouldn't. He's not like that at all.

And if Kakashi is, indeed, all that, if something between him and Tenzou still exists in the present, well, who are you to compete with a man like Hatake Kakashi?

Iruka has never felt more self disgust than he did in that very moment.

He gives Kakashi a smile that he hopes does not betray the tightness growing in his throat and chest, turning to return to his desk where he proceeds to bury himself in work that does nothing to calm the unreasonable raging monster in his chest.


*

When Iruka reaches the orphanage, the skies are dark with thick grey clouds.

Seeing Toshio brightens Iruka’s day like sunlight suddenly flooding a dark room.

For a brief moment, it dulls the throbbing headache Iruka has been furiously trying to ignore all morning. Toshio is smiling up at him, admiration glowing in the depths of his adorable brown eyes, a flush on his cheeks as he tries to stands still, visibly putting effort into not fidgeting with excitement. Beside him, Tenzou is a quiet shadow, a hand in his pocket, casually dressed, expression neutral as it always is when he’s out in public.

Iruka pretends not to see the sharp, focused glint glimmering on the surface of Tenzou’s eyes as he takes Toshio’s hand in his. He smiles at Tenzou, brushing a hand over his forearm as they head towards the reception where Hikaru-san is waiting for them.

They receive the good news with regards to their expression of interest on the four children without much of an aplomb. Hikaru-san tells them that they have all unanimously agreed to be adopted and that she had the paperwork ready to finalized. That they can, if they are ready, take the children with them within an hour or two if they are willing to wait.

The news is a pleasant and most welcomed shock to the system. Iruka finds himself staring agape at Hikaru-san like she’s grown a second head; so much so that Iruka starts to wonder if he's the hopeful foolish one, that he's the one hearing things. 

“They said yes,” Iruka repeats. “All four of them. They actually said, yes.”

“Yes, Iruka-san,” Hikaru nods, smiling at him.

Beside him Toshio lets out a small, throaty noise of excitement.

Iruka looks down at him, watching as Toshio brings two little hands up to his mouth to silence the noise that he probably thinks is deemed impolite. Iruka isn’t sure what to do with himself at that moment, torn between wanting to ask more questions, to reaffirm that the children weren't in any shape or form, convinced to accept this opportunity because the orphanage is currently overflowing with displaced children. That they aren’t being cajoled a little to aggressively or worse threatened to accept a genuine offer.

The swirl or questions in his mind dies when Iruka jumps at the warmth of Tenzou’s hand pressing on the small of his back. Iruka startles so bad that Tenzou retracts his hand slowly, something flickering in his expression that sends a stab of guilt going right through Iruka’s spine.

Iruka shakes his head, taking Tenzou’s hand in his, his grip firm as he laces their fingers together.

“You ready to be a big brother, Toshio-nii-san?” Iruka asks, grinning wide.

“Yes, Otou-chan!” 

“Good! Because Otou-san and I will be counting on you to help!” Iruka looks up at Tenzou, whose fingers remain unsure in Iruka’s hold. It’s not tight, nor is it lax. It’s odd. “Isn’t that right, Otou-san?”

The corners of Tenzou’s lips quirk up a little bit, his focus shifting from Iruka to Toshio, as he nods silently. 

“I will do my best!” Toshio crows, flashing a gapped-grin that never ceases to make Iruka’s heart jump a little bit in his chest.

*

Iruka forgets what’s bothering him when all four children are escorted towards them, shy, a little quiet, cheeks tinged pink. They aren’t sure what to do with themselves. Hideki and Kenji stand shoulder to shoulder, their chins tipped downwards as they stare up from under their bangs, their hands behind their back; Iruka isn’t quite sure who is who of the two. He doubts Hikaru-san knows. Reiko presents herself like a wall, standing between the three of them and Ren, who looks smaller than ever, dressed in severely baggy t-shirt, the neckline threatening to slip off a narrow shoulder.

The children’s intimidation is softened when Toshio steps forward with a grin so wide that it’s infectious. Iruka cannot help himself as he watches small smiles start to replace the intimidated expressions, cannot stop his hand from searching for Tenzou’s, squeezing it tight as Toshio starts engaging them in a conversation about their home. 

There is a gaggle of excited noises, a sight that robs Iruka of breath as it finally hits him.

This is all his now.

This noise, this chaos, the arguments, the fights, the name-calling, the teasing, the laughter, the warmth -- this is going to be his new norm. 

He looks up at Tenzou, a lump in his throat. “It’s not too late to back out now; you’re sure you’re okay with this?”

Tenzou shifts in his stance, turning to fully face Iruka; with Tenzou standing this close, the glint in his eyes are as sharp as a blade in the dark, visible, hard to miss and definitely hard to ignore. “You must doubt my loyalty if you’re asking me again.” 

“Forgive my weakness, then,” Iruka responds shakily, turning away, releasing Tenzou's hand. He is stopped when a firm grip clamps sharply over his forearm, bruising in its grip that Iruka knows it will leave marks. Iruka is about to tell Tenzou to let go, to take his hand off him because it hurts. Except, when Iruka looks up, he finds Tenzou staring at him with an expression he’s never seen before.

The words let go dies in Iruka’s throat, turning into ash that makes everything in him go dry, his breath freezing in his lungs.

Tenzou looks afraid.

And Tenzou is never afraid.

(Iruka does not understand why he is afraid when Iruka thinks it’s him who should be afraid.)

“I have to go back to the Hokage,” Iruka murmurs, whisper soft, an attempt to be gentle. He tries not to flinch when the grip on his arm goes even tighter. “Take the children home. I’ll see you in a few hours.”

Tenzou releases his grip like he’s been burned.

Outside, the rain starts to fall.

 

TBC

 

Chapter Text

The second half of Iruka’s shift is self inflicted torture. 

It is not just about the headache anymore. It is the feeling of air abruptly leaving your lungs as you try to take frantic deep breaths that you don’t want to make obvious, an attempt to stay calm when you are anything but. It is being able to hear every single sound from all directions -- the voices beyond Kakashi’s office door, the pitter-patter of shinobi boots on wooden floor, the sound of rickshaws, rushed footsteps on the road beyond the building, the fall of the rain, the sound it makes as it slams over concrete, wood and metal, like a billion, thin nails, all being hammered down at the same time. It is the clock on the wall, the slamming of a drawer somewhere in the next room, the rolling shelves moving in the archive rooms, the sound of Kakashi leafing through the pages of his goddamn book for the millionth time, all of this amplified a hundredfold. It is being near blinded by the glow of the halogen light panels, the brief purple clap of thunder rumbling in the distance, all these flashes of brightness that makes you want to press your hands to your eyes, force the world out when it is so intent on pressing down on you.

Iruka does not bring his hands up to his eyes.

Instead, he tugs his forehead protector loose, carefully folding it and setting it beside his steaming mug of tea on the table. It does nothing to alleviate the tension around his temples, does nothing to stave off the throb of his headache, the hell it’s making him go through as he tries to proofread the spreadsheet in front of him. When that doesn’t help, Iruka loosens the knot holding his neat bun up, before foregoing it completely and attempting a shot at concentration again.

Iruka fails.

He fails because he’s staring at the bruises forming on his forearm, Tenzou’s fingers a lingering ghost tinged in greenish-blue. It had been a desperate grip, a tremble reverberating underneath its solid hold; Tenzou has left marks before, ones out of passion, desperation, ones that are meant to subdue because Iruka wants to be subdued, because he pushes all the hot red buttons that would ignite a fire so blindingly hot in Tenzou that Iruka wants to feel nothing else but its burn. Those bruises can be considered ugly by others if they see it, but they’re always fond, always something that sends a tinge of warmth curling in Iruka’s lower belly at the memory of it. Those bruises would last for days, sometimes over a week. Those bruises, to Iruka, are never ugly.

Not when they burn and ache in all the good ways possible.

But this one -- well, this one will only get uglier as the days go by, maybe even look a little mottled. 

This is the first of its kind and within a few hours of failing to do much other than sit still and stare at his arm, Iruka watches as the smallest of red dots start to appear on the surface of his skin, just over darker colors, a sign that capillaries had been damaged. 

“You’re not yourself today,” Kakashi suddenly drawls, just as a bright flash cuts through the sky, a thunderclap echoing in the far distance.

“I’m not?” Iruka blinks, hoping that he doesn’t betray how Kakashi’s voice makes had startled him. “Am I not annoying enough today? Pestering? Loud? Too forward? Shameless?  Acting above my station?”

It comes out a little self deprecating but Iruka knows he is only repeating what he hears is whispered behind his back. He is aware that while people respect his current position as the Hokage’s assistant, they aren’t exactly happy that he holds the position. It isn’t the workload people tend to be unhappy about; it’s just the power.

Kakashi listens to him, tends to work a little better with him compared to the others. Iruka can bet that there’s only a matter of time where talk of favouritism starts to swirl in the gossip vine. 

“You haven’t reminded me about the urgent pile,” Kakashi pauses  for a beat, “not once.”

Iruka chuckles, giving up on reading the numbers in front of him and picking up his lukewarm tea. “Why Hokage-sama, do you actually miss me nagging at you?” 

“Ahh, very much,” Kakashi deadpans.

“Then you must be insane or you’re into some weird shit, because that is my most unlikeable trait,” Iruka huffs, shaking his head and rubbing the base of his neck with his fingers, trying to ease the pressure of the headache. 

“Weird shit, huh?” Kakashi drawls.

Iruka shrugs, not elaborating more than he should. He looks at the ripples spreading in his tea. When he looks up, he finds Kakashi is back to reading his book. Iruka watches him read as another clap of thunder rumbles in the sky. It makes Iruka wonder what the kids are doing, how they’re settling. He wonders how Tenzou is handling them, if they’re suddenly a handful, of they’re giving him a hard time. He wonders if they’re talking to Tenzou at all — the image of Tenzou standing next to the children, all of them lined up is a cherishing sight. Iruka doesn’t realise how wistful he looks until he catches sight of his reflection on the glass. 

He looks like a loved truck school boy what with how his cheeks are flushed at the thought of his family, how truly blessed he is to have Tenzou in his life, the man who made the impossible, possible.

Iruka suddenly feels stupid, foolish, so silly at himself for being angry at nothing. For being insecure at nothing. 

He thinks of the home surrounded by an Eden, a wall of orange and mango trees, and at its center a circle of lavender: devotion. He thinks of the warmth of the house, the well thought of design, the effort behind the structure that’s been lovingly crafted by Tenzou’s hands and chakra, how the grain of the wood that keeps Iruka warm, safe and comfortable comes from the palms of the man who told him, with all the confidence of a well respected shinobi, I want you in my life.

Tenzou has done nothing but prove that, time and time again.

The slight soreness on Iruka’s forearm twinges for a second and, gods, he feels tucking stupid. So damn foolish.

Iruka stands up from the chair, the sudden gesture scraping loudly against the wood. “I have to go,” Iruka suddenly days, his heart drumming in his chest. Kakashi doesn’t protest his announcement, merely quirking an eyebrow at him. “Make sure you actually do that urgent pile or I’ll smack with you something tomorrow and make you regret it.”

Kakashi’s eyebrows disappears under his hairline at the statement. “Is that how you talk to your kids?” 

“If you’re hellbent in acting like one, I’m going to treat you like one. Urgent pile and the one next to it.” Iruka stuffs his forehead protector in his pocket, emptying the rest of his tea cup and tossing the used tea bags into the trash. “You hired me to be your assistant; it is my job to make sure you’re at the top of your game administratively. I can’t do that if you’re not willing. I’m quite aware that it's boring and that a man of your caliber is not suited for office work; you should be out there, leading our forces in missions as opposed to delegating things and sitting behind a desk.”

Iruka sucks in a slow breath and arranges his desk, looking up to catch the look that crosses Kakashi’s face — dark, hooded. It comes and goes like the flash of lightning that cuts through the sky, followed by a loud deafening rumble that leaves Iruka wondering if he’d seen what he’d seen before he takes a step away from his desk, preparing to leave.

“That’s a bold assessment,” Kakashi says, almost a little noncommittal, a touch dismissive.

Iruka doesn’t pay it any attention, nor does he feel regret. “If you don’t like it, or how I am, then get rid of me. I’m perfectly happy teaching children, I don’t have any lofty ambitions or thirst for power. I’m good at what I do and my records show that. But I’m not going to let your tardiness reflect on my record. So get that shit done, Hokage-sama. Is there anything you need of me?”

“Mmm, you can go,” Kakashi dismisses, waving bus hand as if dismissing a puppy.

Iruka rolls his eyes, even though he is suddenly tempted to pinch Kakashi's wrist the way he would pull some of his kids’ ears when they’re trying to escape from the Academy grounds.

“Then I’ll see you in the morning.”

*

Iruka runs home through the rain, soaking in minutes as he crosses one district of Konoha towards the suburbs. He cuts through the branches, leaving behind him a spray of rain water in the wake of his chakra induced runs and jumps. The leaves shake, branches trembling with each large, bounding leap Iruka takes until he reaches the brook. The sheets of rain parts as Iruka becomes a speeding force that moves through them, suspending rain water in air, droplets reflecting like diamonds when lightning illuminated the sky in white before they come crashing down back to the earth.

Iruka is breathing a little hard by the time he crosses the canopy of mango and orange trees. Lavender blossoms sway in the rain when Iruka crosses their expanse, the sight of his home a beacon in the dark, alight with gold filtering past its glass windows, welcoming, warm. Iruka’s presence must have been thrumming as quick as his thundering heart, just as lightning cracks through the sky, muting the sound of their front door opening, because there’s Tenzou stepping out by the doorstep, alerted by Iruka’s rush.

A swell of affection makes Iruka slow in his steps momentarily, his boots squelching in the wet earth as Tenzou turns to look at him, concern all over his features, the lines of his forearms going taut with apprehension, his body falling into a stance of readiness, to protect no matter what the cost, because within the walls of their home are five, young children, their presence mere dots in the dark, vulnerable, too soft, utterly defenseless at this age. But there’s Tenzou, ready to strike in a blink of an eye, fearless, magnificent in his strength and battle readiness, so damn beautiful with the power of a legend coursing through his veins. Iruka’s slowed down steps quicken again, as he approaches Tenzou -- Tenzou and his tousled, lustrous, thick brown hair, his strength of his jaw, as if carved from granite, the dark depths of his eyes, as black as night, framed by dark brows that slopes down to a serious expression, Tenzou, the brightest and biggest star in Iruka’s universe.

The sudden burst of affection overwhelms Iruka, his chest exploding from within as he comes to a wet, skidding halt on the hard wooden floors of their front door, Tenzou reaching out with both his hands to steady him.

“Iruka, what--”

Iruka’s arms are around Tenzou, his lips crashing forward, rainwater soaking through his uniform, his hair, all of it sticking to his skin heavily, water sluicing down his face as he leans into the fire of Tenzou’s mouth, the length of his body, threading his fingers through Tenzou’s scalp as he slants their mouths together and catches his breath by stealing Tenzou’s own. Iruka can taste cold drops and warm, sweet lips, tinged a little with Tenzou’s favorite afternoon tea, the faint, almost fruity like tang of hibiscus still lingering over the tiers of Tenzou’s bottom lip. 

Tenzou pushes into the kiss more firmly, his hands dropping to rest on Iruka’s hips and the wave that runs through Iruka is intoxicating, heady, making his head swim as he pulls back to break the kiss, parting wet lashes to take in the face - this wonderful, kind, handsome, beautiful face - of his husband.

“I do not doubt your loyalty,” Iruka whispers, pressing their foreheads together, listening to the sudden sharp intake Tenzou makes. “I refuse to. I’m sorry -- I’m sorry, Tenzou.”

“Hey,” Tenzou’s hands come up to Iruka’s neck, the warm pads of his thumbs drawing gentle circles on the patch of skin just above the collar of Iruka’s uniform. “If you did, it’s because I gave you a reason to.”

“You do not owe me an explanation --” Iruka counters, only to be silenced by the press of Tenzou’s fingers over his lips.

“Kakashi-senpai and I had an arrangement. For years, I gave him what he needed, when he needed, no strings attached, no questions.  It was a mutual understanding, because we trusted each other. And then I met you.” Tenzou’s fingers drop from Iruka’s lips, taking hold of Iruka’s chin between his thumb and forefinger. “Hatake Kakashi is the Hokage, my commander, the man that I do have high respect for, a man that I do trust as a comrade, as a friend, someone I can count on. But he is not you. He can never be you, even if he tried. I’ve been with him for years and not once, has he made me feel the same way you do. He never will. So don’t ever doubt my loyalty to you. You do not have a reason to.” 

There is a fierceness in the words that leaves Tenzou’s mouth, a conviction that is so strong, so inflexible, unbending in its faith, that Iruka’s entire world quakes with shame and humiliation, just as a swell of regret rips past his throat in a noise that sounds like the syllables of Tenzou’s name, the insecurity of it drowned out by the wash of the rain hitting the wet earth . Tenzou takes hold of Iruka’s hand, bringing up the heel of Iruka’s palm to his lips, pressing a kiss on the soft patch of warm skin on the underside of Iruka’s wrist. 

“I’ve got nothing to hide from you,” Tenzou breathes, closing his eyes, fingers squeezing. 

Iruka shakes his head as he leans into Tenzou’s embrace, closing his eyes as another rumble of thunder echoes in the skies. “You didn’t deserve the insult, Tenzou, for that, I am sorry,” Iruka whispers, lips brushing against the now wet skin of Tenzou’s neck. “You deserve better than that.”

Tenzou’s hands are on Iruka’s neck, the look in his eyes different now. Moments like this, more soft than the battle hardened, blank slate of a weapon the world knows. His profession, his rank, his title, his kill count -- all gone. In its place is the eyes of a man who loves deeply. This is the look of a man whose hold is firm, strong, who isn’t willing to let go. It draws Iruka in, as strong as the magnetic pull of gravity. Iruka closes his eyes at the brightness of it, the heat scorching through his skin as Tenzou tilts his head and slants their mouths together, the heat he radiates warming through the rain, pushing the cold away as he pulls Iruka closer, their bodies flush as Iruka surrenders to the burn.

It is the soft sound of giggling that slows the brush of tongue, that lulls the slide of their lips against each other to a slow stop, as Iruka peels his eyes open and sees Tenzou grinning, face turned away from the children staring up at them from the dry comfort of the genkan.

Ren has both hands covering his mouth, eyes alight trying to stifle his giggles alongside Toshio. Kenji, Hideki and Reiko remain wide eyed. Ren’s giggle comes out again and this earns him a warning nudge from Reiko.

“Why are you kissing Otou-chan in the cold rain Otou-san? He’ll get sick!” Toshio asks, fists on his hips, an attempt to be a reasonable big brother and good son on full display.

“Because,” Iruka steps away from Tenzou, bends down to Toshio’s height and grins. “It’s fun!” He takes hold of Toshio’s arm and yanks him forward, right under the pouring rain, lifting him up to his chest and pressing a sloppy, wet, loud kiss on his cheek. 

They are soaked in seconds, Toshio’s protests dying off into a laugh as he wraps his arms around Iruka’s neck, squeals of delight leaving his mouth as Iruka spins under the rain, uncaring when the sky rumbles with a clap of thunder. Iruka sets Toshio down, brushing rain water off a flushed, laughing face with his hands.

“My turn! My turn!” Ren jumps, up and down, waving his arms up. 

Iruka’s eyes widen, bracing himself, as Tenzou picks up Ren, tugging him under the rain and tosses him into Iruka’s arms, front first. Iruka catches him with a loud whoop, pressing his lips over the crown of Ren’s head as soon as he’s got arms around him safely. Tenzou tosses Hideki forward next, right into Iruka’s other open arm, Hideki who gasps, his eyes wide, feet off the ground, cheeks going absolutely crimson when Iruka presses his lips to a wet, round, soft cheek.

Tenzou steps out in the rain, Kenji tucked under one arm and Reiko seated on a shoulder, their squeals and laughter unhindered by the pouring rain and crackles of lightning, unperturbed even when Tenzou leans forward, catching Iruka’s mouth in another kiss.


*

Their dinner that night is charged with excitement, as the children tuck into their bowls of oyakudon, a treat Iruka decides to make last minute. It is on this dinner that he and Tenzou discovers the bottomless pit of a stomach the twins and Reiko possesses, how they not only ask for seconds but also thirds. They learn that Ren is a fan of carrots and that he isn't too shy to ask any of the others if he can have theirs. He is the most outspoken of them all, saying what comes to mind unabashedly. It is also in this dinner that they learn how Toshio has a tendency to dote on Ren a little more than necessary, how he willingly offers his carrots to the youngest of the four but puts an arm up to shield his bowl from the twins and Reiko, his chin wrinkling in a frown that reads, no-you-already-had-yours.

There are no left overs that evening. The twins and Reiko does not even spare the salad, something that baffles Iruka because children aren’t exactly fans of anything green and leafy.

Iruka is in the process of drying the dishes that Tenzou is washing. A tug at Iruka’s sweatpants makes him pause, turning to find Kenji looking up at him. Iruka is momentarily distracted when he looks up to find Hideki and Reiko being pushed forward by Toshio, the flush on their cheeks ablaze, as red as an apple. Tenzou turns the tap off, eyebrow quirking as Toshio’s encouraged but hissed whisper of say it , makes him meet Iruka’s eyes in question briefly.

“Ah, well, we just want to say, that is ---” Reiko gets nudged by Toshio again, who clears her throat, the flush on her cheeks darkening. “-- this is the best food in the world I have -- we have ever had.” 

Kenji gets pushed forward, a small shy noise wedged deep in his throat somewhat escaping. “T-Thank you for the meal, O-Otou-chan.”

Toshio’s smile takes on a smug tinge when he brings his hands up behind his head; it is a motion that Ren follows, eyes squinting shut at the blinding smile on his face. The sight of the children looking up at them with gratitude, their eyes bright and brimming with comfort, warm with the acceptance of the Umino household makes emotion swell in Iruka’s throat. He nods slowly, bringing a hand up to Hideki’s hair, carding it through the thick, uneven, messy strands, the lump in his throat growing when he drops to his knee to look at Hideki’s face, also flushed but looking so, so grateful. 

It breaks Iruka’s heart a little, to see the magnitude of appreciation the children directs at him, a little restrained, and perhaps a little forced at Toshio’s persistent encouragement, but still just as bright as the summer sun. And over something like oyakudon.

“You’re welcome,” Iruka answers, his voice a little hoarse. 

“Can we eat oyoyodon tomorrow again?” Ren asks, mispronouncing words and stumbling over some of the syllables. “And the day after, too? And the one after? It’s the best!”

Iruka laughs, absolutely tickled by the charm of those mispronounced words. “We’ll see.”

“Can we also play in the rain again?” Ren asks, going up and down in his heels. The question seemed to spark interest because now all of them are looking up expectantly at Iruka, hoping for a positive answer. 

Iruka is about to respond with how they shouldn’t make it a habit, because while they’re all shinobi in training, it won’t do for them to catch a cold when the Academy is about to start in a week’s time. Iruka thinks it’s the perfect answer, ready to offer a compromise of perhaps going to the park in the afternoon to play by the sprinklers, when he catches sight of Tenzou’s lips curling upwards, a little sharp, a little pointed as Tenzou looks at him and turns the tap on.

“Yeah, Otou-chan, after all, if I remember correctly, you do enjoy getting very wet and sticky,” Tenzou pauses for a beat. “In the rain.”

The crows of excitement cover up the sudden inhale Iruka takes, muting out the long, measured exhale as he glares at Tenzou, who turns to grin at the dishes he continues to scrub in the skin.

“Let’s see what tomorrow looks like, hmm?” Iruka manages, grateful that it pacifies the children who scrambles up the stairs to get ready for bed.


*

“You can’t say shameless things like that, you know?” Iruka grouches, resuming to scrub his teeth with a toothbrush, his voice a bit hushed given the children have been tucked into bed half an hour ago.

The children are accompanied by one of Tenzou’s clones keeping them company after being tucked under the comforts of their blankets, a warm presence to remind them to not be disturbed by the ongoing roll of thunder in the sky, lulling them to sleep by the as the rush of rainfall continues to fall over the roof of their home. Tenzou’s clone - now a guarding sentinel - sits by the new wall opening Tenzou made earlier between their bedrooms. 

Beside Iruka, Tenzou is rinsing out the toothpaste from his mouth, dropping his toothbrush into the holder. “That you like getting wet and sticky in the rain? It’s not a lie.”

“I know that’s not what you meant, that you weren’t even referring to the rain.” Iruka spits into the sink, turning the tap on and rinsing out his month. “Don’t even try to fool me otherwise.” 

“I say what I mean, nothing more,” Tenzou responds, leaning a hip against the sink, amusement dancing in the depths of his gaze. 

“You sure as hell didn’t look like it. Children are very perceptive, you know? They do pick up on these things. And while I think they shouldn’t be completely shielded from the affection both their fathers have for each other, there are some lines that cannot be crossed.” 

“Yes, yes, of course, I agree.” Tenzou brings both hands up in a gesture of surrender. 

“Now you’re just making fun of me,” Iruka sighs, drying his hand on the towel and stepping into their bedroom. 

Tenzou reaches forward, grabbing Iruka by the hip, turning him around and wrapping his arms around him, holding him close. “Make fun of you? Me? I would never,” Tenzou whispers, pressing a kiss to Iruka’s temple. “I wouldn’t get a gold star if I did that, right?”

“No, no, you don’t get to act all cute, and handsome, and affectionate thinking that I’ll be swayed,” Iruka tartly answers, lips thinning to a bit of a scowl as he pulls away a little bit from Tenzou to stare at the playful smirk threatening to turn into a grin dancing around the corners of Tenzou’s lips. “Stop it.”

“Stop what?” Tenzou grins.

“That face!” Iruka allows himself to be swayed gently, almost a little sweetly, a dance between them two of them, their feet warmed by the plush rug in the middle of their bedroom. Tenzou’s grin broadens making Iruka’s knees go cotton soft, his stilling in his chest, trapped there, as he stares at the brightness of that cheeky, devilishly handsome grin. Iruka knows it’s cheeky, knows that Tenzou’s arousal is but a tip over the edge away from being awakened, because while Tenzou’s mouth is pulled into a relaxed grin, his eyes are open, focused in its sharpness. 

It’s a look that is reserved for quiet moments like this, the kind that Tenzou only ever directs at Iruka, never so openly to others and if it were to come out in public, it’s always shadowed, turned to the side, obscured from the rest of the world. 

A soft knock at the door makes Iruka turn, Tenzou’s clone lingering by the doorway, voice whisper soft as he announces, “They’re asleep.”

“Are you sure?” Iruka asks.

“Positive,” the clone murmurs. 

It’s a split second decision that makes Iruka step away from Tenzou’s slightly loosened embrace, a swell of impish glee swiftly coursing through Iruka’s veins, firing up his nerves, heating up his skin. He pushes the door shut, taking hold of the clone’s palm, sliding the length of his fingers over his wrist, up the chords of muscle on his forearms, the touch featherlight as Iruka brings his fingers up to his face.

“Thank you for all your help tonight, taichou ,” Iruka pointedly says, voice soft, a sensual whisper that blows the clone’s pupils wide, even when the rest of him remains very still, unflinching, quiet. “Your service is appreciated.” 

Iruka presses his mouth to Tenzou’s clone, inhaling the deep scent of cedar trees, the underlying musky tones of amber with a sharp, greedy intake, audible in the quiet of the room, only disturbed by the rush of rainfall. Lightning flashes again, as Iruka turns his head, deepening the kiss, with a second to spare a glance at Tenzou, who moves to lean against the one way view of their glass window, shoulder blades against the cold, his eyes dark, equally blown wide, stance casual.

His attention remains on Iruka, who has the clone’s arms around him, fingers sneaking past the waistband of his sweatpants, sensual in their pattern, searching in its glide, coming back up under the hem of his t-shirt, before tugging it upwards. Iruka breaks the kiss long enough to have it pulled over his head, tossed aside carelessly, just enough time to suck in another breath before Tenzou’s clones has his hands on him again, coming card through the loose strands of Iruka’s hair, fingers brushing over the sensitive area where his scalp meets the skin on the nape of his neck, gentle, soft.

Until it grabs, fingers wrapped around a fistful of hair, forcing Iruka’s neck to pull backwards, tight, taut, Iruka’s mouth slacking to a gasping smile, loud.

“Better be quiet there, otou-chan ,” Tenzou warns, his voice velvety, a smooth tenor in the dark, his hands tucking themselves into the pockets of his sweatpants.

In a split second, Iruka is chest first against his husband, his hands pressed flat on the glass, as the clone behind him kicks his legs open, splits apart, a hand coming to rest on Iruka’s lower belly as the sweatpants is pulled down, and off. Iruka’s arousal throbs, bobbing in the cold air, hard and already dripping precum at simply being manhandled like this, triggering exactly what he had wanted. Iruka doesn’t get more than a second’s warning, cool slicked fingers breaching his entrance before the gasp that rips past Iruka’s mouth is silence by Tenzou’s own. 

Iruka gets fucked like that, facing his husband, hands braced on the glass, the clone’s cock splitting him open, his hip arched as hard flesh slides in and out of him, his cock bobbing with each jerk and snap of the clone’s hip. He gets fucks by his husband’s cock as he looks at Tenzou’s face, cool, so poised, so handsome, Tenzou’s eyes are candles in the dark as Iruka stares into its depths, losing himself in it. Tenzou’s hands remain where they are, buried deep in the fabric of his sweatpants, arousal hardened, watching Iruka lose his mind in pleasure, peppering kisses down the side of Iruka’s jaw, brushing his tongue over the curve of Iruka’s mouth, kissing the arch of his chin -- all this, with his hands in his pockets, like he’s just here to watch the show, like he’s not interested despite the pre-cum soaked fabric of his paints.

Gods, he’s going to come like this; he’s going to come looking into the eyes of his husband, his flattened hands now balled into tight fists of the misty glass, gasps muted by the slow, measured glide of Tenzou’s mouth. 

The swoop of his stomach, the clench of his body, his focus dimming for just a moment suddenly comes to a skidding halt when Tenzou’s hand snaps forward, wrapping around Iruka’s wet, slick, cock in a vice, gripping him and stopping the crest of pleasure, his other hand coming to rest firmly on Iruka’s mouth, muting the cry that dies somewhere in the caverns of Iruka’s throat, as the clone grinds forward, coming long and hard. Iruka shakes at the ferocity, keening when the clone disappears in a puff of chakra smoke, taking with it the thick flesh that had filled him, stretching him. Iruka sags forward, chest to chest against his husband who pulls his hand away to replace it with mouth.

Iruka trembles at the sudden emptiness, at the lack of cock, at the disturbed and cruelly halted orgasm. 

Tenzou releases his hold on the base of Iruka’s cock, the heat of his palm sliding up to rest on Iruka’s hip, tracing the curve of his ass as he yanks Iruka forwards, and upwards, the clone’s cum dripping, white hot down Iruka’s thighs. 

The sudden frigid cold of the glass on Iruka’s back tears a shudder out of him, a shock of brief clarity in the haze of his mind, just enough before he gasps into Tenzou’s mouth as he pushes his cock into Iruka’s body, holding him up on the glass, rolling his hips up and forward, slow and deep, dragging it -- dragging everything for as long as he can, a burn that only gets hotter until Iruka comes with a silent cry, Tenzou grinding forward, ripping him wide open and flooding him with white heat that has Iruka shaking, rivulets of white coating their chests, splattering under Iruka’s chin.

They remain like that for a while, the heated mist on the glass receding as they catch their breath. Tenzou has a hand on Iruka’s lower back, fingers rubbing gentle circles before he pulls out slowly, cum dripping a mess on the floor, as he lowers Iruka gently on his feet. Iruka moans softly, tagging against the glass, carefully releasing his hold on Tenzou’s shoulders that will, no doubt, be peppered with bruises the size of Iruka’s fingers.

“You’re unbelievable,” Tenzou says, full of affection, mouth tugged up into a grin as his tongue traces the cool line of cum on the side of Iruka’s jaw. Iruka shudders at the gesture, lips following the heat of Tenzou’s mouth as Tenzou carefully lifts him off the floor and takes him to bed, where his tongue traces the cum smears of Iruka’s chest, slowly, as Iruka stares at the sluicing rain on the glass ceiling above their bed. “Gods, Iruka…”

“You’re my world,” Iruka murmurs, bring a hand up to cup Tenzou’s cheek, looking up at the face of his husband with all the love he is able to give out. “You’re everything to me.”

Tenzou’s throat bobs once, as he swallows past something, eyes soft as he closes the gap between their lips, taking Iruka’s breath away once more.


*

Iruka falls asleep at dawn, curled into Tenzou’s arms, beautiful, warm, trusting. Tenzou can lose hours watching him sleep, can forego his rest in exchange for watching the man in his arms - his world - dream. 

Tenzou can care less about fatigue, about the slight lethargy that may find itself smoothing over the lines of his body later on during the day. He doesn’t give a damn if he ends up with a headache later either. 

Because if this is love, if this strength comes from that love, this fearlessness to face whatever the day may bring, then Tenzou concludes for the upteenth time that choosing Iruka had to be the single best decision he’s ever made for himself.


*

Tenzou is in the kitchen, following a recipe book, flipping pancakes by the stove. He's got strawberries and oranges chopped up, fresh coffee in the carafe and orange juice in a jug. Iruka steps into the kitchen, rumpled, still warm, a smile on his lips as he limps shirtless towards Tenzou, a slight limp in his steps as he picks up a sliced strawberry from the plate and pops it into his mouth before he leans in and kisses Tenzou on the jaw, arms wrapped around Tenzou’s middle, cheek on his shoulder blade.

“Would you be opposed if I start training the children?” Tenzou asks, flipping a pancake in the air and giving the skillet a bit of a gentle shake.

“Why would I be opposed?” Iruka asks, voice still thick with sleep.

“It’ll channel their energy into something more useful, something that’ll help them be ahead in the Academy. It’ll boost their confidence, might make them adjust better to their new environment,” Tenzou explains.

“Otou-san, they’re you’re children and I think, them learning from the strongest ANBU would be a thing I certainly will be very, very proud of.” Iruka kisses Tenzou’s shoulders. “And I am sure you’ll be an inspiration. Just try not to kill them too much, okay? We only just got them.”

Tenzou grins, just as Mango meows from the bottom of the landing, followed by a rush of pitter-pattering feet. “No promises.”

 

TBC

Chapter Text

After Iruka leaves for the day, Tenzou gets left with the children finishing the last piece of pancake on their plate. They are quiet for the most part, nothing but the soft clinks of utensils filling the quiet, sunlight filled dining room. The clouds from the storm had cleared, leaving clear blue skies, a gentle breeze and bright sunshine that paints rainbow diamonds that dance upon the canvas of their living room wall. On the floor, Mango has abandoned his food bowl, in favor of swatting at the triangle of white light, hoping to catch sunshine in his paws and failing miserably. 

Tenzou studies the children carefully, at their careful quiet discipline, at how boxed in their elbows are as they eat. It is behavior borne out of strict rules and decorum, of caretakers ensuring that they are always in line, always in order. It is training in obedience that is instilled in the young in preparation to put them through a system for the purpose of the village. It’s a little cruel to want to take advantage of that discipline, to use in strategizing their education, to hone their skills. Iruka may frown a little at that, maybe look a little heartbroken.

But Tenzou thinks that teaching his children when they haven’t developed habits of getting too comfortable, too soft, too spoiled would be advantageous for their future. At the very least, Tenzou can at least ensure that their chakra pathways are developed enough to put them ahead of the game. He had been serious when he justified the training, that it’d boost their confidence.

Tenzou isn’t worried about their arrogance because Iruka would be there to bring them back down to earth.

And if Iruka isn’t able to, well, Tenzou has years of practice of slapping over inflated egos back to their rightful places. 

“So the Academy will be starting in a week,” Tenzou says, loud and firm enough to get all five gazes snap in his direction with attentiveness. “I plan to start training all of you while I’m still confined to the village, get you kick-started in your education, which I am expecting all of you to put your energy, dedication and effort into. I would like to focus on making sure that your chakra pathways are developed, that any lack in training due to the closure of the academy and Great War is compensated for. And in the evenings, we can work on you academics.” 

Tenzou is surprised that he is uninterrupted. He sees the gleam of eagerness in the twins’ eyes, sees nervousness tug at Toshio’s features, confusion painted all over Ren’s face and determination on Reiko’s.

“We will first work on building your stamina, your speed, your strength. That means a lot of running, drills, because one of the three basic things a ninja needs is?” Tenzou looks at Toshio, expectantly. 

“S-Speed?” Toshio offers, stammering, nervous, confidence all over the place, shattered to a million pieces.

It is a look that doesn’t suit Toshio; this is one of the reasons Tenzou had decided to make use of his time in the village. He wants Iruka’s children to shine amongst the brightest in the Academy, to be a reflection of what Iruka is in confidence, in knowledge and in inner strength. He never wants to hear Toshio stammer an answer because he doubts his abilities. With Tenzou at home for hopefully a whole lot longer, he wants to build a solid routine into their mornings and afternoons, something that can become a habit while they’re still pliable and willing to impress their new parents to the best of their abilities.

It’s a little sneaky, perhaps something that will earn Tenzou frowns from other parents, but he’s going to milk that vulnerable emotional state to his advantage.

“Correct.” Tenzou nods. “So are strength and endurance. Working on your speed and endurance will be the easiest; we will start there. I’ll work your strength building into your training as we go along.”

Reiko raises her hand, eyebrows drawing downwards to a serious expression. “Is this training going to be difficult?”

“Yes.” Tenzou nods. “It will be at first. I will challenge you and push you to your limits. The more obstacles you overcome, the more strong and confident you will be. Two things your otou-chan expects of you while you’re the Academy. I will make sure you achieve that while I’m here before I get sent out on a mission, again.”

Reiko raises her hand again, to which Tenzou nods. “Do you get sent out to missions a lot?”

“Yes,” Tenzou sighs, with a bit of a twinge in his chest. “That is why I want to make the most of my time spent with you.”

Hideki puts his hand up next. “Is Otou-chan going to take over the training when you are gone?”

“Otou-chan and I will discuss how to divide your training time at home. Most of the time, Otou-chan will be focusing on ensuring that your academics are up to speed and that you aren’t falling behind.” 

Kenji’s hand shoots up in the air. “How long will you be gone for?”

“That depends.” Tenzou straightens, clearing his throat. “Anywhere between a few days to a few weeks. My longest mission lasted eight months.”

The children look at each other, frowns etching on all their faces.

“But that’s such a long time!” Ren protests, looking the most distraught. He gets an elbow to the side for his outburst, Reiko shaking her head at him. “But--”

“It doesn’t happen often, but it can happen again,” Tenzou patiently explains, a little warmed at the protest, something so soft fluttering somewhere in his chest. In that moment, Ren has wrinkled his nose, frowning, both dimples hollowed as he presses his lips to a thin line. Tenzou sees Iruka — nothing but Iruka. The similarity is a little distracting. Tenzou’s wonders if it’s just the long hair and dimples solidifying the illusion of their extreme resemblance.

“Don’t you feel sad and miss Otou-chan?” Ren asks again, 

Tenzou thinks back to the thirteen week long mission he just completed, at how spending time in the bustling city of Iron had been arduous, a true test of patience. He thinks of how his arms had felt empty, his lips tingling for the warmth of Iruka’s mouth, the brush of his fingers, the heady scent of orange and cinnamon -- gods, he missed Iruka during that missing. He’s never touched himself so often than he did in that mission. 

“Very much,” Tenzou whispers, before he straightens and rests his elbow on the table. “That being said, just because I am not around, doesn’t mean you should be slacking on your training and at the Academy. I expect to see improvements when I return; drastic improvements if I am gone for a long while.”

Toshio’s hand goes up hesitantly, a tremble in his fingers. “Will this make Otou-chan happy? Proud?”

“It would.” Tenzou nods, the corners of his lips curling up in a small smile.

“And you?” Toshio adds hesitantly.

Tenzou’s smile turns a little wistful. “And me.” He holds Toshio’s gaze for a moment before he turns them to the rest. “Like I said, we,” Tenzou gestures to himself and everyone at the table. “Won’t have a problem with each other so long as you do not disappoint, upset or hurt your father. Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t do anything that would hurt him and we’re all good. We clear on that?”

Toshio is looking at his empty plate, as the rest exchange looks with each other, nodding a little hesitant agreement.

“But I would never hurt otou-chan,” Ren protests. “He is my otou-chan!”

“Then we will all get along just fine, if that’s the case,” Tenzou grins. “I know it sounds like I have high expectations of you. In a way, I do. Your Otou-chan and I expect all of you to be the best versions of yourselves. Whatever shape or form that may be, doesn’t matter. Questions?” Tenzou straightens when he gets no raised hands. “Then, are you all ready to do this? Work hard?” 

The chorus of firm, determined yes somehow makes Tenzou’s knees go just a little bit soft.

*

Iruka comes home that night a little late, right as Tenzou puts the last dried dinner plate back on the rack. In the living room, Tenzou hears Iruka’s footsteps come to a sharp halt; Tenzou starts chuckling, imagining Iruka’s wide eyed expression at the sight of their five children, lying about their sofa, fast asleep. The twins are asleep on the floor cushions, mouth wide open, a bit of drool collecting around the corner of their mouths, ready to drip at any moment. Toshio is on his back, spread like a star on the sofa, Mango plopped beside, in between dozing and staying awake. Toshio is head to head with Reiko who is facing the backrest of the sofa, clutching a cushion to her chest. Ren is lying on the carpet,  wedged between the twins, draped over a smaller couch cushion, his breaths deep.

“Did you kill them?” Iruka whispers, trying to stifle a laugh at the sight as he unzips his flak jacket.

Tenzou gently grasps Iruka by the chin, turning his slack, shocked mouth towards him for a kiss. “Just a little.”

“They look exhausted!” Iruka murmurs.

“They really worked hard today,” Tenzou murmurs, wrapping his arms around Iruka’s middle and pressing his chin on Iruka’s shoulder. “I was impressed.”

“They weren’t intimidated by your expectations of them, were they?” Iruka asks, watching as Kenji shifts on the floor cushion, turning his head the other way before going still.

“If they were, they hid it well.” Tenzou brings his lips to the shell of Iruka’s ear. “You should be thanking me.”

“For inflicting not--quite-torture on the kids?” Iruka chuckles, his smile wide, and broad, amusement relaxing the lines of his still rather slender, exhausted frame.

“Yes,” Tenzou whispers, voice dropping to dulcet tones that, to his amusement, makes a shudder go through Iruka’s body. “That means I have you all to myself~”

“I knew it.” Iruka swallows his laugh turning his head and meeting Tenzou’s mouth halfway, their lips slanting as their tongues brush languidly, unrushed in their exploration. Iruka is smiling into the kiss, as sweet as honey, his fingers lacing over Tenzou’s hand that’s resting on his stomach. “I’m guessing this is going to be the new norm, while you’re around hmm?” Iruka sighs, resting his head against Tenzou as Tenzou hums in agreement. “Exhaust them so Otou-san can pleasure Otou-chan?”

“A man has his needs. This way, they’ll sleep till hopefully past dawn,” Tenzou grins, nuzzling Iruka as kissing him again when Iruka’s laugh. “And Otou-chan can remind Otou-san about his love~”

Tenzou swallows Iruka’s laugh, trailing kisses up to his temple before they stand still. Time seems to stop as they watch their children sleep undisturbed, peaceful, their bodies swaying to a gentle, silent rhythm, a gentle comforting rock, like the slow, lulling sway of a hammock on a summer’s day. 

Iruka’s voice comes out thick, a little shaky around the corners. “Look at what we have, Tenzou. They’re beautiful...” 

Tenzou hums in agreement, a deep rumbling tenor in his chest, as he nuzzles the side of Iruka’s neck, arms going just a little tighter around the warmth of his body. 

Tenzou thinks he has got to be the luckiest man in the world.


*

They tuck their children into bed, carrying them up one by one, parting the drapes open in their bedrooms to let the starlight in before closing the door. They pad back downstairs where Tenzou shows Iruka a draft of his training plan for the children and joins him for dinner. He had not eaten earlier, choosing to drink tea while he fed the children plates of omurice and steamed pre-made dumplings he dug out of the freezer. He and Iruka share a few of the leftover dumplings and bowls of stir fry vegetables over rice. 

It is towards the end of dinner that Tenzou shows Iruka his training plan for the children, detailed notes scribbled down into a notebook propped open on the table between them. Admitedly, it’s a lot tougher compared to the current Academy curriculum; it makes Iruka pause for a moment, a frown etching between his eyebrows before it smooths over. 

“It’s an intense training plan,” Iruka comments, as he finishes the last of his rice bowl and begins stacking up the plates in front of him. “If they follow this religiously and assuming they do the same with their academics, they can graduate in two years at most...” Something presses on the corners of Iruka’s eyes, his lips pressing to a thin line. “Is that your aim?”

“Too much?” Tenzou looks at the page on the notebook, one that breaks down taijutsu program. 

“Well…” Iruka sounds hesitant. “I need to know if your vision for these kids is to graduate early. I’m not so worried about Toshio because he will be ten, or nine if he really pushes himself. Which isn’t so bad…” Iruka trails off, clearing his throat. “How did the others handle the training?”

“The twins are agile, quick. They can concentrate on the target in front of them. Reiko is a little aggressive. Ren tries, there’s potential for growth given that this is his first time engaging in any shinobi training and Toshio is…” Tenzou sighs. “He’s holding back, I think.”

“Holding back like giving up so soon?” Iruka asks softly, flipping a page on the notebook.

“Yes,” Tenzou sighs. “Taijutsu for example. He knows what’s coming, but he hesitates to block or strike.”

“He’s an anxious boy,” Iruka exhales, rubbing his temples. “I taught him his first year. It looks like the other teachers didn’t manage to coax him out of it after all. I think he’s so used to failing and doing poorly since his parents death that he doesn’t trust his own instincts. It really slows him down. He does the same in the classroom, from what I remember.”

Tenzou thinks back to their training that morning, when Tenzou’s had taken Toshio aside with a clone to asses his taijutsu skills. Toshio had been aware of where the hit was going to land and yet he spends one point three seconds hesitating. The hesitation had not worked in his favour, often having him landing on his ass. Toshio had looked up at Tenzou by the third time he didn’t manage to block an incoming strike, fearful, brown eyes blown wide, waiting to be told that he’s not good enough, his chest heaving from more than just the physical exertion. Toshio had looked terrified as he waited for Tenzou to show his disapproval.

Tenzou didn’t show it. He continued the spar instead, giving Toshio countless chances to redeem himself. Toshio didn’t. Tenzou cannot deny how, at that point, something that isn’t quite disappointment had curled somewhere in his chest. He had to remind himself that Toshio isn’t from a time where children were pushed to become men too soon, too fast. That he isn’t being taught and groomed by ROOT or Danzou. 

“He does pause a lot…” Tenzou murmurs; the difference between life and death can depend on that one second window.

At eight years old, Toshio’s instincts should have been a lot sharper. Most kids develop their reflexes and instincts by six years old after going through rigorous training from the moment they start the Academy at four. Toshio is already two years late. 

“This training, I think, will be very effective for Toshio. The problem with him isn’t physical or even smarts; it’s just emotional. I find that if he gets undivided attention, he does well. He just wants to be acknowledged. I think once he gets over the fact that you or I will not abandon him if he does poorly, he’ll stop doubting himself too much. Persistent repetitiveness will be the key for him. That delayed reaction will disappear.” Iruka looks up from the notebook. “He can graduate at ten.”

“That’s not a bad age to graduate,” Tenzou points out; he graduated earlier too. He was done with the Academy by the time he was six, Chuunin at seven. Danzou had not been kind, or soft with his training. Being in ROOT meant that you weren’t treated like a child; you were an adult.

“It’s not…” Iruka looks up, sucking in a slow breath. “You and I will have to agree on the others. I am — I would like for them to spend more time with children in their age group. Just a little longer. Do you really want them to try for Chuunin at — what Hideki and Kenji at eight? Reiko at seven? Ren at six?”

“Not necessarily.” Tenzou tapos the notebook. “Iruka, if you think it’s crucial to their social and emotional skills to remain in the Academy a little longer, then I won’t question that. I can modify the training, tailor it to their individual skill set and learning curve. But you know that’s not going to stop them from wanting more, right? Especially when right now, they are very eager to impress their new parents.”

Iruka turns his head towards the staircase, like he’s reaching out with his senses, as if checking up on the children sound asleep upstairs. “And with Naruto to live up to— you’re right. I can’t stop them if they learn fast. And I won’t. But I just…” Iruka shakes his head. “This is going to sound so horribly selfish but I’m scared they’ll grow up too fast, you know?”

Tenzou knows he has to tread carefully with his next response. He knows that Iruka has counted far too many deaths, has watched countless children come back as nothing but names etched into stone. Tenzou knows that Iruka remembers every single one of them, by name, by behaviour, their mannerisms -- Iruka never forgets a student, even after they have long been buried in the ground. 

Tenzou closes his eyes for a moment, senses reaching out to the faint pulse of chakra upstairs, the twins pulsing the strongest out of the five. He tries to imagine them coming back dead, limp, cold, eyes unseeing, skin as white as ash. He tries to imagine having nothing returned but their forehead protector, parts of their bodies -- a hand, a foot, their heads, rot festering in the flesh, the sour, malodorous smell of decay thick, nauseating. 

It makes something in Tenzou’s stomach clench, every muscle in his body twisting. He imagines how heavy they’d be in his arms, imagines Reiko with the fire gone from her eyes, Toshio’s silver hair drying in crimson, brown eyes as black as night, pupils blown wide in death and Ren staring up at him unseeingly, his youngest of them all, so small, so frail — Tenzou shakes the image out of his mind, a shudder going through him, his dinner suddenly not quite pleasant in his stomach.

When he looks up, Iruka has a sad smile on his face, his hands reaching out to take Tenzou’s in his. There is understanding in Iruka’s eyes, so incredibly soft, a sort of helpless acceptance tugging his features downwards, making him look even more vulnerable, a lot smaller than he already is, a heavy weight pushing his shoulders downdowndown. Looking at Iruka right then and there, Tenzou can see how Iruka looks so worn, so goddamn exhausted, a little pale around the edges, he’d go as far as calling Iruka a little sickly given the gaunt of his cheekbones and the sharper lines of his body, made more prominent by the tension under the smooth, warm, golden skin. 

It’s like Tenzou is seeing it for the first time, how much the war, the loss, the grief of waiting for his return back to the village has affected Iruka.

(Tenzou hates it, the sight of this burden on Iruka, this fear, this invisible hurt that is a reality to any shinobi -- this helpless acceptance that comes when one realizes that by having children, that means gambling with their lives, too.)

“We can’t stop them…” Tenzou says again, the argument weak.

“We won’t.” Iruka swallows a little bit, slowly inhaling a deep, shaky breath. “But we don’t have to rush them…”

Tenzou brings Iruka’s shaking palm to his lips, squeezing gently to steady the slight quake in Iruka’s fingers. “I’ll revise this. Everything can be adjusted. Between the both of us, we can make sure they’ve got their best fighting chance at survival.”

Iruka smiles a little, his head ducking as he nods slowly. “That’s all we can do.”

*

Tenzou blinks at the drastic change in the way his children carry themselves a week into the their training when Iruka points it out the night before their first day back at the Academy. They are putting away their puzzles, coloring books, comics and toys into their respective storage boxes in the corner of the living room in preparation for bed when Iruka points it out.

“They’re standing just a little taller than they used to when we first got them, aren’t they?” Iruka whispers, as he packs away his papers, lesson plan and stationary into a brand new, leather satchel.

Tenzou has to stare , his gaze following how they trail up the stairs, with Kenji picking up Mango on the way, the cat’s husky meow and purr echoing as the disappear up to their rooms in their pajamas. 

It’s not much but Iruka is right; the children aren’t slouching, their shoulders not curving inwards out of discomfort, uncertainty. There is no longer an attempt to look small. Tenzou knows he’s been drilling correct postures into their minds for the past several days, teaching them how to stand strong, to keep the shoulders pliant and hip pliant but firm enough that their feet remain planted on the ground. There is improvement in that department.

He just didn’t realize how it’s affected their relaxed, everyday stances as well. 

“Good job, Otou-san~” Iruka breathes, his lips brushing over the shell of Tenzou’s ear hotly, a lilt in the praise as Iruka’s fingers teasingly caress the chiselled line of Tenzou’s right hip-bone.

The touch is brief, no more than a press of fingers and yet it turns Tenzou’s throat to a dry desert, as the praise turns the swell of surprised pride to a fire. Iruka gives him a look over his shoulders, a silent promise of what is to come before he disappears up the stairs, picking up Reiko in his arms and herding the children into their beds.

Tenzou huffs a soft sound of amusement as he switches off the lights and follows his family upstairs.


*

Tenzou is awake long before the door to their bedroom open slowly. Tenzou remains on his back, Iruka curled against his side, a warm leg draped over Tenzou’s thigh, still blissfully asleep as the crack of dawn peeks over the horizon, pushing gold to purple. In the far distance, there is a crow of a wild rooster, peppered by the sound of the sparrows gathered around their garden, tweeting their morning greeting around the birdfeeder in the front lawn. 

It is Kenji who tiptoes into the room, coming to Tenzou’s side. A small, warm hand presses onto Tenzou’s arm, shaking him awake slowly. It’s nothing but a gentle nudge, sweet in its hesitance. Tenzou makes a show of waking up, inhaling deeply and turning his head slowly to face Kenji’s held-breath, wide-eyed look. Tenzou brings a hand up to his lips in a be-quiet gesture, as he carefully extracts himself from Iruka’s comfortable hold. Iruka stirs, chakra shifting to something more alert; Tenzou stops it by placing a hand gently over Iruka’s neck, pressing his lips over Iruka’s temple. He holds the kiss for a few seconds until Iruka’s chakra settles to a soft thrum against Tenzou turns carefully to sit up straight, leaning against the headboard and  keeping the blankets covering his bare hips.

His movements measured, Tenzou picks his very wide awake son, propping Kenji on his thigh and leaning over when Kenji brings a hand up to Tenzou’s ear to whisper, “Can you help us get ready for the Academy? Like Toshio-nii-san?”

Tenzou exhales slowly, a smile slowly tugging up the corner of his lips. He nods once, leaning over to Kenji's ear to whisper back, “Go downstairs with your brother. We will do this outside. Wait for me.”

Kenji leans over and whispers again, “I hope Otou-chan likes it.”

“We’ll see,” Tenzou whispers back, carefully setting Kenji back down and the floor. He waits until Kenji gets past their bedroom door, the twins’ footsteps softly disappearing downstairs before he tugs the sheets off and tugs on his sweatpants and t-shirt, inhaling a little sharply when the bruises and swollen bite marks on his shoulder brush against the soft fabric. 

“Everything okay?” Iruka murmurs from the bed.

“Yes,” Tenzou reaches out and brushes his fingers over Iruka’s jawline. “Sleep, I’ll take care of this.” 

Iruka hums throatily but doesn’t ask anymore questions. 

Downstairs, Hideki and Kenji are waiting expectantly by the open sliding glass doors of their living room. They perk up at the sight of Tenzou, standing in the light of dawn with their paw printed pajamas wrinkled, a little lopsided, their wild, unbrushed brown hair sticking up in every direction. Tenzou picks up one of the high chairs from the twins’ high chairs from the dining table, stepping out into their engawa where the light is the brightest. 

Hideki asks to go first, climbing his high chair and sitting with his back straight. Tenzou gets to work quietly and efficiently, snipping away the long locks until they’re tapered, short enough to not be able to wrap fingers around the soft, smooth locks. Tenzou is in the middle of trimming the locks around Kenji’s ears when Hideki looks up from where he’s sitting on the edge of the engawa, feet dangling over the grass, and asks:

“Otou-san, if you and Otou-chan dies, do we have to go back to the orphanage?” 

“That would depend on when we die,” Tenzou answers without pausing or mulling too long on what to answer. “The chances of death coming to me first before your Otou-chan is very high. I get sent out to very, very difficult missions. So each time I go, it can be goodbye.” Hideki and Kenji inhale sharply at that, both of them looking at Tenzou with stricken expressions. “When you choose to l become a shinobi, this in inevitable. If I’m gone, you won’t have to go back to the orphanage. Your Otou-chan will still be here. He is one of the best Academy instructors; the chances of him living a longer life is higher.”

“W-What if Otou-chan dies? Like — like if we get attacked like in the war?” Kenji asks. “And he dies. Are you going to send us back?”

Tenzou carefully pulls the scissors away, staring unseeingly at the worried faces of the twins. He sees Iruka, lying on his back on a slab of cold metal, a white sheet over his chest, a tag with his name and shinobi registration dangling around bluish tinted ankles. Iruka is ghostly pale, soft lips dry, cold, the lines deep and sunken like the ice peaks in the Snow Country. They are set in a grim line, tinged with blue, the paleness of his skin, the lack of warmth and blood flow makes the dried veins stand out like a river markings on a map. His hair is dark, almost inky blank in its lack of lustre. There is no smell of oranges and cinnamon. They’d scrub the blood off him, stitched up wounds that will never heal on its own. This is Tenzou’s goodbye -- cold, distant, clinical.

The sight of Iruka like that, dead, unmoving, as cold as ice makes Tenzou’s hands shake. He stares at his fingers, watches how the scissors tremble in his now white knuckled grip. In the wake of the rising sun, Tenzou’s chest collapses inwards, as his breath go still in the wake of his vivid imagination, at the thought of saying goodbye for good, at the idea that his skies will go black the moment Iruka closes his eyes for good. 

Tenzou thinks back on the war, at being separated from Iruka and being suspended in the state of stasis where his body had wanted to mourn for the loss, but also resisted mourning because it tried to hope. 

But to see Iruka’s body in post mortem, to see and hold that physical coldness, the finality of it -- Tenzou swallows, reaching forward and gently turning Kenji’s head forward, continuing to trim his hair forcing himself to focus at the task in hand, purging the thought of Iruka being dead.

If they truly are at peace, then the chances of Iruka dying is almost zero. 

Tenzou inhales shakily, fills his lungs with the later summer air before he says, “No, I’m not going to return any of you to the orphanage if your Otou-chan dies.” Tenzou watches the blade tremble close to the short strands of Hideki’s hair, irritation igniting in his veins as he tries to shake off the trembling anxiety that seems insistent on clinging on to his fingers.

Hideki suddenly stands, moving to wrap his small arms around Tenzou’s leg, pressing his cheek on the back of his thigh in a tight embrace.  Tenzou leave shim be, focusing on finishing the task at hand quickly. 

It’s a good ten minutes later as Tenzou sweeps up the hair from their engawa while the twins holds the dustpan steady that Iruka descends the stairs. Iruka is tying his hair back, coming to a slow pause at the bottom of the landing, his hands coming down slowly as he stares at the three of them, a little wide eyed, something breathlessly soft pressing around the corners of his eyes. Tenzou straightens as Iruka approaches them, coming down to a knee in front of the twins who looks a lot neater, their dark eyes more visible under the sharp lines of their eyebrows. 

“Look at you boys,” Iruka says, all the love in the world wrapping around those four words. 

Tenzou watches as Iruka praises the twins, tells them how handsome they are, how he believes they’ll grow up to be strong, powerful shinobi just like their Otou-san. The twins are shy, even as Iruka wraps his arms around them, pressing kisses to their temples, fingers brushing over their tapered haircuts, looking so goddamn beautiful in the glow of sunrise. 

Tenzou watches all this and thinks that there’s no way death can reach Iruka. 

Not now when they’ve got a family. Not now when they’ve finally achieved peace.

It’s not impossible -- it’s just improbable.

*

They take their first selfie picture together as a family before they leave the front door for the Academy. Iruka had insisted, using an old self developing polaroid camera that spits out the image.

It’s the first picture they stick on their fridge.

*

The re-opening of the Academy is a bit of an affair. 

Kakashi is present that morning, delivering a speech that Iruka had written for him to deliver to the parents, the children. It isn’t very long, but it is equal parts motivational and inspirational. Tenzou is standing amongst the anxious parents, hands in his pockets, keeping an eye on his children that are standing in four separate lines. At the front of the small podium where Kakashi stands, are the teachers and assistant teachers. Iruka, Tenzou thinks, is easily the single most attractive one out of all them, with his wide smile and little waves at the students who recognize him. 

The crowd disperses gradually, with Tenzou watching his children folllow their respective teachers -- Toshio joins his class with a Mori-sensei, a stocky, broad, bearded man, the twins with an Emi-sensei, a slender and busty blonde woman, Reiko with an Izumi-sensei, a stern looking, red head, and Ren with a Nanako-sensei, a petite, but broad shouldered kunoichi whose voice rings the loudest in the crowd.

Ren who is looking everywhere but at Nanako-sensei. Ren who spots Tenzou and ignores the call of his teacher, running straight for Tenzou and clinging to the fabric of his jounin uniform.

“Otou-san, you and Otou-chan are coming back right?” Ren asks, looking panicked. “You promise to come back right?”

“Of course,” Tenzou says, dropping down to Ren’s height. “Right here, in a few hours. We will be waiting to take you home. Just like what Otou-chan said at breakfast.”

“Okay…” Ren murmurs, dimples hollowing as he presses his lips to a thin line. “Okay…”

“Now, go on, before Nanako-sensei gets very upset. Wouldn’t want to start off your first day at the Academy with an angry teacher, hmmm?” Tenzou coaxes, catching sight of Iruka looking over his shoulder in their direction, a frown on his face. Tenzou lifts a hand up to signal that it’s all okay. 

“Okay, Otou-san, bye, I love you very much, you’re the best Otou-san in the world,” Ren kisses the side of Tenzou’s cheek before running off to Nanako-sensei. 

Tenzou has to pretend that the very open declaration, the public display of affection, doesn’t make the heat crawl up to the tips of his ears, that it doesn’t cause an explosion of excited butterflies to flutter in the pit of his stomach.

He hopes no one notices.

Kakashi does, however, and Tenzou has to pretend that the smug, amused look in the corners of Kakashi’s eyes isn’t from the fact that his youngest has just made a very loud, very public proclamation of love. 

“Plans for the day, Otou-san?” Kakashi drawls.

“Training, I have to be back here by three.” Tenzou turns to look at the now empty Academy quadrangle, flushing to the roots of his hair.

“You need a sparring partner?” Kakashi tucks his hands into his pockets, the amusement now openly displayed all over his face.

Tenzou can only sigh, rubbing the back of his head. “Yeah, why not. Please don’t kick my ass too much.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Kakashi grins.


*

Tenzou realizes how he’s been slacking in his training when he spends the next six hours getting his ass handed to him by Kakashi. He isn’t able to catch his breath quick enough, his flexibility a little hindered by the newly regenerated tissues, his body over all very stiff. It’s a little embarrassing, getting tossed around the way Kakashi does, as he channels chakra and pushes himself off the ground, away from the rising spikes of mud. Despite the rather hilarious way Kakashi decimates him on the training ground, Tenzou is grateful for it. The sparring session gives him an idea of how to formulate his own training plan, what he needs to work on more.

Under the sweltering heat of the summer sun, Tenzou collapses on his back, right in the middle of a small crater, his shirt torn beyond repair, his forehead protector lying about a meter away. Tenzou is breathing hard, exhausted, aching everywhere, wondering if Iruka would be upset if he just takes the kids to an izakaya or something.

A shadow blocks the direct sunlight in the shape of the fifth Hokage. Although Kakashi’s shirt remains mostly intact, Tenzou’s pride is saved when he notices how filthy it is, how it’s torn in places that will still merit a replacement.

“You doing okay there, Otou-san?” Kakashi asks, offering a hand. 

“Shut up, Kakashi-senpai,” Tenzou groans, closing his eyes and accepting the hand as he is pulled up to his feet. “Thanks for this,” Tenzou looks at the tattered strips of blue on his chest, shaking his head and taking it off completely, balling it to a tight wad. 

“Can’t show up at the Academy looking like that, Otou-san~” Kakashi chuckles, shaking his head as they make their way towards the tree where their vests and and the Hokage robe and hat are kept. 

“Don’t you have work to do?” Tenzou asks, picking up his forehead protector on the way. 

“Oh, nothing important, for the time being,” Kakashi dismisses, waving a hand to punctuate his statement.

“Somehow, I find that hard to believe. I know your love for paperwork, Senpai.” Tenzou rolls his eyes.

“Aaah, Iruka has been tattling, has he?” 

“Please. He doesn’t need to,” Tenzou chuckles, pulling out a ration bar from his utility pack and tossing one in Kakashi’s direction. “You forget how well I know you.”

Kakashi’s response is just a soft hum, as he tugs his mask down to take a big bite off his ration bar. The silence that falls between is them is quiet, charged with something that makes Tenzou look up at Kakashi, who is crumpling the wrapper of his bar, bending down to tug on his flak jacket. 

“Thank you for this,” Tenzou says, tipping his chin down, as he secures his flak jacket. “I really needed this, especially after Ram…”

“Same time tomorrow?” Kakashi offers, an eyebrow arched.

Tenzou looks up, a little surprised. It’s an unexpected offer. “Really?”

“Just because I’m the Hokage, doesn’t mean I can’t find the time to spar with my cute, little kouhai~” Kakashi’s eye arcs to perfect crescents. 

Tenzou isn’t able to keep the gratitude off his voice. To be able to spar with Kakashi, to sharpen his skills in order to be better, stronger, so that he never has to imagine a world where Iruka may get attacked and killed, so that he can get to them in the shadows before they can even lay fingers on the light -- well, Tenzou isn’t above taking advantage of an opportunity like this.

“I look forward to it.”

*

They stop for tea at one of the tea houses near the Academy with a clear view of the quadrangle, a plate of senbei crackers between them. Usually, they’d be grabbing lunch or an early dinner at an izakaya. Today, Tenzou excuses himself from that part of their routine; Kakashi doesn’t ask questions, but doesn’t exactly disappear to leave Tenzou to his devices either. 

The sound of the Academy bell ringing is Tenzou’s queue to stand as the doors open and children run out to their waiting parents.

It is in that moment, as they stand waiting on the side, Naruto and Sakura call their names out, waving from the down the straight where the direction of the hospital is located. 

“Yamato-taichou, Kakashi-sensei, it’s been a while~” Sakura smiles.

“Yo!” Naruto grins, both hands going up behind his head, his arm still remaining swathed in bandages, not a patch of skin visible.

“Naruto. Sakura. How’s the rehabilitation going?” Tenzou turns to face them, hands in his pockets.

“Boooring~” Naruto grouches. “I mean, I’m fine, but Sakura and the old lady thinks I still need some time. Something about cells or whatever.”

“Regeneration. Cellular regeneration. And the fact that you still pass out half the time means that you are far from okay.” Sakura sighs exasperatedly, as Naruto puffs out his cheeks in indignation, crossing his arms with a bit of a huff. “What are you guys doing here?”

“Otou-san is on duty,” Kakashi jerks a thumb towards Tenzou. 

“Otou-san ---” Sakura’s eyes are wide, before her voice rises up to an excited squeal. “You’ve adopted already! Naruto! You idiot! Why didn’t you tell me it already happened?” 

Naruto barely manages to duck the swing of Sakura’s fist, holding his hands up placatingly. “But I did! I told you! That day!”

Tenzou rubs the back of his head, as Sakura and Naruto devolve into specifics about a conversation that happened during his absence in the village, he and Kakashi exchanging looks. Tenzou doesn’t get much time to ponder on the argument that’s brewing between the two, because the familiar sound of Ren’s voice reaches his ears. He side steps around the bickering duo, stepping further into the quadrangle where Ren is running as fast as his little legs can carry him. Tenzou picks him up mid-run, Ren throwing his arms around his neck, hugging Tenzou as hard as his little three foot tall body will allow. 

“Otou-san, I missed you and Otou-chan so much! It was a long day!” Ren sounds distraught, burrowing into Tenzou’s neck.

“Long day, huh?” Tenzou chuckles, unable to suppress the grin from his lips. “Well, you made it. Isn’t that great?”

“It’s great!” Ren beams, turning to face the door in Tenzou’s arms and waving his arms enthusiastically when he catches sight of the twins, Toshio and Reiko. 

Tenzou herds them outside, past the fence where Naruto is standing with a soft smile on his face, Sakura with her hands pressed in front of her, and Kakashi’s amused face. Tenzou sets Ren down carefully, gently smoothing the top of his head. “Everyone, these are your Otou-san’s important people.” Tenzou says softly, flicking his gaze up at Kakashi. “They are the people I hold the highest respect for.”

Naruto drops down to their height, meeting their flushed, breathless, wide eyed gazes with a grin.

“Yo!” Naruto holds up a hand in greeting. “I’m your nii-san. Sorry I haven’t been around. Sakura over there has been helping me get better.” Naruto drops his voice lower. “And she’s really tough.” 

“Otou-chan said it’s because your arm is broken. Is it better now?” Reiko asks, frowning at the bandaged appendage.

“With Sakura’s help, it will be. Very soon.” Naruto flexes his bandaged arm. 

Sakura joins Naruto on the ground, smiling widely at them. “It’s very nice to meet taichou’s children.”

They bombard Naruto and Sakura with questions about their training, about whether or not it's true that Sakura’s fist is the strongest, that Naruto can make a million shadow clones. They get loud and enthusiastic in their inquiry, each answer by Naruto and Sakura, who are both flushing at the attention gets punctuated by impressed ahhs and ohhs. Kakashi’s focus is heavy on Tenzou, something gentle tugging around the edge of his gaze. It's a look that makes Tenzou a little self conscious; Tenzou is momentarily distracted by the small tug on his pants. 

“Otou-san, you’re friends with the Hokage?” Ren asks, looking up at Kakashi.

“I am,” Tenzou responds, keeping his eyes locked on Kakashi as he picks up Ren again, cradling him in the crook of his arm. 

“Like a precious person?” Ren tilts his head, looking at Kakashi's now very bland and deadpanned gaze, obscured by the shadow of the Hokage hat.

The answer comes without pause. “You can say that, yes."

“Like a best friend precious person?” Ren adds.

“Like the very best friend precious person,” Tenzou agrees, watching as Kakashi tugs the Hokage hat off, eyes arching up to crescents.  

“Then he’s my best friend precious person too!” Ren grins.

Kakashi reaching out to pat the head of Tenzou’s youngest son warms the softest parts of him in ways he didn’t expect to.


*

The second picture to go up on the fridge that day is a group photo that includes Kakashi, Naruto, Sakura and Sai, with all of them seated around the dining table, several bowls of Ichiraku ramen take out on the table.

Tenzou sees it every morning in the days to come and thinks that there’s nothing in the world he wouldn’t do to keep all of them safe. 

It makes him want to be stronger. Better.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

There are days where Iruka finds it hard to believe how drastically his life has changed for the better. 

There are days where he wonders if he’s dreaming, still imprisoned in the grasps of Infinite Tsukiyomi. 

One moment, the Umino household had been a quiet place, with nothing but the sounds of his own feet against the grain of the wooden floorboards, along with Mango’s paws to fill the noise of the endless quiet. The next thing Iruka knows, there’s a swarm of little feet, always thumping down the hallways while engaged in a game of hide and seek, or rushing up the stairs, around the engawa, across the grass lawn and lavender field in the game of chase. It’s loud, it’s chaotic, sometimes even dangerous with the amount of times Iruka has either tripped over Ren’s building blocks or slipped over some of Reiko’s and the twins’ crayons by the staircase. 

It gets a little louder now that Naruto spends a good portion of his time in their home, what with him recently finding out that he can’t actually be the Hokage if he technically did not pass his genin exams yet. They set up a study table in the corner of the living room, something Naruto and children refers to as the torture table because that is where they spend the rest of their evening before dinner, hunched over text books, reference papers, case studies, and Academy workbooks. Iruka has caught himself staring dazedly as he gets dinner going, watching Naruto squint at his textbooks, scratching his head, a gesture the children mimics when they can’t quite understand what they’re reading. 

(Iruka always has to look away after, trying to get his emotions controlled, trying not to show them how affected he is at the sight of them working together — how he still punches himself sometimes, just to see if he’s dreaming.)

And when they aren’t trying to drill their academics into their heads, the children are outside chasing Naruto and his clones in a very loud game of tag or practicing Taijutsu and with a contest of who-can-explode-the-most-Naruto-niis.

Sometimes, Sakura and Sai would stop by on a weekend, usually a little after lunch, bringing with them milky tea cakes in the shape of animals, or colorful, iced diamond-shaped sugar cookies -- all of which, the children are more than happy to have. On those days, Iruka and Tenzou would set up a table in their garden, serving snacks and pots of tea, while the kids chase after Sai’s ink animals, or spar with the comical rendition of Gozu and Mezu or the Kumo-Yokai. Iruka isn’t sure if he should be worried that the twins and Toshio have taken a keen liking on sparring with demons and monsters, almost always asking Iruka if Sai is coming by that weekend, if they can spar with more monsters. The twins particularly are a little too quick on their feet, sharp in their observational skills, getting incredibly better in their taijutsu that it starts reflecting in their monthly Academy reports.

Iruka is also equal parts worried, concerned and proud as any parent should be when one afternoon, Reiko had marched up to Sakura, her face scrunched into a determined look and says, “Sakura-nee-san, Otou-san says that you are the strongest kunoichi in the village, as strong as the Godaime. Naruto-nii also says that you are monster in the battlefield. Fight me! So I can learn to be as strong as you!”

Sakura had looked so comically taken off guard at the proclamation of a duel, at the unyielding demand for training that she didn’t know if she should be wary of the request, if she should preen like a happy peacock at being a role model, or if she should punch Naruto in the head for calling her a monster in the battlefield. 

Reiko starts practicing with Sakura after that, at every opportunity she gets, pleased whenever she gets praised by Team Seven, Iruka or Tenzou. 

Sometimes Naruto would bring Hinata with him, looking sheepish and shy, with a flush on his cheeks, toothily smiling and holding her hand. Hinata’s first visit ends up as a picture on their fridge, with her and Naruto sitting on the low table one rainy night, slicing a strawberry shortcake cake Hinata had spent hours making earlier on that day, the excitement evident on their faces, with the twins not focused on the cake, but on Hinata herself. Tenzou had called the twins’ crush on Hinata cute, especially when they start avoiding looking at her, cheeks almost always red when she talks to them, their hands getting fidgety. It gets to a point where Hinata starts to hesitate in her approach on the twins. Iruka had cornered them one evening after a hearty dinner, asking them if Hinata made them uncomfortable. The twins flush to the roots of their hair, dark eyes going so wide as they exchange looks and refuse to answer. Iruka has to coax them gently, telling them that their behavior can be interpreted in a negative way, that their sheer avoidance of Hinata, how they cower and run everytime she greets them or worse, pat their heads gently can hurt her feelings.That seemed to have done the trick because the protests had erupted immediately, panicked, a cacophony of but-I-didn’t-mean-to, it’s-not-like-that, we-would-never-hurt-Hinata-nee-san-ever. Then, Hideki had whispered the secret into Iruka’s ear, his face going purple with embarrassment while Kenji hides his face against Iruka’s side.

“Hinata-nee is the most beautiful girl in the world.”

“Then you should treat the most beautiful girl in the world like a queen; you should respect her, not avoid her.” Iruka points out.

The embarrassed flushes doesn’t stop but the twins get better in their conversations with Hinata; their shy inhibitions towards her disappear completely when one day, Hinata offers to spar with them. 

(Iruka had laughed in a corner to the point of stitches after he corrects the twins notion of the possibility of becoming a Hyuuga, just so that they can truly learn the Juken. He had been absolutely tickled, so amused at their earnestness that everytime he recalls the memory, he ends up chuckling to himself.)

Kakashi’s visits are extremely rare; they don’t happen even when he gets verbally invited by Tenzou or when Team Seven drags him over for dinner on a weekend, which has only ever happened once. 

So it is towards the end of September, at Naruto’s very determined insistence, that Kakashi comes over for dinner that is in reality, a poorly disguised attempt at a birthday surprise. Kakashi is a reluctant guest, showing up after a training and sparring session with Tenzou, both of them looking dusty, tears on their jounin uniform, their boots caked in mud. Iruka knows that Kakashi only yields to this invitation because Tenzou had probably insisted -- or at least, that’s what Tenzou told Iruka before he left, that he’s going to make sure Kakashi comes. Iruka isn’t sure if Kakashi avoids their home because of the noise or because he isn’t quite sure how to handle being at the receiving end of their welcome.

(A part of Iruka, the small, insecure part of him that he chokes down, locking away in the darkest parts of him, away from the dayling, wonders if it had anything to do with his previous arrangement with Tenzou.)

It is a memorable late afternoon when Kakashi shows up at their genkan, drawn inwards, slouched, an air of awkwardness about him that not even his devil-may-care attitude can hide. Iruka has spent months working for Kakashi, has learned to read his mannerisms, his posture, has spent time looking and watching him when he knows Kakashi is engrossed in his book or his paperwork (usually the former rather than the latter), something that has efficiently helped Iruka in fostering a positive working relationship with him, so much so that Iruka is comfortable enough to speak his mind to Kakashi without worrying about formalities. To see Kakashi look a little uncertain, with tension coiling under his skin pulling his jaw taut, one that Iruka learns is actually quite visible to read if one knew where to look or took the time to look -- well. Iruka can’t quite stop the disappointment from curling in his stomach. 

The tension wavers, however, in the wake of Ren running down the hallway, the loud, almost ear splitting, excited cry of Kakashi-oji bouncing on the walls of their home, as he waves up at Kakashi’s slightly caught-off guard expression, begging to be carried. It makes Kakashi look down at the boy with an expression one would reserve when strategizing battle plans. The tension coils tighter for a moment longer, even as Kakashi bends down and succumbs to picking Ren up off the floor, tucking him in the crook of his arm as Ren wraps his arms around Kakashi’s neck, uncaring in his show of affection, even louder in speaking it.

“I missed you, Kakashi-oji! I haven’t seen you in forever! Today is the best day!” Ren says, pulling back to giggle, dimples on full display and a happy, excited flush dotting his round cheeks. “You have dust in your hair!”

“Ahh, is that so? I didn’t notice,” Kakashi deadpans.

“Silly Kakashi-oji! It’s right there~” Ren points, laughing when the dust releases in a cloud of puff from Kakashi’s hair.

Iruka remembers watching this unfold from where he’s setting down rice bowls on the table. He remembers watching the tension shift to something just a touch less guarded, something a little softer, as Kakashi sets Ren down on the sofa, rubbing the back of his head when the children start showering him with attention. It is the look on Tenzou’s face that makes Iruka smile, however, how happy Tenzou had looked at the kids warmly welcoming Kakashi into their home, like how one would welcome an old, lost, mostly forgotten scarred war dog into the comforts of family, when he’s seen as mostly a weapon than he is a man.

When Iruka sets Kakashi’s meal before him -- generous portions of nasu dengaku, miso soup and grilled saury -- Kakashi had gone very still, staring at what’s in front of him when the while the rest of the household enjoy their teriyaki salmon and hamburger steak for the children. He does not look like he was expecting anything. Not even the birthday cake that Kakashi does not really partake on later, but makes all the appropriate appreciative noises when it makes it reveal. Kakashi doesn’t turn down the cake slice, but Iruka catches sight of him pushing it towards Reiko sneakily with a finger, who had been more than happy to have her second slice.

For a moment, as Iruka watches the children, Naruto, Sakura and Sai surround Kakashi and sing him a very loud, painfully off tune birthday song, with Tenzou standing beside him, an arm around his shoulders, he thinks that it can’t possibly get better than this. 

He also thinks that this, Kakashi’s presence amongst his family,  is probably just a one time thing, that it won't happen again.

*

Iruka is proven wrong when Kakashi comes by the sixth night after Tenzou gets sent out on his first mission post recovery. Iruka finds himself able to breathe a lungful of air, that he is able to sit with some relief in his bones when Kakashi brings his pack in a shape of distraction for the kids, who had gotten far too quiet, unable to get past the goodbye they had to give Tenzou, or unable to sleep through the night when they wake up afraid, sometimes crying and crawling towards Iruka’s bed, asking about Tenzou, if he’s back yet, or when is he coming back, if at all.

By the time Kakashi makes his third visit, saying goodbye to the dogs becomes a very big issue. 

Iruka stands there by the genkan, surrounded by droopy-eared summons, helpless, unable to quite pick up the correct train of thought as the children start to cry, while the twins stares stoically at Kakashi, almost accusing in their glare, almost eerie in its intensity, heat in their gaze that Iruka has never quite seen before. They stomp off up to their room without saying goodnight, quietly followed by Toshio who takes a sobbing and hiccuping Ren by the hand, leading him up the stairs. Reiko refuses to put Bisuke down, her body turned away from Kakashi, like holding the summon away would prevent Kakashi from taking him away, stubbornly not allowing herself to cry, scrunching up her face with all the effort and willpower she can muster, resembling a squished steamed bun that makes Iruka want to laugh and cry at the same time. He gently pries  her hands off the poor, whimpering summon, already uncomfortable with the vice grip she has on him. 

“You can take Mango to bed tonight,” Iruka offers, setting Bisuke down and wishing, more than anything that Tenzou’s presence was in the house as opposed to hundreds of kilometers away. 

Mango meows pitifully by the stairs, ignored and no longer the resident favorite, not with eight dogs taking the children’s attention away from him.

“But he doesn’t like me! He’s always with Toshio-nii!” Reiko sobs, stomping a foot in a show of desperate frustration, bring up an arm to furiously scrub at her eyes, gritting her teeth and sniffing loudly, a poor attempt to reign in her tears. “Why can’t Bisuke stay here? He’s the one sent Otou-san away! It’s not fair!”

That statement does it for Iruka, something in him cracking as the temper comes rising up to the surface, hot and furious.

“Reiko!” Iruka snaps, the syllables coming out sharp, cutting. “That’s enough, young lady! You have crossed the line there! Apologize to Kakashi-san at once!”

Reiko had started to cry earnestly at that point; Iruka’s guilt slams into him like a tidal wave, choking him as he shakes his head, bites down the curse  forming at the tip of his tongue and carefully tugs Reiko towards him. Reiko resists Iruka’s hug at first but then falls apart in his arms when Iruka tucks her under his chin, muffling the sobs against his shirt, every part of him coiling tight in frustration. 

The gloved hand on Iruka’s shoulder is firm, Kakashi’s fingers squeezing. Iruka isn’t sure if it is an attempt to quell the anger that is pulsing through Iruka’s body. “They can stay if you’re not opposed to having eight dogs in your home. Until Tenzou comes back.”

“Really?” Reiko pulls back, wiping her face with her pajama sleeve. “Promise?”

Only if you and your brothers can promise to take care of them. It’ll be good training for all of you on how to handle summons and what to expect. It’s a big responsibility,” Kakashi drawls, releasing Iruka’s shoulder to tuck his hands into his pockets. 

“I - I will do it. We will do it! Please, Otou-chan let them stay, please say yes! Please!” Reiko begs .

Iruka does not stand a chance. Not when he’s already tipping over the edge with guilt and frustration. Saying no at that point is not an option.

*

It doesn’t get any easier, with Iruka putting more hours at the Academy and the office, with not getting enough sleep and waking up in the middle of the night to one of the children either crying, or telling him that they had a bad dream. One in particular leaves Iruka shaken, one that Toshio — sweet, brave, trying to be the strongest older brother Toshio — had whispered to him one night when he leaves his bed to find Iruka grading in the dining room, blinking frustrated tears out of his eyes.

“Bad dream?” Iruka asks gently, taking Toshio in his lap and tucking his head on his shoulder, fingers carding through soft, tufts of silver hair in a soothing motion.

“I dreamed that Otou-san came back. Here. You know, by the bridge? It’s dark and he’s waving at us. He sees me. But every time I try to go to him, I just can’t reach him. It’s like he’s not there and when I ask him to cross the bridge, he doesn’t. I don’t know why.” Toshio sniffs a little, tightening his hold on “I know Otou-san goes on difficult missions, I know he may not come back. But it’s just a dream. Why would he not come back at least in a dream? Does he not want to come back?”

It takes all of Iruka’s strength to not crumble at that statement. 

He isn’t sure where the strength comes from, except that it somehow seems to have appeased his eldest. “Your Otou-san will always do his best to come back. It’s just a dream, it’s not real. I promise you, if your Otou-san hears you call his name, he will always come for you. We both will.”


*

Iruka sits up in bed one night with a choking gasp, wrenching himself free from a dream that leaves him soaked in sweat, his hair sticking to his neck and chest.

In the dream, they are walking as a family towards their home. They cross the bridge, walking through the canopy of blossoming mango and orange trees, glittering gold under the warmth of the sun. Ahead of Iruka, Tenzou is walking with Ren sitting on his shoulders, Reiko in one hand and Toshio in the other. Iruka has the twins beside him, as they step into the clearing that opens up to the field of lavender. Reiko, the twins and Toshio break for a race towards the house, setting free a burst of lavender petals in the breeze in their wake, as Tenzou calls out to them to watch where they’re going. 

Iruka is chuckling, shaking his head bemusedly as he steps forward again to follow the shadow of his husband. Except his feet gets rooted on the ground. His feet isn’t quite able to make that step further, an invisible barrier preventing him from crossing the lavender field as Tenzou keeps walking forward. Iruka shakes his feet, struggles in his spot, grunts with the effort, tries to release the genjutsu if there’s any -- nothing happens.

Fear crawls in his heart as his family goes home without him, as he is kept far, far away, the sky turning dark, Tenzou not even noticing that Iruka has been left behind, struggling and sinking deeper and deeper into the earth with each attempt to get his feet moving, the panicked tenors of Tenzou’s name falling on deaf ears until the earth chokes him, fills his throat and nose and stomach with grit and soil.

Iruka gets buried underground, screaming for Tenzou, clawing upwards. Tenzou doesn’t come, like Iruka’s struggling presence, the burst of distressful Iruka does not exist at all.

It’s not a bad dream per se; it’s not even nightmarish by the standards Iruka is more familiar with. 

Iruka remembers having worse, one that had involved having his back split open, or pale hands and green eyes ripping him apart, wrenching his ribs off his spine, one by one, sick, roaring laughter drowning out his screams.

But this one scares him in ways he can’t quite understand; it makes the hairs on his arms stand on edge, leaves him shaking in an invisible cold in the middle of his bedroom that Iruka knows is comfortably warm, that not even Mango, who comes to press his soft, fuzzy golden belly over Iruka’s lap can chase away. 

The dream returns again the next night, and the next.

Iruka starts to stagger his sleeping patterns after that, waking up every two hours. It leaves him drained every morning but he reasons that any sleep is better than no sleep at all.

*

Iruka knows he needs to get his shit together when he starts to feel like he’s being watched. He is more sluggish during the day and exhausted by the afternoon, his disturbed sleeping pattern  and severely diminished appetite clearly affecting him in ways that isn’t exactly healthy.

It’s not like the feeling of being watched is consistent since it only happens in the Academy. The feeling is never present at home.

At first, Iruka actually thinks he is being followed around. He tries to find the source of the feeling, tries to keep his senses as stretched as possible when he’s at the Academy; the feeling doesn’t disappear even when everything around him points to the fact that he isn’t being watched. 

Iruka knows when to listen to his gut and his gut on this one is telling him to start making some drastic changes in his lifestyle and routine, that skipping meals because he’s got so much to do, so little time, or not investing at least an hour a day on very effective training is just not going to work anymore.

Iruka is forced to conclude that this is just his fatigue taking the form of anxiety.

Iruka makes it a point to get dietary supplements, trying to control something that he can make changes to. He gains a few pounds within a week of taking them; by the second week, he’s got more color to his skin, his cheekbones and collarbone not as sharp. He engages in a training routine that restores the strength in his body, sharpens his sense of focus and somehow makes him look less haggard. 

The feeling of being watched doesn’t exactly go away. Iruka starts to feel it too while he’s training and sometimes, when he’s at the office. Unfortunately, Iruka can’t do anything about his sleep - not when he’s a little terrified of dreaming about being left behind. 

He reasons that he should measure small victories, that his change in routine and diet has been, if anything, the best investment he’s done for himself since the war.

*

On the fourth week of Tenzou’s absence, Kakashi visits with several pounds of steak and dog kibble late one evening. Iruka had put the children to bed earlier and is currently nursing a very generous glass of whiskey in peace; the house is quiet, only disturbed by the hum of crickets and fireflies in their garden, Kakashi’s summons sleeping in their respective corners in the children’s bedroom.

Iruka offers Kakashi some of their left over dinner of kakitama jiru and oyakudon, something that Kakashi accepts while Iruka gives him his back as he puts the kibble away under the sink and portions the steaks into smaller bags in the freezer. It gives Kakashi an illusion of privacy to enjoy his meal without being rushed. Iruka only turns around when Kakashi stops moving, collecting his plates to place into the sink, before he asks:

“Tea? Or would you like a glass?” Iruka tilts his head at his half empty glass of whiskey and the newly opened bottle. “There’s beer in the fridge too.”

“A glass, please,” Kakashi answers.

Iruka pours him two fingers, joining him on the table. They nurse their drink in mostly relative silence, until Iruka pours his third glass for the night. Mango comes meowing from the staircase, brushing his tail around Iruka’s leg, with a bit of purr. Iruka is a little more relaxed after this third glass, bending down to pick Mango up off the floor, letting the cat curl in his arms as he rubs his belly. Mango throws a throaty, unimpressed meow at Kakashi before turning his face away to tuck it into Iruka’s belly.

“I don’t think he likes me,” Kakashi comments.

“He gives attitude to everyone, not just you. Don’t take it personally.” Iruka nuzzles the cat closer. “Aww, they’re ignoring you, aren’t they? Horrible, nasty children. It’s okay, I will always love you best,” Iruka coos, cuddling Mango close to his chest. “You can blame Kakashi-san. It’s all his fault, leaving his fancy, cool dogs who aren’t grumpy like you~”

Mango purrs at the attention before settling like a warm pillow on Iruka’s lap. Kakashi is watching Iruka closely, pouring himself another drink.

“How are they? The kids,” Kakashi asks, pouring himself another glass.

“They still ask a lot of questions. And — honestly, I don’t fault them for it. It’s hard, when you spend most of your life alone in system that grooms you to serve, no familial attachments. And then you get it one day only to be reminded you may lose half of them, or sometimes all of them…” Iruka shakes his head. “It’s an adjustment period and it will pass. The dogs — they really do help. And I can’t thank you enough for that,” Iruka’s voice softening to an almost bush, as he stares at the amber liquid in his glass. “This is going to sound so horribly selfish but the waiting? It was a lot easier when I was on my own.”

Iruka pours himself another drink, chugging it down like a shot. It burns as it goes down, making Iruka turn his face away as it replaces, however brief, the yawning emptiness in his chest that he’s been pretending so hard to ignore with false warmth.

“Heavens, I am an asshole for saying that out loud,” Iruka pours himself another drink, disappointment and hate flaring like a raging fire in his chest. A gloved band gently pries the bottle away from him, a pale pinky pushing the glass away. 

“No, just someone who may have had a little too much to drink,” Kakashi says, his voice a little drawled. 

“I’m not going to throw up on you again, don’t worry,” iruka sighs. “It’s going to take more than a few glasses of whiskey for that to happen.”

“Ah, yes, like that time in the alley,” Kakashi sighs, screwing the cap back on the bottle.

“That alley,” Iruka laughs, shaking his head bemusedly. “And the rumours that came after, good grief. And to think I was so worried about them when Tenzou wasn’t — I mean, I was just his fuck buddy then. It’s not like I had any reason to be worried.”

“You really didn’t,” Kakashi says. “He was already committed to you long before you probably knew it.”

Iruka stares at Mango for a long time, the longing now an ache in his bones he can no longer ignore. Iruka sighs, bringing a hand up to his face, trying to push aside the fatigue that courses through his veins like some degenerative disease.

“You don’t look very good, Iruka,” Kakashi says, a gentle criticism hidden under the casual delivery.

“I know, I know, it’s just a little hard to sleep when you—“ Iruka clamps his mouth shut, smiling a little self deprecatingly. “I’m sorry. I’m tired. I am at a point where I’m paranoid. I feel like someone’s watching me,” Iruka sighs, reaching forward for his glass. Kakashi doesn’t stop him this time; Iruka takes his time with this one.

“All the time?” Kakashi prompts.

“Not at home. Just at the Academy. My morning trainings as well. Sometimes the office when it’s quiet.” Iruka shrugs. “I’m usually at my worst when the day starts so that’s probably it. And by the time I get to the office after the Academy… well...”

“Hmmm, well healthy paranoia is never a bad thing. It might make you feel a little less paranoid if you have someone with you. Why don’t you take Pakkun next time?”

“He’s already watching the kids; he doesn’t need another person to babysit for heaven’s sakes, the poor thing, Kakashi-san,” Iruka chuckles, dissolving into a bit of an amused laugh, until he sees the look on Kakashi’s face. The laugh dies somewhere in his throat as he stares at Kakashi. “Goodness, you are serious.”

“Tenzou would never forgive me if I allowed something to happen to the person who means the most to him,” Kakashi says, quiet, soft, something sharp glinting in the depths of his eyes that makes Iruka wonder if he’s actually seeing it, or if the five glasses of whiskey is kicking in.

“Like what? Get killed by my own imagination? You know you’re just overreacting now, hmm? This is a very familiar conversation; didn’t we have one like this before?” Iruka prompts, tilting his head to the side.

“Maa, I’ll definitely feel better and do my due diligence in making sure that kouhai’s most precious person is kept safe at all times if you have Pakkun accompany you during your training,” Kakashi prompts, leaning back in his chair. 

Iruka rolls his eyes. “Fine. But only because I don’t want you to feel bad. I’m only doing this for you. See how much you matter~”

“Ahh, well, someone has to remind to take better care of yourself.”

Iruka smiles at Kakashi, emptying the rest of his glass. “You’re not the first to say that, and you won’t be the last,” Iruka sighs. “But don’t worry. The rumour mill is already thinking you work me too hard.”

“Am I?”

“No, you’re not. But you are right, and I am doing something about it.” Iruka looks at his wrist, at how it’s not as bony as it used to be three weeks ago. “Thank you for this. The company, visiting, your summons. I am — I want you to know I’m truly grateful. You know, you didn’t have to leave your summons here. Sooner or later, they’re going to have to get used to the idea that their father is going to be away for long periods of time. You know they’re going to ask for them again the next time Tenzou leaves. They can’t always get what they want, even if they do cry themselves to sleep.”

“You looked like you needed a hand at the time,” Kakashi says, his tone quiet, almost a little reserved. Iruka directs his gaze his glass, leaving Kakashi to empty his glass. “Besides, she’s right. I did send Tenzou away.”

“I hope you know I’m not blaming you for that; that I would never,” Iruka sighs, looking up when he gets no response. “You do know that, right?” Kakashi hums noncommittally, his jawline tight under the fabric of his mask. Everything about that reaction makes the breath still in Iruka’s chest. His hand snaps out to press on Kakashis forearm, squeezing, begging without words to purge that idea because Iruka knows duty, just as well as Tenzou. They’ve talked about the possibilities of goodbyes, countless times and while Iruka knows he’s never going to be prepared for it, he would never blame Kakashi — the Hokage — for sending his husband to his death. It’s a gamble both he and Tenzou’s were always willing to make. “Kakashi-san, please don’t…”

Kakashi stands slowly, dislodging Iruka’s grip in the process. “Get some rest, Iruka. Keep up with your training. And if you need a sparring partner, let me know.”

“Ah..” Iruka manages weakly, gently setting Mango down, not quite sure how to make the now very obvious tension in the line of Kakashi’s back disappear. 

He doesn’t know how to convince Kakashi out of his sense of guilt, not when Kakashi is simply doing what a man of his station is meant to do.


*

Kakashi visits more often after that night, bringing him with him all sorts of treats for the children. One night, he brings with him a bag of star shaped honey-lemon flavored candies. Another time, he brings a rolled mango cake, wrapped in a lovely box that leaves the children making breathless noises at how pretty it is. Another time, Kakashi brings chocolate covered strawberries. Sometimes, he’d even bring savory snacks like still warm potato imagawayaki or freshly steamed nikuman.

Iruka tells Kakashi that he really doesn’t have to all this, that he’ll spoil the children this way. 

It is a weak protest, usually voiced when the children’s cheeks are puffed up from sucking candy, or when they’re arguing over the last piece of mango cake slice or when they’re licking their fingers free of chocolate and strawberry juices.

Kakashi doesn’t listen. He never does.

Iruka is left watching his children get spoiled and he is powerless to it.


*

On the fifth week of Tenzou’s absence, Iruka bumps into Izumo and Kotetsu at the market one late afternoon on his way to pick up some salmon; with their current patrol and gate duty schedule, it’s been hard to try to find time to meet. The last time Iruka had seen them and had time to spare that wasn’t just a passing greeting or a wave from a distance had been months ago, long before Iruka and Tenzou had adopted the children. 

Iruka gets asked if he wants to join them in their hunt for dinner, maybe a few drinks.

Iruka declines and before the complaints starts, Iruka offers a compromise. He offers them the space to have dinner that he’s willing to prepare, drinks that he’s willing to mix if they don’t mind being surrounded by eight dogs and five kids.

“What kids?” Izumo asks.

“What dogs?” Kotetsu asks.

Iruka can only sigh, trying to ward off the flush from his face as he braces himself for questions and comments he knows is going to hit.


*

Iruka supposes that the children meeting new people and expanding their social circle is a good thing. The introduction goes well, with Iruka introducing them as his close friends. The children seems to like that, bombarding them with curious question about their line of work, if they go on important missions, if they will be visiting again, and if they liked sparring, coloring books, dogs, cats, omurice and hamburger steak. 

Izumo and Kotetsu, to their credit, takes it all in stride, answering vaguely where they need to about their missions and current assignment, while effectively distracting them by asking about the Academy, their likes and dislikes, what their favorite subjects are while Iruka gets dinner going. They help the children with their Academy homework until Iruka serves dinner.

It is only when the kids are tucked into bed, the summons keeping them warm and company do the questions start flowing alongside the chilled beer.

“Okay, so, I have to ask,” Kotetsu sets his beer can down. “Ren. Are you one hundred percent sure he’s not actually yours?”

“I was going to say that the resemblance is really -- I mean,” Izumo gestures at Iruka’s face, at the visible dimples on his cheeks.

“You did fuck around a lot and we know that you’re not just into cock, you size queen,” Kotetsu raises an eyebrow.

“Come on, you guys,” Iruka squawks, clamping a hand to his mouth at how loud that ripped out of his mouth. “We have the birth certificates.”

“Well, yeah, but like, do you recognize the mother’s name?” Kotetsu points out; Iruka isn’t sure he likes where that is going and it shows all over his face. Kotetsu and Izumo knows how he feels about infidelity, how completely against it he is. “Look, I’m not saying it’s your fault, people cheat on their spouses all the time. You probably didn’t even know what the lady was doing until--”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, he isn’t mine, just because we resemble each other just a little bit!” Iruka protest, throwing his arms up. “And you know, I was always careful when I -- you know, get together with a woman.”

“Even when drunk?” Izumo prompts which earns him a scowl. “Just saying.”

“Ren is not biologically mine. I’m sure of it!” Iruka huffs, firm in his words.

“DNA test?” Kotetsu grins, only to wince when Iruka reaches forward to slap him upside the head.

“Jokes aside, Iruka, you’ve got a good thing going on here. You’re doing a very good thing for these kids,” Izumo says, something a little gentle pressing around the edges of his tone. “They get a shot a something good.”

“He’s right,” Kotetsu agrees. “You look happy. In fact, you look a lot better than the last time we saw you -- what two months ago? More meat on your bones~”

“Come on, I didn’t look that bad,” Iruka says, absentmindedly rubbing his more chiseled stomach. “Maybe a little smaller, I mean, who wasn’t? The village was going through rations for the longest while.” Iruka watches Izumo and Kotetsu exchange looks, seeing the disagreement pass between them. “Really?”

“Let’s just say that we were wondering if you needed an intervention,” Izumo sighs.

“Oh…” Iruka says weakly, looking at his hands, at how they’re a little stronger, how they don’t tremble as often. Iruka tells himself that’s a very good thing.

Kotetsu grins. “RBet you a hundred ryos that Yamato is going to jump you the moment he walks in through that door. Remember, if it weren’t for me and my advise --” 

“You would have never married your super secret jounin lover,” Iruka and Izumo choruses, knowing full well where Kotetsu is going with his spiel.

*

Iruka falls asleep while grading his paperwork. 

His consciousness flares awake to full alert when his senses prickle at presence that is too close for comfort. He remains lying in place with his cheek pillowed on his arm, keeping his presence and chakra compressed to a slow, mild thrum, as if he’s still asleep. Something in his gut turns in warning, flaring and telling him that he isn’t imagining things this time, that this isn't a dream. The hairs on the back of his neck stand. 

Someone is watching him and they’re inside the house. 

Iruka’s mind starts to race, calculating the distance between himself and the closest weapon to him. His kunai holster tucked into his open satchel in the seat beside him, merely an arm’s reach away. He only needs half a second to pull it out, and another to disarm the compressed prsence that is approaching. It’ll be enough to warn the summons upstairs to get the children out, to get them to safety while he distracts the intruder.

Iruka tries not to move, tries to keep as still possible, preserving the illusion of sleep for as long as he can, buying himself time, waiting for his opening, even when he desperately wants to fill his lungs with air.

Iruka counts to three. 

Iruka’s lungs exhales as his hand darts for the kunai, his other wrapping around leather and flesh. Iruka’s attempt to snap that wrist in two different ways gets thwarted when it dislodges Iruka’s grip. But Iruka had expected that, so he swings, the blade arching in the air, aiming to swipe at his opponent’s throat, the chair he’s on toppling to the ground in a loud crash. 

Iruka misses, his hand getting trapped between in between a vice leather grip, just as Iruka channels chakra to his feet and tackles his opponent down, slamming his shoulder inwards, catching his opponent in the chest, his hand and kunai still trapped in the intruder’s grip.

They go down on the floor in a crash of limbs as Iruka pins him down, straddles the cloaked intruder’s hips, channels chakra to his trapped hand to wrench it free, just as his other hand wraps around his opponent's neck, holding him down, squeezingsqueezingsqueezing, cutting off his air supply, diediedie chanting in his head like a frantic mantra. 

The cloaked body underneath him disappears in a puff of smoke, leaving behind a wooden dummy.

Iruka curses, jumping backwards in the hallway, his feet sliding across the floorboards, ready to strike forward, to bark out an order at the summons upstairs to get the kids out, getoutgetoutgetout.

Except the cloaked  intruder has both hands up in a placating gesture, one hand coming up to tug the hood off to reveal Cat’s mask. Iruka doesn’t dare drop his guard, doesn’t dare lower his weapon until the mask comes off, until he’s staring at Tenzou’s wide eyed, shocked stare. Tenzou who is dusty, who has blood drying on his armor, lips parted as his chest heaves from the earlier attack. The cloak comes off next, falling to the ground with a soft rustle. It is followed by Tenzou’s weapon’s holster, the straps of his swords, his utility pack -- they all clatter to the ground audibly, until Tenzou stands there unarmed, his hands remaining raised and visible to where Iruka can see it.

Tenzou looks terrible, tired, worn, a little pale, stained bandages wrapped tightly in what looks like a field dressing on his left thigh. The smell of blood fills the space around Iruka, along with moss, earth and ash. The hold Tenzou has on his compressed presence is released all of a sudden, like a dam breaking, his presence flooding the corridors and everywhere it can reach.

Iruka …” Tenzou says slowly, carefully, something in his voice shaking as worry and something dark, something calculating and primal glosses over the surface of his eyes.

Suddenly Tenzou is all around Iruka, warm, familiar, something he recognizes, oh gods

The adrenalin in Iruka’s veins crashes, leaving exhaustion, panic and anger that he can’t quite control bubbling to the surface. “My goodness, Tenzou, you fucking scared me! Why would -- why would you sneak in like that?” Iruka snaps sharply, unable to keep the grit of anger from his voice. “Good grief! Why -- was that really fucking necessary?”

Pakkun appears in the staircase, his face scrunched in concern. “What’s going on here?” Pakkun asked. 

“Nothing!” Iruka bites out.

“Doesn’t look like nothing.” Pakkun retorts, clearly not liking that he’s getting yelled at when he’s simply checking in on what would have been a cold wave of killing intent, plops his behind down on step, giving Iruka an unimpressed look. “What are you attacking him for? Can’t you smell your mate?”

The trembling kunai in Iruka’s hand drops to the ground audibly, the sound of it almost deafening, as Iruka stares at Tenzou, takes a step away from him, and another until he leans against the wall, a hand coming up to his mouth as he realizes what he has just done, trying desperately to shake the feeling of being watched away, trying to ground himself in the present.

Tenzou lifts a hand up to Pakkun, a gesture of dismissal and reassurance. Pakkun lingers for a few more seconds, before he huffs and disappears back up the stairs.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” Tenzou says, sounding absolutely wrecked , his voice hoarse. Iruka cannot stop the shudder from going through his body like a shock when Tenzou’s gloved hands curl around the curves of Iruka’s shoulders. Tenzou gently pries Iruka’s hand away, cupping Iruka’s face in his hands as he press their foreheads together.

Iruka swallows thickly, taking in slow, measured breaths, trying to calm the furious gallop of his heart. “A-Are you hurt?” Iruka asks, unable to stop the shake in his voice.

“Just a minor leg wound,” Tenzou answers, swallowing. “Iruka--”

“Let’s get you cleaned up,” Iruka cuts him off, dismissing whatever question Tenzou might have for now, stepping away from Tenzou’s embrace and dazedly gathering all of Tenzou’s gear off the floor, picking up the fallen chair and sliding it under the table.

Tenzou doesn’t ask any questions, not even as Iruka helps him stitch the horrid gash on his thigh, and helps him into the shower.

*

Tenzou is sitting on the bed, clean shaven, looking more like himself and smelling of soap as Iruka carefully wraps the switches on his thigh with clean gauze and a bandage. They are mostly quiet even as Iruka helps Tenzou into a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt. Iruka is on his knees by the bed, looking up at Tenzou when he asks if Tenzou wants anything to eat. 

Tenzou shakes his head in response, his gaze heavy on Iruka. “What happened, Iruka?”

“Nothing, I thought you were -- I just…” Iruka trails off, ducking his head, shaking it self deprecatingly because telling anyone that you’re possibly imagining that you are being watched never goes well. Things like that gets red flags in your record, gets you recommended for psychological evaluation by the educational board. Your ability to teach children gets questioned and that is every teacher’s nightmare. But he can’t lie to Tenzou. He had attacked him, had swung a weapon at him, had directed his intent to kill at him. “I thought you might have been -- this sounds so stupid. I haven’t been sleeping well since you left, and I keep getting this feeling that I’m being watched when I’m not. If I was, then Kakashi’s summons would have picked it up; they’ve got keener senses than me, they would know . I am not losing my mind, I am not sensing things that aren’t there, I’m just tired and I’m not --”

“Hey, hey, hey,” Tenzou cups Iruka’s face, cutting off Iruka’s ramble effectively. “It’s okay… we’re okay. The kids are okay.”

Iruka swallows, nodding slowly, but not quite believing the words even as he allows himself to be wrapped in Tenzou’s embrace. “I’ve missed you,” Iruka murmurs, tightening his hold around Tenzou’s middle. “Gods, I’ve missed you so much, Tenzou…”

Tenzou hums in agreement, sucking in a slow, full, shuddering breath. “It’s so good to be home…”

*

Iruka doesn’t wake Tenzou when he crawls out of bed to train in the garden. He lets Tenzou sleep off his exhaustion while he gets the children ready for the Academy, pack their lunches and make sure their backpacks have all their homework and workbooks. The fill the summons’ bowls with kibble, make sure their water bowls also fresh, clean water before they file towards the genkan to strap their shoes on. Iruka spots Tenzou quietly descending down the stairs, his presence muted, his steps pausing when Iruka holds a hand behind back in a halting gesture.

“Do you five want a surprise this morning?” Iruka asks, watching as five pairs of eyes turn to look at him warily. “Okay, well, clearly you’re not interested, then. That’s too bad. Because it’s a nice surprise.”

“Is Kakashi-oji leaving Bisuke, Akino and Bull here forever?” Reiko asks.

Iruka has to resist rolling his eyes. This isn’t the first time Reiko asks about keeping the dogs for herself. “You know he’s not going to do that.”

“We don’t have to study after the Academy?” Ren asks, hopeful. “Can we play?”

“Can we spar?” Hideki asks. 

“Is Sai coming?” Kenji asks.

“Is Naruto-nii spending the night? Can we play with the clones?” Toshio prompts.

Iruka chuckles, shaking his head. “Good guesses, but, I think you’ll like this surprise better.”

Tenzou steps out into the genkan, pillow marks on his face, looking so wonderfully comfortable in his sleep wrinkled sweatpants and t-shirt, his hair sticking out in all directions, a grin tugging around the corners of his lips as he asks, “Missed me?”

Iruka side steps as the kids shriek in excitement, the loud echoing, cries of Otou-san almost ear splitting. Tenzou gets swarmed with all five, limbs everywhere, the twins jumping to cling to his back, Toshio around his left leg while Tenzou picks Ren and Reiko up in his arms. Iruka watches all of this as his throat thickens with emotion, watches as Tenzou lowers himself to the ground, gathering all of them in his arms and pressing kisses on their foreheads, searing this moment into his memory. Iruka almost cries at the joyous cheers when Tenzou tells them that he’ll be there to pick them up from the Academy at three if they promise to behave and do their best in their classes.

The children resolutely prepares to leave, wanting to get the day started so it would be three o’clock already. Iruka laughs a little tearfully, shaking his head at the renewed energy his children are showing after watching it dwindle to almost nothing over the past few weeks, as he holds the door open, letting the children file out one by one. Iruka is about step out too before an arm wraps around his middle and tugs him flushed against Tenzou’s front.

“I’ll see you later,” Tenzou murmurs, his voice low, a promise lingering in the words as he grins slants his mouth over Iruka, promptly stealing his breath, his lips hot, searching, almost a little desperate in its claim.

Iruka almost decides to skip work for the day. 

Almost.

“Otou-san, stop kissing Otou-chan or we’re going to be late!” Toshio chastises.

Iruka is proud to say that he does manage to step away form Tenzou, even if he remains a little breathless throughout the walk towards the Academy.


*

To Tenzou, coming home is like a tortoise retracting into its shell; the troubles beyond the walls of his home would evaporate. To everyone else, their home is just another house in the middle of too much land, nothing remotely special, nothing particularly grand in its structure like some of the nobler family properties in Konoha. To Tenzou, his home is his sanctuary. It is rest.

But not today.

Today, he looks at the walls of his home like it’s strange, like it’s the first time he’s stepping into it. He examines the intact wards, goes around the property while the coffee brews just to appease the sense of disturbance that hasn’t left him from the moment Iruka had directed his killing intent towards him. The biggest and most obvious trigger to the unrest is the presence of Kakashi’s pack in his house.

Tenzou knows Kakashi well. 

Kakashi wouldn’t, for the life of him, leave his summons behind unless he had a very reason to believe it is necessary. The fact that he leaves all eight of them in Tenzou’s house, makes something hideous, cruel and dangerously hot coil Tenzou’s stomach, something bloodthirsty, hungry for violence curling at the back of his throat. It makes his fingers twitch for something to break, to feel flesh tear from bone. A part of Tenzou thinks he should worry that this palpable hunger is present, the rawness of it, how it fuels a burn that leaves him restless, pacing the interior of his house like a caged animal. 

The bigger part of Tenzou’s mind, however, doesn’t give a fuck. Something is wrong and it’s driving him insane that he can’t figure out what it is. That he can’t find any hint to what it may be.

He spends that morning writing his mission report in a poor attempt to calm his frayed nerves. Pakkun is sitting next to him as he jots down his notes on a scroll. Half way through the report, Tenzou delivers his question casually, almost nonchalant. “So do I get to know why you’re here? Or am I going to get the better-ask-the-boss answer?”

“For this one?” Pakkun sighs, hind legs reaching up to scratch his neck. “You’re really better off talking to the boss.”

“Figures,” Tenzou grumbles, and doesn’t bother wasting his breath with more questions.

*

Tenzou doesn’t have to wait very long because Kakashi makes an appearance not long after Tenzou seals his report, just when he’s about to ask Pakkun to deliver it to the Hokage. 

Kakashi’s expression is grim even when his voice is casual. It is all the confirmation Tenzou needs.

“Well, you look great. Are you injured?” Kakashi drawls, lazy, as he joins Tenzou at the kitchen island, the tenors of his voice a little to jovial. It doesn’t sit well with the expression on his face. 

Tenzou pours him a cup of coffee. “Leg wound. Probably chakra exhaustion…” The latter is a lie; Tenzou isn’t drained at all. He didn’t have to rely on soldier pills to get home from this mission. “Everything is written in there.” Tenzou slides the report across the island, along with a cup of coffee.

The lie is the opening Kakashi needs because he nods as he tucks the report away. “I see, well, you’ll be in the village for a while. You earned it. The kids and Iruka will be happy to have you here.” The statement is punctuated with a tilt of Kakashi’s head. “Did you pick up your briefing packet yet?”

“No…” Tenzou swallows, stretching out his senses. He recognizes Lizard’s team, Kakashi’s security detail, lingering in the outer perimeter of the property. Not too close, but not too far from their Hokage. “I was going to go later.”

“Don’t ever say I don’t give a shit about you,” Kakashi produces a thick brown envelope from under his robes, setting it down on the counter. The next statement is spoken with a lilt that is as dirty as its delivery. “After all, everyone knows you’re truly my favorite kouhai~”

The statement sounds like Kakashi is staking his claim. 

It takes everything in Tenzou to not outwardly react the way he really wants to. Tenzou doesn’t frown, doesn’t snap, doesn’t outright ask what the hell Kakashi is playing at, what he thinks is going on, why is he even saying bullshit like that under his roof. Tenzou doesn’t because Kakashi’s eyes are gleaming like blades under the fall of his silver hair, and while Tenzou knows better than to be impatient, he can’t help but want to shake the answers out of Kakashi. 

Tenzou knows recognizes what Kakashi is doing; he is trying to steer whoever’s attention towards himself, away from the more innocent occupants who lives under Tenzou’s roof. 

And it drives Tenzou crazy that he doesn’t know what the fuck he’s dealing with. That Kakashi clearly doesn’t trust even Tenzou’s own home to speak freely. 

“Senpai, you can’t go around saying shit like that,” Tenzou pointedly says, playing along. “People will get the wrong impression.”

“Mmm-hmm~” Kakashi hums, his eyes dark, gleaming like blades under the fall of his silver hair. He drums his fingers on the briefing packet before he stands. “Well, we wouldn’t want that, now would we?”

“No…” Tenzou turns to look at Akino, who is lying belly up by the patch of sunshine near the living room window. “What about your pack?”

“Keep them.” Kakashi shrugs. “Or else the kids will cry and throw a fuss. I don’t think anyone is equipped to handle a sad, stressed Academy sensei. Not even you, no matter how much you pretend that you can.” Tenzou pulls the briefing packet towards him, tearing the envelope open as Kakashi shows himself out the door. “Tell Iruka he can pay me in bento lunches for a week if he wants a day off to celebrate your return~”

“I’ll get him to prepare two weeks worth bento if you give me three days to celebrate with him,” Tenzou calls out, his gaze reading through the briefing pack.

“Just three? My, my, my cute kouhai has gotten so docile now that he’s a married man~ What a shame~” Kakashi sing-songs, the words lurid, dark, thick with a hidden meaning that would surely make the gossip vine turn on its head, just as he pulls the door open. 

“Bye Senpai~” Tenzou calls out, skimming rapidly over reports about the upcoming chunin exams that are to be hosted by Sand, the list of delegated jounins and chunins who will accompany Konoha’s genins, how some trade lines have been stalled again due to skirmish breakouts and theft, how the village is preparing for the annual FireFestival. 

There’s nothing in the briefing pack that would warrant a personal delivery from Kakashi.

It isn’t until Tenzou reaches the death list and sees another full page of not just ANBU, but Hunter-nins found dead— poisoned in their homes, body pieces delivered to the Hokage through the mail, some bodies were found in the river. The most recent death is a complete massacre of Frog’s family, in their family home. The bodies were discovered because a neighbor had complained of the smell and because Frog was long overdue to return from a mission. 

The missing and wanted list remains unchanged.

There’s a note on the missing list signed with a penciled henohenomoheji that reads: watch your back. 

Kakashi doesn’t know either. Because if he did, the deaths would have stopped. 

Tenzou swallows, dropping the packet into the kitchen sink and setting it on fire. The anger that had burned hot in Tenzou’s gut turns cold, frigid, the kind where nothing can ever grow. 

Iruka isn’t losing his mind.

Someone is following him around.

 

TBC

 

Chapter Text

The need to move calms the anxiety that courses like an electric storm in Tenzou’s body. That storm sits below Tenzou’s smile, his coddling of the children as they spend the afternoon around the sofa, watching cartoons on television while indulging in an afternoon snack. It reaches a point where Tenzou doesn’t hear what the children are saying, his face frozen in a pleasant, deceptively open and socially acceptable smile, a touch neutral, the kind that doesn’t betray the turmoil and inner dialogue going on in his head.

It’s only the whispers he hears, the ones that say, everything is going to go wrong, this is unacceptable, they will die, you’ve practically painted a target over their heads. You’re too weak to stop this, you can’t do anything and how could you? You couldn’t do anything in the war when your clones massacred armies, you’re not going to be able to do anything now. You were meant for greatness but you weren’t good enough. Still aren’t. 

Sitting where he is, the television is suddenly too close to his eyes, the air as thick as soup. It’s hard to breathe like this. His thoughts scatter, haphazard, directionless, too many short-circuits to make any sense. The only thing that comes through is, you were meant for nothing -- no emotion, no past, no future.

And like a candle being snuffed out, Tenzou draws inwards, eyebrows drawn down to a serious, unreadable and guarded expression. 

The cacophony of voices in his head suddenly falls to hush Tenzou’s survival gear kicks in to mitigate the anxiety. He intellectualizes everything, rationalizes the problem from different viewpoints, gabbling and sorting the opinion of his insecurities like he can force a positive outcome by sheer strategy.

Separating and abandoning his family now to allude to a lack of attachment will be moot. Any shinobi with a functioning brain cell can tell from a mile away that it’s a distraction. The children and Iruka spend half the day surrounded by the public, in an open setting that is constantly filled with shinobis coming and going; they are never alone. Unless it’s an outright act of war, no shinobi would attempt a massacre in a setting so open. The children are protected by Tenzou and the pack after the Academy, and on the off chance Naruto decides to come over, there’s the added defense of the future Nanadaime. To a point, Tenzou is appeased by the fact that when Iruka isn’t at the Academy, he is with the Rokudaime.

(Kakashi would never let anything happen to his comrades, not under his watch.)

Tenzou cannot justify being a prisoner of war. He cannot come up with a valid reason as to why he even got captured, not when that part of his subconscious’ argument is right. He should not have been captured, he should have had a better fighting chance because he was meant for greatness. The Shodaime’s DNA should have been enough of an edge to give him a fighting chance. 

They were at war and in war, there is no fairness, there is no balance, there is no honor. There is only power in numbers and Tenzou, on his own, had been powerless, even when his entire body had given the enemies the numbers they needed to take down their opponents.

A war in the past has nothing to do with what he can do in the present.

He may have been responsible for thousands of deaths but he doesn’t have to be responsible for the death of his husband and children. 

Tenzou goes through the possible solutions on how to further maximize his time in the village and to be within close proximity to his family. It presents itself in three possible, workable solutions: medical leave, vacation, early retirement.

The latter, by far, has the highest numbers of pros and least amount of cons. If Tenzou chooses to retire early, unless a war breaks out, by Konoha’s law, he will be left alone. He cannot be called to duty unless he volunteers himself to be taken out of retirement. Retirement will provide him with time and energy to dedicate in being the ultimate protection for his family. He can commit the time to training harder, will have the luxury of forcing his body to do better, to maybe even tap into a third element. Maybe, if he had enough time, he can bring himself to be one step closer to the Shodaime’s greatness. Tenzou will take that one step, or even half of that one step if means protecting his family.

The loud, chaotic thoughts wink out like a candle being snuffed in the dark when the sudden sharp spike of chakra, a warning, forces him to crash into the present, right there, where he’s sitting stiff, straight back on the sofa, his body tense, coiled and ready to spring into action, a first wrapped around a tan wrist, squeezingsqueezingsqueezing, and looking at him, is Iruka, wide eyed, gritting his teeth, his jawline and the tendons around his neck pulled taut, trying his best to not betray how much the pain he’s actually in, not in front of the children. The children who are now sitting on the rug, working on their Academy workbooks, their chatter masking how Iruka is trying to breathe through the pain of having his wrist slowly being squeezed to the point of breaking

Tenzou releases his hold like he’s been burned, jolting backwards against the backrest of the sofa. He watches Iruka pulls his right wrist closer to himself, cradling it, ducking his head as his throat bobs in an attempt to push what just happened all the way down. The skin around Iruka’s wrist is an angry red in the shape of Tenzou’s fingers; it’ll probably swell first before receding to a hideous mottled bruise. 

Iruka looks at him searchingly for a few seconds before he stands slowly, wordlessly, padding up the stairs to their bedroom to change out of his uniform. Tenzou takes one look at the children, seated in a circle and surrounded by the pack whose eyes are all on him before he follows Iruka.

In the dim light of their bedroom, Iruka’s movements are a little slow. He takes off his vest with one hand, sliding it off his shoulders and letting gravity do most of the work, minimizing almost all movement on his right hand. The forehead protector and utility pack follows, all this done with his left hand, as Tenzou watches all this unfold before him with a guilt that chokes him, as if he’s being waterboarded. Iruka is shimmying out of his shirt when Tenzou steps forward, leaving the door ajar and carefully peel the fabric over Iruka’s head, folding the shirt in half and tossing it into the laundry hamper.

Iruka is quiet and unable to meet Tenzou’s gaze when he asks, “You okay?”

“Your wrist--”

“Will be fine,” Iruka cuts off, shutting down the line of inquiry while appeasing it at the same time. “It’ll swell and at most bruise but I don’t think there’s a fracture. I’ll put on a wrist brace just in case. You’re avoiding my question.”

“I’m okay,” Tenzou confirms. 

“A ryo for your thoughts, then?” Iruka asks, undoing the button of his pants and pushing it down, replacing it with a pair of sweatpants. Tenzou doesn’t answer the question, to which Iruka sighs softly, turning to look at him with a sort of patience he only reserves for when he’s about to tackle something difficult. “I need to know that you aren’t going through anything that can be related to post traumatic stress. It’s a good thing it was me and not one of the children.”

Tenzou frowns, every bit of his body turning to ice. “I would never.”

“I was in front of you for a full minute. I called your name three times. Don’t tell me you would never because you just did,” Iruka hisses, irritated, flinching as he curses and starts to channel some healing chakra into his wrist. “Damnit, Tenzou, I’m not asking for specifics about your mission. I am only asking if you need time to decompress. Because if you do, I can find someone to babysit the kids for a few days and give you the space to handle this without --.”

No !” It comes out sharp, cutting, almost like a barking order. It startles Iruka, makes him take a step back at the delivery. 

Tenzou sucks in a deep breath, bringing his hands up to his face, pressing the heels of his palms to his eyelids, torn between just wanting to tell Iruka what’s really going on, lay down all the facts and not saying anything until he had something a lot more concrete just so that he can avoid panic. Everything is just coming out of him wrong. It’s all uncontrollable chaos and it’s turning Tenzou in the thing he absolutely abhors the most. He’s reacting when he should be compartmentalizing and strategizing. He’s raising his voice when he should be silent, a shadow. He’s allowing his body to make crucial judgment calls while it festers in anger, something Tenzou knows, clouds the judgment of man, leaving only dire consequences in its wake. Anger, after all, is not a strength. It’s a weakness. By allowing it free reign, Tenzou is setting himself up for disaster.

It’s not lost to him that this is the first time he’s allowing himself to be weak, to be crippled by emotion that results in hurting the one he loves the most. It makes him sick. Makes his inside spin as fast as blades in a blender. 

Tenzou scrubs his hands down his face, shaking his head in an attempt to clear his thoughts. Iruka is still looking at him, parts him of shadowed as the glow of green chakra continues to pulse in a steady stream towards his wrist. The chakra dims and Iruka stands there, patient, something gentle and understanding tugging at his face. Tenzou almost shrinks at the gentleness of it, almost takes a step back from the reaction that he doesn’t think he deserves.

“It is not my intention to give you a hard time, Tenzou…” Iruka says softly, shrugging. “If it was just the two of us, I wouldn’t even question you. But it’s not just about you and me anymore...”

The tension from the day comes crashing down in that moment, leaving Tenzou’s shoulders hunched as he shakes his head again, an apology tumbling past his lips as he steps forward and wraps his arms around Iruka, fingers reaching up to undo the knot securing the tight, high bun, setting long, thick, loose locks free. He cards his fingers through them, presses his nose above Iruka’s ear and takes a long, shuddering, grounding inhale. That sweet, ever so tantalizing scent of oranges and cinnamon rooting Tenzou to this moment, the breath keeping him in this present. 

“I spent the day thinking about retiring,” Tenzou begins, smoothing a palm over the sudden stiffening of muscles in between the planes of muscle of Iruka’s shoulders. “To just be here, with all of you.”

Tenzou loosens his hold when Iruka steps back to look at him. “What prompted the thought?”

“The possibility that you're not imagining being watched.” Tenzou ducks his head. “Just -- the idea of someone watching you--” Tenzou clamps his mouth shut, grinding his teeth as that hot, raging fury churns and boils over the surface, his entire body coiling with tension as the heat throbs in his ears, segueing to a roar. 

“Tenzou, listen to me,” Iruka gently says as he reaches up, curling his fingers over Tenzou’s neck, pulling him closer, pressing their foreheads together. “It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve done, what your rank is. As long as you are field-active, threat to your loved ones is imminent, whether you are retired or not. It doesn’t take much to anger people. Most irrational, or even vengeful acts come from individuals who were simply a bad day away from losing their minds.” 

Tenzou shakes his head. “You can’t be okay with this. How can you be?”

“I am not,” Iruka sighs. “Being with you was always going to be a risk. Having children with you, an even bigger risk. It was always going to be a gamble. One that I’ll make over and over again, in this lifetime, in the next, and however many more after that, because you’re worth it. I do it, I want it all, because it’s with you . Do you understand?”

The truth is, Tenzou doesn’t. Not entirely. He doesn’t understand the concept of stepping into the line of fire willingly without any rhyme or reason, without any armor, and still think you’ll walk out it all intact. He doesn’t understand what can possibly fuel the fire that burns as hot as the sun in Iruka’s eyes in that moment, pushing the blackened fear out of Tenzou’s skies. He doesn’t understand what shinobi -- how any shinobi -- would gamble with innocent lives, little innocent hands. Tenzou always knew how Iruka’s unshakeable faith has always been the key to keeping the will of fire blazing in the future generation.

He’s seen it in Naruto.

He just didn’t expect to be within its range like this.

(It’s dangerous. Iruka’s patriotism. His loyalty. His love. How brave it can make those around him. How stupidly, foolishly brave.)

“Tenzou,” Iruka says softly. “We can be better prepared. We can teach the children emergency responses earlier than that of the Academy, teach them where to go, how to hide. Implement escape routes from our home if we need to. Set up a better security parameter if that helps. I can train harder, I can try to get stronger; if it will appease you to train me, then so be it. I will do it. What I will not do is live in fear. We cannot. I refuse to. I would rather face this imminent threat than choose a life where you’re not in it. I wouldn’t trade what we have for anything. And I will not have you reduce yourself to a life of domesticity because you’re afraid of something that may happen in the future. You were meant for greater things than to be a prisoner of fear.”

Tenzou goes silent, invisible shadow fingers going around his throat.

They’re just words. Mere, simple words. And yet, Tenzou has seen the power words when it’s backed with faith and conviction. When the will of fire so brazenly roars in the eyes of those who believe them. When a little boy, shunned by the entire world continued to do what was right even when everything wrong was done to him. He became the best of them and only because one man — low ranked, no face, unknown, with no noble title to his name, a mere humble teacher with not much to begin with — this man who looks at Tenzou like he’s the entire world, loved that boy. 

Iruka loved Naruto with every part of him. 

And it made Naruto the strongest of them all.

Tenzou remembers one night, while they were training chakra manipulation, almost a lifetime ago, on a night where Naruto couldn’t sleep, frustrated with himself, as he sat across the waterfalls Tenzou had built, staring  at his hands and staring off at a distance. Tenzou had approached him that night, checked to see if everything was all right. Naruto has shrugged, rubbing the back of his head, and said to him:

Just a dream. I was just remembering I guess — stuff in the past. Stuff I know now but didn’t before. Before I left with ero-sennin, Iruka-sensei said something. He said, I believe in you. You will be the best Hokage this world will ever see. You will bring the change that our forefathers never could. So train hard! And if you think you can’t do it, remember that I have faith in you. A lot of people do. So don’t give up.

Taichou, I’ll be honest with you, I’m starting to wonder if this is even possible. If I can get this done. I dunno. I guess I just gotta try harder tomorrow, maximum effort, you know? 

Tenzou had watched Naruto scrub his hands all over his head, as if to purge the self doubt, hold on to words that had been said to him by the man who has shaped him. Tenzou sees Iruka in Naruto, that unshakeable faith that can brighten up a shadowed world. He sees Iruka’s smile, his passion, his brave character that Tenzou didn’t realise he had been staring, perhaps a little dumbfounded, heart thudding in his chest, until Naruto had turned to tilt his head at him in question, eyes squinting.

He’s not wrong, your Iruka-sensei, Tenzou remembers saying at the time. He may be onto something. Let’s do our best tomorrow and see what happens, hmm?

And a few days later, Rasen-shuriken was born — powerful, devastating, fierce.

Words, Tenzou knows, are powerful. They can wring tears from the hardest of hearts. They can light fires in the minds of men. It can corrupt thought, it can destroy. 

It can heal. 

(He used to think words were mere vessels for promises meant to be broken, spoken amongst fools, amongst men who hopes that by saying I won’t let anything happen to you, it would make their hands strong and steady enough to hold on to something, when those hands are always destroying things, killing things, burying those they love under the ground. He used to think words are the lie that helps men like him, men of war, men with lightning in their fists, men of the shadows, think they can be more, that they can hope that they’re not just tools meant to be discarded when they’re no longer sharp. That if anything, words are the illusionary patriotism that fall from old fools’ mouths, men who crave power, control and titles. He used to think he never needed them, words that is; he has chosen silence because words are pointless. Until he met Iruka. Until he met Naruto. And then, he understood.)

“You make it sound so easy…” Tenzou murmurs, closing his eyes, goosebumps breaking all over the length of his back and shoulders. 

“I teach children; it’s in the job description,” Iruka whispers, pressing his lips to the side of Tenzou’s jaw. “If you make the decision to retire, then it should come from a place of peace. Not because you’re afraid.”

Tenzou knows that fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. His younger years were spent trying to eliminate that fear. Iruka uses faith in the living to ensure fearlessness in those he cares for. Danzou had taken the path of erasing those around Tenzou, severing bonds, ensuring that ROOT operatives were nothing but hollow shells devoid of a past, emotion and a future. Standing there in the warmth of Iruka’s embrace, with the soft encouraging smile tugging at the corner of his lips.

“I am not dismissing your fear,” Iruka says, shaking his head. “I acknowledge it. I am, to a point, touched by your fury at the possibility of someone threatening me and your children. But like I said, we can take steps to ensure that we all have a better chance at survival. It’s the best thing we can do. Does that sound like something you’d like to work on together?”

Tenzou nods slowly, fully aware that this is the most logical approach to problem. That it is the best thing he can do for his family. 

So he agrees, his heart heavy, as he tightens his hold around Iruka’s stronger, a lot more solid frame, burying his face in Iruka’s neck.

Tenzou isn’t one for prayers; he doesn’t believe that prayers to a deity will prevent any future threat.

But in that moment, as he presses his lips over the strong, beating pulse on Iruka’s neck, he prays: gods, please let that be enough.

*

Tenzou has always known that he was drawn to Iruka like a moth to a flame. While they’ve been living together a little shy of three years if one didn’t count the aftermaths of the war, Tenzou had forgotten just how ensnared he can be by the sight of how beautiful his husband truly is. 

Under the brightly lit kitchen and connecting dining room, Tenzou finds himself watching Iruka put together the vegetables Tenzou had previously prepared and chopped. The wash worn tank-top and sweatpants Iruka wears no longer hands off him; Tenzou had felt the difference earlier, when he had his arms around Iruka, how Iruka had more flesh, more strength, more definition under his skin. Tenzou doesn’t know if it’s a trick of the light, if it’s his mind playing tricks on him, but Iruka seems brighter, surrounded by some sort of halo that made him ethereal. Tenzou watches the flex of the muscle on Iruka’s forearm and tricep as he lifts the lid off the pot, watches his fingers bend and extend as he drops a pinch of salt, stirs it, his head tilted. The gesture of that head tilt tugs at the muscle on his shoulder, which draws Tenzou’s gaze at the length of Iruka’s back, at how it curves a little inwards at the base of Iruka’s spine, cords of muscle twining under his skin, further supported by bolder, stronger thighs and calves. Iruka shifts his weight to his other leg, as he covers the pot and turns the heat off, the movement making the gluteal muscle flex. 

Tenzou only realizes how dry his throat is, how he’s outright staring at Iruka’s ass as the slow, dim ambers in his lower belly ignites to roaring flame when the orange juice he had been pouring for the kids overflows and makes a mess on the table. Tenzou curses, a flush dusting over his cheeks, the curl of arousal dampened as he quickly grabs the kitchen towels, managing to stop most of the juice from making a puddle on the floor. Tenzou is crouched by the tiles, wiping up the mess when the weight of Iruka’s curious stare brushes over him. Tenzou chuckles at that expression, disposing the wad of orange soaked paper towels as his cheeks darkens a little more with embarrassment. He’s in the middle of sanitising the table and parts of the floor when he looks up again to find Iruka standing there, arms crossed, hip against the counter. Tenzou’s hand stills mid-wipe, the flush that had only begun to recede from his face blooming once more.

It’s silly, how Iruka can reduce him to a love-struck, smitten, hormone-ablaze twelve year old, when Tenzou has had him in every way possible.

Tenzou knows he’s too far gone on Iruka, that there’s no turning back anymore. He is reminded of that once more, as he works around the dryness of his throat, clearing it and says, “What?”

“Nothing,” Iruka shrugs, one of his dimples hollowing. From behind Iruka’s ear, some of his hair slips out from the loose bun he had gathered his hair up around the nape of his neck. Tenzou’s eyes is drawn towards it, watching the silky strand brush against the smooth column of Iruka’s neck.

Tenzou ducks his gaze away, closing his eyes and sucking in a measured breath, heat continuing to bloom over the tips of his ears before he stands up, sliding Ren’s high chair back under the table. Both of Iruka’s dimples are visible now, a bit of his teeth peeking out from under his lips.

“You liking what you see, taichou?” Iruka asks, a bit of a gentle flush dusting over his cheeks as he uncrosses his arms, turning to lean the small of his back against the kitchen counter, elbows propped on the counter, his posture open, inviting, sweatpants sitting low on his no longer as sharp hip bones, his abdomen a little more defined.

Tenzou knows what Iruka is doing. 

He wants to strangle him for doing this now .

Tenzou exhales a little exasperatedly from his nose, his tongue brushing over his dry lips as he steps towards Iruka, palms coming to rest over Iruka’s hips. “You’ve been taking care of yourself,” Tenzou prompts.

“A little better, yes,” Iruka agrees, the flush on his cheeks darkening. “I didn’t realize how bad it was until… well.”

Tenzou’s hands circle, cupping both of Iruka’s ass cheeks and drawing him inwards, pressing their bodies flush. Iruka is significantly heavier, definitely a lot more solid now that Tenzou can see it the result of Iruka’s change of routine training. The dark hollowed look under Iruka’s beautiful eyes are almost gone. By the gods, he’s fucking beautiful.

“I want you to fuck me tonight,” Tenzou murmurs, his voice low, fingers squeezing the globes of Iruka’s ass as the image of Iruka’s head thrown back as he empties himself into Tenzou’s body sents a stab of heat right into Tenzou’s abdoment. Iruka’s sharp intake of breath, the flush darkening his cheeks all the way down to his chest makes Tenzou grin. 

“You asshole,” Iruka shoves him backwards, with a little more force . “Right before dinner? Really? No. You are not going to have your way.”

“I’m not?” Tenzou asks, genuinely curious. 

“Go get the kids,” Iruka grouches, turning around sharply as he starts scooping out rice into bowls a little too aggressively.

Tenzou cannot stop his laugh as he schools enough energy to push the arousal away, a little bit of chakra control going a long way as he gathers the children and herds them towards the dinner table.

*

Iruka fucks Tenzou into the mattress, hands gripping and spreading both his ass cheeks, as wide as it can go, as Iruka ferociously pounds into Tenzou’s body. The sound of their sharp breaths fills the space of their bedroom, disturbed only by the slightly open window that blows in cool air, billowing the curtains in a gentle dance. Tenzou watches the shadows on the floor shift unseeingly, mouth slack as Iruka’s thick cock splits him open, the heat high on his cheeks, spreading down the length of his neck as he holds onto the sheets underneath him. He hasn’t been fucked like this in a long while, he hasn’t pushed Iruka’s buttons enough for him to reduce him to something so animalistic, so raw, so unlike himself as Iruka takestakestakes what he wants, forcing Tenzou’s body in whatever position he deems appropriate for his own pleasure.

The burn of being filled with flesh, the carnal salacious squelch of a too thick hard cock filling Tenzou’s too tight entrance is overwhelming -- Tenzou comes a little too quick for his liking, a little too sudden as his husband, his wonderful, sweet, gentle, so goddamn beautiful husband takes full control of his body. Tenzou comes with a sudden gasp, cum splattering thickly all over the clean sheets. The unexpectedness of it makes Tenzou sees stars, makes him collapse down on an elbow as his entire body shakes, a loud gasp tearing past his throat quickly smothered with a fist as Tenzou blinks through the orgasm, tries to clear his head when everything around him is spinning.

He hasn’t done anything like this in a very long while.

Fuck , he thinks, heat still flaring in his belly despite the afterglow. 

Iruka pushes him off his cock, the gesture a little cruel in its dismissiveness. Tenzou collapses on his side, thighs still twitching from the severity of his orgasm. He ends up smearing his own cum on his hand and some parts of his shoulder -- it’s unlike him to be this reckless, this messy. Tenzou always tries to minimize clean up on himself, when he isn’t quite as considerate with his partners. 

(He wasn’t considerate back then with Kakashi, only because Kakashi wants it that way. Even if was attractive, Tenzou did it more as fulfillment on Kakashi’s end rather than his own.)

He certainly isn’t with Iruka. 

But now, lying on his side with his stretched, slicked with precum entrance spasming over the sudden lack of cock, Tenzou looks over his shoulder to find Iruka looking down at him with a raised eyebrow, his lungs moving with slow controlled breaths, a bit of a disappointed look tugging around his features that makes the heat curl around the base of Tenzou’s abdomen. 

Sex with Iruka is never dull. 

Iruka had demanding tendencies. Sometimes, Iruka even had controlling tendencies. It is in moments like this - so very rare in its frequency - that Tenzou almost wants to hand over every bit of him for Iruka to wrap his hands around, to shut off every part of him, his ingrained training and conditioning be damned, and for a blissful moment, however brief, Tenzou can truly believe that doesn’t belong to a nation built on blood and war, but a person who deserves to be revered as if he were part of the heavens itself.

“Well, that was quick,” Iruka gets off the bed, his cock jutting up, heavy with blood, thick and gleaming in dripping precum from his still very much throbbing arousal. 

There is a small tendril of guilt that curls like cigarette smoke somewhere in Tenzou’s chest. Lying there in his own cum, he carefully sits a little straighter, hunching on the shoulders a little bit as shame and embarrassment begins to pulse in blood stream. 

“Give me a minute,” Tenzou murmurs softly, the words tinged with just a little bit of humiliation. It burns high on his cheeks, makes him unable to quite meet Iruka’s gaze.

“Oh I’ll give you five, don’t worry,” Iruka laughs, a little sarcastically. 

It might as well have been a slap across the face. Tenzou would have honestly preferred the slap to the face. That wouldn’t have been too much a blow to his ego, perhaps. It might have even helped with his arousal.

Everything in his body resists the humiliation, struggles around the invisible collar that Iruka had so sneakily wrapped around Tenzou’s neck and wrists, bounding Tenzou to his will without Tenzou realizing how trapped he was until now. Now, Tenzou lies there, spread like a soiled banquet, shadows of Iruka’s hands all over his flesh, the last of the trembles from his orgasm receding as he lies perfectly still. He watches Iruka stand at the foot of the bed like a god, an impatient look on his face that makes Tenzou wonder if its genuine or if it’s all part of the act of the evening. He’s seen glimpses of this dominating side of Iruka, has seen it rear its head a few times during the course of their marriage. It’s beautiful in all its magnificence, never quite failing to leave Tenzou sore for several days. 

But in that moment, doubt seems to be the winning card.

Tenzou isn’t disturbed by the embarrassment. The shame during sex though, well, that is a bit of a foreign concept to him.

“D-Do you --” Tenzou clears his throat, shaking away the tremor in his voice as he carefully slides down to the edge of the bed, sitting himself with Iruka standing between his legs. With fingers that are trembling much to Tenzou’s dismay, he takes hold of Iruka’s hips. “Do you want to fuck my mouth?”

(Iruka has reduced him to this — whatever the fuck this is. He’d gladly be anything for Iruka, if it means keeping him happy, pleasing him. Something in him, however, resists that, snarls at the fact that he’s allowing weakness to rise to the surface That he stutters like a pre-genin, so unfitting for a man of his experience, his training, his conditioning. It’s like he’s almost a person, one with feelings and emotions and a past that such a reaction can stem from History. It’s wrongwrongwrong, he shouldn’t be stuttering. Weapons do not stutter. They’re forged to be fucking fearless!)

“Not really,” Iruka responds, almost like he doesn’t care. “I’m not interested in your mouth. I want to fuck your body. Your body that you have denied me for far too long. And now that we’re here, together, you couldn’t even have the decency to exercise a little bit of control. Honestly, at this rate, you’re just going to disappoint me with your half-ass effort.”

Tenzou’s breath stills in his lungs as he shakes his head. “No, no ---”

Iruka’s hands are on Tenzou’s mouth, silencing the syllables with a firm, almost a little cruel clamp of his hand. Iruka covers a portion of Tenzou’s nose too, cutting off his air, something that fires his instincts for survival, both of Tenzou’s hands clamping firmly in warning over Iruka’s wrist. “Let go,” Iruka commands. “Let go unless you’re planning on breaking my arm, Tenzou. Now .”

Tenzou’s lungs seizes, struggling with the sudden unpredicted shortness of breath, as his fingers resists the command being delivered. Iruka’s fingers gives his mouth and jaw a firm little shake, Iruka’s head tilting in warning. 

Tenzou releases his hold, setting them down on the bed, going very still as everything in him starts to shake, his blood a roar in his ears as he resists every urge to shove Iruka backwards, to allow the strongest parts of him to assert his control, to put a stop to what had to be panic that is fluttering about like a terrified bird within the prison of his ribcage.

And if it is indeed, panic, then a part of Tenzou, the caluclating, cold, vicious part of him reminds him that there is no reason to be afraid. That Iruka, in all his shape and form, is nothing compared to you. That you are stronger, faster, deadlier, can snap his neck in half, rip it off too if you want, and he wouldn’t even know what hit him. 

There is no reason to fear Iruka.

Yet the panic doesn’t disspate. 

The fear of not fulfilling Iruka’s desires, to give him what he wants, to please him doesn’t exactly go. It’s found it place, somewhere in the depths of Tenzou’s being, carved in like it’s a part of his existence; Iruka must always be happy.

Panic wars with logic -- Tenzou isn’t sure which side is winning.

“Are you going to continue to disappoint me?” Iruka asks. 

Tenzou shakes his head, trying to calm the mad drum of his heart. 

“Are you going to stop being a selfish, hungry whore --” Tenzou grits his teeth, tension coiling under his skin as he bites down the urge to snarl . Iruka notices it, sees the gleam that is an almost rage in Tenzou’s eyes that makes him laugh -- it’s a little loud, a little haughty, a little uncaring considering they have children asleep just a room away. Iruka looks amused. It makes Tenzou want to wring his little neck, cut off his air and see if he can laugh then. “You don’t like that do you? Being called a whore. Well that’s what you are tonight. What you honestly always are but hey, whatever helps you sleep at night, I suppose~”

Iruka pets his head, like he’s some sort of fucking dog.

A fucking pet.

It drives Tenzou crazy, makes everything in him want to rebel and lash out. Iruka releases his hand from Tenzou’s mouth and nose, gives him the chance to suck in lungful after lungful of air, as his hand reach around the back of Tenzou’s head, grabs a fist full of hair and yanks Tenzou upwards, forces him to stand on his feet, following the pull of Iruka’s hand like a dog on a leash.Tenzou allows himself to be manhandled, allows himself to be turned around and bend forward, his knees brushing against the edge of the bed as Iruka kicks his legs open. 

And then Iruka’s cock is sliding into him again, leaving Tenzou shuddering with a sudden breathless, choked , shocked sound that leaves his throat without his control. He stands there, his balance challenged, toes digging into the rug, as Iruka grinds up into him -- and oh gods, oh gods--

Fuck. ” Tenzou tips forward, hands planting on the mattress as he shuts his eyes and gets yanked back onto Iruka’s cock, gets pulled back into that slow libidinous rhythm.

Tenzou is hard within minutes, his cock heavy and dripping with precum as Iruka plunges into his body without mercy. Uses him like he’s worth nothing more than a hundred ryos at best, his body reduced to nothing more but a warm vessel for Iruka’s vainglorious pleasure. Tenzou is breathing hard, his eyes scrunched shut as he resolutely holds everything back, tries to pace himself and not succumb to the brutal pace Iruka is forcing upon him. He grabs at the sheets, at the edge of the mattress, claws at whatever he can to keep himself grounded, to stop seeing stars behind his closed eyelids.

To stop enjoying this .

Except Tenzou gasps again, the sound of it so dangeorusly loud to Tenzou’s ears when Iruka just pulls out of him, flips him over and shoves him down the mattress by his throat. Tenzou’s air is cut off as Iruka pushes his knees to his chest; Tenzou groans at the flesh that fills him again, the stars going brighter as he surrenders to this moment, allows his hands to go lax on the sheet as Iruka’s fingers digs painfully into his body. He gives up trying to catch his breath, leaves his body to shudder under the satyric thrusts of Iruka’s hard cock, all this as he looks up at his husband and thinks he’s so fucking beautiful, god-like with his desire that makes gold glitter in dark pools of brown. Tenzou is powerless to look away from this, can’t help but stare like he’s in a trance at how the muscle on Iruka’s chest heave, how the shadows on his abdomen shift with every flex of his hips. He watches Iruka’s neck get thrown back as he sighs at the stars above their heads, his jaw slack with pleasure -- gorgeous.

Tenzou comes like that, with his vision dotted with dark spots, drowning in Iruka’s beauty. He comes just as Iruka’s pleasure crests, his thrusts turning painfully brutal towards the end, before it stills and a fiery heat floods Tenzou’s body.

Tenzou comes with his husband’s name choking out of his throat, unsteady, no longer able to remain silent.

*

Tenzou is staring up at the ceiling dazedly, when Iruka’s tongue presses over his stomach, gathering up Tenzou’s cum, lapping it up until he’s got a good mouthful before Iruka seals their mouth in a kiss. A lesser man would have recoiled at the hideously filthy  gesture. Tenzou has half a mouthful of his own cum when Iruka pulls back grinning, his chin and lips covered in glossy smears of white, gossamer strands connecting him and Tenzou.

“Swallow your filth,” Iruka says.

Tenzou does. Wordlessly. Without question.

“Good,” Iruka praises and leans over to kiss him again, trailing kisses down Tenzou chest before he lifts Tenzou’s hips up and places his mouth right over the cum still dripping out of Tenzou’s ass.

The sound that leaves Tenzou then has Iruka laughing through mouthfuls of cum and Tenzou flushing and slowly getting hard for the third time that evening.


*

Iruka over sleeps the next morning, jerking awake almost comically when the sound of twittering birds reaches his ears. He isn’t quite sure how he went from pulling his pants and tank top back on, getting the children ready and somehow still look presentable for the day. Tenzou had remained on his stomach on the bed, watching him with a dazed look as Iruka had gone back and forth getting ready.

“Hey, can you leave a clone behind? I want to work with him in setting up more wards around the property. I’m going to need your chakra signature,” Tenzou murmurs, the words still a little husky from sleep.

Iruka does so without question. He plants a lingering kiss on Tenzou’s temple, brushing strands of his hair off his face affectionately. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Tenzou murmurs, flinching as he turns to carefully lie on his back. “Go, go, you’re going to be late. I’ll see you at dinner.”

“Okay,” Iruka  leans over, kissing Tenzou on the mouth one last time before rushing downstairs to herd the children out, encouraging them to jog to the Academy. 

Iruka’s day goes by like a whirlwind. He spends his lunch time going through the assessments of the current potential genins team assignments. One of the agendas with the Hokage later is to discuss the suggestions for the match ups. Iruka had to handle a severe injury at the playground when three of his students broke out and managed to hurt themselves when jumping out of the second floor. He had to worth with the medic assigned to the Academy, making sure that the injury isn’t too crippling. When the boy had been cleared, Iruka then proceeds to deliver the longest if not the loudest lecture at all three he is capable of. The incident, unfortunately, means that he strolls in to the Hokage’s office twenty minutes late and looking like he’s ready to murder someone.

Kakashi reading his book is stick that broke the camel’s back. Especially when Iruka had left instructions the night before that the two dosier he had flagged in red remains untouched on Kakashi’s table.

Iruka plucks the book out of Kakashi’s hand, tosses it over at his table and pulls open the Academy record book and possible genin teams for that year.

“Ah, you’re here already?” Kakashi asks.

“Yes, and the only words I want to hear from your mouth has to be related to these genin teams. We are going to do this now or so help me, I’ll set your book on fire,” Iruka huffs , making space on Kakashi’s desk and dragging a chair closer. 

“Threats do not flatter you,” Kakashi deadpans.

“Yes, Iruka. No, Iruka.  Those are the only two sentences I want to hear from your mouth, Kakashi-san,” Iruka says as he spread out the reports on Kakashi’s table.

“Is that so?” Kakashi leans over the desk, something lurid dripping from his tone. ”My, will wonders ever cease. You’re certainly in a good mood today.”

“You must be one of those people who think that people like me are the shy, vanilla type because I’m a teacher,” Iruka casually delivers. 

“I don’t know about vanilla but no, you are definitely  not shy; I seem to recall that you are in the habit of proposing blowjobs to your potential… suitors.”

“And I am excellent at it. I am yet to find a person who says no,” Iruka responds without skipping a beat, picking up a stray filled out form from Kakashi's desk and reading the content, trying to figure out what it is for.

“That’s quite a bold claim, Iruka-Sensei~” Kakashi sounds amused.

“A fact. You’d know if you agreed to my ‘request’ for an adventure in bed all those years ago.” Iruka quips with an eyeroll as he continues reading the document in his hand.

“I don’t make it a habit to get into bed with drunks,” Kakashi responds.

“Kakashi-san, let’s face it,” Iruka sighs, giving up on the form and moving to set it on his desk. “I would have never fit your criteria anyway, because I am told that I am the type who looks like I want a commitment. And you don’t do commitments, right?” Iruka drums his pencil on the table, watching Kakashi look at him with an expression that impressively betrays nothing. Iruka notices a tick in Kakashi’s jaw, one that may or may not be tension. Iruka has affectionately dubbed that the unhappy-twitch. “You’re making that face, again.”

A silver eyebrow goes up. “What face?”

“The I-am-uncomfortable-slash-unhappy face.” Iruka drags the chair closer to the table, grabbing the notepad from his table and taking a seat. 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Kakashi deadpans, leaning back in his chair. “Honestly, Iruka, you’re a married a man. What would people say if they heard you speaking to your Hokage about a proposal years ago?”

“People are already talking about your favoritism with me, Kakashi-san. So it doesn’t matter; they’ll talk anyway. Besides, Tenzou’s opinion is the only thing that matters and I am not worried. He knows and is very secure with the knowledge that he is my world; he’s aware that I wouldn’t know what to do without him, what he means to me and that no one can take his place. Silly, isn’t it? Being too attached to someone,” Iruka says it so candidly, too easily, because that is one truth he is very secure about. He pretends that he doesn’t see how Kakashi’s expression is eerily focused on him now.

“Careful Iruka, statements like that can be used against you,” Kakashi warns.

“I’d honestly like to see them try,” Iruka looks up from the reports, drumming his pencil on one of the first cell of three. “Okay, so, this team here, I need some feedback on. He has lightning as his primary element.” 


*

It takes a good hour and a half but by the end of the discussion, Iruka stands with a sense of accomplishment and with ten new genin teams approved by the Hokage. Iruka can hand out the suggestions to their respective teachers and have them start participating in group work in the Academy that will hopefully prepare them for when they eventually graduate, assuming they do graduate together.

Iruka is in the middle of looking through one of the documents Kakashi had just signed, asking questions for better clarification on Kakashi’s refusal on the matter when it hits him.

A slam of heat that leaves him tilting forward, his hands coming down around the edge of the table, as he gasps inwards, drawing a long shuddering breath, his jaw slacking as the memories of his clone floods his mind.

The information hits him all at once. 

Breakfast, how it had been a quiet affair, peaceful as they drank their coffee on the patio. They then strengthened the wards of their home, how they discussed having a hiding room under the house, a bunker of some sorts. Iruka sees the day flash in mere seconds, information of all the wards he and Tenzou had labored through the course of the day, stretching beyond the field of lavender, past the canopies of mango and orange trees. Then Tenzou’s words:

I’ve always wanted to fuck you under the sun.

It comes like a tidal wave, the force of Iruka’s orgasm, how it just slams into him like a tsunami, leaving his knees weak and him staring at the folders on the table, his knuckles bone white. Tenzou had fucked him under the sun all right, spread wide open on the grass, naked for the world to see, as he stared up at the blue sky, pleasure and broken syllables tumbling out of his mouth, as Tenzou drove into his body with a single purpose, the smell of the earth and lavender all around him. 

And right after it, before Iruka’s clone had popped out of existence, right before Tenzou had pressed a pressure point on Iruka’s neck, he had grinned — the bastard —and said:

Try not to make it so obvious how hard you’re going to be, hmm? 

Iruka doesn’t dare look up, doesn’t dare meet Kakashi's gaze as he carefully, after a shuddering breath release his hold on the table. He’s not sure how long he stands there for, except that he pulls away from the table, his line of inquiry forgotten. Almost immediately, the hot flush rises to Iruka’s face, paints his entire body in red with embarrassment.

Gods, Iruka is going to kill him. 

He is going to murder his husband fucking dead and feed his cock to the dogs.

“Excuse me,” Iruka manages to stammer, pretending he doesn’t quite see the outright look of amusement on Kakashi’s face as he exits the Hokage’s office and finds a quiet corner on the rooftop to calm himself before he loses his temper.

Iruka sits on one of the benches, burying his face in his hands when the hairs on the back of his neck start to stand on edge, the familiar prickle of being watched brushing over him.

Iruka carefully looks over his shoulder and finds three ANBU standing like sentinels around the Hokage’s roof, visible now, their presence an announcement. Iruka couldn't stop himself from brushing his hand on the back of his neck as he stands, giving the ANBU a polite nod before he makes his way back to the office.

It’s probably just the Hokage’s security detail reminding him to get back to work.

*

Iruka stops at a bakery, catching the late evening sale. Moments like this, when last minute council meetings robs him of time he would have preferred to spend with his family. He stands among the late evening crowd, waiting for his loaf of milk bread. He’d make some sort of milky toast for the children, maybe top it with orange slices and strawberries. It wouldn’t make up for Iruka’s absence but it would bring cheer to their faces.

He collects his change and a paper bag, leaving the bakery. He crosses the road, bypassing several merchants trying to make final sales before their shops close for the night when someone crashes chest first into Iruka. It startles him, the suddenness of it, sends Iruka tilting backwards, instincts making him drop the paper bag and catch most of his weight with his hands. Someone yells an apology, rushed footsteps disappearing. Iruka’s fall and the stranger’s reckless crash causes a domino effect. Iruka isn’t the only one on the ground, an elderly woman and her canvas bag now also with him, along with a small childwho starts to cry. There is brief chaos, angry shouts being directed at the rushing stranger who is long gone and suddenly, Iruka is looking up at a tower of fruit loaded wooden crates tilting towards him. 

One second, Iruka is on the ground, the next he’s pushing himself off and away from the crashing crates, taking with him the small child, the elderly woman and barking at the gathering crowd to get away from the trajectory of its fall. 

Iruka finds himself standing in the middle of the road, away from a pieces of wooden crates lying scattered on the road, pieces of mangled, bruised apples, oranges and peaches a haphazard mess all over the street, surrounded by a stifling, alarmed crowd. He has to push his way out of the startled and panicked crowd, trying to get to his feet, too busy making sure that no one around him was harmed with little to no concern about himself. He quickly adjusts the strap of his satchell and proceeds to help the rattled old lady and the crying child on their feet. He walks them away from the gathering angry mob of merchants, calming the old lady and the child, making sure that they are steady on their feet. When he gets waved away, Iruka proceeds to assist the others on the street to gather all the merchant’s goods back to one place. Someone brings a few unwanted boxes, someone starts speaking about reckless behavior, about how shinobi shouldn’t be ‘chakra-running’ in the streets where it isn’t safe for civilians.

Clearly, it’s a common occurrence. Iruka keeps his head down, sighing a little inwardly as he gathers fallen fruit.

This is not how Iruka pictures his evening going.

This is certainly not how he wants his time spent, when the past fifteen minutes could have been spent walking home to his family. Iruka doesn’t bother lamenting on his likely dilapidated loaf of milk bread that is now buried somewhere among the broken crate pieces.

He only notices the tear on his sleeve and the bleeding gash on his forearm when he drops an armful of fruit into an empty cardboard box, some of the peaches and oranges stained red. The sting catches up, suddenly making itself known now that it had Iruka’s full attention. Iruka looks around the street, confusion all over his features as he tries to figure out how in the world did he even get himself injured. 

Iruka looks up and finds that everyone in the crowd is looking at him, whispering and talking amongst themselves. He notices then how he’s practically bleeding all over the street, making a mess all over his uniform. The way the crowd stares at him, the intensity of their concern or their irritation or their shock -- Iruka isn’t even sure anymore -- makes the hairs at the back of his neck stand on edge.

It’s like being ten again, when people talked about him being an orphan, about losing his parents to the Kyuubi, how alone and what a troublemaker he is. 

Like the whole mess is his fault.

“Iruka?” 

Iruka looks up and finds Genma and Raidou looking at him and his bleeding arm. Iruka is clutching at the gash, a stupid attempt to put pressure on it when it only serves to soak his entire hand in crimson. 

“Raidou-san, Genma-san,” Iruka says, surprised. “What are you doing here?”

“We were having dinner at Kiko’s and heard the noise. What the hell happened?” Genma asks, stepping forward and fishing around his utility pouch for a roll of field bandage, nudging Iruka’s hand out of the way. Iruka obeys and watches how Genma frowns as he wraps the wound. 

“I don’t know -- I was walking and just…” Iruka looks at the street again, at the direction of the person who had bumped into him run off to. “I honestly didn’t feel this.”

“You should have,” Genma murmurs, the senbon bobbing up and down once, his tongue clicking in disapproval. 

“Come on, let’s get out of here. The hospital isn’t too far. Get that looked at. We’ll come with.” Raidou nudges Iruka gently towards the opposite end of the street. 

Iruka would have protested but one look at the crowd and he decides it’s better to follow them.

*

Iruka ends up with a headache. 

The medic at the hospital says that the wound is deep enough that tissue regeneration may be required if he is going to insist on the jutsu route of treatment. Iruka has had a long day and clearly, whatever minor blood loss isn’t exactly helping with his now horribly sour mood. He’s tired, he’s cranky, his plan to cheer up his children in the morning is ruined --- he needs one more bad thing to happen and he’s going to lose it.

He agrees to stitches and a topical treatment. It takes ten minutes to stitch the horrid gash and another three to clean the mess. 

Raidou and Genma is waiting for him when he steps out of the treatment room. 

‘You didn’t have to wait,” Iruka murmurs, gratefully accepting the strap of his satchel when Raidou carefully slides it on his shoulder.

“Hey, we haven’t seen you in a while,” Raidou says. “Granted, the circumstances as it is, this isn’t exactly the way either of us would have wanted to see you.”

“It has been a while, hasn’t it?” Iruka chuckles, following them out of the hospital. 

“Well, Kakashi sure keeps you busy, doesn’t he? Vice principal and his assistant?” Genma smirks. 

“It’s not that bad. Some days are shorter than most. Today, not so much, unfortunately,” Iruka sighs, rubbing at his temple, trying to ward his headache away. “I’m sorry I haven’t been around much.”

“Hey, we heard.” Raidou places a hand on Iruka’s shoulder. “Congratulations on the kids, by they way.”

“Yeah, five. Wow. You and Tenzou sure went big, didn’t you?” Genma wraps an arm around Iruka’s shoulders, as Iruka tries to quell the flush from taking over his face. 

“He’s a very good father and a husband,” Iruka say softly, affection ballooning in his chest as the heat continues to spread on his cheeks.

“Oh, I’ll bet,” Genma grins, the words as dirty as it sounds. It dissolves to an amused laugh when Iruka scowls at the intonation behind the phrase. “You okay to head back on your own? Want us to walk you?”

“I could kick you in the face,” Iruka smiles, dimple hollowed, his irritation at being treated like a delicate, helpless civilian in distress kicking in.

“Ahhh, we’ve missed you,” Genma sing-songs.

“We’ll see you around Iruka,” Raidou says, giving Iruka’s shoulder a squeeze, a slight smile tugging around the corners of his lips. “Would love to meet the kids sometimes.”

“Especially the one that looks like you,” Genma adds, waggling his eyebrows.

Iruka knows from that statement that Izumo and Kotetsu must have told them about their dinner. Iruka promises to arrange something, maybe find some time next week before they part ways. 

Now wanting to waste any more time, Iruka takes the road behind the Hokage tower, bypassing the evening crowd through a quieter route. He didn’t want to run into any mishaps. He just wants to get home, soak in a tub filled with warm water and suds a foot high and call it a night. 

*

By the time Iruka reaches the house, he’s exhausted and more than a little irritated. He notices a pair of boots that isn’t Tenzou’s at the genkan, the sight of it almost immediately souring his mood further. He is in no shape or form ready to entertain guests, nor does he, quite frankly have the energy or the patience.

Iruka is about to close the door when the presence behind him manifests. 

He turns and stares at the face of a pale white ANBU mask. Iruka opens his mouth to question the presence, if the ANBU standing before him requires something. 

It happens in a space of a heartbeat.

The pain doesn’t register. Not entirely anyway.

Iruka stands there, powerless, frozen, his gaze dropping to the blade that is now being pulled upwards from his stomach towards his chest, cleaving through flesh, organs everything else in its path in an agonizing slow slice. Iruka opens his mouth to shout, to scream, but nothing comes out. Nothing but the garbled, gurgling gush of blood, and the choked syllables of his husband’s name.

Iruka’s hand snaps outwards, wrapping around the wrist of the person before him, his grip a vice as he channels his chakra and holds the ANBU in front of him in place, tries to think of a binding seal, some sort of jutsu, something -- anything - to keep this traitor, this scum of the earth who dares to commit sacrilegious treason at Iruka's doorstep.

Then Iruka is collapsing,backwards as  blood splatters and arches in the air, just as the crackle of lightning illuminates the room and the shadows of mokuton spikes from the ground.

Iruka hits the ground, the last thing he sees is the sight of his husband and the Hokage, standing like enraged gods by the entrance of his home, gargantuan in their size, power rolling off them in waves.

The last thought that crosses Iruka’s mind is that Tenzou better not let that fucker get away with this.

TBC

 

Chapter Text

Three seconds is all it takes for Tenzou’s world to come crashing down. Three seconds for the blood to forever seep into the foundations of his home, a reminder of his failure, his recklessness, his worthlessness as a man and a husband. Three seconds for him to take one look at the body of his husband, lying on his back in a pool of red and conclude that the chances of survival is minimal. 

The traitor before Tenzou explodes into a puff of chakra smoke, just as Kakashi barks an order that sounds like a roar of a beast. Kakashi’s snarling summons surge forward, shadows cutting through the air like the guardians of hell itself has been unleashed. 

Tenzou is on his knees beside Iruka, his hands shaking as he cradles Iruka’s head, lifts it off the ground to see if he’s still lucid.

Iruka’s eyes are blazing with a rage, with betrayal, with hurt as blood pours from his mouth. Iruka’s fire burns as bright the sun, still ever so blindingly beautiful even as the life drains out of him. Iruka presses Tenzou’s hand on his thigh holster, his grip firm, determined, teeth gritting and stained red, as he chokes out Tenzou’s name like it's goodbye, like it’s forgiveness. 

Like he understands.

Like he’s ready to die. Like he has no regrets.

Tenzou doesn’t understand it, every part of him shutting down, sky high walls erupting all around him, boxing him in, trapping the part of him that is terrified of a goodbye he’s not prepared to make. Fear grips him, chokes him, wraps around him like sharp wires cutting into his flesh, tearing him apart and making him want to scream in that little shadowed space as the walls continues to close in on him.

And then the rage hits like the final nail in his coffin,  just as everything around Tenzou turns to a quiet, focused hush. 

He yanks at Iruka’s thigh holster, carefully sets Iruka down, and takes off after Kakashi’s tracking summons with a single purpose.


*

Fear brings rage; with it a scorching anger that wants to harm, destroy, tear flesh from bone -- murder . When we see something that frightens us, the primitive parts of our mind come alive with aggression. 

That kind of rage destroys not just anything it touches, but everything from within us as well. It destroys reason, logic, the chain of command. Fear and anger are two sides of the same coin. They are the two things Tenzou had sworn to never succumb to, never allow to take control of his body because he’s seen what fear and anger does to a man countless times throughout the years.

He’s stood behind men who uses anger as fuel to protect and fight. He’s followed commands that is as bad as insubordination to the Hokage if only because the anger at having your comrades killed cruelly, unfairly, without reason is far too great than reason itself. To leave them behind makes you worse than trash, after all.

Tenzou swore to never be like that. Too messy. Too complicated. He told himself to stay within clear boundaries, to not succumb to attachments, to truly never love anything other than Konoha.

But he ended up doing the exact thing he swore he never will.

(He loved. He loved so much that in that moment, his loyalty to Konoha is questionable.)

Tenzou bypasses Kakashi’s form, following the sound of the howling pack through the dark woods, ignoring the call of his name. He doesn’t care what happens to him, not in that moment. 

He only wants vengeance.


*

What happens is this: 

Chakra sears the earth, uprooting trees and rock, shaking the earth’s core with a rage that makes Kakashi slow to a stop on a tree branch. The dark canopy shadows of lush trees collapses, sinks into darker depths as dust rises to the starry sky. He watches as Tenzou tears everything he has lovingly built for his world burn before him, watches as fire and water soaks burns everything around the once beautiful property, drawing inwards towards the home that will likely never be a home, but a memory of what it once was.

Kakashi falls back, puts up earth walls around the perimeter of the house, thick blocks of solid earth tearing skywards through fields of lavender, broken petals drifting in the air and tearing into ash as fire scorches it to nothing. 

He stands on top of the wall, between the house filled with sleeping children surrounded by his clones, tens of them with half his pack, the other half accompanying Kakashi’s clone to the hospital with what the weight of one of Konoha’s most valuable teacher in his arms. He stands there looking down at the man he no longer recognizes, claw through jutsu after jutsu, fighting with an unbridled ferocity he’s never quite seen before, when Tenzou is always controlled, calculated, never quite a beacon of chakra and killing intent that any shinobi within a ten kilometer radius would feel and see. Tenzou, who’s  always been the perfect soldier, too cold sometimes, too cut off from the world, too distant, too guarded, to goddamn quiet to the chaos, but always ever so sharp.

Kakashi’s never seen anything like this. Not in all the years he’s known and worked with Tenzou.

He’s not sure what to do with this. 

He doesn’t know if Tenzou can ever be whole again after this. If he’d be fit to go into the field.

(This is why love is dangerous.)

The fight doesn’t last more than five minutes. 

Kakashi watches with little to no remorse when Tenzou takes down his opponent with a precise blow to the spin, crippling him. Lizard falls to the ground like a puppet with his strings cut off. Tenzou holds him in place when he pins him down on a crater by the throat.

“I need him alive,” Kakashi says.

Tenzou doesn’t react to the command; instead, Tenzou squeezes, Lizard’s features turning purple, his face bulging hideously, blood, mucus and saliva trickling down his nose and chin. Tenzou’s voice is unrecognizable in its snap, in how loud it cuts through his decimated property. He’s breathing hard, his expression dark, twisted into something unrecognizable, inhuman in its demonic fury, blood soaking his face, t-shirt and sweatpants. He continues to squeeze the life out of the trash he holds down, his thirst for blood roiling off him in hot waves, his killing intent pulsing like a neutron star about to collapse in on itself.

“That was not a request.” Kakashi says, collected, still relatively calm. “Release him. Now .”

But Tenzou still doesn’t listen. The man who is so good at listening to his commander officer, one who obeys orders, doesn’t listen at all.

Tenzou doesnt pull back the fist that he brings down in the middle of Lizard’s laughing face, shattering his nose. It takes a lot of strength to pull Tenzou off Lizard. It takes even more strength to put distance between Tenzou and the man who is responsible for destroying everything he holds dear. 

A man enraged, a man with his whole worked destroyed has the strength of an army. Kakashi knows his hands aren’t strong enough to keep Tenzou steady, not like this — maybe not ever. 

(They’re never strong when it matters the most — not when it means holding something those precious to you, when his hands, if anything, only knows how to destroy.)

Denying Tenzou the catharsis he needs is cruel. Denying him his vengeance in favor of reason and further investigative purposes to once and for all weed out the traitor from Konoha’s strongest line of defense is inhumane. Denying Tenzou anything when he’s lost his entire world is practically a death sentence.

Kakashi denies Tenzou not because he wants to. Not because he doesn’t understand what it means to burn everything in the world when what’s most precious to you is taken from you. When you love someone so much that you rise from the dead, when your fury crosses dimensions, years, with the goal to turn the future to a barren wasteland. When love blinds you, breaks you faster than it can ever make you whole again.

Kakashi denies Tenzou because he must.

Kakashi slams Tenzou down to the ground, towers over him, stopping him from doing anymore damage as his clone shunshins Lizard away - the useless, sack of flesh. Because Kakashi must look at the future, must look beyond what’s in front of him, his kouhai, coming apart at the seams as he snarls out at Kakashi, calls him a hypocrite for stopping him, venom spilling from his mouth, irrational, a wild mess, his eyes that burn with hell’s black fires directed at Kakashi, detesting, hating, angry, so angry, hurt, so, so incredibly hurt and scared .

(Kakashi doesn’t like seeing him like this, doesn’t like that the most reliable man he knows has been reduced to this -- damn them. Damn them all.)

Kakashi’s never hated being the Hokage than he does in that very moment, as Tenzou’s fist clips him in the jaw, a solid blow. Kakashi goes with it, grabbing Tenzou by the wrist and pinning down on the ground, locking him in a grip.

“Move.” Tenzou says, gravel in his throat. Kakashi doesn’t and that makes Tenzou push forward with everything he’s got, meeting Kakashi’s downward, force with his own upward struggle. “ Move, Hatake!”

“You trust me?” Kakashi counters; he doesn’t move, he doesn’t dare; he looks Tenzou in the eye, their foreheads almost brushing and asks again, “Do you, Tenzou?” 

Tenzou doesn’t answer but he doesn’t struggle harder, doesn’t channel more chakra than he already is to dislodge Kakashi’s immobilizing hold on him.

It’s good enough for Kakashi.

“Go be with your family. You will have your vengeance.” Kakashi releases his hold on Tenzou, every part of him ready to subdue him again if necessary. “I promise you.”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Tenzou growls right before he shunshins away, leaving behind nothing but chakra smoke.

Kakashi knows it isn’t. 

He’s broken thousands of them in his life. He’s the absolute worst when it comes to keeping his promise, lower than trash. 

But this one promise, Kakashi tells himself, is something he won’t break.

*

In the middle of the quiet, bleached, artificially lit waiting room of the hospital, Tenzou sits alone on a bench, caked in mud, blotched with ash and dripping a bloody mess on the floor. He’s staring at a spot on the floor. Around him, his children remain fast asleep, wrapped in their colorful blankets, lulled into a false sense of security by genjutsu. They are probably dreaming of their beds, about the special Friday morning breakfast treat Iruka never fails to prepare for them. 

They cannot see their father now, sitting there barefoot, his clothes a bloody mess, parts him swollen, possibly even broken from the fight. They cannot smell the carnage Tenzou wears like a uniform, not a patch of skin on his body visible from all the red that’s dripping off him, lavender petals caught like flies on crimson spiderwebs. They cannot see how the hospital staff steers clear of Tenzou, how terrified everyone is of him, even if Tenzou is surrounded by sleeping children and five of Kakashi’s summons. 

They are ignorant to the time that passes, how minutes turns to hours, how the blood on his skin eventually gets stickier. They don’t see how the adrenalin eventually dies down, how the rage eventually evaporates leaving only fear in its wake. 

Tenzou sits there, powerless to stop the shakes that wracks through his body. From here he’s got his forearms resting on his legs, he stares helplessly at how his fingers tremble, how they do not stop as his heart continues to thunder in his chest, the blood coursing through his veins a loud roar in his ears. He sits there as the world around him loses color, going ashy, dull, overcast like the aftermath of a war ravaged land.

It is Naruto who comes to him, Naruto’s presence that injects a hint of sepia into Tenzou’s bleak world. Tenzou doesn’t look at him, he can’t. He doesn’t know how to address the fact that he’s let Naruto down, he’s let a lot of people down by allowing this to happen. He doesn’t know how to tell Naruto that his most precious person, the man responsible for making Naruto who he is today, possibly the man he loves the most, could be dead beyond the doors of the emergency room.

But Naruto kneels before him, a steady hand coming to rest on Tenzou’s knee.

“Taichou,” his voice soft, understanding, everything that Tenzou thinks he doesn’t deserve. “You need to go clean up.”

Tenzou stares at his black and crusty feet, at the three pairs of footprints around him. The hospital staff had already cleaned up the mess he surely would have tracked all over the linoleum floors. He thinks back to the state of his home, how everything is uprooted, the eden that surrounds it now nothing but destruction, crate holes that go deep in the earth, jagged holes as big as the pieces Iruka’s death would leave behind, so vast in their stretch that it would be impossible to fill.

Tenzou’s eyes begin to burn with heat, as vicious as acid as he scrunches his eyes shut and sucks in a slow shaky breath, bringing his viciously shaking hands up to his face, pressing the heel of his palms against his closed eyelids, applying pressure as he grits his teeth and tries to swallow the swell of anger, bitterness, his hatred for this world that would pick on the innocent, on the kind, the giving.

“I’ll wait here, with them.” Naruto’s fingers gives Tenzou’s knees another squeeze. “We’ll be right here.”

Tenzou says nothing as scrubs hs hands down his face, as he stands to take one look at the still sleeping children bundled on the waiting room chairs before he shunshins out of the waiting room.


*

By the time dawn creeps up into the horizon, Tenzou has erased all traces of the fight from around his home. He buries it all underneath the spread of green, the lush expanse of lavender and there, in their front lawn, yellow roses. 

Yellow roses to signify how sorry Tenzou is about all this.

His eternal apology.


*

Tenzou spends hours scrubbing the genkan until all he can smell are the chemicals and not a trace of Iruka’s blood.

It does nothing to erase the image of Iruka lying there, bleeding into the grain of the wood, choking as he struggled to stay strong, to fight the impending loom of death. Always so strong, even to the last second.

The sterile cleanliness does nothing to make Tenzou feel better.

He tells himself it’s for the children.

They don’t deserve to come home to a bloody mess. 

*

Tenzou returns to the hospital to find Naruto exactly where he said he would be, Hinata sitting next to him, cradling Ren in her lap, the children still  asleep, still absorbed in the genjutsu. The blood and mud stains on the floor is gone, not a trace of Tenzou’s fear, grief and rage to be seen anywhere. 

“Taichou.” Naruto stands, “Hinata can take them to the Hyuuga compound. They’ll be safe there. Is that okay?”

“I’ll be with them the entire time,” Hinata reassures. 

“So will we,” Akino says, straightening up along with the rest of Kakashi’s summons. “The others will join us there; we’ll keep watch. Boss doesn’t need us.”

“It might be better if they don’t wake up here,” Naruto murmurs, looking around the hospital lobby.

Tenzou wants to tell them that they won’t. That the genjutsu has to be dispelled for them to truly wake up. He chooses not to argue though, nodding numbly. He stands there like a statue, watching as Hinata rises, adjusting her grip on Ren, tugging the blanket around him a little more securely as she tucks his head on her shoulder. Naruto’s clones gathers up the rest. There is nothing to be said as Tenzou watches them leave in a small group, disappearing past the hospital doors.

“They’ll be safe,” Naruto says, putting a hand on Tenzou’s shoulder.

“No one’s safe,” Tenzou responds, swallowing thickly.

Because if everyone truly were, then Iruka would have never been harmed at all.

*

It’s midday when Sakura shows up, looking a little haggard and pale around the edges. She doesn’t say much but she gestures for them to follow her down the hallway. Tenzou does so in a daze, barely registering the hubbub of the medics moving in and out of rooms. He passes through the halls as if his feet aren’t touching the ground, going through the motions of moving, only subconsciously registering 

“He’s a little out of it from the painkillers and sedative,” Sakura warns, her hand pausing on the door knob, a frown etched between her brows. “He’s lost a lot of blood. But he’s stable.”

Tenzou hears an incomplete sentence, hears the hesitation. It’s there in how Sakura presses her lips into a thin line, how she lets out a soft exhale

“Sakura?”

“Iruka-sensei’s body wasn’t responding as quick to cellular regeneration. It happens, some people are just not built to be able to withstand it. We will have to divide the healing sessions with longer periods of rest in between,” Sakura sighs. Something must have shown on Tenzou’s face because Sakura holds up both hands in a placating gesture and smiles. “Taichou, he’s okay! Really! He’s actually been asking for you! Repeatedly! Go on, don’t keep him waiting. He’ll have to stay here for a few days as we monitor him.”

Tenzou’s throat is dry, as he nods slowly at the attempt at reassurances, the explanation -- he knows a thing or two about staggering the tissue regeneration process. He’s been going through them for years.

“Thank you,” Tenzou murmurs, voice barely above a whisper, a hand coming to grasp at Sakura’s shoulder gratefully. “Thank you, Sakura…”

Sakura’s smile is soft as she opens the door and holds it open for Tenzou to step in. 

He doesn’t hear the door shut behind him, as he stands there, the small room staring at Iruka who is lying shirtless under the thin cotton sheet, a thick swath of pressurized dressing. He’s got to intravenous lines attached to both hands, connected to lines of clear fluid and blood. Iruka isn’t hooked onto a respirator, but he’s got a mask over his nose. He is ashen in color where the sunlight catches his bare skin, not quite pale like a ghost but subdued and greyish. Iruka isn’t frail, isn’t narrow, weakly, thin like how he had been after the war and just before Tenzou had gone on his last mission. But looking at him now, how the blood loss has taken its toll on him, leaving him dulled, no shine, no glow, Tenzou realizes how vulnerable he truly he is.

It takes strength like no other to approach the bed, even more so when Tenzou takes a seat beside the bed and carefully, as if Iruka may just crumble to ash in his grip, takes Iruka’s hand in his. 

It’s cold. Iruka’s hand is cold.

Tenzou brings it to his cheek, pressing Iruka’s palm against his skin as his lips brush on the heel of his palm, eyes drifting shut as he kisses the soft, delicate skin there. 

Tenzou keeps his eyes closed, as heat gathers behind his eyelids, a tremble going through him, shaking the softests parts of him. It forces him to swallow something far too large, something that chokes somewhere in his windpipe, causing pressure to build in his sinuses. Tenzou is forced to assume that it’s panic, because what else could it be? Hours ago, some scum of the earth thought that they could rob this world of one of the best things to ever grace it. Some good for nothing trash of an excuse of a man thought that they could take Iruka away, that they had any fucking right to do that. 

Tenzou jaw burns with an ache as he grinds his teeth, as he sits there shaking, his face crumpling just as the fingers on his cheek gently brush over his skin.

He opens his eyes with a soft gasp, his vision blurry as Iruka’s smiling face behind the mask, beautiful, bright, alive, gold flecks reflecting in the warm afternoon sun. Tenzou has to blink through the heated blurriness, has suck in deep, slow breaths to calm the jackhammering of his heart, to stop his hands from shaking as he pulls it away from his face and gently sandwiches

“Did you get him?” Iruka asks, his voice raspy, syllables barely reaching above a whisper. 

“Not yet,” Tenzou responds, his voice unrecognizable to his own ears. His inhale is wet, noisy, like he’s got a cold. There’s heat on his cheeks, wet and foreign, odd, the kind that comes from 

“Okay,” Iruka sighs, wincing slightly as he reaches up weakly with a hand to push the mask above his forehead. Tenzou wonders if he’s tired or if Iruka’s eyes have always been this bright. “Well, when you do, because I know you will, break his fucking knees, would you?”

Something roars in Tenzou’s chest, bringing with it a determination that flares as hot as the sun.

“With pleasure,” Tenzou says, calm, cool, a promise.


*

After the first post emergency care procedure healing session, they tell Tenzou that they’re keeping Iruka in the hospital for a week. Iruka is knocked out cold after that first session. He’s ghostly pale, unmoving under the sheets as he sleeps for hours. He doesn’t wake till late evening, completely disoriented. The stab of hurt that goes through Tenzou’s body is sharp, cruel, numbing to a point as he gently brushes the hair off Iruka’s forehead. 

They tell him that depending on how Iruka’s body responses to the next round of healing, they may have to extend that one week stay to longer. 

Tenzou explains this to Iruka, hours later, sitting beside him on the bed and feeding him spoonful after spoonful of clear soup. 

“More than a week,” Iruka whines, thumping his head back, frustration evident on his face. It doesn’t induce a lot of color to his now pallid skin complexion, but it’s something. “Good grief. I hope not!”

“I hope not to,” Tenzou says, offering more soup. “Try to save your strength. The children miss you.”

“They’re not giving the Hyuugas grief, are they?” Iruka asks, tentative, unsure.

“Hinata called them angels?” Tenzou offers. “I’d take them home except…”

It’s not safe, goes unsaid.

Iruka doesn’t say anything else after that.

*

It isn’t until a week later when Kakashi appears with Naruto in Iruka’s room with a command for Tenzou to follow him. Naruto, who wordlessly stays behind, taking Tenzou’s seat to watch over Iruka’s sleeping form, as Tenzou wordlessly follows Kakashi to the cells tucked underneath the Torture and Interogation unit. Where in the brightly lit hallways, Ibiki is scribbling something onto a clipboard. He wordlessly steps away from the cell door, handing the keys to Kakashi, disappearing from the hallway and leaving the two of them to their own devices.

“Now, I don’t need them,” Kakashi says, cold, callous, not an ounce of compassion in his voice. Like he’s continuing their conversation from that night a week ago. “They’re all yours.”

Tenzou steps into the room and stares at the faces of Lizard, Salamander and Viper. Three of the people he’s worked with in the past, three who like many others, lost almost everything in the war. Three of ANBU’s current best, active field agents.

Tenzou doesn’t ask them why.

He doesn’t care.

Treason is treason. 


*

When the screams stop, the sun is already high in the sky. 

Kakashi pushes open the door to find the room bathed in red, pieces of skin, flesh and bone splattered all over the walls and floor. Tenzou is kneeling in the middle of it all, two no longer beating hearts being squeezed slowly in each fist, blood gushing down on the pieces of ribs that lies like shattered glass all around him, as if they had been broken piece by piece off their bodies while they still drew breath.

The smell of acid, rot, flesh and body waste fills Kakashi’s nose like pungent gas. There is nothing remaining of the three live bodies that had been inside, nothing remotely whole. The hearts in Tenzou’s fists explode in a smattering of flesh pieces and blood, just like the other pieces that lies around him. He’s skinned them with his bare hands, had torn flesh right off the bone like a ravaging beast. He’s reduced three fully grown men to absolutely nothing.

Kakashi doesn’t say anything, doesn’t he think in can when Tenzou shakes whatever pieces of his victim’s hearts off his fingers, like he’s wringing water from his hands, and stands straight, his chest heaving with the breaths his body can’t seem to get enough of. It lands with a sickening, squelching noise, sticking to the wall. 

Kakashi knows then that he can never truly tell Tenzou that the reason three of their best has chosen to forsake Konoha is because they’re simply victims of war and loss. He knows he can never tell Tenzou that they, and several others that Ibiki will be rounding together are planning to overthrow him, the Hokage, simply because they think that a man like Kakashi, isn’t deserving of the title. How their plan to destabilize the ANBU and Hunters first before moving on to the prominent family members and Jounins, trickling to the lower ranks.

It’s a stupid plan.

One that is destined to fail, no matter how good of an ANBU operative one is. It’s a childish plan, pathetic. Kakashi isn’t even sure what part of Lizard, Salamander and Viper’s reasoning had them thinking this could potentially work. But madness never required logical reason. 

It just required action.

The tension does not ease off Tenzou’s shoulders at all. Like the three fully grown bodies he’s reduced to nothing more than pulp and slush didn’t even happen. 

“Are there more?” Tenzou asks, lifting his gaze from small mush of flesh between his feet, head tilting towards Kakashi, patient, quiet. 

It’s dangerous, that glint in Tenzou’s eyes. Kakashi only ever sees something a little like it in the field, that eerie focus on the mission. He’s seen it in the mirror too, right before Kakashi would tug on Hound’s mask all those years ago. 

But there’s something different about the sharpness in Tenzou’s look this time. 

This is manic, this is too cold, too bloodthirsty. Too wild. unbridled. 

Kakashi almost says no. He almost says that that’s it, that’s all there is. 

Except he knows what it feels like, the helplessness, the insatiable need to rip bone from flesh over and over again until the yawning loss in one’s chest somehow narrows down to something smaller. 

“Yes,” Kakashi says instead, shoving his hands into his pockets.

“What do they want?” Tenzou sniffs, wiping his crimson hands on his pants, an attempt that serves no purpose because it only smears more flesh, fat and whatever else all over his hands.

“Me not in power,” Kakashi responds; the syllables are steady, even though everything in him is folding inwards. Kakashi knows how dirty politics is, knows that an attempt at a coup was inevitable at some point during his tenure.He just wished it didn’t brush against those that are too close to him. That it didn’t have to come to this .

Tenzou hums, turning his gaze back to the slush on the wall. “This isn’t enough.”

He wants to tell Tenzou there’s no point in thirsting for more, that this anger at wanting the ones responsible who went for the heart is useless. That by wasting time on thirsting for such a thing, he’s allowing them a second victory. That they’re dead men walking anyway. 

Kakashi knows if he says those words, he’d be called a hypocrite. 

Had it been anyone else, pershaps, he would have. But Tenzou knows him, knows the rules he’s broken to go after those that hurt close to him, knows the depth of the vengeance he rained down upon their enemies throughout the years, all of it wrapped in disguise of duty to the village. 

“It never is,” Kakashi says, resigned, defeated, the syllables quieter this time, regretful. 


*

Three days later, Kakashi finds Tenzou again and presents him six bodies to take his anger out. 

The last of the masterminds that were sentenced to death, while the footmen of this little renegade group are to be imprisoned for life.

He waits outside, down the hallway, reading his book until the screams stop and Tenzou steps out dripping in the blood of those that thought they could harm what’s precious to him. 

“Feel better?” Kakashi asks, clapping his book shut, tucking it away.

“Not really,” Tenzou responds, his tone clipped. “But I am grateful. Thank you.”

They look at each other for a long time, before Kakashi tips his chin down in a nod, as if to silently say that he’d give Tenzou anything to make up for this atrocity, for his family being reduced to collateral damage when it’s him that they wanted. Kakashi likes to think Tenzou understands the words he doesn’t say, likes to think that the nod Tenzou returns is an acknowledgment that Kakashi had kept his promise this time.

Kakashi wouldn’t let a damn thing touch Tenzou’s family if he can help it. 

He hopes Tenzou knows that.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

The decision comes naturally to Tenzou, somewhere between peeling the pieces of the scums’ body that’s stuck under his fingernails and washing off the rest of the traitors fluids, gunk and flesh off his body and scalp. He heads straight for the administration desk and ask for the correct forms to file a leave absence, marking it as priority and slipping it into the correct slot to be delivered to the Hokage for immediate review.

It’s not lost on him that he can ask Kakashi himself, that Kakashi probably wouldn’t deny him this.

Kakashi, of all people, would understand why he’s asking, why Tenzou would want to be close to his family when he’s almost lost everything in one night. Tenzou also knows that Kakashi’s guilt may be the driving force to him agreeing to Tenzou’s request -- it is this exact reason that Tenzou avoids asking Kakashi in person. It is this exact reason that he follows the standard operating procedures instead. It may be a little cowardly, but Tenzou thinks he’s sparing Kakashi the reminder that it is his existence, his reputation and name that had caused someone to go after Tenzou, to hurt him, to make him fall to his knees by attempting to destroy the one thing that seems to make Tenzou whole.

It's Kakashi's existence that has rendered not just the countless ANBU, Hunters, Jounin and Special Jounins' family and teams dead, but Iruka as collateral damage.

Tenzou should have the Hokage’s decision on his request within five days.

In the event that Kakashi doesn't agree because of their dwindling ANBU forces, Tenzou decides that he's going to remove himself from ANBU, retire that mask and make a request to be transferred to Torture and Interrogation, instead. The hours are long and it may still mean more missions, but it can't be as bad as ANBU. 

If anything, it'll be easier and keep him closer to home.

*

The decision comes in twenty-four hours, in the middle of the night, with Tenzou reading one of Iruka’s favorite books under a pocket reading light beside his hospital bed. Iruka remains fast asleep, sedated after his final round of healing that had left him exhausted, teary eyed and in a lot of pain. 

Falcon -- or rather, Namiashi Raidou comes in, a bouquet of flowers tucked under his arm that he sets down quietly by the window, another burst of color accompanying the many gifts, get well soon cards and trinkets from Iruka’s students, colleagues and former students. There are three large bags of ponzu flavored potato chips, something Izumo and Kotetosu had brought when they stopped four nights ago. Tenzou is well aware of retired ANBU being dragged back into the force to fill the gap caused by the murders. He shouldn’t be too surprised that they’d go further back on the list of retired ANBU veterans.

Raidou says nothing as he hands a sealed envelope towards Tenzou. Tenzou breaks the seal, reads the Hokage’s approval of his request before he tucks it away. 

(A part of Tenzou wants to be guilty, wants to feel shame thrum in his blood because he knows - oh how he knows - that Kakashi’s approval stems from his guilt. He would normally contest such a thing, out of honor and respect, to get the point across that he doesn’t blame Kakashi for any of this. He truly doesn’t. He never will. He just can’t make himself give a fucking damn what Kakashi’s emotional state is right now when his entire house is in shambles. Hatake Kakashi has stopped being his priority; he hasn't been for a long while.)

“How is he?” Raidou asks, looking at Iruka, his face somber and withdrawn, a pinch between his brows.

“Tired,” Tenzou murmurs, folding the corner of the page he’s on and clapping the book shut. “He’s eager to go home. See the kids. Hopefully by tomorrow…”

“What did you tell the kids?” Raidou asks, not at all intrusive.

“The truth,” Tenzou sighs. “Their father is hurt and will be in the hospital.”

There had been no room for argument. Tenzou remembers the look on their faces when he had told them. He realizes now, days later, that he should have been less callous in his delivery. They had looked at each other, Reiko braving and daring to voice what they all had wanted to say but couldn’t from the shock. Can we go see Otou-chan, Reiko had asked, her little voice shaking, eyes wide and glazing with tears yet to be shed, just like the other four.

Tenzou had simply said no.

Cold. Distant. Firm. Final.

He thinks about it now, during the quiet hours of waiting, when he’s counting alongside the wall-clock and its ticking hand how cruel he had been to those children. How he had denied them their right to see their parent. Tenzou thinks back to their pallid features, how they had stared at him, so terrified of the shadow that is supposed to be their father but isn't, not in that moment anyway. The quake on their lips had been obvious, when they couldn’t even voice their protest to Tenzou's response, contest his denial of their basic right. He thinks of how Ren’s eyes had welled with large tears, how the twins had looked at him with their eyebrows drawn downwards, a wrinkle in their chin, how Reiko’s jaw had slacked, her eyes wide, a flush of fury on her cheeks, while Toshio had simply looked away, disappointed, betrayed. 

Tenzou doesn’t like himself like this. 

Tenzou doesn’t like the man he’s become -- wild, unpredictable, unhinged, uncontrolled -- when the man he holds dearest lies suffering over something he doesn’t deserve. 

“Did they visit yet?” Raidou murmurs, his gaze scanning over the chart by Iruka’s bed. 

“No,” Tenzou swallows. “I don’t want them to see him like this. It’s taking a little longer to heal. It’s an extensive injury and Iruka isn’t -- his body isn’t taking it too well -- ”

Tenzou claps his mouth shut, his teeth clacking with how he just silences the staggered sentences he can't quite form fully, grinding his jaw so hard that it hurts. He turns to look at the window, at the glow of the street lights below. Sakura had assured him over and over again that some individuals don’t take to chakra regeneration too well. That sometimes, the cells resists the forced growth, that there is resistance to foreign chakra. Sakura had assured him that Iruka isn’t first one she’s healed that has some sort of resistance to tissue regeneration. That Iruka sleeping is a good thing; that he should get plenty of it when and where he can.

“He’s survived near crippling injuries before; he’ll pull through this too.” 

There is conviction in Raidou’s tone, a belief that stems from his relationship and friendship for years with Iruka. Tenzou isn’t a stranger to the fact that Raidou, among several other jounins, had been Iruka’s commanding officer over the course of his field-active career. That knowledge doesn't stop the urge to want to lash out. Tenzou wants to snap at that not unkind statement, because this is isn’t the past, this is the present. You of all people have seen stronger man die from lesser wounds, you know that surviving a crippling wound in the past doesn’t mean you’re going to survive something lesser in the future. 

Tenzou knows that his anxiety stems from the fear that he’s nearly lost his husband. 

That not only is it poor behavior to lash out at others who care for Iruka, but that it's also unfair. 

They don’t deserve Tenzou’s callousness, his cruelty.

The only ones who do have been reduced to nothing more than pieces of flesh.

“Thank you for passing by,” Tenzou answers instead, turning to only look over his shoulder briefly as he delivers his dismissal. He didn’t want to listen to consolations, to words that is meant to soothe. He wants Iruka to be on his feet, to not be in pain, to take him home to his children and put this entire fucking thing behind them. He wants Iruka to smile, to do normal everyday things, to drink his favorite cup of tea, plan his academy lessons, sit on the sofa watching cartoons with the children, or read story books aloud to the kids in their garden with Mango on his lap. He wants Iruka to laugh, to lecture, to yell about the forgotten toys by the stairs, or the kids chasing Mango around house, bumping into things and slamming doors. “I’ll let Iruka know you passed by. He’ll appreciate the sentiment.” 

Raidou had brought with him a bouquet of snowdrops -- hope.

Raidou nods, silent in his understanding, leaving as quiet as he had come. 

Tenzou returns to his perch by Iruka’s bed, tugging the covers a little higher and brushing his fingers over Iruka’s stubbled jaw. Iruka doesn’t move, doesn’t make the small, soft throaty noise he normally would every time Tenzou would brush a palm over the warmth of his skin while Iruka sleeps.

Iruka remains unmoving, almost as white the sheets, his jaw a little sharper than it had been before this entire fucking thing happened. Weaker. Thinner. Robbed of strength that at its peak, had made Iruka look like the sun god in paintings and legends. 

An ache goes through Tenzou, leaving him helpless and defeated as he drops himself on the chair, picking up his book with the intention to continue reading. But the words swims before him, like his head is submerged underwater. He gives up trying to read eventually, the book dangling between his legs, burying his face in a hand as he exhales slowly, forcing the heat in his eyes back as he focuses on counting the seconds, pushing the swirling storm in his chest downdowndown.

When he looks up from his hand, swiping the tears from his cheeks with one quick wipe of his hand, dawn lingers on the horizon.

He should bring the children in.

He really should let the children see Iruka, even if Iruka has difficulty holding conversations at length. 

*

Iruka wakes up the next morning with a mental fog that takes forever to dissipate.

He wakes up to the sight of Tenzou slouched in his plastic arm chair, chin pillowed over a shoulder, fast asleep, ever so quiet in his soft exhales. A shadow darkens Tenzou’s jawline, Iruka’s hint that Tenzou hasn’t shaved for at least three days. The dark circles under his eyes tells Iruka that he’s been staying up all night; the open book hanging is between Tenzou’s fingers, a telltale sign that Tenzou doesn’t stay up because he has too but because he can’t sleep. His hair is tousled, a result of fingers repeatedly going through it, most likely.

Iruka cannot imagine what Tenzou must be keeping compressed under his chest. 

After all, Iruka can understand what it feels like, watching your other half bleeding, their chest blown wide open, eyes unseeing. How a sight like that can rob you of logic, reason, reduce you to nothing more than a lost child in a stampede.

The book slowly slips and drops to the ground with a sharp, audible thump.

Tenzou jolts with it, the sound dousing Tenzou with wakefulness, his neck snapping up to an alert position, as his hand snaps to the holster on his thigh out of reflex. Tenzou’s breath goes quiet, his chest not moving, every bit of him going as still as the rest of the room, like he’s not there at all, chakra drawing inwards tightly, erasing all traces of his presence like a candle being snuffed in the dark. 

It’s then that Iruka sees it, the puffiness around Tenzou’s eyes, the webs of red over white. The tear tracks over his cheeks that had dried out in the night. Iruka wonders if Tenzou simply continued reading his book through it, as salt carves down his cheeks, if he had even been aware of it at all.

Guilt slams into Iruka like a punch in the gut, as he swallows past something thick in his throat. 

Tenzou did not deserve this grief.

He shouldn’t look like this because Tenzou, if anything, is the strongest man Iruka knows. 

“Good morning,” Iruka greets, the syllables raspy, his throat as dry as sandpaper. 

“Iruka…” Tenzou exhales, unraveling slowly as the tension relaxes to something less alert, his fight and flight response slacking as he carefully picks up the book from the ground and sets it on the bedside table. He helps Iruka prop up a little higher, offering him a glass of water that Iruka gratefully drains two cups of. “How are you feeling?”

Exhausted, Iruka wants to say.

But instead of drawing more attention to how beaten down his body is, despite the lack of an open wound, Iruka sighs and gives Tenzou his brightest smile before he rolls his eyes. “Like I want a thorough scrub down. With those special sponges. The one that gets rid of ten layers of your skin. Then, I want to soak in a hot bath. With lots, and lots of bubbles. A mountain of them. And after all that, a giant, party-bowl portion of ramen. With extra egg, chashu and kakuni. And then I want to sit on our sofa, have tea, and spend the rest of the evening kissing you.”

Tenzou’s lips quirk up the tiniest bit into a bemused lopsided smirk, as he drags the chair a little closer, his elbows settling on the edge of the mattress. “You’ve been thinking about this, I see.”

“Tenzou, when you’re stuck on a bed like this, you need to get creative with your future plans,” Iruka deadpans.

Which may have been the wrong thing to say because whatever amusement that peppered the surface of Tenzou gaze disappears as he ducks his head and hums. Iruka watches the curve of Tenzou's Adam’s apple bob once, as the curl of his long lashes casts a shadow over his cheekbones with how Tenzou keeps his gaze downcast in shame. The ache goes through Iruka again, an entire wave of it, his body cresting and dropping with it as he bears witness to the guilt Tenzou is making an effort to keep tucked away.  

The thing is, there's nothing Tenzou can do now that Iruka won’t see.

Tenzou can try to push all that suffocating guilt and crippling shame down, bury it in the shadowy parts of himself and Iruka will always see it.

It’s there in the tension that lines Tenzou’s shoulders, the very subtle flex of his entire arm, how the tendons around his neck would bulge for just the briefest second, before settling to something deceivingly passive. Iruka has learned during the short time they had been displaced from their home, how the guilt can render Tenzou a coward, how it robs Tenzou completely of his ability to meet Iruka’s eyes, when something like this, this attack at their home, at Tenzou’s family, isn’t his fault. Tenzou would keep his gaze low, stare at a point on Iruka’s neck or shoulder, present in that moment with Iruka but not entirely.

He’s doing that now, staring at Iruka’s hand that is bruised and swollen from the previously inserted cannula that’s now been moved to his upper forearm.

“I could do with a kiss though,” Iruka says, light, thoughtful, a bit theatrical in his announcement. “I mean, it’s been a week since I’ve had my dearest husband; what’s a man got to do around here to get some attention, hmm?”

Tenzou’s lips slowly twitches up into a bit of a lopsided smile, his teeth flashing briefly. Tenzou still doesn’t look up but his fingers gently brush over the tender bruises on the back of Iruka’s hand. “You’ve really been thinking about this.”

“Hard not to when I look at you,” Iruka murmurs, affection softening his tone. That makes Tenzou look up, a brief line knitting between the slight knit of his eyebrows before he swallows again. Iruka reaches up to press his palm over Tenzou’s cheek, his thumb lightly brushing over the curve of Tenzou’s cheekbone. 

Tenzou’s hand settles shakily over Iruka’s as he turns to press his lips over the heel of Iruka’s palm before opting to stare at him like he’s seeing Iruka for the first time. “So. A big pool of bubbles, is it?”

“Mountains of them.” Iruka nods.

“The kids will love it. They miss you,” Tenzou murmurs, the affection in his gaze making Iruka’s heart skip a few beats.

“Right, I forgot. I share you with five others, now,” Iruka says, grinning cheekily.

“You know, people will expect that kind of talk from me, but not from you.” Tenzou stands, bracing his hand on the side of Iruka’s head as he leans over and presses their lips together. 

It’s a gentle kiss, unrushed in the slow, lazy brush of their mouths and tongue, a mellow burn as Iruka presses his now slender fingers over the side of Tenzou’s head, his fingertips brushing over the longer locks of ash brown hair. They’re almost covering the curved tip of Tenzou’s ears, another sign that Tenzou hasn't been giving himself any attention at all when he's always so meticulous in his self-care and routine. Tenzou’s tongue traces the seam of Iruka’s mouth, seguing off to a gentle nip around the corner of Iruka's lip before he peppers kisses upwards, his lips pressing in a lingering press over Iruka’s temple. He pulls back to look at Iruka, his other hand brushing a lock of loose hair off Iruka’s face, tucking it behind his ear.

Iruka swallows thickly in the wake of that affectionate gaze, at the revering press of Tenzou’s fingers. 

“People and their judgments,” Iruka murmurs, both hands cupping Tenzou’s face, as he press their foreheads together. 

“Let me get you a cup of good coffee,” Tenzou says, sitting down on the side of the bed. 

“Good coffee, I hope," Iruka suggests.

“The fancy kind. Fruity and nutty overtones. The one they serve in colorful printed cups from those pastel colored cafes I know you really like but pretend you don’t because you think it’s over priced and they trick your present and former students out of their allowances and honest D-rank wages,” Tenzou says. 

Iruka huffs a bemused laugh, not at all surprised that Tenzou sees through him this easily. “They are overpriced, though.”

Tenzou simply hums, his fingers coming to rest on the back of Iruka’s neck, pads of his warm fingers rubbing gentle circles that makes a shudder travel down Iruka’s spine. “Iruka-sensei deserves to be spoiled rotten~”

“Well, you’re off to a good start. Don’t lose your streak just yet,” Iruka grins, leaning over for another kiss.

It lasts a little longer this time.

Tenzou doesn’t leave till several minutes later, leaving Iruka slumping back in bed with his lips ruddy and swollen from his kisses, to go get his coffee and to inquire at the desk if Iruka can go home yet or not.

*

A nurse comes by ten minutes later with a towel and small disposable toiletry kit along with the news that Iruka can go home whenever he’s ready. Iruka has to try his best to look extremely civil as the nurse removes the drip-line and the cannula. The moment she leaves the room, Iruka throws the blankets off him and tests his range of motion by standing up carefully from the bed.

There is an ache in his body that comes from being sedentary for a long time.

Iruka gets flashbacks to his spinal injury as he straightens with all the grace of an old man suffering from severe arthritis. His range of motion is all right considering the extent of his injury. He’s at least not obligated to wear some sort of pressurized bandage around his middle, which is, much to Iruka’s dismay, still littered in various arrays of bruises, a large, thick florid red keloid scar cutting through the middle of it that will only darken with time, from the top of his navel to the middle of his chest. 

Iruka sighs, waddling his way towards the shower, turning it on as hot it can go. He stands there in silence, letting the heat of the water brush over the sore, stiff muscles, washing away most of the smell of disinfectant and lingering traces of ink used during the tissue regeneration process that a sponge bath had not been able to completely get rid off. It’s a redundant attempt to clean up when Iruka knows he’s going to give himself a more thorough scrub down once he gets home, anyway. The hot water though, does miracles for the lingering aches in his body. A quick shave and his hair untangled leaves Iruka feeling better than he has all week. 

The brush of clean clothes on his skin that smells of his household’s laundry detergent grounds Iruka in ways he didn’t think would be possible. He stands there, feet encased in his favorite pair of flip flops, soft, dark joggers on his hips, his arms wrapped around himself as his fingers brush over the cotton full-sleeved fabric of his t-shirt, inhaling as much as he can of the smell of his home, as he bathes in the warmth of the morning light filtering through the window he had pushed open. He doesn’t know how long he stands there, listening to the gentle rustle of the bouquet petals, the sway of the helium balloons occasionally bouncing against the window and walls, the faint sound of the village’s main street hubbub trickling into his ears.

Iruka has never been more grateful for this moment.

Until the door opens much later and the soft sounds of audible, surprised inhales makes Iruka turn to find Tenzou standing there, a turquoise colored coffee cup in his hand, their children standing by his feet, alongside Naruto.

Iruka didn’t think he can possibly be more blessed than he is at that very moment, to see his family standing in the doorway, whole and well. His children comes running towards him, reaching up for him with collective despaired cries and he’s surrounded by a warmth that leaves him breathless, his eyes watering with emotion he can’t quite contain as he gathers them all as close as he can to his person, brushing over their little heads as they sob and cling to his pants.

The tears finally falls, carving down Iruka's cheeks when Naruto comes up to his side, wrapping his arms around Iruka’s shoulder and whispering how glad he is to see Iruka on his feet again.
 

*

“So, where’s my pastry?” Iruka asks as he takes a slow sip of his coffee, as the children start to negotiate with Naruto on who gets to carry what from the plethora of get well soon presents and cards by the windowsill.

It had taken a while to calm them all down, with Iruka assuring him that he’s okay, that he’s going to need their help in taking all the presents home. They had sobered up with a bravery and determination that had made Iruka’s stomach swoop inwards with so much affection that had it not been for Tenzou stepping in and suggesting they divide and conquer, Iruka would have broken down to tears again. 

“I have a good reason for not fulfilling that part,” Tenzou says sheepishly, reaching up to rub the back of his head.

“I’m listening,” Iruka offers, taking another sip from his coffee cup. It really is a miracle in a cup.

It never ceases to amaze him just how much attention to detail Tenzou dedicates to everything Iruka tends to like under the sun.

“They sold out,” Tenzou reasons, a bit of a flush dusting over his cheekbones.

The sight of it sends something fluttering in Iruka’s stomach once more, as he takes another careful sip of his coffee. Tenzou showing embarrassment tends to do that, alongside his shyness -- they're so rare in their appearance, after all.

“But I’m hoping, on our way home, maybe we can pick up some cake instead? We’ll be walking by that place you like so much,” Tenzou murmurs, wrapping an arm around Iruka’s shoulder and turning his attention to Toshio tying the balloons securely around Ren’s wrist. 

“Mmm, Cake Corner.” Iruka leans his head against Tenzou’s shoulder.

“To celebrate you coming home, of course. Don’t dismiss the idea. The kids came up with it on our way here,” Tenzou points out, pressing another kiss to the top of Iruka’s head. "It's not a long walk and it'll be good to stretch your legs. Be assured though, if you are exhausted at any point, I am more than willing to carry you in my arms~"

Iruka laughs, bringing the back of his wrist to cover up the suddenness of it, staring up at the roguish grin on Tenzou's face that makes him so, so incredibly handsome -- gods, Iruka is never going to get used to this. 

“Well, then, taichou ,” Iruka says after another slow sip of his coffee, a lilt in the title. The only hint that it goes through Tenzou with peppered heat is the brief twitch of his finger that’s resting on the curve of Iruka’s shoulder. “I look forward to celebrating with you~”

Tenzou’s grin, if anything, is amused if not just a touch embarrassed.

*

Iruka comes home to their picture perfect house with not a trace or hint of that fateful night.

The genkan is scrubbed clean, the smell of the citrus cleaner still quite sharp. Iruka doesn’t ask how many times Tenzou had scrubbed the genkan and the house after that night, how long it had taken him to get the blood off, or if he had to restructure the grain of the wood, to get to the foundations of their home to erase all trace of it.

His mind is momentarily taken away from the memory that makes his heart jackhammer under his ribs, his suffocated breath flowing with a little ease when Tenzou starts handing out swimming trunks to the kids and Naruto, and Reiko a bathing suit. 

Their confusion is cleared when Tenzou tugs the drawn curtains open to reveal their backyard.

Outside, a large wooden bathtub sits in the middle of their backyard, big enough to fit fifteen adults, almost as big as a small private swimming pool. The water glimmers under the overcast skies, clear and inviting.

The crows of excitement reaches deafening levels as the children carefully set down all of Iruka’s present on their living room coffee table and scramble upstairs with Naruto in tow to change. Iruka is left there, staring at the bathtub with his breath wedged in his throat as Mango purrs by his feet, brushing his tail over Iruka’s ankles. Iruka picks up their house-cat, pressing lips affectionately behinds Mango’s ear, cradling his warm, round built in his arms as he fights down the emotion swelling in his chest.

Perhaps it comes from living a life with minimal expectations.

Perhaps it’s just that Iruka isn’t used to being overly pampered like this despite all the years of attention Tenzou has given him, spoiled him. To have someone who listens to all his whims, however jokingly, and executes them on a scale that more often than not, usually surpasses Iruka expectations -- maybe it's that.

(Iruka is so used to having nothing but duty for himself, after all. He's made peace with that years ago.)

Tenzou didn’t have to do any of this, to go through all this trouble.

Iruka imagines Tenzou had sent his clones to take care of this; while Mokuton doesn't expel as much chakra as Suiton, chakra use is still chakra use. And with Tenzou already exhausted from the incident, he really didn't have to do all this. 

“I - I mean, I didn’t think you’d -- that is --” Iruka isn’t able to form words right, stumbling through his thought process, as emotion turns his eyes glassy again and he just helplessly looks at Tenzou, a dark flush on his cheeks.

“There’s nothing you wouldn’t ask that I won’t give,” Tenzou whispers, pressing a kiss to Iruka’s neck. “Bubbles as high mountains, right?”

“That cannot be possible. You’re going to need a lot of soap for that to happen,” Iruka chuckles a little wetly, sniffing away the emotion as he huffs and smiles bemusedly at the idea of Tenzou trying to create a mountain of bubbles, still a little breathless as he sets Mango down and wraps his arms around Tenzou’s shoulders.

“Is that a challenge, Iruka-sensei?” Tenzou asks, lips tugging up to a sharp grin, the kind that leaves Iruka weak in the knees.

“You know what?” Iruka leans up, his lips brushing over Tenzou’s lips. “That very much is a challenge, taichou~” 


*

Iruka should have known better than to challenge Tenzou.

It never, ever works in Iruka's favor when he issues a challenge.

Tenzou hands the children a bath-bomb each, and Naruto a large bottle of liquid bubble bath. Iruka has never seen Naruto grin the way he does that moment when he cannonballs right into the middle of the large tub and proceeds to squeeze the entire bottle in, shaking it as if doing so will force the liquid out faster.

The children follow and while they do not end up with bubbles as high as mountains, they end up with a backyard surrounded by bubbles overflowing from the tub and covering the grass in white foam as if it were winter.

Tenzou ends up expanding the tub and putting up a small slide for the kids that ends up with Naruto enjoying it far more than them, if the volume of his cheers are anything to go by.

It’s how Hinata finds them, covered in bubbles, laughing as the children swim and Naruto takes turns with each of their children sitting on his shoulder as they slide into a puff of colorful, glittering bubbles, right into purple colored water that smells of citrus and cherries. Hinata doesn’t get spared either and ends up being dragged into the water, clothes and all by a boisterously laughing Naruto, who ends up with a large gentle fist induced wave to the face as Hinata sputters and climbs over the tub so sit by the rim, wet clothes and all.

Iruka soaks next to Tenzou, comfortable to watch all this from the corner of the tub, the warmth of the water easing more of the aches until he forgets he's been bed ridden at all.

It ends up raining a while later, and they end up eating lunch indoors, dried and bath-bomb glitter clinging to their skin as they tuck into large bowls of ramen take-out that Naruto’s clones bring.

They fall asleep like that, with Hinata and Naruto curled up on the couch, Mango on Hinata’s lap, the children scattered about on the carpet, floor cushions and arm chairs, the day’s fun lulling them into comfortable naps.

“One more thing,” Tenzou murmurs into Iruka’s ear, as he takes Iruka’s empty tea cup and sets it on the table, dragging Iruka up the stairs and into their bedroom where he gently tips Iruka’s chin up. “It’s good to have you home, Iruka.”

“It’s good to be home,” Iruka whispers, closing his eyes as Tenzou lowers him to the bed and kisses him.


*

Tenzou tells Iruka how he’s currently on leave while they're lying in bed, that he isn’t going to be sent out to the field unless war befalls Konoha or Tenzou chooses to return to his line of duty.

There’s a hundred things Iruka wants to say to that.

How he hopes it’s not because of what happened, that even by being home, Tenzou isn’t an all encompassing being that can be there to stop anything bad from happening. That none of this - any of this - is his fault.

(He wonders how Kakashi -- the Hokage can agree to something so open-ended like that.)

Tenzou must have seen the look on Iruka’s face because he straddles, pressing his mouth over Iruka in a kiss that robs Iruka of breath. Tenzou then outlines his training plan, how he wants to take the time to develop skills he hasn’t been able to do so due to being field-active. How he wants to be here with them more, to spend every moment he can making up for all those months he’s in the field and have left them behind.

How he wants to take them on a proper summer vacation. Maybe go to Fire’s coastal region, spend a week by the beach. Go camping in Fire’s hills to watch the stars. To be present for Iruka's actual birthday for a change and all of their children's as well. To have the chance to be a decent father, when he's more weapon than man most of the time. 

Iruka, more than anyone, can understand the need to want to do all this, to not miss another moment.

He can’t argue with Tenzou when he puts what he wants to do into words, expresses things he normally wouldn't, when the only thing he shows when he's being summoned for a mission is guilt-ridden, disappointment, lips pressed thin and eyes downcast. Iruka understands because he's been at the other end of it, watching Tenzou come home with injuries that have come so close to taking him away from Iruka’s life forever for years, thinking that this is it, this is the last time he's going to see husband, that whatever last few words, last few touches they exchanged all those weeks ago is final 

Iruka understands.

It’s why he doesn’t argue with Tenzou's plan. 

*


Once Iruka is deemed fit for duty again, a routine gets established with Tenzou being a permanent presence in their lives for the time being. 

Tenzou walks them to the Academy every morning, and spends the hours they are in the Academy training either with himself or with Naruto. 

(Iruka had found it odd that Kakashi doesn’t become a part of this. When he asks Tenzou, Tenzou explains to him that the reason he was attacked. How it had been an attempt to overthrow Kakashi as Hokage; Iruka didn’t understand how that plan was going to work at all, but it certainly would explain Kakashi’s lack of presence in the office, or how he avoids Iruka and engages in minimal interaction. Guilt does that to a person, makes their eyes fall downwards, their body language frozen and stiff.)

Tenzou would then bring the kids home, assist them with their homework until Iruka comes to start dinner. They would dine together, and then prep the children for bed. He and Tenzou would curl on their sofa, watch an episode or two of whatever new show they decide is worth investing time on with either a cup of tea, or if it’s over the weekend, bottles of cold beer. Sometimes they’d just sit and talk about the current village gossip, or anything that may have happened over the course of the day either at the academy or the Hokage’s office.

Sometimes Iruka would just lean over and kiss his beloved husband, which would either result him dropping to his knees in their quiet living room, Tenzou’s arms braced on the backrest of their sofa as Iruka fucks him with his mouth, or the both of them stumbling up towards their bedroom, their mouths locked on each other, tongues brushing against the other as Tenzou shuts the door with a soft click and presses his palms over the wards, a thrum of chakra engulfing the room before he rips his mouth of Iruka and slams him up the nearest flat surface, sinking his teeth into Iruka neck and humming at the keening sound ripping past Iruka’s throat. Sometimes they don’t even make it to the bedroom, with straddling Tenzou’s hips, in the middle of the night, right their in their living room, Tenzou’s palm on his neck and over his mouth as he rides Tenzou’s cock until they both come with strangled breaths. They fall into each other so often that the bruises on Iruka’s body almost never has the chance to fade.

It is several weeks later, long after winter has passed and spring begins to turn Konoha green again that Tenzou tells Iruka he spent the day training with Kakashi-senpai. 

It is weeks after that, on the twins’ birthday, that Kakashi steps foot into their home for the first time after that night. 

(Iruka had taken both Kakashi's hands in his in a warm squeeze that afternoon, had looked at him with gratitude that leaves Kakashi swallowing past something he doesn’t give voice to, before Iruka smiles and leads him to the party table that is littered with children’s snacks and enough sugary treats to send the entire village into a sugar rush, whispering amusedly when Kakashi wrinkles his nose at the smell of it all that he’s got something separate for him the kitchen.)

Before Iruka knows it, they’ve celebrated half of their family’s birthdays and a little before the peak heat of summer, they host an evening dinner with Hinata’s father and sister to celebrate Naruto and Hinata’s upcoming wedding.

That summer, Tenzou takes them to the beach, dragging Naruto, Hinata and Hanabi along. They take a hundred pictures. They build en entire fortress made of sand, and return to Konoha with gold glazing their skin and Naruto and Hanabi suffering from peeling sunburns. They spend the rest of the summer helping Naruto and Hinata set up their soon-to-be-home, which more often than not, ends with them engaging in some sort of paint war that usually means Tenzou and Hinata carefully dabbing toothpaste or rubbing alcohol on paint stains on Naruto and Iruka’s hair (Iruka because he ends up chasing the children with a lecture, or trying to catch them as they slip from a ladder, only to end up with a bucket of latex paint all over him instead, much to Tenzou's amusement).

By the end of the summer, Iruka stands proud and tall as Naruto’s father, arranging the groom’s corsage on his lapel as he suppresses tears at the joy that courses through his veins.

Naruto is the most handsome groom next to the most beautiful bride.

Iruka finds himself, once more, as Naruto and Hinata is announce husband and wife, counting appreciating his blessings, as he reaches up and dabs at the happy tears carving down his cheeks.

*

A year goes by in a blink of an eye. 

Tenzou comes home one evening, a little singed, something glistening sharply in his eyes as he tells Iruka that he’s finally able to mould chakra into fire, something Iruka know Tenzou has been trying relentlessly to achieve since he’s gone officially on inactive duty. Tenzou must have been high on adrenaline because he drags Iruka to their bedroom, leaving the children in the living room immersed in watching their evening cartoons, to kiss him breathlessly, his grin feral, fingers shaking with what Iruka knows is the jittering after-effect of using a soldier pill. 

Iruka has to bite his lip to stay quiet as he is ravaged, Tenzou all but hoisting him up on his lower abdomen, his fingers gripping Iruka by the globes of his ass in a bruising, tight grip as he slides into Iruka’s body in a steady, if not a little brutal rhythm. It leaves Iruka hanging on his shoulders, useless, powerless, a body to be used solely for his husband's pleasure, throat exposed to the ceiling, breath hitching with each thrust of Tenzou’s cock into his body as he willing burns in the intensity of Tenzou's need, surrderning to his demand like this and oh gods, it's good, it's so fucking good. Until they both come like that, standing in the middle of their bedroom, the bed ignored and ash from Tenzou’s training smeared all over Iruka’s light gray house t-shirt that they didn’t even bother to remove.

“I’m so proud of you,” Iruka says hoarsely, shakily, his eyes glazed as Tenzou’s thick cum trickles down his ass and onto the wooden floor when Tenzou slowly lowers him to the ground, his cock slipping out of Iruka luridly with a squelch that leaves Iruka shuddering as he is suddenly empty, the ring of muscle spasming over nothing as he hangs on Tenzou's frame, still trembling from the intensity of their orgasm.

“I was losing hope for a second there,” Tenzou sighs, his breaths long and deep as he shudders a little too, pressing lips against onto Iruka’s neck, peppering gentle bites and kisses over the days, maybe even weeks old bruises that are yet to fade. Not when Tenzou keeps adding new ones.

“You have the Shodaime’s DNA in in you, why would you ever have doubts?” Iruka asks, the question making Tenzou’s tongue still in its brush against Iruka’s gradually calming pulse. Iruka pulls back and presses his palms on Tenzou’s face, surprise at the sudden silence. “Really?”

“I’m not…” Tenzou swallows, eyebrows knitting. It’s rare that Iruka sees a hint of Tenzou’s insecurities rise to the surface.

Tenzou is probably one of the very confident individuals Iruka knows of.

To see this hesitation, this pause -- Iruka has unknowingly brushed over a nerve; an old one from the looks of it, one that Tenzou must have made peace with. But once in a while would lay exposed and raw to the surface, pushing Tenzou’s shoulders down with an invisible weight. It makes him look so small, helpless, a victim of Orochimaru's experiments, when Iruka sees something greater, far stronger, as good as a legend. 

(Maybe even more.)

“You are,” Iruka says, firm, an unwavering belief. “Tenzou, don’t underestimate your strength. It may have taken you a year to get this far but it clearly is not impossible. You can be as strong as the Shodaime if you want to be. It’s in your blood. You just needed undisturbed time to bring all that to the surface.”

“It’s one element…” Tenzou says, whisper-soft, his face darkening in a strong blush. 

It’s so endearing. 

It makes Iruka’s stomach swoop inwards with brimming affection, his knees soft as he brushes the pads of his thumb over Tenzou's very attractive cheekbones adoringly.

“Now you have two to go. Should you choose to pursue it…” Iruka grins. “Look at that. Umino Tenzou, a possible candidate for a Hokage. You never cease to amaze me, even after all these years.”

That earns Iruka a huffed laugh, the suddenness of it ripping past Tenzou’s throat in what sounds like shock. “Hokage? Come on. Now you're just exaggerating.”

“You’re right. That may be overstating things. After all, I don’t think you have the stamina just yet to be the Hokage -- ahh!" 

Iruka is bodily picked up, the words dying off to a strangled laugh as Tenzou sends a clone downstairs to finish preparing dinner as he hauls Iruka into their connecting bathroom under a warm spray, silencing Iruka's laugh with his mouth and boxing him against the tiles, cradling the base of Iruka's skull with a palm as his other arm hoists Iruka up and on his hips again, his fist griping Iruka's spent cock, stroking, stroking, Tenzou's tongue tracing the seam of Iruka's mouth and gods, Iruka can spend hours like this, being held like this, tasting water and Tenzou under his tongue, as the heat starts to coil under his skin again, and Tenzou's cock fills him slowly, stretching, thick, and so, so damn good

Iruka shows up much later to dinner, his throat raw and tender, so exhausted and minimizing speech as he joins the children at the table, blushing furiously every time Tenzou pins him with a heated look across the table.

They fuck for hours later too, with Iruka pushing his cock into Tenzou this time, drowning in the gleam of Tenzou's eyes, as he presses their foreheads together and whispers Tenzou's name like it's the very definition of love.

Because it is.

You're my world, Iruka says to him, just shy of an hour away from dawn. Tenzou looks at him, breathless with pleasure, parted lips trembling in the wake of their orgasm, and says:

You're mine.

*

Months later, Tenzou perfects three A-class fire techniques that is devastating in its destruction. 

Iruka only knows about it's  destructive power because when he asks what the technique is, Tenzou sneaks him out in the middle of the night to show him, despite the never ending exhaustion that seems to sit under Iruka’s skin these days. Iruka hadn't wanted to leave their bedroom but the excited, triumphant gleam in Tenzou's eyes had given him the extra energy to make it across the village to the training grounds.

Iruka stares at the sight of flames engulfing the skies, bathing everything in a frightening orange light, a fireball so big it can eradicate a town if Tenzou wants it to. Then there had been stream of fire, one that takes shape of a fierce phoenix, with power enough to reduce anything its path to ashes. The last one had been a wall of fire, as high as the sky, a beacon to anyone who may watch and almost impenetrable, a strong wall of defense.

Iruka is rendered speechless, elated with pride that makes him feel like he's floating above the ground.

Tenzou douses the fire with rain, regrows parts of the training ground as Iruka stares at him dazedly.

Iruka always knew Tenzou was strong.

He’s just never had the privilege to see it quite like this.

That night, when Tenzou makes love to him on their bed, Iruka looks up at him and tells him, for the upteenth time, how proud he is of him, how he is privileged to be Tenzou'ss lover, how he is the happiest man on earth to have Tenzou as his husband.

“I’m only strong because of you, Iruka,” Tenzou says, soft, as the sweat dries on their skin and Tenzou has Iruka in his arms in an embrace that is almost a little too bruising; Iruka knows, that like always, Tenzou's hands will leave shadows on his skin. Tenzou's been like that, always holding him tight, even over a year later after the attack. “I’m just a weapon without you.”

*

One winter’s day, amidst crystalline joy and brilliant rays that makes Konoha glimmer, Iruka comes home to an empty house right after cutting his shift at the Hokage’s office short, bone tired and a little warm to the touch, his nose clogged and his body thrumming with an ache that increases tenfold with each passing minute.

With the Academy not in session for the winter break, Iruka knows that Tenzou had taken the kids out by the lake to skate, a new activity that they had been most excited about. 

Iruka is in the middle of fixing himself a cup of tea to ease the pain in his throat and prepping dinner, his world slugging through molasses when the nausea slams into him. It comes in waves, as Iruka turns the stove off in a clumsy rush, one hand covering his mouth, as he stumbles into the guest bathroom, dropping to his knees and emptying the contents of his stomach in a trickle of bile and acid. Iruka heaves and heaves, until his stomach has nothing else to throw up. He's not sure how long he remains there on the floor, shivers wracking through his frame, as he leans against the toilet seat, the cool porcelain a comforting a balm to his heated skin, his breaths coming out slow and deep, fluid bubbling in his lungs from the cough that eventually triggers a violent coughing fit. It leaves Iruka shaking, an ache going through his back and sides, as he huddles and wonders how the hell is all this happening so fast? He had not felt well when he had woken that morning, but nothing out of the ordinary, especially with the winter flu circulating the village.

The virus must be vicious if it's managed to reduce him to this within hours.

He finds the strength to clean up and drag himself to the bedroom, dropping himself on Tenzou’s side of the bed, barely managing to get his vest and forehead protector off as he tugs the blanket over him.

All of Iruka's strength leaves him with a long shaky exhale, as he surrenders to the dark and passes out, hoping to the gods that the flu doesn’t get passed on to the children. 

 

TBC