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Excepting Last Words

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He curled possessively, clutching the motionless shinobi beside him. The cruel reality of their situation almost crow like as it pecked at the strained eyes of the tenderhearted chunin and threatened to breach the damn of restraint known as shinobi conduct rule 25.

"Don't tell him I cried." He hissed.

"I wont." Replied a somber base voice, too deep for its pug owner.

Head down, Iruka refused to meet the sad eyes of the dog he knew had never really liked him. He was never good enough for the 'boss'. And Iruka had to agree. He was a simple chunin teacher; the other: a prestigious Jounin genius, famous, irreplaceable, lovable, idiotic, aggravating...

He nodded slightly to himself as his eyes burned in memory and memory became a toxic catalyst chewing away his composure.

Kakashi was a real pain in the ass and he shouldn't have been that likable. No doubt, from the moment he became aware of Irukas rambunctious past, it was the manipulative elites full intention to prey on the dormant prankster deep within him. That each irritating stunt that followed was masterfully designed as a siren call to his inner delinquent, to purposefully contort itself into endearments in his mind. That each frustratingly shoddy report the silver haired bastard wrote, every unwanted Icha Icha verse read allowed, were aimed exclusively to roughshod there way into welcome displays of attention. As well as jutsue into an irresistible invitation to play.

Iruka forgot when exactly he noticed that the shouting that inevitably ensued had became heated affection. Nor did he care. Since rather like boiling alcohol, his irritation would evaporate under a poignant simmering gaze. His embarrassment and indignation would burn off quickly and give way to more normal forms of courting. And because the squirrelly jounin could give as well as he could get, they were equally comfortable with the odd arrangement hovering pleasantly between tricks and traps and love and lust.

Reevaluating their relationship, Iruka intensely reviewed every jape, taunt and thrilling tease, each one vying for thorough inspection. But each new reflection only brought him closer to his original assumption. No one could send him into fevered hysterics like Kakashi could. but likewise no one could sooth him quite so deeply, like quenching steel. Somehow Kakashi was both fire and water.

His mind twirled blithely; weaving around a tapestry of memory's, revisiting his favorites both old and new, only to connect back to a seemingly blase vision of something mundane like washing dishes together, both wet and soapy. He almost physical choked on the startling epiphany that it was the irritatingly small menial things, like Kakashis annoyingly strict watering regimen for Mr. Ukki, or how he always forgot to shut the window when he fell asleep. That they were the things he cherished most.

He smiled through unshed tears as he contemplated the jounins obnoxious habits. The little eccentricities that normally drove him batty, now had him sighing in bitter sweet contentment. Till an icy internal voice reminded him, But your going to die.

A deep sense of panic washed over him, drowning him in its promised finality. There was not going to be a next time. Never, had he ever imagined that one day he would find himself wiling to give anything for the privilege of having Kakashi provoke him one last time. But he couldn't even bargain for the chance, since he had nothing of value to offer. His life was all but spent.

Throat tight the little Nin-ken rested a comforting paw on the shivering chunin, drawing him from his musings.

Iruka only nodded, thankful for the simple gesture.

Willing a curtain of resilience to surround and cloak him from his pain, he steadied himself with a fortifying deep breath and sniffed and swallowed back tears.

He knew he had made the right decision, both for Kohanan and himself. He had excepted his fate back when he realized they were both poisoned but only had one ANBU grade antidote. As far as Iruka was concerned the choice and been clear. But Kakashi was selfishly willing to sacrifice himself. Iruka noted the resolute defiance in Kakashi's tired gray eye. But thankfully the sedative pared with the poison had slowed the copy-nins reflexes enough so Iruka could strike. He had acted first, administering a fast acting sedative, just enough to push the elite the rest of the way to sleep. He did it blindly, refusing to allow the echoed look of his lovers shocked betrayal to be what followed him into death.

Iruka numbly recalled a howl of rage as Pakkun charged in all his doggy furry upon witnessing the school teachers treachery. Clinging to the slumped form of the fallen elite he vaguely registered the charge change to a confused canter.

"He would have forced me to take it." He explained listlessly, eyes foggy in a haze of resignation. His dark expression falling as cold and hollow as the chilled cave he mourned in.

Iruka sat for a moment more unwilling to move, too deep set in a thick vat of churning emotions. Then slowly, deliberately, mechanically, under the watchful eye of the loyal summons; he fashioned a tourniquet to the copy-ninjas arm and stiffly withdrew the antidote and syringe. Inserting the needle he drew out the clear substance from its tiny vial. As if mesmerized Iruka paid special attention to the bubbles replacing the liquid in the air tight cylinder. Then tapping the side of the syringe, he made sure all the air was separated from the medicine.

Without preamble he sank the prepared needle into a plump vain and plunged the fluid into the Jounins system. Iruka knew his face was blank as the pug looked him over and he released the tourniquet. He didn't care, all he wanted was to clutch Kakashi tighter. And he did, but it was not tight enough. It never would be.

And so here he was. Clawing at the last vestiges of rule 25, stubbornly holding to his shinobi training. He felt deserted and abandoned in the face of the harsh uselessness of only being able to bare his soul to a ninken who always despised him and an unconscious body. He wasn't even afforded the decency of being able to say goodbye to the lover in his own arms. And that pervasive thought coiled around him and through him, with all the harsh unforgiving suffocation of a sand coffin. He was going to die alone next to the one he loved. To be forced to endure the agonizing silence as tho Kakashi where sealed behind glass, somewhere he could not reach.

Fighting his fears he continued to grasp at scattered thoughts, forgotten wishes and duty and memories of missions... small insignificant things that sum up a persons life. All the chances he had but never took, all the choices he made and consequences he had to live with. And as his avoidance driven thoughts pranced happily through his mind he realized, with the honest sincerity of a dying man, he had lived a good life.

"My paper work is caught up." He said randomly, tho a twinge of bitterness intertwined a note of toneless black humor in his voice. The pug hummed in response. "And my classes are over for the year. So perhaps this really is the best time for me..." He had every intention of admitting his fate, but the words built a spontaneous blockade and got lost in his throat.

His lips trembled as a foreign iron taste crept into his mouth aside a disorienting sluggishness that seeped into his senses. Its presence marking the first symptom of the insatiable glutenous fog of death, relentlessly marching onward, intent on enveloping him like the nightmare it was.

Recapturing his own attention Iruka struggled to focus. Breathing slow he fought the encroaching fatigue. There was something he had yet to do.

"Tell Naruto I think he has grown into an amazing shinobi. And that I am very proud of who he has become."

"I will Iruka Sensei." The dog said reverently.

"And tell him, I know he will become a great Hokage someday." Iruka managed a strained smile, vaguely pleased, despite the growing lump in his throat, he had not let emotion slip. But this next task he doubted he'd be so lucky. He looked back to the sleeping Jounin.

"Tell him..." With the finality of a slamming door his mind drew blank. Seizing up tight under the fierce weight of realization this was the end; and the vast myriad of things unsaid came crashing to the forefront. So many things he never would say and now he never could.

Emotionally collapsing on himself, Iruka constricted his attention to admiring silver hair. He reflect dimly on how damaged the man was after the loss of his genning team and sensei. How isolated, how lonely, how desolate. He contemplated Kakashi's future compared against his past and twirling white bangs between tanned fingers he steeled himself, knowing that what Kakashi really need to here was the last thing he wanted to say. Taking a shuttered breath he prepared to brake his own heart admitting the truth of his next words.

"Tell him I don't want to be another ghost... That I refuse to haunt him." He huffed out in irregular gasps, rule 25 shattering with tormented tears. "... my last wish is for him to forget me." Anguish slashing through him. Its pure corrosive rippling pain spreading like chidori, attacking every nerve ending in his body. He ground his teeth, fighting back the brutal emotion that stung as sure as any physical blow. "I want him to be happy. I need him to be happy and he needs to do it without me. Tell him-" He tore open his glistening eyes desperately needing to see Kakashi for as long as he could. "... Just take care of him Pakkun." He convulsed unrepentantly as his voice broke around his pleaded whisper.

Inching closer the nin-ken rested his head on the teachers leg, whimpered softly, but said nothing. He didn't need to. They both knew he would.

Leaning down, Iruka trembled as he gently kissed cloth covered lips. At his touch, a surge of confliction swept through him; mimicking the poison in his system. He desperately wished he could reclaim that last action. Some powerful, unbidden emotion, began to swell within him. Rising to the surface like a large bird thrusting out its wings, preparing for flight.

No. This was not enough. This was not good enough. This was not the end.

He needed to see Kakashi, to have him open his eyes, to feel him... to pore his soul into one last kiss.

He needed the chance to say... goodbye.

And suddenly a dam broke. Like bursting from a genjustue, an emotional barrier released resulting in a cascading failure as all Irukas defenses came thundering down. His world tumbling apart around him leaving the teacher to gasp hopelessly, helplessly alone. Regret, shame, panic and fear mingled together to violently squeeze out a choked cry of primal grief.

Flooded and drowning in unbidden feelings, the defeated chunin allowed himself to be engulfed by emotions; all to eager to play a role in his destruction. His body convulsed, and he unconsciously coiled around the Jounin.

'thaat was their last kiss?'

"I don't want to leave." He railed suddenly in a heated furry. Anger rising like an old friend in his time of need. His rapid almost psychotic turn startling the Nin-ken. "Its not that I am afraid to die. I just... don't want to leave him." His voice rose in pitch to a frantic breathy tone as he strained ever closer to the jounin. "That's my greatest regret Pakkun." He growled through his failing voice, taking his hand to wipe his face. "It's unfair. I am Happy. Truly deeply happy..." Another sob racked his body supported by a shallow steady breath.

Wrapping himself around the Jounin he let his tears fall soaking both uniforms. His anger draining from him like blood loss drains life.

By the time a dull illness calmed him he knew he was out of time and these were his last words. What would they be? He muddled it over in his sluggish mind before settling on an obvious truth.

"I love you." He whispered tiredly. His grip on the Jounin vest slackened even as he clutched it tighter. Yes, those were the words he wanted to die with on his lips. Then again he could do one better. The perfect last word.

"I love you, Kakashi."

And as he drifted off into final darkness he never heard the small moan of the jounin. Soft, like a gently waking infant.

Chapter Text

He roused from unconsciousness sluggishly, tugged along by a murky force nudging his side. Something that should have appeared as solid merely formed as a hazy concept in his mind. The unknown blunt pressure crawled along his frame unrelentingly shoving him back to consciousness. His body twitched in unwelcome fits and spasms and the copy ninja lolled his head from one side to the other; attempting to dig his way out of the sensory deprivation pit he had somehow slipped into.

But a weighted miasma kept enveloping him, absorbing him, persistently coaxing him back to the sweet call of sleep.

He had began to sink back when a toothy sharpness abruptly prodded him, allowing for a foot hole. The concentrated band of pain wrapped around his arm giving him just enough force to orient himself. Seizing a hold of this new anchor he climbed up its clenched presence, drawing himself up out of the well of darkness.

The room whirled and a weight across his chest rolled off him as he forced himself into a sitting position. Blotches shifted and sound began to constrict into more precise silhouettes as reality coalesced before his blurred eyes.

The incessant presence of a soft gravel ringing permeated his drug addled mind, gaining clarity and volume as time passed. The commotion was familiar, like lyrics to a song you can't remember the name of, and the copy ninja turned his head toward the noise but his uncoordinated body responded by giving a sharp inept twist instead. The awkward movement sent the elite toppling in the direction of the offending sound.

Landing in a huff on his side, he peeled open bloodshot eyes to observe the dark sniffing nose of a furry... cape warring... "... Pakkun?"

"Yo Boss."

"Maa." He croaked closing his eyes again.

The summons growled irritably, pressing his bull head against the jounins neck to shove him back into a slumped sitting position. "Boss we don't have time for this." The dog barked.

Righting himself Kakashi fought to keep the room from tilting and spinning, as well as to settle the angry contents of his stomach. Glaring lamely at two blurry Pakkuns he struggled to recall his current situation.

"Whats now?" He slurred dryly blinking in the darkness.

The Pakkuns sighed together and a third seemed to phase in and out of existence mirroring the movements of the other two. Sucking in a fresh gust of air the jounin focused on preventing his lunch from painting his loyal ninken.

"Iruka Sensei and you were on a diplomatic mission to Suna per request of Gaara. You were ambushed and both got a healthy dose of what appears to be P. 19."

The mention of an ANBU grade poison sobered the slouching elite considerably. Yet the tell-tail flash of true recognition still hadn't struck in so the summons continued.

"Chunnins don't carry the antidote to P.19. It's to expensive to be standard issue."

"Then where..." Kakashi began but froze at seeing the dread in Pakkuns expressively creased face. Hot panic spurned him into action clearing his seemingly inebriated thought process.

"Where is Iruka?" He demanded.

The ninkens droopy nervous eyes, uncharacteristically sad, spoke for him and directed the Jounin to the still form of the teacher, sprawled in a hump on the cold cave floor.

Toppling over several times Kakashi tried, through force of will alone, to command his wobbling limbs; bending and flopping disturbingly like loose bags of chunky blubber. A spike of frustration fueled his monomania as he stubbornly directed his useless body to drag him forward. The devastating reality of how helpless the situation was was quickly dispatched, slaughtered by the acute despair of a tormented lovers denial. But eventually he managed to reach the chunnin, who all along, simply lay next to him.

Years of training rushed to Kakashis aide as he touched the unconscious shinobe. Quickly composing himself he began to methodically conduct a rapid trauma assessment with the pedantic experienced detachment of a clear headed elite. Immediately Kakashi felt the hot throat for a pulse. Its usual rhythmic pounding now rapid and thready and just as concerning was the quiet yet labored breathing. The sensei wheezed out forcefully as his otherwise still body struggled to survive the poisons emphatic refusal to allow of the life giving oxygen into his lungs.

Kakashi dispassionately marveled at the capacity the human body had to endure as Irukas body heroically fought a losing battle against the toxic substance ringing the life from his failing system.

"I summoned Bisuke." Pakkun began. "He and I managed to get an A.12 patch on him and gave 1.5 epie to get his heart rate up."

"How far are we from the nearest trauma center?" He asked calmly.

"We are about 18 hours from Kohana and more than double that for Suna." The ninken replied with a professional eire. "Bisuke went to get help almost an hour ago." The dog held up a bandaged paw. "I would have gone myself but this ain't for cosmetics anymore."

Kakashi nodded as he looked at the bloodied paw of his summons. "Sorry Pakkun, I should have dispelled you."

'Na boss." He disagreed, drawing his attention toward the sensei. "I needed to be here."

A deep sting blossomed confidently in the growing hollow in Kakahsi chest, ushered in by the implication that Iruka had been in need of someone and he was not there. That Iruka had faced his mortality, had done it at his side and yet still alone.

"Lets move." He ordered, gainsaying the serious hopelessness of his bleak speculation. Pulling the non-responsive teacher close he made to stand but the attempt, no mater how valiant, only resulted in the Jounin collapsing once again, this time, face first atop the teacher.

"Boss, The Sensei-"

"His name is Iruka." Kakashi spat. His sudden livid correction, no doubt an obvious reference to the ninkens salient disdain for the dying man.

Undaunted the pug continued. "Iruka Sensei sedated you so he could force you to take the antidote." The small dog clarified with down cast eyes, refusing to meet the raw disbelieving pain in the lone dark eye. "He said he didn't want-"

"-No!" The ninken flinched at the frantic undertone of the growled command. "Don't you dare give me his last words." Kakashi chided in a burst of unbridled killing intent. His piqued anger riveted to the cowering pug. And like a petulant child the jounin dispelled the ninken without warning, rudely cutting short his overwrought yelp of protest.

Kakashi weakly pulled the pale sensei close, protectively cradling the limp teacher as his summons lingering echos reverberated in the lonely tube shaped cave, haunting him long after the puff of smoke settled.

Ignoring Pakkuns pragmatic rational, the jounin emotionally sequestered the growing tumult in his consciousness. He was a genius shinobi, a master of a thousand jutsues, a born legend, feared by nations as an ultimate weapon in defense of his home. But what good was it to be an elite genius if he couldn't use his skills to save his precious person? He had to find a way.

Kakashi scoured the extensive realm of his frightened and chaotic mind for any feasible Ideas. And like pearls found by a starving beggar, when he found one that held potential, he grasped a hold and road it to safety.

His plan of action formed tentatively, delicate but essential, like a web to a spider. And after some time he began to execute his design. He started by slowly maneuvering his still numb limbs to lay the sensei transverse across his chest. Supporting the sensei's lax body Kakashi conducted several strategically placed strands of chakra wire and tightly secured the teacher to his torso, prepped to be carried, bridal style.

Summoning his last reserves of strength to stand, Kakashi's body shook under the strain of hoisting the limp ninja into his arms. He pitched forward hobbling into a fiercely determined drunken like stagger. Deep in his buried subconscious something churned, undulating thickly, in attempt to force its existence to be acknowledged. It's mere anonymous presence made Kakashi sick, but he refused to confront what ever the dreadfully hopeless thought was. Gaining momentum the elite left the mouth of the cave and plunged into the forest towards home. 18 hours away.

Carding onward the Jounin couldn't help but reflect on his current situation. Irukas sacrifice for country and lover was something the young sensei was willing to give but Kakashi wasn't willing to except. It left him hollow. Pressing on he found himself somewhat grateful he didn't have enough strength to carry Iruka properly, because now he only needed to look down to see the slumbering teachers face.

but he wasn't just sleeping, was he?

Leaping forward with the finesse of a gennin, Kakashis surge of energy was quickly abating. Leaving him with a rapidly swelling sense of desperate abandon. He stroked the brunettes hair. Wishing against all reality the rich dark eyes would just open.

But if he was being realistic... there was no chance left to save Iruka. He almost heard an audible 'chink' sound as he felt his stomach drop.

He was going to loose Iruka.

Here and now in his arms slipping away from him, he found himself living the horrors of a thousand nightmares. But despite the multiple horrific carnations of his dreams: the stabbings, the drownings, the beheadings; in every version he still had one simple relief, he could wake up from those.

But this, this was permanent. He wasn't going to wake up, and neither was Iruka.

The unsettling stillness in the senseis pale face shone bright in ethereal moonlight. His once sun kissed glowing skin now declined to a dim ghastly complexion coated by a thin vale of shimmering sweat. His dark hair whipping wild in the wind, a harsh juxtaposition, accentuating his motionless. The sight evoking a memory to a long ago vow made at the foot of the stone memorial. The reminder flickering across his mind like a strobe light, taunting him. Once more he had failed to keep the ones he loved safe. Once more he had failed... Once more...

He gagged as he propelled himself to another branch.

As it stands he could not save Iruka... but perhaps someone else could.

He felt a chill as he pondered an option he somehow had already excepted. It was worth it for the chance, even if it meant loosing Iruka regardless.

He had to try.

"I am sorry Iruka." He hissed against the wind. "If this works please don't hate me for what I've done." He kissed the top of the brunets head without braking stride. "You're the best of me Iruka." He smiled sadly, eyes glossy. He knew full well how this would all end. But he didn't have time for goodbye. "If you ever wake from this please don't come looking for me. Remember the best of me was always with you." His voice broke. "I love you Iruka." He mourned, unwittingly choosing essentially the same last words his lover had.

Refusing to hold off any longer, Kakashi Hatake willing broke an invisible barrier all ANBU have. A cage keyed only to open by a porcelain mask.

He felt a familiar violent shift in power pull him back into himself, sucking him into a chasm of repression. His vulnerable mask-less state spurned on by a chill of primal panic and he instinctively thrashed out to keep from drowning. But the invitation was given and excepted, and the dog of war was let loose and overwhelmed him easily.

As a dark abyss descended, drawing him into an inescapable void without thoughts and dreams, a numbing stillness swiftly surrounded him. Immersing him into a stagnant non-life, a stale existence without use care or redemption. To hang suspended as nothingness behind a locked door without his porcelain key.

'I love you Iruka'

Chapter Text

Tsunade sat in her office quietly reviewing the funding request file from T/I, her mind numbing boredom spiking like a fever as she turned another dull page of the extensive report. Unconsciously she reached out to sip from her glass only to swipe at an empty space as she remembered how Shizune had diligently confiscated it 20 minutes ago. Grumbling the Hokages attention refocused to a cabinet behind her desk.

After a heart beat of silence she cautiously stretched out the tightly tethered strands of her chakra, testing to see if her hyper sensitive assistant was on the prowl.

Satisfied she could safely delve into her hidden stash Tsunade released a set of complicated wards and disabled the redundancy's to reveal a shimmering shield around a tall bottle of fine sake. Crouching into a precise position Tsunade enacted the counter jutsu to finally release her treasure.

Ever conscious of her surrounding the crafty kunoichi silently pored the forbidden liquid into a prepared glass. She inhaled deeply, victoriously savoring the substance. She had just kissed the lips of the glass when a loud crash shattered her reverie.

Dropping her drink, the leader of Kohana stood to witness the unusual arrival of the most iconic elite of her village.

Kakashi Hatake had just plowed through her office window, backwards, in attempt to shield his cargo from further injury. With the skill capable of his rank the elite flipped forward to land softly on his feet atop her desk, his grace and agility rivaling even the best streetwise nin cat. The cargo, an unconscious Kohana shinobi, never stirred from the trappings that bound the ninja to Kakashi's torso.

"Save him." The elite panted, releasing the chakra wire from around the pliant figure to guide the body to lay prone. A shuttered gasp slipping weakly from the sensei's blue lips at the new adjustment.

Throwing the doors of the office open Shizune smoothly entered to step between two puzzled ANBU, already investigating the unscheduled appointment.

Striking into the familiar efficient mode of a medical ninja; Tsunade began evaluating her patients cold body, tight in the hold of the poison induced muscle atrophy. Unprovoked, Kakashi started to deliver the customary succinct report apprising her of the Injured shinobi's condition.

"Kohana shinobi Umino Iruka, poisoned approximately 15 hours ago, suspected partial dose P.19. Pulse rate 76, breathing 5. Umino-san was then given the available patch version dose of P. 12. as well as a shot of epinephrine 1.5mg, delivered by nin-ken some time after poisoning. Additional dose was provided en route approximately 5 hours ago, also 1.5 epi. He has failed to regain consciousness for at least 14 hours."

Shouting orders the Hokage mobilized a team of medics to apply oxygen and begin stabilizing the chunin, as well as stop the eroding process of the sinsei's muscles by introducing the required A.19 into his blood stream. But the poison had been in his system along time. The damage was most likely irreversible, but for Kakashi's sake she would do all she could.

Looking up she spared a moment to evaluate the stationary Jounin, firm and still before his Hokage. She couldn't quite stem the tide of uncertainty that grew independent of he worry over the chunin. She didn't know what but something was off.

"Kakashi?" She asked cautiously, bathed in the cool glow of her immense healing chakra. But the Shinobi only stared at her in a chilly dark eyed silent calm. "Kakashi." She asserted more authoritatively in an attempt to brake him from his trance. But his gaze remained unnaturally impassive considering who she was working on. And like a candle lit in the dead of night she saw it. She recognized that look but had never associated it without a mask present.

"Hound." She tried timidly allowing for a brief twinge of hope she was wrong.

"Yes Hokage-sama." He replied stone faced.

All eyes briefly flashed to the aforementioned elite, to stare shocked into a face few Kage ever saw. The naked face of an unleashed ANBU. The room fell quiet. casting over in an icy chill as everyone realized the significance of those words. Kakashi was dead and in his place stood the ANBU known as Hound.

'When had this happened?' Tsunade shivered. 'surely braking into her office was something no ANBU would do. That had to be Kakashi. And ordering her to save a subordinate, that would have to be Kakashi as well.' His stoic demeanor never faltering as she openly appraised him, making one thing clear. If there was any chance of calling Kakashi back it was in saving Iruka.

"Damn." She swore feeling the impending checkmate of two of her shinobi. "Shizune, stay with him." She ordered as she signaled the three ANBU that formed a triangle around the small medical group. Flashing through signs they quickly transported to the hospital, leaving the hound and Hokage assistant alone in the large office.

"Hound-sama is there anything I can get you?" The aide asked picking up a bottle of sake from the Hokage's desk. She approached cautiously despite the fact that he was a loyal shinobi.

"... will he live." He inquired slowly in a strangely cautious tho mostly dispassionate tenor.

"Ahhh, we don't know yet. Its looking pretty bleak but he's made it this far, so that's a good sign." She rambled nervously toying with the open bottle in her hand. "How far away were you?"

"..."

"Is is there a way I can speak with Kakashi-san, Hound-sama?"

"Kakashi opened himself up for this." His words were firm and coated with the well trained authoritative desensitization Shizune would expect from an ANBU. It shouldn't have surprised her but it did, and she couldn't help but cringe in pity at the hollow callous sound.

"He is not the first ANBU to open the cage without a mask" he continued. "but those others did so out of necessity for a mission or self preservation." It didn't sound like a question but it was.

"Kakashi-san and Iruka-san," the medic began awkwardly, attempting to speak in unconvoluted emotional terms the ANBU could understand. "They love each other. They live together, depend on one another. They are bonded very closely, emotionally that is. It seams Kakashi-san's..." She fished around her thoughts for something the ANBU would be able to associate with. "Its possible that his parameters of self preservation also include saving Iruka sensei." Is an ANBU capable of understanding love?

"Why?" As shocking as it was to here a dispassionate ANBU voice from Kakashi; it was more startling to here a flicker of wariness cross the simple word of the ANBU.

"I don't understand Hound-sama, why? Why what?" she eagerly provoked. Perhaps a little bit of Kakashi still existed; flickering weakly like an ember on a cold night but still existing none the less.

"Iruka is a chunin. He acted appropriately by choosing to save the more valuable asset to the village. Kakashi should have excepted that and acted accordingly. Instead he foolishly opened the cage and took my place. And all so he could save a mere school teacher, who followed protocol and sacrificed himself in the first place."

"Your wrong." Shizune corrected gently. "Iruka-san is a loyal shinobi willing to lay down his life for the sake of the village but Iruka-san didn't save him because he was an elite. Iruka saved him because he was Kakashi."

It was as if something had physically struck the ANBU. The fathomless eye broke wide in surprise churning in confusion and something else...

"Iruka sacrificed himself to save Kakashi? Why?" he uttered half to himself.

"For the same reason Kakashi-san sacrificed himself to save Iruka-san. Because he loved him."

"Hound-sama? are you alright?" Shizune asked worriedly reaching casually but very cautiously for the alarm button just under the Hokage's desk.

The ANBU twitched at her words but his thoughts were obviously else where.

"Iruka sacrificed himself, not to save a superior but to save the person he loved?" he paused as if to taste the words on his lips. "And Kakashi sacrificed himself for the same reason?"

"Yes." came the kunoichi's simple answer. An answer he didn't need because somehow he already knew it was true. Hound shivered slightly as an odd warmth grew in the pit of his stomach. He had felt it as Kakashi past through him. The regret, pane, worry and love sinking deep in a black hole of repression. To spend the rest of his days in a coma.

"My apologies," with some effort he forced the shaky ANBU persona to solidify around him. "there is something that demands my attention."

"No wait, don't... Shi-." But the rest of Shizune's vulgarity was lost in the abrupt swirling remanence of his jutsu.

THREE HOURS LATER

The Hound didn't so much as twitch as he kept silent vigil over Iruka's unconscious body. He had decided to guard the young sensei on his own and he did so with the same intensity he would guarding an injured Hokage.

'The Chunin was weak.' the analytical ANBU thought. 'So fragile, gentle and kind.' Normally those traits would equate to worthlessness in his mind. But this time it was something else. Something the ANBU only recently figured out as he sifted through his and Kakashi's memories, trying to define the irritating, nagging desire to preserve the soft innocence of Iruka. To explain away the force that drove him wild and unhinged threw the office window to demand medical attention from his Hokage. To discern the significance of this persuasive new emotion; strong enough to feel instinctively binding, as powerful as an order from the leader of his village.

and finally he understood. He loved Iruka too. Even though he did so through Kakashi.

The ANBU watched the Chunin breath evenly in a tangle of blankets, Iv tubes and heart monitor wires. He savored how comfortable and at peace he looked. Because Hound knew, when Iruka awoke to find Kakashi gone the first he would feel would be pain. He would grieve for Kakashi. And Hound hated himself knowing he would cause that. The elite shivered, dreading the moment Iruka would look at him longingly pleading to find Kakashi. but find nothing in return.

He was not Kakashi, not completely anyway. And Iruka wanted, needed Kakashi. The ANBU smiled sadly, perhaps the first time in his life. He understood their sacrifice. And now it was time for his.

Taking a deep breath the heartless ANBU closed his eyes. Allowing himself to drift down into an internal pool, swimming into solitude. Down he sank into himself. Diving until he brushed against another consciousness.

.

..

...

"Kakashi." A soft voice whispered through a sleepy haze. "It's time to wake up. Iruka is waiting."

Chapter Text

"Enjoy the little things in life... one day you'll look back and realize they were the big things." -Anonymous

Last Words: Welcome Home

Over the course of several weeks Iruka had made drastic improvements in his recovery. This week he would be returning to his teaching. Something his students seemed to whole heartedly support. (if the amount of get well soon balloons and hand print painted cards, were any indication.)

he smiled to himself as he placed a large reference book back on its shelf.

"Ah Sensei?" a familiar gruff sounding voice cut through his miled revory. Turning, the sensei was surprised to discover Kakashi's pack, huddled together like his pre-gennin students during winter survival training. Pakkun, the ring leader, perched atop the wide head of the black bull dog cleverly named Bull.

"Can I help you?" He asked confused and concerned at the unexpected greeting. The now, awkward looking pack, had never excepted him. Only minding when Kakashi was around and resorting to being unashamedly belligerent when the jounin was gone... Tho it didn't really matter since they never stayed alone with Iruka for long. They could not stand him.

"Ah well we..." The alpha pug stated, shifting a bandaged paw.

"-We have something for you." Bisquet supplied helpfully, tho with no less trepidation. Ully, A lanky gray hound, fished out from behind Bull, a crumpled slobbered envelope. Waging his tale gently he presented it proudly enough to make Iruka wonder if it was filled with exploding tags.

"It's for you." The ninkin said shily, ducking his head slightly. The same sweetly penitent way Kakashi does when he's done something he knows he shouldn't.

Causisiouly, Iruka appraised the envelope. Its mangled appearance reminded Iruka of one of the worst reports Kakashi ever wrote. It made him smile warmly. An action the ninken seemed to misinterpret and they allowed themselves to relax a little.

Loosing patience Bisquit grumbled. "Come on Iruka, open it."

Arching an Eyebrow, Iruka couldn't help but note this was the first time any of the ninkin had dropped the honorifics.

Everso slowly, the suspicious sensei began to rip open the envelope and withdraw a, slightly less damp, card.

Opening it he discovered the folded page was littered with various size paw prints around the words 'welcome home'.

The unexpected gift made the senseis noses sting as he reflected on the endearing similarities to the cards from his class.

"Thank you." He said after a moment.

"We meant it sensei," Pakkun said solemnly. "Were glad your back home safe."

"Me too." He agreed to the hopefull pack.

"did I miss something?" Kakashi asked standing in the entryway, door still open.

"Your ninkin were just giving me a welcome home card." The chunin beamed as the pack seamed to shrink in embasement. The evil side of Iruka grinned wider at there discomfort. " welcome home yourself." he continued to smile as he made his way to his lover to give him a customary kiss greeting.

Kakashi inturn pulled him close. Iruka suspected it was as much a hug as it was to observe his pack behind him.

"I know you go back to teaching this week but I figured we could enjoy a nice relaxing movie night tonight. The jounin pulled a tape out from his vest. "romantic comedy, you're favorite." he teased.

Iruka smiled at the video. "Alright you convinced me, you put it in and I'll go get the popcorn." with a quick peck on the lips the two separated to complete their self-assigned missions.

From the kitchen, Iruka could here the low mumble of conversation but it was impossible to make out what was being said between the intermittent pops and the hum of the microwave.

Just before it beeped Iruka open the door and poured the full bag into a large green bowl. The puffy grains bouncing softly against each other.

After disposing of the bag in the trash, Iruka made his way to the living room with the large bowl.

Kakashi had sprawled out relaxed across the couch, his vest was gone and his mask was down. His long arm casually draped in silent invitation over the empty space at his side. Iruka's mouth drew up dry like an abandoned well. and Kakashi smiled cheekily, recognizing the dark glint of want in the chunins eye.

"we don't have to watch the movie." he offered with cheerfull smugness.

Iruka forced a mock scowl. "I already made popcorn. If you had other plans you should have said something before I went and waisted the bag." he plopped down in fake indignation at the jouinins side... nestling in comfortably to the space left just for him. Kakashi dropped his arm around him and tugged him closer.

"For a genious I certainly didn't think that through." he teased, his warm smile glowing with endearment before starting the movie.

The shinobi lapsed into comfortable silence munching occasionally on buttery curnals as the icha icha credits began. Subtly over the course of the movie, Iruka began to realize the ninken had casually shift closer. First Bull, curled up almost completely occupying the floor at the foot of the couch as Ulli made himself useful by acting as a space heater by forming himself snuggly around Iruka's cold feet. Soon (insert name here) was leaning against Kakashi taking up one arm rest of the sofa with (another name here) claiming it's twin on Irukas end. To Iruka, they resembled old fashioned book ends. by the time (god how many dogs does kakashi have?!) assumed the space at the top of the couch, allowing his front paw to dangle loosely resting on his shoulder. It was like an open invitation and the others all piled in.

Bisquit and (blank) quietly tucked themselves in the nook between Iruka's legs and the couch.

Whail Pakkun rested comfortably on Irukas side, Kakashi appeared not to have noticed but Iruka knew better. A gentle brush of his thumb at his neck both soothed his contemplation and answered his question.

He relaxed against them all. returning Kakashis soothing touch with one of his own... and for the first time since meeting the pack when he was introduced as Kakashis potential mate, he felt excepted.

Welcome home indeed, he thought smiling at Pakkuns puggy grunts of soft snoring. Iruka knew what this meant, and it wasn't tawdry like it was supposed to appear.

It had taken the greater part of two years of vetting his worth and loyalty and now, finally, he was welcome. Finally, he was a member of the pack.

Iruka snuggled closer to kakashi as the jounin rubbed his neck affectionately. All while pondering how wonderfull those last words sound.

He was home.