"So, can he cook?" Genma asked, wandering into the mission office.
"Why are you here?" Iruka asked, rubbing his eyes. "You don't work here. I know you have missions. You must have somewhere to go home to."
Genma grinned around his toothpick. "Everyone comes through here eventually. It's the perfect place to be."
Iruka sighed and gave into the inevitable. "Yes. He can cook."
"And you had fun last night?"
"Yes. We had fun."
"Not too much fun, I hope," Genma said, grinning again.
Iruka only glared at him.
Genma sobered. "All right, what's wrong?"
Iruka paused, not really sure if he wanted to share this. It seemed silly. "Everyone is taking this whole me liking men thing really well," he said finally. "I mean, this is a big realization for me. It's just so . . . so . . . anti-climactic."
Genma laughed. "That's because we already knew. Mizuki--"
"Yeah, I know," Iruka muttered. He stared down at the school forms, still vaguely annoyed.
Genma hopped onto the desk, leaning back on his hands. "Besides, he told us about both times."
"Both times?" Iruka squeaked. "There was only the once!"
"Mizuki said you were on a mission together--"
"That doesn't count," Iruka snapped. "We didn't get very far--" he stopped. Genma was laughing.
"And you didn't realize you liked men earlier?" the Special Jounin crowed.
Iruka folded his arms over his chest and glared at nothing.
Genma kept laughing. And laughing. And then he finally stopped, but when he looked at Iruka, he started laughing again.
Tsunade walked in the door and stopped dead. "Something funny?" she asked after a minute.
"Iruka--Iruka--he says he didn't know he was gay, even though he practically had sex with Mizuki in a tree--"
"We didn't practically have sex," Iruka ground out. His face was burning. He was going to kill someone. Mizuki had been a mistake. A really bad mistake, starting from the first day they'd met. He just hadn't realized it at the time.
"You practically had sex--" Genma laughed. "Mizuki told me in detail--"
Iruka stood up, grabbed his bags, and headed for the door. Tsunade was still watching them.
"--said the bark was really uncomfortable--"
"Can I help you, Tsunade-sama?" he asked politely, trying to ignore the fact that his face was nearly purple.
"--and Iruka says he didn't know--"
Tsunade handed him a satchel of mission scrolls. "If you'd hand these out to the appropriate people?"
He nodded and took them.
Tsunade looked at Genma, then back at Iruka. "You're gay?"
Iruka's lips thinned down to a line. "Apparently."
"He's seeing Kakashi," Genma managed.
Iruka turned to glare at the Special Jounin. He was sitting on the floor, holding his stomach, and when he looked at Iruka he started laughing again. "How could you not know?"
"What's going on?" Kurenai asked, pausing in the doorway.
"Nothing," Iruka ground out.
"We're watching Genma be hysterical over Iruka's apparent obliviousness," Tsunade said.
"I wasn't oblivious," Iruka said through clenched teeth. "I just didn't know I liked men."
"After having sex with Mizuki in a tree," Tsunade added.
"We didn't have sex!" Iruka shouted.
"Who?" Asuma asked, walking up and stopping beside Kurenai. "You and Kakashi?"
"You had sex with Kakashi?" Shizune asked.
This couldn't possibly get worse. Why was it, Iruka wondered, that people always arrived at the worst times? Like some sort of strange summoning technique. The slightest bit of gossip, and there were people everywhere. "I haven't had sex with anyone!" he yelled, frustrated.
"Guess dinner didn't go as well as it could have," Asuma murmured. Kurenai elbowed him, and Iruka gave her a grateful look.
"Not with anyone? He's a virgin?" someone--he thought it was Shizune--said quietly.
He couldn't win. He really couldn't. And with everyone crowding the hall, he couldn't even escape.
"Who's a virgin?" asked an overly familiar voice.
Iruka turned still redder and dropped his head. He was not even going to look up. He really, really wasn't.
"Iruka is," Tsunade said. "So be nice, Kakashi."
"Hey," he said calmly, "I wouldn't take advantage. Don't know why you assume I would . . ."
Iruka felt Kakashi stop in front of him. He still didn't look up. "Hi," he muttered.
"Iruka, you look sunburned again."
Iruka moved his eyes, but not his head, glaring up at Kakashi from under his brows.
Kakashi was looking into the mission office, though, at Genma, who was still on the floor. Kakashi sauntered in, and knelt in front of the other man. He looked back over his shoulder, single eye half-lidded. "Is he troubling you?"
"Just teasing," Iruka sighed.
Kakashi nodded. Then he looked back at Genma, who had stopped laughing (though not smirking) and said, "Remember that mission we were on, together? The one with Inuzuka Tsume? And her dog?" The last words were stressed, and Kakashi smiled brightly. "Remember that night--"
"Uh, yeah," Genma said, smirk gone. "Thanks. I remember." The toothpick flicked from one side to the other.
Kakashi nodded happily and stood. "Now--Tsunade? You asked to see me?"
Kakashi left the Hokage's office with his mission scroll in hand, and headed to the main office. He poked his head inside, where Genma was flipping through files.
"Iruka?" Kakashi asked.
"Went outside," Genma answered, without turning.
Kakashi nodded and headed out.
Iruka was sitting in the grass under a tree, stacks of paper around him held down by rocks.
"Yo," Kakashi said, stopping in front of the Chuunin.
Iruka looked up, lifting one hand to shade his eyes. He smiled. "Hello, Kakashi."
Kakashi put his hands in his pockets, unsure now what he should say. He felt he should say something. This hadn't been so hard the day before, when Iruka had gone to his apartment for dinner.
Iruka saved him. "Thank you for stopping Genma. I appreciated that."
Which only reminded him of overhearing that Iruka hadn't had sex, which he was trying not to think about. "You're welcome," he said, battling back the urge to say something that would make the younger man blush. It was just so funny to make people squirm. But he was trying to be charming. Or something like that.
They stared at each other a moment more.
"You have a mission?" Iruka asked finally.
Kakashi nodded. "I'll probably be gone a few days."
"All right. Be careful."
Kakashi's mind stopped, for just an instant. He couldn't remember the last time someone had told him to be careful. Rin, maybe. And before her--no one he could think of. "All right," he said finally. "I will."
Iruka just nodded and smiled, like he hadn't just said something shocking.
After a moment, Kakashi wandered away.
"What is wrong with you?" Genma asked, astounded and horrified.
Iruka hid his face. Looking back on it, sneaking into Genma's apartment and putting itching powder in his shaving cream really hadn't been the most mature thing to do. It had been something he would have done years ago. He just couldn't help it. After listening to Genma call him "virgin-boy" and "oblivious-man" for the last two days, it seemed only fair.
He glanced up at the Special Jounin. The man's jaw was bright red. Iruka smirked, then told himself he shouldn’t be laughing at another's pain, and returned to staring at his hands. "Sorry, Genma," he said contritely.
"No, you're not!" Genma yelped.
Iruka couldn't hide the smile this time, though he did smother it as quickly as he could.
"You are a truly sick individual, Iruka!" Genma said.
Iruka stared at the mission office doorway, wishing someone would come by. Maybe Tsunade could give him more work, or--
A small dog in a blue vest went racing by the door, a scroll clamped in its jaws.
Iruka frowned. That wasn't Akamaru, and the only other person he knew of that could summon dogs--
He stood and hurried to the doorway. The dog had vanished into the Hokage's office. A moment later, Tsunade opened the door, following the pug out. "Iruka," she said, stopping dead. The scroll was in her hand, her fist tight. "Get a medic. Follow Pakkun--he'll take you to Kakashi."
"Hurry up, kid," the dog said, and started to run.
He couldn't be hurt. He couldn't. Rumors said Sharingan Kakashi never got hurt.
The three of them ran through the forest, two men following a pug in ninja clothes. Pakkun had given them the basics; the scroll Kakashi had stolen contained plans for an attack on an allied village. The attackers realized he had it long before they should have, and while he managed to make it most of the way back, a group of them--a squad of twenty Chuunin--had caught up.
Kakashi wasn't dead. Beyond that, Pakkun couldn't be sure how he was doing.
Iruka ran, searching for signs of enemies as he kept up with the medic and the dog. They passed from shadow to light and back again, the forest dim even in mid-afternoon. The three of them were breathing hard, air rasping through lungs. Pakkun scratched the trees, sending leaves and bark and moss scattering down to the forest floor.
Ninja got hurt on missions all the time. Iruka repeated that, trying to make this real. But it couldn't be Kakashi. Kakashi was supposed to be invincible.
"Here!" Pakkun called, and with a flurry of claws and bark, he was up into an ancient tree. Boughs hung, darkening the interior, creating a perfect hiding place.
Iruka jumped, propelling himself up. He flew through a shaft of light, and then into the darkness of the canopy. Birds hushed at his passing, or darted quickly out of the way.
He nearly stepped on the body. Iruka tripped, caught himself, and knelt, eyes looking everywhere but at the man before him. No signs of the enemy.
The medic landed beside him. Put a hand on the Jounin.
The man lay on a branch on his stomach, curled slightly. He was breathing. Blood soaked his shirt, soaked the branch. The moss squelched.
Iruka's heart hammered into his throat. Silver hair. Silver hair that was normally bright and shining, and was now matted with blood. What he could see of Kakashi's face was smeared with it. Iruka tore his eyes away, straining to listen for sounds of pursuers, of anyone moving around below. His job was to keep them safe, and he couldn't do it while staring at the fallen Jounin. He couldn't do it if he panicked.
Iruka breathed carefully, trying to measure each one. Leaves twisted, turning long strands of ivy that hung down into the darkness. One of them glimmered red in the half-light, and Iruka looked away again.
"Nothing's broken," the medic said softly. "They got some fairly major veins, though he bandaged them before he passed out."
Relief shuddered through Iruka. Nothing broken. Blood loss. Blood loss could be bad, but--Kakashi was breathing.
"We have to get him to the hospital," the medic said. "I can't treat him here."
Iruka nodded, silent. "Take him. I'll watch for followers."
The Jounin had spent three hours in the operating room, while they repaired internal damage, stopped the bleeding, and transferred enough blood to keep his organs functioning.
Iruka waited through all of it, but not inside. He sat on a ledge around the building, peering in through a window. He couldn't stand hospitals. Not since he was a child. Not since his parents died.
So he sat on the ledge and peered in the window, and only when they put Kakashi in a normal room did he enter.
They let him see the other man almost immediately, but warned him Kakashi wouldn’t wake for another few hours. Possibly longer.
Iruka stood beside the bed, watching the slender chest rise and fall. The doctors had pulled the mask down far enough to expose his nose--or, more likely, they'd pulled it off but replaced it--and tubes threaded into him, bringing extra oxygen and who knew what else.
He was very small.
They were nearly the same height, but Kakashi--he looked like a strong breeze might blow him away.
Eventually, Iruka touched him. Just the back of his hand. To see that he was real.
He was cold. Iruka sat down on the edge of the bed, putting Kakashi's hand in both of his and rubbing.
Kakashi's hands were longer. Slender, almost bony, fingers stretched beyond Iruka's grip. His skin, normally pale, was now so white Iruka could easily make out blue veins threading underneath.
He tried hard to ignore it. Everything would be okay. Kakashi was fine. Just needed to rest.
Long ago . . .
"I don't want my son--"
"He's my son too, Li," Sakumo snapped.
Kakashi tried to sink smaller on the floor, tucked into the corner. He didn't want to hear this. He didn't want them to fight.
"Do you have any idea what will happen? He's only five!" his mother shouted, enraged.
"He's a genius! A genius unlike anyone has seen since the Sannin! You can't honestly expect him to wait until he's older--"
"I can wait," Kakashi offered, nearly trembling. "I can wait. I won't do anymore ninja things." He should have known not to do them in the house. He'd broken the lamp, and now everyone was so angry . . .
"Kakashi, why don't you go to your room for a little while," his mother said without looking at him.
"Please don't fight," Kakashi murmured. "I won't be a ninja until it's okay--"
"Kakashi," his father said softly. "Let us talk about this, all right?"
He wilted. "Yes, sir," he said quietly, and shuffled out of the room. He stood in the hall, though, listening.
"I do not want Kakashi to join the academy." It was his mother. She had to be angry about the lamp. He wanted to tell her that he wouldn't break anything else, but they'd asked him to go to his room . . .
"Why not?" his father said, sounding like he was hurt. "He's brilliant!"
"That's the problem, Sakumo. He's brilliant. Do you know what happens to brilliant ninja? They test out early. I was a Chuunin at ten. I wouldn't wish that on anyone, much less my own son. I won’t have it."
Kakashi curled down by the wall, hugging his knees. He hated it when people were angry. He could feel something in the air, pressing against him. It hurt.
When his father spoke, there was steel in his voice. "You're being ridiculous. He'll be fine. I've already enrolled him--"
"You did what? How could you do that? You know how I feel about this!"
"You were on a mission and enrollment was due. He's a genius, Li! He's going to learn whether you want him to or not! Better he learn at the academy, under someone's tutelage!"
"He'll have no one to talk to because he'll be too young, and he'll get hurt!"
Kakashi put his hands over his ears, hiding his face. He wished he were normal. Then they wouldn't fight. It was all his fault.
"He won't get hurt, he'll be at the acade--"
"And when he graduates? What then? What happens--"
Kakashi got up. The air was too heavy, and filled with color. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn't do anything, and it was all his fault. He ran out the door, into the yard, and heard behind him, "--I want my son to be safe!"
When Iruka saw Kakashi awake for the first time after a full day of unconsciousness, he couldn't hold back his smile.
The man had his mask all the way up again, and he was leaning heavily against the doorframe, talking to a nurse.
"You may not leave, Kakashi-san," the woman was saying, standing firmly in Kakashi's path. "You can go lay back down and stay there while you regain some strength."
"But there's nothing wrong with me," Kakashi said persuasively. "Really. I'm just a little tired."
Iruka paused, and then went in search of a doctor. It took a few minutes, and he had to wait while the man finished something, but eventually they were able to talk.
"How is Hatake Kakashi?" Iruka asked quietly. "If he's able to go home, he would rest better." From what he'd seen in the doorway, with Kakashi still so pale he was almost blue and looking like he could be knocked over by Pakkun, and yet still obviously determined to leave, Iruka had the impression that the Jounin wasn't going to stay peacefully.
The doctor sighed and cleaned his glasses before settling them back on his face. "Kakashi is weak. The blood loss was fairly extreme; we saved his organs, so there was mostly only minor damage, but his body needs time to replenish. He's going to be sleeping quite a bit over the next few days, even with his advanced chakra. Furthermore, I don't know if he'll be functional enough to take care of himself."
Just then, Kakashi walked past the door wearing a lab coat and pushing an empty gurney.
"Excuse me," Iruka said, stepping out of the little exam room they were in. He followed Kakashi for a few steps. "Going somewhere?"
Kakashi jumped, then turned and smiled sheepishly behind the mask. "Just, ah, for a walk."
Iruka stared at him, arms folded. "Why don't you come talk to the doctor with me," he said finally, taking Kakashi by the arms and steering him toward the exam room.
He was surprised when the ninja didn't fight him. He was frightened at how thin the man was, and his skin was cool to the touch.
"Doctor, could you please repeat what you said a moment ago?" Iruka asked, blocking the doorway, Kakashi in front of him.
The doctor repeated it.
Kakashi wouldn’t look at either of them. "So I'll go home and sleep," he said lazily. "I can refrain from doing anything else."
"And when you start sleeping through meals? Weakening because you aren't eating? Start showing warning signs but are too tired to make it back to the hospital?" the doctor asked.
"I'm not staying here," Kakashi grumbled. "There's no reason."
"Kakashi-san," the doctor said, sounding like it was only with great effort that he used the suffix, "you came very close to dying. We have to watch for internal bleeding, for any stitches that might be re-opened--"
"What if he stayed with me?" Iruka asked. His eyes widened when he heard what he'd just said. But he hated hospitals, and he couldn't blame Kakashi for wanting to leave, and that way--well, they were friends . . .
Kakashi was staring at him.
"If you're willing to change bandages, check for warning signs, and take care of him . . ." the doctor said dubiously.
"Mostly he needs rest, right?" Iruka asked, his mouth going dry. He wasn't sure what he was doing, but he couldn't seem to stop.
"I'm standing right here," Kakashi muttered.
Iruka and the doctor ignored him.
"He's going to sleep. He just needs someone to watch over him. Right?" Iruka asked again.
"Yes," the doctor said finally. "I suppose."
Iruka gave a weak smile. "I could do that."
"I want to go back to my apartment," Kakashi said sullenly.
The doctor turned to glare at him. "Here are your choices. You can either go with Iruka-san, or stay here."
Kakashi looked utterly mutinous. "I'd like to go back to my apartment," he said again, much more distinctly this time.
"You are not fit to stay by yourself," the doctor repeated.
"It's sleeping," Kakashi said, the normal indolent tones back. "I'm sure I can rest on my own."
"And feed yourself? And check your wounds? Change bandages?" the doctor asked.
Iruka reached out with one finger and pushed the slim man.
Kakashi's eye widened in surprise, and he had to take three steps before fetching up against the wall. "What was that for?" he asked, leaning.
"You're strong enough to take care of yourself?" Iruka asked.
Kakashi glared. Then he glared at the doctor. "I'll stay with Iruka," he muttered finally.
"I certainly don't need a babysitter," Kakashi was still protesting, nearly two hours later.
"I know," Iruka said, not for the first time, as he opened to the door to his apartment. "But humor the doctors." He glanced around the living room self-consciously, toe-ing off his sandals. It wasn't filthy, but it certainly wasn't like Kakashi's apartment.
Okay, it was filthy. Kakashi went in past him, pausing to stand beside the couch. Iruka hurried to close the door, then grabbed laundry off of the pull-out.
Kakashi folded down onto it even before the clothes were entirely out of the way. "I don't need someone to look after me. I've changed my own bandages."
"Do you need anything from your apartment?" Iruka asked, ignoring Kakashi's statement and quickly tidying.
Kakashi leaned against the arm. "No. Nothing. Maybe clothes. Later."
Iruka only nodded. "Well, let me get you some food, and change your bandages, and then if you want to nap . . ."
"I don't need to nap," Kakashi muttered, peering around. "I'm fine."
Iruka did his best to ignore the sulky tone. "Right," he said. "Let me just go get some bandages." He took his armload of clothes into the bedroom, shoving them into the hamper.
His apartment was only slightly bigger than Kakashi's; still, he had a separate bedroom and living room. There was a linen closet between them, and he dug through it quickly, looking for sheets and blankets. "You'll have to sleep on the couch," Iruka called. "I mean, you can use my futon during the day if you like, but I’m just not nice enough to give it up at night." There was no response from the other room. He hurried into the bathroom, grabbing gauze pads and medical tape. He hesitated, then picked up a container of salve, too. "We'll get you settled, and I'll head to your place to get you a change of clothes," he said, coming back into the living room.
Kakashi had fallen asleep, curled into a ball in the corner of the couch. His head was pillowed on the arm, his mouth slightly open.
"Or, you can nap first," Iruka said softly, shaking his head with a smile. He draped the blanket over Kakashi, and went into the kitchen to fix dinner.