Author: Carcinya (Isolde on )
Keywords: Naruto Iruka past memories childhood
Rating: PG-13, might go up
Spoilers: Possible up to episode 80
Summary: "Words can sting like anything, but silence breaks the heart." Because the unspoken words often harm the most. Yaoi, light IruOC, KakaIru
Disclaimer: This story is based on situations and characters created and owned by Masashi Kishimoto, various publishers including but not limited to TV Tokyo. Nobuko, Zak, Jeren-sensei and the plot are mine. "Don't walk away" is Michael Jackson's. No money is being made and no copyright infringement intended.
Now, now, people. If Naruto was mine, do you really think I'd be sitting at my computer, sipping bad coffee, and writing bad fanfiction? Honestly.
Author's notes: I apologize in advance for any spelling or grammar mistake there might be in this story. I am French, and still only learning the beautiful language that is English. Besides, I don't have a beta-reader. Poor me. Any comments are welcome, but obviously flames will be used to roast marshmallows. Or flamers.
Kurenai-sensei was an Academy teacher before she became Jounin - we saw it in a flashback.
I was astonished by the number of reviews. I didn't expect more than five or so. Thank you all, I mean it.
This part is dedicated to Alex, even though he won't ever read this. I have forgiven you; I could never forget you.
Part 3/3: One more chance
Nobuko and Iruka receive their Chuunin vest without a smile.
Iruka glares at the thing with utmost hatred.
He walks around like a ghost. If his parents' death affected him, Zak's has broken him.
He has lost weight. He has lost sleep.
He has lost faith.
Nobuko, too, is very affected. Grief ravages her - but even she can't relate to the excruciating, frightening emptiness of Iruka's eyes.
The newly-promoted Chuunin radiates with a silent misery he doesn't bother to hide.
But he has yet to shed a tear.
And then comes the funeral.
Few people are attending the service. Nobuko, Jeren-sensei, Hokage-sama, and Konoha's elders, Naomi and her husband.
Zak's father is not there.
The Hokage begins Zak's elegy with calm reverence, his words laced with genuine sorrow.
Until he notices Iruka.
Shaking with barely controlled rage.
He walks to Sandaime, enraged and bleak and desperate.
"This isn't him," he croaks out, his voice raspy from misuse. "This isn't Zak."
"What kind of elegy is that? He wouldn't even have heard you!"
Understanding dawns in Sandaime's eyes. He steps aside.
Iruka kneels in front of the grave, shivering in spite of the heat. His vision blurs.
Biting his lip till it draws blood, he fights back the tears savagely.
Iruka proceeds through the esoteric, symbolic movements with a grace and subtlety only Zak could have rivaled, his sorrow almost frightening in its intensity.
His last offering to the deaf boy with a sweet smile who meant the world to him.
Iruka keeps everyone at arms' length. Nobuko especially.
The two drift apart slowly. It is not for want of love.
Between them stands the leaden shadow of Zak's absence.
And the weight of Iruka's heart.
For Iruka is consummated by guilt.
A guilt so strong, so deep - matching his grief - that it ravages his soul.
One day, Nobuko confronts him. Furious, as she always is when she hurts.
"What the hell is wrong with you?"
"What's wrong? You ask me what's wrong?" Iruka repeats, incredulous. "D'you even need to ask? Zak ..."
"No," she replies grimly, "this isn't about Zak. This is about you."
Iruka starts, looking for all the world like a child slapped for no reason it can understand.
"It wasn't your fault, Ru," she says tiredly, reverting to his childhood nickname.
A bitter, shaky laugh.
"Whose was it, then, pray tell? Who trained you both? Who decided? Who insisted on Zak entering the Chuunin exam? Me, me, me, me!" spits Iruka. Voice laced with a self-hatred so thick it almost chokes him.
"Do you even listen to yourself?" cries Nobuko angrily. "Death is part of life, Ru. Being a ninja means dealing and facing death. Don't you see? If there's someone to blame, that's Jeren-sensei!"
Nobuko cannot stop now.
"Do you know," she begins, angry tears streaming down her pale face, "do you know what Zak told me the day before he ... before the exam? He told me that he loved you, loved you more than anything. Because you listened. Because you were there, always. Don't you understand? You believed in him, you believed in us." A wan smile. "Even in me."
Her hand strays on Iruka's face, lifting up his chin to meet her mismatched gaze.
"Iruka," she murmurs, "my friend, my strange willful brother who always tries so hard... I always knew there was something between you two I had no part in. But even you can't follow him where he's gone now. He died as a ninja, just as he lived as a ninja. He wouldn't have wanted it another way. For Zak's sake, you have to accept it."
Iruka stands very still. He has not cried, never allowed himself to mourn Zak's death. But right now, the steel walls he placed around his heart are shattering.
Tears prick at the corners of his eyes. Stinging. His throat burns.
He slumps against the wall, breathing hitched and heavy.
Nobuko is by his side in the next instant.
"Let go, Ru, let go," she whispers, gently coaxing. "Just let go."
Iruka does just that.
Iruka, after months of hesitation, goes to Sandaime.
And reveals everything.
It is difficult to tell a father that his son is a monster.
But Iruka owes it to Zak. And Nobuko.
And maybe a little to himself, too.
Hokage-sama doesn't seem overly surprised. Merely tired and so, so very old.
Midwinter sees Jeren-sensei's trial.
He is charged with negligence, child abuse, and unintentional homicide.
The jury is unanimous.
Sandaime's eyes are bleak and pained and resolute as he utters his son's sentence.
Iruka cannot bring himself to rejoice. He has won, but no triumph can be seen in his brown eyes.
He feels empty.
Zak is dead, and so is Iruka's heart.
Iruka refuses savagely to celebrate his seventeenth birthday.
On May the 26th, he spends all day on the Hokages' carvings, watching the sky.
Wondering at the impudence of a world who goes on living when Zak does not.
What is life without a sense of purpose?
A meaningless succession of days and nights, devoid of meaning and leaden with emptiness.
Day. Night. Fight. Rest. Kill. Live.
Iruka's life comes down to those basic notions.
He has forgotten how to live without Zak.
He signs up for every single mission he can lay his hands on. Whatever the rank - it does not matter.
But nothing seems to quench his brazing thirst for revenge.
Revenge against life, against the world, against himself.
Hurting makes him feel real. Hurting the others, or himself - it does not matter.
Iruka cannot cope with such abiding pain, but anger, he can deal with.
And so he fights, everything, everyone - it does not matter.
Nobody dares approach him anymore.
Like a wild, wounded beast, Iruka keeps his distance. His vicious tongue and scathing wit see to that.
Nobuko is not afraid of him, though, has never been. But she has her own grief to handle.
Things have never been the same between them since Zak's death anyway.
Sandaime does not know what to do with him anymore. After a while, he even assigns him to A-ranked missions.
Iruka comes back bloody, battered - but successful, always - and paradoxically sated.
He finds no solace in killing and fighting.
But what else is there?
Iruka has forgotten.
There's courage in the small things, Iruka finds.
Iruka has met a brave boy.
Five, maybe six-year-old. Standing in a street, all dirt and bushy blonde hair and defiant gaze.
Smiling in spite of everything, in spite of everyone, in spite of the world.
Grinning like nothing could ever hurt him.
Just to prove he can.
Do what you want, his smile says. Go on. I'm better than that.
Iruka knows who the kid is.
He feels sad all the same. No kid should have to smile like that.
Then the boy turns around and looks at Iruka and Iruka almost chokes, because the kid's eyes are blue like the sky has not been since Zak's death.
He squashes an irrational urge to strike the boy, to claw at those crystal clear orbs until there's nothing left but blood and emptiness - just like what Iruka's life has become.
"Wattcha want?" the Kyuubi snaps, narrowing his eyes in sudden suspicion.
Iruka does not trust his voice to answer.
What does he want?
He wants to die.
What does he want?
He wants Zak back.
What does he want?
He wants to live.
But he has forgotten how.
"What do you want?" he asks instead, because he will not cry in front of a five-year-old boy.
The kid seems to consider that for a split second before his whole face lights up.
"Ramen! I want ramen."
"Ramen," he repeats stupidly. "You want ... ramen."
The boy nods.
"Ramen is life," he says sagely.
"Somehow I miss the analogy," mutters Iruka under his breath.
"I just ... don't really get it."
The Kyuubi shots him a sympathetic look.
Iruka heroically does not strangle him.
"Oh," the brat says. "You're just a grown-up after all -- it's not your fault."
Iruka pinches the bridge of his nose.
"Your point being?"
"Ramen is life," he says again. "Someone pays you a bowl, you eat it, you are happy."
Iruka nods vaguely.
"Then there's no ramen left, and you are sad."
Iruka rolls his eyes slightly, but does not interrupt.
"But," the kid adds with a shrug, "you know there'll be more ramen later. So it's okay. You can go on."
And then he smiles again, that slow, rich smile of his.
What an imp.
"What happens when you are not hungry?"
I'm discussing noodle philosophy with the Kyuubi. That's it, I'm completely off my rocker.
"I'm always hungry," the monster informs him happily.
If you could have refrained from eating my parents, though ... comes the vicious inward reply. But for once, he does not yield to the destructive anger.
"And if you broke your chopsticks?" he asks instead. "What then?"
"Then you'd just have to get another pair," shrugs the kid. "What's the big deal?"
"But it wouldn't be the same," blurts out Iruka with sudden despair.
"No," agrees the boy. "But they could be fine all the same."
Iruka swallows hard. If only he could breath ...
"Look," chides the brat. "You shouldn't get so upset over chopsticks. That's not healthy."
"What are you implying exactly?" asks Iruka, dark eyes narrowing.
"Well, ramen I could understand. But chopsticks? Honestly."
"You are insane," the Chuunin informs him, morbidly impressed.
"Are you going to buy me ramen now?"
"Scratch that. You're completely wacky. Why would I want to treat you to ramen, of all the people?"
Old habits die hard. Iruka regrets the hurtful words the moment they leave his mouth.
The kid looks faintly hurt and moves to turn away.
"Wait," Iruka calls after him, making up his mind in a split second. "Ever been to Ichiraku?"
"Na," the boy answers simply, "Way too expensive."
"Fancy a bowl?"
Iruka looks anywhere but at the kid.
A loud scream echoes in Konoha as the kid launches himself at the Chuunin.
"Say, say, could I get miso topping? Oooh, do you think they have green pepper?"
"Calm down, calm down! It's just ramen, for Hokage's sake!"
"But ramen is life," the brat reminds him with a knowing smile.
"Maybe," Iruka murmurs. "Maybe."
"My name is Naruto," says the kid suddenly as they walk down Konoha's streets to Ichiraku. "What's yours?"
"Iruka," the young man answers quietly, refusing to meet his eye. "Umino Iruka."
"Ah," says his companion as if it explained everything. "I heard the old geezer talking about you the other day."
"What did Hokage-sama say, pray tell?" questions Iruka curiously. He can't help stressing the honorific.
It feels almost like the good old time, when he was trying to teach Nobuko some manners.
"I want beef ramen and chicken ramen too."
"That's ... that's blackmail!" splutters Iruka.
The brat stares at him blankly.
"Nevermind," Iruka sighs. "All right, two bowls, but not one more, you hear me!"
Naruto's blue eyes widen to unbelievable proportions, before he lets out a tremendous, winning shout.
He beams up at the Chuunin with almost palpable happiness.
And, to his own surprise, Iruka finds himself smiling back.
To his express demand, Iruka has been assigned to the Academy as Kurenai-sensei's assistant.
Slowly, under her watchful eye, Iruka regains a measure of peace. He becomes less wild, less agitated.
His anger abates at last as time heals his wounds.
Iruka has found a purpose.
Kurenai-sensei says he has a way with children.
Sandaime says he has a way with people.
Iruka does not really know if that's true. He tries to do his best, he is himself, and that seems to be enough.
He's always loved teaching - sometimes, he even allows himself to think that he's good at it.
Besides, he knows how a prankster's mind works - Naruto hardly ever gets away unpunished anymore.
Curiously, the brat seems to like and respect him all the more for it.
The feeling is mutual.
Iruka remembers a time when he swore he would never love again.
And then, he remembers Naruto's eyes.
Iruka does not need another pair of chopsticks, he decides.
He's got Naruto.
For now, that's enough.
Iruka and Nobuko, a little awkwardly, decide to celebrate their birthdays together.
They eat a carrot cake, because none of them can bear the sight of a chocolate cake anymore.
From time to time, Nobuko glances at him nervously.
"It's not like you to be that silent," Iruka offers offhandedly after a while. "Just spill the beans already."
She draws a deep breath. Obviously bracing herself.
"I'm leaving," she says quietly.
"I'm leaving," she repeats slowly. "I've been assigned to Embers Outpost, near the western border."
"Did you have any say in that?" the young man asks, bristling.
"Yes," she says finally.
"And you're leaving."
Iruka seems to digest that.
Raises an eyebrow.
She smiles softly, suddenly a little sheepish.
"So maybe Mitsuaki's going too," she admits with a light chuckle.
"He's a little dumb," Iruka points out wryly.
"True," Nobuko replies smoothly. "But Gods, what a fine ass."
"You're quite the connoisseur," he nudges good-naturedly.
She winks impishly.
"Look who is talking."
Iruka blushes a little, laughs in genuine mirth, feeling better all of a sudden.
Because even dressed in formal ninja clothes, her hair carefully kept out of her face, looking for all the world like a serious, responsible grown-up, Nobuko will always be Nobuko.
"I will miss you, Ko," he whispers suddenly, engulfing her in a hug.
"Took you long enough, you moron," she mutters against the skin of his neck.
Like every year, Iruka goes to visit Zak.
He does not bring flowers, because flowers always die eventually, and he has seen enough death in his life as it is.
He just comes, and sits by the tombstone, and presses his cheek against the cool marble.
And watches the sky.
Death is part of life, Ru. Being a ninja means dealing and facing death.
Iruka understands now.
The hardest part of life is not dying. It is going on day after day, even when you seemingly have nothing to go on for.
Naruto has taught him that much.
Iruka does not resent the world anymore.
He just wishes Zak was there to enjoy it too.
But he is not, reminds him the tombstone.
What do we life for, Hokage-sama? Everyone I love, they're all gone...
People only ever die when they are forgotten, Iruka. We live to remember them.
Iruka goes on living.
Forever is just a word.
But Zak and him have eternity.
Present Time -
Iruka knelt very still. Lost in the painful caress of bittersweet memories. The pungent scent of the rain-drenched earth surrounded him.
In the mud, in the rain, Iruka flowed through the complex, sense-filled motions that told of things past, of sorrow and remorse, of love and regret.
He had done it so many times over the years.
Just not to forget.
He spoke wordlessly, and the marble tombstone listened in silence.
Behind him, a shadow watched. Stirred, and a little awed.
Iruka stilled at last.
"Do you miss them?" asked the shadow. "Your parents."
"Not really," replied the teacher.
"Then why are you here?"
A pained pause.
"To atone for my past mistakes," Iruka said quietly after a while, fingers stroking idly the carved kanas of Zak's name. "To remember."
A sharp intake of breath.
"Have you ever regretted, Kakashi-sensei," he began softly, "not telling a loved one how important he was, before it was too late?"
The Jounin did not answer. Single blue eye burning with a quiet, probing intensity.
Iruka held his gaze steadily.
Kakashi said nothing.
Iruka got up after a while, moved to turn away, confused by a diffuse feeling of regret he should not have been feeling.
A questioning glance.
"Fancy some ramen? My treat."
"Your treat?" Iruka looks pleasingly puzzled. "Naruto's going to have a field day."
"No," said Kakashi, patiently. "Not with Naruto."
A pointed look.
Iruka's eyes widened.
"Oh," came the intelligent reply. "You mean..."
Iruka stared at Kakashi, cheeks a little pink.
"So? What do you say?"
Flippant. Casual. Anxious.
"Maybe it's time to get another pair of chopsticks," he whispered, smiling.
"What was that?"
"Ah, uh, nothing, Kakashi-sensei" Iruka replied, fidgeting under Kakashi's scrutiny.
A quizzical glance.
"Wha.. Oh. Right. Lead the way, then, Just Kakashi."
"I see where Naruto got his sense of humor," said the Jounin, clearly amused.
"You're one to talk!" muttered Iruka, vividly remembering their altercation before the Chuunin exam.
Kakashi must have remembered too, because he promptly changed the subject.
"So, Iruka ..." He intentionally dropped the honorific, and let the sentence hanging until Iruka nodded. "How about Ichiraku?"
They headed back to the village without haste.
Either talking - Kakashi about Team Seven, Iruka about his class, both gossiping and chuckling like kids - or walking in companionable silence.
When Kakashi took his hand discreetly and intertwined their fingers together, Iruka let him.
Because, somehow, he had a feeling that Zak would have understood.
The end! Wooo!
Thanks to Kiasca, who drew incredible pictures of Team Twelve: http: kiasca. deviantart. com/ (minus the spaces)
Thanks to all the members of the KakaIru community on livejournal (Scarecrow x Dolphin Sex) and also to the members of the KakaIru mailing list on
Thanks to everyone who reviewed or read. I could never have gotten this far without you - I know it sounds corny, but the worse is, that's the truth!
But then, my whole life is quite corny these days, so I guess that's okay.