by Nezuko, Prince of Rats

This is a work of derivative fiction based on "Naruto" by Kishimoto Masashi. The characters and the world in which they live are the property of Kishimoto-sensei.

Chapter 1: "Never Let Your Comrades Suffer"

Iruka's eyes snapped open at the sound - did he really hear it? - of someone moving nearby. The room was dark, a clouded, moonless sky offering indigo gloom through the shuttered window. The only source of light was the feebly glowing digital clockface: 2:21 AM. He held his breath and lay as still as stone, straining to hear any noise other than his own rapidly beating heart.

Almost imperceptibly, the slithering hiss of moving cloth came to his ears, then the sound of slightly labored breathing. He tensed every muscle, prepared to attack or defend himself from the intruder. Scarred, whitened knuckles wrapped around the shaft of a kunai under his pillow. A sudden beam of dim light fell across the foot of the bed as the door slid noiselessly open; half-gloved fingers gripped the light wood frame, pushing it slowly, carefully.

"Hell, woke you up. Was tryin' to be so quiet, too." A warm, husky whisper came from the intruder as he stepped into the room.

Iruka let out a sigh and dropped the kunai. "Okaeri nasai, Kakashi-kun."

"Tadaima," the silver-haired ninja tardily half-whispered in reply.

"Mission over?" Iruka sat up a little and watched as Kakashi slid the bedroom door shut again, leaving only his lithe shadow to cross the room. The shadow came near, moving with less grace than usual; Iruka heard the faint clink of metal plates as Kakashi's gloves and hitai-ate dropped to the ground, the rustle of high-tech fabric when his uniform vest followed suit.

"Yeah... Tired..." Still in shirt and pants, the tall jounin dropped heavily to the bed, grunting and a little out of breath as he eased next to Iruka's warm body.

"Ai! You're cold, Kashi!" Iruka flinched away involuntarily from Kakashi's chilled skin.

"Unh... s'cold out... rain..." Kakashi mumbled, rolling onto his side, his back to his bedmate.

"What's wrong with you?" Iruka demanded. "You're slurring. Did you go out drinking with Genma or something after your mission?"

"S'alright... sleepy, Ru..ka..." Kakashi was already halfway out.

'Damn, there's no point in talking to him when he's like this.' Iruka thought as he pulled the covers over the two of them. 'Damn Genma! I'm sure it was a bad mission for them, and Kami-sama knows I'm glad they're home safe, but you'd think they'd have enough sense to know not to drink when they're so wiped out. They can celebrate or blow off steam or whatever after they get some decent food and a solid night's sleep.'

He sighed and draped an arm over Kakashi's side, feeling the damp fabric of his shirt clinging to his belly. 'Guess it really was raining. He's gonna be sorry tomorrow that he slept in wet clothes.' He considered briefly getting back up to wrestle the groggy jounin out of his wet things and into dry pajamas, but dismissed the idea. Too much work, and he was too tired. He had to get up in the morning even if it was a Sunday - he'd promised to take Naruto out for waffles, and the gods only knew how early that hell-raiser was going to turn up. It wouldn't kill Kakashi to sleep in wet clothes. Maybe teach him a lesson about getting plastered after a mission. Dropping off to sleep, Iruka failed to notice one salient fact: Kakashi did not smell of sake.


The alarm clock chirped brightly awake at 5:45, just as it had been set. Iruka slammed a fist out from under the covers and bashed the offending timepiece into silence. Just five minutes more, was that too much to ask? He started to close his eyes again, when a muffled snore came from the unconscious jounin beside him. 'Damn, Kakashi's snoring? He must have really tied one on last night.'

Giving up on the idea of dozing, Iruka sat up, pushing the covers away and sliding his feet into his waiting slippers. He stood and stretched, soft light from a sunrise hidden by clouds filtering through the window and illuminating his bronze torso with its network of brown and white scars, a mute testament to the violence of his profession. He glanced at himself in the mirror, then at the sleeping form all but hidden under quilts. 'I just look worse because my skin's so dark. Poor Kashi-kun's really the one with scars in this house.'

Iruka pulled his long brown hair into a high ponytail, the coarse strands standing out stiffly in a spiky pompon. He grinned goofily at his scarred face in the mirror, in a good mood despite the early hour and his interrupted sleep. He was glad to have Kakashi home again - he hated the waiting and worrying while the jounin was away, especially because he knew exactly what sorts of missions his lover was out on, even if he didn't know the details. Working the Mission Assignment Desk had its advantages, if you could call them that. Sometimes, he thought, he might be happier not knowing that Kakashi was out on A-ranked missions or covert ANBU detail. Not that it wouldn't be obvious anyway, though. A shinobi of Kakashi's rank and skill wasn't going to get simple, safe assignments when he wasn't running training missions with a genin team.

Hooking his thumbs into the waistband of his maroon sweatpants, Iruka stepped into the bathroom, but stopped short, wrinkling his nose at the sight that greeted him. It was cleaned up, and the evidence was subtle, but it looked like Kakashi had been sick. 'Wow, wonder how I managed to sleep through that.' he thought. 'I'm seriously going to have a talk with him and Genma later today.'

After his morning ablutions, Iruka headed for the kitchen. He glanced at the clock - 6:15 - still a bit of time before Naruto showed up, and he guessed Kakashi would probably sleep late. He had just poured himself a glass of grapefruit juice when he noticed the red splash on the golden-brown tiles of his kitchen floor. 'Is that... blood?' he thought with alarm. A second drop led towards the kitchen doorway. Looking down intently now, juice forgotten, Iruka's alert distress grew. A trail of crimson droplets traced a path backwards to the entryway, where a larger dried pool stained the tiles in exactly the place someone would have stood while removing his shoes. He slid back the lock and jerked open the front door, where he was appalled to see another small pool of burgundy on the front step, and on the path to the door a larger one of blood-tinged vomit.

Slamming the door shut he raced back into the house, following the trail of brick red drops and smears from kitchen into bathroom, from there to the bedroom door.

"Kakashi?" he shouted. "Kakashi, are you alright?" he slid the door open so hard it bounced in its frame and skittered partway back.

"Kakashi! Answer me!" Iruka's voice was shrill, his heart racing. He flung the blankets off the bed, looked down to see Kakashi's still body stretched out on his side, unmoved from the position he had fallen into the night before. His dark blue uniform shirt was soaked black over his abdomen, the bedding under him a brilliant vermillion.

"Dammit! Wake up! Kakashi!" Iruka turned the unconscious man onto his back, shaking his shoulders. The mask he had slept in was pulled partway down, exposing his nose and unnaturally white lips. A red strand of bloody saliva trailed from the corner of his mouth. Iruka put his hand behind the man's head to lift it onto the pillow, shuddering when he encountered a sticky wetness in the silver hair. He could feel a deformed lump where some blunt object had cracked the back of the jounin's skull. Placing Kakashi's head as gently on the pillow as he could, he pulled his hand away and stared at the grotesque crimson lining the creases of his palm.


Outside, a grinning blond ninja in an orange and black jacket was just arriving at Iruka's doorstep. "Eeww! Someone was sick last night!" The mischievous 16-year-old chuckled, somehow completely overlooking the blood and seeing only evidence of overindulgence.

He pounded on the door. "Open up Iruka-sensei! I don't care if you are hung over, you're still taking me out for waffles!"

When there was no answer he knocked again, "Yo! Sensei! Time to get up! Are you here?" He waited a moment, then tried the door. Surprised to find it unlocked, Naruto stepped in, calling a little more quietly, "Iruka-sensei?"

He was about to remove his shoes when he noticed the blood on the floor. "Uh, Iruka-sensei? Where are you? You OK?" Naruto's voice was reedy with worry now, the jovial, teasing tone gone without a trace. Not bothering to take off his sandals, he dashed inside, eyes and feet following the bloody trail through the small house. He stopped in shock when he reached the bedroom, staring through the open door at his sensei's half-naked form kneeling on the far side of the bed, bent over the uniformed body of another shinobi.

"Iruka-sensei? Are you alright? Is that... Kakashi-sensei?" he entered the room, wide blue eyes taking in the disturbing scene. Iruka looked unhurt, though his face was tight and clouded, but Kakashi... He was covered in blood and completely out of it. Iruka was pressing a blood-soaked towel to Kakashi's abdomen.

"Iruka-sensei, what happened?" The blond reached his two teachers just as Iruka turned to face him.

"I don't know. I don't know!" Iruka's voice was sharp. "He came home from a mission last night and I thought he had just gotten drunk with Genma but this morning I found him like this."

"Whoa, hang on, sensei." Naruto looked confused. "Home? Does Kakashi-sensei live with you? And what does Genma-san have to do with this?"

"What does that matter?" Iruka sounded angry. "Yes. He lives here. Now help me!"

"Right. OK." Naruto waited for Iruka to tell him what help he needed, deciding to just let his confusion ride for the moment. He looked at the dark-haired chuunin expectantly.

Kakashi coughed wetly, his eyes cracking open, drawing the attention of both men. His mismatched pupils gazed unfocusedly at Iruka's face. "I... ru... kh?"

"Shh, yes. I'm here." Iruka's voice was trembling with relief. He pulled the injured jounin's upper body into his lap and bent and kissed his forehead. "Thank the gods you're alive!"

Kakashi moaned as he was moved, his face contorting into a mask of pain.

"Naruto," Iruka commanded, "help me get him into a better position."

When Naruto didn't respond right away, Iruka explained, "He's taken a blade in the gut, and he's got a nasty-looking head injury. We need to turn him onto his side so if he vomits again he won't choke."

"Uh huh," Naruto nodded a little numbly. 'This is bad,' he thought, 'This is really, really bad. How in the seven hells did someone as good as Kakashi get this hurt? And what was Iruka-sensei saying about Genma? Did Genma do this?'

Student and teacher rolled the injured ninja as gently as they could, Iruka sitting next to him on the bed. He cradled the jounin's head and shoulders in his lap, and resumed pressing the towel to his belly. Kakashi's eyes had closed again, but his panting breaths told them he was still awake.

"Go get me another towel from the bathroom, Naruto." Iruka directed.

When Naruto returned, Iruka cast the old, bloodied towel to the floor, placing the fresh piece of folded cloth over the wound. He was greatly relieved to see that the bleeding had slowed considerably.

"Here, I brought a damp cloth, too," Naruto said. Without waiting for direction, he eased Kakashi's mask the rest of the way off his face, pausing for only a second when the jounin tried to push his hand away.

"Sorry, Kakashi-sensei. This is more important than your secret fish-lips. 'Never let your comrades suffer,' right?" He smiled an almost-cheery smile at Kakashi, who's eyes had opened when he heard his own teaching quoted back to him.

The injured man gave a half-smile-half grimace back. "Heh... Now you know... the truth..." he coughed and blood bubbled around his lips.

"I can't believe you can joke around when you're this sick!" Iruka stared at the two of them, while Naruto gently wiped his senior sensei's mouth. The blond looked up at Iruka, an anxious question in his eyes.

"Better to laugh... than... c-cry..." Kakashi choked on the last word, sending worried looks across both attendants' faces.

"Hush, Kakashi! Stop trying to talk!" Iruka took the cool cloth from Naruto's hand and wiped the palid, sweating face himself. "Naruto, go get Tsunade." When Naruto hesitated for a fraction of a second, Iruka roared, "Now!"

As soon as Naruto had left the house, slamming the door behind him, Kakashi groaned and shivered, his stoic facade dropping away like a burning roof collapsing in a fire. "Hurts, Ruka."

"Shh, I know. Don't talk, Kashi." He bent his head and gently kissed his lover's cheek, his eyes blurred with tears.

ooo ooo ooo

Japanese Phrases

Okaeri nasai Welcome home, usually said in response to "Tadaima"

Tadaima I'm home, usually said upon entering the home when returning

ooo ooo ooo

Author's Notes

For further explanations of this world and its people, see the appendix to the prologue of my story, It's Nothing

Why am I writing this instead of working on the next chapter of It's Nothing? Well, this all came to me in a dream and I had to write it down before it evaporated. I promise I'll work on both of these stories. As for why I seem to have it in for Kakashi, I don't. He's my favorite character. He's tough, he can take it...

As usual, feedback and reviews are greatly appreciated. I mean it. Be specific about what you like and don't like, it helps me develop as a writer.