A team had been brought in to remove Kakashi and Iruka's bodies. They stood around, looking at Sakura and Gai uncomfortably as they waited for Tsunade to arrive. They didn't have to wait long. She stormed into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her, and screamed at the lifeless forms on the bed.

"Damn you Hatake! Why the hell didn't you talk to me before you went this far? Just standing there half-asleep behind that stupid mask, then accepting whatever orders you were given. How could I have known that you felt this strongly? I never should have come back here. That's why I left Konoha in the first place, stupid ninja codes and people you love dying because of them. And you took Umino-sensei with you. You stupid stupid… "

She raised a hand over Kakashi's ashen face, to either slap him or caress him. It looked as if she hadn't decided which. Then she froze.

"Shut up, all of you, and keep still."

Sakura focussed her finely trained attention on the bodies on the bed. They were starting to get cold, with no heartbeats and no breathing. But there was something else missing too, a slow release of energy that she knew she should be able to detect. The energy every dead creature released in the first hours after death as the cells' chemical factories shut down. They weren't alive but maybe they weren't really dead either. It was distantly familiar.

"Well what are the odds, temporary death. They didn't use enough poison or the stuff they had was old and getting weak."

"I've seen it before." Sakura whispered. "Five years ago in the wave country. There was a boy… Do you think Kakashi-sensei could have…?"

Tsunade shook her head. "It's not a jutsu, it can't be copied. Takes either tremendous skill or phenomenal dumb luck. Don't fool yourself, he intended for them both to die." She glared at the chuunins who had come to collect the bodies. "Well what are you waiting for? Get them into hospital and on some life support."

Although he was the weaker man in every conventional sense, Iruka must have had the stronger constitution, because he revived first. As his mind and body slowly started to function, he was aware of only one thing. There was something he needed, something that should be there and that was not. But he could just feel it, not too far away. He staggered out of bed and homed in on the familiar chakra, then settled in beside it and sank into unconsciousness.

A nurse found him in Kakashi's bed an hour later and had him moved back. When Tsunade came to see him that evening they were getting ready to move him for the third time.

"The hell with it, leave him there." She said. "It's probably just as well to let Hatake see him when he wakes up, if he wakes up. Who knows what he might try otherwise." She looked around at the medical equipment in the room. "Anything can be a weapon in his hands."

It was another twelve hours before Kakashi woke up, and when he did he knew that he was in paradise. It was everything he had hoped for, he was in bed and he could feel Iruka curled against him, breathing softly onto his chest. But he had expected the beds in paradise to be more comfortable.

As his eyes came into focus he saw the heart monitor by the bed and the IV line running into his arm. Dammit they'd survived. Someone must have found them in time and given them an antidote. If only he hadn't given in to Iruka's squeamishness. There was no antidote to what he could do with a blade. Well there was nothing he could do right now. His occasional overuse of his sharigan had made him familiar with this kind of bone-aching weakness. And he had immediately picked up on the ANBU guard, as silent as a ghost, outside the room. A suicide watch. He wound his arms around Iruka protectively, he would just have to wait and play the hand that he was dealt.

Sakura and Gai were allowed to see them the following day. It was a strained reunion. Iruka was able to sit propped up with Kakashi pulled limply onto his lap, his face mostly covered by the sheet. The other two sat in chairs by the bedside, feeling like bystanders to the central drama in their own lives.

"So, one more thing that my father did better than me." The copy nin said. Someone had to say something.

Sakura looked at her husband hiding his face from her. It was as if their whole sham of a marriage had never existed. "Hokage –sama said that you should be able to go home soon. There're really nothing wrong with you now except…" She glanced towards the hallway and the dark figure they all knew was loitering there. "You won't will you?"

"That depends on what she does." It was Iruka who spoke. "We don't want to die, but we can't live…" He glanced down at the blue eye staring up at him, surprisingly softly. "We can't live the way she wants."

He looked over at the Green Beast, who was staring at the floor very hard. "I'm sorry Gai, you're really sweet and I really do like you but…"

"I know, the challenge was just a trick so that I would take care of you."

"You knew that all along?"

"It's not bad to be manipulated as long as you know of the manipulations. A strong man can use it as a powerful tool to become stronger still, to surpass himself."

When they left Iruka noticed that Gai's arm was around Sakura's slender waist. Maybe something good could come from this after all.

Iruka snuggled down next to the man beside him. The bed was narrow and they were forced to lie pressed close together, but neither of them would have it any other way. He kissed his mouth gently, just because it was there and he could. "So where do we go from here Kakashi? Do you think we can go back to the way things were?"

"No one can ever go back Iruka."

"Quite right Hatake. I haven't given up on you yet." Tsunade was standing in the doorway

Kakashi's exposed eye took on a very wary expression. "Do you still want me to have children?"

Tsunade sat in one of the chairs by the bed. "Yes and no. Did you ever hear of cuckoos Hatake?"

"You mean like in the clocks? They're birds aren't they?"

"Yes but we don't get them in our forest, they nest closer to the plains and the mountains. Of course they don't actually nest at all. They don't build nests like other birds, instead they lay their eggs in other bird's nests and the adoptive parent birds feed them and raise them as their own. But they are so big and so demanding that the poor parents can't raise any of their own chicks at the same time. In fact the cuckoo can be many times bigger and stronger than the birds raising it so that by the time it's grown it has completely exhausted them, used them up."

The teacher side of Iruka couldn't resist commenting. "But that doesn't make any sense Hokage-sama. That kind of thing doesn't happen in nature. Natural selection would favour birds that learn to get rid of the cuckoo babies and they would all die out."

"You'd think so. But a full grown cuckoo looks just like a hawk when its flying and hawks are territorial. So having cuckoos in an area stops hawks from moving in just as effectively as another hawk would. That protects all the other little birds. So you see it's to their advantage to have cuckoos, even though the particular birds raising them pay such a high price."

Kakashi narrowed his eye lazily. "So some parents sacrifice themselves to protect the rest of the community. Well that's… er, fascinating, but what does it have to do with me?"

Tsunade snorted. "I've decided that you can have cuckoo children Hatake, since you'd rather die than raise a brood of hawks of your own."

"Hmm, the parents raising them, would they know that they are cuckoos?"

Tsunade flicked back the sheet and looked into both of his eyes. "Not necessarily, although it would only be fair to make it clear that they aren't sparrows, and are likely to be particularly… demanding. The parents would have to be carefully selected, and since they are Konoha people, I expect some of them would guess. Maybe some will even succeed in raising hawks."

She signalled to a dark haired woman standing unnoticed on the far side of the room. Shizune set an orange book and a paper cup down on the table beside the bed.

Tsunade smirked at him. "Whenever you feel up to it Hatake. You can take Umino with you if you like, just don't get carried away and spill it."

The two women left, one the shadow of the other. Kakashi reached for the book and started to flick through it. "Volume three, good choice, I gave mine to Gai. So I'm to be the father of all cuckoos."

Holding the book in one hand he ran a finger down the page to a favourite passage. While under the bed covers he ran his other hand down the torso of his favourite chuunin teacher. "I think we can both live with that."


So there it is, the final end end. Hope you had fun.-Tampopo.