It's summer and the streets are filled with dust and laughter. Iruka wanders amidst the happy chaos, a pocket of ragged control tied up and bound with good cheer. He smiles and nods and walks the groove of routine that keeps the hate burning and the anger stoked and speaks the words that turn them both to normalcy. He has things to do, a life to lead, children to teach, and there are so many who need the opportunity to start life knowing more than cold steel and a killer's will. Iruka can give them this as penance for what never was. He can save all those that no-one else thinks to notice.
That summer, in a flash of neon orange and vibrant, startling blue, someone saves him.
He knows he shouldn't do this, but knowing and doing are two very different things. And he can afford it. It's not so much after all, just one small boy to whom the attention of another and a bowl of ramen mean everything. Two bowls maybe.
They are both fortunate to have found each other and Iruka slurps noodles and thanks the spirits that they revealed this marvel to him. He's blessed these days and he knows it.
It becomes a happy routine. Sakura reads his books, Naruto tells tall tales of his future as Hokage and Sasuke sits silent, (unmoving, but not cold) listening for an opportunity to belittle. They're wonderful. The best thing Iruka's had in a very long time. Warm, comforting as long as he doesn't think too deeply or let his mind stray to anything except the here and the now. As long as he lives in denial. It's not hard, he has lived his whole life wrapped in illusions, inner and outer. After all, he's a shinobi isn't he?
They're all flawed and dependent upon each other though god forbid anyone ever mention it. They're family, though none of them would ever admit to it and no outsider would ever dare allude to the fact. They're lucky, too lucky and nothing can break them.
Hatake Kakashi happens in the same month that Sasuke leaves. He's pain and self-loathing and despair, all wrapped up in one furious, fucked-up ball and Iruka takes him in because that's what Iruka does. Because Iruka is lucky, too lucky. Lucky enough to have luck to spare for all the other unlucky people too.
During the day Kakashi is quiet and distant, polite and collected, reading his porn on the rooftops or coldly, efficiently, running a mission. At night he's grey eye and red, tufted white hair that Iruka can tangle his fingers in and hard, shivering muscles that flinch beneath Iruka's fingers.
It's a routine. Almost the same except less two.
So not the same at all really.
Time passes and a new routine is born. Iruka adjusts to it because that's what he does. It's not so hard after all. Quieter without Naruto's furious good cheer, and Sasuke's biting sarcasm, and the texts that Sakura reads these days are far beyond anything Iruka can offer her. Still. He has Kakashi, late and sardonic and stinking of dog after every mission, but constant nonetheless.
It's a good thing too, these days it's like a storm waiting to break, hovering around Konoha on dark, invisible wings. Tension is hidden, but high. The chuunin looks to the sky and prepares for rain.
They bring his body back together, all three of them walking a line into town at the height of summer. Sakura leads and Kakashi follows and between them are Sasuke and Naruto, one cradled in the other's arms.
It doesn't matter to whom the blood belongs; dark, ruby droplets that sink into the dust of the road and turn black in the sun. It's the lifeblood of his family pouring away into the dirt like the luck that has run out for them.
Iruka watches from the rooftops and waits for the storm to break.
He knows from the tilt of the other's head that it is over. He knows long before the pale eyes meet his, flat and dead with that unlife the other man reserves for situations such as this. For all those times that emotion is a burden and nothing but a hollow, soulless emptiness will suffice.
The chuunin can sympathise with that. Right now he feels nothing; not even the anger that usually rises unbidden can save him. Kakashi doesn't touch him as he leaves and he is gone so swiftly that his shadow barely touches the doorway.
Iruka touches cold fingers to his forehead and strokes away fading memories.
Life goes on and Iruka flows with it.
His harmony is gone and his family, careful and noncommittal and deeply, fiercely loyal as it was, has faded to a background hum. So gentle and bare that he fears to touch it lest he break the fragile bonds that still remain.
Iruka drifts and drifting comes to rest against another. This one notices him before he realises there's anyone there and quietly, unobtrusively, reaches out an arm to brace him against the flow before it washes him away. Iruka's caught before he knows it and before the other can realise what he has done.
It's a fortunate rescue.
It's silent on the rooftop.
He likes it up here these days; the peace and the quiet lets him think. There's someone else with him, sitting at his back, one shoulder resting against him. There is a book in the other's hands and a pen between his teeth. If Iruka closes his eyes and pretends-
He's not so good at pretending these days though. He's getting too old and the illusions don't bear up so well anymore. The man with him laughs and a lock of his scruffy hair falls over Iruka's shoulder. The chuunin picks at it absently, rolling the strands between his fingers.
Almost, it's enough to stir up memory. Compare and contrast. White on white, the eyes are the wrong colour and the voice is off, but the dark humour is there and even if it's the writer now rather than the reader, at the end of the day, what's the difference really?
He sighs, closing his eyes and allowing his head to fall back on the other's shoulder. Life goes on and life has been so good to him. Even in the dark he's a survivor.
After all, Iruka's lucky.
He's always been lucky.