A/N: This is one of those fics that falls between Pieces and it's sequel. I'm sort of stuck as how to begin Part III of Pieces, so you guys get this instead so I can clear my head. Enjoy! Mostly, this little episode is referred to in the first chapter of 'The Heart Grows' so that's why it's here, but it's also to give you an idea of what Iruka's power level will be by the time we get to that point.

Disclaimer: I still don't own them, even now. I won't ever, either.

Warnings: Minor spoilers to the end of Pieces, but most of the actual plot is over. You can probably guess at the ending anyway.

Can, Can't, and Won't
Chapter 1/1

"No."

Iruka folded his arms over his chest, remaining seated on the kitchen counter instead of jumping up and yelling at the Jounin like he wanted to.

Kakashi didn't seem to be paying any attention to him. He was busy with whatever he was preparing for dinner.

When it became apparent that Kakashi wasn't going to say anything further, or applaud him for trying so hard to keep his temper in check, Iruka decided not to bother. He continued to glare at his lover's bare back. "Why not?"

"I wouldn't let you pass to be a Jounin. What makes you think I'm going to let you go ANBU?"

Honestly, Iruka didn't know. He'd just thought that Kakashi would actually be happy for him when he told him that Tsunade had personally asked him to join the ANBU squad. It was a huge honor. He hadn't expected the look of rage that had crossed the Jounin's face and his flat out refusal to allow Iruka to do so.

Which, actually, was starting to grind on his nerves. "No one said it was your decision to make, you know."

Kakashi tensed visibly, and Iruka allowed himself to smirk slightly. There was no way the other man could argue with him about that!

Kakashi took a deep breath, obviously forcing himself to relax as he turned back to his cooking. "You wouldn't make it as an ANBU."

Iruka felt his temper flare, and this time didn't bother to check it. "Damn it, Kakashi, I'm not some fragile little doll! You've SEEN me fight! You know I can! Is it so hard for you to admit it? Do you need to be the alpha male so badly that you won't even let me be strong?"

Kakashi turned the oven off and moved his pan onto the cover he had waiting on the counter for it to cool before turning enough for his revealed eye to catch Iruka standing behind him. "I'm the one that knows just how fragile you are."

Iruka growled, drawing himself up to his full height. He was still shorter than Kakashi, but he felt more intimidating. "What the hell, Kakashi? Even after everything we've been through, do you really think I can't take care of myself? I don't need you to protect me all the time, you bastard!"

"I know that," Kakashi whispered. For some reason, this only made Iruka angrier. He wanted Kakashi to turn and yell at him, to tell him what was really bothering him. It hurt that the Jounin wouldn't at least explain.

"Then why the hell won't you let me make my own decisions? You don't own me, Hatake Kakashi, and if you think you do you can forget this whole thing."

"I know I don't own you," Kakashi growled, finally turning around. Good. They were getting somewhere. "But like hell I'm just going to sit back and let you throw your life away by joining ANBU!"

"You're a lousy hypocrite, you know that! You can join ANBU, but nobody else can, is that it? Afraid someone will finally one up the famous Copy-Nin? Afraid I'll actually be able to do something for once?"

"That's not it," Kakashi said very quietly. Had Iruka been a little calmer, he would have instantly recognized what that said about how angry his lover actually was. "And me being in ANBU gives me all the more reason to tell you to stay out of it."

"Why?" Iruka stepped forward. Unlike Kakashi, he got louder as he got more upset. "Because I'm not good enough for your exclusively little group? Because I'm not officially a Jounin? Who's fault is that, anyway? Tsunade thinks I'm good enough! Hell, it was IBIKI that suggested me! Why don't you think I can do this?"

"Because ANBU will BREAK you." Kakashi was tense now, his voice coming out a low growl. Iruka half expected him to pull his mask back on. "Don't you understand that? It's not glory, or honor. It's death, destruction, and blood. You wouldn't last."

"So you think I'm not strong enough."

"I know you're not strong enough."

Iruka growled, eyes narrowed in to dangerous brown slits. "Get. Out."

Kakashi wasn't listening to him again. Instead, he seemed to have jumped on his own little soapbox. "Is this some kind of game to you? Proving that you're worthy to be with me? If this is what this is about, then like hell I'm going to let you anywhere near the ANBU testing! ANBU would destroy you."

"Why do you even care?" Iruka screamed, outraged now. Kakashi's had been just a little to close to this side of the truth. "Because I'm your boy-toy? The one you come home to when you need petting, and coddling, and sex and then leave for weeks on end without a word? I'm sick of it, Kakashi! I'm sick of being left behind, of waiting for you mission after mission! I want to go with you, be with you. More than I want to teach. I'm strong enough I can help you, why won't you let me?"

"Because I love you, you idiot!" Kakashi yelled right back before his eye widened.

Iruka fell silent too, staring at him. Somewhere, his subconscious made a note that it's very difficult to come up with an angry response to that. Most of him was in shock.

"I love you," Kakashi continued his voice closer to a normal volume if a little shaky. "I don't want to come on missions with me. I know you can keep up. I know you can defend yourself. But if anything were to happen to you I couldn't…I'm not strong enough. I can't lose you too. And ANBU…the blood, the death, the darkness…you're a creature of light. Of emotions and heart. They can, and they will, take that from you. You, as I know you, would cease to exist. I. Can't. Do. It. I can't lose you."

"Oh," Iruka said quietly. What else was he supposed to say that? He couldn't really deny it; he'd seen how fragile Kakashi could be when he was in danger. It wasn't something he wished to repeat. He just felt like he had to try and say something. "Kakashi…"

"I can't stop you," he sounded bitter, still angry but not with Iruka any more. "If you really decide that you want to screw yourself over that badly, I can't stop you. But I won't stay here and watch you slowly destroy yourself, either. Know that much first."

So, he was threatening to break up with him if he did it?

Iruka felt his temper rising again, but forced it back down. No, that wasn't what the Jounin meant. He just had to think about it as Kakashi. He was letting Iruka know that he would leave if he joined ANBU because it would hurt him too much to stay. It wasn't a threat; he was simply letting Iruka know because he cared about him enough to do so.

"Why didn't you just say that in the first place?" Iruka whispered, reaching up to tuck some loose strands of hair behind his ear. "I would have listened to you if you'd just told me why."

"I thought it was obvious."

Iruka rolled his eyes and snorted. "Contrary to popular belief, I'm not psychic. How could you still think it was obvious when I was coming up with all sorts of other conclusions?"

"I…" Kakashi blinked his eye once, not seeming to have any logic for that. Iruka smirked at him.

"Communication is a good thing, Kakashi."

"Says the man who won't listen until shocked in to it," Kakashi said, turning back to his food. Iruka stuck his tounge out at him, knowing Kakashi was watching him from the corner of his eye.

They lapsed into silence again. It wasn't exactly a comfortable one, but it was better than before.

"You wanted to do that for me, didn't you?" Kakashi finally whispered quietly. Iruka, who'd resumed his seat on the counter, looked up at him. "You still feel like you have to prove you're good enough."

Iruka blushed, looking down at his bare feet. "It isn't just you. It's everyone. No one takes me seriously, even now. I want, just once, for someone to actually believe me when I say I can handle anything more difficult than a crying five-year-old."

"For some of us, a crying five-year-old is worse than an A-ranked mission." Kakashi said soothingly, turning around to face him again. "'Ru, come here."

Iruka thought for a moment about making him say please, but thought better of it. Kakashi was much better at holding grudges then he was. He hoped off the counted and crossed into Kakashi's open arms in four strides.

Kakashi held him close for a minute, kissing the top of his head, before reaching up and untying his hitai-ate. Iruka watched in quite fascination.

"I only wear this one when I'm not going anywhere," Kakashi explained, quietly. "This is the protector my father gave to me the day I graduated."

Iruka's eyes widened. Aside from necessary explanations, Kakashi rarely said anything about his past. He never volunteered the information like this. Iruka continued to stare up at him as Kakashi continued.

"He said that others would underestimate my strength, because I was so small, but that didn't make me any less a ninja. He said I had to prove to them I was strong, in little ways everyday. Even if I made Chuunin or Jounin within the next year, it would not make me any stronger in their eyes. It would be the day by day things I did that would finally gain me the recognition I so craved."

Iruka jumped as Kakashi placed the treasure in his hands.

"I want you to have it."

"Wha…?" Iruka stared down at the cool metal and the warm black cloth in his hands before looking back up at Kakashi as he began to untie Iruka's own forehead protector. "Kakashi! I can't accept this! You have so little…I don't want to take it away…"

"You're not taking it away, I'm giving it to you," Kakashi reached down, removing the piece from Iruka's loose grip and tying it around his head. "I want you to remember that you are strong in all the little ways that matter. That, someday, all of Konoha will see you like I do and how strong you really are."

Iruka blushed, staring at the stomach of Kakashi's shirt. He wanted to protest further, but felt it would somehow demean the value of the gift. He couldn't do that. "Thank you."

Another kiss on the top of his head, and a slight loving yank on his ponytail. "Lets eat, Ru. I'm sure the curry has already gotten cold!"