Author's Notes

- Thank you to everyone who read!!!

- Many thank yous to everyone who reviewed!!!

- Please enjoy ( hopefully:)!!!

Warnings: MAN SEX !!! YAOI !!! NC-17!!! or atleast R!!! While not intensely graphic, there's enough detail to not mistake what they are doing, so you have been warned!!! Also, coarse language, shounen-ai, sad stuff, etc.

Disclaimer: Naruto and its characters belong to Masashi Kishimoto. Chasing Cars belongs to Snow Patrol, What Do I Have To Do? belongs to Stabbing Westward, and If You Could Only See belongs to Tonic.

Comfort After the Fact

" The most important thing to remember is that Iruka doesn't want to break, he doesn't want to lose control. For someone who teaches kids how to run with sharp objects control is everything. But, Iruka's come to accept the fact that he will break at times and that he needs help when he loses control. "

" Let me get that."

" You don't have to."

" Yes, I do."

Kakashi's mind was filled to overflowing with Raidou's words as he pushed the door open to Iruka's flat and escorted the smaller man inside. Lights were switched on, sandals placed neatly on the mat, heavy coats hung up. The Copy Nin kept a hand on the dolphin's elbow throughout the process, as though afraid the brunette would disappear if he let go. It had been the same since the two had awoken in the hospital that morning under Tsunade's laughing gaze and poking fingers; Kakashi refused to let the other man out of his reach.

But now, Iruka pulled away from the guiding hand and steered himself towards the bathroom. " I'm going to take a shower, Kakashi. " He threw a smile over his shoulder at the pale man. It was weak and did not reach his eyes.

" Do you want me to get Genma? Or Raidou?" Kakashi asked, working hard to keep the anxiety from his voice.

" No, it's not that bad. " Iruka replied, waving off the other man's concern. "Just make yourself at home, 'Kashi. " With that, Iruka did indeed disappear through the framed opening, painted door closing behind him.

Kakashi looked forlornly at the closed door, then shuffled off to the bedroom to clean up the nearly two day old mess. He did not look forward to it. Nothing like stale puke and dried blood. The bedroom door was still closed from that night; they had teleported out, never opening the door. It swung open now, revealing a pleasant surprise. Someone, most likely by Tsunade's orders, had already cleaned the room. The futon had been stripped of its linens, bare pillows stacked on the dresser. The small rug that had borne the volume of the poison induced vomiting had been removed and was nowhere to be seen. Kakashi hoped it had been burned.

There was no evidence of the terrifying incident, except for the lack of certain items. The silver haired man peeked into the laundry basket and found nothing other than soiled clothing. I guess they trashed the bedclothes, too. Good. Kakashi stopped to listen to the sound of running water and a familiar scrubbing noise from the room across the hall. Brushing his teeth. I'm surprised he didn't demand brush and paste when he woke up at the hospital. The scrubbing and rinsing lasted several minutes before abruptly halting, a dull roar signaled the shower being turned on. Kakashi tried to ignore it as he went about putting fresh sheets onto the bed, pillows into cases and back in their place, heavy blankets to keep out the winter chill. He was done restoring the bedroom within minutes.

Matches were struck, tiny flames lighting several candles to rid the flat of the antiseptic scent that lingered. Kakashi moved back into the living area and stood lost in between the couch and the open kitchen. He felt... intrusive, a rare guest instead of a near constant fixture. I don't remember there being so much stuff in here. Of course, whenever he had stayed over Kakashi had never really bothered to ' notice' his lover's belongings, other than the futon. Some shinobi I am. The shower continued to rain in the background. Surveying the lived -in clutter that littered Iruka's home Kakashi was debating whether or not to clean up the rest of the flat when his visible eye alighted upon the small entertainment system in the corner.

The shinobi picked his way through the books and papers and various other school paraphernalia to kneel next to the battered wooden unit. In contrast to the worn out ancient shelving, the equipment housed on it was top of the line and in pristine condition. He spent quite a few paychecks on all this. And he treats it accordingly. A small basket resting on a lower shelf held an assortment of cleaning supplies made specifically for audio equipment. Kakashi fingered a few of the bottles, making a note of the ones that were low, before moving his attention onto the rows upon rows of audio media.

Vinyl records, cassette tapes, CDs filled a space the size of a small closet. Stacked, boxed, filed and scattered. Sitting on the floor amongst the tea stained cups and extraneous wires a number of shoe boxes held neat rows of CDs, the kind that were burned to the owner's liking, their spines blank and uninformative. They piqued Kakashi's curiosity. " Iruka has specific CDs marked for it, they're kept on top of the player. Always use those CDs. The rest of his collection is too difficult to decipher the content; you'd never know what you've got until it's already playing. " With Raidou's voice echoing in his head, he pulled several from the closest box only to find the discs inside strangely labeled. " What the hell?" The silver haired man mumbled to himself as he read through the covers.

" ' Genma', ' Raidou', ' Naruto', ' Sakura'... " Kakashi read the familiar names in wonderment, lifting each case then letting it slip back into its place. ' Asuma', ' Kurenai', ' Shikamaru', ' Sandaime', 'Mom', 'Dad'... It seemed as though half the village had a personalized disc, three or four in some cases, in Iruka's music collection. He cast a glance at the bathroom door; the shower continued on. Curiosity controlling his actions, Kakashi pulled one of Genma's CDs from the box and , after some fumbling with the hi tech equipment ( who the hell has three different stereo systems?), slid the CD into the tray. Making sure to turn the volume down to its lowest setting, he pushed the play button and sat back.

A strong club beat vibrated through the numerous speakers. Kakashi let it throb for a few seconds then pushed for the next track. It was another club mix, heavy on the bass. The third, fourth and fifth tracks were similar, varying only in the speed of heavy beats. All the lyrics were suggestive. The sixth song was more rock than dance and the words told a story of friendship. Kakashi let it play until the second chorus, then jumped ahead. He physically spit with restrained laughter when a male vocalist opened with // I'm too sexy for my love...// . That is Genma! Right on the nose! Shit, that's great!!!

Raidou's was next, disc one of five full of rock songs, songs that played down at the local bar where you could drink and talk all night with your buddies. Naruto had no less than two dozen CDs, some looking nearly as old as the container himself. His had a variety of musical tastes; a few silly kid's songs, some older lullabies, lyrics revolving around family and a few popular tunes to round it off . As the silver haired man sampled CD after CD, he began to realize what the discs really were. Iruka interprets his relationships through music. Genma is all about going to the club, getting drunk, being sexy and having a good time. Raidou's the laid back buddy that you can tell all your problems to. Naruto is as close to Iruka's son as any blood relative and he's watched him as he matured through the years. This is the village seen through Iruka's eyes, or , rather, heard through his ears.

Giddy at the discovery, Kakashi flipped through the rest of the box looking for a particular name, cursing the usually organized sensei for not keeping the discs in any perceivable order. Come on, it has to be here- oh! Here's one! After searching the box twice he had a stack of six CDs laying by his knee, hiragana a stark contrast against the otherwise plain white covers; ' Kakashi'.

Kakashi studied the discs that bore his name. They were obviously well used, the plastic squares covered in tiny scratches and smudged fingerprints, the disc numbered one having the most wear-n-tear damage. The silver haired shinobi pulled what he deemed to be the most recently burned CD, ' Kakashi #6'. The disc inside, in contrast to its wrinkled paper cover, was spotless and it clicked neatly into its spot in the tray. The system hummed quietly as the first track was queued up. Kakashi unconsciously held his breath as he waited.

The first strains of music were achingly familiar, the first song on his disc beingthe song he had been originally searching for in the extensive assortment. Kakashi felt his chest tighten as the lyrics began.

// We'll do it all ...Everything... On our own... //

A sudden lack of white noise indicated the ending of Iruka's shower. Kakashi balked momentarily, then turned the volume up three more bars. The song could be heard softly throughout the apartment. Getting to his feet, the silver haired man grimaced at the creaking of his left knee ( an old injury from his chunnin days) and padded across the smooth wood floor to stand outside the bathroom door. " Iruka?"

// We don't need ... Anything... Or anyone //

" Yeah."

" You okay?"

A pause. " Yeah. I think I'm going to soak in the bath for a while."

Kakashi nearly tripped over himself trying to get to the stereo to put in the proper CD . Damnit! Raidou said he had CDs marked for breaking. Where are they?!

" Kakashi? " Iruka's voice was louder than before , but sounded almost muffled, as though his mouth was closely pressed to the door.

The silver haired jounin again stumbled his way back across the tight space to stand before the bathroom entrance. " I'm here. I'm here. "

" I know Raidou explained my breaking process to you. That last time, a year ago. "

" Yeah. I'll put the right CDs in and I'll get Genma and put up the fuujiko-"

" Did he happen to mention that I do the same things when I'm having a bad day, too?"

" Uh, no." Kakashi raised a hand and pressed his palm flat against the wood. He could have sworn he could feel the other man's warmth through the barrier. No, that scarred bastard didn't mention it. The little flare of anger didn't last long, relief at not having to witness his lover in such anguish quickly overwhelming him.

" Well, I do. Only it's not as a big a deal. " Iruka's voice was an odd mixture of fatigue and amusement. " I like that CD, let it play. You don't have to do anything special, don't worry about the music or the jutsu, but... I need a little time to myself. Please."

" I'll run out to Ichiraku's to pick up some dinner. I'll be back in... an hour. Okay?" Kakashi asked, hoping he was giving the man enough time to vent while not allowing him too much time in which to brood.

" Sounds good. " There was a shuffling and a muffled thump from within the room. The sound of running water drowned out anything else.

// If I lay here... If I just lay here...//

Kakashi was glad he hadn't received any argument from the brunette, not wanting to be without his lover's company for too long. He quickly slipped back into his boots and coat and headed out into the cold night for hot ramen. He threw the containment jutsu into place, just in case.

Ichiraku's had only taken fifteen minutes. Kakashi had tried to drag it out, even talking with the owner's daughter for a bit, but the ramen chefs had been eager to please their best customers ( outside of Naruto) and had turned the shinobi's order out in record time. Luckily he had run into Sakura on her way home from her hospital shift . They discussed the preparations for Naruto's arrival sometime the next week; the blonde spitfire and his ero sannin sensei making a short visit before they disappeared back into the wilds for more training. Kakashi knew it was no coincidence that Konoha's new bathhouse would be celebrating its grand opening the same week, with free admission for women. There was no way Jiraiya could pass up a ' data gathering' opportunity such as that. The pink haired kunoichi laughingly agreed with him and they made plans to set up as many chakra traps around the women's bath's perimeter as they could before the pervy sage showed up.

" We're going to have everything set up at the Hyuuga compound for Naruto's party. We can't all fit inside Naruto's apartment or Iruka-sensei's place." Sakura explained, shifting her heavy shoulder bag. " Hinata-chan offered one of the guest houses and Neji-kun promised to keep his elders from spoiling our fun. Of course, we can't do too much with the adults that are going to be there." She gave the silver haired man a knowing wink.

Kakashi ran a mental list of all the adults that would welcome the fox boy when he returned and realized that Iruka would be alone in a sea of vice and iniquity. The other grown ups, including himself, would be the ones providing endless alcohol, organizing games of chance, and either inciting or displaying indecent acts. All within smacking distance of nearly three dozen minors. " We'll send the littlest ones home early, then I'll make sure Iruka-sensei is thoroughly pre occupied the rest of the evening."

" Sounds like a plan. I'll see to it that everything is organized. Oyasumi, Kakashi-sensei." She turned in the direction of her home, waving farewell over one shoulder.

Kakashi said his goodnights, as well, and drifted towards his lover's flat, annoyed that their conversation had taken less than ten minutes of his time. With more than half an hour left, the silver haired man stood outside his lover's apartment door, chakra tamped down to nil so he wouldn't disturb Iruka with his early presence. As he waited for his self imposed time limit to expire, Kakashi thought about his dolphin and what the brunette had told him about his three week mission gone awry.

Iruka had received his mission a week after Kakashi left for his B-rank. Tsunade had apparently chosen the chuunin for two reasons. 1) Iruka had been to Stone country before during his genin career and had a good lay of the land, so to speak. 2) He was quite literally the most experienced ninja within the village who could be spared to leave at that time. The mission parameters had been simple enough; infiltrate Stone, obtain the scrolls containing highly destructive forbidden jutsus and tentative plans for an invasion of Leaf, return home with said scrolls.

I still can't believe Tsunade sent him by himself. It should have been accomplished by a team. Kakashi continued to rail against the Hokage's decision, but he knew, the sensible shinobi voice inside his head knew, that sending a lone soldier had been the best strategy. No one would become suspicious of a single traveler, even if he did happen to pass through one of the more hostile territories. Iruka had been able to slip in undetected; getting out had been more difficult.

Kakashi's internal clock went off, notifying him his time was up. The icy wind had chilled his face despite his mask and Kakashi could already feel the beginnings of a runny nose. Deal with it later. He let his chakra gradually build back to a normal level to give the man inside the flat fair warning of his presence and opened the front door. The jutsu warped around him as he entered.

// I can feel your heartbeat through my skin...//

Music filled the small space, notes low and melodious, though slightly different from the song playing when Kakashi had left.

// It makes me sad to think... This could all be for nothing...//

The silver haired man cringed at the depressing lyrics. Hits a little close to home. Is this how he felt all these months while I was being a clueless jackass? Maybe I should've checked out the tracks before I stuck this in, made sure there weren't too many lovelorn tunes on here. Kakashi kicked off his sandals and set the bag of food onto the small kitchen table. After removing his coat and placing it back on its proper hook, he made a half step towards the stereo system.

// I wish there was a way... A way for you to see inside me...

I've never felt this way...About anyone or anything... Tell me...//

A tiny noise from behind the closed bathroom door caught Kakashi's attention and he aborted his trek to the stereo, instead making his way to the back of the apartment. He opened the door without knocking.

// What do I have to do... To make you happy?

What do I have to do... To make you understand?//

The scene within the little bathroom was heart wrenching for the elder shinobi. Iruka was slumped in the cramped tub, chin just breaking the water's surface. His dark hair was jet black when wet and laid in thick locks plastered to his neck and cheeks, water streaming from the silky mass to run rivers over his tanned face. Iruka's chocolate colored eyes were glazed and red rimmed. It was obvious he had been crying hard.

// What do I have to do... To make you want me?

Well, if I can't make you want me... Tell me...What do I have to do?//

Iruka looked up when Kakashi entered, a tiny, yet genuine, smile on his lips. " You didn't have to wait outside, but thanks."

Kakashi remained silent as he crossed the tile floor in two steps and sat on the towel topped bench next to the tub. He pulled the dark mask from his face, tossing it through the open doorway onto the edge of the sink, and returned the smile. " How did you know?" He rubbed his tickling nose.

Shrugging, the chuunin raised a hand and watched the water drip from his fingers back into the tub. " Just did. Always do."

The scarecrow didn't question his lover's response. Iruka had proven on more than one occasion to be unnaturally perceptive, especially when it came to the older man. Has a sixth sense, or a dumbass radar , or something. The jounin mentally smirked. Kakashi leaned forward, resting an elbow on his knee, other hand moving to caress the soaked head. His palm smoothed Iruka's shiny hair laying flattened against his scalp as he wondered when the man would decide to talk. The radio played on in the background as Kakashi watched his lover's face.

// I know exactly what you're thinking... But I swear this time I will not let you down...//

" I never get used to it."

// I'm not as selfish as I used to be... That was a part of me that never made me proud ...//

Kakashi moved his hand to cup the back of Iruka's skull then slid down to rest against the man's neck. His fingers recognized the thin raised scar just below the dark hairline. The jounin had always wondered how Iruka had received that mark. " To what?"

" Killing people." Iruka closed his eyes and rolled his head even farther forward to allow the jounin's hand ample room.

// Right now I think I would try anything... Anything at all to keep you satisfied...//

" I hope you never do." Kakashi kept his voice low, tone soothing. " I don't want you to be a cold blooded killer." Like me.

" You're not cold blooded." Iruka whispered.

// God I hope you see what losing you would do to me...All I want is one more chanceā€¦ tell me...//

" You know," Kakashi's words took on an exasperated edge. " you're ruining my reputation as a shinobi every time you do that. I'm supposed to be mysterious and unfathomable. " He leaned closer to the tub and brushed a kiss across Iruka's forehead, the dolphin gracing him with another tiny smile. Kakashi continued to rub the caramel colored neck. " One day you'll have to tell me the secret of the Umino-Mind-Reading no Jutsu. "

"Only if you tell me how to pull off your Hatake-Responsibility-Evasion no Jutsu."

" It's a deal." Kakashi laughed softly, pulling his hand away from the warm skin to remove his glove. When he put his hand back on the younger man's neck he paid closer attention to the bathwater that was creeping up the hunched form. Just lukewarm. I need to get him out of here or refill the tub pretty soon. I'll give him a few more minutes.

What do I have to do to make you want me?... What do I have to do to make you understand?... What do I have to do to make you love me?...//

It wasn't long after those thoughts flittered through Kakashi's silver head that Iruka spoke again, his voice reverted back to its melancholic note. " I tried to simply escape, just outrun them and get home. " His lips were nearly submerged in the bathwater, bubbles and ripples appearing on the water's surface as he spoke. Brown eyes stared blankly at the liquid disturbances. " I cut across country towards Cloud, didn't head straight for Fire Country, waited until I knew I wasn't being followed. But I stumbled right into a border patrol, two teams, right on the edge of Fire, a day away from Konoha. " Iruka exhaled, long and deep. The ripples spread all the way to the edges of the tub. " It was stupid of me and I was caught by surprise. I took the kunai across the arm, poison started to make me dizzy, nauseous. Knew I had to get somewhere safe to take an antidote. I managed to trap two of them in a chakra web, wounded two more with shuriken, but nothing fatal. Just enough so I could get away. "

Kakashi nodded. Iruka, like Naruto ( who took after the scarred brunette), avoided fatal strikes whenever possible. Sometimes even when they shouldn't be so lenient. While Kakashi considered that trait detrimental to the life of a shinobi, he would never insult it or try to convince Iruka to act differently. He could only trust his lover to rely on his common sense and hope that everything turned out okay. His fingers dug into the tight muscles, trying to ease the residual stress.

" The last two, I thought they had run back to get reinforcements, I saw figures running towards Stone. I guess they were clones, decoys." Iruka seemed to crumble slowly, his head dipping further and further into the bathwater as his body curled in on itself, though his voice remained flat, detached. " One just materialized in front of me, I dropped off the limb. Fell towards the lower branch, aiming to swing away. It exploded. I fell to the ground. And they were both there, one on either side. Kunai and Katana. I became desperate. "

// But, if I can't make you love me...Just tell me what do I have to do?...//

The Copy Nin slowly eased one arm down into the bath, looping around the front of the smaller man's body and pulling him up out of the pronounced slouch. Iruka leaned against Kakashi's shoulder, unperturbed by the adjustment to his position. The silver haired man moved the hand that had been massaging the dolphin's neck lower to rub gentle circles onto the heavily scarred back. Kakashi laid his cheek atop the dark head, listening silently. These lyrics are killing me.

" All I could think was ' I have to get back to Kakashi'. "

Mismatched eyes closed.

" It kept playing over and over in my head. ' I have to get back to Kakashi'. " Iruka's weight settled a little more against the older shinobi. " Kunai attacked first, pushed me towards Katana. I dragged him with me, let the sword blade pierce the side of my vest and pulled Kunai onto the blade. It went directly into his gut. I twisted his own weapon around and cut his throat. " The tanned face turned more towards the darkly clothed shoulder. " His mask fell away and I was staring into the dead eyes of a boy no older than Naruto. Katana screamed, I could tell it was a girl. She tried to pull her blade sideways, to cut me in half. It caught on a scroll in one of my pockets, kept it from doing more than just opening the skin. I turned, jerked the hilt from her hand and buried the same kunai into her chest." Iruka's face was pressed firmly into Kakashi's shirt, his words muffled by cloth and flesh. " She called out for her mother before she died. She looked even younger than the boy. I think they were genin."

// To forget about you...//

Oh shit. Kakashi couldn't gather any thoughts more intelligent at that moment. He tightened his hold on the other man, merely supporting him in the rapidly cooling water. Iruka didn't move within his embrace, either comfortable where he was or uncaring. The next song filled the silence left behind by the last.

// If you could only see the way she loves me... Then maybe you would understand...//

That would even give me pause. No wonder Iruka's tore up over it. Eventually Kakashi found his voice, his eyes opening to stare blankly at the back wall of the bath. " I'm sorry, 'Ruka." Sorry I wasn't there to keep you from having to go through this. Sorry I was the cause for your desperation. Sorry for not being able to make this better for you.

The soaked head titled back, brown eyes lost some of their glazed look and turned to focus on the older man. Kakashi knew Iruka could tell what he had been thinking, what he had left unsaid, but the brunette didn't call him on it, for once. " I'm sorry, too. " The dolphin returned his cheek to its damp resting place.

" The water's getting cold, Iruka. Let's get out and have dinner." The scarecrow offered, wrapping both arms around the chuunin.

// Why I feel this way about our love... And what I must do...//

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Kakashi left Iruka to dress on his own while he took the world's shortest shower. In less than sixty seconds the jounin had stripped, soaped up, scrubbed down, rinsed off and buffed dry. The darker man had just finished brushing through his tangled hair when Kakashi emerged from the bathroom in a pair of low slung drawstring pants and the simple black scarf that he used to cover the sharingan eye when he wasn't on duty. Gray took in Iruka's similar state of dress, with the addition of a washed thin cotton t-shirt hiding his upper body. The dolphin shivered slightly and Kakashi silently helped him into a dark colored robe, then he led Iruka to sit at the kitchen table.

Dinner was quiet, though not uncomfortable. Kakashi's CD had finished while he was in the shower (thank kami, I'm going to have to figure out how to burn one with only HAPPY songs on it for him) and Iruka apparently hadn't bothered to replace it. The jounin merrily watched his lover inhale his large bowl of ramen in a very Naruto like fashion before he proceeded to wolf down the second bowl that Kakashi had brought for tomorrow's breakfast.

Iruka's eyes slowly reappeared over the rim of the upturned bowl as the man drained the last of the salty broth and set it back onto the table. A bashful smile spread across his features, a delicate blush across his cheeks. Iruka used the back of his hand to wipe his mouth.

" Do you want the rest of mine?" Kakashi pushed his half finished container of beef ramen towards the other man. His stomach made a noisy protest at losing its much wanted nutrition, but Kakashi ignored it like he did every time his body tried to tell him something he didn't want to acknowledge. I can make up for it tomorrow. Iruka comes first.

The slighter man shook his head and laughed at Kakashi's growling stomach. Iruka pushed the food back across the table. " I shouldn't have eaten that much, but it tasted so good I couldn't resist." He slumped back in his chair and patted the cotton shirt covering his flat belly. " But anymore and I'm pretty certain I'll get sick. You eat. " The previously ignored glass of water was nursed slowly.

Kakashi didn't press. He took his bowl back, chopsticks clattering dully in the empty styrofoam when he finished a few minutes later. Kakashi swallowed his water in three gulps and put a hand over his mouth to muffle a large belch. " 'Scuse me." He grabbed the empty containers, tossing them into the trash, picking up the dirty glasses and heading to the sink. " I'll wash these up. Do you want to sleep? Go back to your room?"

" Not yet." Iruka stood from the table and shuffled his bare feet across the wooden floor. He settled gingerly into the corner of the sofa, sinking into the plump pillows stacked against the arm, and rested his cheek on the couch back.

Kakashi watched him, concerned, for another second then hastily ran hot water and soap into the cups. He's just tired, Hatake. There's nothing wrong with him. He's fine. The words became a mantra for the jounin as he cleaned up the small mess in the kitchen, casting worried glances over his shoulder at the man curled up on the couch.

Okay, cups dried and in the cupboard. Trash thrown away. Table and sink wiped clean. Lights out, candles only. Very vulnerable, yet exceptionally sexy, chuunin needing companionship. And kisses. Kakashi dried his hands on a dish towel and discarded it on the countertop. Possibly some groping. The predictable thoughts helped cheer the silver haired man as he approached the couch and its sole occupant. " Doin' okay? Want me to get you anything?"

" Could...could you put on some music, ' Kashi?" Iruka didn't even look up as he spoke, clutching the fuzzy throw blanket a little tighter to his chest.

Once again traversing the cluttered floor, Kakashi kneeled in front of the entertainment center and began rummaging around in the stacks. " Anything in particular?" 'Cuz I'm not playing anything else with my name on it and I'm not even going to try to pick something 'safe' from this pile of-

" Second box to your right. ' Sitting #3', ' Lounging #1', ' Meditating #1', 'Breathing # 4' and-uh- just pick out two more that sound good to you. " Iruka spoke mainly into the upholstery. " That will fill up the tray so there won't be any gaps."

The box was exactly where Iruka said it would be, not that Kakashi had any doubts. It took a little more time to find the discs that the chuunin had specified, doubly so because Kakashi was reading all the different covers as he searched. Like the discs he had discovered earlier, these were also unconventionally labeled. Alongside the titles mentioned by the dolphin Kakashi found 'Sparring', ' Crying' ( push these to the back of the box and plan to destroy later), 'Laughing', 'Dancing', 'Singing' and the list of verbs went on.

Deciding to play it as safe as possible, Kakashi chose two discs from the 'Meditating' series, figuring they wouldn't be too emotionally disturbing. The CDs were placed one by one into the player's multi-disc tray and all the proper buttons pushed before the jounin rose to join the other man. He had barely made it onto the sofa when a delicate melody started.

Kakashi scooted under Iruka's legs, shifting and wiggling until the slighter man was nearly sitting across his lap. Iruka's upper body reclined more so on the pillows as Kakashi leaned forward and wrapped pale arms protectively around him. The scarred nose was planted in the crook of the jounin's neck and shoulder. Kakashi began dusting light kisses across what tan skin he could reach, hand carding into the sweet smelling damp hair.

He wasn't sure how long they sat there. The music seemed to flow from one selection to the next with little variation in theme or tone, the wind continuously whipped through the eaves, the wall clock ticked endlessly into the night. Kakashi's thoughts did not wander as freely as the passage of time. He alternated between recalling the events of the past three days and grounding himself in the physical present; all revolving around Iruka and his own belated epiphany.

Two days ago, I brought him home from the hospital, watched him make seafood chowder that I thought I couldn't eat but ate anyway and spent half the evening arguing with him about his mission... His hair smells so good, like vanilla and cinnamon. Soft as silk, and skin just as smooth... Two days ago I fucked him senseless ( three times), got into another argument and ne-nearly LEFT HIM ALONE TO DIE... His skin feels too cool to the touch. He must still be suffering from the blood loss, cold so quickly... Not quite two days ago I brought him back to the hospital, threw up the chowder and watched him sleep for far too long... He doesn't feel heavy enough in my lap. I didn't notice that when I got back, he's lost weight in the month I was gone to Mist...Not quite two days ago I snuck into his hospital bed , finally accepted the biggest realization of my life and got cut off by a closet karaoke fanatic... His eyes are absolutely beautiful. Not just brown, but velvet sable with fleks of gold and copper, thick lashes like silk fringe...

" Kakashi?" Iruka was leaning back in order to see the jounin's face.

Kakashi realized he'd been caught staring, not that it was the first time, or the last to be sure. He moved back a bit, too, giving more space to view the handsome features of his lover. An answering noise came from his closed lips. Iruka freed an arm from the blanket and tight embrace and questioningly ran his fingertips over the dark cloth slanted over Kakashi's face. The jounin dipped his head forward then remained still as the dolphin slid the scarf off, exposing the ruby eye and its accompanying vertical scar. Light touches tickled across his ivory skin, exploring until they found a comfortable spot at his temple. Kakashi's mental rant began where it had left off.

This morning I woke up in the hospital bed, got chewed out by Tsunade for disturbing a convalescent and watched him sleep until noon... His scar looks darker than usual against his skin, definitely blood loss; he's almost ashen. I bet I can put some color back into those cheeks... This afternoon I kissed him awake, was interrupted every time I tried to discuss the night before and brought him home from the hospital AGAIN... His touches are like butterfly wings, almost too soft to feel, too delicate to hold onto...

I have yet to say " I love you."

I have yet to hear him say he loves me.

" Did you want to talk about last night, 'Kashi?" Iruka's eyes were half lidded, dark in the candle light and scraps of moon beam that penetrated the closed blinds. It seemed as though he were fighting sleep. " We haven't talked about it."

The silver headed shinobi paused, hand frozen on the dolphin's throat, half way between his neck and chest; thumb still balanced on the defined jaw. Yes, yes I want to talk about it!!! " I'd like to, but if you're not up to it, then it can w-"

" No, I'm fine. I want to talk about it." Iruka hurriedly assured him, hands sliding around the back of the jounin's neck to tug him closer. Lips met lips in a slow meld.

Kakashi refused to think during the kiss. He concentrated on the feel and taste of the other man, instead. When Iruka pulled away, breathing deep and eyes glassy, Kakashi forced his brain to kick start again. " Uh..." How do I go about this?

" Start at the beginning."

" You're not going to make this easier on me, are you?"

" Nope."

Kakashi sighed and gathered his rampaging thoughts. Start at the beginning, right? " I'm sorry, Iruka. I'm sorry for being the ultimate prick. I'm sorry for taking advantage of your kindness. I'm sorry for taking advantage of your body. I'm sorry that I was rough with you sometimes. I'm sorry for leaving you in a cold bed alone most mornings."

" 'Kashi I-" Iruka's eyes widened in pained disbelief.

" I'm sorry for giving off the impression that I don't trust your abilities. I'm sorry for speaking harshly to you in public. I'm sorry for not letting you know when I'm leaving on missions. I'm sorry for not letting you know when I get back. I'm sorry that you're lonely when I'm gone."

" Don't Ka-" Iruka tried again.

" I'm sorry for spying through your bedroom window when you get out of the shower. I'm sorry for grabbing your ass in front of the pre-school classes. I'm sorry for always showing up too late. I'm sorry for leaving my dirty laundry over here. I'm sorry for ruining your favorite dolphin plushie. I'm sorry I've been lying to myself for nearly two years and hurting you in the process. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get my act together. I'm sorry for never telling you that I'm sorry. And most of all... " Kakashi drew in a much needed breath of air, trying his damndest to squelch the trembling of his voice. " ...I'm sorry for never telling you how I feel about you."

Iruka was wide eyed and open mouthed. All traces of fatigue had vanished from his features, his face now resembling a gold fish caught outside its water bowl.

Any other day and Kakashi would have taken the time to congratulate himself for putting such an expression on the teacher's face. Any other day was not today.

" Iruka, I love you."

"..."

" Iruka, I love you."

"..."

" Uh, Iruka?" Kakashi began to panic, his arms loosening their hold. I was wrong! I misread him or the past two years or last night's duet or something, but I was wrong! He doesn't feel the same way about me! He doesn't lov-

" I-I uhm, I never thought I would hear you say that." Iruka's voice was tiny, barely audible above the music or the rapid beating of the jounin's heart. Dark eyes fell shut, tan fingers clenched in the silver hair. " I never thought..."

" I've been trying to say it since last night, but you've cut me off each time." Kakashi pouted. " Did you not want me to say it?" Oh kami-sama, don't let me be some pity case for him.

" No, no I've wanted this for so long and I've known for a while." Iruka re-opened his eyes to face Kakashi directly.

" Of course you've known." Kakashi smirked. " Umino-Mind-Reading no Jutsu."

" I just hoped, really. Hoped that it wasn't simply wishful thinking on my part. " One hand left the nest of silvered hair and carressed a pale cheek. " And even when I was fairly certain how you felt about me, I didn't want to push you into admitting anything. I knew it would be hard for you." Iruka's thumb traced a path perpendicular to the scar, lingering now and again on the spot immediately beneath the crimson orb.

" It's been hard for you, as well." Kakashi countered. Always placing others above yourself, sensei.

Iruka confirmed with a nod. " But it was worth it, keeping you with me. I didn't want to lose what we had." He smiled sadly up at the taller man, tongue slipping out to wet parted lips. " I had just resigned myself to a lifetime without those words. As long as you were near me I could bare it. "

I've caused a world of hurt to this man and I will never forgive myself for that. The scarecrow leant forward suddenly and concentrated on covering every inch of tan skin with feather light kisses. Between brushes of skin on skin, Kakashi made his vow. " I will spend... the rest... of my life making it... up to you, Iruka." As the kisses fell, each one a little heavier, a little longer, Kakashi made the dolphin's lips his final resting spot. Deep, slow, open mouth kisses created a seperate tempo from the lazy beat that filled the apartment. " I only want...one... thing...from you in return."

" Hmmm?" Iruka's hands were both back in Kakashi's hair, fisted in the silver strands. His cheeks began to grow warm.

" Tell me that you love me. Please."

" I love you 'Kashi. I love you, I love you, IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou..." Iruka mumbled into the other man's mouth. " I love you, 'Kashi. You silly bastard, I love you." Iruka continued to murmur, chocolate orbs visible again. " I've been waiting years to tell you that. Years, Kakashi, of biting my tongue and keeping my mouth closed and distracting you in some form or another. Years of careful gestures and censored looks, repressed emotions and actions. You don't know what it means to me to hear you say those words. "

" Then why didn't you let me say them last night? Or this morning? "

" I wanted to put some distance between myself and what happened. On the mission, I mean." The brunette released a sigh and sank even further into the cushions, some of the fatigue from earlier returning to his body.

" I was still distracted by everything that had happened, but now..."

" But now you're freshly showered, well fed and completely safe in my arms." Kakashi began to plant a line of kisses down the side of his lover's face, extending to his collarbone. " I'd also like to add: sweet, sexy, soft, and very very tempting." His hands followed his mouth's example, caressing and stroking their way down the man's body. " So, I love you."

" I love you, too, 'Kashi. I love you." Iruka breathed heavily into the limp spikes of hair below his chin.

Kakashi continued his ministrations, a hand slipping under and pushing up the light blue cotton of Iruka's shirt, fingers searching out a dusky nipple. He tweaked the nub of flesh until it pebbled and stood up. The jounin returned to the brunette's mouth, teeth nibbling on Iruka's lower lip, tongue slyly delving inside. Long dark locks flowed from between the fingers of Kakashi's hand that was not occupied with molesting his lover's chest.

Iruka's breath was catching in his throat. " Uhgn- uh, 'Kashi? I-I'm not really up to- ohhhh!"

Kakashi had released the irritated nipple only to drop his hand below the other man's waistband. His skin is so incredibly soft, especially right here. He ran a single finger along a hip, tracing the line of bone and flesh under the loose fabric until he reached the joining point of legs to body. Once there, Kakashi decidedly ignored the bundle of semi erect flesh, placing his focus on the inside of Iruka's thigh, instead. So warm here, hot and soft and all mine.

" Kakashi, I'm sorry, but I really can't do something this strenuous right now." Iruka tilted his head back on his neck, breaking the heated kiss. His eyes were filled with regret and frustration, overlaid with the heavy exhaustion of physical and mental strain.

A thumb grazed the full sac hanging below the chuunin's growing erection, effectively cutting off the man's protest. Kakashi pressed his lips onto the tip of Iruka's facial scar and cautiously sucked on the puckered flesh, his thumb deliberately passing back and forth across the sensitive area of his groin, before pulling away to speak. " You don't have to do anything, Iruka. Please just let me..." He didn't know how to explain it. An undeniable urge had taken over him, the urge to touch and kiss and bring pleasure to this angel-like man that had changed his life in so many ways he couldn't keep track. Kami-sama, I need to see him cry out, to make him cry out because the pleasure is too much. Pleasure that I've given him. I need to see him break softly, not like before, but softly for me. " ... just let me do this for you, please. " Please, I need this so much!

Iruka was staring into his mismatched eyes, seeing through his ineloquence as always. Kakashi kept up his task of petting the smooth skin below his lover's waist, knowing that he was making it difficult for Iruka to even think, but unable to stop himself from indulging in the action. The dolphin reached up and tentatively rubbed the scar marking the bridge of his nose, the skin surrounding it reddened and wet. Iruka nodded slowly.

With permission granted, Kakashi engaged in a series of meaningful kisses while his palm moved to cup Iruka's hardening cock. Need him, need him so much. Kakashi swung his legs onto the couch, shifting until he lay half atop the brunette, one leg firmly planted between the dolphin's thighs as he scooted further still to rain sloppy kisses down the exposed skin of Iruka's well muscled chest. The broad tan hands remained entrenched in the jounin's hair.

Tastes like vanilla soap, salty hint of ramen and broth, no more antiseptic or sickness. Tastes like 'Ruka. My 'Ruka. Kakashi's thoughts rambled as his mouth kept busy licking, nipping, and kissing his way towards the man's erogenous zone until it he was suddenly there and the pants were dragged down, baring deliciously caramel colored skin.

Let me show you how much you mean to me.

Within scant minutes Iruka was writhing weakly beneath Kakashi's talented mouth. The jounin suckled gently, slowly building the intensity, taking great care to not overwhelm the exhausted man. He knew Iruka wouldn't last very long, the past three weeks of hell leaving the dolphin drained, and that was fine with Kakashi. He hadn't been planning on staging a marathon, only expressing himself the best way he knew how; through his actions. Arms hugging Iruka's naked hips, hands petting his sides. Kakashi drew his lover's body into a blissful state that ended too soon for either one, but the culmination satisfied and calmed them both. Well, I'm not fully satisfied, but that can wait. The Copy Nin ruefully adjusted his own aching erection as he continued to lick the sensitive area until not a drop of bittersweet cream was left on the smooth skin. He climbed back up the chuunin's sated form, out of breath from his exertions and the lust growing below his waist. It'll either be wet dreams or a shower session in the morning, but it doesn't matter. Iruka's the only one who matters right now.

Iruka seemed to have fainted. He lay back on the pillows, eyes closed, arms limply at his sides, one dangling off the edge of the couch. Only his breath coming in half choked inhales and exhales from between parted lips belied his conscious state. Kakashi cradled one side of the tan face in his large hand and sprinkled kisses across the horizontal scar. " Iruka, my beloved." He whispered in reverence.

Eventually the dark eyes opened and fixed onto the man above him. " 'Kashi love." Iruka's hand lay tenderly against a pale cheek.

" I like the sound of that. " Kakashi smiled into the kiss, hiding the flinch as his cloth covered cock rubbed against Iruka's side, sending agonizingly pleasant sensations up his spine.

A little frown flickered across Iruka's face. " You didn't cum." He began to fumble with the jounin's pants, attempting to handle what he apparently deemed an oversight on Kakashi's part.

" Don't worry about it, ." Kakashi pulled the hand away with little physical protest; Iruka was simply too weak to struggle properly.

But the brunette continued to plead verbally, eyes turned sleepy-puppy-dog-aren't-I-so-cute-and-undeniable. " Please, love. Please, for me. Let me do the same for you. "

The debate went on for a bit until Kakashi could no longer argue with the combined forces of Iruka's doe eyes and his own pounding lust. " Okay, okay, but you are going to stay still." He shushed the coming words, slanting his mouth over the other man's. When he pulled back, Iruka was dazed and compliant. " You said before that you aren't in the best condition, and you can barely move after what I pulled, so just lay here, " Kakashi slipped a hand between their bodies and took hold of his aching flesh. He gasped slightly at the much wanted contact.

" and kiss me silly."

Without a word Iruka folded both arms around the jounin's body and held him close, lips locked firmly in place. Kakashi took a deep breath through his nose and fell into a fast and furious rhythm meant to bring him to release in very little time. With the deep kiss helping things along, the silver headed man succumbed inside the span of two songs, liquid warmth spreading between them. Frantic strokes eased into unhurried touches and Kakashi melted into the embrace. He reluctantly broke the seal of their lips, his need for oxygen causing his lungs to burn. The silver haired man lay gasping in the crook of Iruka's neck and shoulder, reveling in the afterglow and the dolphin's fondling.

Kakashi groaned as he removed his now sticky hand from his pants, both enjoying and cursing the feel of the quickly cooling mess on his stomach and thighs. I need to take another shower. He made to wipe his soiled hand on his pants leg when the limb was apprehended by his lover. Iruka gripped the jounin's wrist and this time it was Kakashi who was too tired to resist. The hand was lifted to head level, held there for a moment, then Kakashi felt the distinct sensation of a warm tongue wrapping around his fingers.

If he hadn't just spilled his desire mere seconds ago the jounin would have cummed again at the sight that met his colorful gaze. Iruka, eyes closed in gluttonous joy, was daintily licking the white streaks from his hand. Breathing heavily, Kakashi watched in silent fascination as each of his fingers was drawn into his lover's mouth. He sat up as much as he could without drastically changing their position in order to better observe the show the brunette was putting on.

Kitten licks finished his little finger, pink tongue caught for a moment between front teeth before retreating back inside the mouth that formed a kiss in the center of Kakashi's newly cleaned palm. A tiny smear remained on Iruka's face and with the utmost tenderness the older man brushed his lips across his lover's, taking the pale stuff with his tongue. There was a pause as the player switched to the next disc, a lack of music invading their moment. Kakashi dropped his head back to the brunette's shoulder.

" I love you, 'Kashi."

" I love you, 'Ruka."

" You realize I can't move any more?" Iruka's voice giggled next to the other man's ear.

" Me neither. Wanna sleep on the couch?" Kakashi mumbled sleepily, already shifting his body to a more comfortable spot, only to be reminded of their previous activities by the faint squelch of cold semen soaked fabric. " Ewww. I guess we shouldn't. " He forced himself to sit up, grimacing at the mess, though it had stayed fairly contained within the boundaries of the front of his lounge pants and his stomach. There were a few wet spots on Iruka's shirt and the brunette obliged the older man by stripping the top off and letting Kakashi use the old cotton to clean himself up. Once he was no longer sticky, Kakashi tossed the shirt aside and vacated the sofa. He released the jutsu on the apartment, turned off the stereo, blew out the candles. Iruka was scooped up into his arms despite the dolphin's protests which were fading swiftly into sleep. The jounin carried him through the darkness into the small bedroom.

" 'M'luv 'K'shi." Iruka mumbled into the scarecrow's collarbone just as the older man laid him in the bed. His breathing evened out before Kakashi crawled in beside him.

" I love you." Kakashi whispered into the dark hair. He tucked the slighter man into his body, chest to back, arms encircling protectively.

My beloved...

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

One Year Ago...

Dinner had gone surprisingly well. Iruka wasn't his usual cheerful self and his eyes were swollen and puffy, but he managed a few genuine, if tired, smiles. Genma behaved in a similar manner, only his smiles were more forced and his eyes, while not tear swollen, were more haunted than the dolphin's. Raidou kept an eye on both men and made harmless conversation throughout the meal. Kakashi had been mostly silent, but he had tried to engage in the small talk, to keep up the distractions that the older brunette was producing for the benefit of the other two.

When the older men left afterwards, Kakashi knew their night was just beginning. Genma will break and Raidou will watch and neither of them are going to be getting much sleep. If any at all. He turned his attention back onto the chuunin who was already in bed nearly asleep. Kakashi hovered in the doorway of Iruka's darkened bedroom, watching the dolphin as he slipped further into dreamland. The prospect of his cold empty flat became more and more unappealing every second he spent gazing at the futon with its blanket covered bundle. I should go back to the apartment. He doesn't actually need me here. Raidou said he'd be fine by himself. A soft moan issued from beneath the covers. Kakashi strode the three steps to sit on the edge of the mattress, gloved hand pulling the blanket edge back to check on his friend.

Iruka nosed deeper into his pillow, apparently disturbed by the chilly air flowing across his exposed skin. Dark eyes blinked open and stared into the dimly lit room. " Kakashi-sensei?" One hand uncurled from the tan body and wrapped loosely around the fingers holding his blanket. " Didn't have to stay."

" I know." Kakashi answered quietly, tucking the blankets around the man's shoulders. He needs his sleep. I should go and let him rest... Awww, to hell with it. " Do you mind if I stay here?"

" 'Course not. Get in." Iruka raised his arm, pushing the blankets down on one side as an invitation. " 'M not in any shape to be any fun, though."

The jounin chuckled. " Likewise, so don't worry about it. " Kakashi quickly removed his hitai-ate and flak vest, followed by his long sleeve shirt. The dark mask remained in place. He scrambled under the covers, taking the offered space and gratefully resting his silver head on the feather pillow. Iruka dragged the many quilts back over the pale man , arm tossed carelessly across his body, face buried in Kakashi's shoulder, like a small child cuddling up to his favorite stuffed animal. There was another minute or so of sighing and shifting before the jounin felt Iruka's chakra level drop and even out into sleep.

Kakashi closed his eyes, covered the arm across his chest with his own ivory hand, and drifted off.

Owari