Disclaimer: I don't own them.
Pairing: Kakashi and Sasuke.
Rating: NC17
Notes: This is a long, semi-pretentious character study that turned into a dramatic romance-as-much-as-Kakashi-and-Sasuke-ca n-get. Of sorts. The title comes from the Toadies' song "Heel" on their Hell Below/Stars Above album, for no particular reason. This fic might be cloyingly optimistic, too.

Naruto wasn't strong enough, Kakashi knew. Naruto, alone, wasn't strong enough; Jiraiya's training had him relying on the Kyuubi; Kakashi'd training had him suppressing the Kyuubi and training himself and his own chakra. Naruto's training should have happened a lot sooner, should have started a lot earlier.

Konoha wasn't strong enough to keep Naruto when Akatsuki came for him. Naruto fought hard, and refused to be lured into drawing on the Kyuubi's power, until Uchiha Itachi stepped out. Kakashi was busy with Shikamaru and Kotetsu, fighting with their backs pressed together in a triangle. Yamato quickly sealed the Kyuubi, and flew off across rooftops with Sakura. Tsunade called a retreat. It was an ambush that they had almost successfully deflected; Naruto was safe. He was also their final target, and Akatsuki was decidedly taking Konoha at more than face value; over the years, they had taken three members and countless missing-nin soldiers.

News of Kohoha's position traveled fast. Allies came as quickly as they could; Suna the fastest, with Gaara riding a cloud of sand. Kakashi couldn't find it in himself to admire the ruthless efficiency with which he killed; Kakashi killed one or three missing-nin easily, usually. Even though they were high caliber, they weren't a match for him; they might want to be Akatsuki eventually, but they , yet. Weren't good enough yet. Kakashi was satisfied with the knowledge that he probably was. Gaara, however, definitely was. Waves of sand drowned missing-nin, their blood soaked through Gaara's gourd after skirmishes. The missing-nin were foot soldiers, the Akatsuki members were the dark swathe cutting across and through and after. They were going for a full-out war, making resources last.

Kakashi wasn't sure which battle it was that Sasuke showed up. He knew they had gotten rid of all the missing-nin from the Fire nation. He knew the Fire nation had said they couldn't spare anyone, so they had no ninja helping their cause. He knew no one in Konoha, or in the army fighting for Konoha, could use Katon-based jutsu quite like the one he had witnessed in his peripheral vision, aside from an Uchiha. It was a blinding glow, a searing heat, nearly purple in it's intensity. He didn't have to see who it was firing, who had been attacked; he knew it was Sasuke. He didn't feel right, knowing that as instantaneously as he did. It felt like a knowledge he should have discarded when Sasuke left. He tried to rationalize that it might just be Itachi, but it wasn't.

Sasuke wasn't welcomed back. It didn't matter that he had efficiently cleared out a single team of ninja; he was a traitor. It didn't matter that he had come back at a crucial time, either, or that he had actually, as Kakashi would find out, jumped into the battle just in time to save Hinata's life. Or, it didn't matter to the general population of ninja fighting; it mattered a great deal to Hinata, and by extension, Neji. It mattered to Naruto and Sakura. It mattered to Kakashi.

Sasuke said, loudly, that he hadn't meant to, that saving anyone wasn't his intention. Naruto and Hinata refused to believe him. Neji, Sai, and Sakura knew the truth. To Kakashi, it didn't matter. In a private meeting with the Hokage, Kakashi said, "He's probably telling the truth." He gave a lazy shrug. "But his intention is to kill Itachi, and that's useful to us." He could have said more, but he had already said enough. He repeated his words, exactly, in front of a larger meeting. People yelled, saying that his feelings were in the way. This was too personal a matter for him to even think of speaking on.

Kakashi walked over and sat next to Sasuke. When he agreed that it certainly was too personal for him to be objective about, he heard a low noise come from Sasuke. He knew what was coming; derisive comments from Sasuke, glares and anger fueled by the losses staring at him that he refused to acknowledge. Kakashi headed all of that off. "It is an important matter, to me. And there's not much we can do about it, seeing as it would be wasting resources to do anything. How about you let me handle him?" Kakashi's request went through, because of the logic behind it. If a twitch could be indignant, Sasuke could master it; Kakashi didn't bother to see if he was glaring.

"I don't need to be handled, Kakashi. I won't be." Sasuke said afterwards. His voice wasn't as calm as Kakashi would have expected; he'd thought training with Orochimaru would have been more fruitful in helping control himself. Kakashi said so. "I don't need to control myself around you." Sasuke replied, glaring. Kakashi honestly didn't know what to make of that. He hoped it was a good thing, and figured it wouldn't make much of a difference either way.

"I was never planning on doing anything other than offering you a place to stay, Saskue-kun. People would feel better thinking I had an eye on you. My apartment is also a nice distance from the battlegrounds; far enough for the noise to be quiet enough, but close enough for when my shift begins." Kakashi looked at Sasuke in the eye and smiled. He wasn't going to be drawn into a fight, and he wasn't going to take no for an answer. And he wasn't going to deal with the past yet; after the war, whatever the outcome, he'd deal with his problems in chronological order. It was an easy an methodical approach to grief and guilt, Kakashi found, efficient in a way that panic attacks and bouts of hysteria and tears weren't. Not that he was ever prone to any of the latter.

Sasuke, apparently, was relieved by the normalcy, and by the logical choices Kakashi offered, because he accepted; he grunted, and followed Kakashi home. Kakashi couldn't help but notice, out loud, that apparently Sasuke had grown and matured. He meant emotionally and he knew Sasuke realized that, and he knew that when Sasuke deliberately misunderstood it meant that they were falling easily back into their old pattern. As much as they had of one.

Kakashi hadn't lived with another person in years. Decades. Sasuke was surprisingly easy to live with; Kakashi cooked, he and Sasuke ate. Sasuke washed the dishes without Kakashi asking. They took turns showering, because there wasn't enough hot water for the both of them to wash away all of the blood; Kakashi had insisted Sasuke have it first, sure that Sasuke would refuse; Sasuke agreed with a smirk, sure to annoy Kakashi. Sasuke slept on a cot next to Kakashi's bed. The only time Kakashi thought they might have a problem was the first time Sasuke walked into the bedroom, and saw the picture of their old team. Kakashi almost offered to put it away, but stopped when he noticed Sasuke's shoulders set themselves. He kicked himself later, because he wasn't going to risk the integrity of his team's memory. He was glad he didn't have to.

Sasuke, whatever the reason, didn't immediately go searching for Itachi whenever they were in battle. Kakashi hoped it was because he learned to think clearly when it came to Itachi; Sasuke proved him wrong when Itachi found him.

Kakashi was hemmed in and couldn't get to Sasuke in time; by the time he finished his enemies, it didn't matter. Sasuke and Itachi had an odd ring of onlookers, an uneasy mixture of missing-nin and Konoha support. Once he saw that Sasuke wasn't going to die easily, Kakashi turned to the closest missing-nin and punched him. He drew two kunai and sent them off, lodging them in the throat of one and the shoulder of another. True ninja in the middle of a battlefield didn't let themselves indulge in their curiosity, they didn't allow prolonged distractions.

Sasuke neither won nor lost, because their fight was interrupted by several Akatsuki jumping in. They weren't here on personal business, they said. Itachi turned, leaving, without a word, and Kakashi wasn't surprised to Sasuke's presence next to him soon after. Sasuke raged, tore, and ripped his way across the battle, chasing running ninja across rooftops and into abandoned buildings. Kakashi didn't bother fighting to keep up; Sasuke ran himself ragged in circles around Kakashi.

That night, Kakashi cooked, forced Sasuke to eat, did the dishes, and tucked Sasuke in; Sasuke, exhausted and drained and apathetic and murderous and angry and decidedly calm, fell asleep on Kakashi's bed while sitting to remove his shoes. Kakashi, after a moments hesitation, left him on his bed. He swore this was a one time thing; they might take turns with hot water in the shower, but he was the one who was going to get the comfortable bed. Kakashi went to take a shower, and came back to find Sasuke hadn't moved except to curl tighter within himself. Kakashi left a glass of water on the bedside table, next to Sasuke. Eventually, he fell asleep on the cot.

He woke up once, battle-ready and clutching the kunai under his pillow, to the sounds of Sasuke drinking the entire contents of the glass. After he fell back asleep, he woke up again to the sound of Sasuke relieving himself and showering, a few hours later. Kakashi fell back asleep, again, thinking that it wasn't really fair that Sasuke got the bed and a hot shower.

Kakashi woke up again when Sasuke climbed back into his bed, and finally opened his eye; Sasuke was staring at him, with his Sharingan to see better. Their eyes met, and Kakashi opened both eyes. "Go to sleep." Kakashi said, sighing. Sasuke blinked. "I mean it, you brat." Kakashi could actually see Sasuke think about glaring at him. Instead, Sasuke rolled over, made a show of fluffing Kakashi's own comfortable pillow, and fell asleep.

The next day, Sasuke didn't leave Kakashi's side, and cooked and cleaned when they got home. Kakashi appreciated the gesture, even though he was a better cook. At that thought, it made him decidedly uncomfortable with how domestic they'd gotten, with the routine they had so easily fallen into. Sasuke wouldn't stay once the war ended, Kakashi knew.

There was one night Sasuke didn't come home. Kakashi was worried, and apathetic and lazy about it. He made dinner for two, stuck the other half in the fridge, and took a shower. He cleaned the weapons he had soaking in the sink, and set them on a towel in the counter to dry. He didn't clean his plate, and he fell asleep after tossing and turning for two or more hours.

As unpleasant as it was to be woken up several times during the night by some you aren't familiar with moving about your home, Kakashi found it was an even more jarring experience to find that you were so comfortable and familiar with someone that they could enter your home, eat their meal, wash up quietly and then go to sleep – all without you waking up. Kakashi woke up to find Sasuke asleep on his cot, and didn't like the feeling in his stomach at the sight of Sasuke's hand, which was for once not curled into a fist. Or of Sasuke's expression, which wasn't intent as it had been; Sasuke seemed wholly calm, asleep and satisfied, under Kakashi's eye.

Kakashi decided that he either got laid, or Sasuke had finally – and forcibly, Kakashi put the matter from his mind. Sasuke had returned and Kakashi hadn't woken up, and that was something that wasn't leaving his mind, and it worried him that he was going soft. Kakashi sighed and stood up, getting out of bed; and Sasuke woke up at the sound; at least someone's being a good ninja, Kakashi thought.

Kakashi half-turned to look down at Sasuke, "Kakashi?" Sleepy Sasuke, and suddenly, irritatingly, Kakashi found he wasn't going soft at all. "I don't think," Sasuke paused, and Kakashi took the time to collect his thoughts. "It's not time to get ready, is it?"

"Not yet. I just can't sleep." Kakashi went into the bathroom and felt horrible and guilty and realized he couldn't take a shower without raising suspicions. He tried to think of anyone but Sasuke as he jerked himself off, and succeeded halfway.

It wasn't sudden, Kakashi knew; with the war, he hadn't had sex in more than five months; he'd been with Sasuke nearly every waking moment for four of those; Sasuke had grown into a very attractive young man, barely shorter than the slouching Kakashi, but built like he had been when he had been nineteen.

When Kakashi left the bathroom, Sasuke had crawled from his cot onto the bed, and was curled around Kakashi's pillow. Kakashi breathed in through his mask sharply; he strode out of the room, and something caught his eye; a ring, lying in front of where Sasuke sat, usually. An Akatsuki ring.

Kakashi didn't ask about it when Sasuke woke up, and all Sasuke said was, "He's dead." Sasuke's voice seemed calm, and a little lost.

"Congratulations." Kakashi said, and held out a hand. He watched, amused, as Sasuke stared at it. Sasuke took it, and Kakashi, after a second of a handshake, pulled him into a hug. After a second Sasuke returned it, wrapping both arms around Kakashi and clinging. Kakashi held on, and asked, "You'll still stay in Konoha?" He didn't mean to, mostly because he didn't want an answer.

For a fraction of a second, Kakashi thought he felt Sasuke hold tighter. "Yeah." Sasuke said, and they parted. Sasuke went over to the kitchen, and Kakashi heard him continue in a low voice, "Yeah, I'm staying."

Kakashi knew Sasuke returning was by no means a turning point in the war. It just seemed like it was, to him and to Naruto and to Sakura, and Ino and nearly everyone who knew him. His return gave them hope, if they chose to accept it; Kakashi hadn't, but something about living with Sasuke sort of force-fed it to him, little by little.

At the end of the war, the casualties made up almost half of the entirety of Konoha. Akatsuki's core members had been cut to two or three; it was unclear as to who had died, who was alive, and, who the true Akatsuki were.

Naruto remained safe, with the Kyuubi locked inside of him. When Kakashi walked down the street, watching and helping in the reformation process, he heard talk about the costs of the war, and how sometimes they doubted whether it was worth it. After the war, Kakashi had begun to annoy Naruto, making him take breaks from training and working, cleaning and clearing; Naruto felt personally responsible, and Sakura had taken it upon herself to make him feel better, and Kakashi took them both out for ramen once a week to help. Sasuke was in meetings with the Hokage; he asked Kakashi, in a rare moment of visible hesitation and nervousness, how he should approach the meetings. Kakashi told him to tell the truth.

Sasuke told Kakashi that the talking was irritating and boring, and tiring. Kakashi smiled, ruffled Sasuke's hair, and asked when the meetings would be over. Sasuke batted his hand away and avoided his eyes, not answering.

Kakashi knew, logically, that when Sasuke's apology was accepted Sasuke would move out. He hated the idea of it, and hated that he hated it. Sasuke wasn't a responsibility to him, Sasuke was a privilege. Coming home to have Sasuke reading scrolls on his couch, or asleep in his bedroom was something he liked doing. He couldn't decide whether he liked that Sasuke took naps on his bed or not; it was frustrating, sure. Kakashi had already decided not to ast on whatever misguided attraction he had towards his former student; a shirtless, sleeping Sasuke, always curled around Kakashi's pillow, was something Kakashi spent nights trying not to think about.

He thought, briefly, about going out to do something about the frustration; he was almost to a bar when he found his feet leading him towards the training grounds instead.

Kakashi was taking a break after two or so hours when he felt it; pulsing chakra, someone he knew who wasn't bothering to hide their presence. Sasuke. Kakashi didn't turn around, and didn't acknowledge him. Instead, he stood up, and continued practicing. After a while he felt Sasuke leave.

Sasuke had made dinner already when he came home. Kakashi ate it; Sasuke was improving, because he had taken to surreptitiously watching Kakashi cook. Sasuke didn't know Kakashi knew, but Kakashi was happy that Sasuke seemed to get over his fear of spices and taste.

When Kakashi walked into their bedroom Sasuke was on his bed, reading. "Thanks for dinner." Kakashi said, taking off his vest. He wanted a shower before he kicked Sasuke out of his bed and slept in his warm spot. "It was good."

"You're welcome." Sasuke said, and Kakashi heard in his voice that he had more to say, so he waited. "Hokage-sama has reinstated my shinobi status." Sasuke's voice betrayed nothing, and that was the first thing Kakashi let his mind process. Sasuke wasn't going to react until he knew how Kakashi would react. Kakashi wanted to kiss him and fuck him and make him stay.

"Congratulations. I'm...going to get a shower. Tomorrow I'll help you look for an apartment." Kakashi said, in a tightly controlled voice. Once the door was shut, he slowly pulled off his forehead protector, his mask, and the rest of his clothing. When he stepped into the water it was scalding, and he kept it that way.

He was glad for the opaque shower curtain, and navy blue and red striped thing, when Sasuke pushed the door open, breaking the latch. "It wasn't locked." Kakashi said, and turned off the water. "Can you hand me a towel?" Sasuke growled; Kakashi blinked as a hand shot in front of his face, gripping a towel tightly in a fist. "Thanks." Kakashi took the towel, and draped it over his head, covering his face. He stepped out of the shower and tried to go past Sasuke, but a hand on his chest prevented him.

"Kakashi..." Sasuke said. His voice sounded strained, and Kakashi thought about reaching for another towel, but Sasuke's hand on his chest was distracting. Because it was shaking. "I..." Kakashi's eyes, watching the mirror, saw Sasuke frown, struggling with words. "Please let me stay here." Sasuke's hand pressed more firmly to his chest; his thumb was moving slowly, in a stroking motion.

In a series of fluid motions, Kakashi pulled the towel off his head and stepped toward Sasuke, into Sasuke, backing him up against the counter. He took Sasuke's face in between his and Sasuke met him in the kiss halfway, lifting himself up onto the counter, spreading his legs and letting Kakashi move forward.

Sasuke's hands slipped across his damp skin, and Sasuke's tongue flicked inside Kakashi's mouth against his cheek, and Kakashi was half hard by the time Sasuke's hand found his cock. Sasuke stroked it firmly, squeezing at the base and doing a rippling, twisting motion up, rubbing his thumb over the head. Kakashi wormed a hand down Sasuke's pants and found Sasuke fully hard, and Sasuke broke their kiss with a gasp; he leaned back against the mirror behind him, and Kakashi followed him, mouthing sucking kisses down his throat.

Sasuke bit off a harsh groan at the feel of Kakashi's teeth, and then Kakashi came, all over Sasuke's hand. Knees shaking, Kakashi knelt and could think clearly, for the first time since they kissed; he pulled Sasuke's thighs to move him forward and licked Sasuke's cock into his mouth.

Sasuke's head hit the back of the mirror hard enough to crack it, and Kakashi, startled, tried to pull off; Sasuke's hand grabbed the back of his head and tangled in his hair, holding him there. Obligingly, Kakashi continued; Sasuke's moaned his name and Kakashi deep-throated him awhile. He alternated, sucking the head while jacking Sasuke off to tease, and deep-throating him until he gagged. Sasuke tasted like hope and tears and figuratively, something so sweet it hurt your mouth and cheeks.

"Kakashi—fuck, please, fuck," Sasuke moaned, and Kakashi flicked his tongue and squeezed his hand and then Sasuke was coming, and trying warn him while doing it. Kakashi slurped the cock out of his mouth and smiled; he stood, his knees creaking a little, and spit into the sink.

As Sasuke sat on the sink, recovering his breath, Kakashi brushed his teeth and idly watched as Sasuke studied his face. He grinned around his toothbrush when Sasuke's eyes traveled down his body to his cock, which had started to harden again when he was sucking Sasuke's. He kept brushing and stood, unabashed, as it continued to harden under Sasuke's gaze.

Kakashi spit into the sink again, and swished water around his mouth before he said, "We need to get a bigger bed than a damn twin size." He smiled as Sasuke stretched lazily and stood. His eyes fixed to the sight of Sasuke's ass, under his shirt and over his pants. Sasuke saw his gaze, and Kakashi pouted as Sasuke pulled up his clothes, obscuring Kakashi's view.

He smiled when Sasuke stepped closer, though; Sasuke's hand came up to his cheek and his thumb stroked Kakashi's bottom lip; Sasuke almost seemed transfixed. Kakashi was flattered, a little; and he leaned down to start a kiss just because he could.