Title: Lonely Tears
Disclaimer: Don't own, don't make money.
Warnings: This story contains shonen ai (love between men). If you don't like it, please don't read any further and refrain from flaming me because of it.
"Mother, Father." Iruka laid the white lilies he'd brought down in front of the Memorial Stone. "I'm sorry for not visiting for so long. Everything was a little rushed the past days. But I know that that's no excuse." The Chuunin smiled softly and reached out with his left hand to trail his parents' names on the black stone.
"Naruto is doing fine. He's getting stronger every day, and he's even getting along much better with Sakura and Sasuke by now. They'll soon be a real team. And he's meeting with the Genin from the other rookie teams, too." Iruka smiled. "I'm very happy that he finally found friends." He fell silent and sat back, then turned his gaze up to the sky where perfect white clouds were drifting lazily over the blue sky.
"And Kakashi is back from his single mission finally. He's fine, he was just a little exhausted when he visited me yesterday evening. He said that he just wanted to make sure that I d-don't wor-worry anym-" Gasping, Iruka closed his eyes tight but still felt a single, lonely tear flow over his cheek and hurt worse than any weapon ever had.
"I w-won't cry, Father", he whispered. "I know that shinobi don't cry over something like this. So I don't cry." The Chuunin took a deep breath. "But I can't keep these tears from falling. I try, Father, please believe me, but I just can't. They come whenever I… whenever I think… of him…"
It took several deep, shuddering breaths until Iruka found the strength to get up from the ground again. "I'm sorry for being weak, Father, Mother", he whispered. "I wished that I was strong enough, but I… I just don't seem to be able to find the strength in me. Neither to keep those tears from falling nor to… to tell him…"
Turning around, the Chuunin threw a last look at the bright blue sky that couldn't chase the darkness and despair from his heart. "Maybe one day I will find the strength to stop these tears… maybe one day I will be able to accept it… that it'll never be…" Iruka shook his head. "But I know that I will never be able to tell him how… how much he means to me… I would lose him…"
Iruka stopped in his walk home from the Academy to look up. He spotted his favourite ex-student sitting at the counter of Ichiraku's with his team-mates and sensei. "Hello, Naruto."
"Come over here, Iruka-sensei!", the blond boy yelled. "Kakashi-sensei is paying for our meals!"
"Naruto!", Iruka laughed. "You can't just invite me to join if you're invited yourself."
"Maa, Iruka", Kakashi said, chuckling, and turned around to look at the teacher. "You're welcome to join. I would never let one of my friends starve, you know." A broad grin was visible under the mask.
"That's very nice of you, Kakashi", Iruka answered and forced a smile on his lips although the pain in his chest at hearing the other call him a friend made him want to run and hide and curl up somewhere where nobody would find him. On the one side, it felt good, warm to be called a friend by the Copy-nin, but on the other side…
God, it hurt.
"I'm always nice, Iruka-sensei", the Jounin said in mock-hurt, teasingly adding the honorific they'd dropped quite some time ago already. "I hope you don't think differently of me. Don't be so mean. Don't you like me anymore?"
"But sure I like you, Kakashi", the Chuunin forced out through his painfully cramping chest and thick throat, then sat down on his left side. "How could I not?" He found that his voice only wavered a little bit, and not enough to be recognised, he hoped.
"Then Kakashi's happy", Kakashi declared, grinning brightly under his mask. "As long as Iruka likes him, Kakashi's happy."
Iruka swallowed hard and tried his best to ignore the stinging pain in his chest and eyes. He wouldn't cry. He couldn't cry.
But still he felt a tear in his right eye. Only one single, lonely, burning, torturing, shredding tear.
"Stop fooling around", Naruto huffed. "I want my ramen now."
"Maa… you're too impatient", Kakashi laughed. "You have to learn to-"
"I know, I know." The blond boy shook his head in obvious annoyance. "Tomorrow, okay?"
"Brat", the Copy-nin murmured, then looked at the Chuunin on his other side. "Iruka? Is everything alright?", he asked gently, his voice too soft to be heard by his students.
"Yes." Iruka nodded and wiped the tear from his cheek. "I just got something in my eye, I guess."
"If you say so", he heard Kakashi whisper, and…
Oh god, it hurt so much.
"Aah", Kakashi sighed when he stepped out of the bathroom, only clothed in his pants and mask. "I needed that."
Iruka smiled softly. "I'm happy that I could help you get clean and comfortable again after such a mission."
"Always, Iruka." He saw Kakashi grin at him under his mask. "I'm always feeling comfortable when you're with me."
"Just don't get too comfortable", Iruka told him while he turned around to hide his blush and to force the painful, futile hope back down. "You still have to report to the Hokage."
"Can't I do that tomorrow?", the Jounin whined. "And now just sleep?"
"You can't", Iruka laughed softly, imagining the sulking look that without doubt was now on the other's masked face. "But I'll make you a cup of tea first, how does that sound?"
"Yay!" He heard Kakashi jump around until the Copy-nin appeared at his side, grinning goofily. "Iruka-sensei is sooo nice!"
"Idiot", Iruka told him softly, willing his voice to be calm. Sometimes he almost wished that he could just leave the Jounin and never see him again, never see him do something like this again, something innocent and only meant as a friendly joke. Something that ripped the Chuunin's heart into pieces, broke his control, tore his soul apart and hurt so much that he almost couldn't breathe.
"Do you want green tea?", Iruka asked, taking a deep breath. "Or maybe peppermint?"
"Hmmmm… camomile?", Kakashi asked, grinning.
"Eew." The Chuunin made a face. "How you can drink that is completely beyond me."
"It's good." According to his voice, Sharingan no Kakashi, the famous Copy-nin, master of a thousand jutsus, was pouting like a scolded five-year-old.
"Fine, fine." Iruka sighed and suppressed a smile. "So camomile for you and peppermint for me." It was always camomile for his friend and some other tea for him, always. But still they enjoyed their little ritual every time they met.
"Yuppie!" Kakashi bounced towards the Chuunin and embraced him from behind. "Thank you, Iruka!"
"It's f-fine", Iruka managed while he did his best not to stiffen too much. The other's arms around him, his warmth so near, his breath on his skin – he dreamed of it every night, craved to have it every day.
And god, it hurt so much.
"Iruka?", he heard Kakashi ask softly, seriously, with no trace of the former exuberant behaviour left in his voice.
"Yes?", the Chuunin whispered, loathing himself for the defeated tone in his voice. But he couldn't help it. This, all of this had been defeated, had been futile and impossible from the start, he knew that and he had known that from the beginning on. But still he hadn't been able to prevent his fall, still he couldn't stop himself from falling deeper, harder, faster every day.
"Why are you crying?" A hand came to his face and gently wiped the tear away that ran over his cheek. "What's making you cry? Who is making you cry?"
"I don't cry, Kakashi." Iruka forced a smile, hoping that his friend wouldn't pry further.
"You would tell me if something's wrong, wouldn't you?"
"Nothing's wrong, Kakashi." It was alright like this. It was better like this. Better than losing his friend, his everything, better than having nothing at all.
A long silence followed and they just stood there, Kakashi still with his arms around the Chuunin and Iruka hurting from the touch and close, so very close to breaking.
"I will hand in my report now", the Jounin whispered after what felt like an eternity. "You seem to be tired. Go to sleep, Iruka."
"Yes." Iruka nodded, then stayed still while Kakashi collected and put on his clothes. "Good night."
"Good night." The Jounin waved and left.
The moment Iruka felt Kakashi's presence leave his surroundings, he collapsed to the floor, his body shaking uncontrollably and hard, painful sobs escaping his throat while his heart bled. But he didn't cry.
But why did it have to hurt so much?
Iruka gasped when suddenly two hands were held in front of his eyes, blinding him.
"Guess who", a cheerful voice said.
"Genma?", the Chuunin asked, knowing fully well that it weren't the Special Jounin's hands. If the voice hadn't already, the pain in his chest could always tell him whose they were.
"Ah, I thought so." Iruka forced a grin and decided to play along, even if it ripped his heart to shreds. "Genma always pinches my butt when I don't run away fast enough."
"WHAT?!", he heard Kakashi exclaim, then the hands were removed and the Chuunin felt himself being turned around to face his friend. "He pinches your-" The Jounin blinked, then again. "You're so mean, Iruka."
"And you're being childish", Iruka scolded gently.
"Only to cheer you up", Kakashi mumbled.
"Did I look depressed to you?", the Chuunin asked, hoping desperately that it hadn't been so.
"Sad. You looked sad right now." His friend looked at him. "You do that quite often. I don't… like that."
"I'm not depressed, Kakashi." Iruka tried to force a faked grin and maybe even succeeded in not making it look like one. "What about we go and grab something to eat?"
"Okay." Kakashi nodded, then reached out with his hand to the Chuunin's face and gently wiped a tear away from his cheek but said nothing.
The look in his visible eye hurt Iruka even more than the tear had.
The last test finally. Iruka smiled. His class had done exceptionally well in this one and therefore he'd been able to finish correcting the papers in record time. Today he would be able to leave early for once.
To go to his cold, lonely apartment.
Iruka sighed and felt his shoulders slump slightly. He didn't want to go to his apartment. Everything there reminded him of Kakashi and of the pain he'd inflicted on himself so willingly. He didn't even think of it as his home anymore. 'Home is where the heart is', it said, and the Chuunin's heart wasn't in his apartment, hadn't been there anymore for a long time.
Closing his eyes, Iruka felt his left hand reach out for the smallest pocket of his backpack and open it, then slip inside. He didn't try to stop his action, he knew he wouldn't be able to, he never was. He was too weak, his heart too weak, and every time he gave in although he knew that it would hurt even more afterwards.
Iruka sighed, half in relief and half in despair, when his fingers closed around something soft, something that made his heart beat faster. He moved his hand back up in front of him and kept his most precious treasure inside his fist before he closed his right hand around it, too. He could feel the soft leather – black and worn, he knew from hours and hours of looking at it – and the hard metal plate attached to it.
As always, a slight twinge of guilt pricked in his stomach for not giving his treasure back to its rightful owner. Iruka could still remember the day Kakashi had left it in his apartment. The Jounin had just come back from a mission and visited him for a shower, dinner and company, just like he did quite often. And then, when he'd left the Chuunin's apartment and again taken another piece of Iruka's heart with him, he'd forgotten this little piece of himself.
Iruka smiled sadly at the memory. He'd meant to give his treasure back to Kakashi, he really had. But when he'd looked at it, looked at the black leather, softened from use, and when he'd found himself thinking that it was just like his own heart – separated from its counterpart, from what gave a reason to its existence – he hadn't been able to give it away again.
His fingers still stroking gently over the plate, Iruka felt his hands move up but forced them down again. He knew that if he lifted his treasure to his nose, he would smell Kakashi on it still, despite the weeks that had passed since he'd gotten it. He knew the Jounin's smell by heart, his earthy, musky scent, like leaves and earth and life. He didn't need to smell the leather to remember it.
Some weeks ago, while Kakashi had been on a particularly long and dangerous mission, Iruka had even put his treasure on. The Chuunin smiled sadly. It had fit perfectly, had slid over his skin like the caress he'd craved from its owner so much, and he'd almost been able to imagine Kakashi's hand instead. But then he'd opened his eyes and looked down on it, and it had hurt so much, hurt so much to see it there, lonely, without its counterpart, and he'd almost cried, almost screamed, almost broken.
A single, lonely tear flowed from his right eye. Iruka felt it burn on his skin, freeze and most of all hurt. But he wouldn't cry. He wouldn't let himself cry. It was all he could do to keep himself from breaking, from-
"Who is it, Iruka?"
Iruka jumped in sudden shock and opened his eyes.
"Tell me, Iruka", Kakashi said softly. "Who makes you cry all those tears?"
"Kakashi…", the Chuunin gasped and felt his fingers tighten around his treasure in fear the Jounin would recognise it as his.
"Please tell me." Kakashi walked around the table until he stood next to him.
"I… I can't", Iruka whispered. "You don't have to bother, Kakashi, I-"
"I want to."
"It really is nothing." Iruka stood up on shaking legs and took a step back. "You don't-"
"Tell me." The Jounin's voice was calm and collected, but Iruka could see his hands tremble.
"Never mind, Kakashi." The Chuunin took another step back until his back was almost against the wall. "It's nothing important." He turned around to leave the room, to leave the man who held his heart, who could make him break.
"Tell me." Iruka saw Kakashi move from the corner of his eye, then the Jounin suddenly stood right in front of him. "Tell me, Iruka", he demanded before he slammed his hands on either side of the Chuunin's head against the wall, trapping him.
"Kakashi", Iruka gasped, "I-"
"I can't take it anymore, Iruka", Kakashi whispered. "All those tears, all those painful tears… they hurt, Iruka, they hurt so much. I want to know who makes you sad. Tell me."
"Kakashi, I can't t-"
"Tell me!", the Jounin yelled suddenly. "Tell me who hurts you! So I can go and make them understand! Make them understand what they do to you." He closed his visible eye. "I can't take it anymore, Iruka. It hurts so much to see you sad, to see you hurt. I want to make them understand that they can't hurt you, that they aren't allowed to hurt you, that they have to make you happy. So you don't cry anymore and-" He gasped, his face distorting in pain, visible even despite the mask.
"I wish I could make you happy, Iruka", Kakashi continued, his voice shaking. "But I can't. Because of them. Because of them you are sad, and I can't do anything against it if you don't tell me who makes you sad. I can only try and try and try again to make you forget your pain, at least for a short time. As long as you don't tell me who makes you hurt like this, I can only try and make a fool out of myself again and again in hope to cheer you up. Can only try to hide what I… what I want to tell y-" The Jounin took a deep, shuddering breath.
"Tell me, Iruka. Tell me who it is, and then I will go and make them understand that they don't deserve your love, that nobody deserves it because nobody is worth it, because nobody is good enough for you to love them. But I will make them understand that they are lucky to still have your love and that they have to thank you for it, Iruka. Every day, with every breath they take they have to thank you for it by making you happy." Kakashi opened his visible eye and looked at the Chuunin, and Iruka could see unshed tears glistening in the blue.
"And… and if they don't understand it, Iruka", his friend whispered, "If they… if they don't want to make you happy… then… then…" He gasped. "I don't know what I will do then. I can't hurt them without hurting you, and… and… and I don't want to hurt you, Iruka, never. I never want to… and that's why I can't…" Kakashi swallowed hard.
"I wish… I wish I just could make them disappear, Iruka. Just make them disappear from your life and… and from your heart." The Copy-nin shook his head and smiled a smile without happiness, so full of hurt and despair that it broke Iruka's heart over and over again.
"Kakashi, I-" The Chuunin broke off and swallowed, the other's pain making his chest too tight to breathe, let alone speak.
"I wish", Kakashi whispered so softly it was almost inaudible, "I wish I could make everyone disappear, everyone you would choose over… over me…"
"Kakashi", Iruka choked out, too frightened of breaking beyond recovery to let himself believe what he thought he'd heard, "you-"
"Iruka." Kakashi softly stroked over the Chuunin's shoulder with his hand, but then flinched and hastily stopped again. "I know that I'm not good enough, I know that I'm not worthy of you and not what you deserve or even want, but… but if I can't make them understand… do you think… that if I try and become like them, that you will be able to be with me instead?"
"K… Ka…" Iruka found himself unable to speak and swallowed hard, his fingers clenching painfully around the metal plate in his hands. He felt himself shake, felt himself fear… felt himself hope still.
"I will try my best, Iruka", Kakashi whispered. "I promise. I will learn to… to move like them and to talk like them… I will change everything I am… I will…"
Iruka gasped when the Jounin suddenly moved his right hand and pulled down his mask, revealing his face to the Chuunin's eyes for the first time.
"What can I do, Iruka?", he whispered pleadingly. "How can I make you forget the person who is making you cry and instead look at me, look at this face with the love I see in your eyes when you think of them? I will do anything, Iruka, anything to make you stay with me. I will do anything to never make you cry again. And even if you can never love me like you love them, I will give you all I have to never make you cry again."
"Kakashi…", Iruka whispered and lifted his left hand to stroke over his friend's face, the face he'd never seen and still had always desired, had always loved, had always known.
"Please…", Kakashi whispered while he leaned into the touch, "please, Iruka… tell me what to do… I will do anything, just to see you happy, just to be able to be with you, to never see you cry those tears again. They hurt so much… I know that they hurt you, and they hurt me, too, so much, Iruka… I feel like dying every time I see them…"
"Kakashi…" Iruka let his former treasure fall from his hand and instead laid both around the Jounin's neck, then drew him close to kiss him softly. He heard the metal plate of the glove fall to the floor, but he didn't care, didn't need it anymore now that he had the hands he'd craved to feel for so long.
"Kakashi, they don't hurt anymore", he whispered and kissed his beloved again while he felt himself cry, felt himself sweetly break for the first time since he'd chosen to hide himself, chosen pain over the risk of losing.
And for the first time the tears didn't hurt but healed.