Title: "Layers"
Pairing: Kakashi/Iruka
Genre(s): Angst, Romance
Warning(s): None, save for M/M pairing

Author's Note: Just a short piece about the depth a relationship can have over time, even in the shinobi world.



When Kakashi comes home from the mission, his right hand is bare.

Iruka says nothing, takes in all the necessary details and leaves the room. The metal faucet knob in the bathroom is cold under his palm as he turns the valve, a gush of water thundering into the ceramic bathtub. He turns the other valve, and a mist circles the water's surface from the change in temperature, thickening into a steam that will eventually fog the bathroom mirror.

Kakashi appears in the doorway. He's managed to remove his sandals elsewhere and Iruka tugs the man closer and maneuvers him past the plastic curtain and into the basin just as he is. There's no protest—and Iruka knows there won't be any if Kakashi's burned off his glove with one too many Raikiri—while his experienced hands methodically strip the heavy flak-jacket from slumped shoulders.

As he expects, Iruka has to peel the shirt upward inch by inch, while schooling his face to passivity as each freshly scabbed-over wound is revealed; Kakashi's milk-cream skin is rusted over from the days' old contact with blood-soaked fabric. Iruka fumbles for the lever above the faucet. His arm gets soaked in the spray of water that then loosens the redness from his lover's shirt and taints the bathtub around the rim. He steps bare feet into the swirling redness in front of Kakashi, ignoring the pull of gravity from his wet hair and sodden clothing while he kneels and unwraps the dingy bandages from the Jounin's legs.

Kakashi's left hand brushes across his cheek, and Iruka looks up. Water is now streaming down his face; the wet leather of Kakashi's glove feels slick and smooth against the line of his jaw. Iruka turns into it, leans forward and bites the Velcro at Kakashi's wrist. With a twist of teeth the glove comes free and Iruka drops it into the water filling the bathtub in steady increments. For a moment their eyes meet, and then Iruka stands.

The bloodied shirt comes off more easily now, landing in a squelch on the bathroom floor to leak a diluted puddle over the tiles. The mask sticks to Kakashi's silver-fine stubble, but Iruka pushes it firmly over his head, taking care not to reopen the split at the corner of his mouth. Kakashi closes both eyes. Iruka presses closer to shift them around and tilt Kakashi's head under the showerhead. He watches the other man sigh as warmth spills runnels over his face and throat, streaming over cords of muscle and catching at the waistband of his pants.

Iruka reaches to the button and the zipper and slides the last encumbrances over Kakashi's hips and thighs, careful not to aggravate any of the yellow-edged bruises blossoming underneath the surface. Kakashi shudders. Iruka rubs him down with lye-based soap that stings and foams and rinses clean down the drain, the plug pulled and the scurf of the week-long mission slipping down into sewer runoff.

Iruka leaves his wet clothes in the bottom of the empty bathtub and squeezes his hair mostly dry before fetching a towel and wrapping Kakashi within its folds. He ushers the man into their bedroom and slips him between spun-cotton sheets, and this is when Kakashi catches his wrist and pulls him down closer and nuzzles into his shoulder and doesn't let go—

Iruka lets go later, alone, when Kakashi's gone to the memorial stone and can't see the saltwater trails on his face brightened by the dawning sun; half relief, half dread, half joy, half despair. Four parts love.