For anyone who has also been reading Mission: Kiss Me Deadly, I promise that story will be updated next and soon.
It seems that a lot of people are confused - many seem to think that when Iruka said 'imaginary', he didn't mean the literal interpretation, or that Iruka has gone insane... either way - no - in this story Kakashi really is an imaginary friend. It's kind of an AU story, but things will fall into place in the way of the original Naruto storyline until things even out so it's not terribly AU... you know what, as the story progresses, you'll start to get the picture so I'm just going to let you intelligent readers figure it out for yourselves.
"Kakashi… I may be older… but I'm not so senile as to not recognize my own imaginary friend."
With that, Iruka stepped around the jounin and continued his steady pace toward town. Kakashi stared after him for a second, then smiled happily and caught up with his old friend. "If you knew who I was, why weren't you saying anything?"
"I'm not very talkative in the morning." The chuunin's voice was clipped and cold.
"Oh… you used to be."
"Well, not anymore." Iruka glared out of the corner of his eye.
Kakashi held up a hand in a placating manner. "Alright, alright…" He tried smiling at Iruka, but the chuunin turned his head away. Kakashi sighed. This wasn't exactly turning out the way he had been expecting it to.
"Good morning, Iruka-sensei!"
Iruka smiled and bowed slightly to the lady on the street.
"Oh, good morning, Iruka-sensei!" another lady called, spotting him.
Iruka smiled and bowed again. This happened several more times as the duo made their way through the village. Kakashi couldn't help but be impressed by all the people who seemed to know Iruka – but he also couldn't help but be a little bit jealous as well.
"Oh, Iruka-sensei! How are you this morning?" Iruka was finally stopped by a little old lady in one of the outdoor food stands. The chuunin smiled brightly.
"Oh, I'm… fine…" He tried very hard not to glance at Kakashi who was standing just a little too close beside him.
"That's wonderful, dear. Here – " She produced a bag of tiny fried donuts and handed it out to the sensei. "Take these. Knowing you, you probably skipped breakfast again this morning."
Iruka looked as though he wanted to protest, but thought better of it and smiled lightly, taking the offered food. "You know me too well, Monoka." He reached into his pocket to pull out money, but was stopped by a wave of the little old lady's hand.
"Oh, no, dear. It's on me." She blushed slightly.
Iruka grinned and bowed. "Thank you, Monoka. I'll see you later." And he turned and left.
Kakashi was just about to follow him, but was stopped by Monoka's hand on his forearm. He blinked down at her, not sure what to make of the situation. "Did you need something, dear?"
Kakashi blinked. She couldn't possibly be talking to him. Then again, she also shouldn't be able to touch him like that. He lifted his free hand and pointed to himself in question. Monoka laughed. "Yes, you, darling. Are you a friend of Iruka-sensei's?"
She could see him! She could even touch him! But Kakashi would figure this one out later. "Uh… yeah… we go way back."
The shopkeeper smiled widely. "That's nice. There's nothing like old friends."
"…Yeah… excuse me." And Kakashi pulled from her grip and raced after Iruka, who, by that point, had almost gotten lost in the sea of people.
When Iruka had been with him, he had stuck close to him, and everyone had just made room for the both of them. Now he had to clear his own path. It was a strange feeling having to dodge people, rather than knowing you could go right through them. Kakashi decided that bumping into people really wasn't that pleasant of an experience. Touching was… weird.
He finally caught up to Iruka who was silently munching on one of his donuts, but looked up with a sneer as Kakashi hopped up next to him. "I thought you were gone." There was heavy disappointment in his voice, and the jounin tried not to show how hurt he was.
"Nope! Still here! I couldn't leave without first teasing you about hitting on grandmas!"
Iruka glared. "It's not my fault she blushes every time I'm around."
"Yes, you seem to be quite the stud around here."
"'Stud' is a stupid word, and no I'm not."
"You had quite a few ladies calling out to you."
"Most of those were mothers of my students."
Kakashi blinked. "So… you really are a teacher?"
"Why do you think everyone was calling me 'sensei'?" Iruka looked annoyed, but Kakashi was just happy that he was finally getting the other man to talk to him.
The jounin shrugged. "I dunno. But, seriously… you're a teacher?"
Iruka skidded to a halt and glared at the incredulous man. "Yeah! What about it?"
Unfortunately for the sensei, his glare didn't seem to have the desired effect of making Kakashi shut up. The silver-haired imaginary friend stared at him for a second before bursting out in hysterical laughter. "You! A teacher! After all the crap you pulled when you were a kid!" He clutched his stomach, laughing harder as Iruka's eyebrow began to twitch. "You were the most troublesome kid in school! And your grades weren't even that good!"
Iruka growled lowly. "It's called growing up, Kakashi! I've matured, in case you haven't – you know what? It doesn't matter," Iruka abruptly changed his tune, causing Kakashi to cease his laughter and blink curiously. "I don't know why I'm bothering to have this conversation with you. It's not like you're real." And with that, he spun on his heel and began walking again, tossing his now empty donut bag into a nearby trash bin.
Kakashi stared after the retreating figure for a moment, before huffing angrily and stalking after him. Who did Iruka think he was, calling Kakashi unreal? Considering that the chuunin had been the one to bring Kakashi into creation in the first place and then kept constantly dragging him back here to fix his damn problems, he would've liked to think that Iruka could act a little more friendly toward him. Kakashi frowned. Obviously, Iruka had matured. A little too much, in the jounin's opinion. He wasn't any fun anymore – he was downright rude, actually.
As he caught up with him, Kakashi wholly considered voicing his thoughts on the other man's current behavior, but stopped short when he caught the distressed look on Iruka's face. He sighed and merely fell into step with the chuunin. He was here to help Iruka, after all – not piss him off further.
As they approached a tall, white building, Kakashi finally decided to venture another question. "So… where we going?" He honestly wasn't expecting a response. But Iruka surprised him.
"We're going to a place where there are people who can help me."
"Help you with what?" Kakashi questioned, confused.
"My mind," Iruka answered brightly, in that same manic fashion as before as he finally reached his destination. He swung open the door and stepped up to a pristine white counter with a pretty receptionist sitting behind it.
Kakashi followed Iruka's example and flung the door open as well, stepping inside the blank room. He almost physically shivered. The atmosphere was… sterile… and creepy. What could Iruka possibly want in this place?
The receptionist smiled at the chuunin who smiled way too widely back at her. "Hello, sir, can I help you?"
Iruka leaned against the counter. "Yes, I believe I've gone crazy. I'd like to check myself in."
The girl blinked in obvious surprise, and Kakashi rolled his eyes. So this was a mental hospital. Iruka actually thought he needed to be in a mental hospital. As the girl stuttered over a reply, Kakashi swept up to the counter and grabbed Iruka by his shoulders, steering him away. His eye curved into a smile at the girl. "Sorry about that. He's not crazy – he's just confused."
The girl stared as Iruka struggled against the stronger grip that was slowly guiding him out the door. "No! Go away! You're not real! He's not real!" he pleaded with the receptionist.
The girl smiled brightly. "He looks pretty real to me."
Iruka froze for a moment. "Wait… you can see him? And…" he looked at Kakashi. "…You're touching me! Why are you touching me?"
Kakashi gripped his bewildered friend and began walking toward the door again. "Yes, of course she can see me, 'Ruka. You're so funny." He waved one hand at the dense girl who was now beaming at them, and pushed Iruka fully out the door. Just as he was about to give Iruka a lecture about pulling weird crap, like trying to check himself into a mental institution, Kakashi froze and looked down at the arm that was still clutching the chuunin's shirt. "Hey, Iruka, you're right! I'm touching you! Oh my god! I can touch you! We're touching! Iruka, look! We're touching each other!"
"That's very obvious, and could you not say that quite so loud?" Iruka snapped, yanking his arm from the overexcited man's grip. "It's obvious that other people can hear you, and they're starting to stare."
Kakashi grinned. "Aw – you're so cute when you blush."
"Shut the hell up."
Kakashi might have commented on Iruka's harsh language, but he was simply happy that the chuunin was no longer in his 'crazy rant mode'. He seemed to be perfectly back to normal. Well, as normal as he had been all morning. He still looked grumpy. But by that point, it was more of an exhausted annoyance rather than a steaming one.
Iruka sighed, reaching up a finger to lightly poke the jounin in the chest. Kakashi watched him, amused and curious. "So… what's up with this?"
Kakashi shrugged. "You expect me to know?"
Iruka dropped his hand and closed his eyes in what looked like a headache. "Whatever."
"You know, considering your little freak-out just a few minutes ago, you're taking this remarkably well."
"I've had weirder things happen to me." Kakashi stared into the other's own deep, brown eyes. "No… I lied. I haven't. But as long as other people can see you… I won't worry about my sanity for now. I might worry about other things, like the make-up of the universe, but not my sanity." He shoved his hands in his pockets and began walking.
With nothing better to do, Kakashi followed.
It was silent for several minutes. Kakashi might have started up a conversation, but Iruka looked to be in deep thought. So he followed silently. After a few moments, the brunette began darting his eyes to the jounin, an unreadable look in his eyes. But he didn't speak, and Kakashi let it be.
This continued all the way back to Iruka's home. Iruka slipped off his sandals and headed into the main part of the house. Kakashi might have also removed his own sandals, but he had never done so before, and he didn't feel like figuring it out. So he ditched the idea and trailed after his distraught friend.
When he found Iruka, the teacher was curled up in the furthest corner of the living room couch, eyes peering over the tops of his knees at the silver-haired man. As Kakashi stepped forward, Iruka seemed to reflexively scrunch in on himself a little tighter as though he were trying to hide from his own friend… which was ridiculous of course – Kakashi thought, continuing his way to the couch – because he and Iruka were tighter than tight. He was Iruka's first friend; Iruka was his… only friend.
Reaching the couch, Kakashi plopped down next to him. He smoothed his fingertips over the material under him, reveling in the smoothness that he had never been able to feel before. "You have a nice couch…"
Iruka said nothing. But at least he was still looking at him, and Kakashi found that a definite improvement from the cold shoulder of earlier that morning. He smiled brightly with his one exposed eye. Iruka had to be happy to see him. He always had been before…
"So… what've you been up to… you know, besides the teaching?"
Kakashi's eye twitched a bit. Well, that was informative.
The jounin sighed and decided to try a different angle. "Sorry about your alarm clock – sort of a reflex – I didn't know I'd actually be able to do anything to it." He scratched the back of his head sheepishly. "I'd offer to pay for it, but… well… you know… hehe…"
Iruka made no response. But he was trembling; slightly – almost invisibly – but his body was definitely shaking, and Kakashi's extra-sensitive jounin eyesight caught it. He frowned deeply and shifted closer to the other man. "Iruka…"
Iruka shifted, pressing his back side to side against the couch cushions as though he had an itch.
Kakashi's gloved hand reached out, but he only hovered above Iruka's shoulder. "Iruka… what's wrong?"
The sensei winced and shifted again, his trembling growing slightly worse.
Kakashi's eye widened. "You're… you're not scared of me?" he whispered, fingers curling back in, afraid to get any closer to his friend.
"Don't be stupid!" After the near-silence, the shout seemed even more intense. Kakashi jumped and Iruka winced even bigger than the first time. "I'm not scared of you, idiot! You're nothing – just a figment of my imagination! That's all you've ever been! Albeit, you are now a solid figment of my imagination, you still do not exist! I'm not afraid of you!"
"Ok, ok! Iruka, calm down…" Kakashi tried to keep his voice level to calm the hysterical man. Despite the outward sympathy, Kakashi felt something flicker beneath the surface – some sort of emotion that had been evoked when Iruka had yelled at him and called him 'nothing.' However, he pushed it aside. It was obvious that something was bothering the teacher besides Kakashi's presence. The brown haired man was shifting more uncomfortably now and his eyes kept squeezing shut. He looked like he was in pain…
"Iruka… what's wrong?" Kakashi tried again. "Are you having some sort of panic attack? Are you hurt?" He reached out again and this time actually placed his hand on Iruka's shoulder.
The effect was immediate, the chuunin jerking away and jumping up from the couch. "I'M FINE!"
But the trembling was more than evident to the naked eye now, and when Iruka leapt from the couch, Kakashi's hand fell to the cushion where he had been sitting. His fingers slid over something much smoother than the couch had been – warm… slick… he blinked – red? Blood? "Iruka – you are hurt!" Kakashi jumped up after him and began reaching out again, but Iruka brushed past him roughly, and the jounin could only gape after him as the blood-soaked back of his shirt swept by.
Iruka slammed the bathroom door behind him, using the noise to cover up the sharp gasp of pain that he finally let escape. He clutched at his back, pulling his hand back to find the blood had basically drenched his shirt. "Dammit," he hissed, peeling off the ruined clothing along with the old bandages. 'Shoulda changed them this morning… I was so distracted… didn't even realize – ' He cursed again as he began the arduous task of cleaning up his back once again. 'Stupid Kakashi! I didn't even remember I was hurt… couldn't even feel it… Now it's probably gonna get infected since I didn't take care of it – stressing it by parading all over town.'
The chuunin cringed. It hurt worse than before as he rubbed at areas that had begun to scab over.
There was suddenly a loud thud against the bathroom door, making Iruka jump. A muffled grumble followed the noise.
Iruka sighed irritably and proceeded to ignore the 'figment of his imagination' on the other side of the door.
Kakashi, meanwhile, held his throbbing nose in his hands for the second time that day – having forgotten that, for one reason or another, he no longer possessed the ability to walk through solid objects… this was getting old fast. Sighing resignedly, he opted for knocking softly instead.
He knocked harder, starting to get annoyed. "Iruka! Don't ignore me! Please?" he added more gently.
"Go. Away." Iruka tried to keep his words harsh and biting to cover up the pain leaking through.
The jounin wasn't fooled for a second. "Iruka, what happened? Why are you hurt?"
The brunette went back to the silent treatment.
"Fine." Kakashi sank to the floor, cross-legged and taking on a bored position. "I can sit here all day, you know. It's not like I have anywhere else to be."
"Whatever," Iruka mumbled to himself, pulling out new bandages.
Kakashi was beginning to nod off when Iruka finally emerged, cleaned-up and not in quite as much pain. The jounin snapped fully awake as the other man tried to brush past him and reached out to snag Iruka's pants. The chuunin abruptly stumbled gracelessly. "What the hell!?" he barked, swiveling around and jerking his leg free. "You trying to injure me more?"
Kakashi gave Iruka a stern look as though he were still a rambunctious child. "I want to know why you're injured in the first place."
Iruka faltered slightly under the look, but shook it off and scurried off down the hallway with a brief "None of your business – it's nothing."
"Well, it has to be something!" Kakashi called after him, jumping to his feet. "Is that why you're so upset? Why you called me here? Why you were cr – " Kakashi froze as he entered the kitchen to be met with Iruka's back as he leaned against the counter.
His shoulders were shaking, and Kakashi just knew that there were tears in the teacher's eyes. He approached silently and laid a gentle hand on the other's shoulder. Almost instantly, Iruka jerked around and attempted to glare at Kakashi through his tears. "WHY are you here?"
A gloved hand rose up the tan cheek and brushed away the water droplets that threatened to fall. "I heard you crying."
I think the next chapter will explore more of Kakashi and Iruka's past when Iruka was a kid to give more background info on everything. If you enjoyed the story, I would immensely enjoy your reviews!