A story without words flows effortlessly, like a serious song.
An hour in the crowded classroom was eternal, and the nights were long.
Iruka's spent them alone lately. He's gone to bed alone on many occasions, he reminds himself. The routine is distantly familiar, like a daze, even though he is acutely aware of every passing second.
He finishes making the tea. Yesterday while making the tea he forgot to retrieve it, but then, it wasn't often he indulged in anything past midnight. He'd heard a noise outside while trying to sleep. After a fruitless investigation, he decided it was no use marching back to the bedroom alone, it was hard enough to sleep these days. He would stay awake until his body succumbed. He turned on the stove.
Iruka scolded himself mentally every time he missed a step, flubbed a sentence, was unintentionally harsher to his students than he intended. They only seemed to take advantage of him when they judged him to be distracted. This he made up for by yelling more than usual.
And what good did it do? They probably hadn't learned a thing in days. He was useless. Yesterday, he'd fallen asleep in that chair, the water had started to bubble out of the pot, he woke up only to the sounds of banging on his door. His neighbor tenants were starting to wonder about the smoke alarm. He hadn't even heard it.
Today, he wouldn't do a thing like that. Everyone talked; he'd be surprised if Tsunade herself hadn't caught wind from the academy students that "old Iruka-sensei was going senile" at 26. She seemed to pity him for holding such a teeedious post, but she turned the evil eye on anyone who wasn't pulling their weight in Konoha these days. So, today, he wouldn't do a thing like that.
Today he poured the tea, switched off the stove, graded some miscellaneous papers (because of Konohamaru's chicken-scratch he'd been putting it off for days), felt content with himself enough to slide into bed. His happiest thoughts drifting off to sleep were the sour ones. He wanted to scold Kakashi for being late, for keeping him waiting, like he kept everyone waiting even while he was in town. At the same time, he scolded himself for letting his absence completely take hold of his life, despite the fact that he'd only walked into it less than a year ago.
When Iruka woke up, his lips were dry. It was cold outside, and dark, too, he realized, edging out of bed and ambling out of the bedroom.
Kakashi was in the kitchen, making tea.
Iruka swallowed back as he looked on, calm and composed. He was back – back, finally – the worry period was over. He relaxed his tense muscles, attempted to smile, tried to get his attention with a "welcome home" or some other small greeting. Much to his own surprise, he broke into sobs instead.
Kakashi turned, with an ease that suggested that he'd known of his lover's presence. But he did not react otherwise.
Iruka blinked past the tears long enough to give Kakashi the once-over. He was in full mission gear; even his mask was still in place. Kakashi was scarcely masked in Iruka's home, claiming the two of them to be "past that level." He practically lived here, besides.
"Are you hurt?" He managed.
Kakashi didn't answer, turning his head slightly to avoid looking at him. He picked up a mug off the counter and turned it over in his hands, scrutinizing it.
Iruka finally approached him, sensing something to be very wrong, but relieved somewhere inside to see the man in one piece, and very much alive.
"How was the mission?" he tried again.
"Success." Came the mumbled answer.
"I'm glad you came home," Iruka said.
Kakashi visibly flinched at this. He set down the mug with a loud noise and wrapped an arm around Iruka.
"Yeah." His voice was scarcely audible.
Iruka understood now. Not everyone had come back alive. Kakashi must have been on a jounin team; an incredibly high-class mission, no doubt.
He avoided the questions that sprang to mind. Who? Anyone I know?
Instead he grabbed Kakashi's arm, leading him down the hall to the bath. He could barely think straight. Kakashi always needed the bath when he returned (quite an event on those happy occasions) but besides that, he needed to know if the jounin was injured at all.
But once they passed Iruka's bedroom, Kakashi held fast.
"Kakashi-sensei, won't you…" He sighed, as Kakashi seemed quite resolute in staying put. On the other hand, Iruka could be pretty stubborn himself. "You need to clean up, you just got home-"
"There's no time for that, not right now, Iruka-sensei…"
Iruka crossed his arms, wondering if it was worth it to argue with Kakashi while he was in this state. It hurt to see him so broken, but he was the one in charge of making sure the jounin took care of himself.
"Let's talk," Kakashi said.
"Clean first, then we'll talk," Iruka said softly, feeling as though he were talking to a defiant child. It pained him, it really did.
Kakashi stood there quietly in the dark hallway, finally looking him in the eyes. He murmured, "if you promise to listen afterwards."
"Of course," Iruka assured him.
He lounged about on the futon, hearing the pouring steam from the next room. He remembered the time when Kakashi, back from a mission, had surprised him in the middle of class. ( He'd taken his mask down too, forgetting that twenty-two young pre-genins could see him. They'd be talking about the encounter for weeks, though Naruto refused to believe the stories.) At the time Iruka had been furious – flustered, more like, but he couldn't let his students see him get all worked up in front of one of Konoha's most respected ninjas. But he was happy as well, and although a proper welcome-back greeting was impossible on the grounds during school hours, they'd taken care of that as soon as they'd had a moment to themselves.
That time, Kakashi had been gone thirty-five days. Iruka rubbed his nose thoughtfully, before suddenly being brought back to the present by a noise from the other room. Kakashi always came back in a different mood, but to date he'd always come back and to Iruka not much else mattered. He would cope with it in his own time, as he always had.
Kakashi appeared in the doorway suddenly, barely dressed, and no sooner had Iruka spotted him had he fallen into bed beside him. Iruka relaxed at his touch, the knowledge that Kakashi was already opening back up to him – then froze.
"You're cold...!" Iruka started. Had he used the last of the hot water earlier? He mentally kicked himself.
"Don't worry about me, Iruka-sensei." Kakashi paused before continuing. "You shouldn't concern yourself so much with my safety."
Concern himself? Well what else am I supposed to do with forty days? He paused, figured Kakashi was probably going through the guilt and remorse stages, assuming a team member really had died over one of those forty days. Iruka knew those feelings pretty well, after all.
"Everyone who goes out there has somebody worried about them and I'm the one who worries about you," Iruka stated matter-of-factly, as if he were giving a lecture. Anyway, he knew Kakashi would never undervalue Iruka's care for him. He prized it.
"I'm the one who's worried about you." Kakashi replied.
"Me?" Iruka grimaced strangely. "I'm fine. Work's… tiring, but it's not life-endangering, yet."
"…you're always waiting, aren't you?" Kakashi continued. "I always make you wait for me."
"There's nothing we can do about that. The only thing you can do is keep coming back." It wasn't like Kakashi to address these somber things, the underlying part of their relationship. Normally by now his mind was on nookie and Iruka now wanted that return to normalcy, even if he normally vehemently rejected the frequent pleas for sex. Addressing the wait and the waiting only made it seem all the more unbearable.
Iruka kissed him, on his hands and knees. He crawled over Kakashi. Normalcy, his mind pleaded.
Kakashi was still damp beneath him and almost stone cold. Iruka waited for whatever animal instinct to kick in, before Kakashi only slipped further and further away. He expected any moment to feel those arms wrap firmly around his back. He'd warm up Kakashi the best way he knew how.
When a minute passed and the kiss was still tame, he pulled away. Kakashi stared sullenly up at him. Iruka suddenly felt the hand nestled in his hair, weeding through it softly.
He opened his mouth to speak, but stopped when he saw Kakashi preparing his words.
"I love you… Iruka-sensei." He said quietly. "Before, we really… we really didn't spend enough time together."
"It was enough," Iruka tried to smile for him. "Don't let Tsunade-sama send you on any more missions for a while. We can make up for it."
"No, we can't, Iruka-sensei." Kakashi murmured. "This is what I needed to tell you. It was an enemy jutsu… I've… been dead for almost twenty-four hours."
Just like that, Iruka's veins ran dry. His body jerked away from Kakashi's cold one.
"I tried to tell you last night," the murmurs continued. "But then, I thought it would be easier on you if I didn't come back at all. I'm sorry…" he paused and muttered, "I came here for selfish reasons. I just really wanted to see you again."
He could see the million thoughts running through Iruka's head. The man was a hair's breadth from crying again, but he bit his lip and suppressed it, opened his mouth, then bit down again. He started to say a million different things, but struggled for the right words. It looked like he could barely hold it all down.
"H-how long?" He finally said.
"Not more than an hour."
Iruka kissed him shakily, and Kakashi felt a tear run down his cheek. "Then we'll make it enough time."
The tear was Iruka's; Kakashi wasn't able to cry anymore.