Iruka tugged the blanket tighter around him and watched Kakashi sleeping.

He'd crawled out of bed and curled on the comfy chair he'd shoved in the corner, mostly for lack of room for it in the living room. When Kakashi had moved in and brought his stuff with him, they'd had fun mixing their furniture until the apartment they shared was a true reflection of both of their styles and likes. But it had relegated Iruka's comfy chair to the bedroom. On sleepless nights like this, he was glad.

Kakashi slept like a ninja. No excess movement, no loud sounds. Silent in sleep as he was in wakefulness. Beautiful, too, with his silver hair fanned out over the pillow and his pale, almost translucent skin against the deep blue of the sheets. Like something not human, some spirit from a tale.

Iruka loved him with his entire heart. He'd given Kakashi everything, unable to stop it.

But Kakashi didn't love Iruka that way.

Iruka knew it. He could deny it to himself, lie and pretend, but there was a point where you finally had to face the truth.

Kakashi cared for him deeply. Kakashi liked spending time with him. Kakashi needed him sometimes, to pick up the pieces of his shattered soul and put them carefully back together. But Kakashi didn't love Iruka the way that Iruka loved Kakashi.

I could be any of his special friends, Iruka thought with a sigh. I'm interchangeable. Not that he was many friends like that. Genma. Asuma. Maybe Ibiki.

And me.

Iruka flinched as a particularly loud blast of music scraped across his brain. Kakashi was laughing, leaning over Genma to talk to Asuma. Asuma was shaking his head, smoking his cig and eyeing Kakashi with fond amusement.

Raidou was sitting next to Genma, leaning slightly away from Kakashi where Kakashi was invading his space and looking bored. Ebisu, peering into his murky drink with a twisted expression, was making occasional sharp, witty comments about whatever it was that Kakashi and Genma were discussing.

Iruka felt very much ignored, leaning on the back of the sofa and taking occasional drinks of his beer.

He knew they didn't do it on purpose; he was with Kakashi, and therefore an automatic part of 'the group'. But he was a chuunin academy teacher. He had very little in common with them beyond his involvement with Kakashi. He'd never been in ANBU, he'd taken far fewer missions than they had.

After a while, his beer was empty. Giving Kakashi a sideways look, Iruka sighed and wandered to the bar.

It was pretty empty; most of the people at the club were either out on the dance floor or in the conversation pit. So he found a stool and ordered easily.

When the beer came, he glanced back over his shoulder. Kakashi was now sitting with Genma; Raidou had disappeared.

Kakashi either hadn't noticed he'd disappeared or he didn't care.

Iruka decided he was going to get drunk.

He tossed back the beer and ordered another one.

"Going fast tonight, Iruka-sensei."

Iruka turned a little blurrily and saw Raidou standing behind him, giving him a rather serious look.

Iruka shrugged. "So?" He challenged.

Raidou sighed. "I think I'll join you."

Four beers later, Iruka looked at Raidou. "Does Genma love you?" he blurted.

Raidou shrugged. "I don't know. He says he does. Why?"

Iruka shrugged and looked back towards the group. Genma was leaning his head on Kakashi's shoulder while they listened to Shikaku, who'd wandered in at some point, ramble on about something.

"Iruka-sensei, I don't think…" Raidou said softly. "I don't think that he'd ever cheat on you."

"No." Iruka's lips twisted bitterly. "Not physically."

There was a moment of silence, and then Raidou said, very softly, "Oh, Iruka…"

"I'm sorry. I…I shouldn't have said anything." Iruka said quietly. "Look…I'm kind of drunk. I should go home. Will you…will you tell Kakashi I left and why? Please?"

"I'm not letting you go home alone like this." Raidou said sharply. "Give me a second."

He left Iruka and threaded his way towards the group.

"Hey guys." They all turned their attention to him. "Iruka-sensei's about to pass out."

"Ruka's drunk?" Kakashi asked in surprise. "Damn it, I suppose I better take him home."

Kakashi sounded annoyed. Genma flashed him a look that clearly said, lame.

Raidou bit back the snarl that wanted to climb out of his face.

"Don't worry about it. I'm not feeling particularly hot myself. I'll take him home, and then I'll head to my house. Genma, I'll see you when you get home, ok? Behave yourself."

"Hah. You too. Don't be tapping no cute sensei ass while you're taking him home." Genma snickered.

Kakashi snorted.

Raidou shook his head and turned away.

Genma trusted him. Was it trust? Or just confidence that he had Raidou neatly leashed?

Over-confidence is deadly.

Only Shikaku watched Raidou walk back to the bar, a thoughtful look on his face.

Raidou shifted Iruka's weight and fumbled with the door, trying to ignore the feeling of Iruka's breath on his neck.

Damn sexy chuunin teacher, anyway. He was having entirely inappropriate thoughts.

When they got inside, Raidou carefully deposited Iruka on a kitchen chair. He sighed. He didn't want to go back to his empty house and wait, wait, wait for Genma to stumble home.

"You want some tea, Iruka? Might help settle your stomach."

"Yeah. I'd appreciate it." Iruka rubbed his face, groaning. "I can't believe I drank so much. I haven't had this much to drink since…."

Raidou laughed. "Bad sign when you can't remember." He teased and watched Iruka's face turn red.

"I'll make tea."

Iruka leaned on the table, his smile sliding off. "What did Kakashi and Genma say when you told them you were taking me home?"

Raidou filled the teapot and set it on the stove, keeping his back to Iruka. "Nothing much. They were happy that they didn't have to cut their night early and Genma made some stupid joke about me keeping my hands to myself."

"Hrm." Iruka sighed. "Figures."

They waited silently for the tea. When it was ready, Raidou neatly served and sat across from the teacher, cupping his hands around the warmth.

"Raidou-san…" Iruka said slowly.

"Drop the honorific, Iruka. I hope we're friends." Raidou said with a smile.

Iruka flashed him a smile and blushed lightly. "Ok. Raidou. Uhm. Have you…were you ever in ANBU?"

Raidou raised his eyebrow and sipped his tea. "No. My…career path went a different way."

"Hm." Iruka murmured.

"Why?" Raidou asked quietly. He was pretty sure he knew the answer, but he rather thought that Iruka needed to talk. And Raidou didn't mind being Iruka's ear tonight. The teacher obviously needed one.

"It's…Kakashi and Genma. And Asuma, and Ebisu…" Iruka struggled to put his feelings into words. "When they get together, I feel…I feel like I become invisible. Unnecessary. Even….unwanted, you know? They all know each other so well. They've shared so much…so much blood and pain and danger. They understand what each other are feeling. I don't have that, that understanding, and…"

"And it makes you feel like you just should leave, doesn't it? Like you don't belong." Raidou said quietly. "Yeah. I know. I'm a special jounin, assistant to the Hokage, and I've fulfilled more S class missions with and without Genma than I want to remember, but when they all get together and start telling war stories, I feel like….I feel like genin, listening to his teacher's conversation."

"Exactly." Iruka stared at his tea, his shoulders hunching. "He's not in love with me, Raidou. I know that. I…"

"Iruka." Raidou said softly, shaking his head. "I don't think…"

"I know, Raidou. "I know he cares. I know he likes me a lot. I know he needs me. But he doesn't love me. And I'm starting to wonder if it's ever going to be enough for me. I love him. I love him with every bit of my heart. I'd die for him. I'd bleed for him. If I could, I'd take every hit for him for the rest of his life, just so he never hurt. But I can't. I can't. He goes into situations every day that I'd not last five minutes in and he walks out again. There's parts of him I'll never be able to understand. Pain I'll never be able to touch. And it kills me, Raidou. It kills me."

Iruka was crying. Raidou moved, nearly tripping over his chair in his effort to reach the other man. Wrapping his arms around Iruka he held him tightly, feeling the cracks in Iruka's soul like they were his. Point of fact, they were his.

"I love him so much." Iruka whispered. "Why couldn't he be just some jounin? Why couldn't he be someone who I could love and never feel…never feel like…"

"Shh, Ruka, Shh…" Raidou whispered, rocking the tanned man gently. "I know, believe me, I know."

It was so close. Too close, too much. Raidou felt his heart shattering. How many times had these same words crossed his mind? How many times had he waited silently in their house, listening for the sound of Genma's return? How many times had he set silently for the entire night, watching Genma laugh and be open with the others in a way he couldn't ever remember Genma being with him?

Raidou wasn't sure how it happened, but they were on the floor, their tongues tangling together desperately. He gasped when he felt Iruka's hands slide up under his shirt to dig into his chest. He retaliated by slamming his hips into Iruka's and shifting, sliding, teasing. Their vests and shirts came off without a fight and they kissed and sucked each other's bare skin.

Raidou always topped. Genma liked the feeling of being controlled.

Iruka always bottomed. Kakashi needed to be in control.

Tonight they switched roles. Iruka took Raidou, right there on the kitchen floor. It was hard and passionate, no sweetness or gentleness. Iruka pounded Raidou into the linoleum and Raidou screamed when he came.

Afterwards, they stumbled into the shower together and just braced each other up, trembling as the water washed around them. They helped each other dry off and dress, not speaking. They were too raw for words.

When they resumed their chairs, Iruka sipped his now-cold tea and sighed.

"Are you going to tell Kakashi?" Raidou asked abruptly.

"I…don't know." Iruka said quietly. "Are you going to tell Genma?"

They both sat silently for a long moment.

Then Raidou nodded. "Yes. I think…I think I have to. It's…not that I want to leave him, Iruka. It's just…"

"I know." Iruka said quietly. "I don't think we could not tell them. We love them."

They silently finished their tea. When he left, Raidou pressed Iruka to the wall and kissed him gently, then laid his head on Iruka's shoulder. "If you…if he hurts you…."

"He won't." Iruka whispered. "Raidou…thank you."

"Hmm." Raidou smiled and kissed him again. "I'll talk to you later, Iruka."

Kakashi stumbled in much later, semi-drunk and grinning evilly. "Ruuka!"

Iruka sighed and remained seated at the table, staring into his now-empty tea cup.

"Iruka?" Kakashi asked, confusion and worry creeping into his tone. "Iruka? What's wrong."

"Sit down, Kakashi." Iruka said quietly. "We need to talk."

Kakashi walked over and dropped heavily into the kitchen chair. "What's going on, Iruka?" The drunkenness left his voice. Another jounin trick, to be able to shut it off like that. An ANBU trick.

"Raidou and I…had sex." Iruka said slowly.

There was a moment of heavy, startled silence. Then Kakashi reached up and yanked his mask down, staring at Iruka. "Repeat what you just said. I thought I heard…"

"We had sex." Iruka repeated patiently.

There was another long moment of silence. Then, coldly, Kakashi uttered one word. "Out."

Iruka glanced at him, raising his eyebrows. "This is my apartment too, Kakashi. You can't order me out."

"Then I'll leave." Kakashi rose, his eye dark with fury. "I'll leave."

"Don't you want to know why?" Iruka asked.

Kakashi paused, his hand on the front door. "Not really, but I guess I should let you try and explain."

"It was…mission sex, Kakashi." Iruka said slowly.

Kakashi's head whipped around and he glared at Iruka. "What?" He demanded.

"I was in pain. Raidou was in pain. Our pain happened to be the same, or so similar you couldn't tell the difference. We were talking about you and Genma, about the fact that we both loved you with all of our hearts, and the fact that neither of you loved us the same way in return. The way that you can share with your friends things you can't share with us. The fact that we can't understand you like you can understand us. The fact that we're open books to you and that neither of us has the clearance to read huge chunks of you."

Iruka's voice was rising; Kakashi was pressed against the door, staring at Iruka. The fury had drained and there was something else beginning. Some kind of tired understanding, an old bitter pain.

"What are you saying? Do you want to stop this?"

"No." Iruka sighed, forcing his anger away. "I love you, idiot. I always will. If you left me today, I'd go on loving you for the rest of my life."

"Then, what?" Kakashi asked softly. "What can I do? I love you, Iruka. You're right. I don't…I can't…love the way you do. I can't. I can't change that. I don't know how to fix this."

"There isn't a fix, Kakashi." Iruka rose and walked over to him, leaning his forehead into Kakashi's chest. After a moment, Kakashi's arms came up around him, holding him tightly.

"There's no way to 'fix' this. I…I love you, and I want to be right here, all the time, with you. There will be pain. I know. I knew it when I started falling in love with you."

"Iruka." Kakashi whispered. "Please…promise me. Never again. Please?"

Iruka hesitated. Then, gently, he pulled away and looked into Kakashi's eye. "I can't promise that, Kakashi. Can you promise me you'll never have mission sex again? Ever?"

Kakashi gaped at him. "I…"

"Don't lie to me. I always know." Iruka's lips twisted. "Always. And I usually know, generally, with who. I work at the mission office, Kashi. I'm not an idiot."


"Shh. It's ok. I've never said anything because I knew you'd feel guilty. I know. Dammit…I may not have the mission levels or numbers you do, but I do missions every now and then. I know how it is. It's ok."


"I won't ask you to make any promises you can't keep, Kashi. All I'm asking is that you do the same for me."

Kakashi sighed and then pulled Iruka into a tight embrace. "I promise that I'll always come home to you. Can you promise me the same?"

"Yes." Iruka snuggled his ace into Kakashi's chest with a smile. "That I can promise."

Genma gave him a funny look and then ignored him for most of the afternoon. Iruka sighed and let him. He'd either work it out or not. It was his problem.

About halfway through the day, Genma finally thawed. Dropping a mission report on Iruka's desk, he gave Iruka a quick smile and wagged his senbon teasingly. "Well, hell. I can't stay mad at you considering I've already forgiven Rai. How'd Kakashi take it?"

"It's ok." Iruka said with a smile. "We're ok."

"That's good." Genma hesitated, and then sighed. "Iruka, I…listen. Don't hurt him, ok? I'm not an idiot; I know why. Rai didn't have to explain it to me. You probably had to explain it to Kakashi, but he's always been slow on the uptake. And I know that it might happen again. All I'm asking is…don't hurt him."

Iruka smiled and leaned across the desk to hug Genma tightly. "I promise."

Iruka elbowed his way to the bar and ordered. No beer tonight; he didn't feel like getting drunk Or more accurately, he didn't feel like dealing with the hangover that came from being drunk.

Raidou was at the bar, waiting for his beers. "Hey Ruka."

"Shit…Rai…" Iruka gaped at him. Raidou was sporting a beautiful shiner.

"Did Genma…" Iruka asked slowly.

Raidou grinned. "Yeah. Automatic reflex, I think. It's fine. He's been properly apologetic and horrified ever since."

Iruka laughed. "That's good. How are you?"

"I'm…ok." Raidou studied him and smiled. "You're ok, too?"

"Yeah." Iruka sighed. "It passes."

They stood in companionable silence. When Raidou's beers arrived, he hesitated, and then leaned over and kissed Iruka gently. "If it gets bad, come to me, ok?"

"The same for you." Iruka gently stroked Raidou's cheek and then grinned. "We better get back. Our beloved ex-ANBU boyfriends are probably watching us and struggling with their urges to beat us."

Raidou laughed. "Genma knows better. Take care of yourself, Iruka."

"You too." Iruka watched Raidou thread his way back to where Genma was waiting. Iruka knew he'd been on target when he saw the flash of Genma's eyes in his direction. But he snuggled in with Raidou and went back to his conversation without a sign of temper.

I wonder where Kakashi is…

Iruka felt someone drape over his back, felt hand snake around his stomach. "Done making out with your other boyfriend?" Kakashi's voice was full of quiet amusement; there was no bitterness there. Grinning, Iruka tipped his head back to place a kiss on Kakashi's mask.

"Shut up, Kakashi." He laughed.

Kakashi rubbed his mask on Iruka's neck, grinning.

Iruka collected his drink and they made their way to the 'group'. Shikaku was holding out again, waving his arms wildly and nearly spilling beer on the others. Yuaago made a nasty crack about Shikaku's wife looking for him and Shikaku cut his story off in mid-sentence, paled, and rose hastily.

Kakashi and Iruka dropped into his spot, arranging themselves comfortably.

Iruka closed his eyes and let the conversation roll over him. They were ok. It was going to be ok.

No matter what. Iruka refused to loose this.