Author Notes: Again big thanks to pgrape and don ameoba for their beta help :D and to despina and sandyroo for their insight and encouragement! Feedback is appreciated I'm a rather anxious author.


Chapter 2: Icy comfort of Memory

It's late and morning's in no hurry
but sleep won't set me free
I lie awake and try to recall
how your body felt beside me.
Wintersong by Sarah McLachlan

Leaning in the doorway, Kakashi smiled as he silently pulled his mask down. His lover looked silly in his bright orange and green striped apron, moving about the small kitchen. Kakashi had teased him mercilessly about the apron until Iruka had explained that it was a gift from Naruto, and he'd proudly wear it till it wore out. The jounin still thought it was funny, but also endearingly sweet. Iruka could be so sentimental at times.

His smile turned into a leer as Kakashi admired his lover's pert ass fully on display as he bent over to pull the sheet of cookies from the oven. The temptation was too great, for both a bite of the delicious-smelling cookies and a chance to grope his lover, so the white haired slacker slipped into the room, carefully staying out of Iruka's line of sight.

"Don't you dare," warned Iruka, turning to smile at the sneaky copynin.

"Maa, Iruka, I'm just on my way to rescue the milk from the elves in the fridge."

"Uh huh, that's why you're over here instead of by the fridge?"

"Well, you never know, the fridge elves could be enticed by your sexy ass and want to come molest you. I was just moving into a more defensible position." Kakashi followed up his outlandish statement with his best innocent smile.

Chuckling and rolling his eyes, Iruka pulled the oven mitts off and stepped over to embrace Kakashi. "Welcome home, I missed you."

Kakashi returned the embrace, with a mumbled "Me, too." He clung tightly to the chuunin before initiating a sensual kiss. As he deepened the kiss, the jounin felt like he should savor the moment. A little niggling thought in the back of his head said to cling to Iruka for as long as possible. He snaked his hands down to cup the hard ass that had initially enticed him over, and let himself slowly grind against his lover.

A soft gasp was the chuunin's response, before he pushed back into the jounin's embrace. Iruka let his fingers tangle in Kakashi's wild hair, holding the copynin steady for his passionate reply. Iruka wasn't content to just kiss, though; he pulled back enough to sink to his knees, letting his hands dance over the jounin's back, abs, and thighs on his way down to the kitchen floor.

"Mmmm, I think we should take this elsewhere." Kakashi was breathing hard just from the kisses, his pants tented with his desire.

"What? You're shy about the elves seeing that magnificent cock of yours?"

The cheeky look combined with the smudge of flour at Iruka's temple made the sensei irresistible. Kakashi chuckled as he reached down to thread his fingers through Iruka's soft dark hair. "Well…"

A sharp pain stabbed through his shoulder and he let out a muffled groan. Kakashi froze as he tried to figure out where he was, and why he was in pain. He could feel the hard cool wood of the floor on his exposed arms and feet, and his cheek was lying against something soft and lumpy. He also felt something fleecy lightly covering him—his shoulder was killing him because he was resting some of his weight on it. He discreetly sniffed. "Ah, smells like Iruka and home."

Quickly his brain caught up as he groggily opened his eyes and took in his surroundings. He was stretched out on the floor in front of the shrine, his head pillowed on the floor cushion with a blanket over him. Ah, he must have fallen asleep while talking to Iruka last night. Kakashi staunchly ignored the little voice in his head that mentioned he'd most likely passed out.

As Kakashi slowly sat up, the soft green fleece crumpled down into his lap. He didn't remember retrieving the blanket, which had been folded neatly by the couch on the other side of the room. He turned and let a soft smile steal over his features. "Iruka, was this your doing?" The jounin picked at the blanket to emphasize his point. "I know, I know, I should have showered and gone to bed, but you know I have to talk to you before I can settle down after a rough job."

Kakashi stared a moment longer at his lover's picture before testing his knee. Fuck, it hurt more than it should and had stiffened up in the night. He'd definitely need to go to the hospital today. He carefully folded the blanket and sat it beside the shrine. The jounin cautiously stood up, favoring his injured leg and shoulder. He did a few limited stretches to loosen up his cramped muscles. Times like these, he could feel all of his thirty-seven years. He was just getting too damned old to be taking on these kinds of missions.

He turned his head to offer a grim smile to Iruka's picture. "Hopefully you won't have to wait too much longer for me." Kakashi leaned over and let his fingers brush along Iruka's dog tags that lay on the shrine, wishing he had his lover there to touch instead. "Ah, okay, off to shower and get ready for the mednins to torture me." Kakashi let out a chuckle though he was only half joking as he began to hobble towards the bathroom. He knew they might want to keep him at the hospital, since his chakra was still dangerously low, and he'd be damned if he let someone else try to give him a bath.

After a trip to the toilet to relieve himself, Kakashi made his way to the bath. The light over the sink nearly blinded the jounin as he flipped the switch and stepped into the small tiled room. Kakashi grabbed onto the sink, using his good arm to help steady himself. Damn, he'd hurt his knee more than he'd originally thought. The pain wasn't easing off at all, just burning more now that he was moving about. The haggard face staring back at him from the mirror was no surprise.

Kakashi knew he wasn't an attractive man, never had been. Iruka always disagreed; the chuunin loved to look at his face, despite Kakashi's reluctance to take his mask off. He'd worn the thin black fabric long enough for it to become a part of him. However, things had started to change when he and Iruka began living together. It was Iruka's insistence that he really did take pleasure in seeing Kakashi's naked face that led the jounin to develop the habit of taking it off at home. It was such a small thing to do, especially in light of all the things his lover did for him.

It was irritating to have to focus on keeping his sharigan closed, but his hiate-ate was in the floor in the lounge room right now. Kakashi peered at himself, his dark eye bloodshot from his exhaustion. His scar from when he'd gained Obito's eye was now just a pale puckered mark that ran all the way down his left cheek. A brand to remind him of the friend he'd lost and his previously arrogant and foolish self. It had faded over the years, like the pain and guilt had, as Kakashi had slowly learned to make peace with Obito's death. The smooth, discolored mark contrasted sharply with his new scar, the bisecting lines forming an odd cross under his left eye where the new mark ran horizontally across his nose onto his other, unmarked cheek.

With a shift of his weight, Kakashi brought his hand up to lightly trace the deep red line, standing out starkly against his currently ashen features. It was exactly like Iruka's, starting six centimeters below his eyes, running precisely two centimeters from the outer corner of his left eye to three centimeters from the far corner of his right eye. Kakashi had taken meticulous care to get it right; he had even marked the beginning and end so that it'd be perfect.

A sad smile looked back at the jounin as he remembered that dreadful time. It had only been a few days after he'd heard about Iruka. Tsunade had arranged for off duty ANBU and jounin to regularly stop by and check on Kakashi, once he'd been allowed to return to their home. He had covered the pictures of Iruka as he should, but hadn't touched or moved his lover's things. It seemed to make it hurt more to see the heavy black cloth where his lover's face should be smiling up at him. Kakashi had known he needed a way to remember Iruka, a physical sign that he had loved and been loved. A way to keep a part of Iruka with him wherever he went.

It really hadn't hurt when he'd done it. Kakashi waited until Raido left, his latest babysitter, and then had calmly set to work. Honestly, he'd felt mostly numb after recovering from his initial shock. He hadn't even bothered to apply any kind of anesthetic; he'd figured he could keep control of his movements despite the pain. Besides, feeling something would be good since he'd felt like he was made of ice, not even a man any more. After gathering a small pile of clean towels and bandages, he'd thoroughly washed his face and given it a swab of alcohol. He'd taken a kunai from Iruka's stash of weapons, and assiduously sharpened the blade. Once it was honed to razor sharpness, he'd wiped it down with alcohol. Then a small fire jutsu to heat the blade, and he'd been ready.

Kakashi hadn't flinched from the dead look in his dark eye or from the steady swirl of his sharigan as he'd faced the bathroom mirror. He'd carefully marked each cheek, using his own photographic memory to help him figure out the exact placement. Then he'd taken a deep breath, and silently pressed the dark metal edge against his cheek. He'd gasped and flinched slightly when it pierced his skin—not from pain, but from the heat of the blade. Kakashi's hand, though, had been completely steady as he'd slowly drawn the sharp blade across his face, following the image in his mind of his lover's scar.

Afterwards, it had bled heavily. Yet Kakashi had been strangely unconcerned; he had felt like the heat of the blade had helped thaw him. As the kunai had clattered into the chipped basin, all Kakashi had felt was a deep sense of relief. He'd realized he had been afraid before, paralyzed even, with the thought that he'd completely lost Iruka. But as he'd watched the coppery-tasting substance coat his lips and chin, dripping into the sink, he'd known he now had a way to keep Iruka close to him. He would never have to be without a reminder of his love again.

He'd felt the sting of salt along the gash, and realized Obito's eye had started to cry. Soon he'd had tears and blood pooling below him, as his shoulders began to shake. It had seemed like a wall had been breached, and he suddenly wasn't in control of himself any longer.

Grabbing a towel from the counter, Kakashi had sunk down onto the cool tile floor. He'd pressed the towel firmly against the cut as his grief burst forth. He'd cried like he hadn't in years, his whole body shaking from the power of his sobs. He wasn't frozen any more, he'd felt the wave of sadness crash onto him as he'd realized that Iruka wasn't coming home.

Even now, two years later, Kakashi roughly wiped the water leaking from Obito's eye. He blinked and willed himself to stop this display of weakness. He didn't need to be thinking about that sort of thing—he had to wash up, and then get to the hospital.

Unfortunately, getting undressed was indeed painful. Kakashi was able take his pants off fairly easily, with little discomfort. However, the ANBU top was just too clingy to be pulled off with his shoulder injury. With a muttered, "Whatever," Kakashi picked up one of the kunai he kept stashed in the bathroom and carefully cut the garment up the middle and along his injured shoulder so that he could easily peel it off. That task over, he looked at his thin body, taking inventory of the patchwork of dark purple bruises mixed in with red marks. Really, he'd been lucky in that fight to escape so easily. The missing nin had had a jounin with him, and Kakashi had only barely managed to avoid a fatal blow before landing his own.

He cautiously hobbled over to the bath. He ignored the bathing stool and just leaned against the wall. It would be easier to stay standing than to try to get up and down with his knee, he thought, as he pulled the shower head up to begin rinsing off. As he started soaping himself up, Kakashi mentally apologized to Iruka—he'd promised the chuunin that he would start taking it easier. He had been out of ANBU for years before they had gotten together, and had been taking fewer S class assignments once they'd moved in together. Kakashi had even spoken with Ibiki about possibly helping him part-time in T&I so that he wouldn't be out on so many long and dangerous missions. Keeping himself safe, sane, and alive hadn't always been a priority until Iruka was in the equation. And now that he was gone, it mattered even less to Kakashi. A couple weeks after finding out about Iruka, Kakashi had gone to Tsunade and requested to be reinstated in ANBU. He didn't intend to commit suicide, but like he had explained to her, he didn't want Iruka to have to wait for him too long.

Kakashi rinsed out the shampoo from his hair, then held the nozzle over his injured shoulder, letting the hot water flow, hoping it would help the muscles relax. Now, he just concerned himself with ANBU and S class missions, almost always solo and usually assassination or reconnaissance; things that took him away for weeks at a time. After all, he was just as eager now to follow his lover as he had been before. It was a harsh realization that Iruka was never going to be waiting to greet him when he came home from a mission again.

With a pained groan, Kakashi limped out of the washing area and managed to get himself reasonably dry. He spared a glance at the twin toothbrushes standing in a cup by the faucet, and the two razors lying on the counter, but decided to forgo the niceties. He pulled his robe from behind the door and gingerly slipped into it. He was limping hard, holding to the wall with his uninjured arm to help him make his way across the hall and into their bedroom.

The copynin paused in front of the dresser, leaning heavily against it. He slowly pulled out the top drawer and grabbed a clean mask and soft black eye patch. Kakashi wasn't going to bother going into the other room just to grab his hiate-ate. He used his hip to help keep himself stable against the dresser as he painfully used both arms to first tie on the eye patch, then his mask. It was a relief, as the soft black fabric covered his left eye. His mask felt a little odd being on in the house though. "Sorry, Iruka, but only you get to see," Kakashi said as looked towards the painting hanging beside the dresser.

A few more painful steps got him to the window. Kakashi fumbled with disabling the traps and undoing the lock—it was tricky work using only one hand—before pushing it open. Then the jounin leaned against the wall and performed the seals to summon Pakkun, his shoulder protesting. Thankfully, his sleep earlier had been enough to enable him to use at least that much chakra.

The pug frowned at Kakashi as he looked around for danger. "What happened? You look like shit."

"Maa, I'm the picture of health." Kakashi grinned at his nindog, his eye arching up happily over his mask.

Pakkun let out a short bark of disdain in reply. "Do you want me to go fetch someone to drag your sorry ass to the hospital?"

Kakashi shrugged with his good shoulder, "Something like that."

"Okay, will be back shortly," and with that the pug leaped onto the futon then up to the sill before heading out window and onto the rooftops of Konoha.

Kakashi watched Pakkun go, then took a couple of steps before sinking gratefully down onto the futon. He lay back, shifting until his shoulder was in a more comfortable position, and let his mind wander. Their bed always felt lonely when he was in it by himself. Two futons were much too large for just one person. Iruka had been so cute about the futons, showing his sentimental side again. Kakashi smiled as he remembered what Iruka had said when they'd discussed what they'd sleep on in their new apartment. The chuunin had explained that his parents had always slept on two futons pushed together, and Iruka had always thought that was how a proper couple should do it. How else could Kakashi have responded but to give his love a quick kiss and agree that that's how they'd do it, too? So he'd sold his bed, and they'd gotten two futons for their bedroom. Now, the extra space just mocked him—reminding him that someone was missing.

Kakashi looked over at his painting of Iruka, hanging by the dresser. "Maa, Iruka, it's rather chilly in here with the window open. I wish you were snuggled up with me on the bed to help keep me warm." Kakashi's voice sounded raspy and thin. Iruka had loved this painting, saying it was a perfect way to depict them. It was peaceful, with the two of them standing in a forest clearing. It was unusual for Kakashi to paint people, he preferred his landscapes and dogs, but this had been a Christmas present for Iruka. The chuunin was facing the viewer, a sensual look on his face as he stood shirtless. Kakashi himself was nearly obscured except for possessive arms around Iruka's chest and waist, his eye and partial cheek with his bush of hair showing from behind the chuunin's thick locks that fell unbound down his back. Kakashi had worked on it in secret, then given it to Iruka for their first Christmas together in their new apartment.

A traitorous tear had escaped and was leaking down to be soaked up by his mask. Chakra exhaustion always made Kakashi a bit over-emotional, but he hated to be weepy like this. Kakashi raised his hand to scrub at his eye before letting his fingers drop down to the top of his mask. He lazily traced Iruka's scar, feeling the calm start to descend that always accompanied that action. He let a small smile crease his features. He'd triumphed in the end, he had been able to keep this reminder of his love.

Ibiki had found him lying in the bathroom, covered in blood, snot, and tears. The bastard had had the nerve to rush him to the hospital despite his struggles and protests. There the damn mednins had tried to heal him, to undo all of his hard work. Kakashi had actually had to use a few weak jutsus to escape from the bastards, and then had teleported himself home. Predictably, Tsunade had shown up after that.

The hokage and Kakashi had argued, but Kakashi's final words to her had made her back off. "I've given you my duty, honor, and humanity—and in payment you've destroyed the only thing that I loved. You will not take away my only reminder of him, too."

Tsunade's eyes had softened at that. She'd reached for Kakashi, but he'd taken a step back in response.

"If that's what you want," the hokage had replied, her eyes penetrating as she stared at Kakashi.

"It is. Get out."

And as the smoke had cleared from Tsunade's teleportation, Kakashi had made his way back to the futon, where he threw himself down and continued his grieving.

As his finger gently swept over his nose, tracing the dark red line, Kakashi thought how much peace this had brought him. His scar had turned out to be exactly what he'd hoped it would be. "Ah, Iruka, would you still like looking at my face now? I hope you do once we meet up again," spoke a tired voice as its owner began to slip into sleep.

"Mmm, Iruka," Kakashi murmured as his arms tightened around the warm chuunin lying against him. God, it felt fantastic to press up against the warm, hard body of his lover. Kakashi buried his nose in the thick fall of chestnut hair, drinking in Iruka's scent. The comforting smell of vanilla and spice greeted him, the scent that meant home, safety, and love. It was so nice, lying in their bed together, letting themselves wake gradually without the need for duty to intrude on their time. He felt Iruka shifting against him, slowly waking up as Kakashi rubbed his face in Iruka's hair, playfully baiting the sensei.

Iruka wasn't slow to respond as he tried to roll over and flailed an arm at Kakashi. "Ssstop it," uttered a raspy voice.

Kakashi just chuckled as he placed kisses against Iruka's hair, then leaned up to kiss his temple. "Morning."

"Meh, sleep more," was the drowsy response.

With a tug, Kakashi pulled Iruka tighter against his body, molding them against each other. "I'm awake, though." Kakashi flexed his hips to emphasize that other parts of him were awake as well.

Iruka just gave a snort before snuggling back against the jounin. "Too bad, 'm sleep."

Warm arms tightened around his lover as Kakashi settled back down into the mattress. "Eh, snuggling could be go-"

Kakashi jerked awake. He sat up quickly and gasped as his shoulder flared in pain from the sudden movement. The thud of someone banging on the window sounded again and the jounin reached up to check that his mask was in place. He turned to look at the now-closed window, where he found Pakkun and Sakura worriedly peering in. Kakashi tried to clear the vivid dream from his mind as he began gingerly crawling out of bed to let them in.

"Oh goodie, torture time," muttered Kakashi sarcastically.