Ahh, we have reached the end. I just want to say, thank you so much to everyone who's reviewed and watched me for this story. You have no idea how much it brightens my day to hear from all of you.
Please enjoy the last chapter. I have truly enjoyed writing this.
"It's a long mission." Tsunade had said, "Close to four months, at the least." At ten weeks in, Kakashi couldn't help but remember the way she'd tilted her head to one side and studied his face, trying to peer through the invisible mask that was solidly in place over his visage.
He was running away; she knew it, and he knew it. But that hadn't stopped him.
He stepped to one side as a fist slammed past his face, and his opponent fell past him with a startled yelp. Kakashi dropped his knee into the small of the other man's back, twisting his arm up behind his back and kicking his feet apart to keep the man from moving. The dirt shoved up against his face muffled the snarled curses and insults, but Kakashi got the general gist. Still, he only released his hold when the man finally admitted that he'd lost.
Though the onlookers called him to join them for dinner, Kakashi turned away from all of them, dusted his hands off, and moved back to the practice ring he'd been sparring in before the newly-defeated man had interrupted him.
The mission required him to do what ANBU-trained shinobi did best – spy. He'd joined the organization at the very bottom and was slowly fighting his way to the top. The Konoha elders had reason to believe that this rag-tag bunch of guns-for-hire were involved with the Akatsuki, doing the sort of odd jobs that were below those people, but that had to happen for whatever reason. Tsunade hoped that, by learning everything that this group was doing, they might be able to piece together what the Akatsuki were up to.
But until he reached the trusted top echelon, he could do nothing but wait and continue to survive every challenge. He remained aloof from the others because it kept them from learning his true potential, and therefore avoiding the fight altogether, and gave him a snooty air that was making the long-time members of the gang really want to beat the snot out of him.
Ten weeks to reach the middle. Perhaps another ten to gain the top? Kakashi tilted his head back, spinning the kunai around his fingers, and wondered if Iruka had – or would – even notice he was missing.
10 weeks earlier
"Ano, Iruka-sensei? Are you alright?"
Iruka looked up sharply from his intense contemplation of the bowl of ramen in front of him. "Eh heh. I'm fine. Really!" He insisted when Naruto gave him a look of disbelief.
"If you say…."
"Naruto!" An irritated shout rang out from the street outside, and Naruto flinched.
"Training." He yelped out, scooping ramen noodles into his mouth. "Sai and Sakura and I were supposed to meet an hour ago. Gomen, Iruka-sensei!" He disappeared in a cloud of dust, but Iruka could still hear him calling after Sakura, "Sakura-chan! I'm sorry, I was…." The unmistakable sound of a fist burying itself in someone's face echoed back to him.
The owner smiled down at him as he fished out the money, "Kid's gonna eat you out of house and home."
Iruka managed a weak smile; his mind was far from the current conversation, "I really don't mind." As he walked down the crowded street, he shoved his hands deep into his pockets and buried his chin in the collar of his vest. I should go find him and explain about what I said.
Though it terrified him more than he would ever admit, he missed Kakashi.
"Iruka-kun." A voice called out from behind him, and he turned around in time to see Shizune sprint slightly to catch up with him. "You look….hassled."
Before his training, Iruka would have just shrugged it off, but on too many occasions, early on when she had just started working with him, she'd somehow coaxed some of his deeper worries about not being able to cut it as a touchstone.
So, against his better judgment, he started telling her in halting sentences that he had done something to upset the jounin, that he hadn't seen Kakashi since, and that he was planning on finding the other man right now
"Iruka." Shizune grabbed hold of his arm, yanking him to a stop and pulling him around to face her. "Kakashi-san's on a mission. He left a few days ago." She peered up into Iruka's paling face. "We thought you knew."
"How long?" Iruka whispered.
"Four months, maybe more." Iruka pulled his arm from her grip, rubbing his hand across his face and turning away from her "Iruka?"
"It's alright." He breathed. "It's alright." He walked away from her, ignoring the fact that she called after him.
The older man folded one hand across his chest, raising the other to stroke at the graying beard that covered his chin, "You have beaten my best fighter."
Kakashi didn't bother to offer a response and just leaned against the wall, arms folded. The plain black cloth that covered his eye seemed to meld with the material covering the lower part of his face and left almost all of his face in shadow.
"Sit." The man said, and Kakashi folded himself down on the low cushion. "We have a job that someone of your caliber could easily complete with very little difficulty."
The hairs standing up on the back of his neck was the only warning he got that something about this whole situation was very, very wrong. Even so, he didn't manage to completely avoid the first rain of weapons that hailed down around him, and when he came to a stop on the roof of the building, his hand dropped to cup the wide wound that pierced his thigh.
The chalk between his fingers violently shattered into a million pieces. Iruka stared at it, not knowing what to think and barely hearing the mixed reaction from his students – from questions as to whether he was okay to cheers that the last piece of chalk had broken, so the lectures were over for the day.
Kakashi shuddered, dropping to one knee. The pain creasing his side could only be caused by broken ribs, but he was more occupied with the open wound in the right-center of his chest. Blood dripped from between the fingers of his good hand that were clutching the edges of the gash together.
After several short breaths, he managed to push himself to standing and forced one foot in front of the other. I'm going to die. The words entered his subconscious, but his ANBU mentality asserted itself. The mission would only be completed if he returned home with the information. No matter what.
No matter what, he had to complete the mission.
No matter what, he had to get home.
As his mind shut down, his brain functioned more and more on images. In the darkness behind his eyes he saw only Iruka.
Someone was…knocking on his door? Iruka groaned and rolled over, reaching for the clock to check the time. The faintly glowing numbers swirled in front of him, but he could at least make out the first one. Three.
His heart faltered. In a village of shinobi, late night visits never bore good news. He staggered down the hallway, one foot still asleep from the strange position he'd contorted himself into before he'd managed to fall asleep that night. For some reason, sleep had not come easily, and he'd tossed and turned enough to throw all the blankets off the bed before his eyes finally closed and sleep claimed him.
The hallway beyond his door was dark enough that everything looked like it had been painted in shades of gray and black. But the lean figure that stood just on the other side of the threshold was unmistakable, despite the fact that he was dressed in civilian clothes, and Iruka choked back a relieved cry.
Kakashi's eyes curved upwards and his lips moved beneath the mask as if he was trying to form words. Iruka leaned forward to make them out, and only just barely caught the falling body as the jounin's knees folded. "Kakashi!"
He sifted the other man's weight closer into his chest, reaching for the door handle. He'd seen Kakashi wear himself down to the bone; the other man had collapsed on several occasions before this. But he froze when he saw the thick blood dripping from Kakashi's limp hand and finally noticed the pool of blood on the floor outside his door. "Kakashi?!" He called out, tilting the jounin's head back so that he could study the normal and uncovered sharingan eye, both of which were hazed with pain.
Iruka half-dragged, half-carried the lifeless body into his living room, dragging his hand along the wall to stabilize both of them. He was talking incessantly to the jounin who gasped out incoherent words in response. Iruka was only worried with keeping the other man awake. If Kakashi slipped away from him, with his injuries as bad as they were, he was likely to not survive.
He kicked the coffee table out of the way without even thinking as he lowered Kakashi to the carpeted floor. He tried to ignore the blood that coated his arms and chest. "Stay with me…Ashe, onegai. Stay with me."
"Pup!" Iruka hadn't even noticed Pakkun following Kakashi. Or perhaps the pug had simply appeared when he felt Kakashi's overwhelming pain. It really didn't matter.
"Get Tsunade!" Iruka shouted at him, ripping at the shredded clothes so that he could see the wounds more clearly. He'd somehow thought to hit the light switch on his way into the room, and when he pulled the jounin's shirt free, he thanked every deity he could think of that he didn't need to leave Kakashi's side to turn on the lights.
"But…" Pakkun started.
"Go get her!" Iruka scanned down the pale, scarred body searching not only for the deepest, but the most dangerous wounds as well. He would not waste his time healing a wound when another one might be steadily killing him.
The gashes on his legs had missed the arteries and had already started clotting, so he clasped his hands over the gapping wound in Kakashi's chest forcing the healing chakra down through them. "You're going to be just fine, ashe. Don't worry." He tried for a reassuring voice, but he knew, deep down, that this kind of wound was way out of his training and experience.
Kakashi drew a long, shuddering breath and stopped breathing.
"Kakashi? Kakashi!" Iruka dropped his head down to the jounin's chest, beginning to shake when he couldn't feel any heartbeat. "No! Stay with me!"
He slammed his hands down, pushing rhythmically with all his weight. His lose hair swung back and forth across his cheeks with every compression, and his hands continued to glow as he poured chakra through them into the icy body beneath. "Don't do this!" He dropped his mouth to Kakashi's, forcing air into his lungs. "Damnit! DON'T YOU DO THIS!"
"Please." He whispered. He wanted to collapse across the other man's chest, to shake him, beg him, anything to make him breath again, but he forced himself to continue compressions.
Tsunade and Shizune raced up the stairs and through the open door. Shizune clapped a hand over her mouth when she saw the trail of blood leading down the hallway into the living room. Iruka was breathing sharply with every thump on Kakashi's chest, practically shining with the amount of chakra he was throwing out into the room. Tsunade landed hard on her knees beside the ANBU's body, slid her hand underneath Iruka's, stopping him from burning out the last of his chakra, and started healing Kakashi. "Once he's stable, we'll move him to the hospital."
"Tsunade-sama…." Sakura burst through the front door of the hospital and fell silent.
"Hey, ugly, either go in or stay out, but it doesn't make sense to just fill the doorway." Sai pointed out from behind her.
"Iruka-sensei?" She whispered.
Iruka sat at the end of the hall on the floor, his knees folded up against his chest and his arms stretched out over them. He was staring blankly at the ground in front of him, not even bothering to wipe the blood trickling down his face. His hands, arms, clothes, everything was streaked in that unmistakable shade of red.
All three of them stared at him. Sakura had woken both of them up because Tsunade had called her for an emergency that involved Kakashi. Why Iruka was there, and in that state, was unfathomable.
The brown eyes slowly transferred from the floor up to them, and Sakura could not believe how empty and scared the chuunin looked.
"I…" Iruka started, but was cut-off by Tsunade stepping through the door.
"Tsunade-sama!" Sakura started, but her master didn't even turn towards her.
"Come with me." She gestured towards the door, and Iruka pushed himself off the floor, following her through the doors.
"We've healed the wounds, and he's breathing again." She told him quietly.
Iruka could not avoid hearing the silent 'but' in that statement.
"He's in a coma."
Iruka pulled the chair away from the side of the bed and sank into it, resting his face in his hands. In the relatively short time he'd spent with the jounin, he'd never seen Kakashi look so still.
Talk to him. Tsunade had suggested it, but as Iruka opened and closed his mouth over and over again, he realized that he had no idea what to talk about. What would someone in a coma want to hear?
Kakashi'd cocked his head to one side, toothbrush sticking out of his mouth, and had watched Iruka through the mirror. What's it from? He'd asked, pointing at the deep scar that creased the chuunin's side.
Iruka shifted, pressing his fingers against the scar hidden under his shirt and started to talk, "You wanted to know where this came from."
He spoke until he was hoarse, through the entire night. Once he finished the first story, he prattled on about whatever came to his mind – about how he missed his parents, about Naruto's class when they were younger, about anything.
The sun broke the horizon, and he coughed, voice cracking. Kakashi never even stirred, and only the gentle beeping of the heart monitor and the rise and fall of the jounin's chest convinced him that Kakashi was still alive.
"You know why I agreed to this? You did something I never could. You made Naruto into a real shinobi, and you believed in him more than I ever did." He snorted sadly. "The Sandaime had to beat me over the head with it before I managed to put away my anger at him. And even then, he surpassed me with the one jutsu he learned on the night he graduated. I cannot ever repay you for what you've done for him. But with this whole touchstone business, I might be able to make a tiny dent in that debt. But I still could never fathom what possessed you to ask for me. I can't…" His voice caught in his throat.
After a moment of silence, Iruka shook his head, smiling up at the peaceful face. "You know I've never had to share my apartment with anyone? It was so hard to get used to hearing things in the other rooms at night and realizing that it's not someone who's trying to break in. Granted, you were always injured, so those noises still meant that I had to get up, but…" He paused, swallowing hard. "But I…liked…having you there. I hated waiting between missions because I missed having you hog the sink, and…and eat my food and leave your porn all over my place. That morning when I woke up in your arms, I…never… wanted to kick you out. I knew…I-I hoped that I knew why you were there. I hoped you missed being with me as much as I missed being with you, but I wanted, no, I needed to hear it from you."
And even though he fought it, his eyes filled with tears that spilled over and coursed down his cheeks. He wiped at them with shaking hands, "I'm so sorry, ashe, I should have apologized. I should have told you when I had the chance. Please, please….." The last three words were barely audible as he buried his face in his hands and sobbed. "Don't leave me."
Gentle fingers wrapped around his chin, pushing the hands away and brushing away the stream of tears. "It can't possibly be worth crying over someone like me."
Iruka's eyes widened as they met the barely-opened, mismatched ones, and he leapt to his feet, almost turning the chair over. "I'll get Tsunade-sama." Kakashi's hand transferred to his wrist to keep him from leaving. "Kakashi-san?"
"Kakashi." The jounin coughed as he corrected his touchstone.
"I should get…"
"Tell me what it means." Kakashi insisted.
"Ashe." The word sounded strange in Kakashi's accent. "You've called me that several times now. So what does it mean?"
Iruka fidgeted, but didn't attempt to pull his hand from Kakashi's. "Ano, I…"
"I need to hear it from you."
"It means beloved." Iruka turned his head away from Kakashi, blushing softly. "Or something like that. It doesn't really translate very well."
Kakashi gently pulled the chuunin back towards him until Iruka perched on the side of the bed. "You saw goodness in Naruto, whether the Sandaime prodded you or not. You looked past the demon sealed inside him. I knew, no matter what, no matter what I'd done or what I might do, you would always see what was good in me. That's why I asked for you." He smirked, "And of all the people I could have fallen into bed with after a mission, you were definitely at the top of my list."
Iruka blushed furiously, muttering something about perverted jounins.
"You know, that day, I'd actually asked Tsunade for another mission so that I could come home to you."
"Baka." Iruka scolded softly and folded his arms across his chest, but a soft knock on the door let them know that they were no longer alone before he could continue. Iruka turned, slightly hampered by the fact that Kakashi still had a tight hold on his arm. "Tsunade-sama. I was just…"
She crossed the room and pressed her hand against Kakashi forehead. "You gave us quite a scare there. Comas are strange things, and I'm very glad you saw fit to wake up. You'll have to stay in the hospital for a few more days, just so we can keep an eye on you, but there's no reason you shouldn't recover." She made her way towards the door. "It's shift change now, so I'm sending everyone home, including your team." She grinned back at him. "They're out there sleeping in the hallway."
Iruka slipped off the bed and started to follow her, but only made it a few steps before the tension on his wrist stopped him.
"Stay with me." Kakashi asked, sounding rather plaintive.
Tsunade waved her hand at both of them. "Don't worry about it. Touchstone's have a prerogative to stay with their ANBU." She left with a faint smile brushing across her lips.
Kakashi inched his way to one side of the bed, moving as well as he could, and patted the sheets until Iruka crawled up next to him. The chuunin settled down on top of the sheets, with his body pressed up against Kakashi's side and his head resting gently on his uninjured shoulder. He didn't dare put any more weight on the jounin's body for fear that he would reopen half-healed wounds, but he had to admit that he had missed the feeling of another person's warmth and was fully prepared to take advantage of it now.
After several minutes of silence, Iruka suddenly let out a deep groan of frustration, but before Kakashi could form a coherent sentence – he was, after all, enjoying the comforting warmth of this touchstone's arms – the other man spoke. "Do you have any idea how hard it's going to be to get your blood off my walls and out of my carpet?"
Kakashi titled his head up, "You could always move in with me, Iruka-sensei." One dark eyebrow arched upward, and Kakashi coughed in embarrassment. "My apartment's not that messy."
Iruka nestled his head deeper into Kakashi's chest. "How about you help me clean my place up, and in return, I'll let you stay with me – mission or no?"
"Hmmm." His arms tightened around the narrower frame, "Deal."
"What?" Iruka asked and, for some unknown reason, looked moderately annoyed that Kakashi had been leaning in the doorway and studying him like a museum piece for the past fifteen minutes
"Maa, you see." Kakashi perched on the arm of the couch and leaned into Iruka's personal space. "You are sitting on the most comfortable part of the couch."
"It's my couch." Iruka pointed out.
"Our couch." Kakashi corrected. He was having to do that less and less frequently as Iruka had started thinking more and more about them as a couple. Then he put on his best pouting face and bent forward so that his head was between Iruka's face and the papers he was trying – unsuccessfully – to grade. "But I'm really tired. I must still be suffering from chakra depletion."
"Then go to sleep." The chuunin suggested, waving in the direction of the bedroom. Kakashi rolled his eyes; Iruka was completely missing the point.
"But I want to lay on the couch."
"Fine." Iruka stood, shuffled his papers, and glanced back when Kakashi jumped into the recently vacated spot with much more enthusiasm than his self-proclaimed exhaustion would have allowed him to have. The jounin waited patiently as his ANBU set the papers down in an attempt to organize them. Kakashi knew from several months experience now that the other man was about to bail and head for the kitchen, a safe haven if Kakashi was only interested in sleeping on the couch.
"Something's missing…" Kakashi mused, grinning when he managed to catch enough of Iruka's attention to keep him from immediately leaving. "Hmm... Ah! I know!" He chuckled when Iruka realized two seconds to late that he should have made a last ditch leap over the coffee table to escape, but Kakashi had already grabbed his touchstone around the waist and pulled him down into his lap. "There much better."
Iruka scrambled around in Kakashi's arms, the tips of his fingers just brushing against the edges of the papers. Kakashi leaned back into the couch cushions to keep them just out of Iruka's reach. "I need to grade those!" He protested. "I have work to do you know." Iruka twisted around and jabbed his finger into Kakashi's chest.
"Actually," Kakashi pulled a little harder and spilled the other man across his body so that they were both lying down the length of the couch. "As my touchstone, you are allowed – no, required – to slack off and take care of me when I come back from a mission."
"You came back from that mission three days ago!" Iruka would have looked much more indignant if he wasn't straddling Kakashi's thigh with one leg hanging off the edge of the couch and both hands planted firmly in the cushions on either side of Kakashi's head. "And that's only if you need to be taken care of. Now let me up so I can get my papers."
"Maaa, I'm trying to flirt with you and you're ignoring me!" Kakashi whimpered.
The heat rose to Iruka's cheeks, as it always did when Kakashi suggested that he had any sort of feelings for the dark-haired chuunin. "I'm not ignoring you…I'm just not paying attention to you."
"Wha... why not?!"
"Because whenever I let you distract me with those kinds of things, I always wind up buck naked on the bed, with your fingers god-knows-where and…." The chunnin froze, choking slightly on his words and tried to backpedal to get away from evil leer sneaking its way up Kakashi's face.
"I-ru-kaaaaa…. Have you been looking at my books again? I think there are some nice illustrations that show exactly what you're talking about"
Iruka struggled to free himself from the death grip. "I... I... I need to get my papers."
"Alright, I'll compromise. I'll let you get your papers if you'll sit with me while you finish grading them." Iruka stared at him with a totally untrusting look. "Come on." Kakashi wheedled. "You didn't resist this much last night, and that was a waaay more than just snuggling on the couch." He dodged just in time to keep Iruka's hand from colliding with his face, but in the process he, released his hold on Iruka's waist and the chuunin slipped away, moving to stand more than an arm's length away from the couch.
Iruka slowly gathered the papers, and Kakashi pouted in his general direction. "Alright," He finally let out an exasperated sigh, "If you promise to let me do my work, I'll sit on the couch with you."
"What are my chances of getting you to curl up with me if I don't?"
"Zero." Iruka cocked his head to one side. "In fact, I might have to throw your ass out the window or lock you in the bathroom until I'm done."
"Then I guess I have to be good," Kakashi pushed himself into a sitting position. Iruka looked him over warily before taking it and finally allowed Kakashi to draw him back onto his lap. Iruka leaned back against the jounin and drew his knees up so he'd have something to rest his papers on.
In the end, Kakashi couldn't keep his hands from wandering, but he figured that Iruka really didn't mind since he voiced no protests. Fingers gently worked the shirt off even as he pressed the other man's body down into the couch. Their contact was unbroken until Kakashi tried to shift their weight to get Iruka's pants off and wound up tumbling them both into the coffee table, scattering the papers all over the room for the second time that night.
Iruka sat on the floor in the middle of the storm of papers, shirtless and with his pants pulled partway down his hips, his face rapidly changing from shadowed lust to overt irritation as he seemed to realize just exactly what had happened and how quickly Kakashi had managed to distract him. He snagged most of the papers out of the air and stalked down the hall. Even from the living room, Kakashi could hear the unmistakable sound of the bolt sliding into place in the bathroom.
"Well, that backfired." He told the room in general, but was not surprised when he got no reaction from the curtains, and made his way to the bedroom so that he could throw himself on the bed that smelled of Iruka even if it wasn't graced by his touchstone's presence.
He woke not too long after to Iruka slipping into bed with him and nuzzling his face against Kakashi's before kissing him hesitantly. Kakashi was more than willing to take the invitation for what it was.
Sleep had claimed the chuunin, but Kakashi remained awake, spooning himself against Iruka's back and running his fingers through his soft hair.
"Do you know how many bad decisions I've made in my life? When my father died, I decided that I would never be like him, and I became a horrible person. When Rin was in trouble, I refused to help her, and Obito died because of that. I sealed Orochimaru's curse on Sasuke with a seal that relied on his own willpower. I taught him chidori. I believed he would make better choices than I ever could." Kakashi pulled Iruka closer. "When this all started, I thought that I had finally made one good decision."
Iruka muttered unintelligibly in his sleep and wove his fingers through Kakashi's. The jounin smiled and laid down, waiting for sleep to claim him.
"Now I'm sure."
Thank you so much for reading! Some of you might have noticed the slightly odd reference to a wound on Iruka's side. This is not the one that he got protecting Naruto, but it's basically a set up for the next fanfic I'm planning on writing, which will be very Iru-centric (though with some Kakairu, of course, which is why I wanted to link it in with this one)
I know there are some mistakes in this that I didn't catch. Please let me know if you see anything so I don't look totally stupid! And review even if you hate it! I can't get better unless you let me know!
Sunlight through Leaves