Defiance: Chapter Seven

The silver-haired shinobi slipped into the room silently, as if he were on a stealth mission rather than a visit. It took only a second for him to realize it didn't matter: he could have brought a flowery-speaking Gai, chattering Anko, and yelling Tsunade with him, and he bet the young man sitting up in the hospital bed wouldn't have noticed. There was an odd ashen tint to his dark skin, and his dark eyes still held that lifeless expression in them. Kakashi was tempted to touch Iruka, to go up to him and wrap his arms around him, but instead he lowered himself into the chair Tsunade had left sitting by the bed and merely watched for a while.

An hour went by without a movement from either man, and then suddenly those cold dark eyes turned on Kakashi. "Didn't you come here to save me? To tell me how the world isn't as bad as I think it is, or I should be so down on myself, or someday it will hurt less?"

The other man shook his head. "I can't do any of that. The world is a bad place, with bad people in it, and good people who have to do bad things for reasons that are sometimes neither good nor bad." He held a hand up to tap the hitae-ate over his left eye. "No matter what we do, someone suffers. We can follow our village's rules, or our own rules, or someone else's, and someone comes out on the losing end no matter what. You could have told Tsunade to stuff it when she gave you the mission, and she would have thrown more ANBU at the problem until perhaps they succeeded, and some would have died, and maybe others as well because of the information that boy had. And he still would have died. You could have deserted as you claimed you did, and tried to protect him, and who knows what would have happened? You could have died, and then what would that have done to Naruto, and Konohamaru, and any number of other students or ex-students of yours who depend on you? We can't know what would have happened if we chose differently, but we imagine anyway, and second-guess ourselves."

Iruka just sat staring at Kakashi for a bit after his speech ended, and then he sighed. "I keep seeing his face. His name was Teika, and he was good with a sword, and he liked to eat sweets. His favorite color was green, and he had a crush on the girl that sat next to him when he was in the Academy. He's dead, and I killed him, and he was happy to see me when I walked in the door, thinking I had come to join him."

Kakashi nodded, but said nothing, because there was nothing to say. "Do you really think I can live with this, teach as if nothing happened, do paperwork, take Naruto for ramen when he comes back, look him in the eyes knowing what I have done?" Iruka asked finally.

"As if nothing had happened? No. It will always be a part of you, you will always feel the regret, the pain of it. Those things don't just fade away, however much people try to tell us they do. And when you face your other students, you're going to be thinking about what if you have to do this again, what if they grow up to be traitors, what if they use what you have taught them to harm their fellow Leaf shinobi. But you will learn to see each one for who they are again soon, because that is what you are good at." Kakashi paused then, and his single visible eye fixed Iruka with a glare. "Can you look Naruto in the eyes? You can, and you will. Because that's your responsibility to him. You are the one who set yourself up to be his mentor, his father-figure, no one else. If you fail him, you will wish you had died far more than you do now."

Iruka shuddered, suddenly remembering exactly who it was that sat at his bedside, whose bed he had been shared recently. This man was more dangerous than he looked, could kill him instantly, had taken more lives than Iruka could imagine. "I thought you came here to make me feel better," he said softly, his eyes finally straying from Kakashi's face to land on the white flowers on the table near his bed.

"I didn't come here to make you feel better, Iruka-sensei. I didn't come here just because I like you, because I wanted to be your friend for a while now, and find myself wishing I could be something more to you. I came here to save you, and while that sounds like a nice sentiment, it's not always a pleasant thing. The scalpel hurts as much or more than the sword." Kakashi stood, turning his back to the man on the bed. "I don't have anything else I can say that I think would be of any use to you, so I can leave now if you'd like."

"Yes, please go," said Iruka quietly, but then added. "Thank you, Kakashi-san."

The title sent a jolt of pain through Kakashi, worse than any he'd felt in a long while. That single syllable spoke volumes to him about the likelihood that he'd be invited back to see Iruka again, the likelihood of the teacher ever allowing him into his life. He turned back slowly, reached out, and carefully laid his hand over Iruka's, the same gesture Iruka had protested before this mission. Iruka didn't move, but looking down into the teacher's eyes, Kakashi knew that his failure to protest was a matter of simple kindness and gratitude. "You know where to find me if you change your mind," said Kakashi gently, then gathered his courage and leaned forward to steal a kiss from the other man's lips.

"Thank you, Kakashi-san," said Iruka again, a little more forcefully this time. And Kakashi left, as suddenly and silently as he had arrived.

A young dark-haired Chuunin with a ponytail ran down the streets of Konoha, chasing a goggles-wearing boy from whose hands dangled a paintbrush, shouting at the top of his lungs. The boy was far enough ahead that he wasn't particularly worried, and turned his head to laugh at his teacher. Doing so was a mistake, because he bumped headlong into a figure in front of him… who happened to be his teacher, the clever Chuunin having left a clone behind chasing the boy while he maneuvered himself in front.

"Konohamaru, you will give me that paintbrush, you will come back to class, and you will apologize to the little girl whose face you painted on," the stern Iruka-sensei said.

The boy tried to bolt, and Iruka grabbed him. Konohamaru gave up the struggle and went limp in his arms, and for a brief moment his sensei saw another face, from almost a year ago, a boy who had gone limp in his arms and then never moved again. Then his vision lighted on the goggles sitting skewed across Konohamaru's head, and the face changed again, this time to that of a blonde boy with whisker-like marks. At this the teacher smiled, a grim smile of defiance and determination, and he spoke quietly to his student, "Come on, let's get back to class and get this taken care of, so we can all go play."

From the top of a nearby building, a silent figure watched the exchange, read the emotions playing across the tanned, scarred face, and smiled with pride and affection. The watcher jumped off the roof and lightly landed beside the teacher, falling into step with him silently, and the teacher turned to look at him.

"Good afternoon, Kakashi-san," he said politely. "I'm just on my way back to class with this young rascal."

"I hope you don't mind if I walk with you, Iruka-sensei, I was just headed in that direction," Kakashi replied, just as politely.

"No, I don't mind at all," the teacher replied. He paused, keeping a hand on his student's shoulder to ensure he didn't bolt, and turned to look at Kakashi. "In fact, I was hoping to run into you. I left you something just today…"

Kakashi nodded, smiling gently. "Thank you, Iruka-sensei. I appreciate your kindness. I haven't been home yet… "

They walked on in silence, and then they reached the Academy, went their separate ways with a casual wave. As soon as the two figures disappeared into the school, however, Kakashi made hand signs and reappeared on his doorstep, anxious to see what he would find there.

For months he had occasionally been leaving flowers for Iruka, snowdrops at first, and then other flowers with hopeful meanings, marigolds for comfort, chamomile for patience, yellow roses for the friendship he hoped to somehow build between them. He had bought entire books on the meanings of flowers, so he might speak eloquently to Iruka in a way that would not cause Iruka to feel he had to answer, wouldn't make him stand there awkwardly and blush and try to come up with words. They'd never spoken aloud of these gifts, not once in all these months, and they greeted each other politely and distantly when they met.

But today, on his doorstep Kakashi found a bright bouquet of striped pink carnations, a beautiful, gentle, refusal. Smiling, he brought them in and carefully put them in water, because he too could be defiant in the face of a fate beyond his control, and tomorrow he was going to take a chance on something, and send red roses anyway.

Note: No, I'm not continuing this. It's not supposed to be a happy ending, or a concrete one.