A/N: This was originally going to be something entirely different, but as I discovered THAT could be more or less summed up in a paragraph that left out all the rather unbelievable details, that's what I'm going to do. With the full approval of my two most precious people, I now bring you more Kakashi torture!

There is a slight change in wording from what Kakashi repeats in 'Can, Can't, and Won't', but as he was paraphrasing and the spirit is the same, I think that I can get away with it.

…Yes, to all those concerned, I do know (more or less) where I am going with this and it WILL have the happiest ending I can manage, I promise!

Songs for this chapter: "How Do I Live" by LeAnn Rimes and "Wishing" by Sugarland.

Warning: Lots of italics ahead, and the unashamed use of Yondaime's actual name. If you don't want to know…well…I don't know. Don't read it, I guess.

Falling Like Stars
By: Reggie

Chapter 4

Two days of going to the gate almost every hour, running into Naruto more than half the time, with Sakura sometimes joining them, did nothing to calm Kakashi's nerves. For that first half a day after seeing Tsunade, Kakashi could convince himself that this was all a big misunderstanding; his lover would come walking back through those gates with a sheepish grin and a perfectly logical explanation as to why he'd had to leave so suddenly. All would be forgiven. It would be alright.

It was harder to believe as he curled up on the couch, unable to face the idea of sleeping in their bed alone. The darkness of the house put a strangle-hold on his hope. There was no rational reason that Kakashi could dream up for the teacher to leave without informing anyone. And everything was so planned, so precise, as to allow him to be missing for several days before anyone discovered he was gone.

He'd left a note at the Academy for Monday morning. He'd drugged Kakashi. There was no denying that's what he'd done, Tsunade had checked herself. There were traces of an ANBU drug in his system that he could not explain away.

It was cold and lonely, and Kakashi found he could not sleep in the silence. It was too loud. He'd continued to visit the gate every hour, and didn't even have the heart to be surprised when Naruto continued to join him.

The second night had not been any better, and Kakashi wasn't sleeping when the Hokage's hawk landed on his windowsill a little after dawn. He didn't bother to read the note attached to its leg, instead opening the window to spring out and make his way to her tower.

Naruto and Sakura were already there, only the pink haired girl looking a little sleepy eyed, along with an ANBU team. There was no sign of Iruka.

A wave of nausea hit Kakashi rather forcefully, but years of training clamped down on it and every other feeling automatically. Facts first, feelings after.

"Thanks for joining us, Kakashi," Tsunade said. It lacked any real scolding tone, and was surprisingly soft. Kakashi could only nod in response. She turned to the ANBU team with a frown on her face. "Report."

One of them stepped forward, and Kakashi was a little surprised to see the uniform back cloak was missing. He could see the long brown hair hanging down to the ANBU's neck, and the tiger mask. Genma. "We followed the trail left by Iruka-sensei for about a day's travel. It did not appear there was any attempt to hide or block the way, so we traveled with caution, in case of an attack. Wolf reported smelling blood, along with the scent of our target. We entered the clearing."

Genma paused long enough to reach into his back weapons pouch, and removed from it a blood stained forehead protector. Kakashi noticed the world tipping violently, but only stumbled a half a step. He was used to running and standing with severe blood loss and chakra drainage. He could stay standing now. His emotions were reigned in even tighter.

Kakashi felt Naruto inhale sharply, blue eyes staring at the forehead protector that were impossibly round.

"There were no enemies in the clearing, or a struggle, but a large amount of blood. Iruka-sensei was lying next to the small creek. He'd been dead for several hours when we arrived. All evidence points to Iruka-sensei having taken his own life by slitting his throat."

It was like someone had incased Kakashi's body in dry ice—a sensation of freezing and burning all at once. He could breath, couldn't think, couldn't feel anything at all. Each movement as Genma put the forehead protector on Tsunade's desk was suddenly going through his brain with a million more details. The way Genma's slightly blood-stained gloves crinkled as the pieces was released, and bounced lightly of Tsunade's desk with an ominous clinking noise were all overwhelmingly clear to his eye.

"We have guessed that Iruka-sensei left the village to spare his loved ones from cleaning up the mess." Genma's voice was flat. Detached. Emotionless. "The body has been appropriately disposed of, as per the rules of those that die outside the village."

Tsunade stared at the forehead protector on her desk, looking rather obviously taken aback. She didn't move her eyes from it as she spoke. "Thank you for your…"

"You're lying!" Naruto's voice cracked a little as he roared the words, shattering the death-like stillness that had descended on those not speaking. "I don't know who you are, but you're wrong! Iruka-sensei would never do that! You're lying! You're lying!"

"Naruto," Sakura's voice sounded small after Naruto's shouts of rage. She raised a hand to his shoulder, a comforting gesture. He brushed her hand away.

"You know he wouldn't!" Naruto pointed an angry finger at Tsunade, not bothering to stop the tears that were falling this time. "Iruka-sensei isn't like that! He's not a coward! He'd NEVER do that!"

Tsunade looked as detached from the situation as Genma had sounded, her thin eyebrows only slightly furrowed. "He tried once before, when he was about your age. After he nearly killed his best friend."

Naruto took a step back, and Kakashi's lungs slammed shut, creating impossible pressure in his chest. Those were not her secrets to tell! How DARE she say it like that, like he'd nearly killed Hayate on purpose, like he'd had a choice about it? Like it hadn't torn Iruka up with guilt every day, had nightmares about it at least once a week. What right did that bitch have to destroy Iruka like that? She'd stood by and let him suffer under Orochimaru! She'd done his psych evaluations herself; she should have seen this coming! And now, now? She was trying to make this all sound like Iruka's fault, make him less in Naruto's eyes. Destroy him completely.

The Jounin was moving before he'd even given it a conscious thought, kunai in hand. He only vaguely registered that he was trying to attack the Hokage of all people, and even that thought was brushed aside. She was insulting Iruka. She had to stop.

A hand on his wrist, impossibly fast, and another around his neck held him in place. He could see Sakura, tears falling silently down her face, staring at him in shock and concern.

"I know how you feel, Kakashi," a voice in his ear whispered, distorted more by a half a sob then the mask. He swallowed as he recognized the voice. Raven. Anko. "I know, but you can't. Don't do anything stupid now."

Naruto collapsed onto his knees, fists clenched on his thighs. "You're lying." He sounded desperate this time. "You're lying. Iruka-sensei's not…he wouldn't…"

Kakashi couldn't breathe again as the ghost of his childhood voice sobbed in his head, hands covered in blood that wasn't his own, those same words about someone equally loved.

"I wish I was," Tsunade looked genuinely sad, completely ignoring Kakashi's attempt to attack her. The Jounin wondered if maybe she didn't understand, just a little, even if he himself did not. A silence fell over them, Naruto's chocked mantra of 'it's a lie' not quite breaking it.

Finally, Tsunade sat up, looking exhausted. "We will have a funeral for Iruka-sensei in two days time. Sakura, I want you to take Naruto home. Make him rest. Watch him."

Sakura, who was no kneeling beside her friend, nodded. "Yes, Tsunade-sama." Naruto didn't even look up, didn't protest that he didn't need a baby sitter.

The Hokage looked at Kakashi. She didn't have to tell him that she was putting him under ANBU watch; he'd been through losing someone enough times to know the drill. He just nodded. Anko released him and he headed out the door. He should comfort his students, he knew that, but everything inside him had vanished. His emotions, his words, they'd all evaporated.

The Copy-ninja didn't make it very far. He was barely half a block back toward their—his—apartment before he had to lean against the wall of a dark alley. The strength to go on was still there, the will was not.

Almost as if to fill the empty space of the predawn, memories surfaced that Kakashi almost never let himself think about.

"Daddy, look it! Sensei allowed me to pass! I'm a genin now, and all grown up." The barely five-year-old Kakashi beamed up at his father.

Konoha's White Fang chuckled down at the excited little boy, gently ruffling his hair. "You really think so, Kakashi-kun?"

"Yes," the child grinned confidently, revealing a mouthful of baby teeth, before frowning and looking down at his sandaled feet. "The other kids don't think so. They said they don't want me on their team because I'm so little, and not as strong as they are. I told them I could do twice as many jutsu as they could, I showed them too, but they didn't care."

A large hand on Kakashi's shoulder, and a deep chuckle as his father knelt down to Kakashi's level. "That is not the way to measure your strength, Kakashi-kun."

"But Daddy knows many jutsu, and he's the strongest ninja in the whole village!" Kakashi protested, stamping one small foot.

Sakumo laughed, and while Kakashi watched with wide eyes, he reached up and started to untie the forehead protector around his head. "You think so, huh? Kakashi, strength is not measured in the number of jutsu you know, or the enemies you kill. Not even your rank or interesting nicknames." His father's large hands reached around, tying the forehead protector around his son's neck. "You have to prove yourself in the little things."

"Little things?" Kakashi asked, blinking up at his father.

"When you do small things to show your love and your devotion to your village, others will see just how strong you are."

"Stop," Kakashi breathed out, not sure what good it would do. He wasn't even sure who he was asking. "Please stop."

"No one takes me seriously!" Kakashi was a year older now, but still very much a little boy with all his baby teeth. His eyes were filled with tears and he tore at the forehead protector around his neck. "They all whisper about me, and say I'll betray them like you!"

Sakumo was just looking at his son, staring in detached silence as the boy managed to work the knot free. Kakashi threw the forehead protector and it bounced along the library floor to land at his father's feet. "I don't want to be like you at all! I don't want to be your son anymore!"

Kakashi leaned more heavily against the wall as his knees gave out, and he slid down to the sidewalk. He knew what came next. No matter how often he had willed himself to forget he never could.

He should be able to control his own memories, in the way he usually could everything else, but this was proving impossible. Kakashi was starting to doubt that anything was possible anymore.

"What's wrong, Kakashi-kun?" Minato-sensei smiled down at him, lowering a hand to ruffle fluffy silver hair. "You've been quiet all of today."

"I said some mean things to Daddy this morning," Kakashi muttered, looking away from his sensei, hands stuffed deep into the pockets of his shorts. "I even threw my forehead protector back at him."

"Ah, really?" Blue eyes blinked down at him thoughtfully. "I was wondering why you didn't have one today. So, let me guess, you've been trying to figure out how to make it up to him all day?"

"Yes," the young boy muttered, still not looking up. "But I have no idea what to do."

"Well," his sensei laughed, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "You could always have tempura for dinner." Kakashi made a small noise of disgust and Minato laughed. "I know you don't like it, Kakashi-kun, but it's his favorite, and he'll appreciate your sacrifice. That makes it more special, right?"

"I guess." The young boy frowned, but quickly smiled as he looked up to see the gate leading up to his home. "Yes, that's what I'll do!" He ran forward, opening the gate. "Daddy, I'm home!"

There was no answering reply, and Kakashi frowned again. "That's odd, Daddy always comes to meet us and ask sensei what we did so he can test me later…" The young genin looked around for any sign of where his father might be. As he got closer, his eyes widened. "Sensei, I smell blood!"

"Kakashi, wait!" Minato yelled after him, making a grab for the child and missing. Kakashi all but flew up the front steps, not bothering to kick off his shoes as he slid into the house.

"Daddy? Daddy where are you?" He ran down the hall, passed the close doors, and slid to a halt outside the library. The door was slightly cracked, and the smell strongest there. Kakashi reached out a hand and slid it open further. "Daddy, I'm home…"

The light from the hallway fell in a long strip into the dark room, illuminating the sight before the young boy in harsh white light. His father lay slumped to the side, back towards Kakashi. The young boy took a small step forward, over his forehead protector that was still lying there. "Daddy?"

Small hesitating steps took him closer, close enough to see. There was blood spilt in a puddle around his father, staining his clothing and mixing with long silver hair. Kakashi's breath caught in his throat and he fell to his knees. The blood stuck to him as he grabbed his father's arm with trembling hands. "Daddy, are you okay? Get up…please…get up…"

His actions caused Sakumo to roll onto his back, empty dark eyes staring at the ceiling. Kakashi could only see the hole in his father's stomach and the blood slicked insides. The little boy froze, the sound of his own heart beating filling up the silence. Footsteps behind him, and strong arms pulling him away. It was as if the touch broke Kakashi from his spell, and the young boy gagged as he vomited into the blood.

"Kakashi…" Sensei's voice, barely audible over the sound of his own retching.

"Daddy, get up!" Kakashi choked, fighting down another wave of sickness as he sobbed, hot tears streaming down his face. "Get up!"

Minato put a cool hand on Kakashi's forehead, pulling him close to his sensei's chest, while his arm kept Kakashi from falling forward. "Sh, Kakashi-kun. He's gone already, there's nothing."

"You're lying!" Kakashi screamed, fighting desperately against the hold. "You're lying! He's not gone, he wouldn't leave me! Daddy!"

His sensei simply picked him up, ignoring his screams and struggling, and carried him away.

Why did people always choose to leave him? Did they think he enjoyed being left behind? Didn't they know how much he would give to stay with them?

Even sensei had eventually…

"Sensei!" Kakashi grabbed the older man's hand as he walked toward the battle field, not caring that he wasn't supposed to call him that anymore. To Kakashi, Yondaime would always be sensei first. "Don't go! Let the rest of us handle Kyuubi. You'll die if you go."

Minato smiled, not turning to look at the person holding his wrist. "Without a doubt. That's why I have to go, Kakashi. As Hokage it is my duty to protect this village and my precious people that live here."

"But we need you still! You can't go!"

Minato smiled sadly. "I'm Yondaime, Kakashi; there is no choice for me. But will you promise me something, Kakashi?"

The sixteen-year-old looked up at the man who had been like a father to him for over half his life now.

Only then did his sensei look back, blue eyes soft and sad. "Promise me that you will get stronger, and follow in my footsteps. Protect this village, Kakashi. Hold on to it tight with both hands and get strong enough to protect her from the greater dangers I know lie ahead. Can you do that for me, Kakashi?"

"I…" Kakashi's grip faltered just slightly. "I don't think…"

His sensei was suddenly no longer standing in front of him. Instead a voice whispered behind him, "I know you can do it, Kakashi-kun, and I'm putting the village in your capable hands. Never forget that I'm proud of you, Kakashi. Never forget."

Sudden pain in his neck, and everything had gone dark. When he'd woken up, still dressed in ANBU uniform, the battle had been over. He hadn't needed to go check; he knew his sensei was gone.

"Trust me with the village?" Kakashi whispered to the grey light around him. He was leaning totally on the building now, hands clenched on his thighs. Something wet was falling and splashing off the metal guards, but the Jounin couldn't seem to figure out what it was. "How could I protect the village when I can't even protect my most precious person…"

A hundred Iruka smiles from any number of days flashed through Kakashi's mind in an instant. He hadn't seen this coming. Unlike his father, there had been no oppressive sadness, or drop in skills. Up until the day he left, Iruka had seemed happy. Kakashi had even entertained the morbid thought that he finally had someone who would cry at his own funeral, instead of the other way around.

Innumerable soft kisses, gentle touches…and he hadn't known. How could he claim to have loved the Chuunin more than anything and not even had a hint? Not helped? How could Iruka have said he loved him and still been so willing to leave him behind? How could they all?

"Tears," Kakashi finally concluded, looking at the water on his gloves. "I'm crying. So why do I still feel nothing?"