Hey, whoa, what's this? An update after so long? Surely not! Or, well, maybe so. Didn't I say I'd never abandon this fic? Much love to you all, and I hope everyone enjoys another heaping helping of Kakashi's insanity! WHOOT!


The Hound followed Iruka and Gai from Hokage Tower toward the outskirts of the village. The silence was tense, and so very unusual for Gai. Iruka wasn't as circumspect, however, and glared death at Kakashi any time he happened to catch the chuunin-sensei's gaze. Still using the freedom the Hound had given him to speak, Kakashi broke the silence. "Thank you both for caring for Suyo for me."

That seemed to be the last straw. Iruka stopped atop the next rooftop and advanced on him, fists clenched. "She never gave up on you," he said, anger in every line of his body. "Even when Tsunade told her what you'd said, she always maintained that we must've misunderstood. You have no idea what she's been through after you abandoned her, and now you come back and expect everything to be fine–and I'm sure she'll take you back and forgive you everything."

Kakashi was taken aback by his ferocity. Gai reached out and grasped Iruka's shoulder, murmuring, "He didn't abandon her, Iruka. He left to–"

Iruka shrugged his hand off and took another step toward Kakashi. "Who gives a fuck what he left to do? He left! He left while she was sick and helpless and pregnant, and now he's going to stroll back in and pick up where he left off." He snarled at Kakashi, a killing rage in his usually mild brown eyes. "She's going to forgive you and you don't deserve it!"

Now Kakashi was getting pissed off, too. "What's between Suyo and me is none of your damn business, Iruka. I appreciate what you've done for her, but that doesn't give you the right to sit in judgment on me."

Iruka didn't appear to have even heard him. "Why you?" he cried, rage and sorrow mingled in his voice. Gai stood between him and Kakashi, head lowered, as if he'd been expecting this outburst. "Look at you–you've killed so much, you're not even sane! She's the most gentle person I've ever met, yet she loves you! Why you? Why do you get to have her? You're not worthy of her and she's still going to choose you!"

"Why not you, isn't that what you're really asking?" the Hound said with deceptive softness. "What did you think, Iruka, that you'd take my place if you did enough for her while I was gone?" From the shocked and defiant look on the teacher's face, Kakashi realized he had indeed thought that. "She's not that easily manipulated," he said, now truly angry.

"I never wanted to manipulate her!" Iruka snapped. "I would cherish her! Unlike you, I would never abandon her or leave her alone. I would treat her better than you ever have! Eventually she would've realized that and gotten over you. So why the hell did you have to come back?"

The Hound wanted to beat the hell out of Iruka for daring to even look at Suyo, but Kakashi managed to restrain the impulse. He'd wondered before if Iruka had feelings for Suyo but had always dismissed it. Now he knew that Naruto's sensei was in love with her, probably had been for a long time. "Iruka, I didn't abandon her," Kakashi said, slowly and deliberately. "I admit I didn't plan enough before I left to kill her enemies, but exterminating everyone who would ever wish to cause her harm is something you could never do for her, sensei. Haven't you heard that those who can't do, teach?"

Iruka started to say something else, but the Hound snarled and cut him off. "Don't make me fight you, damn it," he growled, fists clenching and unclenching convulsively. "I haven't killed anything all day and I'm feeling deprived."

Gai's head snapped up. "Kakashi, if you want to see Suyo, you need to be in control," he said sharply. "Are you in control or is the Hound calling the shots?"

That wasn't helpful, Hound, Kakashi thought, but he actually agreed with the sentiment. "Take me to her, Gai, please," Kakashi requested in a much calmer tone. The last thing he wanted was for Gai to decide he was too unstable to see her now, not after fighting Tsunade to get her to agree to this visit. "I'm in control. It's fine. Tsunade-sama didn't give me much time and I don't want to waste any more of it arguing with Iruka."

Gai nodded and looked at Iruka. "Perhaps you should stay here, sensei," he suggested, but his tone made it more of a command than a request.

"You don't deserve her," Iruka growled at Kakashi, unwilling to let it go.

"You're right, I don't," Kakashi agreed, holding onto his temper with both hands. "But it's not up to you, Iruka. Now can we go, Gai?"

Gai leapt to the next rooftop and Kakashi followed, glad that Iruka stayed behind. He wasn't sure he could've convinced the Hound not to attack very much longer. They traveled across the city for a few moments, leaving the sensei far behind, before Gai finally broke the silence. "He wants to marry her, you know."

The shock of that made the Hound stumble as he landed on the next roof. "He asked her?"

Gai nodded. "Yes–several times, actually. He told her that it was to prevent the baby from being born illegitimate, to save her the shame of bearing a bastard, to give the child a shinobi name, to make sure she was taken care of… he had all kinds of arguments, all of them good ones, in their way. But I think she knew the real reason. She let him down gently. But you should know that Naruto was on Iruka's side."

Again, Kakashi was shocked. Naruto? But he'd given Kakashi his blessing to court Suyo!

"I think you'll have a much harder time convincing him to forgive you than convincing Suyo," Gai added as they landed outside his house. He turned to face Kakashi. "He feels like you betrayed her, Kakashi. He is exceedingly angry."

After a moment, Kakashi nodded. "Thanks for the warning. Now can we see her?"

Gai winced. "Try not to call yourself we or us while you're in there, will you?" he said, opening the front door but stopping Kakashi as he started to walk through. "She's very weak, Kakashi. Don't get her too excited. This pregnancy has been very hard for her. It's taken all of Sakura and Tsunade-sama's skill together to keep her from miscarrying, and even then, it's been close several times. She's on bedrest, in the master suite." Only then did he release Kakashi's arm and let him enter.

He'd been in Gai's house several times and found the master suite without difficulty. He hesitated, however, outside the door. She thinks I abandoned her, he told the Hound, looking for reassurance from any source, however unlikely. What if she kicks me out?

Stop being a pussy and open the fucking door, the Hound replied with his usual tact and gentleness. But he did withdraw further, allowing Kakashi to "drive" their shared body. Just until this is done, he warned. I'm not fully freeing you until that long room is demolished.

I understand, Kakashi said. And thank you.

He knocked gently on the door, heart in his throat. "Come in," Suyo called, and his chest tightened at the sound of her voice. Gai was right–she sounded weak, tired. But it was her voice, alive, awake, and that was enough to almost kill him with relief.

Kakashi opened the door and stepped inside. Suyo stared at him for a moment, green eyes wide and shocked at the sight of him. She blinked hard, shook her head, and stared again. "Kakashi?" she whispered as though afraid to believe what she was seeing.

He couldn't breathe at the sight of her. Lying on her side in bed, her belly huge with their child, she was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. Kakashi took one step before his legs gave out and he fell to his knees at the bedside. He reached out a trembling hand and touched the curve of her stomach, the air rushing from his lungs at the moment of contact. Something moved beneath his palm and he almost snatched his hand away in shock before realizing what had happened.

Their child had kicked. He had felt the baby, the life they'd created together, move.

"Sweet gods," he breathed, unable to believe it. He finally tore his gaze away and met her eyes only to find tears running down her cheeks. "Suyo, please don't cry, I'm so sorry," he said, hardly aware of what he was saying as he wiped her tears away with shaking fingers.

She shook her head and cupped his face in her hands. "Are you really here? Am I dreaming?"

"I'm here," he assured her. She tugged at his mask and the Hound tensed, but Kakashi overruled him and let her pull the concealing cloth away. The feel of her hands on his cheeks almost brought tears to his own eyes. "Suyo, I never denied our child," he said urgently, needing her to know the truth. To believe it. "I didn't know what I was saying. I would never–"

"Shh, I know," she said, crying in earnest now as she struggled to sit up. He helped her up so that she sat on the edge of the bed as he knelt at her feet. "I always knew. But why did you go? Where have you been for so long?"

Kakashi released her and shrugged the pack off his shoulders. "Remember at the hot springs, when I promised to lay the heads of your enemies at your feet?" She nodded. He opened the pack and prepared to upend it. "Heads are a bit heavy to carry, but I hope this will suffice."

He poured out the bag and dozens of Sound hitai-ate fell to the floor at her feet. Suyo gasped, her hand flying to her mouth, and he withdrew one particular headband from a side pocket. It had been shattered by a kunai strike right through the center of it. He took her hand and pressed the torn material and metal into her palm. "Kabuto," he said, watching her face as he presented her with proof that her greatest enemy had been slain. Then he gestured at the other hitai-ate. "And every one of his minions. Your husband and child have been avenged, Suyo. The Sound is no more. They will never harm you again."

For a long moment, Suyo just stared at the pile in shock. Then the blood drained from her face and she looked like she was about to faint. Kakashi quickly guided her back down onto the bed and after a moment, the color returned to her cheeks. "You… you killed them all?" she whispered.

Too late, Kakashi wondered if the brutality of it might be too harsh for her, but it was too late for second thoughts now "Yes. Every single Sound shinobi is dead."

Suyo closed her eyes tightly, sending tears down both cheeks. Heart in his throat, Kakashi waited for her to speak, to give him some indication that this earned him her forgiveness for leaving her alone for so long. Finally, she opened her eyes and looked up at him. "Thank you," she said fiercely, clutching Kabuto's headband tight. "Thank you for making the world safe for our baby."

And then she pulled him into a tight hug, and the feel of her in his arms finally broke the last barrier in Kakashi's damaged psyche.

"I love you," he murmured in her ear, and when she gasped, he repeated it as she had done for him so many times. "I love you, Suyo. And I want to marry you. Before our child is born, I want to marry you. If you'll have me."

Suyo was shaking now, and he pulled back, worried that he'd upset her too much. But she was smiling through her tears. "I never thought I'd hear you say that," she whispered, half laughing, half crying. "I always knew, but I never thought… of course I'll marry you, Kashi! But we have to wait for Naruto to get back, all right? It wouldn't be right without him there."

Kakashi nodded, and because he couldn't stand it any longer, he kissed her. Her lips were salty with her tears but she was still the sweetest thing he'd ever tasted. It didn't last long enough, though, before another knock at her door interrupted it. Kakashi pulled back and replaced his mask, recognizing Gai's chakra outside the door. "I have to be away for a little while," he told her, hating the dismay that darkened the joy in her eyes.

"Why?" Suyo asked as Gai quietly came in, worry replacing her happiness. "Where are you going? Surely they wouldn't send you out again so quickly. You just got back!"

"I'll be in the village," Kakashi reassured her. "I won't be leaving Konoha again for a long time." That was a pretty sure bet, as close as he was to the edge of sanity. "But I have to go through some medical tests. I'll be there for our baby's birth, though. Tsunade-sama has promised." And it was a promise she'd damn well better keep.

Suyo still looked confused and upset. "You're hurt? Why didn't you tell me? Where are you hurt?" she demanded, starting to sit up again.

Gai stepped forward and gently pressed her back against the pillows. "Not to worry, Youthful Flower!" he said, smiling and assuming his classic Good Guy pose. "It is a mere Formality! My Eternal Rival must endure a Routine Check after his Long Deployment before he is released to begin his Recuperative Leave. There is No Cause for Worry, I assure you!" And he capped it off with a sparkling grin and thumbs-up.

Reassured, Suyo relaxed and reluctantly released her grip on Kakashi's hands. He gave Gai a grateful look before caressing Suyo's hair once more. As the scent of the silken strands washed over him, Kakashi finally felt like he'd come home. "I won't leave you again, Suyo," he promised. "I'll be back as soon as I'm released. I promise."

She nodded, looking unhappy with his departure but accepting it with Gai's reassurance. She placed Kabuto's hitai-ate on her belly and said, "You see what Daddy did for us? Now there's nothing in the world that will hurt us."

And Kakashi's chest tightened with an unfamiliar emotion… pride.

"I will escort your Beloved to the hospital, Youthful Flower!" Gai said, grinning again. "And then I shall return and Regale you with Tales of his Brave and Noble Exploits!" And with that, he ushered Kakashi out of Suyo's room and gently closed the door behind them.

Kakashi followed Gai back to the hospital in silence, his mind full of the brief visit. Finally they stopped on hospital roof where a large team of medical and psychiatric nin were waiting to take charge of him. The Hound, nervous at the prospect of being back at the mercy of those who'd helped to lock him away before, shoved Kakashi into the background again and tensed. But Gai laid a gentle hand on his shoulder and smiled–not a cheesy, glittering grin, but a reassuring and genuine smile. "Don't worry, Kakashi, Hound," he said quietly, too softly for the assembled nin to overhear. "They will help you become whole. The more you cooperate, the faster you'll be released to rejoin your Suyo."

The Hound remained tense. "How do you know that?" he demanded. "If they can't help us become whole, I know which one will be locked away again!"

But Gai's smile never wavered. "You're not the only one who had to separate the killing instinct from the rest of your personality, Kakashi," he said, shocking Kakashi utterly. He'd never so much as suspected that Gai had any trouble reconciling the deeds he'd performed during his own years in ANBU. "Nor the only one who was broken and had to be put together again. I know it can be done. Now go. The sooner you start, the sooner you'll be healed and headed for marriage."

Kakashi stared at him. "You eavesdropped?" he demanded, outraged.

Gai laughed. "Of course I did! You're unstable, dangerous, homicidal and insane!" he replied in a cheerful tone utterly at odds with the words themselves. "And what I heard made me very glad, although I'm sure Iruka won't feel the same way."

The lead medic-nin stepped forward and bowed. "Kakashi-san, Hound-san, I am Hiruko Hiro," he said. The Hound was startled that he'd been addressed, too, not just Kakashi, but Gai didn't seem surprised by that at all. "If you will please follow me, we can show you to your room and begin the evaluation to determine how best to help you both."

The Hound hesitated, but Gai said he'd been through this before. And Kakashi trusted Gai with his life. Finally, he nodded to Gai and turned to Hiro. "Fine. Let's get started," he said, and followed the medical team into the hospital.

And hopefully into a new future.