A/N: This chapter has been heavily edited for sexual content. For the full chapter, please visit Adult FFN!

Chapter Forty

Iruka looked up from the dish he was drying to see perhaps the cutest sight imaginable. Saki giggled again as he showed his favorite teddy bear to the little baby in Kakashi's arms. Keiko cooed happily, her tiny arms reaching up for the fuzzy animal as her chubby legs kicked energetically. If he had a camera, he would have snapped a picture of the image of his husband, caught in a moment of complete domesticity, as he grinned like a fool.

Saki continued to sit in his father's lap, playing his little game with his cousin just to get another happy gurgling sound out of her. Shaking his head, Iruka went back to the dishes. Ever since Keiko had been added to their family, chores had seemed to double if not triple. Somehow, Iruka had forgotten how messy a newborn was.

A cold shiver ran through him as he realized he and Kakashi were going to be facing this again in a few months, but double the messes, the feedings…thankfully he was pulled from the horrifying thought when he heard a deep chuckle come from his husband.

"Saki couldn't have been this small…" Kakashi stated as his niece nibbled on his finger, her bites not yet strong enough to break the skin despite her sharp little teeth. The baby continued gnashing on him, not caring that she was biting one of the most dangerous shinobi to exist. Then again, her fathers were two of the other shinobi tied with him for that position. Kakashi almost pitied the teenage boys who would one day ask her out on a date – almost. He knew he would be just as bad with his own daughter. Unlike Naruto and Sasuke, however, he had the calming, logical – and sane – voice of Iruka to keep him from doing anything too ridiculous to protect his baby girl.

On the other hand, being the firstborn child of an ANBU captain and the future Hokage, Keiko never had a chance of having a normal life. The fact she was the single heir to the Uchiha clan only made her all the more precious to the village. No one in the village even seemed to care that she had demonic features. All they saw was a little baby girl with a toothy smile that could melt even the most hardened of hearts.

Only those who were close to Naruto and Sasuke knew the truth. It was determined, after Naruto had an internal screeching fit at the most powerful demon to have ever lived, that he was so intertwined with the fox that even his genetic makeup had been altered. As the Kyuubi put it, she hadn't done anything – Naruto was the one who passed on his demonic characteristics to his daughter.

The Kyuubi apparently loved those little loopholes.

Kakashi chuckled at the devious mind of the Kyuubi. He had the feeling that, had she not been an evil, bloodthirsty monster, he might actually like the fox. The jounin had to correct his thoughts as he brushed a finger against Keiko's round cheek. He, begrudgingly, appreciated what the demon sneakily did for the baby. Whether or not Naruto and Sasuke realized it yet, their daughter was the most indestructible child to exist. She would have the same heightened senses and instincts as Naruto, she would have his inhuman strength, his rapid healing and his animal-like reflexes. She would one day be a renowned shinobi like her fathers. But she would never have to hear the dark, violent thoughts of a demon. She would never have to feel the same kind of internal conflict Naruto did every time he used the Kyuubi's chakra. Keiko would never have to face the risk of losing her humanity like her father did every time he called upon his demon for aid. She would never be feared by the very people she swore to protect.

Keiko was most certainly a special child.

There was one other thing that marked his little niece as unique. It was the downright possessiveness Saki had revealed the moment he was introduced to his cousin. As far as any of them could figure, the little genius had already deemed himself her protector. Saki would transport himself into her crib if there was any hint she was about to cry. He was always there, watching over her, playing with her, and otherwise being the perfect companion to the baby. It was touching that Saki, even at one and a half, decided he would be her shadow.

"He was smaller," Iruka pointed out as he came over to kneel by his husband, looking at his son for a moment. It was hard to imagine Saki had once been so tiny, but Saki had been a mere six pounds when he was born. Keiko, by comparison, was an adorably chubby monster, born at a staggering eleven pounds. The first time Naruto realized his daughter was nearly twice the size Saki had been at birth, he had nicknamed his offspring Sumo. Sasuke had yet to forgive him for that one.

"Mornin'." Iruka looked up from his niece when he heard the grogginess in her father's voice. Naruto stumbled into the kitchen, mumbling something about coffee. Watching as the twenty-one year old jounin kick back a steaming cup of black coffee, Iruka winced. Naruto didn't even like coffee, but Iruka all too well remembered those sleepless nights when he thought he was going to lose his mind or die.

Iruka and Kakashi had made a promise to let Naruto and Sasuke figure out parenthood for themselves, but this morning, neither jounin could be roused when Keiko first let out a pitiful wail. Kakashi all too happily came to the rescue, giving his ex-students a momentary reprieve. Apparently Sasuke was still enjoying the rare treat of uninterrupted sleep for the first time in the six weeks since his daughter's birth.

Naruto's grumpiness vanished the instant he caught a glimpse of his daughter. Even exhausted, he couldn't help but smile as he lifted her out of Kakashi's arms. Keiko cooed, her chubby arms already stretching out to grab for his nose. The powerful jounin – a man feared by missing nin and demons alike – could only laugh at her determination before nuzzling her round belly, eliciting a squeal from the little girl.

Kakashi shook his head at Naruto's antics. Then again, he couldn't say much against the now babbling jounin. Though he had never had broken down to talk baby talk to Saki, he acted just like the young father – a complete idiot. As though the twins could sense his amusement, Kakashi felt a flutter of movement. After a particularly strong kick to his diaphragm, the jounin gasped for air, pressing a hand to his side in hopes of calming the little monsters down.

Instantly, Iruka was at his side, concern etched in his features. With a pregnant Sasuke no longer the main target of Iruka's mother hen complex, Kakashi had quickly become smothered with his husband's undivided attention. The first few days of being the center of Iruka's focus were sweet, but it was starting to grate on his nerves. Kakashi was so accustomed to being alone that it felt strange to have someone asking if he was okay every time he gasped or winced.

He loved his husband with every fiber of his being, but a part of him wanted to throttle the brunet every time Iruka popped up next to him, checking on him, making sure he was eating enough, resting enough, that he wasn't in pain…the list went on and on. Somehow, Iruka had forgotten who and what Kakashi was. He was the famed Copy Cat Ninja, the master of the Sharingan…he had learned how to throw a blade and kill before most children could walk. He had been taking care of himself even before his father committed suicide. He could most certainly take care of himself now. He didn't need anyone to check on him constantly. He didn't need anyone's help!

But he was no longer just the infamous Sharingan Kakashi. He was no longer simply the man who knew over a thousand jutsu. He was more than a prodigy the likes of which the shinobi world had rarely seen. He was a husband; he was a father. For the first time in his life, Kakashi was terrified of what he had to lose. For the first time in nearly thirty years, Kakashi had to admit to himself that he needed someone else.

He refused to show the fear that grew with every beat of his children's hearts, with every fluttering movement in his abdomen. Though no one knew it – because Kakashi hid the truth – he was growing slower, weaker. Every day was a battle to cover up the effects of his pregnancy. If he was in peak physical condition, he would not worry for an instant. He would not wonder if his countless enemies were plotting against him. He would not consider the chance of missing nin harming his family while he was there to protect them. But how could he defend Iruka and Saki when it was difficult for him to stand up, much less fight? How could he stave off an enemy attack when he was constantly exhausted?

Kakashi knew he was not being completely irrational. How many times had he been attacked when he was coming home from a mission, tired and already injured? How many scars did his body hold because of enemies that took the rare opportunity to kick the Copy Cat Ninja when he was already down? How many dances with death had he already endured because of his few moments of weakness?

How many enemies would come after him now, recognizing the truth that this time his problems were not easily ignored? He could not cure himself temporarily with a soldier pill. He could not perform a rapid healing jutsu so that he was capable of fighting. He could not hold them off until backup arrived. He could not strike fear into their hearts or taunt them until they made a fatal mistake. This time, he was truly at their mercy.

Iruka's concern only reminded him of his shortcomings. Though he knew Iruka's worry was borne out of love for him, Kakashi could not help but feel a burning rage in his chest. He was not supposed to feel this weak and helpless! He was the great Copy Cat Ninja, a man who feared nothing! Before he snapped at his husband, Kakashi stalked out of the kitchen. The fact it took him far more effort to get out of his seat than some of his past missions only soured the jounin's mood even more.

Iruka watched the jounin as Kakashi nearly ran over his ninken in his attempts to get out of the kitchen. Snarling at Pakkun, his husband continued out of the room. The pug gave a one fingered gesture to his master's back before trotting into the kitchen and hopping up onto the chair Kakashi had so abruptly vacated.

"Sheesh…what crawled up his ass? I thought you humans were supposed to be pleasant when you're pregnant," Pakkun stated as he glanced to Iruka, who looked just as confused as he felt. "Did something happen?" he asked as he looked up to Naruto for help. The blonde jounin shrugged his shoulders, just as mystified as Iruka over his brother-in-law's behavior.

Iruka tried to think of what could have upset Kakashi. He couldn't help but feel like this wasn't just hormones. There was something in his husband's natural eye, a pain whose cause Iruka could not pinpoint. Standing up, the brunet glanced around, finding his son already wrapped around his uncle's neck, peering over Naruto's shoulder to watch Keiko as she slept.

"Oi, knock some sense into that idiot for me…he can take it," Pakkun stated as he hopped down off of the chair, obviously in search of something to eat judging from the sudden rumble of his stomach. Iruka absentmindedly nodded his head, not sure exactly what the ninken meant by that.

It wasn't until he located his husband's chakra that the brunet understood what the pug had given him leave to do.

XXX

Iruka slipped into the massive training room without making a sound. At one time, he had thought it was a good idea at the time to renovate almost an entire floor of the mansion into a training area. Naruto and Kakashi made use of it daily, whereas Iruka did most of his training with the little hyper pre-genin he taught. Since the room was finished during Sasuke's pregnancy, the raven-haired jounin had yet to use the spacious area, but once he had the energy to even think about getting back in shape, he would put it to good use.

The indoor training room allowed Naruto and Kakashi to train even on days where the weather would have otherwise kept them from practicing. It meant the two jounin were nearby in case Iruka, Sasuke or the children needed anything.

Iruka thought it was a good idea months ago. Now, he wasn't so sure.

Hearing the distinctive whiz of metal through the air, Iruka dropped to the floor to dodge the blade. He felt the projectile fly past his ear, embedding itself into the wall behind him. The brunet barely had the chance to look back at the shuriken before he found himself instinctively rolling to the right. Judging from the sound of wood snapping to his left, Iruka's quick reflexes just saved him from a nasty bruise.

"What do you want?"

Iruka flinched at the cold tone of his husband's voice. He hated it whenever Kakashi hid behind that façade of his, pretending to be the emotionless warrior so many people believed him to be. It hurt Iruka to see that reminder of the man Kakashi had once been. It made his stomach turn to see just how easy it was for Kakashi to fall back into that persona, to bury his emotions. Of all the people in Kakashi's life, Iruka should be the one person above all others that he felt comfortable expressing his feelings to. He should never have to hide or pretend around his own husband.

"What's wrong?" Iruka asked, biting back the urge to snap at Kakashi. It would be all too easy to take his husband's anger personally, but Iruka knew Kakashi didn't mean to hurt him with his words. No, despite everything Kakashi had mastered in his attempts to appear unemotional, there was one thing he could never completely control. All Iruka had to do was look into his husband's eyes to know what was going through the jounin's mind. It took only one glance to see that no matter how much Kakashi's coldness stung him, the pain his husband was feeling was far greater.

Kakashi scoffed at Iruka's question, pulling his fist out of the small crater he had put into the floor. Ignoring his husband, the jounin resumed the kata he had been practicing before he had been interrupted. Every jerk of his body was quick and precise, nothing like the normally graceful and flowing movements that revealed his control and strength. Each sudden motion was filled with a barely contained rage that would have terrified any lesser shinobi. But Iruka was not fooled by the jounin's external anger.

Calmly, the brunet stood up and pulled the shuriken out of the wall behind him. Paying no attention to the murderous glares his husband was directing at him, the teacher studied the blade. Iruka was surprised to discover, as he tested the sharpness with his thumb, that the shuriken was not one of the dulled projectiles nearly all shinobi used for training. No, Kakashi was not the kind of person to take precautions as sensible as dulling his blades to protect himself and his sparring partner. Then again, his husband had been sparring with Naruto for the past several months. Knowing his brother, Iruka could tell the blonde had pulled his punches and done everything in his power to keep from harming Kakashi or the twins. Kakashi, on the other hand, had no reason to go easy on a man who was literally indestructible.

Fighting the urge to smack his husband for putting himself in unnecessary danger, Iruka gritted his teeth. He knew Kakashi trained daily, even though Iruka had his reservations about it. Tsunade said it was fine as long as Kakashi did not push himself too hard or try to lift anything heavy. She said, since his body was accustomed to training, Kakashi could continue doing so. But if she – or Iruka – had any idea the pregnant jounin was using sharpened blades, they would have tied him down to the couch and refused to let him train.

Iruka knew he shouldn't be angry at Kakashi. His husband was one of the greatest shinobi to exist – he would never be clumsy enough to cut himself on one of his own blades. But that was no reason to even chance the possibility. What if, because of the twins, Kakashi lost his balance? What if he tired too quickly, so his aim was a little off and a blade ricocheted back at him? What if he could not move as fast as he used to and could not dodge in time? Iruka never considered himself a pessimist, but at the moment, those 'what ifs' were almost enough to give him a heart attack.

With a last glance to the blade in his hand, Iruka threw the shuriken to the floor in disgust. Why was it that the entire jounin community was absolutely insane?! He had a bone to pick with his brother, but that could wait. Right now, he was more concerned about his husband.

Iruka did not even get halfway across the room before Kakashi froze mid-kick, those mismatched eyes focusing on the brunet. If Kakashi was not in such a bad mood, Iruka might have pointed out in admiration that his husband's balance was somehow unaffected by his pregnancy. Nearly seven months pregnant with twins and quite a few pounds added to his front, Kakashi could still perform a perfect roundhouse kick. A small part of Iruka, recalling how ungraceful he was with Saki, was jealous. The rest of him, however, just wanted to wipe that nasty look off of his husband's face.

Oi, knock some sense into that idiot for me…he can take it.

Pakkun's earlier words resonated in Iruka's head. Every sensible part of Iruka wanted to deny the pug's statement, but he had been a part of the shinobi world for far too long. Sometimes, things could not be solved with words and logic. There were many times the only solution was your fists. Naruto and Sasuke were a prime example of the senseless ability of shinobi to ignore everything until it was pounded into them, literally.

Taking a deep breath, Iruka looked down at his hand. Despite knowing this was his only option, his hand shook as he tightened it into a fist. Before they became engaged – before they found out about the twins – Iruka had occasionally trained with Kakashi. He had done so to get back in shape; it was never about strength or agility. Their sparring sessions were never truly a test of their abilities. Iruka knew Kakashi had always gone easy on him. This time would be different.

Iruka could tell from the look in his husband's eye that Kakashi was in no mood to pull his punches.

Swallowing heavily, Iruka shifted his weight. This was so wrong. In any other society, attacking one's pregnant spouse was frowned upon. In the world of shinobi, it was acceptable if the situation called for it. And, when it came to one impossibly stubborn jounin, it was actually encouraged.

Before he could rethink his actions, Iruka pushed off the floor, racing towards his husband. Keeping his tightened fist against his hip, the brunet ducked down to dodge the first kick aimed at his head. Standing up to his full height, Iruka threw his punch towards Kakashi's exposed side. Despite every intention to hit the jounin in the chest, Iruka froze mere millimeters from making contact with his husband's ribs. He couldn't do it. He had hit Kakashi before in their sparring sessions, but this time was different. This time, they were not working on Iruka's speed or strength. This was not about increasing Iruka's endurance. For once, it was all too easy to slip past his husband's guard.

This time, Iruka was close enough to his husband to have the jounin's belly press against his side. This time, Iruka felt one of the twins stir as tiny feet fluttered against his ribs.

That hesitation cost Iruka dearly. Before he even heard the echoing crack of flesh hitting flesh, he found himself flying across the room. Pain exploded across his face, easily drowning out the lesser ache of his back as he slammed into the hard wood. Reflexively, his hand went up to clutch his cheek and temple, as though to make sure the left side of his face did not fall off. Because, at the moment, everything felt loose enough that falling apart was a definite possibility.

Slowly, Iruka loosened his grip on his face, but his jaw remained painfully clenched to keep himself from crying out or cursing. Shit, Kakashi really had been holding back every time he had hit him in the past. If this was Kakashi's full strength, Iruka felt sorry for anyone who crossed his husband. His face currently felt like it had been run over by a stampede of Akimichi on their way to an all-you-can-eat barbeque buffet.

Sucking in a sharp gasp of air from between his gritted teeth, Iruka tried to sit up, only to be hit by a wave of dizziness that nearly put him back on the floor. Somehow he ignored the fact he currently felt like he was spinning as he forced himself into a seated position, bowing his head in hopes of lessening his vertigo. The reprieve did not last for long. Even as Iruka brought his hand away from his face, daring to open his eyes, he discovered his left eye was almost entirely swollen shut.

"Don't attack me unless you mean it."

Iruka couldn't help but snarl in response to Kakashi's words. With his remaining good eye, the brunet directed a glare at his husband that would have terrified any other shinobi. Kakashi, however, just returned the cold look with one of his own. Moving slowly, Iruka stood up. The chuunin wove unsteadily, nearly losing his balance as he returned to clutching his throbbing cheek. After a minute or two, the world around him righted and Iruka was able to focus on something other than the pain in his cheek and temple. It was then he finally registered the metallic taste in his mouth.

Bringing two fingers to his mouth, Iruka touched his inner lip and was unsurprised to see the red stain on his fingertips when he pulled his hand away. Though he had been expecting the blood, Iruka still felt his stomach turn at the taste on his tongue and the sight of it on his hand. He was not squeamish – not after all the bloody noses and scraped knees he dealt with at the academy – but there was something about seeing his own blood because of Kakashi.

"Iruka…"

Iruka held his hand up, not wanting to hear whatever it was Kakashi had to say. Spitting out the blood that was filling his mouth, Iruka discovered the source of the bleeding as something landed with a clink on the floor along with the puddle of blood. Out of morbid curiosity, Iruka felt along his teeth with his tongue, quickly discovering the gaping, bloody hole where a tooth had once been.

"I…"

"Don't you dare apologize," Iruka snapped as he began walking towards the door. Pakkun and everyone else could go stuff it. If they wanted to beat sense into Kakashi, they could do it themselves. Iruka wasn't about to lay a single finger on his pregnant husband, even if Kakashi was asking for it. His resolve began to waver when he heard his husband speak again.

Kakashi didn't know why, but Iruka's words struck a chord. If Iruka hadn't said anything, the jounin would have been begging for forgiveness. He never meant to hurt Iruka. It was just shinobi reflex; he was being attacked and he had seen an opening. His attacker was close enough that Kakashi knew he couldn't move out of the way. He knew he was going to crack a few ribs because he had been too slow. He had acted purely on instinct at that moment; like hell he was going to let his attacker walk away unharmed. In that instant, he forgot that it was Iruka he was aiming his punch at. For a split second, all he thought about was that someone was close enough to put a kunai between his ribs and that he was not going to go down without a fight.

Instead, Iruka's words angered the jounin for reasons Kakashi couldn't even begin to describe. Iruka had had the perfect opportunity to hit him – something very few living people could ever boast having. And yet he didn't take it. Instead, Iruka had held back, as though he thought Kakashi couldn't handle a single punch. Even now, Iruka treated him like he was fragile and helpless. What was worse was that he knew Iruka wouldn't even hold this against him, forgiving him if for no other reason than he was pregnant. Iruka wouldn't bring up the fact Kakashi had probably cracked his cheekbone and made him lose a tooth. That realization only made Kakashi feel even guiltier. And guilt was one emotion that Kakashi hated above all others.

"I wasn't going to apologize…you were the idiot who attacked me. Next time don't hesitate," Kakashi snarled in response as he shifted his stance, preparing to attack. This time, Iruka better take him seriously.

Iruka barely had the time to register the subtle change in his husband's posture before Kakashi launched himself at him. Involuntarily, Iruka let out a squeak of surprise as he leapt to the side, just barely dodging a kick that would have otherwise cracked a few of his ribs. The brunet was not even given the chance to protest as Kakashi whirled around, his fist moving towards Iruka's shoulder so fast, the teacher did not have the opportunity to defend himself.

Pain tore through the brunet as Kakashi's fist made contact. Stumbling backwards, Iruka clutched his now aching shoulder. Thankfully, his arm was not dislocated or his collar bone broken. It just hurt like hell and, from the tingling down Iruka's arm, the brunet knew Kakashi had pinched a few nerves with that clean hit. He could not help but be impressed at his husband's speed and agility, considering his current condition. How the hell did Kakashi still have the energy to beat the crap out of him?! By seven months, both Iruka and Sasuke were couch potatoes and had all the grace of a herd of elephants.

Without warning, Kakashi attacked again. This time, Iruka was able to dodge the rapid-fire blows, his entire focus being on not getting hit a third time. Maybe he could tire Kakashi out? Hoping his husband's energy levels were affected by his pregnancy, Iruka continued to jump out of the way of Kakashi's powerful attacks. After all these years with pre-genin and flying shuriken, Iruka could dodge just about anything so long as he had a little warning.

"Damn it, fight back!" Kakashi snarled as Iruka, once again, ducked to escape his kick. He had never known Iruka was a master at defending himself. Then again, whenever he trained with his husband, Iruka was always on the offensive. It was understandable Kakashi had never seen this side of his partner – he had never before attacked Iruka with the intent of actually landing a full-strength punch or kick. The fact his husband was easily keeping out of his reach was more than a little frustrating.

"No!" Iruka quickly responded as he contorted to keep his midsection from being bruised by his husband's powerful leg. Seeing that Kakashi was not tiring like he had been hoping, the brunet changed his tactics. The next time Kakashi kicked at him, Iruka caught his leg mid-kick, effectively stopping his husband's attempts to hit him.

Kakashi tried to pull his leg free, but he quickly discovered that, if he wanted to keep from falling to the floor, he would have to remain still. Iruka may think his balance was unaffected by his pregnancy, but Kakashi knew better. He just had the sheer strength to cover up his constant loss of balance. And right now, with his leg awkwardly positioned midair, it took all of Kakashi's strength and focus to keep himself upright.

"Why won't you fight me?" Kakashi growled as he tried to free his leg again, this time actually staggering from the effort. Iruka moved like lightening, releasing Kakashi's leg at the same moment he caught his husband around the middle before Kakashi had the chance to begin falling.

Though, inwardly, Kakashi was grateful his husband was there to catch him before he fell backwards to the floor, he could only snarl at Iruka's actions as he quickly pulled himself out of that gentle embrace. He did not need help – he would have caught himself before he landed on the floor! He wouldn't have even stumbled in the first place if Iruka hadn't been treating him like an invalid!

"I'm not going to fight you, Kakashi!" Iruka exclaimed as he threw his hands up in the air. "I'm not going to hurt you or the twins just so you can get whatever this is out of your system." Sure Kakashi was not about to fall over again, Iruka once again tried to leave, but he froze at his husband's words.

"Don't you trust me to protect them?" Iruka turned around to look at Kakashi in surprise. What a silly question. Iruka knew Kakashi would give his life before letting any harm befall their children. So why ask such a thing? Iruka suddenly understood with painful clarity. Kakashi would never do anything to put the twins in danger. Sparring, to Kakashi, was safe for the twins. If he felt, even for a moment, that either of them could be harmed, he would have immediately stopped. He had reflexes that he would use to block any attack headed for his abdomen, whether on purpose or accident. He had thousands of jutsu that he could use in the blink of an eye to cushion a fall or shield his belly.

Iruka winced, wishing he had thought about any of that before he refused to spar with his husband. He had only seen Kakashi as his pregnant lover, somehow forgetting that Kakashi was still one of the greatest shinobi to exist. If anyone could confidently say they could fight while pregnant, it would be Kakashi. Even before Kakashi's next words hit his ears, Iruka began to understand his husband's current mood.

"I don't want to be treated differently."

No, Kakashi was not your average person. He was not someone to be coddled. He was not someone who would relish the chance to relax and let someone pamper him. He was not the kind of person who appreciated others' help, no matter how good their intentions were. Most of all, Kakashi was the kind of person who would take deep offense to anyone treating him like he was somehow less of a shinobi because of his pregnancy.

"I'm sorry," Iruka said softly as he pulled his husband into his arms. Instantly, Kakashi's arms were around his middle. The jounin's head dropped down on his shoulder, as though Kakashi did not have the energy left to stand. And, judging from the slight trembling of his husband's frame, Kakashi's lack of energy might be an appropriate summation. "I don't mean to…I just want to take care of you." At those words, he could feel more than hear Kakashi let out a sigh.

"I don't need-"

Iruka quickly cut his husband off before Kakashi could continue that train of thought. "I know you don't need anyone to take care of you. You're more than capable of doing that yourself. But it's my job to worry about you," he pointed out as he pulled back until he could cup his husband's face in his hands, forcing Kakashi to look at him. "You don't have to do everything alone. Let me help you…"

"Then fight me."

Iruka blinked in surprise, not expecting Kakashi's demand. Of all the things Kakashi wanted his help on, he wanted Iruka to fight him? Iruka opened his mouth to question such a request, but lost the ability to speak when he saw the flicker of emotion in his husband's mismatched eyes. It took him quite some time to recognize that unfamiliar glimmer for what it was: terror. Having never seen Kakashi so afraid before, Iruka nearly stumbled back in shock.

"P-Please, Iruka?"

The emotion in Kakashi's words – the desperation, the pain, but most of all, the frantic need – made Iruka's decision for him. How could he deny Kakashi something as simple as a competent sparring partner? Even if it went against everything Iruka believed, he could not let that terror remain in his husband's eyes. He would do anything to alleviate that fear.

"No weapons…no jutsu," Iruka stated firmly, leaving no room for negotiation. He trusted Kakashi not to put the twins in danger, but Iruka did not have the same confidence in his own abilities. His clumsiness had once given him the scar across his nose. There were countless other times he nicked himself on blades or a fire jutsu blew up in his face, taking his eyebrows with it. It was no wonder Iruka was a master of illusions after all the times he had to alter his features to hide his latest accident. Any other time, he would not mind unleashing his bad luck on a sparring partner, but he refused to put the twins in danger because of his ineptness.

Kakashi agreed to his husband's stipulations with a quick nod of his head. He had expected Iruka to have some demands, and the jounin had some rules of his own. "Don't go easy on me. I can take a punch."

Iruka slowly nodded his head at those words. He would treat his husband the same way he did Naruto whenever he and his little brother sparred, and he said as much to his husband. Though it had been years since the last time Iruka had fought his brother, he could still remember how he used to best the young man surprisingly often. Naruto always underestimated him; most people did. What Naruto always forgot – and that Kakashi was going to learn – was that there was more than one way to win a fight. Sometimes brute strength and inhuman speed were no match against calculating patience.

And, after two decades of teaching pre-pubescent children, Iruka had patience to spare.

By unspoken agreement, the two shinobi stepped away from one another, distancing themselves. Iruka kept his gaze trained on his husband's face, reading those mismatched eyes like an open book. Kakashi was mildly surprised he had agreed to a sparring match. His natural eye was filled with a questioning look, as though trying to figure out what Iruka's first move would be. Would Iruka be the first to attack or would he go on the defensive, only striking when he had an opening? The Sharingan, on the other hand, darted around, mapping out the large training room. From the calculating glint in that red eye, Iruka knew Kakashi was simultaneously predicting their fight, already planning how he would counter each attack. If not for the fact he was so used to Kakashi's eyes – and his uncanny ability for multitasking – Iruka might have been a little unsettled by his husband's gaze and the dual emotions and thoughts it revealed. Instead, he could only be amused by the smirk that crept onto his husband's face as Kakashi obviously won their sparring match in his mind.

Iruka could not help but chuckle at his husband's confidence. Underestimating him would be Kakashi's first mistake. It took Naruto years and countless fights to ignore that kind, gentle teacher exterior and remember his brother trained with some of the most energetic and dangerous people to exist: armed children on sugar highs. Even as his husband launched at him, Iruka had the feeling that underrating him would also be the Copy Cat Ninja's last mistake.

When it came to violent combat, Iruka knew he would always lose. He did not have it in him to harm another living thing. He could spar with Naruto and others because it never was about hurting each other. It was never about drawing blood and breaking bone. It was never an attempt to permanently injure or mortally wound one another. If it came down to it, Iruka knew he could spill blood to protect another person, but he would never enjoy taking a life like so many of his comrades did. He would always hesitate; he would always look for another way. His kind heart would always be his downfall in a real battle.

Fighting with Kakashi had none of those dark undertones. There was no anger or hatred in his husband's movements anymore. Instead, Iruka could sense a strange desperation in every punch and kick he dodged, as though Kakashi was trying to prove something. Who Kakashi was trying to prove himself to – Iruka or himself – the brunet had no idea. All he knew was that with every attack that just missed his torso, Kakashi's determination grew.

Iruka barely dodged one of his husband's attacks as he twisted to the side, a breeze ruffling his shirt as Kakashi's punch skimmed past his chest. Seeing an opening, Iruka moved into action. Without warning, he jabbed two fingers against his husband's right shoulder. The attack was so quick and unexpected that Kakashi did not have the chance to defend himself.

In fact, the jounin barely noticed the jolt of pain in his arm until a wave of numbness shot down to his fingers, leaving the entire limb limp and tingling.

"Fuck!" Kakashi cursed as he shook his arm, trying to rid it of its sudden weakness, but to no avail. Looking up from his useless arm to his giggling husband, he glowered. He had miscalculated and, from the laughter in Iruka's brown eyes, his partner found that extremely entertaining. And, for the moment, his fears dissipated under his husband's good humor. Instead, all he felt was the excitement of a good sparring match.

Iruka bit his lower lip to stop himself from laughing when he saw his husband's expression. Kakashi had finally realized his mistake; it was the same mistake Naruto made countless times when he was a teen and sparred with Iruka. So many people thought Iruka was such a sweet, harmless person that they ignored the fact he was one of the best academy teachers in Konoha. It was not simply because he had taught some of the greatest shinobi of Naruto's generation. It was not just because all of his students graduated the academy. It was because, after all these years of teaching, Iruka had never once had a casualty. Every other teacher had at least one or two students go to the hospital every year, but Iruka had never sent a student there for stitches or X-rays. Most people thought it was because he had such well-behaved students that fights never broke out or accidents happened. Those people were idiots for thinking such a thing. Iruka's quick reflexes usually saved students from injury, but his students' fear of him kept them from fighting. And, if they dared to fight in his classroom, they quickly learned not to cross their beloved Iruka-sensei again.

His misbehaving students found out that their kindhearted teacher had taught not one, but three Hyuugas. He knew pressure points better than most members of the famous clan and, if he saw the need, he used that knowledge to his advantage, temporarily paralyzing students with no more than a single touch if they dared to attack one another.

Iruka had trained one nasty-tempered Uchiha, a demon container, an Inuzuka, an Akimichi, a Nara…the list went on and on. He had worked with some of the most powerful shinobi to exist. He had spent many nights researching and training so that he could show them their own potential. He learned the Katon to train with Sasuke; he learned healing jutsu so that he could patch Naruto and Kiba up every time they got into a fight with their classmates. He read books on strategy for Shikamaru. He researched all of the famous shinobi clans so that he could train their offspring.

Iruka had many tricks up his sleeve in order to teach his students to be the best shinobi they could be. Anyone who sparred with him quickly learned that fact the hard way. His style may not be violent enough to do major harm in a real battle, but in training, Iruka knew he could hold his own against most shinobi.

This time, when Kakashi came at him, he made sure to not leave any part of his upper body unprotected. Iruka sidestepped, just barely getting out of his husband's kicking range. The brunet snickered as he tapped a pressure point on his husband's exposed ankle. Having tested many of these moves on his own body when he was learning where exactly to hit, Iruka knew the tingling now running through his husband's foot would take a few minutes to go away. Until then, Kakashi would be just as clumsy as anyone else whose foot was asleep.

Stumbling back, the jounin cursed softly. However unconventional Iruka's fighting style was, it was damn effective in a sparring match using only taijutsu. If he was able to use any of his thousands of jutsu or a single blade, he would never have to get close enough for Iruka for his husband's attacks to be successful. But, in hand-to-hand combat, Kakashi knew he was currently outmatched. He did not have the speed, the balance, or the energy to dodge his husband's attacks. But he refused to admit that without a fight.

When he was back in shape, he was going to insist on a rematch. If Iruka could hold his own against him then, Kakashi was going to demand his husband be promoted to jounin. Fighting with jutsu and blades was easy in comparison to learning an effective style of taijutsu. He could teach Iruka far-range techniques in a matter of weeks.

Iruka caught the glimmer of approval in his husband's mismatched eyes. The fact the next emotion Iruka could see in that pale face was wariness made the brunet smirk. It was not often someone respected his odd technique until they lost to him.

"You could be jounin…" Kakashi stated, barely out of breath. Iruka momentarily pouted at his husband's fountain of energy. How any pregnant person still had the energy to spar, much less hold a conversation while doing so, Iruka had no idea. Then again, Kakashi was normally able to keep up with his demonic ex-student, so it was no wonder that he had an impressive energy reserve even now.

"I know…but, no offense, y-you all are crazy," Iruka replied, his words catching in his throat as he used his forearm to block one of his husband's kicks. Wincing as his arm erupted in pain, Iruka hissed. That was going to leave a bruise, but as far as he could tell, he hadn't broken anything. Unable to stop himself, Iruka rubbed his now aching arm.

"But you would be more respected," Kakashi pointed out as he took his husband's moment of distraction to throw a side kick that made contact with his husband's abdomen. Though he used only a fraction of his strength – he did not want to actually hurt Iruka – the brunet was thrown back several feet.

Iruka finally skidded to a stop halfway across the room. His arm involuntarily wrapped around his middle as the brunet gasped for air. Though they had agreed not to hold back, Iruka was extremely happy Kakashi had ignored that fact. If his husband had actually kicked him full-force, Iruka knew he would be unconscious on the ground with several broken ribs.

"I don't…want respect…j-just because of…of a title," Iruka panted as he gingerly felt along his ribcage, making sure Kakashi hadn't actually broken anything. From the sharp pain as he touched his left side, Iruka couldn't help but wonder if something had actually cracked. After they were done here, he had the feeling they would be visiting Tsunade and listening to one of her tirades for an hour before she healed him.

Kakashi furrowed his eyebrows at Iruka's words. He had never thought about a promotion that way. He had been only thirteen when he was made jounin. He hadn't really thought about his motivations other than knowing it was what everyone expected of him. It was the natural progression of things in their world. Pre-genin, genin, chuunin, jounin – that was the general path all shinobi took. They took their promotions, seeing it for what it was. Acceptance, respect, responsibility, a better paycheck – there were countless things he received by becoming one of the youngest jounin to exist. But what had truly pushed him towards that choice? His sensei had been against his promotion, saying Kakashi was too young and immature. His teammates were in awe of him and the fact he had actually been asked to join in the jounin exams even before his thirteenth birthday. He had no real friends or family to be proud of his accomplishments. He had no one other than the pack to celebrate his promotion.

So caught in his thoughts, Kakashi did not realize Iruka had taken the opportunity to attack until it was too late. Iruka caught him behind the legs with a spinning kick that was only meant to put him off balance, not hurt him.

Kakashi moved into action as he fell towards the floor. Bending backwards so that he landed on his hands, he pushed off and somersaulted. Even before he landed back on his feet, the jounin cursed. The twins fluttered anxiously as a cramp ran down his back and across his midsection. He had forgotten his flexibility had gone out the window months ago. He was so big he couldn't touch his own feet, much less bend backwards and do gymnastics without repercussions!

"You okay?" Iruka asked, instantly standing up from his crouched, offensive position when he saw the flicker of pain in his husband's eyes. His gaze flitted between Kakashi's grimace and the hand massaging his back several times.

"Not as flexible…as I used to be," Kakashi grumbled as he bent forwards in attempts to work out the massive knot in his back. How the hell did Iruka and Sasuke go through this?! Sasuke hadn't once complained about his inability to fight or do much of anything. All he had cried over was the fact he was as big as a house and an emotional mess!

"Do you want to stop?" Iruka asked as he took a step towards his husband, but Kakashi held up his free hand, gesturing the brunet to stop moving. Slowly, Kakashi stood back up, taking a deep breath as he moved his hand away from his back.

"No," Kakashi finally answered as he bent this way and that to work out the last bit of tightness in his back. Deciding not to try that particular move again until long after the twins were born, the jounin shifted into a defensive stance. With a smirk on his face, he gestured for Iruka to come at him.

Seeing the cocky smile on his husband's face, Iruka felt a flicker of annoyance. Kakashi thought he could still beat him, did he? Iruka had the sudden urge to wipe that smirk off of his husband's beautiful face. The corners of his lips curved upwards as Iruka pushed off the floor, racing towards his partner with the knowledge he wasn't just a master at pressure points.

After all the times he had to hold back students and teachers from killing Naruto for some slight or another, Iruka knew how to grapple with even the strongest and fastest of shinobi.

Throwing a kick to distract his husband, Iruka moved into position. Kakashi blocked the high kick, just like Iruka had expected him to. The brunet caught his husband's other wrist and spun his body, wrenching the jounin's arm down and twisting the limb to its limits. Coming into a standing position behind Kakashi, pinning his husband's arm behind his back in a position that was just painful enough to make the jounin think twice about moving, Iruka let out a cackle.

"Give up?" Iruka whispered into his husband's ear, surprised by the shiver he felt run through Kakashi's body. He knew that tremble had nothing to do with fear or cold; oh no, he recognized that quiver for what it was. Unable to help himself, Iruka stuck out his tongue and gently ran it along the outer rim of his husband's sensitive ear.

Iruka was not above using dirty tactics to win.

"N-Never," Kakashi gasped as a wave of desire hit him as Iruka's tongue traced the curve of his ear. Bastard! Unable to help it, a smirk pulled at his lips at his husband's underhandedness. But he wasn't going to let Iruka win that easily.

Once he was sure Iruka's tongue was safely back in his mouth, Kakashi threw his head backwards. Catching his husband's forehead with his skull, the jounin ignored the jolt of pain that ran through his own head. Instead, he focused on the soft curse, quickly followed by Iruka releasing his grip on the jounin's wrist.

Free from Iruka's hold, Kakashi spun around to face his husband. Fighting the urge to rub his aching shoulder that had been nearly wrenched out of place by his partner's attack, Kakashi instead caught his husband around the middle, easily tossing the lighter man through the air with a single twist of his hips. Even before Iruka had the chance to shift his body so that he could land on his feet, Kakashi raced at him. Still flying through the air, Iruka had no way to defend himself as Kakashi brought a fist down across his middle, throwing him to the floor with enough force to crack the wood underneath him.

Iruka ignore the new bruise to his abdomen. Instead, he used his new position on the floor to kick his husband's legs out from underneath him. This time, Kakashi did not have the chance to flip himself back into a standing position. Instead, he fell ungracefully onto his rear, his arms stretching out behind him to keep his back from painfully hitting the floor.

The brunet did not give his husband the chance to recover before he jumped into action. Iruka pounced on top of the jounin, wrestling Kakashi to the ground as he captured his husband's wrists to keep Kakashi from hitting him. Iruka realized he made a miscalculation the instant a smirk came to Kakashi's face.

He had forgotten to pin his husband's powerful legs – one of which was now between his own knees.

Suddenly, pain exploded throughout Iruka's body. Gasping for air, Iruka rolled onto his back, his hands going to clutch his groin. Bile rose to the back of his throat as the chuunin whimpered, his stomach, his back, his legs – every inch of his entire body screaming in agony.

He could admit, seductively teasing his husband was underhanded, but retaliating by kneeing him in the balls!?

"Give up?" Kakashi asked in a sing-song voice, which only hardened Iruka's resolve. There was no way he was going to let his husband win this time. He was going to have Kakashi begging for mercy! And Iruka knew exactly how to do just that.

"N-Ne…never!" Iruka repeated his husband's earlier response as he fought to keep down the contents of his stomach. Swallowing heavily, the brunet somehow found the strength to roll onto his hands and knees, coughing as another wave of pain ran down his back. Damn it, it was an unspoken rule among shinobi never to kick a man in the groin! It was just plain wrong!

After a minute of deep breathing, the pain began to recede. At least Kakashi was kind enough to let him recuperate. Iruka lifted his head to look at his husband, who was sitting cross-legged, whistling a happy little tune. If not for the fact his husband's rounded belly gave him pause, Iruka would have jumped on top of the jounin and beat some sense into him.

Then again, Kakashi could take it. With that thought in mind, Iruka let out a battle cry and tackled the smug man, ever careful of his husband's middle. Caught by surprise, Kakashi fell backwards and his head connected with the floor with a loud thwack. Before he had the chance to fight back, he found his legs pinned to the ground by Iruka's. His arms were similarly unmovable, thanks to his husband's tight grip on his wrists. Squirming, the jounin searched for a weakness in Iruka's hold and found it the instant Iruka leaned over him, cackling gleefully.

Head-butting his husband loosened Iruka's hold on him just enough for the jounin to flip Iruka underneath him. Unable to fight the urge, Kakashi bent his head down and nipped his husband's lower lip. Meant to distract his husband, Kakashi discovered his plan backfired as Iruka deepened the kiss, sending the jounin's head spinning. Kakashi didn't even have the chance to defend himself as Iruka hooked a leg around his, easily switching their positions without even breaking their kiss.

All Kakashi noticed was that he was suddenly on his back and was being kissed by the sexiest man alive.

Iruka's kiss was like nothing Kakashi had ever experienced before. It was not gentle or tender, nor was it submissive or hesitant. No, Iruka was in complete control, turning Kakashi's very body against him as he pillaged the jounin's mouth. It took the jounin a pitifully long period of time to notice one other difference in Iruka's kiss: the taste. A metallic tang mingled with the mint and coffee Kakashi knew to be unique to Iruka. And, though everything told him he should be revolted by the taste of blood on his husband's tongue and lips, a dark, secret part of him was indescribably aroused by that tinny flavor.

Kakashi could only moan as Iruka hovered over him, careful not to put any weight on the jounin's abdomen. That position, however, gave Iruka the ability to press a thigh against Kakashi's growing erection. Hissing into their kiss, Kakashi could not help but buck against his husband's leg.

Suddenly, Iruka broke their kiss, leaving the jounin whimpering in need. "Admit it…I won," Iruka whispered breathlessly as he ran a hand down Kakashi's side, his fingers tracing a line down the jounin's hip teasingly. Kakashi growled, refusing to be outdone by his conniving husband. If Iruka was going to play dirty, so was he.

Iruka had not pinned his arms to the floor this time, so Kakashi was free to run his hands down his husband's back, moving to cup that perfect behind. Groaning, the jounin could not help but be further turned on by the feel of those muscles shifting under his fingers as Iruka ground their bodies together, revealing that he was just as affected by their position as Kakashi was.

The brunet actually growled as he moved with a speed he had never known he possessed. Grabbing both of his husband's hands before Kakashi could continue to tease him, Iruka pinned those pale wrists above Kakashi's head with a single hand. Before Kakashi tried to free himself, Iruka broke their agreement and performed a jutsu.

Kakashi jerked in surprise when he felt something wrap around his wrists. Tilting his head back to look at his hands, he raised an eyebrow when he saw the floorboards wrapped around his wrists, anchoring his arms to the floor. It was a simple enough jutsu and one he could break out of easily, but Iruka would have known that. Curious, the jounin shifted so he could eye his husband.

"What happened to no jutsu?" he asked as he pulled his arms, impressed to feel the wood tighten around his wrists in response to his actions. Not bad, but all it would take was a good fire jutsu to free himself. Then again, Kakashi was surprised to learn that he did not mind the bindings as much as he thought he would, given his history. Because of what he had survived, he was never sure how he would react to being tied up, so he refused to let any lover try it out. He had considered the possibility of reliving that month, of lashing out and attacking his bed partner, or even killing them on accident. Now, for the first time since he was seventeen, Kakashi was tied down and was amazed by his own response. Of course, his heart rate increased, but not out of fear or worry. No, he was feeling anything but the horrors of his past. It may have something to do with his husband's words or maybe it was just the myriad of emotion in that voice.

"I'm done playing."

XXX

"Damn! Looks like you had a good time!" Iruka nearly jumped into the air at his brother's loud exclamation. Glowering at his blonde sibling, the chuunin ran a hand through his loose hair, combing the wet strands back behind an ear before he gave Naruto his best 'stern teacher' glare. After a frigid shower, he wasn't in the mood to deal with his hyper brother. "Oi, don't give me that look. You aren't all that scary with that nice shiner."

Iruka cocked his head to the side at those words along with the concern in Naruto's voice. Glancing over to Sasuke, who was feeding his daughter and ignoring both of them entirely, Iruka raised an eyebrow. It was then he noticed he bright red tinge to Sasuke's cheeks and recalled just how loud his husband had been earlier. Color crept into his own cheeks as Iruka plopped down in a chair next to the Uchiha. Naruto was never going to let him and Kakashi live this one down.

"I mean, it sounded like Kakashi enjoyed it…but I think you might have been doing things a little wrong," Naruto stated with a sagely nod of his head. Mortified, Iruka dropped his head into his hands only to jerk his head back as pain exploded across the left side of his face. Iruka gingerly fingered his left cheek, remembering that Kakashi had one hell of a right hook. Naruto's words finally started making a little bit of sense.

"I don't think Sasuke's ever given me a black eye during sex…" Naruto commented as he squatted down to be at eye level with Iruka. Gently, he touched the purplish mark that extended all the way across his brother's cheek and part of his nose. Nothing felt broken, but Naruto wasn't a medic. From the way Iruka shied away from his touch, however, it was obvious his brother's face was in a good amount of pain right now.

"It wasn't like that," Iruka retorted as he shook his head. He was about to explain himself when Naruto abruptly grabbed his chin, forcing Iruka to face the younger shinobi. The brunet was about to snarl at his brother for the pain that jerking movement sent through his temple, but Iruka fell silent at the look in Naruto's blue eyes.

"Open your mouth," Naruto said softly, his tone leaving no room for debate. Iruka winced, realizing what his brother must have caught a glimpse of when he spoke a moment ago. Gently tonguing the space where a tooth had once been, Iruka had the feeling he was going to have to do some explaining. Before his brother got it into his thick skull to pry Iruka's mouth open with his bare hands, the brunet followed his command and revealed the gaping hole.

"I'll kill him." Iruka blinked, for a moment not recognizing the dark, cold voice as that of his bubbly little brother. If not for the fact he had seen Naruto's mouth move to match those very words, he would have thought that hate-filled promise had come from Sasuke. Quickly, Iruka grabbed his brother's forearm before Naruto got the chance to race off and kill Kakashi for some imagined slight.

"I'm fine, baka," Iruka stated as he tightened his grip around Naruto's arm, refusing to let his brother go. The blonde snarled as he tugged, trying to pull his arm free. "I'll go to the dentist tomorrow and get it fixed." In the shinobi world, chipped or missing teeth were a part of life; their dentists were experts at putting in a fake tooth here and there. This just happened to be the first adult tooth Iruka ever had knocked out.

"That's not the point. He hit you! Pregnant or not, I'm going to kill him!"

Iruka rolled his eyes. He had grown up with his brother's dramatics, so he was more than accustomed with Naruto's uncanny ability of blowing things out of proportion. Taking a deep breath, he wished he had had the sense to just stay up in his bedroom to watch his husband sleep. But he had wanted to check on his son, assuming he would be in the same room as Keiko. Apparently not – his son was nowhere to be seen, but neither was Pakkun, so Iruka was not worried. Wherever his genius offspring was, the pug was sure to follow.

"We were sparring and Kakashi forgot to pull his punch. It was an accident," Iruka calmly explained as he fought the urge to rub his aching temple, knowing it would only result in more pain for him right now. Glancing over to Sasuke, Iruka could see the Uchiha was mildly amused by his fiancé's outrageous claims. Once Naruto calmed down, he would think rationally – or at least as rationally as Naruto was capable of. He would remember that he knew Kakashi and that the idea Kakashi was abusive was outrageous. He would recall his times of sparring with his ex-sensei and the man's impressive strength. It would not be hard to believe that Kakashi forgot how strong he was while training and unintentionally hit his sparring partner.

"Kakashi spar with you?!" The disbelief in his brother's voice made Iruka's eye twitch in annoyance. Even after all these years, Naruto still made the mistake of thinking he was incapable of holding his own in a fight. The brunet debated whether or not to smack his idiot sibling upside the head for that dismissive comment, but finally decided it would be a waste of time and energy.

"I'll have you know I won our match." Iruka pouted as he released his brother's arm, sure Naruto had calmed down enough that he wouldn't go searching for his brother-in-law. Kakashi would probably kill Naruto if he woke him up right now.

"Bull…" Naruto shook his head disbelievingly. "There's no way you beat Kakashi. I just barely tie with him nowadays." That urge to smack his brother came back full-force as Iruka glared at the blonde. Before he got the chance to do so, however, a hand came out of nowhere and hit the back of his brother's head for him. Iruka smiled to Sasuke in gratitude as he watched the young father shift his sleeping daughter in his arms, acting like he hadn't just smacked his lover for being a moron. Keiko made a cute snuffling sound, but was otherwise oblivious to the fact one of her fathers was absolutely insane.

"Baka, Iruka isn't as weak as you think he is. Not to mention Kakashi is no longer in peak physical condition because of the twins," the quiet jounin grumbled as he thrust an empty bottle into Naruto's chest, easily knocking the wind out of his lover. Naruto gasped for air as he eyed his fiancé, trying to decide if Sasuke was right or not.

"B-But…he still kicks my butt even now…" Naruto wheezed as he stumbled over to the sink to wash out the bottle and put it away before one of the two dark-haired neat freaks yelled at him for being a slob. Iruka shifted his gaze between the two, finally settling on Sasuke as he raised an eyebrow. He was Kakashi's husband and he had just finally noticed that Kakashi was no longer able to fight like he used to. How had Sasuke picked up on it before him?

"You fight with jutsu and your demonic strength. Sparring with Kakashi without using either is like fighting with both hands behind your back. It is no wonder he still beats you when he can barely stand," Sasuke stated as he returned to his seat next to Iruka.

"That isn't saying much for me," Iruka grumbled as he brought his fingers up to his cheek, performing a simple healing jutsu to erase the bruise from his face. His face was still tender and a little puffy, but still an improvement from the black eye he had before.

"No…you could hold your own against Kakashi even when he is back to normal. Few people can beat you with just taijutsu, but you don't limit yourself and focus on your one or two strengths. You can adapt…unlike him," Sasuke stated as he glanced pointedly to his lover's back. Naruto gave him the middle finger over his shoulder, to which Sasuke sent out a tendril of chakra to zap his fiancé in the butt. Iruka had to bite his lip to keep from chuckling at their interplay as Naruto squeaked in indignation, rubbing his sore behind.

"Oi, if you're so smart, tell us why Kakashi went stalking off this morning in the first place," Naruto grumbled as he continued to massage his posterior as he walked back over to the table. Slumping down in a chair, the blonde stuck his tongue out. Iruka rubbed his temple, wondering how it was possible someone so immature was a father already. Poor Keiko.

"What happened?" Sasuke asked as he cocked his head to the side. Iruka then recalled that the Uchiha had still been sleeping when Kakashi had snapped and gone up to the training room. Quickly recounting their odd morning, Iruka sat back and watched as the jounin rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"Un…that would piss him off…" Sasuke mumbled to himself with a nod of his head. Seeing the wide-eyed looks from Naruto and Iruka, the genius shrugged his shoulders before directing his gaze at Iruka. "Every time you check up on him, you imply he is unable to take care of himself. It reminds him how weak and vulnerable he is now…that would annoy anyone, especially Kakashi."

"He isn't weak!" Iruka squeaked as he pointed at his face as though to remind Sasuke just what his face had looked like a minute ago. If that had been Kakashi weakened, Iruka was terrified of sparring with the man after the twins were born! He wouldn't survive such an encounter!

"His balance is gone, so is his speed. His chakra levels are low, and he doesn't have the energy he used to. He has no endurance; he can barely breathe with the twins pressing against his diaphragm. He may still have his physical strength, but it won't last much longer. I'm amazed he didn't pass out while sparring with you," Sasuke pointed out. If Iruka had not grown so close to the Uchiha, he might have been impressed with him speaking so openly. Instead, he could only wince as he thought about Sasuke's words.

Finally, he understood that terror he had seen in his husband's eyes when Kakashi had begged him to fight with him. There was no way a powerful shinobi could let go of everything they had once been with grace, much less do so willingly. No, they fought to prove themselves. They trained daily. They hid the changes to their bodies. They refused to let anyone help them.

And how much would they hide when they were terrified of what those changes meant? How deep would they bury the fear when they were someone who had amassed countless enemies over the years? How could they possibly live with the knowledge they could no longer protect the ones they loved?

Iruka winced as he thought about that question. He knew Kakashi could be paranoid, but they had already lived through one scare. They had been terrified Saki was kidnapped by Kakashi's enemies. But Kakashi had been in his prime then – he had been prepared to slaughter armies of missing nin to get his son back safe and sound. What could he do if his enemies were to come after him now? Kakashi's condition was no secret in their village, so it was not hard to believe rumors had spread. His enemies would know that this was their chance to hit him where it would hurt most.

"How many times has Kakashi been attacked while in Konoha?" Iruka asked quietly as he glanced over to Sasuke, the one person other than Gai that might have a good estimate on how many battles Kakashi had fought in the very place he should be the safest. Iruka could ask his husband when Kakashi woke up, but the brunet had the feeling that he would lie, not wanting to scare Iruka with the truth.

"A couple times that I know of," Sasuke said as he brushed a finger against his daughter's cheek, thankful beyond words for what the Kyuubi had done for his child. He would never have to worry about her wellbeing. She was protected by a force not even missing nin after him or Naruto would be willing to mess with. Even if they tried, they would quickly realize their mistake before they died slowly and painfully at the hands of her parents. Saki, Iruka and the twins were not so lucky to have a demon as their protector. "When we trained sometimes, I would notice a new injury. He wouldn't talk about it, so I knew not to keep bothering him. He only came over once after an attack…when it was really bad."

"No way! Kakashi's only been in the hospital a few times, almost every time because of a mission!" Naruto pointed out as he eyed his fiancé. Sasuke shook his head at Naruto's denseness.

"You know just how much Kakashi hates the hospital," he said softly. "He usually stitches himself back up after an attack or has Tsunade do it if it is serious enough." Taking a deep breath, the jounin closed his eyes, recalling the sole time Kakashi came to him after one such attack. It had been mere months after he returned to Konoha after his years as a traitor, before the village trusted him.

The only people who ever came near him then were the Hokage, Naruto, Kakashi and his ever-present ANBU guards. Of course, Iruka always visited his little brother, but it took even him a while to get used to having Sasuke around again. Everyone else had been too disgusted by or too afraid of him to even try looking him in the eye, much less talk to him or spend time with him. It had been the worst time in his life, even considering his years with Orochimaru. He had felt completely alone, even with Naruto's constant attention.

During that time in his life, there was only one occasion Naruto left his side for any length of time. He had been called on a diplomatic mission with the Hokage and he couldn't get out of it. Sasuke had lied, telling Naruto he would be fine when all he wanted was to cling to his lover and beg Naruto not to leave him. But he had swallowed his fear and let Naruto go.

He knew Naruto would be fine; he had brought Gai and his entire team as bodyguards. But he was still afraid. It was not until years later that he finally understood his fear was for himself. He was terrified what people would do to him if Naruto wasn't there as a buffer to protect him from their hateful glares and curses.

Those weeks had been the beginning of his close, brotherly relationship with Kakashi. The jounin had been the only person to stop in and visit him daily. He was the one who told his ANBU jailers to leave Sasuke alone, to treat him with respect. And then, Kakashi showed him just how much he trusted a teen who had betrayed his village once for power.

He could hear his 'bodyguards' grumble among themselves as they followed him back to his apartment. Sasuke had no misconceptions about them; if given the chance, they would gladly put a kunai between his ribs. After all, how many of their comrades did he kill in the years he had been at the top of the Bingo Book? How many ANBU teams had come after him in that time, never to return home? He had never kept track, and he was glad he hadn't. The knowledge of exactly how many lives he had ended would only eat at him now.

Sasuke took a deep breath. Just one week and Naruto would be home in his arms. Just a little longer and he could see the smile that made his very life worth living. A few more nights were left until he could hear that infectious laughter. He only had a few more days until he would once again be in that presence that brightened his otherwise dark prison. Naruto wouldn't be back soon enough. Seven more days before he could start living again…

With a sigh, he unlocked his apartment door, not sure why he even locked it in the first place. He knew entire teams of ANBU swept the place every time he was gone, searching for something they could use against him, something that not even Naruto could get him out of. But a small part of him got a sick enjoyment out of making things hard for them. He booby trapped the place, locked every door and window, and otherwise made their mission more difficult.

Slipping into his dark apartment, he closed the door in the faces of his ANBU entourage. They were never allowed in here, Naruto made sure of that when he had negotiated the terms of his surrender with Tsunade. He had been prepared for his imprisonment, but Naruto had made sure at least his privacy was his own – at least as long as he was in the apartment to guard it. Instead, the team spread out around the outside of his tiny apartment. He could always sense them there, watching him, waiting for him to make a mistake.

Rubbing the bridge of his nose, he went into the kitchenette to put on a pot of coffee. In the past few months since he had returned to Konoha, he had become addicted to the dark liquid. It was the only thing that kept him awake; it was the only thing that now kept the nightmares at bay. Without Naruto to tell him everything was going to be okay, the demons of his past haunted him, terrorizing him until he was too afraid to even sleep lest they return to remind him of the blood that was on his hands.

So preoccupied with making his coffee, it took him a minute to realize he was not completely alone in the apartment. The intruder made no sound or movement, cloaked in shadow so Sasuke could not even see his attacker's face. So, they were going to try killing him while Naruto wasn't around? Of course they would, the cowards. They would not want to piss off their future Hokage, but how were they going to explain his boyfriend's mangled body when Naruto got back?

Spinning around, he smashed the glass pot against the counter as his heart raced. They thought that because he was no longer allowed to carry a weapon that he would be an easy kill? Clutching the coffee pot's handle, keeping its jagged edges facing his would-be attacker, Sasuke prepared himself. But when the attack never came, his heart rate and breathing began to return to normal.

Slowly, he moved towards the tall frame slumped over on his couch, still wielding his broken glass. As soon as he reached the light switch, he threw the lights on, flooding his tiny apartment with light. The instant his eye adjusted and he caught a glimpse of his attacker, the coffee pot slipped out of his numb fingers and fell to the floor, shattering into a thousand little pieces.

Sasuke barely noticed the glass littering the floor other than the crunch of it under his sandals as he sped across the room to drop to his knees in front of the silver-haired jounin doubled over on his couch. Gingerly, he shook the man's shoulder, whispering his name, but Kakashi didn't respond. No, the only thing the jounin did was begin to fall forwards.

Sasuke caught the tall man in his arms, turning him over until he could see Kakashi's face, or at least what wasn't covered by his ever-present mask. Swallowing heavily, Sasuke put a hand on his old sensei's chest, shaking him, but still Kakashi remained unresponsive. About ready to smack the man awake and demand why his couch and floor were now stained red where Kakashi had been sitting, Sasuke froze when he lifted his hand from the man's dark shirt and saw that same red dripping from his palm.

It was then he heard the jounin's breathing. A gasp mixed with a gurgling, coughing sound. Sasuke had killed enough people to recognize the sound of a man drowning in his own blood. Frantically, he grabbed for Kakashi's kunai pouch, ripping a blade out of it so quickly he nicked himself on another kunai. The pain did not even register in his mind; all he cared about was that one of the two people he had left in this world was dying in his arms.

"Don't you dare die, you asshole," he growled as he cut away the black shirt from Kakashi's chest, only to discover the shirt was completely saturated with blood. Kakashi's entire torso was coated in the macabre stain, hiding the source of the bleeding from Sasuke's searching eye. Wrenching his own shirt off, Sasuke balled it up and tried to wipe away as much blood as he could, only to discover a deep gouge in Kakashi's left breast, right over his heart. And with every weak throb of the jounin's heart, Sasuke watched in fear as a new wave of blood erupted, quickly painting his chest in red once again.

Tears pricking his eyes, Sasuke pressed his shirt against the gaping wound, but he knew no amount of pressure was going to stop this bleeding. There were only two ways to stop the blood from pouring: death…or a miracle.

"ANBU!" he cried out, his voice cracking from years of disuse. He was so unaccustomed to yelling, he did not even recognize that voice as his own until the team of assassins appeared before him, their poses ones of disgust and annoyance at being at his beck and call. That was, they appeared bored until they saw the jounin bleeding in his arms.

"H-Hatake-sama!"

"Take him to the hospital!"

"N-n-n-n…" Sasuke barely caught the sound bubbling from his old sensei's lips, but he understood the emotion in Kakashi's voice all too well. He too had that same gripping fear every time he approached the medical building. His heart raced as he thought of the years he had spent as Orochimaru's guinea pig, tied down to one of those hospital beds as a heart monitor bleeped softly, quietly torturing him with every beep, a constant reminder of the fact he was still alive.

"No hospital," Sasuke said firmly as he held his makeshift compress to Kakashi's chest. It did not matter why Kakashi feared the hospital. He always knew the lanky man disliked medics, refusing to go to them for help during the years he had a genin team unless one of his students was harmed. All that Sasuke cared about was saving the one person other than Naruto who gave a damn about him. Kakashi was the only family he had left.

"We aren't going to let you kill him!" Sasuke looked up at the masked guards in confusion. He did not understand those hate-filled words until he saw how the shinobi were surrounding him, preparing to attack. They thought he had done this to Kakashi.

Pain hit him in the chest at that realization. How badly had he fucked up his life that they thought him capable of killing the only family he had – the only person other than Naruto who stood by him after everything he had done? He would sooner return to a life as a missing nin than to harm a single silver hair on Kakashi's head.

Then again, he had slaughtered his own brother – his own flesh and blood. Maybe they did have good reason to think he was the one trying to kill Kakashi.

"Get Haruno Sakura here, now!"

She hated him just as much as everyone else, but Sasuke had heard his ex-teammate was second only to Tsunade in the medical field now. For her old genin sensei, she would swallow her disgust for Sasuke. She would be professional as long as Kakashi's life was in danger.

And yet, his bodyguards made no move to search for the kunoichi. Sasuke snarled as one of the idiots moved her hand towards her kunai pouch. If they thought he was going to deal with their hatred of him right now, they were sadly mistaken. With little more than a thought, Sasuke threw the kunai in his hand and pinned her arm to the wall before she could arm herself. It would have been so easy to aim the blade a little lower and slice through the artery in her wrist. A year ago, he wouldn't have even hesitated to do so. But Naruto was starting to rub off on him, so he had not even nicked her skin, instead catching her shirtsleeve with the blade. That small kindness was all Sasuke was capable of at the moment.

"If he dies…you will be the first I tear apart, piece by piece," he promised. His voice was one he was painfully familiar with. It was the cold, frightening tone he began cultivating by Orochimaru's side until he finally killed the snake and went on to make the sannin look like a fluffy bunny in comparison to the monster he became. It was a sound that Naruto hated above all else and, because of that, was one Sasuke desperately tried to forget himself capable of. But, for now, he would deal with the painful reminder of his past if it saved Kakashi's life.

It was not until hours later that Sasuke dared to leave Kakashi's side and, even then, his apartment was small enough he could still look up from the sink in the kitchenette to see the jounin sprawled out on his bed. Going back to washing his hands, he scrubbed furiously at the dried bloodstains, but they would not go away. He did not care that the water scalded his skin or that the soap began to sting as he scoured his hands with a rough sponge.

So focused on the pink stains that he could not wash away, he did not notice Sakura had left her seat at Kakashi's side until a hand touched his shoulder. Flinching instinctively, he spun around and stumbled back against the counter, his hands grasping for a weapon, but there was none to be found.

Color flooded the young woman's cheeks as she lowered her hand to her side, scuffing her shoe on the floor in discomfort. Whatever unease Sakura felt, it was nothing in comparison to Sasuke's. He was never so thankful his bodyguards took away his weapons. If he had had anything, Sakura would have been dead the instant she touched his shoulder.

"I…um…Kakashi-sensei is going to be okay. I healed the nicks in his heart and lung and sewed him back up. He just needs to rest," she whispered, her head bowed so that her bangs covered her features. Even now, she couldn't stand to look at him. Sasuke huffed as he turned back to continue washing his hands. He didn't know why it still hurt to have people refuse to meet his gaze. He should be used to it, but Sakura's dismissal stung all the same. If anything, it hurt worse to have her of all people hating him. She had been his teammate; she had once thought herself in love with him. But now she could not even be bothered to treat him like a human.

"Hn…" Sasuke looked down at his hands only to see the pink he had been trying to remove was his own raw skin. Blisters were already forming on the backs of his hands from the hot water and his knuckles were cracked and bleeding from the half hour of scrubbing. A soft snort escaped as he looked over his hands. It was no wonder people feared him; he did not even notice what he was doing to himself. All that had mattered was getting Kakashi's blood off his hands. Even if he was not the one to stab his ex-sensei, it did not keep his stomach from turning any less when he had seen the red staining his skin and caking under his fingernails.

"Y-You know…some of us…w-we get together…on Friday nights…y-you could come…"

Sasuke forgot all about washing his hands at those words. Looking over his shoulder, he was floored to see a pair of green eyes looking right at him. That verdant shade was not stained with the fear or hatred Sasuke had grown accustomed to since returning to Konoha. Instead, there was a strange warmth in those orbs that made his chest tighten for reasons Sasuke couldn't fully explain.

Turning fully around to look at the woman, he raised an eyebrow. Her cheeks were bright pink, but not out of discomfort as he had earlier assumed. Judging from the sheepish smile, she was ashamed over something. Her stuttering, similarly, was not out of the fear Sasuke had grown calloused to, but embarrassment. He had never so wrongly judged someone's emotions before, but it had been so long since he had experienced anything other than hatred and revulsion that he assumed that was what everyone other than Naruto and Kakashi felt.

"I'm sorry, Sasuke…" Sakura apologized softly as she bowed her head again, toeing the floor as though that would help her to find the words to say. "I should have come to visit when you came back…b-but I didn't know what to say…"

Sasuke could think of a thousand different curses people had flung at him as he walked through the village for the first time in over five years. He could remember how many people spat at him, offended by his very presence. There were those who threw rocks at his face and, with his arms securely cuffed behind his back, he had little protection against their hate. He had the scars to prove he had taken their abuse without a single word or attempt to dodge their attacks when he could have killed them with a single look.

"I wanted to hate you…for all the times Naruto came back to the village half-dead with that defeated look in his eyes…but he wouldn't let me…he kept saying that his suffering was nothing…compared to what you lived with every day. He was so sure that there was still some good in you – that you would stop punishing yourself and come home one day.

"I'm so glad Naruto was right."

Sasuke stood there frozen as a pair of warm arms encircled his torso and held him. It had been so long since someone other than Naruto hugged him that he had no idea what to do. He could only stand perfectly still as he looked down at the head of pink hair that did not even reach his shoulder. A part of him was so uncertain, so uncomfortable, that he wanted to pull away as soon as possible. There was another part of him that desperately wanted to return the embrace, to know what a friendly hug felt like. It was the latter that eventually won out as he gingerly put his arms around her tiny frame, ever afraid of hurting her with his strength.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Sakura pulled away. Wiping at her nose in a very unflattering motion, she sniffled before she looked up at him with red-rimmed eyes. Even with her eyes still watering, she clapped her hands together. "Now…let's get some food in you – you look like a twig…" Sasuke opened and closed his mouth, unsure what exactly to say.

"After dinner, I'll give you something to help you sleep – no dreams, I promise."

It was the beginning of his salvation.

"Sasuke?" The jounin blinked as he shook his head, ridding the last images of the memory from his vision. Looking up, he saw Iruka and Naruto studying him strangely. How long had he been lost in thought? Judging by the brothers' odd looks, he was probably out of it quite a while.

"What were we talking about?" he asked as he glanced down at his daughter's peaceful features. Keiko – oblivious to the crimes her father had committed – snuggled closer to his chest and wrapped her tiny fists around his shirt. A smile tugged at the edge of the jounin's mouth as he brushed a finger against Keiko's rounded cheek. It was hard to imagine that a few years ago, he had been seen as a monster that people would cross the street to avoid and something so evil, they would hide their children whenever he was out in public. Those same people now cooed and smiled as they watched him carry his daughter around the village. He would be bitter over their sudden change of heart, but he was too happy with his fiancé and daughter to care. Thanks to Naruto, Kakashi, and, eventually, Sakura and Iruka – those who could see the good in him – the village finally started seeing him as something other than the creature a lifetime of hatred and anger had made him.

"Kakashi being attacked in the village…" Naruto commented as he furrowed his eyebrows. Assassins had come after him over the years, no matter where he was, but he had always thought he was unique in that because of the Kyuubi and, more recently, because Tsunade had named him her heir. He had never considered the possibility other shinobi dealt with the same threat simply because they had done their job.

Sasuke absently rubbed his chest above his heart, recalling just how close his friend had been to death because of one of those attacks. "I don't know if someone will come after him now. No one has in the past several months, but they could just be waiting until Kakashi can't fight at all. Then again, Naruto and I are around all the time, so they might not want to risk fighting one of us…"

Iruka watched the dark-haired jounin's hand, wincing as he recalled the thick, painful-looking scar that covered his husband's chest exactly where Sasuke was rubbing now. Knowing where that deep, jagged impression came from, however, did not make Iruka feel any better. If anything, it frightened him all the more. To think that Kakashi, in his prime, had been stabbed in the chest while in Konoha – and from the pained look in Sasuke's eyes, had nearly lost his life because of it – was horrifying. What could his enemies be capable of now?

Iruka glanced over to his little brother and winced as he watched Naruto begin to nod off. It was not fair to him or Sasuke to even ask for their help. They would say yes without hesitation, but they had their own child to take care of now. They were already exhausted; how could they possibly take shifts watching over Kakashi as well?

He considered the possibility of having bodyguards assigned to them. Any of them would gladly agree to guard and protect one of Konoha's greatest shinobi, and Kakashi would probably strangle them within a day or two. And, if he did not try to kill one of them, he would most certainly scare them off with thinly veiled threats. If he hated the weakness he felt every time his own husband checked up on him, how could he possibly stand having an entire team of elite shinobi being his shadow for the next few months?

Iruka closed his eyes as he tried to think of another option. Kakashi wouldn't listen to reason. There was no way he could convince his stubborn husband that it would be a good idea to have a team of bodyguards until after the twins were born and he was back in shape. If needed, he would argue with Kakashi until he gave in, but his husband would be miserable for months, and, if today was any indication, would take that anger out on whoever was closest at the time.

There had to be some other way. Now that he finally understood his husband's fears, Iruka could try to think of a way to help. If it meant locking his husband in Tsunade's office for the next few months, he would. If it meant a team of bodyguards, so be it. He would do anything to keep their family safe.

XXX

Iruka shifted slightly in the overstuffed chair, tucking his legs underneath his behind as he glanced up from the history book he had been reading for the past few hours. The large tome was painfully boring, but it had put Saki to sleep for his afternoon nap. Iruka only had to read aloud for all of two pages before the toddler was snoring, kicking one of his legs in a very puppy-like manner. Pakkun was out by page three.

He had lied when the pug asked why he was going to read the history book on the first shinobi war. Pakkun had given him a disbelieving look when Iruka said he was going to assign his students a book report, but he hadn't pried. Somehow, Pakkun understood that those pages and their monotony distracted Iruka. And a distraction was exactly what Iruka needed after everything he learned today. But not even a horribly written book could keep his mind off of things for long.

Iruka was not so arrogant as to think for a second that he could protect Kakashi by himself. If Kakashi, in his prime, nearly lost his life on multiple occasions due to enemies, Iruka wouldn't stand a chance. He would merely slow down their attackers for however long he survived. It was a sobering moment the instant he realized he had a chance of dying in the next few months. But, if he was going to die, Iruka would do his damndest to take their attackers with him.

Well, so much for trying to take his mind off of his mortality and the risks their family was facing. Sighing, he closed the book and set it on the side table. Kakashi might get a kick out of the hundred year old book when he woke up, if for no other reason than as a means to torture his ninken.

Silently, Iruka slipped out of the chair. Padding barefoot across the bedroom, Iruka bent down to brush a gentle kiss against his husband's forehead. Kakashi grumbled in his sleep, but remained unconscious. If not for the fact Iruka knew his husband could no longer sleep throughout the night, and thus was now a night owl, he would have worried that Kakashi was sick. But whatever sleep Kakashi could get, even a few hours stolen during the day, was worth it.

Iruka could not help but smile sadly as he watched his husband sleep. Even after all this time, it was so hard for Kakashi to open up and show even a moment of vulnerability. A part of the brunet wanted to be angry at his husband for not explaining his fears himself. He should not have to find out from Sasuke the changes his husband hid and the terror he dealt with every waking moment! But every other part of the chuunin wanted to cry for a man who still understood so little about family that he would do anything to keep them from worrying.

Unable to stop his gaze from moving from his husband's face, Iruka glanced down at the pale chest littered in scars. Kakashi had unconsciously pulled the blankets down enough to reveal the fact he was dressed in only a pair of black boxers, so Iruka could see nearly every inch of marked flesh. Wincing, the brunet brought a finger up to gently touch the scar above his husband's heart. Sasuke did not have to speak earlier; Iruka could read the jounin's features well enough to know that Sasuke had once held Kakashi in his arms, terrified he wouldn't be able to save him.

Iruka recognized the mark of a kunai when he saw it. From the look of the scar, the blade had been deeply buried in his husband's chest and, knowing Kakashi, the obstinate idiot had pulled it out himself, doing more damage than if he had just left it in and gone to the hospital like anyone else would have. The scar was surrounded by smaller, nearly invisible dots that were so perfectly spaced Iruka knew that Kakashi had been stitched back up professionally. So, either Sakura or Tsunade had made a house call and saved his life because Kakashi despised the hospital. Iruka knew it had to be one of the two kunoichi simply because Kakashi would never allow another medic close to him when he was so weak.

Stubborn ass.

The brunet sighed as his fingers drifted across his husband's chest, wincing every time he saw a mark. How many of these were from missions – and how many did Kakashi receive because he had dared to drop his guard in his own home? How many of these were from monsters that would attack him when he was already injured and exhausted? How many times did Kakashi patch himself up, refusing to let anyone past the walls he had erected? How many lies had he made up over the years to explain a new injury to Gai and, in more recent years, Sasuke – the only two people who had known him well enough to even realize the jounin had been hurt?

Stifling a sob, the brunet stood up. He couldn't do this. It was torture to see those marks on his husband's body, knowing that a number of them were from events Kakashi had grown accustomed to. No one should have had the life Kakashi had endured, but things had changed. For the first time in his life since he was eight years old, Kakashi had someone there to protect him – and it was about time his mulish husband understood that.

XXX

Iruka sighed as he ran a hand through his unbound hair, wincing as he caught a knot with his fingers. Slowly detangling his digits from the mess, the brunet inwardly cursed. Figuratively speaking, his husband had a target on his back the size of the Hokage Monument. For all of the missing nin and other enemies Kakashi had pissed off over the years, it was only a matter of time for one of them to realize the opportunity they had. They would just have to look at the rounded jounin to know they had the chance to succeed where countless others had failed.

There had to be some other option he had not considered, some angle he had not thought of.

Sighing again, the brunet rubbed his aching temple. Kakashi had not even spoken of their sparring match or the fact he was in danger in the several hours he had been awake this afternoon. It was as though, to his husband, today had never happened. Kakashi had backed into that shell of his, acting like nothing was wrong.

Running his tongue along the raw and sore section of his gums where a tooth used to be, Iruka softly snarled. If he didn't love his husband so much, he might have throttled the moron until Kakashi admitted that everything wasn't alright, that his life – and those of their unborn children – was in danger. He would have smacked the jounin until Kakashi confessed he was afraid, but Iruka had the feeling his hand might fall off before the Copy Ninja broke down and revealed the truth.

"Oi…Iruka…"

Iruka looked up at the sound of his brother's hesitant tone. Naruto slipped into the room without making a sound, even though the two brothers were the only ones in the kitchen – and far enough away from Keiko's nursery that the baby wouldn't even stir if he had used his speaking voice. Despite the anger he felt towards his husband, Iruka had to smile at his brother. Who would have thought that adorable blue-eyed baby would have changed Naruto so much in such a short amount of time?

The young father plopped down at the table next to Iruka, being uncharacteristically quiet and subdued as he rested his chin on his hands in a thoughtful pose. Taking a moment to study the blonde, Iruka shook his head. He hadn't noticed before, but at some point, Naruto had taken out most of his piercings, leaving just several silver hoops in each ear that suited the handsome man. Gone was the rebel who had defiantly pierced every part of his body even when Iruka had told him not to. No longer was he the boy who had once tried to hide the whisker-like scars on his face because people looked at him differently; Naruto now proudly showed those parallel marks along with the newer scar down the right side of his face. Most of all, gone was the lonely, angry and betrayed teenager Iruka had once known, replaced by a content young man who was starting to look like a Hokage.

Naruto finally spoke, his voice little more than a whisper. "Sasuke and I were talking…and…we want to help-" Before the blonde could continue, Iruka held up a hand to silence him. Shaking his head, Iruka wished his brother was not so selfless. It was a sweet gesture, but he would never put Naruto, Sasuke or Keiko in danger.

"No, you two have enough to worry about as it is. Kakashi is just going to have to get used to bodyguards for a while…" Iruka admitted softly as he bowed his head. Maybe Gai and a few of their friends would volunteer, so Kakashi would be more comfortable around them. Then again, the brunet was not sure if he could deal with the Green Beast's boundless energy 24/7.

"That's not what I meant," Naruto interjected as he folded his arms on the table, his pose telling Iruka that the blonde was certain of his idea, whatever it was. "Sasuke and I agreed…we both know Kakashi well enough to know he won't agree to bodyguards…he'll find some way to sneak away from them, trick them into guarding a clone…" Iruka nodded his head, easily imagining Kakashi doing some such juvenile nonsense to maintain his privacy.

"What did you have in mind?" Iruka asked, curious what his brother and Sasuke could have come up with that he had not already considered. His little brother gave him a cheeky grin in response.

"Well, you guys never went on a honeymoon, so no one in Konoha would think anything of you two disappearing for a while," Naruto pointed out as he gave Iruka a lecherous glance that lessened the seriousness of their conversation a small amount.

"I've already considered relocating," Iruka replied with a sigh. "We can't go to another hidden village – Kakashi would be recognized instantly, which defeats the whole purpose of going into hiding. He doesn't have enough chakra anymore to hold a henge for any length of time. A civilian village, they might not recognize him, but there will be no one to help us if we are attacked. We would be safest here in Konoha…"

"What if there was a place, hypothetically, near Konoha where you guys could hide out? I mean, everyone will think you are off on this honeymoon around the world, so Kakashi's enemies wouldn't think to look around here," Naruto suggested, his tone and pink stain on his scarred cheeks revealing that this 'hypothetical place' was not so imaginary after all.

"Baka, we aren't going to be hiding from genin. These people will be able to track us down, even if you lie to everyone where we are. They will sense Kakashi's chakra no matter where we hide…"

"Well…what if this place happened to be shielded so it is impossible to sense anyone in there?" Naruto scratched the back of his head, his expression sheepish, as though he was embarrassed to admit he knew of such a place. Iruka eyed the young man for a moment, trying to figure out what his brother was up to. When it hit him, he snorted.

"So that's how you kept in contact with Sasuke for all those years he was a missing nin…" Seeing the telling red color to his brother's cheeks, the brunet chuckled as he shook his head. He had always wondered how Naruto had been able to negotiate the surrender of a man he supposedly had not seen for over a year. He had inwardly questioned his brother's relationship with Sasuke, unable to believe that Naruto only saw the missing nin during their increasingly rare battles. The way Naruto had spoken of Sasuke made Iruka wonder just how well the two knew each other and how they could have come to have such a close relationship.

To think Sasuke had been so close to Konoha all that time when armies of shinobi were searching for him around the world!

"U-Un…" Naruto bowed his head as he shrugged his shoulders. "I was dragging Sasuke back after one of our fights. We almost got to the village gates…but he was hurt, so we stopped for the night. We were close enough to the village I was afraid someone would sense him and attack, not realizing I was bringing him back…so I put up shields to hide us. One night turned into several…and…erm…"

From the tomato-like color of his brother's face, Iruka knew he wasn't going to get much more out of him. Smiling, the brunet nodded his head. To anyone else, Naruto's actions would have bordered on betrayal of the village. He had knowingly protected a missing nin, hiding him close enough to Konoha for him to be a threat. How many people would see the young boy who just wanted his best friend and lover to come home? Would they ever consider the internal conflict Naruto had every time he fought Sasuke or how difficult it had to be for him to have Sasuke so close to Konoha, but not bring him in? Instead, Naruto had waited, trying to convince people that Sasuke was worthy of a second chance. He had Sasuke surrender, agreeing to be put in custody until the Council could decide what to do with him. Naruto had shown people that Sasuke had changed. "You didn't bring Sasuke back that time…" Iruka's words were more of a statement than a question, but his brother answered all the same.

"It was another year before Sasuke was ready to come back…he wanted to destroy the last of his gang – he did not want their ideals and abilities spreading. Our ANBU never realized he was helping them…no one did. He had agreed to surrender after he was done, so I started visiting that place every few days, waiting for him to show up and say he was ready to come back. He would come to tell me it was going to be just a little longer…" Naruto trailed off as he looked down at his hands. "We spent enough time there that we strengthened the shields until no one could even sense me. We used illusions to confuse people who came near, to make it impossible to track us when we went there, to hide the house…"

"House," Iruka repeated curiously, his voice coming out as a squeak. "Just how much time did the two of you spend there?" From his brother's sudden inability to meet his gaze, Iruka knew that his sibling's numerous missions probably took him a day or two even though he did not return to Konoha for weeks at a time. If it was not for the fact Naruto had been protecting Sasuke's very life, Iruka would have been hurt his little brother kept such a secret from him for all these years.

"You and Kakashi could use it if you wanted. You'd still be close enough to Konoha to summon Sasuke or me if you needed us. Tsunade could be transported there if there was a problem with the twins…" Naruto grumbled softly. Without warning, the young jounin found himself in a tight embrace. So accustomed to his brother's sudden emotional responses, he merely wrapped his arms around Iruka's shaking shoulders. He would have asked if something was wrong, but he could only imagine the kind of relief the brunet must be feeling to know that Kakashi and the twins were going to be safe.

"Thank you," Iruka whispered, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. He had so quickly dismissed the idea of relocating that he had never really considered the possibility of going into hiding. Kakashi may not like it, but even the genius would agree that it was their best chance to protect their family as long as he was weak and vulnerable.

"I guess I should tell Kakashi we are going on a honeymoon."

XXX

Authoress: Yosh! Okay, I have officially lost the ability to write in time…so I will update when I can, trying my best to catch up, but I cannot promise anything. Med school sucks away my free time…but do not worry! I will finish this story, no matter how long it takes me to do so!