Chapter Forty One

Iruka glanced back at his husband, biting down on his lower lip to stop himself from chuckling. As though he knew Iruka was amused by him, the jounin glanced up from the forest floor and glared at him. If he did not know Kakashi so well, Iruka might have actually felt a moment of fear at that angry glower. Then again, Kakashi did not look all too intimidating at the moment. It may have something to do with the mud that nearly covered his husband from head to toe, but Iruka had the feeling it had more to do with the twigs sticking out of his husband's caked hair.

"Shut up…" Kakashi grumbled as he stomped past Iruka, wiping at the mud on his cheek, but only succeeding in adding new streaks to his already dirt-covered face.

It had been only a few days since Iruka and Kakashi had settled into their temporary home, but Iruka could not help but see the change those few days had already had in his husband. The moment they had stepped into the heavily shielded area, Iruka had felt completely at ease. He had the feeling part of it was the innumerable jutsu surrounding them, protecting them from the rest of the world. The rest of him, however, could not help but feel more relaxed simply because Kakashi was comfortable. For once, his husband was not looking over his shoulder, waiting for someone to attack him. Kakashi was not jumping at every shadow. He was not arming himself every time he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. For the first time in months, Kakashi felt safe.

Iruka had grown so accustomed to his husband's paranoia that he barely even registered it back in Konoha. Now looking at his husband, Iruka remembered the past several months with painful clarity. Shinobi as a rule were a little more anxious than most people, but Iruka could now see just how wrong he had been assuming Kakashi was just more high-strung than others.

For once, Kakashi slept through the night. He rarely carried a weapon on himself now. He no longer had that glimmer of ever-present unease in his eyes. Most telling of all, however, was that, for the first time in his seven and a half months of pregnancy, Kakashi was not hiding beneath a mask. He was not pretending he was fine. He was not putting on a brave face for everyone around him.

Finally, Kakashi was comfortable enough to show his shortcomings to Iruka. He finally revealed that not even the great Copy Cat Ninja was immune to the side effects of pregnancy. Kakashi reluctantly admitted to his weakened state; he showed that his chakra reserves and energy levels were nothing like what they used to be. He did not hide his increasingly frequent need to stop and rest when they were on a walk. He did not act like his occasional stumble did not occur. And today, for the first time, Kakashi's loss of balance landed him on his behind right in a puddle of mud.

It took Iruka little more than a quick step to catch back up to his husband. Slipping his hand into Kakashi's, he intertwined their fingers and squeezed gently. The jounin shifted his gaze to their hands and a tiny smile tugged at the corner of his lips.

"How long do you think it'll be before Naruto and Sasuke send Saki back here?" Iruka had to ask as he slowed his pace to match his husband's. Kakashi snorted, the smirk on his face revealing his thoughts all too easily. It was only this morning that their genius offspring became inconsolable, screaming for his 'Kei-ki" until even the ninken were considering gagging their little master.

No one had considered Saki's feelings when they planned on going into hiding for the next few months. Naruto and Sasuke were more focused on making sure Kakashi and Iruka had everything they would need. The expecting fathers, on the other hand, were just so relieved to have a perfect hiding place that they had not considered the possibility there was one very large downfall to the secluded, heavily shielded house.

Keiko and her fathers weren't going to be there with them.

The shields were powerful, but strong enough to house three of the most powerful shinobi to exist? Not to mention having to, at the same time, hide Iruka, a pack of ninken and two children? Not even Naruto and Kakashi's combined knowledge of seals and jutsu was enough to strengthen the shields that much.

So, after making sure they were settled in, Naruto and Sasuke had left with their adorable daughter. And, since the moment they disappeared from sight, Saki had been crying nonstop. The shields were strong enough the little toddler could not transport himself to his cousin, much less summon her here. But that did not stop him from trying until he exhausted himself and gave his parents a few blessed hours of reprieve before he woke up and started crying all over again.

Iruka had never been trained to handle torture like Kakashi, so it was only a matter of time before he broke under the pressure. He hadn't cared that it took nearly all his energy to summon his younger brother to their temporary home. All that mattered was that, within moments, the blonde had appeared, ready to protect his family. Naruto had even had a kunai drawn, sure something horrible must have happened for Iruka to summon him so urgently.

It had taken the future Hokage several confused seconds of looking around for a nonexistent attacker, then to his screaming nephew and the stressed brother who had brought him there.

Finally, after Naruto had eased his own paranoia by combing the house and grounds for enemies, the blonde believed Iruka when he said he had just needed his brother's help to get a few hours of peace and quiet. Naruto, bless the young, optimistic, and energetic father, offered to take Saki off their hands for a day or two. Iruka had thought his little brother would come back screaming after an hour, but Naruto and Sasuke had somehow already lasted half a day. And what a glorious, quiet day it had been.

Iruka hadn't believed Naruto at first when his brother had explained the shields to him the other day. He had thought Naruto was just joking when he said the shields were strong enough that, to transport oneself out – or summon someone else in – his chakra would be completely drained. The shields were fantastic in that it made it impossible for intruders to get in, but that barrier did not make distinctions between friend and foe. Without someone already inside the protected area to summon them, it was impossible – even for Naruto – to transport within the invisible walls. Naruto, without Iruka or Kakashi calling for him, would only be able to transport himself close to the shielded area and, from there, the rest of his trip would be on foot. Naruto truly had thought of every way possible to slow down or stop attackers entirely.

All of the seals, jutsu, backups, and other proof of his brother's determination to protect his loved ones had made Iruka's head spin. He was no master of seals, so he was barely able to follow his brother's words, but he had gotten enough out of Naruto's explanation to know that there was a major downfall to the shields. If something went wrong – if the twins came early – and Iruka had to get Kakashi back to the village quickly, he could transport his husband directly to Tsunade, but he did not have the amount of chakra to transport both of them. He would be left behind until Naruto or Sasuke came to get him or until he downed a handful of soldier pills.

Iruka did not mind that little downside. It was more than a fair trade to have Kakashi and the twins safe.

XXX

"You'll never make it out of here alive," he whispered to himself. The garbled sound that came from his lips did not match his intentions, but he was too tired to try again. He was too cold, too hungry…but most of all, too tired to care. He had dealt with many horrors on past missions, but nothing came close to the exhaustion that ate at him every moment. Nothing else in the world was like the fatigue that gnawed at his very bones, that thickened his tongue and that twisted his very thoughts until he had no idea who he even was anymore.

Somewhere, he found the strength to loll his head back to look up at his bound wrists. Long ago, the bite of the metal had ceased to hurt. It was not much longer after that that he had discovered he could not move his fingers. It could have been hours ago or weeks; he had no way of telling time or how long ago it was that those metal cuffs began to chew at his very bones. He knew just how close the metal was to major arteries.

Just a quick twitch of his wrist.

Only a little more blood loss and those bastards wouldn't be able to revive him this time. Just a tiny drop in blood pressure and his heart would give out. He couldn't feel his wrists, so there would be no pain, just the feel of something warm running down his bare and broken arms before he lost consciousness. He would go peacefully.

Just a tiny movement and all of this would be over.

He had completed his mission before they captured him. He had not lost any of his teammates. He had not given up any of the village's secrets. He would not die in dishonor like his father. No one would even know that he had killed himself. They would assume it had been his captors. No one ever needed to know the truth…

Just a flick of his wrists and he wouldn't be cold anymore.

It was so tempting, so very tempting. He was too far gone to feel a flicker of fear or regret. All he could feel – all he knew – was the cold, numbing nothingness of his prison. He shifted, his entire body screaming in exhaustion as he leaned against the cold wall behind him, pushing his numb wrists against rusted, sharp metal. He heard the familiar gentle clink of chain links as he put more weight against his bonds. Any other shinobi would have taken this opportunity long before now. Looking up, he could barely see the outline of those damn cuffs in the darkness. How much pressure did he need? How quickly should he move? A single jerk that would cause the chains overhead to jingle again or a slow motion that wouldn't cause any more noise – which would accomplish his goal before his captors came to check on him?

A quick jerk it would be. His captors were idiots enough, they would take him down to check on his arms. The moment his useless limbs fell to his sides – the instant his wrists were below his heart – gravity would take control. Blood would return to starved flesh. It would seep, slow at first, through nicked arteries. There would be no sudden, pulsating flood of scarlet – his heart was too weak for such a colorful display. Instead, his would be a slow exsanguination. In this darkness, in this horrific smell, his torturers wouldn't notice at first. They wouldn't immediately raise his arms above his head again. They wouldn't realize until it was too late. He would slide to the floor and there, on that dingy, cold stone, the last of his once honored clan would meet his end.

It would be only too easy. It was foolproof. He was a master of strategy, so he had already calculated every possibility. A single flick of his wrists and, no matter what, he would die in a matter of minutes. It wasn't like anyone was coming to save him. No one would mourn him. He was leaving no one behind. He was not committing suicide; he was not being a coward. He was simply quickening the death his captors had already decided for him.

"Well, well, what's this?"

He no longer had the strength to turn his head to look at his tormentor. Takeshi's face would be forever burned into his memory – he did not need to look to imagine every flicker of emotion on that gnarled face. He would be forever haunted by those beady black eyes. The roughened, deep voice would eternally echo in his ears. Those gasps of pleasure and moans of satisfaction would haunt him even into whatever came after death.

"It looks like someone missed me."

If he had the energy, he would have spit on the bastard. Instead, all he did was take a breath that came out as a rattling, pained gasp. Takeshi only laughed at the noise. It was the closest he could get nowadays to a fight out of his captive. Occasionally, he worked up the energy to speak and mock the giant man, but even that was almost impossible to accomplish anymore. It was a far cry from the fierce battling against his bindings, scratching at his captors and snarling that he had once been capable of. But the warrior he had once been was long gone.

He just wanted to sleep.

He just wanted to remember what it was like to be warm.

He needed to know what a full belly felt like.

"Sir!"

He was actually snapped from his morbid thoughts as one of Takeshi's lackeys entered his cell. Mustering the strength to remain conscious, he listened to the lanky shinobi's words, even though they made no sense to him.

"Two scouts have been seen on the eastern side of the compound. From their dress…they're ANBU."

Anbu…why does that sound familiar?

"And?" Takeshi's word had taken on a mocking tone, but beneath it, he heard something he had never experienced before when it came to his main rapist. Fear.

"They appear to be preparing for an assault. What are your orders?"

Who would be stupid enough to attack? There is nothing here other than these idiots…

"Have everyone assemble in the courtyard. Looks like we are going to have some entertainment today. I will be there as soon as I am done here."

"Yes sir."

Suddenly, he found himself flipped over, his face and chest pressed against the cold stone wall. It was all so familiar, he did not even feel a flicker of unease or disgust. He felt nothing. No regret, no fear. Nothing. Even when the first stabs of pain ran up his back, he did little more than look up at the cuffs above his head.

Just a flick of his wrists.

"They won't save you…you know." Takeshi's words barely registered in his mind. Who would save him? No one cared about him…no one would rescue him. His captor groaned in pleasure. He simply took another breath of air, wishing the bastard would finish soon.

"They can't have you, I won't…I won't let them." Once Takeshi was done…then he would end this hell. He wasn't going to give the bastard the gratification of believing he was the one to kill him. No…once that bastard was finished…he would finally discover what existed after this life.

"Think of the looks on their faces…to discover their precious little Hatake Kakashi…just a few minutes too late to save you." A wet tongue tracing his ear snapped Kakashi from his thoughts of death. Save…me? Was it possible? Was someone coming to save him? Was someone finally going to end his misery? That wondrous thought distracted him for several minutes.

"What's this? You're not…falling asleep on me…are you?"

Perhaps the thought of someone caring enough to save him breathed life into his dead body, because Kakashi somehow found the strength to release a dry, hacking laugh. He didn't know where he mustered the energy to do so, but he opened his mouth and spoke as clearly as he could with his broken jaw, "I-I was thinking 'bout i-it…" Even to his own ears, his voice sounded pitifully weak. Suddenly, a cool piece of metal was pressing against his bare inner thigh. The pain of his flesh being separated barely registered as Kakashi realized the upwards direction of that blade. He did not notice the blood sliding down his legs. He struggled, not caring that the pain in his back was magnified by his squirming.

For the first time in his entire time of captivity, his heart fluttered in a wholly unfamiliar emotion. It took him too long to recognize the pounding of his weak heart, the rush of blood in his ears – the gasps and cries – for what they were. For the first time in his life, Kakashi knew what it felt like to feel fear.

Then, he learned the meaning of true pain. A scream rent the air as his legs gave out, whether from pain, exhaustion, or slipping on the warm liquid beginning to pool underneath him, he didn't care. It no longer mattered if someone was here to save him. They were too late. The man known as Hatake Kakashi was already dead.

XXX

"NOOOO!"

"Kakashi! It's just a bad dream!"

Those gentle words reached him, but he kept struggling. His stomach continued to churn as pain burned through his body. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he recognized his husband's concerned tone. But the sound of Takeshi's voice was still ringing in his ears. The feel of that bastard's hands on him continued to make his skin crawl. The smell of that horrible place was too fresh, assailing his nose. The metallic taste of his own blood still lingered on his tongue.

"It was a nightmare…there's nothing to be afraid of…"

His body still trembling in unholy terror, he worked up the courage to open his eyes. Immediately, light flooded his vision, nearly blinding him. Once he got over the brightness of the room, his eyes began to focus, taking in the scene before him. Almost as soon as he registered the brunet in front of him with his hands up in surrender, Kakashi looked down and instantly dropped the kunai he was pointing at his husband. Years of a hard shinobi life gave him reflexes that had been life-saving in the past – now, they were the same ones that could threaten the lives of those he loved most. The sourness of disgust hit him, nearly gagging him, as he looked down at the blade lying innocently on the rumpled sheets in front of him.

"Kakashi…are you okay?" Before Iruka even got the chance to lean over and gently touch his trembling husband's shoulder, the jounin jerked away and snapped.

"Don't!" Kakashi all but roared, his voice cracking as he leaned out of reach. Gasping for air, the feel of a rope around his throat still choking the very breath from him, the jounin regretted his tone and the accompanying emotions that tore at him. Iruka did not deserve the revulsion that roiled through him at the thought of someone else's fingers on his bare skin. His husband did nothing to warrant the aversion Kakashi felt as a tanned hand had reached out for him for no other reason than to comfort him.

"D-Don't…touch me…not right now, Iruka…"

Iruka flinched, Kakashi's quiet, pained words more stinging than a slap to the face. He knew he shouldn't feel as hurt as he did at his husband's statement. Kakashi mumbled in his sleep clear enough that the brunet knew exactly what had plagued the jounin's dreams. And he wanted to revive that bastard Takeshi and kill him all over again for the hell Kakashi lived with for so long that, even now, he still had flashbacks that left him screaming and unable to stand even the gentlest of touches.

Though he understood his husband's reaction on a logical level, his heart still ached all the same. But Iruka had learned how to put on a brave face after the horrible childhood Naruto had been forced to live. He had learned to smile even as his heart was breaking for a little boy who was hated for no reason.

"I'm sorry," Kakashi mumbled as he moved to stand, unconsciously putting even more distance between Iruka and himself. Though the jounin did not notice it, Iruka could not help but recognize the unspoken desire to be as far away as possible for what it was.

Iruka furrowed his eyebrows as he watched the powerful shinobi fold his arms across his chest. The brunet couldn't help but sigh as he recognized the stance of the cold, aloof man his husband had once been. It was all too easy for his husband to step back behind the shields that had protected him for so many years. Like hell Kakashi was going to talk about his nightmare right now – it would probably take a few bottles of sake and a promise of kinky sex to get the details out of him once the twins were born. Instead of arguing with the stubborn man, Iruka moved to stand.

He had learned how to deal with moods like this a long time ago. Though most of his knowledge concerned Sasuke, Naruto and others when they were emotional teens, the methods still applied. "I'll go make a pot of tea, and then run you a hot bath." Perhaps relaxing his husband physically would help ease the ghosts that he could still see darkening the man's unfocused gaze. Iruka knew little else would reach Kakashi right now other than time and the gentle reminder that he wasn't in that hellhole anymore.

"Don't…" he whispered, his voice hoarse, as though he really had spent the past month screaming in pain – as if only recently he had been saved from that noose. Kakashi looked up from a point on the floor he had been staring at. Shifting his gaze, he glanced over to Iruka. "Go back to sleep. I'll be fine." He knew no amount of urging on his part would get Iruka to go back to bed any time in the near future. Similarly, he was certain that his reassurances would do nothing to ease the sadness in his husband's eyes, but Kakashi was willing to try.

"I…I'm going to take a walk," the jounin mumbled to himself more so than the brunet eyeing him as he raked a shaking hand through his hair. Kakashi could feel Iruka's concern amplify, but he did not know what else to say. He would never speak of the dark thoughts that were on his mind or try to describe the revulsion, the cold, painful terror that still ate at him even though he knew it was all a dream. How could he possibly explain how, even though he was surrounded by warmth, his body still shivered as though it was still in that frigid dungeon?

The Sharingan's ability to perfectly copy anything it saw was more of a curse than a blessing. And, even though it was not strong enough back then to save him, the damned eye still stripped what little chakra he could produce back then in order to create memories that would haunt him forever.

Kakashi forced himself to walk around the bed and pull his husband into his arms. Even as his stomach churned and his arms itched to push Iruka away – the reflex so engrained that the muscles in his arms twitched uncontrollably and he flinched, awaiting the pain instinct told him was about to come – he held his husband. His heart – and his mind – won this time. But Kakashi was not willing to test his own resolve when he was already a ticking time bomb of emotions because of the twins. As though they sensed his unease, the two twirled and kicked at him.

"I…need some time alone," Kakashi ground out as he stepped back, not wanting to discover his approximations of his own patience and self-control were grossly overestimated. His body still trembling, Kakashi took several more steps back, widening his stance in preparation for some kind of argument from Iruka. Instead, his husband completely took him by surprise by nodding his head in understanding.

"Just…take this with you." Kakashi looked from those warm, compassionate orbs to something Iruka was holding out to him. Seeing one of his kunai across his husband's palm, the very one he had unknowingly pointed at Iruka mere minutes ago, the jounin raised an eyebrow. "I don't need you fighting a bear bare-handed…" Iruka grumbled as his explanation as he watched Kakashi slip the blade into his pants pocket.

Kakashi gave a quick nod of his head. He knew that wasn't his husband's reason – the only wildlife around here was squirrels and the occasional rabbit. Kakashi understood that, even here in the safe haven Naruto and Sasuke had given them, they could never be too safe. But Iruka had already weighed his options and understood that, whatever minimal risk Kakashi took by walking outside alone, he was better off than if Iruka forced him to stay indoors.

"Love you," Kakashi whispered as he leaned forwards, brushing a kiss against his husband's forehead. Iruka echoed the sentiment, bringing a hand up to brush his knuckles against Kakashi's bare cheek. Even though the jounin didn't flinch or move away, Iruka knew it was taking every ounce of willpower Kakashi had not to do just that.

"Be careful…and don't stay out too long…and come back in if it gets too cold." Iruka felt like he was babysitting Naruto again as he listed his conditions. His mother hen complex was worth it when he saw the barest of smiles touch his husband's lips.

"Yes, mother…anything else?" Kakashi quietly joked as he moved towards the window. The front door would be much easier in his current state, but as the saying goes: old habits die hard. A flicker of warmth touched the jounin as he glanced back at his husband. Somehow, even with a few words, Iruka was already making him feel better – but Kakashi needed the time alone to think. He needed the fresh, cold air to clear his head. He itched for the freedom an hour or two alone would afford him.

"Don't fall in any mud puddles."

With that reminder of his clumsiness earlier today, Kakashi slipped out of the open window and began walking down the side of the house. In his prime, he wouldn't have thought twice of jumping to the ground two stories below. With the twins, he would be lucky if he landed on his ass, much less his feet. As his bare feet brushed against the cool grass, he glanced back up and caught a glimpse of his husband watching him suspiciously before Iruka vanished into their lit bedroom. As though he hadn't realized Iruka would follow him at a discrete enough distance that Kakashi wouldn't sense his presence, but would be there if Kakashi needed him. The jounin shook his head and pretended as though he didn't know Iruka's master plan. Iruka would never let him wander around in the dark by himself after the nightmare he had. Being seven and a half months pregnant with twins only added to Iruka's need to be there for support if Kakashi was man enough to ask for it.

If he wasn't already Iruka's husband, he would have asked the understanding, wonderful man to marry him right then and there.

Perhaps he would ask his husband to join him in a few minutes. For now, however, he enjoyed the silence as he walked among the trees, listening to the gentle crunch of leaves beneath his feet. As a shinobi, he could walk silently even as round and off-balance as he currently was. But there was something refreshing and relaxing about the rustling of leaves and the crackle of twigs as he made his way through the dense forest. It reminded him where he was – and how far he had come from the seventeen year old boy Gai had saved, the child who was all but mute and jumped at his own shadow.

Slowly, the horrors of his capture began to recede into the vault they had been locked away in for so many years. It had been at least ten years since he had had a dream as real as tonight's nightmare. He had thought he had finally come to terms with his past demons. Something must have triggered his memories, but what? Kakashi tried to think back, to recall something that would have caused him to relive that month.

As he walked, the jounin ran through their entire day, but he could not think of a conversation he and Iruka had, an event that had occurred or anything else that could have caused his dream. They had gone on a walk, he fell and made an ass of himself by getting covered in mud…there was nothing unusual that he could recall.

Then, as a cold chill went down his back, Kakashi remembered the split-second feeling of being watched by a pair of beady black eyes. That flicker of unease had been enough to throw him off-balance and slip into a mud puddle. Amidst Iruka's hysterical laughter, he had shaken off the crazy paranoia as just his hormones.

But there was that feeling again.

Even before the crack of a breaking twig registered in his mind, Kakashi's hand was around the kunai handle. Another heartbeat later, the blade was flying through the air as pain hit the hand that piece of metal had been all too easily knocked out of. Kakashi did not think, he merely reacted, barely noticing the pain in his hand as he moved into action.

At seven and a half months pregnant, no shinobi should have the kind of speed and grace Kakashi displayed as he dove for the blade. As he skidded across the cool ground, he ignored the pain as loose rocks shredded through his pants and embedded into his flesh. His knees could handle a few more scars. For now, he had more important things to worry about. The jounin's fingers barely had the chance to wrap around the kunai handle before Kakashi was thrown across the ground by a powerful hit to his back.

Pain lanced his entire torso as he rolled across the forest floor, curling around his rounded midsection. He no longer had the flexibility or strength to regain his balance before landing on the ground with bruising force. Even as he stumbled, trying to stand, the sound of a katana being unsheathed rang through the otherwise quiet woods. Kakashi knew that sound all too well. How could he not when, for his entire time as ANBU, his father's sword had been his favorite weapon? How could he forget the click of metal or the soft rubbing as a well-honed blade slid from its sheath? Even though he rarely used a sword anymore, he would always remember the sound of his father's prized blade.

Kakashi looked up as his muscles tensed, preparing to dodge his attacker's blade and counter. Though a kunai was not his first choice in a battle against a katana, it would have to make do. Like hell he would let the bastard put a single mark on him. But his only weapon slid from suddenly numb fingers as he caught a glimpse of the sword heading towards him and the dark shadow that wielded it.

He knew that blade.

How could he ever forget the brother to the tanto and wazashi that sat in a place of honor back home? Those two blades were now back where they should be, in the wooden holder his father had built decades ago after receiving the set as a wedding present from his wife. But the bottom rung was painfully empty, as it had been for two decades.

The katana was missing because it had been the blade Kakashi carried on him during that fateful mission. It was the very sword he had used to assassinate a dictator. It was the blade Kakashi had not seen since his captors used it to slice open his back, laughing as they stripped flesh from bone. It was the blade that now sang as it cut through the air.

Kakashi could not move. It was as though the mere sight of his father's katana had some kind of spell over him, sucking away his speed, his strength, his power – everything that made him who he was. Though the world seemed to slow for that brief moment, Kakashi could only stare at the metal as it approached him.

Then, he found the strength to shift his gaze to the darkened face of his attacker. Though he knew what his eyes would be met with, the cloaked warrior's shadowed features were ones that stopped his very heart. He would never forget the gnarled, twisted features or those dark, beady eyes so long as he lived. He would always remember the shocking white of scars that ran down that entire face in a parallel set of three, a memento from the one time Kakashi was able to break his bonds and attack his captor with his nails – the only weapon he had left. Worse of all, however, was the evil smile that only appeared when pain and suffering were involved. It was something that would haunt Kakashi until the day he died.

"B-But…you're…dead…"

A sickening, wet noise hit his ears, which was quickly drowned out by a scream. Kakashi knew it didn't come from his own lungs. He couldn't breathe, much less cry out. No, the realization he recognized his attacker was enough to rob all control of his body. Even as a pressure hit him in the abdomen, he could not do anything other than look down at his father's katana, confused when he saw the once immaculate blade now covered in scarlet.

But whose blood was it? He had not been injured; he wasn't in any pain.

Kakashi suddenly felt faint, weakly falling to his knees as he watched a blur of green rip the laughing, black shadow away from him. He numbly recalled Iruka had been wearing a green shirt today. The clang of metal on metal rang through the forest. He couldn't muster the energy required to follow the colorful whirl as it shot off into the trees, much less pay attention as the leaves rustled overhead, mixing in with the sound of battle.

Gai…Gai had lied to him. He had said they were all dead – all of them. Kakashi wanted to go strangle his best friend, the bastard who had lied to him for all these years, but he could only find the strength to fall back against a tree. Tilting his head up, he tried to focus on the leaves above, but they stubbornly remained a streak of dark green.

"-shi? Kakashi?!"

The jounin mustered the energy to follow the sound of his name. He only felt a flicker of surprise as Iruka dropped out of the trees and raced towards him. He should feel something else, he was sure of it when he saw the streaks of tears down a tanned, blood-specked face. Concern, that was it. Kakashi shifted, trying to stand, but could not even get his legs to move from their tangled position underneath him. Settling for remaining seated, the jounin studied his husband, noting Iruka's mouth moved, but he could hear no words. He could hear an incessant ringing and the racing beat of his own heart, so he did not waste the energy to worry that he had gone deaf. Instead, he checked the brunet for injuries. A small nick over his left eyebrow that already had stopped bleeding. There was a bloody tear in his t-shirt below his right shoulder. From the gradual spread of crimson, it would probably take stitches to stop the bleeding. Otherwise, his husband looked fine – so why was Iruka so pale? Why was he crying?

A gentle hand touched his cheek, forcing him to focus on the man kneeling down in front of him. Slowly, Iruka's voice began filtering in, but despite hearing his husband, Kakashi could not make any sense of it. "We should be safe for now, but I can't transport both of us back to the village right now. I'll send you and follow you after I get some soldier pills from the house and recover enough chakra. Kakashi? Kakashi!" The jounin registered the feeling of someone shaking his shoulder, but he couldn't figure out why Iruka had that tone of voice. He may not understand, but he could recognize pain when he heard it.

"Kakashi!" The jounin was able to look down to watch numbly as Iruka gingerly touched his chest and torso, confused when his husband's hands came away from his rounded abdomen, covered in red that the his black shirt hid so well. But…he hadn't been hit. It was then he remembered his father's katana, coated in blood, and the first twinges of fiery pain began to burn through his midsection.

"G-Gai…lied," he weakly whispered as he watched Iruka tear away the soaked material, but all he revealed was more crimson covering his rounded abdomen. Iruka moved quickly, stripping off his own shirt and pressing the ball of wadded material to Kakashi's middle. "H-He's…still alive…"

"Shh…" That soft sound was broken by a strangled cry. Kakashi looked down at his husband's hand, barely registering that Iruka's hand was now dripping red despite the makeshift compress. That much blood couldn't be coming from him – he would be unconscious from blood loss. A wave of dizziness hit him as warmth spread through his abdomen. Suddenly, his mind cleared enough for the jounin to realize Iruka was pumping chakra into him at an alarming rate.

"I-I-I'm s-so…sorry." Kakashi could barely make out Iruka's words through the wail of pain. As his husband continued feeding him chakra, staving off the effects of severe blood loss, Kakashi watched familiar dark marks appear across Iruka's abdomen. Despite all of his husband's arguments, the jounin had yet to remove the jutsu because he wanted to protect Iruka. How ironic that that same jutsu was now saving him from exsanguination, pulling chakra from reserves Kakashi was currently too weak to access in order to slow the bleed. "I-I should have…I s-should have been following cl-closer behind you…I should have never let you come out in the fir-first place! I'm…sorry…"

"'Ruka?" Even to his own ears, his voice sounded wrong. It cracked with the effort it took to just breathe. "I…I'm fine," he whispered, his bald-faced lie catching in his throat. No longer delirious from blood loss, he knew just how far from 'fine' he was – but he was damned if he was going to let Iruka waste time taking care of him when that bastard was still alive. He was starting to feel better. A little more chakra and he could start healing himself. "Go…kill…kill Takeshi…"

The sudden jerk of his husband's body cried that Iruka had not realized who their attacker was. Kakashi looked up into wide eyes that, though filled with surprise, were stained with hatred and disgust – not for his injured partner, but the bastard who had done this to him. Though Kakashi could read the bloodlust in his husband's normally gentle eyes, the brunet shook his head.

"I'm not losing you too…" Iruka whispered harshly as he abruptly stopped healing Kakashi. Even as a sudden piercing pain hit the jounin, telling him his husband had been numbing him as well as trying to heal him, he tried to ignore it. He watched Iruka's hands begin to form the complex hand seals of a transportation jutsu, aware of just how taxing it would be for his husband to transport him back to the village – preferably next to Tsunade or near a hospital. He knew Iruka and his own reserves would be emptied by the effort. There was no way Iruka had the strength to transport both of them. He did not have enough chakra to summon Naruto or Sasuke right now. Iruka had only one option.

"He won't get away with this."

Kakashi barely registered his husband's whispered promise. He did not recognize the cold, dark voice filled with hatred and thirst for blood. Looking up, he watched as Iruka moved to stand, his hands caught in the first seal of the transportation jutsu. He knew better than to argue that Iruka shouldn't waste his chakra. His husband was right in trying to get Kakashi out of here as soon as possible, to a place where medics could stop the bleeding and save him before he bled out. The house was only a quick run from here. There was a shinobi pack there; there would be soldier pills that would give Iruka his chakra back so that he could follow Kakashi to Konoha. In an hour, or two at most, they would both be back in the village. Logic told him that this was the best choice.

But then Kakashi saw movement from behind one of the trees in the distance. The shadow moved too quickly to be natural. He did not have to focus on his husband to know Iruka sensed the presence too. The tightening of his shoulders was enough of an indicator as Iruka turned, shielding Kakashi's body with his own. Seeing Iruka's back for the first time, Kakashi's heart skipped a beat.

He had seen the bloodied mark on Iruka's front, but had not considered the possibility his husband had been run through. He had not listened closely enough to hear the crackling wheezes for air, but now the sounds of a pierced lung were painfully apparent. Now, he could see the blood streaking down Iruka's skin, almost hiding the several slashes that crisscrossed his back. Kakashi's own back tightened in pain as he recalled the scars Takeshi had once given him with his father's blade.

Iruka was in no condition to fight. He would not be able to hold his own, not when he was like this. Kakashi shifted his gaze, watching the shadow move faster, racing towards them. He could almost hear Takeshi's deep laughter, remembering how much the monster had loved causing him pain. Iruka was a magnificent shinobi – Kakashi knew that better than anyone else. He knew also of his husband's innate compassion and how that desire for peace would always be Iruka's weakness.

Even uninjured and with all of his chakra, Iruka had no chance against something like Takeshi.

He couldn't let Iruka fight, not when he was already injured. Kakashi shifted weakly, attempting to stand, but only succeeded in causing a sharp spearing pain to rip through him. Instinctively, his arms wrapped around his middle, for the first time feeling the deep gash to his midsection. He looked down at his own hands and saw the deep red stain that covered him, surrounded him, seeped into the ground beneath him. The proof of how much blood he had already lost floored him. But he should be in more pain with an injury that could produce this much gore.

It was a wound that, if not for Iruka's quick healing jutsu, would have most certainly proven to be fatal.

Takeshi meant to kill him. Kakashi knew he shouldn't be surprised by that fact, but their last encounter had been so many years ago that he had never considered this possibility. He had never thought the ghosts of his past would literally come back for him, putting his and his husband's lives in danger. They were supposed to be completely protected here. How had Takeshi infiltrated this safe haven?

How had Takeshi gotten this close? How did he get past Gai nearly twenty years ago? How had he gotten past Naruto's shields now? How had he hidden his presence this morning when Naruto had searched the entire forest for enemies? How had he known that, with the twins, this was the perfect time to attack?

The twins!

It was then, as his husband glanced back at him with tears streaking down his tanned cheeks, Iruka's earlier words made sense. Losing me too The bodily pain of his injury was nothing in comparison to the realization that, for the first time since the twins were big enough to be felt, there was no gentle kicking against his side or diaphragm. There was no flutter of movement as the twins forged a sibling rivalry. There were no faint tendrils of chakra that had once warmed his heart every time he focused on them.

He finally understood the tears that trekked down Iruka's cheeks. His husband's frantic, pained apologies finally clicked in his head. Two lives, extinguished before they even began because Kakashi wasn't strong enough. Two futures were suddenly erased because he wasn't fast enough. Two magnificent shinobi would never put their mark on the world because Kakashi couldn't protect them.

It's all my fault.

Kakashi cried out, the loss tearing at him more than the physical agony of being speared through by his own katana. His dreams of a future for his three children ripped from his very fingers. He would never get to meet the little monsters who kept him up every night with their kicking. He would never learn if his son Naoaki would be as mischievous in life as he was every time he knocked the wind out of his father. He would never get to hear Sonoe's laughter or see her smile. He would never get to meet the two tiny beings who had changed his entire world. He would never know what kind of people they were destined to become. That was what broke his heart most of all – how could he mourn the children he had not yet met? He would never know the color of their eyes or hair. He would never be able to picture their faces when he thought of them. He would never learn their unique personalities. He would never hear their voices.

And it was all because he couldn't protect them.

It wasn't possible. He was one of the greatest shinobi of his generation. He had an entire lifetime worth of knowledge concerning the shinobi arts. He was a master in so many fields. But he couldn't protect those closest to him. He could not even guard the lives of his precious family members. He did not deserve his hitai ate, much less the love of Iruka and, now, their sole surviving child.

An unholy rage ripped through him. Naoaki and Sonoe had an entire lifetime ahead of them; they had at least six or seven decades to experience the world. They had had a future; one Kakashi had given his blood, sweat and tears to create for them. He had made the world safer so that no parent would ever have to bury their child. But he failed; he knew that with painful clarity as silent tears burned down his cheeks. He failed them.

Somehow, he mustered the energy to stand. Staggering as the world around him spun, he stumbled backwards. Kakashi leaned against a tree for support, clutching his abdomen as though it would lessen the pain. He barely registered the tearing sensation in his middle as fresh blood spilled over his arm. Whatever Iruka had healed, Kakashi most certainly had ripped it open again. He didn't care anymore.

As he saw it, for failing to protect his unborn son and daughter, his life was already forfeited. And if he was going to die, he was going to take Takeshi with him. No one harmed his loved ones and got away with it. So long as there was breath left in his body, he would hunt down the one who murdered his children.

Iruka spun around. If this was another time, Kakashi would have laughed at the disbelief in his husband's face. Instead, he only managed a hiss of air as another wave of pain hit him. But he could ignore the pain. He could clench his teeth and bite back the urge to cry out. He may be pretty much useless between the pain and blood loss. He may very well be half-crazed with grief over the loss of two of his children. But he was still a shinobi. He was still under oath to protect those less able; he was still strong enough to protect the one person who had taught him, if only for a little while, what it was like to have a family.

He could distract Takeshi long enough for Iruka to transport himself back to Konoha.

"Go…" Kakashi ground out between his teeth as he tried to stand without the aid of the tree, but stumbled immediately and slumped back against it. As the rough bark dug into his back, another jolt of pain ripped a gasp from his lungs. Before he lost what little consciousness he had left, he had to get Iruka out of here. Iruka couldn't fight Takeshi; he would certainly lose against a monster like that. Kakashi refused to let Saki know what it was like to be an orphan; he refused to let his remaining child grow up like he and Iruka had – alone.

He wasn't known around the world as a master of over a thousand jutsu for nothing. Even half dead, he still had a few tricks up his sleeves. Even in death, he knew he wasn't going to let Takeshi go…not again. He would make sure the bastard was gone this time. He would be certain he took Takeshi with him to hell.

"G-Get out…of…of here…."

"K-Kakashi?" Kakashi couldn't feel Iruka's touch on his cheek; numbness was already spreading throughout his entire body. He only knew his husband's hand cupped his cheek was because he found his head being lifted up until his gaze met Iruka's. Tears freely streamed down his husband's face, but Kakashi had never seen a more beautiful sight. If he had to die, then it was a blessing the last thing his Sharingan would ever copy was the face of the one man who meant more to him than life itself. With that, Kakashi could die happy.

"I love you," Iruka whispered softly as he leaned forwards, brushing his lips against Kakashi's. Kakashi could not feel the brief contact more than a slight tingle to his lips. Fighting to remain conscious, the jounin ignored the haziness creeping into his vision. His eyesight was still intact enough for him to watch his husband form the seals of a transportation jutsu, but just barely.

"'Until we meet again.'" Kakashi smiled weakly at the sound of the last line of their wedding vows from Iruka's lips. He didn't know what came after this world – in a stubborn belief that he had years ahead of him before falling in battle, he had never really thought about it – but now, he could only hope that whatever he faced after death, he would one day meet this wonderful, amazing man again.

Kakashi felt a wave of warmth spread through his chest. Regretfully, he broke eye contact with his husband for a split second to look down, discovering the source of the warmth spreading now down his limbs. Kakashi did not need to be able to sense chakra to know his husband's energy was encircling him instead of Iruka. His husband's palm, gently resting over Kakashi's heart, was enough of an explanation.

"Iruka! NO!" Even as he reached a hand out to grab his husband, the world around him seemed to evaporate into nothingness. His fingers did not even get the chance to touch Iruka one last time before Kakashi found himself being thrown through space and time, his husband's last words echoing in his mind.

"Goodbye, Kakashi."