AN: Written for a prompt at the kakairu_kink meme at livejournal.


Just another year

"I don't need a party, Kakashi-san," Iruka told him a week or so before his birthday, his tongue feeling as heavy as lead in his mouth. Kakashi gave him a funny look; it was the 'san' that did that. Iruka rarely called him san nowadays, and he only used it when he was feeling upset or particularly unsure of himself. The first time they had made love, Iruka had san-ned him all night, much to Kakashi's delight and Iruka's wry embarrassment.

"But a party would be nice, sensei," Kakashi said in a low voice, leaning over the pile of papers that Iruka was marking on the low table and pecking him quickly on the cheek. Kakashi was amazingly affectionate; Iruka would have never suspected that Kakashi loved to touch in this manner. There were times when Kakashi's slender pale fingers would be resting on his wrist for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, quietly warm against Iruka's darker skin. Kakashi's hands would be in his hair, on his hips; he would deliberately and gently bump into Iruka when they passed each other, even in public. Iruka figured that Kakashi didn't get enough good-touch as a child and he craved it even now, when most people saw him as just a marvellous nin and not an actual person.

Iruka tried to humour him as much as possible. He would touch back as much as he dared; when he did that, the look in Kakashi's eyes was one of surprised gratitude, so intense that Iruka could only duck his head and smile.

Now, however, he could barely respond to Kakashi's obvious fondness. He sat there, shoulders rigid and his smile tight on his face as Kakashi leaned back.

"I... I don't need a party," he repeated, trying to control his breathing as he went back to marking.

After a moment, Kakashi said, "Alright," and got up to head to Iruka's bedroom. Iruka hoped he hadn't noticed that, as Kakashi had risen, Iruka had flinched.

Iruka had read somewhere that when the body or mind went through a traumatic event, or set of events, there was a subconscious imprinting of it on the brain; therefore, even when there wasn't a conscious recollection of the occasion, the body or the lower part of the mind remembered. That was probably the reason why so many individuals in Konoha got so weird on the anniversary of the Kyuubi's attack. Well... more weird than usual, anyway.

For Iruka, every year in the week leading up to his birthday, his entire body ached. His ribs would clench painfully in his chest, he would feel strips of agony lace his back and his anus would feel as if a ripped, tortured ghost had possessed that particular part of his body. It was only his training as a shinobi that carried him through each moment leading up to that day. On the outside, he was the same: smile always at the ready, capable and calm in class, helpful and firm in the Mission Room.

Inside, there was a frantic being trying to claw their way out so they could collapse on the floor and weep in terrified remembrance of what Iruka had allowed himself to endure. With deep shame and anger at himself, Iruka reinforced the mental cage that poor thing resided in and grimly fought his way through every day. What else could he do?

"I want to talk to you," Kakashi told him the day before Iruka's birthday. He was in the kitchen of his own house, talking loudly as he fed his pack of dogs in that outside area that led from the back-door. Iruka was perched on the sofa in the large sitting area that Kakashi liked, because he said that it had been a room in which his mother had spent a lot of time.

Iruka felt dread curdle in his stomach at the flat feel of Kakashi's voice. He felt a tremble settle in his muscles and he listened with his heart in his throat at Kakashi's almost silent footsteps approaching along the corridor. There was a pause before Kakashi slid open the door and stepped into the room.

He didn't sit next to Iruka as he would have normally done; instead he went to another chair, settling in comfortably and giving Iruka a long, contemplative stare.

"What would you like to talk about?" Iruka asked; he had only just managed to not say 'Kakashi-san'.

"I just wanted to know," Kakashi said very slowly, "what you did for your birthday last year."

Iruka's mouth dried out. "Why do you want to know that?"

One of Kakashi's shoulders lifted and settled back down lazily. "Just because. I mean, you won't like a party and if I wanted to do something else, something special, then I could try something you liked."

Iruka laughed nervously, rubbing the back of his head. "Last year I worked. Taught at school and... I think I even took a short mission in the evening."

"The year before that?"

"I think Naruto brought some ramen for me and we ate when we got home."

"And the year that Naruto graduated?" Kakashi asked, completely casually.

"How specific!" Iruka laughed; the sound of it was brittle, even to his own ears. "I'm not sure I remember, Kakashi, it was so long--"

"Iruka."

Iruka trembled at how Kakashi said his name, firm and commanding. It was so forceful that Iruka squeezed his eyes shut; when he opened them again, he was surprised to find himself bent at the waist, hands clutching at his throat and chest as he rocked in a panic. He couldn't breathe; he couldn't breathe. His throat was closing up his body was on fire someone was squeezing the life out of him killing him he was going to die please don't let him--

Warm hands rested on his shoulders, pushed him up back into a sitting position and held him there. Iruka choked, gasped and Kakashi murmured something, touching fingers quickly to his lurching Adam's apple. Chakra warmed his throat and that strangled feeling melted away.

Iruka felt something snap inside him. He took a few great heaving breaths, the way a person who was half-drowned would, and put his face in his hands.

"Iruka?" The taichou tone that Kakashi had been using was gone and now there was only deep concern. "Iruka, what is it? Please tell me. Please."

Iruka put his hands down in his lap, fists clenched; he turned his head, placed his face in the curve of Kakashi's neck and wept.

"Every year. It was the same thing."

Kakashi was silent as Iruka spoke. They were sitting in a pile of blankets on the floor, their backs against the nearest wall. The blankets smelled very faintly of dog, but Iruka didn't mind; he actually found it soothing, that scent. His throat felt raw; he had been crying for a long time, and Kakashi had hugged him tightly throughout it all, no doubt confused at this breakdown. That was what it was, a breakdown. Iruka felt hollow, as if someone had scooped out his insides and threw them away.

"He was... he would tie me up. He said it was a game. The first time, I mean. I thought I would like the game because I loved him." Iruka kept his head bent down, his loose hair hiding his face from Kakashi. "I loved him very much. I felt that if I loved him more, he would stop... stop hurting me. I was weak. I needed him... even when he hurt me."

Kakashi's hand crept into his as Iruka struggled to talk.

"He said I liked it, that I liked being hurt like that, because that was all I deserved. I probably did. Why would I stay there with him if I didn't like it?" Iruka was so angry at himself. His voice was shaking, not just out of unhappiness, but at sheer rage at how stupid he had been. "A few times... he didn't use any... any lube."

Kakashi was silent but Iruka could feel the wave of incredulous anger emanating from him. That was inevitable, Iruka supposed. He had been insanely idiotic.

"Every year," Iruka whispered, "the same thing."

A long silence fell heavily over them. Then Kakashi said, "The time he wanted to steal the Sacred Scrolls, were you still together?"

"Yes." Iruka pulled his legs up and wrapped his hands around them, resting his forehead against his knees. "Yes, we were."

"Iruka. My... my brave, wonderful, amazing Iruka."

Iruka raised his head slowly, blinking at the awe in Kakashi's tone. Kakashi put his arms around his shoulders and rubbed his masked cheek against Iruka's, cat-like in his affection. Kakashi was not a man given to hyperbole; why did he sound as if he was honouring Iruka? He should have been peeling himself away in disgust by now.

"Iruka," he continued, purring with warmth and pride. "Iruka, how did you do it? How strong you are."

"I'm not," Iruka protested, confused. Hadn't Kakashi heard how he had stayed with Mizuki, even when Mizuki's idea of a birthday present had been to strike Iruka over and over again until he could hardly move? Mizuki had been sick, completely messed-up, that was true. Iruka had been far more than sick, because he had known better and yet he had stayed and suffered, every year. It was no one's fault but his own, and the root was he had been too weak. What in the world was Kakashi on?

"How can you say that I'm strong?" Iruka tried to pull away, but Kakashi just held him with gentle strength.

"To go up against him for Naruto," Kakashi told him and Iruka went still. "Don't you see? No, you won't see it, but I do. He hurt you. And yet you fought him because he was going to hurt Naruto as well." Kakashi pulled away a little, his visible eye wide as he stared at Iruka. "You're brave."

"No, I--"

"You're strong," Kakashi said, inexorable.

"Kakashi. You don't understand, I let--"

"You're strong." Kakashi repeated, stubbornly. "I love your strength. Please believe me when I say that." He stroked Iruka's hair away from his face, and used his thumb to rub at the stream of tears that had begun to slide down Iruka's cheeks again. Iruka hadn't cried in years, not even when Mizuki had been snarling in his ear as he forced himself into Iruka's unprepared body. He couldn't seem to stop now, though.

Kakashi, who had hair that was almost the same shade as Mizuki's but possessed a different heart completely, smiled at him in his one-eyed manner. "Do you believe me?"

Iruka couldn't answer.

"Then," Kakashi said, "I will say it every year, until you do."

fin

Epilogue

Iruka woke up the next morning, still on the floor of Kakashi's house. He was wrapped up in the blankets and Kakashi's limbs.

"Today's my birthday," he said aloud into the still grey air and felt something turn in his mind, like a key in a lock; a door opened and he felt free.

"No," Kakashi grumbled, cuddling close. "It's mine."

"What?" Iruka reached up and fondled his hair, enjoying the feel of the rough strands against his fingertips.

"I've decided to exchange birthdays with you." Kakashi's breath was warm against his neck. "You take my birthday and I take yours. I don't want you to carry it around any more."

"Oh." Iruka nodded slowly, considering the idea. "That's very nice of you."

"Isn't it?" Kakashi said smugly and snuggled even closer. "I'm quite a nice person, you know."

"I'd like to keep it, though, if you don't mind. I... I think that if you're here, I'll be able to carry it. Since you're so nice and all."

Kakashi raised his head and gave Iruka a long look, then he nodded. "Of course. You're very strong, you can do it." He put his head on Iruka's chest, contentedly. "Happy Birthday."

"Thank you," Iruka answered; he closed his eyes as he smiled his first real smile in a week or so. "Thank you so much."

fin