Authoress: *cries* I am so sorry for taking so long to finally write this! I have had the monster of all writer's blocks after writing the first (and second) attempts at this chapter, and then having to junk them because they were such trash, not to mention all the times I crashed my computer as I attempted to write this chapter…anyways, they say third time's the charm…okay, more like eighth or ninth time, but who's counting? So here it is – and thank you all for being so patient. It was all of your reviews asking for the next update that really got me inspired to continue this story! YOSH! And, because it has been so long, quick recap of last chapter's ending:

"I think I've known for a while. And I don't care who you are, Kakashi."

Chapter Eight

Kakashi froze at those words, unknowingly shaking his head in disbelief. No one ever figured out who hid underneath that dog mask, not even other ANBU members. He was always so cautious with his mannerisms. Years ago, he learned how to deepen his teenage voice to a gravelly tone that became instinctive whenever he donned his mask. He did not even read his romance novels in public, never wanting anyone to associate that one action to his penchant for reading. He slouched to conceal his height that, even as a teen, made him stand out. His ANBU armor made him look bulkier, hiding his thin body. To the rest of the world, he was someone else entirely. He was someone who didn't even exist beyond the masked figure he had painstakingly made himself out to be.

All those years ago, when he had been an active ANBU member, he had always been so careful to not let anyone know who the feared Inu was. He had been terrified of what they would think if they knew. He dreaded being looked at in terror, or worse revulsion. Even his old genin team had no idea what he had once done, the number of people he had killed – all for the sake of Konoha. They knew he was once ANBU, but he never spoke about that part of his life freely. He cared for them too much to reveal that side of himself. They respected him as a warrior, a teacher, and, in some ways, a friend. But how many bodies would it take before even Naruto would look at him in disgust? How many lives would his hands have to have taken before Sasuke labeled him a heartless murderer?

No matter what that actual number may be, Kakashi knew he had gone far beyond it.

The day Sasuke became captain of ANBU, Kakashi had been proud – but, more than that, he was terrified. Terrified that Sasuke would look over the infamous Inu's records and put the pieces together. Kakashi was scared that Sasuke would realize that the man who held the record for number of kills was the same man who had taught him the worth of a life. When he heard that Naruto was going to be named Hokage, he felt that same flicker of panic. Did the Hokage have a record somewhere of his entire career? Did his file mention somewhere what alias he had taken for those dark years? Would Naruto put the pieces together and hate him for who he had once been?

Even Gai and his few friends knew little about those years other than that he refused to speak of them. He had met all of them after he quit the assassination squad, after he had changed who he was. Would they even recognize him as the same ANBU member they would not even stay in the same room with out of fear and hatred? Would they apologize for their harsh treatment, realizing that he had been just a boy, bent on self-destruction after losing everything? Would they appreciate his goal to take as many enemies with him to the grave?

Or would they see the ANBU member who blindly slaughtered all who stood in his way, whether they had been warrior or civilian, adult or child?

Iruka may not know about those dark years, having never met the true, murderous Inu, but that was not enough to calm Kakashi's racing heart. Iruka may not know the reputation his ANBU counterpart had had all those years ago or the hatred his own comrades felt towards him. Iruka might not realize any of that, but his knowledge was just as damning.

Iruka had never tried to hide his dislike for Hatake Kakashi. They had even almost broken out into a physical fight in public over Kakashi's genin team. The only thing that saved Iruka from being pummeled for daring to question his motives had been Kakashi's instantaneous desire for the only person to ever stand up to him.

No, Iruka hated him – and it had nothing to do with his years of murdering targets without any question or hesitation. Iruka despised who he was, not knowing he was the scum of the ANBU world. Iruka had no idea how bloody his hands were, and yet he was still disgusted with him.

Iruka hated the man who had dared to push his own students beyond what anyone would consider the breaking point, not caring that Kakashi had forced those three to find their true potential. Iruka did not see that, with those three, Kakashi had done in a matter of months what it would have taken other teachers decades to produce.

Perhaps he had been harsh. Maybe he was even a little crazed to do half of what he did. But, all those years ago, results had been results – no matter what methods he had to use. Nearly losing his three students had taught him he really hadn't changed from the man who had ruthlessly slaughtered thousands while hiding behind a mask and an alias. He had been more than willing to risk their lives – and for what? To increase their speed and strength? To make them into perfect warriors, just like him?

Fearing for his students' lives had shown him that they were the ones who had forced a change on him without Kakashi even realizing it. They taught him that removing a porcelain mask and using his real name had only just been another ruse, another façade to hide who he truly was. He could force himself to smile and laugh so that others viewed him as normal, but those three had shown him what it meant to truly be happy. Their genuine trust and compassion had been something Kakashi had never known before and it slowly chiseled away at his heavily guarded heart, sculpting him into someone who was nothing like the heartless shinobi he had once been.

"Kakashi," Iruka whispered as he brought a hand up to brush his bodyguard's cheek. He did not need his sight to know he had done far more than startle the ANBU member with his words. He could feel the slight tremble of his bodyguard's frame against his skin. He could smell the sudden bursts of mint in the air as Kakashi gasped for air. Worst of all, however, was the sound of Kakashi's heart as it sped up.

Unable to stop himself, Iruka let his fingers drift along his bodyguard's face. What his sensitive fingertips met was not the customary smirk or those familiar laugh lines around his eyes, Iruka almost jerked his fingers away. He did not need eyes to read the panic in Kakashi's very features. And the realization that he, with just a few innocent words, had caused such a reaction in his normally fearless bodyguard made Iruka's heart ache. Was Kakashi's identity really that important?

But why would he then be so obvious? Why would he read his romance novels and make corny jokes? Why would he open up to Iruka and tell him about a past that should have set off warning bells when he first began telling those painful stories? Konoha had few child progenies, even fewer of which would have fit into Kakashi's age group. How many of those had silver hair and a stubborn streak a mile long? A small smile tugged at Iruka's lips as he realized the reason Kakashi never pretended to be someone else. He had trusted Iruka – perhaps more than he should have, but he had found a comfortable relationship where he could afford to let someone get to know the true Kakashi.

But his bodyguard was not cold or unfeeling as Iruka imagined Hatake Kakashi to be. He was not harsh, nor was he a complete pervert. He was not cruel. The man before him was nothing like the famed jounin; he was so far from Iruka's image of Kakashi that it had taken him this long to put the pieces together. It had taken him months to realize that those two polar opposites were in fact the same man. It took him so long to realize that the only person who could sympathize with him and give him his life back was the one person who Iruka thought couldn't be any more different from him.

"I-I…" Kakashi could not even form words as he looked down at Iruka, seeing none of the hatred or disgust he expected. Of all the people Kakashi had hidden his true self from, Iruka was the one person who should be truly justified in feeling betrayed. Instead, Kakashi only saw confusion etching the brunet's scarred face.

"But why the mask…the alias?" Iruka asked as his fingers danced along his bodyguard's handsome features, searching for an answer in the slight shift in the tall man's expression. Slowly, Kakashi's panic dissipated, replaced by a mixture of surprise and confusion. Iruka should have been amazed at how easy it was to read the notorious Hatake Kakashi's features – which explained why he wore a mask to cover up most of his face – but Iruka could not bring himself to even feel a moment of astonishment. If anything, he was overjoyed that his expressive bodyguard was returning to him. Already, he felt the familiar indentation between the man's thin eyebrows, telling Iruka that his bodyguard was mystified.

"W-What?" Kakashi finally stammered a word as he stared at Iruka, still expecting some kind of angered reaction for being tricked all these months. Anyone else would have felt deceived, but Iruka only shook his head and sighed. It was such a familiar reaction for the brunet that Kakashi was floored. Iruka was still treating him exactly as he had before he figured out Kakashi's true identity.

"You could have told me who you were from the beginning, baka," Iruka said as he bowed his head, his ears picking up the slower pace of Kakashi's heart. Glad he had relieved at least some of his bodyguard's inexplicable fear, Iruka waited for Kakashi's response.

"Y-You would have still wanted me as your bodyguard?"

Iruka heard the incredulous tone in Kakashi's deep voice and, though surprised by his bodyguard's question, he almost instantly responded. The man who stood before him was someone Iruka would always want by his side, teaching him, protecting him, and just being there for him when his world came crashing down around him.

That disbelief that laced Kakashi's question, however, made Iruka stop and think. Four months ago, would he have truly been comfortable with being watched over by the notorious Hatake Kakashi? Would he have let the powerful man lead him around the village before he adapted to his blindness? Would he have been so at ease if he had known those fingers that wrote to him were the same as those of the man who could be so cruel to his students? Would Iruka have even believed that Hatake Kakashi was capable of such sincere compassion?

Would he have listened to stories of Kakashi's past with the same lack of bias? Would he have curled up on the couch and let tears fill his useless eyes as he listened to his bodyguard pour his emotions into his music? Would he have even fully appreciated that music, knowing that it was the only way Kakashi could ever know his mother? Or would he have just listened in jaw-dropping disbelief as the powerful, seemingly emotionless jounin played piece after heart-wrenching piece? Would he have realized his bodyguard's loss of vision if he had known just how much Kakashi had done in his life?

Most of all, would he have even agreed to let Kakashi into his life if he had believed his bodyguard to be that unfriendly, cold-hearted man he had always thought the Sharingan-wielder to be?

Iruka shook his head in disbelief as he furrowed his eyebrows. "No…I wouldn't have…" he admitted slowly, more for his own benefit than Kakashi's. Iruka could not believe that he might have voluntarily given away his only chance to get to know Kakashi just because of his own wrong impressions concerning the Copy Ninja. He might have thrown their chance at a friendship away because of his negative opinion of the jounin. He may have never learned how to cope with his own loss if it had not been for Kakashi and his insight. Iruka would never have adjusted with his blindness had it not been for Kakashi's consideration, which resulted in him parading around as an ANBU member – a façade Kakashi obviously disliked considering he never wore his mask unless they were in public.

Worst of all, Iruka would never have become the man he was now because of his own stubbornness. He would have never realized his own potential as a shinobi if it had not been for Kakashi and his understanding of Iruka's situation. He would have never had the chance to prove his worth had it not been for the one person who believed in him and pushed him past his previous limits.

Iruka would have never understood just how shallow his emotions towards Mizuki were had it not been for the man who taught him what it truly meant to be desired.

What must it have been like, to return to ANBU – a group Iruka could tell his bodyguard disliked being a part of – all for someone he hardly even knew? How could Tsunade have talked him into taking a mission because he understood what it was like to be blinded? Why did Kakashi even agree, knowing he had a good chance of Iruka discovering his own well-hidden handicap? Why had he opened up to Iruka, showing a side of himself few people realized he had?

"Thank you."

Overcome with gratitude for all Kakashi had done for him, Iruka found himself embracing the tall man. Wrapping his arms around Kakashi's neck, he buried his face against his bodyguard's shoulder and let out a shaky breath he hadn't realized he had been holding in. Instantly, he could feel Kakashi's body tense, though not out of unease but surprise judging from the sharp intake of air he could hear. Iruka's suspicions were confirmed when mere moments later, Kakashi's arms were around him.

The brunet could not help but gasp as his body was enveloped in warmth that seared his very flesh, flooding his senses with Kakashi's presence. The entire world fell away; all he knew was that Kakashi was holding him. No longer could he pick up the faint, recognizable scents of his bodyguard's apartment; only the smell of Kakashi filled his nose. He could not hear the familiar creaks of the floorboards beneath his feet, just the pounding of Kakashi's heart.

And then, all he could feel were the warm lips against his own.

Iruka had no idea when Kakashi had lifted his head from its position on his shoulder, but as the initial shock of his bodyguard's kiss lessened, he could feel those warm fingers cupping his cheeks, forcing his head to tilt upwards. This wasn't like the few kisses he had shared with Kakashi in the past. This was not a bruising, passionate kiss meant to make Iruka forget the rest of the world. Nor was it a gentle, sweet caress.

In this kiss, Iruka could taste his bodyguard's barely contained desire for him. No, it was more than just simple lust. It was need he could taste on Kakashi's lips. It was longing Iruka could smell on his skin. And, as those trembling fingers ran through his hair, tightening their hold to the point of pain, Iruka could feel his bodyguard's once steely control bend under his own yearning.

No matter what questions Iruka had concerning the man kissing him, he was certain of one thing. Kakashi wanted him, and it was with such a fierce desperation that Iruka was blown away. It felt as though it went far more than want or desire. It was as though Kakashi needed him more than water or air.

Having never felt such emotion in a single, chaste kiss, Iruka found himself frozen. His head swirled with overpowering sensations. This was his bodyguard, and yet Kakashi had become so much more to him. He was his closest friend – but not even that explained the tightness in Iruka's chest as those lips brushed against his own. Nor did it give him a reason for the heat that raced through his body, as though lava flowed through his veins. Friendship did not explain why Iruka leaned into those arms, putting pressure into their kiss, pouring this unnamed, uncontrollable emotion into their embrace.

Kakashi's grip in his hair loosened, as though he finally realized just how much he was tugging those strands. Simultaneously, the tall man pulled away, his movements so quick, Iruka's head spun at the sudden loss of that all-encompassing warmth. Gasping at the abrupt change, Iruka stumbled, no longer having Kakashi right in front of him to lean against.

Still stunned by their kiss, Iruka made no move to find his balance, falling to his knees. Able to do little else, Iruka sucked in gulp after gulp of air in hopes of calming his racing heart. He tried to relax his trembling body, but to no avail. With every shaky breath of air, his senses were once again flooded with Kakashi. Over the pounding of blood in his ears, he could hear his bodyguard's pants. He could still taste Kakashi's lips on his, smell his breath on his own skin.

In that moment, as he listened to a heartbeat even more familiar than his own, as he tasted that minty sweetness he could never forget, Iruka knew. Finally, he understood that indescribable emotion he felt towards his bodyguard – his friend. He finally realized what that unfamiliar feeling was that bubbled up in his chest, what drove him to kiss his bodyguard not once, but four times, despite knowing the consequences if anyone found out. There was only one emotion that could explain why Iruka was willing to give anything for a man whose name he only just learned.

I love him.

"I-Iruka…" Kakashi stammered, shaking his head in hopes to clear his thoughts. His body screamed to scoop Iruka off of the floor and continue their kiss, deepen it until he no longer had any chance of ever getting Iruka's taste off of his tongue. His fingers trembled, needing to touch his charge's tanned skin. Most of all, his heart cried out, needing to know why Iruka's kiss had changed into something that had nearly undone him.

It would be so easy to pull Iruka up into his arms and deposit his half-naked charge on his bed. It would take no more than an instant for him to remove his own clothes and join Iruka there. He could promise passion and pleasure unlike anything Iruka had ever experienced before. He could show Iruka, not with words but actions, his feelings for him. He could teach Iruka what it meant to have a lover who would never stab him in the back like that bastard Mizuki had done.

His entire body ached for Iruka, but there was one thing holding him back. Even in the dimly-lit room, Kakashi could still see the pearlescent shine of the marks scattered across Iruka's face. Those were scars Iruka had received because of his profession. Any lesser person would have thrown their hitai-ate away the moment they knew they were permanently blind. They would have damned Tsunade, the village, and anyone else they thought had a hand in their handicap. They would have given up without even trying, yet Iruka fought to prove everyone wrong. He forced himself to relearn everything – not to return to his old life, but to create a new one that he controlled. Kakashi understood that sentiment all too well. And, more than anyone else, Kakashi knew how hard Iruka had fought to prove himself worthy of his own hitai-ate.

"I-I ca-can't…" Stuttering, Kakashi backed up to get distance between them until he ran into a wall. Kakashi gasped for air as he gripped the solid surface, whether to keep himself upright or to stop himself from going back to Iruka, he was uncertain. Though he had sworn to be professional when it came to Iruka, he knew he was a single kiss – a smile, a gentle caress – away from ruining his entire career.

For Iruka – for even a few fleeting hours of passion – he was willing to risk everything.

It was law. A bodyguard who lost his heart to his charge forfeited his hitai-ate. Anyone willing to risk their charge's life for sex – even if it was out of undying love – had become distracted from protecting that person. As a result, they were no longer thought to be worthy of being a shinobi. No matter what such a disgraced bodyguard felt, for a moment, their loyalty to Konoha and their mission had wavered. How could anyone trust your pledge after you voluntarily stomped on the cardinal rule of being a bodyguard: do not get emotionally involved?

Thirty eight years of dedication. Thirty three of those years proudly wearing a hitai-ate. Nearly four decades of blood, sweat, and tears. The countless lives he had taken – and many more he had saved. All of it, Kakashi would have thrown away for just a single night with Iruka. Finally, for the first time in his life, he understood those dishonored shinobi who gave up their position out of love. He at last realized that they were not crazy to put a single person above everything else. If anything, they were the sanest of them all.

It was most certainly not a voluntary decision to fall in love, but it was his choice what to do about it.

He would not threaten Iruka's own chances at keeping his shinobi status, which were already shaky enough because of his handicap. Iruka could not have a single mark against him if he hoped to retain his hitai-ate. And, even if it meant hiding his feelings for Iruka, he would not chance taking away everything Iruka held dear.

"I can't…our careers…"

Those few words filtered into Iruka's ears, despite the thundering rush of blood. It was as though he had been slapped. Their careers? Kakashi worried about their status as shinobi when Iruka only now realized he had fallen in love with him? Even before the bitter chill from Kakashi's words settled into his body, Iruka found himself being pulled off of the floor and into a pair of warm arms.

Kakashi held Iruka, self-disgust stabbing at his belly like spears. If only they could do physical damage. At least then, he might have been able to ignore the emotional pain and regret that tore at him. With just a few thoughtless words, he had hurt Iruka. He could see the agony flicker across his charge's face the instant he had spoken. Of all the people who could hurt Iruka, he had never counted himself among them.

It was physically painful to realize how easy it could be to harm Iruka. What was worse was the realization that, in order for him to hurt Iruka so deeply, he had to mean more to the brunet than Iruka let on. The knowledge that his feelings might one day be returned pierced his heart. Because of their situation, they could never act on what they felt for one another. It would take years of waiting before they would no longer jeopardize their professions. It would mean years so that people would forget that the only time Iruka and Kakashi were seen together, they were fighting. Years in which to either hide their relationship from everyone or ignore one another until no one would wonder when they had developed feelings for each other. It was not a future Kakashi was going to put Iruka through. He deserved far better than a lover who hid in the shadows or a painful reminder of what could have been.

"I won't risk your chances with the Council," Kakashi whispered against Iruka's ear as he tightened his arms around the brunet. Those old bastards would try finding any reason to take away Iruka's hitai-ate. They would use anything they could dig up on him to keep Konoha from having a completely blind shinobi because they themselves were too blind to see that Iruka had become more powerful because of his loss of vision. Showing he could still fight was only the beginning of proving to his judges that Iruka deserved to change centuries of shinobi policy.

Kakashi was not as unique as Tsunade thought he was. So many shinobi hid their handicaps just to keep their position. Asuma's numb fingers had never stopped him from being a great shinobi, nor did Gai's excruciating joint pain from the years of abuse due to his weights. But they, like Kakashi, would never have considered bringing up their weaknesses to a council that was not simply conservative, but almost incapable of seeing the need for change. All shinobi clung to their careers too tightly to gamble it away on the slim possibility they might be able to amend the law.

Iruka was the only one brave enough. He was the one who, not only had nothing left to lose by fighting the Council, but who had enough spirit and dedication to even have a chance of winning. There was no way Kakashi could harm Iruka's opportunity to not only remain a shinobi, but to change laws put in place when Konoha was founded.

Iruka stood, stunned by his bodyguard's words and the emotion they contained. Whatever he had been expecting Kakashi to say about their careers, it had not been the concern, not primarily for his own position, but Iruka's. Even now, Kakashi continued to put Iruka before himself. The brunet found his momentary flash of pain dissipating as he started understanding Kakashi's position. Gently, he brushed his lips against Kakashi's cheek before stepping out of his bodyguard's embrace. Nodding his head, Iruka moved to leave the room, but froze at Kakashi's next words. A shiver of blinding lust hit Iruka at his bodyguard's comment very nearly did him in.

"If our situation was different…" Kakashi did not have to finish that phrase for Iruka to get his meaning. The desire that dripped from his words made his meaning obvious enough. If Kakashi was not his bodyguard, Iruka would have found himself a lover who would have erased every past lover from his memories. If not for the cruel twist of fate, Iruka might have found the one person who could have taught him what love was really like.

As painful as it was to know that he could never act on his love for his bodyguard, Iruka wouldn't have changed a thing. He would not have given a moment of his time spent with Kakashi for any chance that, had he not been blinded, he and Kakashi might have met under different circumstances. He would not have lost his eyesight, but he would have never found himself with Kakashi's gentle guidance. With his vision, he would not have to worry about losing his hitai-ate, but he would have never known that he could become so much more. He would have spent his days in the academy, never knowing his full potential. Most importantly, with his eyesight, he would have still been tricked by Kakashi's illusions, just like everyone else. In many ways, losing his sight had taught him just how blind he had been his entire life for him to not see Kakashi for who he truly was. Iruka whispered so softly, he knew Kakashi could not have heard just how glad he was that things happened the way they did.

"If things were different, I would have never fallen in love with you."


Kakashi let out a breath of air as he glanced at the clock for what seemed to be the millionth time, but the dark hand had not moved since his last check. If anything, he would have sworn that the minute hand had started going backwards. Rubbing his aching eyes, he shifted on the couch in hopes of relieving the pain in his back.

If he was a smart person, he would have called his pack to protect Iruka while he took a quick nap. But, despite being called a genius, Kakashi never thought clearly when it came to that brunet. He couldn't have slept, even if he didn't have to guard Iruka. Similarly, he had no urge to have Pakkun or the others, with a single sniff, understand why their master had turned into an insomniac. He did not want to see their pity, much less hear how he was doing the right thing by protecting Iruka from himself.

Right now, all he wanted to do was the wrong thing. He wanted to burst into Iruka's room and declare his love. He wanted to tell Iruka about his years of obsession, of how he had considered himself in love with Iruka since they first met. Then, he would tell him that his love had grown over these months together, as he got to know the real Iruka.

But he could never be with Iruka. The past eight hours, other than giving him a headache and a sleepless night, had taught him that there was no way he could ever be what Iruka needed. Iruka deserved someone who could love him openly. Iruka should never fear that his career hinged, not on his impressive abilities and love for Konoha, but his relationship with a man who did not deserve Iruka's affections.

Sighing, Kakashi put his book on the coffee table, no longer able to stare at the blurry words as he pretended to read while watching the clock slowly tick away. With a shake of his head to clear his vision, Kakashi got up. Cracking his back as he stretched, he damned the uncomfortable piece of furniture. Then again, had he been even half as smart as he was rumored to be, he would have gone to bed in his usual spot. But the temptation presented to him as he slept alongside Iruka would have been too great.

So, feeling like a rheumatic old man, he hobbled towards the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee. Iruka would be awake in a few minutes, and anything to make the time until then pass faster was a godsend. Busying himself with the measurements, he recalled how Iruka used to carp at him from the kitchen table time and again because he somehow knew that Kakashi had put too much or too little coffee into the pot. Though he was rarely the one to make Iruka's coffee, he had learned just how the brunet liked it over these past months. He knew the exact temperature Iruka drank his coffee at and the mug Iruka liked most of all.

How much longer before Iruka would no longer need him around? How many more chances would he get to make Iruka's coffee while Iruka criticized his technique? How many more times would he catch the whiff of the strong, black liquid as it perked, filling his apartment with a nutty scent that he had once hated, but now could only associate with Iruka?

How long would it take before he would no longer smell fresh coffee and think of the one man he could never have?

Running a hand through his hair, Kakashi caught the uncommonly long strands back and tied them into a ponytail. Ever since he begun protecting Iruka, he had not had the chance to get a haircut. He used to go to the barber's religiously, refusing to let his hair get long enough that he could do what he had just done: put his hair back like his father used to. Instead of his stomach tightening at the memory of his father, Kakashi found himself oddly at ease. Then again, ever since he met Iruka, he had somehow slowly come to terms with his father's death. Ever since he got to know the scarred brunet, he had come to accept a great deal about himself. Losing his father so violently and dishonorably was just the beginning.

Kakashi glanced at the kitchen table, where he had left his ANBU mask last night. The dog mask had once been a painful reminder of his past. It had forced him to recall those dark, murderous years and the revulsion everyone had felt towards him. Most of all, it had made his own stomach turn as he felt the same hatred and disgust. How could he have ended the lives of so many without even bothering to learn anything about them beyond their names? How could he have taken away the chances for a better future from so many young shinobi?

But now? Now he looked at the mask, recalling the time in his life that that porcelain was the only thing protecting him from the rest of the world. The regret for what he had done was still there, but it was paired with wisdom and understanding that his actions, though reprehensible, were necessary. No longer did his mask pain him as it once had. All he could do was touch the smooth porcelain in awe, amazed he had survived that time in his life to become the man he was now.

And it was all because of Iruka.

Iruka had unknowingly taught him that ANBU were not simply the scourge of the shinobi world, working in the shadows because no self-respecting warrior would do half of what they accomplished from behind masks and aliases. No, Iruka had shown him respect for the abilities that granted him his mask. He had valued Kakashi's opinion, no matter what he used to cover his face from the rest of the world. Iruka had not seemed to care that, by having an ANBU mask, Kakashi was primarily an assassin. He had trusted Kakashi to protect him, no matter how bloody his hands had been in the past.

Sighing, Kakashi shook his head. He did not know what he had done to deserve Iruka's respect and trust, much less his friendship, but he was eternally grateful for it. In a world where his mask made everyone else loathe him, Iruka had been the one person who had seen beyond the white porcelain. Even when he did not have his ANBU mask on, his face was still hidden from everyone. Some thought it was because of he wanted to be mysterious, others because he was too handsome to be unleashed, unmasked, on the village. But how many would see his father in his features? How many would unknowingly remind him of his father's dishonor simply because he looked almost identical to him?

Of the few people Kakashi was comfortable with showing his face to, Iruka would be the only one to never be able to draw the comparisons between him and his father. He would be the only person who would not see the White Fang staring back at him. Instead, Iruka saw him as something else. Kakashi had no idea how Iruka would describe him, but it was not his father. No, Iruka saw him for who he was, not a twin to the man who had died by his own hands.

As though in a trance, Kakashi lifted the mask off of the table and brought it to his face. After Iruka's attackers were captured and he no longer had to parade around as Inu, he would destroy it. No longer would he let it collect dust in his closet, a symbol of the memories that still invaded his thoughts, reminding him that he was a ruthless killer. He would never forget those dark years of his life, and he would never want to. However horrible that time was, it had made him into who he was today and for that, he had to be thankful. He now refused to take lives if he could avoid it, knowing that there was always another option to murder. He knew now that there were many forms of loyalty, but unquestioning, blind loyalty was nearly as bad as betrayal.

When all of this was over, he would destroy his mask as he should have done all those years ago. Finally, that old life no longer had a hold on him, reminding him of what he had done and what he could do again if he let himself. He was no longer that lost teenager who had no hope, no friends, and no expectations to live beyond his twentieth birthday. He now had something to live for, and it was far past time to put his past to rest and start looking towards the future.

Gently, Kakashi put the mask back down on the table and shuffled across the kitchen. It had become reflex to pour Iruka's coffee into the large ceramic mug the brunet liked most of all. Kakashi had no idea why Iruka preferred the faded blue container that should have been thrown out years ago, but he was not one to argue. Unconsciously, his finger danced around the lip of the mug just as Iruka always did to check the temperature.

Pinching his nose, Kakashi hardened his resolve. There was only one way he was going to survive today without passing out on Iruka at some point, which would only make his charge turn into a mother hen because he obviously couldn't take care of himself. Despite his dislike of the taste of coffee, Kakashi would do anything to keep Iruka from needlessly worrying. As he tossed his head back, Kakashi downed the mug of coffee before he rethought his plans to wake himself up. The jounin gasped for air even as the hot liquid slid down his throat, leaving a burning path to his stomach.

"Blegh," Kakashi mumbled under his breath as he grimaced, hoping that that was enough caffeine to hide his sleepless night from Iruka. He was not about to drink another mug when the first one was still burning the roof of his mouth, his throat, and his belly.

Then again, his charge would certainly smell coffee on his breath and, knowing Iruka, he would piece things together all too quickly, so Kakashi probably just drank the bitter liquid for no reason. Damn Iruka and his hypersensitive nose.

Hoping the pungent taste would leave his mouth soon, Kakashi poured another cup and started to walk towards the bedroom. Perhaps if he distracted Iruka with fresh coffee in bed, the brunet might not notice that Kakashi had already tried to shock his system with caffeine. Then again, Kakashi quickly realized that his attempts to wake himself up didn't work. Even as he moved to open the door, Kakashi found himself blinking repeatedly as his vision swam. Shaking his head to clear his head, Kakashi stumbled into the room, his legs feeling heavier than he was accustomed to.

Caffeine was supposed to make him wake up, not feel even more tired! Kakashi grumbled under his breath as he, through sheer force of will, kept his body from weaving as he made his way to the bed, where Iruka was already sitting up and smiling at him. Despite his exhaustion, Kakashi found himself chuckling in amusement. Iruka could smell coffee from a mile away.

Iruka tilted his head to the side, both hearing and feeling his bodyguard sit down on the edge of the mattress. Something was different about how Kakashi moved, however. It was as though he was barely able to lift his limbs. All it took was a moment of thought for Iruka to realize that, as poorly as he slept, Kakashi must have had even less rest. Every time he woke up, he could place his bodyguard's chakra in the living room on the couch and, from having gotten to know Kakashi so well these past few months, he knew his bodyguard had been awake every time he woke up.

So accustomed to Kakashi, the brunet barely even registered the gentle touch on his hands, bringing Iruka's fingers up to touch the warm edge of his favorite mug. Curling his fingers around the handle, Iruka wordlessly took his coffee from his bodyguard. Despite the flicker of anticipation that hit him the moment he felt the mug's warm handle, Iruka found himself hesitating to take his first sip. Instead, he curiously focused on his bodyguard. It was not entirely uncommon for Kakashi to make him coffee, but this was the first time he could smell the nutty aroma on his bodyguard's breath, covering up its normal minty scent.

"You didn't sleep last night," Iruka accused softly as he brought his mug up to his face, inhaling deeply. Normally, he would revel in the scent of his beloved coffee for a moment or two, but there was something off about it this time. It was not the difference between his and Kakashi's coffees; he could pick out coffee brewed by Kakashi with a single whiff. Furrowing his eyebrows, Iruka realized that there was something else mixed in with the rich scent. Something that, if he was to taste it, he might have called bitter or acidic. All he knew was that this subtle variation burned his overly sensitive nose. The scent was so delicate that he doubted Kakashi had picked up on the difference.

Perhaps Kakashi had gotten a different brand of coffee beans? It would not be the first time his bodyguard went grocery shopping while Iruka spoiled Pakkun and the rest of the ninken back at the apartment. Shrugging his shoulders at the almost unnoticeable discrepancy in smell, Iruka brought the mug to his lips and was about to take his first sip. Before the warmth of the ceramic against his lips even fully registered, the mug was torn from his fingers. A splash of hot liquid hit the back of his hand, but Iruka barely noticed it over the sound of the mug crashing to the floor and shattering into thousands of pieces. With every strangely melodic ping as the fragments scattered across the wood floor, Iruka found his confusion growing.

As the last shard of ceramic stopped bouncing, Iruka noticed the searing pain across the back of his hand. "What was that for?" he snarled, finally registering the burn on his skin. Jerking his hand down, Iruka frantically wiped the hot liquid off against his pants before he blistered any more of his flesh. Snapping his head back up, Iruka was about to reprimand his bodyguard for his quick actions, but his words failed him as another sound filtered into his ears.

A sharp gasp for air as something heavy fell to the floor.

Iruka did not spare a moment to ask what had happened as he slid out of bed and dropped to the floor. He had never heard that pained sound before, but he knew Kakashi's voice. He had felt the instant disappearance of Kakashi's weight from his bed. Ignoring the hot liquid soaking through his thin pajama pants and the pain of ceramic shards digging into his knees, he ran his hands along the wet floor until his fingers met with something other than the remains of his coffee cup.

His fingers grew a mind of their own as he touched his bodyguard's tense leg. As his fingers moved up his bodyguard's prone body, Iruka felt that it was not just Kakashi's leg that was strained and trembling. His entire body shook, his muscles tightening to the point of pain. With no more than a thought, Iruka could sense Kakashi's chakra thrashing violently. It was as though Kakashi no longer had any control over his body or energy.

"K-Kakashi!" Iruka shifted as he struggled to flip the tall man over. Finally succeeding, Iruka pulled Kakashi's rigid frame into his lap, his fingers racing across Kakashi's flesh in search of something – anything – that would tell him what had just happened to his bodyguard. He could feel no injuries that would cause Kakashi's body to tense in pain, nor could he smell blood. He could sense no enemy jutsu, much less any presence near the apartment other than his and Kakashi's.

"Pl-please, Kakashi…" Iruka whispered as his touch drifted along his bodyguard's narrow jaw. He could just barely hear the racing of Kakashi's heart, but it was weak, as was the pulse in his neck. The sound of Kakashi's breathing, or lack thereof, was more frightening than the feeble beat of his heart. Each sharp, pained attempt to gasp for air was like a dagger to Iruka's heart as he searched for any reason for the sudden change in Kakashi's condition.

There was no external cause for Kakashi's rapid deterioration. No injury, no enemy – nothing. But there had to be something he missed, despite his heightened senses. There had to be something beyond the tensing of Kakashi's entire body, the weakening of his heart, and his inability to take a breath of air.


Iruka caught the bubble of air pass Kakashi's lips and understood. It was not by accident that, just before he could take a sip of coffee, Kakashi had knocked the mug out of his hands. It was not by chance that Iruka caught a strange scent to his coffee this morning. Most damning of all, it was not coincidence that Iruka could smell that same bitterness on Kakashi's breath now as his bodyguard lay on the floor, writhing in pain as he gasped for air. Before the thought fully formed in his mind, Iruka found himself performing the fastest transportation jutsu of his life and praying he wasn't too late.

Someone just tried to kill Iruka and instead of him, they had accidentally poisoned Kakashi.


"There's nowhere else to look!"

Tsunade held her head in her hands, rubbing her aching temples as she heard another variation of the now familiar report. Every shinobi she had sent out to search for any information on the attack on Iruka had come back with the same conclusion. No matter where they went, what they did, who they talked to – all of her best shinobi came up with the same answer. No one knew anything about Iruka's attacker. Few outside of Konoha even knew who Umino Iruka was, so who would even want him dead? It was the one question that no one seemed capable of answering.

It had been four months since she had demanded her best shinobi to go in search of any information on Iruka's attacker. Not only had they found nothing to report, but Iruka's life had not even been threatened since. Perhaps everyone was right in telling her that the attack was never even meant for Iruka, but was instead a poorly planned attempt on her life.

No would-be-assassin would wait this long between attempts on his target's life. Lulling one into a false sense of security was one thing, but four months was too extreme. An attacker chanced being discovered every day they remained near their target. Most assassins also had a time limit – to kill their victim to avoid something from happening or otherwise change the future.

But Iruka? Who would want to kill an academy teacher who did a few odd jobs around the village in his spare time? Who would want to harm Tsunade's devoted, yet temporary secretary? Sliding a hand around to the back of her neck, rubbing the constantly aching muscles, she came up with an answer that she could no longer avoid.

No one.

No one would go after Iruka. He was an important person to Konoha because of his teaching abilities, but to missing nin or Konoha's enemies, he was worthless. He was not a high ranking shinobi, nor was he famous. If anyone was to be targeted for an assassination attempt, it would be someone like Gai, Kakashi, or Sasuke. An assassin would attack someone of great importance not only to Konoha, but her allies. An assassin, or whoever hired him, would want to go after someone whose sudden death would make an impact around the world.

Sighing, Tsunade lifted her head to look at the shinobi gathered around her office. Some wore ANBU masks, others had their features visible. One thing, however, tied them all together. These were some of the best shinobi in Konoha. Gathered around her were ANBU members, her personal bodyguards, the village's top jounin – people who an assassin would be far more likely to attack than one chuunin academy teacher.

Despite every logical thought told her that Iruka was out of harm's way, her heart told her otherwise. Someone had to have known Iruka would have been the one to open that envelope. But who? Who could hide their motives and actions so well from the rest of the shinobi world that, even after four months of searching, her best shinobi had not even heard a whisper about it?

"In light of everything, I'll take Inu off bodyguard detail," Tsunade said softly as she shook her head. Never before had her instincts failed her, but there was no other way to explain the past four months. Before she got the chance to continue explaining her sudden decision, the room erupted in outrage.

"Inu? You had that bastard watching Iruka-sensei!"

"Tsunade-sama, you couldn't have!"

"What were you thinking, Hokage-sama!"

"Have you lost your mind!"

Tsunade's head spun as comments came at her from all directions. Some of the younger shinobi in the room stared in confusion as their older comrades snapped at their leader. In another time, shinobi might have even shown fear for those who would dare be so disrespectful to their leader. Then again, if anyone showed her an ounce of the respect she deserved, no one would have said anything in the first place, much less yell at her for being an idiot. Never being one for manners herself, Tsunade slammed a hand down on her desk and as the loud crack echoed through the room, every voice fell silent.

She had not been expecting this kind of reaction from her shinobi, especially considering Kakashi had worn his ANBU mask around the village while protecting Iruka. Hadn't her best warriors figured out that "Inu" had been the one acting as Iruka's bodyguard all this time? Didn't Kakashi's mask make it obvious that he was brought out of retirement for this one ANBU mission? It was only then that she realized that nearly everyone in this room had been out of the village for the past four months under her command to find Iruka's attacker. They would have never seen Iruka and Kakashi wander around the village, much less realize that it was Kakashi that hid behind the retired ANBU mask.

But their reactions made no sense to her. Before her were professionals, many of who regarded Kakashi as one of the village's greatest shinobi. Some even counted him as a friend. Still confused, Tsunade still felt a burning urge to protect and defend the Copy Ninja. Her lips tightened into a grim line as she glared at Kakashi's so-called friends, those who had spoken the loudest against Inu.

"What is wrong with Inu? I remember all of you refusing to take care of Iruka – he at least agreed to help when you spineless brats wouldn't," Tsunade pointed out coldly as she took the time to look at each and every shinobi that had yelled at her. One by one, their gaze dropped, unable to withstand her scrutiny.

"H-He's a monster. Iruka-sensei didn't deserve something like that to come near him," Anko said quietly, her gaze cemented to her hands folded in her lap. That single comment echoed through the room. Though no one else spoke, Tsunade could see the agreement in her older shinobi, from their body language to the sudden wave of relief that ran through the room, as though no one wanted to be the one to inform their Hokage about Inu.

A cold shiver ran down Tsunade's back at the kunoichi's words. Kakashi was not a monster – driven and perhaps a little crazed, but he never did anything to deserve such loathing. He could not possibly do anything that warranted such revulsion from his friends.

"How can you say that? He is one of your own!" Tsunade pointed out, this time making sure to eye each ANBU member, both current and those who had retired. Those who had retired, however, were surprisingly the ones who had been the most vocal. Raising an eyebrow, she could only wonder what Kakashi could have done to piss off so many ANBU when he had been their captain. For not the first time, she wished she had been in Konoha more often before being saddled with the Hokage position. At least then, she might have seen Naruto grow up – and she would have some kind of idea why everyone now spit out Kakashi's ANBU alias like it was a curse.

"He took so many youthful spirits…"

Tsunade shifted her gaze to Gai, surprised at the severity of his tone. Gai was Kakashi's best friend, but the barely contained disgust in his voice was the furthest thing from the odd, yet close relationship he had with the Copy Ninja. It was not until Kurenai spoke up that she started to understand why Kakashi's best friends hated the man he had once been.

"He was the best shinobi in ANBU, powerful, ruthless, and professional – which is why the Third named him captain. None of us argued against his promotion. We…hoped he would finally die if he was the one leading the missions." The dark-haired woman let out a sigh as she shook her head, grimacing as she obviously relived memories of her own years behind a mask. "He took the impossible missions no one else would even consider and somehow survived. He never failed on any mission, no matter how suicidal. But he also took the missions that we…we couldn't. Unlike him, the rest of us had souls – we had consciences that would have never let us live with what we would have had to do on those missions. But…Inu killed anyone in his way."

It was then Gai's comment clicked in Tsunade's head. Youthful spirits. Kakashi had killed even children.

Tsunade shook her head in disbelief, bile rising in the back of her throat. Kakashi wouldn't! Kakashi cared for his old genin team as though they were family. No matter how much he had pushed them, he had never caused permanent harm. He had merely driven them more than anyone else would have. But he had never threatened their lives – their health yes, their sanity most certainly, but never their lives. For that reason, Tsunade was certain he could never kill a child, no matter what the reason. But she then recalled when Kakashi had truly been a member of ANBU.

It had been nearly two decades since Kakashi had quit the assassination squad. As far as Tsunade could figure, Kakashi had joined the group shortly after the Kyuubi attack, making him a mere fourteen when he became an assassin for the village. If that was not impressive – and quite horrifying – enough, Kakashi had gone one better. He had become the youngest leader of the group, but few would have appreciated that fact because no one would have known who he was. No – at a mere seventeen years old, Kakashi had become one of the most powerful and influential shinobi to exist and very few were aware of that monumental accomplishment.

The man – the boy – Kakashi had been twenty years ago was definitely not the same person she knew today. Though it was a stretch to see Kakashi as anything other than the lazy, unrepentant pervert he was now, Tsunade knew that that was not the same person who had sailed through the ANBU ranks. The boy who had gained the hatred of the shinobi around her was certainly nothing like the man who had forged close friendships with those same people. But, no matter how much Kakashi had grown and changed over the decades, there was one thing that Tsunade did not want to believe the jounin had once been capable of. Yet Kakashi had been a lost teen – no family, no friends…partially blind and with little to live for. Perhaps it was not such a stretch to see him as once being the perfect, unquestioning shinobi who had been capable of obeying the order to kill children.

Twenty years ago, it had been a different time in the shinobi world. It was not unheard of to put out a hit out on the families of an enemy – to strike them where it would hurt most. Most assassins would kill their main target's lover to distract them. Few ever took their mission farther than that. Though Tsunade had heard of a few occurrences of an ANBU slaughtering entire families, she had never considered the possibility Konoha shinobi could be responsible for such bloodshed.

The Third would have never given such orders, no matter what the situation. Children were the one thing every shinobi, no matter their village, were sworn to protect. But, for Kakashi to do such a thing, he must have had specific orders. Why else would he do something so reprehensible that his friends still hated the man he had once been?

Tsunade froze as she realized something. There was no way these shinobi, with such a disgust for Inu, could know that their close friend was the very same man. From their revulsion, they could not have possibly forgiven Kakashi for his actions all those years ago. Not for the first time, Tsunade regretted giving Kakashi this mission. She only unknowingly paired him with the man he was secretly in love with. She made Kakashi risk having his own handicap discovered by Iruka. Now she threatened Kakashi's few friendships if "Inu" was ever unmasked in front of the people closest to him.

When she got the chance, she would profusely apologize to Kakashi for asking him to don his mask and take care of Iruka – and then probably whack him on the head for not telling her about all of this. If she had known even half of what he risked, she might have reconsidered putting Kakashi in such a position. As annoying as Kakashi could be, not even he deserved this kind of torture.

Tsunade was torn from her thoughts when she sensed a surge of chakra in the room. Instantly on her guard, she leapt out of her chair and began gathering chakra in her right hand. Despite the bodyguards surrounding her, she was never one to sit back while they protected her. She could also tell every other shinobi in the room was prepared to attack. The tension in the room was palatable even before they figured out the source of the chakra. The sound of blades being drawn filled the air as the distinctive pop of a transportation jutsu hit her ears.

Tsunade released the energy from her hand the moment she heard a voice that, at one time, she found to be the bane of her existence. She had in fact run and hidden every time she heard him call her name. Now, filled with fear and pain, she could only recognize his voice because of its shrill pitch that no other man could ever hit.


Tsunade barreled through her bodyguards, not caring that she threw a few to the ground in her attempts to get to her favorite brunet. Iruka should never have that terror in his voice, especially with someone as devoted as Kakashi guarding him.

Even before the smoke from Iruka's transportation began to clear, Tsunade found herself on her knees next to her ex-secretary, her hands glowing a bright green as she sought for a source of Iruka's pain. But Iruka was physically fine. He had a small burn on the back of one hand, but it was so minor, Tsunade knew that it could not be the reason for his tone.

It was not until the smoke started to dissipate that Tsunade discovered the reason for Iruka's pain and fear. With a gasp, Tsunade focused her gaze on the unmoving jounin in Iruka's arms. As her hands began racing along Kakashi's motionless frame, she began realizing why she had not noticed his presence – or his condition – the moment Iruka had appeared in the room.

Kakashi was so weak, his chakra was almost impossible to detect.

Tsunade immediately brought her touch to Kakashi's neck, searching for a pulse, but it was a pathetic mockery of the once strong beat she knew the jounin to have. As the smoke continued to disperse, she could pick up on Kakashi's other symptoms. She could see the pained expression on his face, along with the unnatural color of his skin as he gasped for air.

The medic barely registered that, for the first time in all her years of knowing the mysterious man, she could see his entire face. If not for the situation, she might have even laughed and mocked Kakashi for being a pretty boy. But now was not the time to point out that Kakashi was a walking wet dream and he had done the entire village a large disfavor by hiding his face all these years. All that mattered was that she could see the blue tinge of his lips. She could see the pain Kakashi was in from the tightness around his eyes as he grimaced.

"P-Please, Tsunade-sama…help him!"

Tsunade barely heard Iruka's sob over the crackle of energy as she poured chakra into her hands, her touch racing along Kakashi's body in search of whatever was causing his current condition. His lungs were fine and his windpipe was not crushed, either of which would have easily explained his inability to breathe. Focusing her healing energy on Kakashi's neck, she realized that his neck was certainly the source of his problems.

Pouring chakra into her favorite one-eyed idiot, Tsunade wondered what Kakashi could have done this time to go into anaphylactic shock, forcing his throat to close up so that he could not breathe. It did not take more than a moment of attempting to heal Kakashi's throat without any change that she realized that this was not a simple allergic reaction. It should have been easy to heal his neck if he had eaten or drank something that his body rebelled against – a mere flicker of chakra to destroy the foreign substance. But as soon as she did so, the material was so quickly replaced that Tsunade could not easily keep up with it. It was as though this substance had already extended throughout Kakashi's body. And there was only one thing that could spread quickly enough to take down one of Konoha's best jounin.

Poison. And, considering it was this effective on Kakashi, it was very powerful.

Cursing under her breath, Tsunade kept one hand on Kakashi's neck, forcing so much chakra into the delicate tissue of his windpipe that it opened enough for him to breathe. The moment his airway opened back up, Kakashi sucked in a gasp of air. Tsunade could see the instantaneous results as Kakashi wheezed, his breathing still labored and painful-sounding. His lips slowly turned a healthier shade and, no longer under such stress, his heart had started to return to a safer, more normal rhythm.

For a moment, Tsunade hoped that her healing touch would be enough. But, even as she studied the jounin, she knew that whatever poison was used on him, it was not something that could be healed with a simple touch. Already, Tsunade felt her energy draining as she fought to keep Kakashi breathing. If she didn't get him to the hospital soon, there was a good possibility she would lose him.

Pouring more chakra into the jounin, Tsunade lifted her head, her gaze flickering past every face in the room. For people who called Kakashi a friend, not a single one of the shinobi around the room had moved to help her. She would have thought at least Gai would have raced to do anything to help his friend, but even he was motionless and, for once, silent. As she looked at them, she understood why no one had rushed to aid her. Each shinobi was frozen, his or her face a mixture of fear and awe as they stared at the brunet cradling Kakashi in his arms.

Tsunade finally focused her eyes on the chuunin and very nearly stopped pumping chakra into Kakashi. So stunned, Tsunade's concentration wavered as she stared at him. She had survived Iruka's moody bouts – she had withstood his anger, she had lived through his annoyance. But this was something she had never experienced before. There was no throbbing vein in his temple or twitch to his eye. There was no smirk on his face, nor was there laughter twinkling in his eyes. No, this was something Tsunade had never seen before. Iruka's face was etched in tears as he sobbed, clinging to his bodyguard. And the emotion she could read in Iruka's features was one she had never been expecting.


Shit, Kakashi had gone and made his charge fall in love with him. If not for their tricky situation, Tsunade would have been ecstatic for both men. But instead, Tsunade felt a pang of sympathy for Iruka. There was no way the shinobi in the room had missed his obvious feelings for the jounin. Within a day, everyone in the village would know Iruka and Kakashi were in a relationship. It was only a matter of time before people figured out that Kakashi was Iruka's bodyguard and both shinobi would lose their hitai ate because of an idiotic law.

Iruka let out a ragged cry as he listened to those weak gasps for air and the strengthening thump of a heart that had, only moments ago, been failing. As painful as those sounds were, he was overjoyed. Though it was obviously difficult to do so, Kakashi was breathing again thanks to Tsunade. And as weak as that heartbeat was, it was infinitely better than the racing tremors Iruka had felt and heard before.

Even Kakashi's skin started to warm back up from the cold, clammy flesh Iruka had felt a few seconds ago. With a strangled sob, Iruka bowed his head, his forehead pressing against Kakashi's, his shoulders shaking with emotion. For a moment as he transported them to Tsunade's office, Iruka had been unable to hear those pained, sharp gasps for air. To keep himself from losing what little control he had, Iruka had listened desperately for Kakashi's weak heartbeat – proof that his bodyguard and friend was still very much alive.

With gentleness he did not know himself capable of, Iruka rested a hand over his bodyguard's heart. That delicate contact was enough for Iruka to continue believing that there was hope for Kakashi. Though he had little contact with or knowledge of poisons, Iruka knew that they could work in a matter of moments. And, from the strengthening rise and fall of Kakashi's chest, Iruka knew he had acted in the nick of time.

Under Tsunade's care, Kakashi was going to be fine. Of that Iruka was certain. Relief hit Iruka so suddenly, banishing his previous terror and agony, the brunet felt momentarily euphoric. Unable to help himself, Iruka brushed his lips against his bodyguard's brow, a choked laugh bubbling up in the back of his throat.

That joy was bittersweet, however. Iruka was not so far gone to not realize that Kakashi had just saved his life. Had Kakashi not had a cup of coffee this morning, Iruka would be dead. Kakashi would not have known anything was wrong with the coffee had he not already drunk some. If Kakashi had not knocked the mug out of his hands, Iruka would most likely have been killed.

Iruka was not stupid. He knew that it took a great deal to poison a jounin, especially one as famed as Kakashi. As part of the training for the jounin test, shinobi had to build up their resistance to a number of different substances, including poisons. Having never truly had the urge to go beyond his chuunin status, Iruka never trained his body against poisons and tranquilizers like other shinobi did. Instead, he put his efforts into being the best teacher he could be.

That desire to teach the next generation of shinobi had just nearly cost him his very life. Something to do such damage to Kakashi – and so quickly – would undoubtedly have killed him. No matter how fast Kakashi was, he couldn't have saved him if Iruka had taken a sip of his coffee. Kakashi would have had to helplessly watch as Iruka suffocated to death.

Iruka brushed the backs of his fingers against Kakashi's forehead, wiping away loose tendrils of hair that clung to his sweaty brow. His touch was so gentle, he doubted the jounin would have been able to feel it even if Kakashi was conscious, but Iruka's sensitive fingertips could pick out the minutest of details. He could feel the harsh lines across his bodyguard's forehead ease, telling the brunet Kakashi was no longer in such an extreme amount of pain. Iruka could trail his fingers along smooth lips, puff after glorious puff of air warming his hand as Kakashi panted for air.

"Iruka…I have to take Kakashi to the hospital," Tsunade said quietly as she followed Iruka's gentle caresses with her eyes. A part of her was awestruck that Iruka felt anything for Kakashi, much less the love that shone in those sightless eyes as Iruka nodded his head in understanding. Despite the severity of Kakashi's condition, Tsunade found herself smiling sadly. No one dared to get close to the Copy Ninja. Everyone thought him to be incapable of kinder emotions, but Tsunade knew better. She had seen him fall apart after Sasuke's betrayal. She had caught glimpses of him sitting at his students' bedsides when they were badly injured. But Kakashi kept that side of himself deeply hidden away, as though he did not want people to know he had a heart.

Of all people to finally open up to and reveal his true self, Kakashi had to pick the one man who could truly appreciate him and his struggle to remain "normal" in the eyes of the rest of the shinobi world. If only Kakashi had done so under better circumstances. Tsunade had assigned Kakashi to Iruka because she wanted what was best for Iruka, never once considering that maybe Iruka and his boundless compassion were exactly what Kakashi needed for him to be saved from himself.

"You need to stay here-" Tsunade did not even get to finish her sentence before Iruka tightened his arms around Kakashi, shaking his head violently.

"No! I'm staying with Kakashi!" the brunet declared, his voice wavering with desperation. Tsunade glanced quickly around the room, her gaze focusing on Gai, whose jaw could not possibly drop any lower as he stared at his best friend. Gai of all people would know just how guarded Kakashi was and, from the suspicious gleam in his odd eyes, the Green Beast of Konoha was moments away from tears and a long, needless soliloquy on the wonders of youth.

Somehow, he finally realized she was staring at him. Shaken out of his amazed stupor, Gai nodded his head, able to read the request in her eyes. Knowing that, of all the shinobi in this room, Gai was the one most equipped to deal with an overemotional Iruka hell-bent on following Kakashi to the hospital, Tsunade sighed in relief. She would not leave Iruka unprotected even for an instant – not now that she knew for certain that someone was out to kill him.

The hospital was no place for an assassin's target. It was too crowded and busy for Iruka to be properly guarded. She would take no more chances with Iruka's life – not when Kakashi had nearly lost his own protecting his charge and lover. Not to mention she refused to deal with the headache Kakashi would undoubtedly give her if he heard she did not keep Iruka heavily protected while he was unconscious.

" is not safe for you to be at the hospital right now," Tsunade pointed out logically as she gestured for Gai to come closer. "Gai will take care of you until we figure out what happened." Try as she might to hide it, Tsunade's voice cracked as her chakra drained out of her and into Kakashi at a frightening pace. She did not want to worry Iruka anymore than he already was, but from the sudden change in his expression from refusal to acquiescence, he somehow understood just how much Tsunade's healing jutsu was weakening her.

Iruka slowly nodded his head, not hearing Tsunade's words as much as tuning into the calm, reassuring tone of her voice. As though it pained him to do so, Iruka hesitantly loosened his tight grip around Kakashi's motionless frame as Tsunade thanked whatever deities existed that Kakashi was unconscious. Had he been awake, he would have fought tooth and nail – even in his current condition – to keep Iruka with him. For a genius, Kakashi would not have cared that he was in no condition to defend his lover from a would-be assassin; his thoughts would have only been for Iruka's safety, believing no one could possibly protect Iruka as well as he could. Before Iruka got a chance to reconsider his moment of sanity, Tsunade transported Kakashi and herself out of the office.

Iruka sat back on his heels with a strangled sob at the instant loss of Kakashi's weight in his arms. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew that Kakashi would be fine with Tsunade and an entire hospital staff taking care of him, but that did not stop the tears from trickling down his cheeks as coldness settled throughout his entire body. Knowing he had made a rational decision did not make him feel any less alone and afraid.

Someone had tried to kill him and had nearly murdered Kakashi instead. That thought brought on a new wave of tears as Iruka covered his mouth to stifle his cry. Protecting him was what Kakashi was meant to do as his bodyguard – but it was not supposed to be like this. Having a bodyguard was meant to be a precaution. That explosion was supposed to be a poorly-planned attempt on Tsunade's life, not his! But Iruka now knew better than to think he was safe from the person who had stolen his sight.

A cold shiver ran down Iruka's back at that thought. Someone was out there, trying to kill him for reasons Iruka could not even begin to fathom. There was someone with enough hatred for him to try blowing him to smithereens, someone skilled enough to get into Kakashi's apartment and poison this morning's coffee. Someone had been watching him who was cruel enough to want Iruka to die without any chance of being saved.

But who would want to kill him so badly that they were willing to take an innocent shinobi's life in the process? Who could be so spineless that they never once even attacked Iruka head on? An explosion and poison; both had nearly cost Iruka his life. Instead, he had lost his sight. And now…now he had nearly lost Kakashi. Overall, the loss of his eyesight was less painful than the emptiness in his arms, the coldness that settled in his chest without Kakashi there to banish it away with a chuckle and stupid comment.

Suddenly, there was a gentle touch on Iruka's shoulder. This was not Kakashi's warm caress; those were not his long digits that had brushed against Iruka's bare shoulder. He did not recognize those calluses or those strong fingers. The hand was not restraining or painful, but Iruka flinched all the same. Instinctively, he pulled away from the hand. Kakashi was the only person allowed to touch him with such familiarity.


With a small cry, Iruka scuttled away from the stranger. Somewhere, under the pain and fear, he knew that those hands must belong to another Konoha shinobi. Who else would be in Tsunade's office? The logical part of him knew that whoever it was, he or she would not hurt him. But automatically his heart raced in terror as he was faced with the touch of a complete stranger. What if this was the person who was trying to kill him? What if this was the bastard who had dared to poison Kakashi? And, though logic told him otherwise, Iruka's emotions always won out.

He did not listen to the deep voice that tried to soothe him; all he focused on was the hand that he could sense coming closer to him again. As soon as it was within reach, Iruka acted with the speed and confidence Kakashi had taught him. All it took was a twist of his body to pin the stranger to the floor and brought one of the shinobi's own kunai up to his neck.

Iruka could hear the gasps of surprise, but he ignored them. Instead, he listened to the stranger's gasp of air, feeling the tensing of the shinobi's muscles. It did not take Iruka more than an instant to know that the stranger could easily overpower him with physical strength alone, but Iruka had the upper hand by surprising the shinobi. Before the man got a chance to consider fighting back, Iruka pressed the kunai's sharp blade into his neck with just enough force to draw a drop of blood.

He would not let the man who hurt Kakashi go. Who else would have such amazing physical strength? Who else would be armed in Tsunade's office? Who else would try to lull Iruka into a false sense of security? With each suspicious thought, Iruka unconsciously added pressure to the blade in his hand, not caring about the warm liquid beginning to wet his fingertips.


Somehow, he heard the sound of his name despite the pounding of his heart in his ears. Slowly, Iruka focused his gaze away from the gasps of air from the shinobi underneath him. It took a few moments for Iruka to realize someone was calling him – no begging him. It was then he heard the other voices that were not speaking his name.

"Let Gai go!"

"He's just trying to help!"

"G-Gomen, I did not mean to startle you, Iruka…"

Iruka shook his head at the deep voice from the man underneath him. Gai. As soon as the name clicked in Iruka's mind, he dropped the kunai so quickly it was as though it burned him. In the same moment, he jumped off of the powerful jounin – Kakashi's best friend – and stumbled backwards. Iruka continued moving back until he tripped over something and fell down.

The chair he tripped over crashed to the floor in front of him, but Iruka continued to back up until his back was firmly pressed against a wall. He did not care in that moment that he had clumsily tripped over a piece of furniture – something he hadn't done in months. Nor did he care that he was cornered, surrounded by people who had just seen him attack one of Konoha's gentlest, kindest shinobi. He barely even registered the metallic-scented liquid that coated his fingers as he brought his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around his legs. He did not even feel the tears begin to fall or hear his own cries as he buried his face into his knees.

All that mattered was that Kakashi wasn't there to tell him everything was going to be okay.


Tsunade stared out the hospital window, not seeing the snowflakes flutter to the white-coated ground, creating a picturesque scene. Instead, she saw the past several hours speed by her. Medics dancing around her as she refused to let anyone relieve her. Hands forming seal after seal in attempts of slowing the poison's destructive spread. But what haunted her most of all was the memory of the bloodless color of Kakashi's skin.

Sounds filled her ears, but she did not hear them. They were sounds that were once a comfort – the beeping of machinery, the paging of doctors over intercoms, the muffled padding of feet in the hallway, the constant roar of a busy hospital. Now, all Tsunade listened for was the rhythmic rush of air as she closed her eyes and pictured the strong rise and fall of a pale chest.

It was the most beautiful sound she had heard in a long time.

Turning away from the window, Tsunade looked over at the hospital bed and the tall jounin it contained. It had been two hours since they had miraculously stabilized Kakashi's breathing. Without knowing what poison Kakashi had taken, there was no chance they could find an antidote. The only thing they could do was minimize the substance's damage and pray it did not spread to the jounin's heart. Keeping him breathing was difficult enough without having to worry that his heart was going to shut down.

Slowly, Tsunade made her way towards Kakashi's bed and sat down on the edge, gingerly picking up his limp hand in her own. Turning his hand over, she studied his scarred palm and fingers. His were hands of a great shinobi, yet from what she had learned about his ANBU past, she knew there were some scars Kakashi still continued to hide from the rest of the world.

There might only be one shinobi who could truthfully say he had seen all of Kakashi's scars. And ironically, the only person who could boast such a thing was blind.

Tsunade sighed heavily as she ran her fingers up to his wrist, feeling the strong pulse that had been her only comfort throughout the hours of fighting for Kakashi's life. It was the one thing that reminded her that there was still hope. Even when his gasps for air turned to wheezes, then nothing, Tsunade felt for that rhythm. As they rushed to reopen his airway, Tsunade focused her attention on that fluttering throb, knowing that Kakashi was too strong to give up this easily.

The stubborn bastard. Only Kakashi could be so pigheaded that he would refuse to be taken down by the most powerful poison Tsunade had ever seen in all of her years of medicine. That thought made the Hokage chuckle weakly. She never thought that Kakashi's mulishness would save his life – she had always thought that his obstinacy would be his downfall.

She didn't know how, but even with his stubbornness, Kakashi had captured Iruka's heart. Tsunade did not understand how the jounin could have, in a matter of four months, gone from being complete strangers to lovers with a man who was one of the most guarded people Tsunade knew. In many ways, Iruka was worse than Kakashi when it came to opening up to people. And, having read his file and learning about his traitorous boyfriend, she could understand why Iruka was not one for committed relationships. But for Kakashi, he was throwing everything away.

Tsunade had purposely remained by Kakashi's side since she brought him here, refusing to go back to her office even though she was in desperate need of sleep. Her primary motivation was to make sure Kakashi would be okay, but she had her selfish reasons as well. She did not want to return to the questions she would undoubtedly get. She did not want to see the confusion in the eyes of people who claimed to be Kakashi's friends, but had hated Inu. Most of all, she did not want to be the one to talk to Iruka.

Sensing a change in the jounin, Tsunade glanced up at his pale features just in time to see his eyes flutter open. Even though she had known Kakashi for years, she always felt a flicker of surprise when she saw his bi-colored eyes. Unlike other people, who were uneasy with the Sharingan and looked away whenever they saw that swirling orb, Tsunade found herself focusing on the red eye that was as clear and focused as anyone else's. There was no indication that it had no normal function, which was why she was always amazed by the depth of Kakashi's deception.

Kakashi had spent nearly his entire life teaching himself to pretend to be normal. He had learned just how to look at things that he could compensate for his massive blind-spot and lack of depth perception. He had trained tirelessly to fight as well as, if not better than, any shinobi who had perfect sight. And now his entire career was in trouble because of his love for Iruka.

"W-What…?" Kakashi croaked after a moment as he blinked, his gaze focusing on Tsunade. The Hokage, with the ears of a medic, could hear that it would take weeks for that raspy, airy tone to disappear. The pain and soreness she knew Kakashi to be feeling from his barely visible wince would take almost as long to heal. Most shinobi had to be knocked out in order to get a tube down their throat; thankfully, Kakashi had already been unconscious or else pumping his stomach to get any remaining poison out of him would have been a thousand-fold more difficult that it had been.

"You are one lucky bastard," Tsunade replied softly with a shake of her head. He had survived a poison that would have killed anyone else – and even he had come close to losing his life. If not for Iruka's quick actions, today would have had a very different outcome. A few more moments and Tsunade would not have been able to help him. When she thought about just how close she had been to losing Kakashi, Tsunade felt tears prick her eyes. "If not for Iruka-"

"I-ru-ka?" Tsunade winced as Kakashi's voice cracked out of a mixture of fear and pain. If she had any doubts about the depth of Kakashi's feelings for Iruka, they disappeared when she saw the sheer worry in his eyes as he searched the room for the brunet.

"He's fine," Tsunade said quietly as she watched Kakashi struggle to sit up, only flop back down onto the bed, his body trembling weakly as he gasped for air. Kakashi's dark eye focused on her, silently asking her a thousand questions that his weak voice could not form. "Gai and the others are watching him. Iruka transported you into my office…I brought you to the hospital. Iruka wanted to stay with you, but I thought it better to keep him safe in my office."


"I have no idea what that poison was, but had Iruka drank any of it…" Tsunade did not want to continue, but Kakashi clearly got her meaning from the slow nod of his head. "Even a drop would have been enough. You're lucky you had a cup of coffee before Iruka and stopped him…"

Tsunade had been filled in as she sat at Kakashi's bedside for the past two hours by Anko. She had heard about Iruka's breakdown, his attack on Gai, and his demands to see Kakashi, but she had also learned about what had happened this morning that had nearly cost one of her best shinobi his life. For reasons Iruka would not explain, Kakashi had drank something everyone knew he hated. Then again, four months with Iruka, Kakashi may have grown accustomed to the taste of coffee, maybe even learning to enjoy it. But Tsunade had a feeling Kakashi still disliked the taste of coffee just as much as he always did. So why today of all days? Why would he change his habits on the very day Iruka's coffee was poisoned? If not for Kakashi's rare caffeine indulgence this morning, Tsunade would have been signing a death certificate for Iruka.

From the defeated, dull look in his eyes, Kakashi had already come to a conclusion that had taken Tsunade almost two hours of deep thought to come up with. Then again, it wasn't surprising that the genius had figured out the truth behind Iruka's would-be assassin. Kakashi's mind and the speed at which it worked were legendary in the shinobi world.

"You know…don't you?"

"Un…" Kakashi's pained tone brought tears to Tsunade's eyes. She wished she could do something to alleviate the agony the jounin was feeling, but there was nothing she could do if she wanted to keep Iruka safe. Even if she was willing to risk Iruka's life, she knew that Kakashi would never accept that. No matter how much it would hurt him to do so, Kakashi would always put Iruka before himself, even if it meant destroying everything.


Iruka slipped into the hospital room and closed the door silently behind him. He could still hear Gai grumbling on the other side of the door as he took up his post – the jounin had not in the best of moods since his neck was stitched back up. Iruka could not blame him. No matter how many times he apologized, he had still attacked a fellow shinobi. At least Tsunade had granted him a few minutes with Kakashi. After how he had acted today, Iruka was afraid the Hokage might think he was a danger to both Kakashi and himself.

But how could he explain how confusing it was to be in a room he was not familiar with, surrounded by people he did not recognize? Could he possibly make her see how terrifying it was to not be in Kakashi's presence for the first time in four months right after another attempt on his life had been made? Gai had merely sent him over the edge and Iruka had acted in the only way he knew how – to defend himself.

Soundlessly, Iruka moved across the floor, his fingers stretching out to feel for the edge of the hospital bed. When he felt the hard edge of a nightstand, he followed it and finally sat down on the edge of the bed. If he was not so exhausted by today's events, he would have just focused on Kakashi's chakra, but he was too drained to do anything other than wrap his fingers around those long, achingly familiar digits, bringing them up to his lips.

Iruka never thought he would be so happy just to feel the warm touch of Kakashi's fingertips against his skin. Despite the promise he had made to himself to stop crying like a baby, a few traitorous tears slipped past his closed eyes. These, unlike his many other tears shed throughout the day, were ones of relief and joy. Slowly lowering Kakashi's hand back to the bed, Iruka then wiped his face to erase any wetness before Kakashi woke up.


The brunet nearly sobbed when he heard his name. Though the painfully scratchy voice was almost unrecognizable, Iruka knew it was Kakashi. It did not matter that he could not smell Kakashi's normal minty breath or his familiar scent with the overpowering hospital disinfectants assailing his sensitive nose. He could not hear the soft throb of Kakashi's heart over the loud noises of the hospital surrounding them. None of that mattered because Iruka knew no one else could make his heart speed up with a single word.

"How are you feeling?" Iruka asked quietly, not trusting himself to speak any louder without his voice cracking with emotion. Gently, he ran his fingers up Kakashi's bare arm, but found his eyebrows furrowing in confusion as he felt those muscles tense before Kakashi jerked his arm away. "What's wrong? A-Are you in pain?" Iruka was already halfway towards the door in search of Tsunade when he froze at Kakashi's next words.

"What do you want?" Iruka turned back at those frigid words, not recognizing the emotion Kakashi's voice contained. He had learned every nuance, every change in pitch, every variation of his bodyguard's tone, but this was one he had never heard before. It took him a pitifully long amount of time to realize it was anger. Kakashi did not get angry with him…a few harsh words said during an argument was one thing. But this was not something said in the heat of the moment and regretted almost as soon as the words came out of his mouth. There was no reason for Kakashi's sharp tone now. There was no explanation for the hatred that dripped from every word.

"W-What do you mean?" Iruka questioned hesitantly, not sure he wanted to know the answer. Slowly, he took a step towards the bed. As he moved closer towards Kakashi, a cold knot began forming in his stomach, as though his body knew what his mind had yet to understand.

"Why the hell did you come here?"

Iruka shook his head in confusion as he furrowed his eyebrows. His senses screamed that the man in the bed was Kakashi, but that was not Kakashi's voice or his words. Kakashi would never be so cold and emotionless. "I came to see how you were doing," he answered, his voice so soft he was not sure he had even spoken aloud at all. But from the sarcastic snort he got in response, Kakashi had heard him perfectly fine.

"How I'm doing? I nearly died! How the hell do you think I'm doing?" Iruka stumbled backwards at the snarling retort. Even when he had had his worst arguments with Kakashi, he had never heard this acidic tone before. The weakness and cracking of Kakashi's voice due to his injuries only made the tightening in Iruka's abdomen worsen.

"I-I know…I was s-so worried," Iruka stammered. He did not want to tell Kakashi he had been an absolute basket case the past several hours. He did not want the jounin to know he had been inconsolable. Not when Kakashi was acting like this. Iruka had too stressful of a day to have his emotions thrown back at him.

"Worried? I almost died because of you."

"W-What?" That didn't make sense. Kakashi would never blame him for something like this. Iruka had no control over today's events. Kakashi had been his bodyguard – he was aware that there was always going to be a risk. It did not matter that the likelihood of Iruka having an assassin after him was so very small. There was always a chance that one of them could be harmed. For a shinobi, every day they lived was one more day that they cheated death.

"There was not supposed to any more attacks. The bombing was meant for Tsunade," Kakashi growled. Iruka cocked his head to the side at those words. That was what everyone thought…until Iruka appeared with his poisoned, half-dead bodyguard in his arms. Now knowing there was someone out to kill him, Iruka had to be constantly on his guard. He had two elite shinobi – Gai and Kurenai – assigned to watch over him every moment until his attacker was captured. Even now, they stood guarding the door, giving Iruka what little privacy they could, but the brunet knew that they could hear Kakashi's harsh words just as easily as he could.

A flicker of anger warmed Iruka's chest as his thoughts raced. Kakashi wanted to blame him for today? How could he possibly think that Iruka wanted to have his life jeopardized once again or that he wanted to see his closest friend and bodyguard injured in his stead? Did Kakashi even appreciate just how quickly Iruka's life had changed in the past few hours?

What freedom he had had while Kakashi was his bodyguard had already disappeared. The confidence he had gained with his bodyguard's guidance had already begun to crack under the constant actions of Kurenai and Gai. Though they meant well by trying to help him, leading him through the hospital and directing him around objects, Iruka could not resent their actions any more than he already did. His very stomach turned in irritation as they unknowingly treated him like a feeble invalid. It was the one thing Kakashi had refused to do – the one thing that had kept Iruka from turning in to that helpless person everyone else unconsciously believed him to be.

And now, Kakashi was acting nothing like the man Iruka knew him to be. Iruka's entire world seemed to turn upside down as he shook his head at Kakashi's last statement. No, there were never supposed to be any other attempts on his life. Who would want to harm an academy teacher – a man who was bound to lose his hitai-ate in a few weeks anyways? The only person Iruka could ever imagine harboring such hatred towards him was Mizuki, but he was probably long dead and gone after all these years. Apparently there was someone else out there who Iruka had unknowingly wronged.

"It was a simple mission. Take care of you until you could adjust," Kakashi whispered, his voice hoarse, weakening with every word. The brunet could hear just how painful each word was for Kakashi to say as that once strong, even voice cracked. Instinctively, he began moving towards the bed while lifting his palm up so that his bodyguard could write on hand like he used to. For once, their silent form of communication would not be for Iruka's benefit. But before he could tell the stubborn jounin to stop straining his voice, his hand was knocked away with a surprising amount of force.

"K-Kakashi?" Iruka could not help but tighten his hand into a fist at his side. Taking a deep breath to calm his annoyance at Kakashi's strange attitude, Iruka took a step back. It was understandable Kakashi was in a bad mood. He had very nearly lost his life today. Iruka would have been a bit short-tempered too if he was the one in the hospital bed. But that did not forgive Kakashi for his next words.

"I was only supposed to babysit you."

Iruka almost stumbled backwards as Kakashi spit out that single word. Babysit. It was a word Kakashi knew Iruka despised above all others since he lost his sight. Kakashi knew Iruka never wanted to be treated as though he was incapable of taking care of himself. He knew Iruka hated feeling like a burden on others. And when Iruka had first met Inu, his bodyguard had told him he was not a babysitter. Kakashi had never once hinted that his sole duty was to make sure Iruka didn't hurt himself. No – he had trained Iruka to adapt to his sightless world. He had given Iruka the strength and confidence to ignore what everyone else said and prove that he could remain a shinobi. Kakashi had done so much for him that had nothing to do with babysitting him.

"T-Telling me…telling me about your past…that was babysitting me?" Iruka whispered as he wrapped his arms around himself as he turned away from Kakashi. Though it made no difference to his four heightened senses, he did not want to be facing the man who had done so much for him…and lied about it the entire time.

"That was a mistake."

A mistake. It was a mistake for Kakashi to open up to him and tell Iruka about his own handicap. He never meant to reveal just how difficult it had been to adapt to his partial blindness without anyone there to help him or support him. What about the rest of his past? Did Kakashi regret telling Iruka about his passion for music because of his mother – a woman who he would only ever know through the music she had left behind? Was he truly sorry for talking about growing up as a friendless orphan?

"And last night?" Iruka hesitated to ask though he had the feeling he already knew the answer. Up until this moment, he had believed that last night, had it not been for Kakashi's desire to protect Iruka's shinobi status, they would have slept together. Iruka would have told Kakashi his feelings for him went far beyond those of friendship and gratitude. As he listened to the increased tempo of Kakashi's breathing, Iruka was in a way glad he had not told Kakashi he had fallen in love with him. At least Kakashi would not know just how much of a hold he had on Iruka – how much he meant to him. That knowledge did little to soothe the pain as Iruka realized that, whatever Kakashi felt for him, it was nothing like his own love. Tightening his arms around himself, Iruka prepared himself for the words that would finish shattering his already breaking heart.


Iruka could not muster any righteous anger. He could not even feel any hatred towards the man who had unknowingly stolen his heart and destroyed it so callously. Instead, all he felt was a sickening numbness settle over him at Kakashi's emotionless response.

"I…I see…" Lust. Not love, not friendship – no emotion Iruka would have gladly taken as an answer for the way Kakashi had kissed him last night. Why would Kakashi have been willing to tell Iruka his own name? Simple – who wanted to hear a partner calling out someone else's name? But if Kakashi only felt lust for him, why had he stopped with a kiss? Then again, what self-respecting shinobi would throw away their hitai-ate for a few hours of meaningless sex? Kakashi had lied when he said he was protecting Iruka's position as a shinobi; he cared far more about his own.

It all made logical sense, but Iruka continued to shake his head in disbelief. Those kisses, they were not ones of a horny shinobi. There had been something behind them, some emotion Iruka had never been able to name, hadn't there? Or was it just his hyper-aware senses picking up on things that he would have otherwise missed had he been normal like everyone else? Were his ears playing tricks on him as he listened to the way Kakashi's heart sped up every time Iruka smiled at him? Did his skin toy with him, making him believe the touch of a bodyguard had some hidden emotion behind it? But what about his heart? Could that, too, have been so wrongly led astray in the past four months of getting to know a man that no one else could possibly know existed behind that mysterious, cold exterior?

A man that, as Iruka listened to the iciness of his voice, he realized may have never even existed.

"You never felt anything for me, did you?" Iruka asked, wincing at the tired, deadpan tone that filled his ears. Incapable of mustering any of the betrayal or hurt he felt deep in his chest, Iruka was only able to let out a hollow chuckle at his own naiveté. He thought he had learned his lesson with Mizuki. He had taught himself not to depend on anyone, not to let anyone mean enough to him to hurt him. Naruto was the only person he completely trusted. He became close to his students because children were the only other people besides his adoptive brother who would not hurt him. But Kakashi had slowly wormed his way into Iruka's heart. He had worked past Iruka's defenses. Just like with Mizuki, had his heart deceived him once again?


Iruka shook his head at that single syllable. He couldn't believe that Kakashi felt nothing towards him. If nothing else, Kakashi had felt friendship towards him, hadn't he? Why else would he be so adamant in teaching Iruka to cope with his blindness? Why would he teach Iruka to fight, adapting his technique to his remaining senses? Why would he do a fraction of what he did? Iruka could understand a few slips – a few mistakes in their months together. Perhaps Kakashi was telling the truth when he said he didn't mean to talk about his own partial blindness, but what about everything else?

Iruka had come to learn a great deal about himself since he lost his vision, but one of the greatest things Kakashi had ever taught him was to trust in himself. And right now, his instincts – his very heart – told him that Kakashi had always felt something for him. Iruka could not name whatever it was his bodyguard felt, but he knew it was not the indifference Kakashi now claimed.

"I don't believe you," Iruka whispered as he recalled all the times he cried on Kakashi's shoulder. What kind of person felt nothing as he held someone whose world was crashing down around them? No one could fake that gentle, reassuring tone. No one could pretend to have that kind of understanding and compassion Iruka had come to adore. Even Kakashi, a man who had spent nearly his entire life lying to everyone around him, could not claim to be that great of an actor.

"Believe it," Kakashi snapped back so quickly, Iruka winced at the sharp retort. He did not need his sight to know the jounin was glaring at him in anger. He could hear it in the jounin's raspy, halting words. "Tsunade conned me into watching you. Do you know how insulting it is to be a babysitter? Instead of going on important missions worthy of my time, I got saddled with you."

"I…I understand." Iruka could not even muster up a single tear as he realized he, just like everyone else who had ever met Kakashi, had been tricked. He thought he had gotten to know a man vastly different from the façade he put on in public. Oh, this mask was most certainly nothing like the Copy Ninja others knew. But it did not take a genius to realize that Inu had just been another role, another character in Kakashi's repertoire to be taken out when it suited him. Iruka could only wonder if there was anyone who truthfully could claim they knew the real Hatake Kakashi.

Despite his current numbness, he knew the pain would hit him sooner or later, and a part of Iruka wanted to hurt Kakashi just as much as the jounin was hurting him. "I thought you might have been different from Mizuki. I was right – you're far worse. At least…at least he never pretended to be something he wasn't."

Iruka did not know how he got out of the room, only that he was suddenly in the hallway. His ears were filled with the sounds of the hospital, but he could still hear the gasps from his bodyguards. He could all but feel their pity roll off his skin in sickening waves. Even when he first lost his vision, he was did not have to deal with such sympathy. At least when he lost his sight, people had felt sorry for him because they could only see his handicap. Now, he had the pity of people who had heard with their own ears just how he had been fooled into loving a man who would never return his feelings. Without a word to either of them, Iruka disappeared, desperately hoping neither would follow him.

Kurenai sighed as she closed her eyes and began to search for Iruka's chakra signature. She could appreciate his desire to be alone after that, but she had promised Tsunade to watch over him until the would-be assassin was captured. Finding Iruka's chakra on the other side of the village, she was about to transport to him – whether or not Iruka wanted her presence right now – but stopped when she felt a touch on her arm. Looking over at Gai, she saw a look in his eyes she had never seen in the normally happy-go-lucky man before. Despite the hatred she felt right now towards Kakashi, having heard what he said to Iruka, she could almost pity him.

"I'll catch up with you later…" Gai's voice, for once, was actually frightening. Kurenai winced in pain for Kakashi – he was not going to get off easy after talking to Iruka so. Even though Gai was not on the best of terms with Iruka after getting thirty some-odd stitches in his neck, no one deserved to be spoken to like that, especially a man who was obviously in love with Kakashi. Nodding in understanding, she quickly vanished in search of her temporary charge before his would-be assassin could make another attempt on his life.

She could only hope that Iruka would listen to common sense and not go off alone again, no matter how desperately he wanted to get away from others. Because, even though she could sense Iruka was in no danger at the moment, it was only a matter of time before his attacker realized he had failed in poisoning the brunet and come back for another try. And, having failed twice already – once blinding Iruka and now poisoning Kakashi instead – this time, the assassin was not going to leave things to chance.


Authoress: Finally! I finally finished the chapter! And, after all this time, Iruka's attacker finally resurfaces! About time! *sniffles* It was so hard to write that bit between Iruka and Kakashi – but before you condemn our favorite, emotionally-incompetent hero, remember that there are two sides to every story! So, I hope everyone enjoyed this chapter after such a long hiatus! Until next time, ja ne!