It was, Kakashi decided, his own damned fault.

The mission wasn't supposed to be difficult, but Kakashi had been distracted, mostly by the memory of Iruka's bright smile the last time he saw him. He felt as unsettled as he did when they had been first been bonded, and how he missed the comforting sensation of Iruka's chakra snuggled up with his. He had learned so much about the other man, so much about himself...and he'd given it all up.

He really didn't deserve such happiness, though. He had made so many mistakes in his past, and the bonding was not going to be another one.

But was it? Damn, that Minato-voice was back. He might need to talk to a psych-nin soon, if this kept up. Why don't you, of all people, deserve happiness?

Kakashi covered Guy's back, reduced to hand-to-hand combat. This group of S-class nin was far larger than they thought, and most of their attacks had been focused on Kakashi. Standing at the edge of the battle, there was a pair of very tall twins, holding hands. These two, androgynous in their dress, were the most dangerous, even though they were not in the middle of the fray. They possessed the unsettling ability to pull chakra from the Konoha shinobi nearby, and direct it to their colleagues.

Kakashi had already used the Mangekyō quite a few times to fend off their attack, the situation was that desperate; around him, most of the members of his own team were strewn bonelessly from the actions of the twins; not quite dead, but close. The information sent to the village about this particular group had been severely underestimated, either deliberately or in error, and Kakashi was going to tear some heads off when he got back.

Then, he would go home to Iruka.

The sincerity in that thought stunned him so much that he actually faltered for a moment; he barely had time to block kicks from the missing-nin who had picked up on his distraction.

Home. To Iruka.

More of the enemy pressed close, and Kakashi created an earth-wall to hold them at bay for a few precious seconds.

"Back-up," he shot at Guy as cracks appeared in his tall barrier, the explosions on the other side contributing to its demise.

"Three minutes away," Guy answered, blood streaming from the side of one bushy eyebrow. The receiver in his ear was barely hanging on, but still there.

"Still too far," Kakashi said, trying to catch his breath, and Guy laughed humourlessly. He sounded nothing like his loud, good-natured persona at the moment.

"Then," he said, arming away the blood, "we give them everything we have for three minutes. Everything."

Kakashi nodded, and pressed his hands together as a massive hole was blown into his earth-wall. The edges of his vision were dark, and appeared wavy, as if he was sinking to the bottom of a still lake. It was probably this which caused him to spot the twins' red-tinged jutsu a split-second too late as it rocketed through the dust and rock, heading towards Guy.

Kakashi had no time to think; he activated Kamui, and like the times before, he focused on a spot just before the chakra-stealing jutsu, aiming to warp time and space to send it into another dimension. He was barely hanging onto consciousness, but he still felt a dismaying jolt when the jutsu split in two: one strand was swallowed up by the Kamui, but the other skipped over it as neatly as a flat stone over the surface of water, and struck him.

I'm going to die here, Kakashi thought as he fell to his knees, his life being pulled out of him. He tried to fight it, to drag back what was his, but he could feel the triumphant hauling of those infernal twins, their delight at finally capturing the precious energy of the Copy Nin. It was invasive, the way the jutsu latched onto him, leech-like; it was nothing like Iruka's chakra coiled comfortably around his.

A voice, so clear that he thought that someone other than Guy was positioned next to him, said: Not on my watch. This voice was not the Minato-voice. This voice, however, was just as steely with determination, and Kakashi felt chakra rush into him a few beats after that fierce declaration.

Impossible, he thought as he got to his feet, seeing the shock of the twins writ large on their faces. This was... Iruka's chakra. Iruka, what are you doing, he thought, but the flow died down. He had received enough, however. More than enough and before the twins could react, there was thunder in his palm, and lightning streaking in the air towards them.

...

Whenever he returned to the village, Kakashi would pass by the Memorial Stone to pay his respects to Obito, no matter how drained he was. If he was being carried, his companions would suffer this demand, quite willingly... most times.

Kakashi was pretty sure that Obito wouldn't mind if he went to the hospital first this time around. Tsunade herself treated him in complete silence, ignoring his pointed questions before she sent him off with a pretty young intern, who led him just down the hall of the same wing.

Inside a quiet, plant-filled room, Iruka lay under the white sheets. He was still and unusually pale, his hair spread across the pillows. On one side of the bed, Naruto sat with his head resting on the mattress as he held one of Iruka's hands. On the other side, Anko was seated as well, reading a book.

"Chakra depletion," Anko said before Kakashi could ask. Her voice was very casual, albeit pitched quietly. "He's in a coma."

"What-"

"They had to resuscitate him three times. And for some reason, he's not regenerating his chakra properly," Anko said and her gaze flickered up to him. It was a very accusing stare and Kakashi lifted his chin slightly in challenge. Darling Iruka, she had called him, even as a teasing joke; and of course, she must have been the ANBU who had brought Iruka home after their breaking. "Every time the medi-nin try to help, it breaks down again. Tsunade had to put a seal on him to make sure that what he has left doesn't diminish. And he just can't wake up."

Kakashi stared at Iruka's face; the laughter was gone from it, the teasing, the sweet admiration that he had sent Kakashi's way when he thought Kakashi hadn't noticed. The sleeves of Iruka's hospital garb was short, exposing the tattoos that Kakashi had once promised himself that he would lick. All that was left was this silent shell.

"Leave us," he said and shook his head when Anko's face set into hard lines. "I won't hurt him anymore. That is my promise."

"See that you don't." Anko walked around the bed and shook Naruto awake. The boy woke up slowly, and was reluctant to release Iruka's hand, but he seemed more pleased to see Kakashi than Anko had. He complained when Anko pulled him out, and the closing door shut out his increasing volume.

Kakashi sat down where Naruto had been, and took Iruka's hand in his. How could it have been so cold when Naruto had been gripping it for what seemed to be a fairly long time? He rubbed the back of it with his other hand, and listened to the hissing of the machines which were keeping Iruka from toppling over the edge into death.

Not on my watch, he said, and smiled to himself. He closed his normal eye, and the Sharingan replayed the movements of the Archer priest's hands behind his forehead protector.

Come back, he thought as he made the same slow hand-signs. He still had his eyes closed, but the brightness of the Bijozakura burned through his eyelid, washing his eye with a red that was similar to the heated glow of the Sharingan. He felt their chakra weaving properly together, deeply soothing now. The energy which had been Iruka's boon to him, sent in the moment of his need, filtered back to its rightful owner. They hadn't been separated at all...or rather, there were certain things that could not be broken, that not even a Hyūga could see. A seal created deep and true.

Come back, Iruka. Come back to me.

...

In the sad and lonely darkness, Iruka heard the voice in his heart. He turned toward the loving light of the Bijozakura, and opened his eyes.

fin


AN: I just wanted to thank you again for reading, and for leaving your thoughtful comments. As I'd said in the notes before the first chapter, this story had been written for the kinked community (Kink Big Bang) over at Dreamwidth; it was written all in one go, and had been an idea I had been nursing for quite some time before that. The ending chapter is shorter and more curt than the rest, not only because I don't like dragging out stories (I get easily bored and distracted when writing), but because of the deadlines as well!

I don't know if I'll have any other stories in this universe, but I'll leave that open. Again, thanks so much for taking a look at this, it means a lot to me.

-megyal