Title: Soldier On
Summary: What happens when a soldier can't. Kakashi and Iruka friendship. Warnings: AU. Suicide and suicidal thoughts.
Notes: I wrote this for the Summer 2012 Round of the KakaIru fest, but felt it didn't quite belong there.
Prompt: Family is not about blood. It's about who is willing to hold your hand when you need it the most.
Disclaimer: Naruto and all affiliated characters belong to Kishimoto Masashi. This story is written without permission and for personal/fan/nonprofit entertainment purposes only.
Kakashi sat on the bed, staring at his dress uniform hanging on the back of the flimsy bathroom door, the ribbons and decorations pinned to the front.
He thought about his father. Funny. He hadn't thought about him much these past twenty-five years. Not since he had walked in on the aftermath of his father's suicide. The man had been wearing his dress uniform, hat on his lap. He had his eyes open. He had shot himself through the temple, leaving a mess of flesh and bone and blood and silver hair on the bright blue paint.
Kakashi wondered what his father had thought about, in his last moments. There was a time when he had been angry, especially as a teen. Hadn't Sakumo bothered to think about him?
And he realized what the answer was, only now.
What was the saying? Never judge anybody else unless you've walked a mile in their shoes.
And now he had, and now he knew. Funny.
He leaned back against wall and pulled his semi-automatic toward him. He disengaged the safety, and cocked the gun. He raised his right hand and placed the muzzle of the revolver into his mouth. It would be so easy. To end the hurting inside. To think of nothing and no one. Just like his father.
Only... Iruka would be so angry.
Kakashi didn't even know why he cared about the opinions of this busybody.
His first impression of the man had come slowly, via the graces of Minato Uzumaki Veteran's Hospital. He had awoken, his swollen face bandaged, left eye completely covered and taped shut. A nurse had been talking to a guy dressed in a pale white shirt and dark slacks, a prominent ID badge on a lanyard around his neck, brown hair pulled up into a ponytail. He had noticed Kakashi's abrupt waking and nudged the nurse. Then he had taken the garbage and left.
Kakashi had seen the guy around all the time. He would be poking his head in when the nurses left, between Kakashi's physical therapy sessions, the visitations from the doctors, chatting with the nutritionist.
"Who are you?" Kakashi asked, voice too sharp for the question.
"Oh, me?" The corners of dark brown eyes turned up in a smile. "I'm Iruka."
"Why are you here?"
"To help you."
Iruka bobbed his head.
"What do you do?"
Frustrated, Kakashi wondered whether his inability to grasp what Iruka was saying was symptomatic of his head injury or this guy in particular. "How?"
Iruka tilted his head.
"Are you a nurse? A janitor? An orderly? What are you?"
"I'm just here," Iruka said.
"To help?" Kakashi supplied.
Growling, Kakashi left it at that.
Kakashi had finished packing his things after months of arduous physical therapy and painful surgery when Iruka showed up in the room.
"You leaving?" Iruka asked.
Kakashi stifled the urge to be sarcastic. What did it look like, with the room empty, the bed stripped, him sitting in a wheelchair with all of his things in a plastic bag in his lap, waiting for a nurse to take him? "Yeah." He lifted his mobile phone and brought it close to his good eye. He started a video game.
"Here - " Iruka reached over, grabbed Kakashi's phone and started dialing.
"What - !"
Something rang in Iruka's pocket. He shut off Kakashi's phone. "Good. Now I've got your number, and you've got mine."
"Why would I ever call you?" Kakashi asked, insultingly. "I've got the numbers of all the doctors and nurses and the hospital and my friends - "
Iruka shrugged, a hopeful smile on his face. "Because you might."
"Why would you ever call me?"
"Because I might."
Kakashi was leaving the Veterans' Affairs office when he saw Iruka chatting amiably to one of the administrative assistants. When he saw Iruka, he didn't bother to fight his initial reaction and veered away from the door.
It was no good. Iruka had caught sight of him and intercepted. "How're you?"
Kakashi, surprising himself, angrily blurted, "The wounded vet benefit isn't applicable to me! Can you believe it? I lost an eye, and I still have to get physical therapy - "
"Come on," Iruka said, pulling him toward the AA he had just been talking to. "Let's get this figured out."
Over an hour of paperwork and phone calls later, with lots of other AA's and then a final visit to the office of the office manager, Kakashi walked out of the office with temporary benefits and a surprising amount of relief. "How do you know how to do that?"
Iruka smiled. "I was here visiting a friend, and she had tons of stories like yours. Stories where the paperwork was wrong, where the wrong signature was given, where the dates of service were incorrect - just small things that could hold up somebody's paperwork, hold up their lives. I like to help out when I can." He paused a moment, and then plunged on. "I can see you're stressed out. Are you sleeping okay? That's a sign of some other kind of trouble. There are some other signs - irritability, the inability to de-stress - "
"I don't need to talk to you about it," Kakashi said, cool.
"You take your time - anytime you want to talk, let me know."
"You a therapist?"
"No," Iruka said.
"I thought you were a janitor," Kakashi said. "The first time I saw you, you were carrying garbage."
Iruka smiled. "No. I volunteer at the hospital. I wanted to give back after I was discharged."
Kakashi could see Iruka was about to press it. He waved Iruka off. He didn't need to talk to anybody else. He had gotten what he needed. He was fine. "I don't need any help, " Kakashi said, and then he quoted, "I'm one of Konoha's fighting forces."
Iruka grinned reluctantly. "Fighting dreamers."
"Hey, thanks," Kakashi said, the words finally coming to him. He waved the sheaf of photocopies. "For this."
"We're all in this together, you know? Like family."
Kakashi nodded absently, his mind already set on getting away from this man, this situation that had laid bare his inability to deal with life outside.
"What're you doing here?" Kakashi had asked when Iruka had appeared in his corner grocery store.
"I live around the corner," Iruka replied, mildly.
"You're doing this on purpose. This is the third time in three weeks that I've seen you."
Iruka didn't deny it.
"What do you get out of this?" Kakashi had demanded. "Why are you so insistent?"
Slowly, Iruka said, "I was in the service, too."
"Oh, yeah? Where?" Kakashi had heard this line before. At first, he had been thrilled to find other soldiers, only to find that they hadn't been active military, or their experiences were completely different from his.
"Kyuubi. Charlie company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Infantry."
Kakashi blinked. Kyuubi was infamous as the location of a massive ambush that had decimated an entire company early in the war.
Iruka gave a wry smile. "Yeah. That Kyuubi. I was wounded and discharged. And you?"
"Kannabi. Alpha company, 2nd Battalion, 10th Infantry."
Iruka nodded, although Kakashi had the feeling that Iruka had already known. "You earned it there. Forest Lightning."
"'Forest Lightning,'" agreed Kakashi. He found this really awkward. He didn't want to be here, caught in the middle of food shopping. He just wanted to pay for his food, go back to his crummy room, make his crummy instant noodles, sit and not think about anything.
"If you want to talk, call me," Iruka said.
Kakashi nodded, falsely as he passed on by. He didn't want to talk to Iruka. He didn't want to talk to the therapist assigned to him. He didn't want to talk to anyone he hadn't served with. But they were scattered to the four winds; either still over there, redeployed elsewhere, far away with their families, or dead. Still, if that's what it took to get rid of Iruka, he was willing to do it.
"Do you watch the news?"
Kakashi halted in surprise. Unable to remember when he'd actually sat down to watch television. In the hospital. He thought he'd be hungry for news. Turned out that it was the last thing he wanted to see. The way the news depicted the war angered him, the talking heads filling the air with their inane rhetoric with no idea of what it was truly like out there, much less how the army had ended up in a no-win situation between several nations, the images carefully groomed by the press and government. No better were the scripted shows, with their pat depictions of duty and sacrifice and loyalty, full of smug self-congratulation without any awareness of how shallow their version really was.
"It's fine," Kakashi lied.
"I like newspapers," Iruka commented, picking one up at the counter as Kakashi put his things by the register. "No surprise noises, and if it's a story or photo I don't like, I can put it down whenever I want. Plus, there's comics."
"Right." Kakashi grabbed his bags from the check-out girl and walked away. He did not want to look back, afraid that Iruka would think it was some sort of encouragement.
The spring weather was beautiful, sunny, mild. Kakashi found that irritating, maddening. It should be sticky and moist, the heavy air that comes just before a violent thunderstorm. This weather was not right for the anger inside him - the coiled tension that sought an unknown release.
The benefits had run out. He'd been turned away at the office the last couple of times, shouldering his way through the throngs of protesters that had started to show up in greater numbers.
He wasn't sure what he was going to do. The rent was overdue. The fridge was empty. He was still not capable of work. He was on his last couple of pain pills and the headaches came almost every day. And then there was the other thing. He would lose track of time. He would find himself walking down the street, startling at an unexpected sound, reaching for his assault rifle that no longer draped comfortingly against him. He wasn't always able to remember how he got there.
There was one thing he could do. Make it all stop.
He looked at the gun on his lap and brought it towards him.
The phone rang, startling in the quiet. Kakashi eased the gun away from himself, reflexively easing the safety back on. The phone rang again. He grabbed it.
It was Iruka. "Hey, Kakashi. What're you doing?"
"I'm about to kill myself," Kakashi said, jovially.
"No, really. What're you doing?"
"I'm about to kill myself," Kakashi repeated.
"I've got nobody," he admitted, heavily. "All the guys I know - they're gone. I can't get to them. I can't sleep, and when I do sleep, I have terrible dreams."
"Do you talk to your therapist about this?"
"Therapy money ran out a while ago, Iruka." Kakashi could hear the worried suck of air.
"What about the rest of the benefits?"
"I'm coming for you now," Iruka said. "But I want you to stay on the line."
"What you got to say to me that's going to make me feel better?"
"Stay on the line," Iruka said, urgently. "Something happened to me. Maybe like what's happening to you."
Kakashi wanted to protest, to say he had to go, but Iruka kept talking, interrupting, not letting him get a word in edgewise. As if he were afraid that if he stopped talking, Kakashi would hang up.
"When I got out of the hospital, I was a night-time security guard on a warehouse. I thought I was okay. You don't see anybody, don't talk to anybody, don't leave the house except for grocery shopping in the early early morning. It was no life, but it was good enough. It was the safest thing for me. I knew I had triggers, and those triggers were other people, and the fewer people I saw, the safer I thought I was," Iruka explained.
"One morning in the store, some kid was dropping cans on the floor - but something about the sound of them hitting the ground - it was like a bomb going off - I ran towards the kid, screaming. I just thought - " Kakashi could hear the sound of Iruka swallowing, then the huskiness of his voice. "I thought she was holding a bomb, and she was dropping them and I had to catch them before they cratered everything in sight. It was just like what I had seen in Kyuubi.
"The store called the cops. They took me in, but one of them was an old veteran of the Second Wars. He called a doctor he knew. I spent the night in a hospital instead of a jail because of that old man. Because of that old man, they diagnosed me properly. Now I try to pay it forward."
Softly, Iruka said, "I've never been back to that store. I will go back someday, but not yet. I've been to lots of other stores just like it, though."
Soft steps approached the door. There was a knock. "Kakashi?"
He didn't answer.
The doorknob turned. Iruka stood in the doorway, one hand still on his phone held up to his ear. He lowered the phone and extended his hand. "Come on," Iruka said. "Come on, let's go."
Kakashi nodded, slowly. He stood up.
"Leave the gun behind, Kakashi," Iruka urged.
Kakashi looked down, the weight and feel so familiar, so much a part of him, he hadn't realized he had carried it with him as he had walked towards Iruka.
"You can get it later. Just, not now, okay?"
Kakashi went back and put the gun on the night stand.
"Good," breathed Iruka.
Kakashi only now noted how sweaty and nervous Iruka had been, after the weight of his emotion had lifted. He walked to the open door, empty handed. "Let's get out of here," he said.