Author's Note: If you came to this story because you read and enjoyed 'A Kind of Idiot', let me just say; this is not cute, nor sweet, nor funny. It's not the same version of the characters at all.

~Risu


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Iruka's Ultimate Defence

By Kobutori Risu


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Kakashi had been away for months. When he left they had known the mission would take an excessively long while. Iruka had felt the passage of time, but it was finally almost over. Kakashi had sent a message through to the Hokage that he would be back within a few days. Iruka was pleased, but impatient. It had been far too long, and he missed that beautiful voice, and he had missed the touches, and he had missed the arrogant teasing. He'd even missed the hideous orange book. In short, he missed the jerk.

He was sitting at the mission desk, finalising some urgent paperwork when he was shocked to hear that voice.

"Yo," Kakashi said to the room in general. Iruka looked up, startled.

"Kakashi!" he squeaked, leaping up out of his chair. The other shinobi in the room chuckled as Iruka jumped over the desk and threw his arms around the tired looking jounin.

"Hello," Kakashi smiled at him.

"You aren't due back for a couple of days still!" Iruka said, wide eyed.

"Maa," Kakashi replied, rubbing the back of his head, "once I started running, I just kept going. Stopping to sleep seemed like a waste of time." Iruka grinned happily then looked back at the urgent paperwork.

"Go on," Kakashi said, "finish it. I've got some other people I need to say hi to." Iruka was torn, he wanted to glue himself to Kakashi's side, but he took his responsibilities seriously...

Kakashi smiled, "Go on." Iruka nodded and took his place back behind the desk. Kakashi handed his mission report to one of the unoccupied chuunin and with a wave, disappeared back out the door. Iruka watched him leave, a bit disappointed. It had been so long, he felt a little... dismissed. He chuckled ruefully to himself. Pathetic. Kakashi had been away for months, hadn't seen anyone in ages, had been running for days, and was surely tired. He shouldn't read so much into it. Iruka sighed and busied himself with his paperwork.


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Arriving home that evening he found their apartment full of people. He smiled tolerantly. Kakashi was lazy and quite often a jerk, but he was a well-liked jerk. He couldn't really fault people wanting to see him. He was a bit hurt that Kakashi hadn't told them to come and catch up tomorrow, but that's what you get when you love a man who doesn't always think about how things affect your feelings. Iruka had learned, over time, to tolerate the forgetfulness, the dismissal of his needs. Sometimes he thought he was a bit of a door-mat, but he believed that when you love someone, you think of them before yourself, so that's what he did.

Finally the excited gathering wound down and everyone but one had left and that last one was headed out. Guy laughed at something Kakashi said as they walked towards the door. Stopping in the doorway Guy declared he would give Kakashi four whole days of rest before he issued the next challenge. Kakashi yawned tiredly, patted Guy on the shoulder, closed the door behind him and turned to face Iruka. Iruka smiled a bit timidly at him. The man had been back for several hours now, but the only time they had had any contact, or even talked to each other, other than in the mission room, had been when Iruka had sought him out. It left him feeling a little trepidatious.

"Well," Kakashi said, yawning again, "I'm beat. Bedtime."

"Oh, okay," Iruka replied, again feeling that little pang of hurt, but pushing it aside out of consideration for Kakashi's needs. He took a quick shower, and by the time he was done, Kakashi was starfished on the bed, fast asleep. Iruka slid into the bed, curling up into a tiny ball on the very edge, a dull ache in his chest. After a few minutes, an arm slid around him, and a warm body pressed up against him. The ache settled a bit, and he snuggled back into the embrace.


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"I'm going away for a few days," Kakashi said the next morning.

Iruka looked up at him stupidly, "What?"

"I've got some things I need to do," Kakashi replied, looking out the window.

"When?" Iruka asked.

"Shortly. Just got to get some things organised first."

"What, today?" Iruka couldn't help the shock colouring his voice.

"Yeah," Kakashi replied, still looking out the window. Iruka blinked. It was his day off. He had no where to be, nothing to do except enjoy Kakashi's return. And Kakashi was leaving.

"... well okay, if it's that important to you." Iruka could hear his own disappointment far more clearly than he liked. "When will you be back?" he asked, forcing cheerfulness into his voice and ignoring the ache that was now stronger than ever.

"I'm not sure," Kakashi replied. "A few days."

Iruka walked in to the kitchen to prepare breakfast, confused. Kakashi had never been an easy one to read in the first place. He only ever told Iruka he loved him after Iruka had said it first. It had taken a year together before Iruka had worked up the courage to tell him. He'd known for most of that year how he felt, but hadn't wanted to pressure the other man. He thought it was pretty obvious how he felt, and was hoping Kakashi would say it by himself. In the end he couldn't see Kakashi head out on yet another dangerous mission without vocalising it. He was relieved when Kakashi had responded in kind.

It was more than that though. Kakashi was a taciturn kind of person. Sometimes he had surprisingly intelligent things to say, but most of the time he internalised his worries and feelings behind jokes and obvious lies. He didn't often talk about what was troubling him, although he was good at listening when Iruka was worried about something. The only thing Iruka could never talk about was their relationship.

Most of the time he wasn't sure how Kakashi really felt about him. He often felt like a nuisance. But then there were the random, intermittent times when Kakashi did something that showed that he'd been thinking about him, and it made him feel like he was the only thing of importance in the world. He settled on not dwelling on it when Kakashi seemed too distracted and Iruka felt like he could disappear and Kakashi wouldn't even notice. It was clearly part of a relationship with Kakashi. He continued to show Kakashi how much he loved him, and hid his pain when the other man made him feel unimportant. It was peculiar, really. He couldn't explain why this strange relationship made him happy, but despite the ambivalence, being with Kakashi really did make him happy, so it was okay.

These past two days were not making him happy. There was an awful feeling in his stomach that he thought felt a lot like dread. They ate breakfast quietly. Iruka's thoughts were in turmoil, and as usual he didn't even know how to start talking since his worry was about the way Kakashi was treating him. Kakashi finished his meal, gathered up a few things, and kissed Iruka goodbye before Iruka had found the right words, or worked up the courage to speak.


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Over the next three days, Iruka's feelings of dread grew. Where was Kakashi? Why had he come home only to mostly ignore Iruka, and then leave? Iruka found himself at Ichiraku, staring disconsolately into his bowl of ramen. Ayame, the waitress, came around the counter and took a seat next to him, laying a hand gently on his shoulder.

"What's the matter, Iruka-sensei?" she asked him softly.

"Nothing," Iruka replied, settling a neutral expression on his face as he turned to her.

"It's not nothing," she answered, softly. "You really look like you need someone to talk to." Iruka looked into her concerned face, and he suddenly realised that he really did need to talk to someone. In some ways, someone who didn't really know him, or Kakashi, all that well might be better than someone who did. It all came out, his feelings, Kakashi's behaviour and his feeling of dread. Finally he voiced the one thing he had been trying not to think.

"I think he's going to break up with me," Iruka whispered.

"What? No way, you two are a great couple! Whenever I see you, you both look so happy. Plus, you're awesome. Why would he break up with you?"

"I don't know," Iruka replied brokenly. Ayame wrapped her arms around his shaking shoulders, and Iruka realised there were tears dripping onto the bench top that were coming from him.


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The following day Iruka was at the Academy teaching. The kids were out having lunch, and Iruka was eating his half heartedly with no real appetite whilst grading some papers. He felt that oh-so-familiar chakra and looked up to find Kakashi in the doorway, a sober expression on his face that Iruka had never seen before. Instantly his heart jack hammered in his chest and the feeling of dread consumed him. He wasn't sure if he could stand, but he pushed himself upright carefully. His legs were very unsteady, but they carried him over to Kakashi. They leaned upon a couple of desks, not looking at each other. Kakashi stayed silent for several minutes while Iruka felt the colour in the world drain out.

Eventually he got tired of waiting and pulled the trigger himself. "Well, get on with it then," he murmured.

"It's over," Kakashi said quietly.

"Why?" Iruka asked calmly.

"It just is," Kakashi replied.

"I don't understand."

"I'm sorry; I just don't want to be with you anymore."

"Why not?"

"Being in a relationship with you... it just doesn't fit in to my life anymore."

Iruka remained quiet for a moment and then asked the question he feared the most. "Is there someone else?"

"No."

"This doesn't make any sense."

"I just think my life would be easier... if I didn't have to worry about you anymore."

"Worry about me? What's to worry about me? All I need in my world for it to be perfect is you."

Kakashi was silent.

Iruka pleaded, "What haven't I done, or don't I do? I do everything; I give everything to make you happy!"

"I know. But it's over." Kakashi turned his head to look into Iruka's eyes. Kakashi's eyes were filled with an emotion Iruka didn't understand. He knew his own were filled with pain.

"Do you still love me?" Iruka asked brokenly.

Kakashi's reply was soft, sorrowful, "Yes."

"I don't understand!"

"I know you don't. I'm sorry," Kakashi replied in that soft, sorrowful voice and vanished with a jutsu.


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Iruka was standing, staring out the window with a single tear rolling down his face when the bell rang for classes to restart. He wiped it off, put a smile on his face and turned to greet his students cheerfully.

Kakashi meant it. There was no evidence he had ever been in the apartment by the time Iruka got home. Iruka started living in a daze; his life without Kakashi felt hollow. But if there was one thing Iruka was good at, it was putting on a brave face. No one saw how badly he was hurting. As the word spread, some of the shinobi started avoiding him. That only added to his hurt and confusion. But then he had spent far too much of his life being alone, with no one to rely on, so he managed to continue the routine of his life like a wraith and fell apart when he got home at night.

If there was one thing Kakashi was good at, it was not being found if he didn't want to be. Iruka couldn't see him to talk to him at all. He didn't want to just give up without a fight, so twice he wrote down how he felt, and left the letters where he knew Kakashi would find them. He had no idea if Kakashi even read them, or just tossed them away.

Eventually Iruka made himself move on. He wouldn't be one of those people moping over someone who didn't care. He started to build a wall around his heart, like Gaara's shell of sand. He threw himself into his teaching and his duties in the mission room. The children, the parents, the other shinobi, no one could see the pain inside him. Slowly, over a period of months Iruka could feel his wall coalescing, solidifying. The pain inside him receded to a dull ache, and then to an emptiness.

He continued to see no sign of Kakashi, although sometimes he heard his name mentioned when people didn't realise he was nearby, so he knew he wasn't dead. Sometimes he thought he saw him at a distance, but it could have been fanciful delusions. Kakashi never handed in mission reports when Iruka was on duty. He never turned up anywhere were Iruka was; but at the same time if Iruka knew Kakashi was likely to turn up somewhere, he didn't go himself. He didn't need the reminder. He wanted Kakashi to be happy - that's all he ever really wanted - but he didn't need to see it. Not yet. He had a wall to finish.


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It was over a year before they finally met again. Kurenai had told Iruka that if he didn't come to her gathering, she was going to find a ravine and toss him into it. Yes, Kakashi was coming, but it had been long enough and she wanted them both there, they were both her friends. Iruka put his smile on his face and accepted.

He was surprised to find that he enjoyed himself; well, most of the time anyway. Despite Kurenai's insistence that they should be able to be around each other, he still dreaded seeing the man that he couldn't deny he still was just as in love with as he was a year ago. The pain and hurt hadn't taken away the love. It was still there, pricking at his heart through the soft spots in his wall, making it bleed.

Iruka spent his time at the gathering flitting between people, talking and generally enjoying himself. He could feel Kakashi's presence, and it gave him a sick feeling in his stomach. He kept track of where Kakashi's chakra was, and used it to navigate safely and stay away from him.

He was fixing himself a drink in the kitchen when he suddenly realised that that chakra was a lot closer. He turned, and Kakashi was standing, quietly watching him. He finished making the drink, and with an expressionless mask on his face and a thumping heart in his chest, walked past the motionless man.

He stopped and without turning asked, "Are you happy?"

There was a short pause, and then Kakashi softly answered, "Yes."

"Good," he replied. Knowing the person he loved most in the world was happy could only be a good thing. He was satisfied. He started to move again when he felt a hand grip his wrist. He paused without turning.

"Are you?" Kakashi's voice was soft and serious.

Iruka looked over his shoulder and simply smiled at him. He pulled his hand free and walked away.

The wall around his heart turned to stone.


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End.


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