Chapter 7


That evening, Iruka stayed up well after Kakashi had gone to sleep. He needed the extra time to think.

Iruka knew that he had to get through to Kakashi about psychologists, or Tsunade would never excuse Kakashi from duty. A psychological examination was mandatory. He suspected Kakashi's avoidance was one of the main reasons why Kakashi hadn't been retired from service already. In fact, Iruka could count on both hands the number of people he knew from their generation who were still active. Of those, only a few still took missions outside of the village. Kakashi, Gai, Asuma, and Kurenai were the only ones he could think of. Their generation had been hit hard by the war and the loss of Yondaime Hokage. It was a sad and under-acknowledged fact that the older generation and the newest generation had to carry the burden of the village in many ways.

Of those people, everyone knew that Asuma was messed up, and Gai was in another world inside his head altogether. Kurenai had missed most of the Third Shinobi World War; she hadn't been on the front lines. Kakashi...well, people put him in the same category as Gai: checked out. That assumption that Kakashi had detached himself and no longer cared about much of anything had set Iruka and Kakashi at odds in the beginning. Iruka had a lot of passion for Konoha's youth, and he didn't hide it. He'd braced himself to crash into Kakashi's wall of apathy.

After Team Seven came back from the Land of Waves, Iruka saw the heart of passion inside of Kakashi through the eyes of Naruto. Naruto had told him all about Kakashi's dedication, how cool Kakashi was, how much he looked up to Kakashi. From then on, they had called a truce. But Iruka knew that for whatever reason, Kakashi was withdrawn from his peers and only showed himself to his three students. He'd thought he would never break through the shell.

Yet here Kakashi was, curled up in his arms, head on his chest.

Kakashi whimpered and muttered something in his sleep. Iruka stroked his head until Kakashi relaxed. We have to get you help. If the spirits of your team are truly around, they would want that for you too.

xXx

Iruka found the bed empty when he woke up. He shot upright. Oh, no! I fell asleep! He bolted out the door and looked around wildly.

Kakashi was in the living room, crooning to Mr. Ukki. The potted plant stood on the windowsill facing the morning sun. "Do you like that? It's from Iruka's sink. He has good tap water, doesn't he? Not like ours. Ours is crap."

Iruka bit his lip to hold in a snort. He approached quietly. "Good morning, Kashi-chan. Good morning, Ukki-san."

"Good morning," Kakashi mumbled. He didn't seem surprised in the least.

Iruka took that as a good sign. "How are you feeling?"

Kakashi turned to Iruka and pulled his forehead protector up. His sharingan eye flared. Then he replaced the forehead protector over it. "My eye lit up again. That means I'm well enough to fight if there's an emergency. My legs still feel like rubber."

"It's only been a few days," Iruka said blankly.

Kakashi shrugged. "I didn't say I could fight for long." He padded to the kitchen and plopped down at the table, propping his elbows on it. "I made rice. I don't know how to grill fish or anything like that; but I chopped up some vegetables."

"Thank you," Iruka said. "That's very kind."

"You're kind," Kakashi replied. He pulled down his mask and smiled. "I'm a sponger."

"You are not." Iruka shook his head and joined Kakashi in the kitchen. He found the bowl of diced vegetables. He took two eggs and a small package of fish from the refrigerator. "We're going to have a good, hearty breakfast, and then we're going to visit your team."

"I know you hate going," Kakashi said.

Iruka froze in the act of getting out his frying pan. Then he set the pan on the counter and turned around. "I don't know if my family still exists. That's why."

Kakashi tilted his head and gazed at Iruka for a moment. "You can't hear them."

Iruka shook his head. "No." This was more than he'd opened up about it to any of his friends. In fact, even his co-workers knew not to mention his parents. Unconsciously, he gripped the edge of the counter in both hands, hooking his fingers under the ledge of it. Most people would criticize him for lacking the faith that his parents' spirits endured.

Kakashi shrugged. "I wouldn't go either if I couldn't hear who I was talking to."

Iruka relaxed. His shoulders slumped and his hands fell free of the counter. "Thanks."

"For what?"

Iruka smiled, remembering that Kakashi didn't notice his own bluntness. "For being my friend."

Kakashi beamed. "It's my pleasure."

Iruka was cautiously optimistic that Kakashi was coming out of his regression. That would be a good thing; if Iruka could talk to a well-reasoned adult there was a good chance Kakashi would consent to a psychological evaluation, and then Kakashi could be honorably discharged from service.

xXx

After they visited the memorial stone, Iruka took Kakashi to Senju Park. On a free afternoon, Iruka loved to walk along the park paths and enjoy the idyllic scenery. There was a bridge over a stream, a rock garden, a pond, and an immaculate bonsai garden complete with mossy rocks.

Kakashi was bundled up as before so he wouldn't get cold, but Iruka enjoyed the slight nip in the air. He couldn't wait until it was wintertime. Winter was his favorite season. He couldn't wait for the hot drinks, the special foods, and the New Year's celebration. Everyone was so happy, then, especially the children. All the trees would be bursting bright with wishes on colorful scraps of paper.

They headed towards the bridge over the stream. Tall maple trees stood along the path there, just starting to shed their glossy, bright red leaves.

Kakashi's expression flattened. "What is he doing here? I'm surprised he's allowed out."

Iruka looked around in confusion. "Who?" There couldn't be a criminal on the loose, could there?

"Who else?" Kakashi muttered. "Ibiki."

Iruka's gaze snapped to the man in question. Their imposing Head of T&I was currently gazing up at a tree, enjoying the afternoon sunshine. His hands were casually tucked in the pockets of his black trenchcoat. "Morino-san is a respected member of our community," Iruka protested.

Kakashi narrowed his eyes and hissed, "He's a sadist. He doesn't care about anybody."

Iruka didn't know where that accusation came from. Outside of his job, Ibiki was a friendly, laidback man who was quick to laugh and often the first to talk about getting together with co-workers and friends. Sure, whenever Ibiki was the proctor of the Chunin Exam he terrified the students, but Iruka intimidated the students, too. As a teacher, he had to yell at the thick-headed ones in order to maintain discipline.

Flustered, he glanced around quickly and plotted another course through the park. He pointed in the direction of the pond. "Why don't we just go that way and -"

Kakashi ignored him, took a step forward, and called, "What are you doing in the sun, Morino? I would've thought it burns your skin."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Ibiki called back.

Iruka waved his hands. "Stop!"

"I mean a dungeon is missing its blood-sucking wraith," Kakashi retorted.

Iruka covered his face with his hands. "Oh, god." He didn't know what had gotten into Kakashi. Usually, Kakashi would rather hide behind a book than cause a fight.

"This is why I don't like people who are too good at getting into others' minds," Kakashi said loudly.

Ibiki's demeanor changed in a heartbeat. He flickered and reappeared right in front of Kakashi. "I had every reason to believe you'd been compromised."

His expression was so severe that Iruka swallowed dryly.

"But you didn't have to tell Sandaime that I'd lost control of myself," Kakashi said.

"I was ordered to disclose that information," Ibiki said.

"You smeared my father!"

"Oh, for god's sakes, that was a long time ago and I wasn't the commanding officer!"

"You had it out for me since day one," Kakashi said.

Ibiki became impassive. "I didn't."

"What is it, Morino? Is it that I was coming in while you were still trying to graduate and I made it in a year? Does your clan have something against mine? Did I have something you wanted? Do you think I should have been discharged for ruining my first mission as a team captain? What is it? What's your problem?"

They were both firing off at each other so quickly that Iruka couldn't get a word in edgewise. He could only stare and listen helplessly.

"What do you want me to say? Do you want it to be personal? Are you so tired of coincidences in your life, of things just happening because the world is chaos, that you looked at me and said to yourself, 'That has to mean something, because I can't stand it anymore'?"

"Get out of my head!" Kakashi snapped.

"You've been pushed to the limit," Ibiki said. "I get that. Why don't you stop being so stubborn and put in your resignation already?"

"I can't because I have to put it past you!" Kakashi yelled.

Iruka winced.

Ibiki stared at him. "I won't stop you from resigning."

"You expect me to believe that." Kakashi bit off every word and spat it out. Then he turned on his heel and stormed down the park path that Iruka suggested, headed for the pond.

Iruka sucked in his breath. "I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry. Morino-san, it's my fault, he's still recovering from his mission with the Sand, I'll go talk to him, I'm sorry." He bolted after Kakashi before Ibiki could say anything.

He didn't catch up to Kakashi until they were on the water's edge. Kakashi sat on the little dock cross-legged and stared into the water at the fish swimming in the clear pond. "You apologized for me."

Iruka winced. "I wasn't sure what else I was supposed to do. I didn't want Morino-san to be angry."

Kakashi nodded slowly. "You're like that."

"Yes," Iruka said awkwardly.

"It's okay."

Iruka gingerly sat down beside him. Kakashi didn't react. "So you think Morino-san will keep you from leaving active duty?"

"That's his job. When someone acts crazy he has to tell them to get therapy, and then they go back into the system. At most it only buys you a few months. Then it's back to grinding away at missions, getting through them by the skin of your teeth, sacrificing more lives along the way. I've seen it happen."

"Have you ever tried to resign?" Iruka asked softly.

Kakashi glanced at him. "Twice."

Iruka reached out and touched Kakashi's shoulder. "When was that?"

"Once after my father died and once after Minato-sensei."

"I see." Iruka thought it terribly sad that both times, they had needed every shinobi they could get. First they had been at war and then they had been rebuilding their village and trying to protect themselves. "What about now?"

Kakashi shook his head. "No good. Akatsuki just attacked Godaime Kazekage. Everyone's thinking someone else could be next. Might be us. No one's getting out of active duty."

Iruka stroked his arm. "It might be different this time."

"It won't be."

Iruka wanted to point out that Ibiki had been too young to be in charge of Kakashi's evaluation the two times Kakashi had tried to resign in the past, that they had a new Hokage and the situation was not exactly the same, but he knew he wouldn't get through to Kakashi that way. He had to demonstrate some kind of understandable evidence.

Otherwise, Kakashi would keep living in the past.