Couldn't do it. Couldn't not work on this chapter. Totally didn't want to leave y'all hanging since, you know, Iruka has come to his senses and Kakashi didn't even appear much in the last chapter. Not that that's entirely my fault since I have a framework to follow someone else made. These two chapters started out life as one, but they just got longer and it made sense to break them and work on them in two sections. Except chapter 19 ended up with almost no Kakashi. I make up for it now. I hope.
Meanwhile I did get some of my other writing done as well, so that's good. Now perhaps I can focus a bit more on it ;p You are almost certainly going to experience that delay now since the next chapter isn't mostly written like this one was.
Oh and by the way, I have had some lovely reviews come in. Mica craft and Bennieben for instance, you guys totally made my day and inspired me to get this chapter out sooner than I intended. Thank you to everyone who leaves reviews, I always look forward to what you think of my creation, even the short ones make me happy :)
The ANBU led him to the Interrogation headquarters. Iruka couldn't stop the slight hesitation in his step as he crossed the threshold. This wasn't really anywhere he had ever intended going. The place was austere and intimidating. He felt nervous just being here. He felt a certain dread, wondering why he was being brought here in regards to Kakashi. If he hadn't done something, had Kakashi? And what did it have to do with him?
The ANBU led him down a few corridors, past a few people who looked at Iruka, and then let their eyes slide away. Eventually the ANBU led him through a door at the end of a long empty corridor.
As he entered the room, it felt somewhat like he was in the hospital. The room was hospital white. There were machines and instruments and a pair of cots that looked about as comfortable as the ones in the hospital. One was occupied by Kakashi, who was lying with his eyes closed. He wasn't wearing his usual long sleeve shirt, but the sleeveless one he had on still included a mask that covered his face. His right arm was swathed in bandages from shoulder to fingertips. The left arm looked fine although the crook of his elbow bore the evidence of venupuncture marks and a drip line was feeding into the back of his hand.
Iruka's stomach rose into his mouth. What was going on? Kakashi was clearly injured. Why wasn't he in the hospital? Why was he attached to machines in an isolated room in the Interrogation headquarters? Why were ANBU watching over him? Was Kakashi even conscious? A dozen questions and worries leapt into his mind. He wanted to go to Kakashi's side, but he felt frozen in place by the intimidating environment he found himself in, and the presence of the ANBU.
He heard the door close behind him and jumped a bit, turning to see a second ANBU, who must have been standing against the back wall when he entered.
"I brought him... Kakashi-san, " the first ANBU said, a slight hesitation in the way he addressed Kakashi, like he'd been about to say something else.
Kakashi's eye opened. He looked a bit vague and then he focussed on the ANBU and then Iruka. "Iruka," Kakashi said with a small smile, "I need your help."
A wave of relief swept through Iruka. He still didn't know what was going on, but Kakashi didn't seem to be in any kind of trouble. He opened his mouth to speak, but Kakashi forestalled him by lifting his hand a few inches, bending from the wrist. His arm never left the bed as if doing so would take too much strength.
"Before you ask anything," Kakashi said, "before I say anything more, I need you to be clear on one very important thing; you can't ask me any questions until I'm done explaining. Not a single one."
Iruka closed his mouth, looked at the ANBU next to him and then back at Kakashi. He nodded silently. What had the damn jounin gone and done this time?
"I'm afraid I got myself in a bit of trouble on my last mission," Kakashi said a bit ruefullly. "I'm injured – not terribly," he added quickly, and Iruka wondered exactly what expression was on his face that made the jounin do that, "but enough that I need medical assistance." He looked at the drip line running from his hand for a moment, seemingly lost in thought. Iruka waited for him to keep speaking.
"The problem is..." Kakashi continued, looking back at Iruka, "I let my guard down. I thought I'd dodged an explosive tag sufficiently, and I didn't take any damage, but its explosive property was only part of its function. It was designed to release an inhalational drug with the explosion... and that I didn't avoid. It slowed me down, for one, but it had a second effect which has caused the complication." He clenched his hand. "Apparently it functions as a kind of truth serum and I can't stop myself answering questions directed at me with complete honesty."
Iruka's eyebrows shot up and he couldn't stop himself releasing a surprised,"Oh."
Kakashi smiled humourlessly. "Unfortunately for them, even slowed down I was too much to handle, and what information they extracted from me they took with them to their graves." His countenance relaxed. "The trouble is that the effects are yet to wear off and I'm still inclined to tell the whole truth when questioned. And I know too much."
Iruka frowned and nodded his acknowledgement of the statement.
"I'm not sure if you are aware of what happened recently with Yakushi Kabuto?"
Iruka shook his head in the negative a fraction.
"Kabuto was one of our genin who took part in the recent chuunin exams. He's the one that took the option to retire at the beginning of the preliminaries."
Iruka remembered who Kakashi meant. One of the older genin he hadn't had much to do with beyond accepting team mission reports. "Right."
"The thing is that turns out that Kabuto was a spy, working for Orochimaru, and he was a lot more powerful than he appeared. He was pretending to be an ordinary genin, but he was strong enough to take out three ANBU I had stationed watching over Sasuke, and gave me a bit of trouble."
Iruka glanced at the ANBU beside him who nodded sharply. Someone gave Kakashi trouble? Worse than that, if this genin had been strong enough to take out three ANBU he was fairly certain 'a bit of trouble' didn't do the situation justice.
"Anyway, the point is that while he mightn't have been born in Konoha, he was brought in and raised as one of our own. We thought he was loyal to Konoha... but apparently not. We had someone living within our walls who was working for the enemy, and we can't be certain there isn't someone else doing the same. Not surprisingly we're feeling a bit paranoid about the possibility, considering what the village has been through recently, and we need to make sure that enemy agents don't get access to high level information. Which brings this back to me, because there's a lot of high level information in my head. Someone needs to stay with me at all times until this drug wears off, someone that can be trusted, so no one has access to that information."
"But, the ANBU..." Iruka said, feeling a bit frantic as his intended role became clear.
"Are needed – desperately – elsewhere. I know you know how weakened Konoha is at the moment, we need our ANBU out on missions." Kakashi shrugged fractionally. "I've been examined. The medics seem to think the serum will be out of my system in under 24 hours, but in the meantime I can't stop myself answering honestly any question put to me. This room was built for enemy shinobi requiring high security, but medical attention. I should be safe here from anyone who might abuse my current state, but I can't just be completely isolated. Medical staff need access to me, and there are the people who work in this building. I'd like to be able to trust them, but there are reasons why we can't take the risk."
"I..." Iruka shifted a bit on his feet and glanced at the cat-masked ANBU.
"You, on the other hand," the cat-masked ANBU said, "have already proven your discretion in a situation not entirely unlike this. We know you saved and cared for an ANBU when you were younger and he and the Third both gave you high praise for your ability to refrain from asking things you weren't supposed to know."
Iruka blinked. He hadn't expected the ANBU to really pay any attention to who he was, or remember what he had done when he was fifteen. He turned back to Kakashi, at a loss for words.
"I trust you," Kakashi said. "The ANBU trust you. The Third trusted you. Tsunade is more than happy to go with our judgement on this." He smiled wryly and indicated towards the paperwork Iruka was still holding with a nod of his head. "Plus she already seems to be happy to throw paperwork at you she should be doing herself. She must have confidence in what she's seen even without our recommendations."
Iruka felt a bit overwhelmed.
Kakashi offered another small smile. "All you need to do is stay with me until the drug wears off, and not ask me any inappropriate questions about people, or missions, or Konoha... or about me."
He fell silent and gave Iruka a moment to think. Being alone. With Kakashi. For hours. He didn't know whether to listen to the excited part of himself that was humming like a live cable, or the terrified part that wanted to run away as fast as he could.
Slowly he nodded, "Okay." It was ironic, really, that Kakashi needed him to stay with him because he was afraid what he could reveal against his wishes, and Iruka was afraid to be with Kakashi because of what he might reveal against his wishes. "I can do that."
"Good," Kakashi replied. He looked at the ANBU. "Go."
The two ANBU vanished without a further word.
Iruka was thinking of the wisdom behind 'be careful what you wish for.' He'd wanted to be around Kakashi, to breathe in his presence, to listen to his voice. He had what he wanted, but in a way he hadn't even considered. He felt like a thirsty man who instead of receiving a glass of water to drink, was thrown into the middle of a lake.
"Sorry to do this to you," Kakashi said. "It will be hard to really converse even, since you can't ask many questions. Although you can, as long as you think about it first and make sure it's safe."
"Are you hungry?" Iruka asked after a pause.
Kakashi smiled, "No."
"Good. I have no idea where I'd find food in here."
Kakashi chuckled. "Pretty sure you won't find any. The people normally kept in this room don't need to be able to get something when they're hungry. I haven't looked in the other room myself though, but I expect it's just a bathroom."
Iruka looked around the space they were in, and Kakashi closed his eyes and rested his head back while he did. The main room just consisted of the two cots, the one Iruka would be able to use if he needed to was closer to the lockable door. There were pieces of medical equipment, but no cupboards or storage units of any description. The second room to which Kakashi was referring was to the side of the cot that he was in. Iruka looked in and confirmed that it was indeed just a small bathroom containing a shower, a sink and a toilet. A thought occurred to him, and he turned back to the main room.
Then he paused.
From this side he had a clear view of Kakashi's left arm. His uncovered shoulder bore the distinctive red tattoo of the ANBU. Iruka blinked a couple of times as he let that information settle into his brain. And then he resisted the urge to snort. It made perfect sense. Of course Kakashi had been ANBU at some point. Or still was? He didn't really know how the ANBU operated. Did you retire from the ANBU or was it once an ANBU, always an ANBU? Kakashi still clearly had some kind of relationship to them; he gave them orders, and it apparently was of importance that the ANBU trusted Iruka, although that could simply be because he was a high ranking jounin and his ANBU history irrelevant.
Kakashi's head turned towards him, and his eyes opened. Hastily Iruka voiced his earlier thought, before the jounin thought that he'd had been staring at him. Which, to be fair, he had. Well, the perfect curve of his triceps anyway.
"I've been thinking," Iruka said, taking care with the inflection of his voice. "In a normal situation, I'd ask you if you needed anything." He watched Kakashi carefully.
Kakashi looked at him for a moment and then broke into a smile as he replied. "You, Umino Iruka, are a very clever man."
Iruka smiled slowly back at him, "I've always suspected as much."
"And no, I don't need anything - although I am glad for intelligent company. Perhaps we'll be able to converse more than I expected."
Iruka shrugged. "I don't know how many questions you'd be inclined to answer anyway. You've spent most of your life being an enigma. Not answering questions strikes me as being fairly second nature to you. Most of what I know about you I know by reputation and I wouldn't even know what is inappropriate to ask you about. And that's okay!" he said hastily, worried that what he was saying might sound critical, "What I'm really trying to say is that I'm glad you can easily not answer, or edit, anything I shouldn't know about, or even you just don't want to talk about."
Kakashi offered a small shrug. "It's convenient most of the time, being an enigma, since I don't really like talking about myself. And since just about everyone I spend time with on a personal level watched me grow up, they don't need to ask questions."
"It's okay," Iruka replied. "I already know everything that's important. You're a good person who cares about people and has sacrificed more than I'll ever understand. Everything else is just stories."
Kakashi watched him for a moment, considering, and then asked quietly, "Do you want me to tell you one?"
Iruka shook his head, "Honestly, I'm not angling to make you share anything with me you don't want to. I mean it when I say I understand."
"And that's why I'm offering. You make me want to tell you something." Iruka's heart did a little skip. "I can tell there's something I've said to you that you want to know, but are afraid to ask," Kakashi said. "So ask."
"Well," Iruka paused and looked at his hands.
"Go on," Kakashi said. "If I don't want to tell you I won't."
Iruka looked up and with his heart thumping nervously said, "You said to me once that you got your best friend killed." He didn't really expect Kakashi to tell him what happened.
But to his surprise, he did.
Quietly, somewhat haltingly, and with a lot of self loathing evident in his voice at points, Kakashi told him about the battle of Kannabi Bridge. Iruka had heard of the mission, it was a famous event for Konoha in the Third Great Ninja War.
The version Iruka knew was so empty. He had known the four man team, which had included the Fourth, had been involved in what was a conflict with heavy odds. The mission was considered a great success, not only because they achieved their goals, but also because they only lost one member doing so. It was completely different when you learned who that member was as a person, what he meant to the person telling the story. How he had come to die.
Through Kakashi's pained words, Iruka learned a lot about who Kakashi was, what made him the way he was both as a person and as a shinobi. Kakashi couldn't properly explain why he had behaved the way he had without also telling Iruka what had happened with his father, White Fang. In order to tell both stories, Kakashi had to unlock the pain that was inside him, and Iruka could feel it, like a weight. Kurenai had said that everyone important to Kakashi had died, and in these moments, Iruka experienced the deaths of two of them through Kakashi's eyes.
And Kakashi's eyes also became relevant to why the jounin struggled so much to let it go. It is one thing to forgive yourself your mistakes and to move on as Iruka always tried to do. It was another when every single day of your life you were reminded of those mistakes. The Sharingan eye that Kakashi utilised to such great efficacy came to him out of the tragedy, and whether he used it or kept it hidden, his eyes were always with him, the reminder always present so he could never manage to let Obito go.
As Kakashi fell silent, he continued to watch Iruka. Iruka felt that he was expecting to be judged as harshly as he clearly judged himself. But what Iruka wanted to do was to pull him into his arms, so that even for a moment he felt safe, and appreciated, and loved. And forgiven.
But that would be weird. So he just smiled understandingly at him, at a loss for words. And then he decided he didn't care if it was weird, and did exactly what he had wanted to, and wrapped his arms around Kakashi and hugged him. At first Kakashi was stiff, but then he relaxed and let his head fall forward onto Iruka's shoulder. Iruka's heart fluttered like a trapped bird in his chest. He worried that Kakashi would be able to feel it and he really should release the other man... but he didn't want to and Kakashi wasn't pulling away.
The decision was taken away from him when there was a tapping at the door. Kakashi's head lifted from Iruka's shoulder, and Iruka gently sat back. He smiled at the jounin, feeling a bit awkward and then crossed over to the door. Checking through the spy hole, he could see that it was a medical-nin.
"Medic," he said to Kakashi who nodded. Iruka let the medic in, and locked the door behind him again.
The medical-nin opened his mouth to speak. "No questions," Kakashi said.
The medical-nin glared at him and then looked at Iruka. "I need to ask questions. How can I assess a patient without asking him questions?"
"How do you assess someone in a coma?" Iruka responded.
"It's not the same!" The medic protested. "He's not in a coma."
"What do you want to ask?" Iruka queried.
"Well, first of all, how he's feeling is always relevant to a medical assessment and isn't a state secret!" the medic snapped. Iruka resisted the urge to smile.
"Tired," Kakashi said from his bed, "mostly. Weaker than I'm comfortable with. And not just a little embarrassed to be in this situation in the first place."
The medic stared at him and then looked back at Iruka who shrugged.
Via Iruka the medic asked his questions, checked the readings on the instruments Kakashi was attached to, drew some more blood and checked the jounin's vitals. He was somewhat abrupt, and a little testy at needing to use Iruka as a conduit, but he seemed fascinated by Kakashi's condition and easily distracted by his own thoughts. Eventually he seemed to have gathered as much information as he needed, and Iruka let him out the door again.
"He needs to sleep," the medic said sternly. "Don't keep him awake because you're bored."
Iruka resisted the urge to glare at the medic, and instead tilted his head towards the papers sitting on the second cot. "I've got plenty to keep me occupied. He can have all the sleep he needs."
"Hn," the medic sniffed and headed down the corridor.
Iruka smiled as he closed and locked the door.
"I don't think he likes you very much, Iruka," Kakashi said. "He seems to be under the impression you're going to keep me up all night."
Iruka was glad he was still facing the door as a blush hit his cheeks full force. He paused a moment and then turned around to fire a glare at Kakashi, but Kakashi had already closed his eyes.
Iruka relaxed his glare, and resisted the urge to sigh. He didn't think Kakashi had any idea that he kept saying things that sounded so suggestive. He took a breath, and wished that he could just indulge and watch Kakashi sleep, but he wasn't certain the other man even was asleep yet and he could guarantee he'd feel Iruka's eyes on him if he wasn't. Besides he had a lot of paperwork to do. He settled himself on the other cot, and started working on the paperwork he'd gotten from Tsunade.
Kakashi woke up again later when the medic came back, bringing them both a meal. He fussed over Kakashi some more, looked down his nose at Iruka, but seemed content that Iruka wasn't doing anything to compromise the jounin's recovery.
Kakashi didn't stay awake for long and Iruka wondered if the medic had given him something to make him sleep.
Eventually Iruka grew tired himself, and curled up into bed and fell asleep, listening to the sounds of Kakashi's breathing, and the mechanical whirr of the fluid pump.
He awoke during the night when the sounds changed. He was groggy when he first came to, and it took him a moment to realise that he'd awoken because Kakashi was restless, muttering something under his breath. Iruka sat up and swung his legs over the side of his cot.
"Kakashi, what is it? What do you need?" he asked, without thinking about his phrasing.
"You," Kakashi answered clearly, and fell to stillness.
Iruka came completely awake as his heart jumped in his chest. Kakashi stayed motionless, and silent. Iruka slid off the cot and approached him. He was fast asleep. Iruka could feel a flush on his cheeks. That can't have meant what it sounded like. He stood and watched Kakashi sleep for a moment, his breathing deep and even through the mask covering his face. How that was comfortable Iruka couldn't imagine, but Kakashi was clearly used to it though after twenty odd years. Kakashi's eyes fluttered open and Iruka took a guilty step back in his surprise, his pulse escalating.
"Iruka?" Kakashi said coming instantly alert, sleeping medications or not. "What is it?"
"You were restless," Iruka explained hastily. "I thought you were awake and needed something."
"Oh. I guess I was dreaming. I don't remember." Kakashi closed his eyes tiredly and then opened them again and looked at Iruka. "Sorry that I woke you."
"Don't worry about it," Iruka replied, feeling his racing heart beat slow back down again. "Actually, it's kind of flattering that you've been sleeping with me here in the first place. That ANBU I helped, I remember him saying that no ANBU sleeps well around someone who isn't another ANBU. I'm sure that's not something that's easy to get over." It was the only thing he ever intended to say about his recognition that Kakashi had been, or still was, an ANBU.
Kakashi looked at him for a long moment and then replied, "No, it's not."
Iruka smiled. "I'm sorry that I woke you. Go back to sleep." Kakashi's eyes closed and Iruka climbed back into his cot. It took awhile to fall back asleep. His heart rate was closer to normal, but it was still being driven up by adrenaline. Was it coincidence that Kakashi answered Iruka's question or was he actually answering Iruka? What had he been dreaming about when Iruka asked? He had no idea what it meant, if anything. He fell asleep allowing the besotted part of him believe that the jounin had been answering him. Even though the realistic side of him knew that wouldn't be the case. He was in bed, he could allow himself to dream.
In the morning when he awoke he found Kakashi already awake and beaming at him happily.
"I feel different. Ask me a question!"
Iruka looked at him a bit blearily."Good morning, Kakashi," he replied, giving himself a moment to wake up. "Are you always this perky in the morning?"
"I normally keep my perkiness well suppressed behind a facade of lacksadaisical laziness. It helps add to my mystique."
"Well that was hardly a straight response, so I guess the drug is gone. Now you just have to get over... whatever else is wrong with you."
Kakashi raised an eyebrow.
"Er, I meant medically."
It sank in to Iruka's head with disappointment that, with the clearance of the drug, the need for him to keep vigil over Kakashi was at an end. He knew he should feel glad that Kakashi was better, and he was, but from a completely selfish position it had been nice having the jounin all to himself. There was always someone else around – a student, a jounin, the Hokage, ANBU. It had been nice having him to himself, even if it had indeed been less than twenty four hours, and Kakashi had been asleep most of the time.
He was relieved to realise that he was, in fact, completely capable of spending time with Kakashi without turning into a quivering heap, or doing inappropriate things to him. And something had changed between them with Kakashi's willingness to open himself up a bit to Iruka. It meant a lot to him that Kakashi trusted him and felt comfortable with him - firstly to ask Iruka to be the one to stay with him, but then to actually share something of himself.
From a completely selfish point of view, Kakashi's exposure to the inhalant had been kind of awesome, for Iruka.
As the medics organised Kakashi's transfer to a regular hospital room, Kakashi looked at him with something in his eye Iruka couldn't read. "Thank you, Umino Iruka." A cheerful smile broke out over his face as he added, "I'm sure you'll sleep better tonight."
The medic glared at Iruka and Iruka threw his hands up with a frustrated gesture. Kakashi laughed.
Iruka wondered why he had this nagging feeling of deja vu.
to be continued...