Summary: Iruka stitches up what injuries he can, but some are beyond his means.
A/N: Spoilers for some of the deaths in canon. For Narutoprompts: Kakashi has a really bad nightmare and flees to Iruka's apartment for comfort (which is only part of the story and more of a subtle thing than the point of the fic. Oh well)
I listened to Dead Hearts - Stars while I wrote this, it's sort of the theme of it.
I've had this on my hd forever, but it was tsuyume's request of more KakaIru which made me finish it, so I guess it's indirectly theirs.
Glossary of food:
Hayashi Rice: thick beef stew on rice; origin of the name is unknown but presumably named after a Mr. Hayashi.
Ochazuke: hot green tea or dashi poured over cooked white rice, often with various savory ingredients such as umeboshi or tsukemono.
Okayu or Kayu: rice congee (porridge), sometimes egg dropped and usually served to infants and sick people as easily digestible meals
Uiro: a steamed cake made of rice flour
Taiyaki: a fried, fish-shaped cake, usually with a sweet filling such as an: red bean paste
Sōki: Okinawan dish of pork stewed with bone
Kamameshi: rice topped with vegetables and chicken or seafood, then baked in an individual-sized pot
Umeboshi are pickled ume fruits common in Japan. Ume is a species of fruit-bearing tree in the genus Prunus, which is often called a plum but is actually more closely related to the apricot. Umeboshi, which are a popular kind of tsukemono (pickles) and are extremely sour and salty, are usually served as side dishes for rice or stuffed inside of rice balls (sometimes without removing their seeds inside) for breakfast and lunch, and are occasionally served boiled or seasoned for dinner.
Furikake is a dry Japanese condiment meant to be sprinkled on top of rice. It typically consists of a mixture of dried and ground fish, sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, sugar, salt, and monosodium glutamate. Other flavorful ingredients such as katsuobushi (sometimes indicated on the package as bonito), salmon, shiso, egg, powdered miso, vegetables, etc. are often added to the mix.
Oden: surimi, boiled eggs, daikon radish, konnyaku, and fish cakes stewed in a light, soy-flavoured dashi broth. Common wintertime food and often available in convenience stores.
Yakizakana: flame-grilled fish, often served with grated daikon. One of the most common dishes served at home. Because of the simple cuisine, fresh fish in season are highly preferable.
Iruka had worked late grading papers that night. Constellations were already bright in the sky by the time he left, and the stores were long closed. He'd hoped to pick up some fresh meat, a few strips of beef from the vendor for Hayashi rice. He'd have to settle for Ochazuke tonight as the coming midterms had left him far too busy to buy much of anything, much to his chagrin. Still, Ochazuke was warm and relatively filling. It was a good thing he liked tea, considering this was the third time he'd be having Ochazuke this week. Even worse, he didn't have any Umeboshi, or Furikake left to top it.
Someone leaned against his house. A single ember lighted the dark. When Iruka drew nearer, he found that Kakashi sat slumped against the building. His book, most likely some copy of Icha Icha, lay beside him, either finished or unread.
"When did you start smoking?" Iruka said, his tone full of admonishment.
"Some time ago," Kakashi replied.
He had dark circles under his eyes. Iruka wondered if he had taken ill, or had been sleeping poorly as of late. They'd all slept a little more fitfully after Asuma's death. Kurenai seemed to sleepwalk through her life, especially as she'd been off-duty since her pregnancy was revealed.
Tsunade had deemed that it'd be too much of a tragedy if she lost the child–of course, she had not said it in so many words, but the whole village knew what it meant.
How many friends had Kakashi lost over the years? How many had Iruka himself lost? Mizuki had turned, Shin had died in an ambush, Yohei had been burnt alive with only bones to be destroyed, Nase had taken mortal wounds when caught on a scouting mission.
There was a reason Iruka had become a teacher, and it wasn't for lack of battle prowess. Still, that did not mean that he wasn't touched by tragedy. Even if he didn't witness the deaths, they came. Friends, and even his students, whose loss was such an steady ache that Iruka has enshrined their names (Haru, Shuu, Ryo, Hana, and so many more) somewhere deep, a place he never speaks of or sees of the light of day, yet a place that stayed with him.
That was their life, one of constant proximity to death. A ninja must accept that his life could end at any time. A ninja must be willing to die for their country at all times, for it is the greatest honor.
Each had their own way of grieving. Maybe this was Kakashi's way of dealing with the loss of a friend.
"Kakashi-sensei... Why don't you come in for a bit? I was going to make Ochazuke. I've also still got a bit Oolong tea left to share."
Kakashi chuckled. "Tea on rice with a side of tea? Maa, you think tea fixes everything, don't you?"
Iruka bristled. "If you'd prefer to stay out alone then so be it."
"Just a joke," Kakashi drawled.
"For your information, I don't believe that tea cures all. That title belongs to Ramen, as Naruto will tell you," Iruka said. He smiled wryly, though Kakashi probably couldn't even see his smile in this light.
"Sometimes I can't sleep," Kakashi said. It was said casually, yet it held a certain gravity to the words. For all its flippancy, it felt as if he had admitted something deep. "That's all."
"Is that why you came to my house?"
"Is this your house?" Kakashi said
Iruka sighed. "Get inside. You'll catch your death out here."
Kakashi followed him, his step as silent as the ghosts of the dead.
His house was small and fairly clean, though due to it being midterm week, books were piled up around his desk. Kakashi slumped against the wall. He didn't have the heart to tell him to put out the cigarette. He was hyper aware of Kakashi's presence as he heated the rice. He was fairly certain Kakashi was watching him, probably with amusement.
"I'm sorry it's rather plain. I ran out of Umeboshi and Furikake yesterday and didn't get to buy any today."
"I never insult free food...at least, not to the cook's face. Especially not when they're holding hot water and a knife."
Iruka meant to look away when Kakashi pulled down his mask, for it felt like this was some form of nakedness, something that Kakashi wished to see for himself. Still, the sheer curiosity drew him to peek. Just a bit.
Kakashi's face was chiseled and handsome, and there was no discernible reason why he would need a mask. There was no scar or war injury as many had suggested, nor some hideous deformity such as fish lips as per Naruto's suggestion.
"If I minded if you watched, I wouldn't have eaten in front of you," Kakashi said, answering Iruka's unasked question.
Iruka couldn't help but think there was a subtle—or not so subtle–innuendo there. He narrowed his eyes, but when Kakashi kept eating and didn't speak, he didn't bring it up.
"I have an extra futon. I'll go set it up in the other room," Iruka said.
Truth be told, he was glad to get a little air. Kakashi's lazy gaze always made Iruka feel like he was stripped down, like Kakashi could see his every weakness and thought. He busied himself with the futon, spending far too much time on what should be a simple chore.
It wasn't as if he'd notice a simple crease in the bed, but he smoothed everything out anyways.
When he returned, Kakashi had finished his bowl and pushed it aside.
"It's ready whenever you want to go to bed. I—" He cleared his throat. "I have to do more tests tomorrow, so I can't keep you company any longer.
"Thank you for your kindness," Kakashi said.
This time there was no joke behind the words, no innuendo, only the hint of a profound exhaustion and tiredness. It was the kind of thing that made Iruka want to hold him tight like the little errant schoolchildren who came into his life and then died so violently and became names on a monument, as if that could atone for the loss of their life.
But, Kakashi wouldn't want comfort—he was a pillar, too distant to want such things, so Iruka clasped his hands in front of him so he wouldn't reach out, and walked quickly out.
Days passed, and he didn't see Kakashi again. Iruka brushed it off. It was an anomaly, a simple chance that Kakashi had ended up at his door. He focused on his tests, and got too close to his student's lives. He yelled too much, worried too much, loved them with a fierceness that would leave him empty when they left.
When he came back home, there was a stray on his doorstep again. Kakashi leaned, not from languor, but from weakness. Red stained the front of his vest and shirt.
Kakashi looked down at himself. Slow and languid, he touched his torso as if it belonged to someone else.
"We need to get you to a Medic-nin this instant!"
"They're noisy," Kakashi said. His voice was like a drunken drawl, his tone slow and thoughtful.
Kakashi slouched in, red dripping to the floor as he went.
Iruka knew that details weren't things that could be simply exchanged like pleasantries at a time like this. He'd taken some of the medic-nin courses before switching to teaching courses. He could do the basics, though.
"Take off your shirt," he said.
Kakashi complied, but kept his mask intact. How like him.
Iruka reminded himself of the classes he'd taken long ago and the person he'd almost become. He'd traded in a job of mending and horror for the more peaceful one of teaching. He could've felt the tides of war, he could've stitched together shattered bones and pulled out fragments of ancient spells. Marred skin reformed under his hands. White lines like a trellis of scars ran up his chest. Iruka let his fingers linger there – to ensure he hadn't made a mistake, not to appreciate the strength and sinew muscle there, not at all—
"Ah...A new one for the collection," Kakashi said.
I get tired, sometimes, he'd said. He could still see it in Kakashi's posture, in his gaze.
Didn't they all? How many times had he sliced into flesh and watched entrails and organs fall to the ground, to be nothing but food for carrion and then burnt to ash? Lost limbs, fingers, and the endless scars–they all had their marks to carry. War corroded at one's senses, and to live in the thick of it for as long as Kakashi had.
As a ninja, he wasn't supposed to be even thinking these things. His life was to be a pawn for his country, to raise a bunch of little pawns to sacrifice themselves for the good of Konoha.
"You're a calming sort of person to be around."
Kakashi wasn't looking at him when he said the words, but Iruka understood the underlying message. Naruto himself once said that Iruka had the 'kind of personality someone could fall asleep to' (and it was Iruka's fault that he kept falling asleep in class!)
"The extra futon is still up, you can use it if you're too tired to walk," Iruka began cautiously. When Kakashi said nothing in response, Iruka shook his head, like a horse, like he was clearing dust that had settled there.
"You can stay here–but only if you behave," he amended.
"I'll be a saint then," Kakashi said. Kakashi dragged out the vowels, made it into a mockery.
"Fine then," Iruka said, his voice short and snippy.
He started to move up, away, but Kakshi reached out and brushed his hand across Iruka's nose.
Funny, he couldn't remember a conversation they'd had before these days that wasn't about Naruto. Kakashi wasn't the most open of people, anyways, to put it lightly.
Kakashi slept with his back to the wall. Iruka had gotten an extra futon because he had a niggling that one of these days, Naruto was going to destroy something either by prank or accident. It had never occurred to him that he might be sharing with a acquaintance who his sole bond to was Naruto.
It was odd to have another presence in his house, in his life. Iruka refused to let himself look too deeply, though. Every time he loved someone too much, they went and died on him. Naruto was the sole exception, and even then, Iruka always felt the fear of the news that he had finally stopped cheating death.
In the morning Kakashi was gone with no trace. The futon was rolled up and put away. Iruka had seen Kakashi's quarters before and he wasn't given to order. It was like a thank you, of sorts.
Funny, Iruka had assumed that Kakashi would sleep late and leave his things about, that there would be traces–a shirt, a sock–that would stay with him for weeks until he finally tracked Kakashi down (when alone, to prevent misunderstandings) and gave him the missing objects.
He'd figured that he'd be making Kayu for them both that morning, with Kakashi nearly falling asleep at the table, his precious Icha Icha held loose in one hand. He hadn't prepared for the silence, the stillness.
Kakashi left nothing behind, not even his footprints to the door.
Days later, things migrated to his house. Food disappeared, clothes appeared. He tolerated the company, given that he welcomed the company.
Besides, no one caged Kakashi.
There was an Icha Icha book on the table. Iruka stared at it as one might stare at a particularly vile bug that had crawled into their pantry. Iruka wasn't a complete prig, he certainly didn't shy like a blushing maiden at the mere mention of porn–especially considering how much of it he read during his younger years–his true issue with the Icha Icha series was its poor quality. The plots were hackneyed, the writing often choppy and the sex scenes ludicrous and often filled with purple prose. As a teacher, anything poorly written galled him to no end. Poorly written works which everyone deemed incredible? Now that was far more offensive than any pornography.
He picked it up–meaning to move it to a more inconspicuous place, but by mere accident it fell open. It was less curiosity of the story itself than a desire to understand what Kakashi saw in them, and thereby begin to understand the enigma that was Hatake Kakashi.
Perhaps this one was by another author, or they'd gotten an editor since the books he had snuck as a precocious teen and turned his nose up, even when he was desperate for pornography of any kind.
He was so wrapped up, in fact, that he did not notice the footsteps at the door.
"Enjoying yourself?" Kakashi said.
Iruka dropped the book, and jumped back, startled. He was already reaching for the kunai at his belt. To be surprised was the worst thing that could happen to a ninja.
Kakashi was casual and amused. Iruka could tell he was grinning from his crinkles at the side of his eyes.
"My, my. I didn't think you were into such things."
"I was merely curious, that's all!" Iruka protested.
"Curious as to why you found them interesting, not–"
Iruka stopped. He was digging himself deeper into the hole. What would he have said next? Curious to what you think? Curious about iyou/I? He shook his head.
"I'm a grown man. It's not like I've never read porn before," he muttered.
"Oh? Anything I'd know?" Kakashi drawled.
"...I've read enough of Icha Icha to know it's dross. The author is in serious of an editor," Iruka said. He pushed it aside and turned away to hide his flushing face. When he got angry he always completely lost it, and Kakashi would parry and tease him, effectively winning every fight.
"You wanted to correct it, sensei? To mark it all up with your red pen?" Kakashi said with amusement.
"It's a habit," Iruka said.
Kakashi chuckled. Iruka stepped into the other room, and by the time he returned, both the book and Kakashi were gone.
When he returned that night, there was another book left. Mist On The Mountains by Ichiru Yukiyama There was no note, but Iruka knew who it was from.
He knew a gift when he saw it.
He read it that night, if only because it'd be ungrateful to at least not do that to a gift, but he found something surprising–it was good. The action scenes didn't resemble the pulp of the day, but were actually taut and well-written and not nearly as predictable and formulaic. The love scenes were far less implausible than the Icha Icha series. They focused more on feelings than the size of the hero's member, and were tender, as well as erotic. The characters were more than thin archetypes or idealized author avatars. They felt real, and by reading this, Iruka almost felt a twinge of regret that they weren't real, that this world he had stepped into was little more than a Genjutsu world drawn on ink and pages.
Before he knew it, it was almost dawn and he had been reading all night. When he closed the last page, he felt a sense of awe and satisfaction, and a desire to read it again.
It was a good thing he had that day off, as he would've been useless in class.
It was after sleeping late into the afternoon that he found Kakashi drinking tea at his table. He pushed another tea cup forward, ready for him.
"How was it?" he asked.
"It was...amazing. I stayed up far longer than I should've to finish it, in fact. Are there more in this series?"
"He writes more, but that one's a stand alone piece," Kakashi said.
"Kakashi-sensei...if you read books like that, why do you always have something like Icha Icha?"
"Because I like it," Kakashi said simply. And that was that.
Well, there was no accounting for taste.
Iruka bought a large slab of Pork, complete with bones for Sōki. He wondered idly if he should be trying something more complex. He could make decent Oden, and that was a good, warm comforting dish for the colder nights. Still, that meant he'd have to get out early if he wanted to get all the supplies he'd need. He'd want the eggs and fish cakes as fresh as possible, and of course the daikon radish–Maybe he should stick with Kamameshi instead.
He passed a sweets vendor, with fresh Uiro and fish-shaped Taiyaki for sale. Naruto loved sweets, almost as much as Ramen.
"Is this something he'd want...?
Iruka shook his head and found himself flushing. It wasn't like it mattered what Kakashi liked, he was just a visitor. Kakashi should be glad for whatever he was served, showing up without even any warning. He didn't even know if Kakashi would be visiting tonight, or even ever again. Kakashi's ways and thoughts were indiscernible. He came and went as he pleased and Iruka had no say in how or when he would appear.
It wasn't like he was inching towards Iruka's heart. It wasn't like he cared, or anything.
Iruka laid the Sōki on the table. He watched with the most casual way he could, glancing from the side to see if this new food brought any different reaction out from Kakashi.
Kakashi chuckled deep in his throat. "There's a reason you never became an Anbu agent. You can't lie worth a shit, sensei."
"I can lie! I used to lie all the time as a child," Iruka burst out.
"Really? So you're going to say you aren't looking and preening, trying to figure out what I like?" Kakashi drawled.
The words no caught in his throat. Maybe Kakashi was onto something—he must've gotten rusty on the lying part. He cleared his throat, and glared down at Kakashi, who seemed only that much more amused by his anger.
"Keep it up and I'll feed you cat food next time. Or even shut the door in your face," Iruka said. He stuck his tongue out—something he hadn't done in years.
"A nice display of maturity, Iruka-sensei," Kakashi said.
"Fah," Iruka muttered. Kakashi got under his skin like no one else. Look at him, acting like some child while Kakashi metaphorically pulled his ponytail to get him riled up.
He wouldn't give Kakashi the satisfaction. He'd calm himself down and act like and adult. He went to make tea to give his anger time to simmer down, and when he returned to the wooden table, Kakashi had put a good dent in his meal.
"Are you staying tonight?" Iruka said.
"Maybe. Why, is your bed that lonely?" Kakashi said.
"—Because I wanted to know if I should ready the extra futon," Iruka cut in.
"Why not..." Kakashi said. It wasn't so much a question, as a statement, more to himself than Iruka.
Iruka heard a sound, a deep exhalation. It was not a sharp cry or scream, just a breath, but one that sounded ragged, worn down. It knocked Iruka from his state of almost sleeping. He threw the covers off and ran out.
Kakashi sat up, taking deep breaths. There was something unfocused in him, as if he'd just woken from some horror and reality hadn't settled in.
"It's just a dream," Iruka said.
"No," Kakashi said, his voice soft and distant, "It was a memory."
Even the bravest warriors had nightmares at times. It wasn't a lack of 'manliness' or strength. Everyone was broken in a world filled with war. Iruka's own nightmares featured a nine-tailed fox who had destroyed his family down to the last splinter of bone. One who he'd learned to love under the face of a smiling, precocious towheaded boy.
Still, sometimes they faces meshed into something more sinister, like a grinning skull staring back at him with fox ears.
Kakashi combed his fingers through his hair. It was even more mussed than usual.
"It happens," Kakashi said, resigned, yet oddly casual.
It was on the tip of his tongue to ask what had the dream been about, but whenever Iruka reached out to him, Kakashi slipped from him, like smoke, like some wild thing. He knew better then to push the issue. If Kakashi wanted to talk, he would.
"Kakashi...It's no good if you sleep there. It'll be soaked with sweat and bad memories. They'll bring you bad luck," Iruka said.
"First you're using my name without formality, then you're inviting me into your bed? You must have fallen in love with me," Kakashi said. He raised one eyebrow in surprise, Iruka thought that under his mask, Kakashi must be half smiling coyly.
Iruka flushed scarlet. "It's–Just...your futon—It wouldn't be good to go back to sleep there as the nightmares will linger–"
"You believe those old wives tales and superstitions?"
"Fine, have it your way—" Iruka said.
Kakashi reached out and took hold of Iruka's arm. The grip was strong enough that he'd have to wrench out of it to get free. Iruka looked down, to the focal point of the heat between them. He could feel his heart begin to race, and it wasn't from fear.
"I'm coming," Kakashi said, interrupting his tirade and effectively stopping the fight before it started.
Kakashi walked behind him, his steps slow and silent. Iruka walked too stiffly and formal, aware that Kakashi was likely watching him, this display and being all the more amused by it.
Kakashi slipped under the covers. He didn't turn away to the wall, but to Iruka this time.
"You're calming," he said. It was a reiteration of what he had said earlier, but it felt like a deeper admission, a view into Kakashi himself, the part that he kept from the world.
Iruka knew there was something between them, greater than coworkers, less than lovers. It was a new, fragile thing that could be wrecked easily by a sudden move. Kakashi was as untamed as a feral animal. Step too close and he'd never see him again.
He cleared his throat. The words that came were difficult, but as Kakashi said, he wasn't very good at lying anymore.
"You're right I...do care." It brought a blush to his face. This was happening more and more these days, and it was all Kakashi's fault.
He felt Kakashi's calloused hand over his arm again.
"I know. That's why I keep coming back," Kakashi said.
Kakashi turned to his side–his preferred sleeping arrangement. Iruka turned towards him and put his arms about Kakashi's middle. He buried his face in Kakashi's back, even the scent of his sweat wasn't repulsive to Iruka. Kakashi tensed, but didn't draw away. After several minutes, Kakashi began to relax by degrees. They fell silent, until it was only the sounds of the night and breathing. No more was said, but he heard Kakashi's breathing become more even, relaxed and unguarded in his arms.
It said more than words ever could.