Iruka frowned as they approached a bright and sunny clearing. He didn't like the feel of the forest, but then he didn't like most of their mission. He'd had a bad feeling about it from the minute it'd been assigned to him. The fact that he was out on missions at all said something about the state of the village. He shouldn't be here – wouldn't have been here if it wasn't summer and all of the Academy students on vacation – and the others had done nothing but remind him the entire time that he shouldn't be here. They were polite about it, never complaining outright, but he heard their mutters when they thought he wasn't listening. He was slowing them down, but there was no one else the village could spare. Everyone else was either injured, defending the village, or out on another mission.

Kakashi was their team leader, which seemed a bit ominous to Iruka. His last mission with Kakashi had ended poorly, so poorly that Iruka had quit active duty to become a teacher. It was slightly fitting that it was Kakashi who led his first mission back out, but that didn't make him feel any better about it. Some Sound ninja had stolen a scroll during Orochimaru's invasion and they'd gotten a lead on its location. It must have been an important scroll to bring Kakashi out for it, and it must have been a dangerous scroll given that Iruka was out with another chuunin and two jounin besides Kakashi.

The jounin were in the trees, scouting ahead and scanning the area from above. He saw Kakashi flit ahead on the opposite end of the clearing. That left Iruka and the other chuunin, Midoriko, to search the low ground. The scroll was supposed to be hidden somewhere nearby and they couldn't afford to miss any hiding spot. Iruka was surprised they hadn't run into any other ninja yet. Surely whoever had hidden the scroll out in the woods would have left someone to defend it.

Iruka took a step into the clearing. Chakra flared beneath him. He had half a second for his stomach to twist, not enough time to move. He barely had time to open his mouth. His warning shout never made it out of his mouth.

The clearing exploded in dirt and fire and blood. Pain. There was so much pain. It washed red through him, taking away his sight and his hearing until all that was left was bright red pain.

Kakashi felt the trap go off too late to stop it. He heard the explosion before he saw it. His stomach clenched and as he turned he searched for his team. There were more people in the forest than there should be. His kunai was out before he even thought about it. Iruka was missing. Where was Iruka?

Someone was screaming. Kakashi jumped to the opposite side of the clearing in one move. His eyes widened as he landed and his vision narrowed. He saw red. There was red all over Iruka, red on his shredded clothes, pouring from too many cuts to count and his leg... his leg was gone.

An enemy ninja stepped towards Iruka and Kakashi moved without thinking. The ninja died before he took a second step. Kakashi didn't stop moving. His blade sliced through the flesh and clothing. Anything that came near Iruka died. He didn't think, only moved. He was death incarnate and these ninja would pay for what they'd done.

He hadn't wanted Iruka to be here. He was a distraction that Kakashi wanted but didn't need, not with the danger the village was in. He should have been paying more attention, should have seen the trap before it had gotten Iruka.

It was his fault. He was mad and his blade conveyed his anger.

There was so much blood. Too much. Iruka was going to die. A small part of him almost thought that was better. What was a ninja without a leg? Iruka had no future left, not as a ninja, not outside of the village.

But he didn't want Iruka to die. It was selfish of him, but he didn't want to lose Iruka, couldn't lose him. He regretted never saying anything, regretted not spending more time with him, getting to know Iruka beyond all the stories Naruto had told him.

His blade couldn't find anything else to hit. Kakashi paused. His eyes searched the trees but they were alone, just his team and death.

"Kakashi." Arya was breathing heavy as she approached. She held out a scroll. "Take them." Her eyes darted to Iruka meaningfully.

He didn't have to ask what she meant. He tucked the scroll in his vest and knelt to pick up Iruka's limp body. Iruka had stopped screaming, but he was still breathing, barely. He didn't have much time. Kakashi didn't need much. His arms curled tight around Iruka and turned towards Konoha.

His fingers flashed through the God's Step jutsu. The clearing disappeared. Wood exploded around him as he landed elsewhere. He almost staggered from the drain on his chakra but he forced his feet to hold steady and ran through the jutsu again. More forest. He teleported again and landed with a thunderous crack in the reception area of the Konoha hospital. There was shouting all around him. The stone floor was a wrecked crater beneath him.

He stared up at the nurses that ran towards him. "Save him," he demanded and then promptly passed out.

If he was dead, then this must be purgatory.

He thought he was in a room but all he could see was blinding white light. There was so much pain. His throat was raw from screaming. He smelled blood and antiseptic.

Voices cut in and out. They sounded afraid, frantic, worried.

"...blood loss..."

"...irreparable damage..."

"...lose the..."

"...chance he won't..."

The voices changed. Machines screamed, beeped, and whined.

Finally, the pain went away and he was okay with dying as long as it meant no more pain.

Kakashi sat up slowly. He was unsurprised to find Tsunade waiting in his hospital room.

"Welcome back."

Kakashi scrubbed at the side of his face with the heel of his hand. He felt tired and hollow, like there was nothing left in him. "You got the scroll?"

"I did."

A small measure of tension released in him. At least the mission wasn't a complete failure. Tsunade was watching him and he knew better than to try and hide what he really wanted to know. "Is Iruka..." His throat closed off before he could get the word out.

Tsunade shook her head. For a moment, Kakashi felt like he'd died and then she continued. "He's still alive, barely."

Kakashi let out the breath he'd been holding. Kakashi mentally thanked whatever god had decided to take pity on them.

"You nearly killed yourself getting back." There was only a bare hint of reproof in Tsunade's tone. It wouldn't have mattered. Kakashi had done what had to be done. "But you managed to get Iruka back just in time. Good job."

Kakashi stared. He thought about saying thank you but the words wouldn't come out. He wanted to see Iruka. He needed to see Iruka, so that he knew that Iruka was alright.

Tsunade smiled. Kakashi wondered just how much she knew – or thought she knew – about Kakashi's feelings for Iruka. "It's going to take a while for your chakra to recover. You're taking Eri's place on defense. Until further notice, you're not to leave the village."

Kakashi couldn't stop himself from grinning. From the smug look on Tsunade's face, she knew enough to guess where Kakashi desperately wanted to be. He was glad for the excuse to stay. Eventually he'd have to leave again, but hopefully by then Iruka would be okay... or at least as okay as could be expected.

Iruka woke in a hospital room, not dead but feeling halfway there. The smell of flowers assaulted him, overriding the strong sting of antiseptic. They were the first thing he saw when he opened his eyes, so many of them that they were practically stacked on top of each other in a cacophony of vibrant colors. The colors distracted him and it was a long moment before he realized he wasn't alone. It was hard to think through the thick fog of painkillers, so many painkillers that he could barely even feel his own skin. It was probably better that he couldn't. He shifted on the bed, trying to sit up and failing. It was too much effort, but the subtle movement brought Kakashi's head up from where it was bowed over his clenched hands at the edge of the bed.

If Iruka didn't know any better, he would have thought Kakashi was praying.

Kakashi's face was drawn and pale. He looked almost like he should be the one in the hospital, not Iruka. His eyes fixed on Iruka's face, full of worry.

"How do you feel?" Kakashi asked, his voice thick.

"I-" Iruka's voice cut off. It hurt to talk. His entire throat hurt, like someone had rubbed sandpaper all over it.

"It's okay." Kakashi squeezed Iruka's arm. "You don't have to talk. You've been through a lot." Iruka's confusion must have shown on his face because Kakashi looked down at his hands for a long moment before turning away. He didn't look at Iruka as he poured a small glass of water from the pitcher beside Iruka's bed. Their fingers touched as Kakashi passed Iruka the glass but he barely felt it. He felt wrong. He drank the water anyways. It was blissfully cool on his sore throat and when he was done Kakashi took the empty cup back from him. "Do you remember much about the mission?"

Iruka shook his head. He knew he'd been on a mission, something about a scroll and a forest, but the details were fuzzy. He'd been hurt, obviously. There was no other reason for him to be in the hospital. For some, strange reason, he felt like someone had died. There was a weird feeling of loss hovering at the edge of his memory but the painkillers made it hard to think let alone remember.

"We were after a stolen scroll. It was hidden in the woods south of here. It was a trap. You..." Kakashi's knuckles were white from the strength of his grip on the cup. He set it aside. "You were caught in it." Kakashi looked up at him then and it was a Kakashi he'd never seen. Even with only a quarter of his face visible, Kakashi's expression was obvious. He looked guilty and pained. "I'm so sorry. We should have been more alert, should have caught it before... before you..."

Iruka frowned. He was alive, wasn't he? Kakashi was talking to him like he was alive. He tried to sit up again, made it halfway before he realized something was wrong with the way he moved. He didn't have enough traction in his legs. He couldn't push himself up quite right. He stared down at his body. The bed sheets didn't lay right. His left leg stretched down towards the foot of the bed but his right... his right leg was far too short. The blankets dipped just above where his knee was – where his knee should have been.

"No." The word slipped out of his lips before he even knew what he was denying.

There was pity in Kakashi's visible eye, confirming the worst of Iruka's suspicions. "I'm so sorry."

He didn't want to hear it. Kakashi was wrong. He was fine. His body was fine. It was all there, like it was supposed to be, like it had been when he'd left the village. "No. Nononono." He groped at the sheets, reaching down as far as he could towards his leg but his chest hurt too much to move far. He threw the sheets aside. He didn't look at Kakashi. He couldn't look at Kakashi, not with that pity in his eyes, because he knew what Iruka didn't want to know.

His leg was gone. There were just bandages, fresh white bandages where his right knee should be and then nothing below that.

He screamed. Nurses streamed into the room. They babbled at him, saying something that he couldn't hear while Kakashi just watched Iruka, pitying. Something jabbed in his arm and he stopped screaming. He felt nothing. He felt hollow.

He closed his eyes and was lost.

Kakashi stood as someone knocked on the door. He shook his head as Shizune started to enter the room. Her eyes went past him to the bed. Kakashi didn't need to look to know what she saw. He tried not to look. Iruka stared at the ceiling, eyes wide and vacant. He'd been like that since yesterday and it made Kakashi sick to see him like that.

He closed the door with him and Shizune on the outside.

"Is this a bad time?"

Kakashi frowned. He didn't need to look at the papers in Shizune's hand to know what they were. There would never be a good time. "He's not home right now."

Shizune frowned and nodded. "I can come back tomorrow."

"I don't think that'd be good." Kakashi stared through the small window into the room. Iruka hadn't even moved. "Wait a few days. He's already lost his leg." He didn't need to lose his job as well. There was a chance it wasn't that bad. Kakashi doubted it.

"He'll be taken care of. Let him know that."

"I will." Kakashi hesitated. He knew what Iruka would want him to ask, if he'd been conscious. "What about the Academy?"

The look Shizune gave him was far too knowing. "We'll evaluate that after he's recovered. There's still two months until the start of term."

Kakashi nodded. He knew he should stay out of it, but he couldn't help himself. "He needs his job. He needs something to make him feel useful." At least Iruka had that to fall back on. Kakashi didn't know what he'd do if he couldn't be a ninja.

"I know," Shizune said. With that she turned and left, resignation forms still in hand.

Kakashi took a deep breath as he opened the door to Iruka's room. It had been nearly a week since Iruka had woken up, a week Iruka had spent entirely non-responsive. Kakashi was beginning to give up hope but he had one last thing he wanted to try. As soon as the door was open, a herd of young children streamed past his knees. Kakashi followed them in, trailed by a few of Iruka's older students and recent graduates. Sakura hung at the back of the group, still in her hospital uniform, and shared a look with Kakashi.

At first, nothing happened. Then one of the children crawled into Iruka's bed, fitting in the space where Iruka's leg should have been. Iruka turned his head toward the child and a small smile spread across his face. It wasn't much of a smile, but it gave Kakashi hope.

"Iruka-sensei, we miss you."

Iruka's voice was rough when he spoke, but the fact that he spoke at all made Kakashi smile like an idiot. "I miss you too."

For the first time since they'd come back, Kakashi had hope that Iruka would be okay.

Iruka stared at the forms in his hand. He didn't want to sign them, but he knew he had to. He flipped through the pages, pretending to read them but his eyes couldn't focus on the words. He knew what they said even without reading them. He was being relieved from active duty and permanently reassigned. The forms didn't say where he was being reassigned. He hoped it was with the Academy but that wasn't certain. Who wanted a broken ninja to teach their children? At least he knew he could still work the Mission Room. He didn't need two legs to file paperwork.

His hand shook as he signed the forms. He blamed the pain killers.

His life as a ninja was over, but unfortunately his life was not over. He was left with the remnants – a broken body, a shattered spirit, a damaged mind. The doctors talked about fixing him, but they weren't really going to fix him. Nothing would bring his leg back. Nothing could fix him. But they were determined to try and Iruka didn't have the energy to resist them.

At least he wasn't alone. They wouldn't leave him alone, not in the state he was in. Kakashi was there more often than not, which was strange – Kakashi should be out on missions – but Iruka wasn't going to complain. It was nice having a familiar face around, even if he recognized Kakashi's presence for what it really was. He was on suicide watch. Kakashi and the others were just there to make sure he didn't kill himself. It was a tempting thought, but only in theory. He was too much of a coward to kill himself. He still had people he wanted to see, people he couldn't disappoint by dying. Not now.

Naruto would never forgive him if he died.

Iruka hated physical therapy, but he hated it a little bit less with Sakura as his physical therapist. He didn't want to move, didn't want to get out of bed, but he had to because he couldn't refuse Sakura, not without appearing like a complete failure in the eyes of his student. His pride wouldn't let that happen so he stood, balancing shakily on crutches, when she asked him to and he limped around the room when she asked him to. He was learning to walk again. It was a slow process, difficult and painful since he wasn't fully healed from the rest of his injuries.

Eventually she got him to leave the room. His first step across the threshold felt strange, like he was venturing into a foreign land. He'd almost forgotten that there was more to the village than the four white walls of his hospital room.

Sakura turned towards him as they moved down the hall at slow crawl. She obviously had something she wanted to ask him, but he was in no mood to force it out of her. He was having a hard enough time inching his crutches down the hall.

"Do you remember when Kakashi brought you in?" she asked.

He shook his head. He didn't remember anything about that day and he was glad. He didn't want to remember.

Sakura stared down the empty hall. "He was scary. I've been in a lot of fights with Kakashi, and I've never seen him look like that before."

Iruka frowned. "How so?"

"He just showed up out of nowhere. There was this loud boom and there he was, crouching in this huge crater in the middle of reception. They still haven't completely fixed the floor. I found out later that the jutsu he used is called God's Step. Have you heard of it?"

It sounded somewhat familiar but Iruka couldn't place it. He shook his head.

"It's a teleportation jutsu. It turns a day's travel into a second's but at a huge loss of chakra. The rest of your team followed the craters back. He'd used it not once but three times. Nearly killed himself."

Iruka frowned. His life wasn't worth that kind of effort. Kakashi's constant presence suddenly took on a whole new, puzzling meaning.

"We all rushed towards the noise and there was this wave of killing intent, so strong that one of the nurses fainted. And we turned the corner and there he was, staring at us like some wild... thing. He was covered in blood, absolutely soaked with it. And he had you in his arms, and I thought you were dead but then he said 'save him', right before he passed out. He got you back just in time." She stared over at him. Not up, not anymore. She'd grown a lot since she'd been his student. "I asked later. You'd lost so much blood. They almost lost you but Kakashi got you here just in time. Any longer and you would have been dead. Kakashi saved your life."

Iruka didn't know what to say to that. What could he? He'd known, logically, that Kakashi had something to do with getting him back safely but he hadn't imagined Kakashi would have gone so far, just for him. It seemed unreal. The rest of their short walk continued in silence. Sakura had said her piece which left Iruka with a lot to think about.

"You have a visitor."

Iruka pasted on a smile. It was becoming easier to pretend to smile, easier to fake feeling things he didn't. The door opened and his smile faltered. He wasn't expecting this, wasn't expecting Naruto out of all the people who had visited him so far, and there was Kakashi, lingering in the doorway like Iruka's constant shadow while Naruto launched himself, babbling and sobbing, onto Iruka's bed.

Iruka's arms closed around Naruto reflexively but his eyes stayed on Kakashi. A silent question passed between them – how? Naruto hadn't even been gone a year. It was too soon. His training wasn't done yet so why? Why was he here?

"Iruka-sensei, it's okay," Naruto babbled into Iruka's shoulder. His arms were tight around Iruka's chest, tighter than a child's should be. Naruto wasn't a child anymore. He'd forgotten that. "It's gonna be okay. I'm here now and I'm gonna take care of you, like you took care of me and it's gonna be okay. I promise I'll make it okay."

He'd heard those words before, or at least words like them. That's what everyone kept telling – that he was going to be okay.

He didn't believe them, not a one, but he almost believed Naruto. Almost.

They offered him a wheelchair but he refused. He could see arguments hanging on the tip of Naruto and Kakashi's lips, but neither voiced them. Iruka wasn't sure if it was because of the look on his face or if they just respected his opinion. Maybe it was a bit of both. Either way, he refused to be wheeled out of the hospital.

It was a long walk to his apartment. He didn't remember it being a particularly long distance before. The hospital was near the Academy. He'd made that walk every day for years but he felt like he was walking it for the first time. It was different now, much like everything in his life. What should have been an easy ten minute walk took half an hour – half an hour of agonizingly slow steps. Kakashi and Naruto marched with him, one on each side, waiting to catch him if he fell. He didn't fall. He couldn't, not while everyone was watching him.

He could feel their eyes on him. They were watching him as he passed, civilian and ninja alike. He couldn't hear their whispers but he didn't need to hear to know what they were saying. They pitied him, like he'd once pitied other retired ninja, the ones who'd lived too long to be of use. He was one of them now, the pitied ones, the useless ones.

A hush fell over the busy streets as he walked, like a funeral passing. It felt right. Part of him had died, and the village was mourning him in a way he couldn't.

Iruka was sweating by the time they reached his apartment building. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs and stared. It was only a floor up but after the long walk to get here, the stairs seemed like too much, like they were the final nail in his unfinished coffin.

Strong arms closed around him. Iruka squeaked as he was lifted off his feet. His crutches fell from his grip and were quickly snatched up by Naruto before they hit the ground. He turned to Kakashi with indignation but the words wouldn't materialize. Kakashi carried him up the stairs, each step jolting Iruka's chest. It galled Iruka that he needed the help but at the same time he felt an immense sense of relief that he didn't have to ask. He knew he couldn't get up the stairs on his own, but that didn't mean he wanted to be carried.

He wasn't sure if he liked being in Kakashi's arms or not.

Kakashi set Iruka down in front of his door, his arms holding Iruka steady in lieu of his crutches. Iruka punched him on the arm once, lightly, and he was pretty sure Kakashi was smiling at him behind that stupid mask. Naruto handed Iruka his crutches. Iruka sighed as he took them back – he hated that they were a necessity to his life now – and stared at his door.

He looked pointedly at Naruto. "You'd better learn this. It'll make things easier."

Kakashi raised his visible eyebrow and started to turn about but Iruka shook his head. He didn't know why he was showing Kakashi the seal to open his door, but it made sense. Kakashi had saved his life, wasting precious chakra and nearly killing himself just to get Iruka back to the village. Kakashi had been his constant guardian since he woke. Iruka had no idea why, except for maybe a stupid, strange sense of guilt about Iruka's injury but there was a small, possessive part of him that hoped there was more to it than that.

He knew better. He was damaged goods now. No one would want him.

Iruka sighed again and awkwardly moved his hands through the familiar seal while balancing his weight on the crutches. Naruto watched him intently, paying more attention now than he ever had in class. Iruka felt the faint chakra in the door give way, dissolving the deadly traps on his door. The lock clicked and the door swung open.

Iruka hobbled through the open door. He was home.

His apartment seemed far too empty. Then Naruto followed him in, smiling as he took in Iruka's apartment like this was his first time inside. It wasn't but then Iruka supposed it was a bit of a first. It was Naruto's first time not as a guest, but as part of the household. He had a spare room that Naruto could use. He'd have to mention it later.

It would be nice to not be alone, not just because he would need help, at least for the first few months while he adjusted.

Iruka turned and stared at the doorway. Kakashi stood on the other side, as if held there by an invisible barrier. Kakashi was looking at him, and as Iruka looked back something passed between them, something silent and potent. There was a subtle tension in the air.

"Come in."

Two simple words but they felt bigger than that, like a key fitted into a hidden lock, unleashing something strange and new. Kakashi crossed the threshold into Iruka's house and it felt like a step closer to okay.

Iruka hated his crutches. It was impossible to walk and do anything at the same time. He could sort of manage to carry things, but only if they weren't spillable. Or fragile, as he'd learned after his first unfortunate incident with a teacup. He tried to avoid moving if at all possible, though there was only so much time he could spend on the couch or in bed without feeling completely worthless.

Having Naruto around was nice and at the same time incredibly frustrating. He cooked so Iruka didn't have to – sometime during his travels he'd even learned how to make a half passable meal – and cleaned and pretty much took care of anything that involved moving. It was a relief not to have to worry about doing anything, to be the one being taken care of for a change, for the first time in far too long, but at the same time he hated it because he was used to having to do everything for himself and not being able to made him feel even worse about his new disability.

He wanted to be productive but at the same time he just wanted to curl up in the corner and die.

"I was thinking about going to out to get groceries today," Naruto said as they sat on the couch eating breakfast. The rice wasn't burnt this time and the miso was passable. It was probably the best breakfast Naruto had made yet.

Iruka stared at the bowl of soup in his hands. He knew what Naruto was going to ask and he dreaded it.

"Would you like to come with me? Maybe you could teach me some of your recipes. Like your okonomiyaki. I love how you make okonomiyaki."

Iruka smiled automatically. Naruto had adored his cooking growing up, even if he always complained that it wasn't ramen. He missed cooking but the idea of hobbling around the kitchen, trying to balance on his crutches and juggling pots and pans made his stomach clench.


He sighed. "I'm not your teacher anymore."

The look Naruto gave him was almost heartbreaking in its blind enthusiasm. "You'll always be my teacher."

Iruka resisted the urge to sigh again. "Naruto, you're living in my spare room and cooking for me. I think you can drop the 'sensei' now, don't you?"

A startled look crossed Naruto's face and then he smiled that blinding smile of his. He leaned towards Iruka and then stopped, aborting the hug before it started. Iruka's still-bruised ribs thanked him for that. "Of course... Iruka."

He wanted to laugh at the way Naruto's tongue almost twisted his name, still trying to add 'sensei' by reflex. He was glad Naruto had come back for him. It helped in ways nothing else could. Having Naruto back, living with him... it was like a dream he'd never realized he'd had, like they were family. He supposed they'd been a bit like that before but there'd always been a distance when Naruto had been his student. Now the only distance was Iruka and his fear.

"So, market?"

His mouth opened and he froze with the word 'no' on his lips. He didn't want to. Going outside meant work. It meant walking and being stared at and people whispering about what had happened to him and worst of all, stairs. He was afraid of outside and all the people in it. But the look on Naruto's face was so blindingly hopeful that Iruka couldn't bring himself to vocalize the 'no'. Instead, his mouth took a different direction even as his stomach twisted in terror. "Alright." He hated himself as he said it, both for his fear and for the fact that he couldn't give in to his fear because it would disappoint Naruto. "But just a short trip."

"Of course." The way Naruto said it made it sound like Iruka had promised him his face on the Hokage monument. It wasn't that big of a deal. It shouldn't have been that big of a deal but now that Iruka thought about it, it'd been almost two weeks since he'd left his apartment. Maybe it was a big deal.

That didn't make him like the idea any better.

Iruka's face hurt from faking a smile for so long. It seemed that once he'd ventured out of the house, everyone wanted to talk to him. He hated it. Normally he was glad to chat with his students' parents or friendly neighbors or actual friends that he hadn't seen in forever because he was horrible and didn't want to leave his apartment, but it was like there was a sign on him that made pretty much everyone he came across want to say hello, regardless of whether Iruka had ever talked to them before or not. They didn't just stop at hello, they had to ask how he was doing and if he needed anything and how he was feeling.

It made him sick, but he smiled and kept his answers brief, not wanting to leave his mouth open too long in case he might puke.

He wanted to go home, desperately, but they had barely started their shopping. His armpits hurt where his crutches pressed against them. His hands hurt from gripping his crutches too tight.

"Excuse me." Kakashi brazenly stepped in between Iruka and the shopkeeper who was talking Iruka's ear off about which vegetables were best for recovering from injuries. "How much are these?" Kakashi pointed to the onions which were very clearly labeled.

Iruka nearly sighed in relief and sidled towards where Naruto was staring at fruit. "Pick something so we can go," Iruka hissed as quietly as he could manage while still getting through Naruto's thick skull.

Naruto blinked up at him – not that far up, not anymore – and then stared at the fruit. Iruka wanted to stomp his feet in frustration, but he'd probably just fall over.

"Here. You'll like these." Kakashi once more inserted himself in front of Iruka – coincidentally timed with the shopkeeper wandering over – and dropped a bag of apples and a package of kiwi in Naruto's basket. "All set?" Naruto nodded dumbly and Kakashi took the shopping basket out of Naruto's hand and placed it on the counter. "We'd like to checkout now."

Iruka raised an eyebrow as Kakashi included himself in the 'we', but he didn't complain. The shopkeeper just stared, astonished, between Kakashi and Iruka, like she wanted to say something but couldn't. Iruka nearly grinned. They escaped the shop in record time.

He hesitated to say anything once they were away from the stall, but the prospect of dealing with more awkward conversation forced the words out of him. "Do you mind if I head back?"

Naruto smiled and shook his head. There was a strange look on his face, almost apologetic, like he wanted to say something but couldn't. "It's okay. You must be tired."

Iruka nearly sagged with relief. "I am. Thank you."

Naruto blushed and shifted awkwardly on his feet.

"Here. Let me take those." Kakashi held his hand out towards Naruto and the three full plastic bags they'd already accumulated. "I'll carry them back for you."

"Thank you!" Naruto beamed at Kakashi. "Stay for dinner, will you? Iruka's teaching me okonomiyaki."

Iruka's smile faded slightly. He could almost hear the words he knew Kakashi would say.

"I'd love to."

That wasn't it. He glanced sideways at Kakashi. It was hard to tell Kakashi's expression through his mask, but Iruka was pretty sure he was smiling. Naruto smiled right back.

"Great! See you then." Naruto waved as he turned towards the next stall, leaving Iruka standing slightly dumbfounded next to Kakashi. Thankfully Kakashi's presence seemed to be a deterrent to others, leaving them in relative peace.

"That is okay, isn't it?" Kakashi asked.

Iruka nodded and forced his smile back in place as he hobbled around in a circle until he was pointed in the right direction to get back to his apartment. "Yes. Of course. You're more than welcome to stay. I should warn you, in all fairness, that Naruto's cooking leaves a bit to be desired."

Kakashi chuckled. It was a strange sort of sound, not bad but definitely new to Iruka, at least when it was directed at something he'd said. He kind of liked it. "I know. I have been on missions with him before."

"Right." That was stupid of him. They made slow progress down the street. Iruka was moving even slower than before. He was tired and he still had a ways to go before he was home. "Thank you, by the way. For intervening."

Kakashi stared up at the sky as they walked but he seemed happy. "Any time."

The rest of the walk passed in silence, for which Iruka was grateful. He'd done enough talking for a while. Too much, really. He wanted to hide away in his apartment for another week. Then they reached his apartment and any trace of a good mood died. He'd forgotten about the stairs.

He cast a sideways glance at Kakashi, half expecting Kakashi to swoop him up again, but Kakashi just stood at the bottom of the stairs, nonchalantly staring off into space like nothing significant was going on. Iruka supposed it wasn't significant in the overall grand scheme of things. It was just some stupid stairs.

He sighed and put his crutches on the first step. He could do this. They were just stairs.

Walking up stairs on crutches was awkward. Down was easy. Up was hard because he had to balance himself precariously on his crutches while he lifted himself up and with each step, there was a precarious moment where he thought he was going to fall. Halfway up he almost did but before he even could a firm hand pressed against his lower back, right over his spine and steadied him. Kakashi gave him a little push to help him up the stair and then his hand was gone, almost like it'd never been there but Iruka could still feel the heat of it like a brand burned into his skin.

The rest of the stairs weren't so hard after that. He didn't worry about falling.

Kakashi pulled down his mask and covered his grin by sipping from his cup. "Something wrong, Naruto?"

Naruto continued staring and sputtering but it was worth it for the small smile that crept across Iruka's face. He was trying to hide it behind his hand, but he was doing a poor job of it. Kakashi didn't mind. He missed Iruka's smile – not the fake one that he kept putting on for show, but his real smile, the one that made Kakashi's insides melt and left him feeling warm all over. He wanted more of it, because if Iruka could smile like that then Kakashi could hope that he'd be okay.

He needed Iruka to be okay.

"Stop staring and eat your food," Iruka said. His smile had faded, but Kakashi could still see the shadow of it lingering on Iruka's lips. Kakashi had spent a lot of time dreaming about Iruka's lips.

Naruto's antics slowly wound down and he settled into the meal with a pout. He kept shooting glances at Kakashi's uncovered face. Kakashi supposed he'd made it a bit too easy, after all the time Naruto had spent trying to trick Kakashi into revealing his face. It was perhaps a bit anticlimactic, but it worked for his needs and that was all that mattered.

"This is good," Kakashi lied. He could tell from the look Iruka gave him that Iruka appreciated the lie. The food wasn't terrible. The taste was at least right but it was somehow both burnt and soggy at the same time. He'd eaten much, much worse.

"Thanks. Iruka's recipe is the best. He's teaching me," Naruto said, as if Kakashi hadn't been standing in the kitchen the whole time, handing him ingredients as Iruka pointed out their location.

"I can tell." Kakashi was a passable cook but it was more a matter of necessity than anything else. He had to eat, so he might as well eat things that tasted good. He could tell that it was different with Iruka. He had a kind of confidence in the kitchen that Kakashi envied, and it was obvious he missed being able to cook for himself. He kept reaching to do things and then overbalancing on his crutches.

Maybe in time Iruka could adapt to it. That's what ninja did, adapt or die. Kakashi really hoped Iruka would push for the former option. He was stronger than he realized and if anyone could adapt to something like this, it would be Iruka. Iruka just needed to want to adapt, which seemed to be the main problem. He didn't have confidence in himself. He didn't want to get better as much as Kakashi wanted him to get better. But there was time to change his mind. Kakashi believed in that wholeheartedly.

The rest of dinner passed in relative silence. Kakashi grabbed the empty bowls before anyone else could and carried them over to the sink. He could almost feel Iruka's and Naruto's wide eyes on his back as he pulled off his gloves and started the water.

"You don't need to do that," Iruka protested. "You're our guest."

"I know," Kakashi said without turning as he scrubbed a plate. "I want to. You and Naruto cooked. Let me take care of the dishes."

Naruto lowered his voice and Kakashi focused on the dishes to keep from prying. He caught something about Ichiraku and friends and going out. Iruka said yes and Naruto shouted his goodbye to Kakashi before tromping off. That left Iruka's gaze on Kakashi once they were alone in the apartment. Kakashi had fantasized about this kind of situation before, but in those fantasies Iruka always had both of his legs. Not that that mattered, it just made things different. He was good with different.

Kakashi shut off the water and set the last of the dishes aside to dry.

"Why are you doing this?"

Kakashi turned. He wiped his hands on a dish cloth. "Your dishes? Because they were dirty."

Iruka frowned. He hadn't moved from the table. "You know what I mean. Why are you here? Why aren't you out on a mission, protecting the village?"

Kakashi shrugged. He tossed the cloth aside and moved towards the table. "Chakra depletion. I'm on guard duty in the village until I heal up."

"But why-" Iruka swallowed around a lump in his throat. He stared down at his hands clenched on the table. His knuckles were turning white. So was his face. "Why did you save me? Why did you risk your own life to bring me back? You could have died."

Kakashi stopped less than a foot away from Iruka's chair. His hand rested on the table, inches from Iruka's. He wanted to reach over, just a little bit farther, and take Iruka's hands in his. He wanted to tell him how he felt. He wanted- "I love you."

Iruka's head whipped up and he stared at Kakashi. Kakashi stared back. He hadn't meant to say that. He hadn't ever intended to say that. He was content admiring from afar, just as long as Iruka was safe and now he'd changed all of that.

"Why?" The way Iruka said it – that single, lonely word – made it sound so broken. Iruka looked up at him and he seemed so fragile.

Kakashi closed his hand over Iruka's. He could feel Iruka's grip relax beneath his hand. "Because I love you."

Iruka looked away. Kakashi was fairly certain he saw tears in Iruka's eyes, unshed but still there, waiting to fall. At least he didn't take his hands away. "Stop saying that."

He shook his head even though Iruka couldn't see it. "No." He crouched down to Iruka's level. "I love you. I'm sorry if that makes you uncomfortable, and it's okay if you don't like me back. That's alright. I just love you and I can't help it. But I can go if you want me to." He desperately didn't want to go.

"No." Iruka's hand twitched. His thumb brushed over Kakashi's palm. "I'm just... I'm broken and you shouldn't-"

"Shh." Kakashi pulled Iruka's hands away, took them both in his. "You're not broken. You're hurt, and I know it feels that way right now, but you will get better. I promise you, it will get better."

Iruka finally looked at him then and his eyes were red and wet but he smiled and Kakashi couldn't stop himself. He leaned over the table to close the distance between them. Iruka's lips were just as soft as Kakashi had dreamed. Their first kiss tasted like salt and cabbage and soy but also a bit like hope.

"Let me help you get better," Kakashi said.

Iruka smiled at him and said, "Okay."

Kakashi sat in Tsunade's office with a feeling of trepidation. He wasn't used to that. Usually being in the Hokage's office meant a mission. Usually it meant a secret mission. He should be happy for a mission. That was his job and he liked his job. It gave him a sense of purpose. But right now, instead of relishing a chance to go out and do some good, all he wanted to do was go back to Iruka's apartment.

Tsunade flipped through the papers in front of her – his latest test results. He'd passed, of course. He had a bill of full health. She knew that because she'd been there for it. She was stalling, maybe giving him a chance to make a case for staying. He wouldn't, as much as he wanted to. His place was outside the village.

When she finally looked up at him, there was a small amount of pity in her eyes. He wasn't sure what she knew. They'd never spoken of it. She probably thought she knew more than she actually did. But that didn't change matters.

"You've been cleared for active duty," she said, her voice soft, like she was talking to a patient. He supposed he was one. She slid a scroll across the desk. "You leave tomorrow."

That was too soon. He said nothing as his hand closed over the scroll. She was watching him closely, trying to gauge his reaction. He unrolled the scroll, memorized it, and handed it back.

He stood to leave and stopped as she spoke. "Don't worry. Iruka has people to look out for him. He'll be safe while you're gone."

He nodded and left without a word. Iruka had Naruto and Sakura and countless other friends to watch over him, but part of Kakashi worried that wouldn't be enough.

Sakura was there when Kakashi let himself into Iruka's apartment. He'd forgotten it was one of Iruka's physical therapy days. Iruka hated physical therapy and his bad mood was evident as he hobbled around the room on one crutch. Kakashi raised an eyebrow as he leaned against the wall to watch. Sakura shot him a brief smile before turning her attention back to Iruka.

He was moving a lot better, not as stiff as he'd been at first. He was obviously having trouble with just one crutch but with practice, it would open up a whole range of things he could do for himself again. Naruto watched from the couch, a wide grin on his face, and Kakashi knew Naruto was thinking the same. Anything that got even a little of Iruka's independence back was a good thing.

Sakura started to wrap up. Kakashi stepped forward and pulled a pair of bills out of his pocket. He held them out towards Naruto. "Why don't you take Sakura out for dinner as thanks? My treat." Three pairs of eyes turned towards him. Sakura started to protest and then stopped as Kakashi minutely shook his head. Naruto opened his mouth. Kakashi stared down at him. "I need to talk to Iruka."

Naruto's mouth closed slowly. He nodded and stood, taking the money. "Okay. Thanks."

Sakura smiled and winked at him when the other two weren't looking. "Thank you, Kakashi-sensei."

Iruka hobbled over to the couch and sat down. "What's wrong?"

Kakashi waited until the other two were gone before speaking. "I'm leaving tomorrow. I got a new mission."

"Oh." Iruka looked down at his hands. "Alright. Have a safe journey."

Kakashi wasn't sure how he expected Iruka to react, but this wasn't it. He supposed Iruka was just being practical. Kakashi couldn't stay in the village forever. They both knew it, but Kakashi hadn't wanted to think about it. He wanted to stay as much as he wanted to go. There was one want that trumped them both.

He lowered himself to his knees next to the couch and took Iruka's hands in his. "Iruka, I want... I mean, can we..." He swallowed hard and forced the words out. "Will you have sex with me?"

Iruka stared at him, surprised. He looked down at their hands but didn't pull away. Kakashi could feel Iruka's hesitance. It was telegraphed in every line of his body. He sat back on his heels.

"It's okay. Nevermind. We don't have to." He started to pull his hands away but Iruka tightened his grip, holding Kakashi in place.

"No." Iruka still wouldn't look at him. "It's okay. I... We can. If you want, but I..."

Kakashi followed the path of Iruka's gaze, not to their hands but past that. He pulled one hand away and placed it gently onto the stump that had once been Iruka's right knee. Iruka flinched at the touch.

"It doesn't bother me." Kakashi made sure his words carried. There was no hesitancy in his voice, no uncertainty. "You will always be beautiful to me, no matter what, and your disability doesn't change that. It never will."

Iruka looked up at him then, his eyes wet and a little bit lost. Kakashi pulled him close with one hand. He could feel Iruka shivering against him. Kakashi wanted to wrap himself around Iruka and sooth the shivers away. Instead he pressed his lips against the bare skin at the side of Iruka's throat. Iruka's hands gripped the front of Kakashi's vest and he did it again, trailing a wet line of kisses up Iruka's neck towards his ear. Iruka gasped as Kakashi closed his mouth around Iruka's earlobe and sucked lightly.

"Yes," Iruka said. He turned his face to meet Kakashi's and looked at him through lowered lashes.

The kiss reminded Kakashi of their first, salty but with a lot more hope. His arms wrapped tight around Iruka, holding them together and Iruka pressed against him, pushing closer with every second as the kiss deepened, like he was trying to crawl inside Kakashi's skin. Kakashi would have let Iruka if he could. He would have given Iruka his leg to replace the one Iruka had lost but Iruka wouldn't have wanted that. This had to be enough.

He shifted his grip on Iruka, sliding one arm beneath his legs and lifting Iruka. A small smile spread on Iruka's lips and Kakashi wondered if he was thinking the same thing – about the first time they'd come to Iruka's apartment and Kakashi had carried him up the stairs. He would have carried Iruka anywhere he wanted, still would. For now, he settled on the bedroom.

Iruka's bed was raised slightly off the floor by a metal frame, not too high, but enough to make getting in and out a lot easier with only one leg. Kakashi set Iruka down on top of the covers – he was unsurprised to find that Iruka was the type to make his bed every day – and crawled down with him. His mouth covered Iruka's. Their tongues slid against each other, not sure which mouth to reside in and dancing between both in a strange push and pull of want and need. Kakashi's fingers moved deftly over Iruka's clothes – civilian style, and thus even easier to open and pull off. There were less buttons than Kakashi was used to, less layers and fasteners and wraps. Their kiss broke as Kakashi pulled Iruka's shirt off, and then there was a whole new expanse of flesh for Kakashi's mouth to explore.

There were scares. A lot of scars. He hadn't seen them before, always hidden behind bandages and fabric, but Kakashi knew what they were from. His mind matched each scar to the injuries Iruka had sustained during their last mission. Not all of them were accounted for. Some were older. Not many, but every ninja had their scars. It was unfortunate that Iruka would have to carry so many.

He mapped his way across Iruka's chest, learning each dip and curve of muscle. Iruka's nipples weren't especially sensitive, but they were fun to play with, earning him tiny gasps and a deepening blush across Iruka's face. They weren't what he was really interested in. His mouth kept going down, trailing over the flat planes of Iruka's stomach. His tongue swirled in Iruka's bellybutton, making him squirm.

He nibbled the jut of Iruka's hip bones, mouthing along the sharp cut of bone as he pushed Iruka's pants out of the way. Iruka's hands twisted in his hair, holding him, silently begging him not to go lower. He didn't listen. He pulled Iruka's pants off and kissed his way down Iruka's right thigh. Iruka trembled beneath him, the shaking only getting worse the lower Kakashi went. He stopped far too soon and stared momentarily at the stub of Iruka's leg. It wasn't as ugly as Iruka feared. The doctors had done a good job stitching it up. There were still deep red scars marking where they'd worked but he'd seen worse. Besides, it was part of Iruka – how could he not love it?

Kakashi leaned down and pressed a kiss to the remnants of Iruka's leg. He could smell salt in the air – tears – but he didn't comment on it. He kissed his way back up and trailed his hand over the outside of Iruka's thigh. When he reached Iruka's hips he detoured, finally turning towards the center and the initial stirrings of Iruka's erection.

Iruka wasn't hard, not yet, but his flesh jerked in Kakashi's mouth as his lips closed around it. Iruka's hands twisted in Kakashi's hair. Kakashi moved slowly, acclimating himself to the weight of Iruka in his mouth. He could feel Iruka growing as he moved, thickening with each bob of his mouth. Iruka moaned and Kakashi wanted to smile because it meant finally, finally, Iruka wasn't thinking about his leg.

Kakashi didn't have much experience with other men, but he put every trick he knew to use pleasing Iruka. It wasn't long before he had Iruka twisting beneath him. Iruka twisted his hands in Kakashi's shirt and shoved lightly at it, hinting that it should go away. But not just yet. Kakashi unzipped his vest pocket and pulled out a thin tube of lube. He coated his fingers and pressed one lightly against Iruka's entrance, questioning. Iruka gasped and after a second his legs parted slightly in wordless invitation.

He twisted his fingers inside of Iruka, matching the movements of his hand to that of his mouth as best he could. It wasn't perfect but Iruka didn't seem to mind. He was panting loudly, his breath coming fast and hard as he neared orgasm. Kakashi thought briefly about pulling away and letting them come together but that didn't seem right, not this time. This time it was about Iruka and delaying things didn't make sense. He quickened the pace of his mouth, pushed another finger in, and sucked hard as Iruka came into his mouth. He swallowed it down, reveling in the sound of Iruka's voice, harsh and broken but in a good way, like he'd finally let himself go.

When he pulled away, Iruka was staring up at him with eyes blown wide from bliss. He looked happy, exhausted but contented. Kakashi smiled down at him and then slowly started to peel his own clothes off. Iruka watched him, not making a move to help him, but there was a smile on his face that was warm and real, and that was all Kakashi needed.

Once the last of his uniform was gone, Kakashi pressed closer, aligning himself between Iruka's thighs. Iruka's legs wrapped around him. He could feel the press of Iruka's thighs against his hips and it was strange to only feel one foot press against the back of his leg. It was a strangeness he could get used to. He lined up without pause and pushed inside slowly. Iruka's eyes rolled back and he groaned, shivering a little bit as Kakashi pressed into Iruka's body.

It felt like coming home. He'd wanted this, wanted Iruka, for so long and now that he had Iruka, he couldn't quite believe his own good fortune. He leaned down as his hips pulled out and pressed kisses against Iruka's face, his jaw, any part of Iruka that he could reach. He pushed in again, pulled out, built up a steady rhythm, pushing harder as Iruka let him, reveling in the way Iruka's body accepted him. He wanted more. He wanted all of Iruka, wanted to be buried inside of him forever, entwined so that his body made up for the weaknesses in Iruka's and vice versa. He wanted everything.

Kakashi was dimly aware that he was speaking, soft little murmurs against Iruka's skin. 'I love you' and 'Iruka' and 'don't ever leave me'. He should be embarrassed but he wasn't. This was Iruka and he loved Iruka so much, almost too much and it was okay for Iruka to know that. He'd said it before, more than once, and he would keep saying it as long as Iruka needed him to, as long as it took for Iruka to believe him, believe that he deserved him, that they deserved each other.

As Kakashi's hips jerked, pushing erratically towards his own demise, Iruka turned his head and pressed a soft kiss to Kakashi's cheek. "I know," he said, and "I love you too."

Kakashi came with a smile on his face, a blinding, ecstatic smile and he blamed it all on Iruka because this was love and Kakashi had never been happier in his life.

Kakashi was distracted and he knew exactly why. He was worried about Iruka. He shouldn't be. Naruto was with him and Sakura was there to help him. He'd be alright while Kakashi was gone. At least the mission was almost over. He was waiting to make the handoff in a busy market. He had been early. His contact was late.

Something shiny and metallic caught his eye. Kakashi tensed, expecting an attack but no attack came. Instead he stared as a man walked past, his colorful summer shorts showing off one very hairy leg and one smooth, fake leg with metallic joints. Kakashi frowned. He watched the man disappear into a shop at the same time as Kakashi's contact arrived. He practically shoved the scroll at the man with only the barest amount of finesse to keep from being obvious and then turned to follow the one-legged man into the shop.

The sign on the front only said repairs but when Kakashi walked inside he was instantly surrounded by all sorts of mechanical parts. They overflowed the shelves and littered the floor in precarious stacks. There were a few pieces hanging from the ceiling. He'd seen similar parts before. There were bits of a refrigerator in the corner, parts of a coffee maker by the door, half a bicycle hanging near his head. Most he had no clue what they belonged to.

The man looked up from behind the counter. "Can I help you?" He seemed a bit gruff, like Kakashi's appearance was an unwelcome disruption.

Kakashi hesitated, knowing how strange his question would be. "I wanted to ask you about your leg..."

The man frowned. "What of it?"

"Where did it come from? Did you make it?"

A bit of the tension the man had been holding drained away. He gave Kakashi a quick once over, his eyes taking note of Kakashi two intact legs. "Yeah. I made it."

Kakashi grinned. "How much to make another?"

Iruka looked up from his book, startled, as someone knocked on the door. It wasn't entirely strange for someone to visit, but usually he had forewarning. Naruto was out training with Jiraiya, which left Iruka to answer the door. He was moving around better now. It wasn't such a hardship to get up and now that he was down to only one crutch, it was a lot easier to unlock the wards and open the door.

His face paled as he stared at Shizune. She didn't look happy. There was pity on her face as she handed him an envelope. His hand shook as he reached for it. He didn't want it. He could tell already that it was bad and he didn't want to know.

"I'm sorry," Shizune said, and then turned to leave.

Iruka shut the door in a daze. He hobbled back to the couch, let his crutch fall against the cushions as he dropped to the floor. The paper trembled in his hand. He opened it anyways, ripping the top with excessive force and then staring at the words on the paper inside.

It didn't make any sense. There were a lot of words there, big, important words but the ones that stood out were "relieved" and "physically unable" and "liability". Water dripped onto the paper, water that was coming from him. It was hard to read it now, but he didn't need to. He'd read enough to know that his life was over.

He wouldn't be returning to the Academy when the new term started, just a week away. They didn't need him anymore. He wasn't fit, all because his damn leg. He couldn't teach the children how to fight. He couldn't protect them. Despair curled hot and heavy in the pit of his stomach, weighing him down until he thought it would drown him.

For years, his whole purpose in life had revolved around being a teacher. It was what he was good at. It was what gave his life meaning, and now even that too had been taken from him.

His life as it had once been was truly over and there was nothing he could do to get it back.

Kakashi was in a chipper mood as he turned in his mission report, fully completed and on time. Iruka wasn't at the mission desk but that wasn't a surprise. He was likely still on leave, though judging by Kakashi's calculations his leave was supposed to run out soon. He should be hearing back from the Academy any day now, if he hadn't already.

The woman manning the desk frowned as he turned in his report and reached into a pile of scrolls behind her. "This was waiting for you." She handed Kakashi an envelope with the Hokage's seal.

Kakashi raised his eyebrow as he took the envelope. He waited until he was outside to open it. There was a small scrap of paper inside with a single warning scrawled in the Hokage's handwriting:

Iruka has been removed from his Academy position.

The paper burst into flames as it fell from Kakashi's hand. He was gone before it reached the ground, running faster than he ever had before. His feet pounded over rooftop and pavement until he was standing outside of Iruka's door, his fingers flashing through the now-familiar patterns.

Iruka looked up as Kakashi burst inside. The tears on his face and the crumpled paper on the table told Kakashi everything he needed to know. He slid across the floor to wrap his arms around Iruka, holding him tight. He hoped it was enough, hoped that his arms could keep Iruka together, keep him from falling apart. Iruka buried his face in Kakashi's neck. Tears soaked Kakashi's shirt.

"It's going to be okay," Kakashi said, over and over. "I'll fix this. I promise, I'll fix it."

He knew Iruka didn't believe him.

Iruka was asleep when Naruto finally came home. Kakashi was waiting for him, sitting on the couch with one ear trained on Iruka's bedroom, ready to move at the slightest sound of movement. He didn't want to leave Iruka alone, but he needed to tell Naruto his desperate, crazy plan. They both needed to be united against Iruka's protests if Kakashi's plan had any chance of success.

Naruto stared at Kakashi with surprise as he stepped into the living room. "You're back. How was the mission?"

"Enlightening." Kakashi nodded towards a chair. "Sit. We need to talk."

Naruto frowned. "What's wrong?"

"I found someone who can give Iruka a new leg."

Naruto's eyes widened. It was proof of how much Naruto had grown that he didn't automatically leap to excitement. "What? How? Is it dangerous?"

Kakashi nodded, answering the last question first. "We'd need to leave the village. It's about a week's travel there if we take a cart. A covered wagon would be our best shot. There's a chance it won't work. The man... his name's Tamiya, he's a mechanic but he was also a ninja with Sand not that long ago, before he lost his own leg... he says there's a chance it won't work on someone else like it did him, but I want to try."

"Is it sanctioned?"

Kakashi shook his head.

"When do we leave?"

Kakashi grinned. He knew Naruto would be on board. "Tonight would be best. It'll be at least two days before the Hokage needs me and we'll be well on our way by then."

Naruto nodded. "I'll get packed then."

"I'll get the wagon."

Naruto stopped Kakashi with a hand on his arm. "Does Iruka know?"

Kakashi shook his head. "I don't want to get his hopes up. Let him sleep until we're ready to leave."

They posed as a farmer and his son. No one gave them a second look. The wagon was sufficiently full of produce that they had plenty on hand in case anyone wanted to purchase some of their wares. The fact that it also housed a surly, injured ninja went unnoticed. Iruka was not happy with them, especially given that Kakashi refused to say where they were going or why. That didn't matter when they pulled up outside a ramshackle house at the edge of the village. Tamiya sauntered out of the house and gave Kakashi a brief wave. Kakashi waved back.

Tamiya's workshop was just as cluttered as his shop. Iruka cast a critical eye over the place, but said nothing. His eyes widened when he finally caught sight of Tamiya's leg and the grin Tamiya shot him held promise.

Tamiya took measurements. They waited. Loud metallic buzzing came from the workshop. They waited. More measurements. More waiting. Then finally Tamiya was ready. He ran his hand over a table, knocking spare parts to the floor and motioning Iruka to get up on it. He cut through Iruka's right pant leg with a knife, exposing about a foot of flesh before pulling the metal leg out of a box. It looked different than the one Tamiya wore. More metal and slightly darker in the parts that were supposed to match flesh, almost an exact match to Iruka's skin tone.

Iruka winced as the metal slid around his skin, encasing his stump.

"You might want to hold him down for this part."

Kakashi and Naruto moved at the same time as Iruka squeaked out "What?" Then Tamiya twisted his wrench.

There was a flash of strange chakra and Iruka was screaming. Kakashi fell over Iruka's chest, holding him down, keeping him from moving too far as Naruto held down Iruka's legs. He turned, his Sharingan open wide, to watch the chakra play over Iruka's leg. The bit of Tamiya's chakra that had infused the metal leg twisted, pulling at Iruka's chakra like a snake coaxing its child out of its shell. Then the two chakras twisted, combining and fading as Iruka's chakra took over. Kakashi watched as Iruka's chakra spread over the metal and the new leg jerked to life, twitching at the same time as Iruka's flesh leg did as Iruka struggled against the hold.

Iruka's scream died, fading to harsh panting breaths, and as Kakashi turned back to look at Iruka, Iruka was staring up at him with wide-eyed confusion. Kakashi and Naruto leg go, stepping back so that Iruka could sit back. Tamiya was grinning, his eyes running over his invention with pride and pleasure. Iruka stared as his right knee bent. He touched the metal joint with shaking hands.

Iruka's mouth opened but no words came out. He shook his head and turned to Kakashi as new tears rolled down his cheeks. Then he smiled and Kakashi smiled back and finally he knew for certain that Iruka was going to be okay.

Iruka didn't mind riding inside the bumpy wagon. He did the first time, but now he couldn't stop grinning and staring at his new leg. It didn't feel like his old leg. It was heavier, harder. When he slept, the metal was cool against his flesh in a way that he wasn't sure he'd ever get used to. But it bent when he wanted it to and he could walk, really walk, without crutches or someone helping him, and that opened up a whole world of possibilities.

Not active duty. He was still a liability for that. One good hit and his leg was gone, again, but teaching. He could reapply. He could show them that he could protect the children from any threat and he could teach them to fight and how living as a ninja meant never giving up, no matter how much you want to.

He could have his life back, at least the parts that counted, and he had Naruto and Kakashi so really his life was better, so much better than he'd ever imagined.

The wagon stopped unexpectedly. Light streamed through the tiny window high on the wall of the wagon. It was midday. They weren't supposed to be stopping for hours.

There was a loud crash outside, and then the door to the wagon burst open. A man that Iruka had never seen before burst in. He looked surprised to see Iruka, even more surprised as Iruka stood – a bit shakily, he was still getting used to balancing with his new leg – and slashed the man's throat with a kunai from his belt. He kicked – and wasn't that an amazing thing to do, he missed being able to kick things – and sent the man tumbling out the door before he could bleed all over Iruka and their food.

Iruka stepped outside, kunai at the ready, and raised his eyebrows at the thorough ass-kicking the unfortunate bandits were getting. They'd chosen the exact wrong wagon to attack and they were paying for that mistake with their lives. One tried to rush Iruka and he stepped past the man and stabbed him in the back, moving with the blow until he was on the other side of the man's falling corpse. It wasn't as graceful a move as he would have like but he would get better.

Kakashi grinned at him, having obviously seen Iruka take out one of the bandits. He wasn't worried for Iruka and that alone made the whole trip worth it. He could stand on his own. He could fight on his own. He wasn't a prisoner to his own body anymore.

There would be a lot of training in his future. He still moved stiffly, but that was okay for now. The fact that he was moving at all was a miracle. Given time, he could be pretty good. There was power in this new leg that his old, fragile flesh leg had lacked, but he didn't want to push it, not with the only man who could fix it so far away.

Naruto landed in a crouch next to Iruka. He stood slowly, eyes scanning the road for more attackers. Iruka couldn't help but feel a little pride at the excellent ninja Naruto had become. He wasn't entirely to thank for that, wasn't even mostly part of it, but he'd had a hand in it and he'd have a hand in shaping so many more ninja.

Naruto and the others were his legacy, one that he was proud to be able to leave behind.

Kakashi landed on Iruka's other side. "Are we all set here?"

Iruka nodded. The bandits hadn't known what had hit them. Bad luck for them. "I believe we are."

"Back on the road then?" Naruto said with a grin.

"Yeah," Iruka said, his grin matching Naruto's and then echoed beneath Kakashi's mask. "Let's go home."