Iruka dreamed in hazy red. In his dream he was trapped in a box. It was not a big box, but it was a strong one, thick like iron around him. It protected him, but he couldn't remember what he needed protecting from. He just knew that being outside of the box was dangerous, painful, terrifying. It didn't hurt inside his box. He knew his body was in pain, but he couldn't feel it here. He was past pain, beneath it. He floated in his red box while pain hovered like foam on the surface of the sea above him.

He dreamed strange things. Knives. Flashes of metal and red blood. Women screaming and dying all around him. Flesh moving. He dreamed he was changing, morphing like a caterpillar on its way to becoming a butterfly. He dreamed he had wings of bone and he could soars over seas of blood and fresh corpses, but he never got far. There was a snake haunting his dreams and every time he tried to fly away, the snake caught him in its sharp, sharp teeth.

Then the dreams stopped. An arm plunged through the sea and pulled him screaming from his safe little box. It was a familiar arm – pale skin clad in blue and green – but that didn't matter in the face of the pain. This was what he'd forgotten. This was what he'd sealed himself away from, this blazing agony. It went straight through him like hot lava, pooling in his belly and seeping from his every pour.

There were voices. Someone was fighting. The stench of blood and death was all around him. He was strapped to a table and his stomach... there was something wrong with his stomach, something horribly wrong.

"It's going to be alright." The words sounded like they came from a great distance away. They were comforting nonetheless. He felt like he should know the speaker but he couldn't remember. "You're going to be alright."

Strong pale arms picked him up and he screamed until he couldn't scream anymore. He felt like he was falling but there was no box there to catch him, only deep, darkness and the painless bliss that came with it.


The next time Iruka woke he was in a hospital. His head hurt. His entire body hurt, but his head was the worst of it. There was an IV in his arm and judging by the fog in his brain, it was full of some pretty strong painkillers. He must have made some sort of noise because someone squeezed his hand.

Iruka turned his head and blinked up at Kakashi. "Hey." His voice came out raspy. His throat felt raw, like he'd swallowed sandpaper.

"Hey." Kakashi smiled down at him and Iruka felt tension he hadn't even known he'd held release inside his chest. Kakashi had that effect on Iruka, always had. He squeezed Iruka's hand a second time. "How are you feeling?"

"Hurts." The fingers of Iruka's free hand twitched upward, but he wasn't sure whether to gesture towards his head or his whole body. "What... happened?"

Kakashi leaned forward in his chair. Iruka could tell from the way Kakashi's mask crinkled that he was frowning. "You were kidnapped. By Orochimaru. Do you remember that?"

He shook his head. He didn't even remember leaving the village.

Kakashi's frown deepened. "Do you remember your mission?"

He shook his head again. He had a feeling there was something important that he was supposed to remember, but he couldn't. It was all blank.

"What's the last thing you remember?"

He tried to think but it was hard. It felt like he hadn't been gone at all but there was a gulf in his memories, a giant void of nothing that he knew should be filled with something else. "I was... here. Teaching."

Kakashi's grip was tight on his hand. "Maybe it's better that way. We're not sure what he did to you. You were..." The small triangle of visible skin on Kakashi's face paled. "It didn't look good... when we found you. But you're going to be okay now."

Iruka squeezed Kakashi's hand and smiled. It was a weak smile, but it was the best he could offer. Kakashi glanced towards the door and then leaned over the bed. He pulled his mask down and pressed his lips to Iruka's. Iruka closed his eyes. He felt a bit of the pain ease. Kakashi's lips pulled away far too soon. When he opened his eyes, Kakashi's mask was back in place.

"I'm glad you're safe," Kakashi whispered.

Iruka kept smiling. He fell asleep holding Kakashi's hand.


Kakashi's arm wrapped around Iruka's waist, steadying him as he limped into their house. He chuckled slightly. It was far too clean and he knew Kakashi must have spent last night cleaning up just for him. He'd been gone for two months, two months that he didn't remember and he couldn't quite process that long of a gap. It seemed unreal. It was also plenty of time for Kakashi's usual slobdom to overtake the house without Iruka there to tame it. It was hard enough to get Kakashi to clean on a usual day. The fact that he'd gone to the trouble of making the house spotless, cleaner than it'd been the day they'd moved in, was touching. It was also a testament to how much Kakashi must have missed him.

It was good to be home. He was sick of sterile white walls and medical-nins constantly checking on him, not to mention exams from Tsunade herself. Orochimaru had messed him up pretty bad, or so they said. It must have been bad if Tsunade had been called in to deal with it. Or maybe she'd needed to personally check that he wasn't a danger to the village, that Orochimaru hadn't turned him, twisted him in some sick way. He had an appointment at Torture and Interrogation in two days to see if they could fix his memory. He wasn't looking forward to it.

"I missed you."

Iruka turned to look up at Kakashi and smiled. Kakashi's mask was gone. He'd almost forgotten how much he loved that moment when they stepped into their house, the small space that was just theirs and theirs alone, and Kakashi's mask came off. That was the moment when he felt like he really was home.

"I missed you, too."

Kakashi smiled down at him. It was inevitable that their lips would be drawn together. They couldn't help it. The gravity between them was too strong, constantly pulling them to each other no matter the distance. Iruka liked to think that was how Kakashi found him. He grinned as Kakashi's lips settled over his. They'd been together for two years now and yet each kiss felt completely new.

Kakashi's hands settled on his sides, stroking lightly over the bandages. Iruka shivered, a small tremor of fear washing through him. It was strange. He wasn't afraid of Kakashi, but he was a little afraid of what was under the bandages. He didn't remember what Orochimaru had done to him. He wasn't sure he wanted to know, but at the same time not knowing was just as bad. It could have been anything, but Tsunade assured him he was whole. He'd have scars but what was a ninja without scars.

He felt like a ticking time-bomb, just waiting for the right moment to go off.

"You okay?" Kakashi's thumbs rubbed against his stomach.

Iruka nodded. He let his head fall forward onto Kakashi's chest and leeched comfort from that minimal contact. He wanted to press closer, to wrap himself in Kakashi, to crawl inside his skin where it was safe and warm. Instead, he was trapped here, in this fragile, shattered shell of his own being. "I'm sorry." He wasn't sure what he was apologizing for. Nothing. Everything. He felt like this was all his fault. It had to be. He'd been caught and then Kakashi had to risk himself to come rescue him. "You must have been so worried."

Kakashi tensed. His fingers dug into Iruka's skin and then just as quickly let go. Kakashi shifted on his feet. He wrapped his arms around Iruka and held him tight. It was almost painfully tight but he wasn't going to complain. He craved that closeness. Kakashi's warmth surrounded him and he wanted to melt into the embrace.

"It's okay. You're back now. You're safe."

Iruka looked up. He didn't feel safe, not fully. Probably wouldn't for awhile but Kakashi didn't need to know that. Emotion warred on Kakashi's face – worry and grief and love and relief. It was too much. Iruka could feel his heart melting in the face of Kakashi's emotion. He smiled softly and laid his hand on Kakashi's cheek. "I'm safe because of you." Maybe in a day or two, he'd actually believe that.

Kakashi smiled back at him. Iruka relaxed as the last traces of worry faded from Kakashi's face. He brushed his thumb on Kakashi's cheek and then slid his hand around to comb through Kakashi's hair. Kakashi's smile widened. He let Iruka pull his head down.

Their lips met in a gentle kiss that turned deeper in seconds. Iruka moaned and shifted closer. It felt like just a few days since he'd had sex with Kakashi but he knew for Kakashi it had been so much longer. He could feel Kakashi holding himself back from pressing Iruka against the wall. Kakashi's hands flexed on his ass, instinctively tightening and then relaxing a few seconds later when his brain caught up. Iruka didn't mind. He knew they shouldn't. He'd just gotten out of the hospital. He still had bandages covering his stomach but he knew how much Kakashi needed him, and how much he needed Kakashi. He needed this, or a small part of his brain would worry that he was still trapped in Orochimaru's torture chamber.

Iruka tugged lightly on the front of Kakashi's shirt and shifted backwards. Kakashi pulled away, leaving them both gasping for air as they tried to refill their lungs with much needed air. He looked at Iruka questioningly.

"Bedroom?"

Kakashi's grinned but he didn't move. "Are you sure?" His hand rested lightly on Iruka's stomach. "You're injured."

Iruka snorted. "Like that's ever stopped us."

Kakashi finally moved. He kept his arms around Iruka as they climbed the stairs to the bedroom. Iruka's stomach ached but he ignored it in favor of the warmth of Kakashi's hands on him. He couldn't stop grinning, and it only got worse when they stepped into the bedroom.

The bed felt like a cloud as he carefully lay back against the pillows. Kakashi followed him down with a grin. Neither of them said anything. They didn't need words. Not for this. Their eyes and hands spoke all they needed. Kakashi watched Iruka with a smug smile as he stripped off his own shirt and vest. Iruka appreciated the show. He was rather fond of the chiseled lines of Kakashi's chest and he liked watching Kakashi's muscles ripple as he moved, tossing his clothes to the floor before carefully lifting Iruka's shirt out of the way. It took both of them to get the shirt off without jostling his injuries too much. His pants were harder. Iruka managed the zipper by himself but he needed Kakashi's help to get them off. Kakashi's hand rested on the small of his back, holding him up off the mattress just enough that they could slide Iruka's pants down his hips. A blush spread across Iruka's face as the last of his clothes were pulled away, leaving him naked and exposed in front of Kakashi.

Terror washed over him in a brief flash. He felt like someone was groping his stomach from the inside, feeling around his organs and shifting them. His chest clenched and he hissed in pain.

Kakashi's hands pulled him back to reality. Their gentle touch soothed his fear and he forced a smile.

Kakashi frowned slightly. "You okay?"

Iruka nodded. "It just hurt for a moment."

"Do you want to stop?"

He shook his head.

Kakashi hesitated before finally taking off his own pants. Iruka licked his lips as Kakashi's growing erection sprang free. He wanted to take it in his mouth, but he knew his stomach injury wouldn't let him. Besides, that wouldn't be enough for Kakashi. It'd be good, but not enough. He shifted on the bed and parted his legs in open invitation.

"What do you want?" Kakashi asked. The mattress dipped as he settled between Iruka's legs.

Iruka didn't even need to think about it. He knew what Kakashi needed. It was the same thing Kakashi always needed after a long mission, only this time Iruka was the one who'd been gone too long. "Fuck me."

"Are you sure?"

He nodded. Still, Kakashi hesitated, uncertainty clear on his face. Iruka smiled and pulled Kakashi to him. He let his lips convey his certainty, let his tongue show his want. His hands wandered, mapping the scarred plains of Kakashi's back. He could feel bones not far beneath the skin and almost pulled away. Kakashi hadn't been eating. He knew that boney feel from when they'd first started dating, before Kakashi had Iruka around to make sure he ate right and took care of himself. Guilt welled up in Iruka. Another apology hung on his lips but Kakashi's mouth swallowed it. Kakashi's body chased the guilt away as he shifted closer, edging between Iruka's thighs until their erections brushed against each other.

Iruka moaned. Kakashi broke the kiss and Iruka let his head fall back. He moaned again and felt Kakashi's hips twitch forward in response. Kakashi grinned. His lips settled over Iruka's pulse and sucked hard enough to leave a mark. That was one mark Iruka would be proud to have. Kakashi's hand snaked beneath Iruka's back again. He lifted Iruka's hips and then slid a pillow beneath, propping up Iruka's ass for easier access for both of them. Iruka grinned and hooked his ankles behind Kakashi's knees.

Kakashi stretched, reaching over Iruka to pull out the tube of lube they kept stashed near the headboard. Iruka shivered with want. His eyes caught Kakashi's and held as Kakashi slicked his fingers. He couldn't keep that hold when Kakashi's fingers pressed into him, all three at once, sliding in like they belonged there. In Iruka's opinion, they did. He never felt more alive than he did when he had Kakashi inside of him. His eyes rolled back and he moaned, loud enough to draw complaints from the neighbors. He loved not having neighbors, at least none that could hear him through his bedroom walls.

"You like that?"

Iruka tilted his head back up and debated swatting Kakashi. If he wasn't injured, he would have rolled his hips, pushed himself down on Kakashi's fingers. That would be a bad idea right now so instead he moaned and directed a smoldering look Kakashi's way. "What do you think?"

Kakashi curled his fingers and dragged them against Iruka's insides as he slowly pulled his fingers out. Iruka nearly came. Wet precum rolled down his cock. He gasped and clenched his hands in the sheets. His stomach hurt but he ignored it, pushed the pain away and focused instead on the pleasure of Kakashi's fingers moving inside of him, stretching and sliding against his skin. He wanted to move his hips, to give something back. Kakashi's free hand pressed against his hips, just below the bandages, holding him down.

"Later," Kakashi promised. Iruka could only imagine the sort of things later promised. He wanted to climb on top of Kakashi and ride him through both their releases. He wanted Kakashi to fold him in half and fuck him until he screamed. He wanted to drop to his knees and suck Kakashi off, to feel the heavy weight of Kakashi's erection filling his mouth and taste his come. All of those would have to wait for later. For now he had Kakashi's fingers pulling out of him and a slick, smooth cock sliding in to take their place.

He groaned and twisted his hands in the sheets. "Kakashi." The name came out half-whine, half-plea.

Kakashi's hips jerked forward a bit too hard, jolting his stomach muscles. He hissed. Kakashi's hips stilled instantly. The hand on his hips rubbed soft circles. "Sorry. I'm sorry."

Kakashi started to pull out. Iruka grabbed him by the wrist, his grip a bit too hard but neither of them cared. "Don't stop. Please. I need..."

Kakashi nodded. He moved his hands to hold Iruka's hips, not too tight, but enough to hold him in place as Kakashi started to push in again. Kakashi moved slow, careful. It was a little strange. This was the kind of sex reserved for lazy Sunday mornings, when they were both still wrapped in the foggy haze of lingering sleep. This wasn't their fast and furious welcome home sex, but it felt right nonetheless. Kakashi slid in and out, slow and sure as the tides of the ocean, the gentle wave of his passion washing over and into Iruka.

Iruka's head fell back against the pillows. His breath escaped in short bursts, low gasps of air that never seemed to be enough. His chest burned, but it wasn't entirely from the lack of air. He could feel Kakashi's heat pouring into him, spreading from their joined hips until it reached his every pore. He reached up to wrap his arms around Kakashi's neck and pull him down into a soft kiss. Their lips brushed against each other, never settling for long but touching together as soft and gentle as the roll of Kakashi's hips into him.

His breathing slowed. His mind cleared of everything that wasn't this, wasn't Kakashi and their heat and their bodies and the joining of it all. His world narrowed to include only them and their bed. Nothing else mattered, not Orochimaru, not his kidnapping, not the fear that Orochimaru had left behind. It didn't matter because he had Kakashi and Kakashi was all he would ever need.

It felt like they were joined forever. It ended too soon. Iruka felt warmth pooling in the scarred pit of his belly and then he was coming, spilling his seed against Kakashi's stomach. Kakashi pressed in again and again, slowing but not stilling until a few minutes later when his hips faltered, skipping a beat before thrusting in and stilling. Kakashi came inside of him and he felt something in his stomach twist, like a lock coming undone. Pain spiked in his belly and then was gone before he could even react.

Kakashi's hand was in his hair, stroking through the loose strands. He must have blacked out for a moment, not long enough for Kakashi to notice, but long enough that Iruka missed Kakashi moving. He smiled, trying to be reassuring in case Kakashi had noticed anything.

"You okay?"

Iruka was going to get sick of hearing that soon. Not today though, not when Kakashi was looking at him with soft, mismatched eyes, his face full of love and concern.

"Yeah," he lied. "I'm fine. I love you."

"I love you too."

He would be fine. He would. Not now, but soon. All he needed was a little time.


A woman screamed. She had been ripped open from breast to pelvis, all of her organs on display. Iruka didn't know her, but he felt he should, felt he should mourn this unnamed woman whose life was being ripped away from her. But he didn't have time to mourn. A blood-covered hand plunged through his skin, into his belly and he screamed.

Iruka woke screaming. Strong arms came around him. He tried to fight them, to escape their tight hold, but he couldn't, he was tied down. He couldn't move. Couldn't escape.

"Iruka. Iruka, it's okay. I'm here."

Kakashi. That was Kakashi and Kakashi's arms around him. He was in their bed in their house and he was safe. He didn't feel safe.

He let Kakashi pull him back down beneath the covers. He twisted in Kakashi's hold and curled into Kakashi's chest, pressing tight against the warm, solid flesh as tears rolled down his eyes. His chest shook with sobs that he fought to keep in. Kakashi's hands rubbed soothing circles on his back.

"I'm sorry," Iruka sobbed. He hated feeling like this. He hated crying. He hated that he couldn't stop. "I'm sorry."

"Shh." Kakashi squeezed him and didn't let go. "It's okay. You're safe. I'm here."

"Sorry." He pressed his eyes shut. It didn't stop the tears but it slowed them down.

"It's okay."

He breathed in Kakashi's scent. His body slowly unwound, calming part by part. Kakashi's hands soothed the tension out of him. His tears dried. His shivering slowed to nothing.

He breathed.

"Better?"

He nodded. Iruka slowly pulled away. "Thank you." He looked up at Kakashi. There was no reproach there, only concern. "I'm sorry."

Kakashi's thumb brushed against Iruka's cheek. "You don't need to be."

This was becoming far too familiar an argument. Iruka sighed. He kissed Kakashi once, soft, and then rolled away, slipping out of bed. The bedroom floor was far too cold in comparison. Part of him wanted to crawl back in bed with Kakashi but he knew he wouldn't be able to sleep. He never could after one of his nightmares.

He turned the shower up as hot as it would go. The blistering heat scoured his skin, chasing away the morning chill and replacing it with warmth. His skin burned red, but he didn't care.

The water cooled to a more normal level. Iruka opened his eyes and watched through the clinging veil of his wet hair as Kakashi joined him in the shower. He smiled and leaned against Kakashi. Strong hands worked shampoo into his hair. He let Kakashi tilt his head back into the shower spray. His eyes closed as Kakashi rinsed the shampoo out and stayed closed as Kakashi put conditioner in Iruka's hair and then started to soap up Iruka's body. Kakashi's hands brushed over Iruka's stomach and he winced, instinctively pulling away.

"It's okay," Kakashi whispered as he pulled Iruka back against him.

Kakashi kissed him once and then turned Iruka into the spray to rinse off. He stayed there as Kakashi quickly washed, and then switched places, watching from the other side of the shower as Kakashi rinsed himself. He smiled.

When the water shut off, Iruka was the first to reach for a towel. He stepped close to Kakashi and rubbed the towel over Kakashi's hair. It stood up in uneven spikes when he was done, making him smile even more. They took turns drying each other off before stepping out of the shower.

Iruka was lucky. He was reminded of that every morning. He was so lucky to have Kakashi and his patience for Iruka and Iruka's slow recovery. He knew Kakashi wasn't upset about it, he didn't blame Iruka, but Iruka couldn't help blaming himself. It'd been months since his kidnapping. He didn't even remember much of it, but that didn't stop him from having nightmares.

Kakashi followed him into the bedroom. They both turned to their respective dressers and dressed in silence. Iruka frowned as he pulled on his pants. He was gaining weight, which was weird since he'd barely been eating. Maybe his clothes had shrunk, or he'd grabbed Kakashi's by mistake. He glanced out of the corner of his eye at Kakashi. Kakashi's pants seemed to fit fine. He sighed and tried on a different pair to the same result. He'd have to buy new pants if he gained any more weight.

His stomach rolled. He glanced at the clock. There was no time to make breakfast, but he should be able to pick something up on the way to class. His stomach would be hell all day if he didn't. He hated feeling this way, sick and tired and hating himself for being so weak.

Kakashi's arms came around him. He felt Kakashi's nose brush against his neck and he smiled in spite of himself.

"Have a good day at work."

Iruka craned his neck to press a kiss against the corner of Kakashi's jaw. "Come home safe." His nightmares were always worst before Kakashi left for a mission.

Kakashi pressed a kiss below Iruka's ear. "I promise."

Iruka knew he should say something about not making promises you can't keep, but he desperately wanted Kakashi to keep this promise. He was terrified every time Kakashi left that something would happen to him. It hadn't yet, but their time would come one day. Until then, he liked to hope that Kakashi would keep his promise, would come back to him safe and whole.

He forced a smile that was only half fake. It was getting easier to smile, easier to just be, to live without fear that Orochimaru was going to come back for him, was going to use him to do something horrible. He was okay, or at least close enough. Kakashi would be okay.

"I'll keep you to that." He kissed Kakashi to seal their promise.

Kakashi would come back to him. He had to.


Of all the things Iruka had had to readjust to after his kidnapping, class had been the easiest. If the children knew or suspected what had happened to him, they didn't let on. Iruka doubted they knew. Few people talked about it when a shinobi was kidnapped, and when they did it was always in quiet whispers. It was considered bad luck to talk about someone who was gone, as if talking about it made their situation worse. In a way it did, at least for those left behind. The conversation was a reminder of what was missing.

As far as the children were concerned, he'd been on vacation to visit relatives he didn't even know he had. The children didn't question it, and he gave them no reason to. They were too young to wonder why he kept his back to the wall so often, why he started when the door opened suddenly, or why he kept them close to the school and didn't take them on any fieldtrips. When they were older they'd recognize the signs but for now they were blissfully ignorant.

Iruka preferred it that way.

He was in the middle of a lesson on taijutsu when their ignorance was challenged. The chalkboard was covered in diagrams. He was explaining the ways chakra flowed through the different channels in the body to strengthen muscles and improve fighting abilities when nausea punched him in the stomach. Dizziness washed over him. He swayed on his feet and gripped the corner of his desk. His face felt flushed with fever.

"Sensei?"

Iruka forced a smile and straightened. His stomach rolled and he swallowed bile. "Stay in your seats. I'll be right back."

He could feel their eyes on him as he left the classroom. He swallowed again. He needed to get to a bathroom soon. He popped his head into the staffroom. "I need someone to watch my class for a minute."

"I've got it." Kurenai stood from her chair. "You okay?"

He offered a wry smile. "Lunch hates me."

The two other teachers in the room chuckled. Kurenai offered an understanding smile. "Go on. I'll watch them. What are they on?"

"I was explaining taijutsu."

He made it to the bathroom just in time. Iruka knelt on the tile and puked. It felt like he was puking for hours, though he knew it had only been minutes. His stomach was empty but he couldn't stop gagging. Once his stomach finally stopped, he leaned back against the wall with a groan. He should probably swing by the hospital for a checkup, but he was supposed to meet with Ibiki later before working a shift in the mission room. He'd probably just left the fish too long in the fridge. He'd been distracted lately. It was just food poisoning.

He stood with a groan and rinsed his mouth. By the time he made it back to his classroom, his stomach felt much better. He pasted a smile on his face and took over from Kurenai like nothing had happened.


"I had another nightmare," Iruka said as he took a seat in front of Ibiki's desk.

Ibiki raised an eyebrow but otherwise didn't look up from his paperwork. It was surprising how well Iruka could read Ibiki's expressions now. He supposed weekly appointments with Torture and Interrogation would do that, though he'd never been tortured and only nominally interrogated. In a way it was almost comforting being here. If he were to do anything, they would stop him. But so far all of their probes into his brain had found nothing. The only thing they had to go on were his nightmares.

"I dreamed Orochimaru was killing women and removing their organs. In the dream, they were strapped to tables like I was, but Orochimaru was just killing them."

"That all?"

He nodded and then realized Ibiki wasn't looking at him. He probably saw it anyways but Iruka felt the need to verbally respond. "Yeah."

"Any new pain? Strange side-effects?"

He hesitated. Ibiki looked up at him. He didn't raise an eyebrow, didn't frown more than his usual scowl, just looked. It was enough.

"I was nauseous earlier. I think I had some bad fish."

Ibiki stared at him for a moment and then nodded. He turned back to his paperwork and scribbled something. "Next week."

"Of course." He bowed slightly as he stood. It was strange how talking with Ibiki every week made him feel better, but it did. Each time he came here and was given the all-clear he felt a bit more normal, a bit more like his old self.


After his third day in a row of nausea, Iruka finally went in for a check-up. He grimaced as the medical-nin pulled up his shirt and tried not to look at the ugly scars that crisscrossed his stomach. He hated them. They were a constant reminder that he'd been kidnapped, a constant reminder that his mind had betrayed him, and a constant reminder of the nebulous, unknown doom possibly awaiting him. The medical-nin performed a simple jutsu and then spread her hands over his stomach. She frowned. She did the jutsu again. Her frown deepened.

"Wait here."

Iruka leaned back against the examination table and stared up at the ceiling. He closed his eyes, not quite falling asleep but resting. He needed all the rest he could get these days. His nightmares left him feeling constantly tired. He was sleeping like shit without Kakashi. At least he only had to wait two more days before Kakashi was supposed to be back.

The door opened. A second medical-nin followed the first in. She smiled at Iruka. "Hi. This will be just another minute." Her hands flashed through a complicated jutsu, slightly more elaborate than what the other medical-nin had used. She stared at Iruka's stomach and frowned. "Huh." The smile she gave him was forced. "We'll be right back."

They left. Iruka shifted on the exam table, trying for a more comfortable spot. His stomach was cold. Several minutes passed in silence. He was too nervous now to nap. There had to be something seriously wrong with him. He could tell from the looks on the two medical-nins faces. What had Orochimaru done to him? Why hadn't they noticed sooner? Was he dying?

The door opened again. Iruka frowned as Tsunade walked in. She was flanked by Shizune and the two previous medical-nins. He'd seen more of the Hokage in the last few months that he had in the past two years combined. "What's wrong with me?"

Tsunade smiled and patted his hand, somewhat awkwardly. "You'll be fine. Ariya and Shiori just wanted me to check their findings."

That didn't reassure him at all. Tsunade performed another jutsu and held her hands over his stomach. She nodded to herself. Her lips shifted towards a frown. Iruka could tell she was trying to suppress the expression. Her fingers flashed through another jutsu and then another. Her frown grew more prominent.

"Leave us." The two medical-nins left. Shizune looked to Tsunade for confirmation before she also left the room. Tsunade waited until the door closed and they were alone. "You're pregnant."

Iruka sat upright. His face drained of blood and he shivered as a chill ran through him. "I'm what?"

Tsunade pulled a chair over from the edge of the room and sat down next to him. "You're pregnant. I know it seems strange, but the baby is definitely there. You're about six weeks along." He stared at her. "You and Kakashi are exclusive?"

He nodded dumbly. He should say something, refute it as impossible but his mouth wouldn't work. He didn't have words for this level of absurdity.

"Then we can safely assume that Kakashi is the father. Congratulations."

"What?" He spit the word out. His brain was spinning. This couldn't be real. If it was real, he'd have to tell Kakashi. How was he supposed to tell Kakashi?

Tsunade took his hand in both of hers. Iruka stared down at their joined hands. Her skin felt too warm, or maybe he was just too cold. "You're pregnant. This is not a joke or trick. It happened." She frowned and squeezed his hands. "This must be what Orochimaru did when he kidnapped you. You told Ibiki that you thought Orochimaru was experimenting on women." For a minute he almost asked how she knew that but of course she knew, Ibiki reported to her. He was a little surprised she was paying that much attention to him, but it wasn't every day Orochimaru let anyone come back whole. "There is a baby inside of you, growing inside of a uterus. Obviously not yours, originally. There must have been a seal on it, to keep us from finding it when we examined you earlier."

"Can you take it out?" He choked on the words. Terror filled him. There was something alien inside of him, something not part of him and Orochimaru had put it there.

"Not without killing the baby."

Iruka's brain froze on those words. The baby. His baby. His baby with Kakashi. "No." The word was out before he even realized he'd spoken. He licked his lips. He should ask Kakashi, should check with him first, but he knew what he wanted. "No. I want the baby."

Tsunade nodded. She leaned back in her chair, letting Iruka's hand fall from her grasp. "This is likely what Orochimaru wanted. He knew you're Kakashi's partner. It's not a secret, so he must have known. He wants access to Kakashi's bloodline, access he can't get through Kakashi."

Iruka's blood ran cold and he wrapped his arms around his stomach. Orochimaru was using him but a small, insane part of him didn't care. He had a baby. Ever since he was a kid he'd wanted a family, a real family to call his own. He'd lost his parents far too early. He'd given up on that dream when he'd realized he was homosexual. He could adopt – war left plenty of orphans – but there was a selfish part of him that wanted a child made from him. This was like a dream and nightmare twisted together. He loved Kakashi. He wanted to have Kakashi's child, as bizarre and unreal as that sounded. He'd never even dreamed it was possible and now that it was, now that it was real, he wouldn't let anyone get in the way.

"He can't have my baby."

Tsunade grinned. "I was hoping you'd say that."


Kakashi frowned and stared out the front door for a long moment before finally stepping all the way inside. He shut the door and stared at Iruka. "There are ANBU on our roof."

Iruka fidgeted with the pen in his hand and set it down. Grading would have to wait. "Welcome home." His voice came out strangled, which only made Kakashi's frown deepen.

"Why are there ANBU on our roof?"

Iruka had been practicing this conversation in his head for the last two days, but all those practiced words had fled the second Kakashi walked in the door. His mind was blank. He couldn't think of what to say and Kakashi kept staring at him. Iruka had gone pale. His face felt cold. He shivered and stared at the test papers scattered across the coffee table.

"You should sit down." That was as good of a start as he could manage.

"Iruka, what's wrong?"

He didn't want to look at Kakashi. He couldn't. All of a sudden, he felt ashamed. Kakashi hadn't asked for this. It hadn't even been a possibility. It felt like a violation of Kakashi's trust. The village had been pressuring Kakashi for an heir for years and Iruka suddenly felt like he'd tricked Kakashi into making an heir, though neither of them had known that was a possibility at the time.

Kakashi's fingers lightly gripped Iruka's chin and turned Iruka to face him. "It's okay. Just tell me." His thumb brushed soothingly over Iruka's cheek.

"I'm pregnant."

Kakashi's eyes widened. His hand fell away. Iruka cringed and turned to stare at the floor.

"Really?" He'd never heard Kakashi sound like that. His voice was high and breathless. Iruka peeked out of the corner of his eye and then turned fully to stare at Kakashi. He was grinning widely, his face full of wonder. Kakashi leaned forward, closing the distance between them. "We have a baby?"

Iruka nodded dumbly. He hadn't expected Kakashi to take the news nearly that well. "You're not mad?"

Kakashi pulled back with a frown. "No. Why would I be mad?"

"Because it's not natural? Because I shouldn't be able to have children?"

Kakashi grinned wryly. "Well, I was wondering about that part. Was it a jutsu?"

Iruka paled. He almost didn't want to admit it, not after Kakashi seemed so happy. "Orochimaru."

Kakashi frowned and squeezed Iruka's knee. "Are you going to be alright? Is it safe?"

He hadn't even thought to ask that. "Yeah. I think so." Tsunade would have told him otherwise. "Tsunade thinks Orochimaru wants your heir."

Kakashi raised an eyebrow. "He'll have to get through you, me, those two ANBU," Kakashi pointed towards the roof, "and the rest of the village. Good luck to him."

Right. Kakashi was right. There was no way Orochimaru could get their child as long as he stayed inside of the village. Still, he couldn't help but worry.

Kakashi framed Iruka's face with his hands and leaned in for a deep kiss. "I love you." He kissed Iruka again before Iruka could respond. "I love you so much." He could feel Kakashi grin against his lips. Iruka chuckled into another kiss. Kakashi's hands shifted to Iruka's stomach, slipping under his shirt to press against his bare belly. "We have a baby."

He'd never heard Kakashi sound so happy. It made Iruka melt. He leaned into Kakashi and rested his head on Kakashi's shoulder. Kakashi turned his head a pressed his lips against Iruka's neck. He kept going, trailing a line of kisses up Iruka's chin until their mouths met again. Kakashi's tongue pushed in and ran over the top of Iruka's mouth. Iruka shivered and shifted closer on the couch.

Kakashi pulled back slightly and grinned like a loon. "We have a baby."

Iruka laughed. Kakashi's mood was infectious and he grinned back. "We do." He put a hand on his stomach, on top of both of Kakashi's. "Right here."

Kakashi surged forward to catch Iruka's mouth again. He shifted on the couch, sliding his hands around to Iruka's hips. His weight fell on Iruka, pushing him down onto the couch. They shifted, maneuvering awkwardly until they were lying stretched out on the couch with Kakashi on top of Iruka. Kakashi kept kissing him, his mouth never drifting far from Iruka's skin. Iruka lifted his hips and grinned even wider as he felt Kakashi's erection press against him through their pants. Kakashi was fully hard. He ground down into Iruka and they both moaned.

"Marry me."

Iruka pulled back sharply. He had to push Kakashi away but Kakashi kept trying to kiss him. "What?" It took him a minute to process the words – two simple words, really, but they were completely unexpected – and then he realized how stupid that question was, especially following a proposal. His second response wasn't much better. "Really?"

"Yeah." Kakashi twisted out of Iruka's hold and kissed him again like he was trying to devour Iruka. "I'll get you a ring." Kakashi's tongue did wicked things inside Iruka's mouth. "A dozen rings if you want. One for each month." Kakashi pressed soft kisses to the corner of Iruka's lips. "Just marry me."

"Okay." Iruka laughed. His life had gone completely insane but he loved it. He loved Kakashi so much and he was going to love their baby. Kakashi grinned madly. "Yes. I'll marry you."

Kakashi latched on to Iruka's mouth. His hand slid over Iruka's belly once and then continued down, pushing into Iruka's pants to close around his erection. Iruka gasped into Kakashi's mouth and bucked up into Kakashi's hand. His hand twisted in the back of Kakashi's vest. He undid Kakashi's pants with one hand and grabbed Kakashi's erection. Their breath mingled in short bursts. There was no rhythm to their movements, just hands and hips and bodies rubbing together in frantic need.

Iruka moaned as he came. Kakashi kept kissing him, pressing his body tight down into Iruka as Iruka stroked him to completion. Kakashi gasped. Iruka leaned up, closing the distance between them to swallow Kakashi's breath as he came into Iruka's hand. He felt delirious, too warm and too happy but he never wanted to move. He had Kakashi on top of him and a small part of Kakashi inside of him.

They were going to have a child. His life couldn't be better. They'd keep the child safe from Orochimaru and they'd both have the family they'd always wanted.


Iruka smiled as he watched the children file out of his classroom. He imagined his child among their ranks, screaming happily as the day's lessons came to an end. What would their child look like? Would it be tall and lanky like Kakashi or short and somewhat stout like Iruka? Would its skin be pale or tan or a mix between the two? Black hair or white? He couldn't wait to find out.

Two knocks sounded on the open doorway, followed by a somewhat familiar voice. "Hey."

Iruka's smile faded slightly, just a fraction, as he turned to the door. "Hi."

Mitarashi Anko stood in the doorway to Iruka's classroom. It wasn't that Iruka disliked her. He'd never really had a chance to get to know her. Much like Kakashi, she'd always seemed out of his league, like she was better than him. He doubted she saw it that way but sometimes it was hard to shake the inferiority of being a lowly chuunin surrounded by a bunch of amazingly talented people.

"Can I walk you home?"

He bit back the instant no and smiled. "Sure." He wondered if she knew or if Tsunade had ordered her to be his latest bodyguard. As if the two ANBU following him around weren't enough. He couldn't sense them, but he knew they were in sight. His days of privacy and alone-time were over. It was worth it.

Anko smiled and trailed him out of the Academy building. She swung her arms as she walked, her steps almost comically exaggerated. It reminded him a lot of Naruto.

"You're probably wondering why I'm here," she said once they were out on the streets. Her swinging arms stopped and she tucked her hands in the pockets of her giant overcoat.

Iruka raised any eyebrow. "Not really, no."

Anko glanced sideways at him. "Tsunade asked me to talk to you."

"Oh." Iruka straightened slightly. So she wasn't a bodyguard. Instead, Tsunade had sent her as... what? A comrade? Someone who'd gone through similar pain? Iruka doubted his experience lived up to the years Anko had spent with Orochimaru. "She did?"

Anko nodded. She stared straight ahead of her, her eyes following the crowd ahead of them on the street. "Yeah. She said... Well, she didn't give specifics, but she said Orochimaru..." Her voice caught on the name. It was barely perceptible, could have almost been mistaken for a pause for breath, but Iruka knew enough of her background to know otherwise. "He did something to you?"

Iruka hesitated before nodding. He hadn't told anyone yet, just Kakashi. He wasn't sure how many of the medical staff besides Tsunade knew. It wasn't that he wanted to keep it a secret, necessarily, though that was achingly tempting. But it would be hard to keep something like that a secret and he didn't want to, not really. He'd given Kakashi permission to tell anyone he felt needed to know but Iruka wasn't sure he was quite ready to tell anyone himself.

It still seemed so strange and wondrous and frightening.

"Well, Tsunade thought I might be able to... I don't know. Offer advice, maybe?" She smiled, but it was an off smile, part wry, part sad. "There's not many of us. The Survivors Club, I guess you could call it. You and me and Yamato and Sasuke. Only one in ten survive, they say."

Iruka shuddered. He hadn't really thought about it that way, but Anko was right. Most of Orochimaru's experiments died. He could have died.

"So. Welcome to the club." She clapped him on the back, hard enough that he almost fell over.

He caught himself and smiled at her. "Thanks." His days of being a lowly chuunin really were over if Anko was counting him among her ranks. He sighed. "I never really thought about that. I mean, I don't remember any of it. I never even thought about... about dying."

She nodded. "Yeah. He erased my memory too, at first. But I got it back. Maybe you can too."

Iruka shuddered. "I don't need it, thanks. I don't want to remember."

She shrugged and spun around as they stopped outside of his house. "That's your choice too." She caught his gaze and her expression shifted from jovial to serious in a blink. "Always remember that. It's your choice."

He stared at her. The words took a moment to sink in and then he nodded. She was right. It was his choice. What he did from now, with the – curse? modification? – that Orochimaru had gave him, it was his choice. He stared at the front door of his house and imagined the laughter of children filling it.

"Would you like to come in for some tea?"

Anko smiled. "I would."


The front door banged open. Anko half-rose from the couch, kunai in hand, and then stopped with a confused expression on her face. A giant box with a picture of a pristine white crib plaster on all sides walked into the house, supported by two pale arms and two thin legs. Iruka took one look at the box and dropped his face into his hands with a groan.

"Good evening." Kakashi's beaming face appeared around the side of the box. He pulled his mask down with one hand. "Hey, Anko."

Anko raised an eyebrow but settled back on the couch. "Is that..."

Kakashi's grin got even wider. "It's for the baby."

Iruka tried to sink into the couch without much luck.

Anko looked between Kakashi and Iruka. "Baby?"

Kakashi dropped the box at the foot of the stairs. He frowned at Iruka, looking almost like a disappointed puppy. "You didn't tell her?"

Iruka sighed. He let his head fall back against the couch cushions and stared at the ceiling. "No. Not yet."

Kakashi shifted on his feet and scratched the back of his head. "Oops?"

Iruka resisted the urge to sigh again. He shook his head, the motion coming off a little odd with his head still propped on the back of the couch. "No, it's alright." He rolled his head towards Anko. "I'm pregnant."

Her eyes went wide and he could tell her smile was a touch forced. "That's great."

Kakashi's grin returned in full force. "Baby!"

"Kakashi, where do you want this?"

Iruka sat up straight and nearly choked as Genma walked in carrying a rocking chair.

"Upstairs." Kakashi grinned at Iruka. "I bought a few things. Is that okay?"

Iruka had a feeling his definition of 'a few things' and Kakashi's differed greatly. His suspicion was confirmed when Raidou followed Genma in a second later with an armload of shopping bags. Iruka sighed. "Yeah, it's fine."

He was tempted to take that statement back when Gai walked in pushing a stroller. "Greetings, wondrous, fertile Iruka, bearer of my eternal rival's heir!"

Iruka's hands tightened on the couch cushions, strangling the edge of his seat instead of the neck he suddenly wished was in reach. He could feel his face changing color, heating red and then draining pale and then back again as rage and mortification warred within him.

"Kakashi!"

Kakashi's spikey mop of hair appeared at the top of the staircase. He took one look at Iruka, then at Gai, and jumped down the stairs. He pushed Gai forward. "Perhaps you should take that upstairs." In a lower voice, probably not meant for Iruka to hear, he continued, "and do not call him 'fertile'."

Gai beamed as he trotted up the stairs.

Kakashi looked pointedly at Anko. "Can you give us a minute?"

She stood a little too fast. Iruka didn't really blame her for wanting to escape. He wouldn't want to sit beside himself either right now. "Sure thing. I'll just go refill the tea pot." She grabbed the teapot and escaped into the relative safety of the kitchen.

"Are you mad about all the baby stuff?"

Iruka debated for a moment saying yes but that was a lie. His anger deflated and he shook his head. "No. It's just... weird."

Kakashi nodded. "I got something for you too."

Iruka raised an eyebrow, and then raised both as Kakashi reached into his pocket and dropped to one knee. "I know I already asked you, but I wanted to do it properly. Will you marry me?" Kakashi opened the small box to reveal a plain gold ring, nothing fancy or ornate. Iruka loved it.

"Of course."

Kakashi grinned madly as he slipped the ring onto Iruka's finger. Iruka was stuck now, he supposed, with a mad lover and his mad smiles that Iruka doubted would ever go away. He didn't want them too. He wanted to be stuck with Kakashi, even if he was a little bit insane. They kissed and then instantly broke apart as a chorus of whistles and catcalls surrounded them.

Iruka blushed and smiled at his friends.

Then Gai opened his mouth. "The springtime of your youth has blossomed into a wonderful summer of love. I'm so happy for my eternal rival and his soon-to-be wife!"

Iruka squeezed Kakashi's hand a bit too hard and glared. "Wife!?"

Kakashi and Gai both wisely chose that moment to retreat outside.


Iruka fidgeted with the ring on his left hand. He couldn't stop staring at it. Every few minutes he felt the need to touch it, to make sure it was real. It also gave him a distraction from the jutsu Tsunade was casting over his protruding belly. The novelty of being pregnant had worn off months ago, as had his ability to hide his condition. He'd taken to wearing very baggy shirts that looked like tents on him, but at least they accommodated his bulging stomach. Unsurprisingly, there wasn't anything well suited for male maternity wear so he had to make due, as undignified and unappealing as it made him look.

He was growing used to the stares, though he doubted he would ever get used to people's insistence on touching the damn thing. At least they asked now, after the first three people to touch him without asking almost lost their arms. He wasn't sure which seemed to be more interesting to the citizens of Konoha – the fact that he was a male that was pregnant, which everyone seemed to be taking more or less in stride as far as he could tell, or the fact that he was carrying the heir to the Hatake bloodline. There were rumors circulating already about how powerful Kakashi's kid would be.

He was okay with taking the Hatake name since he didn't have a bloodline to carry on but he wished that his child – his daughter, he remembered, at least according to what Tsunade had said last visit – could be just that – a child, not a potential Hatake prodigy or a rushed out ninja. He wanted his daughter to have a normal childhood, no matter what their abilities were, something that neither Iruka or Kakashi had had a chance at.

"All set." Tsunade stepped back with a smile. Iruka struggled to sit up. It felt like he was balancing a bowling ball on his belly. "You've got maybe a week or two left before you're due."

Iruka froze and stared at her. "Already?" It seemed like too soon, but as he did the math in his head it came out to about nine months. He felt like he was never going to be rid of the baby inside of him but the prospect of having it out that soon was like a ray of hope. He could have his old body back soon, or at least most of it.

"You're almost there. I'll be increasing the number of guards following you, for both your protection and the baby's."

He nodded and shifted carefully onto his feet. "Of course." The fact that Orochimaru hadn't made a move yet was a bit surprising. Perhaps he was waiting for Kakashi to go out on another mission, which wasn't going to happen until after the baby was born. Iruka was glad for Kakashi's presence since it made him feel safer, and it helped to have someone around the house to help with chores. Bending over was out of the question now, as were many of the movements he used to take for granted.

He hated waiting for the other shoe to drop but there was no other choice. He wasn't about to hand himself over to Orochimaru. If Orochimaru wanted his baby, he was going to have to come and take it.

Iruka hoped that when he did, there'd be enough people around to stop him.


"Ow." Iruka winced as a sharp pain lanced through his stomach. Kakashi looked over at him in concern from the kitchen, but Iruka shook his head. "Just the baby moving," he said, though he wasn't one hundred percent sure that was the cause. He was getting used to the baby moving around and jabbing him in the belly, but every once in a while the pain was worse, like he was being stabbed in the stomach. It didn't happen often, and he felt silly complaining to Tsunade about it since the pain never stayed.

Until now. A second stab followed the first and he doubled over. His breath escaped as a loud gasp. Maybe he should have told Tsunade about it. Less than a minute later, he felt the pain again.

"Are you alright?" Kakashi hovered at the edge of the living room.

Iruka shook his head. His stomach hurt, like a giant cramp but ten times worse and the pain wasn't going away this time.

"I'll get Tsunade."

Five minutes after Kakashi walked out the door, Iruka started to scream.


Iruka was vaguely aware of being moved. The air shifted from warm to cool and he was in a place with white walls and bright lights. Kakashi was there, kneeling right next to him, his face at the edge of Iruka's vision. He was saying something, but Iruka couldn't hear him over the screaming. His screaming. His stomach felt like it was on fire. No, not his stomach, lower, where the baby was. He was burning up from the inside out and it hurt. He squeezed Kakashi's hand too hard but Kakashi didn't complain, nor did he let go. His grip was almost as tight as Iruka's.

Tsunade walked into the room like a cool breeze. Her hand was cold against Iruka's forehead and it felt heavenly. She barked orders. A needle slid into his skin. It burned but then the pain eased, grew distant. He panicked. He remembered feeling like this before, floating away from his body but he didn't want to. He couldn't let them change him, not again.

Strong hands held him down. He smelled blood. Voices shouted. His stomach hurt, like something was ripping into it. The chaos of it all washed over him like waves from the sea until one sound broke through it all.

A baby cried.

Iruka lifted his head and stared at the child held aloft in Tsunade's hands. That was his child, his daughter.

Then she was gone, disappearing from Tsunade's hands in a flash of red light. Someone shouted. Kakashi's hands dug into Iruka's shoulders.

He passed out.


Iruka woke in a fog of painkillers. He stared down at his hand and then followed the pale fingers twined with his up a green-clad arm to an even paler face. He licked his lips, suddenly conscious of his sore throat and croaked out "Where's our baby?"

"I don't know," Kakashi said. "There was a jutsu tied to the baby's birth. Tsunade fixed it, but the baby's gone." Ice filled Iruka's veins and he felt like he was going to shatter. "Don't worry though. I'm going to find her."

Kakashi's words didn't stop Iruka from worrying. Orochimaru had his child. He wouldn't be able to stop worrying until his child was home safe.


"You can't go. You shouldn't even be out of bed." Iruka glared over his shoulder at Anko. She glared right back but at least that was all she did. She made no move to stop him from pulling on a flak jacket over top of his shirt. It was strangely nice finally being able to fit into his old clothes again. He checked the pockets to make sure they were fully stocked and then pulled out a number of kunai and shuriken from his closet, hiding them in various holders across his body.

"You're not supposed to leave the village. Let Kakashi handle it."

He ignored her, much like he ignored the pain and emptiness inside his stomach. There was a void inside of him where his child had once been and it ached. His chest hurt every time he moved but he didn't stop. He knew he shouldn't be out of bed. He'd just been released from the hospital and he still had bandages covering where Tsunade had sewn him shut after the delivery. But Kakashi had been gone too long and as far as he knew, Orochimaru still had their child.

"I'm going to find my baby," he said, not a promise but a statement of fact. He would, and when he did, Orochimaru would pay.

Anko sighed. "Fine. Then I'm coming with you."

Iruka grinned. After a moment's hesitation, Anko grinned back, her smile just as crazy as Iruka knew his was. They were both idiots for doing this but Iruka wasn't going to let anything stop him from finding his child.


In retrospect, going after Orochimaru by himself would have been a stupid, stupid idea. He had no idea how to find Orochimaru, he still had no memory of where Orochimaru had kidnapped him from or where he'd been held, but he couldn't sit in the village doing nothing. He was grateful for Anko's company, not only because she actually had a clue where to look for Orochimaru but because he didn't think he would have made it more than a day outside of the village on his own.

His stomach hurt, more than he thought it would, and it was slowing him down. He really should have stayed in bed resting but it was too late to go back now. His stubborn pride wouldn't let him and he needed his family back. He couldn't rest, not when Kakashi and their daughter were both gone. Anko picked up the slack where he faltered without saying a word. She made no mention of turning back or stopping.

He knew they were at the right place when he heard fighting. Anko leaped ahead of him and Iruka followed at a much slower pace. His stomach twinged but he ignored it, pushing the pain to the side at the thought of seeing his baby and hopefully Kakashi as well.

Iruka recognized more faces than he expected as they burst into the compound. Gai was fighting three people at the entrance and when they went deeper inside he saw Genma and Raidou back to back holding off a small army at a hallway junction. Genma waved them past and Iruka slid under Raidou's outstretched arms as a fire jutsu roared over his head and down the hall.

His breathing came hard as he ran but he kept pushing himself faster. He was close. He could feel it. His nerves were alive with energy, like the prickling feeling right before lightning struck and he followed that feeling deeper into the building with Anko at his side.

They turned the corner just in time for Kakashi to slam into the wall next to them. They shared a glance and launched themselves into the room in unison. Orochimaru grinned wide and snakelike as his eyes fell on Iruka.

Memories slammed into Iruka – memories of being strapped to a table and taken apart. Fear froze him in place, but only for a moment.

Rage washed over him, hot and bright. "Give me back my baby!" He screamed and tossed a handful of exploding kunai at Orochimaru. It was an annoying distraction at best but that was all he needed. It gave Kakashi an opening to attack, drawing Orochimaru's attention so that Iruka could sprint across the room and yank open the door opposite. He saw Anko follow up Kakashi's attack as he stepped into the room.

Iruka's reflexes barely saved him as a large python launched itself at Iruka. He sidestepped automatically and lashed out with a kunai without thinking. The snake's head rolled into the other room, leaving Iruka to face two more. They slithered out from under a table, hissing at him with their long red tongues sticking out at him. They lunged at him. He dodged, a little too slow, and narrowly avoided being bitten.

His stomach was agony. He'd been trying to ignore the pain for too long and now it was back with a vengeance. He pressed an arm to his stomach, as if to hold himself together. He needed to stay together, just a little longer, just enough to get his child back. One of the snakes died with a kunai buried deep in its eye. The other lunged at him. He brought up his kunai too slow. It was going to bite him.

The snake exploded in a burst of electricity. Iruka slumped against the wall and turned his head to smile weakly at Kakashi. Judging from Kakashi's frown, Iruka looked as bad as he felt. He was shivering, but he wasn't sure if that was from adrenaline or from pushing himself too hard. Probably both. Kakashi's arm came around his waist, pulling him away from the wall and into Kakashi's embrace.

"Where's Orochimaru?"

"Gone."

Iruka shivered. He didn't like the fact that Orochimaru was still out there. He didn't like what it meant for their future. He pushed away from Kakashi and limped towards the other side of the room. There was a box on the table and he had a sickening feeling that he knew what was in it. Kakashi was right behind him as Iruka cautiously peered into the box. As he expected, there was a baby inside. His baby, no doubt. It was so still. His heart stopped in his chest and for a moment he felt like he'd died.

Then the baby stirred, rolling slightly to the side and letting out a massive cry. Iruka reached for it without thinking. The box could have been trapped but he would have walked right into that trap without a second thought. He pulled his baby into his arms and held it to his chest. Tiny fingers curled against the fabric of his jacket. Warm tears rolled down his face and when he looked up at Kakashi and Kakashi smiled at him he felt like he could die like this, die from sheer happiness.

Kakashi's arm wrapped around his waist once more and turned him towards the door. "Let's go home."

He nodded and smiled at Kakashi. He was ready to go home and get yelled at by Tsunade and probably end up in the hospital again but it was alright. He had his baby back and there was no way he was letting go of her again.