The classic messed-up soap-opera non-romance. With ninjas. "Anti" KakaIru fic, of a sort.
(Originally published 6/3/2005)
This was supposed to be an irritated declaration of how much I hate KakaIru, but somewhere along the way it turned into something I actually sorta kinda like.
Written under a time limit (I was trying to finish before I had to leave the computer lab for the day XD;) so the technical aspects probably suck like woah, sorry about that.
It really was a fairy-tale romance, like the kind you read about in storybooks. Or maybe cheap romance novels. The kind where the heroine saves the hero from himself (or vice versa, because Iruka didn't really want to put himself in the place of the girl), and they live happily ever after and have lots and lots of hot sex.
That was what Iruka thought when it first began. His first encounter with Hatake Kakashi, infamous Elite Jounin, that did not have something to do with mission reports or the upbringing of Team 7 was at the Godaime's office Christmas party. Hokage-sama had more or less ordered all of her paperpushers and favorite Jounin to come attend the occasion (Iruka suspected it was because she was one of those people who got depressed around Christmastime when thinking of all the people she should be spending it with and could not), and sure enough, sometime midway through the party he'd seen Kakashi leaning against a wall in the general vicinity of the punch bowl, looking about as uncomfortable and out-of-place as it was possible to look in such a situation. Iruka had had to stifle a mental coo at the adorable fish-out-of-water expression on Kakashi's face (he suspected he'd had slightly too much to drink by then) and had gone over to greet the other man, and Kakashi, as it turned out, had already knocked back several drinks himself by then, and well... things had... degenerated from there.
/But/, he'd managed to remember a good chunk of what they'd done that evening, and not only did he not regret it, it had been a great deal of fun. And so starting the next week, which found Kakashi knocking on his door and asking somewhat sheepishly if he felt like going and getting some ramen or something, Iruka concluded that all told it had been a positive experience.
Yes, the beginning was an idyllic one. And even if Kakashi had his flaws and habits and annoying-ranging-to-mildly-disturbing personal quirks, well, that was something one came to expect when working day-in and day-out alongside Konoha's elite ranks. Iruka was given to understand Kakashi had done a long stint in ANBU, as well, which only further inclined him toward forgiveness; if those people didn't come out fucked up then he didn't know who did. Kakashi's tendency toward secrecy and his neurotic habit of stopping by the mission desk once or twice every day, as if just to check whether Iruka was still alive, seemed positively mild in comparison to some of the stories the Chuunin had heard.
He wondered sometimes whether Kakashi had lost people in the Kyuubi attack, but it was one of many things the Jounin would never talk about. Even when one day their meandering conversation had somehow led into the story of how Iruka lost his parents, when he asked about Kakashi, the man only shrugged and glanced away and murmured something about the Fourth--which wasn't completely strange, the whole village had mourned for the Yondaime Hokage--but it did sidestep Iruka's question entirely. Iruka had just smiled placatingly and dropped the subject. He could look back on his parents' memories without too much pain anymore, but he knew that not everyone in the world had that sort of luxury. And Kakashi was the last person Iruka wanted to go dredging up anything hurtful on his behalf.
Still, he couldn't help wondering about this enigma of a man, this silver-haired pale-skinned wraith who ghosted into his room at night and kissed him breathless in hope that Iruka wouldn't notice the way he was shivering. Couldn't help wondering when he found Kakashi standing at the memorial until past noon, every day, rain or shine (after the first two or three times of stumbling across him soaking wet, Iruka started coming by on rainy days with an umbrella and hot tea and a couple towels; he didn't bother telling Kakashi to stop, because he already knew perfectly well what the answer would be). Couldn't help wondering what was going through that head sometimes when Kakashi would say things, just little things, like the morbid way he'd commented (when half-drunk, admittedly) how he'd miss Iruka when one of them died, or how he didn't ever seem to consider the future or the idea that he might have one. Iruka had asked him once whether he thought he'd still be running missions in ten years, and Kakashi had blinked perplexedly with that single visible eye and admitted he'd never actually thought about it.
When he woke up from that awful genjutsu, delivered with love from Uchiha Itachi, Iruka had been afraid for him -- well, moreso than usual. Kakashi hadn't stopped looking sick for weeks and when Iruka gently tried to ask him about what he'd seen, he couldn't even summon enough words to brush the Chuunin off, but just stared at the nearest wall and attempted to look like he wasn't shuddering. But it really all came to a head after Sasuke left the village. Iruka, after ascertaining that Naruto and the other boys were going to be all right, had rushed off to find Kakashi and attempt damage control. He didn't want to think about what sort of mood the Jounin was likely to be in when Iruka found him.
He tried Kakashi's apartment first, then his own, then the memorial, and was mildly surprised not to find the other man at any of his three most frequent haunts. Somewhat at a loss, he'd next headed to the bookstore, a couple of their favorite restaurants, and even called on Sakura's house before he finally managed -- by pure luck -- to stumble upon the right solution:
The gates to the massive compound that had once held the Uchiha Clan were perpetually locked, these days. But Iruka noticed while walking by that the seals had been broken and replaced within the last evening. An evening in which the only remaining occupant (former occupant, he reminded himself with a sigh) of the district had not been present.
From there, it wasn't hard. He felt around for Kakashi's chakra, and peeked inside houses until he found the man, sitting quietly in the middle of some long-dead family's dojo.
The interior was dusty; he didn't think this house could have been Sasuke's, considering how obsessive the boy was about training. He padded across the tatami to sit at Kakashi's side, and they stayed there in silence for a while, Kakashi staring at the scroll of calligraphy on the opposite wall of the dojo with mismatched eyes. His hitai-ate lay in his lap, one hand curled around the scratched and scuffed metal plate. It was an old headband, Iruka recalled. Kakashi had made Genin at age five. That much he knew from the statistics in the village's official paperwork, even if it was another of those things the Jounin didn't talk about.
That was the day Iruka first heard the name Uchiha Obito.
That was the day when he began to have an inkling of just what, exactly, he'd gotten himself into, as Kakashi trembled in his arms that night, clutching him so hard it hurt and whispering how he should have gotten there faster and it was all his fault and Iruka had no idea whether it was Obito or Sasuke he was talking about, but then wasn't really thinking about it anymore as Kakashi mumbled how he was sorry he wasn't there to save Iruka's parents either; and the next morning Iruka did something he usually didn't do, he went to work and pulled rank as a senior among paperpushers and leafed through Kakashi's ANBU files.
He felt an overwhelming sense of cold as he stared down at the words and thought that he wanted to go throw up, or faint, or something. Six years in ANBU. A lot of people didn't make it more than six months. For the ones who could handle it, the average was two years, and they always came out fucked up. Even crazies like Morino Ibiki had never served more than four. You just didn't stay in there that long, because nobody could really handle being sent to slaughter men, women, children, and babies five times a week and then come home to their happy normal lives for very long before they started to crack under the strain.
Kakashi requested the extra two years.
Right there in the file, it said it. Iruka had to read it three times before it sank in. They tried to discharge him at eighteen, he requested an extension. Sandaime-sama personally had him removed at age twenty. The file made some note about wanting to pass on his advanced skills to new Genin recruits but Iruka was sure the motivation had been more along the lines of "That Kakashi's going to snap and murder all his cellmates or something, better find somewhere else to put him."
Iruka went home that day in something of a daze and was irrationally surprised to find Kakashi still in his apartment, now with a couple bags of takeout and his trademark sheepish expression, apologizing for the previous evening as if he'd done something wrong.
Iruka just hugged him tight, and tried to resist the urge to ask him what the extra two years had been for.
It was then that he started to feel uneasy about the whole arrangement. How he started to vaguely resent the way Kakashi would always come check on him, the way he always felt obligated to go out to the memorial with an umbrella on dreary days, the way none of it was ever acknowledged; he had certainly not entered this relationship intending to become anyone's mother, and while it warmed him to be able to comfort Kakashi even a little, he couldn't help wondering if it was going to be like this for the rest of their lives. If anything would ever get better. If Kakashi would ever be...
'Normal' was far too cruel a word, so he didn't let himself think it. But there it lay, at the back of his mind, from that day forward.
He was terrified, for Kakashi's sake, that the day would come when he would wake up and discover he was not in love anymore.
When it did come, he tried to be gentle about it.
He had had the last he could take of walking on pins and needles, filling in guesses where words would never be spoken, taking care of people who never took care of themselves, and not having any goddamn /space/. After two years, he was starting to be wearily certain that things would never change, and he had a long life ahead of him that he would like to live with a more equal partner than Kakashi.
Iruka fixed them dinner at his house, and suggested gently that they had a wonderful relationship but that it didn't really feel like a romantic one to him anymore, and that he knew it was a horrible cliche but he'd like it if they could just be good friends from now on, and Kakashi could still feel free to come to him for anything (this he said with a mental wince but said it anyway, because he didn't know if Kakashi had anyone else to confide in and it would feel irresponsible, at the least, not to try and wean him off clinging to Iruka in as slow and gentle a fashion as he could manage). Kakashi had smiled at him, had a bite of Iruka's spaghetti that he liked so much, and said it was a shame but that would be all right if it was really what Iruka wanted. Iruka nodded and admitted it was.
He should have known the smile was a bad sign, but it didn't occur to him to be anything besides relieved until the day after Naruto's Chuunin appointment, when Kakashi failed to show up at the mission desk.
Iruka asked his old student, and Naruto said he'd last seen him at the appointment yesterday -- he beamed as he described how Kakashi had flicked the zipper on his Chuunin vest and congratulated him -- but not since. Iruka tried Kakashi's house, tried his own house, tried the memorial...
This was starting to feel familiar.
Except he didn't find Kakashi in Uchiha Obito's dojo this time, but in another one up north hidden between a couple of hills that he'd heard Kakashi allude to once in a typically cryptic statement. He had to ask Jiraiya-sama about the exact location. The Sannin had given him a strange look, said something about how it was bad luck to go robbing graves, and sent him on his way.
Iruka, luckily, got Kakashi to the hospital before he could bleed to death.
Afterwards he went back to the Hatake dojo to clean up the mess on the floor, and noticed the old brown stains on the tatami, and didn't want to think about what else might have transpired in this room as he mopped up blood and dust with shaking hands.
Kakashi lived, and so did Iruka. They both kept working, of course. Once in a while they saw each other at the mission desk, but Kakashi always handed in his reports to someone else. Iruka saw him once at another Christmas party, chatting a little uneasily with the Godaime, and did not approach him.
He's dated a couple people since then. Chuunin, both of them, and blessedly normal. Neither of them snuck into his arms at night and shuddered while they kissed him, and he's surprised-but-not to find he misses such things just a little bit; but neither did either of them ever cling so hard as to make him afraid of the consequences should he go away, and Iruka thinks that's what makes this better, in the end, even though it hurts a little. He really did love Kakashi. But his heart can only take so many shocks, so many stabs, so much aching, so much crushing under the weight of sheer desperate /need/.
If that makes him inadequate, then he is guilty as charged. But to err is human. To be human is to know that sometimes, no matter what you do, it's never going to be enough.
But once in a while, he still takes his umbrella and goes out to the memorial on rainy days, just for old times' sake. Kakashi is always there. Iruka knows he probably always will be.
Except for that day, ten years or two weeks or a day from now, when he finally isn't.
Iruka hates himself to think it, but he isn't sure it won't be better that way.