Chapter Two: Lovers
April 28-May 4
"I am never working with that little punk again," Raidou muttered to Inoichi, rubbing a hand over the burn mark on his shoulder. "'Chidori' my ass," he grumbled.
Inoichi laughed. "Hey, man, he could have left you to deal with the Lightning ninja on your own."
"Stupid punk-ass geniuses," Raidou kept snarling. "Think they know everything."
"You're just bitter because he saved you," Inoichi said. "Be glad you're alive."
Raidou grunted. "Whatever."
They walked in silence toward the school, Inoichi with his blond ponytail swinging, Raidou examining the bandage on his arm. He didn't think it needed to be bandaged . . .
"Ino!" Inoichi called, smiling at his tiny daughter as she barrelled into his arms.
Raidou smiled grudgingly. "She looks like you," he said.
"Pretty like my mother!" the tot said, looking utterly superior.
Raidou's eyebrows rose.
Inoichi just shrugged.
After brief good-byes, Raidou headed inside to gather his little brother. They'd started taking turns, him and his teenaged siblings, walking Akeno home. It seemed easier that way.
"Aniki!" Akeno said happily, grabbing his bag and hoisting it over one shoulder. "We got to throw real kunai today!"
"Anyone get hurt?" Raidou asked with a grin.
"No," Akeno answered airily, not noticing his brother's smile. "And we saw one of the Genin kissing a girl!" he said in a stage-whisper.
"Wow," Raidou answered, eyes wide. "Really?"
Akeno grinned madly and nodded, not realizing his brother was only half-interested. He skipped ahead, chattering happily on about how gross it had been.
Raidou glanced up in time to see Michio stop and talk to that boy again, and then both of them went walking down the street. He frowned and started home.
He ended up at Michio's house, agreeing to dinner since his own house was big and empty. Besides, Michio was his friend. They'd just had a misunderstanding.
Mizuki was on another mission; running messages between the allied countries.
Dinner was done, and somehow he was still at Michio's house, uncertain how to say he had to go without offending the man. They were watching a movie on the couch, sitting too close for Iruka's comfort, Michio's arm around his shoulders.
"I heard you got a scolding today from your squad leader," Michio said quietly.
Iruka flinched. "Ah, yeah," he said. This time it had been something that wasn't even his fault. They just assumed it was.
"It doesn't seem fair that they expect you to be an adult, but treat you like a child," Michio said. His hand drifted, up and down Iruka's arm.
Iruka shifted. "I guess there's reasons for it . . ."
Michio turned toward him, ducking his head. "If they took time to talk to you, they'd know better. You're a very smart young man." His hand shifted again, drifting lower, thumb rubbing the edge of his shirt.
Iruka squirmed, and ended up pressed closer to Michio. "I--They're busy," he said.
Michio's other hand rose, cupping Iruka's chin. Iruka didn't move. He could feel breath on his ear, hot and sticky. "I like you," Michio murmured, and kissed him.
It couldn't be romantic, though. It couldn't. It was just--just on the ear. It was okay. Iruka's heart pounded. He pulled away slightly and stared down at his hands.
Michio was nice. Michio liked him. Michio wouldn't hurt him.
"Iruka-kun," Michio murmured, hand falling away from Iruka's face, "I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" Iruka echoed.
"I don't know what to do. I've known you for years now, and--I like you. More than I should." He kissed Iruka again.
Iruka didn't move. "We're friends," he said slowly.
"More than that," Michio said, against his jaw. "I'm afraid you don't like me in return. If that's the case, I'll stop seeing you. I don't want to upset you, and I know others wouldn't understand. They don't see you like I do."
Iruka's heart hammered. He had two friends in the whole world--Mizuki and Michio--and now one of them might leave. He liked Michio. He liked him. And if he left, who would Iruka talk to? And if he left, Mizuki might get angry . . .
Iruka licked his lips. Michio bought him nice things, and stayed for dinner with him, and didn't scold him ever. He respected Michio, and liked being with him, and liked the way the man's body felt big and protective. "I--I like you, too," he said finally.
Michio kissed his neck. "Other people wouldn't understand. They'd say you're too young for me."
"I live by myself," Iruka defended. "They already expect me to make all my own decisions--"
"I know," Michio soothed.
Iruka tried to stop bristling. Michio was rubbing him, along his stomach at the edge of his shirt. The cloth shifted, and skin hit his. Iruka jumped.
"It's all right," Michio murmured. "Relax."
Raidou stopped at the edge of the meadow where the monument was, realizing suddenly that the shadow contained a shape.
He peered closer. That boy--the one that only sometimes picked on his brother--was sitting there, back to the stone, shredding bits of grass. Raidou debated, then finally stepped into the light.
The shape didn't look up.
Raidou walked quietly toward the monument, pausing where he usually did. The kid glared at him from under his eyebrows.
Raidou ignored him, said silent words to fallen friends, and then glanced down. "What?"
"Nothing," the kid muttered before going back to tearing grass.
Raidou hesitated. He didn't like the kid. The boy picked on his brother. But . . . "I saw you heading home with Michio," he said carefully.
"Michio's my friend," the brat snarled, glaring upward.
His eyes were bloodshot and puffy, Raidou realized. He looked at his feet. "Yeah, well . . . just be careful, okay?"
Raidou held onto his temper, barely. "If you need help--"
"I'll ask Michio."
Raidou sighed, shrugged, and walked away.
He'd seen Michio almost every night since that first--three nights ago. And every night he went home and showered, and curled up in his bed with blankets pulled around him.
Michio was nice. Michio made him dinner, and hugged him, and--they did things that people who were dating did. Not much. A little more each time, but not much. Even he could see that. He knew that Michio was slowing things down for him, that two adults would have done a lot more.
They hadn't even taken any clothes off. Iruka felt bad about that. He knew he was slowing the man down, and he didn't want to because he liked Michio.
He liked him. They were friends. They were dating. They were in love.
He kept reminding himself of that, leaning against the kitchen counter, Michio's hands on him. He liked Michio. Michio liked him. And people who were dating did things like this. It was just that they weren't dating outside, because no one else would understand, but that was all right.
Michio loved him. He swallowed hard, feeling hands sliding along his skin, under his shirt. Michio loved him, and Michio was nice. He loved Michio.
Michio said soft things to him the whole time, things like how smart he was and how grown up and how pretty and--and--
Iruka took a deep breath and tried to kiss back when he felt the man's mouth on his, big and wet and--and, well, it was all right. Because it was Michio, and--
He felt a hand unbutton his pants, and froze. Fingers slid down, while the man whispered that it was all right and he was so grown up and brave and--
And shit, that was his wiener there. Iruka yelped and pulled back, but ended up pinning himself further against the counter.
"It's all right," Michio murmured against his mouth. "Relax."
Iruka clenched his eyes shut. It was all right. He loved Michio. Michio was nice. Michio was older and knew what he was doing, and knew what was okay and what wasn't, what was allowed, and Michio loved him and--
"All right, it's okay, calm down," Michio said, stepping back slightly. He pulled his hand away, slipping it under Iruka's shirt, along his back, tugging the boy close. "I thought you were old enough for that, but maybe--"
He wasn't a kid. He wasn't. If he were a kid, Michio wouldn't like him, and then--
"It's all right," Iruka managed to say, quietly.
Michio looked at him steadily. Iruka tried to look back, and ignored the prickle in his eyes that said there were tears back there, waiting for a chance to escape.
"No, we'll wait," Michio said soothingly. "I should head home."
Iruka froze. "But--we haven't had dinner." Michio stepped away, the warm presence gone just like that. He couldn't decide if he was relieved or upset.
"That's all right," the man was saying, draping his coat over his arm. "Mizuki's home tonight. I should see him anyway." Michio hesitated at the doorway, looking back. "Do you want to come over for dinner tomorrow? Mizuki will be there."
Iruka nodded. If Mizuki were there, then things would be normal. There wouldn't be any touching--not that he minded the touching, of course, because that's what people did--and Michio might still look at him, but he wouldn't want to--to do anything. Things could be good.
"All right. Tomorrow, then." Michio closed the door.
The house seemed big, and empty. The urge to cry hadn't gone away. Michio was going to hate him, and nothing was right, and he felt--he needed a shower.
Ten minutes later found him in the bathroom, scouring himself. He wasn't crying. There was water on his face, but he wasn't crying. There was no noise, so he wasn't crying. And if he was crying, it was only because he'd driven Michio away.
Iruka got out of the shower when the water went cold, forty minutes later. His skin was pink and almost raw, and he was tired. He hesitated outside his parent's door, where sometimes he could still smell them. Sometimes, when he was lonely and tired, he could curl up in the middle of their bed in a nest of their clothes, and even after two years it was enough.
He didn't want to go in there now. No one liked him, and if anyone knew what he'd been letting Michio do, they'd like him even less. He didn't want his parents to know. They were dead, he knew they couldn't know, but a superstition in the back of his mind kept him from going into the room.
He walked past it and into his own bed.
"Are you okay?" Mizuki asked, leaning over to look at Iruka.
"Yeah," Iruka muttered. "I'm fine."
"You're acting really weird."
Iruka looked sidelong at Mizuki. The other boy was frowning, hair tied back with his forehead protector. "I . . . I've been hanging out with your dad a lot," Iruka said slowly.
Mizuki went very still. "Oh?" he asked, staring down at the branch under his feet nonchalantly.
Iruka felt his stomach turn, and stared down as well. "Yeah."
They were both quiet.
"Did he . . . tell you something?" Mizuki asked carefully.
Iruka felt a pain in his chest. Had Mizuki guessed? Or maybe his father had said something. Iruka had felt Michio's eyes on him all night long the night before, and he had touched Iruka more than usual, even with Mizuki there. Maybe Mizuki had figured it out. "I'll stop, if you want," Iruka said quickly. "I'm not sure I like it anyway, and he's your dad--"
Mizuki was staring at him, careful nonchalance replaced by confusion. "What are you talking about?"
"Me and your dad--we've been--it's just, he really likes me and so we've--I mean, I like him too, and it's not creepy or anything--"
"What are you talking about?" Mizuki said, louder this time, anger replacing the confusion. "Iruka--are you screwing my father?" he nearly shouted.
Iruka flinched. "Not really, no, just--y'know, messing around . . . and I'm not even sure I like it," he continued quickly.
"Shit. Shit. How many other people have you told?" Mizuki snapped.
"No one! I haven't told anyone else, because they wouldn't understand, so--"
Iruka fell silent, biting his lip. They stood there, tension almost palpable between them. "I'll stop, if you want," Iruka said quietly.
Mizuki relaxed enough to shrug. "I don't care," he said, though it sounded like a lie. "He likes you. That's fine." Sharp eyes peered over his shoulder. "Why don't you like it?"
Iruka squirmed under the older boy's gaze. "I don't know. I just . . . don't. Like maybe . . . maybe it's wrong?" He hoped Mizuki would agree. Say yes, it was wrong, and he should just tell Michio that they couldn't do it anymore. And if it was because of Mizuki, then maybe Michio wouldn't be angry, and wouldn't leave.
Except he loved Michio, and they were dating, and Michio loved him.
He was so confused.
Mizuki just rolled his eyes, though. "You're fucked up, Iruka. If he loves you, it's only a good thing. Love is supposed to be nice and all that shit. You'd better appreciate it. Fucking ingrate."
Iruka leaned back against the trunk of the tree, wilted. "Oh. Right." He should be appreciative. It was a good thing.
He stared at his toes.
Mizuki always knew what he was talking about.
Raidou paused outside the Hokage's office, standing where he could be seen so it wouldn't look like he was eavesdropping.
Inside, he could see Taro, red hair pulled back in a knot, hands gesturing just as expressively as always. "I don't know what to do with him," Taro was saying, voice laced with frustration. "If he's not causing a problem then he's busy goofing off, and today he didn't even show up for practice! He's never going to get above a Genin, and he's wasting everyone's ti--"
The Hokage held up one hand, cutting the Jounin off. "Raidou?" he said, looking straight out the door.
"I'm sorry to call you in for this, but most of our ninja are out at the moment. Do you know Umino Iruka?"
Iruka. The brat that had been picking on his brother. Raidou nodded.
"He seems to have gone missing. We were hoping you could find him." The Hokage looked tired, Raidou thought. Tired, and worn. He continued, "And perhaps find out why he didn't show up for his team?"
Raidou nodded again. "Certainly."
"I tried his house already," Taro said, expression black. "If he's there, he's hiding. I don't have time to go running after one of my squad, especially one that'll never get above Genin," he said, obviously working back up into a frenzy.
"I'll find him," Raidou said, lifting a hand. "Don't worry."
It took him longer than he'd expected to find the little ninja. When he finally did, he cursed Taro.
Iruka was in his house.
Raidou frowned at the window, watching the little silhouette turn the pages of a book absently. The Jounin walked toward the door, knocked once, waited, and when there was no answer he tried the handle.
But he wasn't a Jounin for nothing. Within ten seconds he was inside, carefully closing the door behind him and re-locking it. "Iruka?" he called.
There was no answer.
He walked through the house, treading softly. The ghosts of the dead were heavy in the air, everything still. "Iruka?" he called again, reaching the back of the hall and pausing outside a closed door.
After a moment, he knocked. It swung open.
The little brown-haired preteen glared at up him, then looked back down at his book. "Go away."
Raidou stepped inside.
Unlike the rest of the house, the room was a mess. Clothes and books were thrown haphazardly around the floor, stacked on shelves but not put away. Posters lined the walls; popular musicians and photos of people.
It looked like a boy's room.
Iruka was still sitting on the bed, back braced against the wall, knees up. His book leaned against his thighs and he was glaring at it terribly.
"Taro was worried. Said you didn't show up to practice today." It wasn't exactly true, but close enough.
Iruka shrugged. "I didn't feel good."
Raidou reached out with his own chakra, looking for any signs of sickness. Nothing.
The boy's chakra seemed strained, though, and it left an oily residue on his tongue. Raidou frowned. "Are you all right?"
"I just said I didn't feel good," Iruka snapped. "Would you leave? No one invited you."
Raidou walked farther into the room, shoving a pile of dirty clothes off a desk chair and sitting down. He cast around for something to say, something that might get past that angry exterior. "You're not going to get into the next Chuunin exams if you don't go to your missions," he pointed out quietly.
Iruka whipped a page over and pretended to read. His eyes didn't move, though, staring at one spot.
"I could help you, if you wanted," Raidou offered hesitantly.
"I don't need your help."
Raidou fell silent again. He stared at a picture, a family photo, from many years before. "Everyone here is willing to help. If there's something wrong," he said carefully.
"Nothing's wrong." Iruka sighed and stood, dropping the book on the floor. "Look, if I go apologize to Taro-Sensei, will you leave?"
Raidou hesitated. Then, finally, he nodded.
They walked out of the house together.
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