Chapter ten
Years ago. . .

"We need to find out what they know." The ANBU squad leader, Kazou, looked anxiously over his shoulder.

"And find the rest of the team," Kakashi said, his eyes following where the Lightning Country troop had gone with their people.

The captain looked at him, pulling a mask down over his face. "You find out what they learned. I'll get our squad." Then the ANBU was gone, leaping into the trees and vanishing into the forest.

Kakashi turned back to their captive, who was glaring at him darkly. "I'm not going to tell you anything," the ninja snarled.

Kakashi cocked his head and smiled grimly. "Yes. You are."

The screaming started not long after. It was a long time before it stopped.

Kakashi walked slowly through a clearing. He passed from sunlight to shadow. Walked under the trees. To the stream nearby.

He took three deep breaths. Then the ice shattered around his chest, and he dropped to his knees. The smell of blood clung to him. Acid burned in his nose. He retched, ripping his mask down and coughing vomit into the dirt between his hands.

His gloves were red, and wet. He was shaking. Cold. And he could hear the man screaming. He wouldn't stop screaming, even though Kakashi kept telling himself it was all in his mind.

Just in his mind. The screaming was gone. The man was dead. He'd killed him. He could still hear the screaming and the man was dead.

Kakashi retched again. It dripped from his mouth and nose, burning his sinuses. It smelled like blood. He was cold. Someone cried, long and loud and begging--no, the man was dead.

A hand touched him. He jumped, flinching away, expecting to see a corpse. It would kill him, and--

Kakashi stared at his squad captain, the figure coming into focus slowly. Breath whistled through the teenager's lungs. His chest burned.

"Kakashi," Kazou said, but his voice seemed too quiet. Distant. The man looked around, and Kakashi's vision blurred. He started to tremble, and held onto the ground. "Head back to the village," the captain said, in that same slow voice. "We'll catch up."

Two shapes that Kakashi hadn't seen vanished.

Something sparkled. He jumped, turned. Light glittered on the water. His heart hammered. Blood thrummed in his ears. Birds sung, shrill and piercing. Wind ruffled through his hair, and the man begged him to stop, and his kunai severed a tendon but only in the man's mind--

Everything smelled sweet. Someone was talking. Kakashi shook. Cold. So, so cold. Wet, and slick. Blood, pooled around his feet, churning to mud and--

He bent over, choking on nothing. A hand on his back rubbed circles, and offered him water from a flask.

His hands wouldn't work. He couldn't hold onto it. Someone else did, fingers on the back of his head, tipping water into his mouth. Words. Words babbling, telling him everything he asked--

Someone screamed.

Pain rocked through him. Kakashi's head whirled, and he blinked, and looked up--

His squad captain was staring hard at him, face inches from his, hands on either side of his head.

Kakashi grabbed Kazou's wrists, clinging to the only thing that was solid, real.

"Look at me. That's right. Just keep looking at me," his captain said, brown eyes pinning his.

Kakashi realized he was whimpering. He bit down on his lip, tasted something sweet, and--

He twisted away, stomach heaving again.

"It's all right. It'll be okay. I shouldn’t have--I'm sorry. It's okay. Focus on the present. Forget what happened. It'll be fine."

He listened to the words like a lifeline, hearing them fade in and out, and waited for the ground to stop screaming.

"He won't stop," he heard himself whisper. "He keeps crying . . ."

"Try not to think about it," his captain said.

He felt hands on his jacket, pulling at him. It was off, and on the ground, and he was still shivering.

"Wait--" he managed, feeling more hands tugging on his clothes.

"You're going into shock," Kazou said, yanking the black shirt off over Kakashi's head.

Shock. Shock was bad. Still screaming. Still bloody. Begging to be killed. The snap of a broken bone, like breaking a dry twig. He heard himself whine, but couldn't stop.

"Think about what's going on now," Kazou said, holding onto Kakashi's shoulders. Kakashi bit back a hysterical sob. Skin, burningly hot, seared through his clothes and roasted him. Kakashi focused on it, clinging to the sensation.

"That's it," the captain said, wrapping a blanket around the smaller man and pulling him close.

Kakashi curled into the chest, listening to the heartbeat hammering there. Heat radiated from the man's body. Kazou chafed his arm. Kakashi sat there, trying desperately to do as his captain said, to focus on what was happening at that moment--

--not on the screaming, the man was screaming--

No. No, it was a warm day and the stream was gurgling--

--blood in his captive's throat while the man tried to speak--

--that hadn't happened and it was water in the stream.

"C-can't," Kakashi stuttered, memories crashing back in painfully. He cried and clung to Kazou's shirt, burying his face into the man's neck, breathing the sharp smell of adrenaline and sweat. "Help," he whispered.

"I forgot how young--Kakashi, it's all right. I'm sorry. Listen to my voice, all right? Find something to hold onto. Smell, touch, think of the way the blanket feels."

He listened to the voice, trying to match his breathing with the body he was plastered against. Slow, long breaths. Felt the sunlight on his hair, and his face, and the rough weave of the blanket. Slow strokes from Kazou, his hand traveling up and down Kakashi's spine.

He was still shaking. Still cold. But the screams were receding. He wiped at his face, felt skin rather than cloth, and realized his mask was down. He twisted, panic rising, grabbing for it and trying to yank it up with numb fingers.

"It's all right, I've got it. It's all right," Kazou said, pulling the material up and putting it in place. "There. See? All right." He left his hand there, brushing his thumb along the material. "You're fine."

Kakashi burrowed into the touch, focusing on it. It was . . . nice. It wasn't frightening, or painful. Kazou's skin smelled good. Ice melted a little bit in his stomach, as if the heat could thaw it. He turned his head and kissed the man's palm, through the mask.

Kazou froze. "That's not a great idea, kiddo," he said quietly.

"S-stay in the present, right?" Kakashi asked. His voice was trembling. Everything was still so cold. Cold, and dead, and--

He shuddered, breath hitching, and buried his face against Kazou's neck. Warm. He smelled good. Kakashi rubbed his face against the skin, trying desperately to find something that would root him in the present. Away from the things he'd just done.

Warm skin, and it smelled good, safe, and the more he rubbed the easier it was not to think about--about--that.

He kissed Kazou again, breathing through the mask. Kazou was carefully still.

"You're too young," Kazou said, finally shifting. He rubbed a hand up and down Kakashi's spine, exactly as he'd been doing before.

Kakashi wanted to cry. Was afraid he might, but not because he was frustrated. His eyes burned, and for a moment, he felt everything that he'd just done was trying to drag him under again. He dug his hands into Kazou's shirt, rubbing burning eyes--eyes staring at him in terror as he knelt before them, blade coming closer--He shuddered and nearly screamed into the man's shoulder.

"It's all right. Stay here," Kazou whispered.

"Please. Please." His voice broke. Staying in the present with nothing to focus on was impossible. He could focus on touch. It was active, and it was good, and--his breath hitched in his chest and he kneaded his fingers against Kazou's chest. "I can't not think about it. Kazou, please--"

"Shit," the ANBU hissed. Then Kakashi was shifted, resettling with a knee on either side of the man's hips. "This is not the healthy way to deal with things," Kazou muttered.

Hand slid under the blanket, against bare skin. Kakashi shivered. Hot. Almost hot enough to burn, which only told him he was cold. He leaned in again, wrapping his arms around Kazou's chest, breathing deeply against the man's neck. Hands slid down his back, tugged at the buckle on his pants, and slid under.

Kakashi bit down on a cry, unsure himself whether it was a good noise or a bad one, and--

--screaming the man was screaming--

He closed both eyes, his arms tightening around Kazou.

"I know. It's all right," Kazou breathed, air warm on Kakashi's skin. "Think about me, all right? Focus on touch. Trust me."

Touch. Focus on touch. On the heat of the body in front of him, and the pressure from hands sliding over his hips. On--

--the way blood slicked his fingers--

Kakashi bit his lip until the skin broke, until that pain brought him back. Kazou was talking, a constant murmur of assurances and apologies. His hands were petting, sliding up Kakashi's back, only to reverse and travel back down, beneath the waistband of his pants, as far down as they could reach, and father than anyone else ever had.

His body wouldn't react properly. He could only focus for so long before the past swept over him again and he saw blood and heard screaming. Kazou brought him back and started over, playing Kakashi carefully, building lust and tension. When Kakashi finally stopped thinking, when his brain gave in to his body and finally--finally--he stopped hearing the Jounin begging and pleading for it to end, when his body released in a surge of hormones and endorphins, he started crying for the first time in years.

Kazou rolled them both over, wrapping the blanket around them, Kakashi's masked face buried in his chest, and petted him.


Iruka peered in the window to Kakashi's tiny apartment. It was dark, the bed neatly made, the two photos together on the shelf above.

There was no sign of Kakashi. No sign of him there, and no sign of him on the way, and Iruka was running out of ideas. He was soaked to the skin once more, so cold he couldn't stop shivering. He couldn't imagine how Kakashi, who was still recovering, would feel.

He jumped, focusing chakra and using it to reach the rooftop.

A black bundle lay there, draped over a peak. Iruka headed toward it, hope and fear both leaping through him.

He put a hand on the bundle's shoulder, and turned it.

Kakashi whimpered. His single visible eye, the other once more covered by his forehead protector, opened slightly. "Iruka?"

Iruka took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. "What are you doing here?"

Kakashi started to smile; Iruka could see the movement of his eye, the shape of his face changing. "You said to get out."

"Of the kitchen. I said to get out of the kitchen," Iruka growled. He put a hand on the side of Kakashi's face, the only skin showing.

The man was freezing.

"Hold on," Iruka said, and then grabbed Kakashi's wrist and ankle and pulled him up and over, slinging the lanky man across his shoulders. He nearly slipped on the way off of the roof, focusing his chakra quickly again to keep from plunging to the street below.

"You still mad at me?" Kakashi mumbled.

"Yes," Iruka answered instantly. "Right now, compassion is overriding that. Don't expect it to be true later, though."

Kakashi just hung limply.

By the time he got to the hospital, Kakashi was almost entirely unresponsive. Iruka burst through the doors, let Kakashi drop onto a gurney--to Kakashi's whimpered protest--and gave into the urge to cough.

They were surrounded by medical ninja almost instantly.

"He left the apartment, and by the time I found him he was like this," Iruka said to the million and one questions. He was still shaking, teeth chattering so hard now he could barely speak. Kakashi was nearly as bad, his skin almost blue, barely arguing as they stripped him of his shirt and pants, tossing a blanket over him as they went. Next thing Iruka knew, they were pushing him down onto a gurney as well, pulling his jacket off. His hair was a tangled mass when they were done, and he batted at hands that were aiming for his waistband. "I'm fine!" he tried to yell, but had to stop due to another coughing fit.

Kakashi coughed, too, as if in sympathy, but it was frighteningly weak. Then he was gone, wheeled down the hall and through double doors.

"You're soaked, and freezing," a nurse said, draping a blanket over his shoulders. Another nurse was pulling off his boots, while the first one shoved him back to his feet. Someone yanked his sweatpants right off him, and he yelped, suddenly almost-naked under the blanket.

"This way," the first nurse said, shoving him not very gently toward the doors.

"But I'm fine!" Iruka protested, shivering too hard to put up any kind of a decent fight.

"You've been in the rain for who knows how long, you're soaked, you're freezing, and you've used up most of your chakra--let me guess--carrying Kakashi across slick rooftops? Did it ever occur to you to use the street?"

He didn't answer, but glowered mightily at her instead. Then he was settled in a room, a mug of hot tea cradled between both hands, most of him under piles of blankets.

"You're staying here for the night," the nurse said, a note of absolute authority in her voice. "You can keep an eye on each other."

It was then that he noticed the other occupant of the room was Kakashi, bundled up in nearly as many blankets, and hooked up to a beeping machine.

Iruka cursed softly as the door closed.


"Shut up."

Amazingly enough, Kakashi did.


Kakashi's hope that he could talk at Iruka until the Chuunin forgave him was dashed when they informed him he had another two days to remain in the hospital. Iruka left that same morning, and they put an ANBU guard on the door.


He considered writing a letter, but he wasn't so good at that. He also wasn't sure what to say. "Dear Iruka. I messed up. You messed up. Want to mess up together?" didn't seem right. Neither did, "Dear Iruka, at least I didn't lie."

So he stared at the ceiling and tried to plan what to do next.


Iruka shuffled papers and tried to keep his mind on his job.

He hadn't seen Kakashi in three days. He hadn't even thought about Kakashi. Or, rather, he had tried not to think about Kakashi, but had failed miserably.

Iruka sighed. Genma looked up at him, questioningly.

"Nothing," Iruka said, shuffling papers.

Genma just kept looking at him. The senbon he'd stuck in his mouth flipped from one side to the other, though his expression didn't change.

"Genma--" Iruka started, then stopped. He began to blush. He could feel it, crawling up his neck.

Genma's eyebrows rose.

"That is, would you like to go get, ah, tea?" He shuffled his papers and didn't look up. The blush grew.

He could feel Genma staring at him. "Wouldn't that upset Kakashi?"

Anger sliced through him. "I don't care if it upsets Kakashi," Iruka snapped. "We're not dating. I'm not even sure I like him." He picked up the pile of already straight papers and bounced the ends on the desk, straightening them again.

"All right," Genma said slowly. "We can go get tea."


Kakashi stood in his little apartment, looking around unhappily. It seemed too big. Which was strange, because it was smaller than Iruka's. Still, it was . . . lonely. And cold. There were no pictures on the walls, and his refrigerator was a normal white. Iruka's was white, too, but drawings and photos, either by his students or of his students, were held on with magnets.

Kakashi didn't even have magnets.

He wasn't sure how to fix it. How to make his apartment comfortable, like Iruka's had been.

He needed Iruka. There were no two ways around it.

Within minutes he was on his way to the other man's apartment, traveling over rooftops and leaping from building to building. He was winded by the time he got there; another sign of his continuing weakness, though he was almost entirely better.

Kakashi jumped to a window, clinging outside and peering in.

No one was there.

Frowning, he leapt to the ground and considered his next option.

The mission office. It was just after five o' clock, and Iruka often stayed a bit late, finishing up paperwork or arguing with Genma. He was probably still there.

Kakashi jumped back to the roof, sprinting toward the large building at the center of the village.

He was panting hard by the time he got there, and swung in through an open window rather than jumping to the ground and using the door.

Iruka had to be at the office. He had to be, because Kakashi needed to apologize and win him back, somehow, even though he'd never really had him in the first place, and--


It was empty.

Kakashi slumped onto a desk. Iruka wasn't there. He wasn't at his apartment. Kakashi didn't know where else to look.

He wouldn’t give up. There was always a way to do something, if you just put your mind to it. He'd gotten through many impossible missions with that belief, and he'd get through this.

Eyes narrowed, Kakashi formed seals and dropped, slapping both hands on the ground.

With a puff of smoke, Pakkun appeared, peering up at him with his usual look of disgruntlement. "What?" the dog growled.

"I need you to track down Iruka."

Pakkun looked around. "You brought me all the way here for that? There doesn't seem to be a battle . . . "

"No, no, we had a fight, and--would you please just do it?" Kakashi said, folding his hands over his chest and giving his half-lidded glare.

Pakkun sat down. "No."

"What?" Kakashi asked, unimpressed.

"No. This isn't healthy."

Kakashi eyed the pug.

Pakkun eyed him back.

"I'll buy you a beef steak that's as big as you are," Kakashi said, finally.

Pakkun's ears lifted. "Two."

"Two," Kakashi agreed.

Pakkun stood, his nose to the ground, and started sniffing.

It didn't take long for him to catch the scent, and then they were off, racing out of the office and down the street. Pakkun darted through the crowd, nearly leaving Kakashi behind. The ninja barely managed to keep the dog in sight, twisting and leaping to keep from knocking people over. After a moment a path started to clear for him, as the people in the village realized who he was.

They probably thought he was on some sort of mission. Close enough.

Kakashi caught up to Pakkun just outside the doors to a tea house, and they went inside together.

"What's he doing here?" Kakashi muttered.

"Genma's scent's been along the whole time," Pakkun growled.

Kakashi's heart stuttered. He played it nonchalantly. "Oh?"

Pakkun just woofed, and looked up at a single occupant of a little table.

Genma looked up at Kakashi. He smiled slightly. "Hi."

"Yo," Kakashi said, settling back on his hips, hands in his pockets. "Where's Iruka?"

Genma nodded toward the back of the room. "Bathroom."

"You're in my seat," Kakashi said calmly.

"No, I’m in the seat Iruka asked me to sit in," Genma answered.

Kakashi smiled. Then he pulled his hands out of his pockets, and started making seals.

"All right, all right," Genma yelped, leaping up out of the chair. "I told Iruka this wasn't a great idea," he muttered, leaving the place.

"What about my steak?" Pakkun asked.

Kakashi glanced down at him. "Later."

Pakkun whuffed and trotted out the doors.

Kakashi waited. And waited. And waited. And finally, when he was getting ready to go into the bathroom after Iruka, Iruka appeared at the table.

"What are you doing here?" Iruka snapped, arms folding over his chest. "And where's Genma?"

"Genma had to go," Kakashi answered quickly, standing as well. Better that way to block Iruka, if the Chuunin should try to leave. "And I came to apologize."

Iruka just stared at him. "But you were right," he said finally, the words oddly nice.

Kakashi tensed.

"I am pathetically needy, and let people do things they shouldn't, and continue to like them. So I'm trying to change. Starting with you. Go away."

Kakashi flinched. "I'm sorry," he began.

Iruka walked toward the door.

Luckily, he had to walk past Kakashi to get there. Kakashi stepped in his path, grabbing the other man's wrist just for good measure.

Iruka jumped back, snatching his hand away. "I'm not interested in you, Kakashi," Iruka said, his voice rising.

The people at the nearest tables glanced their way, then studiously went back to their tea.

"Please, just let me explain," Kakashi said, nearly begging. Iruka was the first friend he'd made in a long time. He was starting to think Iruka was significantly more than that, though he didn't have much experience in relationships.

"I don't want to hear it," Iruka snapped. "Get out of my way."

Kakashi took a deep breath, steeling himself. "I'm sorry for what I did. It was wrong, and I was an ass, and--"

Iruka tried to walk past him again.

Kakashi grabbed the man's jacket. "Someone I respect once said everyone's redeemable," he said quietly.

Iruka froze, back to Kakashi.

They stood there for a moment, silent and still. "Please," Kakashi said. "Just tea. If you still don't want to talk to me then--I'll go. And I'll leave you alone. Just tea."

Iruka looked over his shoulder, brown eyes burning. "Tea," he said finally. Very stiffly, he turned and walked back to the table.

To chapter eleven
Back to the dojo