Chapter Eight


Iruka looked up, frowning. "How can you be such a baby?"

"You're pulling my stitches," Kakashi grumbled.

"I'm not pulling your stitches. I'm not even near your stitches," Iruka said, frustrated. He lifted the ball of cotton, preparing to dab antiseptic on the slash along the back of Kakashi's arm.


"I haven't touched you yet!" Iruka exploded.

Kakashi flinched, and looked back over his shoulder. "Sorry."

Iruka took a deep breath. He needed to act like Kakashi was a child. That was all. Just the same way he would treat one of his students.

One of his students who was naked to the waist (with the exception of the mask). Who was very well muscled. Whose skin was crisscrossed and threaded with long, pale scars.

Iruka paused, eyes tracing the mesh of white lines. His mouth had gone dry. "You get injured often?" he asked softly.

Kakashi twisted, peering back farther, shoulders sliding under Iruka's hands. "Sometimes. Not usually badly."

Iruka nodded wordlessly. He touched a knot of flesh, twisted and gnarled, just under one shoulderblade. "How did this happen?"

Kakashi reached back with one long hand, feeling the scar for himself. "Kunai. Moved enough to keep it from getting my spine, but not quite enough to dodge entirely," he said nonchalantly.

Iruka kept staring.


"Hmm?" That scar traveled up, under Kakashi's mask. Three more scars traveled across it.

"You all right?"

"Fine," Iruka said absently. His hands slipped, sliding down the indent of Kakashi's spine. Wickedly twisted flesh wrapped around the Jounin's waist, notching over one hip, and vanishing into his pants. Iruka's fingers drifted over what he could see, feeling how the chakra was fainter there than everywhere else. The chakra pathways healed better than skin, but not perfectly. Damage them badly enough, and the person would never recover.

His mother had lain in a hospital bed, her chakra lines cut, bones and nerves shattered and torn. She had slowly faded away into nothingness.

The body under him twisted, and hands grabbed his. Iruka jumped and looked up into mismatched eyes. He blinked several times.

"Are you all right?" Kakashi asked quietly. His eyes flickered back and forth, between Iruka's own.

"Fine," Iruka said after a moment. Then he smiled sheepishly, realizing how distant he'd gotten. "I'm fine. Really. Sorry. I just--I don't--"

"You have scars, too," Kakashi said, smiling and releasing Iruka's hands to tap the bridge of his own nose.

Iruka touched his scar reflexively, then slid back on the couch. "I know. It's not that, I just--" he gestured to Kakashi. With the other man turned to watch him, he could see scars on his chest as well. "Sorry. I'm not used to so many. I mean, not since my parents--" he stopped there. "I'm just not used to it."

Kakashi watched him. "You've been on missions," he said finally. "I'm sure you have a few yourself."

Iruka felt his face turning pink. "Not so many. I haven't really done that many missions."

Kakashi turned his head away, smothering a sudden yawn, then turned back. "Why not? You're a Chunnin. You could do missions."

Iruka shook his head. "I prefer teaching. I like the kids, and I'm good at it. And I really don't like killing people."

Kakashi watched him for a moment more before nodding solemnly. "Some don't." He settled back against the couch, his energy fading. Iruka scooted closer, lifting the man's arm and dabbing antiseptic on the wound inside his elbow.

"Do you ever talk about your parents?" Kakashi asked, almost sleepily.

Iruka glanced at him. He was staring across the room, and Iruka followed his gaze.

A picture of the three of them, before their death, smiled back at him. He looked away. "Not really. Who wants to hear about that?"

Kakashi lifted his shoulders and dropped them again. "My parents died. I'd listen."

Iruka stopped and looked at Kakashi, who was staring right back at him, slouched on the couch. Something niggled in the back of his mind. Something he didn't like about that statement, that he couldn't quite place. After a moment, Iruka stood, bending over Kakashi to reach the rest of the cuts. On his neck, and the back of the man's arm, and various smaller, less dangerous ones, on his torso. He bandaged them wordlessly, then picked up his things and headed into the bathroom to put them away. By the time he came back out, Kakashi was asleep.

A long time ago

"I don't understand."

Sakumo sighed and shifted, gathering Kakashi's knees in one hand and pulling him more snugly into his lap.

"Is it because I joined the academy?"

There was a bare pause. Not long. But long enough.

Kakashi swallowed and stared hard at his knees. "I know Mother doesn't want me to be a ninja. I can stop. I won't be a ninja anymore."

"It's not because you joined the academy," his father said quietly.

Too late, though; the silence said everything. His mother was gone, and Kakashi knew why. He remembered them fighting. They fought about it a lot.

"It's not because of that," his father said again.

Kakashi squirmed until his father let him down. He stood in front of the man, looking up at him solemnly. "I'll quit."

"No," Sakumo said loudly.

Kakashi's eyes widened. He'd never heard his father talk to him like that.

"Kakashi . . ." Sakumo wilted, elbows on his knees. "Kakashi, something very bad has happened with your mother. She's going to live in a different place now."

"Very bad?" Kakashi asked softly. Suddenly, he wanted to cry. "Will she be okay?"

"She'll be fine," his father said, refusing to look up from his hands. "But she can't live with us anymore."

"Can I see her?" Kakashi asked.

Sakumo hesitated. "When you're older," he said finally.

Kakashi stared at him, as if he could divine the truth from what his father was saying. Finally, though, he had to concede defeat. "Promise?" he asked softly. He wouldn't cry. He wouldn't do anything like that. He was strong. He was going to be a ninja.



It had been bothering Iruka all day, and it wasn't until he saw Genma snap his toothpick in two--though why that triggered his memory, he had no idea--that he realized what it was.

"My parents died," Kakashi had said.

"Just wait," Genma had said, "the next thing he'll tell you is that his mother is dead."

Iruka took a deep breath as his temper rose, snarling through his blood. There had to be a reason. A misunderstanding. Maybe Genma was wrong. Maybe Kakashi had meant his father was dead, not both parents.

"Genma?" Iruka asked, deceptively calm.

Genma--who was studying his broken toothpick with a frown--grunted.

"Where's Kakashi's mother?"

The Special Jounin shrugged, fishing a senbon out of his pocket. "Not sure anymore." He flipped it through the air, catching it in his teeth before chewing on it.

"Are you certain she's alive?" Iruka asked. He nearly held his breath, waiting for the answer. If he wasn't certain, then maybe she was dead, and Kakashi hadn't misled him.

"No idea. But last I heard she was." The senbon flicked from one side of his mouth to the other, sharp and glimmering.

The rest of the day passed in a haze. Eventually, Iruka closed up and headed back to his apartment.

By that time, anger had had a chance to boil. His parents were dead. There was nothing even remotely all right about saying someone was dead when they weren't.

He opened the door, fury building to a storm, and immediately had to swallow it.

Shikamaru was sitting across from Kakashi, staring hard at a Shougi board. Kakashi was slouched back in a nest of blankets, eyes half-lidded.

"Shikamaru?" Iruka asked. "What are you doing here?"

The boy looked up and shrugged, frowning slightly. "Asuma asked me to come keep Kakashi company for a while."

"Ah." Iruka wondered how to get rid of him. Shikamaru, however, didn't need a prompt--after a moment's study, he stood.

"I should go. We can finish tomorrow," he said, and made a quick exit.

"I think he cheats," Kakashi grumbled, staring at the board. "He won three games out of five. That's just not normal. I'm good at this . . ."

Iruka stood, nearly trembling. He took a deep breath. Then another. Kakashi still hadn't noticed. "What happened to your mother?" he said at last, trying to sound as conversational as possible.

Kakashi didn't look up. "Dead."

Iruka nodded. "Oh. When?"

"Years ago."


"On a mission. What do you think about this set-up he has going?" Kakashi asked, poking at pieces.

Iruka still hadn't come entirely into the room.

Kakashi finally looked up.

"Genma seems to think she was alive fairly recently."

Kakashi just watched him.

Slowly, Iruka took off his shoes and entered the room. He didn't look at Kakashi. He wasn't sure if he could. "Is she dead or not?"

There was a long moment of silence. Iruka prayed she was dead. That it was a misunderstanding. Anything.

"No," Kakashi said finally. "She's not."

Anger and hurt rose like a tsunami, swamping Iruka. She wasn't dead. Kakashi had lied to him, and for no reason he could see. The man had made something so important nothing more than--than--

"Why would you say that she was dead?" Iruka nearly yelled, furious. "Is this your twisted way of trying to make friends? To say something I might relate to?"

Kakashi's eyes closed, a smile under his mask, and he shrugged nonchalantly. "She's dead to me."

"Dead to you and dead aren't the same thing!" Iruka shouted. "Dead to you means you were angry and glad she's gone, but if you ever decide you still love her you can go see her!" Something twisted in his stomach, something black and yawning. "I can't! My mother is dead, no matter what I wish!" It was then that he realized how much it hurt. To use something like that, to make everything he'd dealt with nothing more than a device to get close--

Iruka whipped away, stalked to the kitchen, turned, stalked back. Kakashi was staring hard at his hands. The smile had been wiped from his face.

"I'm sorry," Kakashi said quietly. "I didn't mean to hurt you."

Iruka glared at him. "You asked me what I wanted, in order to date you. I want truth. Where is your mother?" he ground out finally.

Kakashi was silent for a long time. When he spoke, he didn't look up. "In another country. Being held for trading vital information to one of our enemies."

He felt like the room had dropped out from underneath him. Iruka stared. "What?"

Kakashi still didn't look up. "She hated being a ninja. When my father enrolled me, she was going to take me and run. In trade for sanctuary, she traded information on our village. My father found out. He stopped her. I learned about it when I was older."

He was very wooden. Iruka, hands braced on his hips, glared at the far wall. Then he glared at Kakashi. Then the wall.

He stood, silent.

"I understand," Iruka said finally, still angry but trying to be reasonable, "why you might tell someone your mother was dead if they asked. But why volunteer that information? Why lie?"

Kakashi didn't squirm. "You looked like you wanted to talk. I thought maybe . . . maybe if you wanted to talk, you'd talk to me."

"Kakashi--" Iruka said loudly. He heard his own voice and stopped dead, took a deep breath, and tried again. "Kakashi, if I wanted to talk to you, I would. I would talk to you if I felt I knew you, and trusted you. But I don't!" His voice was rising again, and this time he couldn't bring himself to care. "You lie about nearly everything from what I can tell, and I'm not sure I even know you!"

Kakashi sank further into the couch. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry!" Iruka yelled. "Tell me the damn truth!"

Kakashi stared at his hands. "I did."

"After I caught you in a lie!"

He glared even harder at his hands. "I'm sorry."

Iruka opened his mouth to shout something else, but nothing came to mind. Instead, he stormed into his bedroom and slammed the door.

It felt so good, he slammed it again, just for good measure.


He rolled over on his futon, staring at the bedside clock.

Three thirty.

With a frustrated sigh, he swung his legs over the side and stood, shuffling out of his bedroom in nothing more than drawstring pants. A glance at the couch showed Kakashi, sprawled out in black ninja basics, a vague shape in the dark.

Iruka stared for a moment. The man's eyes were closed, but his breathing was fast. Awake.

Iruka walked into the kitchen, got a glass of water, and walked back out into the living room. He stood in front of the table with the game of Shougi still laid out, and watched the man pretend to sleep.

"I loved my parents very much," he said into the silence.

An eye fluttered open, but Kakashi didn't otherwise move.

"When they died, I was--" he couldn't even begin to explain that hurt. That sense of utter despair. Of loneliness. The void that opened up, that not even the village could fill. The anger at being left alone, and the guilt at being angry. The firm belief that, had he been there, he could have done something. That he should have died too.

He realized he was holding his glass tight enough to make his hand sore, and forcefully relaxed. "It hurt," he said finally. "More than anything else ever has. And it never stopped."

One eye glowed dully red in the dark, almost invisible.

"I reacted more than I should have. But when you lied about that--" he stopped again. He was shaking.

Kakashi sat up slowly. Blankets slid as he shifted, moving over on the couch. The sound of fabric against fabric whispered through the air.

If he apologized again, Iruka might kill him. Apologies meant nothing.

"I don't remember much of my mother," Kakashi said quietly. "And I wasn't close to my fa--" he stopped dead. His head dipped, a silhouette against the window. It came back up a moment later. "I was angry at my father. I didn't mean disrespect towards you, or what you've gone through."

Iruka's eyes were burning. He nodded sharply, hoping Kakashi couldn't see how wet they were. It was too much for a single day. Too much anger, and remembered grief.

"I never changed your bandages," Iruka said after a moment, when he was sure he could talk.

"It's all right," Kakashi answered simply.

Iruka set down his glass of water and picked up the supplies, shifting over to the couch. He sat down in the vacated spot, settling things in his first aid box while Kakashi pulled off his shirt. Slowly, the anger was draining out of him, replaced by exhaustion and weariness.

He untaped the worst of the injuries, a stitched gash near Kakashi's spine, and swished alcohol onto a pad.

They sat in silence for a long time. The sting of alcohol drifted between them, quickly dispersing, leaving only the way Kakashi smelled. Clean, and warm, and vaguely of sun. Then Iruka spilled more alcohol onto a pad, and the sting was back between them.

"This is bleeding," Iruka said, watching the gauze turn pink.

"I ripped the stitches earlier."

Iruka didn't respond, only checked it before putting a new cloth on top and taping it over once more. The silence stretched between them, bordering on uncomfortable. All Iruka could think of were his parents dying. Not much else would come to mind. But--he could work with that. "How old were you, when your father died?" he asked into the silence.

Kakashi 'hmm'ed. "Eight," he said finally, and said nothing more.

"That must have been hard."

Kakashi's hand tightened on the edge of the couch. Underneath his fingers, Iruka felt the man's muscles tense.

"Not really," Kakashi said. "It was his choice." The hands relaxed after a moment, but the tension didn't ease.

"Just because it's his choice, doesn't mean it doesn't hurt." Iruka re-bandaged Kakashi's arm, then let his hands travel across the man's shoulders to the other side. Quietly, he dug his fingers into heavy muscle, hitting pressure points. The knots gave way, and some of the tension drained off.

"Whoa," Kakashi said quietly.

Iruka grinned, where Kakashi couldn't see. "Where did you live, afterwards?"

Kakashi shrugged, gracefully. "The Fourth let me stay with him for a while. Before he was the Fourth."

Iruka nodded, checking the deep cut under Kakashi's arm.

"Five years later, I moved into the Jounin bachelor apartments, and just stayed."

Iruka's mind sped, thinking. Five years. "You were thirteen?"

Kakashi 'hmm'ed again. "What about you? Where did you live, after your parents died?"

Iruka flinched from the memories, then took a deep breath. It wasn't fair to ask Kakashi, and expect to not be asked in return. "In a foster home, for a while. Eventually, in my own apartment that the village paid for." He remembered being lonely, and feeling lost.

Mostly, that had gone away.

His hands fell to his knees, looking at the broad expanse of Kakashi's back. In the dark, he couldn't see the scars; only a lot of pale skin. "I should let you go back to bed. You need to sleep."

"I'm feeling better," Kakashi said, twisting to look back. The expanse of his skin was broken by the mask, black and inky. Silver hair sprouted above it, half of it crushed and the other half sticking up.

"I know. You'll probably be well enough to go home in a day or two. But right now, sleep."

Kakashi sighed and looked like he might protest, but Iruka could read the exhaustion radiating from him. He stood and got his glass of water again, heading toward the bedroom before Kakashi could argue.


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