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What Otter Nonsense

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As uneventful days go, Iruka’s has been very pleasant. His students had stuck to a reasonable level of mischief and the steady flow of reports submitted to the Mission Desk means that he is neither rushed nor bored. Thus, the universe decides to balance things out the only way it knows how; by doing something so utterly obscure that it’s fantastic.

Naturally, the bringer of this fantastical event is Hatake Kakashi.

 Kakashi doesn’t look like the harbinger of bizarre and strange tidings – well, no more than usual – so Iruka has no inkling of how much his life is about to be upheaved.

 “Evening, sensei.”

 “Hello, Kakashi-san. How was your mission?” Iruka asks and accepts the report Kakashi holds out.

 “Successful,” Kakashi answers.

 “Good to hear. Thank you for your hard work.” The customary response rolls off Iruka’s tongue as his eyes swiftly check over the paperwork.  Another solo A-rank mission completed in only two days and Iruka feels his admiration for the man go up a notch, which is fine because Kakashi will inevitably do or say something to bring it down again. “This all seems to be in order so-”

 Iruka blinks in surprise as the strangest sound comes from Kakashi’s vest.

 “Did your vest just squeak?” Iruka asks and as if to confirm that yes, Kakashi’s vest did indeed squeak, it does so again and squirms.

 The visible quarter of Kakashi’s face flushes a little as he slides the zip down and pulls out a tiny bundle of wriggling fluff.

 “Is that an otter?” Iruka asks as large, sable eyes blink at him and a little whiskered nose twitches curiously. “That’s an otter. Why do you have an otter?”

 “I can’t tell you,” Kakashi says with a great amount of dignity for a man cradling a baby otter in armoured gloves. “Classified Jounin mission business.”

 Iruka raises an eyebrow and says, “Well, you and your classified, squeaky business are holding up my line.”

 Kakashi frowns at that – at least Iruka thinks Kakashi is frowning, not always easy to tell with only one eye to judge from – and tucks the baby otter back into his vest while Iruka tries very hard not to give it a final, longing look.

 He succeeds. Mostly.

 

~*~*~*~

 

 

At two in the AM the next night, Iruka is woken by a knocking on his window. Rolling out of bed and drawing the window curtain, he finds Kakashi on the other side sticking with chakra to the outer wall three stories up.

Iruka slides the window open and grumbles, “If the village isn’t under attack or the zombie apocalypse started by those psychos in Sound, I’m going to kick you off my building.”

Kakashi digs into his vest and holds out the baby otter, curled up and fast asleep with one tiny paw stuffed in its mouth.

“Goddamn it,” Iruka mutters and steps aside so Kakashi can enter.

“I need you to look after her for a few days, week tops,” Kakashi says, setting a bag on Iruka’s kitchen table and gently depositing the otter next to it.

“What the hell makes you think I’m going to do that?” Iruka demands, staring at Kakashi in bafflement even as his fingers itch to curl into soft brown fur.

“Because I’m needed for a mission and obviously can’t take her with me,” Kakashi says and starts pulling items out of the bag. “This is her bottle, it’s a bit big for her but she’s still managing to feed. The instructions for mixing formula are on the tin. This is her blankie -”

Blankie?” Iruka repeats incredulously.

“- and towel. She’s been suffering from a bit of an upset tummy but I don’t know why, so watch her after feeding and keep her away from any carpets.”

“Okay, so this is a crazy dream and I’m going to wake up after I stab you in the eye.”

“I really need to get going, my team’s waiting.” Kakashi heads for the window and Iruka grabs his arm and yanks him around so they’re face to face.

“Why’d you pick her up in the first place? Wild animals belong in the wild. With their wild mothers.”

“Her mother’s dead,” Kakashi says matter of fact. “I couldn’t leave a puppy all alone in the forest, she’d die.”

Puppy, of course, freaking dog obsessed Jounin.

“What makes you think I’m going to do this?” he demands, glaring at Kakashi and running a frustrated hand through his hair. “I have two jobs and no time for a ‘puppy’. I don’t even have house plants.”

Kakashi’s eye curves as he says, “I saw the way you looked at her in the mission room.”

“What,” Iruka says flatly.

“You can’t deny that you’re weak to her fuzzy charm.”

Iruka’s lost for words for a moment, flailing a hand through the air before stating, “I’m pretty sure this situation will be counted as justifiable homicide.”

Kakashi doesn’t appear to be listening as he studies Iruka’s bed crazy hair with great interest. “Are you, like, a really restless sleeper?”

“You can talk, at least mine doesn’t stick straight up,” Iruka snaps and Kakashi’s eye curves again before he moves to the window. “What’s her name?” Iruka asks just before Kakashi leaps out into the night.

“Umm, Otter?” Kakashi answers and Iruka blanches and says, “That’s a terrible name,” but Kakashi’s already two rooves away.

Iruka turns to the little bundle curled up on his kitchen table and strokes his fingers over the downy fur of a skinny tail.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Iruka rings the HR department the next morning and his call is picked up by Kagome, a small and normally quiet woman harbouring a terrifyingly desperate crush on him.

“What’re the stipulations on applying for carer’s leave?” Iruka asks while he watches the baby otter curiously explore his kitchen floor, grunting and squeaking and occasionally releasing surprisingly loud yips.

“It’s only for immediate family members and you’ll need to provide a letter from their doctor,” Kagome answers. “Is everything alright, Iruka-san?”

“Yeah, no, it’s… hard to explain.” Iruka scrubs a hand over his face, asking, “How too short notice is it to put in for paternity leave?” and flinches back as Kagome gives a horrified scream of “No! No, you bastard!” and hangs up on him.

Iruka stares at the phone for a confused moment before resting it back in the cradle.

“That escalated quickly,” he tells the otter, who ignores him in favour of stumbling head first into the fridge.

 

~*~*~*~

 

After managing to feed the otter – Kakashi was right, the bottle really is too big and the she more gnaws at the nipple than sucks to get any milk – and devising a makeshift carrier out of some ratty towels and his mother’s old sewing basket, Iruka heads for the Inuzuka compound.

“What the hell am I supposed to do with it?” Hana demands when Iruka thrusts the basket into her hands.

“I don’t know, what do you usually do with puppies?” Iruka demands and Hana snaps at him, “This isn’t a dog!”

“Come on, Hana-san, can’t you do something with her? You’re a vet!”

“But,” Hana says, staring at the basket’s passenger in disbelief, “it’s an otter.”

“She gets an upset stomach after eating. Kakashi-sensei’s been feeding her this.” Iruka hands over the tin of formula and Hana rolls her eyes.

“Kakashi-san is an idiot. This is puppy formula, as in dog puppy. It won’t be suitable for otters.”

“Then please find me something that is. I’m stuck with her for a few days and I like my carpets unsoiled.”

Hana smirks. “You can swear here, you know, sensei. There’re no children around. You can say shit and crap and even poo.”

“Hana-san,” Iruka says with a great amount of patience, “please look after her until class lets out this afternoon and figure out what I can feed her so she’s not whining in pain after every meal.”

That’s the right choice of words to use with a vet because Hana is immediately frowning with concern. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thank you,” Iruka says vehemently and then makes the mad dash to the academy before his class gets bored and tries stapling his desk to the ceiling.

 

~*~*~*~

 

“I think I’ll call you Kuri,” Iruka tells the otter later that evening as he feeds her a new and improved formula.

When he’d gone to pick the otter up from Hana that afternoon, she’d been huffy and told him, “I had to contact three wildlife vets to get this recipe, and I’m warning you that it’s by no means cheap to make. And neither is my babysitting services.”

“Excellent!” Iruka told her. “Send the bill to Kakashi-sensei.”

Hana has kitted him out with a couple of appropriately sized bottles, a specialised brush, toys, and a thick pile of printed information the wildlife vet had sent over.

Iruka looks at the stack of paper sitting on his desk next to the assignments he needs to mark.

“You’re a troublesome little mite,” Iruka grumbles affectionately at the suckling otter only to become utterly charmed when she wraps her little front paws around the bottle.

Later, Kuri decides that she wants to sleep with Iruka and cries and cries when he tries to settle her in the nest he’s made out of old linen, her blankie (dear God), and his washing basket.

“This is never going to do,” he tells her. “You can’t sleep in my bed; I’ll roll over and squash you.”

She looks up at him with big wet eyes and gives a mournful little whine.

“Goddamn it.”

Iruka manages not to roll on top of her during the night and Kuri repays his kindness by piddling in the bed.

 

~*~*~*~

 

“What is that?” Kagome demands when Iruka runs into her out the front of a baby supply store. “What the fuck is that?”

“Umm,” Iruka says, taking a step back towards the relative safety of Blooming Babies and its fluttering, indulgent staff. “A playpen?”

“A playpen!” Kagome screeches before flapping her hands about and rushing off in a flood of tears.

Iruka looks into Kuri’s basket and asks, “What the hell was that all about?”

Kuri doesn’t have an answer for him, though, as she’s far too busy chewing on a teething ring.

Later – after he’s set Kuri up in a corner of his class room, secure in her new playpen and surrounded by toys – Iruka has more of his students’ attention than he’s had in years. Naturally this means the topic is nothing remotely curriculum based.

“What’s its name?”

“Is it a boy or a girl?”

“Where did it come from?”

“Okay, everyone, if you’ll settle down for a moment and be quiet I’ll tell you all about our guest and outline the rules of engagement. Now listen up! This is Kuri and she is staying with me for a few days while her carer is away on a mission so she’ll be joining us in class until the end of the week.”

“Can I cuddle her? Oh, please let me cuddle her!”

“I want a cuddle too!”

“Otter’s are wild animals,” Iruka tells them sternly, “so we can’t get her too used to human contact because she’ll have to return to the wild when she’s old enough. This means no cuddling.”

Iruka writes the Otter Rules of Engagement on the side of the blackboard closest to the playpen and makes his students recite them aloud so that they’ll have no excuse for when they do, inevitably, break them.

After the students have gone for their morning recess – some of them having to be forced out the door and told strictly that ‘No feeding the otter’ includes cheese sandwiches and crisps – Iruka settles Kuri on his desk with her bottle. If he keeps her there until the bell rings, tickling her fat tummy and letting her play fight against his hand that’s nobody’s business but his own.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Kakashi knocks on Iruka’s door late Sunday evening, interrupting Kuri’s important hunting lesson of how to catch a felt ball tied to some string. So far Kuri has managed to smack into the fridge three times, yipping joyfully.

“Hello, I’ve come to pick Otter up,” Kakashi says, to which Iruka replies, “There’s no one here of that stupid and completely unimaginative name,” and shuts the door in his face.

Iruka can feel Kakashi radiating bafflement from the other side of the wood and six seconds later another knock comes.

“Hello,” Kakashi says again when Iruka opens the door, “I’ve come to pick up the delightful little otter, which I will find a wonderful and creative name for.”

“I’ve named her Kuri,” Iruka tells him and steps aside so that Kakashi can enter.

“Kuri? And you accuse me of being unimaginative,” Kakashi says and quickly ducks over the threshold before Iruka can slam the door in his face again. “But it’s really a very pretty name and suits her well.”

“The formula you were giving her was completely wrong and I have it on good medical authority that you’re an idiot,” Iruka says as he starts collecting up Kuri’s toys and Kakashi watches him from the genkan. “Inuzuka Hana has the recipe. I’ve also had to acquire proper supplies for her and there’s a lot of information you’ll need to read so that you can raise her properly.”

“You’re giving me homework?” Kakashi says, sounding somewhere between amused and incredulous.

Iruka glares at him. “I’m giving you the resources necessary to not completely botch this up.”

“Okay, yes, good,” Kakashi says. “Thank you.”

“Ugh,” Iruka replies and shoves the bag of Kuri’s things into Kakashi’s arms.

Kuri looks confused and squeaks at him sweetly when he reluctantly hands her to Kakashi.  That night, Iruka has a long bath, tucks himself into bed with a book he’s been meaning to read for months, and doesn’t sulk at all.

 

~*~*~*~

 

“She won’t stop crying,” Kakashi groans from Iruka’s doorstep at eleven o’clock the next night. “She’s been crying since I got her home yesterday, nothing in that stack of information you gave me helps, nothing I do helps, and I need sleep.”

Iruka snatches Kuri out of Kakashi’s hands and little otter continues to cry for a moment before snuffling at Iruka’s chest, recognising his scent, and pressing into him with tired whimpers.

“Huh, I should have come over hours ago,” Kakashi mutters and Iruka scowls at him and shuts the door in his face again.

“Seriously though, are you a restless sleeper or are you having wild, hair grabby sex every night?” Kakashi calls through the door and Iruka ignores him in favour of going back to bed and tucking the exhausted otter in next to him on a folded towel for midnight accidents.

The next morning, Kuri re-explores the apartment and only seems satisfied once she’s run headfirst into the fridge, barking happily at the familiarity. Iruka finds Kuri’s supplies sitting on his door mat and his students are elated to hear that she’ll be sticking around for awhile longer.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Over the next few weeks, Iruka and Kuri become somewhat celebrities around the village. Iruka suddenly finds himself being stopped in the market so that women can coo over Kuri in her basket and give Iruka things like apples, fresh bread rolls, and their daughter/granddaughter/niece/cousin’s phone number. He’s had to start taking the longer way home because he can no longer walk past the fish monger without the owner’s wife rushing out to give him bags of fish guts.

“Best thing for a growing otter is fish guts,” she tells him knowingly each time.

The stray cat that lives in the alley behind Iruka’s apartment has never been so well fed.

It’s Wednesday afternoon; the academy’s let out for the day, and Iruka’s taken Kuri to get a feel for the great and dangerous wild otherwise known as the east district’s botanical garden. Iruka’s busy marking homework, hengeing fallen leaves into grasshoppers for Kuri to chase, and scaring off curious dogs with the power of his glare when Kakashi strolls up.

“Yo.”

“Hey. How’d your mission go?”

“Oh fine,” Kakashi tells him as he sits down and pulls out his book.

That’s the extent of their conversation. Kakashi reads idly and Iruka finishes his marking and continues to monitor Kuri’s play until the pup has worn herself out and stumbles back to him for cuddles. Not that he’s cuddling her, really. He’s just keeping her close while she’s sleepy and vulnerable and wants to nom on his fingers.

When he pops Kuri into her basket to take her home, Kakashi looks up from his book and says, “Do you want me to take her?”

“Do you want me to burn your book?” Iruka asks mildly and Kakashi’s eye curves in a smile. “You’re still paying her bills.”

“Happily.” Kakashi closes his book and stands when Iruka does. “This was fun.”

“Okay?” Iruka says, unsure, and Kakashi is still eye smiling at him but there’s something expectant in his body language and Iruka has no idea what Kakashi wants. “We’re going to go home now, so… goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” Kakashi says and waves Iruka farewell as he and Kuri leave the park.

Iruka looks down at where Kuri’s squeaking happily in her basket and pawing at her favourite ball.

“Did that seem a little strange to you?” he asks and the otter gives a wide yawn in response. “Yeah, I think so too.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Kakashi keeps turning up at odd moments whenever he’s not busy with missions. He swings by the academy for lunch, walks to the Mission Room with Iruka after class lets out, and sits with Iruka during Kuri’s many outings to the park. They don’t really talk beyond greetings and farewells, Kakashi’s just sort of there and Iruka doesn’t know why.

“He keeps appearing out of nowhere,” Iruka complains and slumps further down his seat. “He doesn’t even do anything, just follows along and reads his damn book, and it’s starting to drive me crazy.”

“Uh huh,” Ibiki says distractedly from where he’s sitting with Kuri on the floor of his office as she runs in circles and rolls around madly trying to catch his hand as he flicks playfully at her tail.

“What does he even want?” Iruka asks the ceiling impassionedly. “I took the otter because he was too incompetent to look after her, she’s healthy and happy and growing strong so why the hell is he hanging around like a bad smell?”

“Uh huh,” Ibiki says and starts catching at Kuri’s feet while the pup yips and hisses and has a wonderful time.

Iruka flicks his eyes over to Ibiki and says, “I’m going to paint your interrogation room buttercup yellow and swap the fluros out for fairy lights.”

“Uh huh,” Ibiki says and Iruka leans over and flicks his ear. “Ow! What?”

“You haven’t been listening to a word I’ve said,” Iruka accuses and Ibiki shrugs.

“True.”

Iruka sighs and goes back to starting at the ceiling. “Why do I even bother?”

“What’s the big deal with him following you around? I seem to remember a young, tender, bright eyed Chuunin with a giant teenage crush on our famed Copy Ninja.”

“Yes,” Iruka agrees with sarcastic wistfulness, “and then that young, tender, bright eyed Chuunin became a jaded and grumpy older Chuunin thanks to the discovery that our famed Copy Ninja is an utter arsehole that has no hesitation before publicly humiliating people for no good reason other than his own entertainment.”

“It wasn’t even you he humiliated,” Ibiki says with a sceptically raised eyebrow and Iruka scowls.

“Doesn’t matter.”

“It’s the principle of the thing?” Ibiki asks sarcastically as Kuri barks loudly and pounces at his hand, misses, smacks into his knee, staggers back and shakes it off, and lunges after his hand again with renewed vigour.

“It is the principle of the thing,” Iruka says defensively. “It’s like when you go out on a date with someone and they’re rude to the waiter for no good reason. It shows their true nature.”

“Uh huh,” Ibiki says. With a huff, Iruka kicks the back of Ibiki’s desk so a hidden panel pops open and Ibiki snaps, “Oi!” in protest.

“Shut up,” Iruka snaps back. “If you won’t help me with my sorrows then your Shochu will.” Iruka snatches up the bottle and says approvingly, “Sweet potato, nice.”

“How’d you even find my stash in the first place?” Ibiki grumbles.

Iruka twists the top off the bottle and flops back into his chair. “You’re predictable.”

“Cheeky sod.”

“You can talk. Figures you only start paying attention when your precious alcohol’s under threat.”

Kuri rolls onto her back and waves her little paws in request to have her tummy tickled and Ibiki says, “Uh huh.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Kuri has started eating solid foods for the loose definition that ‘solid food’ is when what she’s eating is blended up fish and vegetables. It’s good that she’s no longer relying solely on the bottle as it shows that she’s developing on schedule. The downside is that Iruka’s apartment now permanently stinks of fish, which means his clothes permanently stink of fish and the stray cat can recognise his approach and has been getting increasingly nastier in its demands for delicious fishy entrails. Iruka has plans to kick the fat git the next time it accosts him on the stairs.

It also means that Kuri needs to learn how to hunt, and for that she needs to learn how to swim. They start her lessons in Iruka’s bathtub, the water warm and not too deep, and Kuri takes to it like, well, an otter. She swims laps and squeaks happily, her body moving with supple undulations one moment and gangly incoordination the next. It’s utterly endearing and Iruka looks forward to this time of day more than anything else bar his morning coffee.

Her first fishing lesson consists of Iruka getting a live fish from the local fish monger – his wife foisting another bag of fish guts onto Iruka and boasting about how quickly Kuri’s growing thanks to their rich, nutritional goodliness – and releasing it into the bathtub. Kuri watches it in fascination for a long time, periodically looking to Iruka for instruction, which is laughable because Iruka was seriously hoping that instinct would have kicked in and she’d know what to do all on her own.

“I’m really not sure how to actually teach you what to do,” Iruka admits after entertaining thoughts of hengeing into an otter himself, drawing her instructive diagrams, and explaining it through interpretive dance.

In the end, he settles for the more direct approach of pushing her into the water and waiting for her to figure it out. Surprisingly, once Kuri’s actually wet she gets the idea quickly and the barking, hissing, frantically splashing chase that ensues is one of the funniest things he’s seen in a long, long time.

Kuri exhausts herself before she manages to catch the fish, but that’s okay. They’ll try again tomorrow.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Fishing lessons have progressed to the point where they’re now having them in the lake near the memorial stone. Kuri loves it with a passion she’s only previously shown for running headfirst into the fridge. They swim for hours together, exploring the lake’s bottom and inhabitants. Iruka teaches her how to crack open crabs and molluscs, they discover the perils of frog hunting – frogs turn out to be surprisingly deviant opponents that have no compunctions about leading them into the smelliest, boggiest areas – and Kuri surprises the hell out of Iruka one day by attacking a river rat. The otter and the rat get into a fantastically frantic and loud fight that ends with the river rat running off into the sedges and Kuri scampering back to Iruka for cuddles.

“It’s okay,” he soothes her later that night as he dabs at her bite wounds with salve he’s gotten from Hana. The evil woman had laughed uproariously when Iruka had rushed in with dripping hair and Kuri cradled to his chest, calling him an overprotective daddy. “Let’s figure out the frogs before we tackle rats.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

“This is ridiculous,” Ibiki says three days later when Iruka turns up at his office and demands his help.

“It’s completely necessary,” Iruka argues as he readies the nature documentary and munches on his chicken yakitori, “she hasn’t got any siblings to play fight with. I’m not letting her go in the wild vulnerable and unprepared, so suck it up.”

“Why the hell are you making me do this? I’m very busy and important and, in case you’ve forgotten, terrifying.”

“All talk, that’s what you are. I’ve seen the way you look at her.”

“What?” Ibiki says with a distinct edge of warning.

“You can’t resist her fuzzy charm.” Iruka smirks and Ibiki narrows his eyes speculatively.

“That’s not something you’d normally say… Ha!” Ibiki grins and jabs a finger in Iruka’s direction. “So that’s how Kakashi got to you.”

“Shut up,” Iruka snaps and hits the play button on the remote. “Very important research time now, pay attention.”

On the screen, the introduction text Otter Wars: A Battle for Territory flashes up as dramatic music fills the room.

Forty-five minutes later, the end credits are rolling and Ibiki hits the stop button then puts the remote down shakily. Iruka has Kuri in his lap, frantically patting her fur with one hand while the other is clamped over her eyes.

“That was…”

“Yeah,” Ibiki agrees. “Okay, that shit’s never happening to Kuri, not on my watch. When do we start?”

“Tomorrow? Tonight? Right fucking now?” Iruka says anxiously and Ibiki nods.

“Right fucking now it is.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Kuri has hunting lessons six afternoons and combat training four mornings a week. Iruka covers all her hunting lessons and Ibiki attends as many combat sessions as he can manage. Between the two of them training her, Kuri is fast developing into a skilled hunter and effective fighter. Iruka and Ibiki have found a small, secluded beach in the bend of the river a half hour’s travel – by ninja standards –east of the village.

On Sunday morning, they travel to this location for Kuri’s combat training because if any of their fellow shinobi saw them they would laugh and then Ibiki and Iruka would have to go through the trouble of hiding bodies.

“Ready?” Ibiki calls from his place across the river.

“Let’s do it.” Iruka flicks through hand signs, says, “Henge,” and with a surge of chakra, becomes an otter.

He stretches out and moves around a bit, adjusting to his new body. It’s fairly routine by now, but still takes a few moments to become accustomed to. Looking across the river, he sees Ibiki’s otter form doing the same. Ibiki is a large grey otter covered in scars; easily the size of one of the largest otters in the wild and this makes him an excellent opponent for Kuri to practice against. Iruka’s the size of an average adult otter and Kuri’s snuffling at him curiously, which she does each time they go through this exercise so even if Iruka’s appearance changes his scent must not.

Ibiki gives a loud bark from across the river and jumps into the water. Kuri instantly starts growling and gets into a defensive position, ready to fight.

 “I think she’s starting to hate me,” Ibiki complains a couple of hours later as they eat their lunch. Iruka hums noncommittally around a mouthful of rice and Ibiki plucks at the grass. “Why can’t you be the aggressor for a few rounds?”

Iruka swallows and says, “Because she has to live with me. If Kuri starts associating my scent with attack then she’ll never be able to relax and I’ll never be able to carry on with her hunting lessons.”

Ibiki frowns and murders some more grass. “Just a couple of sessions?”

“No.”

Stuffing half a riceball in his mouth, Ibiki chews it resentfully. He glances around the area, swallows, and asks, “Where’s Kuri?”

“Off hunting, she knows that when we come out here she has to get her own food.”

Ibiki humphs and goes back to his lunch.

By the time they’ve finished eating; he’s worked himself into another steam and is about to kick off a second round of convincing complaints when Kuri comes lopping back to them. She drops a dead river rat into Iruka’s lap, bigger than the one she’d fought the month before, and there’s barely a cut on her.

Iruka scratches her on the head and coos, “Good girl. That’s my clever girl,” and Ibiki decides that maybe he’s alright with being the bad guy after all.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Kagome steps in front of Iruka as he’s approaching the Mission Office and glares at him balefully.

“Is this fun for you, this little game you’re playing? Do you enjoy messing with people’s emotions?” she demands and Iruka raises an eyebrow.

“Kagome-san, I’ve noticed for awhile now that you’ve been unusually…” Iruka fishes for a sensitive word to use before setting on honesty and saying, “hostile towards me. What have I done to so offend you?”

Kagome stares at him, a storm of emotion flickering across her face, and for a terrifying moment she looks like she’s going to cry and Iruka freaks out a little. He hates it when women cry! Their normally pretty faces crumple and get all red and blotchy and it makes him feel like an utter heel, especially when he doesn’t have a clue why they’re crying.

“Okay,” he says as he raises a placating hand, “I honestly have no idea what’s going on here but I never meant to upset you.” Kagome still looks like she’s going to cry and Iruka’s getting desperate when Kuri comes bounding up to them. She’s too big to ride around in her basket anymore but will happily run along next to Iruka, still young enough that she never roams too far away, though Iruka does put a harness and lead on her in the more populated areas. Iruka’s relieved to see her because women love animals and Kuri’s adorable, if anything will stop Kagome from crying it’ll be a cute little otter!

He scoops Kuri up and presents her to Kagome, saying brightly, “Have you met Kuri yet? She’s very friendly.”

Kagome is staring at Kuri in horror and that’s most definitely not the reaction Iruka was expecting.

“Kuri?” Kagome whispers and Iruka nods, probably a little too enthusiastically if the sharp pain in his neck is anything to go by. “This is your daughter that I’ve been hearing about?”

Iruka cups a hand over Kuri’s head and tiny ears, and stage whispers, “She’s adopted but I haven’t broken the news to her yet. I’m waiting ‘till she’s older.”

Kagome doesn’t look like she’s going to cry anymore. Instead, Iruka’s pretty sure she’s about to punch him in the face and he protectively tucks Kuri behind his back. Kagome takes a menacing step forwards, trembling with anger, and hisses, “You’re a cold and cruel man, toying with a woman’s heart,” before her entire countenance changes and she smiles while placing her hands on Iruka’s vest. “But I forgive you. There’s obviously been a misunderstanding, you’re lucky I care for you so deeply, Iruka-san. If there was ever a man to award a second chance to, it’s you.”

“Umm,” Iruka says, leaning away from her hands and trying to keep a hold on Kuri as she wriggles and nips at him, wanting to be put down. “Thank you? But I feel you should kno-”

“Iruka-san,” Kagome looks coyly up at him through her eyelashes and honestly the woman’s emotional switches are enough to give him whiplash, “when a woman declares her feelings it’s only good manners to give her an answer.”

Oh God, Iruka thinks in panic and steps back from Kagome’s hands, apology written all over his face.

“You are a lovely woman, Kagome-san,” he says and swiftly puts Kuri down, the otter curling around his ankles and chomping at his sandals to express her annoyance at being held so long. “And in that lies the problem.”

Kagome’s expression is caught somewhere between offended and confused. “What,” she demands, “are you gay or something?”

“Yes,” Iruka says firmly and Kagome blinks.

“You’re gay.”

“Yes.”

And Kagome’s back to angry. Seriously, whiplash. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It’s not exactly something I go screaming off the top of the Hokage Monument,” Iruka snaps, starting to feel angry and confused himself, and Kuri stops chewing on his sandals to look warily up at them. “It’s no ones business but my own and I’ll disclose it only as I see necessary.”

Kagome waves her arms around in agitation and yells, “But I- you- I’ve been carrying a torch for years! This is beyond unfair, you should have told me!”

Iruka narrows his eyes and says with deliberate calm, “I understand that your feelings have been hurt and for that I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry?!”

“Yes,” Iruka snaps, “I am. You’re a nice person and I enjoy working with you, but it’s not my fault that you’ve cultivated a one-sided romance. I don’t deserve to be punished for your imaginings.” Kagome’s eyes are starting to look wet again and Iruka gentles his voice. “Look, if I can help you to work through this then I’m happy to do so, but I will not stand here and be your emotional punching bag.” Iruka steps away from Kagome and clicks his fingers so that Kuri knows to follow. “My shift is starting. Again, I’m sorry that this has happened. I honestly didn’t mean to cause you any hurt, Kagome-san.”

He leaves her standing in the street and doesn’t look back to see if she’s crying. Three hours later and near the end of his shift, Iruka’s still feeling like a heel and Kakashi rocks up.

“Yo, Iruka-sensei.”

“Hey, how was your mission?”

“Successful.” Kakashi hands over his mission report.

As usual, Kakashi’s report is succinct and it doesn’t take long for Iruka to check it through. “All in order. Thank you for your hard work.”

Their usual greetings and pleasantries over, Kakashi vaults over the desk with effortless grace then contrastingly flops into an empty chair. His eye curves into a smile as he scoops Kuri onto his lap.

“Hello, sweetheart, look how big you’ve gotten,” he murmurs and she squeaks at him sweetly, now used to his sporadic presence in her and Iruka’s lives.

Iruka turns back to his work, a small smile on his lips.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Iruka doesn’t feed Kuri anymore; she’s able to catch all her own food during their evening hunts and extra to cover their day of rest. Iruka’s teaching her how to store food in the cool mud of the river bank, digging little pockets and camouflaging them so that it lasts a few days. He knows this isn’t normal otter behaviour but he will teach Kuri any tricks he can think of to help her survive. He doesn’t care if it’s cheating.

The fish monger’s wife is still foisting bags of guts off on Iruka and telling everyone within hearing distance that she’s Kuri’s grandmother and it’s all thanks to her that Kuri’s growing so strong. The only thing growing strong thanks to that woman’s offerings is the alley cat and Iruka’s seriously regretting tossing it the scraps because the thing is starting to turn into a right beast. Iruka will have to stop accepting the smelly gifts soon and wean the cat off its addiction. That should be loads of fun.

It’s the week of the autumn festival and, as is tradition, the academy has been closed to give both students and teachers a much needed break from each other. Iruka spends the first few days getting done those annoying little chores that build up over time – sorting and filing his mail, dusting, mending all the furniture Kuri’s chewed on so that it will survive to be chewed another day, etc, ad nauseum – but now they’ve got time off to enjoy themselves.

There’s no better way to kick of some proper R’n’R than with a leisurely swim! The morning dawns clear skied and almost summer warm, and Iruka decides that the lake near the memorial stone is the perfect place to go. The only word to describe what he and Kuri do all morning is frolic. They swim, play, and dive for the smoothest stones in the deepest part of the lake before catching fish for their lunch. Iruka eats his raw along with Kuri, the freshest of sashimi.

The sun is bright and warm; it’s a perfect day as far as Iruka’s concerned and he stretches out on his back. The grass smells sweet where it’s crushed beneath him and blades tickle along his ribs. Kuri curls up in the shallow curve of Iruka’s waist and goes to sleep. He scratches his fingers through her fur and closes his eyes, the sunlight golden through his lids. Heat soaks its way down into his bones and his muscles haven’t been this loose in months. Bliss.

An indeterminable amount of time later, Iruka comes out of his light doze and blinks his eyes open. The sky overhead is still clear and spectacularly blue but there’s something at the edge of his awareness. Letting his head loll to the side, he sees Kakashi standing a few feet away.

Iruka smiles, and says, “Hey there,” in a sleep rough voice.

Kakashi says, “Hurrng,” and Iruka’s eyebrows twitch upwards in surprise, some of the sleep fuzz clearing.

“You okay?”

Kakashi clears his throat loudly and nods. “Yes, fine. I’m fine. You’re, umm, quite...” He waves his hand to indicate Iruka and the lake and then asks, “Swimming?”

“Yes?” Iruka says uncertainly and Kakashi nods again.

“Good day for it.”

“Yeah, it is.” There’s an awkward silence and Iruka becomes aware of just how intensely Kakashi is staring at him. The single eye hasn’t flicked away for a moment, not even to Kuri who has lifted her head at Kakashi’s arrival, and suddenly Iruka’s feeling far hotter than sun has made him all day. He raises enough to lean back on his elbows and says, “Kakashi-sensei?”

“Are you going to the festival tomorrow night?” Kakashi asks, single eye tracking the flex of Iruka’s chest and flat stomach, down the length of his legs. “Perhaps we can share a drink.”

With that, Kakashi strides away at a brisk pace. Iruka watches him leave for a few moments before looking at Kuri a little wild eyed.

“That wasn’t- he didn’t just-” Kuri yawns and blinks at Iruka sleepily and Iruka shakes his head to clear his thoughts. “No, no, I’m being silly.”

Iruka flops onto his back and stares up at the clear sky. There’s no way that Kakashi just made a pass at him.

“I’m just being silly, right?”

Unsurprisingly, neither sky nor otter answer him.

 

~*~*~*~

 

“We need to get you out of the academy; you’re starting to act like a teenage girl.” Iruka kicks Ibiki’s chair without taking his eyes off the ceiling and Ibiki snorts into his tea. “Seriously, run a few missions, kill a few bad guys, and get your man-card back.”

“I will kill you with your stapler,” Iruka deadpans.

Ibiki sighs and stands to file the papers he just finished sorting. “What’s the big deal? Go to the festival, meet up with Kakashi, have a drink, go home. It’ll be like all your other meet ups where you say hello and then don’t talk until you say goodbye. Easy.”

“I don’t want to drink with him,” Iruka says firmly and Ibiki laughs at him.

“You and I both know that if you didn’t want to spend time with him you would have told him to fuck off months ago. Face facts, you’ve got it bad for the Copy-ninja.”

“I absolutely do not. There’re no facts to face,” Iruka protests and Kuri gives a loud yip before gallivanting madly around in circles.

Ibiki makes his way carefully across the room so as not to step on her, grabs Iruka by the shirt, and yanks him out of his chair.

“What? What the hell?” Iruka demands and Ibiki all but throws him towards the door.

“Get out.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re annoying and in denial and I have no time for your bullshit.” Ibiki keeps bulling him along. “I’ll babysit Kuri tonight. You go have fun.”

“No,” Iruka says belligerently, “I don’t want to have fun. There will be no fun had by me or anyone else.”

“Everyone’s going to be having fun, you idiot, it’s a festival, and if you stop being so bull-headed maybe you and Kakashi will have a chance to actually talk.”

“I don’t want to talk to him,” Iruka exclaims and has to do a quick foot shuffle to avoid kicking Kuri. The otter’s going crazy, barking and leaping about their feet thinking they’re playing a marvellous game. “I don’t even like him.”

“Of course you don’t, that’s why whenever I see the two of you around the village you don’t have a little smile on your face, and you don’t ‘discretely’ ask after his whereabouts when you’ve not seen him for a week, and why you’re not putting up anywhere near as much of a fight right now as I know you’re capable of.”

With that, Ibiki shoves Iruka out into the corridor and scoops up Kuri before she can follow.

“Have a wonderful evening,” Ibiki says completely straight faced and firmly shuts the door.

Iruka stands there staring at the door and listening to Kuri’s over excited exuberance, his mouth opening and closing soundlessly until he realises how ridiculous he looks and snaps it shut. Iruka’s not so unaware of himself that he doesn’t realise Ibiki’s accusations have merit, but still, that doesn’t mean that he has to admit to them!

And yet, he can’t exactly deny them because here he is, turning on his heel and walking down the corridor instead of kicking Ibiki’s door in and taking Kuri home.

“Goddamn it,” Iruka grumbles and tries not to think of Ibiki calling him a teenage girl as he decides on what to wear tonight.

 

~*~*~*~

 

In the end, Iruka decides to stop being an idiot and wears what he would have worn anyway: t-shirt and trousers.

The festival is large and lively; the organisers have really gone all out this year. Shining lanterns are strung along walkways and out the front of stalls, there are a couple of ladies playing kotos, acrobats doing tumbling tricks, and the whole area smells like grilled squid and fried pork buns. Iruka buys himself a bun and can of melon tea before wandering over to watch some of his students scooping goldfish.

“Where’s Kuri?” they ask him and groan in complaint when he tells them he’s having the night off from otter duty. Apparently his presence is not tolerated by his students anymore if he doesn’t come with a fuzzy sidekick, so in retaliation Iruka catches the much coveted black goldfish with googly eyes. He gives it to a little girl in a yellow yukata that’s been having no luck catching anything and she gives him a huge, watery smile.

“That’s very kind,” her mother says. “Thank you.”

“Thank you!” the little girl calls and waves furiously as her mother leads her into the crowd, the goldfish bag clutched to her chest.

Iruka waves them off with a smile and continues wandering between stalls. He buys odds and ends as he goes, gifts for birthdays, a new cover for the cushion Kuri has chewed to soggy threads, and a polished piece of turquoise on a strip of woven leather. The swirling blues, greens, and deep browns remind him of Kuri swimming in the lake. Although Iruka has no intension of wearing it, he will put it on the shelf where he keeps the smooth water stones, the gleaming skull of the river rat, and the left over square of Kuri’s blankie after she’d loved it to death with her teeth.

The click of his fingers for Kuri to follow is automatic and gives him pause, being with the otter has become second nature and clicking his fingers like a nervous tell. He’ll have to be careful to break himself of the habit once Kuri has returned to the wild, and doesn’t the thought of that send a sharp pang through his chest. Iruka drains his drink, and pushes those thoughts aside. Tonight he’s out to have a good time! But not too good, tolerable is more the word to use. Pleasantly tolerable at most.

Of course, this is when he spots Kakashi and completely reassesses his standards for the evening because Kakashi looks good. Surprise of surprises, he’s wearing a yukata of midnight blue with grey waves across the hem, his ankles bare and tantalisingly pale in the lantern light.

Nice, Iruka thinks, tosses his empty can into a recycling bin, and makes his way over.

“Good evening,” he says and Kakashi’s eye arches, the other hidden beneath a wrap the same shade as his yukata .

“And to you, Iruka-sensei,” Kakashi greets back before casually gesturing to a walkway leading out of the festival. “If you’re interested in joining me for a drink, I’ve picked out a rather nice spot to watch the fireworks display. I believe it’ll be starting in another twenty or so minutes.”

Iruka smiles and says, “I’ve heard the same. Lead the way.”

The viewing space Kakashi has chosen isn’t too far from the festival and up a rather large tree. Not what Iruka’s expecting at all.

“After you,” Kakashi says and Iruka glances up the tree with a half smile.

“Why do I feel like I’m being pranked?” he quips.

Kakashi chuckles and says, “Do you want me to go first? Then you can look up my skirt.”

“Hilarious,” Iruka deadpans and leaps into the overhead foliage.

Half way up, Iruka comes across the area Kakashi has set and it mentally throws him off balance. Between two of the thickest boughs is fastened a wide spreader hammock, one of the boughs situated higher than the other making it so they’ll be reclining rather than lying. Kakashi arrives silently next to him and with a twist and flop, lands securely in the fabric. Iruka hesitates a moment before hanging his bag of goods on a branch and joining him.

They settle side by side, shoulders close enough that Iruka can feel Kakashi’s body heat without contact. The view is perfect; they can see the fireworks field just past the leaf layer and sky beyond that. Reaching above him, Kakashi draws a sake basket from its leafy nesting place and removes the lid.

“Drink?”

“Thank you,” Iruka says, accepts the ochoko, and waits for Kakashi to fill his own.

Kakashi tugs his mask down to pool around his throat and Iruka thinks, Nice, very fucking nice, as he takes in his features for the first time. They share drink in silence, listening to the rustle of the leaves and sounds from the festival. The air is warm but not as warm as Kakashi and Iruka’s side soaks up the emanating heat. Kakashi doesn’t ask him again if he’d like more to drink, just fills his cup when it nears empty and Iruka is careful to sip slowly, savouring the sake and feeling it slowly furl through his body. The fireworks start a little later than scheduled but are well worth the wait, the flashes lighting their hidden retreat in blue, red, and gold.

The display goes on for almost twenty minutes, by which time Iruka has relaxed completely and sagged enough into the hammock that his and Kakashi’s arms are pressed together. Kakashi doesn’t mind if the way he’s leaning into Iruka is any indication.

“That was great,” Iruka says as the sound of applause drifts from below and Kakashi agrees with a quiet hum and refills Iruka’s ochoko even though it’s still half full.

Iruka gets the message loud and clear: stay awhile longer.

They watch as the stars come out and the festival slowly winds down until the stall operators start packing up. Iruka’s pleasantly buzzed, his thoughts lazy and his body loose. As Kakashi leans over to refill Iruka’s drink again, Iruka holds his ochoko to side and says, “Nah, I’m good,” then catches Kakashi’s forearm. He stares at Kakashi’s inner wrist, find’s the normally gloved skin appealing with its delicate network of blue veins, so pale compared to his thumb as he brushes it over the skin. Broad, strong bones and hot too, far hotter than Iruka’s hand. Kakashi’s like a furnace, throwing off heat and making the autumn night cool in comparison.

Iruka’s breathing has shallowed and he keeps his eyes on the contrast of his dark thumb tracing the blue lines as he says, “I’m a little drunk.”

Kakashi’s pulse is rapid beneath his thumb and he sounds breathless as he says, “Careful, sensei, someone could take advantage of your lowered guard.”

“Can’t take advantage of the willing,” Iruka murmurs and draws Kakashi’s wrist to his mouth, scrapes his teeth across pale skin.

With a flick of his fingers, Kakashi tosses the mostly empty sake bottle over the side of the hammock, catches Iruka’s jaw, and kisses him. Kakashi kisses slow, open mouthed, and filthy. He takes like he’s never considered the answer might be no or too much and it has Iruka teetering between wanting more of the same and wanting more.

Kakashi’s half on top of Iruka already so when Iruka takes hold of his hips and tugs it doesn’t take much for Kakashi to become a comfortable weight pressing him into the hammock, strong legs bracketing his own. Iruka keeps his grip where it is, presses his thumbs against the sharp jut of Kakashi’s hip bones, and Kakashi licks into Iruka’s mouth with a moan.

“And here I thought you didn’t like me,” Kakashi rumbles, nosing his way down Iruka’s chin and Iruka groans, “I don’t,” and rolls his hips against Kakashi’s when teeth catch at his throat. Kakashi rocks down against him and they get a lazy rolling motion going, easy like the flow and ebb of the breeze that rustles the leaves around them.

It bears repeating that Kakashi is like a damn furnace and Iruka’s starting to sweat, overheated, and it’s making his mind hazier than the sake.

“Hot,” he gasps between kisses and Kakashi says, “Yeah,” and draws back enough to drag Iruka’s t-shirt off. Iruka would make a snarky comment on principal but then Kakashi’s tongue is back and that’s far more interesting. Kakashi’s hands are driving him mad, one wrapped around the back of his neck and the other exploring the contours of his chest, thumbing a nipple, sliding nails through the crisp shorthairs just above the dark khaki. Iruka bucks up sharply at the touch and Kakashi immediately flicks open the button of his trousers.

Huffing a laugh into their kiss, Iruka breaks away, breathily saying, “You don’t pull any punches,” and Kakashi absently murmurs, “Yeah,” again before nipping at Iruka’s earlobe and cupping the hard line of his cock through the fabric.

Iruka groans and shoves into the touch, fists his hands in Kakashi’s yukata to tug him closer and Kakashi says, “That’s it, just let me,” before kissing him deep and dirty and unzipping his fly.

Iruka’s shaky curse is lost to the kiss when Kakashi’s hot, hot hand wraps around him and draws him out into the night air. He’s struggling to spread his legs, give Kakashi more room to work, and Kakashi lifts off him just long enough to shove his trousers and underwear down his hips.

“Pushy,” Iruka pants and worms his hand between the folds of Kakashi’s yukata. Kakashi groans loudly and rasps, “I need to-” before tugging his own underwear down enough to free his cock and thrust it against Iruka’s.

“Yeah, hell yeah,” Iruka moans, takes hold of them both in his hand and starts swiftly jerking them off.

 Iruka’s so wet. He’s damp with sweat and leaking precum and Kakashi is a brushfire moving against him, burning hotter than a hundred summers. Kakashi’s fucking into his grip and babbling against his mouth, half sentences and moans that are driving Iruka crazy, saying, “Come on, so fucking wet, gorgeous, look at you, God, you’re letting me- you’re- faster, I want to see,” and Iruka growls, “You fucking show me first, Kakashi,” and Kakashi loses it.

Iruka watches as his back hunches and his mouth drops open with a moan, eye squeezing shut as he pulses in Iruka’s grip, shoots across Iruka’s belly and chest, and it’s beautiful.

After a long moment of bliss, Kakashi opens his eye, pants, “Right,” and knocks Iruka’s hand out of the way. He swipes his hand across Iruka’s stomach to gather ‘lube’, wraps Iruka’s cock in his hot grip, and goes from zero to sixty in two seconds. Iruka flinches like he’s been stabbed and scrabbles at Kakashi’s shoulders, fists his hands in the yukata desperate for purchase, something to keep him grounded before he flies from his skin.

The sound that escapes his mouth is hoarse and needy, unrecognisable, and it chokes off as Kakashi bites down firmly on one of his nipples. Iruka comes like a shot, striping his chest as his body locks with ecstasy.

“That’s it, that’s what I want,” Kakashi murmurs before slowing his speed and easing Iruka down from his high.

Iruka’s left limp and gasping with Kakashi grinning down at him with fond satisfaction and saying, “If this is how you treat the people you don’t like, I can’t wait to get into your good books.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Ibiki raises an eyebrow when Iruka arrives at his door to collect Kuri.

“Did you get laid?”

Iruka frowns and clicks his fingers, hears Kuri’s sleepy chirps then her claws clicking on the floor as she runs to him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You got laid, I can tell by the hair,” Ibiki says with a smirk and Iruka scoops Kuri up as she twists happily around his ankles.

“I’m leaving now,” Iruka says as he walks away, pretending he still has his dignity in tact.

“I would tell you to have a good night, but you’ve already achieved that,” Ibiki calls after him and he flips Ibiki off over his shoulder.

 

~*~*~*~

 

It’s been two weeks since the festival and Iruka has seen neither hide nor gravity defying hair of Kakashi.

“Did I get jilted?” Iruka asks Kuri during their lunch break at the academy. He’s pretending he can’t see Muimaru in the playground trying to set the old Arakara tree on fire. Senju-sensei’s on duty today and it’s totally his problem to deal with. “I feel like I got jilted.”

Kuri is lying on his desk and uncharacteristically still, head resting on her paws and staring at him like he’s got a delicious fat frog on his nose and she’s waiting for an opportune moment to attack. Iruka’s not used to having her full attention and it’s surprisingly unnerving.

“I can’t have been jilted. I’m pretty sure you need to be in an actual relationship before you qualify for a jilting.”

Kuri continues to stare at him.

“I’m willing to admit to a blatant ignoring. A neglection at most.”

Still staring.

“Neglection is totally a word. It makes sense in context so it’s a word. I’m the teacher here, what I say goes.”

Staaaaring.

“You’re kinda freaking me out,” Iruka says. “I’m trying to have a serious conversation with you here and you’re giving me nothing.”

Kuri stares at him some more.

Iruka moves his head to the left and Kuri’s eyes follow him without moving her head. He repeats the move to the right with the same result.

“Okay, I don’t know what you’ve been watching on television but I’m not food. Otters don’t eat people, people eat otters.”

Is it his imagination or did the staring just become more intense?

“Not that I eat otters, I’m rather fond of them really. Some of my favourite people are otters.”

Not even a flicker of an eyelid. Really there’s only one thing that Iruka can do and that’s stare back. So he does, he settles into place and starts some staring of his own. He’s aware that the Arakara is now smoking and that Senju-sensei is yelling at Muimaru while waving his arms around angrily, but he doesn’t break eye contact.

About a minute and a half into Iruka and Kuri’s very intense staring match, Kuri suddenly blinks and gives a wide yawn, stretching out luxuriously.

“Oh my god, were you sleeping with your eyes open?” Iruka demands as Kuri rolls over and curls up to continue napping. “You creepy little fucker.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Another week passes and Iruka is sitting by the lake watching the sunset and waiting for Kuri to finish catching her dinner when a familiar voice says, “Yo.”

It’s unfair that one essentially useless word should make Iruka’s heart start pounding like bachi on a taiko. That’s okay, though, because Iruka is a master at keeping his cool.

“Hey,” he replies, voice nonchalant and body relaxed as he turns his head, “how was your- what the fuck?”

“Woah, language, sensei,” Kakashi says as he limps a little closer.

“Are you bleeding? Yes, yes, definitely bleeding.” Iruka’s on his feet and supporting Kakashi’s weight without thought. “Holy crap, that’s a lot of blood. What happened to you?”

“Mah, you know better than to ask that,” Kakashi chides teasingly and Iruka reins in the urge to slap him upside the head.

“I mean injury wise, you arse! You can tell me that.”

Iruka’s pretty sure Kakashi’s grinning and it’s a little infuriating when he seems to barely possess the strength to stand. He’s sagging into Iruka’s body more with every passing second.

“Well, I have a few scratches, possibly a little bruising, and I stubbed my toe,” Kakashi says with his eye arching happily.

“Right, so in other words you have a few stab wounds, possibly got thrown through a wall, and I’m guessing you’ve broken half the bones in your foot,” Iruka deadpans and Kakashi sighs.

“It sounds so horrible when you put it like that.”

“Treatment?” Iruka snaps.

Kakashi raises an eyebrow at him but answers, “Usual field dressings.”

“Which you’re bleeding through. Perfect.” Iruka yells, “Kuri, come back!” before hoisting Kakashi onto his back. He’s just got the bleeding idiot settled when Kuri comes bounding out of the reeds with a frog still clamped in her jaws. He scoops her up and slings her over his shoulder then heads for the village at a smooth run, trying not to jar Kakashi’s wounds too badly.

“Hi baby,” Kakashi coos at Kuri. “Did you bring me a frog? Aww.”

“If you pass out before I get to the hospital I will murder you in your sleep,” Iruka promises and puts on some extra speed. “Keep talking to me.”

“What you want I should say?” Kakashi slurs.

“Anything, first thing that pops into your head,” Iruka urges and they’re dashing through the streets, civilians and shinobi alike leaping out of his way.

Kakashi hums and for a moment Iruka thinks he’s passed out but then he murmurs, “Whole way back, all I could think ‘bout was how awesome it’d be with my cock down your throat while I lick your arse open. There’s a frog in my vest. I think it’s still alive.”

“Fuck me,” Iruka growls in exasperation and Kakashi says, “Yeah, when I wake up, ‘kay?” before going completely limp.

Kuri’s whining high and distressed and Iruka fairly rockets through the hospital’s emergency doors.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Kakashi is hospital bound for a week. Iruka and Kuri drop by to visit him each day on the way to their evening hunt. Iruka had only intended to stop by once the day after he’d delivered Kakashi to Emergency, but has somehow ended up returning each evening.

“Having you come and visit has been good for him,” Takki - the evening shift’s head nurse - tells him as they walk down the corridor towards Kakashi’s room. “Normally he’s an impossible patient, but he’s been better this time around.”

“He’s giving you less grief?” Iruka asks curiously and Takki laughs.

“Oh heavens, no! But he’s not snuck away while still bleeding and we count that as a vast improvement.”

They reach Kakashi’s room and Kuri barks at the door, demanding entrance. The military wing of the hospital is much less stringent on the ‘no animals’ policy than the civilian wing, taking into consideration the nin-animal companions of shinobi.

Not bothering to knock as Kuri’s racket can definitely be counted as announcement enough, Iruka bids Takki goodbye and slides the door open.

“Yo, Iruka-sensei.”

“Hey, how’s the foot healing?” Iruka asks as he plucks Kuri from the floor and drops her on the bed before she can start clawing at the blankets in demand to be lifted up. The little otter immediately scurries onto Kakashi’s lap and stretches up to snuffle at his masked face.

“Quickly enough,” Kakashi says as he cups Kuri’s head between his hands and gives her a vigorous scratching. “Hello, sweetheart. Who’s a sooky girl, then?”

Iruka grins at him and drops into the visitor’s chair. “You are such a sap.”

“Shush, you’re ruining our precious moment.”

Kuri trills delightedly and Kakashi drops a masked kiss on her head before saying, “I should be out of here by tomorrow.”

“Is that officially or unofficially?” Iruka asks, still grinning and Kakashi shrugs.

“It all becomes official eventually.”

“No wonder the nurses hate you. You create so much extra paperwork.”

“Don’t let them fool you,” Kakashi warns. “They’re all closet deviants and keep sneaking in to peek under my mask.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Iruka says dismissively. “They already know what you look like, I drew them a picture.”

Kakashi’s eye widens. “You did not.”

“Okay, I didn’t draw them a picture,” Iruka admits before smirking. “I drew them several.”

“And none of them match,” Takki adds sulkily, sticking her head in the door on her way back to the nurse’s desk. “We need to find out which one’s accurate. The not knowing is killing us.”

“Mystery’s good for the soul,” Iruka says mildly as Kakashi snaps, “Be gone with you! Give a man some privacy.”

Takki scowls at them and continues on her way.

“Eavesdroppers, the lot of them.” Once Kakashi’s sure she’s out of earshot, he turns to Iruka and asks, “Did you really sketch my face for them?”

“Well,” Iruka says, scratching at the scar crossing his nose, “the eyes were accurate. Can’t exactly vouch for the rest of the face, it was pretty dark.”

Kakashi’s eye curves in a smile. “I hope you still made me handsome.”

“As a romance hero… or five as the case may be. Why do you think they’re all so desperate for a peek?”

“Lovely,” Kakashi chuckles and goes back to scruffing up Kuri’s fur.

When Iruka swings by the hospital the next day, Kakashi’s checked himself out.

 

~*~*~*~

 

It’s one of those really bad days at the Mission Office where no one wants to be there and everyone’s being very vocal about it. The reporting shinobi don’t want to be there because they’re tired and dirty and all decided to turn up at the same time so the room’s over crowded. The temperature has risen to stifling with the combined body heat and hot-headed posturing going on. The staff sure as shit don’t want to be there because the filing is backed up and there’s paperwork everywhere, and the people waiting in line are becoming steadily more abusive.

Iruka is pretty sure he’s going to murder someone soon and but hasn’t yet figured out how he’s going to pass it off as justifiable.

“Would you lot hurry the fuck up?” one of the new Chuunin demands as he slaps down a report so poorly written that Iruka has to double check that it’s even kanji and not some weird foreign language. “What the hell’s taking so long?”

“We seem to be suffering from an epidemic of illiterate inbred mouth-breathers,” Iruka answers flatly. Then at the Chuunin’s confused expression, he says, “Your report is illegible. Fill out a new one, please,” and holds out a fresh template and pen.

“You have got to be fucking kidding me?!” the Chuunin – it could be Tomomi or Yakihiro, Iruka really can’t tell from his writing it’s that bad – yells and tries to smack the offered supplies from Iruka’s hand.

Iruka’s had angry shinobi try and slap his hands for years, this kid will need to be ANBU level before he even comes close.

“I’m really not,” Iruka says. “Look, I know you don’t want to be here anymore than I do right now, but if I can’t read it I can’t accept it. Take your time, fill out a fresh report, and when you’re done come to the front of the line and I’ll check it off for you, okay?”

The Chuunin glares at him for a moment before snatching up his old report and the fresh supplies. “Fine.”

“Next!” Iruka calls and keeps working while the reporting shinobi keep bitching and he keeps trying to think up a justifiable cause. Iruka’s really grateful that Ibiki dropped by earlier to say hi and agreed to take Kuri for the evening when he saw how busy it was. Iruka isn’t sure how much longer she would have been satisfied hiding under the desk and gnawing on his shoes.

“Here.” Tomomi/Yakihiro is back and holding out his report with a belligerent scowl. Iruka takes it and grimaces when he sees there’s been no improvement.

“What’s your name?” Iruka asks and leans back as the Chuunin starts jabbing a finger angrily at his report.

“It says so right here! I’m Minazuki!”

Riiiight, Iruka thinks.

“See, that’s the problem. I can’t read your writing. And if I can’t read it, I grantee you no one else here can,” Iruka says waving a hand to indicate his co-workers and Iwashi sitting at the next table backs him up with an absent, “Is true.”

“Who usually accepts your reports?” Iruka asks, because he needs to know who to slap later for being lazy.

Minazuki flushes and says, “Normally my team-mate fills them out, but she’s at the hospital. She got stabbed.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Iruka says sincerely. “If you come back first thing tomorrow someone will help you fill out your report and we’ll get it squared away. I’ll leave a note for the morning shift so they know you’re coming. Head home and get some sleep for now, yeah?”

Minazuki curses before scrubbing a hand over his face and saying, “Yeah, okay. Thanks. Is my writing really that bad?”

“Kid, it’s worse than Genma’s,” Iruka says with a sigh.

“Really?” Genma whoops excitedly from across the room and rushes over to take a look.

Iruka barely resists smacking his head on the desk as Minazuki and Genma compare their shoddy attempts at written communication and calls for the next person in line.

That’s when the evening really goes to hell because the inevitable happens and a stressed out shinobi finally snaps. There’s a roar of rage the next row over and Iruka’s executing a backward spring to get the fuck out of the way as a table is sent crashing into his. Landing on his feet, Iruka takes the situation in with a glance and is dashing across the room.

Because the night didn’t already suck enough, it’s a Jounin that’s snapped. Huzzah.

Iwashi wasn’t quite quick enough to get away and the Jounin – Iruka doesn’t know his name but recognises him as a drinking buddy of Raidou’s – has Iwashi pinned to the floor, a meaty hand clamped white-knuckled around his throat.

“Clear the room!” Yuikoto orders the shinobi already backing out of the way. It’s a golden rule that if someone in the Mission Office snaps, the mission staff handles it and everyone else gets the hell out.

Iruka dives and locks his arms around the Jounin’s neck in a blood chokehold, wraps his legs around the arm pinning Iwashi, and uses the momentum of his body to drag the Jounin off his friend. They land hard and roll, the Jounin settling half on top of Iruka and thrashing violently. If Iruka’s really lucky, the Jounin won’t be able to break his chokehold and will pass out within seven seconds.

The Jounin slams a fist into Iruka’s thigh and Iruka hisses at the sharp pain but doesn’t slacken his grip. With an attempted roar – which comes out closer to a dying wheeze  –  the Jounin lines up for another hit but then Yuikoto is there, catching the Jounin’s thick wrist in a joint-lock as she wraps her legs around his arm and braces her foot against the forearm Iruka has across the Jounin’s throat, adding pressure to the choke.

The Jounin kicks and flops around for another few seconds before finally going slack. Iruka and Yuikoto hold for another second then slacken their grips and quickly check that the Jounin is breathing. He’s fine, sucking in air properly and the redness slowly draining from his face, pulse thumping rapidly along. He’ll have a necklace of bruises for a week and Iruka couldn’t really give less of a toss about that if he tried.

“Iwashi?” Iruka calls and looks to his friend.

“’m good,” Iwashi rasps, already sitting up and giving them a half wave. “Thanks.”

“Anytime,” Iruka says with a relieved sigh.

Genma walks over clapping. Condescending arsehole. “Great work, guys. Allow me.”

Rather than securing the Jounin with chakra restraints, Genma takes the senbon from his mouth and slips it into the back of the Jounin’s neck.

“He won’t wake up ‘til that’s pulled out,” Genma tells them. “ANBU’s on its -”

Two masked and cloaked figures appear out of the ether before them.

“Ta-da!” finishes Genma with a flourish then points at the senbon embedded in the Jounin’s neck. “Pull that out when you want him conscious.”

The masked faces nod and they gather up the Jounin before disappearing in a puff of chakra smoke.

“Okay, injuries?” Yuikoto asks and looks at Iwashi first.

“Bruised neck, bruised arse, bruised pride,” Iwashi croaks and Iruka chuckles.

 “Corked thigh and a bruised forearm,” he answers and holds up his arm to show Yuikoto the shape of her sandal in red imprints.

Yuikoto grins. “Sorry about that.”

“Don’t be.” Iruka grins back.

“Seriously,” Genma says, “you guys make a mean unit. I don’t think anyone that was in here tonight will forget it in a hurry.”

“Yeah, well maybe they’ll all simmer the fuck down now!” Iruka yells the last bit loud enough to carry to the shinobi peeking through the windows and milling outside. There’s a general buzz of sheepish agreement from the crowd as he pushes to his feet and gingerly limps over to help Iwashi up. “You right to get to the hospital?”

“Nah,” Iwashi rasps with a dismissive wave of his hand and Iruka frowns at him.

“Protocol, pal. You know you gotta get checked out, even if it’s just a bit of bruising.”

Iwashi rolls his eyes but doesn’t answer and that shows more than anything how much his throat hurts.

“You have to get checked out too, Iruka-san,” Yuikoto says firmly. “He might have hit a chakra point.”

“He didn’t, I’m good.”

“Protocol,” Iwashi rasps at him with a smirk and Iruka sighs.

“Fine. Will you guys be okay to carry on here without us?”

The mission staff that had stayed out of their way during the fight and are now putting the room to rights call out their assent and Genma says, “I’ll pitch in with the report acceptances, but you guys owe me a drink.”

“Yeah, whatever. Like you don’t mooch off us during our nights out anyway,” Yuikoto says with a sneer.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Iruka’s given the next day off because the strike did, in fact, hit a chakra point. It’s nothing serious, just needs rest and regular icing, which means Iruka is under orders to lie on his couch all day.

Awesome!

He sleeps in for as long as Kuri will let him and is staring into his fridge, thinking about breakfast, when there’s a knock on the door.

“Yo,” Kakashi says from the door step as Kuri goes madly bounding around his feet and squeaking. “I heard you had an exciting night.”

“Yep, and now I’m having a limpy day,” Iruka says with a smile. “I didn’t realise you were back in town.”

“Got in two days ago, been sleeping.”

“Chakra depletion again?”

“Something like that.”

“Come on in.” Iruka limps his way back into the kitchen and hears the door close, Kakashi kicking his shoes off in the genkan. “You want eggs?”

Yes,” Kakashi says fervently and Iruka looks at him with a raised eyebrow. “I’m starving.”

“Let’s go crazy then. Omelettes it is.”

Kakashi pulls his mask down and gives Iruka a gleaming grin. “This is why you’re my favourite.”

“I bet you say that to all the saps who feed you.” Iruka pulls out a tomato, onion, cheese, and some leftover satay chicken that needs to be used up. Should taste interesting.

Kakashi scoops up Kuri and leans his hip against the kitchen counter, saying, “Don’t worry, I’m not totally freeloading. I come baring gifts,” then unzips his vest and pulls out movies. “Icha Icha Paradise, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, and Sharktopus.”

“Oh God,” Iruka laughs, carefully laying down the knife before he chops off a finger. “I really need to be drunk for this.”

“That can easily be arranged,” Kakashi assures him then chases Kuri around the kitchen until she’s over excited and runs headfirst into the fridge.

An hour, surprisingly good omelettes, and half of Sharktopus later, Iruka’s yelling at the Television.

“Oh c’mon, blood splatter from the femoral artery looks nothing like that! Have these people never killed someone? At least put some research into it.”

“This movie’s so bad. So incredibly bad,” Kakashi says in awe. “I love it.”

“Help me, please!” Iruka imitates the woman screeching on the screen. “I’ve just had my leg torn off but I still remember my manners, kyaaa!”

“I love that I can predict who’s going to die based off whether there’s a close up on their tits or arse. It feels like I’ve suddenly developed precognitive powers.”

“Look, they shot this scene in four takes. You can see the drag marks from their other attempts.”

“I kinda want one,” Kakashi admits. “He’s cute and tenacious.”

“And I bet he’d taste delicious.” Iruka pushes off the couch to limp into the kitchen and retrieve the icepack from the freezer.

“They totally wasted the base concept that could have really sold this movie,” Kakashi says thoughtfully.

“And that would be?” Iruka asks as he flops back on the couch with a relieved sigh and presses the icepack to his thigh.

Kakashi gives him a look like the answer should be obvious, and says, “Tentacle porn, sensei. Much, much tentacle porn.”

Iruka nods. “That might have made this movie marginally more tolerable, I’ll give you that.” On the screen, the hero rips his shirt off again and Iruka suppresses the urge to throw his icepack at the television. “Seriously, a rocket launcher? Is this guy brain damaged?”

“One good lightning jutsu and it’d be takoyaki for everyone.”

They carry on in this strain for the rest of the movie and through half of Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (“Do you know what this movie needs?” - “Tentacle porn?” - “Yes!”) before Iruka gets hungry and kicks Kakashi out to get them food and alcohol before they tackle the second half.

Lying on the floor and tickling Kuri’s tummy, Iruka takes a moment to ponder what the fuck he’s doing.

“What the fuck am I doing?” he asks the otter as she rolls around and bats at his hand, trilling happily. “How did I go from not liking him to ‘not liking’ him to getting off with him and now is when we decide to get around to being friends?”

Kuri continues to be adorable and entirely unhelpful.

“Just so you know,” Iruka says seriously, “I’m blaming you.”

He’s sure Kuri cares on the inside.

Kakashi brings back domburi, gomaae, and beer, which is perfect. They put the movie back on and eat. By the time Kakashi’s finished his food he’s starting to nod off, not even the bellowing of Godzilla as Mechagodzilla blasts him with rainbow eye lasers is enough to stop Kakashi from falling asleep. Iruka turns the volume down a bit and limps the take away containers into the kitchen for later disposal. By the time he returns to the couch with a fresh icepack, Kakashi is snoring lightly and Godzilla is fighting a pterodactyl. A pterodactyl. Seriously.

Iruka settles back on his side of the couch and lays the icepack over his thigh. Kuri jumps up and settles on the cushion separating him and Kakashi, curling into a ball and closing her eyes.

“Last man standing,” Iruka mutters to himself with a small smile as he takes a swig of his beer and slouches in his seat. On the TV, Godzilla is gnawing on the pterodactyl’s wing and… Iruka blinks awake.

The television’s switched off; the room dim with late evening twilight and the soft glow from the hallway light. Iruka sits up and rubs at his eyes.

“Kakashi-san?”

There’s no answer and Iruka didn’t really expected there to be, Kakashi’s been gone for a long time, his side of the couch holding no residual heat. Iruka’s icepack has been put back in the freezer and the lunch rubbish is gone. There’s a note on the table.

Please be advised that I’ll be ambushing you tomorrow. K

“What. The hell?” Iruka asks to the empty room.

 He finds Kuri in the bathroom, splashing around in the tub with her rubber balls and duckie. The water’s a perfect balmy temperature and Iruka can feel the residual chakra from a jutsu that’s preserved its warmth.

“Well aren’t you a spoilt girl,” he says as he scratches Kuri’s back and she trills at him contently.

 

~*~*~*~

 

“Oh, Iruka-senseeeei!”

Iruka lets out a long suffering sigh and plasters a smile on his face before turning to the fish monger’s wife. “Good evening.”

“Isn’t this mild weather we’re having lovely?” she asks him absently while her eyes flicker all over the ground in search. “Where’s my cute little Kuri today?”

“She’s right…” Iruka looks around for Kuri as well, but the little otter’s nowhere to be seen. As she’s been getting older, Kuri’s become more confident in how far she’ll stray during their walks, but still, she generally stays within sight. “Where’s she gotten to? Kuri!” Iruka clicks his fingers but Kuri doesn’t appear like she usually would. “Odd. Well she’ll be around here somewhere. Anyway, is there something I can do for you?”

She laughs and wags a finger in his face. “No, no, there’s something I can do for you!” And suddenly there’s a giant bag of fish guts – as foul smelling as ever – dangling in front of Iruka’s face. “All the nutrients a growing girl needs!”

Oh joy, more scraps for the cat, Iruka thinks out of habit before deciding that it’s about time he manned the hell up and put a stop to this whole thing.

“Actually, I’ve got some great news!” Iruka exclaims, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically. “Kuri’s such a clever girl that she’s catching all her own food now. I’ve been teaching her to hunt and she’s learned to fend for herself.”

“Oh.” The old woman’s face crumples a little in disappointment and Iruka hastily waves his hand through the air.

“Don’t get me wrong! Your dinner gifts have been invaluable and sorely needed during her transition from milk to solid foods, but now she needs to learn to fend for herself so she can be released into the wild.” She’s still looking a bit disappointed so Iruka brings out the big guns. “Besides, don’t we want her to meet a nice Mr. Otter one day and have gorgeous little babies just as cute as she is?”

And there’s the softening expression that Iruka’s been aiming for. The thought of more tiny Kuri’s running around is obviously enough to appease her rejected gifts of fishy entrails.

“You’re quite right, Iruka-san. But surely she’s not old enough yet to be released?”

“Soon,” Iruka tells her. “She’s still got some learning and growing to do, but she’s maturing quickly.”

The fishmonger’s wife (Iruka really needs to ask around for her name one of these days) gives a little sniff and clasps the bag of guts to her breast, declaring, “They grow up so fast.”

“Don’t they just,” Iruka agrees solemnly and starts to edge away. “But right now I have to go find where she’s run off to.”

“Of course, of course, daddy’s worried,” she teases and Iruka has to suppress a scowl of annoyance. If he had a kunai for every time someone ribbed him about being ‘daddy’ then Iruka could have armed the Fire Nation for a year.

Kuri’s not sniffing behind any of the grocer’s fruit boxes or hiding under the florist’s tulip display or even stuck beneath the bins next to Ichiraku’s like she’d managed once as a smaller pup. Iruka’s seriously starting to get worried as he checks the alley behind the ramen shop. He just can’t find her.

“She’s home,” says a voice right behind him and that’s all the warning Iruka gets before Kakashi has him pinned face first against the bricks. “The dogs are looking after her.”

Iruka shoves back and almost succeeds in twisting to get a hold of Kakashi before Kakashi shifts his grip and Iruka’s reacquainted with the wall.

“Kakashi-san,” Iruka says, voice saccharine sweet in warning, “what’re you doing?”

“Ambushing you. Didn’t you get my note?”

Iruka huffs a laugh, dust blowing from the bricks. “Yeah, I got it.”

“And what exactly did you think it meant?” Kakashi asks as he fits his body to Iruka’s, moulding against his back so Iruka can feel the warmth radiating through his uniform.

Iruka slackens in Kakashi’s grasp and smiles mischievously as he rolls his arse against Kakashi’s groin. Kakashi hums appreciatively and leans more of his weight against Iruka, which is precisely what Iruka was hoping for. With a sharp buck and twist, he has Kakashi’s pressed against the wall, back flush with the bricks and arms pinned on either side of his shoulders, Iruka’s hands wrapped tight around his wrists.

“I certainly didn’t think it meant you’d be abducting my charge and trapping me against a disgusting alley wall,” Iruka says with an arched eyebrow.

“Oh?” Kakashi breaks Iruka’s hold and grabs him by the hips, jerking him in close. “Did you think it meant I was going to snatch you off the street, secret you away, and fuck you until you’re a mindless, writhing, needy mess of sweat and cum?”

Iruka doesn’t really have an answer for that beyond a shaky exhale and Kakashi presses their cheeks together, murmuring into his ear, “Did you think it meant I’d deliver on my delirious ramblings – my cock in your throat and my tongue up your luscious arse? You bent over and panting against spit slick pillows as I bite at your shoulder blades?”

Iruka’s hands are gripping Kakashi’s shoulders tightly and he swallows thickly before rasping out, “Yeah, that,” voice already hoarse.

“Good,” Kakashi purrs into his neck. “Because that’s exactly what it meant.”

Iruka shudders and yanks Kakashi’s mask down before kissing him deep and filthy.

 

~*~*~*~

 

It’s been three days and Iruka still aches pleasantly every time he shifts too fast. No flopping into chairs for him, no sir’ee, instead he’s left lowering himself carefully and hoping nobody notices. Thankfully, not many people do and he’s only had to deal with the odd smirk or cheeky wink.

Kakashi’s been given leave to recuperate his strength. He’s hanging around Iruka’s apartment every evening, pestering Iruka into cooking for him and always arriving with a terrible movie in hand. The night they finally got around to watching Icha Icha Paradise (“I’ve met her, you know,” Kakashi says while pointing at the lead actress with his chopsticks. “She’s a real princess and a right brat, to be honest, but magnificent tits.”) Kuri got locked in the bathroom for a swim with her toys while Iruka bent Kakashi over the arm of the couch and fucked him until Kakashi was a cursing, noisy mess. Catching Kuri sniffing at the stains afterwards was a moment of “Oh God no, baby, you’re too young!” and Iruka then spent an hour scrubbing the cushion covers.

He’s on his way home from the academy – thankfully it’s his night off from the Mission Office – and the evening is the perfect cool of late autumn. Crickets are chirping their little hairy legs off and Kuri is darting about madly chasing flying ants. Iruka isn’t angry that Kakashi snatched her off the streets from under his protective care, but he has noticed that he’s keeping a warier eye on her. It had shaken him when he couldn’t find her.

The plan for the evening is simple: get home, get changed, and go hunting. Iruka’s hoping that they’ll find another marron and finally figure out how to break through its shell into the soft flesh while avoiding the pinchers. The last marron they’d found had given Kuri no end of confused frustration and a nick to the leg, but Iruka is determined that she’ll learn how to conquer this pesky food source.

He smiles as Kuri bounds at him, darts between his striding legs, and runs in a mad circle. Her coordination has gotten much better and she doesn’t trip over her own feet any longer. He’ll still hear a whack every now and then as she pelts head first into the fridge, but judging by the gleeful yipping that follows it’s all deliberate and part of some game. Iruka’s just pleased that Kuri and the fridge are such good friends.

“Come on,” Iruka calls as they near their apartment complex stairs. “Let’s be quick and go hunt some tasty marron for din-”

A furious growling stops Iruka in his tracks. The noise is hair raising and bestial in the rawest sense. He turns swiftly to face the alley and…

It’s the damn cat!

The damn stray cat that Iruka’s been throwing the fish guts to for the last few months. The mangy feline is stalking out of the alley shadows, prowling towards them and growling like a freaking puma. Kuri’s scuttling back to hide behind Iruka’s ankles, but is hissing like the littlest warrior and Iruka’s so proud.

The cat releases a scraping hiss in response and glares at Iruka with dirty yellow eyes. Iruka would be worried, honestly he would, except for the fact that it’s a cat and he’s a man who is not afraid to kick uppity cats.

“Your free meals are done,” he tells it calmly despite knowing full well that it has no idea what he’s saying. “Scram, cat.”

It doesn’t scram. It crouches down, shoulder blades shifting restlessly… and fixes its hungry eyes on Kuri instead.

“No, you didn’t,” Iruka says flatly and has the cat firmly by its scruff less than a second later, dangling it helplessly in the air. The creature is making a furious, pained yowling sound but Iruka just gives it a sharp shake to make it shut up. “Yes, I know it hurts. But not nearly as much as it will if you go after that little otter.”

With that said, Iruka tosses the cat to the ground and watches as it streaks back to its protective shadows. Kuri is staring at him like he’s the baddest mutherfucker to ever walk the streets. It’s all very amusing.

“That’s right,” he coos at her as he bobs down and she rushes over enthusiastically for head scratches, “daddy’s a badass. Now, let’s go catch some dinner.”

That night, Kuri catches a small marron and gets nipped on the neck before deciding she’s had enough and ruthlessly tears the crustacean’s pinchers off with her teeth. Iruka feels that he’s influencing her in all the best possible ways and grins as she viciously rips the rest of the marron’s shell off.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Winter rolls in with howling winds and heavy rain. It’s harder than Iruka thought it would be to take Kuri outside when all he wants to do is keep her warm inside. But to learn to fend for herself, she needs to also learn that the weather is going to be harsh sometimes. They’re at the secluded stretch of river and waiting for Ibiki to arrive for combat lessons. Ibiki’s stopped giving any warning that he’s there and now stealth attacks because they want to train Kuri to be ready for anything.

It’s cold and Iruka’s huddled under a tree while Kuri alternates between scampering along the river bank and frolicking back to him for regular check-ins. It’s during one of her frolics back that Ibiki suddenly bursts from the bushes – already in otter form – and charges her. Kuri’s reaction time is very impressive. After an initial startle, she’s streaking towards him with teeth bared and determination in her eyes.

“Little snot got a good bite in today,” Ibiki says later when he’s huddling under Iruka’s tree and they’re watching the otter swim. “Look at this.”

Iruka grins at the deep set of teeth marks still sluggishly bleeding on Ibiki’s waist when he lifts his shirt. All the other bites and scratches have already healed but that bite is particularly nasty.

“How do you think she’ll go against a real otter?” Iruka asks as he digs an antiseptic wipe from his vest and passes it over.

Ibiki swipes at the bite absently and says, “Good. I think she’ll do really well. I’ve started having to use chakra to avoid the worst of her attacks and she still managed to get me this good. I think another few months will see her as a damn fine little fighter.”

“And she’ll grow more confident with age and experience,” Iruka agrees. “I just…” He runs a frustrated hand over his face before waving it to where Kuri’s gliding gracefully through the water. They’ve come so far since her first swimming lessons in the bath. “I need to know she’ll be alright come spring. I’ll have to release her then and she’ll be all on her own until she finds a mate. I need to know she can survive and fight off any suitors she doesn’t like.”

“Iruka, she’s going to be the toughest bloody otter in Fire Country,” Ibiki says with a raised eyebrow. “She hunts like a wolf, you’ve taught her to cheat and store her food, we’ve both taught her to track and kill prey that should be too big for her to manage at this age, and she’s had shinobi combat training.” He points at his side. “She almost managed to get a pound of flesh when I was using chakra to dodge. Damn otter’s fast as a snake.”

“I know,” Iruka says on a sigh and thumps his head back against the tree.

“If you’re looking for excuses to keep her, you won’t find any.”

“That’s not it. I want her to go into the wild. I want her to live a full life and have pups of her own with a nice otter of her choice. I just don’t want to let her go until I’m sure she’ll be more than capable of surviving.”

Ibiki shifts a little – with anybody else, Iruka would call it a squirm but this is Ibiki and he doesn’t squirm, ever – and suggests, “You could always keep her as a summons.”

Iruka sits bolt upright, eyes wide with surprise. “No, never! She’s not a ninken, she’s a wild animal and incapable of giving informed consent.”

“We both know she wouldn’t mind. You’re her family.”

“And how’s she going to feel when her ‘family’ suddenly rips her away from her nice river into the middle of a sodding battle?” Iruka snaps. “You know better.”

Ibiki shrugs. “Who says you have to call her for battle.”

“What, call her out when I’m feeling lonely and want some company at home? We both know how disruptive and selfish that is.”

At Iruka’s tense tone, Kuri lops across the grass and into his lap. She’s soaking wet. Lovely.

Ibiki reaches over and rubs her back as Kuri tries to climb Iruka’s vest and snuffle his face.

“How’re things with Kakashi?”

Barking out a laugh, Iruka grins at his friend. “Now that was a smooth topic change. No wonder they made you head of T’n’I.”

“You’re avoiding the question,” Ibiki points out gruffly and Iruka considers snapping back something sarcastic before deciding that the day’s been too honest for it.

“It’s good,” he says instead and gives a little smile. “I don’t know how serious we are, but it’s been good.”

Ibiki grunts in response but looks happy for him.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Iruka’s not entirely sure when it happened, but Kuri and Kakashi’s ninken Bull have become fast friends. It’s hilarious to watch them at the park, gallivanting around snow rifts together and wrestling, a giant dog and a little otter. Iruka was worried the first time Bull came trotting towards them and Kuri had gone rushing up to him until Iruka had recognised the hitai-ate and blue henohenomoheji marked coat. Then he’d continued to be concerned until it was obvious that, despite Bull’s size, the dog was very careful and Kuri was in no danger.

As they tear around the bench he’s sitting on, kicking up snow flurries and startling the few other park users, Iruka’s surprised to see Kagome walking towards him. She strolls along the path, taking her time and trying very hard to look casual even though Iruka can feel the tension radiating from the stiff set of her shoulders.

“Good morning, Iruka-sensei,” she greets as she comes to a stop in front of him.

“Kagome-san, I haven’t seen you in quite some time. Been keeping well?” he replies politely, keeping his body deliberately at ease in the hopes that she’ll follow suit and relax.

Kagome nods and fidgets with the tasselled ends of her scarf. The silence is starting to stretch on a little too long and Iruka’s madly scouring his brain for something to say but keeps coming up infuriatingly blank. Somehow he thinks saying something as inane as “Glorious weather we’re having,” when the sky is grey with cloud will be worse than the uncomfortable quiet.

“How’s work?” Kagome suddenly blurts and her cheeks turn a little more pink than can be blamed on the cold, but Iruka latches onto the conversation like a limpet.

“Oh, the usual. Kids are more interested in snowball fights than history, Genma’s handwriting is getting steadily worse,” Kagome is startled into a nervous giggle by that and Iruka grins, “and I can’t really feel my toes anymore but Kuri’s having a ball so who am I to break up the party.”

Kagome’s eyes track the otter and ninken for a moment, her expression softening. “I didn’t say it last time we spoke, but she really is adorable.”

“I can’t take credit, what with her being adopted and all.”

Kagome giggles again before biting her lip and frowning. “I… ah,” she starts uncomfortably before taking a breath and looking Iruka straight in the eye. “I owe you an apology.”

“Nah,” Iruka says and waves his hand lazily. “It’s forgotten.”

“No, I really do and I want to. Apologise, that is. I was out of line and… yeah, I’m sorry.”

Iruka gives her a smile, trying not to let any tension bleed through into it. “Honestly, it’s all good. We’re fine, right?”

“Absolutely,” Kagome says and then stands there for another long moment before shuffling back. “So, I’ll see you around work?”

“Yep. Enjoy your weekend,” Iruka says as she starts to walk away, giving him a half aborted wave in farewell.

Iruka waits until she’s out of hearing distance before letting out a long breath, the exhale fogging in the cold air.

“Well that was incredibly awkward,” Kakashi says from right next to him and Iruka only just succeeds in not yelping with surprise. “I’m gone two weeks and you’re already getting picked up by women.”

“Shut it,” Iruka says with mock ferocity, happy to see that Kakashi’s returned minus injuries. “How was your mission?”

“Successful,” Kakashi says and pulls out his book, leaning against Iruka and starting to read.

Iruka takes his weight easily and greedily soaks up the excess body heat. Across the park, Bull pretends to be knocked over by Kuri’s pounce and the little otter scrambles on top of him to nip at his ears.

 

~*~*~*~

 

“I think,” Iruka pants as Kakashi thrusts slowly into him, mouthing at Iruka’s leg where it’s hooked over his shoulder, “I’m going to keep you in my bed all winter.”

“Mmm, sounds good to me,” Kakashi murmurs and bites gently at the underside of Iruka’s knee.

Iruka flinches back from the ticklish sensation and uses the leg he has wrapped around Kakashi’s hips to drag Kakashi into him harder, rolling his hips to meet it.

“Seriously, you’re better than a heater and a hot water bottle,” he groans and Kakashi snorts a laugh against his thigh that makes Iruka grin like crazy.

“And here I thought you wanted me for my cock,” Kakashi says with a leer and Iruka moves his arms above his head, gripping the edge of the mattress and stretching his body in a way he knows Kakashi loves.

“Nope, just your body heat,” he teases with a lazy smirk.

Kakashi growls a little, grey eye tracking the flex of Iruka’s muscles. “Obviously I’m doing it wrong, then,” he says, voice gravel rough, and he adjusts his angle before snapping his hips forward and nailing Iruka right in the prostate.

After that Iruka doesn’t say much besides “Yes,” and “Fuck,” and “Faster, damn you,” and when Kakashi finally lets him come (“No you don’t,” Kakashi growls, snatching Iruka’s hand away from his cock and pinning it to the bed. “Not until I’m done with you.”) Iruka’s vision goes whiter than the snow falling outside.

 

~*~*~*~

 

The snow is only just beginning to melt, tiny shoots of green poking up through all the white, when Iruka and Kuri are startled from sleep by a hellish sound at the front door.

“What in God’s name?” Iruka says, slightly disoriented from rolling so quickly out of bed with a kunai in hand. Kuri has sprung to her feet but looks only half awake and completely baffled.

The noise is loud and angry and not at all human. Actually, it sounds unlike anything Iruka’s heard before and is now being accompanied by the splintering wood as something claws furiously at the door.

“Right,” Iruka says, striding across the room and into the hall before remembering to order, “Kuri, stay.”

Kuri blinks at him groggily and hops off the bed to follow.

There’s no chakra coming from the other side of the door but the racket is steadily increasing and Iruka can hear his neighbours starting to move about. Readying himself, Iruka flings the door wide and has a split second to register what the blur flying into his apartment is before he’s snarling, “Fucking cat!” and darting after it.

The mongrel bloody moggy is making a bee line right for Kuri and Iruka is less than an inch from hoisting it up by its scruff to break its neck when Kuri releases the most fearsome growl and attacks!

For a moment, Iruka freezes – torn between protecting his charge and seeing how Kuri will handle a real adversary – before backing off.

Kuri is ferocious, all sharp movement and tearing teeth. She claws into the alley cat, rips at its ears and eyes, hissing and growling and screeching like an otter possessed. The cat is larger than Kuri and tries fiercely to fight back but Kuri’s unstoppable. She uses her whole body as a weapon, evading and overpowering the cat as they dart and roll across the kitchen, blood streaking the tiles. The cat very quickly realises that this is no longer the little otter it eyed off before and tries to dash for the door, but Kuri’s on it, bearing it down to the floor and sinking her jaws into its spine.

In a move that both surprises and deeply gratifies Iruka, Kuri swiftly and expertly scrambles up the cats body and clamps her jaws over the cat’s throat, holding on as the cat fights for air and freedom, as it bleeds out onto the floor and dies. Kuri bites at the cat’s twitching body a few more times, still growling fiercely, before she’s satisfied that it’s dead and turns to look at Iruka, panting heavily.

“Oh, my girl,” Iruka says reverently, kneeling down and accepting his blood soaked warrior as she lops to him. “My brilliant, beautiful, clever little girl.”

Kuri nuzzles into his hand, leaving behind smears of blood. She’s been injured, but it’s nothing she wouldn’t recover from in the wild, only scratches that aren’t too deep because she’d been too damn quick for the cat’s claws.

“You were magnificent, perfect,” he praises as he gently strokes her silky fur and rubs her little ears. It’s with a lump in his throat that he looks into her trusting, sable eyes and says, “You’re ready.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Iruka contacts local wildlife centres though out the district and is eventually directed to a university in Enkou where a fauna study is set up to track the territories and population trends of river mammals. They’re able to provide him with some maps of otter families and territories in the Konoha area.

“How much space do you think she’ll need?” Ibiki asks, leaning over the map of the area Iruka likes the look of best. It’s within the protected boarders of Konoha but in an isolated enough area of forest that Kuri won’t be bothered by travellers or training shinobi.

“It’s hard to tell,” Iruka says as he flicks a hand towards a stack of otter research papers. “The territories aren’t size set and it’s different for males and females. There’s not much consistency. I think we’d be best setting her up in an area of fifteen to twenty kilometres.”

“What about overlap with other territories?”

“Some overlap should be okay, but not too much. Seems they’re territorial little buggers.”

Kuri is snorting and grunting around Ibiki’s ankles curiously, nipping at the sandals before backing away to do it all again, and Iruka frowns curiously.

“Where have you been today?” he asks and Ibiki gives a long sigh through is nose.

“Forbidden forest. A Chuunin came back from the last scheduled surveillance adamant that the leeches have become articulate.”

“Articulate?” Iruka says while fighting a grin. “What were they saying?”

“Nothing,” Ibiki grunts, “they’re sodding leeches. Damn fool got a whiff of Palpic pollen and hallucinated the whole thing.”

“But you still had to try and make them talk, right? Tell me someone got video of that.”

“Shut up,” Ibiki grumbles and jabs a finger at a length of river high in the hills. “What about this area?”

“Dries out during summer.”

“Hmm, and this area?” Ibiki asks, indicating an area near the grasslands.

“That was my first choice but it flash floods periodically.”

“Damn.”

“Yeah,” Iruka sighs and scratches at the scar across his back. Damn thing still itches even after ten years. “I think this area here is our best bet, but it’s only twelve kilometres long so she’ll be overlapping with another couple of territories.”

Ibiki leans back in his chair and frowns at the maps for a long moment before saying, “We’re going about this all wrong.”

“How so?”

“We’re looking too far afield. What about the river we’ve been training her at? She’s already familiar with the area, it’s close to home so well protected, and there are no other otters documented as living there according to these maps.”

Iruka shakes his head. “It’s not near any other territories and Kuri deserves the opportunity to have a family of her own.”

“So we go further upstream to…” Ibiki traces his finger along one of the blue river lines until it meets with another territory. “Here.”

Iruka feels the first stirrings of excitement but forces himself to think logically. “It might be a female territory.”

“It might not. And males are documented to travel long distances to find a good mate.”

They both stare at the map for a beat before Iruka nods. “I’ll check it out, but I’ll need something to draw the otter out into the open. I can’t waste too much time tracking it down.”

“I know just the thing,” Ibiki says, opens his desk draw, and pulls out his voice recorder. “When you leave her with me she calls for you. Loudly.”

Iruka grins and leans down to scratch Kuri’s back.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Setting the battery powered radio on a dry rock by the river’s edge, Iruka turns the volume up and hits play. As Kuri’s forlorn cries start drifting from the speakers, Iruka takes to the trees and finds himself a comfortable branch to watch from. He’s set up in the middle of the unknown otter’s territory and hopes the animal isn’t too far out to hear the recording and come investigating.

Two hours, half a book, and a sandwich later, a large otter comes lopping out of the sedges and approaches the radio cautiously. It’s a male with pale brown fur and a strong build; Iruka estimates him to be around three years old. Healthy, well fed, and not acting aggressively towards Kuri’s cries. Iruka can’t believe his luck. It’s so perfect it beggars belief.

With a chakra assisted jump, Iruka thumps down next to the otter and pins it to the mud with a hand to the back of its neck, the other switching off the radio before wrapped tightly around the base of the thick tail. The otter shrieks and growls and squirms madly in his unrelenting grasp, claws scrabbling desperately into the loam.

“I want you to know my scent,” he tells the otter calmly, “because if you hurt my little girl, I’ll turn you into a rug to line her den with and give her all your territory. So be a good otter, treat her like a lady, and give her many strong pups or I’ll be the last thing you ever smell.”

With that said, Iruka gently slides the otter into the river and watches as it streaks away through the water.

“Well,” he says to himself, glancing around to make sure no one had witnessed his overprotective display, “that was embarrassing.”

 

 ~*~*~*~

 

“I need to take some leave,” Iruka tells Kagome. “Kuri’s reached the age where she’s ready to be released; I want to ease her into it rather than just dumping her in the wild and leaving her there.”

“Oh, that’s so sad. You two have become quite the legend around town; I know many people will be sorry to see her go. Where are you releasing her?” Kagome asks kindly and Iruka has the horrible feeling that he’s not being as subtle about his misery as he’d hoped.

Trying not to frown in annoyance at himself, Iruka says, “I’d rather not reveal that. I don’t want people from around town to go looking for her. I know some of my students would definitely try.”

“I understand.” Kagome opens up the duty roster ledger – a giant, red leather bound book that looks as heavy as a crate of shuriken – and flips to the necessary page. “When would you like to release her?”

Never, Iruka thinks but says, “In the next week or two. And I’d like to take five days if possible.”

“That should be manageable. I can give you the time in half a week, it’ll run over the weekend. There’s no problem with covering your desk duties but you’ll have to find a teacher to sub for you on the three days you’ll be off.”

Iruka does frown then. “That could be problematic. We’re short staffed as it is.”

“Can you think of anyone, or combine your class with another?” Kagome asks, little frown lines forming on her brow.

Biting his lip in thought, Iruka is struck with sudden inspiration and he grins.

“Actually, I can think of someone,” he says.

 

~*~*~*~

 

 “Good morning, students,” Ibiki says as he warily eyes the children staring at him with equal measures of terror and calculation. “As Iruka-sensei has informed you, I will be your substitute teacher for the next few days.”

Iruka is going to pay for this when he returns.

 

~*~*~*~

 

The campfire crackles and pops, slowly cooking the fish that Iruka has speared on pikes angled over it and roasting the foil wrapped potatoes buried in its coals. Iruka pokes at the glowing logs with a stick until the end catches alight and then swipes it through the air, drawing patterns with the glowing trail.

He’s been camped at this spot for the last three nights, allowing Kuri time to explore her new territory and get used to venturing out without Iruka being within protective proximity. She’s returning to the campsite less and less and for shorter stretches of time. Iruka stays within his camp area, and allows her to come and go as she pleases. He’s solely there to give her time to adjust to being on her own and know that he didn’t just dump and abandon her.  

He knows that most of wild animals releases are quick and very cut and dry – transport animal to new home, release animal, leave – but Iruka just can’t.  He just can’t leave with the thought that she might be crying for him, all alone and confused. It may be selfish and more for him than Kuri, but, damn it, he’s going to be selfish for a little while.

Kuri hasn’t returned so far tonight. It’s the first time that she hasn’t come back to check in around sunset and Iruka wonders if that morning was the last he will ever see of her. The idea chokes his throat, no matter how essential he knows it is he still isn’t ready to let go. Not just yet.

“Are you going to cry?”

“Great buggering fuck!” Iruka yelps as he swings around to find Kakashi crouched right next to him.

Kakashi’s mask is pulled down and his mouth is stretched in a shit eating grin. “Finally, I thought I’d never manage to surprise you properly.”

“You arse-monkey!”

That startles a laugh out of Kakashi and Iruka growls, pouncing on him.

They wrestle for awhile, each trying to pin the other and Iruka knows that Kakashi’s going a little easy on him so he’s as slippery and difficult as possible. It ends predictably, with Iruka flat on his back and laughing breathlessly as Kakashi sits on his hips and keeps his arms pinned.

“I missed you,” Kakashi says fondly, smiling down at him. “Did you miss me?”

Iruka sighs in pleasure as he grinds his hips up, already half hard from their grappling. “Nope,” he moans and grinds up again. “Didn’t miss you in the least.”

“You are a filthy liar,” Kakashi chuckles as he rotates his hips and grinds his arse against Iruka’s cock. “Your pants are going to catch on fire soon. We should take them off before you get a nasty burn.”

“I’ll give you a nasty burn,” Iruka groans and Kakashi laughs at him.

“That was terrible.”

“Shut up, get naked,” Iruka demands and Kakashi bites at his jaw, murmuring, “Now who’s pushy?”

It is glorious, lying on his bedroll as Kakashi rides him, all that pale skin exposed to his gaze but for identification tags. Pushing up into tight, wet heat and feeling Kakashi’s muscles flutter around his cock. Watching as Kakashi’s head tips to the star bright sky and he looses himself to pleasure. And after Kakashi has finished moaning his way through release, he looks down at Iruka with sleepy eyes and that fond smile, and Iruka feels his heart give a stuttered thump while warmth spreads from his chest through his whole body.

Uh oh, Iruka thinks as a thrill of panic follows the warmth.

Kakashi’s eyes sharpen with interest and his smile turns knowing before he starts rocking in a way that knocks the air from Iruka’s lungs and has him writhing. Kakashi is merciless and just as Iruka is moaning broken fricatives and his whole body starts drawing tight Kakashi pins his hands above his head, holding back none of his strength like earlier when they were grappling.

Right as Iruka climbs the crest of his pleasure, Kakashi says in his ear, voice sincere and gravelly, “I want to keep you like this, just like this, always.” and brushes a tender kiss his throat. “My Iruka.”

And Iruka is left shaking and gasping his way helplessly through orgasm as Kakashi continues to press worshipful kisses into his skin.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Kuri comes back the next morning. She watches them from the shrubs at the edge of the camp for a long time and it takes Kakashi catching his hand to stop him from caving and clicking for her to come to him. It’s harder than he ever thought it would be to sit there and pretend to read while all his attention is focused on the little otter that he’s devoted the last year of his life to. That he’s taught and protected and come to love like family.

For almost an hour, Kuri watches them and they act casually like they don’t know that she’s there. Finally, she creeps from her place of observation. For the first time, Kuri ignores Kakashi completely and that is enough of a sign that things have forever changed. Kuri moves towards Iruka, one second lopping like her old self and the next slinking like an entirely different animal. Iruka sets his book aside and sits very still, giving Kuri only the gentle smile that he’s always had for her.

She crawls into his lap and he rubs his hand over her lovely coat. “Hey there, gorgeous girl. Looks like you’ve come to say goodbye.”

Kuri looks up at him with her sable eyes and squeaks as sweetly as ever. They stay like that for a few long minutes, Iruka stroking her gently and Kuri making quiet noises. Finally, she pawed her way up his chest and sniffed at neck, long whiskers tickling his skin.

“I’m going to miss you, desperately,” Iruka whispers to her and kisses her head. “My clever girl.”

Kuri nudges against his wrist a last time and then scuttles off his lap and down to the river. Without looking back, she slips into the water and glides away.

“Just so,” Kakashi says as he sits next to Iruka, leaning their shoulders together. “Our little girl is all grown up.”

“And off to make her way in the big world,” Iruka adds and can hear the pride in his own voice. He is proud and he knows Kuri will be just fine, that she’s going to do great. “God help any hapless beasties that think she’ll make an easy meal.”

Kakashi chuckles and says, “We should move in together.”

Wait. What?

“What?” Iruka asks, brow furrowed and nose scrunched. “How- where the hell did that even come from?”

Kakashi leans more weight against Iruka, forcing Iruka to basically prop him up. “We’ve been dating for a year, we raised a daughter together-”

“You were the most absentee father ever!” Iruka blurts.

“I provided her with professional health care, baby formula, kept her daddy happy-”

“I will punch you in the face,” Iruka promises, deadpan, and Kakashi fixes him with a mock serious expression.

“I feel it important to express my discomfort with the level of violence in our relationship.”

Iruka is not proud when his hands flail a little at that as he demands, “Do we have a relationship?”

“Of course.” And Kakashi’s starting to look a little offended. “You’re the first person I go to find when I get back from missions. I hardly go home when I’m in town; I’m always sleeping at your place. I haven’t even slept with anyone else in the last year! Have you been fucking other people?” Kakashi demands sharply and, wow, that’s a dangerous gleam he’s got going in his eye.

“No,” Iruka confirms with exasperation and gives a little growl when Kakashi leans yet more weight against him and smiles smugly. “That’s not any indication that we’re in a relationship, though.”

“Yes it is,” Kakashi says flippantly and with a shove succeeds in toppling Iruka over onto the grass. “I like the east district, they have spacious apartments and the local gardens are lovely.”

As Kakashi slips between his legs and starts nosing at his jaw, Iruka declares, “This is ridiculous. This whole situation is completely insane.”

“You don’t like the east district?”

“So not anywhere even near the point,” snaps Iruka and shoves at Kakashi’s shoulders when Kakashi starts lightly nipping at his throat. “Stop it, you can’t fuck me into complacency.”

“Sure I can.” Kakashi sounds supremely confident.

Iruka’s temper spikes higher for a moment before all the tension drains out of him and he starts to laugh. And once he’s started he can’t stop. Iruka laughs and laughs until he’s flushed and having to gulp for breath. Kakashi is patient through it all, continuing to hover over him with a wide grin and deep creases around his exposed eye. Eventually Iruka manages to get control of himself and looks up at Kakashi, still softly chuckling.

“You’re an idiot,” he says fondly and Kakashi says, “Yeah,” before leaning down and slotting their smiling mouths together.

They stay the night then pack up and leave the next morning. They know that Kuri’s not coming back but Iruka has his closure and it’s time to get back to life without a little furball being by his side. However, Iruka’s not as alone in returning home as he’d originally thought and he’s surprisingly okay with that.

 

~*~*~*~

 

It takes another five months before Iruka agrees to move in together because Kakashi might have viewed them as being in a committed relationship for the past year – and Iruka is still trying to puzzle that one out, though he has a feeling that it has to do with how all Jounin have a slightly skewed view of how the ‘regular’ world works – but for Iruka the relationship is new and deserving more of his consideration than jumping early into cohabitation.

So for the next five months, whenever Kakashi is in town, they go on dates and spend time getting to know each other. They learn each others quirks and emotional tender spots and what makes them laugh until they can’t breathe. Iruka learns that Kakashi hates fried food and loves eggplant miso-soup, and Kakashi learns that Iruka loves listening to soft piano and sparring in the early morning while the air is still damp and the sun rises. Iruka learns that Kakashi would rather read a book he enjoyed a thousand times than try a new book he might not like as much. Kakashi learns that Iruka loves drinking on the roof or in the forest but hates the noise and bustle of the village taverns, only going to them out of a sense of community if his fellow Chuunin want to have post-work drinks.

They both suffer from survivors guilt in different ways; Iruka sometimes overworking to the point of crippling exhaustion out of an unfounded fear that he’s a burden on the village like when he was a newly orphaned child, and Kakashi from being alive when so many of his beloved comrades are dead and etched into the memorial stone while he still breathes and stands in the sun and bitterly mourns. They also support each other when the guilt hits, Kakashi gently reassuring Iruka that he’s invaluable to the village and to Kakashi personally, and Iruka keeping Kakashi silent company or reading to him from his favourite book. They argue sometimes over stupid things like doing the dishes and who has had too cook more than the other, dumb little arguments that get heated at the time and seem so incredibly stupid later.

They also fuck an inordinate amount. If there’s an area of their relationship that neither of them have any complaints, it’s the sex.

Kakashi does continue to pester Iruka about moving in together and it surprises Iruka because Kakashi had never struck him as the serious commitment type. But after a few months, Iruka has to admit that Kakashi does indeed do commitment and has chosen Iruka as the person he wants to share his future with.

“I really don’t get it,” Iruka says one day when they’re lying on the couch watching the evening news in Kakashi’s apartment. “What made you decide on me?”

“Decide on you?” Kakashi asks with eyebrow raised.

“Yeah,” Iruka says around a yawn before continuing, “decide that you wanted to have a relationship with me. That you wanted to, I don’t know, stop sleeping with other people and get serious.”

“Are you feeling insecure about us or fishing for compliments?” Kakashi asks and Iruka laughs and hits him in the face with a cushion.

“Neither, I’m just wondering what the tipping point was.”

Kakashi steals the cushion from him and tucks it under his head. “To be honest, I don’t know. It was… over time I just found myself thinking of you more and then we had dates-”

“Just to clarify, what dates? Before the night of the festival.” Iruka clarifies because he’s dying to know what Kakashi had considered dates.

Kakashi rubbed a hand up Iruka’s arm, lazily affectionate. “Well, we went to the park with Kuri and I came to visit you at work. We went grocery shopping together… why are you laughing?”

Iruka started laughing harder and rolled over to wrap his arms around the ridiculous and very dear man that was also utterly clueless. Iruka’s finding himself increasingly attracted to crazy.

“You’re laughing and hugging me so I’m going to take this as I’ve done something right.” Iruka can hear the confusion in Kakashi’s voice but he can also hear the smile.

Iruka pulls back and says, “You are truly something else,” as he grins at the lunatic he’s going to move in with.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Iruka, Kakashi, and Ibiki organise time off together four months in advance and it takes a day and a half to locate Kuri the following spring. They stay high in the trees to hide their scent and watch as the male otter Iruka previously ‘met’ travels back and forth from a den dug into the dry soil near the river. Kuri only comes out for short periods of time and never strays far. From inside, they can faintly hear the sweet sound of pups squeaking.

It’s hard, damn near impossible for Iruka not to go down and see his little girl, but also knows how important it is that he doesn’t interfere. Seeing her is enough, knowing that she has babies of her own now is amazing. Kuri is all grown up and a mother in her own right. She looks bigger, healthy and strong and still as beautiful as when Iruka last saw her, coat glossy in the sunlight.

Iruka hopes that the male otter is taking good care of her and the pups, bringing them enough food and keeping their den safe. But then he watches as a bird lands near the den and Kuri comes streaking out of it like a shadow, leaping as it startles into the air, and bringing it down to kill it with a quick bite and sharp shake of her head. Birds are not on the scientific dietary list for otters but as Kuri neatly tears its belly open and feasts before dragging the left overs down to the river bank and storing them for later as he’d taught her so long ago, Iruka knows that he has no cause to worry at all.

Kuri doesn’t need the male otter. Even if he up and died, the pups would be absolutely fine. Their mother has shinobi training, after all.

Iruka looks at Kakashi to share a smile and the knowledge of security but is shocked to find him with the sharingan exposed and both eyes watery, staring intently at the den.

“Are you alright?” Iruka asks and Kakashi turns to him, eyes arched in unrestrained joy.

“We’re grandpas.”

Iruka is very careful to keep his expression neutral, even supportive, as he replies, “Yes. Yes, we are.”

Kakashi turns his ecstatic gaze back to the den where Kuri’s little head is resting just outside its opening, eyes closed against the sun and muzzle still slick with blood. Iruka twists to share a ‘What the Fuck’ look with Ibiki only to find him stiff jawed and frowny as he only gets when experiencing emotions.

“Does that make me a great godfather?” Ibiki asks gravely.

To which Iruka can only answer, “Yes, it does,” very seriously.

Ibiki nods and a line of tension eases from his shoulders. Iruka looks back to where Kuri is lazily grooming.

I’m surrounded by utter nutters, baby, he thinks at Kuri. But then a tiny face noses its way along Kuri’s side and into the sunlight and Iruka fucking melts into a massive goo pile. He wouldn’t change a damn thing.

 

~The End~