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Iruka felt the Chakra signature outside his door waver and split. If he concentrated hard enough, the signature that had left was a shadow clone, while the real one remained behind. For a split second he was confused, then he glanced out his window to find that the sun was rising, the sky a hesitant pink as early morning rays shone through wisps of cloud.

Kakashi was leaving to go to the memorial stone.

No, his shadow clone was leaving to go to the memorial stone. Kakashi was staying right here.

Kakashi was valuing staying here, looking after him when he wasn't even allowed in the bedroom, over going to speak with his dead loved ones. A ritual he had performed every single day of his life for thirteen years, and somehow, Iruka had become more important than it.

It made him feel guilty that Kakashi was slumped against his door out on the cold, hard floor, alone and not allowed to even come into his own bed and be with his own lover.

No, that wasn't almost feeling guilty. He was drowning in guilt because he was making Kakashi hurt like this.

But he couldn't help it. Kakashi's voice, Kakahsi's hands, Kakashi's very smell; they all reminded him of the man who had nearly killed him.

It hadn't even been what they'd always feared. Kakashi had warned him that being the Copy Ninja's partner made him an immediate target; that enemies with dead loved ones and a vicious desire for revenge would see him and see a delicious possibility for irony, as well a warm-hearted, soft teacher to take down instead of a cold, hard, terrifying creature with a demonic eye and lightning in his hands. But it wasn't even Kakashi who had made him a target. Just his hitai-ate and the fact that he apparently looked like an easy target for information on Konoha.

Someone who spilled his guts under torture.

Iruka shivered. He snuggled deeper under the blanket, wincing as wounds pulled at stitches and bandages. He rolled over uncomfortably, then jumped at the sight of blood.

No. There wasn't any blood there; it had all been painstakingly cleaned up when he'd returned from the hospital. Kakashi had replaced the sheets, the blanket, the pillow, even the bed. It all still smelled faintly of new, that sharp, tangy scent of fresh from the store. It wasn't comforting in the slightest, but it didn't smell of Kakashi or blood, and Iruka didn't think he could handle either right now.

But, no. He still remembered how the blood looked on his wall. He still remembered his wrists pulled up and tied against the headboard with Chakra ropes, he still remembered Kakashi-

No. That wasn't Kakashi.

Iruka shifted uncomfortably again. He inhaled once more, this time smelling the scent of sweat and fear. He was no Kakashi, but he could still smell that much; could still smell the residue of last night's nightmares. Nightmares that Kakashi had heard, and probably smelled, too. The jounin had just knocked on his door, hard and repeatably, until the noise roused him. Kakashi's muffled voice had asked if he was okay, if he maybe wanted company.

It had clearly hurt Kakashi almost as much as it hurt Iruka to tell him no. And, as requested, Kakashi had remained in the hallway, silent and waiting.

Oh, Iruka had tried, at first. He'd tried to pretend Kakashi didn't- that it was fine. He'd let the jounin help him dress and hug him and kiss him, but Kakashi could smell his fear. Kakashi could smell his fear, see his wince, and hear his whimper when he touched him. Kakashi had realized he never slept at night, not when he tried to hold him; Iruka had remained stiff and terrified until Kakashi had pulled back, despite his half-hearted protests. But it hadn't gotten any better when Kakashi just held his hand in bed, nor when the jounin just rolled away and didn't touch him at all; Iruka had not been able to sleep when his would-be killer was right next to him.

That wasn't Kakashi.

That was how Kakashi had ended up sleeping outside his room with nothing but a thin blanket. Iruka had tried to tell him it wasn't necessary. But the fact that he could only sleep when his partner wasn't in the room spoke volumes, and both of them knew it.

A light knock on the door sounded, soft enough that it wouldn't have woken him if he were still asleep. "Iruka-koi, are you awake?" Kakashi kept his voice soft, too; soft and hesitant. The -koi suffix; that was all Kakashi ever called him lately. Not Ruka or Ruru; always Iruka-koi. What the hell was he supposed to make of that?

Iruka didn't bother raising his voice. He knew the jounin could hear him. "Yes."

"Would you like breakfast now or later?"

To be honest, he wasn't that hungry. He was more in pain than anything else. But if he didn't eat now, then he would have to eat later; Kakashi wasn't letting anyone else near him right now, so no one else could cajole him to eat, but the jounin was adamant that he follow the doctor's orders.

"Iruka-koi? Are you all right?"

Iruka jumped, then cleared his throat. "Um, yes. I'm fine. And breakfast now, please."

"All right. I'll come back with something light in about half an hour. If you need something before then, just call."

Iruka nodded slightly, not caring that Kakashi couldn't see him, then his gaze strayed towards the closed bedroom door. If he was awake, he might as well take his morning shower and stop moping. Lying in bed with nothing to do but think and be miserable wasn't going to help him get better any faster. Iruka just wanted this to be over with; he wanted to be able to train again, to be back at work with his beloved little hellions, he wanted to be able to hug Kakashi and not flinch.

Iruka sighed heavily and closed his eyes. He just wanted things to go back to the way they were before. Before Kakashi-

not Kakashi

-had tried to kill him.

"Tell me, chuunin."

Iruka bucked and screamed as the kunai dug into his shoulder. It pierced through skin and muscle, nicking the bone, and blood blossomed up to overflow in a warm wave. He bit his lip, fighting not to scream again before throwing his head back, straining against his bonds. Kakashi left the weapon in him and moved to work on the rest of his body. Lightning sparked on his fingers and the silver-haired jounin clamped them over his right ribcage, burning his skin black.

It couldn't be Kakashi, it couldn't be. Iruka watched as the lightning flickered uneasily on the man's fingers and crackled away into nothingness and there, there; Kakashi had more control over his Chakra than that, Kakashi could create a ball of lightning and hold it in his fist, he was able to sustain just a little crackle of electricity for longer than a few seconds. It wasn't Kakashi. It wasn't him.

Iruka held onto that fact desperately as Kakashi-

It's not him, Iruka!

-leaned possessively over him and claimed his mouth as his own. It wasn't a gentle kiss; Kakashi sucked and pulled and bit, and when he pulled back he grabbed him by the chin, tongue now swelling and bleeding. "Tell me, love."

He said the word in a mocking laugh, then brought his arm down in such a powerful slap Iruka saw stars.

That kiss wasn't Kakashi. It wasn't him. It was not him.

"Darling, don't you love me? Won't you tell me?"

These words were even more mocking and cruel, and Kakashi's eyes revealed an amused mirth as Iruka shuddered. The Sharingan spun sluggishly-

a fake wouldn't have the Sharingan Iruka

-and he let out a bark of a laugh. The fist, hard as iron, slammed down against his ribcage, and a kunai buried in his knee to a blinding pain in the same moment. Iruka gasped, knocked breathless, and Kakashi smirked beneath his mask. "Sandaimne told you things he didn't even tell me. I know that. You, just a worthless bastard chuunin teacher. You think you're special, don't you? Special. Special, special. Why, because an old man had a little faith in you?" Kakashi peeled back a layer of skin on his arm, eying him almost in interest. Iruka couldn't hold back a scream of agony, and his partner actually laughed at the sound.

"Let me let you in a little secret, Ruka. Sandaimne only told you secrets because he felt sorry for you. He told you village secrets because he pitied you; your only friends were a village traitor and a demon fox, you were such a bad ninja the only task you're trusted with is babysitting,"

"Shut up, Kakashi!" Iruka snarled before he knew what he was doing. His torturer's eyes widened, Iruka's voice was trembling with the weight of repressed sobs when he continued. "That's not true and you know it!"

"Mmm? Defiant one, aren't you?" Kakashi laughed, a cruel, heartless sound, then began carving a pattern on his chest like he was an artist. Iruka tossed his head back again and tears leaked out of the corners of his eyes, tears of suffering and agony. Kakashi's weapon paused, still buried in his flesh, and he gave another harsh chuckle. "How pathetic. You're a teacher, and you don't even know the basic rules of being a shinobi. Everyone knows you're not supposed to cry." He reached out and caught a tear with a bloody finger, then grinned.

Iruka flinched when Kakashi's cold finger touched his cheek. This time, the sob wasn't repressed when he spoke, each painful breath expelling blood. "Screw you."

The lightening met his side again, and the smell of burned flesh filled the room. Kakashi leaned over him, and white light sparked dangerously, illuminating black and red eyes that curved up in a cruel imitation of a smile. "What. You think the great Sharingan no Kakashi would actually want to be with someone like you? Why? What do you think you have to offer, Ruka? I don't need you."

It's not Kakashi, it's not Kakashi, it's not Kakashi-

Don't listen to him, Iruka, he's a liar-

The knife plunged into his stomach and he coughed up blood, and Kakashi laughed at him again, laughed-

And then the privacy jutsu shattered, there was the sound of a thousand birds and a flash of light, and the Kakashi on top of him was gone.

Iruka couldn't see over the edge of his bed, but he could hear Kakashi's voice.

"You are going to die."

Iruka wanted to sob again. Of course Kakashi had bested whomever had come to his rescue. No ninja in Konoha was stronger than him but the Hokage herself. No one was coming to save him now.

There was the distinct sound of a smack, flesh hitting wood, and then another blow after that. Lightning flashed throughout the room and Iruka gasped, straining against his bonds as he yelled out. "No! Kakashi, stop, don't hurt him! Don't kill him! Hurt me; just don't hurt him! …Please, Kakashi…"

Kakashi stood slowly and turned to face him once more. His mismatched eyes went wide the moment they saw him and he froze. The jounin just stood there, an emotion Iruka couldn't identify displayed in his eyes, then quickly moved forward, hands reaching toward him.

He flinched before Kakashi made contact and twisted away. "I don't know what you want," he whispered, shutting his eyes tight so he wouldn't have to see the next blow coming. "I don't know anything that you don't, Kakashi. Please just leave me alone. I don't know anything. I don't, I don't, I don't."


Iruka jumped. That Kakashi had never called him Iruka-koi, not when he was torturing him- no, that wasn't important, what was important was why was Kakashi back, this couldn't be happening again, not-

It wasn't Kakashi, you stupid idiot!

Releasing a shuddering breath, Iruka forced himself to sit up and turn to face the jounin standing uncertainly in the doorway, a tray of food in his hands. Iruka cleared his throat and did his best to at least look somewhat presentable and forced a smile. "I'm fine, Kakashi."

Kakashi nodded and lowered his piercing gaze to the floor. He padded forward with a deliberately nonthreatening, unassuming pace to set the food on the edge of his bed, then turned to leave once again.

"Wait!" Iruka called out before he could stop himself. He didn't know why he'd said that; Kakashi's presence put him on edge and he already felt guilty enough that the jounin had to sleep on the floor; seeing him just made him feel worse. But when Kakashi turned and watched him curiously, Iruka found that he had missed the sight of him; even if looking at him made Iruka feel like he had to move back and protect himself from being hit, he still craved interaction with him, he still craved time with him.

But he couldn't very well say that; not when he'd practically begged Kakashi to just leave him alone just a few days before.

Kakashi was still staring at him curiously, and Iruka cleared his throat, scrambling for something to say. "Um… you… uh, you sent a clone to the memorial stone."


Iruka frowned, now actually curious. "Why didn't you just go yourself? …I know how much it means to you; you don't have to stay here- why didn't you just leave the clone behind and-"

"I've sent a clone to the stone before," he cut in. The jounin shrugged. "When I've been too injured to go myself, I've sent clones in my place. It's not a problem."

Now Iruka was actually worried; he was asking more because he wanted to know and less because he just wanted to keep his lover in the same room as him for more than a few seconds. "But that's different- you were unable to go then. But now… nothing's keeping you here. I can take care of myself. It's okay if you go to the memorial stone for a few hours, I'll be fine."

"I'm not leaving you alone."

Iruka scowled. "Then leave a stupid clone if you're that worried; regardless of recent events, I don't need a dammed jounin bodyguard 24/7."

"That's not why-"

"Why the hell would you stay here? For me? Right." Somehow, Iruka had gotten angry; he gestured at the door with an erratic wave of his hand and glared at his lover. "I don't even let you near me and you're staying here for me?! Why?! I never asked you to do this!"

Kakashi stared at him, mask rendering expression unreadable. He hesitantly took a step forward, waving a hand in a placating fashion. "Iruka, I understand why you can't be near me right now. It's okay. I under-"

"You're the one who saved me! Why do you put up with me now, when after everything you've done I still can't even stand to be in the same room as you? I'm not worth your time; I'm not-"

"Iruka-koi, stop talking like that! It's not your fault. And you're more than worth my time, how could you think that you're not?"

What. You think the great Sharingan no Kakashi would actually want to be with someone like you? Why? What do you think you have to offer, Ruka? I don't need you.

Iruka sighed miserably. The Not-Kakashi's words cut through his heart like a kunai, because it was true. Kakashi didn't need him. And certainly not when Iruka was making him hurt like this.

Iruka couldn't stand this. He couldn't stand Kakashi being so patient, so caring; he didn't deserve it. He made Kakashi sleep out in the hallway, for god's sakes, he wouldn't let Kakashi sleep in his own bed, and the jounin didn't even seem to care. Didn't he get it? Kakashi easily following through with every single one of his selfish needs just made him feel worse. He couldn't deserve someone who would stay with him when it was all Iruka could do to no flinch when he just entered the room.

Aggravated, Iruka shot a glare at Kakashi before turning away, raking a hand through his hair. The jounin moved forward immediately, leaning forward before suddenly jerking back to sit on the very edge of his bed. The movement made Iruka feel even worse, and he clenched his fists around the blanket to stop them from shaking. "Iruka-koi, what's wrong?" his lover murmured, eyes narrow in concern.

Didn't Kakashi get it? He felt awful enough about this whole thing, and every time Kakashi would be soft and patient and caring with him, his guilt would congeal sickeningly until he felt like he was going to throw up. Every time he asked 'what's wrong' or 'are you okay', it just made him feel worse.

"Iruka-koi? Are you all right?"

"No!" Iruka twisted and shoved Kakashi back, eyes wide in anger. "No, damn it! Don't you get it? You're the one making this so hard!"

Kakashi flinched back and instantly lowered his gaze to the bed. The jounin's lone eye was full of emotion and he moved back, expression still unreadable. "…I'm sorry, Iruka… I…" He clenched his fists and remained silent, then scooted even further away from Iruka so he was perched on the very edge of the bed, in very serious danger of falling off.

Great. Yes, that made him feel better; seeing Kakashi look so upset because of him was just absolutely perfect.

Iruka hung his head and closed his eyes tight so he didn't have to see Kakashi looking so uncertain and nervous. "Just go," he whispered, and his shoulders started to shake. "Just go, Kakashi."

He felt the bed bend as Kakashi stood, and then heard footsteps as he softly backtracked. "…I'm really sorry, Iruka-koi. I know you asked me not to… I'm really sorry. I'll just be out in the-"

"No! Get out! Not out of my room, get out of my house, Kakashi! Get out of here!"

There was silence for one long, terrible moment, and then Iruka heard Kakashi leave and shut the door behind him without a word.

Iruka stared at the closed door for a long while, then finally turned away with a shudder. His shoulders shook and he bit on his lip to hold back a cry. He hadn't meant to make the situation worse, but it seemed that that was all he was good at lately.

Still shaking, Iruka turned morosely to settle back in bed- then caught sight of the breakfast Kakashi had brought in for him.

The jounin was worthless at cooking. Iruka had once tried to teach him, only to discover that his idea of heating something up was a fire jutsu. There were only a few meals that he could prepare without help; most of Iruka's food since returning home had been takeout, as he was in no condition to make it for himself and Kakashi certainly couldn't.

But getting takeout for breakfast was a little overkill; all Iruka usually had was a little bit of rice, and that, Kakashi could do. But no; the jounin had somehow gotten his hands on a pancake. And that wasn't all he had done.

Iruka lightly picked up the pancake that had been cut into roughly the shape of the heart. He didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. Kakashi was utterly hopeless when it came to anything social or romantic; he probably didn't realize how cliche the gesture was, almost as if it had been taken directly out of one of his 'romance novels'. Kakashi had a way of being so awkwardly sweet it was cute. And, right now, that awkward sweetness was making him seem so innocent it made Iruka's heart hurt when he remembered how he'd just screamed at Kakashi to get out.

But the massacre on his heart wasn't done yet. When Iruka glanced back at his breakfast, he noticed a small note folded under a glass of water. He reached out for it by instinct alone, sure his feelings were in for yet another beating, and freed the scrap of paper to see what else he was in store for.

I understand. It's okay. You can come to me when you're ready.

Just three simple sentences, but they spoke volumes. Iruka crumpled the paper under his fist and hung his head, squeezing his eyes shut. Kakashi was only trying to help, and look how he'd repaid him.

But then, that was all Kakashi had tried to do since he'd first woken up in the hospital five days ago. Try to be understanding. Try not to push. Try this, try that. Try, try, try to help. And Iruka just ended up ruining everything his lover tried by flinching away and avoiding his gaze and jumping like a gentle touch was a powerful blow.

Not-Kakashi had mocked him for thinking that the great Copy Ninja would ever stay with just a worthless teacher. Iruka hadn't told his partner that; hadn't particularly wanted to hear Kakashi's reassurances that he was so much more than just a teacher and that their rank difference didn't bother him one bit or growled threats of murder against the missing nin who had tortured him. But now, Iruka had to wonder just why Kakashi kept coming back to him.

Why did Kakashi keep coming back to be hurt all over again? The jounin needed stability; he needed someone to be able to comfort him after an awful mission and a warm bed to sleep in at night. And Kakashi had once been the most eligible bachelor in the village; he could find everything he needed and more in dozens of willing partners throughout Konoha. Why did Kakashi come back to him over and over again?

For the life of him, Iruka could not understand it. Even before this entire mess had occurred, he had still never quite understood why the famous Copy Ninja wanted someone as plain and ordinary as him. And now…

Iruka shifted to bury his head in a pillow, clasping Kakashi's note in one shaking hand. Gods, he was so pathetic. His thoughts drifted back to several years ago, when Kakashi had returned to the village on a stretcher with the most haunted look in his eyes that Iruka had ever seen. He'd been tortured for a full month in the hands of Iwa's top interrogator, beaten and whipped and burned and still kept his mouth shut. And Iruka had been more than a little terrified of Kakashi's recovery process; he'd been anticipating nightmares, fits of hysteria, waves of anguish- yet nothing that he had feared had occurred. There had been one or two nightmares, a few anxious jumps, several panicked looks; that was it.

That was after Kakashi had been brutally tortured for a month.

And here he was, after just twelve hours of the torture… not able to even stand being in the same room as his lover.

Gods. He was so weak. Weak and pathetic.

Iruka abruptly sat upright and threw the blankets back. No longer. Even if he couldn't do a damn thing about his mental state, he could still get out of bed, clean himself up, and do his best to look together enough for Kakashi to be put at ease when he returned.

If he returns…

Shrugging the thought of, Iruka took a deep breath and stood. He leaned carefully on his uninjured right leg, but pain still shot up through the left one and he buckled, remembering a kunai being buried in his knee, a spray of blood, Kakashi's laugh-

Iruka limped from the room as fast as he could. He blinked furiously, trying to get rid of the vision in front of his eyes. He slammed the door behind him with far more force than necessary, then almost tripped on the thin blanket sprawled in a heap on the floor. Iruka nearly shivered at the sight of it.

He grabbed at it like it had just said something greatly offensive and folded it up into a precisely neat square, resisting the urge to throw the thing out the window. He wasn't going to make Kakashi have to use it again. He set it firmly down on the couch, then returned to what had become Kakashi's bed. It looked like his flak vest had been used as a pillow, and next to it was a bright orange, dog-eared book slumped open on the floor. Iruka paused, then went about erasing any evidence revealing that Kakashi had spent the last few nights on the floor.

His work was slow and impeded by injuries, painful ones that protested with every movement he made. His breaths grew heavier and labored, his movement became weak and shaky- but finally, finally, he had turned his shabby apartment into something that looked like a warm, comforting home; something that could show Kakashi he was all right and wasn't as weak as he appeared.

Finally, with his home brightened up, Iruka decided to freshen up. He hadn't had a bath in days and it would make himself feel better, a little bit more like himself, besides showing Kakashi everything was okay. He slowly moved across his apartment, dragging his bum leg, before performing one of the least graceful moves of his entire life by tripping on the edge of the rug.

Iruka was sent sprawling with a cry of pain. He landed with his face squashed into the carpet and a blinding pain shooting up his leg; it hurt so much he almost passed out.

Letting out a harsh breath through clenched teeth, Iruka forced himself to relax taut, tense muscles, shaking as he balled his hands into fists and tried to contain a pained moan. He waited until he could breathe evenly again before he slowly tried to push himself up, but it just hurt so much. Iruka gave it another valiant try, then slumped back to the carpet, tears of furious frustration beading in his eyes.

Fantastic. Now Kakashi would come home to him slumped worthlessly on the floor, unable to even stand up by himself. What a way to prove that he was capable and didn't need looking after.

Cool arms abruptly slid underneath him, appearing so suddenly Iruka jumped. He found himself rising off the floor, and then warm breath tickled his neck as the man carrying him spoke. "You're not supposed to be up."

Iruka couldn't help it; Kakashi's voice and Kakashi's arms around him made him flinch. He felt the jounin's hold loosen almost immediately and that, in turn, made him feel worse. Kakashi carried him gently back to his bedroom, moving at a slow, unhurried pace. Iruka took a moment to catch his breath, then looked up to the jounin in confusion. "How did you…?"

Kakashi shrugged slightly. "I know you told me to leave. I'm sorry; I know you didn't mean for me to just go out to the tree near your window and watch you from there. But I…"

Iruka felt like he'd just been doused in a bucket of ice water. "Thought I couldn't take care of myself?" he snapped, trying to worm out of Kakashi's grip and hide how much the jounin's lack of confidence in him hurt.

Kakashi's lone eye widened. "What? No, of course not-"

"Then why else would you be spying on me? Let go of me."

Kakashi set him gently down on his bed and moved respectfully back, clearly do everything he could to appear nonthreatening. "I... I'm sorry. I know, it wasn't my smartest move- but it wasn't because I thought you couldn't take care of yourself."

Iruka shifted painfully into a sitting position, leveling a steady glare at his partner.

With a nervous chuckle, the jounin reached up to scratch the back of his head awkwardly and curved his eye into a smile. "Maa… I get worried and overprotective easily. You know that. …I don't have that many people left and, given… recent events… I wasn't very keen on letting you out of my sight."

Iruka melted. He wanted to be mad at Kakashi, he did, but when the jounin was standing there hesitantly with one hand awkwardly scratching his neck, one eye curved into his trademark smile, and that faint red blush rising in what little was visible of his cheek… well, it was probably a good thing that Kakashi's eye was closed in a smile, or the silver-haired jounin would be looking at a pool of Iruka goo.

Iruka jumped when he saw Kakashi turn to leave his bedroom, his eyes going wide in panic. "Hey! Wait!" he called, reaching out a worthless hand before he could stop himself. The jounin paused, then slowly turned to look at him in confusion. Iruka hesitated before scratching at the base of his ponytail nervously. "I… mean… well. …If you wanted to stay, I mean… that would be all right… you don't have to if you don't want to…"

The jounin's eye widened in surprise. "But you- you kicked me out. You put my stuff on the couch. I thought that meant that you were mad at me."

Iruka just stared at him when the comment about putting Kakashi's things on the couch finally registered. He didn't want to laugh at Kakashi's social ineptness but couldn't really see anywhere else to go at this point. "Oh, no… Kashi… stop taking relationship advice from Icha Icha. That's not what that means; not always."

"It's not?"

Iruka laughed again at Kakahsi's hopeful question and patted the bed firmly beside him. "No, it's not. Come over here and sit next to me. I put your stuff on the couch because I wasn't going to make you sleep out on the floor again."

"You wanted me to sleep on the couch?"

Iruka rolled his eyes. "Gods, no. Are you being intentionally dense? I meant that I wanted to sleep in bed, with me… if you wanted to."

The jounin softened, then moved forward, clearly relieved, to sit in the spot Iruka had indicated. "Oh. I see. But… are you sure? If you don't want to, then I understand."

Iruka wanted to just melt at Kakashi's words. Again. No; he wasn't really sure about this. The jounin's hard muscles made his gut tighten in anxiety, his grey eye only made him think about the covered Sharingan spinning and boring into him, Kakashi's proximity to him made him fight not to flinch. But Kakashi had come home and smiled at him and tried to do everything he could to make this easier for him. Iruka couldn't very well tell him to go out and sleep on the floor again.

Hell, Iruka wasn't sure if he would be able to sleep tonight if Kakashi was out there in his hallway, cold and alone.

So Iruka put on a brave face and and nodded at Kakashi. "Yes, I'm sure."

Kakashi's hesitant gaze warmed. The jounin relaxed, grey eye brightening before curving into an expression of genuine happiness. "…I'm glad."

And then he leaned forward to hug him.

Iruka couldn't help it. Kakashi was moving slowly and clearly being careful not to frighten him but it didn't matter; he saw his silver-haired lover moving closer to him and then hard, steely arms were wrapping around him, and Iruka was terrified. He flinched.

Kakashi immediately pulled back. His expression was a mix of worry and regret, and Iruka hung his head in shame before he could see anything more. He tried to calm his frazzled nerves but it didn't work; he knew that if he just looked up, he would see the man who had nearly tortured him to death.

When Kakashi finally spoke, his voice was soft and clearly not a rebuke; just warm and loving and gentle. It made him feel even worse. "…You don't have to pretend. If you're not ready, I understand. Saying you're okay when you're not won't help anything." He tried to stand up, but Iruka reached out and grabbed onto his wrist before he could move back any further.

"No! Wait, Kakashi! I- I don't care if I'm ready or not; I won't let you sleep out there again. This is our bed, not just mine. And I know… I know that I'm hurting you. I'm sorry, I just…" He trailed off, then shrugged helplessly.

Kakashi reached out to him, then stopped and withdrew. "Iruka-koi, don't worry about me. I'm fine. If it's still too soon for me to be in here with you, then it's okay. I understand… Besides," he chuckled, in an attempt to lighten the mood, "I've slept in worse places before. Another night on the floor won't kill me."

Frustrated, Iruka slammed his fist down onto his bed for a decidedly unimpressive thump. "You don't get it, Kashi," he protested, then sighed and hung his head. "…So maybe I can't relax completely with you yet. That's not what's important. I feel worse knowing you're sleeping on the floor because of me than with you right here next to me. I'm okay; I'm not… I love you, Kakashi, I still want you, I still want this. It's just hard right now, but…" He sighed, frustrated. He didn't know how to get it across that having Kakashi in here with him meant things were getting back to normal, that things were getting better. Just the idea of things getting back to normal made him feel good.

Luckily, Kakashi didn't push the issue. He stayed by Iruka's side, then raised his head to look at him out of the corner of his eye. "Okay, I'll stay," he said easily. "…Is there anything I can do to make it easier? Something I can say or do that... he couldn't?"

Iruka opened his mouth to say no, there was nothing… then hesitated.

"Um, actually… Kashi… could you take off your mask?"

The jounin blinked, then laughed warmly. "I see. No one can fake my stunning good looks, hmm? Well, Ruka, your wish is my command." Kakashi pulled down the navy blue cloth to expose a blinding smile, pale features only marred by a single scar. They were comforting features, ones that betrayed none of the malice and cruelty that he remembered from that nightmare of a man, and, for a second, Iruka saw just Kakashi, not a torturer.

Then his lover's words registered with him, and he stared in surprise. "Ruka," he repeated in surprise. "You called me Ruka. You haven't done that in days."

Kakashi blinked, then chuckled nervously. "Aah, well… sorry. In your report, you mentioned that he called you Ruka and Ruru… so, I thought that, maybe…"

Gods, could Kakashi get anymore lovable?

Iruka was the one who hugged him this time. Kakashi didn't embrace him back, staying still and calm, and Iruka's hold was light, but it was something. "Thank you," he said quietly, and for the first time in days he actually felt at ease. "…Thank you for everything, Kakashi."