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May started with a bang that left Iruka flat on his back and out of his mind. Unfortunately, not in the way he would have liked.

Technically the problem wasn't so much that he was out of his mind, it was more that he seemed to be out of his body.

One of these days he really was going to learn not to get in the middle of a Yamanaka fight.

He held out a hand in front of him and realized with a disconnected sort of wonder that he could see straight through his palm. That could not be good.

Turning his eyes away from his sudden insubstantiality, he stared down at where he was slumped on the Academy grounds. His body appeared to be breathing, his physical one at least. Whatever he was now didn't seem to need oxygen. Maybe transparent people didn't require breathing; maybe being made of air made respiration unnecessary.

He felt like he should be panicking, but it was a little hard to do without a physical form. It made the flailing less satisfying. His heart wasn't racing; he wasn't even sure he had one like this. Plus the twin Yamanaka girls that had caused this mess were panicking enough to cover his share.

It didn't take long before the sound of thirty mini-nins-to-be freaking out brought other teachers to the schoolyard. He was never going to live this down. Academy mishaps weren't unheard of. Teaching prepubescents how to use weapons and jutsu was far from the safe, simple job some people thought it to be. That didn't mean he and his fellow teachers didn't give each other an inordinate amount of shit every time they got hit by something they really should have been able to avoid.

Iruka tried to sigh but found it difficult without breath. It ended up being more of a shrug than anything else.

In no time flat, his body had been placed on a stretcher and taken to the hospital. Iruka trailed along after it, not particularly worried. It wouldn't be that big of a deal. They'd call in a Yamanaka or two, have them cancel or counteract the jutsu, and that would be the end of it. Minus all the teasing that was sure to come.

Only that wasn't what happened.

Tsunade called in half the Yamanaka clan, and while they all had ideas, none of them worked. Iruka hovered by his hospital bed and watched blond ponytailed Yamanaka after blonde ponytailed Yamanaka try different variations of their signature clan jutsus. Some of them were impressively creative and he resisted the urge to hand out gold stars. But none of them did anything that made him even remotely more corporeal.

The more disturbing issue was that his body seemed to be breathing less the longer he wasn't inhabiting it, and the beeping of the heartbeat monitor was getting slower and weaker while Tsunade's frown and the furrow between her brows deepened.

They hooked him up to more machines. Watching himself get intubated was not something Iruka had mentally prepared for that morning, but at least it seemed to stabilize his breathing along with his heartbeat. He couldn't bring himself to watch as a medic-nin put in the catheter though. Instead, he winced in sympathy for his dick and distracted himself by peering over Tsunade's shoulder as she wrote on his chart.

She paused mid-sentence and glanced back, a confused look momentarily replacing her frown. Iruka blinked, she was looking straight through him. After a moment, she shook her head and continued writing.

What Iruka could understand between all the medical terminology boiled down to this: he was unresponsive to stimuli, his vitals were fading, and his chakra was "dissociated."

And then Iruka was left alone with his body as Tsunade and the rest of the medic-nin filed out, muttering about research and studies they planned to consult and "wasn't there a case a few years back where...."

Which meant all he could do was wait.

He'd never been good at waiting.

He stared at himself for a full minute before trying to poke his arm. His hand passed straight through.

Feeling even more foolish, he attempted to lie down on his own body in the hopes that he could "merge" with it. That was a thing that could happen, right?

He fell through the bed.

His only true comfort came from the fact that no one was able to see him acting like an idiot. No one needed to see him completely failing to lie on a bed, let alone do absolutely nothing to return his consciousness into its usual location.

He held up his hands in the well-known Yamanaka triangle, centering his body in the middle of the sign, and attempted to announce Mind Body Switch Jutsu just the same as he'd seen the string of Yamanakas doing that afternoon. His lips moved but no sound came out.

It did absolutely nothing. He wasn't even surprised.

Well, he was out of ideas.

Waiting it was.

~*~*~

Waiting sucked. There was only so long he was able to do nothing.

He always made sure he was busy – at the Academy, at the mission desk, volunteering to help wherever needed. His entire day was scheduled to the max, and he liked it that way. It made him feel useful, productive, like he could contribute to Konoha. To have all that come to an abrupt standstill was jarring to say the least. He itched with the need to do something. Anything.

The emergency exit procedures pasted on the back of his door gave him some reading material. If there was an emergency, he was fully prepared to exit in the most orderly and logical manner possible. Unfortunately, he couldn't say the same for his body.

He examined the cracks in the wall and determined they did not seem to pose any structural threats to the building. He counted the number of pinholes on the corkboard near his bed more times than he was willing to admit to even himself.

Word games weren't nearly as much fun without someone to play against. The same went for mental games of shogi and go.

He recited the Shinobi Code of Conduct forwards and backwards in his head, made sure he remembered the names of every single student that had been in his homeroom since he'd started teaching, and reviewed his teaching curriculum to see if he could make any adjustments for next year. Maybe he should include a lesson about the importance of not using secret clan jutsu when fighting with siblings.

Working out was pointless. There was no resistance, no body weight to make the movements difficult. The heartbeat monitor didn't show any increase in his heart rate, so he gave up after a few rounds. Apparently physical exercise only worked when you were, well, physical.

He stared at himself, wondered if he should get a haircut when this was all over. It'd been a while, his hair was longer than he usually let it get. How much would his students freak out if he showed up with short hair the next time he taught them?

Napping didn't work; whatever biological processes made sleep possible were apparently no longer at his disposal.

He hadn't realized how constantly his hands had been in motion until they couldn't even move air anymore.

His greatest accomplishment so far was managing to slump down into the chair by his bed, though really, it was more like floating in the approximation of a slump around the general area of the chair. He'd be kicking his heels in boredom, but all it seemed to manage was getting him to move up and down on the chair, and sometimes disconcertingly through the chair.

The next day, when flower arrangements had started to arrive, he counted the number of petals on all the flowers he could see.

Medic-nin came in and out of the room at regular intervals, checking the machines and making notes on his chart. He waved at all of them. None of them noticed.

In the early afternoon, Tsunade arrived with Sakura and a Hyuuga that Iruka only vaguely recognized. He thought she worked in the medical research department, but he was much more familiar with the ninjas who went on regular missions.

Sakura kept sending worried glances at Iruka, but she was trying to keep a professional expression as she diligently took notes.

"Tell me what you can determine from his chart," Tsunade said to Sakura.

Sakura took a moment to read over the chart, then summarized his condition. Tsunade nodded.

"And the machines?"

"The ventilator is helping him breathe. Those sensors are monitoring his heart rate, chakra levels, oxygen levels, and blood pressure. The IV is obviously for giving him fluids and liquid nutrition. The EMS system will periodically be connected to him to keep his muscles from atrophying via electronic stimulation. And the last one is an experimental chakra transfusion device, currently under testing to see if it can be used to transfer chakra to patients suffering from chakra exhaustion, theoretically shortening their recovery time."

"And what does the CTD's reading tell you?"

Sakura swallowed hard. "It's not working."

"Good," Tsunade said. "You've been doing your research."

She turned towards the Hyuuga. "Can you confirm the theory we discussed earlier?"

The Hyuuga activated her Byakugan and studied Iruka's body, then glanced around the room.

"You're right, Hokage-sama," she said. "It appears his chakra is completely disconnected from his body. There's a cloud of it hanging around the room, concentrated near the bed."

"How are his pathways?"

"They look undamaged, but are nearly empty. If his body is generating any chakra, it's minimal."

Tsunade nodded. "Without the combination of physical and spiritual energy, it seems unlikely his body alone will be able to generate any new chakra until the Yamanaka can find a way to return his consciousness to his body. We just have to keep his physical body alive long enough for that to happen."

The three of them turned to leave.

"What have they tried to do to reverse the jutsu so far?" the Hyuuga asked.

The door closed behind them, cutting off Tsunade's answer, but not before Iruka could see Sakura sending his body one last, worried look.

He sighed and started counting cracks in the ceiling again.

~*~*~

By the morning of day three, Iruka was officially out of his mind as well as out of his body. He'd never been so bored in his life.

Nothing was going to happen here, there was no real reason for him to be hanging around. He straightened up and headed for the closed door of his private room. He reached out his hand and realized immediately he wasn't going to be able to grasp the knob. But he also didn't need to. Instead, his hand went straight through it. He followed, gliding through the door.

That was going to take some getting used to.

As he moved down the hall, multiple medic-nins turned to look in his direction, confusion written on their faces. They turned their heads to follow him. Not where he was precisely, just an area a few meters on either side of him.

After a few times, it hit him. His chakra was dissociated. He was just his chakra moving around the hospital. With their heightened abilities to control chakra, medic-nins had a higher percentage of sensors among them. They were sensing his bodiless chakra and confused by the lack of person with it.

But if he was just disembodied chakra, did that mean he could mold himself? It was worth a try. He didn't have anything else to do.

He drifted out of the hospital, sending a mental apology to the medic-nin on staff for not following regulations and checking out properly. But then, he wouldn't have been able to hold the pen he'd need to sign the release form, so he figured he couldn't be blamed for the lapse in protocol.

Floating down Konoha's streets was disconcerting to say the least. He passed the occasional sensor, who'd glance in his general direction and frown. A few he knew, and they must have recognized his chakra signature from the way they were looking around, like they were trying to find someone in the crowd.

It wasn't hard to find an empty training field. It was still early enough in the day that only the most energetic of shinobi were out and about. He went well out of his way to find one of the more disused fields, one a little off the beaten path. He didn't want anyone to walk by and accidentally sense what he was trying to do or see the results of the jutsu that he would hopefully get to work. They'd wonder what was going on. It'd start rumors of chakra ghosts in no time.

Iruka stood in the center of the field, arms crossed over his chest, and considered the situation. He was chakra. He might not technically have chakra pathways at the moment, but he still had chakra. So while it wasn't flowing in his body, theoretically he might be able to gather it and release it like he would when using a jutsu.

With that in mind, he imagined himself gathering chakra, then attempted a simple katon.

Nothing happened.

He tried again.

Still nothing.

A half a dozen other attempted jutsu later, and he had to admit, this wasn't working. Maybe he was going about it wrong.

He needed to learn to control his chakra, and the best way to get a student to do that was to have them climb trees or walk on water. Given that he could float at the moment, neither were a real issue for him. But the biggest problem he was facing was his inability to interact with the world around him. He couldn't think of any jutsu that would allow him to touch things. That was, after all, not an issue most shinobi faced. But maybe he didn't need one. Maybe the solution was simpler than that.

Maybe if he were to gather and emit his chakra in a similar way to walking on water, he could use the force of it to move objects around him.

It was simple.

In theory.

In practice, not so much.

If he had sweat glands, he'd be drenched.

Finding the right balance was more difficult than he would have thought. He wasn't trying to balance himself on water, it was the opposite. He was the water, the insubstantial thing that had to be adjusted for. If he didn't use enough chakra, his hand went directly through the thing. If he used too much, he ended up repelling himself back. In a few cases, sending himself flying through the air.

Once again he was grateful for the fact that no one was able to see him. Iruka wasn't an overly proud man, but even his ego couldn't handle people seeing him trying to push against a flower only to end up flying through the air like an impressively thrown kunai.

It was well into the evening by the time he'd started to get the hang of it, but the first time he was able to nudge a twig along the ground felt like one of the greatest victories in his life. When he'd been able to pick it up, even more so.

Granted, it wasn't really "picking it up," more using chakra to make it hover over his hand. But he was counting it.

Any time his concentration wavered, so did the object he was "holding," but it was better than nothing. He'd be able to do more than float around now.

A thought hit him suddenly as he stared at a small stone that was hovering just above his translucent palm.

If anyone walked by at that moment, all they'd see was a tiny rock floating in the air.

He grinned.

His younger self would have loved this.

An invisible ghostly force capable of moving things around ? There were so many ways this could be used to prank people. As long as he avoided sensors that could recognize his chakra signature, no one would know, no one would be able to blame him.

He would have been able to cause such a beautiful amount of chaos.

He shook his head ruefully. It was a good thing this had happened to him now and not back then.

Looking around, he realized how dark it had gotten. It was late enough, he would normally be winding down for the night. But he didn't need to do that now. It's not like he would be sleeping. He shook his head, at least he'd managed to kill an entire day. But how to kill the night was another matter altogether.

He could go back to the hospital, but he didn't want to. There was nothing quite as depressing as staring at your own comatose body.

He could go to his apartment, but that was depressing as well. He'd see the piles of papers to grade, the things he had planned to do over the weekend. And even though he was able to move things around now, he wouldn't be able to do most of what he wanted. It just seemed pointless to go home. Even when he did have a physical body, he didn't spend a whole lot of time there.

So instead of going home or to the hospital, he roamed around the darkened town, trying to amuse himself.

He never wandered around like this, not without a purpose, just taking in the sights of the village. He found something soothing about it, about seeing everything they worked to protect. When he had his body back, he needed to slow down from time to time and do things like this more often.

The night was quiet, but there was still activity thrumming beneath that facade of stillness. The watch made their rounds, the file clerks caught up from the daily backlog, and parts of the city never truly slept. But in the more residential areas, most of the lights were off.

A few were still on though, especially in the jounin apartment blocks.

He tried to pick out the windows he knew. That dark one over there was Asuma's, but it wasn't surprising. He spent most of his nights at Kurenai's anyway. Just a little further down was Gai's, also dark, and Iruka could imagine if he listened closely enough, he'd hear some Youthful and Energetic Snoring coming from it.

And that window over there, the one with the light still on, he was pretty sure that one was Kakashi's.

Iruka paused and stared at the window for a long moment, the gentle night breeze blowing through him, the sound of crickets and frogs a low constant in the background.

He really shouldn't.

It was such a bad idea.

He wasn't a kid anymore.

But still.

He didn't think Kakashi was a sensor.

Surely one prank for old time's sake wouldn't hurt.

No one had to know.

It wasn't that he had any malicious feelings towards Kakashi. He just thought it was only fair. Kakashi seemed to like to mess with him, why shouldn't Iruka mess with Kakashi just a little bit in return?

It'd be fun to see him squirm a little for a change. The idea of it had always been more appealing than it probably should be. He didn't dwell on that thought though.

Pranking Kakashi was too tempting to pass up.

Just this once.

What could go wrong?

Grinning to himself, Iruka floated up to Kakashi's second floor apartment and slid inside.

It was a standard jounin apartment, not much different from any of the others Iruka had seen. The entryway opened up to a decently sized kitchen which led to a small living room. Even in the dim light cast from Kakashi's open bedroom door, it was easy to see how little there was in the room.

Kakashi had always seemed like a private person. It didn't surprise Iruka that there wasn't much in this room. Someone who hid their face to the world would want at least one nearly empty room in case they had to have people over. It would be hard to guess anything about the person who lived here from this room, and Iruka was willing to bet Kakashi liked it that way.

Though, if he slid open the door to the weapons closet just off the room, there'd be lots to dissect. The type of weapons a shinobi used and the state they kept them in said a lot.

For a moment, Iruka considered it, but it felt too personal. Pranking someone was one thing, prying into what they kept locked up behind closed doors was another. He chose not to think about the fact that technically all of Kakashi's apartment was behind a locked, closed door.

Kakashi was lounging on his bed, reading a well-loved copy of Icha Icha Tactics, with the rest of the series stacked on the shelf behind his bed. But he didn't look relaxed, not completely. There was a hint of tension in the lines of his body, like he was ready for an attack.

Iruka shook his head. Jounin were weird. They couldn't even relax in their own bedrooms.

He looked around the room. There were more things in here, but still not much besides books and a few framed photos. He grinned at the one of Team 7. He'd seen that picture before; Naruto had a copy. It was nice to know Kakashi had liked his team enough to keep a framed copy of their picture.

Looking over the room one more time, with slightly more mischievous intent, Iruka started to form a plan. Realistically speaking, there weren't a lot of things he could do. Basically things that only required a push to happen, or at most hovering something.

The door to Kakashi bathroom was slightly ajar, there were a few books precariously stacked on his desk, and most importantly, Kakashi had a light switch, not a pull.

He judged the distance between the different parts of Kakashi's room.

Iruka grinned. He could work with this.

Lining himself up, he pushed a burst of chakra through his palm at the books on Kakashi's desk and grinned even wider when the amount he used caused not only the books to topple over, but also there was enough excess to send him flying just a little bit back, right to the light switch.

Kakashi sat bolt upright in bed as Iruka turned the switch off.

He quickly moved over to the bathroom door, slamming it shut.

If he could giggle, he would be. Maybe that was another advantage of not having a body. He couldn't make any incriminatingly gleeful noises.

He could hear Kakashi moving, and Iruka wasted no time getting to the head of his bed, using the tiny bit of light from the window to guide him.

Sliding his hands under Icha Icha Paradise, he concentrated and managed to get it floating just as Kakashi flipped the light back on.

Iruka couldn't wait to see Kakashi's face when he saw his beloved book floating in the middle of his room. He turned towards him.

And then realized the colossal mistake he'd made. He really hadn't thought this through. Not at all.

The book dropped to the ground as Iruka's concentration faltered.

It didn't matter that Kakashi wasn't a sensor.

He had Sharingan.

It was right there in his damn nickname. Sharingan no Kakashi.

So much for not getting caught.

Iruka wanted to bang his head against the nearest wall until he knocked some common sense into himself, he just wasn't sure he could emit a steady enough flow of chakra through his forehead to be able to do so.

He might as well have pranked a Hyuuga if he was going to be this stupid.

Kakashi was standing near the door, crouched, tense. His forehead protector had been pushed up and his Sharingan spun as he scanned the room.

For one blinding moment of panic, Iruka stood there, frozen. Then his brain rebooted and he tried to think of a way out of this.

He could attempt an escape, but Kakashi might follow him and he really didn't want to have one of the best jounin in Konoha hot on his heels. Iruka knew he was good at getting out of sticky situations, but he wasn't that good.

Which left what?

Maybe he could figure out a way to hide his chakra? Ninjas did that all the time. All he had to do was draw his chakra completely into himself and then invert it to keep it from projecting outwards.

As quickly as he could, Iruka started to gather his chakra towards himself. He closed his eyes and willed the process to go faster. He'd never truly known how much chakra he had until he had to gather it all up in the hope that an angry Copy-nin wouldn't somehow manage to figure out a way to run a Raikiri through a disembodied chakra presence that had just dropped one of his precious books.

There, Iruka thought. Finished.

He cracked his eyes open.

And found Kakashi, Sharingan still exposed and spinning, staring directly into his eyes.

"Iruka-sensei?" he asked, his voice as shocked as Iruka felt.

Stunned, Iruka tried to answer. "You can see me?" But no words came out. He still didn't have vocal cords.

Kakashi shook his head. "I can't hear you."

Iruka switched to shinobi sign language. It was limited, but it would work. You see me?

Kakashi nodded. "Why are you in my apartment? Why are you out of your body?"

Iruka ignored the first question and just signed, Academy trouble.

Kakashi winced in sympathy, then his Sharingan eye narrowed.

"Were you trying to prank me?"

Iruka looked around the room nervously, trying to come up with some other explanation. Any other explanation. He had nothing.

Kakashi took his lack of response as a yes. "Why?" he asked incredulously.

Iruka shrugged. Bored, he signed.

Kakashi looked confused. "But why me?"

Iruka wished he had a better answer than "I thought it'd be interesting to see you squirm a little for once." At least he couldn't blush like this.

He shrugged again and signed, Everyone is asleep. Your light is on.

Thankfully Kakashi took that for what it was and didn't push for more. Instead, his brow furrowed in thought.

"If you don't have a body, what were you just doing? I could only see vague chakra flows as you were holding up the book. Are you doing jutsu?"

Iruka shook his head. Water walking.

He moved over to Kakashi's desk and concentrated on one of the books there, sliding it along the desk. He looked back up at Kakashi, whose eye had widened like something had just clicked in his mind.

"You're emitting your chakra to move things."

Iruka nodded.

"Can you do jutsu?"

Iruka shook his head. Attempt failed.

Kakashi considered this for a few moments.

"What did you try?"

Iruka ran through the hand seals of all the jutsu he'd tried.

"Those are all elemental nature transformations."

Iruka nodded. He'd focused on those because he wanted something physical to help him interact with the world around him.

"Did you try any yin release jutsu?"

Iruka attempted to slap a hand against his face. It didn't work. Probably a good thing.

Kakashi was laughing, but Iruka didn't even care.

Yin release, he should have thought of that. He was nothing but spiritual energy at the moment.

Genjutsu? Iruka asked.

Kakashi shrugged. "Go for it."

Iruka closed his eyes, gathered his chakra, and formed tiger, dog, tiger.

When he opened his eyes again, Kakashi's room was covered with flower petals.

Kakashi chuckled, there were flower petals in his hair. "This Academy mishap of yours, it didn't happen to be Yamanaka-related, did it?"

Iruka canceled the genjutsu and nodded sheepishly.

"Well, if they got you into this, maybe they can help you out some too. Do you know the Mind Body Transmission Jutsu?"

Iruka shook his head. Unlike some people, he didn't make a habit of going around learning family hiden.

"It's not difficult. Here, watch." Kakashi formed the ram hand seal then walked Iruka through the jutsu.

It took a few tries, but Iruka got it to work, feeling something click into place between himself and Kakashi.

Kakashi was grinning.

Can you hear me? Iruka sent.

Kakashi nodded. "Loud and clear."

Iruka sagged with relief. After days of invisibility and silence, not only could Kakashi see him, now he could hear him too. It was about damn time something Yamanaka worked for him.

He straightened up again and grinned at Kakashi. Do the Yamanakas know that you know their hiden?

"I may have picked up a few over the years without their express consent."

Does a few mean all?

Kakashi shrugged.

Iruka took that as a yes.

"So, what exactly is going on?"

Iruka groaned silently, then sent, I got hit by a stray Yamanaka jutsu, which I'm never going to live down. It knocked my consciousness and my chakra out of my body. The rest of me is currently hooked up to half a dozen machines in the hospital while the Yamanaka and medic-nin try to figure out how to put me back.

Kakashi looked surprised. "That's one hell of a situation you've gotten yourself into."

Iruka snorted. You're telling me.

"I'm the first person you've been able to communicate with?"

Iruka nodded.

"We should probably get you back to the hospital then. Maybe being able to communicate with you will help them."

Iruka nodded again. That seemed reasonable, but... I don't think anyone will be there this late.

"You might be surprised."

Iruka watched as Kakashi slipped into his flak jacket and put his sandals on. He looked back at Iruka. "I'm going to have to cover the Sharingan back up now. I don't really want people seeing me walking around with it exposed. They'll think something is wrong. So I won't be able to see you, but as long as you keep the transmission jutsu open, I'll still be able to hear you."

Iruka nodded and Kakashi pulled down his forehead protector again, blinking his normal eye a few times to get it readjusted to the light.

So, Iruka sent as they walked towards the hospital. How long did you know I was in your apartment?

Kakashi snorted. "I think from the moment you entered," he said under his breath.

Wait, are you a sensor? I didn't think you were.

Kakashi shook his head. "Not really, but I do recognize certain chakra signatures, and I thought yours felt familiar. What were you aiming for?"

I don't know. Maybe make you think your place is haunted or something.

Kakashi chuckled. "I did think I was under attack for a moment, but then I realized there was no hostile intent in the room."

You couldn't see me at first?

"No, you were just a cloud of chakra, concentrated under the book."

Sorry about dropping that, by the way.

Kakashi shrugged. "That's my mission copy. It's been through worse."

How many copies do you have?

"More than one." He clearly wasn't going to answer.

How did you know for sure it was me?

"You did something. Gathered your chakra somehow, made it more concentrated? It was one of the weirdest things I've ever seen. The cloud of chakra drew in on itself and coalesced into a semi-transparent version of you, chuunin vest and all."

Iruka wondered if it was weird that his mental image of himself included his vest, but decided it was fitting. He wore it so often, it felt like a part of himself anyway.

The hospital was just as quiet as Iruka had expected it to be.

I told you no one would be here.

Kakashi grinned at him. "Have a little faith."

He walked up to the matronly medic-nin on duty at the reception desk.

"Always nice to see you walking in on your own two feet," she said by way of greeting.

"Can't say it's ever nice to be here," Kakashi replied. "Can you call Tsunade here for me?"

The medic-nin gave him a skeptical look. "You want me to call the Hokage in the middle of the night when you aren't on the verge of dying? Do you have a death wish?"

"Tell her I'm chakra exhausted again."

The medic-nin gave him a once over. "Your funeral."

She turned away and dialed Tsunade. Then immediately held the phone away as Tsunade answered, letting it be known she was less than happy about being woken up in the middle of the night.

The medic-nin's shot a clear told you so look at Kakashi.

He shrugged.

"Hatake Kakashi is here with chakra exhaustion again," she explained into the phone after Tsunade had lowered her volume enough for her to put it to her ear.

You shouldn't lie to your Hokage, Iruka sent.

Kakashi snorted. "I am recovering from chakra exhaustion. Why do you think I'm not on a mission right now?"

Iruka started to apologize. If Kakashi was chakra exhausted, he really shouldn't have been using his Sharingan, but the medic-nin turned back towards them.

"She says to just let you die. It will save us all a lot of work in the long run."

Iruka didn't know whether to laugh or be horrified.

"Tell her I've found a certain chuunin sensei she might be looking for."

I think I found you, Iruka sent.

Kakashi shrugged. "Semantics."

The medic-nin gave Kakashi a funny look but passed along the message.

Tsunade arrived in less than ten minutes with the Hyuuga Iruka had seen her with the day before and half the Yamanaka clan in tow.

"Okay," Tsunade demanded the moment she saw Kakashi, "where is he?"

"Glad to know you are worried about my health and well-being," Kakashi replied, eye-smiling at her. "He's right here."

He did a remarkably good job pointing to Iruka's location without his Sharingan.

Tsunade looked unimpressed. "We know. His chakra is dissociated. You said you found him."

Kakashi looked at the Hyuuga. "See for yourself."

She gave him a skeptical look, but activated her eyes. "Oh."

Tsunade looked at her. "Oh what?"

"His chakra. It's shaped like him now."

Iruka waved.

"And he's waving."

"Explain," Tsunade demanded.

"Oh, you know how these things happen. I was minding my own business when suddenly I came across a cloud of chakra floating along the road of life."

Common occurrence? Iruka asked.

"Nearly daily," Kakashi replied.

Tsunade frowned at him, Kakashi eye-smiled at her again until she turned towards Inoichi.

"If you have his consciousness, can you put it back in his body?"

"We can try," he said.

They barely all fit in Iruka's hospital room. He had to constantly avoid people walking through him.

Tsunade looked in Iruka's direction. "You caused a minor panic this morning when a medic-nin came in to check on you and there was no longer a chakra presence in the room."

Iruka grimaced. Tell her sorry.

"He's sorry about that. Needed to stretch his nonexistent legs."

Tsunade narrowed her eyes at Kakashi then continued. "A few other medic-nin reported that they felt you leaving the hospital and multiple sensors reported you wandering around the town, otherwise we might have thought you were chakra dead."

Really sorry about that. He hadn't thought that through. He figured no one would even notice.

"He'd like to express his sincerest apologies for any inconvenience his meandering may have caused."

One of the Yamanakas looked at Kakashi suspiciously. "How are you communicating with him?"

Kakashi shrugged. "He can do genjutsu."

That wasn't technically a lie, Iruka supposed. To help Kakashi out, he exploded flower petals over the Yamanaka's head. Beside him, Kakashi shook with suppressed laughter.

"Can he cast that genjutsu on all of us?" Tsunade asked.

I don't think I can manage more than one of these connections at a time.

"Iruka-sensei isn't particularly fond of group action."

You couldn't have found any other way of putting that?

"He likes his intercourse to be purely one on one."

I'm sorry I asked.

Kakashi grinned in his direction. "I can keep going if you'd like?"

"We wouldn't," Tsunade answered. "Well, he'll just have to cancel the genjutsu on you and put it on me so I can talk to him."

One of the older Yamanaka cleared his throat. "Sorry, Hokage-sama, but I don't think that's a good idea. Using... genjutsu on more than one person can strain the user and once a connection is established, it uses less chakra than ending it and establishing a new one. Given that Iruka-sensei is entirely chakra at the moment, it might be wise for him to avoid using too much."

Tsunade considered this for a moment, then nodded. "Fine. Kakashi can continue to relay what Iruka says through whatever genjutsu they are using."

And then started Round Two of half the Yamanaka clan attempting to get Iruka back into his body. They tried by themselves, they used a Sensing Transmission Jutsu to connect with the Hyuuga to allow them to see Iruka then tried more jutsu that way. And after a quickly whispered debate, that Iruka absolutely did not drift over and listen in on, they even decided to attempt to teach Iruka a few of their jutsu to see if he could do one of them himself.

Nothing worked.

It was well into the morning by the time they all declared defeat. Iruka wanted to kick something, but it would be far too much effort.

The Yamanakas filed out of the room one by one, followed by the Hyuuga. Tsunade looked at Kakashi, then almost looked at Iruka.

"Well," she said, "since the road of life apparently wanted you two to have... what did you call it? One on one intercourse? I'm assigning you to a two man mission until this thing is resolved. Kakashi, your duty is to continue to translate for Iruka and do whatever else he needs done. Iruka, your duty is to put up with Kakashi and make sure he continues to recover from his previous mission."

She paused for a moment, then grinned.

"Actually. Kakashi has hardly any chakra at the moment, Iruka is only chakra. It's perfect."

"Iruka says your logic is faulty," Kakashi said after a beat.

I said nothing-

"Yeah," Tsunade said, "I'm sure Iruka-sensei said that."

She turned and left the room.

Kakashi pushed his forehead protector up and looked at Iruka.

"So, your place or mine, Sensei?"

Iruka hoped his mental voice came across deadpan. Yours is fine. I want to make sure you're comfortable for all the intercourse we are about to have.

Kakashi nodded like this was only sensible. "I am the one on the receiving end after all."

Iruka just shook his head. Lead the way.

~*~*~

Kakashi wasn't much of a host, Iruka decided, but then he hadn't really expected him to be. He was supposed to be recovering from chakra exhaustion after all.

But knowing that didn't make Iruka any less bored.

There were only so many hours a day that a shinobi could float around an apartment, alternating between trying not to pry and staring at someone else reading a book.

By mid-afternoon, Iruka was going stir crazy.

Why did Kakashi like those books so much anyway? Iruka didn't understand the appeal. Granted, he'd never read them. And really, he knew he shouldn't judge them by their ridiculously garish covers. There was a saying about that after all.

It couldn't hurt to give them a try.

Iruka inched towards the bed. He could read over Kakashi's shoulder.

He probably wouldn't notice.

Iruka leaned forward, through Kakashi's bed to try to get a look.

Kakashi lowered the book and turned to look at him, again remarkably accurate given that he wasn't using his Sharingan. "What are you doing?"

Iruka laughed nervously, then realized Kakashi couldn't hear him. I'm bored, he sent.

"And you thought getting into bed with me would help?"

Iruka belatedly realized he'd left himself wide open for that one.

Well, if you'd rather continue having fun by yourself, don't let me stop you. There's an absolutely enthralling crack in your kitchen wall that I'll go stare at for another few hours.

"Oh," Kakashi said, sitting up. "Yeah, I suppose that would be boring as hell. Here."

He sat sideways on the bed with his back against the wall, his book held out just enough that Iruka could easily read it as he float-sat next to him.

Kakashi turned the pages fast enough that all Iruka could do was skim.

You like this? he asked a few pages in.

"No, I repeatedly reread the same book series because I can't stand it."

Iruka went back to skimming. It took a while for him to get a grip on what was going on, having been thrown in midway through the book, but he was surprised to find himself getting into it. There was just one problem.

Do you always read this fast?

Iruka wasn't a slow reader by any means, but the way Kakashi flipped through the pages was downright hectic.

"At this point, I'm not reading so much as refreshing my memory," he said with a shrug, but he did slow down enough that Iruka didn't have to skim.

Who's Akuto?

"Main antagonist from the first book."

They didn't defeat him?

"They thought they did, but he came back in Violence and has been plotting against them behind the scenes since then."

Why are they all so suspicious of Urako?

"She used to work for Akuto, but betrayed him at the end of Paradise to join their side, but they still don't trust her completely."

Does she know that Akuto isn't dead?

Kakashi gave him another respectably aimed look. "Do you want to just start from the beginning?"

Ooh, would you mind?

Kakashi grinned as he reached for Icha Icha Paradise. "Sure, why not?"

~*~*~

They made it through a book a day and Iruka had to admit he'd been wrong about them. Well, not entirely wrong. They were trashy romance novels after all, but the characters were interesting and the plot was decently developed. He could even see himself reading them again someday. Maybe not as often as Kakashi did, and definitely not in public, but once more wouldn't hurt.

It had been awkward reading the smutty scenes while sitting so close to someone at first, and he could swear he saw a hint of a blush over the edge of Kakashi's mask, but the books were compelling enough he forgot about that soon enough. Though he couldn't quite shake how strange it was to be sitting this close to someone and not to feel them, brush against them accidentally from time to time, feel the heat coming off their body. He tried to ignore that the best he could.

While the books killed most the daylight hours, nights were more difficult. Iruka still hadn't figured out how to sleep and boring didn't even begin to describe it.

Luckily Kakashi didn't sleep much either, for all the fact that he was supposed to be resting.

When he did sleep, it was often restless, the kind of sleep that spoke of nightmares. The first few nights, Iruka tried to stay in the other rooms to give Kakashi privacy, but by the third night, he wondered if it'd be better to wake him up. He couldn't be getting decent sleep like this.

He moved into Kakashi's room, watched him toss in his bed. It'd probably just take a nudge.

Concentrating his chakra into his fingertips he brushed them against Kakashi's bare upper arm.

For his efforts he got one of Kakashi's arms sailing through him as he jerked upright and lashed out wildly.

Iruka blinked down at himself in shock. It wasn't like it had hurt, but seeing someone's arms slicing through his body had been disturbing.

He probably should have expected that. There was a reason "Never wake a sleeping jounin" was a saying.

Kakashi looked disoriented for a few moments, his Sharingan spinning until his gaze landed on Iruka.

"Shit," he said, voice gruff, "sorry."

Iruka shook his head. I really hadn't thought that one through.

"Still," Kakashi said, "sorry."

Iruka shrugged. There were times in his life he'd woken poorly from nightmares. It came with being a shinobi. And Kakashi had seen a lot more shit than he had.

"Did you... touch me?" Kakashi asked after his breath had evened out and the adrenaline rush had passed.

Yes, technically.

"How?"

The same way I touched things before.

Kakashi held out his hand. "Do it again."

Iruka concentrated his chakra and pushed his fingers against Kakashi's palm.

Kakashi visibly shivered and Iruka quickly pulled his hand away. Does it hurt?

Kakashi shook his head. "No, it's a weird feeling. Like a physical touch, but different. You know that buzzing feeling you get when you've gathered chakra for a jutsu but haven't formed it yet?"

Iruka nodded.

"It's like that. But instead of the chakra waiting to be released, it's external, like it's trying to get in. It's rather intense."

Oh, sorry.

"No, it's fine. It's... not unpleasant. But you might want to avoid touching people for the time being."

Iruka nodded. Fair enough.

~*~*~

The best thing about this whole situation, Iruka decided, was that he got to make Kakashi look insane in public.

Well, more insane. Kakashi had never had the sanest reputation to begin with.

After their three days spent inside reading, Kakashi spent most of the next few wandering the village with Iruka trailing after him. He didn't interact much with people, but he did seem to enjoy watching them.

It was like seeing the town through Kakashi's eyes. A few people greeted him, but for the most part he was left alone. He strolled around aimlessly, and Iruka realized it must be a luxury for him. He'd probably been out of the village running missions as much as or more than he'd been in it. And likely a decent amount of time he did spend in it was recovering from those missions. The days in between like this, when he was recovered enough to do whatever he wanted but not quite to the point where he could be sent out again, were probably few and far apart.

Iruka was reminded of his thoughts on the first night he'd been out of the hospital. He needed to slow down and enjoy the village and all they protected from time to time.

The first day of their wanderings brought them to a bookstore with a healthy erotica section.

"What shall we read next, Sensei?" Kakashi asked as they walked by a clerk sitting behind the checkout counter.

Iruka looked back to see her staring after Kakashi with a puzzled look.

Do you like anything besides smut? Iruka asked, still looking back at the clerk.

"I'm willing to give anything a try once. What do you like?" Kakashi replied and the clerk's confused frown deepened.

Iruka shrugged and turned back to Kakashi. If he didn't care that people thought he was talking to himself, Iruka wouldn't either.

They debated the merits of various genres while the clerk peered around the corner of a bookshelf, clearly perplexed by Kakashi's one-sided conversation. In the end, they'd left with a pulpy thriller about an undercover ninja that they both thought sounded utterly ridiculous.

The clerk side-eyed Kakashi the entire time she completed the transaction.

Iruka might have taken advantage of the situation the rest of their stroll, saying increasingly more ludicrous things as the day progressed.

He'd overheard his students say more than a few amusing things about their parents over the years, enough that he could keep a running commentary as they passed through the streets. Making Kakashi chuckle while passersby eyed him suspiciously was more fun than Iruka'd had in quite a while.

As was the startled, choking noises he made when Iruka asked him if he thought a particular scene in Icha Icha Violence was physically possible.

And he might have made a few overly suggestive comments as Kakashi selected an eggplant and other vegetables for his dinner that night just to see Kakashi snicker as he examined them.

But if the store owner thought Kakashi was going to do something other than cook with those vegetables, Iruka couldn't be blamed for that.

~*~*~

The ninja thriller was delightfully horrible, as was the ANBU mystery they'd picked out after that. Both were firmly in the category of books that were written neither by nor for shinobi, and they provided hours of nightly entertainment. As did the trashy clone harem novel Kakashi convinced him to get next, purchased from the same, increasingly startled looking clerk.

They do realize clones aren't actually people, right? Iruka asked halfway through the book.

"Doesn't seem like they do."

I never thought I'd say this, but I'm starting to appreciate Icha Icha's attention to detail regarding the ways ninjutsu can be used for sex.

"They are beautifully layered books, aren't they?"

I'm sure they were very well researched.

Kakashi snorted. "Or at least very well fantasized."

But the pure terribleness of the books didn't stop them from picking up a pre-founding historical romance the next time they were out. Even if the writer clearly had never heard of a history book in their life.

~*~*~

When Kakashi was a little more recovered he started training again, first in his apartment and later on training fields.

If Iruka had thought Kakashi smoothly doing a couple hundred one-finger push ups on his bedroom floor was distracting, it didn't begin to prepare him for the rock climbing.

What was worse, he'd been wearing tight black undershirts instead of his normal uniform more often than not. And Iruka had always had a weakness for a nice pair of arms.

One benefit of not having a body was the lack of blood that might rush in inappropriate directions at inopportune moments.

Iruka floated alongside Kakashi as he slowly made his way up the cliff face, watching the flex of muscles in his arm, the calculating way he planned his route before each move.

Do you do this often? Iruka sent.

Kakashi grunted and Iruka took that as agreement.

You frequently climb up a sheer cliff face one-handed without chakra??

Kakashi grunted again.

Who do you think you are? Gai?

Kakashi snorted, his grip slipping slightly.

Iruka refrained from making any more commentary until Kakashi had pulled himself over the top and collapsed onto his back on the ground.

I figured you were the type that liked it hard.

Kakashi snorted. "Come train with me after you get your body back and I'll show you exactly how hard I like it."

Iruka stared down at him, watching his breath come in heavy pants.

"We can see which one of us lasts longer."

There was a sheen of sweat on his bare arms that made Iruka's nonexistent fingers itch to slide over his slick skin.

Kakashi pushed up his forehead protector after a moment and squinted at him. "You just got very quiet."

Iruka shook himself. Even if he had a body, he wouldn't be able to do the things he was thinking about.

We could do a sit up battle right now if you'd like.

Kakashi scoffed. "Bit of an unbalanced battle if one person doesn't have muscles."

It's okay. If you can't keep up, you can admit it. No shame in that.

Kakashi shook his head and pushed his forehead protector back down. "I'll make sure you remember that after you've got your physical form back."

It'd be a nice sentiment if Iruka wasn't starting to think he'd never get his body back. The Yamanaka had worked for over two weeks to fix this. Surely if they were going to find a solution, they would have by now.

He just wished this had happened while Naruto was still in the village so he could say goodbye.

~*~*~

Kakashi's nightmares were like clockwork. He'd have them for a few nights, and then he must be tired enough to sleep through them the next few. Then he'd have them again.

It was getting increasingly hard not to wake him on nights when they seemed particularly bad. Iruka hovered in his doorway and had to hold himself back. Touching Kakashi with chakra wasn't a good idea right then.

But maybe that wasn't the only thing he could do.

You're dreaming, he sent. It's just a nightmare.

Kakashi stilled on his bed like he was listening.

Have some nice dreams for once. Dreams filled with things you like.

Kakashi's breath evened out and he seemed to slip into deeper sleep for once.

In the morning he woke later than usual, blinking groggily at how high the sun was outside his window before rolling out of bed.

Iruka tried not to notice his morning wood or the extra few minutes he spent in the bathroom. He didn't let himself think about how easy it'd be to pass through the bathroom door and watch.

He also didn't let any of that stop him from reaching out with his mind the next time Kakashi was having a nightmare, or the time after that.

It was oddly satisfying seeing Kakashi get a little more sleep every night, start to look a little more rested.

If there was nothing else Iruka could do in the time he had left, at least he could do this one thing.

~*~*~

"You're quiet again," Kakashi said as he closed their latest book, this one a psychological thriller about a ninja whose clone had taken over his life. The author's lack of knowledge about the subject should have been amusing, but Iruka couldn't focus on it. "You've been quiet all day."

Iruka shrugged, then remembered Kakashi couldn't see him.

I'm just... I'm sick of not being real.

Kakashi pushed up his forehead protector. "You're still real. You still exist."

I know that. But not being able to do anything on my own, not being able to really do anything at all. I mean sure, I can knock over some books, slam a door as long as it's already open. That's pathetic. I haven't done anything in weeks, I haven't even touched anything since that night I tried to prank you.

"You touched me after that."

Yeah, and that turned out so well. Makes me really want to go around trying to touch people again.

"You can touch me."

You said it was unpleasant.

"I said it was intense, not unpleasant. You can do it again, just not when I'm asleep."

Are you sure?

Kakashi nodded and held out his hand.

Hesitantly, Iruka concentrated chakra in his fingertips and touched Kakashi's palm. He stared at the way his transparent fingers pushed against Kakashi's skin. It wasn't touching someone, not really. He couldn't feel Kakashi's skin against his own, but it was something.

It was momentary solidness, the feeling that he could have some effect on the world around him even if it was something so small, and he clung to it.

He concentrated more chakra into his hand and pressed his entire palm against Kakashi's.

Kakashi shuddered.

Iruka pulled away quickly.

Sorry.

Kakashi shook his head. "No, it's fine. Like I said, it's just intense."

Iruka studied him, noticing his quickened breath, the extra color peeking out over the edge of his mask.

Does it feel good?

Kakashi swallowed, then nodded.

Can I touch you again?

Kakashi nodded again, watching him closely.

Carefully, Iruka slid his fingers up Kakashi's arm, starting at the wrist, watching the way it made him shiver, the way his eyes pressed shut and his breath quickened further.

He'd just reached Kakashi's shoulder when he jerked away. Iruka pulled back as well, unsure what he'd done.

"You're not supposed to be using chakra," Kakashi said breathlessly as he opened his Sharingan eye again.

Tsunade said that about you, not me.

"No, the Yamanaka said it was a bad idea. They didn't know what would happen if you used too much chakra like this."

It's fine, Iruka said with a shrug. I feel fine.

Kakashi shook his head. "It's too risky."

Okay, Iruka said, moving off the bed. He could tell when he was being rejected. Though, it being too risky for him to touch someone was definitely a new excuse. I'm going for a walk. I'll be back later.

He didn't wait for Kakashi's reply, just slid out of his apartment.

And if he kicked a few stones during his walk just to prove he could, it wasn't risky at all. And it certainly wasn't him childishly reacting to being rejected.

~*~*~

It wasn't until later that evening when he'd licked his wounds enough that he could think about it more sensibly.

Chakra was a combination of both mental and physical energy and he only had one of those right now. It made sense to assume he wouldn't be able to regenerate his chakra as quickly this way, or possibly at all. As frustrating as it was not to touch anything, he resolved not to use his chakra unless it was absolutely necessary.

And he did that, for days. He was good. He only used the communication jutsu between himself and Kakashi and nothing more.

But in the end, it didn't matter.

Because even without using his chakra, it was fading. Fading a lot faster than could be explained by the little he used to keep his connection with Kakashi open.

He took more walks away from Kakashi, hoping it wasn't obvious to anyone but himself.

He tested it a few times, tried to move things and found it was harder to gather the chakra he needed each time. After the second time, he stopped trying, afraid he was just making it worse.

Telling people wouldn't help. There was nothing anyone could do about it that they weren't already doing. If they knew he was fading, it wouldn't change anything. It'd just make people worry.

He could hold out for a while longer, try to use as little chakra as possible, that might help. But all he could really do was hope that he didn't fade away completely before they figured this out.

~*~*~

~*~*~

Iruka was fading. Kakashi didn't need to use the Sharingan to know that, he could feel it in the amount of chakra hanging around his apartment. There was less of Iruka now.

It was when he did use his Sharingan that things got more disturbing. Because without it, he could always pretend he was mistaken, that what little sensing ability he had wasn't good enough to sense the precise amount of Iruka's chakra. But when he looked at Iruka with the Sharingan, there was no denying it.

Iruka was fainter, a little more blurred around the edges. The cloud of chakra around him was noticeably less dense.

And whatever was causing it, it seemed to be getting worse.

The crazy thing was, he didn't think Iruka was using his chakra. There'd been days when they'd been inside together, reading for hours, and he knew for sure that Iruka hadn't used his chakra, but still it'd decreased in that short amount of time. It was fading whether he used it or not.

The next time Iruka was out on one of his increasingly frequent walks, Kakashi took the time to go see Tsunade.

"He's fading," he said as he stepped into her office, not bothering with small talk.

"Where is he?"

"Not here."

"I can sense that much. Where is he?"

"Walking around the village. He is fading," he repeated.

She grimaced. "We were afraid of that."

"What can you do about it?"

"Nothing. The only fix is to get him back into his body, but the Yamanaka and the medic-nin research department haven't been able to find anything that they think will work. Just make sure he doesn't use chakra."

"There has to be something you can do, some idea you can try."

"The only ideas we have will likely kill him. We're trying to find something that will give him at least a fifty-fifty chance of survival before we do anything experimental."

"How much time does he have left?"

Tsunade shrugged. "There haven't been many cases like this, where there is complete separation between the consciousness and the body. As long as they are still connected in some way, the fading doesn't happen."

"And in the few cases where it has?"

"The consciousness lasts a month or two outside of the body max."

Kakashi's eyebrows rose. "And you didn't think you should tell him that?"

"What good would it have done?"

"He could at least get his damn affairs in order."

"One case study had notes that theorized hope was key. As long as the consciousness believes it can be reconnected, it stays more resilient and fades slower. Once it gives up, the rate of fading increases."

"So you didn't tell him he had a time limit because you thought it might give you a few more weeks."

She shrugged.

"If I tell him some bullshit story about bringing in some expert from another village that fixed another similar case, but it will take another month for them to arrive, will that give him more time?"

"You could try, but it's unlikely. The case studies all pointed to the fading being unstoppable and irreversible once it has started."

"Did any of those case studies of yours get reunited with their bodies?"

She pressed her lips together and didn't answer, but she didn't need to.

~*~*~

Kakashi spent the next few days debating what to tell Iruka, acutely aware of the fact that whatever he was going to tell him, he needed to tell him soon.

Iruka was the strangest house guest Kakashi had ever had, not that he'd had many to compare him to. But he was pleasant to have around. Kakashi had gotten used to his presence far quicker than he would have imagined possible.

He rarely needed to use his Sharingan to see him. Even though he was just a disembodied voice in his head, Kakashi had become aware of him more than he had anyone else.

Iruka wasn't like what Kakashi had assumed. He'd always enjoyed trying to rile him up, to see if he could get a rise out of him, but he'd never given it much more thought than that. They were just too different from each other for anything else to happen, it wasn't worth dwelling on.

Finding out they had a lot more in common than he'd expected had been a pleasant surprise, finding out Iruka had a hint of a wicked sense of humor that could possibly match Kakashi's own even more so. His running commentary as they strolled through the village had quickly become one of Kakashi's favorite parts of the day.

And while he couldn't prove it and he hadn't asked, he was pretty sure Iruka was the reason his nightmares hadn't been as bad over the last few weeks, why he felt like he was getting a decent night's sleep for the first time in ages. He'd be in the middle of a nightmare, then he'd hear Iruka's voice telling him it wasn't real and the scene would start to shift to something different. More often than not, to something he knew was still a dream because Iruka was there and Kakashi could touch him. Waking up to realize he couldn't was a special kind of frustration.

Especially knowing that Iruka could touch him, and had at least temporarily wanted to, even if he shouldn't.

But none of that mattered now. He needed to tell Iruka what was going on. Hiding it from him made him no better than Tsunade.

It wasn't much later when he felt Iruka float back into his apartment from wherever he'd been wandering.

Kakashi pushed up his forehead protector. He wanted to see Iruka for this. "We need to talk."

Never once has that statement been followed by good news.

"I wish I could give you some. I talked to Tsunade."

I don't suppose they magically found a solution and just hadn't gotten around to telling me about it.

"No, about how you're fading."

Iruka grimaced. I was hoping you hadn't noticed.

"I noticed."

It's just going to get worse, isn't it?

Kakashi nodded.

Eventually I'm just going to disappear?

"That's what she made it sound like."

And they still don't have any leads on how to fix this?

"No."

How long do I have?

"She didn't know. Previous cases only lasted a month or two."

So I might only have a few days left.

"You could have another month," Kakashi said, but it sounded hollow even to his own ears.

Happy fucking birthday to me, Iruka sent.

Kakashi blinked in surprise at the shift in topic. "It's your birthday?"

Will be. If I make it two more days.

Kakashi winced. "Sorry."

Iruka shrugged. Nothing you can do about it.

"Still."

Thanks.

They fell into a heavy silence.

"I picked up a book while you were gone," Kakashi said after a while.

What's it about?

"Ninja spies infiltrating a circus that's a front for an evil missing-nin organization."

Iruka blinked at him. You're kidding, right?

"I wish. The bookstore clerk recommended it for both of us. She even made a grand gesture that encompassed me and an empty space next to me while giving me and the blank air her best customer service smile."

Iruka was shaking with laughter. Bless her for trying.

"Shall we read it?"

Of course, Iruka sent, and Kakashi didn't let himself think about the fact that he was even starting to sound faint in Kakashi's mind now.

~*~*~

Kakashi didn't know how to celebrate someone's birthday when that person couldn't get presents, couldn't eat cake, couldn't have a party with their friends, and might not even make it to the end of the week.

Instead they went about the odd little routine they'd started to form. They wandered town together, Iruka hung around while he trained, they bought another book. Kakashi's bookshelf was going to be nothing but terrible books that reminded him of Iruka after this.

It was well into the evening, halfway through the book, when Kakashi felt Iruka's chakra shift next to him. A restless movement that Kakashi could only feel because Iruka was so close.

He pushed up his forehead protector and looked over at him, tried to ignore how faint he looked.

Can I touch you again? Iruka asked.

"You're fading, you shouldn't. It'll waste the little chakra you have left."

Iruka shrugged. If I weren't fading, would you let me?

"Yes."

Then let me now. It's my birthday, I should be allowed to do something foolish on my birthday.

He didn't say it was probably his last; the disembodied whisper in the back of his mind made that clear enough.

Kakashi reached out anyway, a tremor running through his hand as Iruka's fingers slid against his own.

He hadn't been kidding when he'd said it was intense. Iruka's chakra buzzed against his skin, half lover's caress, half jutsu ready to form.

This was such a bad idea, for more than one reason, and yet Kakashi couldn't say no. He didn't want to say no. Iruka only had a few days left, and Kakashi wanted this, even if it was foolish and selfish of him.

The foreign buzz of Iruka's chakra lingered on Kakashi's skin, seeping into him as Iruka's fingers brushed against his palm. For a moment, it felt like it was pooling there, almost like Kakashi had gathered his own chakra for a jutsu, but then Iruka's fingers traced the same path up Kakashi's arm as they had the first time he'd touched Kakashi like this.

I want to try something, he sent, leaning closer until his mouth brushed against Kakashi's ear, not as noticeable as his fingers, but still there, a tease of chakra against his skin.

Iruka pulled back just enough to replace his lips with his fingers as he traced the shell of Kakashi's ear. Too difficult, he thought, guess we'll just have to stick to this.

Kakashi shivered again. "I'm not complaining."

Iruka's chakra traced down his neck with ghostly fingers. Kakashi didn't want to think about how long Iruka had left, how much this was costing him.

He couldn't touch Iruka, but that didn't mean he didn't want to. His fingers twitched with the urge to reach out, to run his hands over Iruka in return.

Gonna need some help here, Iruka projected, fingers tracing along the waistband of Kakashi's pants, and Kakashi didn't hesitate, just stripped out of all his clothing and laid back on the bed, Sharingan still open so he could see everything Iruka did to him.

Iruka looked surprised, clearly not expecting Kakashi to take his mask off so easily. Kakashi grinned and Iruka shifted forward for a moment, like he was leaning in for a kiss, before he caught himself. They stared at each other until Iruka looked away.

Kakashi could see how faint Iruka was as he watched his ghostly hands trace over his body. Iruka's chakra hummed against his skin, and when Iruka finally wrapped a chakra hand around him, he could see his cock through his fingers. The sight of it was hotter than it should have been, but Kakashi couldn't peel his eyes away.

There was nothing to compare it to. It wasn't a physical sensation, not exactly. He'd never had a hand job that felt like this, all ghostly pressure and the hum of chakra.

A corner of his mind wondered at Iruka's chakra control. It had to be good with the way he was managing steady, even pressure as he stroked. But most of his mind was too far gone to care, too caught up in the twist of Iruka's wrist and the occasional rub of his thumb over the head of his cock.

Kakashi barely cut off a cry and nearly jumped out of his skin as Iruka's other hand started to play with his balls.

"Fuck," he said, glad he could manage at least that much coherence. He'd thought this was going to be a one-handed affair, but he'd never been so glad to be wrong in his life. The tingle of chakra against his balls was good enough he could probably get off from that alone.

If I knew how to release a steady amount of chakra out of my dick, I would in a heartbeat. Or let you fuck me if... is it even possible to release chakra from your ass?

Kakashi chuckled shakily. "There has to be some trashy ninja erotica with chakra-emitting dicks and asses out there somewhere."

Iruka shook his head. Ask the clerk about it the next time you see her.

Kakashi didn't like the implications of that sentence, but Iruka didn't let him think about them long. He traced a finger down lower and circled it over Kakashi's hole.

Can I finger you?

"Are you asking permission or wondering if the mechanics are possible?"

Both, honestly.

Kakashi laughed again. "Worth a try." He pulled away from Iruka enough to grab the lube he kept stashed under his bed.

He dripped the clear liquid onto Iruka's transparent fingers and over his hole, then laid back again, propped up on his arms slightly to watch, legs spread wide.

Iruka went slow. He was so careful about it, like this might hurt Kakashi more than it was hurting him. But for all Kakashi's desire to watch, he couldn't keep his eyes open at the first press of chakra against his prostate. The twin sensations of Iruka's fingers pushing into him as he stroked his cock had Kakashi biting the inside of his mouth to keep from crying out, his hands fisting in his bed sheets with his need to touch something.

He hoped Iruka would be able to figure out how to do this when he was back in his body, his long fingers stretching Kakashi open while his chakra buzzed against his prostate, or him buried balls deep in Kakashi's ass while his hand teased Kakashi's dick with chakra. Or if Kakashi would be able to figure out how to do it himself and return the favor.

His orgasm hit him hard, his mind full of Iruka warm and solid against him, in him, under him. For one weightless, breathless moment he wondered if this was how Iruka felt, no longer tied to gravity, no longer in his own body. All he could feel was the buzz of Iruka's chakra trying to drain into him, not all that different from his own.

The thought hit him as he came and he clung to it as his vision went white with blinding pleasure, held onto it like the lifeline it might be as Iruka's chakra swept him away.

Iruka was lying next to him as he came to, though lying wasn't quite right. He was hovering, almost like he was on the bed. He watched Kakashi with a satisfied grin that was so faint it was nearly impossible to see, even with his Sharingan spinning wildly.

Kakashi was caught for a moment, just staring at him, stunned at how satisfied he looked when he wasn't the one who just got off, and he realized that was Iruka, always giving, even when it hurt himself.

The idea slammed back into Kakashi and he bolted out of bed.

"You need to go," he said then caught himself when he saw the expression on Iruka's face. "I mean we need to get you back to your body."

I've tried, Iruka transferred and it was so faint, Kakashi barely heard it in his mind. Everyone has tried.

"I think I know how."

He dragged a tissue through the mess on his stomach, not even caring he didn't get it all. He went to offer Iruka one as well then realized how stupid it was.

Iruka wiggled nearly invisible fingers at him. All clean.

Kakashi didn't bother putting on his full uniform. If he needed his flak jacket in the hospital, Konoha had bigger problems, and he didn't know how much time they had left.

~*~*~

They made it to the hospital in record time and bypassed the reception desk. The hospital was quiet, but Iruka's room was a cacophony of beeps and sighing of machinery.

Kakashi held up his hands to Iruka. "Transfer your chakra into me. Like you just did, but instead of using it to touch me, push it into my hands. All of it."

Iruka stared at him Why?

"Just trust me."

Iruka hesitated, but lifted his hands to Kakashi, eyes uncertain. If this doesn't work, tell Naruto-

"It will work. Tell him yourself."

Iruka's lips pressed together, but he nodded with determination and started to push chakra into Kakashi's hands.

It didn't take long, he didn't have much left to give. He faded alarmingly fast. Just a shadow and then nothing but a tingle in Kakashi's hands.

Kakashi wasn't a religious man, but he prayed this worked.

Carefully, he combined the spiritual energy of Iruka's chakra with a little bit of his own physical energy, then he formed the seals to the Mind Body Switch Jutsu.

He felt Iruka's chakra leave him, felt the lingering connection at the back of his mind vanish as well.

The machines beeped wildly for a few moments, then settled back into a steady rhythm.

He wanted to believe there was extra color in Iruka's face now, but it could just be his mind playing tricks on him.

With a sigh, he slumped down onto the chair next to Iruka's bed. All he could do now was wait.

~*~*~

Kakashi woke to a kick to his chair.

"You reek like sex," Tsunade said in greeting.

Kakashi took a cautious sniff. Yes, he did. He should have been more careful with that tissue. Or maybe took a quick shower first.

"Do I have you to thank for this?" she asked, nodding towards the bed.

Kakashi's eye swung towards Iruka. There was more color in his face now. Kakashi wasn't imagining it.

He realized the room was a lot quieter too, most of the machines had been shut off.

"Team effort," he said. "I was inspired."

She eyed his crotch with an unimpressed look. "Do I even want to know where that inspiration came from?"

"Maybe not the finer details." He eye-smiled at her. "Does this mean he'll be okay?"

"I think so. His body seems to be functioning normally again, he's just extremely chakra exhausted, but it's regenerating now."

Kakashi let out a breath.

"Go home. Get some rest. He isn't going to wake for a few days, and you clearly could use a shower to get rid of some of the 'finer details.'"

Kakashi stood, hoping his mask covered his blush.

"I want a full report on this by tomorrow."

"Yes, ma'am," he said and made his way towards the door.

"And Kakashi?"

He looked back at her.

"Leave out the finer details."

"Yes, ma'am."

His mask definitely wasn't covering all of his blush.

~*~*~

~*~*~

It'd been a long time since Iruka had woken up with chakra exhaustion. He couldn't say he missed the feeling of having a half dozen earth jutsu dropped on his head.

But the fact that he was feeling his own body, painful as it might be, made him force his eyes open, blinking into the harsh glare of hospital lights.

He could feel the hospital bed under him, the weight of the sheet on top of him, the burn of his muscles as he tried to lift his own arm to confirm he couldn't see through it.

He wanted to laugh, maybe even cry. Fuck, it felt good to be in his own body again, even if that body felt like it'd been through hell and back.

"Welcome back to the land of the corporeal," a voice said next to him, quiet and low like they knew exactly how loud noises grated on chakra exhausted ears.

With effort, he turned his head to find Kakashi sitting in the chair next to his bed.

"Hey," Iruka said.

Kakashi grinned at him. "It's nice to hear your voice outside of my head."

Iruka started to grin back then grimaced when he realized that even smiling hurt.

"Chakra exhaustion sucks, doesn't it?"

"The worst," Iruka agreed. Then after a moment, he added, "Well, second worst."

"Tsunade says you're recovering quickly though. She thinks you'll be out of here in a few days."

Iruka looked up at the ceiling. "I have the longest list of things I'm going to do the moment I can move around again. Eating ramen, going to the onsen, touching everything."

"Am I on that list?" Kakashi asked and Iruka looked over at him, ignoring the way his body protested the quick movement.

They stared at each other for a moment.

"If you want to be."

"I think we should redo your birthday celebration," Kakashi said, grinning again.

"Is that so?"

"Can't have the birthday boy doing all the work, now can we?"

"No, I suppose not." Iruka grinned back at him.

May might have started with an unpleasant kind of bang, but from the look in Kakashi's visible eye, it was going to end with a much more enjoyable one. And this time, it wouldn't just be Iruka doing all the touching.

~*~*~