Gai leaves his teammates to turn in their mission report and hastily heads for his apartment. The tickle in the back of his throat that he had figured was allergies has grown in the time it took him to run back to Konoha and is now a most unyouthful scratchy type of pain. All he wants is to make a cup of tea and sleep it off, but before he can make it in his door, he starts coughing.
By the time he gets inside, the coughs have turned into what could only be considered hacks , and they tear through his body with enough force to bring him to his knees in the hallway between the living room and the bathroom. Somehow he manages to fling himself into the bathroom, and he sticks his head into the toilet bowl just in time to start retching.
At first, it’s just bile, but eventually, he coughs and feels something papery in his mouth. When he spits, wet flower petals splat into the water. He has only a moment to be stunned before more are coming up his throat, and when it’s finally over, there are enough petals in the toilet to cover the bowl, and his whole body is trembling. He half turns and presses his forehead against the bathtub’s cold porcelain and takes a handful of deep, calming breaths.
Sure puts an ironic twist on the springtime of his youth , doesn’t it?
When he can finally feel strength return to his legs, he pulls himself up and goes to the kitchen. He really needs that cup of tea now.
Banging on the front door jerks Kakashi suddenly out of deep sleep. It’s not urgent in the way of a summons to the Hokage Tower; otherwise, a bird would be at the window, and it’s not mission-related; otherwise, ANBU would be dropping off a scroll. And if it were dangerous, whoever is at the door would already be inside. Since it’s not important, Kakashi reacts only with annoyance. “Mmmgerg,” he mutters, wrapping his arms around Iruka and squeezing . “Make it stop,” he whines into Iruka’s hair.
“Oh, poor Kakashi,” Iruka teases softly, voice barely above a whisper, his hands rubbing Kakashi’s forearms comfortingly, “woken up before noon on his day off.” Kakashi nods, but then Iruka starts extracting himself from Kakashi’s arms and Kakashi whines again. “I’m just going to see who it is; I’ll be right back,” Iruka murmurs, then he rolls out of bed and throws on a big tee-shirt. He doesn’t bother with pants since it’s early, and it’s their day off, so he leaves the bedroom in only the shirt and a pair of tight boxer-briefs. Kakashi watches him go with a greedy glint in his eye and waits for him to come back.
The door opens, Iruka says hello, and then Kakashi hears, “Good morning Iruka-sensei!” in a tone of voice that is both cheery and urgent. Lee. Damnit. There goes their quiet morning in bed. He pulls Iruka’s pillow over his face, but he knows that’s just delaying the inevitable. Iruka gets Lee settled in the kitchen, and then he comes back to the bedroom.
“Lee,” Kakashi groans. “I know.”
“He’s here for—”
“Me. I know .”
Iruka lingers in the doorway for a moment and then says quietly, “He seems nervous. I think something’s wrong.”
Kakashi’s intuition pings a little at that, and he tosses the pillow aside to rub at his face. “Okay. I’ll be there in a sec.”
When Iruka pads back out to the kitchen, Kakashi swings his feet over the edge of the bed and sits there for a moment. He rubs his chest absently, then gets dressed in his jōnin uniform. He smooths his mask over his face, then fixes his gloves on and grimaces. He hates wearing these things in the house, and today was supposed to be for just him and Iruka, but he can’t stand to be without them in front of others: especially any of the kids.
By the time he joins Iruka and Lee in the kitchen, they’re chatting about Iruka’s class over cups of tea. Lee’s attention immediately shifts when he sees Kakashi, and he leaves Iruka hanging in the middle of a sentence, something that is unusually rude and out of character. “Kakashi-sensei,” Lee says, his eyes wide almost to the point of being extreme, but his mouth and voice are exceptionally serious.
“I’ll leave you to it, then,” Iruka excuses himself, picking his tea up off the counter. He rounds the kitchen island, squeezes Lee’s shoulder, and brushes a kiss against Kakashi’s masked cheek before cutting through the living room and heading into the backyard.
“Yo.” Kakashi raises a hand in greeting, then slides onto a stool at the island beside Lee. “What’s up?”
Lee’s kind of weird, but one thing he’s got going for him is that he’s direct. Kakashi admires that. “Gai-sensei has not trained with me in a week. I know he is at home, but he will not let me inside, and he will not come out. I have seen Genma-san drop groceries off at the door. Something is wrong. As his rival and most trusted companion, I was hoping that you would check on him, Kakashi-sensei.” Then he bows his head. He is clutching the teacup as if he needs an anchor, and Kakashi knows that Lee is right to be worried.
None of that sounds like Gai at all.
Outside of his most precious people, Kakashi isn’t a tactile person. But he knows that Lee is, and Lee is precious to Gai. So, like Iruka, Kakashi drops a hand on Lee’s shoulder and squeezes. “Thank you for telling me. I’ll drop by today.”
When Lee looks up at him, solemn and nearly melancholy, Kakashi squeezes his shoulder even harder. Then Lee nods. “Thank you, Kakashi-sensei. I knew I could count on you.” Then he finishes his tea in two big swallows and stands up. Kakashi drops his hand, and neither of them says anything else as Lee puts on his sandals and lets himself out.
When Kakashi sighs, Iruka is pressed right up against his back, and his arms draped over Kakashi’s shoulders. “Is everything okay?”
“Something’s up with Gai. I’m going to check on him. Do we have any of those strawberry cornets left? He loves those.”
“Is he sick?” Iruka asks as he moves back around the island and opens the breadbox. He opens a plastic container and looks inside, then turns around and passes it to Kakashi. “Take these.” Kakashi takes the box of cornets and pouts. He has no problem with checking on Gai. But, today was supposed to be his stay home with Iruka all-day day, and he can’t say that he isn’t disappointed. Iruka laughs. “The sooner you go, the sooner you come back.”
How sensible. Kakashi stands and slips his sandals on. “See you,” he says as he gives Iruka a lazy, two-fingered salute before shunshinning away.
Kakashi appears in the middle of the kitchen, a swirl of leaves and a puff of smoke accompanying him just as Gai catapults himself over the fence and busts through the screen door from the back yard. “AHA!” he cries as he scrambles toward the bathroom.
It’s not that Kakashi is faster, because he isn’t, but he knows the house’s layout better, considering he lives here. He overtakes Gai in the hall by leapfrogging over him, only barely avoiding slamming his head on the ceiling. But Gai grabs him by the back of the vest and tosses him back down the hall while simultaneously darting forward. He gets a foot past the bathroom threshold and then slams the door shut before getting into the tub and running the shower, still fully dressed.
The door splinters in the middle before busting entirely in half, revealing Kakashi, but it’s too late. Gai already won. “YOSH!” Gai exclaims from his signature Good Gai pose, teeth glinting under the fluorescent light.
And then Iruka is there, poking his head out from the bedroom. “What... are you doing?” He surveys the broken bathroom and patio doors, the dents in the walls, the leaves in the kitchen. He notes a footprint in the middle of Kakashi’s masked face and the fact that Gai is standing, dressed, under the shower’s spray. “Actually, don’t tell me.” It’s clear that Iruka is still somewhere between amusement and annoyance, and one wrong word from Kakashi could tip him over the edge. Kakashi, wisely, doesn’t say anything.
Iruka skirts gingerly past Kakashi and moves into the kitchen. “Have you eaten yet?” he asks as he opens the fridge and peers inside.
“No,” Kakashi admits as he meanders in, his hands in the pockets of his uniform pants. He’s covered in dust and leaving tracks behind him as he moves through their home, but Iruka does his best to ignore it. They’ll deal with it later. “But Gai was craving salmon the other day.”
Iruka quirks a brow, and Kakashi stares back at him, and then Gai shouts from the bathroom, “Iruka-sensei! Please do not make anything special on my account!” There are some suspicious squelching noises, followed by some shuffling, and then Gai is right there beside Kakashi. He’s dry, which is... unexpected, but appreciated. “I do not intend to intrude on your dinner.”
“But you won the challenge, and your prize was me providing dinner, was it not? Besides, we usually eat fish on Wednesdays anyway.”
Iruka tilts his head at Kakashi, puzzled, but plays along. “You’re more than welcome, Gai.”
Gai blinks then seems to hesitate for a moment. “Kakashi, if Iruka-sensei is cooking, then you are, in fact, not providing dinner.”
Kakashi’s one exposed eye closes for an extended period, and Iruka snorts. “Guess that means he still has to take you out later, Gai.” He smiles at Gai sweetly and then pulls the salmon out of the fridge to start dinner.
“Pull up a seat,” Kakashi grumbles. He pulls out a stool for himself and then nudges the other one at Gai. “Ru likes company while he cooks.”
When Gai sits, Iruka shoots him another smile, and Gai feels something hot tighten in his chest.
Kakashi doesn’t bother trying to get Gai to invite him in. If Gai won’t open the door for Lee, then he won’t open it for anyone. But that’s okay. Kakashi has other methods.
“Yo,” he says as he breaks into Gai’s bedroom through the window.
Gai peers at him from where he’s lying in bed, sweaty and pale. He opens his mouth to say something, but he starts to cough before any words can come out. Flower petals spill from his body with the violence of a landslide and cover his chest as if trying to bury him. Kakashi stares in horror, numb with shock. Flower petals? But that can only mean—
“You fucking idiot,” he growls as he stalks across the room and climbs onto the bed beside Gai, abandoning the cornets on the windowsill. “Who? Who is it?”
Gai coughs once more, and then clears his throat. It sounds painful, but it would. Lee said Gai had been MIA for a week. If he’s been in here coughing up flowers the whole time, then his throat being sore would be putting it lightly.
“How long?” Kakashi demands, his hands on Gai’s shoulders and just barely holding back from shaking him.
Gai only shakes his head. “There’s nothing to be done, my friend. My love cannot be returned.”
“Bullshit. Who is it? I’ll go and—”
“You can’t. It’s okay, Kakashi.”
“I’ll get Tsunade and you can—”
“I don’t want to lose this feeling,” Gai confesses softly. “My heart is bursting with youthful feelings of love and adoration to an extent that I’ve never felt before. I will not let anyone take this from me.”
Kakashi does shake him, now. Hard. Furiously. “I will not let you die,” he grounds out through gritted teeth, both eyes squeezed shut so tightly his head hurts. “You don’t get to leave me.” He’s not... he’s not begging. He isn’t. He just doesn’t want to watch his oldest living friend die for something as stupid as unrequited love when they could do something about it. “Let me help you.”
He knew that having this conversation with Kakashi would be painful for them both. He grabs his friend by the back of the head and presses their foreheads together. “There is nothing to be done. It will only hurt you to know who I have fallen for.”
“More than you turning into fertilizer?”
“I have been honoured to be your rival in many things,” Gai admits, and there’s pride in his voice, but also sadness. “But I never wanted to be your rival in matters of the heart.”
Rivals in matters of... Kakashi jerks back and stares at Gai with utter disdain. “Iruka? All this because of Iruka?”
“I’m sorry, Kakashi. It was never my intention to develop these feelings for your beloved. And I would never dream of getting between you, even now! But I genuinely believe that emotions should be honoured, and for that reason, I cannot allow the buds to be removed. I—”
“That’s fine,” Kakashi snaps, relieved and enraged in equal parts. “Just go to Iruka and confess. I’ll dump him, and you can be there to pick up the pieces, and then he will fall in love with you. Don’t you see? It’ll be easy. If he can love me, he can love you, too.”
Instead of acting like Kakashi has saved his life, Gai wails. He’s devastated. If he didn’t know better, Kakashi would think that Gai wanted to die. “But you are in love!” Gai sobs, pulling Kakashi into a crushing hug. “And he, in love with you! I will not take this from you; I won’t—”
“Good thing you’re not taking anything,” Kakashi snarls as he pulls away and moves back to the window. “I’m giving him to you.” Then he’s gone.
“Wow,” Iruka says dreamily as Gai and Kakashi enter from the back yard, both shirtless, grimy, and wet. They’d been putting in new flower beds while Iruka was deep cleaning the apartment. He’s so distracted by how toned they are that he isn’t even worried that they’re tracking dirt on his freshly mopped floors. Kakashi, Iruka’s sort of used to seeing in this way, though that hasn’t dulled his attraction at all. But Gai—
Gai raises both arms, then drops his hands behind his head in a stretch that flexes his shoulders and chest. He’s covered in dirt, but still somehow gleaming. Being a taijutsu master, Iruka knew that Gai would be strong, but he’d never realized just how broad Gai was. And buff. Just, so... muscular.
He tears his eyes away. “Do you want some tea?” His voice comes out more like a squeak than anything else, and he can feel his skin heating up with embarrassment.
Kakashi grins at him with that cute little eye smile. “Sure, that’d be nice. Unless there’s beer?”
A truly guttural sound escapes Gai as he leans back in another stretch. “A beer would be most delightful! But maybe we should go elsewhere to partake in such proclivities, Kakashi. The blossom of your heart has just cleaned your home, and I know how you get when you cut loose Rival.”
“How I get?” Kakashi squawks. “How I get? I’m not the one who spilled a whole pitcher on Ebisu last week, now, am I?”
Iruka laughs. Kakashi is relaxed and happier than he usually lets himself be. The heat, manual labour, and good company bring out the best in Kakashi in a way little else does, which is generally why he avoids all of those things as much as possible. “Just clean up a bit and drink some water, and then you can drink here all you want. Someone should be around to make sure neither of you gets too rowdy, ne?”
“I call dibs on the first shower,” Kakashi says as he grabs Iruka around the waist and nuzzles his cheek. Then he wanders toward the bathroom, humming under his breath.
Gai watches Kakashi go with wonder in his eyes. Then he turns his gaze to Iruka and bursts into tears. “You have opened his heart so much, Iruka-sensei! I cannot ever thank you enough for the joy that you have brought my dearest friend.”
Before Iruka had started seeing Kakashi, he found Gai to be a little off-putting. But after a few years of being more closely acquainted, he only finds Gai alarmingly genuine. He goes to move into the kitchen, but as he steps closer to Gai, he stops. He pats Gai’s chest comfortingly, and he has to tilt his face up to make eye contact. “Give yourself a little more credit, Gai-san. You have him when I don’t. Between the two of us, he’s not too hard to keep happy, hm?”
And when Gai looks down at him, he can’t help but be charmed.
Kakashi reappears so abruptly and with his chakra so stiflingly heavy that Iruka almost slashes his pen right across the page he’s marking in surprise. “Kakashi! What’s the matter?”
“We’re done,” Kakashi snaps, storming towards the bedroom.
Iruka stands from where he’s sitting at the coffee table. “What are you talking about? Weren’t you just at Gai’s?”
In the bedroom, Kakashi has grabbed his mission bag, pre-packed with supplies, and is loading a duffle bag with armloads of clothes from their armoire. “I’m going away for the next two days. When I return, I expect you to be gone.”
Though his first impulse is to scream and maybe bean Kakashi with the nearest book, Iruka forces himself to take a deep breath and think. Nothing makes sense, but Kakashi is never senseless. All he has to do is get Kakashi to give him the information that he’s missing. “You can’t kick me out without telling me why. Whatever’s going on, we can work it out. Just come talk to me for a second.”
Kakashi collects both his bags, swings them over a shoulder, and walks through the house to the door. His grey eye stares ahead, cold and blank, and he doesn’t spare Iruka even a glance. But he passes by close enough to touch, so Iruka grabs his arm. Kakashi shakes him off and keeps moving, but Iruka reaches for him again. “Stop it, chūnin,” he barks, and finally, Iruka snaps.
“Hey! I let you get away with a lot of shit, Hatake, but I will not let you talk to me like that! How dare you pull rank on me after spending three fucking years crawling into my bed. Now, tell me what the fuck is going on.”
Both of Kakashi’s hands have curled into fists, and he’s so still that he may as well have turned to stone. “This relationship is no longer the right thing for either of us, Umino-san.”
“So suddenly?” Iruka asks, angry but listening.
“Yes,” Kakashi says. “There are better places for you to be. I suggest you go find them.”
Iruka may not be a genius, but he’s no slouch, either. “Is one of those better places with Gai, perhaps?”
“Just go, Iruka. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be.”
He reaches for Kakashi again, slower, and curls his fingers around Kakashi’s wrist gently. “Please. Tell me what you’re thinking, Kakashi. I love you; I don’t want to leave.”
Kakashi isn’t used to resisting Iruka, not anymore, and he’s so disturbed by everything that all he wants is the comfort of his lover. So he lets himself be guided to the couch, and he allows Iruka to crawl into his lap and pull down his mask. “Gai loves you,” he whispers. He’s angry, but he’s not angry that Gai loves Iruka. How could he be? Iruka is so easy to love. And he knows that Gai is loyal and would never have said anything if Kakashi hadn’t pushed. No, he’s angry that Gai is sick with it, and that Gai doesn’t care about himself enough, doesn’t care about Kakashi enough, to let Iruka go.
“You have been trying to get Gai a date for quite a while,” Iruka murmurs, searching Kakashi’s expression for clues. “I’m surprised that you’re trying to set him up with me, considering you and I are, you know, established.”
“I need you to go to him. Do you understand? He loves you . If you don’t go... He’ll die. He’ll die. And I can’t—”
Iruka wraps his arms around Kakashi’s head and presses his face into Kakashi’s hair. It makes sense now. Kakashi would do anything for Gai, and after everyone he’s lost, he wouldn’t be willing to let Gai go if he could do something to save him even if it means sacrificing himself. Sacrificing them . Iruka always knew, right from the beginning, that Kakashi thought he somehow got Iruka through good luck, and that one day his luck would run out, no matter what Iruka said or did to the contrary.
“Dearheart,” Iruka whispers, “you know Gai won’t accept me this way. He cares for you just the way you care for him. He won’t be happy if you just turn your feelings off. And baby, I... I’m not just a thing you can give away. I’m a person.”
Kakashi closes his eyes and sighs, slumping. “You won’t do it? You won’t save him?”
“I will do my best,” Iruka says, holding Kakashi to him tightly. “But I want to ask you something before I speak with him.”
Finally, Kakashi brings his arms up and hugs Iruka. He doesn’t know how he’s going to make himself let go. “Hm?”
“You know that I have room in my heart for many. I think that I’ll... be able to love him without it diminishing my love for you. And if that’s acceptable to you, then maybe...”
“I don’t understand.”
“I could have you both, Kakashi, if you’d allow it. If that wouldn’t hurt you. I... I love you, Kakashi. I’ll love Gai, too, but you... Don’t make me lose you, please.”
Kakashi squeezes. “You’d have us both?” He keeps squeezing. It had never occurred to him to find a middle ground. He hadn’t even known he could ask. “I could keep you both with me?”
And then his hair is wet, and he knows that Iruka is crying. And he wants to cry, too, but he won’t. Not here, not yet. Iruka says, “We’ll have to talk to Gai,” and his voice is thick. But he continues, “I would never make you choose. I’ve told you before. I’ll give you everything. Everything that you can bear to accept. Don’t make me go without you. Please, Kakashi. Please.”
Gai wants to be angry with Kakashi for bringing Iruka-sensei here, but he can’t manage it. He isn’t sure he’s ever been angry with Kakashi, as long as they’ve known each other. So he lets them in, and he tries not to notice that Iruka-sensei has been crying, or that Kakashi is clutching his hand like it would pain him to let go.
They must be here to tell him that they’re going to stay together, sentencing him to a painful and lonely death. And that’s all he could have asked for. One of the reasons Gai fell in love with Iruka in the first place was because of how he loves Kakashi. And they’re united even now. It’s enough to make him cry.
He bursts into tears.
Iruka immediately moves in for a hug, wrapping himself around Gai with all the warmth and comfort that he can muster, even though he’s also started crying again. Kakashi shuffles both of them until they’re sitting on the cushions that Gai keeps on the floor. He lets them hold each other for a few moments, and once the sound of their tears finally subsides, he speaks.
“Gai, we have a proposition for you.”
Gai disentangles himself from Iruka, who is clearly even more compassionate than Gai had thought. He wipes his eyes and then blows his nose in the collar of his tee-shirt. It’s terribly impolite, but he’s heartsick and preparing his own funeral, so he figures that his friends will forgive him. “A proposition?”
Kakashi nods but doesn’t say anything else. Instead, Iruka takes the lead. He grabs both of Gai’s hands in his own and stares into his eyes, and Gai can feel flowers creeping up his throat. More tears stream down his cheeks, but Iruka wipes them away. “Gai-san. Kakashi cares for you very much. And I love Kakashi, as you know. If anything were to happen to you, I fear that Kakashi would be lost. So I need your help, okay? You and I, we keep him happy, right?”
Gai nods, and he can’t help himself any longer. Iruka is still holding his face, and he wraps his hands around Iruka’s. He shouldn’t, because he knows he can’t keep whatever is happening between them right now, and Kakashi is ever watchful, but. He’s dreamed of Iruka’s hands on his face just like this, except in his dream, Iruka is smiling.
“I’ll love you if you’ll have me,” Iruka whispers. “And if you’re agreeable, I’ll love Kakashi, too. I’m strong enough to love you both; I know I am. And Kakashi, he, he loves us both, you know? Not the same, maybe, but—”
“Move in with us,” Kakashi says, pushy and demanding and so, so fearful. “Stay. Please.”
It’s like all of Gai’s best dreams and worst nightmares are coming true at the same time. “I will not accept pity, and I refuse to come between—”
Iruka is kissing him. At least, there is a mouth on his mouth, and Iruka’s hands are still on his face, and he doesn’t know whose tears are wetting his skin. “It’s not pity,” Iruka murmurs, his lips close enough to brush against Gai’s even as he speaks. “I already love you. You bring Kakashi home to me when I can’t be with him. Your loyalty and devotion to your precious people is at a level that I strive to match. You care for the children so well. I already love you. Please, give me the chance to fall in love with you, as well.”
And then, somehow, Kakashi is there. He’s at Gai’s back, draped around him like a blanket. His voice is right in Gai’s ear when he says, “If he can love me, he can love you. It won’t take long at all. He’s halfway there. Come home, Gai.”
“And you?” Gai asks, voice hoarse. “What of you and me, my friend?”
Kakashi has been copying Gai’s moves since before he got the Sharingan. He grabs Gai by the back of the head and presses their foreheads together, just as Gai had done earlier. “Nothing changes between us, except that we come home to the same house and the same man. We already share the rest of our lives, ne?”
A renewed flood of tears forces Kakashi to push Gai’s face back towards Iruka, who wipes Gai’s eyes again with such tender care that Gai cries even harder. “This is something we can have together?” he asks.
Iruka kisses him again, and while he keeps one hand on Gai’s face, he reaches blindly for Kakashi with the other. Kakashi catches it and twines their fingers together, then presses his face into Gai’s shoulder and exhales for what feels like the first time.
When Iruka finally makes it home from the Academy, it’s almost dinner time, and he’s ready to rip off someone’s head. Anyone’s, at this point. As he comes into the house, he stops dead in his tracks. In the living room, the coffee table and the couch have both been pushed out of the way, and Gai and Kakashi are standing on their heads in the middle of the room.
Gai has both his arms and legs crossed and a serene expression on his face, despite the fact that all the blood in his body is currently in his head. Kakashi is bracing himself with both hands on the floor, and his legs are sort of... waving in the air. His eyes look like they’re at risk of popping out of his head at any moment, and he’s sweating profusely.
They both look at Iruka as he drops his bag on the floor. “Um. What—?”
“Oh thank fuck,” Kakashi wheezes. He lets his legs hit the floor and then lays down.
Gai jumps easily from his headstand to standing and then blinds Iruka with a megawatt grin. “Beloved!” he exclaims as he darts forward to scoop up Iruka’s bag. “I have beaten Kakashi at the headstand challenge yet again!”
“My hair knocks me off balance,” Kakashi mutters from where his face is still pressed into the floor.
“And!” Gai continues, “I have dinner in the oven waiting for you!” Then he kisses Iruka enthusiastically before darting off to the bedroom with Iruka’s bag and, somehow, the flak vest he knows that he didn’t have the chance to remove.
Kakashi pulls himself to his feet and ambles over. He, too, kisses Iruka, though at a lower intensity. “Welcome home,” he says as he carefully pulls Iruka’s hair out of the ponytail and runs his fingers through it.
Gai bustles back into the room and starts pulling out plates and bowls for dinner, and Kakashi nudges Iruka onto a stool at the kitchen island before pouring him a glass of water. Lee will be by soon, Iruka knows, and Naruto is due back in town within the next couple of days. Their home is nearly full to bursting with love, and Iruka can’t remember the last time he was this happy. Gai puts a set of chopsticks down near Iruka, and Iruka grabs his hand. He kisses Gai’s knuckles and then twines the fingers of his other hand with Kakashi’s.
Gai blushes from his hairline down past the collar of his jumpsuit, and Kakashi hooks his ankle around Iruka’s stool and drags him closer. And they eat dinner, and nothing has ever been more perfect.