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Alive, Lucky, and Loved

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Kakashi is haunted by the ghost of him.

He sits at the edge of his (their) bed and a cold washes over him, unbidden. He hasn't been able to get warm in days it feels like. 

Iruka took out all of the warmth with him in his death.

Everywhere he looks, he sees him. Even that damn dent in the door jam reminds him of Iruka, who complained incessantly for Kakashi to replace the wood for weeks until they both eventually accepted its presence in their home.

Kakashi closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. 

Inhale, exhale slowly.

It’s just his house now. 

---

It was supposed to be a simple escort mission.

It was summer, so the Academy had been closed for the season. Iruka, as is his usual, took as many missions as he could during this time, anywhere from C to B to the rare A when the mission called for his expertise as a seals expert.

The morning he’d left, he’d pressed himself close to Kakashi’s back, wrapped his arms around his torso, and pressed soft kisses to the soft skin behind his ear. “Don’t miss me too much, okay?” he’d said. “I expect a fresh matcha cake when I return~"

Kakashi had laughed, very well aware of both Iruka’s sweet tooth and his low resistance to the Hatake Matcha Cake recipe. He then twisted until he was nose to nose with Iruka, and pressed a soft kiss of his own to his lips. “Time for a quickie?”

“Hmm,” Iruka nuzzled their noses together. His hands drifted to Kakashi’s backside and squeezed a little. Kakashi's breath hitched at the sharp sting of teeth at the nape of his neck and he pressed back. "Well I do enjoy when you're so gorgeous like this, still so sleepy in bed..."

"I can get even prettier..." Kakaahi grinds down into him, tempting him.

He feels Iruka's grin against the skin of his neck. "Oh," he says darkly. "I know you can."

Kakashi wins, as he always does, and Iruka leaves him aching and bruised for days, just the way he knows Kakashi liked it when either of them have to go away on missions.

He's sent on a mission of his own with the kids before Iruka is set to return, so he doesn't get the news that Iruka hadn't made it back for his check-in date until he's already a week late.

He looks over his shoulder to Gai who had walked into the mission room right as the chunin had told him and gave him a serious nod. They left the village right then and there, his hounds spreading out in formation to track down the scent.

They track it all the way to the Land of Rivers where they'd found the merchant Iruka had been assigned to escort. He gives them nothing useful, stating Iruka had dropped him off as was planned and left the day after, also as planned. 

Kakashi scours the land for answers, searching, seeking, hoping. 

They leave the town with more questions than answers, and Kakashi runs like his gut isn't missing in his torso. Like his heart hasn't been run through with a hot iron poker. Like his soul isn’t screaming out in agony, crying refuting refusing---

Uhei finds the blood trail on their way back to the village. Iruka took the Delta-D route back home, they find.

It leads them to a patch of forest that carries the evidence of a fight. Senbon and kunai scatter the trees and floor and chakra wire glints in the sunlight. Kakashi recognizes the traps immediately, and after some digging even finds a torn paper seal with Iruka's cursive inked on it.

The dogs begin to bark a distance away before fading into whimpers and whines and loud, sorrowful howls. Kakashi's head snaps in their direction as a growing dread spreads out from his stomach and into his veins, icy.

"Kakashi, no!" Gai had yelled and tried to push him back when he'd jumped from the tree before the clearing the dogs had surrounded, but it was too late, even if he had immediately spun around and shut his eyes from the scene.

The image will be ingrained in his memory forever--even if the sharingan had been closed, he doesn’t think he would have ever been able to forget it.

He yanks his mask down and pukes up right into the bushes where he had fallen onto his knees, uncaring of the nettles and pine cones that dig into his skin. 

He hears Gai say a prayer behind him. The dogs won’t stop crying. The stench of rotting corpses hit his nose, then, and he numbly pulls his mask back on to block out the smell. He hears the tell-tale sounds of a body being dragged along the forest floor but knows it isn’t Iruka’s, because Iruka was strung up by wires and ropes in a tree, hanging dead, right leg missing.

Everything went fuzzy after that, and Kakashi couldn’t even bring himself to be ashamed of his emotionally compromised state. He did, however, feel grateful to Gai, who once again bore the brunt of his emotional burden and took care of the horror scene, sealing the bodies after writing an explicitly detailed account of the details in a blank scroll.

When he comes again he is in the Hokage’s private lounge and Tsunade is handing him a cup of warmed sake. A manilla folder, a scroll tied with a black cord, and a wooden box sits on the table between them. Kakashi takes the cup and robotically drinks, untasting.

The manila folder held Iruka’s personnel file. The scroll held his will. The box held his hitai-ate, cleaned of all traces of the blood that had poured down his face from being scalped.

He doesn’t hear what Tsunade tells him. His ears only hear the rush of blood pumping in his head, muffling everything and making it seem like he was underwater. Kakashi accepted all the items and left.

That night, he walks into their house, a little three bedroom, two-story home with a private yard that backed up to the forest, and sets the items down on the kitchen counter. Everything was as he had left it, except a light was on down the hallway. 

He feels the flare hope in his chest until Naruto walks out of his room, rubbing his eye sleepily, and Kakashi feels that same hope die and curdle in his chest, a candle snuffed.

Stupid, he told himself. You saw him dead. Smelled his dead meat. He’s not ever walking in this house again.

Naruto took one look at him, then at the items on the counter, and just knew. His face flickers through emotions before settling on confusion. “Where’s Iruka?”

Kakashi carefully opens the wooden box and gestures Naruto over. His steps had been soft but loud in the silence of the house. “But--” Naruto looks up at him, seeming so small and young as the tears begin to well in his eyes. “I don’t get it. You went to rescue him. Where is he?”

Kakashi swallowed around the tightness in his throat. “He was dead when we got there, Naruto. I’m sorry. Iruka isn’t coming back.”

Naruto had stared at him uncomprehendingly before the air slowly became charged around him, his eyes widened and faded to red, and his teeth began to jut out of his gums. Kakashi gripped him by the shoulders, shaking him and bending down to put them face to face to yell his name over and over. 

Naruto pushed him away and clawed at his skin and growled but Kakashi held on, he didn’t let go, and he followed him to the ground, holding him to his chest, as Naruto curled into himself with a loud wail that cracked his voice.

He waves off the ANBU that appears and just continues to hold him, the child Iruka holds most dear. 

Had held most dear.

Kakashi wonders how he’s going to be able to move on from this one. This death. He certainly doesn’t want to. Who would want to forget the taste of rain, the warmth of sunshine on your skin? Who would want to forget the colors that make everything vibrant and alive? Who would want to turn away from the scent of soothing vanilla and sugar? Everything good that made up the world around them?

Who could move on from Iruka?

Kakashi holds onto the only other person who could come close to understanding the Iruka-shaped hole in the world and can’t think of one single person who actually could.

---

The funeral is well attended.

Kakashi stands at the forefront with Naruto at his side and together they throw the first handfuls of dirt over the casket. 

He doesn’t listen to the speeches, the prayers, the words of sympathy. He can’t hear anything past the whisper in his ear. ...I loved you the moment you stepped into the mission room, oh how your chakra sang to me...do you think I look good in this?...tell me, husband, just how you like my lips...if you ever do that again I’ll stop putting out for a month, don’t try me...when are you coming home?...oh, ‘kashi......welcome back...did you miss me?....I love you, baby...I love you...tell me you love me...me...Kakashi...Kakashi... Kakashi !

“Kakashi,” a hand grips his arm. He looks into Gai’s round, black eyes and blinks. The kids are all seated on the ground, staring at the same grave Kakashi’s eyes had glazed over on. The sun has set well below the horizon, and there is no one left on the cemetery grounds but them.

Gai leads them all back home.

Kakashi runs through the routine of unlocking the wards and locks of the house for them to enter, pausing at the genkan to toe off his shoes and straighten them along the wall. The rest follow suit. 

He blinks again and is in their room, sitting on the edge of their bed. 

Voices are in the hallway. Naruto opens his door, still in his funeral clothes, and crawls into the bed like he was seven-years old again, coming to their room after a nightmare for comfort. Kakashi stays long after Naruto has cried himself to sleep. 

Around three in the morning, Kakashi makes his way out of the house and walks through the backyard until he reaches the edge of the forest.

He looks out into the dark depths of the trees and feels a cold shiver run down his spine, causing goosebumps to rise on the skin of his arms despite the warm, humid night air. 

He falls to his knees.

He presses his forehead into the ground.

He makes no sound. His shoulders shake. His chest burns. His throat clamps shut. His mask becomes wet. 

He hears him whisper in his ear. ... show me how much you love me...yes, just like that...Kakashi...

The wind rustles his hair and Kakashi can almost pretend there are fingers carding through the strands instead.

---

“Kakashi,” Iruka’s voice sounds loudly right in his ear and snaps him awake.

He turns over in their bed only to find it empty, just like it has been for the past six nights. He grunts and runs a hand over his face, feeling the pickle of his stubble. He stares at the ceiling, empty. 

The floorboards creak and he looks over, expecting to see Naruto in the doorway, but instead finds it empty.

He turns back to the ceiling and rolls over, pulling Iruka’s pillow to his face.

It still smells like him.

---

Kakashi stares at the pots and pans hanging from the wire rack in the kitchen and decides to order in instead. When he has the food, he serves it out into bowls for him and Naruto, who enters the kitchen with a tired look on his face, eyes rimmed red.

They eat in silence.

Naruto sets his chopsticks down after eating half of his portion. “Do you think he was happy?”

Kakashi pauses mid-bite and closes his mouth, setting the bowl back down onto the table along with his chopsticks. He looks at Naruto, who stares down at his half-empty bowl. Kakashi turns his head to look around the first floor of the house.

From where he sits, he can see the picture frames that line the portrait-wall of a life well-lived. Smiles, laughter, kisses, hugs all immortalized between flimsy panes of glass and plastic. He sees the couch that Iruka had haggled hand and foot for after weeks of searching for “ just the right one, Kakashi!” He sees the marks of the kitchen doorway where Iruka had painstakingly tracked Naruto’s growth, little scribbles next to each notch depicting the dates.

He sees the numerous candles Iruka liked to light each night on shelves, counters, the end tables, even the entertainment center. He remembers how Iruka had agonized over magazine over magazine trying to pick the color scheme of the house in order to decide on paint colors when they’d first bought it, long ago.

He remembers soft smiles and hidden notes pressed secretly into his palm. He thinks of warm breaths on his skin, his mouth, of finger tips grazing down his spine. He thinks of the sting of teeth that bit down and created pretty blossoms on his pale skin. Pretty like a painting, Iruka would say.

He thinks of loud laughter and childish giggles that echoed down the stairs. Of boisterous yelling. Of little feet that kicked into his kidney in the night that was always worth the smile on dark lips.

He remembers a whispered promise. “...and to love and to cherish you, to protect you and to strengthen you, for always and forever, long past I live.”

“Do you...do you think we made him happy?”

Do you think a monster like me made him happy? A loud, stupid kid that had no blood relation whatsoever but somehow managed to be welcomed into his fold?

There is only one answer.

“Yes,” Kakashi tells him simply. His chest feels both full and empty and painful and warmed. “We made him very happy. Don’t ever doubt it again.”

Naruto sniffles loudly and nods. 

---

“Kakashi?”

Kakashi wakes up and rolls over to look at Naruto, who is staring into a dark corner of the room, sitting up with eyes wide. 

He looks into the corner but sees nothing, senses nothing.

“Naruto, what is it?”

“I just...thought I saw something.”

Kakashi stretches out his senses but finds nothing amiss. “I’ll go check around, but I don’t sense anything.”

Naruto stays silent, shivering. Kakashi gets up and checks the entire house, even outside. All the wards are intact and nothing is amiss. He looks out into the dark depths of the forest lining the edge of their property and has to fight off a shiver up his spine.

He returns back to the room. Naruto snaps his wide eyes to him. “There is nothing out there, Naruto. It’s safe.”

Naruto visibly swallows before sliding back down under the covers holding the pillow to his chest.

---

Kakaahi stares down at the stone heading of the gravesite.

Hatake-Umino Iruka. Husband, father, friend. "Love is thicker than forget."

He stares and stares and stares and still nothing makes sense.

He is empty. He is nothing. He is nothing without him. He has suffered what feels like a thousand deaths and still it was not enough to have prepared him for the loss of Iruka from his life.

The moon hangs low above him, waxing. It's been twelve days now. It feels like it's been twelve years.

"I miss you," he whispers into the night.

There is no sound but the wind.

---

Kakashi opens the front door and toes off his shoes, his arms filled with paper bags of groceries he bought despite not having a single motivation to cook anything. 

He puts it all away accordingly, tearing off tabs and stickers where necessary, more of a habit than an actual care.

Iruks had always been the one to keep their things organized neatly.

A door slams upstairs. He pauses from where he’s placing the milk on the shelf. He slowly straightens himself up. He stretches out his senses but can find nothing. Naruto is not home. He slides his hitai-ate up and opens his sharingan.

He silently makes his way to the second floor, body and mind tense and alert, his senses searching for the slightest change or clue. He checks Naruto’s room--nothing. He walks into the bathroom--nothing. He slowly stalks into the bedroom, unable to shake the feeling of being watched.

The door creaks open as he lightly pushes with the tips of his fingers. The room is empty. Sunlight filters through the curtains, creating a spectacle of glowing dust motes in the air. 

Nothing. 

Kakashi peers into the room a final time before stepping out and turning to the office. The door is closed. He is sure he’d left it open this morning. 

He stands in front of it, not sure what to expect. He turns the knob and cautiously opens it.

Everything is as it should be. He steps inside, feet silent. A loud thump sends him aiming a kunai and throwing it where it lands in the wood of the book shelf next to the now vacant spot of a scroll missing.

Kakashi stares at the scroll that had fallen to the ground seemingly without reason.

He carefully steps over and picks it up. It is one of Iruka’s old family scrolls from Uzo.

Kakashi opens the scroll and stares at the seal diagram uncomprehendingly. He shivers with a sudden cold and his nose is suddenly filled with the scent of warm vanilla and sugar.

“...Iruka?” he whispers into the empty office, eyes searching, hopeful but wary.

No one answers back.

---

He fingers the scroll in his vest as he directs Team Seven through their evasion drills. 

Kakashi had never considered himself a seals expert, but he’d like to think he’s learned a few things from his studies under Minato-sensei and his relationship with Iruka.

He’d gone over the scroll so many times by now that he could recreate it even without the sharingan. He still doesn’t know what it’s for. 

He can picture Iruka grinning cheekily at him. “An Umino Special!” he’d say, delighted to have bested one over Kakashi.

Kakashi is not in the mood for games, now. 

There’s a roar of a fire-ball and an indignant shout. He hears Sakura sigh and decides to call it a day. “Alright, that’s enough for now.”

As they begin to clean up the field and pack up, Kakashi considers his options. “Naruto,” he calls him over. “You recognize this?” he pulls out the scroll and opens it for the boy to see.

Naruto peers at him curiously before his eyes fall onto the diagram. “Uhh...oh! That’s a compass!”

“A compass,” Kakashi repeats dubiously, mind whirling with possibilities.

“Yeah,” Naruto grins. “A compass points you north, right? So you put a little bit of chakra in it, and it will lead you to the main source, like a compass. I didn’t think Iruka-sensei had finished it...”

An impossibility blossoms in Kakashi’s mind, his heart, his chest. It splits him wide open and has him hoping for more. He lets nothing show on his face, in his posture. “Thanks, Naruto. You ready?”

Naruto brushes off his curiosity and picks up the last of his weapons cache before they all head home.

---

Kakashi stares into the depths of the forest and can’t shake the feeling of being watched.

He kneels in the grass, the scroll open in front of him on the grass, and pulls off his left glove. He tosses it into his lap and gently removes the platinum band on his ring finger. He sets it in the middle of the scroll, where a circle with a dot at the center is inked.

His fingers form the ram seal and he flashes some chakra into the seal. It lights up green, then yellow, before settling on blue. It coalesces around the band, sucking Iruka’s chakra out of the engraved storage seal on the inside, before absorbing into its ink.

The light dies down and falls away completely. He picks the ring up and places it back on his finger along with his glove. He stands, holding the scroll open, breathless, aching, praying--

He spins around in place and when he faces north the dot in the middle of the circle glows a soft blue and gives a weak, slow pulse.

Kakashi doesn’t even think. He runs.

---

The cemetery is empty when he gets there, a shovel in hand.

He gives himself a moment’s pause when he stands before Iruka’s grave. Logic tells him he's crazy--he's finally lost it.

His instincts are screaming yes .

Kakashi works solely under the light of the moon and digs out his husband’s grave. He doesn’t dare use chakra--he doesn’t want to alert the ANBU patrol to his activities, but knows from past experience one would be here for a routine check-in mark in twenty-five minutes.

Unfortunately, Kakashi has been out of the force for too long, and overestimates the new patrol schedule. Fortunately, the ANBU who appears suddenly next to him is Cat.

“Senpai,” Tenzo says from under his mask. He sounds concerned. Kakashi thinks that by all rights he probably should be, finding him like this. “What...are you doing?”

“Breaking about at least five laws, I think,” he grunts as he throws a shovel of dirt behind out of the hole. He’d made it down about three-quarters of the way. He’s sweaty, panting, and already his tight grip has broken through the skin of his hands. He barely feels it.

“I’m hoping there is more context, because if I have to bring you in for robbing your dead husband’s grave, so help me--”

“I think he’s alive,” Kakashi blurts out, his words rushed.  He shovels more dirt. “I found a seal that tracks chakra. It’s saying Iruka is somewhere north.”

Tenzo pauses, Kakashi thinks hopefully consideringly. He knows Tenzo knows exactly how skilled Iruka was in seals. He was considered a resident expert. He was not just an active but crucial member of the barrier team, and has designed and built countless security features around the village, including ANBU HQ.

Is, Kakashi corrects himself. He is all those things.

His shovel hits the casket with a loud clunk and suddenly Kakashi is breathless. Gods. Please let him be right. Suddenly the earth rumbles and Kakashi wobbles on his feat before steadying himself as Tenzo uses his mokuton to rise the casket slowly out of the ground. Kakashi jumps off when he’s high enough and looks towards him. “I really hope you’re right, senpai.”

Kakashi places a hand on the lock, infusing chakra into his hand for the release. “Me too,” he says, and opens it. 

The decaying body of the textile merchant Iruka had escorted to the Land of Rivers stares back at them with empty sockets and a wide, gaping mouth.

The world stands still. 

A gasp of air behind him stirs him into motion and Kakashi shoots off into the night, the loud clang of the shovel hitting the casket ringing through the night air behind him.

---

Kakashi runs through a solid seventy-eight hours before stopping for a break.

He summons Pakkun and has him meet up with Tenzo to lead him towards them. He has no doubt the ANBU has already assembled a team to follow him. He estimates him being behind Kakashi by at least twenty-eight hours, give or take.

He sleeps for four hours before he wakes, pops a food pill, and continues his pace, the compass a constant, pulsating blue light in his hand. 

Thirty-eight hours later the compass is pulsating so fast it looks more like a constant stream of light than a softly blinking signal.

It’s been twenty seven days since Iruka had missed his check-in date.

Kakashi hides behind a large pine tree as he takes in the scene before him. A dilapidated looking cabin stood in the middle of a clearing. There are stacks of wood sitting near an axe off to the side. Large, galvanized metal buckets line the side of the structure. Crows pick at bones on the porch steps. Footprints all over the dirt.

Someone was confident they'd never be found.

Clone Number One slides up behind him. "Nothing in the house. Empty."

Clone Number Two raises two inked seals. "He was here. There's a barrier that starts right there," he thumbs the tree five feet ahead of them. Kakashi had known that. He could feel the chakra.

He thinks. Think, think, think.  

He crouches and digs his hands into the dirt. He takes a breath and sends a pulse of chakra through the ground. 

There is a great big emptiness under the house. No earth, no dirt, no roots, just a complete dead zone.

"Gotcha," he whispers.

---

"The trick is to find the space between the network lines of the barrier--you only need a little to squeeze right through," he remembers Iruka explaining to Naruto. It takes more time than he'd like to admit but eventually he does find the weak spot and squeezes right through to the other side. He stealthily makes his way around the house, peering through the windows. He makes no sound. His chakra is coiled right against him. He leaves no trace.

A creak of a door pulls his attention and he watches as a man steps out of the cellar doors before closing it behind him. He is carrying a large, black plastic bag, filled to almost capacity. 

Kakashi has him in his genjutsu the moment he places the lid back onto the steel trash can sharingan spinning.

---

The cellar doors reveal wooden stairs with spots of rotting wood. It leads down to a set of white, double doors. The scent of bleach and chemicals hit his nose. Kakashi displaces his panic and desperate hope with cold, factual precision.

He opens the doors and slips past without a sound.

The hallway is small and brightly lit. There are four additional doors, two on either side of him.

He tries the first one on his left. Storage room filled with medical supplies. 

He tries the one opposite on the right. A medical examination room with a sheet covered body on the metal slab. Kakashi's fingers do not shake as he pulls the cover back. It is not Iruka. 

He moves on to the next one.

The same as before--a body covered, not Iruka.

Kakashi stares as the final door. He reaches a hand out to the doorknob only to be held frozen in place as the seal-trap activates and locks him in.

Something hard comes down on the back of his head and he is forcibly knocked out.

---

Water slaps into his face and he snaps awake, coughing. 

He’s on the floor of the same hallway, the fluorescent lights shining bright and burning his retinas above him. He tries to move but every part of his body is stuck to the floor. He glances down and sees the telltale glow of a sticky-trap seal.

“Filthy mutt! You think you can just walk in here and expect no resistance? What have you done to Daiki?”

Kakashi cranes his neck as far as it would go to see the old, red-haired woman growl down at him. She holds a handful of seals in her left hand. Kakashi takes all of her in with just a blink: retired, never much of a fighter, relied on just her seal abilities, possible origins to Uzo itself with hair like that, scars suggesting many battles fought and hard won, a healing bruise around her eye days old. He wonders if Iruka had been the one to put it there.

“Where is he?” he asks her, tone dark, deep, and as cold as he can make it.

It throws her off a bit, just as he thought. It’s enough for him to short-circuit the trap-seal beneath him with a powerful surge of his lightning chakra and before she can even finish taking a step back Kakashi has a knife to her throat and wrists wrapped in a tight spool of chakra wire.

She bears her teeth at him in a snarl, but Kakashi can smell it. The fear.

She fears because she knows this is her end. Kakashi will end her for whatever she did to Iruka, for keeping him from coming home, from keeping him from Naruto, from keeping him from Kakashi.

His killing intent saturates the air and he watches with a detached satisfaction as the sweat beads and rolls down her wrinkled face. “Where...is...he?” This time, his voice is cold, hard, and sharp as steel, each word accentuated with a sharp bite of his blade.

She growls and he hears something crack and pop in her mouth. He curses loudly and shoves his fingers between her teeth to grab the capsule from doing irrevocable--a dead body isn’t good to interrogate-- but the foam is already forming and spilling. Her eyes roll back and Kakashi lets her body drop dead to the ground. “Fuck!” he punches the wall. 

He takes a calming breath and leaves her. He turns to the final door and this time, his hand grips and twists the doorknob without any resistance. 

---

Iruka’s eyelids flutter before slowly opening.

Kakashi watches intently from his seat in the chair beside the hospital bed. His hands grip his own knees tightly. He waits, just as he’s been waiting for the last four days for Iruka to wake up.

He’d been held in a coma so close to death that Tsunade estimated if he hadn’t shown up when he did, Iruka probably would have eventually died from malnutrition alone. 

A miracle, she called it, giving him a look through the side of her eye.

Iruka lets out a broken moan and Kakashi immediately is at his side with a small styrofoam cup of water, the strew held gently between two fingers to steer them to dry, chapped lips. Iruka sips at it softly at first, before Kakashi has to pull away with a wince and an apology on his lips. Iruka’s eyes open fully, finally, and he looks up at the ceiling, dazed. His eyes rove over to Kakashi’s waiting form, staring at him uncomprehendingly before welling up with tears. “You found me,” he croaks out, hand reaching upward.

Kakashi grasps it in his hand. The thickness of his palms have lessened and he can feel the abnormal jut of Iruka’s bones where their skin touches. “Always,” he whispers, his own throat tight with emotions he’d been unable to bear the past few weeks, 

Iruka lets out a shaky sigh and brings Kakashi’s hand up to his lips. Kakashi follows him and rests his forehead against Iruka’s. After what feels like years, where every broken crack inside Kakashi splinters and widens before knitting themselves back together, sealed under Iruka’s presence, Kakashi finally speaks again.

“What happened?” he asks him, not wanting to let go of the warm hand held in his.

Iruka sighs and settles back into his pillows, his free hand coming up to rub at his temple and sliding back to smooth his hair. Even knotted and greasy, Kakashi finds him to be the most handsome man on earth.

“It was a trap,” he says with a small wince, shifting his legs under the cotton sheets. Kakashi knows intimately the amount of pain Iruka must be in due to his chakra exhaustion alone. Add to that the injuries Tsunade had painstakingly healed as much as she could, Iruka would be out of commission for a couple weeks, if not an entire month. The physical therapy will be worth it, Kakashi thinks, to have Iruka back by his side. “The merchant was in on it, but Urahue--that woman--double-crossed him. Her genjutsu seals were powerful...I’m not surprised you weren’t able to see them.”

Kakashi thinks about the moment he stepped through the clearing to see Iruka’s body hung up between trees, bloody and broken and missing a leg, and swallows down the swell of nausea that rises. He wonders if he hadn’t been so shocked if he would have noticed the genjutsu. Too late now, and no use ruminating, now when he finally has Iruka back.

He doesn’t ever want to lose him again.

“She had a scroll, one that must have come from my family back in Uzo. Needed my blood and chakra to unlock it. She never managed it,” Iruka says the final part with a grin, eyes tired and lips chapped. It falls after a moment as his eyes become distant with the memories. Kakashi waits patiently for him to refocus. When he does, those brown eyes settle on Kakashi with such an intensity he finds himself breathless with anticipation. “I thought I was dreaming. But I wasn’t, wasn’t I? I came home.”

“Yes,” Kakashi sits himself gently on the edge of the bed. “I thought you were...” a ghost,  Kakashi doesn’t say, because saying it would make it real, would acknowledge the agonizing time they had spent believing Iruka to be dead. He clears his throat. “Well. You did, and Naruto figured out the seal. You’ll have to redo this for me when you’re feeling better.” Kakashi holds up his left hand and wiggles his fingers, bringing attention to the wedding band hidden beneath his glove now lacking the spark of Iruka’s chakra.

“Of course,” Iruka whispers, tightening his hold on Kakashi’s fingers. He sighs then and closes his eyes, tired. “Naruto?” he murmurs, the energy visibly falling away from the effort it took to keep awake and talkative.

“Fine, missing you. I imagine he’ll be here when you wake up again,” Kakashi taps on Iruka’s oxygen mask gently and folds a strand of loose hair behind Iruka’s ear.

“Missed you too,” Iruka says softly. “Both of you. So much...” his voice trails off as he falls back asleep, the exhaustion and medicines in his systems pulling him back under.

Kakashi stays to stare at him for moments more, committing all the new scars visible on his cheeks and arms to memory, his heart twisting painfully in his chest. The relief of having Iruka alive does little to relieve the ache of loss he’d experienced in the month when he had been declared dead, the pain of it still stinging and raw despite the tactile evidence of Iruka’s hear beating under Kakashi’s fingertips.

He looks down at the expanse of dark skin swathed in medical tubing and cotton sheets and thinks of how he had made vows those years ago to this man, this beautiful, giving man, and thinks that maybe it might be time to give back.

---

“You did what?” Iruka asks over his shoulder from where he stood stacking books back onto their shelves in his classroom, his eyes wide and lips parted. 

It’s been three months since Iruka had returned to them, and Kakashi counts his blessings each and every day to have him alive and back in his life, whole and without permanent harm. They both have nightmares, sure, and Iruka’s left leg still gives him pains during rainstorms from a particular nasty wound that hadn’t healed over correctly, but to Kakashi, he feels like the luckiest person to have existed.

In between counting his blessings, he’d been making preparations of things that hadn’t been done already. Preparations that have been finalized and led to a decision that will be announced village-wide at tomorrow’s town hall. Where once the thought of leading anyone outside of his ANBU squad sent Kakashi running for the hills, there is nothing Kakashi wants more than to just spend the rest of his days in a lazy haze of afternoons bathing in the sunlight in their backyard, the soft flutter of leaves their own soundtrack of their lives, Iruka’s lips under his own in a smile.

Retirement never felt so close and so far away.

Kakashi looks at Iruka now, the newly designed uniforms a welcome sight that, somehow, makes Iruka look even more attractive, and knows he’s making the right decision. It might be difficult at first, this change to their lives, and if the principal of the Academy really does move forward with his nomination, they might be seeing less of a each other, at least for just a little while, but the open window of the classroom Iruka has made his mark on wafts in the scent of the forest surrounding them, along with a hint of vanilla sugar, and Kakashi relaxes, fortified.

“Is your hearing going out in your old age, sensei?” Kakashi says as he hip checks the desk to lean against. Iruka’s mouth snaps shut and he gives Kakashi an unimpressed glare as he places the last few books on the shelves and stands from his squat, his steps silent as he makes his way to Kakashi down the steps.

Iruka narrows his eyes and purses his lips as he crosses his arms and cocks his hips, standing right in front of Kakashi, giving his husband a suspicious look. “You’re announcing your appointment as Rokudaime tomorrow morning. At the town hall. A title you’ve been avoiding since the end of the war. Which was three years ago.”

Kakashi sighs and winces internally, scratching his masked cheek with one finger, trying to fight the smile that threatens to grow on his face, because for all that he had been dreading it, catching Iruka off guard like this is it’s own deep pleasure. His husband has always been far too observant to be properly surprised, and hell had he tried over the years.

Kakashi imagines this one will take the cake.

“It’s about time, don’t you think? Tsunade is ready to drop the hat. I’ve been exercising my seat on the counsel. The brats are grown enough, only Naruto left to promote, and after he makes jounin he’ll be assigned to the Tower anyways, won’t he?” Kakashi reasons, sliding over Iruka form.

Iruka looks at him sternly some more before something flickers in his expression and he softens, looking more sad than anything. “Kakashi,” he says softly. He loosens his arms and steps forward, his fingers curling into the belt loops at Kakashi’s waist. Kakashi thanks every god listening to have the familiar tug on his body once again. “Is this about...what happened?”

Kakashi’s hands come up to Iruka’s own waist, pulling him closer. He considers how to respond. For all the practice he’s been ruminating on how this conversation should go, one would think he wasn’t the high ranking shinobi he’s purported to be, because all of his speeches have fallen out his ears under Iruka’s weighted gaze. Honesty is the best policy, Iruka has always said.

He sighs and tilts his head forward, resting his forehead on Iruka’s shoulder. “Iruka, I...” he tries to get the words out, but his throat clogs up and he has to clear it before starting over again. “A little bit. I really have been trying to get everything in order for this, though. You...what happened was just the final motivator to get it all done and take the plunge. I want to be home more. I don’t want to be far from you. We deserve that, don’t we?”

“Yes,” Iruka tells him softly, nuzzing his cheek. Kakashi smiles at the warm scent of vanilla and sugar he catches through his mask and holds him closer. “My mission quota--”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Kakashi leans back and nudges their noses together playfully. “Sato-sensei is ready for his retirement, too, and has nominated everyone’s favorite sensei for the position of vice principal.”

“Vice--” Iruka chokes out, taking a reflexive step back. Kakashi keeps him from getting to far. “But--the kids--my classroom--”

“Sensei,” Kakashi chides him, running his hands up Iruka’s sides and settling to cup his cheeks. Kakashi relishes in the warm blush along the line of Iruka’s scar, and lets his thumbs caress the skin there. “Do this with me. It will be an adjustment at first, but we can do it, can’t we? Your husband is, after all, the Rokudaime. Any complaints will be formally registered and answered by way off very, very expertly done---”

Don’t,” Iruka laughs, slapping him on the chest. Kakashi laughs with him and pulls him in again, even closer, their hips touching. There was nothing sexual about their closeness, just pure intimacy and warmth and love and life. God, was Kakashi to be alive, to have Iruka alive with him. “You’ll get us both in trouble with HR with comments like that.”

“You like it,” Kakashi pulls down his mask, his dog-toothed smile wide and open for his husband to see and admire. Iruka’s eyes soften as his own lips fall into a smile much more gentle but no less warm. 

“I more than like it,” Iruka cocks his head as he leans in, and Kakashi’s heart hammers in his chest along with the familiar swoop low in his belly of having Iruka looking at him like this, all sweet intention and dazzling lips. “In fact, one might say I love it.”

They kiss.

They kiss softly, chastely, lazily, enjoying the soft press of their lips together for what feels like eternity but in reality is only a few minutes.

When they break apart, Kakashi keeps his eyes closed for fear of spilling the tears he knows have gathered underneath his lids, his heart feeling both broken and full. He feels Iruka’s hands come up to his face, his lips press on each eyelid, his nose, before pecking one last kiss on his lips and pulling away. He opened his eyes then to see his husband had no such compunction of keeping his own tears at bay, a few streaks lining his cheeks from where they had fallen.

Unbidden, Kakashi laughs, and after a moment of startled confusion, Iruka joins him. They laugh until their bellies and cheeks hurt from laughing so hard. After they wind down, their breathes evening out in the dusk light filtering in through the window, Kakashi looks up at the man he has chosen to spend his life with and knows he is making the right decision in stepping into his father’s and sensei’s legacies, because if there was a world where he could have more time with Iruka by his side, by god is he going to live in it.

Iruka sniffs with a watery smile and wipes at his eyes. “Okay,” he says after a few breaths. He turns to look at Kakashi. “The Rokudaime’s spouse, goodness. You had me start going to council meetings for this, didn't you?”

“Well,” Kakashi’s lips quirk up in a small smile. “The Hatake’s have always had a seat for the clan head’s spouse on the counsel, if it makes you feel any better.”

Iruka sighs, running his hands over his face. He peers at Kakashi through the gaps between his fingers. “You’re serious about this.”

Kakashi straightens up and reaches for Iruka’s hands. “Lead the village with me. You know it as good as anyone, even better. And when Naruto is ready, we’ll settle into the farmlands like you’d always talked about. Hell, maybe we could pick up another kid once everything settles a bit.”

“What?” Iruka gapes at him. In the past, Kakashi had always refused the idea of raising children. Naruto had come with Iruka, so it was an easy sell, on top of him already being mostly grown, but Iruka has been hinting at wanting to foster children from the orphanage for a while now. Not just any kids either, but the much younger ones that still need milk feedings and diaper changes. Kakashi supposes that threats against their livelihoods will never really go away, and if he was mostly stationed in the village, with a constant ANBU guard on both himself and his family during this unprecedented time of allyship between nations, it was a good as a time as any to give it a shot. “You--you want to--?”

“Iruka,” Kakashi nudges their noses together again. “I don’t want to waste any of our time left together anymore. So? What do you say? Will Umino Iruka follow his husband on another adventure?”

Iruka sniffs again before rolling his eyes and smiling, leaning into Kakashi’s space. “I’ll always follow you,” he says, and presses another gentle kiss on his husband’s lips, softer than originally intended.

The last remaining sunlight gives the room a soft, orange glow, highlighting the dust motes in the air and bringing in the scent of petrichor through the open window, signaling the oncoming rain. Kakashi holds Iruka close and revels in the feeling of being alive, lucky, and loved.