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The Sound of a Harp

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Kakashi stood horrified at what he had done.

Bright crimson pooled over the forest loam. Two small bodies laid crumpled before his feet. Hazel eyes stared unseeing at the autumnal sky, accusing even in death. The Sharingan burned the image forever into his mind.

Children.

He had killed children.

The kunai shook in his hand. Droplets of blood flew from the razor-keen edge. The brothers--undoubtedly twins, could not be more than seven years of age. Kakashi knew better than to underestimate younglings on the battlefield, his own childhood was a prime example, but as an adult he had always taken great care to spare those of a tender age.

Until now.

Kakashi took an involuntary step back as if to deny what he had done. His heels crackled against dry leaves, and he nearly toppled over the log that had once been the children's hiding place. He had no choice. It was survival. He had to kill them! But oh gods--he had not realized that they were so small!

Kakashi had been returning from a mission from Cloud when his three-cell team was attacked by rogue shinobi. He had a good guess that they were after the Bingo-book bounty on his head, as some rogue factions made a lucrative profit off shinobi departing their lands. They had successfully separated Kakashi from his team then drove him into a dry ravine to make for an easier kill. Kakashi had escaped using the cover of an explosion and a clone to flee in his stead. He then doubled back into the forest, believing that he had escaped the enemy's notice.

That was when he had heard a wordless melody resonate through the trees. And then everything went to shit.

It was the children performing an auditory blood-limit genjutsu. Their ability had specialized in nullifying an opponent's chakra then trapping the victim into a stupor with music. The children's ability had been weak, but Kakashi had difficulty pulling out of its spell as the Sharingan went haywire due to the erratic flux of his chakra, and phased in and out of his control.

To add to Kakashi's dilemma one of the twins had attempted to use an earth ninjutsu to cement his feet to the ground. Kakashi had managed to assert control of the Sharingan long enough to shake off his lethargy, then dashed to locate the origin of the music. He had struck the twins down before fully registering whom his opponents were. It had been survival instinct, but killing children did not ease Kakashi's conscious any less.

His ears perked at the sound of running feet crunching under dry leaves. Pulling himself back to the present, Kakashi fled in the opposite direction.
He did not travel far before the rogue-nin discovered the bodies with a wounded howl. Kakashi realized the anguish as one that only a parent could make.

Swallowing down a hard lump, Kakashi ducked his head and ran. Enemy reinforcements would soon be attracted by the father's grief, and he had to regroup with his teammates. He will deal with his guilt later. Survival had to come first.

The father's anguish echoed throughout the forest and followed Kakashi hard on his heels. So fast Kakashi ran, and so hard he tried to sense beyond the scream that he almost did not notice a subtle change to its pitch.

A lilting keen had transformed the father's voice it into a terrible melody. Terrible, yet hauntingly beautiful for all its sorrow. The music pierced straight for the center of Kakashi's soul--through all the layers of pain, sorrow, and self-loathing made from a lifetime of violence. The song held the promise of peace and security that Kakashi had always, and truly, craved. He had to stop and listen. It was the most beautiful thing that he had ever heard. Without realizing, Sharingan swirled lazily in his eye socket before sputtering out.

The song abruptly ended, and Kakashi found himself in the middle of a clearing. Disoriented, he held a hand to his brow then with a start realized no birds sang overhead. All had fled from the music.

Kakashi blinked, coming back to himself in an instant. Too late, he spotted the rogue shinobi on a moss-covered rise against the backdrop of an ancient oak. The father of the dead boys was close to Kakashi's age, and from what Kakashi could see through the unruly blond hair, the man's features were twisted in hatred and grief.

Kakashi's hands flew to summon a chidori--and he staggered to his right knee. To his horror, his chakra had all but disappeared. The genjutsu had successfully drained his chakra dry without his notice. The Sharingan stung like venom as it struggled to draw upon what reserves he had left to reactivate.

He reached a shaky hand into his holster for a weapon but found his fingers had difficulty grasping. He had already used too much of his stamina fighting off the twins and the other rogue shinobi, and without chakra Kakashi was almost as helpless as a newborn.

The blond rogue-nin lifted a hand open-palmed above his head. The forest floor under Kakashi shifted in the ninjutsu. The father possessed both the earth and auditory capabilities just as his children did.

Kakashi was powerless to prevent the mixture of dried leaves and mud creeping over the leg he kneeled upon. He tried unsuccessfully to slap the muck away, but it clung like a magnet. He glanced up in time to see his opponent's lips twitch in satisfaction before clenching the palm into a fist.

Unimaginable pain exploded as the sickening snap of bone reverberated throughout Kakashi's body. He could not think, could not do anything but be overwhelmed by it all--and he fell to the earth screaming.

Breathing through clenched teeth, Kakashi made another futile attempt to reach for his kunai. Cold sweat and tears of pain stung at his eyes, blurring the bare branches of the trees against the grey sky. Everything started to spin. A small part of his mind informed Kakashi that he was going into shock.

He felt cool mud slither around his neck to anchor him down. The rogue-nin loomed before the fallen jounin and again raised his open hand, his dark eyes shone with vengeance as he prepared to end the life of the killer of his children.

Kakashi held his breath…

*~*~*~*~*~*

…And awoke with a start.

Kakashi's heart hammered in his chest as the vivid dream gave way to the here and now. Taking several deep breaths he tried to focus on the darkness of his studio apartment, and not the haunting music that still echoed in his ears. He reached to touch the man sleeping beside him--a physical reassurance that Iruka was still there--before he was able to relax.

Glancing at the alarm clock Kakashi found the hour too early to rise. There was no chance that he would be able to return to sleep. The terror of his helpless position had followed him into the waking world. It was all made worse by the fact that it had not been a dream.

Iruka mumbled and shifted in his sleep, and the movement made Kakashi uncomfortably aware of his right leg entombed inside a thick plaster cast. He glared balefully at the lump that was his limb propped up on pillows beneath the blankets.

Kakashi's teammates had been able to chase the rogue-nin off before more damage could be done, but his recollection of that and the journey back to Konoha was hazy at best. There was only so much that his teammates could do to help ease the agony of a broken leg.

Well, perhaps 'mangled' was a better word to describe it. Kakashi had suffered comminuted fractures starting from his foot and ending above the knee. It was a horrific injury to end any shinobi's career, but thankfully he had the Godaime Hokage's medical expertise to fix him up.

Tsunade had to perform three separate operations to extract all the bone fragments from Kakashi's flesh (some were as tiny as fingernail clippings) before she could chakra-bind the shards back together like a complicated jigsaw puzzle. She regularly sent Shizune (and sometimes her apprentice Sakura) to the apartment for chakra-therapy sessions to redirect Kakashi's reserves for healing. Even with all the extra help, Kakashi's leg had to heal at its own pace.

Once, a few weeks of cabin-fever from the after-effects of chakra depletion had tested Kakashi's patience. Now he would gladly trade that time a dozen times over. Kakashi had Iruka to thank for keeping his sanity intact, as it had been five whole months since his return from that ill-fated mission.

The chuunin had visited Kakashi every day since his release from the hospital. As the months whittled by, their commitment to each other had deepened to the point of Iruka moving into the cramped living quarters. They now had plans to move into a bigger apartment. Kakashi couldn't wait to start walking again, if not more for Iruka's sake than his own.

A thrill of excitement stirred in Kakashi's chest when he remembered what day it was-- it was the day he had marked with red ink on the calendar and had waited with thumbs twiddling to arrive. He wanted to roll about and do cartwheels of joy, for today was the day that Shizune would remove the accursed leg cast and start treatment for him to walk again! He would literally be taking the first step to not only reclaim his independence, but for his new future with Iruka.

Smiling to himself, Kakashi's attention wandered over the peaceful expression on Iruka's face. Kakashi gently brushed aside a strand of chestnut-colored hair, which caused Iruka to scrunch his face when it tickled his nose. Kakashi felt his heart burst with affection for the younger man, and he marveled (not for the first time) at how their friendship had evolved into something far more solid and fulfilling within the span of a single year. It seemed that Kakashi had been holding his breath without realizing, and that it was Iruka that had taught him to exhale.

They had dated for three months before Kakashi's ill-fated mission, and as brief as it had been, the sex had been wild. Kakashi rarely found a partner that could match his appetite in the bedroom and he cursed the lost time between them. To Kakashi, the wheelchair symbolized more than a loss of his ability to walk. He had devious plans to burn it down to cinders and dance upon the ashes the instant he was able to.

Kakashi couldn't resist lightly caressing his thumb across Iruka's bottom lip, which parted involuntarily as if to invite the digit to delve inside. Kakashi felt a familiar warmth stir inside his belly, and he reluctantly withdrew.

Scratch that, he was going to burn the damned wheelchair right after he banged Iruka cross-eyed.

The said man let out a tiny whimper at the absence the touch--and the sound crumbled the last of Kakashi's resolve. With a nervous lick over dry lips, he slipped a hand under the sheets. His hand fumbled through the thin pajamas' opening and Iruka sighed when Kakashi grasped his shaft. Iruka must be enjoying some dream if he had morning wood.

Iruka's eyes snapped open before Kakashi could start a proper rhythm. Confusion reflected in brown eyes before narrowing at the man fondling him.

Kakashi grinned sheepishly.

Now fully awake, Iruka raised a hand to flick Kakashi between the eyes. Hard.

"Ow!" Kakashi relinquished his hold to rub at the spot. "So mean, Iruka-sensei!" A leer pulled at his pout. "I might be forced to give you detent--"

"You know the rules!" Iruka waggled a finger before the other man's face.

"I'm breaking them." Kakashi batted the finger away to trap Iruka's scowl in a passionate kiss.

Iruka made a muffled sound of protest and very nearly gave into the jounin's charms. He pulled away with a breathless gasp, his face flushed with desire. "You don't know when to quit!"

"I thought you liked my stubbornness" Kakashi chuckled, then leaned forward to reclaim his lover's lips.

Iruka wriggled out of Kakashi's reach and off the bed in a huff. "Don't forget that it was your 'stubbornness' that broke the chair the last time!"

"You weren't complaining at the time." Kakashi grinned at the heavily mended wheelchair that sat next to his bed. "And it's not my fault that shoddy workmanship couldn't hold two people."

Iruka blushed furiously. "We can't afford for this one to break. Tsunade-sama refuses to lend us another replacement." He turned to disappear into the bathroom shouting "So you're getting nothing from me today!"

"Oh, the things I'm going do to you once I'm freeee~!" Kakashi sang as he slipped his light blue short robe over his chest. Pocketing his mask, he eased off the bed and into the battered wheelchair, then took a moment to adjust the grey pajama bottoms over the right leg where it was cut above the knee for the cast. Once settled, he pulled his Hitai-ate over the Sharingan then wheeled over the tatami mats to peer out the wide window that dominated the second-story apartment.

The window overlooked a circular dirt-packed courtyard virtually enclosed by twp-story apartment buildings. Excluding Kakashi and Iruka, thirteen residents shared the perimeter. A single narrow alley led out to one of the busiest streets of Konohagakure; though one could easily forget that fact thanks to the buildings dampening the noise. The courtyard was a private haven for the tenants. It was a place for children to play, for gardening, to hang laundry out to dry--and to occasionally indulge in a cigarette.

He spotted the neighborhood stray prowling about the morning light. Totchi was a fierce alley cat, but despite his tough appearance the tabby lived off of human attention (and their table scraps.) Kakashi's gaze lifted to the sky where a few rain were scattered against the dawn. Winter was on the cusp to give way for spring, and Kakashi thought that it was about damn time for a little color to enter the world.

Satisfied that all was well, Kakashi saluted his faithful houseplant Mr. Ukki (for keeping watch on the windowsill) then turned about and wheeled for the bathroom. He grinned when he entered hearing the showerhead set on full blast. No doubt Iruka was trying to finish what Kakashi had started.

Feeling mischievous, Kakashi pushed aside the shower curtain to peek inside. "I hope you're not doing anything that I wouldn't do…"

Iruka jerked from leaning against the wall where water cascaded down his scarred back. Kakashi whistled appreciatively at the sight of a wet, naked Iruka and the obvious state of his arousal. Iruka glared accusingly as Kakashi leered at his cock, which glistened enticingly with water droplets falling off the hard tip.

Before Kakashi could expose the Sharingan to permanently record the sight Iruka's hand shot to turn the water freezing.

Iruka smirked at the look of mock dismay he received when his erection began to wilt. "Don't make me take away the Icha Icha again," he threatened sweetly.

"Meanie." Kakashi pouted as the shower curtain snapped shut.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Iruka shook his head as the apartment door clicked shut behind him. He could tell that Kakashi had another dream of those dead children. The nightmares were becoming a real problem. At least for today they had Shizune's upcoming visit to thank for him waking up in a good mood. As it was, Kakashi's mood swings were growing more erratic by the day.

He always felt a stab of guilt whenever he left Kakashi after one of his dreams. Iruka could not imagine how he himself would cope with that sort of torment. Kakashi would cheer up when Iruka returned in the evening but his dark mood would return the moment they retired for bed. No matter how hard Iruka held Kakashi close by his side, he do nothing to prevent those nightmares from plaguing their nights.

Kakashi was not particularly sociable by habit, but it was an entirely different matter to spend days or even weeks cut off from the outside world. Aside from Iruka, social visits were few and far in-between thanks to an influx of border skirmishes and contracts. Iruka had done his best to be sympathetic to Kakashi's needs, but it was becoming increasingly difficult for Iruka to coax him out from his slumps.

And the sexual frustration didn't help matters either.

Under normal circumstances, Iruka would welcome starting the day writhing to Kakashi's touch…but the last time he had given into temptation had resulted in an emergency trip to the hospital. What had started as a light peck on the cheek had spiraled out of control with the wheelchair collapsing under their weight. Tsunade had not been pleased once the reason behind their visit came out in the open.

Kakashi had escaped harm, but the Godaime's tongue-lashing had been loud enough for the entire hospital to hear. To Iruka's mortification, the bulk her ire had fallen on him--of whom she scolded was supposed to be the more sensible of the two. It was not the first time Kakashi's antics had broken a wheelchair, but it had been the first to involve Iruka. With Tsunade's refusal to issue a replacement, it had been up to Iruka alone to mend the wheelchair as best he could.

After THAT little episode Iruka had resolved not to take any more chances. Three weeks without anything more than a kiss was driving Kakashi up the wall, but Iruka was firm to not to allow his pigheaded jounin to get hurt--especially not when the end of his recovery was in sight.

With a long suffering sigh, Iruka trotted down the stairs leading into the courtyard. Lost in his thoughts, he nearly tripped over Totchi on the bottom step. The tomcat paused in grooming a hind leg to give the chuunin a skeptical look, as if daring the human to try and force him off his favorite spot.

Iruka rolled his eyes and gingerly stepped around the cat to reach the ground. As soon as he did so, Totchi bounded off his perch to rub up against Iruka's leg purring like a tiny motor, and trilled a demand to be scratched. Shaking his head at the odd nature of cats, Iruka bent to do so when he caught movement from the corner of his eye.

It was Kotone, the newest resident of the neighborhood. The young woman was busy tending to a small cluster of potted plants outside her apartment window, her slim back turned to show a small blue harp secured in a sling.

Iruka did not know much about Kotone, though he did feel a little sorry for her. It was common knowledge that she had recently finalized a bitter divorce and lived without family or friends in the area. She had hardly left her apartment in the two weeks since she had moved in, and spent most of her time alone inside practicing her harp. Kotone played beautifully, but Iruka rarely heard melodies that were not sad and bittersweet.

She straightened from her plants and squeaked in alarm upon noticing Iruka. Kotone was not particularly pretty, with an oval face and brown hair cropped just below the nape, but a genuine smile could make anyone beautiful. "Oh! G-good morning, Iruka-sensei!" Her hands twitched as if she wanted to smooth the wrinkles from the apron over her plain brown smock. Her brown eyes fluttered uncertainly, and her face reddened.

"'Morning, Kotone-san." Iruka smiled and bowed his head in return. He was among the select few in the neighborhood that the shy woman approached. Iruka reasoned that the failed marriage had contributed to her reclusive behavior. From the handful of tentative conversations they had exchanged, Iruka took it as a promising sign that Kotone was making an effort to come out of her shell.

Kotone began to shuffle her feet and Iruka decided to help the conversation along. "You seem well today."

"Um, yes." Kotone agreed. "Thank you again for the pesticide spray. My flowers seem to be doing much better now." She walked across the courtyard, her soft voice growing a little more confident. "I don't know how I can repay you…"

Totchi ceased rubbing against Iruka's leg. The tomcat flattened its ears and bolted into the alley that led out into the busy street, melting into the shadows before Iruka could blink.

"Um, well…there's no need for repayment." Iruka scratched the back of his neck in attempt to hide his discomfort. "I don't have a garden anymore, and throwing it away seemed wasteful." He had long past the point of telling Kotone outright of his preference for men--let alone that he was in a relationship with the infamous Hatake Kakashi. He suspected saying so now would humiliate Kotone and shatter what little self-confidence she had left. Iruka could not help with the second part, but he would rather Kotone save face by hearing it from another source.

Iruka continued "I tried to give it to Granny Natsuko but she does not like to use pesticides around her vegetables." In the meantime, Kotone's clumsy flirtations were something he had to gently dissuade.

Kotone pulled at her apron fretfully. "But I feel terrible not being able to do something in return." Her expression brightened. "Perhaps I can perform a song for you? My husband hated my harp, and--well, I haven't performed in front of anybody in years." She blushed, murmuring "I would like to do so again."

Iruka did not think that he would enjoy a performance of Kotone's melancholy music, but he did not have the heart to refuse the timid request. And perhaps Kotone would be motivated to play something more optimistic. "I would like that," he said politely. "I'm busy today, but perhaps tomorrow would do? I could invite--"

"S-sure!" Kotone him cut off. Iruka's acceptance seemed to have flustered her completely. "I--well, that is…then I should go practice!" She backed away, bowing several times before retreating into her apartment and slamming the door.

Iruka's smile had slipped in dismay. He had just succeeded complicating matters between him and Kotone further. He shook his head upon hearing a sad melody play behind the curtains of Kotone's open window. 'Poor girl,' he thought. It was not uncommon for civilians of a Hidden village to suffer from some form of neuroses. Iruka could not blame Kotone for acting so, especially after a marriage that hinted of emotional abuse.

Iruka resumed his walk into the narrow alley that led to the busy streets of Konoha. His thoughts were now focused on pre-Genin lesson plans and the anticipation for the afternoon lunch hour to arrive.

Smiling, Iruka felt a bounce to his step. Life was going to be a lot easier once Kakashi was freed from the confines of the apartment. He could hardly wait to return with Shizune.

*~*~*~*~*~*

The incessant boredom between Iruka leaving for work and coming home was a routine that Kakashi was all-too familiar with. There was only so much that he could do to fill his days. Hours devoted to reading Icha Icha without an audience to annoy no longer appealed to him, and his once vigorous training routine was now limited to his arms and torso. And as much as Kakashi enjoyed Mr. Ukki's company, the houseplant made for terrible conversation.

Fortunately, the view through the window overlooking the courtyard helped to provide a welcomed distraction. Kakashi spent a good chunk of his days observing the activity outside next to Mr. Ukki, and played around with idle projects to help keep his hands busy.

Today, he was knitting a tea cozy.

The Sharingan had picked up the skill from the Kinjo sisters, and while Kakashi was grateful for the distraction he desperately wished that they would expand on their knitting projects. He was up to his ears in tea cozies (Kakashi had made over a dozen so far) and he would be ecstatic for the chance to knit a sweater or a decent pair of socks.

His single eye flickered between knitting and the people outside. As proper for a former ANBU-operative, Kakashi knew the names of all thirteen tenants that lived around the communal courtyard.

Granny Natsuko lived on the bottom floor to the left of Kakashi's building. The petite elderly woman possessed a motherly temperament and had taken pity on Kakashi in the early days of his recovery. She would occasionally made house calls offering company and gifts of home-cooked meals (of which he and Iruka devoured with gusto) Granny Natsuko lived with an unemployed son and a teenage grandson.

The unemployed son Kunio was a man embittered by the death of his chuunin wife. He did not get along with anyone--most especially with Daisuke (who was the other single father in the neighborhood) Daisuke was a forty-something carpenter with a cute pre-teen daughter that befriended Kunio's son. The teens would slip away rolling their eyes whenever their fathers were caught up in a petty squabble.

Fortunately, neither Kunio or Daisuke were around to disrupt the neighborhood as Granny Natsuko popped into the courtyard with a basket full of laundry ready to dry. She paused long enough to spot Kakashi at his window, and gave him a friendly wave before turning to her chores.

Granny Natsuko was soon distracted by Miyabe ambling into her potted garden. The bright hues of early spring blossoms had proved too much for a toddler to resist, and Natsuko had to put herself between the flowers and Miyabe. She slipped the little girl a candy and steered her back to her mother. With auburn curls bouncing, Miyabe ran past Ayaka to pet Totchi who had just sauntered into the courtyard.

Ayaka glanced at her daughter petting the tomcat then winced as her infant son yanked on a handful of her red hair. The young mother had her hands full raising two small children with a husband gone away on a mission. At the moment, Ayaka was trapped in a one-sided conversation with the Kinjo sisters. Ayaka and was trying (unsuccessfully) to disengage herself from them and her son pulling at her long hair.

Ginko and Haruko Kinjo seemed not to notice Ayaka's plight and continued their tirade about some shopkeeper that had refused to cut them a deal. The portly middle-aged woman were both widows from the Kyuubi attack and notorious gossips to boot. The sisters had the bad habit to whisper conspiratorially behind Iruka's back whenever they spotted the sensei leaving the apartment. Kakashi could easily read their lips, and he did not approve of what was said.

Kakashi will not be missing the gossipmongers once he and Iruka were able to move out--and neither would he miss the neighbors who lived directly below his apartment. Civilians Junko and Akira spent the majority of their married life arguing or having loud make-up sex. Their exaggerated copulations had been amusing at first, but it was no longer funny for him and Iruka to be startled awake throughout the three months since the newlyweds had moved in.

Kakashi's ears twitched when he heard the tremor of harp strings, and he growled bad-temperedly and threw aside the half-finished tea cozy (lest he be tempted to use the knitting needles for more lethal purposes.) He hated Kotone's harp more than the gossip mongering or the obnoxious sex combined. He had no way to escape the dreadful noise. Earplugs helped, but did not entirely prevent it from reaching his ears.

The melancholy music always put Kakashi in a bad mood. Kotone's harp was nothing like the haunting song of the rogue-nin's genjustu, but something about it summoned the worst of his memories--at the foremost of which was the cause behind his broken leg. Just thinking about those twin boys made his stomach turn. The reoccurring nightmares were just starting to abate until Kotone had moved in--and like the night before, were back with a vengeance.

He was just about to reach for the earplugs when a squeal shattered the peace. Granny Natsuko dropped her laundry and the Kinjo sisters jumped at the sound. Ayaka jerked around to find little Miyabe howling at the top of her lungs.

Kakashi looked over the windowsill in time to see Totchi dart into the alleyway. Miyabe ran to her mother holding aloft her finger where the cat had drawn blood. Ayaka excused herself from the Kinjo sisters to lead Miyabe away to care for the wound.

Bemused, Kakashi sat back into the wheelchair. 'Strange,' he thought, 'Totchi is usually so gentle.' Miyabe had probably been playing too rough.

With Miyabe gone the activity in the courtyard resumed. Kotone played her music behind the curtains of her window, and Totchi yowled from somewhere in the rooftops as if to protest.

Kakashi smirked as he crammed the earplugs in place. At least somebody hated Kotone's music just as much as he did.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Iruka resisted the urge to fidget as Shizune finished slicing through the last segment of Kakashi's cast. The kunoichi used a tiny chakra blade over her fingertips to divide the plaster into sections for easier removal. Shizune worked slowly to avoid cutting into the leg stretched on the stool before her, and her normally placid features were pinched in concentration. Nobody spoke during the procedure. The only sound to be heard was the commotion of afternoon activity outside the window.

Iruka bit his lower lip in anticipation.

Kakashi sat utterly still in the wheelchair as Shizune pried the plaster segments at a pace that would do a three-legged turtle proud. Piece-by-piece, the cast fell away to reveal the form of his leg swathed in soft protective wrappings.

Setting aside the last hunk of plaster, Shizune removed a pair of shears from her med-kit. Kakashi had to force patience as she cut through the fabric, and gripped the wooden armrests until his knuckles turned white. The pong of unwashed skin bit the air as the wrappings fell off. Kakashi couldn't help but feel relieved at seeing his naked leg straight and whole--it was a far cry from when he had last seen it swollen, bent at odd angles, and with bits of bone sticking out.

Kakashi immediately set upon furiously scratching a spot below his kneecap. A throaty purr of satisfaction bubbled in his throat. "I've been wanting to do that for months!" He grinned at Iruka over Shizune's head, and the chuunin practically beamed with delight.

Shizune swatted Kakashi's hand aside to continue the examination, her pretty face remained professionally stoic. Iruka leaned over her shoulder to better see the faded stitch marks and dimples that marked where the damage had been worse. Kakashi zeroed in on Shizune's expression when her brows furrowed with worry. He waited with mounting dread as she poked and prodded, her chakra tingling his pale skin.

"What is it?" Iruka asked when he caught the kunoichi's mood.

"I'm sorry, Kakashi-san." Shizune shook her head. "It's going to be another week until-"

"What!?" Kakashi cried. "You said that I would be able to start therapy TODAY!"

"The bones don't lie." Shizune folded her arms and met the rebellious look in her patient's eye. "Your leg would have been ready for physical therapy if you had listened to Tsunade-sama's orders."

"But Tsunade said nothing broke!" Kakashi protested, and winced as a sharp pain shot through his newly freed limb. "And I didn't technically hurt my leg… Iruka made sure not to fall on it when the stupid wheelchair broke."

"How considerate." Shizune said dryly, and shot the chuunin a scathing glance over her shoulder. Iruka had the good grace to flush on cue. She continued "Tsunade-sama's examination could not find any lasting damage, but physical strain did happen..." Her eyes narrowed at Kakashi until they were hard slits. "…as did the physical strain from that other time."

Kakashi shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "It was nothing drastic."

"Nothing drastic!" Iruka cried. His glare matched the one on Shizune. "You used the ninkin pack as a sled team halfway across town!"

"You forgot your lunch?" Kakashi winced.

"And YOU crashed into a fruit stand!" Iruka threw up his arms. "Do you even know how much a cartload of watermelons cost? I had to give up half my paycheck just to cover for the shipment alone!"

"Hey, I'd told you that I would pay for that!"

Shizune leaped from her seat to put herself between the squabbling. "You will both have to wait another week!" Her sharp eyes regarded the two men before settling on Kakashi. "But I will forgo setting your leg into a splint on the promise that you won't overdo the strengthening exercises."

"Does he have to stay in the wheelchair?" Iruka asked. He glanced at Kakashi who maintained a neutral expression. "He's able to use crutches now, right?"

Shizune looked between the hopeful expressions and conceded with a sigh. "I can have one ordered, but I expect it to be used strictly for the bathroom." She directed a flat stare at Kakashi when she caught his mask pulling thoughtfully. "And if I hear ONE rumor that you've disobeyed my orders, I'll bring Tsunade-sama over to give you a lesson on how to follow hers!"

Kakashi glared sullenly but withheld challenging the threat. If his chakra had not been redirected for healing he would have teleported in lieu of stomping away. He gritted his teeth and looked pointedly out the window, refusing to talk.

"Try not to take his mood personally," Shizune muttered once Iruka had walked her the steps outside the front door. "Restless personalities like Kakashi-san always make the worst patients." She gave Iruka an encouraging smile. "Have faith, he's very close to walking again."

Iruka glanced inside the apartment to where Kakashi sat staring morosely out the window. "I hope so." He tipped his head in farewell and closed the door.

The silence inside the apartment was heavy with Shizune gone. "Kakashi?" Iruka ventured. "Is there anything that I could do?"

Kakashi did not make even a twitch to respond. Iruka felt out with his chakra to sense the other man's mood, and found a dark tangle writhing inside. Iruka's eyes widened to find at the foremost of Kakashi's emotions was bitter disappointment--not in himself--but for letting Iruka down.

Kakashi stiffened, then clamped down on his chakra to shut Iruka out.

Iruka opened his mouth to speak, then hesitated from what he really wanted to say. "Do you want anything from the market?" He knew Kakashi well enough to sense when the other man wanted to be alone. "I can make a special stop after my shift at Administrations is over."

"It doesn’t matter" Kakashi snapped without turning. Dark rain clouds had gathered to choke the afternoon sky. It mirrored his mood. "Get whatever the hell you want."

Iruka left the apartment with a hard lump stuck in his throat. 'And today had started out so promising.'

*~*~*~*~*~*

The clouds had burst to engulf Konoha in rain.

Kakashi had barely moved from his spot since Iruka had left. He left the lights off, preferring the comfort of darkness in his evenings alone. He sat with one hand propped under his chin on the windowsill and watched neighbors move behind curtains as they readied for the end of the day. His gaze flickered absently between the shadows and the muddied ground where electric lights reflected off puddles. He enjoyed how the rippling water illuminated the courtyard in a faint shimmering light.

The weather suited Kakashi just fine. His temper had diminished now that he had time to cool off. He had spent some time testing the strength of his leg and had grown despondent upon discovering that Shizune's assessment had been correct.
He could not use it to support himself any more than a broken toothpick could hold his weight.

All that Kakashi could do after bathing and wrapping his leg was brood. He had only wanted to add some excitement to an otherwise monotonous routine, but he could not deny that it was his own damn fault for screwing himself over, for at least another week.

It had not only been boredom that had motivated his blatant disregard for Tsunade's orders. There was a restless energy brewing inside him, one that he could only compare to a wild beast that had been caged far too long. His eyes would often stray outside the courtyard to the distant crest of trees that peeked over the buildings. He longed to leap through the forest and skip over the concrete jungle of rooftops.

He scratched his exposed chin and checked Mr. Ukki's soil on the windowsill, but his real focus was on the alleyway where Iruka was destined to appear. Kakashi was eager to make amends; it had been petty to have pushed him away like he did, when all that Iruka had ever wanted to do was help.

Iruka had never complained over the drastic change that their relationship had taken, but Kakashi was aware that even the sensei had limits. Kakashi fiercely loved Iruka, and Iruka loved him as well, but the reversal from lover to caretaker was not meant to be long term. His greatest fear was that he would push Iruka to a breaking point. Kakashi had to get back to his old self before he could allow that to happen.

Kakashi wrenched his mind off such depressing thoughts. He had to put himself into a better mood to greet Iruka home, but it was difficult to think 'happy' with Kotone's melancholy music wafting from her window, like smoke on a windless day. She played a down-tempo melody to accompany the patter of raindrops. It was lovely, but it pulled at emotions that Kakashi would prefer to keep bottled.

That, and the music encouraged the nightmares to return.

Without the distraction of people outside Kakashi could hear each note plucked through his earplugs. His senses tingled from an unfamiliar use of chakra thrumming inside her home. It was not unusual for musicians to enhance their skills with chakra, but as the renowned copy-nin Kakashi was curious to see what sort of technique Kotone used.

His eye twitched as he unveiled the Sharingan, but as usual, Kotone played outside his visual range. Her window remained open even during the bad weather--she must like rain enough to let some of it inside. All that Kakashi could spot in in the tiny gap between the curtains were mismatched furniture and stacks of boxes, all vague shapes in the poor light. Really, it had been two weeks since Kotone had moved in and she couldn't find time away from her stupid harp to settle in.

Grumbling with distaste, Kakashi replaced the Hitai-ate over the Sharingan. It was another thing to add to his growing list of grievances he had against the woman. Kotone had been terrified the one time Kakashi had tried to speak to her from his window, and ever since she avoided him as if he were a rabid dog stalking her from behind a fence. Civilians sometimes regarded Kakashi so, though he had not received such a strong reaction since he had been a child.

He no more liked Kotone's treatment any more than the emotions her music dredged up. Kakashi had a gut feeling that he was going to wake up from another dream of those dead twins tonight.

But the real reason behind his dislike for Kotone stemmed not from her music or weak personality…but from her keen interest in Iruka.

He had witnessed the Kinjo sisters cornering Kotone on several occasions. Kakashi was certain that they had divulged all they knew of Iruka's relationship with Kakashi, and despite everything Kotone chose to play dumb and continue to flirt with him. Her clumsy attempts to seduce the sensei infuriated Kakashi to no end--hers was a motive doomed to fail, but it was a deceit nonetheless. And he would not stand to see a rival (though he would hardly call Kotone that) unashamedly sniffing Iruka out.

Iruka was the type to freely offer his kindness to those in need. Iruka would not respond well to Kakashi challenging Kotone's character. Sometimes it was best to allow these situations to play out on their own. Iruka was incredibly bright and intelligent, but he had a naive streak that could (and Kakashi suspected, Kotone did) take advantage of. Kakashi had caught on to her game. It was only a matter of time before Iruka did as well.

Outside, Kotone's music ended before finishing the song. Kakashi waited for a few moments for the music to start up, then felt a measure of relief when it did not.

He was in the process of removing his earplugs when Iruka appeared bounding down the dark alley. He moved in a graceful zig-zag pattern with the newly-ordered crutch tucked under one arm a bag of groceries in the other hand. Iruka must have made a special trip to the hospital after work to pick it up. His high ponytail, heavy with rain, swung to his every movement. Kakashi smiled. Iruka could make dodging rain puddles seem like a dance.

Iruka halted in mid-step when light poured from an opening door, and Kotone called out to him by name. Kakashi slapped his earplugs besides Mr. Ukki and scowled when Iruka made a beeline for the alcove before her door. Kakashi lifted his Hitate-ate for the Sharingan to pierce through the gloom and read the woman's lips.

"--would appreciate the help." Kotone said behind her door, the small blue harp peeked from the sling behind her back. "I have so many boxes that I still need to unpack…" The dim light inside the apartment reflected off her skin like warm honey and gleamed off her short dark hair as if it had been recently brushed. . "…and I uh, have made enough dinner to share." She flushed and adverted her eyes

Kakashi narrowed his eyes 'So, she's finally making an open move.'

Iruka did the motion of scratching the scar across his nose, a sign of discomfort. Even with his back turned it was easy for Kakashi to interpret his body language: "I don't think that would be proper." He glanced up at the window where Kakashi sat concealed in the darkness. The Sharingan caught his lips twitching ever so slightly in a fond smile, and it filled Kakashi with warmth.

The sight of the dark apartment seemed to bolster Iruka's resolve. "I'm very sorry Kotone, but I am spoken for." Iruka shifted his stance to deliver an apologetic bow. Kakashi could read: "I should have made that clear from the start."

"Oh!" Kotone's hands flew to cheeks. Her face had gone pale. "That's not my intention at all!"

'Huh?' Kakashi thought at the same time Iruka jerked up from his stance.

Kotone trembled "Y-you see, m-my husband would not allow me have any friends…" She took a deep breath to take control of herself. Lowering her hands, she met Iruka's eyes. "Leaving him has made me realize the hold he had over me, and I've forgotten how to behave properly in public." The young woman bowed in earnest. "Please forgive me, Iruka-sensei. I must stop depending on others if I am to live for myself."

Iruka scratched the back of his head. Kakashi could see how his shoulders had relaxed in relief. He read: "Please, think nothing of it. I would like to remain friends."

Kotone gave Iruka a smile that did wonders to brighten her oval face. "Thank you for your kindness, Iruka-sensei. I am very sorry to have kept you out in this weather."

Iruka turned to dash across the courtyard. Kakashi felt his mouth twist with uncertainty. Perhaps he had allowed his suspicions to get the better of him. Kotone had no one call friend in the neighborhood and it would only be natural to reach out to one of the most approachable residents Konohagakure had to offer. The five months medical-leave must have thrown him off his game.

As Iruka disappeared to climb the stairs Kakashi glanced at the shrinking light which was Kotone withdrawing into her home. She was a dark silhouette, but with the Sharingan in use Kakashi was able to glimpse her eyes the moment before the door snapped shut--and felt his heartbeat skip at what he had caught.

It was the frustration of a predator.

A chill crawled up Kakashi's spine as he recalled how Kotone had ceased her music before Iruka had arrived. His brain immediately went into overdrive to reassess what he knew about the woman who lived next door.

Kotone was a friendless stranger with the bad fortune to be divorced from an abusive marriage. For an interloper, it was the perfect ploy to deter outsiders from prying too deeply into her past. Neighbors would feel uncomfortable asking pointed questions, and would thus feel pity for the reclusive woman rather than suspicion. The timid persona would also work to disarm those she interacted with.

Kakashi could count who those people were on three fingers alone--the first being Iruka, and the remaining two the Kinjo sisters, who were a ready and willing source of information.

The overall behavior pointed to Iruka as the target of interest. If Kotone were a shinobi staking out her mark, she could observe from her apartment base and easily collect all the intelligence needed over a cup of afternoon tea. Kakashi could now see through her attempts made to prey upon Iruka's kindness, all in effort to lure him into her territory behind closed doors.

Kakashi had utterly failed as a jounin-ranked shinobi to spot the signs festering right under his nose. He cursed himself for an addle-brained fool. His once razor-sharp instincts had dulled to a butter knife from months of disuse.

He wheeled about when he sensed Iruka's chakra disarm the alarms placed around the front door. Feeling immensely relieved that Iruka was safe, Kakashi positioned himself to be in visual range on Kotone's residence and reached for the kunai strapped under the wheelchair. It had been moments since Kotone had closed her door and every fiber in his body screamed with wild energy.

"I'm home!" Iruka cried as he pushed through the front door. In the darkness he could not see Kakashi's fervent expression. Setting the crutch aside, Iruka flipped on the lights and became preoccupied with removing his rain-soaked flak vest. The bag of groceries swung about as he struggled to toe off of his sandals.

"I forgot to borrow an umbrella from school." Iruka said as he removed the Hitai-ate and shook his hair free from the pony tail. "I bought pork cutlets for dinner, they were on sale…" he trailed off when he noticed Kakashi wielding the kunai. "Is something wrong?"

"Yes!" Kakashi glanced to make sure Kotone remained indoors. The fierce need to protect the man he loved engulfed his reason--as did the horrible realization that he was physically unable to do so. Kakashi flung a finger at the window blurting "I don't want you near that woman!"

Iruka blinked, then looked between the window and the exposed Sharingan. He frowned. "It's rude to eavesdrop on private conversations."

"It doesn't matter!" Kakashi gestured wildly. The wheelchair rocked at the motions. "I just realized Kotone's method of infiltration to gain your confidence--I think she intends to kill you!"

Iruka stared at Kakashi as if he had sprouted a second head. "…what?"

Kakashi forced himself to take a deep breath. He had never lost his cool so easily. He really had grown soft. "I just saw her as if she was thinking how to tear your throat out."

"That is the most insanely ridiculous thing I've ever heard!" Iruka shook the groceries at Kakashi's kunai. "And put that thing away!"

Kakashi realized then that he had no evidence other than instinct and supposition to support his claim. And now he had Iruka's temper riled up in Kotone's defense. He tried a more reasonable tone "Everything about her is off. She never leaves her house unless you are around--"

"Is that it?" Iruka sputtered. "Kakashi, are you jealous?"

"Wha-? No!" Kakashi drove the kunai into the armrest. "I am NOT!"

Iruka snorted. Without a backward glance he brushed past Kakashi to reach the kitchen. His departure was soon followed by pans clanking loudly as an outlet for his anger. Determined to not be ignored, Kakashi wheeled over to where the tatami mats bordered the linoleum floor. "Then explain to me why Kotone tries to invite you into her home."

Iruka spoke without inclining his head as fished vegetables from the grocery bag in preparation for dinner. "You are overreacting. Kotone wants a friend, that's all. She's perfectly harmless."

"She knows you're gay. The Kinjo sisters told her on the day she moved in."

Iruka's back stiffened. The kitchen knife hovered over the vegetables. "So what?" He slammed the knife through an onion. "You saw what she said. She's socially awkward."

"But don't you see? She's switching tactics!" Kakashi tapped a finger against the kunai embedded into the armrest. "She's never been honest with you!"

Iruka stabbed the knife point-first into the cutting board and spun around to face Kakashi, his face dark with rage. "I can excuse your behavior from being bored all these months--as long as it stay inside the apartment, but I will NOT put up with you spying on me and accusing Kotone of something so terrible!"

"You're not letting me finish!" Kakashi cried, he made soothing motions in an attempt to calm the other man. "I have reason to suspe--" His worst fears were realized as Iruka abruptly cut him off.

"I think you are jealous!" Iruka snarled, shaking with fury. "You're jealous that I'm not spending all my time stuck in here with you. I'll let you know, Hatake Kakashi, that my free time does NOT belong to you, and I can talk to whomever the fuck that I please without you demanding permission!"

Kakashi pressed against the seat of his chair, utterly taken aback by the outburst. Iruka's heavy breathing filled the room before the jounin found his voice. "I would never do that to you" he quietly said, then backed away from the kitchen. He could feel Iruka's eyes following as he turned the wheelchair around.

Kakashi heard a choke struggle in Iruka's throat as he made for the crutch leaning against the front door. The soft noise made his chest tighten but he did not turn back to look. Kakashi had endured through plenty of arguments to know Iruka had the habit of bottling up his emotions until they burst through the seams of his temper. Iruka needed a moment to collect himself, for only after doing so was he able to confront and be affected by them.

The worst of what Iruka had said had been true. Kakashi could see now that he had been jealous, and until now, he had not conceived that his spying had been inappropriate. By accusing Kotone, Kakashi had admitted that he regularly watched in on Iruka's conversations, and had shaken his trust. Trust was the most crucial foundation in any relationship--and a difficult enough thing to gain in the world of shinobi.

The subject of Kotone could wait. She was incapable of doing Iruka harm now that he was safely outside of her reach. For the meantime she could stew inside her apartment and play that stupid harp and Kakashi could inform someone to look into her in the morning. Right now he had to focus on the problem before him. The outcome of his relationship with Iruka hinged on what Kakashi said or did next.

As Kakashi reached for his crutch he hoped that whatever it was would be the right thing to help mend the wedge he had cultivated between them.

Kakashi pulled himself out of the wheelchair and leaned against the door until he had the crutch firmly in under his arm. It took a few moments before he found his balance on one foot, and to remember how to use a crutch without falling flat on his face. He flexed his injured leg experimentally, then with a grunt swung it forward in rhythm to his good foot. The weight of the momentum tugged at his wounds, but he felt a thrill to abandon the accursed wheelchair behind.

Kakashi found Iruka absorbed in his thoughts and unmoved from his position against the counter. The dejection lightened momentarily at the sight of Kakashi limping into the kitchen, then guarded as the jounin approached.

Iruka couldn't keep his eyes from widening as Kakashi stood upright and before him for the first time in five months. He had to incline his head in order to meet the mismatched gaze. Had he really forgotten how tall Kakashi was?

"I was jealous and I stepped out of line" Kakashi said honestly. "And there is no excuse for what I did. But Kotone--" Iruka's mouth pulled into a thin line. "--is different." Iruka did not move as Kakashi bent to rest his forehead onto the younger man's shoulder. Kakashi whispered hoarsely into Iruka's damp hair, pleading "I only ask for the benefit of your doubt. Please trust me on this--for at least until I have proof."

"I can give you one day." Iruka said as he lifted a hand to wrap around Kakashi's waist. "After that, I have to think. I can't say what will happen next."

They stood holding each other for a time with the patter of raindrops on the roof to accompany the silence. Iruka was the one to break the spell as the first to withdraw. Kakashi caught an indeterminable gleam in his eyes as he turned to scoop the groceries and toss them as a careless heap into the fridge.

A little worried, Kakashi raised an eyebrow. "What are you doing?"

"Dinner can wait." Iruka said in an equally indefinable tone. He was out of Kakashi reach in an instant, his bare feet padding lightly over the tatami mats. He nudged the wheelchair aside to reach the lights, and as he looked over one shoulder there was no mistaking the allure in his brown eyes. The lights clicked off. "I think we're both long due for blowing off some steam."

*~*~*~*~*~*

Iruka was aware of the Sharingan observing his every movements. Guided by memory he strode for the bed as his vision adjusted to the dark. The faint ambient glow of distant street lamps gave the shadows an orange hue. Iruka reached his destination quickly in the small space of the apartment. Standing before the bed he pulled off his shirt and tossed it aside.

"What are you doing?" Kakashi cried once he overcame his shock at the sudden turn of events. Iruka was mildly pleased to hear the copy-nin flustered. Turnabout was fair play after what Kakashi had thrown at him when he came home. "Tsunade said--"

"Oh? I'm surprised YOU of all people are scolding me for breaking the rules," Iruka reprimanded with a tease. He paused with fingers hovering over the buttons on his trousers. "But if you want me to stop--"

"NO! Err, I mean--parish the thought!" Kakashi hobbled to the bed with as much haste that he could muster, his free hand working to loosen the knot on his short robe. He ripped several threads inside his pajama pants in his eagerness.

Iruka firmly took hold of Kakashi's shoulders and gently steered him to fall backwards on the bed. Tsunade was likely to forgo a tongue-lashing and punch Iruka through a wall if they had to make another late-night trip to the hospital. He was going to take charge and do everything in his power to keep Kakashi in line to have their time together done right.

He was in truth, quite unsettled by Kakashi's sudden burst of paranoia. As peculiar as Kotone was, it worried Iruka that Kakashi became so obsessive with his casual friendship with her. Iruka was fully aware that Kakashi was not the most mentally stable of leaf-nin (then again, was there ever an ex-ANBU that was?) but it was not like him to make rash accusations. For now, Iruka was going to distract Kakashi from his overactive imagination, and tonight he will push aside his own misgivings.

As Iruka shed the last of his clothing Kakashi scooted himself up the bed with his injured leg hanging over the side. Once situated against a mound of pillows, he reached out for Iruka.

Iruka took special care for the bulk of his weight to settle on his knees against either side of the other man's thighs. "I'm still pissed off" he muttered while nuzzling the crook of Kakashi's neck.

"I know." The breath hitched in Kakashi's throat before turning into a sigh. He ran his hands through Iruka's loose hair as he enjoyed his arms and bare chest being caressed.

"And you are going to lay back and do nothing."

"I'll try." Kakashi cupped Iruka's face in his hands to kiss him on the forehead. "Thank you," he said in a barely audible whisper. Iruka gave him a questioning look, knowing that his expression was not lost in the darkness.

Kakashi did not immediately answer the silent inquiry. His arms gathered Iruka into a tight embrace. "For everything."

The sincerity behind those words broke some of the tension in Iruka's nerves. Flawed as his reasons were, Kakashi had truly worried for him. For a moment closed his eyes at the intimate press of warm skin, and lost himself in the earthy musk that was Kakashi. Then he moved to catch Kakashi's mouth in a hard kiss.

Fingers brushed up and down the sensitive area around the base of Iruka's spine before Kakashi found what he was searching for. Iruka could not stop himself breaking off the kiss with a gasp to arch under the touch. "Didn't think that I would forget your buttons so easily, did you?" It was easily to imagine the self-satisfied smirk on Kakashi's face.

"Ba~AH!~ssstard!" Iruka moaned as Kakashi sent a tiny electric current of chakra into the pressure point to travel up his spine. The sensation shot straight up Iruka's back then down to pool into his groin. It was one of his biggest turn-ons, and Kakashi delighted in being able to make him rock-hard almost instantly.

Iruka shuddered as the dim light caught a flash of crimson from the Sharingan, lustful and full of need. It was the kind of look that almost caved Iruka's self control--but no, he will not lose himself entirely. They had to do this right. His hands worked over Kakashi's chest, and he felt the jounin's heart vibrate beneath his fingertips. Kakashi shifted his foot for better purchase on the bed and Iruka felt him grimace in pain.

Iruka paused. Perhaps this was a bad idea.

Catching the hesitation, Kakashi slapped the chuunin's ass with enough force to reverberate across the room. Iruka sat up with a startled yelp. "The rest of me won't break so easily," Kakashi challenged.

Iruka grinned in response. "We'll see about that." His gentle caresses instantly turned to hard scratches, which elicited a throaty purr of approval deep in Kakashi's throat. Iruka scooted back until Kakashi's wakening cock pressed against the cleft of his ass. He tossed his head for hair to partially cover his face, knowing that it drove Kakashi wild to see him so.

The said man sneaked his hands around Iruka's hips to cup a cheek in either palm and squeezed until his blunt nails left bruising marks. Iruka adjusted to push against Kakashi's cock and grip, his fingers dug into the pillows. Kakashi licked, bit, and kissed around Iruka's neck and shoulders, and Iruka arched his back in time to the restricted rock of his hips.

Kakashi threw back his head and hissed through clenched teeth. Neither of them was going to last foe very long at this rate. Iruka pulled away from Kakashi trying to resume nipping his skin. "Get it now" he growled.

"Tsk, such a bossy sensei." Kakashi said with a slight buck of his hip. He rummaged under the pillows until he produced a small bottle nearly empty of lubricant.

"Didn't I just buy that?" Iruka asked as Kakashi tapped the remainder of its contents to slick over his fingers.

"You did." Kakashi replied wryly. He tossed aside the bottle with a snort. "But lately you have a way of leaving a man frustrated." His quickly worked a finger up to the knuckle inside Iruka's entrance, then another as Iruka pushed eagerly for more. Iruka signaled that he was ready with a jerk of his hips and the jounin was more than happy to release him.

Iruka grabbed the base of Kakashi's cock to help guide the tip inside. He bit his bottom lip as he worked his way deeper at each shallow thrust. The pace he set was agonizingly slow and deliberate. He pulled back to brace one hand on the mattress between Kakashi's legs. Kakashi's nails dug into the sides of his hips to help keep him in position.

Iruka shot the jounin a murderous glare when he sensed Kakashi shift in preparation for a position to rut. "What did I say?" he warned, stopping.

Kakashi tensed at getting caught in the act. His good knee dropped on the mattress with a thud. "Do nothing," he grumbled. Iruka flashed him a brief smile, then took a deep breath before thrusting down to sheath Kakashi entirely--and instantly regretted his impatience. He cried out and Kakashi gasped in shock.

"You okay?" Kakashi tried to sit up.

"Don't. You. Dare. Move!" Iruka gritted as he willed his muscles to relax. When he felt some of the tension release, he began to rock. The friction helped to ease the burning pain. Leaning forward, Iruka dug his fingers into Kakashi's arms as heat began to pool inside his belly. It was too late to stop now.

With a rhythm now established Kakashi adjusted his hips and reached for Iruka's neglected cock. He knew that he found the right angle when Iruka shuddered with a moan. Lost in pleasure, he rode Kakashi with wild abandon.

Kakashi's ignored his bad leg jostling against the side of the bed. The discomfort was worth the long-awaited opportunity to see Iruka become undone. He gripped his free hand over Iruka's thigh to thrust into him deeper, then gave a final flick around the head of Iruka's cock. Iruka's forehead bumped against Kakashi's shoulder when he came, biting back a cry as his seed spurted over the jounin's stomach and chest.

Kakashi took advantage of Iruka's state to tip him over onto the mattress then roll on top. He adjusted the bulk of his weight on his good knee and rest against Iruka's inner thigh. Iruka clung to Kakashi on reflex and even went so far as to slide a leg up his backside as he rode out his orgasm. Kakashi delivered a few quick thrusts until he reached the breaking point for his own release, and his spine arched as he filled the other man.

Kakashi groaned and collapsed once he was drained. He laid atop Iruka in a quivering heap, happily spent.

"You are fucking impossible!" Iruka growled once he had caught his breath. There was little heat in his words.

"True," Kakashi panted. He planted a kiss on Iruka's forehead. "But you wouldn't have me any other way."

"Life would certainly be dull" Iruka chuckled and combed his hand through Kakashi's silvery mane. His expression became concerned. "How's the leg?"

"Alright--I think." Kakashi rolled to reach for the tissues wipes beside the bed, and after pulling a handful for himself, handed the box to Iruka. Kakashi flexed his right leg experimentally and shrugged when he found nothing out of the ordinary. "Probably won't know for sure until the morning."

Iruka carelessly tossed aside the spent tissues and climbed off the bed to crack his back. He gave the bed a sour look. "Ugh, I need to change the sheets."

"And don't forget to make dinner!" Kakashi reminded with a cheeky grin.

Iruka was about to say something nasty when they heard a piercing scream. Iruka shot for the window at the same moment Kakashi scrambled for his crutch. The terrified sound had been from the throat of a child.

"What is it!?" Kakashi demanded when Iruka's hand flew to his mouth in horror.

Iruka's hand fell as he turned to Kakashi, his face grim. "You need to see for yourself." Kakashi grimaced as he hauled himself next to the chuunin. The rain-soaked courtyard was ablaze as residents popped out of their homes to see what the commotion was about.

Miyabe stood wailing behind the open window to her bedroom. Below in a twisted heap laid what had once been a small animal. Kakashi's jaw clenched when he recognized the stripped tail. Totchi's body was made almost unrecognizable among the bloodied fur and meat; his lower middle had been crushed and torn open for the entrails to spill out. Mud from thrashing about covered Totchi from head to toe.

"Miyabe must have awoken to Totchi struggling for his last breath." Kakashi felt cold rage coarse through him. No creature deserved to be tortured in such a way. It was beyond cruel.

"Who could do this?" Iruka rasped as Ayaka pulled her daughter away from the window. The toddler's little body raked with sobs. Miyabe had been attached to Totchi, and it was a calculated maliciousness to have planted the cat for her to discover. It was heartbreaking to see a child of her age intentionally exposed to the cruelties of adults. The thin wail of Miyabe's baby brother added to the despair from somewhere inside the bedroom.

"It sometimes happens," Kakashi said as Ayaka returned to close the window. She appeared almost as upset as Miyabe, and Kakashi could spot enraged tears falling from her eyes. She shot the onlookers a disgusted look before slamming the window shut. Kakashi shrugged unhappily. "This is the type of village where killers are raised, after all."

Iruka worried his bottom lip as some of the neighbors began to cluster into little groups, while others grumbled back into their homes. The single fathers Kunio and Daisuke (who were cooperating for once) stepped from the crowd to remove the mangled body of the unfortunate alley cat.

Kakashi used the Sharingan to read outrage and speculation off the lips of the people below. His mouth quirked. "Hmm. No one seemed to have heard anything."

"Kakashi…"

The jounin turned uneasily at the way Iruka said his name--like a soft intake of icy breath. Iruka's tense features were aglow from the lit windows of the apartments. Kakashi followed his gaze to the one area that remained dark and lifeless through all the alarm.

But not entirely without life.

Kotone's harp was an eerie dirge in contrast to the nervous energy that charged the air. The buzz of excited voices muffled her music on the ground level, but a faint thread drifted over the throng, just loud enough for the two shinobi to hear.

The blood had drained from Iruka's face. "She never once checked outside her window." They exchanged a dark look. The lack of interest in the commotion went beyond abnormal. Aside from Kotone, every single resident had ran to investigate the piercing scream of a child. She had not been surprised that Miyabe had discovered Totchi dying under her window.

Iruka could no longer deny the seed of suspicion that Kakashi had planted. Looking at the dark window where Kotone sat out of sight and playing her harp, he suddenly felt sick to his stomach. "What should we do?"

"Send a message to HQ." Kakashi limped to sit on the bed. "I'll summon Pakkun as a runner, but you should probably go as well."

Iruka quickly followed suit to get dressed. "Do we have enough proof?"

"There were no witnesses." Kakashi frowned as he tugged on his grey cotton pants. "So it's not enough to warrant an arrest." He decided to forgo the short robe and remained shirtless. "This sort of violence can quickly escalate--especially if her attention is on a child. We have enough for Kotone to be given a psyche evaluation, at least."

Iruka nodded as he finished donning his shirt and trousers. He nervously worked his hair back into its usual style as he waited for the ninkin pug to be summoned. He felt uncomfortable to leave his post by the window, and decided to grab his flak vest on the way out the door when Pakkun was ready to leave.

Kakashi bit his thumb and performed the hand seals in a blur of motion. He slapped his palm onto the bed to complete the summoning.

Nothing happened.

Kakashi blinked. He had performed the ritual over a thousand times without fail. Five months off duty shouldn't have made him that rusty. He tried again at a slower pace, going through the motions mentally before committing. His palm thumped on the bed with the same result. 'What the hell?'

As Kakashi puzzled through his seals Iruka looked to identify the three stragglers who remained outside. He was not surprised to see Haruko and Ginko among the last to leave. The Kinjo sisters' combined girth blocked Granny Natsuko from entering her home. They animatedly voiced their suspicions at the poor woman who very obviously wanted to follow Kunio and her grandson indoors. Iruka looked past the trio to the dark apartment belonging to Kotone. He squinted at her open window, trying to see past the glare of apartment lights.

His eyes widened as a pale face emerged from the shadows.

Kotone's eyes glittered as she trapped Iruka's gaze. All semblance of the gentle woman was gone, and the terrible transformation filled Iruka with terror. A feral smile pulled at Kotone's lips as she raised the blue harp with long fingers curled in preparation of a new song.

She opened her mouth to sing.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Kakashi held two fingers against his brow and focused internally to check his chakra reserves. His eyes snapped open upon discovering they had all but disappeared--there wasn't even enough for a simple shadow clone. He gaped at the blood dripping uselessly down his thumb. It was impossible. How could he not have noticed?

He started violently as the note of a single harp string pierced like a needle into his skull. Confused, Kakashi turned to Iruka "Is it Ko--?" The words died in his throat.

Iruka's blank expression chilled Kakashi to the bone. He stood frozen in place, a soulless doll under the heavy influence of a genjutsu.

The harp twisted around the lilting keen, weaving together harmoniously until instrument and voice became one. Kakashi had only experienced such a jutsu once before. It was one that he had relived along with those dead children nearly every night since that ill-fated mission.

Kakashi felt the music starting to cloud his senses. Covering his ears, he flung his head from side to side in a desperate attempt to block it. What little chakra he had left wrestled with the Sharingan to combat the genjutsu, and slowly--but not entirely, the effects began to abate.

Breathing heavily, Kakashi lifted his eyes. He did not dare uncover his ears as Iruka began to gently sway to the eerie song. The shinobi that was Kakashi kicked into gear. 'Why isn't the music affecting me like Iruka?' His eyes fell from Iruka to the windowsill where the earplugs rested beside Mr. Ukki. Of course, I've been dampening Kotone's influence all along.'

Before Kakashi could reach for his crutch the music changed to an up-tempo beat. Iruka turned slowly at the command. Kakashi saw that his eyes were glazed and unseeing. He moved like a sleepwalker for the front door.

"Iruka! Don't--!" Kakashi lunged off the bed to make a grab for Iruka's arm. He cried out as his right leg buckled and sent him sprawling onto the floor. As the world spun in a hazy blur of confusion and pain, he glimpsed Iruka's bare feet slip out of his reach without breaking pace. In that moment with his ears uncovered and without mental focus, the genjutsu tried to reassert itself on Kakashi's mind.

"Fuck!" Kakashi spat as he hauled himself up, half crawling, half dragging to snatch the earplugs off the windowsill. The instant he crammed them into his ears a blast of cold air hit his back. Iruka left the apartment door wide open as he deliberately walked down the stairs leading into the courtyard.

'Shit. Shit. SHIT!' Kakashi scrambled in a panic for his crutch beside the bed. This was worse than any dream. He was an idiot to have seen the signs and then ignore that woman! He looked frantically in the darkness for a weapon to use. With no time to rummage through the closet, he would have to use Iruka's flak vest hanging to dry beside the front door.

The top of Iruka's head had just disappeared from sight. With the crutch firmly under his armpit Kakashi struggled to reach the flak vest. He could not ignore the agony that shot up and down his leg, and was forced to move at a more controlled pace.

So intent was his concentration that Kakashi did not register the wheelchair left forgotten against the wall. He stumbled as the end of his crutch caught through the metal spokes of a wheel and would have fallen over if he did not have the wall to brace against.

As Kakashi worked to free the crutch he spotted the kunai embedded in the armrest. He had driven it into the wood in his frustration arguing with Iruka.

The sight of it sparked an insanely desperate plan.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Kotone smirked as the pet sensei stepped obediently into the courtyard. Hatake did not follow behind, so she would play the summoning song a little longer for the copy-nin to catch up. Her dark eyes flickered to their window where she had caught motion in the shadows. The fool was probably working some method to repel her genjutsu. No matter, it was enough that she had Hatake's lover under control.

She closed her mouth as Iruka's bare feet splashed into a shallow puddle. Without Kotone's voice for guidance, he halted in the middle of it.

By force of habit, Kotone hummed along to the melody of the harp. She glanced to her right to check on the unconscious women on the ground against a wall. They were her tools to gauge the genjutsu's effect on the rest of neighborhood. Everyone will remain asleep long into the night, but none that had seen her face will survive into the morning. She will take a personal pleasure in killing those meddlesome Kinjo sisters once Hatake and his lover were dead.

Kotone leaped behind her captive when she heard a wooden clatter resonate from the top of the stairs leading to Hatake's apartment. Her eyebrow quirked with puzzlement as the din was punctuated with a few pained yelps and a muffled curse.

Hatake Kakashi, possessor of the Sharingan and copy-nin of a Thousand Jutsus, slid feet-first clinging to the handrail like a koala on a greased branch. He could not control his momentum with his bandaged leg upraised and the handle of the crutch gripped firmly in his teeth. Kakashi had to allow the end of the stick to hit the concrete stairs, and it jarred his brain at every bounce. To add to his indignity, his bottom struck the edge of every other step.

Kakashi hit the courtyard with a splash (landing on his rump in a puddle no less) he wasted no time using the crutch to lever himself up and into a fighting stance. He took in the state of the unconscious women and Iruka standing within an arm's length from Kotone, noting how the cowardly woman had positioned herself behind him.

Without the mask to conceal his face Kakashi showed his disgust and produced three shuriken from Iruka's unzipped vest. His naked skin over his arms and chest prickled at the light drizzle of freezing rain.

Kotone was momentarily stunned by the graceless entrance. Without ceasing her playing she threw back her head in a contemptuous laugh. "So this is the great Hatake Kakashi?" She sneered once her mirth had died down. "Earplugs?" She chuckled, then added mockingly "Oh no, my greatest weakness."

"Why did you kill Totchi?" Kakashi demanded in an effort to gain time to maneuver around Iruka.

Kotone followed his movements to keep the entranced Iruka between them. "All animals hate my music, but it refused to leave after I moved in." She smiled to show teeth. "I figured that a brat shrieking over her pet was a convenient way to wake the neighborhood. Poor kitty did its job well to help me put them all under my spell."

"Maa, you are a sick bitch, aren't you?"

"No worse than you--" Kotone's fingers arched to claw at her harp. Iruka's back stiffened at the sound. She screeched "MURDERER!" and stuck a chord to command Iruka to turn about facing Kakashi. The chuunin's face remained slack and unseeing.

Kotone's eyes blazed with hatred. "I will show you the pain of losing those most precious!" She shot an expectant look above Kakashi's head.

Kakashi heard feet scuffing against roof tiles, but before he could react to the sound a man landed fluidly next to Kotone. Crouching on the ground, the darkly clad stranger hummed along to the melody of the harp. Kakashi instantly recognized the newcomer before he had the chance to lift his blond head.

He had not seen it lurking beneath Kotone's mild demeanor and plain appearance, but if he ignored the close-cropped brunette hair and false smiles, her face held a strong resemblance to the rouge-nin that had nearly claimed Kakashi's life.

He and Kotone were twins.

Kakashi was SUCH a fucking idiot.

The siblings smiled as one, their expression confident and cruel. Their prey was cornered and surrounded by tall buildings to muffle screams of torment or cries for help. Kakashi was unable to fight or defend Iruka with his injuries, and the twins flaunted their hostage as a psychological display of their prowess.

Kakashi felt for the siblings a grudging respect. It was truly commendable for them to not only have himself and the neighborhood fooled, but to infiltrate the very heart of Konohagakure itself--all for the sake of a father's revenge.

He understood rogue shinobi enough to know that they would not settle with murdering of himself and Iruka. One such as Kotone who specialized in deep subterfuge would not allow her face to be recognized to be put into the Bingo Book. The two rogue-nin would make short work of the civilians with their combined abilities of earth and sound.

Kakashi's knuckles tightened over the three shuriken and his blood began to boil in preparation to fight.

"Takeshi, do it!" Kotone snapped to her brother. The cloud-nin nodded and raised an open palm high above his head. Kakashi felt himself tremble as mud began to creep up Iruka's left foot in the same earth-ninjutsu that had ruined his leg.

Kotone gloated at Kakashi and jerked her hand off the harp, ending the music. "Your pet will have the luxury to feel this!"

Iruka swayed dangerously as he was released from his stupor. He raised a hand to his temples where he felt the genjutsu's lingering effects. He abruptly registered that he was outdoors standing in a puddle, and that Kakashi stood apprehensively before him. "What--?"

"I'm sorry" Kakashi whispered, putting into his words all the pain and regret that he truly felt.

Iruka blinked at him stupidly. "Huh?" Behind him, Kotone and her brother grinned at the defeat in Kakashi's voice. Without chakra, Iruka could not sense their deadly presence.

"For my boys!" Takeshi cried and clenched his palm. Kakashi felt a stab through his heart as the bone inside Iruka's ankle snapped with a sickening sound. He could do nothing but watch as Iruka hit the ground screaming.

"Good!" Kotone crowed as Iruka writhed in the mud. She twirled her harp in an almost playful manner, then turned to her brother. Her face was alight with hectic glee. "Now snap his neck!"

"With pleasure!" Takeshi replied and glanced at his sister to return the triumphant look.

It was the chance Kakashi had been waiting for.

With Iruka safely out of the way Kakashi threw the shuriken. Kotone gasped and blocked the missiles with her harp, nicking the wood and severing strings--but she was not Kakashi's true target. After releasing the shuriken he hurled the crutch point-first at her brother.

He had guessed right in assuming neither Kotone or Takeshi did not possess the reflexes of a proper shinobi; rogue-nin tended to overspecialize in one form of strategy. The twins depended too heavily on long-range attacks and subterfuge and were totally unprepared for the copy-nin's unorthodox method of close-combat.

Takeshi's eyes bulged just before the improvised spear cracked him squarely in the mouth. Blood (and a few shards of broken teeth) flew from the rouge-nin's face as he was thrown backwards into his startled twin, knocking them both to the ground in one fell swoop.

Kakashi leaped to where Iruka lay. As he fell, he reached for the concealed wires inside the flak vest. He was grateful to have been able to uncoil both without mishap in his tumble down the stairs. Two could play at Kotone's game using false impressions and overconfidence to hide behind a ruse. Using the momentum of his fall, he yanked on the wire with all his might then released it upon hitting the ground in a roll.

Staggering upright, Iruka helped to haul Kakashi back to his feet. Unable to use his foot, Iruka slid through the mud on his knee and Kakashi did likewise with a little more haste. Muddled by adrenaline and pain, Iruka wordlessly allowed Kakashi to pull him to where they needed to go.

Are you mad?" Kotone shrieked as she struggled to free herself under her groaning brother. Mud and flecks of Takeshi's blood stained her face and apron smock.

"That's up for debate!" Kakashi panted before shoving Iruka to the ground. He threw himself on top and prayed that they had gained enough distance.

Bristling with fury, Kotone threw aside her ruined harp. "I will gut the pair of you myself!" She raised her open hand to summon mud to creep across Iruka's skull, intending to pop it like a grape.

Kotone froze when her ears caught a metallic rattling from the stairway leading to Kakashi's apartment--and growing distinctly louder at an alarming speed.

She turned to see a heavily mended wheelchair hurtle down the steps like an angry beast roaring out of its cave. Her jaw dropped in soundless horror as the shadows pulled back to reveal paper bombs slapped haphazardly across the seat--and the lit fuse tag Kakashi had pulled. She threw up her hands in a feeble attempt to prevent the inevitable as it crashed into her and Takeshi.

*BOOOOOM!!*

For a long moment the world was thrown into choking smoke and thunderous sound. The courtyard erupted, showering mud and clumps of earth into the air. Kakashi felt rubble hit his back, and he clung to Iruka until it stopped.

After a few rapid heartbeats, Kakashi pushed onto his elbows to check on Iruka underneath. His face was sweaty and pale from the pain of a broken foot, but otherwise appeared unharmed. "Are they dead?" Iruka asked anxiously.

Kakashi squinted through the smoke at the dark lumps that had once been Kotone and her brother. "It doesn’t matter. The blast should have alerted every shinobi in Konoha with half a brain."

Iruka looked up at the jounin hovering above his face. Beyond the rooftops he could hear orders being barked by shinobi gathering to investigate. The residents, no longer under Kotone's spell, were pouring out of their homes and blinking as if they had awoken from a deep sleep. The Kinjo sisters were somewhere in the background shrieking hysterically at the destruction.

A goofy grin pulled on Kakashi's muddied face as he surveyed the chaos. "All and all, I do believe that this day has ended splendidly!"

"Compared to what?" Iruka cried, then grimaced when he tried to move. "My foot's broken, the neighbor lady tried to kill us, you blew up half the courtyard…along with that stupid wheelchair!"

"Believe me, I've been waiting for the opportunity." Kakashi bent his head until the tip of their noses touched and waggled his eyebrows suggestively. "At least I got to tap your sweet ass today."

Iruka was left utterly speechless. To sum up the words that were lost to him, he flicked Kakashi between the eyes. Hard.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Epilogue

"What a gorgeous day!" Kakashi hummed as he watered Mr. Ukki from the houseplant's personalized watering can. A team of laborers were outside repairing the damage from the night before. One crew filled the hole where the wheelchair had exploded while the other team worked to fit cobblestones over the dirt ground. It would be a major improvement to the courtyard once they were done.

The sun shone cheerfully in all its afternoon glory. Little Miyabe was playing in the mud with her baby brother while their mother Ayako chatted in good humor with Granny Natsuko. The Kinjo sisters were chattering with the cobblestone workers. The sisters were trying to coax them to break for afternoon tea.

Kakashi felt a great peace settle in his heart. For the first time in months he was truly feeling like his old self again. All was right in the world, except…

"How are you feeling, my dearest?" Kakashi asked as he hobbled on his crutch to fluff the pillows behind Iruka's head.

"Fuck off, I'm busy." Iruka growled as he scribbled into a notebook. He was dressed in a loose white t-shirt and grey cotton pajama pants in the same style Kakashi wore. His bandaged foot was barely visible through the mounds of pre-genin homework scattered across the bed.

"Now, now, no one like a grumpy patient." Kakashi teased. "You of all people should know that. But I will forgive you this one time since you're so cute."

Iruka's bloodshot eyes glared through his loose hair before falling back to work on the class substitute's lesson plan. They had only just arrived home after an arduous ten hours trapped in a tiny room with a hoard of medical-nin and one irate Tsunade to debrief them. Neither Kakashi nor Iruka had not slept a wink due to the stress of the night, and even doped up on painkillers Iruka was justifiably crabby.

Kakashi glanced at the shiny new wheelchair Tsunade had issued for 'Iruka's use only.' She had vowed to never allow Kakashi's ass near one again, and Kakashi was more than happy to agree.

He felt a yawn creep up to crack at his jaws. With eyes closed, Kakashi performed a few seals to summon a jutsu to blow the paperwork off the bed.

"What the hell did you do that for?!" Iruka cried. He made as if to gather the homework before recalling that he was unable to walk. He sat back on the bed with a huff, his facial scar pale against flushed cheeks as he wound himself up for a verbal battle.

"I think that we are both due for some sleep." Kakashi said as he plucked the notebook from Iruka's hand and tossed it aside. His words worked like a spell, and Kakashi was pleased to see the chuunin's temper deflate and the lids of his eyes grow heavy.

Iruka scooted to make room for the other man to climb into bed. "I guess moving out will have to wait a few more months," he grumbled as Kakashi pulled the covers up to their chins.

"S'okay, this neighborhood isn't so bad, " Kakashi mumbled as he snuggled against Iruka. "And besides, I'll be here to keep you company."

"I know." Iruka's sleepy smile held a hint of mischief. "That's what has me wor--"

Kakashi cut off his last words with a kiss.

~Fin