That the pain was nothing more than a distant buzz along the edges of Iruka's senses attested to the fact that someone had been generous with very good drugs. Iruka peeled his eyes open, smiling dazedly at the ceiling. He was wonderfully, groggily alive--and just as certain that he shouldn't be.
Iruka recognized that voice. He was certain that he'd recognize Kakashi, even half-dead and drugged to the gills. Which he was. Iruka's grin widened, stretching his dry lips to the point of pain. His vision swam as the distant ceiling was blocked from view by Kakashi's face, upside down and much, much closer.
"You're here," Iruka said, unable to contain his surprise.
"Are you so shocked?" Kakashi asked. "Isn't this what friends do, Iruka? Aren't we friends?"
There was an inflection to Kakashi's words that Iruka had never heard before. The first stirrings of uneasiness formed at the base of Iruka's spine, like cold pinpricks. "Yes," Iruka said, "yes, of course." Reaching for Kakashi felt like slogging through mud. Kakashi didn't dodge, although Iruka's movements were slow, and so clearly telegraphed that a pre-genin could have guessed his intentions. The material of Kakashi's mask was soft with use, and his skin warm beneath Iruka's fingertips where they rested just above the mask's edge. "Kakashi, please, what happened?"
Kakashi pulled back, settling into a familiar slouch. "You threw yourself into the middle of a fight you had no place being in," Kakashi said. He might have seemed casual--even dismissive--but even Kakashi's mask couldn't conceal the tense set of his jaw. "You died, Iruka-sensei."
"Ah," Iruka breathed. "It certainly feels like it." His grin was manic, wide and toothy. "Did I get in a good shot before, at least?"
"No," Kakashi said flatly. "Go back to sleep, Iruka."
"You could have the decency to lie to a dead man," Iruka said. He barely caught Kakashi's subtle shudder before his eyes slid shut. "Will you stay, Kakashi?"
"For as long as I can," Kakashi said.
Iruka's sleep was anything but restful. The pain, so distant only days earlier, had become a constant presence. The physical discomfort followed Iruka into his sleep, where it was joined by disturbing images--half-dreams, half-memories--none of which he could clearly remember upon waking, but which left his throat tight with dread. Iruka breathed out sharply, and turned his face away from the all too familiar ceiling.
A copy of Icha Icha Paradise lay on the chair across from Iruka's bed. The garish orange cover was faded from exposure to the elements, and the cracked spine spoke of frequent readings. An empty cup sat on the floor, the scent of green tea still lingering. Kakashi had not been gone long, and was sure to return. Iruka's grip on his blankets loosened. He hadn't realized that he'd been carrying so much tension until it eased.
He didn't know where his niggling sense of uneasiness was coming from. Iruka had felt less off-balance after being betrayed by Mizuki--and he'd woken up back then unable to move at all, with Ibiki looming at his side. This wasn't Iruka's first near-death experience--and it certainly wasn't his first time waking up in the hospital--so what was wrong? Pain shot through his shoulder when Iruka moved abruptly, raising a hand to his eyes to rub at them roughly. He gritted his teeth, and ignored the pain.
"What am I missing?" Iruka said, aggravation turning his voice low and rough.
"Should I tell you?" Kakashi asked from the doorway. His head was tilted thoughtfully as he surveyed Iruka through a hooded eye.
Embarrassment and irritation swelled at having been caught talking to himself--a bad habit for any ninja. Iruka bit back a sharp retort, and dragged his hand across his face one more time before settling it across his chest. He smiled tightly at Kakashi, and said: "Please do."
Kakashi slid the door closed behind him with his foot. He kept his eye trained on Iruka as he approached, stopping at the end of the bed. Iruka had to crane his neck at an awkward angle to clearly see Kakashi's face: the bastard was playing with him. The ridiculous swell of joy he'd felt at the thought of Kakashi's return gave way to the familiar, and comfortable, burn of irritation.
Kakashi's eye curved gently. "You'd make quite the Icha Icha heroine, Iruka." He carelessly waved off Iruka's strangled retort. "As you lay bleeding to death in my arms, you told me that you loved me. That you'd loved me forever. Romantic, don't you think?"
"I didn't," Iruka protested. He could feel the blush rushing across his cheeks.
"Oh, but you did," Kakashi said. "A man doesn't forget a scene like that, as much as he might want to. Tell me, sensei, do you make a habit of deathbed love confessions?"
Iruka had promised himself that he wouldn't ruin what he had with Kakashi with anything so messy as the truth. Iruka bit the inside of his cheek, fighting back a humourless bark of laughter. An Icha Icha heroine, indeed. "I'm always at my bravest when I'm dying," Iruka said.
Kakashi smiled as he leaned forward, his hands braced on either side of Iruka's legs. "You could stand to be a little less brave, sensei," he said.
Now Iruka understood the source of the uneasiness that had been plaguing him since he'd woken. "You're angry," Iruka said.
"I must be, if you think so," Kakashi said, coldly mocking. "You know me so very well, after all."
Iruka's face darkened again, with anger rather than embarrassment. "Try not to be such an ass, Kakashi," Iruka snapped. He pushed himself up, too unsettled to heed the warning twinges his body was giving him. He would not fight with Kakashi while laid out flat on his back, wounded, vulnerable. "I'm not asking you to love me back. I'm not asking anything from you. There's no reason for you to be so angry."
Kakashi was silent for a long moment. When he pulled back from the bed, Kakashi fell back into his usual slouch. He tucked his hands into his pockets, and angled his body away from Iruka. "Have you always been such an idiot, Umino Iruka?" he asked.
"At least I'm not emotionally stunted," Iruka said hotly, his voice shaking with anger.
Kakashi carefully, silently, shut the door behind him when he left. Iruka stared at the door, furious and confused. And alone. Surely the drugs were enough to explain the hot sting of tears at his eyes. What the fuck had just happened?
Kakashi was not there when Iruka was released from the hospital. Iruka told himself that he didn't care; if Kakashi couldn't deal with Iruka's feelings, they were both better off apart. Naruto accompanied Iruka home, and filled his apartment with bright chatter and wide smiles. Iruka couldn't imagine being unhappy in Naruto's presence, and was kept occupied long after the boy had left, cleaning up the joyful mess Naruto had created.
Iruka dropped the last of the dishes into the sink to soak, and collapsed onto his couch. He tilted his head back, staring at the ceiling. His eyes burned. Iruka closed them, and curled onto his side, careful of his injured shoulder. He feel asleep on the couch, and woke up hours later, alone.
He'd dreamt of blood, and Kakashi's dark eyes.
A frown had affixed itself to Iruka's lips as he slept, and clung on stubbornly as Iruka moved through his morning routine. His apartment felt cramped and empty. With sudden intensity, Iruka found himself missing the organized chaos at the hospital. Iruka's frown deepened. He threw his toothbrush back into it's holder with enough force that it clattered and spun, knocking into a second toothbrush. Kakashi's.
Iruka pinched the bridge of his nose. Was he really doing this? Pining after Kakashi?
"Hell no," Iruka muttered, "you jackass."
The water he'd left in the sink overnight had turned cold and grey. Iruka wrinkled his nose in distaste, and decided that the dishes could wait a little longer. He needed coffee. He'd missed coffee. Coffee would make everything better. Iruka set the coffee to brewing, and grabbed the first available cup from the cupboard. The Icha Icha logo was printed on the side of Iruka's chosen cup. He cast a betrayed look at the percolating coffee.
Someone who'd been nothing more than a buddy fuck shouldn't have left so many of his belongings littering Iruka's home. Iruka's lips pinched in reluctant amusement at the dramatic cast his thoughts had taken over the past several days.
"It's my cup now," Iruka said, feeling childish and not caring. He settled down at his table, and tipped the coffee mug in the direction of Kakashi's apartment before taking a sip. Delicious.
More tired that he'd anticipated, Iruka spent most of his time at home. He graded papers that he'd assigned weeks ago--papers that his students had probably long since forgotten, and that Iruka would need to forcibly remind them of. His mouth twitched; he'd missed the indignant screeches of his students, and would be glad to return to them. Although he worked slower than usual, grading didn't take long enough. When he was done, Iruka puttered around his apartment. He rearranged plants on the windowsill, straightened picture frames, and even ventured beneath his furniture in search of dust bunnies.
He spent too much time deliberately not thinking of Kakashi, always with a hot flare out outraged betrayal. It wasn't as if he'd expected anything better from Kakashi. Being so firmly denied shouldn't have cut so deeply. Iruka threw his dust rag aside with a huff of irritation. Kakashi was annoyingly persistent, even when he wasn't there.
And Iruka was not thinking of him.
Dusty and disgruntled, Iruka headed for the bathroom.
The sight of his own reflection in the mirror made Iruka pause. The towel he'd slung around his neck hid the worst of his bruised shoulder from view. He'd seen the bruise before; it was impossible not to. Iruka hadn't paid as much attention to the pale, circular scar on his chest. He studied it now, felt the raised skin beneath his fingertips, the beating of his heart beneath that.
You died, Iruka-sensei, Kakashi had said.
Have you always been such an idiot, Umino Iruka? Kakashi had asked.
Iruka curled in on himself, and laughed until his chest ached.
"I'm an idiot," Iruka said.
Kakashi looked at Iruka thoughtfully. He held the door open. "Come in," he said, and pulled Iruka inside when he hesitated. Kakashi closed the door behind them, and leaned against it, his arms folded over his chest.
Kakashi's flak jacket was off, his mask was on. Iruka didn't know what it meant--if it meant anything at all. He tugged at his ponytail in frustration, at a loss now that he was in Kakashi's apartment, Kakashi's eye cool and considering on Iruka's flushed face. "You were right," Iruka said. "I'm an idiot."
"So you said," Kakashi agreed. He took Iruka by the uninjured shoulder, and pushed him towards the couch. "Before we continue with the self-flagellation, how are you?"
"Fine," Iruka said. "I threw out your toothbrush."
Kakashi's laugh was short and sharp, surprised. "Is that what you wanted to tell me, Iruka?"
"No," Iruka said. He drew in a steadying breath, and raised his eyes to meet Kakashi's. "I'm sorry. Not for telling you I love you, but for how I did it. I was selfish, and I hurt you, and I'm--"
"An idiot," Kakashi said.
"I know you're angry--"
"--but I love you," Iruka said. It was hard not to look away from Kakashi's masked face. Retreat would be easier--and absolutely final. "And I was hoping that you might feel the same."
Kakashi hummed thoughtfully. "And you aren't even dying this time, sensei. I am impressed."
"Don't be an ass," Iruka snapped.
Some of the defensive tension eased from Kakashi's frame. Iruka realized that he hadn't been the only one who was uneasy about this meeting. "Do you sweet-talk all of your lovers like this, Iruka?" Kakashi asked. Humour made his voice warmer.
"Only you," Iruka said. He hesitated only briefly before teasing: "you're the most obnoxious lover I've ever had. And I love you, Kakashi."
Kakashi leaned forward, grasping Iruka's chin roughly. "If you die for me again, Iruka--"
"I can't promise that I won't," Iruka said. He touched his fingertips to the back of Kakashi's hand. When Kakashi didn't resist, Iruka curled his hand around Kakashi's wrist, holding him in place. "I can promise you that I won't leave the important things unsaid until it's too late. I won't hurt you like that again."
"Do you think I leave my toothbrush at just anyone's apartment?" Kakashi asked.
"You didn't toss out my Icha Icha mug, did you?"
"No," Iruka said. "What are you--"
The kiss was unexpected, and more than welcome. Kakashi pushed Iruka deeper into the cushions. He settled himself atop of Iruka, his hands relearning the shape of Iruka's body, the feel of his skin. Kakashi scrapped his nails across the scar over Iruka's heart, making him jolt and cry out.
"I'll say this plainly enough that even you can understand," Kakashi said. "I love you."
"I'll dig your toothbrush out of the garbage," Iruka promised breathlessly.