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Taking Care

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Iruka woke up with what could be best described as a niggling itch in the back of his throat. He tried rather unsuccessfully to cut his impending sickness off at the knees by gargling saltwater and drinking a hefty mug of green tea, but by the time he found himself standing before his usual gaggle of youngsters he could feel the beginnings of a massive headache blossoming behind his left eye. An hour later he became aware that the room felt a great deal warmer than he knew it actually was, and an hour after that it took to shifting precariously around him every time he moved.

When the bell rang for lunch Iruka all but fell into the chair behind his desk, laying his head on the cool varnished wood and taking deep breaths to keep from passing out.

"Iruka?"

He sat up slowly, straining his eyes, but the world seemed to be bubbling. Anko's face resembled a vaguely disturbing surrealist painting.

"You feelin' alright Iruka? You don't look so hot…"

Iruka made a noise he hoped was 'I'm fine', but he couldn't be sure since everything sounded like he was under water.

A cool hand pressed against his smouldering forehead and he sighed gratefully, leaning into it.

"Damn Iruka, you're burning up; you should go home."

"Can't…kids…test…" he managed weakly.

"Please," Anko snorted, grabbing him by the arm and lifting him to his feet, allowing him to lean against her while the world righted itself, "I'm sure someone will cover for you – hell, I'll cover for you. You need to go home now."

Iruka contemplated the dangers of leaving 24 impressionable children in Anko's care, but decided that he was altogether too sick to worry about what kinds of chaos might ensue.

"Make sure…" he panted as he staggered towards the door, "that they know…we'll have the test…"

"When you get back, yes, yes," Anko made deliberate shooing motions, "Now go home, drink some soup, take good drugs, and sleep."

Iruka nodded, very carefully to keep the world from dumping him on his ass, and proceeded to stumble home.

He didn't make it more than halfway before he bumped into someone on the street. He mumbled an apology, unable to muster the energy to look up and see who it was, but no matter which way he stepped, the black and green roadblock remained in his path.

"My, my Iruka-sensei, cutting class in the middle of the day?"

Iruka recognized the voice and suppressed a groan, peering irritably up at the silver-haired Jonin. He didn't have the physical or mental strength to deal with Kakashi right at that moment; the older man seemed to have been bored of late, without his students to occupy him, and rather than attempting to find a normal hobby like knitting or rock-collecting, he had fallen back on the old standby that all Konoha's Jonin seemed to enjoy: a little game known as 'make Iruka blush'. Of course, he was far better at it than the other Jonin by virtue of the fact that Iruka had had a rather schoolboy-esque crush on him for the better part of a year and a half – most of the time just being in same room with Kakashi was enough to make Iruka blush at least a little bit.

Iruka managed a small grunt and tired once again to step around the bushy-headed man in his path, but somehow his feet got tangled around themselves and he nearly fell, just managing to catch himself.

"Are you alright Sensei?" Kakashi cocked his head to one side and, observing Iruka from this new angle declared, "You don't look well."

Iruka was about to retort that he couldn't possibly look as bad as he felt right at that moment, but all that came out of his mouth was a dismayed sort of groan as he realized that the ground was rushing up to meet his face.

***

Iruka woke in a soft bed.

For this he was momentarily grateful, until, through the ruthless pounding in his head, he realized that he had absolutely no idea where he was.

"You know – it's not terribly good tactics to pass out in the street Sensei."

Iruka groaned and fought the urge to dig himself a hole in the mattress. The only thing that stopped him was that he now knew whose mattress it was.

When he opened his eyes, Kakashi was looking down at him with distinctly unnerving concern in his single eye.

"How do you feel?"

Iruka responded with a sound not unlike the squawk of a dying goose.

Kakashi sighed and laid a hand on his forehead. Iruka tried to convince himself that it was a wicked chill of Kakashi's palm that made his head spin so dangerously.

"I should probably apologize for this," Kakashi was saying – or at least something like that – "but this was the only place I could bring you. I've never been to your apartment after all, and I thought it might be a bad idea to leave you alone in the state you're in."

"Home…" Iruka managed to grunt, kicking a little at the blankets, which seemed to be weighted down at the corners or something, because it should not have been so hard to move.

"Later," Kakashi promised him in a tone that was infuriatingly gentle and understanding, "You should sleep for now."

Iruka glared defiantly at him, as best as he could.

"I promise I won't do anything unsavoury to you while you're asleep," Kakashi grinned.
Iruka glared harder, until his head started to throb, and the only thing that he could do was lapse into an uneasy sleep.

***

Iruka slept fitfully, tossing and turning. When he got too hot he would kick off the blankets and someone would put them back; when he got too cold someone tucked the blankets more tightly around him; and when he needed water, someone pressed a cool glass to his lips.

For a long time he couldn't remember who it was that was caring for him. For a while he thought it was Anko, because he could dimly remember her saying something about how sick he looked; but the hands that comforted him were too large to be hers, and the voice that rumbled in the darkness of his half-dreams was too deep.

Nonetheless, he felt safe.

***

He awoke in the dark, sweating and frozen at once, uncomfortably damp blankets tangled hopelessly around his ankles. His head was throbbing, long and slow, right at the base of his neck, and rivulets of sweat ran down his face and neck, matting his clothes to his body. He realized that he was still wearing his uniform darks, although someone had removed his sandals, wraps and vest. He felt grimy all over and his entire body ached. He also had a near-painful need to use the bathroom, but he wasn't sure that he quite trusted his legs to get him there. Every time he took a breath his vision wavered. He looked around slowly until he thought he could roughly guess where the bathroom was located, then tried to decide if he was going to try and walk to it, or crawl. He eventually decided that crawling was the better option, as it held less risk of falling, or at least promised a smaller distance between him and the floor; but as he moved to roll off the edge of the bed, he was stopped by a blanket-wrapped body on the floor.

He had a ridiculous, fevered thought about corpses until he recognized the brush-topped silver head that was poking out from under the blanket.

"Kakashi…" he coughed feebly.

The Jonin came awake and sat up almost instantly, "Is something wrong?"

"I…" Iruka felt foolish and useless just for having to say it, but at the very least he needed Kakashi to get out of his way, "Bathroom…"

Without so much as a teasing remark, Kakashi helped him stand and walk to the bathroom, where Iruka promised he could manage from there on his own – and he did, although it was a near thing. He tried very hard not to look at the face in the mirror above the sink as he washed his hands and rubbed cold water across his forehead and stubble-roughened cheeks. What he did glimpse looked like death warmed over.

He stumbled back out into the main room, trying to ignore the ache in the small of his back, and managed to make it to the bed under his own power, which he considered a triumph. He fought with the blankets for a few minutes, trying to untangle them, but they seemed to have a will of their own and refused to come apart. Just when he was on the verge of tears from frustration, Kakashi took the blankets from his hands and motioned for him to lie down.

"Stupid..." Iruka half-grumbled, half-sobbed, "Never works…"

Kakashi chuckled softly, shook the blankets flat again, then laid them lightly over Iruka, who watched it all with a bewildered sort of amazement.

He marvelled at the way Kakashi had tamed the evil blankets, and then at how different the man looked without his vest and kunai holster, wraps and gloves. Kakashi finished tucking the blankets up around Iruka's chin, telling him gently to go back to sleep and Iruka rolled over onto his side, snuggling deep into the blankets. At the last instant before he plunged over the precipice of sleep, he realized that Kakashi hadn't been wearing his mask.

***

It was light when he awoke again, to the smell of toasting bread and brewing tea. Iruka eased himself carefully up in the bed, relieved when his brain gave only a half-hearted throb. His pain seemed to be now evenly distributed over the whole of his body, although he couldn't decide if that was and improvement or not. He combed sweat-tangled hair back off his face and someone deposited a tray in his lap.

"Any better?" Kakashi smiled at him. He was wearing his headband and mask again, and Iruka couldn't be sure if what he remembered glimpsing the night before had been real, or only part of his fevered dreams.

"A little…" he croaked dryly.

"That's good," Kakashi gestured to the tray, "if you think you can eat something then go right ahead. There's also tea – camomile."

Iruka looked at the offering in front of him – toast with jam, a sliced orange and a steaming mug of tea.

"That's very…kind of you Kakashi-sensei," his voice was terribly weak and strained, "but I really should go – I've inconvenienced you."

"Not at all," Kakashi waved a hand dismissively, "I'm sure you're aware that as a Jonin of Konoha it's my duty to help the people of this village in whatever way I can."

"I didn't think that extended to being a nursemaid…"

Kakashi grinned, "But I'm quite a good one, don't you think?"

Iruka felt his cheeks heat up. Kakashi put an un-gloved, cool hand on his forehead and Iruka shivered.

"You still have a fever," Kakashi informed him, "I think it's best if you stay here for a little while longer. Don't worry, I've already informed the academy that you won't be coming in today."

Iruka floundered, his mouth opening and closing uselessly. What in the world were people going to think?

Kakashi patted him on the head, "Have something to eat, and there's some nifty little pills there too. I have to duck out for a bit, but I won't be gone more than an hour."

Iruka blinked, feeling he had missed something.

"Just put the tray on the floor when you're done," Kakashi said as he ducked out the door.

Iruka sat quietly and considered his breakfast for a while. In the end he ate only one slice of the orange and half a piece of toast. Chewing was far too much effort.

He wanted desperately to get out of bed, but his whole body felt weak and shaky. He hadn't been this sick in a very long time, and it was just his bad luck to have found himself under the care of Hatake Kakashi.

He was never going to live this down, and he knew it. Kakashi would probably tell the other Jonin all about it, how pathetic he had been, moaning and tossing in the bed, too sick even to get up and use the bathroom by himself; he would be the laughing stock of the village for weeks, if not months.

Still, Kakashi had been nothing but kind to him, which was really more than he deserved seeing as how they barely knew one another – except for that unfortunate incident during the Chunin exams that Iruka had yet to work up the nerve to apologize for.

Too bored and disheartened to sleep, Iruka tried to occupy himself by examining his surroundings, after all, under normal circumstances he probably would have killed – or at least maimed – someone for the chance to get inside the Jonin's apartment and hopefully learn more about him.

Kakashi's apartment wasn't much different from Iruka's own – main room doubling as a bedroom, small bathroom with a shower in it, small kitchen with barely enough room for a table to eat at. The only other furnishing was a small bookshelf, and Iruka frowned when he noticed that most of the books on the shelf had orange covers.

On the windowsill behind the bed were a small, well cared for plant, and three pictures in frames. Iruka felt his heart clench when he saw the picture of Team Seven, Kakashi grinning above the heads of his Genin students. He knew that Naruto had an identical picture in his apartment. Iruka at first recognized only one person in the second picture, a younger Fourth Hokage, but as he studied it more closely, it he realized that the silver-haired, masked boy in the foreground had to be Kakashi. The two other young ninja with them he did not recognize at all. The third photograph was of a boy, perhaps three or four, posing in a formal kimono in front of a temple. A man, also formally dressed, stood behind the boy with a hand on his shoulder. By their resemblance they had to be father and son. Iruka puzzled over the picture for a while, his mind still not quite working as fast as it should have been, until he realized that he recognized the boy's bare face. It was the same face he had glimpsed the night before, younger certainly, but the same.

It hadn't been a dream after all.

***

Iruka slept off and on through the day. While he was awake, he and Kakashi talked about pointless things like the weather or the importance of vitamin C – which was really all Iruka's mind had the energy for. Some time when it was dark again, Iruka awoke feeling shaky all over, like his fever had broken, to the sensation of someone running a cool, damp cloth over his arm.
He blinked owlishly against the darkness, willing his eyes to focus, "Uh – Kakashi-sensei?"

"You stink," was the reply.

Iruka frowned, "Excuse me?"

There was a splash of water and the cloth moved to his chest – his bare chest – but it simply felt too good for Iruka to be overly concerned about where his shirt had gone, "You've been lying in bed sweating for almost two days – you're rather ripe."

"Oh, sorry," the room was starting to come into focus as Iruka's eyes adjusted to the moonlight coming in the large window.

"No need to apologise," Kakashi laughed.

"I mean – about all this…" Iruka shuddered as the washcloth skimmed over his stomach and raised a knee defensively, because honestly if something happened – even if it was something beyond his conscious control – it would be far more embarrassing than simply needing Kakashi's help to get to the bathroom.

"Never mind that," Kakashi's voice sounded scolding, "besides it being my duty as a Jonin – a certain blonde haired someone asked me to keep an eye on you while he was away."

Iruka groaned, throwing an arm up to cover his eyes, "Naruto…"

Kakashi chuckled, "Got it in one."

"This is so much more embarrassing than before…"

"No it's not," Kakashi teased, replacing the washcloth with a soft towel, "the fact that he cares about you is a good thing."

Iruka grunted, still vaguely mortified, and moved his arm to glare up at Kakashi.

"You…" he sputtered, after a moment of blinking against the darkness to make certain he wasn't seeing things, "You're not wearing your mask…"

"Well it is my house," Kakashi smiled at him and Iruka's stomach wobbled, "I shouldn't have to wear it all the time. It gets itchy."

Iruka studied him in the near-darkness, and decided that it wouldn't have really been a striking face by any means if not for the fact that Kakashi always kept it covered up, which might have been the point. The scar over Kakashi's Sharingan eye went all the way down to his chin, but otherwise his face was unblemished. It was a delicate face really, with a narrow chin and high cheekbones, very pale, and with his hair almost falling a little around his face he almost looked more pretty than handsome.

Iruka decided that maybe his fever hadn't broken after all.

"You're not going to kill me to protect your secret, are you?" Iruka asked, only half-joking.

"Come now Sensei, after I've spent all this time nursing you back to health?" Kakashi's laugh was slightly unnerving, "Even I'm not that crazy."

"Of course not…" Iruka could feel his eyes drifting closed against his will. Being dried off was very nearly like a massage for his aching limbs.

"Although," Kakashi smiled a little lopsidedly, a goofy sort of look that didn't suit a ninja at all, "If I suddenly find renderings of my face plastered all over the village, I'll know who to come after."

"Don' worry," Iruka yawned heavily, "I'm not a very good artist."

"Ah, lucky for me," Kakashi readjusted the blankets around him, "going back to sleep?"

"Mmm…" Iruka burrowed deep into the mattress, "Yeah…"

Cool, calloused fingers skimmed across his forehead, brushing away stray tendrils of hair, "Good idea. 'Night Iruka."

"Sensei," Iruka corrected groggily, "Iruka-sensei."

"Yes," Kakashi chuckled, "of course."

***

The next day, Iruka felt markedly better, though still weak and shaky. Nonetheless he felt that he had imposed on Kakashi more than long enough and insisted he be allowed to go home. Kakashi finally relented, allowing Iruka to have a quick shower and lending him a pair of clothes – the pants were slightly too long and the shirt not quite wide enough at the shoulders, but that hardly mattered.

He tried to convince himself that people weren't watching them as they walked down the street together, but by the time he got home he was simply too tired to care.

Kakashi stayed just long enough to make sure that Iruka was securely in bed and to assure him that the borrowed clothes could be retuned at his convenience.

Once he was alone, Iruka tried very hard not to think about how much more difficult it was to fall asleep in an empty apartment, and decided that it was just because it had been so long since he'd had anyone around to watch over him.

***

Iruka went back to school two days later, on Friday, and spent the majority of his newly reclaimed energy trying to restore what remained of his class – many of the students were laid up at home with the flu of doom – to some semblance of order.

Anko, he decided, would never be allowed to substitute for him again as long as he lived.

After putting in a few hours at the mission desk Iruka headed home, fully intending to spend his weekend completing his return to good health. On the way he stopped at Kakashi's apartment to drop off the borrowed clothes – which he had washed – but there was no answer when he knocked on the door.

When there was no answer again on Saturday afternoon Iruka went to the mission room and asked Kotetsu – very casually – if Kakashi was away on a mission. When Kotetsu informed him – with an altogether too knowing smirk – that in fact he was not, Iruka could guess what had happened.

He made a brief stopover at the drugstore, and then hurried back to Kakashi's apartment.

***

"Kakashi-sensei," Iruka knocked lightly yet urgently on the apartment door, "Kakashi-sensei, are you in there?"

There was a muffled croak from the other side of the door and Iruka knocked again.

"Hold on a minute," A deep, growling voice that was definitely not Kakashi's called out, and Iruka felt a swell of embarrassment in his chest. Well, if Kakashi had someone else to look after him then Iruka decided that he would simply drop off the clothes, offer some good wishes, and then run – although he wasn't sure why that last part was necessary, the fluttering sensation in his stomach told him that it was.

There was a scrabbling noise from inside the apartment, and suddenly a small key slid out through the gap under the door, tapping against Iruka's sandal.

"Let yourself in," the unknown voice commanded.

Iruka frowned, wondering why whoever was inside couldn't simply open the door for him; but he took the key and opened the door anyway. When nothing pounced on him from the open door and no booby traps fell down on his head, Iruka stepped inside and closed the door behind himself.

The shades had been completely drawn so that the room was nearly pitch black, and the air was thick with the musky-sour smell of contained sickness.

"Hello?" Iruka ventured uncertainly, unable to see anyone in the room.

"Down here."

Iruka turned his eyes to the floor and found, seated at his feet, a miniature pug in a ninja headband. It stared up at him with remarkably intelligent eyes, and Iruka realized that he was looking at someone's very strange idea of a summon.

"Uh – Hello." He managed a polite nod, unsure about proper etiquette was when speaking to a sentient animal.

The pug raised a paw in greeting, then turned its attention towards the bed, where Iruka could make out the shape of something curled defensively under the blankets.

"He's such a brat," the dog declared, "won't let me go and get someone to help him – said something about 'wanting to die in peace'."

Iruka's eyes widened in alarm, "Please tell me he's being melodramatic."

"Terribly," the pug growled.

"Pakkun you traitor…" the lump on the bed wheezed.

Iruka made his way carefully across the dark room, setting the clothes and shopping bag on the wide windowsill, and reached out gingerly to touch the cotton-covered lump on the bed, which shifted under his fingers.

"Kakashi-sensei?"

The top of a silver-coifed head appeared, "Please tell me you've come to put me out of my misery…"

"No," Iruka couldn't help but laugh a little, and wondered if he had been so endearingly miserable during his convalescence, "I've come bearing chicken soup and drugs."

The blankets receded a little further, revealing Kakashi's face, blushed deep red with fever.

"You'll…" Kakashi coughed weakly, "Get sick again…"

"Actually," Iruka crouched down so that he wasn't towering over the Jonin, "Since I was sick already, I'm probably immune now."

"Lucky bastard…" Kakashi rasped.

Iruka touched the older man's forehead and pulled his fingers back almost immediately from the heat there, "I'll get some water and you can take the pills I brought."

Kakashi answered with a listless grunt.

When Iruka had helped him sit up and take the medicine, he rearranged the sweat-dampened pillows and sheets so Kakashi could rest more comfortably. As Kakashi settled in again, Pakkun curled at his feet, Kakashi looked at Iruka with one fever-clouded blue eye and said, "You don't have to do this."

Iruka gave him his most serious teacher face, "I think it's only fair that if you looked after me, I should return the favour."

"Aww…" Kakashi sniffled. Iruka was almost certain that it was written in Konoha regulations somewhere that a S-class, former ANBU Jonin was not allowed to look so wretchedly adorable. "But I was planning on using that to blackmail you into going on a date with me."

Iruka sputtered, blinking wildly, almost certain that his brain was going to explode from the sheer volume of blood rushing to his face, "I – I don't – I mean…" he turned his face towards the ceiling and managed to sound incensed when he wasn't looking at Kakashi's face, "You could have just asked me."

Kakashi laughed, quickly dissolving into a fit of coughing, "Don't think I'm going to forget this…"

"Of course not," Iruka ignored the heat in his cheeks and mustered a smile, "Now go to sleep."

Kakashi closed his eye, grinning stupidly, "I'm not forgetting…"

"I know. Go to sleep."

Kakashi pulled the blankets up around his head, "Goodnight Sensei."

Iruka laughed softly, shaking his head, "Good night Kakashi."

-End-