At about one in the morning, the knock to the front door of Iruka's apartment was really quite a peremptory sound: short, sharp and exact in the timing for each of the three muffled strikes against the timber. Startled, Iruka looked up from where he had been perusing a crackling scroll on teaching assessment, and glanced to the bedroom door which stood slightly open. The light from the cramped living area fell inside the bedroom, and he could see strands of Naruto's hair peeking out from underneath the covers of the bed. Naruto didn't shift at all, which was good. A few months ago, when he had first moved in with Iruka, Naruto would jump awake at any small noise, waking up Iruka to go investigate with fretful pokes of his cold fingers against Iruka's shoulder.
The knock occurred again, just as precise as it had been before. Iruka unfolded his legs and rose from the tiny table, striding over to press a hand against the surface of the door. He couldn't detect any chakra at all. Either a civilian was at his door at this time of the night, or someone with an intense amount of control. His traps were armed, but they would hold an individual of great power for only so long. He hoped the ANBU on duty were being extra watchful tonight.
He opened the door and blinked at the sight of the Jōnin Kakashi Hatake standing in the darkened corridor. Hatake was dressed in full field-gear, appearing worn and rumpled. His cloak was travel-stained, and he wore the hood up over his head as if he was still on a mission.
"Is the jinchūriki here?" he asked in a nearly toneless manner, and Iruka felt his face wrinkle in confusion. Hatake gave him a very long and very unreadable stare. "I went to check his apartment. The neighbour told me he stays with you now."
"Yes, he does," Iruka finally managed and then felt even more confused. He could only imagine the reaction of poor Yukiji-san, Naruto's elderly neighbour. She must have been quite bemused at being confronted by a tall, taciturn shinobi in the middle of the night. "Wait...why were you checking his apartment in the first place?"
Impossibly, Hatake's expression became more inscrutable. It was like trying to read the side of a mountain, and the mask wasn't helping in the least.
"That is my job." Hatake stressed the last two words ever so slightly, and stepped past Iruka with a smooth gliding motion, entering the tiny space he had shared with Naruto for the past six months. Iruka actually stood staring at the shadows in the corridor, nearly breathless at this display of presumption. With some effort, he swallowed down a wave of temper and shut the door, turning to give Hakate a look that he hoped was a great distance away from caustic, and closer to a polite blandness.
"Why is the jinchūriki in your home?" Hatake asked, standing the middle of the messy living area and looking around. He moved his head slowly, his eye tracking over Iruka's many shelves, crammed with the numerous items he had managed to salvage from his childhood home after it had been reduced to rubble after the attack of the Nine Tails. Hatake appeared to be cataloging Iruka's belongings. He turned on one heel to regard Iruka himself. It felt as if that everything in the flat had been tallied up, and had fallen woefully short.
Iruka took a moment to soften his jaw. He could feel the sharp pain from clenching his teeth. "Naruto is here because he wants to be here," he said. "And because I want him to be here."
To his credit, Hatake didn't seem stunned at Iruka's life-choices (some in the village called him 'foolhardy'; others just stuck with the 'fool' part). Instead, he tilted back his head very slightly and looked at Iruka from underneath a heavy eyelid. Iruka fully expected him to make some comment about the Nine-Tails being the cause of his parents death, but Hatake was apparently a contrary individual.
"You are not listed as one of the jinchūriki's approved custodians," he said and Iruka's surprise broke the tenuous hold he'd had on his irritation.
"What does it matter?" he bit out. "I take care of him. I've been taking care of him for quite some time. He needs a safe place to be and...and attention. And his name is Naruto!"
Hatake's bored expression did not shift. "I know what his name is. It's right above mine in a document filed and signed by both his parents. And my name happens to be in the section that says legal guardians." He actually huffed and rolled his eye. "This is what I get for accepting a mission for six consecutive months. My ward is kidnapped."
"I didn't kidnap him," Iruka said. His stomach twisted into hot and cold coils. "I saw him being treated unfairly. And I didn't like that. So--"
"So you removed him from his place of safety and carried him here." Hatake looked around at Iruka's home again, and twitched his shoulders in an extremely dismissive fashion. "Here, where there are no chakra wards. And under your watch, when you clearly do not have the rank nor the capacity to be in charge of his well-being."
With very deliberate care, Iruka unfurled his fingers from where they had been clenched so tightly that his short nails left painful half-moon shapes in his palm.
"Does he even know you?" he asked, as softly as he could and was meanly pleased to see a flicker of uncertainty in Hatake's expression. "What did you do, watch him from afar? Were you the one that kept leaving boxes of instant ramen on his doorstep?" Iruka laughed a little at the way Hatake's eye narrowed. "Right, so it was you. He's not a ninken puppy, you know."
Hatake started with, "I--", but Iruka was on a roll.
"And if I wasn't capable of taking care of him, why would the Sandaime allow me to take him in? Why didn't he just let ANBU watch over him until you returned to do your stalking and food delivery?" Iruka took a deep breath, and stepped forward. He could see the rising colour in Hatake's cheek, but he was filled with a reckless anger, so much so that the edges of his words were honed to sharp edges. "You want to know why? Because I actually care for him. You? You're just playing a role that some paper says you have to, like the fucking robot you are."
"Stand down, Umino," Hatake said in voice as cold as a winter storm. Iruka realised that he now stood so close, he was practically up in the jōnin's face. Iruka didn't give himself time to feel stunned at his own daring.
"Get out of my home," he hissed. "You might outrank me in the field, but you have no say here. Not when it comes to Naruto."
Hatake looked at him for a very long beat, and then his lips moved under his mask in a slow smile. Under any other circumstance, Iruka would have been terrified. It was a horrible smile; it promised, among other things, quite a large amount of personal damage, personally inflicted.
"We'll see," was all that Hatake said, but he was still smiling. He stepped past Iruka and strode towards the door. He was upon it in a few steps, mostly because his legs were disgustingly long and Iruka's place was really quite miniscule. He reached out to grab the handle of the door and Iruka realised that he had been wearing a pair of long gloves, with clawed nails.
Fuck me, Iruka thought dimly as Hatake opened the door and exited with an eerie silence. Iruka sank to the ground, sitting in a clumsy cross-legged manner. Then he leaned over and took a few deep trembling inhales.
"Hey, Iruka," Naruto called from where he sat at the short table and Iruka turned around to blink blearily at him. He had been so rattled from what happened last night that he hadn't gone to bed. Instead, he'd slept on the sorry excuse for a couch, an item of furniture which forced Iruka to curl up into a tight ball in order to fit properly.
"Yes?" he replied, still whisking the eggs in a bowl he held in the crook of one arm. His voice felt very creaky in his throat and he tried to clear it. However, it still felt sore, as if he'd been yelling. Naruto eyed him, his mouth pursed.
"Are you okay?" he finally asked. "You've been beating those eggs for about ten minutes."
Iruka looked down at the bowl, staring at the frothy mess in its depths. He wasn't sure if they could be cooked in this state, but he wasn't about to waste them. "I'm fine," he lied and Naruto's bright gaze dimmed.
"Gonna send me back to my own place?" he asked, his voice misleadingly light. "I mean, you're probably tired of me by now."
"Nope," Iruka said, very firmly as he tried to coax the eggs into some sort of shape in the pan. "Not even close. Try again."
"Aw, crap." Naruto pouted, but Iruka could hear the relief in his voice. "I mean, I've been doing everything to make you send me back. I'm a problem child, you know."
"Lies," Iruka pointed out, flipping the eggs into two plates and bringing them over to where Naruto sat. "You've been nothing but perfectly well-mannered."
Naruto's gasp was loud and overly dramatic. "Don't let anyone know that!"
Something in Iruka's chest loosened considerably. This had been the right decision. It had been right when he'd realised that the only place he saw the jinchūriki smile was in the ramen shop. It had been right because when he walked on the road with Naruto, no one thought to scowl at the little boy. They chose to gape at Iruka instead, which was a far better alternative in his humble opinion. When he'd told Naruto that he would like to be his guardian, Naruto had been completely suspicious for about five minutes; he was too much of a sweet soul to continue past that point.
Taking care of Naruto was so easy. He soaked up attention like a flower seeking the sun. He wasn't the neatest person, but neither was Iruka, and for the past six months they had found an easy balance. Iruka fed him and bought him clothing in shades other than eye-melting orange and told him horrible jokes that Naruto always laughed at...and sometimes Iruka dared to think this is my family when Naruto slumped against his side in the evenings as they sat on the awful couch, reading a book. He wished he had more time to train Naruto in preparation for the Academy, but he was still in training himself: being a teacher took a lot more than showing kids how to throw weapons. In addition, he still had his missions and had even taken on a few shifts at the Missions' Desk to increase his funds a little more. He'd get around to it...eventually.
"So what's the problem?" Naruto asked after he'd swallowed down a great portion of the breakfast. Iruka chewed in a contemplative fashion, and then shrugged.
"I'm not sure if it's that serious a matter yet," he said. "If it gets to be, I'll definitely tell you."
Naruto nodded solemnly and then a wry smile broke over his face. "Iruka, these eggs are awful."
"Ugh, I know," Iruka groaned, and they were both giggling over the horrible eggs when a knock sounded at the door, just the same as it had last night. Instantly, Iruka's stomach clenched into anxious knots.
"I'll get it!" Naruto sang out and before Iruka could stop him, he had scrambled up and sprung over to the entry. Flinging the door wide open, he blinked up at Hatake Kakashi, who levelled a very judgemental stare at Iruka over Naruto's head.
"I could have been an assassin," he told Iruka in very oily tones. "And you had him open the door."
"Luckily for us that you weren't, Hatake-san," Iruka answered with acidic sweetness and Naruto actually turned to look at him with eyebrows raised very high. Iruka kept his focus on Hatake, who seemed intent on drilling a hole through Iruka's face by the sheer force of his glare. "What do you want?"
Hatake tilted his head from side to side. "Oh, nothing much. Just delivering a summons to an emergency council of the village elders." His eye squinted shut in the most fake smile Iruka had ever seen. "Happening in, oh, ten minutes."
"Is this the way we're going to do it?" Iruka stood up so suddenly that he turned over the short table in his outrage. Breakfast scattered to the floor and Iruka tried to rein in his anger, because Naruto looked so confused. He took in a deep, shaking breath. "Okay. That's the way we do it. Fine. Naruto?"
"Yeah?" Naruto answered, drawing out the word very slowly. He glanced between Iruka and Kakashi with wide eyes.
"Please stay here until I get back, all right? Don't worry about the mess, I'll--"
"I'll get it, don't worry," Naruto said with a reassuring smile, flapping one hand in Iruka's direction. "I'll be here when you get back!"
Iruka couldn't help himself: he grinned at Hatake, quite sure that his face was filled with a contemptuous sort of triumph. The harsh glint in Hatake's eye seemed to confirm that thought.
"Shall we?" he asked and followed Hatake out the door.
Iruka chose to walk to the Hokage Tower instead of flitting from roof to roof as Hatake did. It gave him a chance to calm himself even more, and he liked the idea of having that supercilious bastard waiting on him. A shinobi at the Tower's front desk directed him to the assigned meeting room.
Four village elders gazed with varying degrees of interest as he entered, all seated on a platform to the left side of the room. The Hokage sat a platform on the right, legs folded under his long robes. Facing them, Hatake Kakashi stood at ease, hands clasped behind his back. Iruka took up a position to his left, hoping that his irritation came off in palpable waves to smother the jōnin.
"Hello, Iruka," the Sandaime said with a smile with deepened the crinkles in his cheeks. "Welcome to this special meeting of elders."
"Good day, Hokage-sama." Iruka bowed deeply from the waist. "Good day, honoured elders. Hatake-san," he finished from between stiff lips. Hatake did not reply.
"Jōnin Hatake has brought forward a complaint against you in regards to the jinchūriki," Elder Shiori said in her strong voice, which in no way matched her papery appearance. "He indicates that you have removed the child from his place of safety. Is that true?"
"It is true," Iruka confirmed, holding a very loose stance. "I took Naruto into my care. He was living on his own in this so-called place of safety, and was being ill-treated by members of his village."
"Well, can you blame them?" Yayoi-sama hissed from between her loose lips. Iruka didn't particularly like her. "The Nine Tails nearly destroyed us nine years ago."
Iruka kept his gaze fixed on a point on the wall to the back of the room. "Naruto is the host for the Nine Tails. He is not the Nine Tails. He is a little boy who needs a loving environment...a good home."
"And you think you can provide that in the hovel you call an apartment?" Hatake broke in softly. "That is no place to raise a child."
The Sandaime remained quiet, his hooded gaze resting on Iruka's face with intense concentration.
Iruka snorted. "At least I'm there. Elders, I know that I'm not one of Naruto's legally assigned guardians. But I think I'm--"
Elder Basho cut in with his usual sharp manner: "Iruka, how old are you?"
Iruka bit the inside of his lower lip before giving his reply: "Nineteen, sir."
The members of the Council tilted their heads and pursed their wrinkle-lined lips. "Old enough, I suppose," Elder Hachiuma rasped. "Although taking care of a child is a daunting task, not to mention that this particular child is the jinchūriki."
"Iruka has taken care of himself since the death of his own parents," the Sandaime put in, rubbing the material of his sleeves between his fingers in a deceptively idle fashion. "And he has helped his neighbours with the care of their children when they've gone on missions. With the support of the ANBU, the jinchūriki is in safe hands."
Despite this display of support from the Hokage, the elders didn't seem relieved. Iruka tried to breathe through the tight sensation in his chest.
"Considering the fact that Jiraiya-sama cannot be located at this time, Jōnin Hatake is currently the only legal guardian of the jinchūriki," Elder Yayoi declared. "He is powerful enough to provide protection to the child. He also has the means to control it if it gets out of control."
His name is Naruto! Iruka longed to scream at them. He's not an 'it'!
"At his rank, he is also financially stable," Elder Hachiuma added. "And he can officially adopt the jinchūriki into the Hatake clan. That would solve some lineage problems, wouldn't it, Hiruzen?"
"It would," the Sandaime said very softly, now looking at Hatake with his considering expression.
"Then that's solved, then!" Yayoi-sama said, quite cheerfully. Iruka kept himself standing as straight as he can, through sheer force of will.
Elder Shiori held up one hand, the skin so thin that Iruka felt he could see the mapwork of veins in her palm. "Wait. Kakashi, are you not still assigned to covert operations?"
"Yes, Shiori-sama," Hatake answered, and there was a terse note in his voice. The elder closed her eyes briefly.
"Fellow members of the council," she said. "I acknowledge Jōnin Hatake's legal standing, but he is not the most appropriate guardian. Konoha guardianship rules are very clear: covert operatives are not to be assigned the direct care of children in such a manner. Not without a non-operative partner."
"The jinchūriki can survive with just the assigned security detail, can't he?" Yayoi said, cupping her painted cheek in one hand, eyelids drooping even more. It gave her quite a sleepy air, although Iruka was sure that she could be deadly when required.
"No," Iruka heard himself say very forcibly. "That is not acceptable." He felt his cheeks get warm as the elders stared at him, obviously affronted.
"Iruka really believes that the jinchūriki needs a stable environment in which to grow," the Hokage said. "He is willing to provide that. But Iruka, you simply do not have enough resources at this time. You would need to attain a post which pays more than your assisting teachers' salary."
Out of the corner of his eye, Iruka saw Hatake lift his chin in a slight display of pending victory.
"Kakashi," the Hokage continued, "you are powerful, yes...but for you to be properly effective, you would have to leave your post in covert operations in order to give more focus to the rearing of a child. I am not sure if you are willing or able to do so."
Hatake's chin dropped. Iruka bit the inside of his lip once more.
"If they had been spouses, it would be acceptable," Elder Shiori murmured, her pale eyes now fixed unblinkingly at Iruka. "Wouldn't it?"
If the Hokage had gotten yet another grandchild, he wouldn't have appeared more pleased. "Shiori-sama, that is a wonderful idea! It would be very ideal, I think." He laced his fingers together, nodding slowly. "As Kakashi's spouse, Iruka would be a legally recognized guardian, and could continue to provide emotional stability. As Iruka's spouse, Kakashi would be accepted into the jinchūriki's life quite easily, and the Hatake name would serve as protection for the Uzumaki bloodline."
That is the craziest idea I've ever heard, Iruka thought. There's no way that Hatake would agree to it.
"That is an adequate solution," Hatake murmured. Iruka whipped his head around to gaze in bewilderment at the masked cheek. "I have no issue with that."
Iruka tried to speak but nothing came out. He cleared his throat so forcibly that it felt scraped raw and then made another try. "Are you saying that you would be willing to marry me just to keep Naruto under your protection?"
Hatake turned his head so that he could look at Iruka's face with his uncovered eye. "Yes."
"But--" Iruka cut himself off and stared down at the floor. Same-sex unions were accepted in Konoha, albeit grudgingly, and Iruka had no particular preference in terms of his partner's gender; from what he'd heard, Hatake was the same. Still, this was bigger than that. This was a fundamental shift in his whole life.
However, it was obvious that Hatake was willing to go through this just to keep Naruto safe. That was actually very admirable. Iruka was a good fighter, he knew that of himself. Yet, there were people out there who would do anything to take Naruto and the Nine Tails, and would easily tear Iruka to pieces to do so. It was a wonder there hadn't been a serious attempt to date. Hatake could teach Naruto advanced techniques for his own safety. Iruka could make sure that Naruto got all the attention and care he could ever want.
"Alright," he said in a rough whisper, staring straight ahead once more. "Anything for Naruto."
"We should go through the sealing procedures as soon as possible," Hatake said. "I may be called off on a mission at any time."
Iruka took a few moments to blink at the wall and then turned back to Hatake. "Wait...what seals?"
The chakra-seals on the back of his tongue were very heavy, and tasted a bit salty. Iruka kept smacking his lips, trying to get rid of the sensation. The ANBU who had applied them just stood and looked at him for a while, and Iruka had the distinct sensation that this individual found him amusing.
Iruka had had no idea of the amount of work that went into establishing a legal state of conjugality with an ANBU. He would more than likely glean knowledge of Hatake's code-name, rank and even the mask he wore: that kind of information would be extremely valuable to Konoha's opponents. The seals were necessary, he knew that; that didn't stop him from feeling sullen over the whole procedure.
He hadn't gone home as yet, and he wasn't quite sure how he was going to break the news to Naruto. The news included such interesting tidbits as: 1) he was getting married; 2) to another man; 3) whom Naruto had never met before. Maybe, when he did the introductions he could say they had been deeply in love but had to hide that fact. He smiled very slowly: yes, that would make Naruto squirm, but Hatake would either be mortified, annoyed or upset. Iruka wanted to aim for all three.
"When you smile like that," the ANBU said, tone slightly muffled from behind the mask, "I must admit that I harbour some concern for your future spouse."
Iruka gave the ANBU a tight smile as he expressed his thanks and exited the bland corridors of the T&I division. As he headed back home, he carefully kept away from that part of his mind which was sitting in a shadowed corner with a scowl. He was to get married; to Jōnin Hatake, who was probably the haughtiest and coldest person that Iruka had ever come across. Iruka really wanted to take care of Naruto, and if it meant suffering with the most insufferable individual Iruka had ever had the displeasure of meeting, then he would do it. Besides, as soon as Naruto got older and more capable of his own protection, they could dissolve the marriage.
"Iruka!" Someone shouted at him at a crossroads and he paused in his trudging. Mizuki came towards him with a great smile on his handsome face and Iruka felt a responding grin bloom on his own, before it faded slightly.
"Hey," he said, trying to sound calm and friendly as usual. Mizuki stopped a few paces away and he gave Iruka a long look.
"Are you okay?" he asked. He reached out and brushed his fingers briefly against the side of Iruka's hand, a movement so quick that it was probably unseen by the civilians milling around. It felt good: warm and uncomplicated. "You look...tired. Or pissed off. You ready for tomorrow's exam?"
Iruka groaned; he had completely forgotten about that! The assessment was a combination of teaching techniques and chakra control, and he hadn't even started to review the information as yet.
"It's fine," Mizuki said, very warmly. His smile was so reassuring and Iruka felt himself stand a little straighter. "You'll make it. Is the kid okay?"
"Yeah! Look, I...I have this thing." Iruka wrinkled his nose at the way Mizuki's eyebrows lifted. "It's something crazy that just happened, but I'll tell you about it later."
"Later," Mizuki said in a tone that indicated that he would definitely hold Iruka to that. Iruka waved at him and strolled off towards his apartment block.
When he climbed the staircase, he stopped short. There was a small box in front of his door. It was black, which was probably the most alarming shade that Iruka could think of for a package. He approached it very carefully, reaching out with his chakra to feel if there was anything nefarious about it. Nothing pinged back...at least, nothing that said there was imminent danger. There was a kind of protective layer over the box, a stratum of energy that crackled at the brush of his chakra but it melted away when he came close, obviously keyed to the presence of his energy-signature. Slightly mollified by that, Iruka poked at it with one toe and then with his breath held, knelt down to pull at the open flap.
In it were about two stacks of papers, neatly arranged into two brown folders. There was one loose folded sheet on the very top, with characters spelling out PLEASE REVIEW AND SIGN.
These must be the documents that Hatake had indicated he would be sending over: child custody agreements and the civil partnership papers. It was really a lot of officiousness in Iruka's humble opinion.
Iruka hefted the box and disarmed his traps. He headed right for the couch and sat down, placing the box between his feet. He was definitely not looking forward to spending his evening in such a manner; he had an exam to study for! He sighed and reached down to take up the first folder.
After about an hour of parsing through some very annoying legal language, it was a relief to hear Naruto's familiar clattering on the staircase to this level. He placed the file he was reading back into the box and tried to pin a smile on his face. After a few moments, Naruto burst in, skin almost as brown as Iruka's from spending all day in the sun. His hair seemed even more bright in contrast.
"Iruka!" he burst out. "Do you know what that idiot Sasuke was doing today? He was practicing a katon with a combo! I mean, that's like the craziest thing!" Still ranting over the Uchiha, he stumbled over to the kitchen and rummaged around for something to drink. Iruka watched him, feeling his tight smile relax into something more natural.
Naruto poured out a large cup of juice and turned to Iruka, pointing at the cup with a raised eyebrow. "Want any?"
"No, thanks," Iruka said, slouching back in the couch and crossing his legs.
"What's up? What's in the box?" Naruto asked, his blue gaze flickering to the package before returning to rest curiously on Iruka's face. Iruka briefly considered telling him that he was going to get married to Hatake, and leave it at that, but he had promised himself that, as far as he was allowed, he wouldn't hide anything from Naruto. Besides, the boy was really more observant that people thought he was. Iruka beckoned to him.
"Come sit over here." Iruka patted the seat and Naruto sidled over, juice in hand. "I have something to tell you."
Naruto's shoulders twitched up into a hunch and he took a very loud slurp of his juice. He stared down at his sandals, which were big for his feet. Iruka had bought them quite recently, and had figured that since he couldn't afford to buy shoes regularly, Naruto would have to just grow into a well-made pair.
"I really want to keep taking care of you," Iruka said, and watched how Naruto's shoulders hunched even more, "and I'm trying my best to make sure that things stay that way."
Naruto froze. Then, he blinked rapidly, his grip tightening on the cup of juice. He didn't say anything, didn't turn his head, so Iruka took a deep breath and went on.
"I'm not your assigned guardian, though. Someone else is." Iruka paused, wondering if Naruto was going to ask who this 'someone else' was, but Naruto remained quiet and still. Iruka frowned slightly and then went on: "So, the best option for us...for everyone, I think, is that I'm going to marry that person. So I can become your legal guardian, too."
Naruto mouthed what, and his face wrenched up into an expression so complex that Iruka couldn't read it. That was very unusual, because Naruto was the easiest person to read, ever.
"You're going to get married," Naruto finally said in a hoarse little voice, "just to keep taking care of me?"
"Well, yes," Iruka said, leaning forward a little so he could look into Naruto's face properly. Naruto turned his face away. "Hey, are you all--"
"Do you love her or something?" Naruto asked, stubbornly keeping his face out of Iruka's line of sight.
"Uh, well." Iruka tugged at the collar of his shirt. "It's a he."
Naruto whirled around, juice sloshing out of his glass. His eyes were very wide, and very watery. "Iruka!"
"It's fine, it's no problem," Iruka said, grinning really wide because Naruto looked so happy and so astounded. "I really want to do this...if you're okay with it?"
The cup crashed to the floor as Naruto launched himself into Iruka's arms. He hugged so tightly that Iruka half laughed, half gasped, "I guess you're okay with it!"
Tears fell unto Iruka's neck, and he held Naruto even closer. This was worth it.
This is all about Naruto, Iruka told himself sternly, locking his knees so he wouldn't feel them shake. Just remember that. All about Naruto.
He stood beside Hatake in front of a desk, behind which a shinobi checked through the documents that Iruka and Hatake had signed. The room, a small space in the same corridor as the Hokage's office, was made even more cramped by the fact that both Iruka and Hatake had carried along three witnesses each. The instruction sent had indicated 'at least two and at most four', so Iruka had asked Mizuki, Izumo and Kotetsu. Mizuki had been flabbergasted when Iruka had requested his presence at the civil partnership ceremony.
"You're getting married?" Mizuki had blurted out and blinked rapidly. The other patrons of the bar hadn't seemed to pay him any mind, but it was a shinobi bar; they heard. Mizuki visibly collected himself, obviously aware that he had yelled out Iruka's business to the most gossipy members of the village. He leaned forward and moved his lips more than spoke. "To Hatake?"
"Yeah." Iruka took a sip of his beer, wrinkling his nose in a grimace. "This is for Naruto, though."
Mizuki's expression was the picture of incomprehension. "But why? The Nine Tails killed your parents!"
Iruka turned his head and hoped that his glare sufficiently conveyed his annoyed displeasure. "I know how my parents died. I also know what they lived for...and I'm sure they'd approve of me doing this."
"Wow." Mizuki scrubbed at his face and ran a hand through his hair. The pale strands fell back to frame his face. "Sorry, Iruka," he said, leaning against Iruka's side briefly. "It's just a surprise, that's all...but I can understand why you're doing it. I'll be there at your wedding."
Iruka laughed a little. "Oh, it's not a wedding," he corrected. "Just a partnership ceremony." He elbowed his long-time friend in the side with another laugh and then rest his forearm on Mizuki's shoulder. "I'll be really glad to have you there by my side, though. I wish you'd be there when we move into the Hatake compound, too."
Mizuki laughed as well, but there was a strained quality to the sound and his shoulder felt stiff under Iruka's arm. "You know," he said, his voice very quiet, "I had hoped that you and I...you know…"
He didn't finish, and when he looked at Iruka's stunned face, his wide mouth was twisted in a wry smile.
"But...Tsubaki?" Iruka wondered aloud and Mizuki shrugged. Iruka was sure that Mizuki would get married to his girlfriend eventually; they were so good together. In addition, he'd had no idea that Mizuki had felt that way. It was...weird, but Iruka found himself considering.
"Tsubaki is great," Mizuki had answered, his smile soft and sweet. "But you're Iruka."
Iruka hadn't known how to respond to that, so he didn't. Afterwards, it was a bit awkward between them, but at least Mizuki was here with him today, at his wedding. His civil partnership ceremony.
The official, a retired shinobi named Sayo who still worked at the Mission's Desk from time to time, dipped her round chin in a decisive nod and stood up. She wore a simple blue kimono, the mesh armour peeking from the neckline, over a pair of loose black trousers. She had a sweet face, and when she smiled, the scar on her left cheek crinkled.
"Is everyone here?" she asked. Iruka nodded, not daring to look if Hatake had done the same. Hatake had brought along Gai, Kurenai and Asuma. When they'd entered this office, all the jōnin had given Iruka fairly flat looks...except Gai, who had glanced between Iruka and Kakashi with tears in his eyes. Iruka had fully expected him to launch into some kind of speech, but he had been quiet so far. By sheer force of will, apparently, since Iruka could hear him sniffling over there, and they hadn't even started as yet.
"Let's begin," Sayo said. Her tone, usually calm and soothing, became authoritative. "We are all here to recognize the public declaration of Kakashi Hatake and Iruka Umino. This is a full and legal commitment in accordance with the laws of Konohagakure, and will be henceforth recognized as such."
She held out her hands and motioned them to turn to one another. Iruka obeyed, keeping his gaze locked around the area of Hatake's flak-jacket collar.
Sayo continued, "Kakashi and Iruka, are you here freely and without reservation to enter into a binding relationship?"
"I am," Iruka answered, hearing the echo of Hatake's response as well.
"Do you promise to honour and care for each other? To cherish and encourage, to stand together through sorrow and joy, through hardships and triumphs?"
That was a lot, Iruka thought, but he took a deep breath and said, "I so promise."
He didn't hear Hatake's voice echo after his as it had done before, and he glanced up. Hatake stared at Iruka's left ear, his jaw clenched tight under his mask. Iruka tried not to scowl.
Hatake finally gritted out, "I so promise," and Gai actually let out what sounded like a joyous sob.
"Manifest your rings," Sayo instructed very calmly, and this was the part that Iruka had actually looked forward to. He had spent many hours yesterday training a mere sliver of his chakra into the required physical manifestation; now, he pressed his palms together and went through the six hand-signs, coaxing his chakra into form. A blue ring materialized in the space between his hands. Iruka looked up to see Hatake already waiting with his own chakra-ring, glowing golden.
"May these serve as a symbol of your union, to remind you of your vows and your commitment," Sayo said. "Please exchange rings and recite your vows."
Hatake plucked his ring out of the air and paused.
"My right," Iruka murmured; shinobi wore their rings on their non-dominant hand. Hatake grasped Iruka's right wrist and slid on the circlet of chakra onto his middle finger. Hatake's chakra was...warm. The ring pulsed on Iruka's finger for a few beats, and then faded into his skin. He could feel it there still, a small but solid weight floating lightly atop his own chakra. It was the most unusual sensation, and there was an intimacy about it which brought sudden heat rushing to Iruka's cheeks.
"I pledge to share my life with you," Hatake murmured. "To care for you, to honour you as my partner and to encourage your fulfilment as an individual. I pledge to protect you and our united household. With this ring, I commit to our union."
Iruka couldn't help it: he felt his jaw unhinge and his lips part in surprise. He hadn't expected Hatake to recite such a simple and yet lovely vow. He suspected that Gai had something to do with it. Hatake's singular gaze slid to his and his dark eyebrow raised expectantly. He held out his left hand, and Iruka noticed through his daze that Hatake hadn't removed the fingerless gloves.
Flustered, Iruka reached out and took his hand. He slid on the ring of chakra and stammered, "I...I pledge the same to you. To care for you and honour you, and to protect you and our household. And share my life! Right, um. I commit to our union."
Iruka fully expected Hatake to roll his eye at the stumbling vow, but Hatake merely nodded his head as if accepting mission parameters.
"You may now kiss, if you wish!" Sayo said and Iruka tried not to grimace. He would rather kiss one of the Elders than Hatake, but he screwed up his courage and stepped forward. Hatake watched him approach with a wary air.
"You're not going to move your mask, aren't you?" Iruka whispered when he was so close he could feel Hatake's breath puffing through his mask.
"No," Hatake said, voice toneless. Annoyed and feeling villainous, Iruka leaned forward and pecked him on the mouth, right over the mask. Hatake didn't flinch back, but he held himself stiffly.
"Congratulations!" Sayo exclaimed, but her voice was drowned out by Gai's ecstatic shouts.
"My dearest friend!" he bellowed. "This is the day of your flowering youth! We must celebrate!"
"Yeah!" Kotetsu cried, but his voice was no match for Gai's impressive volume. "I definitely need a drink!"
Hatake turned towards the other jōnin. "Who's going to pay for it? I don't have any money on me. Why do we need a celebration, anyway?"
Iruka could feel the power of Asuma's eyeroll. "You cheapskate," he rumbled, but there was an affectionate streak in his deep voice. "Your own wedding, and you don't want to buy us any drinks. Typical."
"Never mind," Kurenai said. "We'll pay for ourselves. We're going," she insisted when Kakashi seemed on the brink of refusal. Iruka thanked Sayo and they trooped out of the office, heading towards one of the nicer bars in Konoha: the Noon Sun.
Iruka had never been inside this place before, and he admired the beautiful inner courtyard with its rock gardens and tiny trees. The bar was at one end of the lovely gardens, the wooden surface of the floor and ceiling glowing warmly.
"Just one drink," Izumo muttered as he eyed their surroundings. "This place looks expensive."
Iruka hesitated before taking a seat around the low table beside his...his husband. Gai sat on Kakashi's other side, motioning to the smiling attendant.
"A toast!" He cried when she brought a tray of alcohol. "To my friend and his partner. Be happy." He lifted the small glass and downed all of the contents in one go.
"Hope you have a satisfying wedding night," Mizuki said in an extremely suggestive manner, eyebrow-waggle and all. Iruka gave him a scandalized stare, but Hatake simply shrugged.
"Doubtful," he murmured. Gai seemed extremely disappointed at this statement, while Kurenai sipped at her drink with a small smile. Asuma lit a cigarette, the strong scent wafting around the table. Iruka looked down at the small glass in his hand. This was his wedding reception, in a way. He hadn't expected it to be so quiet.
"Sempai," someone said and Iruka looked up in some surprise. A person dressed in ANBU gear, with a cat mask, knelt close to Hatake. "Congratulations on this special day."
"Oh, thanks," Hatake said easily, head tilted to one side, eye half-shut. The Cat ANBU nodded and then glanced over at Iruka.
"Congratulations, Unimo-san," the ANBU said and Iruka felt a rush of surprise at the honorific. He wondered who this ANBU was to Hatake; he had said 'sempai', so he was obviously Hatake's junior. What other history did they share?
There was, he realised, a lot he didn't know about his husband.
"Thank you, ANBU-san," he replied, and the masked person nodded before melting back into the shadows. Maybe this was one of the ANBU who watched over Naruto to make sure he didn't release the Nine Tails. Iruka could only guess.
He felt Mizuki's gentle but brief touch on his hand and felt a little more steady. He might have married someone he didn't really know, but he still had his friends. Iruka took another sip of his drink, and let the quiet conversation flow around him. He felt the trembling weight of Hatake's chakra press lightly against his own.
Iruka wondered if his ring felt the same way to Hatake.
"Hey now," Naruto said, peering at the Hatake compound with a gleam in his eye. "This looks nice!"
Iruka hitched at the strap of his heavy pack, nodding in agreement. They stood just inside the main gate, the tall walls effectively hiding the structures and the land within.
The main building, the family house, was indeed very lovely: it was a U-shaped structure elevated a few feet above the packed earth by sturdy posts, its roof crowned with the scalloped pattern of clay tiles, most brown with age. A good number of the tiles had the lighter shade of replaced members. The building was surrounded by a riot of greenery, displaying fleeting glimpses small gardens and grassy little corners.
They had entered the compound hand-in-hand; Naruto pointed out the stone-paved walkway which led to the front of the house and then around to the back, to where the other, smaller, structures were located. The sounds of insects hummed in the quiet afternoon, and a bird twittered in one of the tall pine-trees.
The sunlight glinted off the arc of strong chakra-wards, illuminating them like a large soap-bubble, but they had a subtle sheen of welcome. It was all really charming.
Iruka's apartment had been very small. He had lived in that space for quite some time, but it had been his home, and Naruto's for awhile. However, he'd packed and cleaned as best as he could, sending out a wish that the tiny space would serve someone else as well as it had treated him. He had hired a man with a cart, and had most of their possessions sent over beforehand; three cardboard boxes had encapsulated the entirety of their belongings. Then, he and Naruto traveled across Konoha, launching from rooftop to rooftop until the taller buildings began to spread apart, then diminish in height.
"I used to live in a house like this," he said before he could stop himself. Naruto gazed up at him with large eyes and Iruka gave him a firm smile. "With my parents."
"Really? What happened to it?" Naruto looked around as if Iruka's old house would pop up out of nowhere for his entertainment. Iruka took the opportunity to give himself a quick mental kick.
"It's gone now. I'll tell you about it another time." He was still not allowed to share with Naruto the details about that horrible night; up to quite recently, the Hokage had reminded him about it.
"When the time is right," Sandaime had intoned, exhaling a thin plume of smoke. "Naruto will know the truth."
Iruka privately thought that this wasn't the best policy, but the Hokage's word was law. From the mildly considering expression on the Hokage's face, he'd been quite aware of Iruka's opinion on the matter.
Naruto simply shrugged now and slipped his hand out of Iruka's grip, skipping up the front steps. Iruka followed him and admired the gleaming timber, polished as if an army of clones had been working at it all week. There was a sense of newness to some parts of the structure, such as the sliding storm-shutters. They stepped onto the wide outside corridor, accompanied by the sweet scent of flowering bushes. A door slid open and Hatake emerged. Startled, Naruto scrambled back behind Iruka, one small hand tightly gripping the back of Iruka's long-sleeved shirt.
"You've finally arrived," Hatake said, in lieu of a polite greeting. Hands held loosely against his sides, his gaze dropped to where Naruto peeked out from behind Iruka. "Hello."
"Naruto." Iruka reached around to grasp Naruto's shoulder and gently lead him back around. "This is Hatake Kakashi. He's my… partner. He's going to help take care of you."
"Your partner?" Naruto looked up at him and pursed his little mouth. "You mean your husband? Not partner like in a mission, right?"
Iruka hoped that his brown skin would hide the rush of warmth to his cheeks. When he glanced up at Hatake's face, all he encountered was that great wall of impassivity. "Yes, " he managed quietly. "My husband." It sounded so odd to his own ears.
"The boy is right, in a way." Hatake muttered. "This is a long term mission which entails protection and training. Umino and I will be your teachers."
Aghast, and trying so hard to rein in his expression, Iruka managed to bite out, "Don't call this a mission. We're taking care of him. He's our son."
The whole world fell silent and a very distant part of Iruka sternly wondered when would he ever learn to control his tongue. Beside him, Naruto released a sharp, surprised sound. He pressed his small face against Iruka's arm, forehead hot through the material of Iruka's sleeve. Iruka watched Kakashi's expression for a long moment. It did not change; his eyes didn't shift, his mouth did not twist under the mask. Everything about him was tranquil.
Then, he spoke in a voice that was colourless: "If you say so." He turned on his heel and headed back inside.
Naruto skipped around him, his eyes wide. He smiled up at Iruka, as bright as a miracle.
"Yeah," Iruka said before Naruto could speak. "Yeah, yeah, you're my son."
"I'm gonna be the worst son ever," Naruto promised. "You're going to disown me, like, next week."
"You wish," Iruka told him and Naruto laughed, wildly, joyously.
"Are you coming in or not?" Kakashi asked, reappearing in the doorway like a spectre from a nightmare. Naruto squeaked and then giggled like a mad pixie.
"You scared me, Kaka-papa!"
Apparently, Iruka might never be able to do anything to put Kakashi off his game; but Naruto had a completely different effect. Kakashi's eyebrows twitched and he blinked rapidly. He flinched a little one side, glared all over the place, and then mumbled, "Just...come in."
Iruka folded back his smile, and followed Naruto into their new home.
It was even lovelier on the inside. There were decorative wooden panels set high in the walls, and these let in streams of warm light, illuminating gleaming timber and opaque paper walls. Some of the spaces had more solid partitions, such as bedrooms, but the cooking and dining areas flowed into each other to make a fairly large but homely space. There were pots hanging on the wall over the large, old stove and to Iruka's eyes they looked well used, and carefully scrubbed.
Kakashi led them to the first room. He pushed open the door with one foot while keeping his hands in his pockets. "Yours," he told Naruto, who crept in as if he were trying to work his way past a unit of enemy-nin. The single box marked NARUTO'S STUFF was already waiting in the corner near a small bench with shelving space underneath.
"Is this your old room?" The boy queried, staring around the plain but neat space in an assessing manner. Kakashi attained that stunned air again, and he glanced at Iruka's face, very briefly, before looking away at once. Iruka, for his part, hoped that his expression was as smug as he could make it.
"Yes," Kakashi told Naruto. The boy nodded, and then dropped his pack on the woven mat. He knelt beside it, and pulled it open, reaching inside.
Naruto glanced up at them, quirking his blond eyebrows. "Um...do you mind?"
"Sorry, sorry." Iruka seized Kakashi by the elbow and tugged. Kakashi resisted for a moment, but Iruka simply pulled harder.
"What does he even have in there to hide?" Kakashi wondered as he led Iruka down the corridor.
"It matters to him," Iruka said. "I honour his privacy and I ask that you do the same."
Kakashi stopped in front of another door, his eye narrowed at the deep brown wood. His mouth moved underneath his mask, words clearly fighting their way to the frontlines.
"Say whatever you need to say," Iruka said, darkly snide. "But I'm not going to give him any reason to distrust me. In any case, we all have our secrets, don't we?"
"We're in the business of secrets." Kakashi's voice was deep and smooth and cool. "We're shinobi, after all." He opened this door the way he opened Naruto's: with a gentle, careless kick. "Here you are."
It was a beautiful suite. Iruka stepped in, feeling his eyes get even wider in his face. There was a sitting area...and a space patently designated as an office. Iruka would have swooned in delight, if he wasn't very sure that Kakashi would refuse to catch him. A massive desk with a tall storage cabinet beside it; a chair with gentle, welcoming curves, designed to dispense with any sort of back-pain; there was even a wax-sealing set, waiting in a small intricately patterned box. A tall bronze lamp with an articulated joint, waiting for a spark of chakra to light the working space.
"I can't take this room," Iruka whispered, actually stepping back. He fetched up against Kakashi and whirled around, an apology spilling from his lips. He stood far too close to his...his husband. Kakashi was slightly taller, but he still managed to look down at Iruka as if he was miles high. His exposed eye, half-lidded, tracked back and forth very slowly, scanning Iruka's features.
Iruka gazed at him. At this proximity, he noted that Kakashi's eyebrow was just as grey as the rest of his hair, and his iris was a dark, moonless night.
"This was my father's room," Kakashi murmured, not shifting away. Well, if he wasn't going to step back, then Iruka wouldn't either. He would stand here and suffer against the warmth of Kakashi's body, but he wouldn't lose this round. "Probably you're ashamed to be in the room of the White Fang. That's alright. There are still people in this village who think of him as a failure."
"I liked the White Fang," Iruka said, a hot whisper. "I had a drawing of him on my wall when I was a boy. My father told me Hatake Sakumo was really brave and really nice, and he always said that the world needs nice people. I just think this room is a bit much, that's all."
"Your father must have been quite a silly man." What an insulting thing to declare, but Iruka was stunned at the slow, teasing smirk under Kakashi's mask. "Explains a lot about you. But this is your space now. I want you to have it and I think it would be very rude to refuse."
Ah, kill them with politeness, was it? Well. Iruka could play at that, and very well. "In that case…since you are so kind to gift me with this wonderful room, then I am honoured to accept." He tilted up his chin, and smiled. "Thank you, my dear husband."
Kakashi stepped back, the movement so swift that Iruka nearly shivered at the rush of cold air between them. Kakashi nodded, a jerky dip of his head and then muttered, "You need to meet the dogs," before turning on one heel and stalking away.
Iruka let his pack slide off his shoulder to the ground. He scrubbed at his face and hair with both hands.
He'd won that round...right?
There was a bathroom that he apparently shared with Kakashi, if he was going by the door on the other end. He washed his face and took a steadying breath. He stared at his reflection in the mirror and reminded himself that this was all for Naruto.
Iruka heard the dogs barking, Naruto's high-pitched giggles, and he followed the sounds. He had to go around the back before he found them, a writhing heap of dog and boy, gamboling atop the packed earth between what seemed to be a storage shed and a large outside kitchen. At least, most of the dogs were rolling about on the ground. Pakkun sat at Kakashi's feet, his small face wrinkled into a moue.
Kakashi perched on one end of a log, head tilted to one side as he watched Naruto scamper about with the pack.
"A new pup," Pakkun said, tones dripping with gloom. "Let's hope he doesn't piss everywhere like Urushi did."
"LIES!" howled one of the other dogs from the playful melee. "You KNOW that was Biscuit!"
"Don't start," Kakashi's tone was absent but firm, the manner of a person who has said something similar at least fourteen times in half as many hours. "Urushi is still sensitive about that, Pakkun."
Pakkun grunted and then looked up as Iruka drew even closer. "Who's this?" he asked, as bored and as blunt as his master.
"That's my husband," Kakashi answered. He didn't look at Iruka. "I told you already, didn't I?"
"It's nice to meet you, Pakkun," Iruka said, taking a seat on the same log.
"Whatever," Pakkun answered, and really, Iruka was not surprised.
Naruto sped over and sat in Iruka's lap, still fairly small enough to do that without crushing Iruka's privates. He hugged Iruka tightly around his neck and screeched, "These ninken are awesome!"
Iruka laughed and snuck his own arms around the sturdy frame. "Tell me their names?"
"Akino, Biscuit, Bull, Guruko, Pakkun, Shiba, Ūhei, Urushi," Naruto rattled off. "That's alphabetic order. You wanna hear in order of ages?"
"Go ahead." Iruka listened keenly as Naruto went through the list once more. "Good job!"
"Thanks!" Naruto bellowed and hopped off, speeding around the out-buildings. The pack chased after, baying merrily.
"Isn't he a bit old to sit in your lap?" Kakashi asked and Iruka rolled his eyes at the utter predictability.
"Don't knock it til you've tried it," he answered, very sweetly. "Sitting in my lap is a great experience. You might actually enjoy yourself for once in your life."
Kakashi got to his feet, sparing Iruka the most dismissive glance yet. "I'll go start dinner."
"The offer stands...my lap is your lap, husband!" Iruka called after his rigid back, unable to stop himself from needling Kakashi. It was as if his childish, mischievous self had clawed its way back to the surface of his personality.
He chuckled, stopping when he realised that Pakkun was staring up at him. There was a considering glint in the dog's eyes.
Pakkun hummed consideringly and then said, "You know...I think you'll do."
Sorry for the wait! I update as soon as I am able. I really appreciate your comments and kudos!