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Once in a lifetime

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⤜⥼⊱⋇⊰⥽⤛ ONCE IN A LIFETIME ⤜⥼⊱⋇⊰⥽⤛ 

 

"Where am I?" His voice, like the tinkle of little crystal bells, echoed throughout the peaceful landscape.

"I think It's here where we all go to when we are not ready to leave", a voice behind him replied. Kakashi turned around, surprised. There, sitting on a bench at the feet of a cherry tree, a very handsome young man smiled at him with nostalgia. His eyes, the same warm brown tone as burnt coffee, sent out such a softness that Kakashi felt nothing could ever be wrong. The silver haired man sat beside the beautiful stranger and, for a few minutes, he just watched the cherry blossoms dance with the wind.

"What you have said... Does it mean I am dead?" Kakashi asked in a whisper. The handsome man next to him closed his eyes, enjoying the gentle breeze that played with long, chestnut strands.

"No" the stranger responded calmly. "It means your hour has yet to come, that you can go back... That there too many things you have to do before Heaven can claim you".

"Heaven?" Kakashi laughed humourless. "What makes you thing I have ever done something good enough for me to deserve heaven?" His voice was a painful tone, resentment through words.

The beautiful brunet looked at him curiously. It was then when he noticed the devotional way in which the silver haired man covered his right eye with his hand. Saying Kakashi was astonished when he felt another hand on his own would be an understatement. In other circumstances, Kakashi would have already beaten the shit out of the poor wretch who had dared to touch Obito's eye... But this was not any other circumstances and the person who was sitting next to him, for some reason that he, simple mortal, couldn't understand, put him at ease. It was as if, suddenly, Kakashi was seven again and got the ability to trust blindly back, fearless to failure or to pain. Kakashi slipped his hand slowly, until just the warm touch of the stranger's hand remained over the scar, caressing him with tenderness.

"And you? What makes you think you have done something bad enough for you not to deserve it?"

Kakashi didn't know how to answer that. Hell, was there any answer for that? If there was, Kakashi didn't know. The only thing he knew was that he had failed so many people throughout his entire life... Too many, perhaps.

"Whatever our sins may be, we can find redemption for most of them", said the brunet.

"Not mine", replied the taller man.

The stranger gave him a last gentle caress and removed his hand with delicacy. Kakashi found himself missing de delicious warmth as soon as the stranger's fingertips abandoned his scarred cheek. It wasn't until that very moment that Kakashi understood that, in reality, it was his skin what was cold as ice.

"How can I be so cold while you are so warm?" questioned Kakashi. His companion's cheeks reddened.

"Ah... Well, I'm not sure" the younger man answered with a shy smile. "But, if you're recovering your senses, maybe it means you're going to wake up"

Wake up? Kakashi looked bewilderedly at his hands, feeling his fingers stiff. In that moment, he paid attention to his clothes for the first time. That was... pyjamas? No, no, it was a... A hospital gown... What the hell?!

"Am I... in a hospital?" Kakashi asked, noticing that the other was wearing the same clothing as him –a couple of sizes smaller than his, in any case.

"That was what the conclusion I came to after a while. Although I don't know more than you"

After a while? Kakashi wondered.

"How much time have you been in here?"

The stranger just stayed in silence with a blank stare. When the young man levelled his gaze to Kakashi's again, a small smile had appeared on his lips. However, Kakashi, somehow, knew it wasn't sincere. The brunet never replied to his question. Instead, he looked back at the sky, his eyes following the delicate turns of a cherry blossom navigating in the soft breeze. Kakashi saw the smile disappear. The stranger's eyes showed so much pain that Kakashi felt devastated.

Kakashi wanted to stay there, playing questions with that stranger of soft voice and warm skin, but he felt colder and stiffer with every passing second, and Kakashi knew he was about to leave. The words abandoned his lips in flickering words before his brain could realise that the doubt he had been keeping locked in his heart had been thrown.

"Will we meet again?"

The younger man stared at him disconcerted. Then, bewilderment gave way to one of the saddest smiles that Kakashi had ever seen.

"I hope not"

Something pulled him from his chest so hard that Kakashi's eyes glazed in pain.

"Aren't you going to come back?" Questioned hurriedly; breathing turning into a very difficult task. The other shook his head.

"I have no right" said the beautiful stranger.

The time of grace ended and Kakashi found himself laying in a cold stretcher in a room with white walls, a strong scent of disinfectant clouding his thought. Breathing was horribly painful and his chest hurt as if someone had hit him with a baseball bat. Around him, people in white coats sighed in relief.

"And here we were thinking you wanted to leave without paying the bill, Hatake-san", joked a doctor.

 

  ⤜⥼⊱⋇⊰⥽⤛

 

It had been three days since Kakashi had woken up. According to his friends, Kakashi had been going to work when another driver lost control of the car and hit Kakashi's car from behind. Only then did Kakashi start to remember by himself what had happened before waking up in that garden full of cherry trees. As always, Kakashi had decided to take the car since taking the underground first thing on Monday morning tested one's will to live. Then again, as always, he had waited to arrive at the first traffic light to buckle himself up. But it was okay; he had not even gone 30 metres. Really, what could happen? But, then, before he could put the safety belt, something hit his car hard enough to send him flying through the glass.

He wasn't seriously hurt, just a couple of pretty bad looking injuries which, having been treated so fast, hadn't developed into anything worse than they could have if given a poor treatment or a considerable intervention delay. On the other hand, his ribcage hurt more than Kakashi would ever say. Even so, everything was right, or that was what doctors thought until his body reacted badly to the medication and went into shock, which produced a cardiac arrest. Kakashi had been dead for five minutes.

¿Was it possible to miss someone you had talked to for just five minutes? Initially, Kakashi believed it was pure curiosity; you don't have that kind of dreams every day, after all. So, as soon as exhaustion came about and he was left alone, Kakashi tried to relax on that damn bed Tsunade had forbidden him getting up from and pick up that talk he had left half done. But it was impossible. He remembered that beautiful face perfectly; soft cinnamon skin, reddened cheeks, the gentle curve of his slightly plump lips, the scar that cut his nose which, curiously, didn't diminish the stranger's natural grace... But, what Kakashi recalled with entranced fascination were his eyes, those incredible hazel eyes.

It had been three days since Kakashi had woken up from that dream as odd as unbelievable. Three days during which Kakashi tried to come back to that bench, feel the soothing breeze and keep talking with that attractive stranger... And he was beginning to despair.

"Your ribs will hurt a few more weeks, but it doesn't look like they are going to give you any more problems until they heal completely. As for the medication your body reacted to, it has already been cleansed from your system, so I think you can go home. I'll see you next Wednesday to know how you are doing" Tsunade said while writing in his notebook. "Now, Asuma has brought you a change of clothes, so get dressed so you can get out of here once and for all... And don't even think about trying to deny the daggers you send me every time I make you stay more time in here, brat", she warned Kakashi with a look that promised pain if he tried to act innocent. Standing against the wall behind Tsunade, with his hands buried in the pockets of his jeans, Asuma smirked, amused by the little reprimand his best friend was receiving. However, Kakashi, being in another world as he was, didn't respond to the doctor with one of those poor excuse of his. After a while, Tsunade and Asuma looked at him worriedly.

"Kakashi?" Asuma called, trying to get his attention.

 

I think it's here where we all go to when we are not ready to leave

 

"Tsunade, ¿may I ask you something a little... weird?" Asuma and her looked at each other puzzled but, finally, the blonde nodded.

"Is it possible there's a young man, brunet, with long chestnut hair has been hospitalized here?"

"You'll have to be more precise, brat" Tsunade told him, confused.

"He's got a horizontal scar which runs from cheek to cheek and covers his nose."

"Ah" Ah? What the hell is "ah"!? Kakashi didn't have time for "ah"! Tsunade winced. "Umino Iruka. It's one of those cases where you want to take the law into your own hands. Do you know him?"

"Not exactly" Kakashi said, although the truth was there was no absolutely right answer to that question. Tsunade and Asuma stared at him with concern and Kakashi knew he had exactly ten seconds to explain himself before those two decided to keep him in hospital until pigs flew. "Those five minutes I was dead... I was with him..." the silver haired explained. The atmosphere became so tense that Kakashi felt unsure suddenly. "It sounds so crazy... Sorry, I must sound demented"

"The world is full of people who have gone through inexplicable experiences during life or death situations like the one you had... People who have seen things that are senseless if you try to apply logic..." the doctor clarified in a conciliatory tone.

"Maybe it was just a dream?" Asuma offered. Kakashi shook his head.

"I had never seen him before..." the silver haired mentioned absently. Then, he realised what Tsunade had said. "Have you said something about taking justice into your own hands?" Tsunade nodded and, because of the inquisitive look from the two men, she decided to fully explain the issue.

"Umino Iruka has been in a coma for more than a year now", both men's feature reflected such a surprise that Tsunade had laughed at them had it not been such a serious issue. "He had just adopted a child as a single father, Naruto, five years old, a lovely ball of energy. Iruka came here to get the medical and psychological exams that social services demand and, before we even realised it, half of the hospital staff was waiting for his next visit... He's just that kind of person, you know?"

The kind of person who gets under your skin, Kakashi completed mentally, noticing at least how much effort he had been putting in coming back to a perfect stranger.

Tsunade had had a nostalgic smile while recalling the good moments but, as soon as she remembered what Iruka had been put through, the curve upon her lips disappeared.

"According to Commissioner Ibiki, Iruka's former partner, a man called Mizuki, has always been obsessed with him to the extent that Iruka himself had to ask for a restraining order. But that didn't stop Mizuki. It had been less than three months since Iruka had taken Naruto home, when it happened. Iruka and the kid had been spending the day in the garden when someone knocked at the door. Iruka left Naruto alone for a few minutes and, when he came back, found Mizuki strangling the child. Apparently, Mizuki had been watching them the whole three months, becoming more and more unstable every day gone by and, that day, he finally lost it. Iruka separated Mizuki from Naruto and tried to fight him. At some point, Mizuki took out the knife with which he scarred Iruka's nose, although I believe he was aiming for the eyes, that son of a bitch. By the time the police arrived, Iruka was lying unconscious on the floor and that bastard was stabbing him in the back while screaming incoherencies. Fortunately, Naruto had fainted, so he didn't have to see something so terrible.

"For God's sake..." Asuma murmured. Kakashi's blood was ice cold. "What did happen to Mizuki?"

"He's in jail. And for a very long time. Although, the harm has already been done."

"What about Naruto?" Questioned Kakashi.

"Social services are taking care of him again. We don't know when Iruka will wake up. However, Social services guaranteed they would wait for him to get out of the coma for a month before returning Naruto to the Adoption system. To be honest, I was very surprised: it's not any secret the fact that, among officialdom, there are individuals who don't see with good eyes single or homosexual parents, so I thought that, being Iruka both of them, they would take Naruto away immediately. I suppose they were impressed by Iruka. They kept their word, but Iruka... We don't know what is wrong with him. Physically speaking he's healthy but the human mind is a highly complex issue that cannot be fully understood if the patient is not awake, so doctors have our hands tied. It's all up to Iruka now.

"Does Naruto know what happened to Iruka?" Kakashi asked. The doctor shocked his head.

"Social services determined seeing someone in such a situation was an unnecessary stress for a child, so the only thing Naruto know is that his father is very ill... It seems like, since Iruka, that brat is doing everything he can so that nobody adopts him" Tsunade said amused. "That child is waiting for Iruka to take him back to home..."

 

⤜⥼⊱⋇⊰⥽⤛  

 

Room 211, had said Tsunade, and Kakashi started looking for it as soon as he changed his clothes. Asuma muttered something about social misfit geniuses that can only fall in love while dying, but Kakashi didn't pay him attention. When Kakashi found the damn room ―that hospital was ridiculously big―, he opened and closed the door carefully, as if he was afraid to disturb Iruka. There were drawings, "get well soon" cards, some bouquets and lots of plushes. Kakashi approached to the bed and just stayed there, watching Iruka's sleeping face. No, definitely not a dream. He had actually talked to Iruka. He was sure. The warmth of that skin couldn't have been the fruit of his imagination.

 

Will we meet again?

I hope not

Aren't you going to come back?

I have no right

 

Tsunade had said Iruka was physically stable, but the brunet didn't wake up. According to her, Iruka had arrived at the hospital severely injured. His head had hit the ground pretty hard during the fight with Mizuki, and that produced the concussion that resulted into the coma. The doctors had made hundreds of tests, but Iruka didn't react.

 

That child is waiting for Iruka to take him back to home...

I have no right

 

Could it be that Iruka had been believing Naruto was dead all this time, that he died that fateful day? If Iruka watched Naruto fall unconscious on the floor without having time enough to assure he was okay before Mizuki attacked him, it was reasonable to think that Iruka imagined the worst.

It was that, wasn't it? What any other thing could hold Iruka back in a place like that, where time stopped and one lost the count of the hours that spend beating himself up with guilt? Iruka thought he hadn't been able to protect Naruto, that it wasn't fair to come back while Naruto was gone because of him. And Kakashi understood that feeling better than anyone, because it was not fair just keep living while others had paid the price. Kakashi leaned over that beautiful face and removed some strands from Iruka's forehead.

Before being aware of his own actions, Kakashi found himself caressing with devotion the thin scar on his nose, stroking the cheekbones with his knuckles, still tender from the accident. He wanted to transmit Iruka peace, just like he did while sitting on that bench under the cherry tree shadow.

 

⤜⥼⊱⋇⊰⥽⤛  

 

Iruka contemplated a tiny cherry blossom, more whitish than properly pinkish, blowing in placid waves to finally land on his right hand.

 

"Did you know Naruto? When a cherry blossom falls into your tea, it is considered as a sign of good luck" Iruka said to the child, who had insist on drinking tea, just like the adult. The small boy opened his huge and bright blue eyes widely. Then, Naruto tried to fish the pale and fragile petal with a little spoon. Three attempts later, and under Iruka's curious gaze, Naruto got to catch the blossom and put it in the brunet's cup.

"Now papa will be lucky too" Naruto told him with a smile so big it could have eclipsed the sun.

Papa... Naruto had called him papa, not Iruka nor nii-chan o something like that. Naruto considered him as his father...

"Oh, sweetie, I'm already very lucky" Iruka responded, a warm smile dancing on his lips.

 

A tear run down his cheek. That silver haired stranger had asked him why he couldn't come back, but how could he? It wouldn't be fair. Naruto had begun to see him as his father, and fathers protect their children, don't watch them be killed by a psychotic ex-boyfriend. He had failed Naruto. He had no right to come back and live a good life when Naruto had passed away because of him. If only he had never met Mizuki, if only he had never left Naruto alone in the garden... If only he had hurried up...

.

.

.

 

"Papa?" an infant voice called somewhere, echoing throughout the place. Iruka, disconcerted, lifted his head, looking for a little blond with impressive blue eyes.

"Papa!" Naruto's voice called him again, shouting this time. Iruka sensed someone taking him by his shoulders and hitting his chest, but it was an odd feeling, as if his body was anaesthetized. "C'mon, papa, wake up! The old man said that if you wake up he's inviting us to eat burgers. Burgers, papa, burgers! And Tsunade-obaachan says you have already slept too much, so c'moooooon", he whined.

"Naruto, don't shout. This is a hospital." A feminine voice lectured him.

"Oi, oi, who are you calling old man ...?"

"But you have got grey hair, and that happens when a person gets old" Ah, the child logic, Kakashi thought.

"For the record, it's not grey; it's silver, brat." Naruto stared at him thoughtful during a few seconds.

"Bright grey, then." The child responded, then.

"It looks like you've just met your match, brat!" Tsunade laughed so hard that Shizune, the head nurse, poked up.

 

⤜⥼⊱⋇⊰⥽⤛  

 

Iruka didn't understand what was happening. There were so many voices all of a sudden... But the only one he wanted to keep hearing was his little sunshine. Iruka got up from the bench and went into the cherry tree forest, looking for Naruto everywhere.

"Naruto!" Iruka cried out while beginning to run.

"Naruto..." a rough whisper escaped from dehydrated lips.

Kakashi was the first to notice the awakening man. Barely one second later, was Kakashi by his side, watching those wonderful orbs as brown as matured whiskey open slowly. An absolute silence hang in the room. Naruto, with tears in his eyes and a big trembling smile, launched onto Iruka, hugging him and talking about so many things at the same time until he concluded straddling Iruka and cuddling with him was far better. Iruka, completely overwhelmed by the sudden chaos of emotions he had already given up on feeling again, took that little bundle of energy in his arms and embraced him with all the strength his body could give. He nuzzled Naruto's crown and inhaled his blond strands scent until his lungs were full up with it. Thick teardrops of relief shed from Iruka's eye sockets. He smiled at Tsunade, who was standing at the bed feet, with such gratitude that the doctor blushed.

"Don't look at me, this is the brat's doing. Kakashi threatened Social services with causing an uproar in the media if they didn't let him bring Naruto" she told Iruka, averting his eyes from the brunet. Man, Iruka had to know what he caused in people, he just had.

Iruka gazed at the person next to the bed and recognized him right away. Thick hair that defied gravity whose colour reminded Iruka of unpolished silver and, even though his right eye and the lower section of his face were covered by a patch and a scarf, Iruka remembered perfectly the strong jaw, the straight nose, the pale lips, the little beauty mark beside his mouth and those mismatched eyes ―one so black that the pupil was lost in the orb's darkness; the other, an intense crimson.

When Iruka centred his attention on him, Kakashi's features softened so much that the younger man's cheeks reddened.

"Last time we met, we didn't introduce ourselves properly" Kakashi said in a light tone.

"Ah... I..." Iruka began to stutter. Kakashi chuckled. He leaned over the brunet, ignoring Naruto's protests because he didn't want to share his papa's attention, and whispered in Iruka's ear with a deep voice.

"Perhaps we could met someday. There's a café I've been wanting to try for a few months now... Maybe you could come with me..."

The tempting blush that proposition earned was delicious, and Kakashi was already thinking what more he could say to make the shy brunet blush harder. Tsunade rolled her eyes exasperated, but Shizune had seen the pink of her cheeks. Not that anybody could blame her; Kakashi and Iruka made a good picture together. Ah, Shizune said to herself, rivers of tears will run all over the hospital when it is known that one of the most attractive patients is hitting on the other one... And, if Iruka's reaction meant something, Shizune was sure it wasn't unilateral.

 

 

 

⤜⥼⊱⋇⊰⥽⤛  FIN  ⤜⥼⊱⋇⊰⥽⤛