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i didn't need the stars to know i love you

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Iruka is about three when he notices the scribble along his inner left wrist. The lines are ink black and when he rubs his thumb over them, nothing happens. He rubs harder, but they don’t go away. Iruka turns around, about to call for his mother and is greeted by her cheery smile.

 

“You’ve been quiet,” Kohari explains. “I came over to check up on you.”

 

So he shows her his wrist. His mother takes a hold of his hand gently and swipes a thumb along the wrist. Kohari’s eyes widen when nothing appears on her thumb but she quickly regains composure and takes a seat next to her son.

 

“What is it, Mommy?” Iruka asks and clambers into her lap, awaiting her explanation.

 

She smiles at him fondly and pinches his cheeks. “Well, in this world, everyone is born with a soulmate.”

 

“What’s a soulmate?” Iruka interjects.

 

“Hold on, hold on!” Kohari says with a laugh. “I was just getting to that. You see, as you grow up, you make connections with different people. Sometimes, you form a connection with someone so deep you want to be with them for the rest of your life. A soulmate is a person whose connections are bound to you through your soul.”

 

Iruka listens with rapt attention but a frown forms on his face. “What’s a soul?”

 

His mother laughs once more. “In time, you’ll understand. Iruka, dear, you don’t have to worry so much about things like this. They’ll happen naturally, but to put it simply, a soulmate is like your best friend for life.”

 

“Like you and Daddy?”

 

“Yes. Exactly like me and Daddy.”

 

 

It turns out that a soulmate tattoo can change over time as a soulmate changes their handwriting. Iruka learns this after enrolling in the Academy. Some kids, like Iruka, already have their soulmate tattoos. Their tattoos are legible . Izumo and Kotetsu have each other’s names and Kotetsu explains it that Izumo’s name got clearer over the years as he improved his handwriting.

 

Iruka glances at his own soulmate’s name and wonders if it’ll ever change. His mother’s words come back to him and he reminds himself that things happen in time. So six year old Iruka lets go of his worries and immerses himself into his studies.

 

At the Academy, Iruka makes friends with a boy named Mizuki. They’re about the same age and Mizuki has white hair, an infectious smile, and most importantly, a blank wrist. And yes, yes, of course Iruka remembers his mother’s words. But he’s a kid and the idea of having a best friend for life is so, so exciting. Mizuki would be a fun friend for life. He’s full of energy and mischievous ideas and Iruka never has a dull moment around the boy.

 

He deliberately chooses a seat next to Mizuki and lucky, lucky Iruka. Mizuki has terrible, terrible penmanship. He quietly thinks to himself that Mizuki’s handwriting is quite similar to his soulmate’s. But Iruka doesn’t say anything, preferring to practice his jutsus alongside Mizuki.

 

The Nine Tailed Fox attack changes everything. Iruka’s parents are dead. His beautiful, loving parents are fucking dead. His perfect little world shatters along with his heart. Home is no longer home. The floors creak too loudly and the silence is more deafening than he’d like it to be.

 

“I’m home,” he calls out.

 

The lack of a response eats at his nerves and Iruka skips dinner; it would have been too difficult for him to eat alone. Instead, he passes out on his parent’s futon, the familiar scent easing his troubles.

 

Iruka wants people to stop looking at him with those fucking eyes. Stop. Stop fucking looking at him with pity. It makes his skin crawl and he desperately wants any other sort of attention. He can’t stand being pitied as if he’s a poor little abandoned animal on the side of the road.

 

Pulling pranks fills the void. Iruka’s laughter rings out a mischievous mouth as he runs off with Mizuki. The Academy teachers sprint after them in an attempt to show some form of discipline but Iruka knows they can’t catch up. He’s gotten good at this, after all.

 

The issue of his parents is being temporarily ignored through the not exactly healthy coping method of acting out and Iruka has let himself forget about his soulmate. He’s taken to wearing a bracelet to hide the damn letters. Happiness is not made for him it seems. Iruka has no desire to be constantly reminded of something he cannot have.

 

It’s alright though, he tells himself. Because he’ll always have Mizuki. The other boy has always been there for him. Through thick and thin, Iruka and Mizuki would always be friends.

 

What the hell happens when he gets his soulmate tattoo? Iruka’s mind betrays himself and his mood turns sour. He’s a bit disgusted with himself; it’s not like they’ll stop being friends once Mizuki gets his tattoo. The voice inside his head taunts him, but Iruka refuses to admit that he wants to be Mizuki’s soulmate.

 

No, Iruka will take what he can get. Life is cruel, snatching up his precious loves in its greedy claws. Iruka is more than content sitting atop the hokage monument, wind blowing through his ponytail, just watching Mizuki.

 

He grits his teeth and grinds the pain in his heart to a fine dust. Iruka is content.

 

 

Iruka swears it’s an accident. He didn’t mean it; it was certainly most not a prank. Alright, fine. It was a dare. But hey, it wasn’t a dare intended to end up like this!

 

For the first time in his life, Iruka can feel the sweat running down his back as he stands in front of the Sandaime’s desk. The air in the room sits heavy. Iruka desperately wants nothing more than to bolt out of the room but the eerie stillness of Lord Third and the insufferable presence of the dog masked ANBU keep him rooted. Ah fuck, why did he take Mizuki’s stupid dare.

 

“Iruka,” the Sandaime says. Whatever god is out there, Iruka prays that he isn’t about to get reamed into the depths of the earth.

 

“Do you understand what you’ve done?”

 

The Sandaime’s tone is even, denoting that he not particularly mad. His question is simple enough. Relatively easy. Iruka cannot explain why his tongue feels so heavy, why the back of his throat is so dry.

 

In a truthful answer, the most Iruka can do is shake his head no.

 

Lord Third sighs heavily and gestures for Iruka to sit. The chunin shakily sits down on the floor cross legged. Lord Third waves the ANBU down and the assassin takes a sit on the windowsill. The old man stands in front of Iruka, an immense stress deep in the lines of his face.

 

“Iruka, what were you thinking when you threw that rock?”

 

“I didn’t… I didn’t think anyone would be up there,” the sixteen year old mumbles.

 

“Of course you didn’t think anyone would be up there,” Hiruzen tiredly repeats.

 

“I’m sorry. I see that… I see that I could’ve put the village in danger,” Iruka apologizes, refusing the urge to squirm in his spot.

 

The Sandaime’s brows crease and looks at him sadly. “Think about yourself sometimes, Iruka.”

 

Iruka does not quite understand what the Sandaime is advising him, but he has no time to question it. The Sandaime has already moved onto the next thing.

 

“You’re a chunin, yes?”

 

“Just recently, Lord Third,” Iruka answers.

 

“Hmm,” the old man contemplates. “Are there any jutsus you specialize in Iruka?”

 

“Barrier,” Iruka answers.

 

Lord Third gestures for the dog masked ANBU to come down. “Hound, tomorrow you will take Iruka for the jonin test. Before dawn. Go escort him home.” He waves a hand and they are dismissed.

 

The ANBU waits for Iruka as he shakily gets up from the floor. Iruka is so, so tired. All he wants to do is crash in his bed but now he has to worry about why the Sandaime wants him to take the jonin test. He forces himself to walk like he usually does, and the walk out of the hokage’s office is quiet, save for Iruka’s footsteps. He cannot hear Hound as the ANBU follows him in the dark.

 

Iruka takes about two steps outside the building and immediately crashes to the ground in a bout of exhaustion. There is never a thud from his body making contact with the ground as the ANBU is there to catch him. Laying in the assassin’s arms, Iruka is vaguely aware of how silver Hound’s hair looks illuminated in the moonlight.

 

“Your apartment, Iruka?” Hound asks. Iruka isn’t sure if that’s actually what the ANBU’s voice sounds like or if the mask is messing with it but either way, Iruka enjoys how his name is said. The voice is deep and smooth and the rumble of his name causes Iruka to shiver.

 

He points in the direction of home and the dog masked ANBU jumps to air onto the roof and leaps from building to building. Iruka initially protests at this, mumbling about how he could walk in his own just fine, but Hound just pulls Iruka closer to his chest and scoffs. The assassin is warm and Iruka can feel his exhausted body betraying him.

 

He can see his apartment door. Hound lands in front of it and begins to reach for the handle. In a momentary flash of panic, Iruka wriggles out of Hound’s arms and lands on his ass.

 

“Sorry,” Iruka says breathlessly. “I uh, have traps set up, so you shouldn’t open the door.”

 

The damn mask makes it impossible for Iruka to even catch a glimpse of the man’s expression but he gets the inkling that Hound is amused. Iruka stands up and brushes off the dust on his pants. He reaches for his key from his pocket just as the door swings open to reveal Mizuki.

 

“Iruka!” he exclaims the same time Iruka says, “Mizuki?”

 

“What are you doing here?” Iruka asks his friend.

 

“I got worried about you, so I decided to wait for you at your place,” Mizuki explains. “What are you doing with an ANBU?”

 

“Lord Third asked me to escort Iruka home,” Hound answers smoothly.

 

“He’s home now. You can leave,” Mizuki replies flatly and grabs Iruka’s hand, pulling him into the apartment.

 

Iruka is tired, not an idiot. There is a definite violent intent surrounding the ANBU. He pulls on Mizuki’s sleeve and steps in front of him. Mizuki makes a face but goes quiet when Iruka glares at him.

 

Turning back to face Hound, Iruka bows in respect. “Thank you for escorting me home. I assume I will be seeing you in a few hours?”

 

“The Sandaime will be pleased to hear you’re home. Don’t be late,” Hound replies in an even tone, yet Iruka can still feel a lingering touch of violence hanging about.

 

“Goodnight, Hound-san,” Iruka bids him and the man disappears into the night.

 

Iruka closes the door only to be faced with Mizuki’s scrutinized gaze.

 

“What do you mean you’ll be seeing him tomorrow?” the white haired boy inquired.

 

“I don’t think it’s my place to say,” Iruka answers after a moment of thinking.

 

“Did they do anything to you?” Mizuki frets.

 

“No, Mizuki,” Iruka says tiredly. “Go home already.”

 

“I was just worried,” he says in a small voice.

 

“Don’t piss off an ANBU next time,” Iruka snaps.

 

Mizuki removes himself from the apartment with a sour look. Iruka ignores him and stumbles into his bedroom. Right as he falls into bed, Iruka passes out.

 

There are not many hours until dawn. Luckily, Iruka wakes up before then. He’s for sure not well rested enough to take a test to become a jonin, let alone take any sort of assessment. He washes up anyway and eats a light breakfast, too nauseous to fill up. Iruka hurriedly gets dressed and does a quick look over of his equipment.

 

The sky is still dark by the time he’s finished. Iruka distantly wonders when Hound is coming to fetch him. He sits in his living area, bouncing his leg up and down. It’s at that moment when his window opens and the ANBU pops in.

 

Iruka doesn’t get the chance to scream. The ANBU has a hand clamped over his mouth. Iruka’s nostrils flare in an attempt to breathe. The hand loosens and Iruka can feel air again.

 

“Holy fucking shit,” Iruka lets out. “Why can’t you fucking knock like a normal person?”

 

“I’m not a normal person,” Hound says with what Iruka swears is a humorous tone. “Let’s go or you’ll be late.”

 

They exit out the door like normal people and Iruka trails after Hound as they cross rooftops. The early morning is quiet, peaceful. The only people awake are them and the guards on duty. In the crisp air, Iruka can feel his fatigue melting away. There’s a nervous energy running through him and he hopes to channel it to good use.

 

The pair continue traveling for a ways before reaching a clearing. Hound drops off in the middle and Iruka follows suit. Hound stands there, slowly gazing all around them. Iruka has no clue what the ANBU could be waiting for. The silence, save for the rustle of wind through leaves, is unsettling.

 

Hound looks in Iruka’s direction. In the spur of the moment, Iruka feels his cheeks heat up. There is no way to discern how Hound is looking at him and yet Iruka is still embarrassed. Iruka looks away, too flustered to meet his gaze.

 

“Good luck,” is all Hound says with a pat on his shoulder before disappearing. Iruka couldn’t even catch a glimpse of the dog mask leaving before sensing the presence of multiple people in the surrounding area.

 

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit . That’s a fucking kunai alright. And a shuriken. Iruka barely manages to jump out of the way before a paper bomb detonates. There’s no time to stop and catch his breath; Iruka has to analyze his information on the fly. He’s not sure if it’s jonin or ANBU chasing him and the logical side of him tells him it’s probably jonin considering the fact that the Hokage said he’d be taking the jonin test, but one could never be too sure. Iruka had an ANBU escort for goodness sake.

 

Is Hound chasing you? and Iruka almost trips over a root. He tells himself to shut the fuck up and take stock of the situation. Iruka can’t tell how many people are chasing him but it’s definitely more than one or two. Their skill set is at the very least, jonin, and they’ve probably got more tools on hand than he does.

 

Two can play at this game (or is it however many there are?) Iruka thanks himself for not being a complete idiot and leaving the house empty handed. Iruka’s aware that they, whoever ‘they’ are, will be judging his skill with barrier type jutsus but he’s skeptical that his barriers will hold. He’ll have to be creative in taking his opponents down.

 

He’s just standing there, leaning against a tree, and calmly wipes the sweat off his forehead. The crunch of leaves. Iruka whips his head up, lips curling up in a smile.

 

“Shouldn’t you be running?” the bird mask inquires. Iruka makes a mental note to himself that yes, it’s ANBU chasing him.

 

“Shouldn’t you? ” Iruka counters.

 

The bird mask stops, looks at him for a period of time, and then scoffs. “Look, kid, if you’re not gonna take this seriously–” Iruka rolls his eyes here, “–don’t cry about the results.”

 

The ANBU takes a step forward and the ground gives away. Iruka quickly fires off the hand seals for the sealing binding formation. Crouching at the edge of the ditch, Iruka comes face to face with a rather disgruntled looking ANBU.

 

“If you break free, have fun dealing with the wasps,” Iruka mentions with a wide smile. “See ya,” he says and exits with a wink.

 

One down, who know how many to go. The rest of his pursuers definitely know not to underestimate him after that little interaction. Iruka continues to run amok the trees, haphazardly placing flash bombs. He doesn’t have too many to use silly nilly but he’s got enough to randomly blow up in the faces of the ANBU. Iruka can hear them around him.

 

One ANBU, a mouse mask, flashes in front of him and whips out their kunai. Iruka barely parries with his own in time but he stumbles, feeling the slice of a shuriken across the side of his leg. Shit , where did that come from. Mouse mask shifts their weight against Iruka, pushing him to the edge of the branch. If he falls, there’s no telling what’s gonna happen to him. Iruka lurches forward in an attempt to gain ground. He struggles for control as they continuously clash kunais. Miraculously, in their little sparring session, their positions switch and Iruka now has his back to the tree.

 

He throws a kunai with an exploding tag attached in the other direction while triggering a smoke bomb in front of Mouse mask. He slips away in the resounding chaos, slinking into the shadows. The ANBU scatter and begin their search. Iruka can hear them angrily muttering about a “stupid, cocky kid.” He lets himself smile and patiently waits.

 

One comes by. Their mask is fashioned after a bird. Iruka throws out a few of his senbon to catch the ANBU’s attention. Bird mask dodges just about all of them and lands a swift quick to Iruka’s side. No bones break and the worst it’ll do is leave a bruise. Iruka grimaces, feeling his ribs throb, but returns the favor. His taijutsu is not the best so he resorts to using tactics (read: what would be considered dirty tricks) in order to gain the upper hand of the fight. Iruka kicks up a cloud of dust into Bird mask’s face and forms the sign for his barrier jutsu.

 

Iruka continues to play this game of touch and go, a glorified tag if you would. Except in this case, everyone else is It and they’re all chasing him. This game of tag has taken its turn as it is now Iruka hunting for the ANBU. Fatigue tugs at his muscles and Iruka can feel every spot on his body where he’s been hit. Pass or fail, he’s going to be awfully sore tomorrow. Iruka isn’t sure of how much longer he can go on for. At this rate, he’ll probably have to end this in a big, flashy move.

 

There’s no telling how many of his pursuers have been caught in his traps, sealed, or corralled into a barrier. Iruka still doesn’t know how many are left. He is currently sitting on a tree branch, near the trunk, in hopes of catching his breath all the while planning his next move.

 

He feels the edge of a kunai against his neck, the cool metal barely scraping his skin.

 

“Game over Iruka,” says the ANBU.

 

Iruka tilts his head back to look into the eyeholes of the mask. “For which one of us?” he asks innocently. The ANBU looks up and lets out a curse. Multiple copies of Iruka show themselves out.

 

“You can’t keep this up forever,” the ANBU growls and presses the kunai deeper, only for Iruka to disappear. He curses aloud again before jumping off in search of the real one.

 

The ANBU chase after the kage bunshin. There weren’t very, very many of them as Iruka didn’t have the greatest of chakra pools but they were just as ingenious as the original. It’s annoying but at last, there’s only one body left to chase. It is without a doubt, the real body.

 

They’re back they’ve started, the clearing were Hound dropped off Iruka. The Hokage’s elite guard surround him from all sides and slowly close in on him.

 

“Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. It’s over for you,” one says.

 

Iruka is so, so fucking drained but he still manages a weak smile. “Try it then.”

 

As soon as he says those words, one of the surrounding ANBU have thrown their kunai. A log of wood drops to the ground, knife sticking out of it. The ANBU groan again as they realize they’ve been had for what seems to be the millionth time. Before they can make their next move, a barrier is constructed around them. All of them.

 

Up in the trees, Iruka looks down at them with a tired smirk. “Got you guys good, huh?”

 

And he plummets towards the ground, unable to hold on to the last reserves of his chakra to stay on the tree. In a flash, a blurry movement comes from who knows where and catches Iruka in time before he hits the ground. Iruka feels like he’s having a deja vu moment; this feels all too vaguely familiar, being held in finely toned arms and looking up at a dog mask.

 

“You’ve worked hard,” Hound says. The tone is neutral, perhaps even a bit bland, but the words indicate praise and Iruka smiles rather loopily at him. Three or four hours of sleep is really getting to the better of him. The last thing Iruka remembers before blacking out is the tingly sensation in his chest from hearing validation from such an elite warrior.

 

Bright lights glare from outside his shut eyelids. He blinks them open, groaning as he shifts to a sitting position. Immediately, a nurse is at his side. She’s asking him a bunch of questions but Iruka is still processing what’s happened. He glances around the room. He’s at the hospital judging from the IV needle in his arm and the nurse and his patient’s wear. There’s not really much to the room except for the fact that he’s the lone patient and the ANBU sitting on the ledge of the window. There aren’t any other beds which means Iruka’s got a private room. He’s not really sure why. It’s not like he’d be bothered by other patients.

 

Wait. Wait. There’s an ANBU at his window? He snaps his head back to the direction of the window but the assassin is no longer there.

 

The ANBU is now at the side of Iruka’s bed, dismissing the nurse from the room. Iruka has no clue as to what the hell is going on. He then realizes, oh , the ANBU is Hound.

 

“Iruka,” Hound starts off. Propped up in the hospital bed, Iruka dry swallows at the sound of his name. “Your chakra levels have stabilized and you’ve mostly recovered from exhaustion. You probably need a couple days of rest to rebound from today. Lord Third will be with you shortly.”

 

“Are you leaving?” Iruka asks.

 

“I’ve been requested to stay and guard your room,” Hound answers. “I’ll be outside your window. Lord Third will answer any questions you have.”

 

Iruka understands that this is probably all Hound is at liberty to say so he does not ask any other questions. While quietly waiting for the Hokage to arrive, Iruka tries to remember what happened during his so called jonin test. The details are scattered and fuzzy but Iruka swears he managed to take out some of the ANBU and trap them in a barrier at the end. After that, there’s nothing.

 

A knock comes at his door in the midst of this thinking. Iruka asks for who it is; it’s the Hokage. Lord Third comes in and quietly shuts the door behind him. He takes a seat in one of the visitors’ chairs.

 

“Lord Hokage,” Iruka greets respectfully and bows his head.

 

“Iruka,” Hiruzen returns with a pleased smile. “How are you feeling?”

 

“Tired,” Iruka answers truthfully. “Also sore.”

 

“I’ll be brief so you can get back to resting. Hound has reported to me the results of your… ah, little exercise today.”

 

Iruka snorts. Lord Third stares at him, unflinching.

 

“Some exercise,” Iruka mutters. “I almost died.”

 

“But you didn’t. That’s the important thing.”

 

Iruka squints his eyes at the Hokage. Would Lord Third have actually let the ANBU kill him or what? It’s too tiring to think about it.

 

“You did very well Iruka. Many of my ANBU are still smarting after you handed them their loss. I suppose you’ve had an inkling by now but calling it a “jonin” test was just a cover.”

 

“What was it really then?”

 

“To see if you were worthy of being ANBU. And you are more than worthy,” Lord Hokage says proudly with a sweep of his arm.

 

Is he hearing this right? Is he? Is he?

 

ANBU. Him.

 

ANBU.

 

“Ex-excuse me?” Iruka asks flabbergasted.

 

“Take your time processing. Your ANBU training will begin in a week.”

 

Iruka doesn’t have the words. He has no fucking clue what to say. He never thought this would be happening to him.

 

It was just any old Wednesday night fooling around with Mizuki. Iruka threw that rock all the way up the tree for shits and giggles. He hadn’t expected to hit an ANBU, much less be tested to be ANBU and make it.

 

“Why me?” is all Iruka comes up with after a long silence.

 

“Because you have potential,” Hiruzen explains. “However, your path as ANBU will be a little different than the others. You’ll start with standard top secret missions all the same, but eventually I want you to be stationed as an undercover ANBU.”

 

“What if I said no?” Iruka counters, thinking of smiles from a white haired boy.

 

Lord Third casts a long, hard stare at Iruka as if to say: What a load of bullshit.

 

“Hound will come get you in seven days’ time,” the Hokage says with an air of finality. He exits the room leaving Iruka with nothing but his thoughts.

 

For what it’s worth, Lord Third is right. Iruka isn’t stupid enough to pass up an opportunity like this. Iruka is smart and resourceful, more so than the average ninja. He’d make a good addition to the elite squad alongside improving his own skills. Perhaps Iruka will be able to learn a little self worth as he makes his way through the ANBU rankings. Maybe even a meaning to his life which is seemingly ironic considering as an ANBU he’ll be required to take the lives of other. In general, it’d be good for him.

 

(Yeah, and that sexy ass ANBU with the dog mask named Hound)

 

Iruka’s cheeks flare up and he furtively glances at the window as if the ANBU could hear his thoughts. Is Hound even still there?

 

He calls out, “Hound? Are you still there?”

 

Hound appears on one knee at the side of his bed. “Did you need something?”

 

Iruka feels his cheeks go even hotter. “No… I was just wondering if you left. Cause Lord Hokage left.”

 

“The Hokage assigned me to guard your room. So no, I won’t be leaving until you get discharged.”

 

“Um,” Iruka starts off. Ah shit, he doesn’t know where he’s going with this. “Would you, would you like to stay inside? Instead of being outside? It’s cold out there and you look like you’re freezing in your armor. Your uniform is really too thin for this weather. What is the Hokage thinking having you all run around in sleeveless cotton?”

 

He’s rambling and oh god , he’s rambling. Well, no stopping now.

 

“Iruka,” Hound says, cutting through Iruka’s spiel and Iruka stops abruptly in his sentence, mouth hanging open. “I appreciate that you care, but this is my job.”

 

The ANBU exits by gracefully clambering out the window and Iruka is left all alone in this big, cold hospital room. There is an unmistakable tightness in his chest, and he knows. It’s stupid. It is stupid that he’s hurting for someone he knows next to nothing about. It is stupid that Iruka’s feelings are getting all jumbled up when he’s sure he’s been in love with Mizuki his entire life.

 

He tells himself that it’s just an infatuation. That there’s no real meaning as to why Hound blowing him off hurts the way it does. That he just thinks the other person is insanely attractive (without even seeing their face).

 

That doesn’t stop Iruka from whispering, “Would you stay if I said I was lonely?” He whispers it in the direction of the window, despite being afraid of his words being heard. Iruka receives no response, save for the rustling of the wind. His lips press together into a thin line, disappointed even though he knew what would happen. Iruka tugs the blanket over his body and falls asleep, back facing to where Hound perches outside the room’s window.

 

Iruka is discharged from the hospital in the late morning. It’s a never ending process of papers he needs to fill out and the hustle and bustle of it all is constantly stressing him out. Iruka just wants to be home and sleep until his seven days are up. After what feels like the hundredth form he’s signed, the doctors let him go home along with a healing salve and some vitamin supplements.

 

Iruka makes his way across the rooftops of Konoha back to his apartment. He resets the traps and seals along his front door and as he shuts it close, Iruka heaves a sigh, slumping against the wall. He shuts his eyes, too tired to look at things.

 

He stays like this for a moment or two until he starts to feel a presence in his surrounding area. It feels like he’s being watched. The attention is uncomfortable but there’s only one person with access to his apartment, Mizuki. If the uncomfortable presence is even a person.

 

Eyes open, Iruka comes face to face with of course, none other than Mizuki.

 

“Why are you here?”

 

“Is it wrong of me to worry?” Mizuki pouts and leans in to cup Iruka’s face in his hands. There is something so soft, so tender about the way Mizuki cradles his face that Iruka can’t help but melt into the touch.

 

“Mizuki…” Iruka begins to say but trails off, seeing the look in the other boy’s eyes and the jut of his lip.

 

“Iruka,” Mizuki whines, getting dangerously closer and closer. “You’re my best friend. I’m so lonely without you. Everything is always more fun with you. I feel so shitty without you.”

 

Iruka swallows hard, heart racing and blood rushing to his head. “What—what are you getting at?” he asks rather breathlessly.

 

There is the tiny thought in his mind that maybe Mizuki loves him after all. That after all these long hard years of silently crushing on his best friend, Iruka’s feelings would be requited. His heart thump thump s erratically, lips slightly open in the barest ‘o’, want bursting from his entire being.

 

Mizuki peers up at Iruka, desire dark in his eyes. “It’s like you complete me, Iruka. I don’t care who my soulmate is. They could never compare to you. You’re my other half. I couldn’t live without you. Please, Iruka, I love you.”

 

And he leans in to close the gap between their lips.

 

Iruka’s eyelashes flutter as the warm, gentle pressure of Mizuki’s touch causes his pent up tension from the morning to come undone. Mizuki kisses Iruka the way spring showers fall on the petals of barely blooming flowers. Iruka is pushed against the door as Mizuki begins to kiss across his lips and then the corner of his mouth and then along the edge of his jawline, and then oh god .

 

Iruka keens when Mizuki presses a kiss beneath his ear and he lets his fingers clutch onto the long strands of Mizuki’s white hair. They stop and look into each other’s eyes, Iruka red hot while Mizuki coyly smirking. In this brief moment of time, Iruka has never felt so sure in his entire life of a short 16 years that he loved Mizuki.

 

Mizuki’s eyes are dark. So dark. His pupils are so blown and Iruka can only name the look in the other boy’s eyes as love. Iruka leans in for another kiss because that’s what the look Mizuki is giving him, right?

 

Love love love love lovelovelovelove.

 

Iruka feels like he’s being devoured, Mizuki’s hunger insatiable.

 

It’s love, he tells himself.

 

The two go out for lunch in the afternoon, Iruka choosing to eat at Ramen Ichiraku. It is like any other afternoon with Mizuki and Iruka walking together side by side and laughing, but this time, they walk together a little closer, pinky fingers just brushing past one another.

 

One other person is seated but Iruka doesn’t see them until he bumps into them walking inside.

 

“Oh no,” Iruka groans. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you there.”

 

The shinobi turns around and Iruka sucks in his breath. Out of all the shinobi Iruka could have bumped into, it just had to Kakashi the copy nin. Iruka, having never interacted with the legendary ninja before, is both in awe and a little more than nervous.

 

But the only thing Kakashi says is, “Maa, it’s not a big deal.” He turns back around with a wave of his hand.

 

Mizuki pulls on Iruka’s hand and the incident is forgotten. They take the seats at the end of the ramen bar and begin ordering. Iruka steals a glance over at Kakashi. He swears he’s heard the older boy’s voice before. It’s deep and pleasant and something about it makes the blood rush in his body. Iruka flushes red, embarrassed that he’s thinking about another guy when Mizuki is sitting right next to him. He shifts a little more to the right so his body is closer to Mizuki in an attempt to block away any thoughts of the copy nin.

 

“Iruka,” Mizuki says as Ayame places their ramen bowls in front of them. “What does the Hokage want with you?”

 

Is Iruka still delirious, or is someone watching him? He glances to the left and Kakashi is doing his own thing, reading some book. He glances to Teuchi and Ayame, busy keeping watch over the ramen. He turns back to Mizuki who is expectantly waiting for an answer.

 

“I don’t think I’m allowed to say,” Iruka answers, choosing his words carefully. “But I’ll be busy in a week. You won’t be seeing me very much after.”

 

Mizuki’s expression turns dark and Iruka attributes it to the fact that they won’t be spending time together. There is definitely not something unpleasant about the glint in Mizuki’s eyes or the twist of his lips. Iruka ignores the uneasy feeling, leaving it to settle in the pits of his stomach under the weight of his ramen noodles.

 

The conversation shifts to one where Mizuki and Iruka discuss their plans for the next seven days in order to maximize their time together. Kakashi’s exit from the ramen shop goes unnoticed by either of them, too deeply engrossed in their talk. Iruka certainly does not notice the one last glance Kakashi gives while leaving. Right now, Iruka can only see the curve of Mizuki’s smile, the sparkle of his eyes, the shocking white of his hair. Iruka can only pay attention to the eagerness in Mizuki’s voice, the animatedness of his hand gestures.

 

They spend the rest of the day shopping around the markets of Konoha. If anyone notices them holding hands or sharing dango, they don’t say it. Iruka has not felt this happy to be walking around the streets in such a long time. He wants to treasure this moment of feeling Mizuki’s warm fingers, the ease of walking together, the comfort of being around his love.

 

They part ways at Iruka’s apartment. Iruka doesn’t let Mizuki leave without a quick goodnight kiss. The other boy laughs into it, Iruka enjoying the tickle of Mizuki’s hair against his skin.

 

“See you tomorrow,” Iruka whispers into the other boy’s ear.

 

“Night ‘Ruka,” Mizuki says with a cheeky smile and one last kiss on the forehead. Iruka watches him go, big goofy smile all over his face.

 

It is the eighth day since Iruka’s been released from the hospital. He’s spent his grace week well. Most of his time was spent with Mizuki. They grew closer than ever before, even if Mizuki did sometimes push the boundaries physically. But if Iruka said no, Mizuki would leave him alone. He just happened to be… pushy about it.

 

Iruka’s last day, however, was spent by himself. Played a bit of catch up with everyone else in his life. Helped out his elderly neighbors for a bit. Took a walk. Stocked up on groceries.

 

Reminisced at the memorial stone.

 

He’d been sitting in front of the stone, knees to his chest, and talking about everything that had happened in the past week. Iruka usually made it a point to visit his parents at least twice a month. He’d already met his minimum quota for this month but fearing he wouldn’t have as many chances in the future being busy as ANBU, Iruka went to go visit once more.

 

Again, Iruka was careful not to say anything out of the ordinary in the case that someone walks by and overhears. “I’m gonna be a bit busy in the future,” he admitted. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to visit as often.”

 

“What could a young shinobi like you be busy with? There’s no more war,” a voice commented casually.

 

Iruka jumped, not expecting anyone to have answered. Turning around, Kakashi Hatake was the last person Iruka expected to see. Not because he didn’t think the older boy didn’t have anyone to mourn but that Iruka expected Kakashi to be a busy, busy ninja.

 

“What, what are you doing here?” Iruka had asked, both nervous and flabbergasted.

 

“To sit and mourn, just like you.”

 

Iruka swallowed. “I should uh, get going then. Don’t want to be a bother to you, Hatake-san.”

 

“It’s just Kakashi.” The other boy sat down and slouched over. “I’ve been told talking about it is cathartic.”

 

His words were both a statement and a request. Iruka stayed and sat down next to the other shinobi.

 

“Who did you lose?” Iruka asked quietly.

 

Kakashi shifted the position of his head just enough to let Iruka see his one eye. “Everyone,” the copy nin answered simply.

 

Iruka’s heart ached for this boy. This was a boy he had no connections to but the matter of fact tone, the one word answer, the hidden anguish in his eye cut through Iruka’s heart.

 

“Your soulmate?”

 

Kakashi gave him a look. “I am the last person made for love.”

 

“Funny,” Iruka remarked. “I feel the same way.” He ignored the urge to itch at the lines hiding underneath his bracelet.

 

“Ah, that guy you were with the other day?”

 

Iruka flushed. “You remember that?”

 

“I just… there’s no one else. It’s always been Mizuki.”

 

Kakashi gave a noncommittal hum. Iruka wondered why the other boy even bothered asking. This sort of talk didn’t really seem to be up his alley.

 

“I should uh, get going.” Iruka got up from the ground and bowed to the other shinobi. “Have a good evening Kakashi-san.”

 

“Will I see you around, uh–”

 

“Iruka,” Iruka interjected. “And maybe. Lord Hokage has me busy.”

 

Kakashi dipped his head in response. “See you, Iruka.”

 

Iruka had left, curiosity piqued and burning. He could not figure out why Kakashi would possibly want to see him. And again, that deja vu feeling. Kakashi seemed so oddly familiar, especially his voice. If Iruka was to guess, he’d say Kakashi and Hound were awfully alike. The two of them somehow managed to make his back shiver whenever they said his name. It was strange but kind of hot, being honest. (Iruka has no comment as to how Mizuki calling out his name makes him feel)

 

But Iruka has more important matters to attend to than ponder over an eccentric jonin. He’s been up for awhile now yet the sun has still not risen. Iruka does not know when Hound will be fetching him. He can only assume it’d be early morning.

 

Iruka is sipping on a cup of tea when he hears the sound of his window opening. He thinks to himself, goddamn ANBU, and makes his way over to the living area.

 

“I told you to not–” Iruka stops his sentence abruptly. Like always, he can’t see shit of Hound’s face but there’s an aura surrounding him that induces fear in Iruka.

 

“We’re going,” is all Hound says. His words seem colder than usual for whatever reason Iruka does not understand. It makes Iruka’s skin crawl because for once, he actually sees Hound for what he is: an assassin. Will that be me? he muses but shakes the thought off to quickly follow Hound out the window.

 

There is no time to decipher why Hound is more standoffish than normal. Iruka is too busy learning the ways of the ANBU to think about other things. His lessons move at a brisk pace as Iruka picks things up rather quickly and the Hokage wants him on missions as soon as possible.

 

The first couple of days Iruka receives his ANBU training in some hidden facility. His teachers cover as much information as possible. After all, Iruka is training to be ANBU much later than most. It doesn’t bother him though. It’s quite an achievement to be considered for ANBU in the first place.

 

Iruka, despite being one of the most diligent students of Konoha, finds ANBU cram school exhausting and mentally draining. There is just an insane amount of information Iruka needs to file away in his mind from hand signals to high profile members in the Bingo Book. Physically speaking, Iruka is being pushed past his limits. After his first week, Iruka’s body aches permanently and he’s sore in places he didn’t think could be sore.

 

Two weeks pass by in that hidden facility. Iruka wants to go home to his bed but he knows better than to want things as an ANBU. He’s definitely a different person from two weeks ago. Iruka is faster, stronger, smarter–more emotionally closed off. It’s the job, he tells himself. It’s the job.

 

It comes as a surprise when Hound delivers a message from the Hokage. His tone is still icy but the message comes as a relief. The Hokage wants Iruka to go home for a couple of days before he starts his first mission. Iruka is to go home “to keep up appearances” in Hound’s words.

 

Iruka gets to go home. Home to his apartment. Home to the streets of Konoha. Home to Mizuki. The news brings a giddy, warm feeling to his chest. And then he realizes, oh shit because the Hokage is about to assign him his first mission. His first mission.

 

Holy shit, his first mission. The Hokage thinks he’s ready to go out, oh fuck. Will it be a solo mission? Probably not, too risky. Oh no, who would he be partnered with and what kind of mission will he receive? The possibilities are endless and his mind can’t stop, won’t stop.

 

What if you have to go on a mission with Hound?

 

Iruka freezes, the thought startlingly clear in his mind, and he’s so very aware of the blood rushing to his cheeks. Iruka has no fucking clue as to why his heart races and his mouth goes dry and he hates himself for reacting so easily to the mere thought of the senior ANBU when he’s literally supposed to be in fucking love with his best friend.

 

“Iruka?” Hound calls out and the sixteen year old snaps back to reality.

 

“Uh, yeah what?” Iruka half smiles at Hound, clenching his teeth in thoughts of “way to go on embarrassing yourself by spacing out in front of the coolest ANBU.”

 

“I’ll be over at your apartment in two day’s time with the mission details. Early morning so don’t forget.” Hound turns to leave. “Cat will bring you your ANBU gear,” he says before disappearing.

 

Iruka can’t even watch him go; Hound is there and gone in a blink of an eye. From Iruka’s first meeting to their little hospital scene, Iruka would’ve thought they were at least on friendly terms, as much as one could possibly be friendly with an ANBU. Hound’s sudden cold behavior eats at Iruka’s nerves, a feeling he has no explanation for.

 

Again, Iruka does not have the time to dwell on such irrational actions. Cat, one of Hound’s closest subordinates, bring Iruka his gear soon after. All Cat tells him is “good luck” and “to not feel pressured” like he had the ultimate faith Iruka would do fine. It’s disconcerting that such a long time ANBU is sure he won’t fuck up but it’s also nice to know that there’s people who believe him.

 

His gear is standard ANBU uniform, the one he criticized on a ramble that night at the hospital. The kunai and shuriken are made of a higher quality metal and sharpened to the thinnest of razor edges. Iruka has also been given a variety of other tools including paper bombs, smoke bombs, flash bombs, etc (all a much better quality than the ones he had used during his ANBU test, of course).

 

The mask is a deathly white porcelain with blood red accent markings. Iruka has been gifted with a bear, Kumo . In other words, the Hokage believes he has both the strength and ingenuity of a bear. He fits it over his face. The mask is lightweight and breathable; it sits comfortably. Iruka stares at himself in his mirror and notes how dark his eyes have turned. The mask adds a mysterious aura to Iruka, one of hidden secrets and an otherworldly presence not previously there. Iruka is both badass and terrifying. He loves it.

 

Iruka departs for home after clearing up the little room he occupied at the training facility. He stores his gear in a pack and leaves without a trace, just like he’s learned to in the past two weeks. He melts into the shadows on the way home. It is the dead of the night but Iruka avoids the front door. He suddenly realizes why Hound has always entered his apartment through the window. People stare if they see an ANBU at the front door. The window is much easier to slip through.

 

Everything is how he left it, lights off, dishes washed. That doesn’t explain why Iruka feels the crawling sensation like someone’s there. The only possibility could be Mizuki but Iruka is still careful as he sneaks through his own apartment. He leaves his pack in a closet and slinks into his bedroom.

 

Immediately, Iruka is pushed up against the wall.

 

“Iruka,” Mizuki croons into his ear. “I’ve missed you.”

 

Iruka has missed Mizuki too much and lets the other boy have his way. It’s fine, it’s fine, he tells himself. You love him, you love him, you love him, you love him. He loves me, he loves me, Iruka thinks as Mizuki’s tongue drags down his throat. We’re in love, we’re in love flashes through his mind as cold fingers press into his hip bones and drag down his pants.

 

Iruka’s eyes roll back, mouth in a wide ‘O’ while he feels himself drowning in a sea of everything Mizuki. His scent, his touch, his warmth, his love .

 

At least, Iruka thinks that’s what he’s drowning in, an expansive pool of Mizuki. He ignores the coldness of the waters and the heavy, sinking feeling that sits on his chest that won’t let him breathe. The water is clear, clear as day. It is most definitely not a murky black, not like the hidden depths of Mizuki’s eyes.

 

“I love you, I love you,” Iruka repeats over and over, curling his fingers with Mizuki’s.

 

 

Iruka has almost completed an entire year as ANBU. He’s seventeen and has finished more missions in a year as an elite assassin than his time as a genin to chunin. He’s ended the lives of more people than he ever thought he would. Iruka has made a name for himself within the rank of the ANBU. The other hidden villages have learned to fear the white faced bear or Shirokuma . Both his seniors and juniors of the ANBU respect him. Iruka is just as deadly and cunning as the rest of them, perhaps even more.

 

Every time he’s back in the village, he is just regular old Iruka the chunin who does odd jobs for the Hokage. More than often, it’s undermining and a definite kick to his pride but Iruka knows better than to act out. People can assume all they want about him. It’s enough that he knows himself.

 

There have been so many missions Iruka can barely remember them all. There’s not much he wants to remember. They’re the same after all. The same stink of blood, the same exhaustion from pulling at chakra, the same adrenaline coursing through his veins.

 

Iruka’s had his share of both solo and team missions. He was suited to working with others but he also did fine work alone. Most of his missions in the beginning were group missions, typically under the command of Hound. The more assignments Iruka went on the more experience he gained and the more clearance he was allowed access to. The number of solo missions racked up but the Hokage seemed to have him go on duo missions the most. Duo mission with Hound.

 

“You two work well,” was all the Hokage had said.

 

Iruka had been in no position to argue.

 

The first duo mission with Hound had been awkward as fuck but they got better. ANBU couldn’t afford to be out of sync with one another. The Hokage was right, much to Iruka’s chagrin. They did work well together. Hound did most of the leading while Iruka provided support. Iruka’s gotten Hound out of a sticky situation much more than just once.

 

“We make a good team,” Hound had once said after they returned to Konoha.

 

They had been undressing to get ready for a shower. Iruka had whipped his head around incredulously but all he saw was the wide expanse of Hound’s bare back, sweat dripping down his shoulder blades. Iruka had immediately turned his head back, heat warming his cheeks which caused him to sweat even more.

 

Fuck, Iruka wished he had died on the mission. Anything would be better than having to deal with Hound’s stupid, sexy ass body and his stupid deep velvety voice and the stupid bubbly feeling Iruka got whenever Hound praised him. Iruka had groaned and then ran straight into a shower stall, one far away from Hound.

 

Iruka loves hates that memory and thinks about it everyday buries it deep in his mind.

 

But as his first year as ANBU comes to a close, Iruka sees less and less of Hound. Too nervous to ask Hound, Iruka had asked the Hokage instead.

 

Lord Third eyed him and had said, “You know you’re not suppose to know things about each other when you’re part of the ANBU, right?”

 

Iruka had given him a nonchalant shrug.

 

The Sandaime sighed. “As the partner for most of your missions, you have a right to know. Hound is being dismissed as ANBU.”

 

Just as Iruka opened his mouth to speak, the Hokage had held up a hand to stop him. Iruka conceded and let the old man explain.

 

“I believe Hound is happier when he is not ANBU. I have no wish for him to stay tied down here. Only in the case of extreme emergencies will I call for him.”

 

The words had been serious with an air of finality to them. Iruka had not argued. What did he know about Hound anyway?

 

Iruka can’t remember the last time he saw Hound but he’s been seeing a lot more of Kakashi lately. The older boy is everywhere, from the grocery to Ichiraku to the tea house to Yakiniku Q to the bakery and of course, the memorial stone.

 

Kakashi had remembered his name, a fact Iruka found rather surprising. Iruka hadn’t thought that Kakashi, the legendary copy nin, would have remembered his name, Iruka, the seemingly regular old chunin. Every time Kakashi has seen Iruka in public, the older boy makes it a point to greet Iruka and make small talk. It’s definitely awkward as Iruka can feel the stares of the public on him. He supposes that public scrutiny comes with being a famous war hero.

 

Interestingly enough, Iruka has never seen Kakashi out and about when he’s with Mizuki. It’s not something he thinks about, just a fun little thought that’s popped up every now and then.

 

As for his relationship with Mizuki, it’s as perfect as ever. Iruka loves him so, so much and Mizuki loves him so, so much.

 

Mizuki tells him, “You’re the only for me. I couldn’t imagine it being anyone else.”

 

“I’m the only one who gets to have you.”

 

“Only I get to know you like this,” Mizuki would whisper and then proceed to make Iruka feel like he was on cloud nine.

 

“You’re mine, you’re mine, you’re mine.”

 

“I’m so happy you’re with me. I’m so happy a loser like me could be with you.”

 

“You make me feel less like shit.”

 

“I don’t deserve you.”

 

“I couldn’t imagine life without you.”

 

Never mind the chills that run down Iruka’s spine whenever Mizuki gets even just a little bit angry. Never mind the shakiness in his hands when Mizuki drinks the night away. Never mind the sheer wrongness of it all when Mizuki says Iruka can’t hang out with his other friends.

 

He loves me, he loves me, he loves me, he loves me, he loves me. Iruka repeats it over and over in his head like a mantra.

 

It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, it does not fucking matter what Mizuki does. As long as Iruka loves him and Mizuki loves him back, all is fine. As long as he’s got his best friend for life, everything will be okay. As long as Mizuki is in his arms where life can’t take him away, Iruka will be alright.

 

When Iruka is allowed to go see his friends, they tell him Mizuki is beginning to get too controlling. Iruka, can’t you see it? they plead with him. He laughs, tinged with a touch of nerves, and waves off their concerns.

 

Nothing’s wrong, nothing’s wrong, he tells them. Their mouths falls open to protest but no words come out. Iruka frowns and then notices their line of sight. He turns around to follow it and he mentally curses himself.

 

Kakashi. Iruka wants to die.

 

“Hey, Iruka,” he greets and then gestures to the empty seat on Iruka’s left. “You mind?”

 

Iruka glances back at his friends who vigorously shake their heads. Figures a bunch of losers would want to meet the coolest ninja in the village.

 

“Go ahead,” he says to Kakashi who slides into the booth.

 

“Okay well. This is Genma, Izumo, Kotetsu, and Anko,” Iruka introduces, pointing to each person as he names them. They dip their heads as Iruka goes around the table while Kakashi wiggles his fingers in a wave.

 

“Sorry if I’m intruding,” Kakashi says after introductions.

 

“No, no, absolutely not. It’s fine,” Genma reassures.

 

Anko, face clearly unimpressed with the other boys’ behaviour, leans against her arm on the table and looks Kakashi directly in the eye. “I’ve got a question for you, Kakashi-san.”

 

The silver haired man raises an eyebrow.

 

“Say one of your friends is in a relationship. However, that relationship is real toxic but your friend doesn’t see it that way. What do you do?”

 

Kakashi breaks from Anko’s gaze and his eyes flicker between down at the table to back up at her. “I don’t think you should be asking me about relationship advice,” he says at last, absentmindedly rubbing at his left wrist.

 

Iruka grimaces to himself because it’s looking like Kakashi’s soulmate probably died in the war and now his friends look insensitive for asking about anything along the lines of love. He also grimaces because the action reminds him of his own soulmate tattoo, the scratchy lines hidden under the strip of cloth. He hates himself for this but he presses his fingertips to the bracelet anyway.

 

Anko breezes forward. So like her to just keep going even when the subject happened to be touchy.

 

“Oh it’s not his soulmate,” she says in regard to Kakashi touching at his tattoo.

 

Iruka wants to kill her. He sinks his nails into the palms of his hands to stop his murderous intent from festering any longer. God fucking dammit. Iruka subtly glances at the guys on the other side of the table. They’re quite obvious in the fact that they’re trying to avoid the conversation at hand, choosing to talk amongst themselves over the most mundane matters. Nice job guys on having Iruka’s back.

 

“You’ve told him your concerns, yes?” Kakashi asks Anko.

 

“We were doing that right before you came,” she answers. “He doesn’t want to see things our way.”

 

Iruka, sitting in the middle of the two, has never wanted to melt into a pile of goo so badly, even more than the time the teacher had called him out in class at the Academy for passing notes with Mizuki.

 

“Not being with your soulmate is a deliberate decision,” Kakashi starts off and then closes his mouth. After a pause, he speaks up again. “There’s not much you can do besides watch over your friend and keep him safe as much as possible. Your friend doesn’t typically make bad decisions, does he?”

 

Iruka hates Kakashi in that moment. Just a little bit. He does not appreciate being indirectly directly told that choosing Mizuki was a “bad decision.”

 

“No,” Anko answers with a fond smile. “Sure was the troublemaker back in the day though.”

 

It’s only been like a couple of years, Iruka frowns to himself. It hasn’t been that long since Iruka has cleaned up his act.

 

“If you trust him to make his own decisions, then you have to let him decide on his own to stay or leave.”

 

Iruka shoves his way into the conversation. “Thank you, Kakashi-san, for seeing it my way,” he gripes, then turns to face Anko. “Do you see? I can make decisions for myself perfectly fine.”

 

He huffs. “But! I don’t appreciate being talked about when I’m literally right in the fucking middle.”

 

Kakashi looks at him coolly. “I wouldn’t let it escalate though,” he comments, the words meant for Anko but eye looking directly at Iruka. His gaze narrows and Iruka’s palms go sweaty.

 

“I’d stop it before it gets dangerous.”

 

This time the words are said to Iruka. This is advice Kakashi is giving straight to him. Kakashi had said not to look to him for relationship advice and yet Iruka files the tidbit away in his mind. The way he said the words carried a certain weight. Iruka knows the older man is being serious about the whole thing but the intensity of his last statement is strong enough to force Iruka into rethinking the entire situation.

 

He doesn’t want to think about it while out with friends. Iruka will just think about it later at home.

 

The heavy air is cleared up when Izumo asks the group a random question. Iruka is both grateful for the change in topic and exasperated with his friend’s idiocy. He casually glances over to Kakashi and is relieved to see that the guy is taking his friends in stride and does not look he’d rather be anywhere else. Iruka doesn’t know why he wants Kakashi to like his friends. He amounts it to the fact that Kakashi seems lonely and Iruka would like to see him hanging out with friends.

 

Iruka has no clue why he cares about Kakashi’s loneliness to that extent. He tells himself that it’s cause he cares too much about people.

 

It’s cause he’s cool. That’s it. That’s the only reason Iruka can come up with to explain it all. Iruka wants Kakashi’s validation because he’s a badass ninja. That’s literally it.

 

He goes home from his little outing in a pleasant mood only to be greeted by one extremely wasted Mizuki at the door. Not only is Mizuki drunk as fuck, he’s pissed. Kakashi’s words come back to Iruka. They echo in his mind as Mizuki stares him down. He takes a deep breath and puts on his most loving smile.

 

“Mizuki.”

 

“Irukaaaaaaa,” the other boy whines. “I’ve been so lonely without you.”

 

“You’re drunk, love.” Iruka gently herds Mizuki back inside and closes the door behind him.

 

“You weren’t here.” Mizuki stops in his tracks and looks accusingly at Iruka. “You’ve been out.”

 

Iruka doesn’t comment.

 

Mizuki glares at him. “Who said you could go out?”

 

Iruka grits his teeth. He loathes it when Mizuki goes off and drinks. Part of it is the fact that Mizuki drinks underage but it’s so much worse than the matter of his age. Mizuki changes under the influence of alcohol. He’s a different person from the boy Iruka loves.

 

Never mind the fact that Iruka subconsciously gets the creeps even when Mizuki is sober.

 

“I asked,” Mizuki snarls, “who said you could go out?”

 

Rationally speaking, Iruka isn’t physically scared of Mizuki. He knows damn well it’d be all over in a second. If anything, Iruka isn’t afraid of Mizuki. He’s afraid for Mizuki. He’s afraid that if Mizuki continues down this path, he’ll be lost forever.

 

Iruka is also afraid that Mizuki will be lost to him . Watching Mizuki be pulled farther and farther away from him pulls at his heartstrings and Iruka’s afraid they’ll just snap one day. It’s terrifying to know that he could lose the other boy in a single moment. Iruka’s been careful with the way he’s loved and who he lets himself love but it seems that nothing matters.

 

Life takes what it wants without regarding the loss it leaves behind.

 

Iruka’s throat is all choked up, afraid that the last bit of his life that he’s so preciously held onto this entire time will be taken from him.

 

It stings when the fist connects with his jaw.

 

The punch is both surprising and unsurprising. Iruka didn’t believe Mizuki would hurt him ever and yet he expected the boy to snap at some point. Iruka looks at his boyfriend, fingers touching his jawline. He’s hurt, but the pain in his heart holds heavier than the pain in his jaw. Mizuki, at the very least, has the sense to look embarrassed.

 

“Iruka, I–”

 

“Get the fuck out of my apartment,” Iruka cuts Mizuki off.

 

Iruka doesn’t really know if he’s angry or not but he does know that he has no desire to look at Mizuki for the time being. Mizuki narrows his eyes into slits and his lips curl back but Iruka interrupts once more.

“Do you take me for a fucking joke?” Iruka’s voice is colder and harsher than he’s ever heard it been. “Get. The. Fuck. Out.”

 

Mizuki laughs and Iruka thinks to himself that okay, maybe, just maybe he is pissed off.

 

“Pathetic whore,” Mizuki croons as he opens the door. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you came back to me on your knees, begging.”

 

Iruka slams the door shut.

 

He doesn’t cry.

 

He’s just relieved that fate picked someone else for him.

 

 

At eighteen, Iruka’s completely immersed himself into the world of ANBU. He spends all his time on missions, often taking up weeks to carry out. He rarely comes home and if he does, it’s on the Hokage’s orders.

 

Being in his apartment leaves a sour taste in Iruka’s mouth. His room at the ANBU compound is even better than his apartment. At least there, Iruka isn’t constantly reminded of a shitty person.

 

It’s not healthy coping. Iruka knows that. He knows that leaving the village to go on a mission with a fifty-five percent chance of dying is not fucking healthy in the least bit. But the possibility of dying doesn’t deter him from going out.

 

The adrenaline started out as a high and then it just turned into an autopilot function. Receive the mission. Disappear in the dead of the night. Execute the mission within the specified time frame. Go back to the village.

 

Iruka doesn’t know how to live a civilian life anymore.

 

When he is home with friends, Iruka can feel a bit of his old self come back. The Iruka before he turned ANBU. But there’s an underlying tense energy perpetually running through all of them all the time. No one wants to address the elephant in the room. Not even Anko who’s used to saying whatever the fuck is on her mind. In some ways, their refusal to say anything eats at Iruka more than if they had just confronted him about it.

 

Their silence is them blatantly disagreeing with Iruka for just disappearing on them instead of talking it out. Iruka pretends not to notice.

 

He catches Kakashi around town sometimes. Town being the memorial stone. Goddamn, Kakashi sure spends a lot of time there. Iruka can’t say shit though. It’s not like he knows how to cope either.

 

“You spend a lot of time here,” Iruka had commented in passing once.

 

“Hard not to when everyone I’ve cared for is here,” Kakashi dryly responded back.

 

“Your soulmate?” Iruka casually asked, ignoring how tragic Kakashi’s words were.

 

The copy nin casted a long side glance. “Everyone in my life leaves. I wouldn’t wish that on him.”

 

Iruka felt sick when the understanding came to him. Kakashi had meant “leaves” in the sense that everyone he loves dies. Iruka gazed at him, an overwhelming sadness washing him as Iruka sees an enduring melancholy in Kakashi.

 

He had closed his eyes for a brief moment, and he wished with all this heart that whoever was Kakashi’s soulmate would force his way into the jonin’s life and ease his pain. Be his friend. Be there for him.

 

Iruka didn’t understand why it hurt so much to look at Kakashi to the point where Iruka wanted to be rude and ask for Kakashi’s soulmate’s name so he could find the guy himself.

 

“Your soulmate?” Kakashi asked back.

 

Iruka flushed, caught off guard by the question.

 

“Oh, I… I don’t really know him. Or her. Or them.”

 

“You don’t really know them,” Kakashi repeated in a casual tone.

 

“I can’t read the name on my wrist,” Iruka explained with a little laugh. “That’s probably stupid isn’t it.”

 

“Maa, you’re a nice person, Iruka,” was all Kakashi said. “It’d be cruel of fate to not give you a good person.”

 

Iruka didn’t know why Kakashi sounded so apologetic. It’s not like Kakashi was his soulmate or anything. Anyway, he had no clue how to tell the older man that life’s been enough of a bitch already.

 

“I think I’m okay being by myself,” he murmured.

 

“Hmm?”

 

“Nothing,” Iruka softy said. “Just that life’s a fucking nightmare.”

 

“I would know.”

 

“You would.”

 

Iruka thinks that they’re probably friends despite not seeing Kakashi very often. He’s barely been home and he sees Kakashi even less than that. The conversations they hold say otherwise about how comfortable they’re with each other.

 

Kakashi’s plenty mysterious as everyone else makes him out to be. It seems to be that everyone’s too in awe or afraid to look past Kakashi’s steely exterior and see him for what he is.

 

Lonely.

 

(Except for Might Guy and even then, Guy’s an exception to everything)

 

Mizuki’s disappeared from Iruka’s life. He’s grateful for that.

 

He’s lying. It’s hurts like a bitch.

 

Iruka feels bad. He feels bad and it hurts and he misses Mizuki so much. He misses Mizuki’s laugh and his lopsided grin and running his fingers through his hair.

 

That’s why he let Mizuki in. That’s why he lets Mizuki shove his tongue down his throat. Why he accepts Mizuki’s repeated babble of “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” over and over again. Why Iruka lets himself be guided to bed. Lets his shirt be taken off. Let’s Mizuki’s hands ghost his skin in familiar ways.

 

Iruka lets himself forget and be consumed.

 

It’s startling to see Mizuki’s wrist no longer bare. The name on his wrist reads ‘Tsubaki’; it’s a woman’s name. Iruka is both relieved and pissed about it.

 

But he doesn’t say anything, not while Mizuki’s pressing kisses along the side of his neck.

 

Iruka’s a fool.

 

 

“Why are you here.”

 

“Because I love you.”

 

“You don’t.”

 

“Iruka, please.

 

“You were with her yesterday.”

 

“You know I don’t like it. You know that I don’t even like her. My parents are just forcing me into this obligation.”

 

“You’re awfully cruel to be referring to her as an obligation.”

 

“You’re being cruel.”

 

“You were laughing with her.”

 

“It was fake. I don’t fucking laugh like that.”

 

“I know you told her that you love her.”

 

“Because my parents want us to get married.”

 

“So what? You’re just gonna sneak around her back to fuck me? Am I not good enough for you to say no to both your parents and her? You’re real pathetic.”

 

“Oh,” Mizuki says rather sickeningly. “You’re the pathetic one for always letting me come back.”

 

 

Iruka is twenty years old and he still hasn’t learned his fucking lesson. He lets Mizuki into his bed over and over again. He tells himself that Mizuki will learn and mature but it’s to no avail. Iruka doesn’t know how to stop either. He’s too prideful to go to his friends.

 

He wakes up to an empty bed for what seems to be the millionth time. Iruka doesn’t know what to think nor does he know why he thinks it’ll be different each time.

 

Iruka rolls out of bed and takes off the sheets. Mizuki’s scent lingers. Iruka has no desire to be reminded of it and throws them into the wash.

 

Luckily, he’s got a form of distraction through a meeting with the Hokage. He leaves after a shower, making his way to the Hokage’s office. The Sandaime needs him apparently but not as ANBU.

 

Iruka knocks on the door (since only ANBU go through windows).

 

“Come in.”

 

“Lord Hokage,” Iruka greets with a bow.

 

“Iruka,” the Hokage says with a smile. “Everyone else is dismissed.”

 

All non personnel and unimportant figures immediately leave the room, save for the Hokage’s ANBU guard.

 

“Did you need me for something Lord Hokage?”

 

“It’s about time you start your undercover mission,” he answers. “However it’s less of a mission and more of a permanent residence.”

 

Iruka frowns and purses his lips. “What am I doing?”

 

“I want you to work at the Academy.”

 

Iruka’s stomach drops. Mizuki works at the Academy. Hell knows how he got a job there but there is no way Iruka wants to work with him.

 

“I need someone capable stationed there. In the event that anything does occur, I trust you’ll be able to take care of it.”

 

Iruka swallows. “When do you want me to start?”

 

“You have an interview this afternoon.” The Hokage gives him a wry smile. “Forgive me, Iruka. It’s just a matter of formality for records. You’ll be given the position of assistant no matter how your interview goes. But I do think you’ll enjoy the Academy.”

 

Iruka doesn’t have anything else to say. He bows again and exits the building. He finds himself walking to the memorial stone. He gives a loud sigh and makes himself comfortable.

 

“Well Mom, Dad,” he starts off. “Guess I’m gonna be a teacher.”

 

“You, a teacher?”

 

“Kakashi,” Iruka hisses. “Stop sneaking up on me.”

 

“You’re a shinobi.”

 

Iruka couldn’t argue with that. He ignores the other man, choosing to tightly press his lips together in annoyance.

 

“So,” Kakashi prompts. “A teacher?”

 

“The Hokage has a new job for me I guess. But it’s just assistant teacher for now.”

 

Kakashi plops down next to Iruka. “You don’t seem particularly excited.”

 

Iruka winces. “There’s someone there who I don’t really want to work with.”

 

Kakashi doesn’t pry any further and there’s a tiny part of Iruka that wishes he would. Their friendship is a bit weird; there’s a baseline level of trust with each other but at the same time, Iruka and Kakashi don’t know the other all too well. It’s easy talking to Kakashi without feeling like he’s going to be judged about it. Iruka loves his friends, loves Anko and Genma and Kotetsu and Izumo but they know too much.

 

“I don’t know how to stop making the same bad decision over and over again.”

 

Kakashi doesn’t say anything and Iruka takes this as a sign to continue.

 

“I know it’s wrong. I know it’s wrong but every fucking time it happens–” Iruka breaks off here, voice wavering.

 

Kakashi is looking him directly with his one eye. It’s impossible to tell what he’s thinking but there’s something so comforting about the steadiness of his gaze.

 

“I just let it happen,” Iruka finishes with a whisper. “I just let him do what he wants. I don’t know why I can’t say no.”

 

Nothing is said after that. Iruka doesn’t mind. He didn’t want Kakashi to say anything. He just needed someone to have listened.

 

“Iruka–”

 

“Oh shit, I have to go for my interview. Sorry Kakashi but I’ll catch up with you later,” Iruka says hurriedly while getting up in a rushed manner. “I’ll see you around, yeah?”

 

Kakashi lifting his hand in a goodbye is all Iruka sees before dashing out. He feels bad for cutting him off but Iruka’s got appearances to keep up. He has no idea how much the Academy headmaster knows about the Hokage’s intentions but there’s no reason to make arriving late a habit even if Iruka was guaranteed the job.

 

Iruka’s interview went smoothly as hoped and he was to start the next day. The Academy headmaster had profusely thanked Iruka for taking on the job of assistant teacher while showing him out. Iruka had laughed and told him it was no problem and that he was happy to be of assistance.

 

It’s when he leaves that Iruka sees Mizuki. Fucking bastard has the nerve to look cocky.

 

“Hello Iruka,” he greets in a pleasant voice. Mizuki’s body language is lax, clearly unafraid.

 

“Mizuki,” Iruka returns.

 

“It’s unusual seeing you here,” Mizuki notes. “You’re usually off doing something for the Hokage.”

“He’s got a new job for me,” Iruka explains simply. He doesn’t disclose any further details, choosing to stay as short as possible with his explanations. Iruka wants to leave as soon as possible as talking with Mizuki leaves a bitter taste in his mouth.

 

“Hm,” Mizuki says noncommittally with a smirk. “Guess I’ll be seeing you around then.” He pats Iruka’s shoulder and then leaves him standing there.

 

Iruka shuts his eyes and slowly counts to five, suppressing any sort of murderous intent he has for Mizuki. Tell him no if he wants to climb into your bed, he commands himself and leaves the Academy grounds.

 

Iruka finds himself walking towards Teuchi’s ramen shop for dinner. He seats himself and calls for his usual. He’s started to eat when someone slides into the seat next to him.

 

“Thought I’d find you here,” Kakashi says rather cheerfully.

 

“Kakashi,” Iruka says after swallowing.

 

“How’d the interview go?”

 

“Oh it went fine. I’m supposed to start work tomorrow. 8 am sharp but I’m used to being up even earlier,” Iruka says, laughing.

 

“I guess you’ll be around town more often now that you’re working at the Academy?” Kakashi asks, politely refusing a bowl from Teuchi.

 

“Guess so yeah. Back to a civilian lifestyle of sorts,” Iruka muses before realizing even that nonchalant statement could give out a lot on his identity as ANBU. “You should eat,” Iruka says to change the subject.

 

“I’ve already had dinner,” Kakashi replies evenly. “Are you going to work a second job? I don’t think assistant teacher pays very well.” Kakashi laughs and Iruka’s inside get all twisted because wow, Kakashi sure had a cute laugh.

 

(Really, it was a deep, sexy baritone but calling it hot would drive Iruka mad)

 

(He wants to hear that laugh right next to his ear for the rest of his life)

 

“I don’t know,” Iruka answers truthfully. “I haven’t been home very often if you couldn’t tell already,” he says with a wry smile.

 

“It’s getting rather dark,” Kakashi states. “It was good to see you, Iruka-sensei. I’m off,” Kakashi says with a gesture of his hand.

 

“Not a sensei just yet!” Iruka calls back, tiny smile on his lips.

 

It’s not until a while after Kakashi’s gone that Iruka realizes their entire conversation had been around him and nothing was said about Kakashi. It’s not like Iruka wants to forcefully get Kakashi to talk about himself; it’s just that Iruka wishes Kakashi would ease some of that loneliness he holds by opening up.

 

Iruka learns a new passion while he begins to permanently settle into the Academy. He learns that he loves kids and that he loves to teach. Even just as an assistant, Iruka gets to interact with the kids and help them learn the basics they need to become full fledged shinobi. Seeing their smiles and hearing their excited voices when they successfully pull off a jutsu brings the warmest feelings to Iruka’s heart.

 

It’s a reminder of the work he did while full time ANBU. Iruka doesn’t regret any of it. He’s done his part in protecting the will of fire and will continue to do so while undercover.

 

His efficiency at the Academy has gotten him a promotion within a couple of months. After taking an exam, which of course, he aced, Iruka has become a legitimate teacher. All of the students are excited about it, even if Iruka is known to be rather strict. The pre-genin think he’s fun and more than qualified for his job unlike other teachers.

 

(Other teachers being Mizuki)

 

(Another reason Iruka loves kids. They have no filter)

 

After his friends have heard the news of his promotion, Iruka’s being forced to go out for drinks in order to celebrate. He protests and says that he’s got assignments to grade but they whine that Iruka never goes out anymore and he relents. He lets himself be dragged out to their once usual bar, still the usual for them, not anymore for him, and tells himself that it’s a Saturday and he’s got plenty of time to grade.

 

Figures Iruka would stay generally sober throughout the night while the rest of his friends get plastered.

 

“Okay, okay,” slurs Genma. “Another toast to Iruka!”

 

“Iruka!” his friends cheer and clink their glasses.

 

He smiles in amusement and tips his own glass but doesn’t drink any of it. Izumo pouts, pushing the glass to Iruka’s lips.

 

“C’mon,” Izumo whines. “You’ve barely drank anything tonight.”

 

“Yeah,” Kotetsu chimes in. “You’re supposed to be getting drunkkkkk and not be soooooberrr.”

 

Iruka gives the tiniest shake of his head and laughs. “Fine, fine. If you guys say so,” he says and downs the entirety of his glass in one go.

 

“There he is!” Anko crows and slaps Iruka on the back.

 

He laughs and then chokes on his laugh causing Anko to slap harder. When Iruka’s stopped coughing, Genma bursts out laughing which started a chain reaction amongst everyone else.

 

Their laughter is cut short with the appearance of one white haired man with a silky smooth voice.

 

“Mizuki,” Anko greets flatly.

 

His lips curl into a sneer. “Hello, Anko, Iruka. Hello to the rest of you bumbling idiots too.”

 

Iruka bristles. Mizuki could talk shit about him for all he cared but Iruka would not stand for insulting his friends. He reigns his chakra in check, not wanting to set off anybody in alert.

 

“Mizuki,” Iruka says back. “What are you doing here?”

 

“I can’t congratulate my friend for being promoted?”

 

“Thanks but I don’t really want to see you tonight,” Iruka snaps.

 

“Oh? So you’ll see me later then?” Mizuki says, leering up in Iruka’s personal space. It’s stifling to say the least.

 

“If he says he doesn’t want to see you, he doesn’t want to see you,” a new voice says, interrupting.

 

“Kakashi,” Iruka greets, the corners of his lips edging up into a smile.

 

“Yo,” the copy nin says in return. “Do you mind?” he asks to Mizuki, initially unwilling to move but does so after a prolonged moment of Kakashi staring at him rather boredly.

 

Kakashi slides into the booth as Mizuki stalks off. Iruka catches the last look he throws back at him before exiting. Mizuki’s eyes are full of a black anger, an anger Iruka is in no mood to deal with.

 

“You’re late Kakashi-san,” Genma drunkenly mumbles. “But thank god, you came at the right time.”

 

“Oh ignore him,” Iruka rolls his eyes and pushes a drink towards Kakashi. “I’m just happy you’re here at all.”

 

“I’d be a pretty bad friend if I didn’t come,” Kakashi laughs.

 

Iruka downs the rest of his drink in one go.

 

The rest of the night drags on and Iruka suddenly can’t stop drinking. Glass after glass, Iruka’s blood hums restlessly. He doesn’t know whether he keeps drinking to impress Kakashi or to simply lose his inhibitions.

 

Either way, having Kakashi next to him makes him nervous.

 

Izumo is retelling the story of when Kotetsu attempted to sneak into the Hokage’s office back when they were just genin. Izumo has gotten to the good part where Kotetsu believed he’d managed to do it just as the Hokage slowly swiveled around in his chair.

 

Kakashi bursts out laughing.

 

Iruka isn’t drunk. He swears on his status as an ANBU that he’s not fucking drunk.

 

The rest of the table is stunned into silence when Iruka leans up to press a kiss against Kakashi’s mouth through the fabric of his mask.

 

“Your laugh is soooo cute,” Iruka says, giggling. “Wanna hear it for the rest of my life.”

 

“Oh take him home Kakashi,” Anko grumbles.

 

“Mmm, I wanna go home with Kakashi,” Iruka mumbles and loops his arms around Kakashi’s neck.

 

Kakashi heaves Iruka up to carry him in his arms. Once secure, he quickly forms the signs and the two disappear in a swirl of leaves.

 

“You’re drunk, Iruka,” Kakashi says rather fondly as the younger man tries to kiss him again.

 

“No kisses?” Iruka pouts.

 

“Maybe when you’re sober,” Kakashi comments cheerfully, guiding Iruka to his bedroom.

 

“Come back in the morning then,” Iruka whispers directly into the older man’s ear.

 

“Is that a promise?”

 

Iruka presses a quick kiss to Kakashi’s cheek. “You’ll see,” he says with a smile and promptly passes out on the bed.

 

Kakashi, smiling to himself, carefully lets Iruka’s hair loose and removes his hitai-ate. He tucks Iruka into bed and leaves a glass of water on his nightstand. Kakashi makes his exit through the window, leaving behind the ghost of a kiss on Iruka’s forehead.

 

Iruka wakes with a raging headache. He turns over and surprisingly, there’s already a glass of water on his nightstand. He drinks it all, wondering what the hell happened last night.

 

He remembers going for drinks with his friends, Mizuki showed up, and then Kakashi. Lots and lots of drinks followed. Everything is a bit of a blur from there. Iruka sighs and goes to freshen up. Looks like he’ll just have to ask his friends what happened.

 

Iruka’s eating breakfast and grading papers when a knock comes at his door.

 

He opens it, revealing one Kakashi Hatake.

 

“Morning,” Kakashi says.

 

Oh Iruka’s hungover ass is not prepared for this kind of shit. “Good, good morning,” he greets back. “Come in?”

 

“How’s the hangover?” Kakashi asks, following Iruka to his kitchen table.

 

“Getting better. Someone left water on my nightstand. That was really nice of them,” Iruka mentions, searching his cupboards for a cup.

 

“Tea?”

 

“That would’ve been me, and yes, thank you.”

 

Iruka almost lets the cup slip from his hands.

 

“You took me home?”

 

“I did.”

 

“I… I didn’t do anything too weird, did I?” Iruka asks, looking back at Kakashi.

 

“You kissed me at the bar and then I took you home. You tried to kiss me again and I didn’t let you so I said maybe when you’re sober and then you told me to see me in the morning,” Kakashi answers, grinning.

 

“And now you’re here.”

 

“I am.”

 

“To collect your kiss.”

 

“Smart man you are, Iruka-sensei.”

 

Is this really happening? Is this really, fucking happening?

 

Kakashi Hatake is in Iruka’s kitchen asking for a kiss. Kakashi could literally be with anyone of his choosing and yet he chose Iruka. He stands there at the counter waiting for the tea to steep and contemplates his decisions. On one hand, Iruka could kick Kakashi out and on the other hand, Iruka could just go for it.

 

He wonders how many people have been given the opportunity to kiss Kakashi.

 

“Your tea,” Iruka says, placing the cup in front of Kakashi. “And your kiss,” Iruka murmurs, voice dropping low.

 

He tips Kakashi’s jaw upwards and slots his mouth against the man’s masked one.

 

One, two, and Iruka pulls away.

 

Kakashi pulls Iruka back right into his lap. Kakashi leans closer until their foreheads are touching. One hand is holding Iruka’s and the other is reaching to pull down his mask and lift his hitai-ate.

 

“One more Iruka?” Kakashi asks, showing off his crooked smile.

 

Oh.

 

Oh.

 

Oh.

 

That’s. That’s Kakashi’s face. Iruka is at a loss for words. He can’t wrap his head around the fact that Kakashi just showed him his face. Kakashi is willing to run the risk of showing Iruka his face just for a kiss.

 

Iruka thinks Kakashi’s an idiot but is also touched Kakashi trusts him.

 

He’s also in awe of Kakashi’s unbelievably ethereal face. The man is so gorgeous Iruka finds it difficult, impossible even, to look away. A thin, vertical scar runs down the left side of Kakashi’s face. It reminds Iruka of his own, running across his nose. The older man’s nose is long and straight, leading to pretty, pink lips. A mole sits under the left corner and Iruka’s heart stutters in its already erratic rhythm. The heavens truly took their time when making Kakashi.

 

Iruka’s thumb sits against Kakashi’s cheekbone. Right above is the famed Sharingan. The eye is crimson red and hauntingly beautiful. The eye stares right through him; it is both frightening and… well, being honest, hot.

 

Eyes close, lips touch, Iruka doesn’t ever want to let go.

 

Kakashi’s lips are soft and warm. Kissing him reminds Iruka of warm spring breezes during cherry blossom season. A gentle, unrelenting pressure. Iruka’s hands go up to tangle themselves in Kakashi’s hair. A slight stutter in the other man’s breathing. Iruka pulls, just a little bit, and delights in hearing Kakashi gasp.

 

“You’re a tease,” Kakashi whispers after pulling away.

 

“Really?” Iruka fake gasps.

 

“Yes, really,” Kakashi groans, leaning back in to kiss Iruka once more. His hands have moved from Iruka’s waist to the curve of his ass. Iruka moans into Kakashi’s mouth, who takes the chance to slip Iruka some tongue.

 

The tone of the kiss has changed. It is no longer a shy, chaste kiss. Iruka can taste it: Kakashi’s hungry.

 

Teeth, tongue, it’s all so, so hot. Iruka’s overheating. The heat from Kakashi’s body is overwhelming. Iruka want –needs– to take off his shirt.

 

“Shirt,” Iruka pants and he knows Kakashi’s understood by the way he’s helping Iruka take it off.

 

There’s no time to be shy about his body. Not with Kakashi licking along his neck. Iruka’s eyes go glassy when Kakashi begins to suck a hickey into his collarbone.

 

“Ah… not anywhere anyone can see,” Iruka says absentmindedly.

 

His ass gets squeezed in confirmation.

 

Iruka can’t remember the last time he was so comfortable with physical touch. It’s maddening, his desire to kiss and touch every inch of Kakashi. He settles for another kiss to quench his appetite.

 

Iruka’s drowning again. He drowning in a sea of everything Kakashi. His scent, his touch, his taste. The weight on his chest is staggering but Iruka has no trouble breathing. It’s easy finding his way back to the surface through the crystal clear waters.

 

The water is warm, hot even. There is no sinking rock in Iruka’s stomach. Just a warm, bubbly laughter in his chest when Kakashi’s hand breaks through the water and pulls him up.

 

Iruka’s got it bad.

 

 

At twenty one, Iruka’s adjusted to a civilian life. Sure, some old habits die hard but Iruka loves his 9 to 5 job at the Academy, loves being around his friends all the time, loves helping out his neighbors.

 

Loves pulling down Kakashi’s mask and kissing his lips.

 

Iruka doesn’t get to leave the village much anymore but it’s cool, it’s cool. There’s things he doesn’t want to leave. He loves his students dearly and would hate to part with them. Even with the addition of Naruto, Iruka’s been able to keep a stronghold on his classes. The pre-genin are such devilish little monsters but Iruka enjoys teaching them the basics of shinobi life anyway.

 

The Academy is a pretty lousy paying job but as undercover ANBU, Iruka receives plenty of funds. He’s taken up a job at the mission desk just to keep things under suspicion. He’s come to enjoy working at the desk too. It’s important to him that there’s someone to greet the shinobi coming home, especially if there’s nobody else. Funnily enough, Kakashi has never returned home during Iruka’s shifts.

 

No big deal. Iruka will just welcome him home in bed.

 

Iruka thinks he’s falling in love. Stupid, he knows. It’s stupid of him to fall in love with a man like Kakashi. He’s heard all the whispers, the rumors. Iruka knows better than most people just how dangerous Kakashi is but he also knows better than most people just how human Kakashi can be.

 

Iruka is touched by all the little gestures Kakashi does for him. Bringing takeout when Iruka forgets to eat. Tucking him into bed when he falls asleep grading papers. Helping out with groceries.

 

He’s falling in love.

 

(Would it be awful of him to wish that Kakashi had the same shitty handwriting Iruka bears on his wrist?)

 

To want is to be selfish and by nature, Iruka is not selfish. But when he feels the roughness of Kakashi’s fingers against the wide expanse of his skin, Kakashi’s hot breath against his ear, his sinfully soft lips on his own, Iruka wants and wants and wants.

 

To wake up next to him. To press a kiss on his forehead. To eat breakfast together. To hear him say “I’m home” and to respond with “Welcome back, dear”.

 

Iruka wants.

 

But he’s too afraid to ask for more. He doesn’t ask for more out of respect of whomever Kakashi’s soulmate is and to keep his own heart on lock and key. A safety measure Iruka wants to be rid of.

 

It’s gone a lot faster than Iruka was expecting.

 

The mission report on his desk waiting to be approved had been handed moment ago by none other than Kakashi.

 

“Welcome back, Kaka–” Iruka’s voice falters when he sees the handwriting.

 

He looks up at Kakashi then back at the scroll and then back to Kakashi. He’s vaguely aware of the entire room going quiet and he can feel the weight of all their stares. There’s a thought in the back of his mind that Konoha’s gossip line is going to set itself ablaze once this little incident is over with.

 

But mostly, Iruka’s still attempting to process Kakashi’s absolutely, god awful handwriting. A handwriting that looks too much like the way Iruka’s soulmate tattoo is written.

 

Oh my fucking god.

 

Iruka scrambles to untie the bracelet. It’s left a tan line, a strip of paler skin against the rest of Iruka’s even tan. And the name. The name hasn’t changed in all these years. Still ink black. Still practically unreadable. Just as Iruka remembered it.

 

He’s looking into Kakashi’s eye, mouth open to say something.

 

Kakashi interjects.

 

“I think I’m allowed to be selfish, sensei,” he says quietly.

 

Iruka bursts into tears when Kakashi takes his hand and kisses his knuckles.

 

Love. With or without the name on his wrist, Iruka is sure that he would’ve grown to love Kakashi either way. There is no one that makes him happier, no one that makes him feel safer.

 

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Iruka Umino is barely twenty two years old, happily married to one Kakashi Hatake.