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Two and the Same

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Not in a flash of light nor in the crash of thunder, not in a burst of color or a drain of hues, but in a coincidental meeting of eyes: Iruka was struck. They were grey, filled with amusement and kindness, both light and wonderful, and the look of them sent ripples of excitement into his stiffened body. He thought their gazes would remain locked, but the man strolled away. Away. From him, from his soulmate now breathing deeply in hopes that he could feel the oxygen filling his lungs, that he would turn back to search for his source of air. 

Iruka exhaled and took a determined step forward, but the breath that brought him to life froze him in place. This was wrong. How could he go in pursuit of someone when he already- Iruka shook his head causing the strands of his ponytail to whip behind his scalp. 

The second deep inhale drew his foot backward across the dirt, back side by side, back where he was before he’d caught a glimpse of the mysterious man with purple painted on his handsome face. 

This was wrong.

He repeated the sentiment with a third deep breath and finally turned himself away from the person who could potentially ruin his life. It was time to capture the thought and remold it into something merely passing. It was now as mundane as noting the color of the sky or the smell of the air. 

It was time to go home.

 

Iruka stepped over the threshold of his apartment and was hit with a familiar scent. Lined with salt and umami, thick with sea and spice, it was a smell he was accustomed to and it warmed him to his core. Through the haze of the aroma and the heat from the stove came a voice that penetrated with coolness.

“Welcome,”

Somehow he always called out to Iruka before he could announce he had arrived home. It usurped the customs without causing chaos. Was there a better way to describe the man standing with a ladle in one hand and a saucer in the other? Who was he but a man who usurped custom without causing chaos? He was Kakashi of course, currently adorned with a spotless white apron covered in frills and lace. His slightly pink lips peeked out from the edge of his mask as he tilted the saucer to taste the broth he’d prepared.

“I’m home,” Iruka entered while setting aside a worn bag. “Yosenabe?”

“I got home a little later than usual, so I wanted to do something quick.”

“Speaking of which,” Iruka approached in a few light steps and let his fingers brush the exposed skin of Kakashi’s arm.

The tingles shot through them both and they shivered. Iruka let the tips remain there, just for another moment, just enough to reestablish himself, here. In this space, with the man he knew he loved. 

“Hmm?” Kakashi’s gaze met Iruka’s and he smiled.

With his lips still exposed, Iruka’s core bloomed with excitement. Even if they spent every waking moment together it was still a rarity to see his nude, full-lipped smile. Iruka launched up and pecked his mouth to Kakashi’s, earning a hum from him, followed by a shy tug of his mask up to his nose. 

“It’ll be just a few more minutes. Will you set the table?”

Iruka planted another kiss to Kakashi’s temple and leisurely pulled out their bowls, packed them with rice, along with all the necessary utensils and carried them to the table. When Kakashi arrived with the medium-sized pot, filled to a half-inch beneath the rim with noodles, veggies, fishcakes, and a savory, dark broth, Iruka was folding a napkin beside his assortment of tableware. They seated themselves at opposite ends while beginning a casual conversation about their days, what they’d done, and where they’d gone. As usual, Kakashi remained vague. It took question after question, playful snatches of his wrists and pokes into his open-faced palm to get any detail about it.

Kakashi picked up a broth-soaked lotus root with dark brown chopsticks and held it out to Iruka who raised his head and opened his mouth. Kakashi lifted it just out of reach earning a frown and glare. Wrinkles appeared at the edges of his grey eyes as he smiled again. 

These meals were just as precious as his bare smile. Iruka nipped into the edge of the root with his teeth and tore it away, chewing it with exaggeration and with a playful narrow of his gaze. When he swallowed he started up again:

"What time are you leaving tomorrow?"

"Six a.m."

"I'll get up early to make breakfast."

"You don't have to do that." 

"Well, I want to." Iruka's tone strengthened and Kakashi sighed.

"Do what you want, then," and after a pause he completed. "Thank you."

Iruka beamed, but his triumph was interrupted by the sight of Kakashi tugging his mask up. Iruka ached every day to see those square features, the tender salmon of his lips, and the secret mark that applied such beauty to his chin. He recalled it at strange moments, in a flash of memory,  that sent a burst of joy through him every time.

But not this time. A different image appeared. Of a stranger, someone with something similar. A mark of beauty. Tantalizing and beckoning with a single look. Lips with just a touch of pink on them. This was Kaka- It wasn't. 

And Kakashi must have seen the cold realization and internal struggle on Iruka's face because he perked an eyebrow. He reached out and rested his hand over Iruka's and with a tilt of his head he gently inquired:

"Is something on your mind?"

They were always open with one another. Maybe not in blatant feeling, but with their concerns. They'd built this home on honesty and confidence, sharing with one another all they were comfortable, only pressing for more when lives depended on it. They provided each other with shoulders to cry on, hair to nuzzle in, embraces to melt against. If it involved them both, then even more so. 

But as Iruka imagined himself looking his lover in the eye and saying those words, revealing to him a wavering heart, would they push through? This was different from toilet paper positioning arguments and conflicting tastes in decor. This was not a frustrating misunderstanding, one that they both shouldered with acknowledgment of their mistakes and gentle reassurances to do one another better.

No, it was not Kakashi’s burden to bear the knowledge that Iruka had made a mistake. That his body and mind had betrayed all that he was and all that he internally promised to be. 

Iruka shook his head and flipped his hand so his fingers could lace with Kakashi's. He forced a smile to his lips and responded:

"No, I was just lost in thought."

Kakashi squeezed him for a moment and with a blink of quiet acceptance, he stood from the table. Iruka rose with him and methodically they cleared away the dishes. Side by side they scrubbed and wiped away the awkward. Iruka hoped if they cleaned well enough then he could wash away his mistake, he could wipe away the fact that he had unexpectedly, excruciatingly lost his assurance at the sight of another man.


Kakashi had noticed his eyes fixating on him from a distance and thought, of course I can’t hide from him. He could have remained inconspicuous and continue leisurely strolling away, but he’d felt Iruka’s approach and with his students close by he couldn’t risk revealing his persona just yet. So he leaped away with a smile on his bare lips, softly chuckling at the idea of Iruka’s perked eyebrow and questioning expression. He adored the image of Iruka’s lips jutting out ever-so-slightly, three wrinkle-lines forming in the skin of his forehead as a sign of his perturbance, his brows pushing together, likely followed by a, what are you doing?  

And though he had no intention of going out of his way to perform a flashy reveal, he figured at the next opportunity he’d have a chat with him. 

The opportunity arrived sooner than he’d expected. A week or so later, Kakashi played another prank on his students and, clad in his Sukea disguise, had escaped to the riverside. It was spring and the leaves on the trees were a vibrant green, casting splotchy patterns across the cement walkway beside the rippling and humming blue water. At a distance, he caught sight of Iruka, staring across the riverbank, focused and entirely unaware of his surroundings.

Kakashi came to a halt just a few feet away to raise his camera and click, causing Iruka to jump in surprise and turn in his direction. Kakashi flashed a grin, his eyes scrunching up and body swaying as he maintained the chipper disposition of his persona. 

“Something on your mind?” His voice was lighter, higher, and the nuance that was the underlying Kakashi was only detectable to the most discerning of ears. 

He’d expected Iruka to notice immediately, he been so sure after all. Instead, he was met with a shocked face. The summer sun glow highlighted Iruka’s cheekbones and cast shadows across the dips and grooves of his melanin blessed skin. His lips sputtered and his words faltered as the red crept up his cheeks. Kakashi watched Iruka’s hands clenched into fists at his sides and his feet shuffled in clear disarray.

It recalled his fondest memories, of a nervous Iruka shaking in front of him as he admitted his feelings, between whispers and shouts he’d managed to convey his admiration and love and Kakashi’s body had felt as though it were floating. He had blinked a few times to see tears edging out of the corners of Iruka’s eyes as he panted waiting for the reply.

The images faded back to this same Iruka who was stumbling through a sentence. 

And just as before, Kakashi reflexively leaned forward. His hand rose to pull down his mask, but the tip of his finger only brushed along his exposed cheek. It might have yanked him from the euphoria had he not been so transfixed by those dark eyes staring back at him. 

And just as before he cupped both sides of his face and silenced the syllables tumbling from his lips. The warmth and softness were so familiar, it was home, but in a moment of uncontrollable passion, he’d forgotten who he was.

Kakashi was thrown back and a hard slap snapped his face to the side, leaving behind a sting that resonated through his muscles and a warm trickle of blood down his cheek from where the ring he’d given him made impact. 

Not even the rumbles of pain returned him to earth. It was the sob that broke the euphoria, it was the sight of tears filling Iruka’s eyes, and the second wretched sob that nearly brought Kakashi to his knees. 

Iruka backed away, his hands covering his face, clearly in disbelief and distraught. He sank to his haunches and Kakashi wanted to reach down and comfort him reflexively, but with the shift of his foot and the sight of his own bare hand inching toward the shivering form of his beloved the realization finally came. 

The ache in him made turning away all the more painful and the hollowness that had enlarged in his chest since this all began much deeper. 

“I’m sorry,”

Iruka’s eyes widened beneath his hands and he looked up just as the man in front of him zipped away. His features twisted in confusion mixed with ounces of recognition and sparks of understanding for those lower, gentle tones had welcomed him home every day for the past year. 

When Iruka stood the man had already disappeared, but Iruka knew where he was going and he followed. Zipping through the air, reaching his front door before the rays across the horizon turned orange and pushing his keys into the lock. He entered to hear running water and splashes. He traveled further, not hearing the usual greeting, not announcing his arrival because all he knew was the need to confirm what he suspected.

Iruka spoke his name softly when he saw Kakashi bent over the sink washing the last of the purple from his face. He faced him, revealing the freshly produced and cleaned wound on his naked cheek. It was small and red, but no longer bleeding. They remained in a long silence. One that reflected their tendency to be silent, to be together in something comfortable and sure.

In the same silence, Iruka pulled out a small medical kit and without words Kakashi wiped the water dripping from his face and took a seat near their low dining table. The other man kneeled in front of him, clipping the box open, and pulling out a circular tub of ointment. 

Iruka applied the cream with the tip of his finger, taking his time, rubbing it in, and gently laid the bandage over the tiny wound. It would be so easy to just heal it, but Kakashi did not think to do it. And Iruka understood why. It was another rare opportunity, a more roundabout way of requesting “please touch me,” providing a reason rather than a simple “I need you to touch me.” And similarly, Iruka wanted to tend to the wound he’d produced on his partner’s beautiful face. 

As he smoothed down the edges of the tiny strips of adhesive, the recollection of the past few hours and the absurdity of it all pulled from him a laugh. One that turned Kakashi’s eyes to him.

“That just goes to show…” Iruka began but paused as he sat back on his heels.

“Hm?”

Iruka shook his head.

“What? No, tell me.” Kakashi slid his fingers between Iruka’s, providing his limp, calloused hand with strength and comfort. 

“It just…” a grin full of joy spread his features. “It just goes to show, you’ll always be the one I fall in love with.”

Kakashi’s gaze that was fixated on Iruka’s face flickered wider. It all bloomed through him with such intensity he couldn’t withhold the tears that spilled from the edges of his shining grey eyes. With the weight of these past weeks slipping off his broad shoulders, he leaned his forehead to Iruka’s and his face scrunched up with a smile just as blinding. 

Iruka let out a sigh that carried all of his anxiety and stress. It dispersed across Kakashi’s lips only inches away, leaving him with nothing but the fullness he’d felt before Sukea’s appearance. Happiness, closeness, and contentment. That was his relationship with Hatake Kakashi and the wedge that had been driven between them brought upon by mere misunderstanding was erased. Despite the differences, the agonizing and confliction, the man who’d thrown him off balance and the man who steadied him were two and the same.