Chapter 1: Just the Beginning
It was just another day for Iruka Umino, work at the Academy, work in the Mission Room, head home to have dinner with his adopted sons, Naruto & Konohamaru, and then to sleep. Only to wake up and start the whole same cycle over again. When did his life get this boring and stagnant?
As Iruka walked into his kitchen, he opened the fridge and stared at all the food. He found he didn’t really have an appetite so he walked over to the living room to find something to watch on TV. He checked out the menu guide and even his favorite shows didn’t grab his attention. He sat down on the couch and listened to Naruto helping Konohamaru with homework, discussing various forms of seals. He had the urge to get out of the house for a while.
“I’m going for a walk, I’ll be back guys. Don’t forget to clean up before bed, ok?” Iruka slipped on his sandals and headed outside for a stroll. He had no destination planned; just let his mind wander as his feet carried him throughout Konoha. He passed Ichiraku’s and waved at the old man and his daughter as they called out a greeting. A few parents thanked him as they passed by for nurturing their children at the Academy.
Iruka was enjoying his stroll until he started to notice happy couples around Konoha Park. He was honestly happy for them all, but deep inside he felt a bitterness rising. Why can’t I find someone to love that won’t betray me and will respect me for who I am? Iruka thought to himself. After Mizuki’s betrayal, it felt like nothing worked out for him. He often wondered if maybe he was sabotaging his own happiness. Trust didn’t come easy. The last couple of relationships left him building walls around his heart, pushing away anyone that was interested. Now no one approached him, knowing he did not want a relationship. It also didn’t help that Iruka had fallen into a depression he didn’t realize he was in.
Sighing, Iruka walked down the steps and headed back home. He thought about his friends and about his students, past and present. He was blessed and he knew it, which made him smile and lightened his mood a little. As always, Iruka managed to talk himself out of a funk and into a cheery mood. It didn’t matter that all he was really doing was compartmentalizing his emotions in his mind, hiding the hurt and anger in a box that would eventually burst open some day when it became too full.
Kakashi Hatake watched the Academy teacher walk into the apartment he shared with Naruto Uzumaki and Konohamaru Sarutobi. He had seen Iruka from his usual perch in a tree at the Park and decided to follow him on his walk, especially after seeing the bitterness that appeared for a few seconds before the teacher put back his mask of cheerfulness. He had noticed that the look was directed at several couples snuggling around the beautiful park area.
The copy-nin stayed up in the trees, hiding his chakra as he observed Iruka. At one point he heard him talking to himself out loud, wondering why he couldn’t find someone to love and respect him. Kakashi felt sadness inside, knowing how the loneliness felt. He had always been alone, what with his legendary reputation either scaring off potential paramours or bringing around status seekers that annoyed him to no end. Trust did not come easy for him and so he also put up walls around his heart.
Kakashi saw the moment Iruka smiled for real as he turned to head back home. He followed the chunin back to his apartment and sat atop the roof across the street. He stayed there for a while, thinking about how beautiful Iruka was when he was happy. The jonin felt his mood lighten significantly. He hoped to see him smile again soon, even if he isn’t the reason.
Chapter 2: Slowly Sinking
Iruka has been hiding away his hurt and bitterness in a "box" in his mind for years. When it finally bursts, will he be able to hold on to hope?
I'm so sorry for not having updated sooner! I didn't realize that this story would depend so much on my own moods to build the chapters. I started it in the hopes of letting go of my own Pandora's Box. As usual, I do not own Naruto. I do however, own a plush dolphin named Iruka. XD
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
17 days later
Warm rays of sunshine reached into the window to lay upon tanned skin. The bright light slowly woke up the sleeping Academy teacher. Iruka Amino looked out the window with squinted eyes, trying to adjust to the brightness.
“Ugh, I should really learn to close the curtains.” He murmured aloud to no one in particular. Iruka rolled over and stared at the opposite wall, something he regretted as he saw the photographs of his friends and family hanging there. Smiling faces looked back at him. Some had passed and some he rarely spoke to anyone these last few weeks because of his depression worsening. The only thing that kept him going were the boys, who were spending the weekend at Choji’s.
He moved to sit up and go to the bathroom. As he stopped in the hall he saw the calendar. “Shit,” he said, “It’s Anko’s birthday today.” In big bold purple letters, Anko had written ANKO’S PARTY – be there or DIE! Iruka groaned. He really did not want to leave the house today. Especially to where there would be a lot of people in close proximity of each other. That wasn’t counting when they became a large drunk crowd. He remembered promising his best friend that he would be there. A lot had changed over time though.
He finished up in the bathroom and went to his closet to find an outfit for the night. Perhaps he would sneak out after an hour. Iruka wondered if anyone would be upset with him after not having spoken or hung out for a long time. Anxiety began to creep into his gut. Would Kotetsu and Izumo be there? He started going through his roster of friends in his head and became nauseous with anxiety.
Digging through the dresser, he couldn’t figure out what to wear. He hadn’t been eating properly and so he’s lost some weight. His civilian clothes hung off his frame. Iruka hadn’t realized just how little he had been taking care of himself. As long as the boys were taken care of, he never really bothered about himself. Frustrated, he slammed his palms down on the dresser and hung his head to avoid looking at his reflection. Tears fought their way out and Iruka just let them fall. His life used to be full of optimism and smiles. Where the hell did he go wrong? He realized he had been hiding behind denial and deluding himself that things were fine. He could no longer hold in the sobs as he let his body slump to the ground and let months and years of pent-up emotions flood out.
Kakashi was out on the rooftops heading home from a mission. He decided to pass Iruka’s to see how the chunin was. Just as he got to the complex across from the teacher’s apartment, he felt a chaotic burst of chakra, undulating in a distressed manner. He looked straight into the bedroom window watching Iruka hunch over his dresser and then slump to the floor. Kakashi gasped and jumped to the tree by the window to check on Iruka. What he saw tore his heart in two. Iruka was curled up on the floor in the fetal position, crying. Low keening sounds of despair could be heard through the window by Kakashi’s sharp sense of hearing. He longed to just bust through the glass and comfort the chunin but knew Iruka would resent him if he did. So Kakashi just henged into a cat and settled himself on a branch. He watched over the chunin until exhaustion and sleep took over.
Once Iruka had cried himself into deep sleep, Kakashi went in through the living room window that he discovered was open. He picked up the sleeping teacher and laid him down on the bed. He wiped away his tears and covered him with a light blanket.
I wonder what happened to make him like this, thought the jonin. He looked around and noticed clothes scattered everywhere. He wandered out of the room and saw the calendar in the hall. Looking at today’s dates, Kakashi muttered a curse. He had also forgotten about Anko’s party. With a groan, he finished checking the rest of the apartment. Not much food in the cabinets except what growing boys would eat. He remembered the few times he had come with Naruto to have a Team 7 dinner. Iruka always used to keep full cabinets. No leftovers in the fridge either. Nothing else sparked his interest so he went back to the bedroom.
Judging from the casual but nicer quality of the clothes haphazardly strewn everywhere and the calendar date, Iruka must have been trying to find something to wear when he broke down. Kakashi sighed. He had hoped that the young man hadn’t broken down over a wardrobe crisis. As he looked at the sleeping man he noticed what he had been unable to before. Iruka’s complexion was paler than it used to be. This made the dark circles under his eyes easier to see. Kakashi noticed how Iruka’s face seemed a little thinner too. A thought occurred to him and he peeled back the cover, pulling up the shirt. Sure enough Iruka’s ribs were showing. He didn’t look starved, but he was too skinny.
The jonin sat on the floor and just looked at the man in front of him. “What is going on in your life, Iruka?” He said softly. He sat there for another ten minutes and then decided he needed to get home and change out of his mission uniform. A shower would be nice too. Then he would try figure out how to help Iruka.
I hope poor Iruka doesn't end up waiting forever for the next chapter of his life! ;) Actually, updating should happen a lot more often now that I have a new laptop. I don't have to leave my comfy couch to keep on typing out stories. See y'all in the next chapter!
Chapter 3: A Helping Hand
A little break for Iruka, with Kakashi's help.
Thank you to those who have favorited, followed, and commented! Every little bit makes me happy. :) I decided to start this chapter with Kakashi.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Kakashi went home and showered, all the while trying to come up with a plan. He knew that Iruka was one stubborn sensei and would probably lose his temper if he felt that Kakashi was giving him charity or thought that he would see him as weak. Kakashi needed to come up with a way to address Iruka’s problems without letting him know that he had been keeping an eye on him all this time. Yeah, like that would go over well with Iruka, Kakashi scoffed at himself.
So what would he do? He needed to get him out of the house. Well, dressed first, then out and to the party. He knew that Iruka was not going to want to stick around long enough to be caught up in drama from drunken shinobi or embarrassment from a drunken Anko. As he looked in his closet he realized how annoying it was to find something decent to wear to a party. Grabbing a button-up navy blue shirt, he had an epiphany. He could play the hopeless socially inept card and make it seem as if Iruka was helping him out and not the other way around. It’s not as if it would be a total lie. Kakashi really wasn’t as perfect as everyone made him out to be. He suffered PTSD and depression. There were days all he wanted to do was sit in a tree and read. He lost himself in Icha Icha goodness so that he could forget about the seriousness of the world, the broken teams he had been a part of, the missions gone wrong, and the assassinations that involved the young. Kakashi sighed and ran his hand through his hair. Things like this were partly why he needed someone in his life that would help keep him grounded, give him reason to return home other than to collect a paycheck.
The silver-haired jonin shook his head and told himself to worry about Iruka for now. He looked through his clothes to find things that might fit the slightly shorter chunin and rearranged his dresser to make them more accessible but not obviously so. He then went to check the kitchen to see if he had enough ingredients for a simple balanced meal. Alright, I guess it’s time to see if this will work or not, Kakashi thought to himself. He double checked his apartment to make sure it was tidy and headed over to Iruka’s.
Iruka woke up with a start at the loud knocking. Wha…what time is it? He wondered. He looked at his clock and saw that it was early evening. He rolled over and stared at the ceiling. I must have fallen asleep earlier, guess it’s a good thing someone knocked on the door. OH! The door! Iruka got up and went to answer the door and found a rather sheepish looking copy-nin standing there. “Kakashi-san, what are you….is something wrong? Did the boys do something?” Iruka was perturbed and unsure of what was going on.
“Mah, Iruka, I have a huge favor to ask of you. I promised Anko that I would go to her party but I’m not much for big parties with crowds and was wondering if you’d go with me? We won’t have to stay long, just long enough to make an appearance and make Anko happy before she gets too wasted to care. I know you don’t go out much so if you don’t know what to wear I can help you figure something out. What do you say?”
Iruka just stood there staring at Kakashi, mouth hanging open. He wasn’t sure whether to slam the door in the jonin’s face out of suspicion or cry out in joy that his evening’s problems could be fixed by one man without even losing his dignity. He could keep his promise to Anko but escape before it all became too much, and not have to do it alone. Kakashi even offered his clothes, which was great considering how much weight Iruka had lost. The pants might be a little long but at least shirts would fit a little better. Hmmm…we don’t talk very much, why did he come to me? Iruka couldn’t help but question Kakashi’s motives. “It’s an excellent offer, Kakashi-san, but why me? Aren’t you the great copy-nin who isn’t afraid of anything?”
Iruka felt a little guilty when he saw a hurt expression flit across the jonin’s face. “Well, I may be great when it comes to being a ninja, but when it comes to being social I am not oh so great. I don’t like parties, but like everyone Anko knows, I was forced to promise with threat of bodily harm.” He chuckles at this. “As for why you? I know from Naruto that you don’t really like to go to these things, but I know that you and Anko are close friends. I also decided to play on your kindness. You wouldn’t let a poor colleague like me go through that nightmare alone, would you? I’ll even cook you dinner in appreciation!” Iruka couldn’t help but laugh at the fake pout that could easily be seen through the shape of his mask. He wanted nothing more than to stay home and wallow by himself. However he knew he had to get this night over with. “Fine. I really hope you don’t mind but I do need to take you up on that offer of borrowing an outfit. I’m afraid mine consists of uniforms, sweats, and t-shirts. I can’t believe I’m doing this, but you’re right, we have to keep our promise to Anko or suffer. Um...”
“Let’s head over to my place for some clothes. It’s not a problem so you can quit looking at me like that. Come on, I really want to get this night over with. Don’t you?” Kakashi grabbed a hold of Iruka’s arm and transported them to his place, laughing at the baffled look on the chunin’s face.
I wasn't sure about this chapter but I feel that I ought to give him a break for a wee bit. My original intentions for the next chapter have changed because of some things going on in real life. I've decided to take those emotions and put them into Chapter 4. Let me know if you guys have anyone you want to pop up at Anko's party. :)