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It started in Spring. 

Iruka remembers that the leaves were budding in the trees. Small green spots of color against the grey sky, waiting. He remembers because they seemed to be taking their time opening that year. The whole forest seemed to be holding itself back from exploding into summer. Letting spring drag on in bleak days of rain clouds and mud puddles. Even the flowers had dulled their colors. 

Or maybe it was just that the undercover mission he had been forced to take time off for, dragged on for what seemed like an impossible amount of time. 

 

The objective had been simple. 

 

Figure out why groups of missing-nin were gathering near the southern border. Don't get caught. If caught—leave no survivors.

 

So far the mission had been a roaring catastrophe of disasters, even by Kakashi’s standards. Between the weather and the seemingly natural animosity between Kakashi and Iruka, it had gone from bad to worse. They had fought the entire way; first about how to set up camp, then about who would take watch when. When they had gone into the border town between Tanigakure and Konoha, they had to change inns because the first one had burned down shortly before their arrival. Not to mention that they had been followed for two days by an enemy right off the bat, then once they arrived Iruka had nearly been kidnapped, twice ! And not even by their targets, causing Kakashi to get a mild case of chakra depletion so, of course, Iruka forced him to rest for a few days. Not that anything was happening because it also just. kept. raining. Then, just when it seemed like they might have been starting to get some information from their targets, Iruka got pinned down in an alleyway and his hand was forced. When the group they had been investigating found the body, the cat was out of the bag. They knew there was a spy in town. Which forced them to retreat in order to strategize. 

But of course, they were followed because nothing. is. ever. easy. 

 

"Do you trust me?" Kakashi asked. He was facing the incoming enemy nin. There was the body of an enemy two feet away with Iruka’s kunai still sticking out of its skull.

 

Kakashi had an eyepatch instead of his forehead protector and his hair was dyed black, but it was still Kakashi. Still his scarred hands. Still his shoulders set in a lazy slouch. Still his sharp steely eye. Still the man that Iruka had spent the last week isolated in a small border village with. Still the man who picked on how he set up camp. Still the one who read porn while he ran. Still the one who trained Naruto. Still the one he had fallen in love with over the past year or so. Still the one who had saved his life three times already that day, starting before the sun had even risen.

 

Iruka took a steadying breath. He could hear the birds, recently returned from their winter away, going silent as their targets approached. He could feel the give of the earth beneath his feet from the recent rain. His kimono was now soaked and ruined with blood. Kakashi held a length of rope in his hands.

 

"Yes," Iruka whispered. He could hear the enemy approaching cautiously.

 

Kakashi gave a quick and violent yank to Iruka's shoulder, turning him around to face the nin before tying his hands behind him with the rope. Iruka felt the unmistakable shape of a senbon slide up the sleeve of his haori.

 

“Caught you a spy,” Kakashi said, shoving Iruka forward so he stumbled some. The Kimono slipped down his shoulder and his hair fell out of its tie as Kakashi snagged it, making him look less threatening. The speed with which Kakashi managed to “capture” Iruka was dizzying. 

 

The four enemy nin each took turns looking between the body of their comrade, which sat a few feet away, Kakashi (who they knew as Tamaki: a missing-nin from Suna looking to join them), and Iruka (Shiro: an unassuming noble having a rebellious phase).

 

Two of the nin had visible weapons strapped to their backs, some sort of polearm and a katana. The other two looked like they relied on other skills. Iruka’s money was on ninjutsu.

 

Iruka let himself be pulled forward as one of them inspected the body of their fallen comrade. Both himself and the nin holding him watched the other strip the dead man of belongings before starting to dispose of the body.

 

Iruka diverted his gaze as they started to hack off the man's limbs. It was logical. Smaller pieces meant more scavengers would be able to drag the body elsewhere. 

 

“Much thanks friend,” the man with the polearm, who Iruka recognized as the leader, nodded to Kakashi, “It looks like an opening just appeared in our group. Why don't you join us for the night? Call it a trial run.” The man stepped around Kakashi, putting his hand on his shoulder, clearly suspicious of how Kakashi had just so happened to find Iruka before they had.

 

Kakashi nodded. “Lead the way,” following behind as they dragged Iruka away with them, taking the head of their fallen teammate. No need to waste good money.

 

They walked only a short distance before setting up camp. While two of them established a perimeter, they had Kakashi check Iruka for weapons.

Iruka fought the urge to roll his eyes as Kakashi removed the two kunai that he knew Iruka kept hidden on his person, then added in a dozen or so extra kunai and shuriken of his own, making it look like Iruka had an obscene number of hidden weapons. While retrieving one of those kunai he leaned into Iruka’s personal space and spoke quietly into his ear, “Wait for my signal.” Then he leaned back and twirled the kunai on his finger. 

"Another one! My, my, my Shiro-kun, what else are you hiding under those layers of yours?" Kakashi put his hands on Iruka's hips and leaned back as if debating removing Iruka's clothing.

"Bite me." Iruka spat at Kakashi.

"Hmm. Maybe later." Kakashi smiled, his thumbs making small circles on Iruka's hips as if really debating it. The two of them locked eyes for a moment and Iruka saw a flash of amusement cross Kakashi's face. The bastard was loving this. Iruka gave in to the urge to roll his eyes.

"All clear." Kakashi turned and tossed a thumb back at Iruka. 

"Is that so?" the leader stepped up and frisked Iruka with sloppy hands. He missed the senbon folded into the sleeve of his kimono. When he didn't find anything, he seemed disappointed and shoved Iruka back. 

“Hey!” 

"Akira, you're on guard duty. Don’t forget to cuff him."

Akira groaned but got up and dug through a bag, finding a pair of chakra suppressing cuffs (where in the world had they acquired those anyway?). He harshly slapped them on Iruka’s wrists then removed the rope. They then seemed to deem Iruka unthreatening and so did nothing more to secure him.

"So let's talk about that open space," Kakashi followed the leader to the small fire they had set up and began to talk shop. They discussed the pros and cons of Kakashi joining them and had him show them his ability with weapons. Which, Iruka noted, Kakashi conveniently botched.

Once the sun had started to set the leader brought out a large bottle of some sort of alcohol in a brown jug and passed it around. Every time someone came off guarding the perimeter they would take a huge drink of it. They hadn’t bothered to switch out the guard for Iruka and the two of them sat there looking bored, watching as the rest of them drank. Iruka almost felt bad for them. Almost.

“Wow. Some group you have,” Iruka muttered as he sat down. The movement caught the eye of his guard, who tensed and moved their hand to a weapons pouch at their hip. “Relax. I’m just sitting.” 

The guard did not move their hand away from their weapons until Iruka settled with his back away from them. Slowly Iruka began to slide the senbon from his sleeve. 

“I’m just saying that everyone else gets to drink, even on watch, and here you are stuck babysitting me. I know I’d be pissed. Having to work while everyone else slacks off.” The guard regarded Iruka before turning their attention to the group around the fire. The light of the fire was bright enough to light up the whole area they were in. Iruka could see plenty of details, and if someone turned toward them he could manage to read their lips. 

The chakra cuffs they were using had two locks. It was an older model from about a decade or so ago. Iruka knew because he had spent some time in T&I in his younger years learning how to get out of them, much to Ibiki’s chagrin. “Not to mention that it’s fuckin' cold over here. And wet. But hey,” Iruka felt one side click open, “at least it’s not raining.” He checked that he could mould some chakra in his free hand before sliding the senbon back in place. Now all he had to do was wait for Kakashi’s signal. 

The guard didn’t say anything, but Iruka saw them watching the fire more intently. He couldn’t make out what they were talking about, but he saw the guard tense and stand up as Kakashi laughed loudly. Iruka watched as Kakashi gestured over to the two of them, and then saw the leader’s gaze lock on to Iruka. Iruka did not like what he saw in the man's eyes, so he squared his shoulders and glared. The other man merely smirked, but Iruka read his lips as he turned away, “He’s all yours.”

“You make me sick,” Iruka yelled across to them. The guard jumped at the sudden noise before backhanding Iruka on pure instinct. 

“Now, now, Shiro-Kun.” Kakashi said, “be patient. Your time will come.”

“Put a gag on him,” the leader said, reaching into their dead comrade's belongings and taking the dead man's belt, then tossing it to Akira. 

Akira took the belt, but rolled their eyes as they turned to Iruka. 

“Seriously?” Iruka asked as Akira moved to secure the belt in Iruka’s mouth.

Iruka bit Akira as they came in closer.

“Shit!”

“What happened now?” 

“Bastard bit me.”

Iruka spit out blood, and took the expected punch to the stomach that the show got him. He would have to get tested when he got home, but, oh man, why no one ever expected to get bit when they tried to gag someone was beyond him. 

“You’re enjoying this aren’t you,” Kakashi said as he stared at Iruka. Iruka huffed a laugh, grinning, with blood in his teeth that reflected the firelight. Oh. Oh no. Kakashi thought as he stared for a moment too long. He only snapped out of it when the leader started forward, taking a small hammer from his side.

“I’ll shut him up.” 

“I don’t think so,” Kakashi tucked away his revelation for later analysis as he quickly, and almost invisibly, pulled out a kunai and stabbed the man in the chest.

Iruka took that as Kakashi’s signal and quickly pulled the senbon from his sleeve. He ducked a knife coming for his head and swung forward with the senbon in his hand.

What was it that Genma had said about arteries in the neck?  Iruka sunk the needle into Akira’s neck, feeling a pop as it slid between the vertebrae, puncturing arteries along the way. He shoved the body off with a kick as he torqued the senbon and ripped open as much as he could of the delicate flesh inside. The body hit the ground as Iruka looked up to see Kakashi engaged with one of the remaining two nin.

“Kakashi!” Iruka watched as Kakashi dodged, but not quickly enough as the unaccounted-for nin came up behind him. The sword cut into his side as he dispatched the first one. Iruka threw the senbon, hitting the swordsmen in the shoulder and giving Kakashi enough time to run his kunai across his throat. 

“Kakashi!” 

“Fuck this mission,” Kakashi huffed as he pulled his hand away from his side and swayed. Poison. Double fuck this mission.  

“Woah there,” Iruka came up beside him and helped him sit down. “I’m going to have to at least bandage this. I need you to take off your shirt.” 

“Issfine.” Kakashi slurred.

“Like hell, it is,” Iruka said as he pulled up on Kakashi’s shirt. Kakashi listed to the side. Iruka moved to sit behind Kakashi to support him better before starting to dig through Kakashi’s weapon pouches for a medical kit. Once he found one he started to apply bandages to Kakashi’s side.

“You, you weirrd.” Kakashi slurred before giggling and trying to squirm away from Iruka, “Tha tickles.”

“What do you mean? And it shouldn’t. You have a giant cut on your side.”

“Is numb. This kinda fun. Like drunk but no drink.”

“How so?” Iruka asked as he tore a piece of tape with his teeth. 

“Dizzying.”

“No, I meant how am I weird,” Iruka asked as he put more gauze down. He didn’t want to close the wound and risk spreading the poison faster. Letting him bleed some of it out would be good. Iruka just had to make sure that it wouldn’t be too much blood. 

“You gaw'a face.”

Iruka couldn’t help but laugh slightly, “A face? You have one, too, you know.”

Kakashi seemed like he wanted to shake his head, “No. I haff a mask.” Kakashi brought his bloodied hand up to Iruka's face as he tilted his head back, poking Iruka in the nose. “You haff a face. I like your face. I don’t weweh lik mine.”

“That’s too bad. I’m sure your face is quite nice,” Iruka said as he finished taping the bandages. Blood was already seeping through. They were about a half day's run away from the southern gate. A full day if Iruka had to carry Kakashi. 

“Alright, Kakashi. I’m going to have to carry you back home now, alright?”

“Yaawr taking me home?”

“Yeah. We’re going home.”

“I bet yaaw house is home.” Iruka hefted Kakashi up slightly and helped walk/drag him to a tree before returning and finding a change of clothes amongst the bags. He quickly changed out of the ruined kimono, tossing it in the fire. Then he made quick work sealing the head and bodies into a scroll he had found in Kakashi’s pocket. Afterward, he made his way back over to Kakashi. 

“Stay with me, Kakashi. Can you recite the shinobi rules to me?”

Kakashi stirred slightly as Iruka jostled him, muttering what Iruka assumed was supposed to be the answer to his question. 

“Kakashi! Hey!” Iruka slapped his face lightly. “No sleeping.”

“Gaw'a sleep.”

“No, you don’t. Tell me about Icha Icha,” Iruka suggested as he lifted Kakashi onto his back and tied him there with the rope from earlier.

“S’good books.” Kakashi’s head rolled.

“Can you recite some for me?”

Kakashi once again started to answer Iruka's question, but his answer was garbled and confusing enough that Iruka didn’t know what he was trying to say. After a few moments, Kakashi went quiet again. His breath turned ragged in Iruka's ear, spurring him on as he tried to keep up a quick pace.

“Don’t you die on me, Kakashi. You’re not allowed to die. If I carry your sorry ass all the way back to the hospital and you’re already dead when we get there, I’ll resurrect you myself just to kill you.”

“Isss baad,” Kakashi mumbled. 

“What’s bad?”

“Me.”

“You’re in bad shape. You’re right. Can you tell me what you’re feeling?”

“Love yaw voice. Lauff. Smile.”

“Not exactly what I meant, Kakashi. What do you feel physically?”

“Luff you forevaw.”

"Forever?"

"A'ways." 

“I don’t know what that means.”

“A'ways beeen you. You vah own, puh glittah, in fa showah. ANBOO.”

“You’re not supposed to be telling me this.”

“Iss fine. Iss you. Youff Narutwo perfson.”

“It’s not fine, Kakashi. What if this was an illusion? What if I wasn’t me?”

“Thaas saad.”

“What is?”

“You… nawt bein’ you… You wam…” Kakashi’s breath started shallowing out again. 

“Kakashi!” Iruka tried to get an answer from the man but none came. He quickened his pace again.

 

The sun came up, and with it came a light fog that crawled inside the tree canopy, water droplets clung to Iruka’s face as he ran. Without the sun Iruka lost track of the time as he focused on moving and Kakashi’s now faint breathing. At least it didn’t start raining until he could see the gate.

When the guards at the gate saw them, and Iruka indicated that they were allies, they signaled for ANBU who came and took Kakashi from Iruka. Iruka handed off the sealed bodies and agreed to go to the hospital himself after giving the rundown on Kakashi’s symptoms. They quickly took Kakashi away, and once they were gone Iruka let himself feel his own exhaustion. It wasn’t until he woke up while recovering in the hospital with the sun on his face, that he realized that the leaves had finally emerged and summer was finally here.


 

After their time in the hospital, and the horrible, awful mission that neither of them acknowledged, Iruka and Kakashi hardly saw each other. Aside from occasional run-ins where they would eat a quick meal together, or discuss the goings-on of the village. Neither of them brought up what Kakashi had said. To Iruka, he rationalized it as the ramblings of a man under the influence of a mind-altering poison and himself looking too far into those ramblings. Kakashi assumed Iruka did not want a relationship and was waiting until Iruka made a move first. 

 

Summer came and went, and fall quickly set its teeth into the village.

 

The leaves changed. Golden with light and red as blood as the sun set behind them. It was starting to get cold out. Kakashi could smell a frost coming, if not tonight, then in the next few days. 

Iruka walked beside him after they ran into each other leaving the Hokage Tower and invited Kakashi for tea. His breath was visible as he talked about his current problem students with all the frustration of a doting parent.

Kakashi listened but was more focused on the way their hands kept brushing. He looked down after the fifth time it happened and grasped Iruka's hand in his. It was worth it to watch as Iruka's cheeks turned pink.

"There. No more distractions. You were saying about the desk graffiti?" That was all it took for Iruka to roll his eyes and continue with his story.

As they walked, Iruka swung their hands slightly between them, as if reminding himself that it was real. He seemed to suddenly have more energy. 

 

When they reached Iruka's apartment, Kakashi watched for a few moments as the other man tried to undo his wards single-handedly before taking pity and letting go.

Iruka chased Kakashi's hand as it moved back to his side, stumbling backward and giving a small whine of "no!" when he realized what he had done, his blush deepened from pink to red and spread down his neck. Kakashi was now sporting a similar color and the two of them stood there for a moment with Iruka gripping Kakashi's sleeve

"Sorry!” Iruka let go, “I just…" 

"Just what?"

"I don’t know. We've been dancing around each other for months. I just. I didn't think you were interested until you just held my hand, and now…”

"Sensei, are you interested?"

"Are you ?" Iruka asked as his eyes widened

"I asked first," Kakashi said as he watched Iruka’s face.

"Yes," Iruka whispered.

Kakashi closed the gap between them, moving slowly enough that Iruka could get away if he wanted to, but quickly enough that Iruka didn’t even see him pull down his mask.

Iruka’s whole world narrowed down to the point of contact between their lips. Kakashi's hands were on Iruka's shoulders and Iruka had, at some point, grabbed the front of Kakashi’s vest to pull him closer. Iruka’s whole body was tingling with electricity as Kakashi boxed him into the doorway. 

"I think you should finish taking down your wards, so you don’t hurt yourself, and so we can take this inside.” Kakashi pulled away and Iruka blinked his eyes open, loosening his grip on Kakashi as he came back to reality.

Kakashi laughed as he touched Iruka’s hair which was standing up around him from the power of the wards. Iruka laughed as well but quickly took his wards down before pulling Kakashi inside behind him.

"Gods, we are so dumb," Iruka said as he kissed Kakashi quickly while removing his shoes. 

"To think we could've been doing this for months."

"Years," Iruka corrected him.

"Years? Really?"

"Mhmm," Iruka confirmed as he pulled Kakashi further into the apartment. Clinging to each other like lifelines. 

Iruka finally stopped just before his bedroom door. "Do you trust me?" he whispered. Kakashi shivered, his fingers tracing the scar across Iruka's nose, "Always."

Iruka grinned.