Trials of Love by tsuki
Summary: Kakashi can no longer stand living in Iruka's denial of the relationship. In fact, he wasn't even sure if the chunin love him. After a series of event, he made the eventual decision to break off and that was when Iruka realise he does love the jounin. A mission gone wrong jeopardise Iruka's attempts to make amends. Will Kakashi ever get to hear the chunin's confession of his feelings?
Categories: Shonen-ai/Yaoi Romance > Fluff (Shonen-ai/Yaoi), Shonen-ai/Yaoi Romance > Top Pairings > Kakashi and Iruka Characters: Anko Mitarashi, Asuma Sarutobi, Genma Shiranui, Hinata Hyuuga, Iruka Umino, Izumo Kamizuki, Kakashi Hatake, Kotetsu Hagane, Kurenai Yuuhi, Naruto Uzumaki, Pair KakaIruk, Sakura Haruno, Shikamaru Nara, Shino Aburame, Shizune, Team Kakashi, Team Yamato, Tsunade
Genres: Angst, Romance
Warnings: Yaoi
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 26 Completed: Yes Word count: 23544 Read: 34552 Published: 21/10/08 Updated: 29/10/08

1. Chapter 1: The Relationship by tsuki

2. Chapter 2: Unseen Crack by tsuki

3. Chapter 3: Revelations by tsuki

4. Chapter 4: Contemplations by tsuki

5. Chapter 5: Betrayal by tsuki

6. Chapter 6: A Decision Made by tsuki

7. Chapter 7: Departure by tsuki

8. Chapter 8: The Mission by tsuki

9. Chapter 9: Firm Resolution by tsuki

10. Chapter 10: Encounter at the Bar by tsuki

11. Chapter 11: Confession by tsuki

12. Chapter 12: The Truth by tsuki

13. Chapter 13: Mission Gone Wrong by tsuki

14. Chapter 14: Tsunade's Decision by tsuki

15. Chapter 15: Unexpected Mission by tsuki

16. Chapter 16: Search for Team Kakashi by tsuki

17. Chapter 17: Team Kakashi Found by tsuki

18. Chapter 18: Homebound by tsuki

19. Chapter 19: The Long Wait by tsuki

20. Chapter 20: Perseverance by tsuki

21. Chapter 21: Dreams and Reality by tsuki

22. Chapter 22: Finally by tsuki

23. Chapter 23: Awkward Because I Love You by tsuki

24. Chapter 24: Certainty by tsuki

25. Chapter 25: Acknowledgement by tsuki

26. Chapter 26: A New Beginning by tsuki

Chapter 1: The Relationship by tsuki
Author's Notes:
Kakashi understood why Iruka wanted to hold back their relationship from the eyes of the public. But will he be able to bear with the constant denial of Iruka's?
Iruka glared up as a paper bullet was being thrown at him. He glanced across the table and looked at his friend, who was giving him a lazy grin and throwing another paper bullet at him.

“Kotetsu, that’s enough.” Iruka scowled. He was already having a bad day, having to deal with a bunch of kids early in the morning and skipping lunch because of his unfinished pile of work. And here, in the mission office, his friend was acting like another kid.

“Na, Iruka, I have something to ask you.” The lazy grin never left his face as Kotetsu sauntered over to where Iruka was sitting.

“What?” Iruka looked away and continued reading the report in front of him.

“Is it true that you and Kakashi are… Together?” Iruka choked and glanced up at his smirking friend.

“Na… Nani? What the hell are you talking about?” Iruka sputtered. But he couldn’t help the blush that was spreading across his cheek.

“Aw…. So cute. But let’s not deny it. We’ve seen how the two of you always walk together. It’s almost like you are going on dates.” Kotetsu laughed.

‘I should talk to Kakashi about this and reduce the frequency of our appearances in public.’ Iruka gritted his teeth and mentally noted.

“Well….?” Kotetsu drawled, looking at his friend for the answer.

“No, Kotetsu! There is nothing between me and Kakashi. And if I ever hear you spreading this rumor around, I will strangle you and throw you into the river.” Iruka growled.

“Hmm… But apparently, that’s not what everybody thinks. Everyone thought you two are an item.”

“For the last time Kotetsu, I am NOT with Kakashi. Never ever! Not even when he’s the last person on earth. So stop bothering me about this and find someone els-…..” Iruka glanced up and saw that his friend had shifted his attention away, and is now glancing at the window behind him.

“H…Hi, Kakashi, fancy seeing you here.” Iruka froze at the mention of the copy ninja’s name.

“Aa… I’m here to submit my mission report.” That familiar drawl. Iruka groaned inwardly.

“Oh… Well, I’ve got to deliver some documents to Hokage-sama. I will see you around.” In a flash, Kotetsu was out of the room.

Iruka’s mind began to work overtime, trying to find an explanation for his words earlier. Before he could even react, the copy ninja was standing in front of him, handing his report over.

“Here’s my mission report.” Kakashi stretched out his other hand. “And here’s your lunch. I’m sure you hadn’t had any yet.” He smiled. Iruka felt a pang of guilt wash over him.

“Kakashi, I don’t mean to say that earlier.” Iruka started, as he took the mission report and the bento box from the silver-haired man.

“Don’t, Iruka. I understand.” Kakashi looked at him. He reached out his hand and traced the jaw line of the face that he knew so well, yet appeared so unfamiliar.

Iruka reveled in the touch for a moment before drawing back. Kakashi glanced at him.

“Kashi, we are in the mission office.” Iruka leaned back into his chair. Kakashi withdrew his hand and shove it into his pocket, his smile replaced with a sigh.

“You are right. I better get going before they suspect anything.” Iruka looked at the man before him and thought he saw a flash of pain in the one visible eye. Before he could react, the jounin was gone.

‘I’m sorry, Kakashi.’

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Iruka opened the door to his apartment and yawned. He glanced at the clock. It was way past 1am. He groaned. He had not expected to finish his work so late.

He went into the room and smiled when he saw the silver-haired jounin sleeping in his bed. He turned and began to pick out a fresh change of clothes.

“You are home.”

Iruka turned and smiled. “Did I wake you up?”

Kakashi sat up on the bed. “Nope. I couldn’t sleep without you around.”

Iruka laughed as he walked up to him.

“Then how did you sleep off the last twenty odd years of your life?” He planted a soft kiss on his lover’s forehead and looked at him. “Give me a minute while I shower and change.”

Kakashi nodded and watched as his lover left the room. He sighed.

‘I don’t know how long more I can hold this out, Iruka.’

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Iruka let the shower washed away his day’s of anxiety and worries. He thought about his life up till that point in time and sighed in happiness when his thoughts paused on a certain jounin with a weird sense of humor and an even weirder taste for books.

‘I need to apologise for what I said today. I must have hurt him.’

Iruka leaned back on the wall in exasperation. He had been with the jounin for close to half a year. But he had never made public about the relationship. He wanted to take things slow and knew that his lover understood. But somehow, he felt guilty about it.

With a frustrated sigh, Iruka turned off the tap and dried himself. Changing into fresh clothes, he stepped out of the bathroom.

“You are out.” Iruka looked up and smiled as his lover leaned against the kitchen counter and held out a glass of milk for him. He walked up to him and took the glass of warm milk in his hand. And considering that the glass of milk was prepared by his lover, it only serves to warm up his heart even more.

Kakashi watched as Iruka finished up the milk and reached out to fondle his face lovingly.

“I have something for you.” Kakashi winked and held up a necklace.

Iruka took it, breathless, as he fiddled with the two silver bands threaded by the necklace. “It’s beautiful.” He looked up at Kakashi, confusion evident in his eyes. “Kashi…”

“Keep it, Iruka. We will wear those rings when you are ready to tell the world about us. Until then, keep the rings as a reminder of my love for you.”

Iruka felt tears welling up in the corner of his eyes as he set down the empty glass down at the counter and wore the necklace around his neck. Smiling, he reached up to pull down the jounin’s mask before closing in the distance and gave him a deep, passionate kiss.

“Thank you, Kakashi.”

He felt the jounin smile as he pressed his lips against Iruka’s for another kiss. Iruka parted his lips and Kakashi took the opportunity to explore his mouth with his tongue. Iruka moaned into his mouth as the kiss intensified and they fought for dominance with their tongues.

Finally, after a long and heated intimate moment, they broke apart, gasping for breath. Iruka smirked and Kakashi returned it with a soft smile.

“I’m tired. Let’s go to bed.” Iruka gave his lover another peck on the lips and led him into the bedroom.

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End Notes:
I thought I should start somewhere. So I guess I should give an overview of their 'relationship'.
Chapter 2: Unseen Crack by tsuki
Author's Notes:
Kakashi contemplated a decision he wasn't sure if he could pull off. Their relationship was hanging on by a single thread and Kakashi was sure it could snap anytime.
The alarm went off and Iruka groaned as he reached out to switch off the alarm. He briefly noted that his partner was no longer in bed. He never had. Kakashi always left before dawn breaks. And he knew that Kakashi was keeping to Iruka’s request that their relationship will remain under wraps for the time being.

For a brief moment, Iruka felt guilt washing over him. It had been a week since the incident at the mission room and he had somehow managed to convince Kakashi that they should reduce the frequency of appearing in public together. And Kakashi had been keeping to his promise.

He sighed. ‘Can’t have people seeing him coming in and out of my house. They are going to suspect something is going on.’

Iruka pulled himself out of bed and got ready for the day’s work.

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Kakashi stood in front of the memorial stone and sigh, having been there since dawn breaks.

‘Tell me what I should do, Obito.’

Kakashi was contemplating. He wasn’t sure if he could hold out longer in the relationship. Hell, he wasn’t even sure if his lover really loves him back. His meetings with the tanned chunin were getting lesser because Iruka didn’t want to be seen so often in public with him.

‘Can you believe it, Obito? I’m almost becoming a midnight lover. Arriving at midnight and leaving before dawn.’ Kakashi smiled bitterly.

He stood there, staring at the memorial stone a while more and decided that it was time for him to meet his team before they scream at him for being late again.

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“You are late, Kakashi-sensei!” Sakura glared at him when he appeared at the meeting point.

“Gomen. I got lost on the road of life.” Kakashi smiled at his two subordinates.

“Liar!!” Naruto and Sakura shouted in unison.

Kakashi laughed and scratched the side of his head. His two subordinates began to exchange some remarks and his mind soon drifted off to the questions he was contemplating earlier that morning.

“Kakashi-sensei?”

Kakashi snapped back from his chain of thoughts.

“Kakashi-sensei, are you listening to what we are saying?” Naruto frowned at the silver-haired jounin in front of him.

“Well, sorry. I got lost on the road of life again.” Kakashi smiled and raised an eyebrow.

Naruto was about to complain when Sakura held him back. He turned to look at Sakura who just glanced at their teacher. Naruto turned back to their sensei and almost flinched at what he saw. He decided that he did not like his sensei’s smile at that point in time.

As much as Naruto was dense and oblivious to his surroundings, he could see the pain in his teacher’s one visible eye. In fact, he could almost feel it.

“Well, Naruto, what were you saying?” Kakashi turned away and pulled out his book to read.

“Erm… Well, we were just saying that we haven’t gone on missions in a while.”

“Hmm… Actually, the purpose of the meeting this morning is to tell you to get ready for the upcoming mission. We will meet in the mission room this afternoon for the details.” Kakashi did not look up from his book as he flipped to the next page.

“Why can’t we get the details now?” Naruto scowled.

“Tsunade-sama is in the midst of a meeting now. She will only be available to meet us later this afternoon. But I’ve been told it’s an A-rank mission.” Kakashi closed his book and looked at his team. “I will see you later. Ja na!” A puff of smoke, and he was gone, leaving Sakura and Naruto looking at each other.

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Chapter 3: Revelations by tsuki
Author's Notes:
Well, this chapter is more or less beginning to show the strain in their relationship.
Chapter 3: Revelation

Naruto and Sakura walked down the streets, heading to Naruto’s favourite store for lunch.

“Naruto, Sakura!”

The two turned at the sound and Naruto grinned when realized who it was walking towards them.

“Iruka-sensei!” Naruto waved at the tanned chunin.

“Where are the two of you going?” Iruka smiled as he reached his two ex students who greeted him.

“We are going to Ichiraku. Need to fill up my stomach before meeting Tsunade baa-chan.” The teen grinned at his teacher. Iruka laughed.

“Well, you wouldn’t mind that I join you for lunch then?”

“Heh, of course not, Iruka-sensei. As long as you are the one buying it.” Naruto smirked.

“Well, that’s not a problem. Come on.” Iruka ruffled the blond hair and smiled.

The trio arrived at the ramen store and placed their orders. The orders came shortly and Naruto smiled at the steaming bowl in front of him.

“Itadakimasu!”

Iruka smiled as he took a pair of chopsticks and got ready to eat. It was then he noticed that the boy beside him was deep in thoughts as he pushed the noodles into his mouth.

“Naruto, something wrong?”

Naruto’s head snapped up. “No… Nothing.” His returned to concentrating on eating his ramen. Iruka sighed and put his chopsticks down. Sakura glanced over at her team mate in curiosity.

“Naruto, I watched you grow up. I know when there’s something wrong. Come on and tell me.” Iruka looked at him firmly.

“Haha… It’s nothing actually. I think I’m just being paranoid.” The blond laughed and scratched his head. “I’m just thinking about something.”

Iruka arched his eyebrow. This is interesting. In fact, it seems to him that this is the first time that Naruto is actually using his head to think.

“Well, tell me. Maybe I can offer you a solution.” Iruka smiled.

“Well….” Naruto turned and took another mouthful of the ramen. “It’s Kakashi-sensei.” Iruka jerked at the name. He struggled to keep his cool as the blond continued.

“He’s behaving rather weirdly for the last few days. Or rather, I only noticed it this morning. But Sakura-chan said that she had noticed that Kakashi-sensei had been behaving the same way for the last few days.” At this, Sakura turned away and sighed.

“And?” Iruka frowned.

“Well, Kakashi-sensei has been spacing out lately. I know that Kakashi-sensei is always reading his book while we are talking and never seems to fully concentrate on what we say. But he is not someone irresponsible. And although he doesn’t appears to, we know that he always listens to us, no matter how trivial the matter.” Sakura continued. Naruto nodded.

“But the last few days, he’s a little different. He’s doesn’t even register when we talk to him. And he looks tired. Like he hasn’t been sleeping. When I ask him about it, he just shrugs it off. But, I’ve noticed that nonchalance comes with something else. It seems like he’s hurt. I wonder what is wrong.” Sakura set down her chopsticks and glanced at her bowl of ramen.

“Is it affecting you guys?”

Naruto glanced at his sensei and nodded. Sakura sighed.

“It is, I should say. We are Team Kakashi now. And he’s our team leader. And it makes us helpless to know that there is something wrong, but we can’t help him. He’s still good and all and completes his missions professionally. But… It’s just that…. I wish there is something we can do to relieve his burden.”

“But you know Kakashi. He has always been withdrawn. He’s a good leader and teacher. But he’s just, I should say… Closed up. He’s just a skilled and affected ninja.” Iruka said as he tried to keep the blush from his face.

“That is true. But we are a team now. And as he said it before, we are one. It’s just frustrating that your team member is in pain and you can’t do anything.” Sakura pushed the bowl of ramen away and settled for staring at the glass of water in front of her instead.

“I don’t want the same thing to happen like it did with Sasuke. Just because we didn’t understand his pain enough.” Naruto mumbled. Iruka looked at Naruto in shock and Sakura just gave a bitter smile.

“Naruto, what are you talking about? Kakashi will never betray Konoha.” Iruka gasped.

“Well, you are right. He won’t. But I just wish I can do something for him.” Naruto trailed off. Iruka turned back to his bowl of ramen and frowned.

He hadn’t notice anything wrong with Kakashi over the last few days. When he talked to Kakashi, he was always his own carefree self. Why hadn’t he noticed that Kakashi was actually in pain or whatever reasons that his students had just mentioned? Was he less observant of Kakashi than Sakura or even Naruto was?

‘I guess it can’t be helped. We haven’t actually talked much in the past week. The only time we meet is at night and even then, we only spend less than an hour talking before sleep actually take over. And he’s always gone before I wake up.’

Iruka sighed. ‘Am I asking too much from him?’

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Chapter 4: Contemplations by tsuki
Author's Notes:
I wanted to go straight to the break up part. But I thought that I should at least have a bridge to link to that part.
Kakashi stood looking at the flowing river. He wished he could be as carefree as the meandering water and as relaxed as the fishes swimming in it.

“It’s a wonder that you are here. It’s a half day for lessons at the Academy today. Shouldn’t you be out on a date?” A half amused voice came up from behind him.

Kakashi arched an eyebrow as the owner of the voice stood beside him staring at the river as well.

“And it’s surprising that you are here. I thought Team Kurenai isn’t on any mission today.”

Asuma laughed. “Well, they aren’t. But Kurenai is helping Anko out on some stuff. She asked me to look for you.”

“Oh? Whatever for?”

Asuma’s eyes narrowed as he glanced at Kakashi.

“Kurenai said you haven’t been yourself for the past week. She said you have been drinking more than usual. And…… You are alone most of the time.”

Kakashi sighed. Asuma lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply.

“What happened, Kakashi?” Asuma asked quietly. “Are the two of you……”

“No. We are still together if that is what you want to know. But………” Kakashi tilted his head and looked at the sky. Asuma took another puff of his cigarette as he waited for Kakashi to continue.

“……….. I don’t know how long more I can hold out in this relationship.”

“Are you giving up?” Kakashi shrugged. Asuma sighed.

“You know, Kakashi, I’m beginning to wonder if it is our fault that you are caught up in this situation today. If we had not persuaded you to confess to him in the first place, perhaps you would not be so troubled by it now.”

Kakashi let out a chuckle. “It’s not like you to admit to any faults.”

Asuma frowned. “I’m not that irresponsible, Hatake Kakashi.” Kakashi let out a small laughter.

“Don’t worry about me, Asuma. It wasn’t your fault or Genma’s. I was just foolish enough to let it get to me, thinking that he will be as open about our relationship as I was prepared to be. Or even love me the way that I love him.”

Kakashi sighed and close his eyes. “I guess I was wrong. Perhaps he isn’t ready as yet and maybe he never will be. And maybe, he is already regretting this relationship.”

Asuma patted him on the shoulder and sighed. “Do you need me to talk to him?”

“Well, I guess not… Although he’s aware that you know of our relationship, but it will still be a little awkward for him to have you talk about it.”

“Well, perhaps it will make things better if I ask Kurenai to talk to him? She’s better at such things anyway.”

“Don’t, Asuma. He doesn’t know that she knows about this as well. And in the first place, she wouldn’t if you had not told her.” Kakashi scowled

Asuma laughed and nodded in understanding. “Well, she will kill me if I keep any secrets from her.” Then, a little more serious, Asuma narrowed his eyes. “Kakashi, if there’s anything that Kurenai or I can do to help, let us know.”

“It doesn’t matter. If Iruka doesn’t reciprocate the feelings, there’s no point in even talking about it. I will just withdraw from this.” Asuma frowned.

“I’m a jounin, Asuma. I’m trained to handle my emotions and lock it up when there’s a need. It’s not the first time I’m doing it anyway. Being a tool without emotions. Isn’t that what shinobis are supposed to do? I’m already used to it.”

Asuma sighed. This wasn’t the Kakashi he knew. He’s well aware that Kakashi is closed up and even dark at times. But the Kakashi in front of him now was despondent and hurt. He clasped Kakashi’s shoulders and changed the topic.

“Let’s go for lunch, pal.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“But I am! Come on. Kurenai is helping Anko. So she doesn’t have time for me. I could do with a little companionship.” Asuma smiled. Kakashi glanced at him and finally nodded his head.

Asuma grinned. “Let’s go.”

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Chapter 5: Betrayal by tsuki
Author's Notes:
Iruka holding a girl in his arms? Was that even possible? Kakashi hope it was not. But the truth was before his eyes. Or at least that was what he believed to be.
Asuma walked down the busy street with Kakashi following behind, one hand tucked in his pocket and the other holding a familiar orange book, reading intently.

“I’m amazed, Kakashi. After the depressed mood you were in earlier, you are still in the mood to read some porn books.”

“Well, reading takes your mind off a lot of things.” Kakashi mumbled as he flipped the book to another page.

Asuma shook his head disbelievingly. They continued in silent companionship as they headed towards Shushuya.

As they turned the corner, Asuma suddenly stopped in his tracks, causing Kakashi to crash into him lightly. Kakashi looked up from his book, irritation evident in his eyes. He looked at Asuma, who was staring at a corner of the street, jaw-dropped.

“Asuma?” Kakashi followed his gaze and at that instance, felt his heart almost came to an instant stop when he saw the exact incident which had surprised Asuma.

Right at the corner of the street, Iruka, with his back faced to them, was laughing and talking with a girl. And said girl was leaning lightly in his arms, which was curled around her shoulders, in an almost protective manner.

‘This can’t be true. It’s an illusion. A genjutsu. Turn away. Turn away NOW!’ Kakashi mentally chanted, trying to will the sight in front of him away. He bit down on his bottom lip and it took all of his will and strength to turn away from the sight which was causing turmoil in his head and an indescribable pain in his heart.

Then he heard someone shouted. “Oh my god, Iruka! Is that your girlfriend? She’s so sweet. Haha…… You don’t have to hug her so protectively you know. Nobody would dare to fight with you over her.” It was Anko. Kakashi did not know whether he flinched at the voice or the statement, which seems to drill the truth right into his heart.

That was all he could take. Turning around, he stalked down the road, wanting to get away from the scene which was so callously laughing at him.

It took Asuma a while to get back his senses. And when he turned around, he saw his friend almost disappearing around the corner. Looking back at the scene, he saw Anko talking and laughing with Iruka and Kurenai standing at the side quietly. He sighed and followed down the trail where Kakashi had disappeared.

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Anko was laughing almost playfully, enjoying the sight of the blushing chunin.

“Iruka, I never would have thought you would get attached earlier than me. And you didn’t even tell me about it. What kind of a friend are you?”

“Anko, it’s not….”

“My, my… This girl is sweet, isn’t she? A perfect match for you, I should say.” Anko grinned at the blushing girl.

“Anko, listen to me……”

As Anko continued tormenting the chunin, Kurenai looked at the scene before her in silence. She had seen what Iruka had not. She saw Kakashi and Asuma watched the drama unfold from a distance and felt the hurt in Kakashi’s eyes. She looked on as the duo turned away from the scene, perhaps going off somewhere where Kakashi can heal his wounds in silence.

She turned back to look at Anko who was still teasing the poor chunin and the chunin trying to explain without avail to the teasing jounin. She closed her eyes for a moment, contemplating her choices before she opened them and looked at Anko.

“I’m going off somewhere for a while, Anko.”

“Huh? What about my dangos?”

“I will meet you there in a while.” Without waiting for a reply, she performed a few seals and disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Anko blinked for a while at the sudden disappearance of her partner, before turning her attention back to the chunin.

“So Iruka, tell me. How did the two of you meet?”

Iruka sighed exasperatedly. He glanced at Anko.

“You want to know?” Anko nodded excitedly.

“Fine. Then shut up and listen to me.” Anko grinned again.

“Alright.”

“For starters, Anko, this lady here is Ayame-san. She is the daughter of the owner of Ichiraku Ramen.” Anko nodded, signaling for him to continue.

“And Anko, she is not my girlfriend for heaven’s sake! We just happen to meet each other on the streets!”

“Then why are you holding her in your arms?” Anko smirked, as she watched the tanned chunin in front of her blush again.

“I’m getting to that!” Iruka snapped. “Ayame-san is on her way to do delivery. But some kids who were playing knocked her down. I was just helping her to pick up the stuff when she slipped and I gave her a helping hand to steady her!” Iruka frowned.

“Helping hand? Well, you don’t have to put your arms around her, do you?” Anko refused to believe Iruka’s explanations.

“Anko, she fell in my direction and I just did what I could to stop her from falling to the ground!” Iruka gritted his teeth, his eyebrows twitching.

Anko looked at Iruka before turning to look at the Ayame, who nodded, verifying what Iruka had just said. She sighed.

“Jeez… I thought I had got a juicy gossip to tell the others about.” She narrowed her eyes at Iruka. “What a waste of my time. I could have been eating dangos now. Why didn’t you explain right at the beginning?”

Iruka looked at her incredulously. “Anko-san, for the last ten minutes, I have been trying to tell you. But every single time I open my mouth to explain, you cut me short with embarrassing questions!” Iruka was almost growling at the end of his sentence.

Anko laughed and scratched the side of her head.

“Gomen! I really thought you were in a relationship or something. It would be nice to have something else to talk about other than Kurenai and Asuma. Speaking of which, I wonder where Kurenai is. Maybe she went to look for Asuma. I thought I saw him standing there a while ago with Kakashi.” Anko frowned.

Iruka stilled the moment he heard the name. “Kakashi?”

“Yeah. He and Asuma were standing behind you when we caught you in the act. Maybe they saw it and went off somewhere to laugh about it.” Anko snickered. “Hey Iruka, you look pale. Are you alright?”

Iruka stared at Anko, a hundred things running through his head. Then he felt hands shaking him. “Iruka?”

Iruka snapped from his daze. Anko eyed him suspiciously. “Are you alright, Iruka?”

“Erm… Yeah… Er… Yes, I am.” Iruka stammered a little. In an attempt to avert Anko’s curious gaze, he turned to the petite lady standing beside him and forced a smile. “Ayame-san, I’m sorry for what happened.”

“No, it’s alright, Iruka-sensei. At least it’s cleared up now. I need to get back to the shop. Thank you for your help.” Ayame laughed a little and bid the teacher goodbye.

Iruka bowed politely as he watched the lady walked off into the distance. He frowned. 'Did Kakashi saw what happened? I hope he doesn’t get the wrong idea or anything. It’s going to get pretty troublesome trying to explain it. And Asuma saw it? Man, I won’t be able to clear my name!' Iruka groaned. Anko blinked at him in surprise.

“Iruka, are you alright? Are you feeling sick somewhere? Do I need to bring you to the hospital? Or maybe I should get Tsunade-sama to take a look at you.” Iruka waved her away.

“I’m fine, Anko. I’m just having a terrible headache. I’m going home to rest.” With that, he left a surprised looking Anko behind as he headed home. 'It’s getting to become a really long day.' Shaking his head, he only hoped that Kakashi did not get drawn into the little episode.

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Chapter 6: A Decision Made by tsuki
Author's Notes:
And here goes...
Kakashi was silent. A million thoughts running through his mind. A hand clasped down on his shoulders and squeezed it comfortingly. He turned and looked into his friend’s worried eyes.

“I’m fine, Asuma.” He answered the unvoiced question.

“I doubt you are.” Kakashi let out a low laugh.

“Doubt? Perhaps you should doubt my feelings for him.” Kakashi mumbled. Asuma raised an eyebrow. Kakashi sighed.

“I need to go and meet my team, Asuma. We will talk about this another time. I need some time to reconsider my options as well.” Asuma nodded in understanding and patted his back.

“Don’t dwell too deep into it.” Kakashi grinned and disappeared in a puff of smoke.

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Kurenai found Asuma smoking by the river side. She walked up to him and touched his arms softly. Asuma turned and looked at the crimson eyes in front of him.

“Where’s Kakashi?”

Asuma sighed. “He just left. Said something about meeting his team. But I think he just needs some time alone.” Kurenai nodded in understanding.

“How is he?”

Asuma frowned. “Well, after that little intimate moment that we witnessed, I guess definitely not in the best of mood now. But he seems pretty unaffected when he leaves. A little too calm for me not to worry about it.” Kurenai sighed.

“I’m worried about what he is thinking.” Asuma took a puff from his cigarette. “Iruka was the one who did not want to publicise their relationship. Kakashi always thought that it was because Iruka was insecure about what others would think and so wasn’t ready to tell others about their relationship. He always thought that Iruka wanted to take things slow. Who would have expected that he had another girlfriend out in the public?”

“Perhaps this is all a misunderstanding or something?”

Asuma scowled. “Misunderstanding? Well, anyone who is not blind would have seen how the two of them had behaved. Seriously, I don’t even want to think about this now.”

“Let’s just hope Kakashi will get over this soon.”

“I’m sure he will. He always does. And I’m sure after this; it will be a long time before he even open up himself again. Wait, scratch that. I’m sure he will never let another person step into his life again. Iruka hurt him deep this time, Kurenai. He may not show it, but I know him well enough. I’ve never seen Kakashi so broken and hurt before. Not since Yondaime died.” Asuma sighed deeply.

“Everyone he cared about had left him. His father, Obito, Rin and Yondaime. Since knowing him from the ANBU days, he had always been withdrawn and never had too many friends around him. Guess Genma and I were exceptions. He had always shut himself out, refusing any form of emotional attachments with the world. And when he finally had one after being alone for so long, it was so cruelly taken away from him.”

Kurenai wrapped her arms around Asuma’s waist as he leaned against her shoulder and sighed.

“He’s my friend and I hate to see him so hurt. I wish there’s something that we can do to ease that pain, Kurenai.”

************************************************************************

Iruka fumbled with his keys as he unlocked the door to his apartment. Sighing deeply, he mentally noted that he had another two hours before he is due to report in the mission room. He stepped into his neatly kept little apartment and took off his sandals. He had barely taken two steps when he paused in his tracks and stared at the figure sitting on his couch.

“Kakashi? What are you doing here?” Iruka’s jaw dropped when he saw the silver haired jounin stood up. Then he realized that he had asked a stupid question. He had a feeling that Kakashi was probably going to question about the incident earlier.

“I’m just here to see you.” Iruka frowned at the response.

“What are you thinking? We can see each other tonight. If someone sees you here, they will be bound to suspect something.”

Kakashi reached out and traced his fingers along the jaw line of his lover and up to his lips. Iruka sighed and stepped back. Kakashi frowned.

“Kashi, it’s broad daylight. We may be seen by someone.” Iruka bit on his bottom lip as Kakashi sighed. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright, Iruka.” Kakashi paused and then looked at the chunin. “I need to talk to you.” Iruka looked at the older man in front of him curiously.

“Kakashi, what….”

“Iruka, listen to me. We need to talk. About us.”

Iruka growled under his breath when he realized what Kakashi was going to ask next. He took a deep breath and look at him.

“Look Kakashi, if it is about the incident earlier, I can explain.”

“No, Iruka, you don’t have to. I understand.” Iruka flinched when Kakashi smiled. He was sure he did not like that smile.

“Kakashi…….”

“Iruka, I’m sorry.” Kakashi closed his eyes and prepared himself for the next sentence. “Let’s end this.”

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Chapter 7: Departure by tsuki
Author's Notes:
Kakashi finally said it. He made his decision and he decided to just leave.
Iruka stared at Kakashi, not sure if he understood what the older man meant.

“What are you talking about?”

“Iruka, I’m letting you go. To pursue your own happiness. I don’t want to tie you down to a meaningless relationship anymore.”

“Kakashi, what do you mean by letting me go? Are you initiating a break up?” Iruka’s eyes narrowed.

“Yes.” At that point in time, Kakashi was thankful for the years of jounin training he had. He managed to hold back all his emotions and not let even a single pain or remorse seep through.

“Why?” That was all Iruka could manage as he bit back the tears in his eyes.

‘Because I want you to be happy. Because I don’t think I can handle the fact that you do not love me. Because I’m aware that this is not the life you want. Because I’ve failed in giving you the security and assurance that you need.’ There were so many reasons that Kakashi wanted to voice out. But in the end, he chose to swallow it.

Kakashi was well aware that Iruka will only feel guilt if he ever spoke of any of the reasons. He wanted him to be happy and he made the choice to take the blame upon himself.

“Because I haven’t been able to get what I wanted.” Iruka’s eyes widened. “Well, I thought I love you, but I guess I didn’t, Iruka. I’m sorry. I guess all along, what I wanted was your body and not your heart.” Kakashi spoke so quietly that Iruka wasn’t sure he heard it right.

“Don’t fuck with me, Kakashi. You are upset about what happened earlier right?”

“No, I’m not, Iruka. It has nothing to do with that girl or anything else. Anyway, I have no right to trespass your personal life. Whoever you are seeing outside is none of my concern, isn’t it?” Kakashi sounded so nonchalant that Iruka was taken aback.

“Kakashi……”

“Iruka, I’m not meddling with your affairs. So don’t probe into my life either. Not anymore.” Iruka stared at the man in front of him, at a loss for words. “Since you can’t give me what I want, Iruka, I just have to take my leave.”

“Bastard…..”

Kakashi forced a smile and patted himself mentally for such a wonderful lie. He watched as Iruka clenched his fist and fought the urge to reach over to soothe out the tension. He closed his eyes and made a choice. He turned to leave. He knew that if he stayed any longer, all barriers will break down and he wouldn’t be able to hold onto the lie. He did not want Iruka to see through any of his emotions.

‘If he believed in this lie, he will be able to get on. Doesn’t matter if he hates me for the rest of his life, as long as his spirit remained carefree and happy. I don’t mind being the trapped bird in the cage.’

Fighting back the tears, he mumbled out his last words. “Take care, Iruka-sensei.” With that, he formed a few seals and transported himself away.

Iruka stood there, clenching his fists, vaguely noting the honorifics which Kakashi had used. When he no longer could sense Kakashi’s chakra, he unclenched his fist and let himself collapse onto the floor. He drew his knees up to his chin and wrapped his arms around it, one hand reaching up to clasp the necklace which Kakashi had given to him. For a moment, he sat there in a daze, trying to comprehend what had just happened. Then, before he realized it, tears were flowing uncontrollably from his eyes. He did not even bother to wipe it off. He just allowed the tears to flow freely, marking the loss of a love he once had.

************************************************************************

Sakura and Naruto walked in silent companion towards their meeting place.

“Naruto, Sakura. It’s been a long time.” The two teens looked up at the older man walking towards them.

“Yamato-taichou!” Naruto broke into a smile.

“Yamato-taichou, what are you doing here?” Sakura smiled at their ex-captain.

“Well, actually I will be joining Team Kakashi on the mission this time, since Sai is not around.” Yamato laughed and scratched his head.

“That’s great. It’s been a long time since we went on one together. Come on; let’s go Yamato-taichou, Sakura-chan!”

“What’s the hurry, Naruto? It’s not time yet.” Sakura frowned and ran after her team mate.

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Chapter 8: The Mission by tsuki
************************************************************************
The trio approached the meeting place, laughing and joking when Naruto and Sakura stopped in their tracks. Yamato looked at them curiously.

“Sakura-chan, punch me.”

Sakura gathered a minimum amount of chakra on her fist and drew her fist back. Yamato gulped and stepped away to avoid being drawn into it.

Sakura brought her fist forward and it landed neatly on Naruto’s cheek. Yamato cringed when Naruto took the hit and landed in the grass ten meters away from where he was originally standing.

Sakura ran up to Naruto and helped him up.

“How does it feel, Naruto? Does it hurt?” Yamato sweat at the question. He was sure that even if he was being grazed slightly by that chakra filled fist, it will hurt like hell.

“Sakura-chan, I think my facial bones have cracked.” Naruto grimace in pain. Sakura looked down at her hand.

“So it’s real?” Yamato frowned. Up till that point in time, he still wasn’t sure what the two were trying to prove.

“What is it, Naruto? Sakura?”

Almost at the same time, the two pointed at the direction where their meeting place was set to be. He followed the direction and tried to see what they had been so shocked with. He frowned when he failed to detect anything suspicious.

“Erm… What?”

“Kakashi-sensei is here. For the first time since we knew him all these years. He’s punctual! No wait. He’s not only punctual. But he’s earlier than us!” Sakura gasped disbelievingly. Yamato managed a smile.

“Well, he isn’t that bad. Back in our ANBU days, he’s punctual too.” Then he sighed. “But that is because we always know where to find him if he’s late.” He realized that the two teens had been more than accurate about their sensei’s punctuality issues.

“Well, at any rate, he’s here. So which means, we can hurry over to Hokage-sama and pick up the mission.”

“Hai.” With a sigh, Naruto and Sakura followed Yamato across the grass patch.

************************************************************************

“This is your mission. All you have to do is to spy and get the information.” Tsunade sighed and rubbed her temple.

“Hai, Tsunade-sama.” Kakashi took the scroll handed over by Shizune.

“Wait, Kakashi.” Tsunade eyed the group in front of her cautiously and sighed again. ‘There is something I must say, even though I know what your response will be.” The four shinobis glanced at each other before nodding.

“This is an A-rank mission. But judging from the look of things, it could become a S-rank anytime. And when it comes to that, things will take on a nasty turn. Kakashi and Yamato, I’m sure the two of you have been well trained in handling S-rank missions. But Naruto and Sakura hasn’t had too much of an experience. Are you sure you want to take on this mission?”

“Baa-chan, what are you talking about? Of course we will take it. There’s nothing too difficult for us.” Naruto grinned. Sakura nodded determinedly.

“Well, I guess that settles it. I’m sure they are old enough to take care of themselves. And Tsunade-sama, someone has to do this. I’m sure you can’t afford to have an all jounin team to handle this mission.” Kakashi smiled.

“Fine. But if you detect any changes or suspect anything, send a message back immediately. I will send you immediate backup.” She swept her gaze across the four of them. “I will have most of the jounins back from their missions by then.”

“You will depart tomorrow morning. I expect this mission to take not more than two weeks. If I do not hear from you after a safe period of two and a half weeks, I will send out a search team.” Tsunade closed her eyes as she tried to relax her mind. “Well then, be careful and good luck.”

Watching the group left her office, Tsunade bit her lower lip. She was beginning to have a bad feeling about this mission.

************************************************************************

The group walked down the corridor in silence.

“Ne sensei, is this mission going to be a tough one?” Naruto put his hands behind his head as he walked in front of Yamato and Kakashi.

“Hmm…… I reckon it will be. It is after all a possible S-rank mission.” Kakashi flipped the book to the next page as he continued reading.

“Well, Naruto, I hope you are not going to back out of this, especially after what you had said in the Hokage’s office.” Yamato chuckled.

Naruto scowled. “Of course I’m not going to. I just want to find out the level of difficulty so that I can be fully prepared for it. After all……….. Eh?” Naruto paused mid-sentence when he saw someone coming out from the mission room. He grinned and ran up to the person.

“Iruka-sensei!” Iruka turned and looked at the grinning blond in front of him.

“Oh, Naruto. What is it?”

“Ne Iruka-sensei, you don’t look well. Your eyes are swollen.” Naruto peered at his teacher closely.

“Naruto, I’m fine.” Iruka edged nervously away from the boy and attempted to change the topic. “Why are you looking for me?”

“Oh, I was wondering if you would like to have ramen together for dinner tonight.”

Iruka sighed before smiling at the boy. “Well, what’s the occasion? I thought we just ate together this afternoon.”

“Well, I’m going away for a mission tomorrow and won’t be back for two weeks. So I wanted to eat with you again, since I won’t be seeing you for a while.” Naruto scratched his head. Iruka let out a low laughter.

“And it won’t only be us! There’s Sakura-chan, Yamato-taichou and Kakashi-sensei.” The blond beamed as he pointed excitedly at his team mates walking towards them. Iruka froze when he looked up at the silver haired jounin standing behind Naruto.

Kakashi averted his gaze when brown eyes bore into his single grey eye. It took all of his control to refrain from pouncing on the chunin and hugging him when he noted the red eyes of his ex-lover. ‘He’s been crying.’

“Iruka-sensei?” Iruka snapped from his reverie and stared back at the boy.

“Naruto, I don’t think I will be able to join you. There’s too much things to do.” Iruka forced a smile.

“Iruka-sensei, you are working too hard. You aren’t even eating properly. Take it as a farewell dinner for me. You won’t be seeing me for half a month.” Naruto frowned. “And this time, we are making sure that Kakashi-sensei buys us dinner. You wouldn’t want to miss out on a free meal.” He shot a mischievous glance at Sakura who laughed.

Kakashi frowned and then sigh. “Well, Naruto, I can buy you dinner for tonight. But I won’t be joining.” He dug into his pocket and pulled out some cash. “Here you go.”

“Senpai, you are being unusually generous today. What’s got into you?” Yamato stifled a laugh.

“Yeah, you are weird, sensei.” Sakura looked at her teacher suspiciously, wondering if he had been brainwashed. “And why aren’t you joining us?”

“Maa… I need to prepare for the mission tomorrow. So, enjoy yourself. I’m off.” Before anyone could say a word, Kakashi disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving a genin, two chunins and a jounin staring at the space where he had previously been standing.

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Chapter 9: Firm Resolution by tsuki
Kakashi stared at the half filled glass in front of him as if it by doing so, the answers to his questions will be revealed in the glass. He absent mindedly wondered what he was doing at the pub that night when he should be at home preparing for his A-rank mission.

‘Iruka had been crying. Why? Did I make him cry? No. That’s impossible. Then what is it that he had been upset with?’

A hand clapped down on his shoulders, preventing his mind from drifting further. He scowled and looked up at the face hovering over him.

“So lost in thought, Kakashi?”

“What do you want, Genma?”

“What a welcome you are giving me, considering the fact that we haven’t seen each other in a while.” Genma signaled to the bartender for a drink, as he chewed on his senbon.

“Well, it isn’t our fault that your last mission took you out of the village for a month.” Asuma laughed and settled himself comfortably beside Kakashi.

“Nope, it’s not. That will be the Hokage’s fault.” Genma chuckled at his little joke. Kakashi rolled his eyes. “But then again, it’s pretty surprising that you are actually early for once, Kakashi.”

“Hn… I came straight from the Hokage’s office, idiot.” Kakashi gulped down his drink.

The drinks arrived and Genma took a sip out of the glass before wiping the smirk off his face and looked intently at Kakashi.

“But anyway, back to the reason why we asked you out.” Genma paused and fiddled with his drink. “Are you alright, pal?” Genma tried to detect any sense of hurt in his friend’s face.

“Get to the point, Genma.” Kakashi sighed and ran his forefinger along the rim of the glass.

“I’ve heard from Asuma what happened.” Genma phrased his words carefully to avoid stepping on any open wounds. Kakashi cringed.

“We’ve ended the relationship.”

Jaws dropped as two pairs of eyes looked at him incredulously.

“Are you serious, Kakashi?” Asuma asked quietly.

“Yeah. We ended it this afternoon.”

“Who brought it up?” Genma was still unable to get over his shock.

“Me.”

“And he didn’t say anything?”

Kakashi shook his head as he fought back the hurt in his voice. “He seems to take it pretty well. Maybe that was what he had in mind all along too.”

Silence hung in the air as Genma fidgeted in his seat and Asuma decided to leave his cigarettes alone for the evening.

“Kakashi….” Genma started carefully. Kakashi grimaced.

“I’m fine. Really, I am. I’m not a three year old kid who needs cuddling and comforting after losing my favourite toy. I’m an adult, and a jounin at that. I know how to manage and keep my emotions in check.”

“I’m sure you do, Kakashi.” Asuma picked up his drink and gulped it down. “It’s just a matter of how long you will take.”

“It doesn’t matter. As long as I don’t let it interfere with my missions. And I’m sure I won’t.” Kakashi finished up his drink and placed the glass on the counter top.

“Well, if this is the reason why you ask me out tonight, you’ve got all the answers you want. I’ve got to go back and prepare for a mission tomorrow.” Drawing back his chair, he stood up.

“Hai hai… Take care, Kakashi.” Genma bade him goodbye. Asuma briefly nodded as Kakashi left the bar.

“Do you think he will be alright?” Genma turned back to his drink after watching Kakashi left the bar.

“Yeah, I reckon so. He always gets over it.” Asuma sighed. “I just didn’t expect things to turn out so badly.” Genma shrugged and called out for another round of drinks.

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Chapter 10: Encounter at the Bar by tsuki
It wasn’t something that he does frequently. In fact, this is probably the second time in his life that he is stepping into a bar. Finding an empty corner, he settled himself down comfortably and called for a bottle of sake.

Although it had only been a week since Team Kakashi departed Konoha to embark on their mission, Iruka couldn’t help but worry about them.

‘I wonder how they are doing now. Are they safe? I hope they haven’t met up with any troublesome opponents.’

The bartender placed his order in front of him and asked if he needed anything else. Iruka shook his head and watched as the bartender left him to his peace. Pouring a little sake into the glass offered, he took a sip and shuddered. It wasn’t very often that he drank and it took him a while to adjust to the taste of it.

Leaning back into his chair, he found his mind wandering again. He thought about Naruto and how he had grown and he thought about Sakura and her prospects as a medic nin. He thought about each and every student that he had taught and for a moment, felt proud that they had all grown to become worthy ninjas. And his thought finally paused on a certain silver haired jounin. When his memories wandered to the copy nin, he felt an indescribable pain surge through him.

Gulping down the content in the glass, he proceeded to refill it. He did not want to think about the person who had caused him sleepless nights for the past one week and a broken heart to nurse.

Just as he picked up his glass, he heard a familiar voice behind him.

“Fancy seeing you here, Iruka. I never thought that you are one to drink as well.” A chuckle and he knew who it was.

“If you are bored, you can join me here. I wouldn’t mind some company, Kotetsu.” Iruka sighed as he drank from his glass.

Kotetsu plopped down in the chair beside him and Iruka watched as Izumo settled himself in front of him.

“Hmm… This isn’t like you, Iruka. I thought you don’t drink. And you look pale.” Izumo commented, looking concerned.

“I haven’t been sleeping well. Was hoping that some sake can put my mind to rest.” Iruka mumbled as he finished the content in his glass once more.

“Well, then one bottle wouldn’t be enough, Iruka.” Kotetsu grinned and signaled for the bartender to bring more sake to the table. Izumo frowned.

“I don’t think that Iruka should be drinking this much, Kotetsu.”

“Maa…. Don’t worry, Izumo. It isn’t often that Iruka will drink. So he should drink to his heart’s content tonight. Here Iruka, I propose you a toast.” Kotetsu laughed as he filled up Iruka’s glass. Iruka shrugged and proceeded to empty his glass for the third time that night.

************************************************************************

Asuma and Genma stepped into the bar and were greeted by a spectacular sight. Izumo was cursing Kotetsu while trying to support Iruka, who looked like he had just drank a river of alcohol.

“I told you that he shouldn’t drink so much. Now what? We have to get him home and we still have to hurry and take over the midnight shift at the main gate.” Izumo scowled.

“I didn’t expect him to drink so much either. He was the one who called for another two bottles after he finished the three which I’ve ordered.” Kotetsu scratched his head.

“He wouldn’t have drunk so much if you had not egged him on. Damn you, Kotetsu.” Izumo sighed. “I will get him home. You go on ahead and take over the shift first. I will join you once I’ve put him into bed.”

“What is this? Drinking before your shift huh? Izumo? Kotetsu?” Genma’s voice came up from behind, causing the two to jump slightly.

“Don’t sneak up on us like that, Genma.” Kotetsu glared at the senbon-chewing jounin.

“What happened to Iruka? I didn’t know he drinks.” Asuma frowned as the drunk chunin started to mumble incoherently.

“We didn’t know either. He was already here when we came over to get a glass or two. And the way he drinks the sake, it’s almost like drinking water.” Izumo replied.

“Well, if you don’t mind, we need to get going and send him home. We are already late for our shift.” Kotetsu turned and tried to help Izumo get Iruka out of the bar.

“Kotetsu, don’t worry about it. Leave him to us and go ahead with your shift.” Kotetsu and Izumo looked up to see Anko and Kurenai standing at the entrance of the bar. Genma frowned.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Just go ahead before the guards at the gate complain.” Anko pried Iruka’s arm from Izumo’s shoulders and ushered Izumo out. Kotetsu shrugged and followed his partner out of the bar.

“Well, Mitarashi-san, what are you going to do about him?” Genma asked coldly, pointing at the drunk chunin.

“Get him home, of course.” Anko glared.

“Well, I reckon this has nothing to do with us then. Asuma, let’s go and get our drinks.”

“Who the hell needs your help? Kurenai, help me get Iruka home.” Anko glanced at the genjutsu user, who briefly nodded and looked over at Asuma.

Asuma sighed and grabbed his friend who was heading towards the bar counter.

“What, Asuma?” Genma was obviously irritated.

“Let’s help them get Iruka home, Genma. We can drop by later for the drinks.”

“Asuma, we don’t need four people to send him home.” Asuma groaned. He took a deep breath and leaned over to his friend, lowering his voice as he speaks.

“Look Genma, I know you are pissed. But just take it that we are doing Kakashi a favour. I don’t think he would like to see Iruka in this state either. The ladies could do with some help. Iruka is after all a man and it’s more convenient for us to be around.”

Genma stared at his friend for a while before sighing heavily. “Fine, let’s go.”

Asuma took over the weight of Iruka from Anko and helped him out of the bar.

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Chapter 11: Confession by tsuki
Author's Notes:
Finally.... Iruka confessed.
It did not take long for them to reach Iruka’s house. Anko fumbled with the keys, trying to find the right one to open the door. After a brief struggle, she kicked the door opened and Asuma half dragged the drunk man into the apartment.

Iruka groaned when he was dropped on the bed. Kurenai tucked him gently in.

“Anko, can you get me some cold water and a towel?” Kurenai looked at the purple haired jounin who nodded and disappeared into the bathroom. “Asuma, help me to put some water to boil.” Asuma arched his eyebrows before obligingly entered the neatly kept kitchen.

“What got him drinking so much?” A frown was clearly evident on the face of the red-eyed jounin. Genma shrugged. Kurenai eyed the chunin a little while longer when she noticed that the tanned man was in distress.

“Genma, quick. Get Iruka to the bathroom!”

Grunting, Genma heaved the younger man off the bed and pulled him towards the bathroom. He mentally cursed and mumbled under his breath, “You better don’t puke on me before we get in there.”

Genma signaled for Anko to vacate the bathroom before helping Iruka in. He stood aside and chewed on his senbon while waiting for the man to empty his stomach. When he noted that Iruka had emptied all the alcohol he had drank earlier, he grabbed a mug of water and handed it over to the younger man for him to rinse his mouth.

Iruka stared at the world before him. Everything seems to be spinning and he wasn’t feeling good, especially after he had puked everything out. He took the mug that was handed to him and started to rinse his mouth. Then, he felt someone lifting him off the ground and helped him back to his room.

He closed his eyes as he was laid on his bed. He felt someone removing his vest and his forehead protector and snuggled into the covers that were pulled over him. He heard some whisperings. But he could not comprehend what was being said as sleep took over him.

************************************************************************

Iruka woke up with a start when he felt a something cold came in contact with his forehead. He blinked a few times as he tried to adjust to the darkness.

“You are awake?”

Hearing the voice, he sat up immediately and felt the world around him spin. He held his head and tried to steady himself when he felt a hand on his shoulder pushing him gently back into bed.

“Don’t force yourself.”

He squinted at the figure before him before it dawned on him who it was.

“Kurenai-san?”

Kurenai sighed and handed him a cup of tea.

“Here, have some. It will help you clear up a little.”

Iruka smiled and took the tea gratefully.

“I’m sorry about this. But what are you doing here, Kurenai-san?’ Iruka asked as he took a sip from the cup.

“You got drunk. At the bar. We sent you home.” Kurenai smiled. Under the dim moonlight, Iruka could detect a sense of worry across her face.

“We? There’s someone else here?”

“Yes. Asuma, Genma and Anko. I assume they are asleep on the couch in your living room now.” Kurenai let out a low laughter. Iruka blushed.

“I’m sorry about that. But why are you still here? I mean…. You could have gone off if you are tired.” The blush deepen. Kurenai couldn’t help smiling at the shy chunin.

“We were going to go off when you dozed off earlier. But before we could step out of your apartment, we heard you shouting incoherently in your sleep. And……” Kurenai paused, unsure if she should carry on. Iruka arched his eyebrow, urging her to continue.

“Iruka, you were crying. I don’t know if it’s your dreams or anything else that trigger it. But you were sobbing in your sleep.” Kurenai bit her lower lips. “Seeing you in that state, we couldn’t just leave you alone. So, we decided to stay until you’ve calmed down.”

Iruka averted his gaze from Kurenai and stared at the cup in his hands.

“Iruka, what’s wrong?”

Iruka shook his head slowly. “It’s nothing, Kurenai-san. I appreciate your concern. Maybe it’s just a nightmare.” Iruka smiled at her sadly.

“Iruka, don’t try to hide it from me.” She sighed and glanced at the chunin. “Iruka, has this got anything to do with Kakashi?”

Iruka jerked at the name. He met her gaze for a moment before turning away. “No.” He closed his eyes and tried to hold back the tears.

A moment of silence past and Iruka heard another sigh from the kunoichi. “Iruka, I don’t know if I should be telling you this. But, you were mumbling Kakashi’s name when you were unconscious.”

When Kurenai finished her sentence, Iruka knew he could hold back no more. His world came crashing down as he recalled the reasons for his week of sleepless nights. Before he knew it, he was clutching the kunoichi beside him, sobbing into her shoulders. Kurenai rubbed his back, trying to soothe him down.

“I….. I thought it was alright. I thought it didn’t matter. I thought it was just a fling.” He sobbed uncontrollably as he tried to make sense of his words.

“I didn’t know it would hurt so much for him to leave me, Kurenai-san.” Kurenai closed her eyes as she listened to all he had to say.

“I didn’t want him to leave. But I don’t know how to make him stay.” Kurenai felt the sobbing subsided a little. But the tears were still there, flowing uncontrollably out from the chunin’s eyes.

“I thought I didn’t love him. But when he left, I felt my world shatter into a million pieces.” His voice was softer now, almost inaudible as he mumbled on. “And that was when I realized that I have fallen for him. Deeply. So deep that it hurts.” He closed his eyes as he felt Kurenai pulled him into a comforting embrace.

“Why didn’t you tell this to him?” Kurenai whispered. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw someone standing at the door.

“He didn’t love me.” Iruka choked on his tears. “He told me that what he wanted was my body, not my heart.” Kurenai cradled the limp body, trying to comprehend what was being told to her.

“But even then, I wanted him to stay. But I wanted him to be happy too. That’s why I choose to let go.” Iruka broke into another fit of sobbing. Kurenai sighed and tried to hush the broken man in front of her. She turned slightly and noticed that the person was no longer at the door.

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Chapter 12: The Truth by tsuki
Asuma glanced up when Kurenai stepped out from the room and closed the door quietly behind her.

“He’s asleep?”

Kurenai nodded and sat down beside Asuma. “Yes. He’s finally calm down enough to sleep.”

“How is he?” Anko set down a cup of tea in front of Kurenai and plopped down into the couch in front of her.

“He’s in a pretty bad state.” Anko arched her eyebrows. Kurenai shrugged. “Asuma, you’ve seen how he is.”

Asuma grimaced and nodded.

“Well, I never would have thought he had something going on with Kakashi. Though I did suspect.” Anko chuckled.

“That’s all in the past. What’s the point in bringing it up now?” Genma chewed hard on his senbon. Anko narrowed her eyes.

“What do you mean by that, Shiranui-san?”

“I made it pretty obvious, didn’t I? It’s all over between them.” Genma snapped.

“That doesn’t mean they can’t get back together.” Anko snarled.

“Ha! Not in a million years. Especially after what your dear friend did to Kakashi.” Genma snorted.

“Hell right. Like Kakashi didn’t even hurt him!”

“Break it up, the two of you. Do you want to wake Iruka up?” Asuma glared at the two squabbling jounins. Giving each other one final stare, the two jounins settled back in the couch.

“Seriously, Anko, Genma’s right.” Asuma started. Anko snorted.

“Yeah, how right? Tell me about it.”

“It’s all because of Iruka’s girlfriend, isn’t it?” Kurenai stated. Asuma nodded.

“Kakashi had never felt so betrayed before.” Asuma sighed. Anko blinked in confusion.

“Girlfriend? What girlfriend? When did Iruka ever had a girlfriend and I didn’t know about it?”

Then, it was the other three jounins turn to stare at her in confusion.

“You were there too, weren’t you, Anko? When we met Iruka and his girlfriend on the streets a week back.” Kurenai frowned. Anko crossed her arms and started to recall.

“Oh yes. I remember.” Anko started.

“See, that explains why Kakashi decided to leave him.” Genma glowered.

“Shut up, Genma! I haven’t finished yet.”

Kurenai and Asuma looked at one another before turning back to Anko.

“That wasn’t Iruka’s girlfriend.” Anko promptly stated.

“Eh?” Kurenai looked shocked. Asuma glanced at Anko suspiciously. Genma started to get a little interested in the on goings.

“Yeah. That was just a misunderstanding. The lady…. What was her name again?” Anko frowned as she tried to recall. “Oh yes. Ayame-san. She was doing some deliveries when she slipped and Iruka, who happened to be in the area, caught her before she fell. And that was when we caught them in the act and thought they were dating.” Anko laughed. The three jounins slumped back in their seats as realization dawned upon them.

“So, seems like Kakashi was the one who jumped to conclusions. He didn’t even clarify it with Iruka and promptly ended the relationship. So, I guess he’s at fault this time?” Kurenai wondered out loud.

“I wouldn’t reckon so. After all, this isn’t the only issue which made Kakashi reconsider the relationship. There are too many issues going on between them. This incident only serves to trigger off the break-up which would have happened sooner or later with the way they are keeping quiet about the problems.” Asuma pointed out.

“Whatever it is, there’s no point in pointing fingers now. Let’s just wait till Kakashi returns from his mission and then we can get the two of them to sit down and talk things out.” Genma yawned.

“That’s true. Well, Genma, this is probably the most sensible thing you have said tonight.” Anko snickered.

“Shut up, Anko.”

The four jounins settled back in their seats. Another week to go before Kakashi returns. But, what they didn’t know was that, how long that week is going to be.

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End Notes:
A few more chapters, I hope. I'm never good with writing long stories, I guess.
Chapter 13: Mission Gone Wrong by tsuki
Author's Notes:
No, Kakashi won't die, I promise. I don't really like writing tragedies.
Kakashi clutched his left arm as they hurried through the trees. Hot on the heels were a group of ninjas. Judging from the skills level, Kakashi was almost certain that their pursuers were S-class criminals.

He looked at his team members and knew that they will not be able to hold out further if the chase continues. In fact, with their chakra spent, Kakashi knew that this was a battle that they were bound to lose if they even decided to fight back.

“Yamato, Naruto, Sakura. We need to find a place to hide. It will at least buy us some time to recover before we face them off. There’s a cave not far from here. It will be a good hiding place for us if we lose them. Come on. We are going to pick up speed.”

The other three nodded and ignoring the pain from the wounds on their body, they pushed off.

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It took a while. But they managed to lose their pursuers. Arriving at their destination, they landed almost soundlessly. Tiredly, they trudged into the cave.

It was definitely a good hiding place. The small cave was hidden by trees and growth and out of view. Kakashi wouldn’t have known about the place if he hadn’t been in ANBU and have explored the terrain more than necessary.

They slumped against the wall of the cave and Sakura tried to gather what little chakra she has left to heal the wounds of her team mates.

Kakashi glanced over at Naruto as Sakura patched him up.

“How’s Naruto?” Kakashi’s voice was hoarse. Sakura shook her head as she tightened the bandage on Kakashi’s arm.

“There’s nothing I can do about the wounds. It’s inflicted by the Kyuubi’s demon cloak. It will take some time and heal on its own.”

Kakashi sighed as he glanced over at the blond boy who was slumped on the ground, taken over by tiredness. The external wounds on his body were pretty much healed by the Kyuubi’s chakra. But Kakashi was more than aware that the internal injuries will take a longer time to heal. And for now, Naruto was weaker than anyone of them there.

Kakashi closed his eyes. Everything that shouldn’t have gone wrong had gone wrong during this mission.

He flinched as he remembered how Naruto had unleashed the Kyuubi’s powers when they got into a terrible fix facing off the S-class ninjas. The Kyuubi had taken over at a faster pace than they had anticipated and before they knew it, the third tail had emerged. Yamato had to fight off his opponents before he could subdue the Kyuubi’s chakra and the delay was more than enough to allow the fourth tail to appear.

It had taken a while for Yamato to fully suppress the red chakra and by the time Naruto returned to normal, the damage had been done to his body.

“Sensei, do you think we will be able to get out of here?” Kakashi looked up at the kunoichi in front of him. He sighed. He had absolutely no answer to her question.

“I will be frank, Sakura. With Naruto out now, it’s three of us against four of them. We are lucky that we managed to kill two of them in the earlier fight. But this is still more than we can handle.”

“And with our chakra spent, it’s unlikely that we are even able to face them off if they manage to track us down.” Yamato sighed.

“So, the only thing we can hope for is for Hokage-sama to send us reinforcements?” Sakura bit down on her lips as she looked at the two older men hopefully.

Kakashi nodded. Yamato averted her gaze.

“That is if she knows how screwed we are now.” Yamato whispered.

“It’s been more than a week. We just have to hang in for a few more days, isn’t it? Hokage-sama said that she will send out a search team if we do not return in two weeks.”

“Sakura, that is true. But that is provided we are not being tracked down by the enemies. We can’t hope for it here. We need a backup plan in case the search team does not arrive in time. Get some rest. Yamato and I will work it out.” Kakashi looked at the medic nin, his voice hinted the fatigue that he was going through.

Sakura nodded and retired to another corner of the cave, checking on her blond team mate before leaning against the wall. She checked the wounds on her upper arms and legs and once decided everything is fine, she shut her eyes to catch some overdue rest.

“This is bad, senpai.” Yamato said as he watched the young girl fall into sleep.

“Yes. But it’s nothing we haven’t been through before.” Kakashi shifted into a more comfortable sitting position.

“What are you intending to do?” Yamato arched his eyebrow.

“Once the two of them are good enough to move, I will move out of here first, to get the enemies’ attention away from you. When I’m far enough, get the two kids out and lead them away from here.”

“Senpai, you can’t be thinking of playing the decoy?” Yamato choked.

“I am. Face it, Yamato. There’s no way we can all escape together unnoticed. Someone have to sacrifice.”

“Seriously, then I would rather keep to Sakura’s suggestion and wait for reinforcements.”

“Don’t be silly. How can you listen to what she says? Yamato, you and I have been on more A-rank and S-rank missions than all the missions they have gone on combined. You should know that waiting for reinforcements on enemies’ ground is suicidal. And adding on to that fact, we are all almost out of chakra.”

“Yamato, you were from ANBU. You should know how to handle situations like this.” Kakashi continued.

“Yes. But playing decoy is always the last option. When you were the squad leader, you were the one who taught us to leave no man behind. So, are you forcing us to go against your own principles now?”

“That applies for me, Yamato. You don’t have to follow it so rigidly.” Kakashi snarled.

“Whichever the case, you will still have to wait till they are able to move themselves. That would take at least two days. If we get past these two days in peace, perhaps you can reconsider your option.”

“Fair enough. But if no reinforcements come by then, I’m going ahead with the plan.” Kakashi’s eyes narrowed. Yamato sighed.

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Chapter 14: Tsunade's Decision by tsuki
Tsunade looked down at the stack of papers in front of her and frowned. She glanced up at the clock to see that it was almost the end of the day. Shizune entered the room and placed a cup of tea on the table.

“Shizune, any news from Team Kakashi?”

“No, Tsunade-sama. We haven’t received anything from them yet.”

“How long has it been since their last message?”

“Three days ago. That was the time when they mentioned that they are going ahead to infiltrate the enemies’ camp.”

“Damn it.” Tsunade’s sudden slamming on the table caused Shizune to jump a little. “Shizune, have you found out what I told you to?”

“Hai, Tsunade-sama. This is what we have found out.” Shizune handed Tsunade a stack of papers. Grabbing it from her assistant, Tsunade flipped through it and read intently for a moment. Then she gritted her teeth and slammed the table again.

“Shizune, I’m sure Team Kurenai is not on a mission. Get Kurenai into my office now. This is the time I need her team’s expertise.”

“Hai, Tsunade-sama.” Shizune hurried out of the room.

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“It’s almost two weeks huh?” Asuma swirled the liquid in his glass before taking another sip.

“Yeah. Kakashi will be back in another two days.” Genma chewed on his senbon, with a lazy smile on his face.

“Well, I was so sure I would find you here.” An over-exuberant voice came up from behind them.

“Anko? What a surprise to see you here.” Genma commented sarcastically. Asuma laughed.

“Where’s Kurenai?”

“Oh, she went to invite someone to join us. Said she will be here in a while.” Anko took her seat and called for her drink. Genma scowled.

“If it’s not already crowded enough. Who did she ask to come along?”

“You will see.” Anko smiled, a mischievous twinkle in her eye. Genma groaned.

“Well, she better don’t turn up when we are about to leave.”

“I heard that, Genma.” The three shinobis turned to face an irritated kunoichi. And beside her was the academy teacher.

“Iruka? Never thought you would be the one that Kurenai ask to join us.” Asuma laughed.

“Well, it took me awhile to pull him away from that stack of homework and test papers he was going to grade. Really, Iruka. You should chill out sometime.” Kurenai teased the blushing chunin.

“I didn’t really want to. I mean…. There’s a lot of unfinished work to be done. But….” Iruka stammered. He didn’t feel very comfortable with so many jounins around. And the fact that half of them were Kakashi’s close friends only made things worse.

“You can always finish the work later. Come, join us for some drinks.” Asuma dragged the tanned man to the seat beside him. Iruka sighed and settled himself down, trying to think of an excuse to leave the place.

The bartender served the drinks to the group and Asuma started pouring it for everybody. Then he looked intently at Iruka, as the younger man fidgeted with his drink.

“Iruka, promise me you will talk things through with Kakashi when he is back.” Iruka sighed. Kurenai and Anko had been telling him the same thing since the day he had confessed his feelings towards Kakashi to Kurenai.

“Asuma-san, look, I told Kurenai and Anko the same thing. I will try to talk to him. But the problem is, I don’t even know how I should face him.” Asuma sighed.

Before Asuma could say anything else, Shizune appeared in the bar with two ANBUs beside her.

“Kurenai, Tsunade-sama asks to see you in her office now. It’s an emergency.”

Kurenai frowned as the rest of the group looked at the trio who had interrupted their drinking session. With a nod, she stepped away from her seat and followed the three out of the bar.

“Emergency? Looks like something serious going on?” Genma arched his eyebrow.

“Calling on Kurenai so late in the evening. I really wonder. If it’s a special mission, there’s only one reason to call on Kurenai.” Asuma mused.

“And what is that?” Anko frowned.

“Tapping on her team’s expertise. To track someone or something down.” Asuma’s eyes darkened.

************************************************************************

Kurenai knocked on the door and entered the room. Bowing politely, she looked at the blond in front of her.

“You ask for me, Hokage-sama?”

“Yes. Kurenai, after I’ve given you the briefing, I need you to gather your team and set out immediately.” Tsunade started slowly. Kurenai tensed.

“Hai, Hokage-sama.”

“Good.” Tsunade leaned back in her chair and looked at Kurenai intently. Kurenai waited for the busty lady to continue. Tsunade folded her arms and debated her choice of words.

“Kurenai, I want you and your team to track down Team Kakashi.”

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Chapter 15: Unexpected Mission by tsuki
Kurenai was stunned as she tried processed the order from the Hokage.

“Hokage-sama…..”

“I know this is a little sudden.” Tsunade rubbed her temple as she sighed. “I haven’t heard from Team Kakashi for the last three days and I fear that they might in some sort of trouble.”

Kurenai bit her bottom lip as Tsunade continued.

“I wouldn’t have been so worried if it wasn’t for the last message that he sent. In the last transmission, he mentioned that there were S-class criminals in the enemies’ camp which they were planning to infiltrate that evening. Based on that transmission, we did a little background research. This is what we found.”

Kurenai took the papers from Tsunade and scanned through the information. When she looked up from the papers and stared at the Hokage, there was fear in her eyes.

“Yes. Apparently, that was what we found out. The S-class criminals who disappeared into that area a few years ago. I never would have thought that they are still around, or alive even. And damn it, they are in the camp which Kakashi and his team are infiltrating.”

“These criminals are the ones who annihilated an entire ninja clan in one night, isn’t it?”

Tsunade nodded. “That is why I fear for Kakashi and his team. These are not the normal rogue ninjas you come across. This people are dangerous beings. Kakashi and Yamato are experienced enough to handle this. But they still have Naruto and Sakura to keep a watch over.”

“I got it, Hokage-sama. I will assemble my team and set out now.”

“Hang on, Kurenai. I would like you to do me another favour.” Kurenai nodded. “Get Asuma and Shikamaru to form another team. I have Aoba on duty outside. Bring him and another jounin to join Asuma’s team. They will serve as a backup in case you come across those ninjas.”

“I understand, Hokage-sama. I will take my leave now.”

Tsunade nodded. “Good luck.”

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Kurenai stepped back into the bar and hurried over to the group who were still drinking in the corner. Tsunade had dispatched Aoba and Shizune to gather Shikamaru and the members of Team Kurenai. Kurenai knew she needs to inform Asuma about the mission at the soonest possible time.

“Took you long enough, Kurenai.” Anko laughed. She stopped when she noted Kurenai’s grim expression. “Something wrong?”

Kurenai sighed. “Asuma, Genma, get ready to leave. We are in for a mission.”

Asuma set down his glass and eyed the kunoichi carefully. “What happened, Kurenai?”

Kurenai was silent, as she eyed Iruka. Iruka tensed.

“Kurenai?”

Kurenai debated for a while before answering. “We are ordered to track down Team Kakashi. Tsunade-sama had not been hearing from them for the last three days and she fears the worst.”

“Let me in on a bit more details, Kurenai.” Asuma gritted his teeth.

“They are suspected to have encountered a group of S-class criminals. These S-class criminals are those who annihilated an entire ninja clan in the Snow Country some years back.”

“The rogue ninjas who annihilated the Yuura clan in the Snow country?” Genma asked throatily. Kurenai nodded.

Asuma stood up from his seat and stole a glance at the chunin beside him, who had paled considerably. “Are you sure?”

“We can’t determine at this point in time if it’s really them. But there’s a high possibility that it may be them. At any rate, we can’t take the risk. Not hearing from Kakashi for three days is already bad news. We need to hurry and trace them down.”

Kurenai started to walk out of the bar. Genma jumped from his seat and followed. Asuma paused for a moment and looked at the chunin with concern. Noting the unshed tears, he sighed. He bent down and looked into the chunin’s eyes.

“Iruka, we will bring him back. Alive.” Iruka nodded slowly, as if trying to process his mind and react. Anko clasped her hands down on his shoulders.

“Hurry ahead, Asuma. I will take care of him.”

With a nod, Asuma turned and disappeared into the night.

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Chapter 16: Search for Team Kakashi by tsuki
Iruka buried his head in his pillow and cried as he clutched the necklace tightly in one hand. Anko stayed with him, trying to soothe his senses.

“They will be alright, Iruka. It’s Kakashi we are talking about. He’s the feared copy nin of Konoha. He always gets through the toughest situation.” Anko rubbed his back and tried to reassure him.

“I know, Anko. I know. But I can’t just help thinking that he will just choose to leave me and not even give me a chance to make amends.” Iruka wiped the tears from his eyes. He hated himself for being so weak.

“Iruka, they will find him. They won’t let him die. We have Konaha’s top tracking team looking for him. And then there’s Asuma, Genma and Aoba. They are one of the strongest jounins in Konoha. And there’s Shikamaru. You know how great a strategist he is, don’t you? He will come up with a plan to save them.” Anko consoled.

Iruka could only sob as he tried to steer his mind from thinking of the worst. The first night passed fitfully, as both shinobis could hardly sleep a wink.

************************************************************************

“It should take us about a day’s of travel to reach the camp where Kakashi was previously spying on. From there, we should be able to track their scents and find out the route which they took.” Kurenai briefed as the eight shinobis flittered through the trees.

“From now, Kurenai, your team will take the main path. We will travel behind you on stealth. So in the event that you encounter any enemies’ attacks, we will be able to cover you.” Genma stared at the path ahead calmly. “Is everyone clear?”

Genma looked around and smiled when they acknowledged their understanding. “Good. Shikamaru and Aoba, you will take the left side. Asuma and I will travel on the right. If all is clear, scatter!”

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Team Kurenai arrived at the border of the enemy’s camp mid afternoon the next day, glad that they had not come across any situations during their travel.

“Has Akamaru detected anything?” Kurenai looked at Kiba.

“He’s trying to. It seems that they have left this place for a few days and the scent has somehow faded a little. He’s trying to pick up whatever he can.” Kiba knelt down and ruffled the nin-ken.

“Ruff… Ruff.” Akamaru took off suddenly, leaving the others staring.

“Come on! He’s sensed something.” Kiba ran off after Akamaru with his other three team mates following closely.

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Chapter 17: Team Kakashi Found by tsuki
Asuma’s team came out from their hiding places and glanced at the team before them.

“Are we lost somewhere?” Aoba questioned a frown evident on his face.

“Can’t be. Akamaru detected their scents to this place.”

“Then where are they?” Asuma folded his arms and looked at the boy.

“We’ve been going around for a few hours. The sun is setting. Night time is definitely not to our benefit, especially now that we are on enemy’s ground.” Shikamaru grunted.

“Shino, has your bugs detected anything?” Kurenai turned to the bug user.

“My deduction is the same as Kiba. This area is where their scents are the strongest. But I can’t figure out why we can’t pinpoint the location. And look, there’s a trail of blood there. It may be theirs or the enemies’. They are somewhere near.”

Genma and Asuma bent down and examined the blood trail on the ground. Kurenai turned to the Hyuuga heir.

“Hinata, expand the range of your Byakugan and see if you can find any possible hiding places.” Hinata nodded and began to focus.

Genma was following the blood trail with his eyes when he suddenly detects an unfamiliar presence.

“There’s someone. Hide!” In a blink of an eye, all the shinobis disappeared.

Genma stilled in his hiding place and took a peek at the surroundings. His eyes narrowed when he saw three figures walking out in the clearing. The sun had set and for a moment, he was thankful for the night, which provided them with sufficient camouflage.

“I’m sure he came by here. Where did he disappear to?” One of them grunted.

“He killed one of us. Damn that Konoha shinobi.” Another growled. Genma’s eyes widened and he glanced at Asuma who was beside him. Asuma nodded grimly. Genma edged closer.

“They mentioned Konoha shinobi. No doubt it’s Kakashi’s team. What now?” Genma whispered as he kept his eyes fixed on the motions of the three rogue ninjas in the clearing.

Asuma was silent when suddenly, the ground shook and one of the rogue ninjas was being dragged by something into the earth. A few seconds later, he disappeared underground and someone appeared on the ground before the two ninjas. It took Genma and Asuma a while to identify the new person.

“Kakashi! He’s alive.” Genma grinned. “He lives up to his name.”

A voice interrupted his short conversation with Asuma.

“Seems like he’s the only one left. I don’t think he will be able to fight us anymore either. He looks like he’s already half dead.” One of the rogue ninja with red hair smirked.

“Well, I will end your suffering for you then, Hatake Kakashi. Your legend will end here.” The other rogue ninja traced the scar across his face and started forming some seals.

Genma and Asuma watched as Kakashi stumbled to his feet and drew out a kunai, crouching in defense position.

“He won’t hold out much longer, Genma. We need to take action.”

At a signal, Asuma and Genma leapt from their hiding places and Genma quickly formed some seals. He was just in time. The moment the enemy’s jutsu took effect and attacked Kakashi, a defense appeared in front of the silver haired nin, absorbing the impact of the attack.

Kakashi was stunned when the defense came out from nowhere and shielded him from the attack. He shifted his head a little and saw two blurred figures heading towards him. Before he could focus better, the two figures were standing on either side of him.

“Asuma? Genma?” He was greeted with a smirk and a grunt.

“Reinforcements, I see. Well, you two punks won’t win against us.” The scarred face ninja insulted.

“I don’t think so. You two look like you have exhausted your chakra and mind you; it’s not two of us.” Genma glowered.

The red hair ninja turned around in time to see Aoba and Shikamaru behind them.

************************************************************************

The fight didn’t last long. The two rogue ninjas were taken down after a brief fight.

“Kakashi, are you alright?” Kurenai knelt down beside the taller man.

“Yes.” Kakashi managed a hoarse reply and clutch the shoulders of the kunoichi. “Kurenai, go and get Yamato and the rest.”

“Where are they?”

“In a cave not far from here. You will have to look a bit. The cave is hidden out of sight.” Kakashi pointed them towards the direction. Kurenai nodded and signaled for her team and Shikamaru to follow.

“Damn you, Kakashi, what did you do to yourself?” Genma grimaced at the external wounds all over the man’s body. He was sure he did not want to know how much internal damage had been done.

Kakashi managed a weak smile as he struggled to get to his feet. He stumbled and Asuma reached forward to steady him.

“Kakashi, you are a wreck. What the hell were you trying to do? It’s so obvious that you are already out of chakra earlier and you tried to face off two S-class criminals? Are you being suicidal?” Asuma chided.

Kakashi mumbled something. Genma frowned as he leaned forward to listen better.

“What did you say?”

“I said, mission accomplished. The information is with Yamato. Hand it over to Tsunade-sama.” Kakashi struggled to talk as pain wracked through his body.

“Kakashi, stop talking. We are going to get you back to Konoha now. Hang in there.”

Kakashi let out a low laughter.

“Doesn’t matter. People always die on missions.” Kakashi mumbled.

“Stop talking like that, idiot! I promised Iruka I will get you back alive. And I intend to keep to my promise.” Asuma growled.

“Iruka?” Kakashi arched his eyebrow as he tried to remember who that was. “I have nothing more to do with Iruka. You don’t have to promise him anything.” Kakashi’s voice was getting softer.

Asuma heaved him up and pulled his arm over his shoulders as he leaned Kakashi’s weight against him.

“Shut up, Hatake. Iruka wants to trash things out with you. So you better stay alive. And I don’t want to live with the guilt of you dying on me either.” He turned to Genma and Aoba. “I’m heading off first. I don’t think Kakashi can last much longer. Catch up with me soon.” The two jounins nodded and Asuma took off.

A moment after Asuma departed, Aoba and Genma noted a group heading towards them.

“They are back. Seems like everyone’s safe.” Genma grinned.

************************************************************************
End Notes:
I wanted to merge this chapter with the previous one. But realised that it will be a little too lengthy to read.
Chapter 18: Homebound by tsuki
It didn’t take long for Genma to catch up with Asuma.

“How is Kakashi?” Genma asked as he kept on pace with Asuma, with Shikamaru beside him.

“He’s drifting in and out of consciousness. His injuries seem bad. Looks like the wounds are too deep.”

“We need to hurry then.” Genma said, keeping his focus on the route in front. Asuma nodded grimly.

“How are the rest of the team members?”

“Good. Except for chakra exhaustion, they are mostly alright. Nothing too serious. Naruto is unconscious though. Yamato and Sakura look fine. Just a little tired.”

“The main concern now should be Kakashi-sensei. If we travel non-stop, we should be able to reach Konoha in a day’s time.” Shikamaru noted.

“Well then, I’m going to pick up speed. Shikamaru, stay with Kurenai. Genma and I will travel ahead.” Shikamaru nodded and watched as the two jounins darted through the trees and disappeared into the darkness.

“How is Kakashi?” Yamato came up beside Shikamaru, with Aoba supporting him.

“I don’t know. From what Asuma said, he seems to be in a pretty bad state.” Shikamaru cringed.

***************************************************************************************************************

Asuma and Genma hurried through the terrain, taking turns to support the weight of their comrade. They had been traveling non-stop for hours and fatigue was gradually catching up with them.

“How much longer, Genma?” Asuma growled as he adjusted Kakashi’s weight on him, squinting his eyes as the morning sun shone on him. “He’s totally out of it now. He can’t last much longer.”

“Another few hours, I reckon. We are already on Konoha ground.” Genma muttered.

“Seems like we took less than a day.” Asuma commented. Genma merely grunted in response. His head was spinning as he looked at the trail of blood that Kakashi was leaving behind. No matter how they tried to patch his wounds, the blood will seep through the bandages after they have traveled a short distance and leave a trail of the red liquid on the grass and trees as they flittered through.

‘Hang in there, Kakashi. We are almost home.’

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Kotetsu and Izumo stared as two figures stumbled towards the gates. As the figures approached, they realized that it was three people and one of them was totally unconscious.

“Asuma, Genma, what the hell happened?”

“Get the Hokage, Izumo.” Genma panted. “We are taking Kakashi to the hospital. He needs immediate medical attention.” Izumo nodded and ran off.

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Chapter 19: The Long Wait by tsuki
Asuma fidgeted in his seat and Genma was pacing up and down the corridor. It had been three hours since Kakashi had been admitted into the emergency treatment room. They looked up when they heard footsteps approaching them.

Asuma nodded his acknowledgement as Kurenai and Shikamaru sat down beside him. Aoba leaned against the opposite wall staring at the two restless men.

“How’s his condition?” Kurenai squeezed Asuma’s shoulders comfortingly. Asuma shook his head and buried his face in his hands.

“You guys got back pretty fast. How’s the rest?” Genma managed a smile.

“Well, we picked up speed too after you guys did. They are fine. The medic nins are tending to them.”

“Tsunade-sama and Shizune are inside working on emergency treatment. But it’s been so long.” Asuma muttered. Kurenai sighed as she held Asuma’s hand in hers. Silence fell among the group as they waited impatiently.

Another set of hurried footsteps brought them out of their trance. They looked up to see a panic-stricken man and a worried looking jounin running towards them.

“We heard Team Kakashi is back. How are they? How’s Kakashi?” Anko almost shouted at the group. Shikamaru grimaced.

“The rest are fine. Kakashi is still inside receiving treatment.” Kurenai waved her hands, signaling for Iruka and Anko to sit down. Anko frowned and Iruka studied the group in front of them.

“How is he?” Iruka asked quietly. Genma looked away and Asuma shrugged.

“I wish we knew. At least if we do, we wouldn’t be so uneasy now.”

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It seems to take forever as the group fidgeted outside the emergency treatment room. Finally, the door opened and Tsunade stepped out with Shizune following closely.

Tsunade eyed the anxious group in front of her. She sighed deeply.

“He’s stable now.” Sighs of relief were heard. “But, he exhausted all his chakra. To a point which could have actually killed him. And his injuries were pretty severe. He lost quite a fair amount of blood. And his heart actually stopped beating for a good three minutes earlier on.” Tsunade bit her lower lips. The atmosphere tensed.

“What are you trying to say, Tsunade-sama?” Shikamaru finally broke the silence.

“It will take a while before he will regain consciousness.”

“How long?”

Tsunade shook her head and looked away. The group felt a sense of foreboding descending on them. “I have no idea. I don’t want to promise anything. And his life may be in danger anytime. He isn’t totally out of danger yet.”

“But didn’t you say he’s stable?” Anko almost pounced on the blond woman.

“I said he’s stable now!” Tsunade gritted her teeth as she stressed the word. “We still have to monitor his condition. We are sending him to the care unit. You can visit him there. But don’t stay for too long.” With that Tsunade walked away from the group with Shizune following him closely.

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“Playing the decoy huh? What the hell was Kakashi trying to do?” Asuma clenched his fists as he looked at the unconscious figure lying in bed. “He could well have waited for reinforcements to arrive.”

“He just wanted his team to be safe.” Kurenai said quietly.

“But still, this is too crazy. He’s already out of chakra and he tried to face four formidable opponents on his own.” Genma said, his voice strained.

“If I don’t know him any better, I would have thought he was suicidal. He’s just too damn responsible for his own good.” Asuma looked tiredly at the brown-haired man sitting quietly beside the bed, unshed tears apparent in the auburn eyes.

All heads turned when the door to the room opened. Yamato stepped into the room, bandages over his right arm and walking with a slight limp.

“Yamato, what are you doing here? You should be resting.” Kurenai frowned.

“I just made my report to Tsunade-sama and thought I should come over and take a look at Kakashi-senpai.” He turned his gaze to the chunin slumped in the chair. “And I have something I need to hand to Iruka-sensei.”

Iruka turned his head at the mention of his name. Yamato walked over to him quietly and knelt down beside him, speaking in a whisper.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to stop him. I didn’t expect him to knock me unconscious.” He reached into the pocket of his vest and pulled out a paper. “During our last conversation, he wanted me to hand this to you if I ever made it back safely.”

Iruka took the paper with trembling hands and stared into Yamato’s eyes questioningly. Yamato just gave him a reassuring nod and stood up.

“I need to get going. See you tomorrow.” Iruka watched as the jounin walked towards the door and lowered his head to look at the paper in his hand. Kurenai nudged Asuma.

“We should get going too. We will come by tomorrow again. Iruka, don’t stay too late.” Kurenai smiled as she pulled Asuma towards the door.

Shikamaru narrowed his eyes in suspicions. “Why is Iruka-sensei the only one allowed to stay?”

Anko slung her arms around his shoulders and dragged him out. “Well, they are good friends. Now don’t be so nosy. Let’s go!” Aoba turned his heels and followed Anko, who had her arms around the throat of an almost choking Shikamaru. Genma nodded briefly at Iruka and left.

When he was alone in the room, Iruka opened the slightly crumpled piece of paper with trembling hands and read the scrawl on it. He was unable to hold back the tears in his eyes when he read the brief message on the paper.

‘Iruka, I’m sorry. For all the hurtful things I’ve said. I don’t know if you love me. But I want you to know that I do love you. Missions like this are one of the reasons why I decided to leave you. You deserve happiness and the best and I’m not worthy enough to give you any of these. But if there’s a chance, I want to embrace you once more, even if it’s for the last time.’

Iruka clutched the paper in his hand as he threw himself over the motionless body of Kakashi and sobbed uncontrollably.

“There are, Kakashi….. There are plenty more chances. Wake up now. Don’t leave me alone. Don’t let me wait too long. Kashi….”

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Chapter 20: Perseverance by tsuki
Sakura arranged the flowers in the vase and sat down quietly in the chair beside the bed. Her eyes swept from the sleeping jounin to her blond team mate standing on the other side of the bed.

“Naruto?”

“How did it ever end up like this, Sakura?” The Kyuubi’s vessel mumbled bitterly. “It’s all my fault. If I had kept a tighter control over my emotions, the Kyuubi wouldn’t have been unleashed. Then I wouldn’t have been out of it most of the time and Kakashi-sensei wouldn’t have to face the enemies on his own.”

“Naruto, it’s not your fault. Nobody wanted this.” Sakura wasn’t sure if that really comforted the upset boy.

“But still, if it hadn’t been for me, Kakashi-sensei wouldn’t be lying here. I knew it. I’m still too weak. I can’t even protect the people important to me.”

“Naruto, don’t say that.”

“It’s already been three weeks and Kakashi-sensei is still out of it. We don’t even know when he will wake up or if he ever will.” Naruto’s eyes brimmed with unshed tears.

“But at least he’s out of danger. At least it’s more reassuring than a week ago when his life is practically clinging on a thread. Doesn’t this show that there are some improvements to his condition?”

Naruto sighed and looked away. “You are right.” Sakura smiled.

“I’m sure he will wake up soon enough. After being around us for so long, he won’t be able to stand being in a quiet place for too long.” Sakura chuckled. Naruto smiled and the atmosphere lightened up a little.

The sound of the door sliding open broke the serene of their little session. The two teens look up to see a familiar figure entering the room.

“Iruka-sensei.” Naruto and Sakura acknowledged the tanned man and the pink-haired kunoichi stood from her seat.

“The two of you are early today.” Iruka smiled.

“Yes. We just finished training. So we thought we will drop by before going for dinner.” Sakura looked at the academy teacher sympathetically. For three weeks, she had seen the chunin coming in to tend to Kakashi everyday without fail. Sometimes, she met him when she was visiting Kakashi with her team members and other times, she saw him when she was on duty at the hospital.

She felt her heart going out to him when she noted the tired face and leaned body. Her sensei had lost quite a fair bit of weight in these three weeks. And she was sure he hadn’t been sleeping properly either.

“Iruka-sensei, you look tired. Haven’t you been sleeping?” Naruto peered closely at his former teacher’s face.

“I’m fine, Naruto.” Iruka’s eyes had a far-away look in them. Sakura shook her head.

“Naruto, let’s go. I still need to go and help Tsunade-sama later. We will see you around, Iruka-sensei.”

“Goodbye, Iruka-sensei. Take care.” Naruto turned and trotted out of the room after Sakura.

Iruka watched as the two teens walked out of the room. He shrugged and dropped his things in the chair beside the bed and headed to the adjoining bathroom. He came out a while later, with a half-filled wash basin and a wet wash cloth.

Carefully, he set the basin on the bedside table and pulled the covers aside. He mentally noted that most of the wounds were almost healed as he wrung the wet wash cloth. He sat down on the bed and slowly wiped the arms of the pale jounin with the wet cloth as he told him about the day’s events.

“Konohamaru came by today to the academy with Moegi and Udon. He was prying around the room while I was having my class and he got me really irritated.” Iruka laughed as he washed the cloth and wrung it dry again. “It wasn’t until after I almost shouted at him that he confessed he was looking for a lost cat for his mission.”

Iruka continued talking to Kakashi as he finished cleaning up the unconscious jounin. When he was done, he cleared away the wash basin and cloth and returned to the room. Tenderly, he held Kakashi’s limp hand in his and held it against his cheek as he sat down on the bed.

“Kashi, you have slept long enough. When are you going to wake up? We still have issues to sort out and I still have things to tell you. Don’t leave me hanging on the edge like that. I don’t want a break up, do you hear me? Wake up and we will talk things through.” Iruka couldn’t help the tears that flow from his eyes, staining his cheeks and running down the pale hands he was holding on to.

“They always say that perseverance will yield results. But I don’t see any results from my perseverance in you. Kashi, don’t do this to me. Please.”

Iruka buried his face in the sleeping man’s shoulders and wept. He couldn’t remember how many times he had cried in the jounin’s shoulders, begging him to wake up. He was just hoping that someday, the jounin will hear him and return to join reality.

When Iruka felt calmer after crying his heart out, he lifted his head a little and placed a chaste kiss on Kakashi’s forehead. The tears, which had not ceased to flow, rolled down his cheeks and onto the face of the man beneath him. Iruka sighed deeply and leaned his head against the older man’s chest, listening to the steady beat of his heart.

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Chapter 21: Dreams and Reality by tsuki
Kakashi clutched his head. He was trapped in the darkness and there was no way out. Around him, there were sarcastic laughters and scornings, as if it was being directed at him. As if it was from all those people he had killed during his years as a ninja. He stumbled around in the darkness, trying to avoid the ridicules from around him, trying to find a way out without avail.

He had no idea how long he had been trapped in this dimension and he was beginning to lose hope of ever being able to get out. With a sigh of exasperation, he slumped on the floor.

As he closed his eyes and was contemplating to just give up, he heard a soft whimper. Jerking his eyes opened, he focus on the sound, so soft it was barely audible. As he listened, the sound got a little louder. It sounded like a sob. Kakashi realized that someone was crying. He edged carefully towards the direction where the sound was coming from. And then it stopped.

Kakashi paused in his tracks, trying to figure out his next step when he heard someone call his name. He stepped forward uncertainly, trying to catch the voice again. It didn’t fail him.

“Kashi, wake up.” His heart clenched. The voice was so achingly familiar that it pierced deep into his heart. Then he heard it again. The sobbing and some mutterings in between.

“It’s Iruka. I’m certain it’s him. But why is he crying?” Pushing away all thoughts, he ran towards the direction of the voice.


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Kakashi woke up with a start, panting heavily. His ninja instincts kicked into place as he sat up and searched the room for threats while trying to register where he was. He clutched his head as it throbbed in pain. It took a while for him to note that he was in a room. Alone. And there were bandages all over him. He cringed as the pain worsen, sending a shiver down his spine. He fumbled around the bedside table and knocked something off the ledge.

The thing dropped onto the floor and made a loud sound in the quiet of the night when it came in contact with the floor tiles. Kakashi bent forward, bearing with the pain and picked up the object. Upon holding it in his hand, he identified it as a forehead protector. Most probably his.

He relaxed visibly when his eyes adjusted to the darkness and he realized he was in the hospital. His attention turned to the door when he heard it being slid open and someone looked into the room.

“Who’s there?” Lights were being turned on and Kakashi closed his eyes as the sudden brightness pierced his eyes. “Visiting time is ov-” The voice paused mid-sentence.

“Kakashi-sensei?” A gasp and Kakashi squinted as he tried to open his eyes. The first thing he noted was a mop of pink hair.

“Kakashi-sensei, you are awake! Oh my god! Is this true?” The person ranted on and Kakashi easily identified the voice.

Kakashi finally adjusted his eyes to the light and he peered at the girl in front of him who was still unable to get over her shock.

“Sakura.” Kakashi nodded his acknowledgement.

Sakura gaped as she tried to think of something to say. Taking a deep breath, she looked at the jounin in front of her, one eye closed and the other looking at her curiously.

“Kakashi-sensei, you are finally awake. You got us all worried.” Sakura bit her bottom lip as she tried to keep the tears from coming out from her eyes.

“I did, didn’t I?” Kakashi laughed mildly as the grip on his head tightened, the pain getting worse by the minute.

“Kakashi-sensei, are you alright?” Sakura obviously noted her team leader’s discomfort.

“I guess I am. I’m having a terrible headache and a little dizzy…….” Kakashi’s voice trailed off as he tried to focus.

“Sensei, what’s wrong? Hang in there, let me get Tsunade-sama……………” Kakashi didn’t register the rest of the sentence as he drifted off into the darkness again.

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Chapter 22: Finally by tsuki
Iruka stared at the door, his hand reaching out tentatively. He took in a deep breath as he heard voices coming over from the other side. He paused and briefly wondered if he should actually enter.

“For heaven’s sake, Sakura, you really scare the hell out of us.” He heard Asuma scowled.

“How would I know? He was awake and then he was unconscious again. I was worried that something might happen, so I got all of you here first thing in the morning……..” Sakura trailed off.

“Really, for a medic-nin, Sakura, you got lots more to pick up on.” Genma was laughing. Iruka pulled his hand back and shove it into his pocket as he stood outside the door.

“Alright, everyone shut up! Kakashi just woke up. He needs all the peace he can get.” Tsunade’s shrill voice came through the door. “And Sakura wouldn’t have known that Kakashi drifted off again because of the medication in his blood stream. Hell, it took Shizune a while to figure out too.”

“And be thankful that Sakura-chan got us here to see sensei. At least we know that Kakashi-sensei is alright now.” Naruto, as usual, jumped to Sakura’s defense. Iruka sighed and turned to leave.

As he whirled around, he crash into a slightly taller person who was slouching a little, looking at him curiously. He winced and adjusted his sight.

“An… Anko? What are you trying to do scaring me like that?” Iruka sputtered.

The taller woman stood straight up and folded her arms. Then she put one finger out and poked the tanned man’s forehead. “I was going to ask you the same thing. What are you trying to do? Standing out here and blocking the entire entrance, for heaven’s sake. If you want to go in, just slide the door open and enter. As simple as that.”

“I…. I can’t, Anko.” Iruka sighed exasperatedly.

“What do you mean by you can’t? Iruka, haven’t you been waiting for this? For the day when he regains consciousness?”

“Yes… But now that he’s awake, I don’t think I can face him.” Iruka said weakly.

Anko place her hands on either side of Iruka’s shoulders and looked at him intently. “Look here, Iruka, you can’t avoid him forever. Sooner or later, you’ve got to get this out, no matter how awkward it is.”

“Yes, but….” Iruka started.

“No buts. Come on!” Holding his wrist in her hand in steel like grip, she slide the door open with much force and yanked the surprise man into the room.

All heads turned at the slight commotion and was greeted by an exuberant, beaming jounin and a gasping, blushing chunin behind her.

“Anko, how early. And what an entrance you made.” Genma drawled.

“Well, I was held up outside the door for a good ten minutes by a statue who looked mortified to enter the room.” Anko’s overly cheerful voice caused Iruka to flinch. Genma raised an eyebrow and then he coughed.

“Well, I’ve got to go run some errands.” He walked towards the door and grabbed the taller woman by the arm, effectively freeing her grasp on the younger man. “Anko, help me.”

“Hey, wait, I just got here!” Anko struggled.

“You can always drop by later. My errands are more important.” With that, he dragged the protesting jounin out of the door.

As if on cue, the rest started making excuses to leave as well. The silver-haired jounin arched an eyebrow as he watched the ‘coincidence’ unfold and listened to all his visitors’ reasons for leaving.

“We are going to meet our teams for morning training. We will see you later, Kakashi.” Asuma smirked and Kurenai smiled. Kakashi frowned as he watched the couple walked towards the door.

Asuma paused at the door and turned his head. “Shikamaru, you are in my team, aren’t you? Let’s go for some training.” Shikamaru scowled. He suspected something was going on. But he wasn’t one nosy shinobi and neither did he want to argue, since that would be pretty troublesome. So, he just trotted out of the room with Asuma.

Tsunade looked at the departing visitors and smirked to herself. She had sensed something was up between Iruka and Kakashi when she saw Iruka coming by the hospital faithfully everyday to tend to the injured man. And the abrupt actions of her subordinates just confirmed her suspicions.

“Ahem… Well, I still have some work to finish up. Let’s go, Shizune.” Tsunade turned and left the room. Shizune followed closely, with Ton-Ton in her arms.

“Naruto, we should get going too.” Sakura looked at Yamato, who nodded at her before turning and tugged at the blond’s arm as she smiled inwardly. Well, Sakura is one smart girl after all.

“Eh? Why? We haven’t even spoken to Kakashi-sensei yet.” The boy was obviously dense to his surroundings. Yamato groaned.

“Let’s go, Naruto!” Sakura gritted her teeth.

“But wait, Iruka-sensei is here too. So that means Kakashi-sensei doesn’t need his rest yet right?” Naruto stared at his two team mates, confused.

Sakura growled and punched her team mate before grabbing his collar and dragging him out, muttering something about dense people and how she can never understand them. Yamato followed, laughing awkwardly as he bade Kakashi goodbye. On the way out, he gave a reassuring pat on Iruka’s shoulders.

As the door slid close, an uncomfortable silence fell in the room. Iruka stood rooted to the spot where he had been, since Anko dragged him into the room, staring at the ground. Kakashi was looking everywhere in the room, except that particular spot.

Finally, Kakashi cleared his throat. “Take a seat, Iruka.” He gestured to the chair beside the bed.

Iruka smiled politely and walked gingerly over to the cushion chair. He mentally debated for a moment before taking his seat.

Another uncomfortable silence fell in the room as the two tried to think of something to say.
Chapter 23: Awkward Because I Love You by tsuki
“Nice weather, isn’t it?” Kakashi started and mentally kicked himself. ‘How intelligent.’

“Uh… Yeah.” Iruka shifted in his seat.

Kakashi started fidgeting at the awkward silence. He never knew starting a conversation would be this hard. And considering the fact that he they never ran out of things to talk about when they were together, he wondered how he actually did it. He made a mental note to speak to Tsunade when he’s discharge to send him on some ‘Interpersonal Skills’ classes.

“How’s your injuries?” Iruka finally broke the silence hanging in the air.

“Better. Other than the wound on my abdomen, the rest are just minor cuts. Nothing serious.” Kakashi smiled.

Another silence. It was a while before Kakashi rubbed his neck and spoke.

“Don’t you have to be at the academy today?”

“It’s Saturday, Kakashi.” Iruka smiled and Kakashi laughed.

A third silence grace the room. Kakashi was sick of it. He couldn’t stand the silence that comes after every two sentences. Then something hit him. He stole a glance at the chunin beside him as memories of his dreams the night before came back to him.

“Kakashi?” Iruka asked in concern when he noted that the older man is drifting off. Kakashi snapped back to reality.

“Uhm… I’m fine.” He paused for a moment. Then he spoke. “Thank you, Iruka.”

“Huh?” Iruka looked at him, confused. “It’s nothing. I mean, it’s just a basic question. Anyone would have ask, if they saw you in a daze.”

“No, it’s not that.” Kakashi sighed as he tried to find the right words. “It’s just that…... Sakura told me that you had been taking care of me for the last few weeks. Thanks for that. And, thanks for getting me out of that darkness.”

Iruka blinked, even more confused now. What darkness was Kakashi talking about?

Kakashi looked up into the perplexed expression and looked away.

“I was….. trapped. In some place. I couldn’t find a way out. There were voices around me. Of those I have killed.” He cringed. Iruka reached out hesitantly and placed a comforting hand on top of Kakashi’s.

“I thought I won’t be able to get out. Then I heard you calling me. You were……. Crying.” Kakashi continued, unsure if he actually should have said that. “I went towards your voice and the next thing I knew, I was in the hospital room.”

Iruka was silent. His grip tightened on Kakashi’s hand as he digested what was being told to him.

Kakashi let out a nervous laughter. “I must have been dreaming, wasn’t I? You couldn’t possibly cry for me… Not after what I’ve done to you. I mean… After all, we are no longer what we used to be. You couldn’t possibly……” He whispered, the pain almost evident in his voice at the cruel reality. Iruka flinched at the tone.

Iruka released the hand he was holding and stood up. He edged his way over to the bed and stood hovering above the older man. Kakashi was shocked when Iruka threaded his fingers through the silver strands, gently and smoothly.

He stilled when Iruka’s fingers traced down the scar of his uncovered eye and down to his lips. Then he tilted Kakashi’s chin, forcing the copy nin to look straight into his eyes.

“I was.” Two simple words and Kakashi’s world came crashing down. He gaped as the chunin in front of him break down, tears flowing uncontrollably out from the brown eyes.

“I was, Kakashi. Everyday, I came in, hoping that you would wake up. And everyday, I was being disappointed.” Kakashi watched as Iruka buried his face in his hands. His heart clenched. “I told myself that I needed to be strong. But when I see you lying so lifeless in the bed, I….. I just couldn’t help myself.”

That was all Kakashi needed to hear. He threw away all reservations and reached out to pull the younger man down onto the bed. He wrapped his arms around the sobbing man and drew him into a tight embrace.

“I was so afraid that I would lose you. I thought you would leave me alone for good. I thought I never would have a chance to salvage our relationship.” Iruka mumbled as he cried into Kakashi’s shoulder. “I can’t lose you. There are still so many things I haven’t told you.”

“I’m sorry, ‘Ruka. It’s my fault. I’m sorry for making you so worried.” Kakashi muttered as he stroked Iruka’s back comfortingly. “I’m sorry for everything.”

Kakashi closed his eyes as the man in his arms buried his face deeper into his shoulder.

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Kakashi watched as the teacher stepped out from the bathroom, wiping his face with a towel.

“I…. I’m sorry. I should… Should have a better control over my erm…. emotions.” The chunin stammered as he walked over to the bed, a blush spreading across his tanned cheeks. Kakashi gestured for him to come nearer.

Iruka sat down on the edge of the bed and looked at Kakashi nervously. Kakashi sighed and pulled down his mask. Iruka gulped. He had seen the copy nin’s naked face so many times over. But he was always as fascinated as the first time he saw it.

“Iruka?” Kakashi’s single grey eye softened. Iruka took a deep breath and decided it was time to come clean with Kakashi.

“Kakashi, I…. I don’t exactly know what made you so upset. But……” He bit his lips as he tried to get the words out of his mouth. “But…… Can we don’t break up? We… We can always work things out.”

Kakashi stared into the brown orbs, looking at him hopefully. He smiled. Iruka looked so innocent. ‘My innocent chunin.’

Kakashi held Iruka’s hand in his. He reached out and brush away the brown locks which had came loose from the hair tie and dangling over Iruka’s face.

“Are you sure, Iruka?” Kakashi asked. He needed to know. He knew he could not handle another heartbreak. But as much as that, he knew he could not handle it even more if Iruka is not happy in the relationship.

“Yes.” Iruka replied softly and then added bitterly. “Even if what you wanted isn’t my heart.”

Kakashi jerked and pulled his hand back as though he was being burnt by something. He stared for a moment before he found his voice.

“I….I’m sorry, Iruka. I don’t mean that.” He clenched his fist. “I’m sorry. I didn’t consider your feelings when I pushed you away so harshly. I just wanted you to be happy.”

“I don’t mean what I said.” His voice became softer. “I love you more than anything. More than myself. I want you, not just your body or your heart. I want every single aspect of you.”

Iruka placed a hand on the pale cheek and stroke it adoringly

“I know, Kashi. I know. I just need to hear it from you.”

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Chapter 24: Certainty by tsuki
Iruka paced impatiently outside the room. ‘It’s taking forever.’ He clenched and unclenched his fist as he looked repeatedly at the door.

Finally, the door slide open and a head popped out.

“You may come in, Iruka-sensei.” The medic nin smiled brightly at the teacher. Iruka smiled awkwardly as he walked into the room.

“He’s good enough to go back. But he will be out of commission for two weeks.” Tsunade scribbled something on the file she was holding. “Sakura, take Iruka to collect the medication. And brief him on the procedures for changing the bandages.”

“Hai, Tsunade-sama.” With that, the girl ushered Iruka out of the room.

Tsunade looked up from the file and looked grimly at Kakashi.

“Well, Kakashi, when you are back, you have a lot of explaining to do.” Kakashi groaned.

“Tsunade-sama, I don’t have a choice. Being the decoy was the only way to get them out safely.”

“I don’t care about the decoy part. I’ve heard the report dozens of times. From Yamato, Naruto and Sakura. And not to mention secondhand information from Asuma and Genma.” She leaned forward.

“The explanation I want from you is why you did not tell me earlier that you were in a relationship with Iruka.” Kakashi’s eyes widened as the older lady in front of him smirked. For a moment, he was thankful for the mask on his face that hid the blush which was spreading across his cheek.

“Well, maybe I should keep him busy for the next two weeks, so that he can focus on his work and hopefully not die in the hands of some pervert jounin.” Tsunade teased as she went back to writing on the file. Kakashi just glared at her. Tsunade chuckled.

The door slide open again and Sakura entered the room with Iruka, a bag in his hand.

“Alright. Kakashi, you may go. And don’t try too hard, lest your wounds open up again.” She grinned. “And on second thoughts, Iruka, if you need a two weeks break, let me know. I will be glad to grant it to you.”

She beamed at the blushing chunin. Sakura giggled.

“Uh… Sure. Thanks, Hokage-sama.” Iruka wasn’t sure what Tsunade was actually implying. He shot a glance to the jounin in the room, who just shrugged.

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“Careful.” Iruka shifted a little as he reached into his pocket for the keys. He unlocked the door and gently helped the older man in.

“Home at last.” Kakashi smiled as he sat in the couch. He looked around the neatly kept apartment and took in the sight which he had missed for the last one and a half months. He stood up and made his way slowly to the kitchen, limping a little due to the injury on his leg. He leaned against the counter as he watched his lover put away the things. It was then he noticed something and he frowned.

There were two pairs of bedroom slippers at the bedroom entrance and he vaguely noted from the corner of his eyes a very familiar mug sitting in the cabinet. His eyes swept across to the bathroom and he grinned when he noted another set of bathrobe by the door. He moved over to the chunin and slipped his arms around his waist.

“Are you moving in with me?” He chuckled when the man immediately blushed.

“I’m on Hokage’s orders. To make sure you don’t try anything crazy for the next two weeks.”

“Really?” He snuggled closer. “That’s sweet. But will you be only staying for two weeks?” He feigned a pout and Iruka laughed.

Iruka turned slightly, so that he was facing the jounin. “Well, once you are able to take care of yourself, I will take my leave.” He teased.

“Well then, I think after this, I will go on some solo S-rank missions and get myself injured even more badly than this time.” He drawled.

“Kashi, don’t you even think of that!” Iruka frowned.

Kakashi laughed as he nudged closer. “Well, if that happens, then you will spend a longer time here taking care of me.”

Iruka wrapped his arms around the taller man’s neck. “All you have to do is ask, idiot. I will stay as long as you want me to.”

“Well, make it forever then.” He smiled as he leaned down and captured Iruka’s lips in a kiss.

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Chapter 25: Acknowledgement by tsuki
Iruka was back to work the next day. And this was the perfect day for Iruka. He hummed softly as he read through the mission reports. His colleague eyed him cautiously.

“In a good mood, aren’t you, Iruka?” Kotetsu looked at him lazily.

“Yep.”

“Well then, are you going to admit or deny it this time round?” Kotetsu sauntered up to him and sat on his desk.

“What?” Iruka frowned.

“About you going out with Kakashi.” Kotetsu grinned.

“Shut up, Kotetsu.” Iruka blushed.

“Hmm….” He leaned closer to the chunin. “Well, Kakashi ain’t the only person left on earth. So how about going out with me?” He teased. The brown-haired man blush deepens.

“Hell right. And have Izumo killing me for that?” He decided that two can play the game and smirked at the man hovering over him. Kotetsu paled.

“How…. How did you-“

“Ah… I know everything, Kotetsu-chan.” Iruka stood up from his seat and leaned in closer. “And sorry about this, but you can’t hold a candle to Kashi. He may not be the only person left on earth. But he will be the only person that I will choose.” Grinning, he picked up the reports and dumped it on the laps of the stunned man.

“Now stop fooling around and file these.” With that, he settled back to his seat and look through the next stack of reports. Kotetsu shook his head, pick up the stack of documents and disappeared into the back room.

“Hey Iruka.” Iruka looked up and smiled at the bearded man standing in front of him.

“Hi, Asuma-san.”

“Now now, Iruka. We already know each other so well. Can’t you just do away with the honorifics?” Asuma mocked annoyance. Iruka laughed.

“Well, so what can I do for you, Asuma?”

“That’s better. Here’s my mission report.” Asuma smiled and handed a scroll over. “I heard you will be on leave starting tomorrow?”

“Yes. I will be on two weeks leave. It’s a good time to take a break anyway, since the kids are having their one month’s term break.” Iruka said as he looked though the report which Asuma handed to him.

“Well, I’m glad the two of you sort things through.”

“Yeah. I think both of us were just stupid enough to not face up to our feelings. We were just trying to escape. In the end, we made one big round and ended up in the same place.” Iruka scratched his head and smiled. “I’m glad about it though.”

“That’s good. So planning to go anywhere?” Another voice piped from behind Asuma. Iruka groaned, knowing full well who it was.

“No, Anko. Anywhere to suggest?”

“Yeah. You could hit the hot springs. I’m sure you will find the place interesting for a lot of kinky activities.” Anko grinned wickedly.

Iruka shot her a death glare. Then he strained to see the two people walking in through the door.

“Did all of you arrange to come here together?” He asked, pointing to the two who just entered the mission room. Asuma turned and grinned at Kurenai and Genma.

Kurenai shrugged. Genma twirled the senbon in his mouth before answering.

“Well, sort of. We are going for dinner. Care to join?”

Iruka laughed a little. He was glad that Genma was no longer that hostile towards him. “Well, I guess not. I have something to attend to tonight.”

“A date?” Asuma enquired. Iruka blushed and opted not to answer.

“So, Iruka, are you going to take my advice and hit the hot springs with Kakashi?” Anko refused to let up on the topic.

“No, Anko. We are not intending to travel beyond the borders of Konohagakure. Kakashi is in no state to travel at the moment.”

“Well, you don’t have to travel to the hot springs town. We have some hot springs near Konoha as well.” Anko smirked. Iruka looked at her for a moment and decided to just surrender. He knew he could not outtalk her. Sometimes, he just could not understand how he had come to be such close friends with the serpent user.

“What a gathering. What are you guys doing, hanging around the mission room?”

All heads turned towards the door. The silver-haired ninja was leaning against the door frame, with a book in hand. He peered at the group with his single grey eye. Then he smiled, his eye forming an arc.

“Yo.”

“Kakashi, you are here!” Iruka yelped. “What are you doing here so early?”

“Oh well, I was with Yamato and the kids earlier on. We were done early. So, I thought I would just come over and wait for you to finish up.”

“Oh, give me a minute while I finished up the rest of the stuff.” Iruka hurriedly flipped through the remaining reports on his desk. Kakashi cocked his head to one side in amusement.

“A change in character.” Genma noted.

“A change in character.” Asuma agreed.

“The power of love.” Kurenai smiled. Anko nodded in agreement, rubbing her chin.

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The clock chimed, signaling that it was six in the evening and the end of the day. Iruka smiled, jumped from his seat and gathered the mission reports in his hand, heading towards Kotetsu, who just came out from the filing room and dumped it in his hands.

“I’ve finished reading all the mission reports. Hand this to Tsunade-sama tomorrow. The rest on my table, please file it up.” He gave Kotetsu such a charming smile that the other man felt like strangling him. “Well, I’m off, Kotetsu. See you in two weeks’ time.”

He turned and paused in his steps before turning back to his friend. He leaned forward and whispered into his ears. “Oh, Izumo will be taking over my duties in the mission room for the next two weeks. Whatever you do, don’t mess up my desk. If you do, I will make sure you pay for it.”

Kotetsu stared, appalled as Iruka gave him a mischievous wink before going back to his desk to pack up his things. He shook his head. Whoever thinks that the young teacher was innocent and pure definitely needs a pair of glasses and psychological treatment.

Iruka picked up his bag and looked at the group in front of him.

“Aren’t you guys leaving? The mission room is closed.”

Asuma nodded and walked towards the door, waving his hand. The other three jounins followed him out. As they passed Kakashi, Asuma winked at him. “Enjoy your holiday.”

Kakashi briefly nodded as he watched the four walked down the corridor and disappeared around the corner.

He turned his attention back when he felt a hand on his arm.

“I’m ready to go.”

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Chapter 26: A New Beginning by tsuki
Author's Notes:
This is the last chapter for this story. Hope you guys have enjoyed it.
“Kakashi looks happier.” Genma folded his arms as he watched the two figures walked down the streets, exchanging small talks.

“Iruka too.” Kurenai smiled.

“Well, I just realized that Iruka may not be as innocent as I thought he was.” All eyes turned to stare at the bearded man in suspicion.

“Don’t look at me like that. I just happened to crash in on him teasing Kotetsu when I was going to submit my mission report. I can’t believe he actually told Kotetsu that. And he was teasing Kotetsu too before he left the mission room. Did you see how that poor boy paled?” Asuma snickered at the thought. The others were thoughtful for a moment.

“So, Asuma.” Anko finally nudged the smoker. “What did Iruka tell Kotetsu?”

Asuma shrugged. “Nothing much actually, though there’s a little secret that I don’t think you know. If you want to know, you would have to buy me dinner and drinks.” Anko scowled.

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Kakashi leaned back in his chair as he watched Iruka clear the table of the takeout dinner which they had just finished.

“Kashi, go take a shower. I need to change your bandages after that.” Iruka tugged at the jounin who seemed to have been glued to his seat.

Kakashi pulled his lover onto his lap and wrapped his arms around him, effectively locking the chunin in his arms.

“Are you going to shower with me?” His fingers trailed along Iruka’s cheeks as the man blushed.

“No. And if you try that on me again, I will make sure you are going back to the hospital.” Iruka’s eyes glinted dangerously. Kakashi laughed and stood up, pulling Iruka with him. He pulled down his mask and placed a chaste kiss on his lover’s lips.

“Trust me. You won’t be able to do it.”

“So confident, aren’t you?” Iruka smirked. Kakashi looked up at the ceiling and pretended to think for a while before looking back at the tanned man in his arms.

“Yeah. I’m pretty confident about that.” Iruka laughed as he wrapped his arms around his lover’s neck.

Kakashi was quick to close the distance as he pressed his lips against the other man’s and slipped his tongue into the warm cavern. Iruka moaned and pulled the copy nin closer, deepening the kiss. Kakashi ran his hand down the lean chunin’s back as his tongue explored his mouth.

The kiss continued until both of them felt the need to get some air. They broke apart and Kakashi glanced down at the brown orbs, panting slightly. “I’m going for my shower. Join me if you want to.” He winked and ruffled the brown hair.

The owner of the hair glared at him. “Pervert.” He was answered with a chuckle as the pale man walked towards the bathroom. He watched as the door slide close and heard the water running. Sighing in happiness, he mentally noted. ‘My pervert.’

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Kakashi read his book as he waited for his partner to join him in bed. Iruka stepped into the room a moment later, his hair undone and hanging loosely around him. Kakashi looked at him appreciatively.

“Sexy, aren’t you?” He teased. Iruka blushed instantly. Kakashi laughed. He loved how his lover blushes so easily.

“Come here, honey.” Kakashi stretched out his arms and Iruka clambered into the bed and nestled next to him, admiring the man without his mask and forehead protector. Kakashi wrapped one arm around his beloved and the other reached up to stroke his hair. Iruka looked down and picked up the book on the bed which Kakashi had abandoned and looked at it.

“What’s this?” Iruka asked in distaste.

“Literature.” Kakashi continued threading his fingers through the brown locks.

Iruka snorted. “This is porn for heaven’s sake.”

“No, it’s literature in the highest form.” Kakashi defended. He took the book from the chunin’s hand and placed it on the bedside table. “Let’s not bother about the book.” He whispered into Iruka’s ear. Iruka pouted.

Kakashi smiled and traced the chiseled face. “You are more important than the book.” That statement made Iruka felt better. He knew that the book was practically Kakashi’s life and the fact that Kakashi was acknowledging that he was more important than the book made him feel cherished.

He laid his head on Kakashi’s chest as the man rubbed his arms in a soothing manner. They lay in silence for a few minutes.

“Kashi?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you remember this?” Kakashi frowned as he looked at the thing his lover was dangling in front of him. Then a small smile formed on his face.

“Yeah.” Kakashi traced his finger down the chain and paused at the two silver bands hanging on it. Iruka shifted himself out of the embrace, much to the jounin’s dismay. Smiling, he sat himself in front of Kakashi and put out his left hand.

“Put it on for me?”

Kakashi stared for a moment, before realization dawned on him. His smile widened.

“My pleasure.” He unhooked the chain and slide one ring out. With trembling fingers, he slipped the ring into his lover’s third finger. Iruka admired it for a moment before he reached out for the chain and slid out the other ring.

He reached out and pulled Kakashi’s left hand towards him. He stared intently into the single grey eye. “With this, we are bound together.” Kakashi felt a his heart tugged as he watched the band being slipped into his ring finger.

Iruka reached up to cup Kakashi’s face. “Don’t ever think of leaving me again.”

Kakashi placed his hand over the one holding his face and stroke it tenderly.

“Never again, love. Never again.”

They sealed the promise with a kiss.

“I love you, Kakashi.”

“I love you too, sweetie.”

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Owari
This story archived at http://www.narutofic.org/viewstory.php?sid=8866