Fanfic: hitsuzen


All of Konoha’s citizens knew of her prophecy, one that predicted her future with alarming consistency. It had led her people well, through times of prosperity and the darkest of days, and would remain a guiding light for the murky future. It was an honour to be named within the most important record of Konoha’s past, present and future, as one of the people significant to her survival.

Even if it named him only for his death.
Or, Iruka returns to Kakashi for a much-needed respite.

This was my submission for the Kakairu 2020 Mini Bang! As always, many thanks to homefield and magnus.

Hope you enjoy!

read it on: ao3


When Iruka stepped through the portal, Kakashi was waiting for him.

Inter-dimensional travel was far from easy. The boundaries between dimensions required a tremendous amount of energy to breach them, a natural resistance that kept dimensions from consuming and colliding into each other. Even with the most intricately painted of arrays that converted and channeled energy with minimum loss, to walk between worlds inevitably required the caster’s own energy.

For all of Iruka’s skills, his energy stores had always been far smaller than Kakashi’s.

The portal closed, burning itself out of existence. The exhaustion hit the moment right after, draining him of all his strength and leaving only an ache that settled itself deep in his bones; he listed to the side, automatic.

Instead of the ground, he fell into Kakashi’s chest: warm and steady, supportive. Kakashi had moved to catch him, having expected this very outcome; his kimono barely rustled from the motion. Today it was the swirl of painted koi fish against a shimmery azure fabric and the chartreuse flair of embroidered fronds, and the collar boasted an intricate pattern of smaller fish - guppies, perhaps.

Iruka let his eyes trace their flickering fins as they swam along and under the right collar where the pattern began.

“I’m home,” he told the fold of Kakashi’s kimono.

“Welcome home,” Kakashi murmured. All at once the exhaustion that dragged at Iruka’s body turned into something less, something sweeter - the ache of setting down his bags at the end of a weary but fruitful day. And, not for the first time, Iruka recalled that words could hold as much power as the crispest of incantations and the smallest of sigils.

He tipped his head backwards, his tired gaze meeting Kakashi’s own. A smile spread across Kakashi’s face and tugged at that beauty spot - if Iruka wasn’t so comfortable in Kakashi’s arms, he would press a kiss to it.

“At least I didn’t faint this time,” he said instead as a yawn built at the back of his throat. “I think I’m building up some resilience.”

“I’ll believe it when you can stand on your own,” Kakashi hummed. He led them over to the engawa, settling Iruka next to a wooden pillar that Iruka might lean against. Iruka utilised it for all of three seconds until Kakashi sat down on his other side. It took the barest of efforts to shift his weight, to lean into the comforting presence of Kakashi.

“Believe it,” Iruka declared, even as his head tilted to rest on Kakashi’s shoulder, as he let it stay. As his heart warmed at the answering chuckle, low and fond.

They sat in silence, staring out into the expanse of the courtyard. The moon hung round and heavy in the sky, illuminating the zen garden that took up a good quarter of the space. Kakashi had rearranged it again with concentric circles rippling out from the centrepiece of the largest rock; in his signature whimsical touch, he had placed Mr. Ukki on the peak of said rock. A splash of green among white and black and grey.

Iruka turned away from the garden. “Any customers lately?”

“Some.” An answer more surprising than none, but not unexpected. The shop was accessible only through a highly restricted set of parameters - Iruka had painted it that way. “I had a boy in here the other day.”

“What did he wish for, then?” A saying came to mind, to keep your wish to yourself lest it did not come true. But there was also a saying - from another country, dimension, or maybe even time - that to say it aloud was to actualise it, to enter it into the realm of possibility. “More wishes?”

Kakashi sighed, a deeply mournful sound. “Every time you say that,” he complained, but there was a gentle pressure just atop of Iruka’s head: Kakashi’s head, coming to rest lightly on Iruka’s own. “He felt constricted and wished to cut the ties that bound him.”

Bindings were often more than physical. “Which ones?”

“Debts and duties.” Iruka thought as much. “His teachers expect him to listen. His parents want him to become a doctor. His partner, a commitment, and his peers, to conform.”

“And his creditors want money,” Iruka guessed.

“And his creditors want money,” Kakashi confirmed. “I couldn’t help him with that, but I gave him the shears.”

“Oh, those?” Iruka had received them a while back, in a dimension where the red string of fate was visible and tangible. Where you could cut that string with the very shears, if you so desired. “I don’t suppose that went well at all.”

“I told him to be careful which ties he cuts.” Kakashi’s hand settled warm and comfortable over Iruka’s hip; the heat of it comforting even through the fabric of his robes. “But you know children, and you know how closely they listen to warnings.”

Kakashi continued to talk about the boy, the strings he cut and some he regretted. How he had eventually returned the shears, and the price he paid to knot together the strings he had severed. Exhaustion pulled heavy and insistent at Iruka’s eyelids, as Kakashi’s words subsided into a distant murmur, as the soothing motion of a hand carding into his hair lulled him closer to slumber.

It was all Iruka could do to remain awake, let alone listen to Kakashi’s story.

A chuckle, and the press of warm lips near his temple. “Rest, Iruka,” a voice said, unbearably fond.

Iruka rested.

Something hard was sticking into his head.

Iruka pushed at it if only to sleep on something softer, like the pillow beneath it. It refused, and he grumbled at it, shoving at it again. When that yielded as much success as the first attempt, he elected to crack an eye open - only to be met by a stack of books balanced precariously on the edge of the bed.

“The Summer Prince,” one title read.

“An Inconvenient Flame,” another title declared.

He rolled over, all the better show that book its proper place, specifically somewhere more conducive to his slumber. Inevitably, he came face to face with more stacks with equally florid titles - all romance or more likely, erotica. The offending book - “Temptation of the Knight” accompanied by the depiction of a woman in shining armour pressed up against a wall by an apparently amorous and skimpily dressed princess - he grabbed and slapped it on top of a random stack where it had probably fallen down from.

The library was full again. Iruka would have to expand it.

The sticky cobwebs of grogginess still clung to his thoughts and eyelids, but he easily shook them away. A slow exhale, just the once, before he got up and extricated himself gingerly from the bookshelf pretending to be a bed.

Kakashi had taken the liberty to change him into something familiar and comfortable to sleep in. A liberty that Iruka gave freely, gratefully - and anxiously, as his hand reached down to cover the ugly scar etched into his side. The best kind of healing was one that did not care for aesthetics - it was from that kind of healing Iruka had to benefit.

Kakashi could not have overlooked it, as large as it was.

“You’re up.” His hand jerked away from the scar, as though magnetically repelled. Iruka looked up to see Kakashi standing against the doorway, clad in his sleeping yukata - a soft and worn thing that Iruka had brought back from their apartment long ago. It matched Iruka’s own. “Feeling better?”

“Much.” Iruka swept a doleful eye over the stacks of books all over the bedroom floor. “Making the bedroom into a library again?”

“All the better to get inspired with.” Kakashi leered openly and unashamedly. “I think you’d appreciate page 157 of ‘Wanted for Pleasure’.”

For all of Iruka’s familiarity with sex, sex with Kakashi to be precise, it was too early in the morning for him to retain composure of any sort. The flush crept over his face and Kakashi, the terrible person that he was, saw that flush; his grin widened.

“I’m not appreciating anything until this room is cleaned up.” Iruka said as steadily as he could. “I don’t fancy getting hit in the face by a book while you’re getting inspired.”

Besides, expanding the library meant he could check on the wards. He gingerly picked his way across the floor, mindful of the mini-avalanches of literature he could set off. It was when he finally reached the door that he met his true obstacle: a hand curling smoothly around his waist and pulling him in until he was pressed up against Kakashi’s front, that smug grin all the more noticeable now that he was up close.

The hand slid downwards to squeeze at Iruka’s ass. Twice.

“I’m already inspired,” Kakashi purred as his other hand joined its brother on Iruka’s other cheek. That hand squeezed, too, settling into a kneading that only pushed Iruka closer to Kakashi, to let him feel better the lean muscle of Kakashi’s body against his own. “We don’t have to clean the entire room. Just the bed.”

“But the wards -”

“Can wait,” came the reply, right before Kakashi kissed him. It was a chaste kiss, gentle even, one that made Iruka chase Kakashi’s mouth for a second, and a third. Kakashi drew back and insisted, “They’re fine, Iruka.”

He relinquished his grip to hold Iruka close, closer, instead. To brush a strand of hair out of Iruka’s face, and twist a gentle finger around a lock of Iruka’s hair.

“It’d be a quick check,” Iruka tried to reason, before he noticed where Kakashi’s gaze had gone. Iruka looked, and - oh.

“A grey hair,” Kakashi said softly.

And so there was, mixed in with the dark brown strands.

Iruka knew the thoughts running through Kakashi’s mind just then. But the gentle morning light made him want things - things he did not have to sacrifice for, or feel guilty over. It made him want to pretend.

So he said with a smile he did not wholly feel - “All the better to match you with.”

Kakashi’s thumb rose to stroke that one grey strand, pale enough that it could have been his own, and Iruka waited as still as the mainspring of a watch, in that precise moment it could wind no further. It was only when Kakashi lifted that lock to his mouth and kissed it that a furtive relief unwound within Iruka - further still when he leant in to kiss Iruka again. When he held Iruka tighter.

“If we take off our yukata, we’ll match even better,” he said, dipping his head lower to mouth at Iruka’s neck. “Don’t you think?”

“I could be persuaded,” Iruka said and shivered as Kakashi nipped at the soft skin of his collarbone. But there was no persuasion needed, not really. A spell to lift all those books and put them into a tall stack - or several - in the corner hardly required little more than a wave of the hand. “Keep on doing that and maybe I will be.”

And when Kakashi finally pressed him down onto the book-free bed, their yukatas discarded carelessly across the toppled pile of books on the bedroom floor, Iruka found himself quite persuaded indeed.

“I brought you these.”

A squat brown pot, for feeding unwanted whispers and unreturnable secrets. A paper net, like the ones in the goldfish-scooping stalls, for catching something but surely and catching something but once. A book, the latest instalment in the Icha Icha series.

That last item was less a product and more an indulgence, but Iruka set it down on the table alongside the rest. Not everything had to be business, he thought.

Kakashi apparently agreed. “Icha Icha Blizzard,” he said appreciatively as his finger traced the blocky script of its title. “I thought you didn’t approve.”

“I don’t approve of you reading it in front of children,” Iruka corrected and said nothing of his approval or lack thereof of the book itself. It was cowardly, but Iruka entertained the hope that it would appease Kakashi a day longer.

Apparently too much to hope for, as Kakashi set it back down onto the table if gently.

“So where did you go,” he asked.

“A dimension with ships that could fly in the sky.” The rush of the wind and the valley of clouds had been exhilarating, and Iruka could recall Naruto’s whoops as they soared over sprawling peninsulas and continents made miniature from their vantage point in the emerald sky. “Steam-powered, they claim. I would have taken a closer look at the engines, but…”

“There’s never enough time,” Kakashi finished the sentence, nodding. He would know. “Why?”

“There was a report of an unauthorised breach.” Kakashi kept staring at Iruka, expectant - the gaze of someone who was once meant to lead them all. “Tsunade suspected Akatsuki.”

“Was it?”

“Yes.” Iruka watched the line of Kakashi’s shoulder draw taut. Inevitable. “We got into a skirmish.”

“How many of them?”

“Only one.” Iruka’s hand twitched, perhaps towards the pot, momentarily weak and wanting. He kept both his hand and the pot where they were. “They don’t really consider me a threat.”

Not as much as you.

The unhappy tilt of Kakashi’s mouth told Iruka he had heard the words left unsaid.

“Enough of one to run you through.” His eyes flicked to the newest scar hidden beneath Iruka’s yukata. “Who was it?”

Iruka exhaled. He felt tired, far more tired than walking between worlds could ever make him. At the corner of the table, an hourglass stood - within it, the fine grain of sand suspended in a perpetual fall. A good conversation partner as any, more so when Iruka did not want this conversation.

“Does it matter,” he asked the hourglass instead. “Does it really matter?”

“As much as checking the wards does to you.”

His head shot up. Kakashi stared at him coolly, impassively. Iruka could only bristle.

“You know why I check them,” he said, a furious hurt sitting low in his chest. “You know -”

“And you know why I ask,” Kakashi cut across him, merciless.

Iruka did. He did know why. Their reasons, they were the same.

Across the pot, the net and the book, that line dividing them - they stared at each other in a tense silence, neither willing to yield. Until Iruka finally bit out, “the masked one. Tobi.”

Better Tobi than Itachi. Kakashi relaxed, if only the slightest bit - but he also said, “he’s been appearing a lot lately.”

“He has.” Previous reports of Tobi described him as fickle and irresponsible, the weakest of the Akatsuki. From their various encounters and the sheer effort he put into his attempts to char Iruka into dust and ashes, Iruka begged to differ. “Maybe there’s a promotion on the line.”

Kakashi’s face darkened, and Iruka regretted his words - but not enough to apologise. Not when Kakashi brought up the wards.

“What do you want me to do, Kakashi?” Iruka asked before Kakashi could ask for every detail of that fight, that mission, and every mission after. He loved Kakashi, he really did, but he could not bear him picking at every decision Iruka made and comparing it to his own. They both knew Iruka never received the training that Kakashi did, that he never expected to. “What can I do now?”

“I don’t know.” Kakashi’s hands curled into themselves, into fists. Once they were renowned as the quickest hands to draw a wand, to spin a staff, to fight and to win - now they were as good as useless, here in this house that Iruka built. “I want you safe. I want you to stay.”

“I also want to stay.” Iruka said. He wanted to leave more, both of them together, but that was not an option. Not after what Iruka did. “But we can’t, and you know that.”

“Do I really?” Kakashi said, something dangerous and bitter curling in his tone. “We never tried, have we?”

“The prophecy -”

“Fuck the prophecy,” Kakashi said venomously.

“Like how you did, and now here we are?” Iruka snapped. This, he did regret saying, sucking in a sharp breath when Kakashi flinched. “I’m sorry. I -”

“I’m not,” Kakashi said sharply. He reached across the table for Iruka’s hand, and for all of Kakashi’s impossible demands Iruka could not stop himself from reaching back, from grasping Kakashi’s hand tightly in his own. “I’m not sorry for what I did. Not if it means that you’re still here.”

“I know,” Iruka answered. He could not ask Kakashi to feel guilty over his choice, not when Iruka had made his own. Their choices together, leading to where they were today. “But with all the acts I’ve done in your name, it’s too late to turn back now.”

The strings of fate must be followed; all rivers led to the sea. The prophecy must be fulfilled.

Even if it had to be Iruka who carried it out.

They didn’t have to bear it together. Kakashi would not say it, but it was Iruka’s selfishness that kept him here. That same selfishness that kept Iruka’s mouth closed, that kept him from offering what Kakashi could have.

If Kakashi ever asked, Iruka didn’t know if he’d be strong enough to let him go.

“I suppose it is,” Kakashi finally said. He looked no happier for this admission - only bitterly resigned. But his hand remained in Iruka’s, substantial and warm, and for that Iruka was infinitely grateful. “I just want… I wish…”

“I know,” Iruka said heavily, even though they both knew that wish could never come true. “I know.”

On his twentieth name day, Iruka was told of his impending death.

All of Konoha’s citizens knew of her prophecy, one that predicted her future with alarming consistency. It had led her people well, through times of prosperity and the darkest of days, and would remain a guiding light for the murky future. It was an honour to be named within the most important record of Konoha’s past, present and future, as one of the people significant to her survival.

Even if it named him only for his death.

Prophecies were not fought against. Not when it guaranteed the survival of the dimension and certainly not when deviating from it meant another sacrifice, a greater one. But it was human, desperately so, to think of leaving for another dimension so obscure and unknown that no one could find him -

And human still, to stay. The stories of those who fought fate never ended well - and to never see the village he loved and the people within it again, to let them down so terribly and expose them to a crueler toss of the dice - that was a death unto itself.

So Iruka accepted his lot in life and lived on. He continued teaching, because his lessons would stay beyond his passing; he continued developing his sigils and arrays, because there would be a later scholar to further his work. And he continued to dote heavily on Naruto, because one day he would be unable to, and because he no longer knew how to do otherwise.

He had chosen to withhold the prophecy from Naruto, knowing that the boy would be young enough to not heed certain warnings, and impetuous enough to put it into his head that he could do something as grand as changing Iruka’s fate. Instead, Iruka penned a will bequeathing him the meagre possessions and rights under Iruka’s name, and a letter. Carefully updated with every milestone Naruto met and shot through, the letter contained a tangible proof of Iruka’s pride, and Iruka’s hopes for his future both written within and beyond the prophecy.

He hoped that when the time came, he would be able to say goodbye.

It was around then that he also met Kakashi: another figure in the prophecy, far more significant to Konoha’s story that the footnote Iruka’s death was. Important, larger than life, amazing - the Copy Magician, master of a thousand spells, a protector of Konoha and one of her saviours in the upcoming war. It had been a shock that Naruto would be apprenticed alongside two others under such a figure, and a surprise that Naruto’s instructor would meet his student’s parents - that Iruka qualified as such.

The Kakashi Iruka met was not the man lauded in the prophecy but someone much closer and within reach. He carried the weight of the prophecy with less assurance of his victory, and more direction towards success. The prophecy was not the be-all-end-all of their lives, a lesson he was intent on imparting to his students among others - it was not meant to be.

“Resting too much on the strings of fate may snap those strings one day,” he told Iruka once. It made Iruka certain that under all his flaws Kakashi was that figure that the prophecy spoke of.

It was only with a tinge of regret that Iruka would never witness him saving the village Iruka was fated to give his life for.

Yet Kakashi was also more - more than any description a prophecy could encompass. There were things it did not deem significant, like the crinkle at the corner of Kakashi’s eyes that was his smile, or the way his spine straightened just the slightest degree when meeting his friends - or the warmth that bubbled within Iruka’s chest when he realised Kakashi considered him one. And maybe there was the slightest bit of greed in Iruka too, to be the only one who knew the warmth of Kakashi’s hand in his own; the sweet vulnerability of his hesitation, in that moment before he pulled his mask down - before he leant in to press a kiss to the arch of Iruka’s cheek and confessed.

It was the least cruel thing that Iruka could have done then, to tell him of his role in the prophecy.

In the wake of Iruka’s halting explanation, that vulnerability withdrew into something that curled tightly into itself, protecting itself from a pain it could not defend against. “That is an awful way to reject someone,” Kakashi said quietly.

Iruka shook his head.

“It would be easier,” he confessed, “if I could reject you.” That part of himself that still yearned for a chance to grow old, a life beyond his fate, knew that he could not. Surely this weakness was forgivable. “But you deserve an explanation that is better than a lie. I can at least give you that.”

It would have been easier too if Kakashi had steered clear of him after. Iruka was a herald of inevitable heartache, the worst kind of pain - it was only normal to avoid it, he thought.

But within days Kakashi returned, accosting him at - of all places - a supermarket, in front of the radishes and turnips display. There was a strange and determined gleam in his eye, one that made Iruka put down the blessed daikon he was holding instead of instinctively tossing it at Kakashi’s head for the suddenness of it all.

“We all die one day,” Kakashi said in a rush and clasped Iruka’s hands in his own, before Iruka could even greet him with his politely rehearsed let’s-pretend-nothing-happened greetings. “I know everyone thinks I’m that magician in the prophecy - hell, I probably am - but it doesn’t feel that way to me. Every time I step into another dimension, every time I fight someone, any misstep I make means I could die.”

Kakashi dying before he could do all the things Konoha expected of him - the very idea seemed impossible; preposterous. But Iruka did not remove his hands from Kakashi’s grasp. He did not want to, when he had resigned himself to a muted regret when the chance - improbable and inadvisable and infinitely tantalising - remained.

And in that supermarket aisle, surrounded by radishes and vegetables of all kinds with the fluorescent light illuminating his face, his eyes, and all of his quiet sincerity - Kakashi declared, “I’d rather spend your remaining days with you than have no days with you at all.”

When he put it that way, well. Iruka could hardly find it in himself to refuse.

They had years, more than Iruka ever expected.

Every birthday filled Iruka with an intense gratitude that that year had not been the last; every anniversary he celebrated with a reckless and possessive joy. Sometimes he dared to hope that he might just live to see Naruto reach his age of majority when he would be told of his part in the prophecy, and imagined Naruto declaring that prophecy or no, he would carve out his own fate.

(And silently, selfishly - that maybe in that fate Iruka would still be there to see him do just that.)

Every year Kakashi remained, a constant presence in Iruka’s life. There was something invigorating about an achievement shared, a reciprocal celebration, a constant that could not be controlled - that someone would feel as happy for and with him, and every other emotion besides. In his more fanciful moments he imagined it was for this reason that birds sang, for the possibility that someone might just sing back.

That did not mean their relationship was without hiccups, naturally. Just because Iruka had a fixed date of expiration did not mean he could (or did) use it as an excuse to win every fight that they had, though at some times he did feel rather tempted to. The one time he did use it was to tell Kakashi in no uncertain terms that he would not spend the last of his days dwelling on his fate and jumping at shadows - that it was no way to spend a life at all.

Besides, it was immensely satisfying to show the master of a thousand spells one that he would be unlikely to ever master: Iruka’s latest array, so intricately designed it could freeze the passage of space-time.

“An entire month,” Kakashi said, appropriately impressed as Iruka proudly showed him the spider-lily, vivid red and petals unfurled in a perfect curve, the striking centrepiece of the array.

“There’s still more tweaking to do, of course,” Iruka interjected before he rambled on its limitations - that it could only anchor to a single object within the array, and the immobility of the array itself once affixed to the chronospatial coordinates - and future paths to development. Kakashi took in this information with the bemused expression of someone who knew the basics of the field but was still overwhelmingly aware of their lack of knowledge beyond. “But this is a huge step, and…”

I’d never thought I’d live long enough to get this far.

“I’m proud of you.” Kakashi said in that interval Iruka took to breathe and dropped a kiss onto Iruka’s head. For the briefest of moments, Iruka could focus on the press of warm lips against his skin, and forget how there were no events left in the prophecy between the present and his death. That it might come any day now. “I really am.”

“If you weren’t,” Iruka said, a beat slower than his usual repartee. “I’d have bound you to the couch for a month.”

Kakashi affected a gasp. “For an entire month?”

“Of course,” Iruka said in mock seriousness. “Results need to be replicable for propriety.”

With an air of great resignation, Kakashi shook his head gravely. “The lengths we’d go to for science,” he sighed theatrically.

Iruka could have extrapolated further on other array-based punishments - would have, on any other day. But all at once his darker thoughts surfaced: that the prophecy had not found his achievement sufficiently significant to record, only his death. And Kakashi, who was far more perceptive than he made himself out to be - and more so for all the people gathering about him wanting to know the legend and less the man - noticed.

“Iruka,” he prompted gently.

“Do you think they’ll remember me?” The question burst forth from him, unbidden. “I know it’s self-centred, but I want to be remembered for this, instead of being just… for my death.”

Though they went into this relationship with open eyes, Kakashi did not like to talk of Iruka’s impending death - and despite his general playful detachment, much less appreciate the gallows’ humour Iruka took to the matter. Iruka didn’t begrudge him that, not when he knew well the pain of being left behind.

But in the little time they had, whatever was left of it, maybe Kakashi saw fit to indulge him this once.

“They will,” he promised, a surprising ferocity in his voice that compelled Iruka to keep on looking at him. To listen and to accept what he had to say. “They won’t celebrate your sacrifice - they’ll mourn that it was necessary. Your knowledge, your skills, your presence - they’ll miss you.”

And, quietly, more devastatingly: “I’ll miss you.”

The urge to pull Kakashi into a hug, to cling to him as though death could not wrench away his grip, flooded through Iruka. He gave into it, stepping into Kakashi’s space and breathing in the scent of him, pressing a kiss to the curve of his jaw.

“I’ll miss you too,” he whispered just the slightest bit wetly into the crook of Kakashi’s neck, and did not see the steely determination that suddenly shone in Kakashi’s eye.

This was what was supposed to happen:

The alarms sound. Iruka joins the forces in defence of Konoha. He dies, the tide of the battle turned, her invaders expelled. He is mourned, and Konoha lives on.

This was what happened:

The alarms sounded. Iruka got up from his couch, to join the forces in defence of Konoha. He turned to Kakashi for one last moment, grateful he would have a last goodbye.

Then, darkness.

When he woke up, he found himself in an array of his own design, one that offered a nigh impenetrable defence against almost everything. It had been a romantic gesture in his thoughts, to give Kakashi something that would help and protect him on his missions. That would be of use after Iruka was gone.

But Kakashi, the great idiot, had used it to trap Iruka instead. And Kakashi was missing, was gone, and Iruka was panicking as he dismantled his own creation. As he stepped out of the rubble of his apartment to an ongoing invasion and the unmistakable sounds of dimensional walls tearing apart as something forced its way through.

Did the prophecy account for this? Was it too late to set it to rights? He entered the fray, fighting and assisting and searching, frantically searching for Kakashi who fate would likely take its recompense from. Eventually, he found him - Kakashi fighting and defending and losing, against a foe that controlled blackened rods of magic-nullifying steel, driven into the ground and through bodies.

It was salvageable, Iruka thought wildly. This was where he was surely supposed to die, sacrificing himself for a loved one. It was a death he could be proud of.

He rushed forward -

(Fate was a finicky thing, obvious only in hindsight. Maybe it took its due when Kakashi pressed a goodbye kiss to Iruka’s forehead as he lay unconscious in the gifted array. Or when Iruka focused not on his loyalties and on Kakashi, a singular mindless goal instead of the selfless one he would be known for. Or when he decided that it was his death and not his sacrifice that was the prophecy’s call.

They would never know.)

  • but not in time to prevent a rod pushing itself clean through Kakashi’s chest.

What happened after, Iruka would never fully recall. There had been another spell, a desperate attempt by Kakashi to protect Iruka from his foe: they were both teleported into the woods, where the sounds of Konoha under attack rang in the far distance. There had been Kakashi laying on the ground, dying, blood bubbling up through his lips and down his chin.

The cold and hard ground under his knees, the cold and clammy hand that rose to cup his cheek. The constant whine at the back of his head, drowning out Kakashi’s dying words.

There had been Kakashi’s last breath.

Then it was gone.

There was a brush in Iruka’s pockets.

(Kakashi was dead . )

This was wrong. It was all wrong. Iruka should be lying there. Iruka should be dead. The wave of cold realisation washed over him: he was supposed to face that man with the nullifying rods, to tire him out for someone else to take down. This was supposed to be Iruka’s sacrifice.

Why did Kakashi put him in the array?

(Laughter. A kiss pressed against his forehead. I’d have bound you to the couch .)

The spider-lily. Stopping time. He had thought it a way to halt someone’s time, to allow them to seek the medical attention they needed before death could take them away. He thought…

( I’d rather spend your remaining days with you .)

The physical body alone was no good. What he needed was the soul. What he needed was Kakashi’s soul, if it was still here. Souls could be an anchor, couldn’t they?

( Your knowledge, your skills, your presence - they’ll miss you. )

A sigil to represent the soul. A sigil to represent Kakashi’s soul, specifically. He needed to draw it onto the body - the one anchor, piercing through the body and into the fabric of spacetime itself. Like pinning a thread into its place. He needed…

( I’ll miss you .)

He needed Kakashi to be alive.

There was a brush in Iruka’s hands.

It was raining.

Iruka looked out at the sky. A truly dreary day, with grey clouds blotting the sun entirely out of the sky, and the constant drum of the rain against the curved walls of the array. They formed rivulets of water, flowing down the transparent walls and seeping into the muddy ground below. The boundaries revealed: the furthest that Kakashi could go.

After the entire ordeal of binding Kakashi’s soul to his body, Iruka himself verged on the brink of exhaustion. It took several days of rest for him to return to the capital (surprisingly intact for having undergone an attack) and several hours to dissuade everyone aware of the prophecy from executing him then and there in a belated attempt to fulfil it. Specifically, it took telling them of Kakashi’s ‘death’.

In the grand scheme of things, the Copy Magician’s death was probably more important than Iruka’s (absent) own.

The entire council was sent into an uproar. They sent for sigil experts from across the dimension in varying attempts to unbind Kakashi from the array; medi-mages next to effectively reverse death. When it became evident that there was no way for Kakashi to fulfil the prophecy from within the array, the desperate question became how to appease fate before she came collecting her dues.

The original oracle, Uzumaki Mito, had long passed. The Uzumaki line too had perished, save for Naruto who had no chance to learn the soothsayer ways of his bloodline. But there were other seers and oracles that Konoha could consult, and one such oracle was seated on the council of Konoha.

Utatane Koharu was a dour-faced woman, her white hair tied back into a stern bun. No one on the council was pleased with this turn of events, but it could be said that out of the entire congregation she was the most displeased, having advised more control and oversight over the subjects of the prophecy than Hiruzen and Tsunade was willing to accede to. But it was her voice alone they were listening to when she claimed that Kakashi occupied the unique space of being neither dead nor alive, and of having fulfilled the prophecy and being unable to.

The prophecy had foretold Iruka’s death. To subvert that, Kakashi had paid with his own, and in doing so he assumed Iruka’s duty to die for Konoha. But Kakashi was also alive, and still capable of performing his duty - to have someone, acting as his agent, to fulfil them in his name.

And as the beneficiary of Kakashi’s actions, it was only right for Iruka to fill that role.

“Koharu,” a fellow council member objected. “Hatake was an accomplished battle-mage. This man… how could he possibly fulfil the prophecy?”

“Hatake chose him,” she said coldly, her piercing glare landing squarely on Iruka. From that single glance Iruka suddenly knew that to her, Iruka was of more worth dead than alive. “For better or for worse, that was their choice. Umino would have to pay his debt or die trying.”

And the council so decided.

As master of the array, Iruka’s first task was to seal Kakashi and the space he occupied into a liminal space - that space, infinite and inconsistent, between dimensions. The safest place to keep things hidden in the impossibility of mapping an infinite plane. It was important to preserve Kakashi, at least until someone could figure out how to remove him from the array - to cheat not only the laws of magic but also death.

But the safest place was also the loneliest. The thought of Kakashi locked away, forever, with no one to talk to…

And that was how the shop was born, and the endless rumours of how to find it. Under the constantly flickering street lamp of the streets at midnight; in the shimmer of the air of the blistering summer days; cramped at the far end of an ignored alleyway. Some of them were true, most of them were not - but the mystery of the shop that grants wishes were far more compelling than its occupant.

Besides, Iruka reasoned, the council did not have the time to check on every urban legend and rumour, especially with the reconstruction and restoration of Konoha to undertake.

But even as he began the slow process of slicing and pinning the fine fabric of the dimensional walls apart - just the right amount to avoid cutting into the dimensions adjacent - Iruka couldn’t stop thinking about the protective wards that would best buttress the boundaries of the array, the characters that would repel every council member and the people they would send after them. An extra stroke, a sprawling script - things that would buy him more time to spend with Kakashi, finite though it was.

He could not stop himself from thinking, wondering, imagining - but he could stop himself from doing. Iruka loved people in Konoha, and was greedy enough to think about keeping both.

So mere days later, he set off on his second task and stepped through into a different dimension: to perform acts in Kakashi’s name.

The acts of prophecy were never straightforward, else they would not be told of. And for all the support Iruka was provided, Iruka was not Kakashi - he could never be. Utatane’s words were but a guideline, and not a certainty - and so there was always the constant awareness that failure was possible and usually imminent. That death followed closely in its footsteps, hovering and ready to claim.

And with every success, Iruka only stitched himself tighter into Kakashi’s fate. Tighter and tighter, to the point where referring to the Copy Magician could also mean Iruka himself, that they could expect amazing things from him when he was far from capable - so tight that sometimes he could not breathe, that he could not move in a way that the prophecy did not expect him to.

It was only here in this prison he made that he could breathe just the bit easier. That he could be relieved from that oppressive duty - that he could be Iruka, just Iruka, and nobody else.

A rustle of cloth just off to his side jolted him out of his thoughts. He turned to see Kakashi stepping out onto the engawa and dropping to take a seat next to him. His clothes carried the muted scent of tobacco - it had been a habit Iruka had told Kakashi off for before the entire debacle, if only out of concern for his health. Those concerns seemed so very trivial now.

They stared out into the garden and the untouchable sky beyond, where the rain was still trying its damndest to pierce through the veil. Existing in a liminal space meant surrendering certain aspects of the weather: the natural breeze sweeping in from an open window, the pervading heat of the sun beating onto his back, the petrichor of the early summer storms.

He wondered if Kakashi missed them. Iruka would.

“The shears.” Kakashi finally said. Iruka turned to look at him, at his hands - and there they were, small, smaller than Kakashi’s palm. The blades gleamed silver and sharp even in the muted light of the sun drowning in the clouds; the red tassel that swung from the curve of the handle the same vivid red of that spider lily so long ago. “You wanted me to use them.”

There was no accusation in Kakashi’s voice. There did not need to be. After Iruka left them with Kakashi and went onto the next dimension, he had thought of Kakashi holding the shears up, in front of himself. Of Kakashi tracing the red string that connected them together with one finger, lifting it apart from the rest.

Easing it between the blades.

Cutting it.

“I wouldn’t call it ‘want’,” Iruka said truthfully. There had been nights where the fear that he would return an empty shop and an emptier fate took hold of him, keeping him awake in the middle of the night. But… “But I did want you to have the choice.”

Any other person would have accused Iruka of not wanting to be tied down, of seeing or maybe even wanting a future without Kakashi. But the fact was there was no other way for Kakashi to release himself. Kakashi was not wrong - the wards were fine, would always be fine when the passage of time halted for them as much as it did for Kakashi. And Kakashi too would be fine, would always and forever be fine, and would continue existing here on this lonely plane for as long as Iruka existed - and beyond that, too.

The simple fact was, Iruka never needed the shears when he always had the opportunity. The choice.

Kakashi set the shears down in the narrow space between Iruka’s thigh and his own, where it glittered in the shadows. The silence that ensued after was less than happy, but wholly expected. They had lived long enough to know the way the other thought, the path their arguments treaded, the reasons behind the reasons that they would not say.

Kakashi would not cut the string for the same reason that Iruka always returned to him.

(Their reasons have always been the same.)

But walking in the circles, the same endless loop - it was tiring. Not only for Iruka, but for Kakashi too: no matter how much they wished to, Iruka could not ask Kakashi to not worry any more than Kakashi could ask him to stay. The shears merely represented a choice out of the few they could take.

Iruka could offer another.

“Am I…” Iruka began and stopped just as abruptly. There were the words he knew, yet he did not want them actualised, to open them to the realm of possibility. Words, once spoken and spoken carelessly, could bind people in the most unpredictable of ways. “Am I selfish?”

Kakashi did not answer immediately. For that Iruka was grateful - that Kakashi was giving his offer his full consideration.

And when his hand reached past the shears and curled into Iruka’s clenched fist, Iruka knew the answer.

“No more than I was.” His hand slipped further into Iruka’s own, holding it proper; from it relief rushed through Iruka’s entire body, tinged with the faintest aftertaste of bitter guilt. “No more than I am.”

He raised his gaze to meet Kakashi’s own - both of them hesitant, both vulnerable.

“We’ll be selfish together then,” he said softly.

In Kakashi’s eyes he saw the same steely determination that set off this entire chain of events - that led Iruka to say yes to a doomed relationship, damn the consequences. And Iruka could only watch as Kakashi placed his other hand on Iruka’s face, cupping it gently, as though he was trying to memorise every of Iruka’s features before he was inevitably called away.

“I once told you,” he began lowly, “that I would have what little you could give than to have nothing at all.”

How could Iruka forget? He nodded mutely and Kakashi continued as sincerely as that day when he stood among the rows of radishes, as the only thing he had eyes for then was Iruka. “I still feel the same way. I’d rather wait for you, than to have less of you, or not have you at all. For as long as you’ll have me.”

“For as long as you’ll have me,” Iruka echoed fiercely, as he placed a hand over Kakashi’s, keeping it in place. Like he could imprint Kakashi’s warmth onto his face and into his skin, an indelible handprint to keep him warm in the coldest of dimensions, in its snow-swept endless plains. “I’ll always return, for as long as you’ll let me.”

“Then grant me this wish,” Kakashi intoned, the formal beginning of an incantation. The heavy pressure of magic settled onto Iruka’s shoulders - not the pressure of the strings that council had bound him, that he bound himself with, constricting and unyielding - but the weight of a heated blanket in the middle of a chilly night, spread across weary shoulders with gentle hands. A weight he could shrug off if he so chose to. “I want to go when you go.”

Between them, the string of the tassel began to unravel, its frayed end rising upwards. Neither of them looked at it, not when Kakashi had not finished what he needed to say.

“Whatever dimension you’re on,” he told Iruka, “I’ll find you. I’ll find you and we’ll go together, but you’ll have to let me go with you.”

The offer, made. All Iruka had to do was to accept. But there was one last amendment he had to make.

“We’ll find each other,” he corrected. “We’ll go together.”

“We’ll go together,” Kakashi echoed, the glow between casting his face into sharp relief. His hand tightened on Iruka’s own, and Iruka squeezed back, as the string wove between their fingers, binding them together. As their fates were tied together, far more tightly than any prophecy could.

The contract, complete.

Several days later, they stood together in the courtyard.

The sun was a good ways to its zenith, but Iruka only needed an afternoon to run errands in the capital before heading off to whichever dimension the council saw fit to send the Copy Magician to next. In fact, the morning had been particularly well spent by Kakashi wheedling all sorts of favours out of Iruka, ranging from helping him undress, washing his hair - “I can’t very well go out for a hairdresser,” he said and pouted exaggeratedly up at Iruka - making him breakfast, and sitting down while Kakashi made the actual breakfast after Iruka charred the bottom of the pan a thick and crusty black.

“I’m not sure what you expected,” Iruka had said helplessly as Kakashi set the table. “I mean, I told you -”

“I expected you to make a sandwich,” Kakashi said. “Bread, some tuna. Maybe vegetables if you’re feeling adventurous.”

“But you like -”

“But mostly I didn’t expect you to burn the pan,” Kakashi finished cheerfully. “How d’you even do that? Pyromages would be jealous of your natural talent.”

Iruka bit into his rice ball and sulked, but relented shortly after when Kakashi made the appropriate please-forgive-me noises and fed Iruka out-of-season chilled melon balls.

Now here they were in the courtyard, a few minutes away before Iruka would open the portal back into Konoha. It would be an equally exhausting trip back, but in Konoha there were medi-mages on call to get travellers back onto their feet after walking through worlds.

“I’ll bring the children next time,” he told Kakashi even though Naruto was close to shooting past Iruka’s height. “I’m sure Sakura has some stories to tell you of her adventures in other dimensions.”

“But I’m only interested in those that include you,” Kakashi said in a show of unredeemable sappiness, especially when Iruka knew he would listen to whatever tales Sakura (and to a reasonable extent, Naruto) had to tell even if she had written them all down in the previous letters to Kakashi. In Iruka’s hand was such a letter to her, a reply, and more letters to many others who did not quite have the expertise (or the authorisation) to open dimensional tears at will or the knowledge where this particular tear was. “Especially the ones where you get naked.”

“You want me to get naked in other dimensions?” Iruka asked dubiously.

“In this dimension only, please,” Kakashi amended.

A small chime went off somewhere in the folds of Iruka’s robes, his cue to feed energy into the transportation array. It began to glow a familiar blue, as sigils flickered into existence midair, almost as brightly as the unrelenting sunlight.

“I’ll be off,” he said, entirely reluctant, as the seams of the dimensional walls came apart, carving a fiery hole into the air. On the other side he could see the arrival platform for cross-dimensional travels, busy as usual. “Try to keep the books in the library instead of your bedroom, won’t you?”

“I make no promises,” Kakashi declared playfully, even as his hands curled tightly into the collar of Iruka’s robe and pulled him in for a kiss - and another. The last kiss he left lingered, and Iruka could not stop himself from missing him already. “Stay safe?”

“I’ll try my best.” He stole one last kiss from Kakashi before taking a step through the portal, and into Konoha proper. The energy drain set in immediately, knocking the breath out of him; from the corner of his eyes he could see the medi-mages hurrying towards him in anticipation of his certain collapse.

But there was something he wanted to say before he went off to his next task, a certainty that hung between them. He turned back towards Kakashi. “See you soon?”

Kakashi lifted his hand for one last wave. Around his little finger was a strip of red string from the tassel, tied in a simple knot; around Iruka’s own, a matching string and knot. Binding them across dimensions and time and even fate itself, so tightly that even the shears might not be able to cut those ties away.

“Of course,” Kakashi promised. “I’ll see you soon.”

As the portal burnt itself out of existence and Kakashi out of Iruka’s sight, there was the slightest tug on his little finger. The gentlest of reminders.

We’ll go together , Iruka thought to himself, and knew it as a certainty, reassuring.

A promise that they could always fulfill.

I absolutely adore this fic, as you know. I’m left feeling nervous about what’s to come eeek

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<3 <3 <3 i doubt there’ll be a sequel though rip - too much prophecy for me to keep track of lmfao

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