Warning: Graphic depiction of violence, torture, cannibalism, very bad imagery, psychological torture, triggers.
Smile, even when your heart is broken, they say.
Kakashi tries when they ask him how Iruka is doing these days. He tries so hard when Iruka’s former colleagues politely inquire, when parents and former students who are now formidable Hunters, ANBU, Jounin and Chuunin inquires upon the well-being of their favourite sensei, wonders when he’ll be back on duty, when they all know that Iruka had gone through a bad mission, severe injuries. That he was a casualty of getting captured.
Kakashi smiles through it all the way Iruka would have. He tries to force his cheek to move in a way they’re not accustomed, for his teeth to peek out from slightly thinner lips, to tug upwards just a little more despite the numb scar cutting across the left corner of his upper lip. It’s difficult, takes weeks to get accustomed to, but it seems to pass off as sincere, when he punctuates what looks like a jester’s mask with a shy, sheepish gesture of reaching behind his head to rub at the uneven cut of hair, as his eyes arch up into crescents and he says the same thing, ah, he’s recovering slowly and will need time — but you know Iruka. He’s stubborn and always doing his best.
What they don’t know is that Iruka’s best is him simply lying on his back with his eyes wide open, parts of him, pieces of his flesh, that’s been carved out during torture now regrown, smooth, not a scar in sight after weeks of rigorous treatment and carefuly harnessing the Shodaime’s cells to regenerate limbs. They had to regrow so many parts of him while keeping him under a genjutsu spell, because without it, Iruka’s screams wouldn’t stop.
And when they had completed restoring Iruka’s body, when they had started to taper him off the genjutsu and sedatives, when things had started to look hopeful, it all comes crashing down like a collapsing house of cards. Iruka being lucid did not mean Iruka can finally come home. It did not mean that the entire ordeal, the gaps in the reports of what happened when Iruka and his dead Chuunin team was found a week later, a week too late from an escort mission that should have only taken ten days to complete can finally be concluded. Iruka being lucid did not mean they can get enough information out of the only surviving person of an eight-man entourage.
Because when Kakashi has asked him what happened while holding his thin, frail, bruised hand, with Naruto in the room looking as pale as the sheets that covered Iruka’s now fully restored left leg, the response was:
They cut me. They made me watch as they cut me. They cooked me. Stir fried parts of me and fed me. I smelled good. And I was so, so hungry. It’s been days. So when they offered, I didn’t say no. They even gave me tsukemono.
Naruto cried like a child who lost his parent, knees hitting the tiles as he stared in horror at the smile Iruka directed at him that day, a gesture that is meant to be encouraging, of comfort that was meant to say, I’ll be okay. Except it comes across as grotesque, twisted, empty, distant.
A mask that hides what remains of a man once whole.
And Kakashi. Well. He had only been able to sit there in horror, as he stared at his lover who to this day remains seated in a half reclined position on his hospital bed from seven in the morning to seven in the evening, staring out of his hospital window, watching the world continue to turn while the rest of him remain in stasis somewhere in the corners of Rock, in a dark prison cell, being tortured for information to sell to the highest bidder.
A mere casualty in a cruel world.
Kakashi has hunted them down, Naruto by his side. And when they found them, Kakashi had watched, powerless, as the fury of the Nine Tails decimated those responsible.
It was glorious.
It does nothing to bring Iruka back, though. Months into his physical recovery with no signs of showing improvements mentally despite the continuous genjutsu therapy, the conclusion that it is kinder to euthanize him finally comes in.
Naruto had stopped talking then. And the decision fell upon Kakashi, the last person Iruka had listed as his next of kin on his pre-mission paperwork that is mandatory for all shinobi to keep updated.
So when they ask how Iruka is doing, Kakashi can only smile.
Smile because then, no one will know you’re as broken as your catatonic lover that you’re keeping alive only because you believed him when he told you to never lose hope, no matter what the circumstances.kakashi believed him when Iruka showed him for years how Kakashi is more than capable to hold on to someone precious for a change, when his scarred hands only know war and not what it means to love, to touch, to be worthy of someone like Umino Iruka. Iruka, who saw Kakashi as a man and not the weapon he’s been trained and forged over the years to be. In fact, Kakashi isn’t trash at all. Iruka, who made Kakashi believe in something optimistic for a change, when he said, if you trust in nothing, then trust in my love for you. That will never change.
Kakashi lies with his smile.
When the truth is more selfish.
The truth is that he is trash after all; he should have gone looking for Iruka sooner. He should have done something. Anything. Hell, he should have gone with Iruka in that fucking routine mission. A mission that happened to land on Iruka during his field active days in the summer.
Because after all these years, the losses, the deaths, Kakashi still never learned how to say goodbye .
Your next word is: GOODBYE