The things we say
Goodbye, Naruto had said. A simple word… a word Iruka thought for so long was a good word. A word of kindness, of closure, of completeness… His parents had left behind such a vacuum of love and warmth after all, leaving him bereft without a chance to say anything meaningful to them - so he thought that saying it would bring ease. That hearing it would make things better. He even used to envy the people who had it.
Turns out it isn’t something good and kind at all.
It isn’t good to hear someone so close to him so summarily dismiss him out of his life - and oh, he wants to be strong, wants to be the person who truly, really believes in Naruto, who will support him in achieving all that he wants selflessly, but he isn’t, even if he puts on the perfect facade for everyone. (His head knows this farewell is not forever, but his heart says it is.)
He is a weak man, hurt by that one word. Feeling like dreams were shattered forever with the utterance of it, his dreams, the ones where he comes home to an apartment sloppy with orange trainers and full of laughter, the ones where he is important to someone, the ones where Naruto…. is his son. Their absence leaves only cold walls for him to inhabit, day in and day out; he becomes a ghost in his own home, barely there between his classes and his shifts. The shame of his weakness presses down on his shoulders.
Until, of course, Kakashi crash-lands on his sofa at two in the morning on a summer night.
Well, okay, that might be a bit of an overstatement. The man had, after all, not broken any windows or doors - but he might have, had Iruka not noticed him crouching on his railing looking like a very defeated and very dirty bird of some sort as he was stepping out for a smoke.
“I lost my keys somewhere in Sand, probably. Let me sleep here.”
And, like all jonin, once you said yes to something, - even if it was supposed to be a one-time thing - , Kakashi had assumed that he was free to sleep on Iruka’s couch whenever he felt like it from that point on. And he was okay with the nights, really. It wasn’t like Iruka spent any time in the apartment aside from sleeping. Plus, he could empathize with coming back from a rough mission, needing the feel of someone else’s chakra close by. It was… fine. Maybe even a little comforting. And when his bathroom stealthily develops the hallmarks of another regular user - an extra toothbrush and towel, that different brand of shampoo -, he just shrugs it off as part and parcel. At least Kakashi doesn’t make a stinky mess of his couch.
“Would you take care of Mr. Ukki for me while I’m gone? Usually I ask Gai, but they are out too.”
It’s just a plant, sitting on his windowsill. Iruka isn’t really sure what kind of care a plant needs, anyway, but he dutifully pulls up his blinds for it every morning and makes sure its leaves are green until Kakashi gets back. It’s fine.
“I’m putting in a wash, my uniforms smell like swamp and smoke. Do you have anything you want me to put in?”
Iruka thinks of the mess of clothes on his bedroom floor, the armor and the pants he never has the energy to take to the hamper, because who cares anyway? Noone lives here, not even Iruka. But it feels silly to have Kakashi ask that every time he sleeps here, and to spend minutes gathering it all up while he waits. So he just throws them in the hamper now. It’s okay.
“Your faucet was dripping, I fixed it. On a completely different note, we should call a plumber. Probably.”
Iruka rolls his eyes and fixes the damn thing properly. Jonin are useless. But it’s okay.
“I brought take-out, hope you haven’t had supper yet!”
He has come to skip supper lately, but it would be rude to refuse a gift of food. They eat on the balcony, on the two foldable, rickety chairs he saved from a dumpster once, listening to the whomever excitedly rattle on about baseball on a crackly handheld radio. Kakashi is apparently a fan, and they fall into the habit of doing this until the championship or cup or whatever is over. (Iruka cannot believe it takes so long. How many teams competed in this stupid game? A hundred?) It’s… nice.
“I bought you a souvenir! You enjoy this author’s work, right?”
Words have come to feel flat and sentences empty, whether he reads or writes them, but Kakashi seems to smile so genuinely at him (and the gift is wrapped so beautifully), that he feels obligated to try. He reads a page or two every night on the sofa while he is gone, his spare uniform top draped over the back, his stupid Icha Icha on the coffee table, his CD playing in the stereo.
He finishes the book.
He is still alone.
When Kakashi is finally back, it’s two weeks overdue and he is taken to the hospital immediately. He looks exhausted and more pale against the sheets than he has any right to be when Iruka visits him the next day, but he has all limbs and digits and will recover just fine, and the weight of worry rolls off his shoulder with what seems like an audible rumble. Iruka argues with the staff until they transport him to his apartment, because he knows that the smell of disinfectant and blood will drive the man crazy once he is conscious (he’s complained plenty about Iruka’s cleaning supplies before) where Iruka can put him in his bed, soft pillow beneath his head, stupid Icha Icha by his bedside and favorite CD in the walkman.
(And then there were two, huh.)
When Kakashi opens his one blue eye, looking like there is a world of sadness crushing his chest, Iruka takes his hand and says softly, “My turn. Welcome home.”
The next word is: home
Also, shout-out to @flailinginlove who casually threw up three very good ideas for the word in the tumblr call to arms post while I was absolutely suffering. So if anyone wants to take those up we could do some branching