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Iruka opened his eyes and blinked at the rough wood that seemed to be encasing him. Wildly, his first thought was that he was in a coffin and he struggled to breathe, imagining that dirt was sliding down his nose and his throat.

 

He couldn’t understand it. Just a moment ago, he’d been in his old family house with Kakashi, wedding bands on their fingers, and Naruto had been standing in the sunny yellow kitchen. For the first time ever,  Naruto had looked settled in his own skin, at peace with himself. It was probably due to the fact that Minato and Kushina were standing behind their son, miraculously alive. It had turned out that they had been in hiding all these years, working to bring down the Akatsuki and Madara. Iruka’s own parents had been with them the whole time, and Iruka had had a joyous reunion with them. For the first time in his entire life, everything had been right and good in his world. As Kakashi slid an arm around his shoulders and his mother smiled proudly at him, Iruka felt like he was going to burst.

 

Then there was a bright flash of light, and he woke up.

 

Iruka stopped scrabbling at his coffin and forced himself to think calmly, like a ninja. None of that sounded true, now that he thought of it. His parents wouldn’t have just left him behind. They’d sacrificed everything to get him out of Mist, and then their lives to keep him safe in Konoha.

 

That’s right. He remembered now. With a pang, he remembered that his parents were still dead, Naruto’s too. The house, and indeed most of Konoha, was gone. There had been a war. Kakashi was a general and Naruto had fled the safety of the turtle island before Iruka could stop him and keep him safe. Having failed at his task, Iruka had returned to Konoha to watch after the children… Wait, his children… The Infinite Tsukuyomi…

 

Dear god, were his children okay?

 

Clawing desperately, Iruka ripped his way out of the strange pod that he was encased in, his fingers leaving bloody gouges in the wood as it opened around him. He forgot about the kunai in his vest, forgot everything in his panic to check on his students.

 

Looking left and right, his shoulders slumped in relief as he caught sight of Konohamaru, Udon and Moegi. They were blinking in the sunlight as they were unceremoniously spit out of their own pods.

 

Konohamaru’s eyes were haunted when Iruka sprinted up to them. “Iruka-sensei,” he said slowly, the words dragged out of him, “My grandfather. He’s dead, isn’t he? Asuma, too?”

 

My heart , Iruka thought as he knelt before his former student. “Yes, Konohamaru,” he said, gently. “It was just a dream. I’m so sorry. They’re gone.”

 

Konohamaru fought it for a moment, his face reddening and his nose wrinkling, but he finally gave into the tears. Iruka pulled the sobbing boy into the shelter of his arms and thought, how many more people are going to be hurt from getting everything they ever wanted?

 

…………………

 

The allied army trickled into Konoha over the next few days. There were remarkably few wounded. Anyone that had been grievously hurt hadn’t made it off the battlefield. Iruka had been told that Kakashi and Naruto were alive by the early arrivals, but he didn’t truly believe it until he finally caught sight of a lanky soldier with silver hair, trudging along with an orange and yellow form leaning against him. Iruka broke into a run, but stuttered to a halt when he understood what was wrong with the picture before him.

 

Naruto was missing an arm.

 

“I’m okay, Iruka-sensei,” Naruto said with his brave smile, throwing a jaunty thumb’s up at his teacher with his remaining hand. “Don’t worry about me. I’m still just as awesome as I was with two arms, believe it!”

 

With a sob, Iruka leapt forward and wrapped Kakashi and Naruto in his arms. “Thank kami that you’re home,” he said fervently. “I can hardly believe you’re both here!”

 

Kakashi buried his face in Iruka’s hair. “We’re here,” he murmured, his voice thick. “It’s over. We’re home.”

 

……………..

 

Because they were both morons and had been driven to exhaustion on the battlefield, then decided that they weren’t quite chakra depleted enough and had helped with the wounded, both Kakashi and Naruto ended up in the hospital. Naruto, after all, was missing an arm, which even Kurama couldn’t fix. (And Iruka honestly couldn’t deal with the fact that the monster had a name and had chosen to stay with Naruto as a friend, seriously, what the fuck.) If Iruka never again had to hear about Sakura sticking her hand into Naruto’s chest to keep his heart beating, it would be too soon. As for Kakashi, his chakra pathways were screwed to hell from losing the Sharingan, and that was on top of exhaustion and hastily patched up battle wounds.

 

Iruka spent every waking moment at the hospital sitting on a hard chair between Naruto and Kakashi’s beds, ignoring the growing ache in his back as the days passed slowly. He had to stay; both of them would have been out of their beds and chakra crawling down the hospital walls to the ground like goddamn spiders if he left them alone for more than five minutes. As it was, Iruka had to slap a seal on Naruto to keep him in place whenever he was forced to leave briefly for food. The only reason Kakashi hadn’t yet made a break for freedom was because he was actually adult enough to know how screwed his pathways were at the moment, and that if he tried to mold chakra to do anything at all, he’d either blow up the hospital with lightning or collapse in a heap. Wisely, but grumpily, he did as he was told and let Tsunade and Sakura work their magic on him.  

 

Finally, Naruto had a working arm again thanks to Hashirama’s cells. (Iruka firmly closed off the part of his brain that told him it was partly because of Orochimaru’s research that the arm was possible, because that way lay madness and screaming.) Kakashi was given the all clear from Tsunade to begin working with his chakra again, and his other wounds had been neatly healed.

 

Iruka hauled both of his boys to the small house that Yamato had hastily erected for them and made them soup, because feeding people is what he did during times of crisis and worldwide wars. When Anko had first stumbled home, her eyes shocky and her fingers twitching at the unblemished skin on her neck, he had stuffed food into her until she fell asleep at the table. When she finally woke up, she had looked up at Iruka and smiled. He knew she was going to be all right then.

 

Kakashi’s grey eyes (plural, he had two regular grey eyes and it was all thanks to Naruto, again, what the fuck) twinkled at Iruka as he poured more soup into their bowls after Naruto had slurped his first helping down noisily. “Careful, sensei, don’t drown us,” he said lightly. “Besides, aren’t you going to have some?”

 

“Oh,” Iruka responded, seeing that Kakashi was looking pointedly at his own empty bowl. “Right. I guess I am hungry.” He sat down and the sound of his spoon clinking against the side of the bowl soon joined Naruto’s gusty sighs of appreciation. Kakashi looked smug, but he also kept watching to make sure that Iruka continued to eat.

 

“So what now?” Naruto asked around a mouthful of dumpling, a line of broth sliding down his chin. His coordination was still a little off, and it wasn’t helped by his already atrocious table manners. “It seems strange to not have somebody else to fight.”

 

“It always feels that way, after a war,” Kakashi responded, playfully hitting Naruto in the face with a towel. “The best thing to do is look for a need and then dive in. There’s no shortage of needs right now and there’s lots you can do to help.”

 

………………………

 

Apparently the need Naruto saw first was Sasuke. Iruka wasn’t surprised; it was always Sasuke. Somehow, and Iruka didn’t completely discount genjutsu despite how abysmal his student was at it, Naruto bullied the council into pardoning Sasuke for his crimes and got him a pass to leave the village on an extended mission of reparation.

 

A guilty part of Iruka was relieved once Sasuke was gone. While the Uchiha had made firm steps towards forgiveness (and sanity, in Iruka’s private opinion, although kami knew he still needed a shit load of therapy), Sasuke had a lot to learn about compassion, about consequences. He also had a lot to make up for, and Iruka was glad that that learning would be done away . He wanted Sasuke somewhere that he couldn’t hurt Naruto or Sakura or Kakashi with his thoughtlessness anymore.

 

A few days after Sasuke left, Kakashi stumbled into their little house, looking haggard. Iruka glanced up from the doodle of a barrier seal he was working on, a new line of defense for the city gates when they were rebuilt. “For god’s sake, what’s wrong?” he cried, jumping up to help Kakashi into a chair.

 

“Doom,” Kakashi said dramatically, flinging his weight so that his chair was balanced on the back two legs. “I’m doomed. Utterly destroyed. Be sure to take care of the ninken when I’m gone. Bury me under a willow tree and read me porn occasionally, will you?”

 

“I will do no such thing,” Iruka said with a light slap to the back of Kakashi’s head. “What happened?”

 

Kakashi looked up grimly. “Maa, I hope you enjoy public attention, Iruka. From next month on, you’re going to be the partner of the Rokudaime Hokage.”

 

“Really?” Iruka breathed, dropping into a chair beside Kakashi.

 

Kakashi pointed in the vicinity of Iruka’s face, head still tipped up so that he could stare at the ceiling in anguish. “That right there. That was my reaction, too. I got called to the Tower today and the place was crawling with Anbu. Shikamaru looked ready to have a stroke and Tenzo actually sounded flustered. Tsunade is stepping down. She’s going to stay in the village for a while to help Sakura set up her mental health clinic, but then she wants to go back to the slug forest where she can get drunk in peace. That’s what I assume, anyway.” Kakashi’s head flopped over so he could look Iruka in the eye. “The council has already voted. What’s worse is that it’s unanimous; they all want me to take the hat. I never thought I’d see the day when they’d all agree on anything, and it had to be for this . I hope you’re okay with this, because I don’t see how I can wiggle out of it.”

 

“Why would you want to? It’s a huge honor!” Iruka protested.

 

Kakashi snorted. “I’m going to drown in ink and be paper-cutted to the bone. It’s no death for a shinobi of my caliber, Iruka. I deserve better.”

 

“Naruto is going to be pissed ,” Iruka said, ignoring Kakashi’s moans. “You getting to be Hokage before him and, to add insult to injury, you don’t even want it?”

 

“I know,” Kakashi sulked, his chair legs hitting the ground with a thump. “I’m hoping to hold off the inevitable screaming by dangling jonin in his face. After all, he’s still technically a genin and that’s just wrong, considering what he’s capable of.”

 

“Jonin?” Iruka screeched, trying to convey the extreme level of his protest by waving his hands around. “I agree that he has the practical skills, but you have to have more than that to be made a jonin. You have to know strategy, to have a wide base of knowledge. Naruto barely showed up for school in the first place! God knows you never had any books around him that didn’t have an orange cover, and I’m pretty sure that Jiraiya never sat him down for any lessons that didn’t involve covert infiltration of an onsen.”

 

“Well, you see,” Kakashi said, prudently edging out of Iruka’s striking range, “I already had a thought about that…”

 

Although he bitched and moaned just so that Kakashi would feel bad about it and grovel, Iruka was secretly thrilled to have Naruto back in his classroom. Not only was Naruto adorably eager to learn once he forgot the indignity of it all, Iruka actually knew where his student was at all times. It gave his heart a needed rest after the past few years.

 

As it turned out, Naruto wasn’t Iruka’s only jonin student. Others of the former Rookie Nine that were up for promotions attended classes when it got around that Iruka would be teaching certain things. Ino appeared regularly to refresh her taijutsu, Kiba to work on his henges, and all of them showed up whenever Iruka taught a lesson on seals.

 

He was swiftly becoming Konoha’s resident seals expert, and he was given permission by the new Rokudaime Hokage to view all of Jiraiya’s and Minato’s notes and papers. It paid to have friends in high places. He worked on Naruto’s seal to make it more equal to him and Kurama, and he discussed the implications of removing the Caged Bird Seal from the branch families of the Hyuuga with Hinata. That was the first thing she planned to do when she became the Clan Head. Already, no new Caged Bird seals were being applied to children. Iruka knew that somewhere, Neji would be very proud of his cousin.

 

Iruka had never been prouder in his life than on the day Kakashi became Hokage, although he would take it to the grave that he had laughed himself silly when he first saw his lover in his formal Hokage robes. Kakashi had looked like a child playing dress up, swimming in white fabric and his head looking tiny under that ridiculous hat. Thankfully, unless it was a special occasion, Kakashi generally wore a modified Anbu vest with his rank embroidered across the back instead of the robes.

 

While Kakashi swore his oaths to Konoha on the roof of the Tower, Naruto and Iruka had stood at his side, the new hokage’s acknowledged family. Sakura in a red kimono and Sai in a black one were there as well as members of Team Kakashi. They were just standing off to the side with Tsunade and a masked Yamato.

 

That morning while they waited for Kakashi (who was taking as long as possible to get ready out of sheer spite), Iruka had taken a picture of Naruto in his dark blue kimono, only the obi being his signature orange. Naruto looked grown up and mature, just like he had in Iruka’s genjutsu dream. They both listened gravely as Kakashi addressed the village, promising peace, and Iruka couldn’t imagine being more content.

 

As Kakashi shook hands with the council after the ceremony, Tsunade slithered over and grinned at Iruka slyly. “So, Umino. You mean to tell me that you’re standing up as his family and that brat hasn’t even given you a ring yet?”

 

Over the sound of Naruto’s sputtering, Iruka replied calmly, “Tsunade-hime, how do you know that he’s the one who hasn’t given me a ring? I could be the one not giving him one.”

 

Tsunade roared with laughter and clapped Iruka on the back; he steadied his feet with chakra just in time to keep from being thrown over the railing by the force of it. “You’re gonna do all right, kid,” she said admiringly. “You keep that brat on his toes. God knows he going to have enough ass kissers around him from now on.” Reaching over, Tsunade pulled a squawking Naruto into a headlock. Naruto looked like he was going to suffocate in her cleavage. “I guess I can trust you to watch over this one, too.”

 

“Always,” Iruka said, smiling, folding his hands into the sleeves of his gray kimono.

 

“Um, Tsunade-baa-chan, let me go, please?” Naruto squeaked as he slowly turned red. “I can’t breathe in here.”

 

……………………..

 

Between his regular classes at the Academy, his fuinjutsu studies, and his extra lessons with Naruto, Iruka barely had time to breathe or see Kakashi. Whenever Kakashi stumbled in after being released from his desk, they tended to sit in weary silence at their kotatsu, sipping tea and trying not to think. Naruto clattered in and out at odd hours to sleep or shower, his pockets sprouting frogs and mission scrolls shooting out of his vest. He was just as bad as Kakashi over paperwork and Iruka was quietly relieved that he didn't have to deal with him at the Mission Desk.

 

Since none of them were home much, the three men continued to live in their little wooden house. Kakashi had been offered the hokage quarters in the Tower, but he couldn’t stand the thought of living that closely to his job. Iruka had to agree, although sometimes he felt badly for Kakashi’s Anbu guard. It was hard to find places to hide in the shadows when your charge’s house was so tiny that it barely threw any.

 

Not to mention that the Anbu had to guard Kakashi, and that was a punishment greater than any Iruka could imagine. Kakashi regularly dodged his guards, made clones to confuse them, or read his porn aloud to try and drive them away. A harassed looking Yamato came to beg Iruka for help, but Iruka knew that tormenting his guards was a pressure valve for Kakashi. He considered it all in good fun, a little normal hazing. Instead of trying to train Kakashi out of his bad behavior, Iruka started regularly sending batches of homemade cookies and muffins to the Anbu headquarters, which seemed to help. The Anbu stopped emitting killing intent all the time, and Iruka didn’t worry that they’d conveniently look away if an assassin came after Kakashi.

 

It took a few weeks for Iruka to realize that he was seeing even less of Kakashi that he had before. “It’s worse than it was when he first took the hat,” he complained to Anko, who still came by regularly to be fed and to bitch about her first genin team. “Now I’m lucky if he comes home at night at all. If I didn’t know how ridiculously busy he was, I’d worry he was having an affair.”

 

Anko snorted. “I don’t think you need to worry about that, Roo. That guy is so far gone on you, it’s a miracle he can write his own name and not yours on all his paperwork.” She stuffed a sweet roll in her mouth and chewed with great consideration. “You know, now that you mention it, I’ve noticed that Cat is around him more and more lately. Maybe he’s restructuring Anbu.”

 

“Maybe,” Iruka said, thinking it through. That wasn’t something that Kakashi would discuss with him. Iruka, like most of the villagers, preferred to know as little as possible about Anbu. He appreciated them for their service and tried to make their lives easier when they had to guard him and Kakashi, but he absolutely did not want to get dragged into the quagmire that was the organization. With Danzo gone and Yamato in charge, he hoped that things were better, but Anbu was always going to be Anbu. He swiftly distracted Anko by mentioning the upcoming chunin exams, but he continued to wonder.

 

Whenever he did happen to see Kakashi, he asked Iruka the most random questions that Iruka couldn’t decide if he was dealing with a malfunctioning clone or not. “What do you think about the color green?” he’d ask as Iruka filled their bento boxes for the day.

 

“Um. It’s nice in the spring?” Iruka would return, confused.

 

“How do you feel about closets?” was his next question when he popped into the bathroom as Iruka was having a bath.

 

“Kakashi, I’m wet and I’m naked. You seriously want to ask me about closets right now?” Iruka responded, feeling annoyed. Of course, offended majesty was a hard look to pull off when one was covered in soap bubbles.

 

“You’re right, what was I thinking? Carry on,” Kakashi said with a leer as his vest hit the floor.

 

When Iruka was watering the new Mr. Ukki, Kakashi body flickered into the living room in a dramatic swirl of leaves. He easily dodged the shuriken a startled Iruka threw at him and said, “What are your thoughts on traditional versus modern architecture?”

 

“What is this about, the new Academy building?” Iruka shot back, bewildered, digging the shuriken out of the wall.

 

“Yeah, sure,” Kakashi nodded as he grabbed Iruka’s watering can to keep tending to Mr. Ukki. “So? Your thoughts?”

 

One Saturday, Iruka was surprised to wake up and find Kakashi still curled around him in their bed. Usually he had slipped away by now to go to the memorial or to the office. Even so, Iruka knew better than to think that Kakashi was still asleep. He always seemed to wake up exactly five minutes before Iruka, no matter how much they had worn each other out the night before. It had exasperated Iruka initially, but now he found the quirk adorable. “Good morning,” he hummed, stroking the arm that Kakashi had thrown over his stomach.

 

Kakashi nuzzled Iruka’s neck. “Good morning. Sleep well?” Iruka heard the note of concern hiding in Kakashi’s casual voice. Iruka, and indeed everyone that had been trapped in the Infinite Tsukuyomi, regularly suffered from nightmares. For many people, finding joy and then having it taken away had been harder to deal with than the horrors of war. Sakura’s clinic couldn’t be completed soon enough for Konoha.

 

“Yes,” Iruka sighed, absolutely relaxed. “No dreams.” He turned over onto his back and stretched luxuriously, which gave Kakashi’s hands the freedom to wander to interesting places. “Not headed to the office?” Iruka asked, hoping that he wouldn’t have to tell his body to stand down.

 

Kakashi grinned and Iruka enjoyed his mask-less face and the crinkles at his eyes. “No, not today. I thought we could spend a Saturday together for a change. Konoha will survive without me for a little while. Any complaints?”

 

Iruka pulled Kakashi closer with a predatory smile. “Not a one,” he murmured as he brought their lips together in a firm kiss.

 

Much, much later, Iruka was making okonomiyaki at the stove while Kakashi read a book at the kotatsu. “Want to take a walk after breakfast?” Kakashi asked as he turned a page.

 

“Sure,” Iruka said with a shrug. “I’ve been so busy at the Academy that I haven’t had the chance to see how the rebuilding is going.”

 

“You’ll never hear me say that Pein was a good thing, but it has ended up being an opportunity for Konoha,” Kakashi said as he put his book down and accepted a plate from Iruka. “The village was so disorganized before. We’ve had the chance to plan the city better, build wider streets, install updated plumbing and electrical grids. You won’t believe the chunin and jonin dorms that are being designed. They’re actually going to have private bathrooms.

 

“Dare to dream,” Iruka said with a laugh as he dug into his eggs.

 

“I shared a bathroom for eight years with Genma,” Kakashi said with a shudder, his eyes haunted. “There are some things you can never unsee, Iruka.”

 

They held hands as they walked through the village that afternoon. Everyone was being unusually obliging and were all pretending not to see the Hokage taking a leisurely stroll. Of course, that might have had something to do with the Anbu that lurked up on the roofs wherever they went, but Iruka preferred to believe it was simple courtesy. Iruka smiled, pleased with the warmth of the sunshine and the feeling of Kakashi’s thumb rubbing circles on the back of his hand. He waved to Shikamaru and Temari having lunch at Ichiraku’s, shouted encouragement to a weary Ebisu coaching his team through katas at the training fields, and smiled at Ino through the glass window of Yamanaka Flowers. Where as a child he had only seen hunger and neglect, and after Pein only death and destruction, now he saw friends. Family.

 

Iruka was grinning at the sound of Rock Lee egging on Gai in some contest that was echoing through the streets when Kakashi suddenly stopped. “What is it?” Iruka asked, automatically looking up. No, the Anbu were still there and looking completely unconcerned.

 

Kakashi shifted in place, scuffing his feet like a little boy. He actually looked nervous. “Do you recognize where we are right now?”

 

It took Iruka a moment to realize what he meant; everything looked different than it had before being flattened. “Oh!” he cried out after a minute. “This is where my house with my parents used to be. Why are we here, Kakashi?” he asked, tilting his head in confusion.

 

At that moment, Yamato trotted up. “Hello, Iruka-sensei, senpai,” he said, panting. “I apologize for being late.”

 

“Afternoon, Yamato,” Iruka responded, confused. “Late for what?”

 

Kakashi’s ears turned red and Iruka tried hard not to find it absolutely adorable. “That’s what I was about to tell you. I asked Tenzo to help me with something special.” He took Iruka’s hands in his. “Both of our houses have been destroyed, you know. You lost yours in the Kyuubi attack, and the Hatake compound was smashed by Pein. I didn’t mind losing mine; it had too many ghosts living there. But you did mind losing yours. Ever since then, you’ve bounced from genin dorm to a small chunin apartment, and now to our little house. I don’t think you’ve ever really felt safe anywhere, which is what leads you to do such goddamn stupid things,” he said with a scowl while Iruka blushed. “So, Tenzo and I cooked this up.” He turned to Yamato. “You have it in your head?”

 

“Yes, senpai,” Yamato said with a nod. “I got the final renderings last night.” While Iruka watched dumbly, Yamato stepped away from them and made his way to what Iruka recognized as the border of the Umino land. Quickly making a series of hand signs, Yamato smashed his palm to the ground with a shout. Before their eyes, wood sprouted from the ground and started to form graceful arches, walls, a fence with a gate, and gleaming floors. After only a minute, a beautiful new compound was formed with Yamato’s signature skill. The architecture was mostly traditional with a few modern touches, all graceful lines and intricate carvings.

 

Kakashi stepped through the new gates and led Iruka past a dog run to the engawa. A distant part of Iruka’s mind was already planning the new wards the house would need, along with a series of barriers to put into the high fence and gate. “Thanks, Tenzo,” Kakashi threw over his shoulder as they walked by. “Give us a second to look around.” Yamato saluted sloppily and went to sit under a sakura tree that was now blooming in the front garden.

 

Going through the house, Iruka remained speechless. The house wasn’t overly large, but the rooms were airy and comfortable. The walls were pale and clean, and the floor showed the light gleaming through the thin shoji screens. There was a large bedroom (with a closet with all sorts of built-in drawers and racks) for him and Kakashi, a slightly smaller bedroom for Naruto, two guest rooms, and three bathrooms. There was a study with bookshelves lining the walls, a living room with a kotatsu, and a huge kitchen.

 

Kakashi opened another door in the kitchen and showed Iruka an enormous pantry. Uncomfortable with the silence, he said, “You can keep this pantry full at all times. Instant ramen to your heart’s content.” Pointing to an almost invisible trap door, he added, “There’s even a special room under the floor that’s just for emergency supplies, in case this house gets smashed, too. Tenzo reinforced the bunker to be able to stand up to anything up to and including bijuu and megalomaniac villains.”

 

That got a laugh out of Iruka, and he swiped a sleeve across his damp eyes. “Can we paint the kitchen yellow?” he asked hesitantly, remembering his dream in the Infinite Tsukuyomi.

 

Pulling Iruka into his arms with a snort, Kakashi replied, “You can paint the whole damn house puce if you want. Just be happy here.”

 

Iruka snuggled in with a sigh. “It’s perfect, Kakashi. I can tell how much thought you put into this, although I’m sure the nicest bits were all Yamato’s ideas.”

 

“Hey!” Kakashi protested. “I’ll have you know that the double bathtub was all my idea.”

 

“Pervert,” Iruka said with a gentle nip to Kakashi’s nose. “But I love it. And I love you.”

 

They went back outside and saw Naruto standing with his jaw practically on the ground. “Whoa, Iruka-nee-san! This is amazing!” he said with his signature enthusiasm. “Are you really going to live here?”

“Yes,” said Iruka, stepping up. “And so will you, until you’re ready for your own place, if you’d like. There’s definitely plenty of room for you.”

 

“Hell, yes!” Naruto crowed. “Where’s my room?” He ran right past Kakashi and Iruka and thundered into the house, all speed and no grace. “This one’s mine!” they heard him howl after a minute. “And this bathroom’s mine, too!”

 

Shaking his head woefully, Kakashi said. “We’ll never be rid of him now. And where Naruto goes, there goes Shikamaru and Sakura and Kiba and Sai...”

 

Iruka pinched his side. “Don’t forget Hinata. I have hopes there.”

 

Kakashi looked ill. “Please don’t say that. I don’t think I can handle Naruto being romantic now; his puppy love for Sakura was too much to bear when he was a genin. But as an adult? He’s loud enough when he isn’t being fervent .”

 

Iruka ignored him and turned to Tenzo. “Yamato-san, thank you so much. This is more than I could have ever dreamed.”

 

Yamato bowed, a funny, formal gesture. “It’s my pleasure, Iruka-sensei. Just think of it as a token of my appreciation for you keeping the hokage in line.”

“Treason!” Kakashi shrieked, flailing his arms at Yamato’s exaggerated eye roll. “Mutiny! To think that my own Anbu commander could say such things before me, me, the sixth Hokage…”

 

“Oh, shush,” Iruka said pleasantly to the Sixth Hokage’s shocked face. “You know you deserve everything he gives you. Didn’t I hear something in the market last week about you flicking ink at your guards?”

 

“More treason,” Kakashi muttered sulkily. “No one was supposed to know about that. Who told on me? I bet it was Chouza, no respect, that one...”

 

Yamato cut in, possibly averting another war. “Have you seen the backyard, Iruka-sensei?”

 

“No, we haven’t made it that far. Show me!” Iruka said eagerly.

 

Yamato led Iruka and Kakashi around to the back of the house, and Naruto joined them after thoroughly inspecting the kitchen. There were orderly rows of fruits, vegetables and flowers, already blooming due to Yamato’s influence. Apple, plum and peach trees were laden down with their sweet burdens, and the air smelled fresh and clean. “Did I miss anything?” Yamato asked a little anxiously.

 

“Just one thing,” Iruka said, eyeing a slightly bare corner near the kitchen door, “but it’s something I want to do myself.”

 

…………………….

 

Two weeks later, Kakashi and Iruka were moving into their new home. Naruto had rounded up all of his friends to help them put together the new furniture that they had purchased, although Shikamaru had already disappeared into the backyard where there was a convenient cloud-watching slope, and Chouji was immersed in organizing the drawers in the sunny yellow kitchen. Iruka had stocked the bunker, the pantry and the fridge the night before after a truly ridiculous grocery shopping trip, and something in his chest eased to know that they were prepared for whatever the future brought. He had accepted the fact that he would always be afraid of hunger, but he didn’t have to carry it with him every day anymore.

 

Tripping over various members of the ninken, who were all too excited about their new territory to maintain their dignity, Iruka carefully placed Mr. Ukki in the place of honor on the windowsill in front of the sink.

 

He walked slowly through the bustling house, seeing Naruto talking gently to Hinata as they put the final swishes of green paint on the walls in the living room. Sakura and Ino were carefully organizing books in the study, and Shino and Yamato were considering where an apiary could go in the backyard. Bull napped in a patch of sunshine on the engawa, as much as in the way as he could possibly be. Gai zoomed down the hall in his wheelchair with towels balanced dangerously on his lap, Rock Lee only a step behind him with a stack of sheets, a yapping Bisuke bringing up the rear. Anko could be seen trying to sneak into Iruka and Kakashi’s bedroom, no doubt with some dastardly prank in mind, only to be turned away by a scowling Kurenai, Mirai laughing at Anko’s disappointed face from her place on her mother’s hip.

 

Iruka smiled at the chaos and stepped out into the backyard to the neglected corner he’d noticed with Yamato and Kakashi. There were two large potted plants from Yamanaka Flowers waiting for him, heavy with delicate white blooms. Iruka had already shooed Ino away from them, wanting to do this job himself.

 

Paying no mind to his clean white leg wrappings, Iruka knelt in the dirt, gingerly removed the honeysuckle bushes from their pots, and snuggled them into the already dug holes that awaited them. He smoothed the earth over them, and then lovingly watered the roots. The sweet scent of the flowers that always reminded him of his mother filled his nose and his lungs and his heart.

 

He stood up slowly and brushed the warm dirt from his hands, remembering how he had once done the same with bloody fingers after emerging from a God tree pod. He remembered his parents, tasting salt on his lips. He remembered the Sandaime Hokage and Asuma, with their kind eyes and the scent of tobacco drifting in their wakes. He remembered Neji’s honor and Jiraiya's faith and Shikaku’s wisdom and Inoichi’s perception.

 

A warm hand dropped onto Iruka’s shoulder, then moved down and loosened the aches that never really went away in his back. “They look nice, ‘Ruka,” Kakashi said softly as he surveyed the new plants. “Are you satisfied?”

 

“Yes,” Iruka said, knowing that it was true. Ignoring the dirt, Iruka took Kakashi’s hand in his, their matching silver rings gleaming. They walked together into the house, and Iruka closed the door behind them.