A/N: Here it is- finally! Took me long enough, huh? XD Sorry about that...Your patience will be rewarded! I have for you a nice long juicy chapter to end the story with! I hope you enjoy it!


Chapter Eight: In Your Arms

An enormous shuriken was whizzing through the air. Iruka barely had time to realize what he was doing as he sped towards Naruto, who was on the ground scrambling to escape the deadly weapon's path. The young ninja closed his eyes, certain that his life was over…until he saw his sensei over him, shielding him with his body. Tears were running down the chunnin's face. Naruto stared at him, wide-eyed, horrified, and confused.

"W-Why?"

No one had ever cared for him as long as he could remember, and here his sensei, who he was sure hated him, had suddenly leapt in front of a shuriken to save him. The blonde just didn't understand. Iruka's tears dripped down from his face and onto his student's. His voice shook as he spoke.

"Because…we're the same."

Iruka's heart was pounding. His back- it hurt. There was so much blood…Was this really the end? He grunted in pain, the weapon embedded deeply into his back. He gazed down into Naruto's blue eyes…but suddenly, it wasn't Naruto anymore. Below him was-

"Kakashi!"

The chunnin's eyes shot open as he yelled out the name. He was somewhere strange…He blinked a few times, eyes scanning the area around him. His injured arm was tightly bandaged and held in a sling. He could feel bandages wrapped all over his body. There was a sharp pain in his back, but it didn't hurt as much as he had expected. He remembered the first time he had been struck with the giant shuriken. Now that had been painful. Iruka shuddered at the memory. If I keep making a habit of this, I'm not going to live very long…

The door opened suddenly, and Tsunade herself entered the room.

"Godaime-sama!" Iruka said, surprised.

"Ah, you're awake, Iruka-sensei. That's good news. How are you feeling?"

"Probably not as bad as I look," Iruka mumbled, rubbing his forehead lightly with the hand of his good arm, "After what happened, I'm surprised I don't feel worse."

"Yes…Kakashi-sensei did an impressive job on you for the condition he was in. I didn't even know he knew any medical jutsu…"

"K-Kakashi healed me?"

The Fifth Hokage nodded.

"He closed the wound in your back. The rescue team found the two of you unconscious on the forest floor and brought you back here. Most of your other injuries were not too serious. You should recover quickly."

Iruka stared into her light brown eyes.

"What about Kakashi?"

Tsunade's face fell, and she let out a sigh, turning away from Iruka slightly. Iruka raised his eyebrows in alarm.

"He's going to be okay, isn't he? Godaime-sama!"

He was trying hard not to yell at the village leader, but the look on her face was causing him to panic.

"Hard to say," Tsunade sighed finally, "He overused his chakra supply. There's barely any left, and it's recovering very slowly- possibly too slow. His body is exhausted right now. If he's unable to regain enough of his chakra...You know what will happen."

Iruka knew it only too well.

"He'll…die."

It was part of the basics of ninjutsu. The academy teacher taught it all the time. "Don't overuse your chakra- if you do, it can kill you." Kakashi should have known this better than anyone, and yet…

"Can I see him?"

"You're hardly in any condition for that," Tsunade objected, but seeing Iruka's pleading face, considered, "Maybe we can have a wheelchair brought in…"

Iruka rose painfully and lowered himself into the wheelchair when it arrived. Tsunade pushed him out the door and toward Kakashi's room. As Iruka entered, he saw the jounin lying on the bed, and wearing nothing but hospital pants and his mask. He had several bruises and bandages on his chest. Tsunade wheeled Iruka to his bedside so the chunnin could see the visible part of the jounin's face.

Kakashi's eyes were tightly shut, and his face looked pained, though most of it was hidden. Iruka looked at him worriedly and cautiously reached out to touch the jounin's pale arm. He could sense almost no chakra circulating through him. The chunnin's hand shook slightly. He flinched as he felt Tsunade's hand on his shoulder.

"Iruka…"

"He can't die," Iruka said in a low voice, "It was supposed to be me."

The Fifth let out a sympathetic sigh.

"Kakashi pushed himself past his capabilities to save you both. I'm sure he wouldn't want you feeling sorry that he did."

"If only one of us can live…" Iruka felt something sting in his nose. His eyes watered slightly as he gazed at the silver-haired jounin sadly. Tsunade could hear the guilt and regret in his voice.

"He didn't care about himself…He did this because of me. It's my fault."

"You shouldn't blame yourself, Iruka. He only did what he thought was best, given the situation."

I didn't ask him to…Iruka saw the bandages wrapped around his chest and shoulder- the shoulder he had stabbed while possessed by the enemy's jutsu. There was another bandage around his arm where the chunnin had slashed him with the same kunai. I did this to you. It was too much- Iruka lost the fight against his tears. They worked their way slowly down from his eyes until Iruka's hand rose to wipe them away quickly. He knew he could never stand living with such guilt. The chunnin hadn't felt this kind of pain since his parents had died. I don't want to lose you too…

"Isn't there anything you can do?" Iruka whispered.

"We're doing all we can," Tsunade replied, "His system is too worn out from chakra overuse. Every bit that's regained slowly is immediately used to help heal his body. For him to regain a sufficient amount of chakra and maintain his normal flow, he would need a large dose at once, but-"

Iruka jolted slightly as an idea appeared without warning as well as a burst of hope.

"Chakra transfer jutsu…"

"What?" Tsunade asked, confused.

"It's something Kakashi used when we were captured. He transferred his chakra to me, and I was able to use it to break out of my chains. If we could use it to give some chakra back to him…wouldn't that be enough to save him?"

Tsunade thought to herself for a moment.

"I've never heard of anything like that existing," she remarked, a half-smile spreading across her lips, "Leave it to Sharingan Kakashi to learn it."

Iruka's face fell.

"Does that mean you can't-?"

"Now, don't say that," the Fifth said sternly, "Don't worry, I'm sure we can find a way. If someone doesn't know, I can research it. We can't just give up on one of our best jounin, now can we?"

She smirked at him warmly. The chunnin wasn't sure whether or not she was just trying to make him feel better by giving him hope. But that would be cruel if she didn't really believe there was a way to save him. Iruka chose to trust her. He returned the smile.

"Please hurry, Godaime-sama."

The Fifth Hokage smiled and gave him a reassuring nod.

"I'll start right away. As soon as I get you back to-"

"Please…Can I stay for a bit?" Iruka asked quietly.

Tsunade sighed with a frown. Iruka was giving her the same look she had gotten earlier, and she couldn't bring herself to say "no."

"Very well, but I'm sending someone back for you soon," she told him and left the room.

Iruka watched the door close and turned his gaze back on the unconscious jounin. Kakashi twitched slightly and let out a deep sigh. I wonder if he's dreaming about something, Iruka thought. The Copy-Nin was trembling slightly. Iruka slid his hand into his, trying to calm him. Kakashi relaxed a little, but his eyebrows furrowed slightly in troubled worry.

"Hey, it's okay, Kakashi," Iruka said softly to him, though he felt a bit silly.

Maybe if Kakashi heard his voice, even subconsciously, it would help…

" I'm fine," Iruka said, "Thanks to you. You're going to be fine too…You just have to hang in there a little longer."

The chunnin blushed slightly as he suddenly felt Kakashi's hand grip his tightly. He turned even redder when he heard the jounin mutter something subconsciously that sounded strangely familiar.

"I…ruka…"

The brown-haired man froze for a moment in shock and slight embarrassment, but he also felt a wave of relief and happiness. Even his name mumbled subconsciously meant that the jounin might be a step closer to regaining full consciousness. The academy teacher wondered if this meant the Copy-nin could indeed actually hear him.

"I'm right here, Kakashi…"

A lazy grey eye slowly opened halfway. It gazed hazily at Iruka and curved into a shape that looked like a frown, but was in actuality, a smile. A scarred red one followed it, but as soon as it had opened, both fell shut as the remaining chakra was immediately used up. Iruka's eyes widened as the hand clutching his suddenly fell limp. The chunnin started shaking slightly and found that he couldn't breathe.

"Kakashi!" he wanted to scream, but the name wouldn't come. Iruka couldn't move. The hand he was holding was slowly growing colder…Tears were out of his control. No, no, no…

He saw Kakashi near the memorial, smiling at him. His hand was on Iruka's shoulder. "You don't have to worry about a thing…" His voice was so warm and reassuring. "…as long as I'm still here, he'll be fine. I would never let my teammates die." The chunnin closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, he was in Kakashi's arms. "Looks like you overdid it. I think it's best if we stopped and rested a while, hmm?" The next moment, he was on Kakashi's back, feeling the wind against his face as the jounin bounded from tree to tree.

They were eating dinner together and talking about Naruto. Kakashi admitted something sadly." I wish I felt more…useful." They were locked up in cells next to each other. Iruka could hear his voice through the wall. "You were supposed to have kept going." He saw his eyes widened in shock as Iruka stood before him with a shuriken embedded in his back. "I want it to be you," Iruka told him. I WANT IT TO BE YOU! The chunnin's eyes were filled with tears, and he felt himself growing smaller and suddenly felt helpless. It was raining. Everything was black. He looked up into a younger Kakashi's eyes as he felt a small hand on his shoulder. "I know how you feel…"

You can't leave me, Kakashi, Iruka thought as he began to tremble harder. I…need you…I need you!

He threw himself forward painfully from the wheelchair and placed his head at Kakashi's shoulder, sobbing shamelessly. DON'T DIE! There was a sudden burst of energy within him that came with this wave of emotion. Iruka wanted to throw all of the chakra from his body and pour it into his teammate- he wanted it more than he had ever wanted anything else. He wanted to save the one who had risked so much for him. "It should have been me."

"KAKASHI!"

The name was finally able to escape him…and all of a sudden, his head was spinning. His energy was leaving him. His world was turning black…

Kakashi was somewhere far away. He sat at the edge of a stream, and looking down at his arms, he saw the protective metal armor plates he always use to wear as a child and the large cross strap that held his father's chakra blade on his back. He thought he heard someone calling his name, and as he looked across the stream, he saw the figure of a familiar man. Father? Kakashi rose, but Sakumo had already disappeared. In his place stood a blonde man with a welcoming smile. Sensei…Behind him appeared Kakashi's old teammates, Rin and Obito. Kakashi reached a hand out towards them, as if this would somehow bring them closer. They all looked just as they had before they had died. Their warm smiles filled him with a now-familiar longing. He could hear them calling his name. Kakashi!

"KAKASHI!"

It was louder now. The images suddenly faded away, and the jounin gasped as he felt a force shoot into his body, reviving his strength and consciousness. It wasn't until he looked down and saw the chunnin lying at his shoulder that he realized who had really been calling his name.

"Iruka?"

Kakashi raised an arm painfully- his body ached all over. He touched Iruka's shoulder and shook him slightly. The chunnin didn't budge.

"Iruka!"

The jounin tried to register what was going on. The last thing he remembered, he had been on the forest floor, closing a large wound on Iruka's back…then he had sent the nin-dog. They must have gotten back to Konoha somehow- Kakashi recognized the hospital all too well- but why was Iruka unconscious and leaning out of a wheelchair onto his bed? Unless…

Kakashi raised his hand up to his own forehead. His chakra flow felt almost regular, but something about it was different, almost unfamiliar. Iruka…No, that's impossible…The chakra transfer jutsu could only be used…Kakashi felt his face grow hot. He pulled down his mask and felt a little better. He then realized that his shirt was gone, so he removed the strange-looking ring of fabric from around his neck. He looked down at the chunnin worriedly. He needs help…

Just then, a nurse burst threw the door.

"Umino-san, Tsunade-sama sent me to- Oh! Hatake-san, you're awake!"

Kakashi's face turned slightly red at being caught without his mask. He recovered quickly though, out of concern for Iruka.

"He's unconscious. Please help him," he said urgently.

"Of course!" the nurse responded, already rushing over.

She lifted the rest of Iruka back into the wheelchair and pushed him back to his own room. Kakashi watched them go worriedly. I hope he'll be okay…

Tsunade came as soon as she had heard what had happened. She headed for Iruka's room, and as she came in, she spotted the chunnin lying on his bed with the nurse sitting at his bedside.

"What's his condition?" the Hokage questioned.

"He's low on chakra, but should recover," the nurse responded.

"That's good…"

The Fifth looked down at the tan-skinned man who appeared to be sleeping peacefully. He had wiped most of his chakra out. Does that mean…? As soon as Tsunade had double-checked to make sure Iruka was okay, she made her way to Kakashi's room. She was surprised to see the jounin sitting up so alertly as she entered. Tsunade had heard that Kakashi was awake, but she still had expected him to be just on the brink of consciousness.

"Feeling better?" she asked him.

He looked up at her with one lazy eye, careful to keep the left one closed.

"A little," he replied, smiling just slightly.

His face grew serious quickly however as he gave the Hokage a concerned look.

"How…is Iruka?"

"He'll be fine," Tsunade told him, "Seems like his chakra's been nearly depleted. What happened?"

Kakashi cast his eye down.

"I think it was…the chakra transfer jutsu."

"Iruka knew how to do it?"

"Apparently so…"

"How is that possible? Did you teach it to him?"

Kakashi tried to shake his head, but the motion hurt.

"No…This type of jutsu is unusual. You don't have to learn it to be able to use it. It could happen accidentally."

Tsunade raised an eyebrow at him questioningly.

"How so?"

Kakashi hesitated for a moment. He looked up at Tsunade with his open eye for a moment before averting it again.

"There's only one condition that has to be met," he told her softly.

"And that is?"

Kakashi thought back to the time he had learned the chakra transfer jutsu. It had been many years ago, during his time as an ANBU. The one he had copied it from had been another ANBU in his group, the one who had died right after…

"The user must care about the receiver more than himself," the jounin answered.

Tsunade said nothing at first. She glanced at Kakashi curiously, observing his silence. Then, she nodded understandingly.

"That would make sense, seeing that you did the same for him."

Kakashi sighed. Of course he had known that to him, his life wasn't worth more than Iruka's, but for Iruka to think the opposite…

"No one cares that much for me."

"Apparently, that's not true," Tsunade told him, "I don't know much about this jutsu, but if what you say about it is correct, Iruka-sensei must care for you a lot... because I don't know him as one to think too little of himself."

And with that, the Fifth Hokage left, leaving the jounin alone with his thoughts and confusion.

In a room not too far away, Iruka was slowly regaining consciousness. What happened? he thought wearily. He felt as if all the energy had been sucked out of him. Even opening his eyes felt exhausting. The chunnin kept them closed as he thought back to what had happened before he had passed out. His face flushed red as the recent memories came back to him. I need you…All the pain within him returned with his consciousness. Kakashi was dead. Iruka had seen him die- his partner had used up his chakra to heal him when he should have been the one who had been saved. It's all my fault, Iruka thought bitterly to himself. Why did he…He shouldn't have…Stupid Kakashi! Why couldn't you just let me die peacefully after saving you? Now I have to live with the guilt of having your life sacrificed for mine…It was selfish, he knew. Kakashi would have felt the same guilt if he had been the one who had lived…but now Iruka thought he was the only one left, so he was allowed to get mad at the jounin for choosing a death less painful than life. He squeezed his eyes shut tighter and suppressed a whimper. Kakashi- why?

It was a little over an hour after Tsunade had left that a nurse found a certain jounin stumbling his way down the hall. She rushed to his side in a panic.

"Hatake-san! You're not well enough to be walking around!" she hissed.

"I'm fine," the Copy-Nin protested stubbornly, "Where is Iruka's room?"

"You can't see him right now! Umino-san is resting! If you want him to get better, you'll leave him alone!"

"I just want to see him," Kakashi insisted, "Please…"

And here he made a face that could not easily be described by those who saw it. It wasn't a pout- Kakashi wasn't the type that pouted…but his unmasked lips moved in an almost pleading way and his eyes were suddenly filled with a pained look that stabbed the nurse in the heart and caused her face to flush slightly.

"Very well…This way."

When Kakashi entered the room and was promptly seated in a chair next to Iruka's bed, he found that the chunnin's eyes were tightly shut. The nurse left the two of them alone, promising to return soon to escort Kakashi back to his room and already dreading the lecture she was sure to receive from Tsunade about letting patients run around loose in the hospital.

The jounin stared at Iruka quietly. Despite having his eyes shut, the chunnin looked restless. Kakashi frowned as he watched the academy teacher grimace. Are you in pain because of me? The Copy-Nin had suddenly found himself desperate to sort out the feelings tangled within him. It was as if the knot of emotion he had been trying to suppress had continued to grow larger and larger within him during this past mission- and messier along the way. He knew he would risk anything for his companions; he was much like his father in this way. When it came to Iruka, however, there was another factor that played into this, which was exactly what he was trying to figure out. Why do you care so much for me? As if the implication that lay behind the chakra-transfer jutsu wasn't enough, Kakashi found himself thinking back to that battle in the forest the night before. Iruka had put the jounin's life first even then. He had chosen Kakashi's life over his own the moment he had leapt in front of the shuriken. How long have you felt this way? It couldn't have been very long at all. Surely the famous Copy-nin would have noticed…but sometimes no matter how far underneath the underneath Kakashi looked, not all answers came in a simple form.

It had been a long time since Iruka had closed his eyes, but no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't get himself to drift away into the more peaceful land of sleep. It was all he wanted- just something, anything to stop the pain, at least temporarily. Sleep seemed like his only option for escape at the moment, but yet, it remained out of his reach. The chunnin's face twisted in frustration. He tried to shut out all outside noises, even when they were coming from right next to him. He didn't care what it was. It wasn't worth opening his eyes and facing the world he was trying to hide from just to find out.

You were always protecting me…but why couldn't you let me do the same for you? Just once- when it mattered…Kakashi…

Iruka moved around in his hospital bed restlessly, surprised that he had the energy to move at all. His body felt numb all over, and there was an emptiness inside of him that he had seldom felt before. He wondered if it was the loss of Kakashi or of his chakra that had caused it. He finally lay still, hands clenched slightly and involuntary tears slowly making their way down the sides of his face from his eyes to his ears…Then, he felt a warm hand on his own.

At first, Iruka wasn't sure if it was real. Maybe he was just imagining things…but the warmth was there. He debated whether or not to open his eyes. He didn't need comforting from some stranger. Whose hand could possibly be on his? No one that he knew…The academy teacher chose to keep his eyes shut- until he heard a voice.

"Iruka…"

That voice- it was familiar. Iruka's eyes shot open immediately, and he sat up a little too fast. He lifted the hand of his good arm and placed it on his forehead. Slowly, his eyes scanned his hospital room, but he saw no one he recognized. There was only one young man sitting in the chair next to him. He had a handsome face that Iruka had never seen before. It made the chunnin blush slightly and then jump in shock when his gaze fell on his visitor's eyes. One lazy marble grey eye stared back at him underneath a silver brow. The other eye was shut tightly and bisected by a large scar. It couldn't be...but only one man Iruka knew had eyes like that.

"K-kakashi?" the brown-haired man stammered.

The jounin got over his well-hidden shock and embarrassment at the chunnin rising up so quickly after he had touched his hand, and he smiled at Iruka, lips curving along with his eyes for the first time the academy teacher had ever seen.

"Glad to see you're awake, Iruka," the Copy-Nin told him.

The chunnin didn't answer right away. His eyes were transfixed on the jounin's mouth- which he could actually see move when he talked. It was much different than simply watching fabric shift. Kakashi realized what the chunnin was looking at and blushed slightly. There was no mask to hide the redness on his pale face.

Seeing Kakashi's face redden alerted Iruka to what he was doing, and he turned away embarrassedly, his own face flushing. His mind was flooded and confused. Am I dreaming? Kakashi is…

The academy teacher looked back towards the man sitting next to his bed. He was no illusion. His single eye watched Iruka concernedly. The chunnin was staring down at the blankets of the hospital bed that covered the lower half of his body. His fist gripped the bed sheet as his eyes slowly flooded. Kakashi leaned closer.

"Iruka? Are you-"

The Copy-nin was cut off by a certain chunnin as the younger man suddenly lunged forward and threw his good arm around the jounin. Kakashi was frozen in shock as he felt Iruka's arm tighten around him as the one in the sling was squeezed between them. If it hurt, Iruka didn't seem to care. The jounin could feel the wetness of the chunnin's tears on his bare chest.

"I thought you were dead," Iruka choked out finally.

Kakashi raised his eyebrows in surprise.

"Don't you remember? You're the one who saved me. You used the chakra transfer justu and brought me back…"

"W-what? I didn't do anything. I'm the reason you almost died!"

Kakashi found himself reaching out to embrace his partner in an attempt to comfort him.

"You're wrong," the Copy-nin said, "You're the reason I'm alive…and this isn't the first time that's true."

Iruka pulled away slowly and looked up at the jounin questioningly. Kakashi felt his hand slide off the bandages on Iruka's back where the large wound he had closed was hidden. The jounin looked at Iruka sadly.

"Back in the forest…when you jumped in front of me-"

He averted his eyes, letting his sentence trail off. The academy teacher could sense that he was distressed about something. The Copy-nin was silent.

"Why?" he finished finally.

Iruka couldn't help but give a small, choked laugh of disbelief. After all this time, the jounin still didn't get it. He didn't understand…Kakashi flinched at this unexpected reaction to his question. Iruka quickly wiped the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand and smiled at the jounin.

"Because for a moment," he told him, "there was something more important to me than my life."

Kakashi stared back at him, wide-eyed. So it's true then…You really do care more about me than yourself.

"Why me?" he whispered.

Iruka froze and bit his lip slightly. Was he ready to admit it? Admit what part of him had known was true all along? He took a sharp breath in before he spoke.

"We're not so different, you and I."

Kakashi raised his eyebrows, mouth slightly agape. Iruka looked up at him almost sadly, though he knew he had never been happier in his life. Kakashi was alive

"When you stopped moving, I thought I had lost you, and the thought of you gone forever…and it being my fault…It was just too much for me."

The chunnin's drying tears began to resurface. Even Iruka rarely cried, and Kakashi felt a painful pang within him as the chunnin stifled a sob. He saw a young genin before him, dressed in black, mourning his recently dead parents…He remembered the way he had felt when he had seen that boy crying, the understanding that had existed between them…I know how you feel.

Kakashi put a hand on the Iruka's shoulder.

"I would never want you to feel that way for my sake…"

"Kakashi…"

"You care about me more than yourself- that's more than I deserve."

Iruka shook his head.

"Everyone always talks about how great you are, but you always put yourself so low."

Because I'm not worth anything, the Copy-Nin thought, I've failed so many times…the times that were most essential. I always told my team that I'd protect them with my life…but I never-

"You're important to me, Kakashi," Iruka said suddenly, cutting off the jounin's thoughts.

Kakashi looked into his partner's eyes questioningly. Iruka smiled at him crookedly, eyes red from the tears. The jounin wasn't sure how to respond. He opened his mouth slightly, but closed it again when the words failed to come.

The chunnin leaned closer to him and brought his hand up to Kakashi's face, cupping his jaw as he stared at the mismatched eyes hazily. Iruka wasn't sure if he was feeling like himself or not, but all of a sudden, he felt himself wanting to get closer to the Copy-Nin who he felt like he was seeing for the first time. Kakashi was too confused to comprehend it right away. He didn't resist or pull away when Iruka touched him. In fact, he found himself leaning closer to the academy teacher as Iruka drew him in. Their noses touched briefly and then- their lips met.

Neither was sure when the kiss ended or how it had really happened in the first place, but the fact was that it had, and that something about it had felt right. I never want to lose you, Kakashi, Iruka thought as he let his hand slip from the Copy-nin's face and sat up straight. He watched as his handsome teammate's lips curled into a smile. Kakashi felt as if he were dreaming, or rather like he was waking up from a nightmare, only to find that everything was all right in the real world. It was a happiness that was difficult to explain, as it was new to him. He couldn't remember the last time he realized that someone had cared about him so much. Usually by the time he had, it had been too late- he had already lost that person. Iruka was still here with him, however.

Maybe life does give you second chances sometimes…It's rare, but- He looked into his partner's scarred face, which was warmed by a smile that told him that he was accepted, that he was loved. Kakashi continued to smile back, trying to return the message in a way his words could not. –I'd be a fool not to take one when it's offered.

They took a hold of each other's hand, and didn't let go- not even when the nurse came back for Kakashi, only to turn around embarrassedly and exit the room upon seeing the scene before her. The two ninja laughed nervously to themselves, but didn't dwell on it long.

They were released from the hospital a few days later, and from then on, whatever had sprouted between them continued to grow. Iruka went back to the academy to teach the students who were surprisingly very excited about his return. It seemed the sub had been more than they could handle this time. Iruka learned later than it had been none other than Morino Ibiki, who had only needed to come by briefly to "calm the restless children down" before they had been so traumatized that any teacher that came after him was quickly obeyed, and having their old familiar teacher back again restored their comfort and even some of their innocence. Iruka would have to have a talk with the chief interrogator later. As he stood at the front of the classroom and lectured his students about basic ninja techniques and principles, his healing arm still in a sling, Iruka would sometimes notice a familiar figure sitting in a tree outside, not too far from the window. He was usually reading a brightly-colored book or staring up at the sky absent-mindedly, but whenever he knew that he had the young academy teacher's attention, he would give him a wave and his signature one-eyed smile. The students wondered why their sensei's face would sometimes turn slightly red in the middle of his lecture.

Sometimes when Kakashi returned from a difficult mission and went to hand in his mission report, Iruka would invite him to dinner to celebrate his return. Kakashi always accepted. It was his favorite reason to look forward to coming home. Sometimes they ate out, other times they cooked for one another. On the weekends, they walked to the memorial stone together…

They stood in front of the monument, flowers in one hand, each other's hand in the other. They looked down at the names of those who had left them behind, but whose spirits they could sense, present with them at all times. Kakashi could usually feel Iruka's hand gripping his tighter, and he would squeeze back, reassuring him that he understood the chunnin's pain and that he was not alone. Iruka made Kakashi feel the same way. After so long, the jounin finally had someone who cared about him, who he was not afraid to care for in return. In spite of the worthlessness he had burdened upon himself, there was someone who valued him and gave him the acceptance he needed from others as well as himself. He finally had his place, something worth fighting for, someone who loved him- somewhere to belong.

The End


A/N: Thank you all for finishing the story! This has been the pride of my summer! XD I hope you liked it. I'd love to know your favorite parts of the chapter or of the entire story in general! Good feedback keeps me writing. Props and a special thanks goes out to those who keep coming back and those who leave lengthy reviews! You know who you are. Thanks also to Mellony Harper who read over my chapter and made sure I didn't slip up. I was afraid I was going to overdo it with the sappy mush, but I thought it was a nice fluffy end to the story. XD Sorry to you guys who were expecting hardcore yaoi. We'll save that for another fic...or a companion fic. I haven't really decided yet. Here's another area where your feedback comes in!

So the next question is...what am I going to do now? I know I mentioned a sequel, and I'm still up for that if enough people want it and if I can actually think of a decent plot. I'm also working on another series right now that starts with "Be My Friend" (read it! choke on the fluff!), and I thought I might do another one for the "body-switching series" (Undercover Kakashi and Iruka's Revenge) if I haven't overdone that one already too. XD Now would also be the ideal time to accept challenges/requests as well, so don't be afraid to ask. I can't guarentee I'll be able to get around to it quickly, due to classes and other stuff I'm working on, but I'd be happy to do something special if I find the time! Let me know. Keep reading and spreading the KakaIru love.XD Later all! Thanks again!

-K.I.