Yes, this is the last entry of this monstrous anthology…thing. Finally, almost a year and a half after starting my claim at the 55Themes LJ community, I've finished everything!

With that said, thanks to everybody for all their support! Really, I couldn't have done this without your warm feedback and concrit, so thank you from the bottom of my heart. It's people like you who make authors like me want to keep writing.

An advance warning: I'm giving some consideration to leaving FFN permanently and moving to LJ; nothing set in stone yet, but I'm thinking about it. Just letting you all know, so that if (when?) I suddenly disappear from this site, you'll know where I went.

Considering this entry specifically, I played with a pun on the "missing you" theme. Hopefully it won't be hard to notice…

Well then, thanks again. And happy birthday, Kakashi! Looks like we both have reason to celebrate today.

Until next time, then, -MeeLee

Title: Where the Heart Is

Themes: #27 – Adrenaline; #38 – Missing you.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

He shifted a bit, stirred just slightly in his sleep as the soft noise echoed through the darkness, his mind, his dreams.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Very slowly, Hatake Kakashi opened his eyes.

Darkness, utter and complete, greeted him, and he blinked, confused. Where was he? Why was it so dark? Why was he alone?

Where was Iruka?

Then it came back to him, slowly, sluggishly, but it came. The memory of his last S-rank mission, a scroll retrieval from Sound, and the squad of Sound nin that had brought him down just outside Konoha's borders. The run-down bunker they had brought him to, the dark, dank cell they locked him in. The torture, the beatings, the forced chakra depletions so severe that sometimes he forgot if he was dead or alive.

Three weeks of lashings, beatings, electroshock, drugs. Orochimaru had come to supervise once. Kakashi shuddered at the memory.

His Sharingan throbbed, sharp and angry in contrast to the steady, almost dull pain he was feeling in the rest of his body. It was only natural, he supposed—his body could learn to suppress the pain, but his left eye could not. Because it hadn't been his to begin with.

He tried not to think about that; his next interrogation session—a euphemism for torture—would probably be coming around soon, and he had to rip his mental defenses together before then—memories of Obito certainly would not help the situation. Think, Kakashi, he told himself. You're not a genius for nothing. What can keep you strong?

The answer was obvious, of course. Iruka. His comrade, his friend, the love of his life. Iruka, whose face had been the only thing keeping Kakashi going all this time. He thought about Iruka during each of his sessions, the harsh questions thrown at him by his torturers drowned out by Iruka's voice, the burn of lash and steel on his skin softened by his lover's touch. Iruka, who was the one reason Kakashi was determined to get through this, so he could go home and see that warm smile again.

Closing his eyes, Kakashi concentrated, trying to remember the last time he had seen Iruka, what the chuunin had been wearing, what time of day it was, what his lover had said. Be careful, he remembered. I'd hate to have to come after you.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Kakashi allowed himself to smile, rueful and small. Sorry, Iruka, he thought to himself. Guess I've ended up burdening you after all.

He wondered if rescue squads had been sent out after him yet. He was almost certain they had been, and he imagined them even now combing the countryside for any traces of him and his attackers. He wondered if they had found anything yet, if Iruka was sitting at home, pacing back and forth through the kitchen as he was wont to do when he was worried, or if he was right now racing through the trees with the team, sharp eyes scanning the forest for any signs of struggle, Kakashi's loyal pack of nin-dogs by his side.

The jounin wished he had enough chakra to summon one of his dogs now, if only to have someone to talk to. Sure, his torturers talked to him, but it was really more like yelling, or else sneered questions—it seemed forever since Kakashi had last heard someone talk for the sake of talking, and during these times in between his sessions, it was always so forlorn, so empty, so quiet—

Wait. Too quiet.

Kakashi blinked, forcing his breathing to slow so that soon all he could hear was…nothing. Complete, utter silence.

No sounds, no echoes. No dripping.

For some reason, Kakashi's entire body tensed, something nameless beginning to nag at the back of his mind. Really, it could be anything—the faucet had been fixed, the pipeline cut, anything—

Something rumbled, low and ominous like a beast. The ground suddenly trembled, shifting slightly beneath him, and Kakashi held his breath through the ensuing silence.

Crash! Something exploded in the distance, and suddenly the place seemed to erupt with noise—screams, the roar of water, dull thunks of kunai and shuriken embedding themselves in the rotting stone walls.

And then the howls.

Relief surged through Kakashi's body, relief so strong he thought he might cry. He knew those howls, in fact could pinpoint each of them to the nin-dog emitting it. His pack was here. Konoha had found him.

He tried to rise, to move just a bit more toward the door to his cell, but his body could not manage even that small movement, his chakra exhaustion too great. The howls were growing louder, and rising in pitch—he recognized it, a cry calling on him, their master, to answer them.

He opened his mouth, tried to shout, but only a weak groan came out and he cursed inwardly. To be so weak at a time like this—

"I smell him!" The voice was small, distant, yet still caused Kakashi's heart to swell with hope. "He's this way! Hurry!"

Pakkun, the jounin thought, letting out the breath he had been holding. I am going to cook you the biggest steak I can find when we get back home…

The patter of paws approached and came to a stop just outside his door. Something scratched at the thick metal, and a low whine permeated the room before a voice that belonged to another one of his dogs spoke up. "Kakashi?"

Unable to speak, Kakashi groaned again. The dog seemed to recognize his voice, though, for he gave a soft yelp and immediately started clawing at the floor beneath the door. "Kakashi! Hang on, we're coming!"

Another explosion rang out in the distance, closer now. More screams; a voice Kakashi recognized as that of one of his tormentors gurgled out, "Konoha—!" before falling silent. Then suddenly there was a barrage of voices beyond the door, a flurry of paws and whines and frantic dogs.


"Master! Are you all right?"

"Just hang in there!"

Then Pakkun's voice again. "We can't get through like this!" the pug cried and, after a pause, seemed to address someone else as he yelled, "He's in here! Help us!"

A roaring surge of more water; a shriek as someone else was engulfed. Then footsteps, measured, even. Human.

"Out of the way!" cried a new voice. "Kakashi, you in there?"

The voice surged through Kakashi like electricity, warming him, washing him through with relief and elation and a million other emotions. He struggled to rise, straining toward the door as if it were the gates to Heaven itself.

"Kakashi!" Iruka's voice was harrowed, frantic, yet still strong. "Answer me, Kakashi!"

Iruka, Kakashi tried to shout, but all that came out was a weak "Uah."

"It's him!" Pakkun cried. "Iruka, you have to blast the door!"

"Get back, all of you!" Iruka shouted, and Kakashi could almost see his hands flying through seals. "Kakashi, cover your face! Suiton: Hahonryuu!"

The door groaned, shuddered, then burst open as water surged into the room, and suddenly it seemed all eight of his dogs were on top of him.


"Kakashi! Are you all right?"

And then Iruka was there too, bodily hauling the dogs off him by their hind legs or their tails, shouting all the while. "Everybody off! Are you crazy—do you want to suffocate him? Bull, Shadow, guard the door! Everybody else get back!"

And then familiar hands were on him, checking for injuries and assessing his chakra levels. "Damn," Iruka whispered, brown eyes narrowed in worry and fear but mostly just plain fury. "Forced chakra drainage, multiple times. Those bastards." He began applying basic first aid to some of Kakashi's more serious wounds, the warm pulse of his chakra a welcome change to the continuous agony the jounin had been suffering for the last three weeks.

"Can you move?" Pakkun asked from his spot sitting worriedly beside Kakashi's head.

Kakashi made a small, pitiful noise in response—every muscle in his body felt like it was dead—and Iruka shook his head. "I figured as much," his lover whispered, digging into the pockets of his chuunin vest. "You probably can't swallow soldier pills either, so I'm going to have to go old-school on this one." He pulled out a small syringe, loading it with contents from a clear vial. "This'll feel a little weird," he said, flicking the needle once, "but trust me, there's nothing like pure adrenaline to get you going." And he plunged the needle into Kakashi's arm.

Kakashi screamed, jerked, and then suddenly everything was alive, his muscles and skin pulsing with sudden energy and the need to move move move, and before he knew it he was on his feet, the pain from his injuries but a dull throb in the background as he seized Iruka's arm in a vice-like grip and shouted, "Go!"

And then they were going, the sodden walls of the bunker flying by in a blur of grey and moldy green, and the Sound nin were falling before them like flies, his nin-dogs flying at exposed throats and Iruka's water jutsu blasting away at anything and everything in their path as they rushed down dank hallways, turned slippery corners, burst through dark doors—

The sudden sunlight blinded him, a thousand shining daggers of light stabbing into his eyes relentlessly so that he stumbled and fell, groaning like a child. But then Iruka was there, slinging his arm over his shoulder and pulling him into the forest, and his dogs were there too, keeping up a howling din of encouragement as he staggered forward, first blindly, then gradually with increasing focus as his vision finally cleared, until he was following Iruka rather than leaning completely on him, stumbling along the forest floor as much as his injuries would allow.

He tried to extend his chakra out, to feel for any pursuers, but all he got for his effort was a sharp, stabbing pain in his Sharingan and he quickly shut it as Iruka gave his hand a quick squeeze. "It's only adrenaline, so it didn't do anything for your chakra reserves," the chuunin said as they continued running through the forest, "so don't strain yourself. Let me do the work, okay?"

At Kakashi's answering nod, he turned to the dogs. "Pakkun! Can you smell anybody chasing us?"

"No," the pug answered from somewhere on Kakashi's right. "I think we wiped them all out, or at least enough so that they won't be able to organize a pursuit for quite some time."

"How far are we from Konoha?" Kakashi asked. His voice was rough, scratchy with disuse, and sounded strangely alien to him.

"Roughly two miles from the border," was Iruka's answer. "Directly west."

"Where are you meeting the rest of your team?"

Iruka stiffened, his grip on Kakashi's hand tightening. The nin-dogs, too, seemed to falter in their steps; Gunner nearly ran into a tree.

When Iruka finally spoke, his voice was soft. "There is no team," he said.

Kakashi blinked. "What do you mean?" Search-and-rescues were always more efficient with a team; you could cover a wider area, and have more resources available in the event of an attack. It made no sense that Iruka would be working alone.

"I mean it's just me and the dogs," his lover answered, refusing to meet his eyes as they continued through the forest. "Nothing more to it, Kakashi."

And Kakashi wanted to ask some more, because something was forming in the back of his mind, something that warned him that things were…off, somehow. But Iruka had that tone of voice that plainly said Drop it, so he did.

They ran on for about another mile. And then, completely out of the blue, it happened.

One moment, Kakashi was running, dragging his left foot slightly as he forced himself to balance his weight against Iruka's, the forest flying by him in a flurry of leaves and branches. The next, he was on the ground, rather confused about how he had gotten there, fresh pain searing through him as a million wounds protested the sudden fall, his muscles turned suddenly to lead and his Sharingan aching and damn but he hoped Iruka had brought another one of those adrenaline vials.

His lover stopped, pivoted mid-step and was back at his side in an instant, nimble fingers quickly running down his sides, checking for new injuries. Kakashi gritted his teeth, feeling suddenly furious with himself for not being able to hold out longer. "Can…keep going," he whispered, stubborn, angry. Of all the times for his body to fail—

"No, you can't," Iruka answered in his no-nonsense teacher voice. "The adrenaline's worn off, and I don't have any more."

"Then," Kakashi said, every word seeming to take an unfair amount of effort, "what…do?"

Iruka sighed, straightening and turning to Kakashi's dogs. "Bull, stay with me. Everyone else…you'd better head off now." The canines nodded, each of them disappearing in a puff of smoke until only Bull and Pakkun remained.

The small pug turned to Kakashi, and the jounin blinked—the dog looked genuinely…sad. "I'm so sorry, Kakashi," Pakkun whispered, before he, too, disappeared.

And Kakashi opened his mouth to call Pakkun back, to ask him to explain, but then Iruka was wrapping his arms around him, hauling him carefully up from the ground and setting him gently across Bull's massive back. Kakashi immediately relaxed as much as he could, one hand coming up to loosely grip the giant bulldog's collar, trying to shift his weight so that he wouldn't burden his dog too much. It made sense, for Iruka to have Bull carry him. The chuunin probably couldn't move as fast with Kakashi's weight on his back, and Bull was strong, they'd be back in Konoha in no time—

And then Iruka stepped forward, bringing one hand up and gently caressing Kakashi's bare cheek. "This is where we part, Kakashi," his lover said, his smile sad but strong. "I'm sorry."

Kakashi must've looked confused, because Iruka's smile softened. "Everything will be explained once you get back to the village," the chuunin said. "Just…try and relax until then, okay?" Leaning forward, he gently brushed Kakashi's lips with his own. "Goodbye, Kakashi. I'll miss you."

And then Bull was moving, and the forest was surging up all around him, and Iruka was fading into the distance. And Kakashi opened his mouth, shouted Iruka and why and Iruka but Iruka didn't answer, just watched him with that soft, beautiful smile until the forest swallowed him up and then it was just Kakashi and Bull and his silent screams for his lover and the darkness that enveloped him like the maw of some horrible beast.

When next Kakashi woke, it was to the sound of a steady beeping rather than dripping. Slowly cracking open his eyes, he noticed two things.

First of all, he appeared to be in a hospital room: pristine, white, clean almost to a fault. The sunlight streaming in through the window announced mid-afternoon, and the various machines around him buzzed and hummed and beeped as they monitored his life signs.

Second, there was someone very familiar sitting at the small table next to the window, poring over numerous medical reports and notes that had been spread all over the wooden surface. Light pink hair shimmered in the sunlight, and Kakashi could not help but smile as Haruno Sakura shook her head a bit, frowning at the report she was currently perusing. A dedicated student, as always.

The recently-promoted chuunin had not reacted to his awakening; apparently, Kakashi's chakra levels were still sufficiently low as to avoid detection. The realization of his condition led to the memory of how he had gotten into that state, which in turn led to the memory of who had rescued him from his hell, and what had happened after that.

Suddenly, the white and the bright sunlight lost some of their cheer.

Kakashi coughed. The sound was slightly muffled by the thin surgical mask that had been pulled over the bottom half of his face, but Sakura jumped nonetheless, spinning around in her chair and whipping out a kunai with impressive speed. Kakashi would praise her for that, he really would, as soon as he got his questions answered first.

"Kakashi-sensei!" Sakura cried, scrambling to her feet and tucking the kunai quickly away as she hurried over to the side of his bed. "Thank goodness you're okay. Tsunade-sama said you'd pull through but you were unconscious for two days and I was really starting to get worried…"

"Maa," Kakashi answered, voice a bare whisper. "You needn't worry, Sakura. I'm stronger than that."

"Yes, of course," Sakura said with a smile, glancing quickly over the monitors as she placed a careful hand over the thin white cloth covering Kakashi's left eye. "Does it still hurt, Sensei?"

"Only a little," the jounin replied. That was a lie; it hurt like hell, but he wasn't about to worry Sakura like that. "I've had worse."

"Mm." Sakura didn't look like she believed him. Kakashi felt proud, despite the situation, as the chuunin carefully channeled a bit of chakra into his Sharingan. The stabbing pain lessened into a dull throbbing, and the jounin gave an inward sigh of relief.

"Do you need anything?" Sakura was saying, fussing with his IV and the other instruments, careful to keep her movements smooth and deliberate; anyone knew that startling a jounin, crippled or not, was an invitation to lose limbs. "A glass of water? Something to eat? The cafeteria food is horrible, but I can run out and get you something—"

"Where's Iruka?" Kakashi asked, in the most neutral tone he could manage.

Sakura stilled, one hand still holding the IV pole. Her eyes lowered, until they were fixed on the edge of Kakashi's bed.

The jounin sighed. "Sakura," he said. "Is he teaching? Or on a mission?" He needed to hear it, needed her to tell him that Iruka was still here, in the village. Because if he wasn't, then…then…

No. Iruka was here. He had to be. He had nowhere else to go.

His former student straightened, hand sliding off the IV to settle on the railing beside Kakashi's bed. She turned, aqua-blue eyes seeking out Kakashi's single dark blue one. "Kakashi-sensei," she said, and stopped, biting her lip.

"Yes, Sakura," the jounin answered, his voice neither discouraging nor encouraging, though inwardly he half-wished her to continue, and half-dreaded her answer.

"I…" Sakura frowned, hands working in her lap. "I don't know how to properly say this, but…" She paused, and took a deep breath. "When you went missing," she finally said, "Iruka-sensei was very worried about you. Tsunade-sama sent out search parties, but they all came back empty-handed. Iruka-sensei kept pushing for more searches, more resources in wider ranges, but nothing turned up. Eventually, Tsunade-sama called the search parties off."

She paused again. Kakashi held his breath as she finally continued, "Iruka-sensei kept trying, of course, but he wasn't allowed to leave Konoha, not unless it was an official mission. He argued with Tsunade-sama, argued with everybody, actually, and then, about a week back…he just left."

Something inside Kakashi died at those words. Sakura took another breath. "He packed most of his things into boxes and left them in Naruto's old apartment," the chuunin continued. "Then he headed out of the village, and never came back. We sent out searches and everything, but everybody knew we wouldn't be able to find him. Not until he found you.

"Then two days later, your dog brought you back to the village, but Iruka-sensei wasn't with you. So…unless he's dead, which I don't think he is…Iruka-sensei's officially been marked as a missing-nin."

Kakashi breathed slowly in, then out as the words registered. Iruka, a missing-nin. Iruka, a deserter. A traitor.

Suddenly, he regretted asking after his lover at all.

When Sakura spoke again, her voice was small. "I'm so sorry, Kakashi-sensei," the chuunin whispered, and Kakashi swallowed hard.

I'm so sorry, Kakashi, Pakkun had said.

I'll miss you, Iruka had said.


"Sakura." His voice was thin to the point of breaking. "I'd…like some time alone, if you don't mind."

The chuunin, to her credit, just nodded, hurrying to the table to gather up her notes. "Please sleep if you can, Kakashi-sensei," she said, not looking at him. "You need your rest. You…wouldn't want Iruka-sensei to worry." And she hurried out the door.

Left alone in the empty room, Kakashi sighed, slowly closing his eyes. He would fix this, he told himself. As soon as he was better, he would fix this.

Sleep came fast and unbidden. He dreamt of Iruka.

Kakashi slept, on and off, for the next three days. Whenever he woke, someone would be there—Sakura, Asuma, Genma, even Gai once—though he'd been promptly dragged away by security five minutes later due to the volume of his voice—and though they all expressed their concern for him and his well-being, and would good-naturedly update him on everything that was happening in the village, Kakashi knew why they were really there. Tsunade had undoubtedly asked them to keep an eye on him, to prevent him from doing anything stupid.

Not that he could do much, in his current state. He could sit up in bed now, and even stay awake long enough to read a couple of chapters of Icha Icha, but that was about it. His chakra depletion—coupled with the wounds from his torture—guaranteed his convalescence for at least two more weeks, Sakura had told him.

It didn't matter much to Kakashi anyway. He'd take the time to recover, to get his body back to full function. And once that happened, he would go find Iruka, and drag him back to the village kicking and screaming if he had to.

Because Iruka was really all that mattered now. He saw his lover's face everywhere: on the white walls of his hospital room, in the dark realms of his dreams. He often wondered where Iruka was now; had he found refuge in another village? Or was he even now crouched somewhere in the unforgiving wilderness, shivering with cold and exhaustion, completely alone?

Was he dead?

No, Kakashi told himself, inwardly shaking his head and concentrating on the corner of his book. If the hunter-nin—and undoubtedly they had already been sent—had found him, Kakashi would have heard by now. And even if they did find him, they probably wouldn't kill him. Iruka was loved by too many in the village; they wouldn't stand for him to be executed like a common criminal.

Iruka was fine, Kakashi thought as he closed the book with a sharp snap, catching the attention of his companion for the day. Shiranui Genma blinked, senbon twitching between his lips. "You finished already?" the tokubetsu jounin asked.

Kakashi smiled, one visible eye curling up into an inverted U. "No," he answered, "but I'm rather thirsty. Would you mind fetching me a glass of water or something?"

Genma shrugged, sliding easily to his feet with a feline grace only well-trained shinobi could manage, and headed for the door. "You sure you don't want something from the vending machi—"


Genma walked out the door; Sakura ran in. The result: a collision that sent Genma flying clear across the room, while Sakura just sort of stood there just inside the doorway, blinking in confusion.

Apparently his former student had been learning too much from Tsunade for her own good, Kakashi decided as he watched Genma pick himself up from the floor, looking rather dazed.

"Ah—Genma-san!" Sakura cried, finally seeming to realize the situation and hurrying forward. "Are you all right?"

"Fine," the tokubetsu jounin mumbled, blinking slowly. "Wow, stars. Pretty."

"Um, well—Kakashi-sensei!" Forgetting completely about the poor jounin, Sakura instead turned to her teacher, eyes wide and frantic. "You have to come with me now, Kakashi-sensei!"

"Maa, Sakura," Kakashi answered. "Calm down a little, or your chakra will disturb the patients—"

"No, Kakashi-sensei!" Sakura cried, "Iruka-sensei just arrived at the village gates, Tsunade-sama's talking with him, the ANBU are there and I don't know but I think they're going to kill him—please, Kakashi-sensei—"

"Take me there, Sakura," Kakashi said immediately.

For someone who had deserted his village more than a week ago, Umino Iruka didn't look too much the worse for wear, Tsunade thought to herself as she watched the chuu—no, former chuunin standing before her. Iruka's clothes were neat and clean, the kind worn by peasants in the Rain countryside, and his dark brown hair was pulled back in its customary ponytail. His eyes, however, were hollow, and he looked like he hadn't slept in days.

The squad of ANBU standing between him and the crowd of astonished villagers was stiff and disciplined, and its leader, wearing a white porcelain cat mask, stepped forward. "Umino Iruka, by the laws of Konoha, we are required to—"

"Shut up," Tsunade said simply, and Cat stiffened.


"What are you doing here, Iruka?"

Iruka sighed, a soft, tired sound. "I wanted to see the village again, Tsunade-sama," he answered, voice low and respectful as always as he bowed. Tsunade frowned; Iruka was…different, somehow. He seemed to have just a bit too much trouble straightening back up, his words taking just a bit too much effort to form.

Quietly, subtly, almost without thinking about it, Tsunade slowly extended her chakra out, feeling for any anomalies. "For what purpose?" she asked. "You don't belong to this village anymore, Iruka."

Iruka smiled at that, small and bitter. "I am aware, Tsunade-sama," was his calm answer.

Something flickered in response to Tsunade's chakra, something soft and venomous and undoubtedly sinister. The Godaime Hokage frowned; Iruka's chakra patterns were fractured and irregular, as if—

The teleportation jutsu startled most of the people present, the smoke and the rush of air stirring up a flurry of dust and dead leaves as Sakura materialized in the middle of the square, with none other than Hatake Kakashi slung halfway over her shoulder, standing rather unsteadily on his feet.

Several villagers gasped; the ANBU tensed; Tsunade blinked. Iruka just smiled. "Hello, Kakashi," the chuunin said. "You look well. I'm glad."

"Iruka," Kakashi answered, as if almost afraid to say the name. His single blue eye was wide with shock; his entire body trembled. "Why…Why did you come back?"

But Iruka didn't answer. Instead, he turned back to Tsunade, the smile never leaving his face. "Thank you, Tsunade-sama," he said, and suddenly Tsunade saw it, the malicious toxin coiling around his chakra like an angry snake. Her entire body stiffened.

"Iruka, what—"

"Thank you," Iruka repeated, "for letting me die inside my village."

And then he was falling, sinking to his knees and toppling forward, but then smoke erupted around him and Kakashi was there, catching his lover so that they both sank to the ground.

Iruka didn't move. Kakashi's breaths came in short, sharp gasps.

"Help me," the jounin whispered, in a voice that was utterly broken and scared. "Please, somebody help me."

Something inside Tsunade came to life at that, something that was at the basis of her training as a medic-nin, her pride as a Sannin, her responsibility as the Godaime Hokage of Konohagakure. And then she was moving, running toward Kakashi and Iruka as she turned and yelled, "Sakura! Fetch me the antidote for toxin A44; I'll meet you at the hospital!"

"Yes, Tsunade-sama!" her young apprentice answered, disappearing in a puff of smoke even as Tsunade finally reached the pair, gently prying Kakashi away from his lover so she could check Iruka's vitals.

"There's still time," she said, hands moving quickly over the chuunin's body, sealing some chakra points, opening others. "The poison's slow-acting—if we get him help fast enough, we might be able to save him."

"Hokage-sama!" Cat cried, sounding horrified. "What are you doing?"

"My job," Tsunade answered simply, slinging Iruka's body easily over one shoulder as she hauled Kakashi up, carrying him like a child.

"But he is a wanted—"

"Do you have a problem with me trying to save one of my shinobi?" Tsunade snapped, turning to glare at the ANBU. Silence fell; the villagers held their breaths.

At long last, the ANBU shuffled his feet a bit—probably only recently promoted, Tsunade thought—and seemed to nod behind his mask. "We will escort you to the hospital, Hokage-sama," he said.

"You do that," Tsunade answered, as they took to the rooftops.

Umino Iruka woke up in Heaven.

Now that was rather odd, he knew, considering he'd abandoned his village and killed more than two dozen Sound shinobi before dying. But how else was he supposed to explain the world of endless white, the light that flooded his vision, the lilting, echoing songs that greeted him?

He tried to move, but it was hard. Maybe he wasn't used to his spirit body yet. Did he even have a spirit body? How did things work in Heaven, anyway?

"…such an idiot," the distant song continued, growing steadily in volume as it seemed whatever was stuffing Iruka's ears up began to disappear. "Teleportation jutsu…even such a short distance…what were you thinking?"

Iruka blinked. He didn't know angels discussed jutsu too…

"I'm all right," came the answer, and suddenly Iruka realized it wasn't as much a song as a person simply speaking. "Tired, but I'm okay. Really."

That voice. Iruka recognized that voice, and his heart skipped a beat. Kakashi. But why…?

And then suddenly the white began to fade, Heaven twisting and distorting until suddenly he was just Iruka, lying on a bed in a hospital room, with his lover and the current leader of his village talking in low voices just a few feet away from him.

Wait, so he was alive then? But that made no sense. He'd injected the poison himself; he knew his time had been just about up when he had entered the village. So why was he here?

Only one way to find out, either way.

"Um," he said, and his voice sounded frighteningly small even to himself. "Hello."

Tsunade's head snapped up sharply, and she started toward him but Kakashi beat her to it, shooting up from his chair and spinning toward the bed—except he didn't quite make the first step, instead collapsing into a heap on the floor.

"Oh, for goodness' sake," Tsunade growled, rolling her eyes as she reached down and plucked Kakashi up from the ground like a vegetable, dragging him to the side of Iruka's bed like a rag doll. "What did I say about over-exertion?"

But Kakashi didn't even seem to hear her, his hands already reaching toward Iruka, touching his face, his hair, the scar across his nose. "Are you okay?" the jounin asked, single blue eye frantic and worried. "Can you hear me, Iruka?"

"Yes, Kakashi, I can hear you," Iruka answered, awkwardly patting the top of Kakashi's head.

The jounin sighed, shoulders shaking. "I was so worried," Kakashi whispered, grabbing Iruka's right hand and kissing it through his mask.

Iruka smiled at that. "Good to see you too," he whispered, before turning to Tsunade, who had been watching the entire exchange with a scowl. "Ah, I guess this means I'm not dead?"

"No, you're not," the Hokage answered, crossing her arms and glaring. "And you're damn lucky, too. If you'd come back just a few minutes later, we wouldn't have been able to save you, and I expect a lot of sake and back-rubs for all the crap you've put me through."

"Ah," Iruka answered, somehow managing to look sheepish although he really wasn't all that sorry. "My apologies, Tsunade-sama."

Tsunade shook her head, hazel eyes soft despite the fact that the frown hadn't left her face. "You're both such idiots," she muttered.

"I wholeheartedly agree," Iruka answered, and paused. "So…how long will my prison sentence be?"

Kakashi froze; Tsunade's frown darkened. Iruka sighed. "I've spent years teaching basic shinobi law to my students," he said. "I know the punishment for abandoning my village."

Tsunade sighed. "The council wants to give you the full sentence of ten years," she said, speaking slowly.

Kakashi stiffened. "They can't possibly—"

"However," the Sannin continued, inspecting her brightly-painted nails, "I had a little…discussion with them, in which I informed them that if you were jailed, all the children—and half the parents—in Konoha would probably defect out of pure spite. And with our manpower already low enough as it is, the council saw my side of things and agreed with my decision. You'll be suspended from active duty for three weeks."

Kakashi and Iruka both waited, and when Tsunade made no move to continue, the chuunin finally blinked. "That's it?" he said, voice pure disbelief. "I desert the village, go rogue in search of someone believed to already be dead, and all I get is a three-week suspension?"

"Without pay," Tsunade emphasized, and Iruka suddenly wanted to laugh. "So I expect you to go home after you're released from here, Iruka, and preferably to take the Hatake brat with you. I don't want to see either of your faces for the next three weeks, do you understand?"

Kakashi blinked, then chuckled. "My, Tsunade-sama," he said, "You're as cruel as ever. Whatever will Iruka do without three weeks of pay?"

"I'm sure he'll suffer," Tsunade answered, the hint of a smile tugging at her lips. "In the meantime, you, brat, no more jutsu. You, idiot, get some rest. I'm through with dealing with you lot." And she spun and strode proudly from the room.

For a long moment, Kakashi and Iruka just stared at the now-empty doorway. Then, very slowly, the jounin turned to look at his lover, to really look at him, and they stared into each other's eyes for at least a minute.

Then, suddenly, Iruka started to laugh. Kakashi joined in, burying his face in Iruka's shoulder as his entire body shook with mirth. And the situation really wasn't all that funny but they laughed anyway, because if they didn't then they would probably cry, and that was just unacceptable. So they laughed and laughed and laughed, together in that small white hospital room, where it was just them and no one else.

They would deal with the rest of the world later.

A/N: And that's it, guys. Oh, and for people who didn't really get it...I sort of implied the fact that Kakashi trusted Iruka enough to let him sign a contract with his nin-dogs; that's why Iruka was able to summon and dispel them.

Thanks so much for reading!