The dream was the same as it always was. The ghosts surrounded him, calling out to him. He tried to push past them, tried to get away, but they held him down. All of them, all the people he'd ever killed. He didn't know their names, most of the time, but he could remember every face.

He cried out in pain, backing away. "Please, don't. Please…I'm sorry. I'm sorry…"

They laughed at him, mocked his weaknesses and shredded his spirit. Sobbing, Iruka fell to his knees, begging their forgiveness. "I'm sorry, please…please forgive me. I'm sorry…"

Iruka woke, sobbing. Helplessly turning his face into the pillow, he cried, his whole body convulsing. Every time he used that jutsu, he broke down like this. It just was.

When he'd cried as much as he had to, he closed his gritty eyes and fell back asleep.


That voice could pull him from a deep sleep, let alone the fitful doze full of mocking ghosts that Iruka was currently not enjoying. Opening his eyes, he gave Kakashi a sleepy grin and whispered "Kashi."

Kakashi sighed deeply and pulled his mask down. Leaning over, he kissed Iruka gently before sitting carefully on the edge of the bed. With an effort, Iruka lifted his hand and gently stroked Kakashi's lips, trying to ease the tension he could see in the older man's face. "Hey."

"Yo." Kakashi reached up and took Iruka's hand, stroking Iruka's palm with his thumb. "Glad to see you're finally home. Took you long enough."

Iruka chuckled. "I did say a week. I'm only late by three days."

"Yeah." Kakashi grinned at him. "Just enough time for me to completely empty your refrigerator and accumulate a pile of dirty laundry. After all, I didn't want you to be bored when you're at home. I did, however, manage to get the kitchen pretty well cleaned up…"

Iruka groaned. "What did you do to my kitchen?" he demanded. Kakashi gave him an innocent smile.

"Nothing. Well…there was this little butterfly, and it was hungry so it asked me to make it breakfast."

"A butterfly?" Iruka gave his lover an incredulous stare. "Asked you to make it breakfast…"

"Yeah. I was surprised too."

Iruka burst out laughing. It hurt, but it felt good. "You're such an idiot." He squeezed Kakashi's hand with his own.

The Hokage and Ibiki stood silently, witnessing Kakashi's and Iruka's shared moment in the Hokage's crystal.

Ibiki cleared his throat a little uncomfortably. "Well." He said slowly.

The Hokage tipped his head, smiling at Ibiki. "Find out what you wanted to know?" He asked lightly. Ibiki flushed.

"He's obviously suitable for jounin-level missions. He has the skills and the instincts. But…"

"But not the heart." They'd watched Iruka mutter in dreams, watched his fists curl. Watched him wake crying, curling into a ball and sobbing. Heard him beg for forgiveness, heard him apologizing to his ghosts. The sight had disturbed Ibiki deeply.

"Not the heart." Ibiki sighed. "At least we know he's more than capable of teaching the kids what they need to know."

The Hokage nodded. "Yes. And I'm glad to see them pairing off. They're good for each other. I worry about Kakashi…" he sighed, thinking about how much Namikaze had cared for the brilliant, troubled child he'd been. "But I wonder how long they'll try to keep it a secret. If I know Kakashi, he'll be reluctant to let anyone know about his involvement with Iruka. He'll believe that it would make Iruka a target."

Ibiki surprised him with a chuckle. "If Kakashi doesn't stop ambushing Iruka in the classrooms, it won't be a secret much longer."

"In the where? The Hokage growled.

A Hokage does NOT blush, he reminded himself fiercely.