Hey all. Ok, here's a little short. I woke up at 5 am (when I always get up) and looked out on the first snowfall of the year here. n.n It's beautiful. And I was sitting at my computer, watching the snow, drinking coffee, and somehow I started thinking about Ibiki. Don't know exactly why.

Out of this strange combination comes this story.

No pairings, no crazy. Just a little meander. Enjoy. n.n

It was snowing in Kohona.

Ibiki leaned on the door and stared out at the village. The Torture and Interrogation office was empty behind him; when the Hokage had officially called a Snow Day, he'd given in and let his employees scamper off too. It was easier than enduring their pouts. Not that they couldn't be recalled in a single instant if something came up.

I hope nothing comes up, he thought with a sigh. Everyone's enjoying themselves too much.

The academy was out too; Ibiki, from his doorway, could see the genin teams snowball competition had finally started to heat up. Snowballs were flying fast and furious; the teachers were wading through the thick of it, rescuing and smacking kids whenever necessary. It looked amusing.

He turned slightly. He could see the lopsided, often hilarious results of the "snow man look-alike competition" the younger students had participated in earlier. There was even one of him; the kid had used mud to simulate the scars on his face.

Ibiki sighed, his vague cheerfulness falling away.

He turned back into the office and shut the door, feeling pretty old suddenly.

No snow day for him. He had work to do. Always.

There was a light tap at the door. Ibiki looked up, frowning. Surely, not more work…

But the door opened to reveal Iruka, flushed and smiling, holding a tray from which steam rose alluringly.

"Ibiki-san." Iruka smiled at him, his caramel-colored eyes lighting up. "I noticed you were still working, so I brought you some hot chocolate."

Ibiki tore his mind away from the report he'd been reading with difficulty. "Ah. Very thoughtful, Iruka-sensei."

Iruka smiled a little wider and carefully sat the tray down. Iruka was always thoughtful like that; Iruka was one of the sweetest, kindest men that Ibiki had ever had the pleasure of knowing. Of course, they weren't friends. Ibiki didn't have friends. In fact, Ibiki had been forced to interrogate Iruka twice now; once after the Mizuki incident and another after one of Iruka's students had tried to attack him in the school. Both times, it had been hard for Ibiki to be sufficiently cruel; something about Iruka ignited the urge to protect, even in his battle-hardened heart.

Of course, Ibiki mused as Iruka prepared the hot chocolate, Iruka had his flaws. A temper like an exploding volcano. A willful urge to hold a grudge for years. A tendency to take out his anger at someone with evil, twisted, genius-level pranks. A fierce protective streak.

Iruka handed him a cup and smiled expectantly. Ibiki found himself giving him a small smile. He sipped the cocoa. Then he did his best not to let his eyes cross in sheer pleasure.

Damn. That was probably the best cocoa he'd ever had.

"Do you like it?" Iruka asked hesitantly. Ibiki took another sip, firmly resisted the urge to sigh in ecstasy, and set the cup down.

"It's very, very good. Where did you get it?"

"I made it." Iruka blushed lightly and looked away, obviously embarrassed. "My own recipe."

Damn. Ibiki smiled again. It had been a while since he'd smiled so much. "It's delicious. You should box it; I think you'd make a fortune."

Iruka blushed harder. "Thank you, Ibiki-san." He suddenly laughed. "Did you see the Ibiki-snowman that Ukei and Youshi made?"

Mud scars, dark against the pure white snow.

"Yes. I was impressed; it looked quite a bit like me."

If I was judging, it would have won. But Iwashi gave the prize to Konohamaru and his friends because they made a…" Iruka blushed again. "A rather busty Tsnuade."

Ibiki laughed. He actually laughed. "Did she see it?"

"Yes." Iruka looked at him out of the corner of his eyes, the mischief sparkling. "Her only comment was that some people seemed rather fixated on her feminine charms, for being as into men as they professed to be."

Ibiki gaped. Iruka snickered. Finally, Ibiki laughed again, shaking his head.

"The older kids' snowball fight came out a draw." Iruka fixed himself a cup of hot chocolate and smiled. "Lee and TenTen managed to take out Asuma, though. He was pretty much buried in snow. We had to dig him out. And I had to stuff about eight handfuls of snow into his mouth to muffle the cursing." Iruka laughed again, shaking his head. "He's still mad at me…"

"Is that why you're hiding in my office?" Ibiki asked mildly, and Iruka turned a surprised, innocent face to his, immediately sputtering a denial.

Ibiki sipped more cocoa. Iruka finally figured out he was teasing and calmed down, still blushing brightly.

When they'd finished the cocoa, Ibiki sighed deeply. "Thank you for the hot chocolate. I should get back to work."

Iruka shook his head. "You should take the day off, Ibiki-san." Iruka blushed a little, but smiled firmly at the scarred man. "You work too hard."

"That's the pot calling the kettle black." Ibiki shot back absently. "You're the one who got maneuvered into organizing the kids' activities on a snow day."

Iruka laughed. "That was fun, though."

"Mmm." Ibiki glanced at the pile of paperwork on his desk. He really did need to work.

"Would you…" Iruka blushed. Ibiki looked up at him in surprise. "Would you at least take a walk with me, Ibiki-san?"

Ibiki eyed the blushing chuunin thoughtfully. Finally, he smiled slowly. He couldn't help it. He absently wondered if his face was going to crack. "Worried about my health, Iruka-sensei?"

Iruka bit his lip, horribly embarrassed but unwilling to budge. "Yes. You work too hard." He repeated his earlier assessment, and his inner teacher rose to bury his embarrassed chuunin. "You never take time off, Ibiki-san. You're going to make yourself sick."

Ibiki felt a wash of surprised warmth. He wasn't used to anyone caring about his health. Or him, for that matter. Too many people bought the cold-hearted, heartless bastard routine. That was a good thing; he was the head of the Torture department, after all.

Finally, he glanced out the window. The snow was still falling, huge fluffy flakes of white.

"Ok." Iruka looked positively shocked at his easy acquiescence. "A walk would probably do me good."

Iruka jumped up, clearly excited. Ibiki followed him, slipping on his heavy coat. He pulled the door to the TI office closed behind him and followed Iruka through the streets.

Iruka took him to the pocket park by the river. The river was still flowing; the cold wasn't hard enough to freeze the fast-flowing water. Someone (probably a loosing genin team) had been sent to clear the pathways, so there was only a small layer of snow over the rocks. They ambled silently through the tiny forest, enjoying the peace and solitude.

It was strange what a good heavy snowfall could do, Ibiki mused. It muffled all sounds and made the world a smaller, secret place. Ibiki felt tension he hadn't even known he had sliding out of him, pulled out by the pristine white world he and Iruka wandered through. Iruka shone like gold against the silver. Ibiki smiled wryly at his mental thought; he wondered, briefly and with a dimming of his smile, if he himself looked more like a ghost or like a stain.

"Ibiki-san?" Iruka's quiet voice startled him out of his thoughts. Iruka was standing in front of him, staring at him in sad concern. Ibiki hadn't realized he's stopped moving. Iruka's warm, laughing eyes were dull with his worry, banked. It made Ibiki irrationally sad. Without thinking, he reached out and brushed his fingers across Iruka's cheek.

Iruka blushed hotly but didn't move away. "Ibiki-san?" He asked again.

"I'm sorry. I was thinking." Ibiki withdrew his hand, a little startled at his impulsive action.

Iruka smiled again, shaking his head. "Don't be sorry. It's fine." Iruka studied him thoughtfully for a moment, then smiled and turned away. "Oh, look! The stream is starting to freeze." He laughed and walked over to the stream, leaning over to peer at the surface.

Ibiki walked over and looked, stuffing his hands in his pockets. The stream was, indeed, trying to freeze, but the current kept shoving the ice away, sending the small chunks that were trying to form bouncing around until they wore away.

Iruka laughed again. "I wonder how long it's going to snow?"

Ibiki tipped his head back and felt the huge, fluffy flakes touching his skin. The sensation was strange; like butterfly kisses, fleeting and infinitely gentle. "It doesn't look it wants to stop anytime soon." He commented quietly.

They stood in companionable silence watching the snow fall. After a while, Ibiki sighed and dragged his mind from the soothing blankness it had fallen into. "I should go back to work."

"Don't." Iruka smiled and, to Ibiki's surprise, looped his arm firmly around Ibiki's. Still staring into the river, he said quietly, "don't. Take the day off, Ibiki-san. Relax. Come to the bar. I heard Kakashi-sensei and Genma-san saying that everyone was going to meet there tonight. It would do you some good, I think. You lock yourself away too much."

Ibiki stared at the chuunin's profile. Finally, he shook his head. He pushed away the totally irrational surge of longing that rose in him at the thought of going to the bar, of the huge group of people that would be there. People he knew, people he trusted. "I have to, Iruka-sensei. It's part of who I am, what I do…"

Iruka let out an exasperated sigh and turned to him, his eyes lit with amusement. "You jounin. Always so sure of yourself." Ibiki gaped at him; Iruka was never this…outspoken. "The fact is, Ibiki-san, that at any time, for any reason, I might receive orders to kill you. Or anyone that I know. Even one of my students. I don't know that I'll ever have to…but I don't know that I won't, either. Does that mean I shouldn't care about anyone, that I shouldn't have friends?" Iruka laughed. "No. We make what we can with the present we have, and we don't worry about the future. Isn't that part of being a shinobi?"

Ibiki closed his mouth. He stared at Iruka as if he was seeing the chuunin for the first time. In a way, he was. This wasn't the shy, blushing teacher or the sad, broken lover. This was something new and unexpected, someone wise and deeper than his years.

He had a feeling that this was the real Iruka, hidden behind the masks he wore to protect himself.

"Being a ninja of the village hidden in the leaves is important. It's a duty and a privilege, and I would never, ever choose to be anything different. I know you feel the same way. But Ibiki-san, we have to remember that we're also human. We can't forget that part, or the rest of it won't make any difference, will it?"

Iruka smiled warmly at him. Ibiki stared at him. They stood in silence for a long moment. Then Ibiki leaned forward and kissed Iruka.

It wasn't a lover's kiss, or even a kiss, really. It was an expression of all the things Ibiki felt that he couldn't express-gratefulness, admiration, brotherhood, friendship, love…Iruka returned the kiss, still smiling gently.

When they parted, Ibiki rested his forehead against Iruka's for a moment, the metal on their headbands chinking softly. "Thank you."

Iruka reached his free hand up and gently traced the line of one of Ibiki's facial scars with tender fingers. "You're welcome." He said softly.

Ibiki gently took Iruka's hand and kissed his finger, then freed himself from Iruka's grasp. "I'll just go close the office up, and then I'll meet you at the bar?"

Iruka wrapped his arms around his body, his smile widening happily. "Yes. I hope they are serving something warm. I'm starting to get cold."

Ibiki laughed. "I don't think you'll ever be cold." Please, please don't ever get cold.

Iruka made a face and they parted, Ibiki heading for the office, Iruka for the bar. As he shuffled the papers on his desk into a pile, a gentle smile curved the scarred man's face.

Then he shut the door firmly behind him and walked through the still-falling snow, still smiling, heading for the pool of light and laughter where all his friends were waiting for him.