Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, I'm just using the characters for a while, not for any profit.)

Warnings: angst, blood, deaths, a little bit of swearing, yaoi.) Not NC-17, but PG-15 certainly.

A/N: I've been reading too much KakaIru fics with happy endings. Needed to get this out of my system. I think the second half turned out considerably better than the first one.) Please, review, it'll make me feel all warm and grateful inside.)

Nightfall

A barren land - empty, deserted, with echoes of pain, forever embedded in its core. Ghost voices arise from the depths - hollow, desperate, crying and praying into nothingness. Ravens - still so black… but, oh, so weak now - fighting with each other in an eternal battle for survival. Blood - red, but not quite - dark and dirty, pouring instead of rain, soaking the last remains of what was once a happy place.

Ruins. Of Konoha.

Uzumaki Naruto's silent grave.

III

Hidden Sand is a godforsaken place, he thinks, holding a cup of coffee in still shaking hands. He hates the village, hates it with such a burning passion, that a lesser man would have succumbed to it ages ago. Because there is sand everywhere - no trees, no rivers, no green and blue - there is none of that, only the pale yellow and brown tones. And sand - below him, over him, in the air, in the water, choking him, strangling him, even though his face, as usual, is hidden behind the mask.

Then, there are people, too. Unwelcoming, cold - with eyes, following him everywhere, not afraid - but no, why should they be? It doesn't matter he can kill half of them with a light chidori, does it? He is a guest in their home, after all. An outsider. Although it's been… what… four years already? Time flies.

He wonders why the hell he is still alive. Why is it that he has to live in this place, with these people, fight for them and kill his own friends… oh, yes, for the Sand?

"Stupid Gai. Strong and powerful rival - and, oh, so always loyal. Until the very end. Were you surprised when I didn't answer your cheerful greeting? Were you surprised when I slit your throat without a second thought? Because, you see, Lee, certainly was. He stood there - silent, motionless, pale, not ready to believe and to accept, while I took the scroll and vanished. Mission accomplished, Kazekage Gaara. Damn you to hell.

It's not that I loath you, really. I should be thankful to you - for giving me your protection, for giving me a place to come back to, a shelter with food, where I can sleep and eat and dream and hope. For not letting me become a nin without a home - like so many others turned out - those who could not acknowledge the truth and move on, who stayed in those ruins and cried, and fought with each other in desperation and, finally, perished. I should serve you with pride, with all my heart and gratitude. But, ha, like hell I will!

It's not that I don't understand that you are not to be blamed for the... the missions you sometimes give me. It's not your fault that Gai and Lee went to Hidden Rock and found their shelter there, and that Hidden Rock wanted to start the war with the Sand. It's just… the fate. Just the same as with Genma, who went to Mizukage and crossed my path on a mission. The same as with Tenzo and Sai and… and Kurenai, and you must hate me now, Asuma, wherever you are."

So, he sits there - Hatake Kakashi, former ANBU, former Konoha jounin, now - a jounin of Sand - at 'home', with a cup of coffee in his shaking hands and tries to chase the memories of blood on Gai's green clothes - the first green he saw in a long time. And slowly convinces himself that in the end - Umino Iruka is all that matters.

Ah, Iruka. No, things between them didn't start as easy as they always did in those books Jiraiya used to write. Kakashi misses his books sometimes - they were good companions on a lonely day, and on a noisy day they were truly life-savers. He still had one of the Icha Icha volumes with him back when they were crossing the desert, but he lost it along the way - too much concerned for the bunch of wounded children he and Umino managed to save. There were others in their group, of course - some villagers, several shinobi, including Izumo and Kotetsu, constantly turning their heads towards the black smoke on the horizon behind their backs, and Shikamaru, looking the worse for wear, having just lost his family and his team.

Kakashi didn't really remember those times during and after Konoha's destruction very well. There was pain, and fights, and a long road with too much sand and heat and cold. Then there also was the realization that Naruto was dead, and Sasuke was dead, and Sakura was dead too, along with Tsunade and Jiraiya, who stayed to seal the kyuubi and deal with the remains of Akatsuki. And when everything finally ended - there was nothing left for them and no place to return back to.

And then Iruka just had to try and cut open the veins on his wrists. Kakashi hated the man. He didn't particularly like Umino Iruka even long before that. The chuunin was always too soft, too caring, too weak for a shinobi. Kakashi didn't understand what it was that the Third saw in him. So, he could easily let the chuunin die, right? But then he thought suddenly and selfishly: "Hell, I hurt too, and I'll be damned, if I'm going to be the only one!"

So that night, he raged, and screamed and growled as he leapt onto one Umino Iruka, and punched the man right into the disgustingly teary face. And then, unexpectedly, Umino Iruka was fighting back with all he had - fiercely, desperately, sometimes opening himself so that he could land a hit of his own, sometimes making such cunning moves, that Kakashi was not fast enough to dodge or block. And it was fun, and it was not, and Kakashi guessed he really needed that.

It was long before they both collapsed on the ground, worn out, breathing heavily, staring at the dark sky, stars hidden behind the black screen of heavy clouds. Iruka moved tiredly and caught Kakashi completely unaware, when he tucked his head in the crook of the jounin's neck and clutched at Kakashi's arm, just like small children hold their toys when the time for sleep comes and they are too afraid to be left alone in the darkness, scared of the monsters that, surely, are crawling in dark corners. The older man tensed under the touch, but sighed, closing his eyes, feeling the coldness of sand under his back, trying not to think of the very first mission he'd have to go away on tomorrow. A mission - and not for Konoha. Kakashi felt himself like a traitor.

And in the stillness of the night Iruka's sudden "Come back" was everything, but a whisper. Not quite a plea, but more like an order. Perhaps, Kakashi thinks, sipping his coffee, it all started that night, when he turned his head a bit, his cheek resting against messy chestnut hair and answered "All right".

Of course, it couldn't have been just a simple quiet mission, could it? Go to the point X, meet the messenger, get information and get the hell out of the enemy lands. Oh, but no - there had to be an ambush, there had to be someone from Konoha - not a close friend, but still - and, in the end it was just 'who's the strongest one' matter with lots of blood and curses and dead bodies all scattered afterwards on the dirty earth.

He came back, just as he promised to the chuunin. Not really realizing why he was doing so - because these sands weren't his home, weren't where he wanted to go, not where he longed to be. But Iruka was waiting for him, and he'd be damned if he ever broke a promise again - not since Obito, no.

- Kakashi? Are you back already? - ah, here he is - Umino Iruka, still a chuunin, still a teacher, just in another place and another time - standing in the doorway, looking at one pathetic Hatake Kakashi, dark orbs slowly taking in the uniform, soaked with blood, shaking hands, spilling the coffee on the table and on the papers, so unfortunately lying there. And Kakashi doesn't dare cast even a glance at the man, even though he wants to - after all, it's been a whole month - because then Iruka would surely see it in his eyes and ask…

Warm hands slide down his shoulders, unclench the cup from his death grip, and the chuunin kisses the dirty mop of silver hair - though some of them are grey now, Kakashi knows, and he'd bet anything on that and win without any doubt - and Iruka entwines his fingers with his, so that Hatake Kakashi could cling to him again. Truly, a pitiful sight.

- Who? - Kakashi really hates that question, but he can't lie. He is not so strong anymore to hide everything deep inside himself and hurt alone.

- Gai, - and there's no need to tell anything else, this ritual is simple, being silently established between them almost four years ago. Iruka tightens his hold, leans over him and presses his lips against his forehead, and then the closed eye - the sharingan is still hidden under the hitae-ate. He pulls Kakashi out of the chair, and the jounin follows him, surrendering to the familiar touch. He certainly learned to trust Iruka over the years. Perhaps, he hadn't any other choice in the matter either, but he doesn't care about that now. They had their hard moments - they still have them - but it is not enough to turn them away from each other.

- Come on, - Iruka hurries him towards the bathroom - You need to take a shower.

Ah, that phrase. The same one Umino muttered to him that day when he returned from his first Sand mission - tired as hell, with a kunai - he didn't mind it being there, truth to be told, he didn't even feel it back then - in his shoulder, bleeding and stumbling with every step. And Iruka was there to catch him, to take care of him, to bandage the wound and put him to bed. He was still there, when Kakashi woke up during the night, too agitated by the nightmare to go back to sleep. Umino didn't turn a hair even when Kakashi, needing something to return him to reality, grabbed the chuunin and pinned him under his own feverish body. Oh, sure, there was the understanding in the hazel eyes, and the almost unnoticeable blush, and no reciprocal desire, but Iruka still let him. And it must have hurt, because Kakashi, most certainly, didn't have anything suitable for a decent preparation. But Umino just gritted his teeth and didn't utter a single word during the whole process. Kakashi was extremely thankful.

And, perhaps, it was good, like any other mission/after-mission sex is - the details of which you don't quite recall in the morning, and, truthfully, try to forget all the remaining pieces as fast as you can. Not that you are ashamed, but just deep down you know - you shouldn't have done it. So, you smile, get out of bed and then - out of life of whoever it was you screwed into the mattress. In most cases. Definitely, not when you are greeted with a very sore chuunin, who declares that you are a fucking asshole, and that it was his first time with a man. Oh, the joys of life.

Kakashi was sorry, of course. Not that it stopped him from doing exactly the same thing, when he came back from another hellish mission. And Iruka was there for him again - willing at night, furious in the morning. At least they had lube that time. And all other times after that. Hatake Kakashi was a helpless idiot, wasn't he, after all?

- Here, your towel, - Iruka says, but the jounin's hands are still shaking and he is still slumping as he gets out of the bath, and Iruka dries his lover himself, glad that at least there aren't any serious wounds this time - just some light bruises and cuts, - There, bed now.

Ah, yes, bed. It's going to be a really bad night, Kakashi thinks, leaning on the chuunin. Iruka knows this, and Iruka is silent, because on these nights there are nightmares, and shadows dancing, and blood on Kakashi's fingers, even though it's not there. They won't have sex this night, they won't make love this night, they won't touch very much on a night like this - because when they tried once, Iruka ended up on the floor, gulping air, trying to learn again how to breathe, because Kakashi was too much gone in a world of pain to realize he was strangling Iruka and not the imaginary enemy.

And so they live - day after day, not happy, but smiling. Leaning onto each other, and keeping each other safe and sane. And it is almost enough.

- Kakashi… - Iruka whispers as the jounin's breath quickens, fingers clenching and unclenching, eyes becoming cold and distant - I'll see you in the morning.

Kakashi nods, lying on the bed. Iruka smiles a little and presses his lips against the jounin's for a moment. The kiss is warm and reassuring, and Kakashi, not the one to believe in God or any other higher power, prays for the night to be over sooner.

And then he is left alone in a dark room - with the walls, made of sand, with the sand under him and above him, in the air and in the pieces of his ripped heart and mind. And is that Gai's blood, dripping from the ceiling?..

He closes his eyes and thinks of Iruka, who must be sitting behind the door of this sand room, scared shitless for him and of him. And still waiting for him.

Kakashi wonders how many years more they can survive like this. But that thought is too bitter and dreadful to dwell on it for a long time.

In the end, he dreams of Konoha and of will of fire, and of fire, burning Konoha to the core, of death and of pain, and of black ravens and motionless corpses.

He dreams he is a raven, black wings spread in delight, black feathers soaked in blood.

He dreams he is a raven. Feeding on Iruka's corpse.

And the dream… doesn't end.

It does not.