It was Spring, with Iruka's twenty-fourth birthday drawing closer. He didn't know it yet, but his little brother was going to shortly set out into the world, and he wasn't going to see him again for a few years. For the time being, he was a little preoccupied by the new relationship he found himself in.
He'd always considered himself a fairly happy person, easily kept content living his life, as long as tragic events weren't afoot; but he discovered a whole new kind of happy. Both he and Kakashi shared a willingness to not hesitate any further in regards to their relationship. Iruka had spent too long pining, and Kakashi denying, so that now that they had acknowledged their mutual appreciation for each other, they were making the most of it.
Their lives being what they were, Kakashi still needed to head out on missions with regularity, keeping them apart for what could be large periods of time. There was always a feeling of unease lurking under Iruka's general sense of contentedness whenever Kakashi was out on a mission. The unease was always worse when he vanished without a word, since it usually meant he'd been sent on a high level, undoubtedly dangerous, mission above Iruka's clearance.
There was a positive to the negative, however. Sometimes when Kakashi returned, what he needed was to glue himself to Iruka's side, and sometimes he needed to be left alone. Iruka would take each instance as it was. The one thing he could count on, however, was that no matter what, no matter where Iruka was or what he was doing, when the jounin returned to Konoha, he'd make sure that Iruka at the very least caught sight of him, so that he'd stop worrying. He loved that Kakashi knew that he'd be worrying, even though he tried not to, and he loved that the jounin considered it important to put him at ease as soon as he could. The little burst of pleasure he got whenever he saw that Kakashi had come home safe just about made up for missing and worrying about him in the first place.
Kakashi had vanished on a mission a week ago without a word, so Iruka was dealing with his undercurrent of unease. Unfortunately, it came at a time when Iruka himself was, once again, being kept unusually busy. Burying himself in work did keep him distracted, so he was happy with that, but it also distracted him from other things – like getting enough rest, and eating regularly.
When Kakashi eventually came home, Iruka was many hours through what was shaping up to be an exceptionally long day. He was feeling run down, and had a headache threatening to turn into something much nastier at any moment, but he was powering on. The moment he made eye contact with Kakashi, however, he felt somewhat revived and the headache eased with his tension. Kakashi looked as exhausted as Iruka felt, more so actually, but he smiled, and the smile Iruka returned was genuine. Kakashi disappeared without the two exchanging more than the smile, but Iruka felt lighter, and the smile stayed on his face long after the jounin had gone.
It was late when Iruka finally managed to go home. He didn't know if Kakashi would be there, but he hoped that he would be. As he walked in to his apartment, it was evident that Kakashi had been there at some point. There was a note on the table telling him that he needed to take better care of himself, that dinner was waiting for him and to make sure he ate. The note was pinned under a jar of fireflies. For a moment Iruka just stared at the bright insects in wonder. It was still only Spring and the fireflies around Konoha were still in their larval forms. It was months until they turned into adults and became a natural light show. Wherever Kakashi had been, he had seen a different species of firefly, one that became the glowing adults sooner. And he'd brought some home. For Iruka.
A delighted smile had broken out on Iruka's face. He loved that Kakashi had evidently been thinking of him, and had taken the time to bring the insects home. He loved that despite being clearly exhausted himself, Kakashi had noticed Iruka's state and had been concerned enough to make sure he had a meal waiting. His smile didn't fade for an instant. Not when he checked the bedroom and found the jounin fast asleep in his bed. Not when he ate his meal, watching the fireflies. Not when he set the fireflies free into the evening air, and hoped they might find a new home here in Konoha. Not as he showered and crawled into bed with Kakashi. Kakashi stirred enough to snuggle him into his arms before falling back asleep. Iruka pillowed his head on Kakashi's chest and listened to the steady beat of his heart. He was still smiling as he fell asleep.
There was a knock on the door.
"Can you get that?" Iruka called from the kitchen.
Kakashi opened it to find Naruto on the doorstep.
"Oh, hi, Kakashi-sensei," Naruto said.
"Who is it?" Iruka said sticking his head out from the kitchen. "Oh, Naruto. Good timing. I was making some tea."
"You really like your tea, huh, Iruka-sensei?" Naruto replied, taking off his sandals and coming in.
"Yes, I do," Iruka replied coming in with the pot and three cups. "But more than tea, I like spending time with people I care about," he said smiling at Naruto.
The three of them sat themselves down at the table and took a moment to appreciate the tea. Well, Kakashi and Iruka appreciated the tea. Naruto took a sip and stayed silent for a moment because he knew better than to talk too soon when Iruka was in tea-mode.
"You know," Naruto said, after he had judged sufficient time had passed, "I see you two together an awful lot lately."
Iruka paused for just a moment. "Well," he said, rubbing the bridge of his nose and looking at Kakashi. Kakashi shrugged, leaving the decision to Iruka. Iruka had wondered what to do with Naruto. There was no need for anyone in Konoha to make a big deal about relationships, in some ways in fact it was better to keep them quiet – relationships could be used against shinobi, but Naruto was family to Iruka. He didn't want to hide it from him, and he certainly didn't want to lie about it. There really wasn't a decision to be made. "That's because we're seeing each other," Iruka said.
"Huh?" Naruto said, looking confused.
"As in... the romantic sense of 'seeing'."
"Ehhhhh?" Naruto exclaimed with an incredulous expression. Kakashi beamed at him. Naruto managed to close his mouth and looked between the two of them suspiciously. "How long has this been going on?"
Iruka was going to reply, but Kakashi spoke first, "Since he was six." He took a sip of his tea.
"What?" Iruka and Naruto both said.
"Well, not exactly. I mean I didn't feel like THIS about him when he was six, but that's pretty much when it started."
"Wait," Iruka said, distracted for the moment from how Naruto was dealing with his new found knowledge, "you knew who I was when I was six? We didn't even meet until we ran that mission together when I was seventeen! I knew who you were, since you're infamous, but..."
Kakashi shrugged. Iruka frowned at him. Why hadn't Kakashi ever mentioned this before? He took being enigmatic far too seriously.
"AHHH!" Iruka suddenly exclaimed, pointing at Kakashi. "You were my firefly chuunin!"
"Hokage-sama," Kakashi replied, inclining his head.
Iruka stared at Kakashi, his mouth hanging open a little.
"Whatever," Naruto said impatiently, reminding Iruka that he was there. "One of you is about to buy me ramen. To help me get over the shock."
Kakashi laughed. "I'll buy you both ramen. Come on then."
"You don't really mind do you?" Iruka asked later when the three of them were seated at Ichiraku's.
"Huh?" Naruto said. "Of course not." He ate more of his ramen. "I know what he sees in you," he said around a mouthful of noodle, "although I have no idea what you see in Kakashi-sensei. He's a lazy pervert."
"Actually," Iruka replied smiling fondly, "he's very sweet and kind. Once you get past the lazy pervert."
"If you say so," Naruto said, slurping more ramen. "I'm not convinced he's good enough for you."
Iruka laughed. "I'm still not convinced I'm good enough for him!"
Naruto levelled a look at him, noodles dangling from his lips. He slurped them up and remarked, "Hardly," before chewing and swallowing. Iruka ruffled his hair affectionately and then noticed Kakashi screwing his face up comically.
"You have something to add?" Iruka asked him, raising an eyebrow and inserting a note of challenge into his voice. Naruto turned to look at the jounin.
"Actually," Kakashi said, using one finger to scratch his head, "I'm wondering if this is the first time Naruto and I have ever agreed on anything."
"So what was this about a firefly chuunin?" Naruto asked before filling his mouth with more noodles.
Iruka grinned at him. "When I was little," he glanced at Kakashi, "apparently when I was six, I met a boy sitting on a rock who told me he was a chuunin. I remember telling him I thought he was funny but he insisted. So I told him that if he was a chuunin, then I was the Hokage. No way I thought someone as young as him could be a chuunin. But apparently he really was, and he was Kakashi."
"You were a chuunin when Iruka-sensei was six?" Naruto said turning to Kakashi with surprise. He squinted at him. "Just how old are you, Kakashi-sensei?"
"Hey now," Kakashi said, spreading his hands in protest. "I was only nine myself. I was a very young chuunin."
"You became a chuunin at NINE?" Naruto exclaimed disbelievingly.
"No," Kakashi said. Naruto squinted at him again. "I became a chuunin at six," Kakashi corrected, beaming at Naruto.
Naruto stared flatly at him, then looked at Iruka for confirmation. Iruka nodded.
"Old man!" Naruto said turning to Teuchi the shopkeeper, and holding forth his empty bowl, "Seconds!"
It was fortuitous timing, in many ways, that Iruka had the chance to talk to Naruto. The next time they sat together at Ichiraku ramen, it was to say goodbye. Jiraiya who had returned again to Konoha, was heading back out once more almost immediately and was taking Naruto with him to train. Iruka knew that it would be a long time before he saw the boy again, which made him a little melancholy. He couldn't help but be happy for Naruto, however, as he ran off, full of excitement and joy, to join Jiraiya and they made their way to the gates. Even if the little wretch stuck him with the ramen bill.
For the rest of the day, he couldn't help himself reminiscing. He found himself thinking about the times he'd shared with Naruto. How much Naruto had grown. How much he'd grown himself. Thinking about the troublesome boy that Naruto had been made him think about the troublesome boy he'd once been. Naruto was going to do so much more growing as a person by the time he came back if Iruka's own progress was anything to go by. He couldn't even imagine how much stronger a shinobi he was going to be after lengthy training under one of the sannin.
Iruka was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, leaning on the doorjamb, holding another cup of tea in his hand, and staring into middle distance while he thought about what he'd experienced at Naruto's age. He brought his eyes into focus and looked at the tea cup as he raised it to his lips. He let his eyes wander, as he often did, over the pattern with its hints of fireflies in the rushes. It reminded him of the boy on the rock whom he had given his jar of fireflies to as a child. The boy he now knew was Kakashi.
His eyes rose to regard the boy, long grown into a man.
Kakashi was lazing on the sofa, inevitably reading. It was a warm evening, and he was only wearing his sleeveless shirt, mask gathered around his neck. The red ANBU tattoo on his shoulder stood out starkly against his pale flesh.
Iruka's ANBU had saved his life when he'd been around Naruto's age. He'd gotten more serious about his training as a consequence, although nothing like what Naruto was capable of.
Iruka let his eyes wander over the curves of the ANBU tattoo as his thoughts drifted on to his ANBU. The ANBU who had quietly but determinedly entered his life. The ANBU who made him feel safe, just being nearby. The ANBU he had fallen in love with.
Iruka paused for a moment, frowning, and all the memories he was indulging in rearranged themselves in his mind. And just like that, it all fell into place.
He'd made himself stop trying to see the ANBU in people, but... he'd always been aware that the ANBU and Kakashi had similar hair, similar builds. He'd noticed it at the start, but he'd been determined to stop trying to find the ANBU. He'd disappeared for a reason, yet... Kakashi had entered his life when the ANBU had left it. Kakashi made Iruka feel safe, just by being nearby.
And Kakashi carried secrets, not because he wanted to, but because he had to.
Iruka stifled a chuckle and looked at Kakashi fondly, shaking his head just a fraction. The jounin continued to read, completely oblivious to his lover's epiphany.
Iruka set his cup of tea down on the table, and let his feet carry him the rest of the way across the room to where Kakashi lay. The jounin looked up at him, puzzled, and held his book aside as Iruka carefully lay down on top of him, aligning their two bodies. Kakashi dropped the book and smiled as he wrapped his arms around his chuunin.
"What's all this then?" he asked.
Iruka kissed him slowly, pouring everything he felt into that one kiss. He lifted his head, to look into the other man's eyes. Kakashi looked back at him, both eyes open, with a soft expression on his face. Even the baleful sharingan looked soft, but there was still puzzlement causing a tiny crease between his brows. Kakashi looked at him a moment longer, and then Iruka watched his expression clear.
Kakashi laughed happily. "And there it is. What do you have to say for yourself, Sensei?"
Iruka smiled. "I love you, ANBU-san," he replied simply.
A/N: And that, my little cabbages, is the end. Thank you for coming on this journey with me.
I am now going to vomit forth the Superhusbands fics that I have been restraining inside my brain for several months while I finished this, and see if I can get something up to posting standard.