Kakashi woke up when Iruka got out of bed and left their bedroom. Assuming he was just heading for the bathroom or getting a glass of water and would therefore be right back, Kakashi lay back on the pillow and stared at the ceiling, letting the day drift over him. He hadn’t been sleeping very soundly anyway. There were too many thoughts in his head for pleasant dreams.
Naruto was gone with Jiraiya. Sasuke was gone, having rejected the village that raised him. Sakura was no longer his student. Kakashi had failed. There was simply no other way to look at it. He was a failure of a teacher. A failure as a leader. A failure.
Shaking his head to try to clear the self pity, Kakashi wondered what was keeping Iruka. Maybe he should go check on him? The chunin had seemed okay when they’d gone to bed, though a little down. Iruka had initiated lovemaking that night and had been greedy in his need. Kakashi understood. Focusing on the physical was a great way of getting the bad thoughts out of your head. Just do, don’t think. And it had worked…for a little while, but now here he was, staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night, with the other side of the bed empty and growing cold.
In the other room there was the barest hint of sound—the front door opening and then closing. Most people wouldn’t have heard it, but Kakashi wasn’t most people. He sat up. Where was Iruka headed? Was he going for a run? Almost without thinking about it, Kakashi decided to follow him. Iruka was perfectly capable of taking care of himself, but Kakashi needed to be with him tonight, needed the company. The realization surprised him and he paused briefly, picking at the feeling like a scab, checking to be sure it was really there. Yes, that was right. He was lonely. A small, petty part of him was slightly hurt that Iruka had left him alone when he needed the warm comfort of the man he loved.
Dressing quickly, Kakashi slipped out of the house and into the sleeping village. Iruka’s trail was easy to follow. He hadn’t even tried to mask his chakra. He seemed to be heading for the Hokage monument. Leaping lightly over the rooftops, Kakashi trailed him.
Oh fare thee well, I must be gone
And leave you for awhile
Wherever I go, I will return
If I go ten thousand miles
If I go, if I go, if I go ten thousand miles
When Kakashi reached the monument, the first thing he could see was Iruka’s strong form, silhouetted against the moon. He was standing on top of the monument, staring out across the village. As Kakashi drew closer, he could hear something, but couldn’t tell what it was. Was Iruka talking? But there was no one there.
Oh, ten thousand miles it is so far
To leave me here alone
Well, I may lie, lament and cry
And you'll, you'll not hear my mourn,
And you'll, no you'll, and you'll not hear my mourn
He edged nearer, not wanting to startle Iruka in case something was seriously wrong. The sounds began to reach him clearly and with a start he realized that Iruka was singing. A beautiful tenor voice was pouring out of him, carrying all the emotions of the past months. As he listened Kakashi found that he recognized the songs. They were all folk songs, old traditional tunes that he supposed Iruka must have learned first from his parents, but then heard around campfires and at late evening gatherings when groups of nins were feeling contemplative and mellow enough to join each other in song.
The songs were mostly sad, about leaving and being left, and Kakashi’s heart ached. He knew that Naruto’s leaving was hard on Iruka, who loved the boy like a son. He hadn’t said anything, but Kakashi could see the sorrow and pain in the rigid way Iruka held himself.
Not wanting to interfere with Iruka’s moment of grief, Kakashi simply stood and listened. The sound rolled over him, carried by the wind out over the sleeping village. Iruka’s voice was gorgeous and Kakashi wondered idly if he could convince him to sing more often and at happier times.
The scuff of a sandal on stone disturbed his contemplation and he turned abruptly, wondering who could be up here at this late hour. To his surprise, Sakura was walking toward them, her pink hair bleached blonde in the moonlight. Rock Lee trailed behind her looking worried. As she drew closer, Kakashi saw why. Her face was gleaming with tears. They flowed in an unending stream from her eyes, though she made no move to wipe them away. Her eyes were fixed on Iruka and she seemed to be drinking in the music, like it was water and she had been in the desert for days.
Oh, the crow that is so black, my love
Will change his color white
If ever I should prove false to thee
The day, day will turn to night
Yes, the day, oh the day, yes the day will turn to night
More scuffs on rock alerted Kakashi to the approach of others and this time he found he wasn’t surprised by who was coming toward him. Ino, followed closely by Choji and Shikamura, came up behind Sakura and caught one of her hands in a tight grip. Neji and Tenten were next and they joined their teammate at Sakura’s side. Asuma and Kurenai, walking slowly and holding hands, paused a little way away from the genin, as if they didn’t want to disturb the group. The flair of Asuma’s cigarette lit up the night like a red firefly.
After a moment, Kiba and Shino appeared, followed by a drooping Hinata. As they came nearer, Ino turned and offered her free hand the quiet girl, whose white eyes were awash with tears. Gai and Anko were the last to approach. They joined the other jonin off to the side. No one spoke; no one even made a sound. They just stood and listened.
Kakashi watched them, feeling even more like an outsider than usual, and that was when it hit him. Iruka wasn’t just mourning the loss of Naruto; he was grieving for Sasuke, too. The boy had turned his back on everything and everyone who had raised him, taught him, trained him, but still Iruka mourned for him. There was no hatred for his attacks on Naruto and the others, only grief for the loss of a damaged young boy who might never be the same.
Kakashi looked around at the tight, sad faces of Naruto and Sasuke’s age mates. That was it. That was why they were here. They knew how Iruka would feel, they knew how they felt, and they wanted to be with him to share it, to bear it together. Because Iruka offered the people around him two vitally important things—love…and forgiveness. These children, warriors in training, knew that the love would support them now, but that forgiveness would be even more necessary in the future.
For they would mess up. Big or small, everyone makes mistakes; everyone needs forgiveness. However, needing it and getting it don’t always go together as easily as they should. The genin knew that if Iruka could love and forgive the loud, brash orphan boy whose body housed the demon that slaughtered his parents; if he could love and forgive the overly proud remainder of a once prominent family whose only thought was for revenge; if their former teacher could love and forgive the infamous Copy Nin whose hands were stained with the blood of too many ANBU and S-class missions, then Iruka could maybe, just maybe, love them and forgive them, no matter what they might do.
Oh, the rivers never will run dry
For the rocks melt with the sun
I'll never prove false to the boy I love
Till all, all these things be done
Till all, till all, till all these things be done
After what seemed like a long time, Iruka stopped singing and just stood there as the echoes of his voice slowly faded away. Gradually the night sounds of insects and birds began to return, but Iruka stood still for another long moment before finally turning around. He showed no surprise at being surrounded by so many people. He just smiled sadly at them before walking over to Sakura and wrapping his arms around her. He held her for a long time, whispering in her ear, and then released her back to her friends.
Kakashi watched as Iruka greeted each genin, touching them on the arm, hugging the girls and Rock Lee, ruffling Choji’s hair. He saw how Iruka made each of them feel important and cared for. The chunin shook hands with Shikamura, acknowledging that they were now equals in status, before heading over to the small group of jonin.
Anko was trying to wipe her eyes surreptitiously and Kakashi realized that if anyone might understand why Sasuke had done what he’d done, and would know why he would come to regret his decision, it would be her. She and Iruka hugged tightly and then Gai put an arm around her and rubbed her shoulder comfortingly.
Asuma cleared his throat and held up a bag. “I brought sake and some cups. Thought we might want to make a toast.”
The cups were distributed and the sake poured. Everyone looked around for a moment, wondering what to say, when Gai stepped forward. In the voice he only used rarely, the one that was serious and solemn, he said, “To absent friends. May the gods watch over them while they are away from us and bring them home safe to us in the end.”
“To absent friends,” everyone murmured and they drank.
Kakashi found himself standing next to Sakura. He glanced down at her and came to a decision. “Sakura? Would you like to join Iruka and me for dinner tomorrow night? At our place?”
She stared up at him for a moment and then nodded. Smiling slightly, she said, “Yes, Kakashi-sensei, I would. Thank you.”
Kakashi found that the honorific didn’t hurt as much as it might have earlier in the evening. He looked around at the faces of the other nins. Catching Iruka’s eyes and reading the message in them, he said, “Why doesn’t everyone come? 8pm. Bring a dish and we’ll have a party.”
Gai beamed at him from across the group and Kakashi felt the loneliness drain away. Everyone nodded approval for this plan and began drifting away back toward the village, talking quietly about what they would bring to the party. Kakashi noted that they were careful to include every member of the group, even the quiet Hinata and Shino. No one was to be left out tonight.
Once they were alone he made his way over to where Iruka stood. Stopping beside him, they looked out over the village.
“How did they know to come?” Kakashi wondered.
Iruka shook his head. “I don’t know. Kurenai said that she and Asuma were sitting on their balcony when they had this sudden urge to come up here. Maybe it was the same for the others. I doubt most of us were sleeping well tonight.” He smiled sadly. They stood in silence for another long moment, not wanting to break the magical spell that had been cast that night.
Finally, hoping he could find the right words to express what he was feeling, Kakashi turned to Iruka. Staring at him intensely, he said, “I want you to know something. I love you. I know I’ve said it before and I’ve meant it before, but now I mean it even more. I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you, starting right now, right here. I love you…forever.” His hands gripped Iruka’s shoulders tightly as if he was afraid the younger man would run away or disappear.
Iruka lifted his arms and ran his hands over Kakashi’s face, pushing down the mask so he could lightly kiss the pale lips. “Oh, Kakashi-kun, yes,” he sighed, “I would like that very much.” His eyes gleamed with emotion and Kakashi felt like he could never be happier than he was at that very moment. They stood and kissed for a long time, until the edge of the horizon began to tint with the first hint of light. Then they sat on the top of the Hokage monument and watched the sun rise on a new day.