Hidden Sand and Leaf had been unofficial allies for near a decade already when a courier from the Kazekage came, bearing an ornate scroll asking for a more binding, official treaty of cooperation. Most everyone agreed it was a good move, and long overdue, and Tsunade made the three-day journey to Sand with an entourage of ten ANBU and five jounin escorts, a small bureaucracy of chuunin negotiators—and Naruto, who had been requested as a special guest of the Kazekage.
"Don't shame the name of Konoha, Naruto," Iruka said.
"I know," Naruto whined, shoving another wadded-up ball of underwear into his bags.
"And that means staying awake during official functions, and—"
"I know!" Naruto whined again, and flushing, he said, "That's not why I said I needed your help!"
Blinking, Iruka asked, "What did you need my help with then?"
Kakashi dragged into the house covered in leaves and mud and dirt and some questionable organic matter, missing one sleeve. He also had a hickey.
"Yo," he said, and limped toward the bathroom.
Iruka maintained his prostrate position on the living room floor, staring at the slowly-ambulating blades of the ceiling fan. "Hey," he said, disconnected.
He heard the sound of water running in the bathroom, and over it, Kakashi yelled, "You know, I have a hickey. On my neck."
"I saw," Iruka shouted back. Naruto will have hickies soon, he thought, fighting off an instinctive desire to curl up into the fetal position.
Kakashi came back into the room and stood over him—hitai-ate and mask and all his clothing abandoned. He also had a hickey on his shoulder. Iruka raised an eyebrow at him. "You're dripping on the floor," he said.
Scowling, Kakashi demanded, "Do you not care that I have hickies? Bruises? From others sucking on me?"
Iruka smirked. "Pakkun brought your mission report to me."
Kakashi looked mortified.
Schooling his face, Iruka said, voice solemn, "I petitioned on your behalf to receive hazard pay for nearly being sexually assaulted by your particularly amorous client, jounin-sama, but I was voted down on account of your attacker being a 17-year-old boy."
"The honeymoon is over," Kakashi told him darkly, and stalked off for some pants.
That night, after dinner, when Kakashi requested compensatory coitus—"the very filthy kind," he said resolutely—for wrongs against his person, Iruka shrugged miserably and said, "I can't. I had to explain safe sex to Naruto today."
Kakashi clawed at both his eyes—but particularly at Obito's. "Gah, argh," he said.
"I know," Iruka agreed, shoulders slumped.
Tsunade was gone for two weeks, during which Kakashi and Iruka spent a lot of time pausing at random intervals to say inane things like, "He's not a kid anymore," and "At least he knows how to use a condom." There was silent agreement that Naruto's apparent sexual preference would keep Iruka from spiraling into catatonic schizophrenia worrying about him getting some girl in a family way.
"Yes," Iruka said, voice acidic, "this is much better—now I only worry about him having sex with the Kazekage."
"Please," Kakashi begged. "I was hoping it was anybody but him."
Pillowing his head on Kakashi's shoulder, Iruka sighed. "Now I know how Sandaime felt when he found out we were dating."
Pausing, Kakashi glared down at him. "Am I Naruto or Gaara in this scenario?"
Iruka pulled up the sheets and went to sleep.
At dawn, on the first day of the third week, Iruka stumbled out of bed to get the door.
Still tugging a robe over his t-shirt and pajama pants, he pulled open the door, asking, "What the hell?"
Gaara stared at him from the front doorstep, face intensely blank—wearing the full ceremonial robes of Hidden Sand and holding a fruit basket. He extended it toward Iruka.
"I am told you are my future in-law," he said, bland.
An hour later, Iruka was serving the Kazekage tea in a chipped Totoro mug and wondering if there was anything in the refrigerator other than those erotic ice cube trays Kakashi had won in an Icha Icha write-in contest. Kakashi—that coward—had only appeared briefly before making up an excuse about going to hunt missing nin and escaping, but Gaara had nodded approvingly and said to Iruka:
"It is good that Naruto's father and mother are a teacher and the great Copy Nin; I would be honored to join with your family."
Iruka sincerely hoped that the 'thud' he'd heard was Kakashi falling off the bedroom windowsill—painfully.
Flustered, Iruka said, "Ah—Naruto and I aren't actually related."
Gaara gave him a flat, penetrating stare, utterly unaffected, and then turned back to his Totoro mug, studying it curiously as he said, "Naruto thinks of you as family." He looked back at Iruka. "I shall as well."
And then, "Oh," was all Iruka could say, struck-silent and pleased.
"It is traditional to ask permission of your intended's family," Gaara said, rote, and Iruka tried very hard not to have some kind of seizure when the Kazekage arranged himself in a traditional kneeling position, hands on his knees, "I seek Naruto's hand in marriage, if you'll allow it."
"Uh," Iruka choked.
"I promise to provide for him," Gaara continued, voice the same monotone as always.
"I'm sure you will," Iruka agreed, feeling faint.
"Then you agree?" Gaara pressed, voice intense.
"Sure," Iruka said, strained. "Why not."
Looking almost happy, Gaara said, "I am proud to call you mother."
The reciprocal signing in Konoha was an enormously complex and politic affair—most of which Iruka missed since dawn of the second day of the third week, one of Gaara's ANBU arrived at their doorstep.
Iruka's instinctive draw for a kunai was distracted when Kakashi blurred into the room, stepping neatly and firmly in front of Iruka, looking casual as ever but radiating death as he said, "It's still early for social calls, isn't it?"
It was hard to see through the pressed-sand mask, just a gleam of eyes behind it, but Iruka thought that the ANBU looked deeply, deeply unamused, as wronged as any 6-year-old in time-out, actually.
"Yes," he ground out, and reached to give Kakashi a small, ornamental scroll. "The Kazekage had me deliver this at first light."
Looking around Kakashi, the ANBU told Iruka, "And I have instructions to extend an invitation to you for breakfast at the guest house with Kazekage-sama."
"Oh," Iruka said, voice distant, "I see—thank you."
The ANBU nodded. "He'll expect you in an hour," he said, and disappeared in a choking dust-up of sand that had Iruka sending Kakashi for the kitchen broom.
"I recognize this is ultimately irrelevant," Kakashi grumbled, dumping out the dustpan, "but I definitely think a storm of leaves are preferable to a sandstorm."
"I'm glad you said it so I didn't have to," Iruka sighed, and went off to find something acceptable to wear.
Iruka chose to believe that Naruto squirmed all through milk-and-lemon tea due to an advanced case of engagement jitters, because the alternatives were far too appalling to consider. He suffered a brief moment of inspired insanity and considered pitching a fit at Naruto about premarital sex and talking about cows and milk—but thankfully a furiously-embarrassed Sand jounin shuffled in at that exact moment with a dish of Madelines and to refresh the cream pitcher.
Gaara offered them to Iruka, who took one woodenly.
Despite Iruka's best efforts to convince him otherwise, Kakashi maintained that since Gaara's invitation had named Iruka specifically, it freed Kakashi from all obligation to attend. Although, Iruka admitted, it was probably for the best Kakashi wasn't in attendance to cause some sort of international incident—there was no way Kakashi would allow Naruto to escape from the meeting unscathed.
When Naruto had met Iruka at the door of the guest house, he'd practically glowed with contentment—and the shock of it had carried Iruka through the corridors and into the formal tatami room, where he and Naruto and the Kazekage and about six dozen carefully hidden ANBU were now staring at one another uncomfortably.
"I'm glad you're looking well," Iruka said finally to Naruto, rolling his shoulders to try and ease the rising tension.
Grinning, Naruto said, "It was a good trip."
Iruka was glad to see him happy with someone, anyone—even if it was the Kazekage, God help them all. After the successive debacles of Sakura and what Kakashi liked, inappropriately, to call "The worst breakup in Konoha history," of being friends with Sasuke, it was good to see Naruto happy without any strings attached, and Iruka allowed himself a moment of fuzzy-edged affection toward Gaara for putting an unshadowed smile on Naruto's face.
"Sand has great ramen," Naruto added.
Iruka bit back a laugh, and Gaara added flatly, "I have engaged the proprietor of Naruto's favorite ramen stand in order to learn myself how to make noodles."
"I am confident in my ability to master the art," Gaara assured him.
"Gaara's awesome like that," Naruto enthused, reaching for a cookie.
Iruka stuffed another Madeline into his mouth so he wouldn't do anything foolish like talk or breathe or burst into hysterical laughter.
It was nearly an hour later, when Gaara was finally called away from the brunch for official business, that Iruka finally relaxed, studying Naruto's faint and constant blush.
"You're really happy with him, aren't you," Iruka said.
Naruto ducked his head—plucked at the edges of his cushion.
"Most people would say you were making a mistake," Iruka challenged, too casual, "taking on Gaara of the Sand, you know."
And he'd barely finished his sentence when Naruto's head snapped back up, eyes fierce as he shot back, "And most people still say you're making a mistake, letting Kakashi-pervert take advantage of you all these—" before he stopped himself, face going tomato-red even as Iruka started to laugh.
"Good," Iruka said, grinning and reaching over to ruffle Naruto's hair. "Good—I just needed to know you meant it. I'm happy for you," he promised, mirroring Naruto's flush now, "I really am."
"Can you pass me the—thank you," Kakashi said, taking the stack of bills from Iruka's hand before turning back to their checkbook. "What were you saying?"
Iruka finished tallying up Konohamaru's grade (14 out of 100—that kid was doomed to a life of prostitution or highway robbery, Iruka worried) and said again, "I was just saying, I think they're going to be very happy together."
Kakashi's near-constant clacking at the calculator stopped. "Excuse me—are you giving this relationship your blessing?"
Iruka frowned, tapping his red pen on the next test paper. "Why not?"
Kakashi stared at him blankly. "It's Gaara."
"I think he's a nice boy," Iruka dismissed, turning back to his grading.
"Gaara is not a nice boy," Kakashi replied, and Iruka looked up to see Kakashi pluck off his reading glasses and slap them down on top of the opened checkbook. "You don't know him professionally—he's vicious."
Iruka rolled his eyes. "Okay," he agreed.
"I wasn't aware Naruto was serious," Kakashi said, sounding stiff and ominous.
Smirking, Iruka said, "I didn't know you cared. I always thought you felt like Naruto was your annoying stepchild."
Kakashi raised his brows. "Naruto is my annoying stepchild."
"And now, you can have Gaara as your annoying stepchild-in-law," Iruka teased.
"He's killed hundreds, you know," Kakashi tried again.
Iruka stared at him for a long time.
"All right, fine," Kakashi sulked, "I suppose that was a little bit hypocritical."
Four days after Gaara and Naruto's return to Konoha, Iruka was called to Tsunade-sama's office so she could ask him if Kakashi was trying to start a war.
"It's generally frowned-upon when ninja stalk leaders of other hidden villages while alliances are being signed," she said, sarcasm dripping from her words.
"If it's any comfort," Iruka said, "from what I can tell, Gaara is actually flattered."
Tsunade frowned. "That Kakashi views him as a potential threat?"
Iruka shrugged. "That Kakashi cares enough to bully his potential son-in-law."
Tsunade rubbed at her temples. "Sandaime never had to put up with any of this crap."
The alliance was formalized with great elegance, and Tsunade and Gaara took tea together, ceremonially pouring one another's cups in a sign of trust—banners decorated with their signets fluttering in the wind, pale in the golden sunlight. It was a good day, for Sand and Leaf both; Iruka hated war. And Kakashi—who wore the history of Konoha's battles on his skin like a textbook of scars—had looked thoughtful, and tricked Gai into taking his B-level mission so he and Iruka could sit together on a grassy knoll that peered out over Hokage mountain, down into the valley of the town, lying next to each other under the cloudless blue sky.
Gaara and his contingent reluctantly left Konoha after that, with promises to return to Konoha in the new year, and Naruto sank into a depression so deep and darkly childish that Iruka finally resigned himself to the inevitability of it all and called Sakura from one of her long shifts at the hospital to tell her the good news. She was overjoyed and very high-pitched and kidnapped Naruto with extreme quickness out of his trashed apartment to begin planning the wedding.
"Let met get this right: you told Sakura about the..." Kakashi trailed off, searching for the right words until he arrived at, "...arrangement so you could come in here and clean Naruto's room?"
"It's a sty," Iruka said, stuffing another bag full with empty ramen cups. "And he was never going to clean it on his own."
"And so why was it our responsibility to do it?" Kakashi asked.
Iruka gave him a severe look. "Soon, Naruto will be married—"
"Argh," Kakashi said, sounding pained.
"—And we won't be able to do nice things for him anymore," Iruka finished, feeling oddly upset. He was happy that Naruto would be happy, really. And even if he wouldn't necessarily be happy in Konoha, he would be happy with Gaara—and certainly Naruto would write, or at least, Iruka thought with increasing distress, Iruka could convince Gaara that it was some kind of tradition for married couples to write once a day, every day, regardless. But really, more than anything else, what if Naruto didn't make friends in Sand—what if they were mean to him, like they'd been in Konoha? What if Gaara forgot him, or left him lonely, or went to wars once more? And then, what if—?
Which was when Kakashi intervened, saying, "My, my, teacher, I think you've been tired out."
"I'm not tired," Iruka insisted. "I'm not upset."
"Of course," Kakashi allowed, and tugged the garbage bag out of Iruka's hands.
They ended up sitting on Naruto's roof, looking out over Konoha as the sky darkened and the lights in the village came on one by one—orange beacons in the blue-black of the night, Kakashi's arm looped casual and proprietary over Iruka's shoulder. It was all too easy to lean his head on Kakashi's shoulder, press his face into the cloth of his vest and ask, "What if Gaara makes him unhappy?"
"Didn't people ask you the same thing about me?" Kakashi prompted, gentle.
Iruka smiled a little, crooked. People had asked what he'd been thinking, and if it was for a mission, and touched his forehead to check for fever and tried to offer him antidotes for poison, dispel any illusions that might have trapped him. He'd been too shy to tell them that Kakashi made him laugh and liked Naruto, and was playful and smiled into Iruka's kisses; maybe he'd been too jealous, too, to tell anybody else.
"But you did make me unhappy," he said, because it was true, and it would be hard to argue otherwise after having worried and wept and been furious time after time.
"How cold, Sensei," Kakashi pouted, but said, "But I haven't made you unhappy all the time."
"No," Iruka agreed, "you haven't."
A month later, with missives flying near-hourly between the social secretaries of Sand and Leaf over the Kazekage's forthcoming nuptial event, and Naruto complaining bitterly about every single decision he was asked to make, Iruka said, "That's it—Gaara's planning this thing. I wash my hands of it."
Abandoning Naruto to Gaara's bridezilla tendencies was remarkably freeing and probably better for everyone involved.
"WHAT??? WHY DO YOU NEED PEACH ORCHIDS?? I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT AN ORCHID IS AND ALSO I HATE FLOWERS GAARA WHY ARE YOU MAKING SUCH A BIG DEAL OF THIS????" Naruto wrote, frantic, shoving it into the hands of the beleaguered ANBU member who'd been porting in and out of Sand and Fire for weeks now.
"Because it is a big deal, and of course we need orchids," Gaara replied in elegant, flowing script. "I read a book saying that it is a traditional wedding flower for the people of Konoha—we may also need to discuss which country's marital circumcision rules we follow," he added in a follow-up note.
All in all, it could have been worse, but not by much, and a month before New Years came around—in the bitter cold of early February—all the preparations were in place: Naruto would marry in Konoha and live in Sand, and the orchids would be charmed to blossom even in the snow.
"You know, for all the trouble, this really is very sweet," Iruka said, hidden mostly beneath the kotastu, watching Kakashi jutsu pot after pot of orchids. "Do you regret that we never did anything like this?"
"What?" Kakashi asked, setting away another orchid plant. "That we never had anything costly and embarrassing and hugely public?"
Later, after Sakura had kicked in the door to Iruka's apartment and requested a private audience with a terrified-looking Naruto, Iruka turned to look at Kakashi—really look at him: gray hair going more silver at the temples and crows feet at the corner of his eyes, handsome face uncovered. Everything about Kakashi was embarrassing and public—from his porn to his perennial tardiness to all the gossip that flew through the village about him. There'd be no way to keep anything a secret; when they fought, the only person in Konoha who didn't know was Naruto. But it was Saturday morning and the sun was rising on fresh-fallen snow and Kakashi was holding a jutstu to keep Iruka's tea warm, cocking his head to the side, curious and near enough that Iruka could smell the soap on his skin.
"Two out of three ain't bad," Iruka decided, and traded the tea out of Kakashi's hands for a kiss on the mouth.
"It's true," Kakashi said, not missing a beat, "I am cheap."
Downstairs, through the thatched roof, they could hear Sakura shout, "Naruto! If you eat any more ramen you'll get fat and you'll never fit into your wedding kimono and then Gaara will marry some hot skinny floozy instead, is that what you want?" and Naruto wail back, miserable and obviously through a mouthful of food, "No! I just want food!"
Iruka sighed and said, "This wedding is going to be a disaster."
There was an enormous crash from downstairs, followed by Sakura's voice: "Oh, you just did not do that!"
"Oh, I so did," Naruto screamed back.
"I don't know," Kakashi said mildly, "I think it seems to be going well."
The snow had deepened by February into a foot-thick blanket of white over the city, and seeing the Sand procession enter the village gates—waving flags and ribbons, flying on a caravan of burnished red palaquins—took Iruka's breath away. Iruka had been too young and too busy mourning his parents to see the great processions of ninja dignitaries that had come to Konoha to sign and barter alliances after the Nine-Tailed Fox—but he thought this must have been what it was like.
For people who lived shrouded in secrets, coming announced was the most amazing gesture of all.
The Fifth Hokage met Gaara at the gate, and Iruka thought he saw her smile at him—genuine and rare.
There was official ceremony after official ceremony, with Gaara looking serious and Naruto looking flustered, a little wall-eyed in surprise at all of the fuss, staring out occasionally at the ocean of Konoha residents who'd turned out for the events. There were banners and bouquets, garlands, music ringing bright into the clear blue sky, wide open over the white snow banks bordering the village. Iruka tired not to feel angry on Naruto's behalf—that the village, after so many years of being so cruel, could laugh and throw flowers now, as if Naruto had ever needed earn their affections—and tried to feel mostly proud. It was easy, watching Gaara and the Hokage exchange seals, listening to the great cheer that rose up through the valley beneath Hokage mountain—to watch Naruto break protocol and pull Gaara close, near enough to whisper a smile into his ear—to be proud enough that Iruka' s heart ached, like off-key tones from a shamisen.
The private wedding ceremony was much smaller, held—ridiculously—in Iruka's old family house, although he'd fought against it long and hard. "This is you and the Kazekage, Naruto, you have to want a nicer ceremony," Iruka had argued, and Naruto had only tipped his chin and dug in his heels, and Iruka had known that any further appeals would be pointless. There was a tiny courtyard garden, and Gaara and Naruto made promises over a koi pond the color of the gray sky overhead, dressed in dark formal kimono, bearing the crests of their villages.
"I was half-expecting Sasuke to kick down a wall and fight Gaara for Naruto's honor at this point," Kakashi murmured, close to Iruka's ear.
Iruka kicked him sharply. "Don't joke about that," he hissed.
"It's okay," Sakura promised, leaning over to whisper between them. "I heard that Tsunade made the ANBU to do extra patrols of the city walls."
"Hey!" Naruto shouted, turning around to glare at them. "Do you guys mind? This is my wedding here."
Shikamaru held out his hand to Ino, who slapped 500 Yen into his palm and muttered, "You guys couldn't pretend to be classy for like one afternoon," with a dirty look at Sakura.
Horrified, Lee wailed, "You would wager money on the most important day of a fellow ninja's life?"
They were exchanging cups of sake, kicking off the reception, when the clouds overhead opened and rain poured down in a rush.
"Oh, no," Sakura mourned, fluttering at her hair. "It's bad luck."
"Sakura!" Iruka scolded, watching Naruto's face go pale with worry.
"In Suna, for my people, rain is the sweetest blessing," Gaara intoned, and Naruto gave him one of those hopeless, besotted looks that made Iruka feel old and like pouring a bucket of cold water over them.
But then laughter bubbled up in another corner of the room, and the moment was broken, and Gaara drew his new spouse away, taking Naruto's hand into his own as Iruka watched them go, disappear into the fray of the party.
"This is a happy day, Sensei," Kakashi chided, and Iruka imagined the look on his face was not so well concealed as he'd thought.
"I am happy," Iruka said, because it wasn't exactly a lie.
"Then where's your smile?" Kakashi asked, lips soft on Iruka's ear.
"Great, now you two are acting disgusting," Ino said to them before breaking into a smile. "Excellent," she purred, and headed across the room, calling out, "Hey, Shikamaru—I want my money back!"
"No dice," he yelled back. "I didn't see it myself!"
Iruka covered his face in shame. "I cannot believe I graduated these people."
"Now," Kakashi said, satisfied, "this feels like Naruto's wedding."
Hidden Sand and Leaf had been unofficial allies for near a decade already before the Kazekage vowed his loyalty to Konoha and Naruto—and then became hideously intoxicated and Sand Coffined all the orchids to death, one by one, until Iruka gave Kakashi his foulest look and sent the jounin off to stop Gaara. Most everyone agreed it was a good move, and long overdue, and Tsunade made certain that the official ceremonies and the parties thereafter were the talk of the decade. And on the day Naruto and Gaara set out for their honeymoon—location, top secret—she made certain that the village path was well-guarded with a double-patrol of ANBU who'd been briefed on the uncomfortable Sasuke issue.
"Don't shame the name of Konoha, Naruto," Iruka said, but teasing.
"I know," Naruto laughed, and caught Iruka in a tackling hug before he ran off again, whooping, to Gaara's side, the two of them like red and yellow poppies in the blinding white snow.
Before he had a moment to feel lonely, to feel abandoned, Kakashi was sliding his fingers in between Iruka's. "Congratulations," Kakashi said in a whisper, meant only for Iruka. "You've raised a good boy."
Iruka dug up a smile for him. "Oh?"
"You kept your promises to him, and now look, he's making his own promises to other people."
Iruka reflected, pulling Kakashi's smirking mouth down to his own, that now it was his turn to look besotted.
I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU TOLD GAARA BUT HE SEEMS TO THINK THAT IT'S TRADITION TO WRITE TO THE IN-LAWS EVERY WEEK. THAT WAS A DIRTY TRICK, IRUKA-SENSEI, BUT I FORGIVE YOU, BECAUSE THIS TOP SECRET PLACE WE'RE VACATIONING IS AWESOME. YESTERDAY, GAARA FOUGHT A RAMPAGING BEAR. I TOLD HIM HE DIDN'T NEED TO BRING ME ITS STILL-BEATING HEART TO IMPRESS ME, BUT I WAS KIND OF TOUCHED, I WON'T LIE.
ANYWAY, GAARA IS TALKING ABOUT "SPECIAL TAIJITSU TRAINING" (WHAT A PERVERT) AGAIN, SO I BETTER GO BEFORE HE SAND COFFINS THIS PEN.
TELL KAKASHI-BASTARD I'LL KILL HIM IF HE MESSES WITH YOU!!!!!!!!
PS, I am attaching my greetings as well, Iruka-sensei. I have also been instructed by Naruto to tell you that should the honorable Copy Nin fail to be entirely honorable, I am to "sand coffin his ass into pink mist." Regards, Gaara, Kazekage, Land of Suna.