A hush fell over the morning market crowd as the gates opened. It took a moment for true silence to settle as word spread in hushed whispers from person to person and parents shushed curious children into respectful silence. Iruka stared at the apple in his hand. Slowly, he set the apple back onto the stack. It took forty five seconds for the gates to fully open, another twenty until the first of the returning faces were visible to the edge of the market crowd.
Terror clenched Iruka's stomach. He knew he should be relieved – village shinobi were returning home from the latest engagement in the war with Hidden Mist – but each time a group returned, there was a long list of people who didn't return, either because they were still in the field or.... He didn't like to think of the other option. In Iruka's mind, if it didn't make the official dead list, it wasn't real. That's what he kept telling himself.
"Iruka..." The old lady that ran the fruit stand whispered sharply to him and pointed.
He turned slowly. Minutes had passed while he stood frozen. In that time, the returning group would have made it to the market square. Some would break off there, find loved ones, drift home. Others went straight to the Hokage to report in. He'd watched countless groups pass without seeing the face he wanted.
A shiver passed through him at the sound of his love's voice and he turned quickly to throw his arms around Kakashi. Tears ran down his face but he couldn't bring himself to care. There were bandages around Kakashi's arms and leg. He was dirty from travel, and obviously tired, but to Iruka he looked amazing.
"Let's go home, Iruka-sensei."
His fear was no more.