There’s a note near the edge of Iruka’s desk when he gets back to his office.
He almost misses it at first—it’s been a while since Iruka’s decluttered his desk, and he’s juggling around four scrolls in his arms. Whoever told him being the Academy’s headmaster would involve a lighter workload than teaching was a liar. He’d even take an entire class of Narutos hyped up on instant ramen over the unending politics and paperwork!
That has nothing to do with the note though, which Iruka finally notices when he sets the scrolls on the table and the note flutters to the ground. It’s the work of a moment to snatch it out of the air and the work of another to unfold it, brows crinkling at the lack of anything on the front of the note—
But then a flurry of sakura petals falls past his fingers and flutters to the ground, filling the air with sweetness and a brief burst of spring. It’s long past hanami in Konoha, long past the time where any fresh sakura petals can be found clinging to trees, but Iruka doesn’t ponder over it for long.
Not when there’s a neatly penned message and a single, simple sketch of a sakura blossom on the note. Not when he can almost hear Sakura’s laughter in her playful words.
I know it’s not very proper, her message begins, but we’re going to go on a treasure hunt, sensei! Come to the classroom where you taught me everything about becoming a good ninja. Love, Haruno Sakura.
It’s almost like she’s the shy little girl who’d cared too much about her forehead all over again, her Will of Fire buried deep beneath her insecurities, and Iruka finds himself smiling fondly as his thumb smooths over her doodle. It’d taken her team and Tsunade-sama’s intervention to draw out her full potential, coax her to grow from a small bud to the flowering tree she is today, and Iruka sets off with light steps and a smile on his lips for the kunoichi he helped nurture.
They’d last talked barely a month ago, Sakura laughing along to his fondly exasperated tales of the latest troublemakers to begin learning at the Academy—and all the associated paperwork that came along with it. She’d never been as secretive as Sasuke or as playful as Naruto, so why…?
Sunlight slants through the window as Iruka opens the door, dancing along well-worn desks that had been pristine when he’d taught Sakura all those years ago. There’s another note on the desk he faintly remembers as hers—but this time, there’s a little fan stamped on the front.
An uchiwa, Iruka corrects himself as he opens it up, and somehow he’s not surprised by the elegant words that appear when he opens up the note. He is surprised by the poorly-drawn cherry tomato smiling up at him from beside Sasuke’s words… but then he reads the message and finds his smile growing wider.
So you’re really playing along? Sasuke asks—a little aloof, but amused in his quiet-sharp way. I told the moron (you’re the moron, a messier hand includes on the side. Iruka suspects its owner may also be behind the raggedy cherry tomato) that you wouldn’t, but he insisted on making me do it (you only agreed because you said I couldn’t do it right! the other writer interjects again) so. Find your next note by the gate where you welcomed us all back home.
There’s a slight smudge by us, as though Sasuke had wanted to write something else before he’d changed his mind, but Iruka finds his smile wobbling at the subtle sentiment behind Sasuke’s words. Sasuke had been one of his quietest after the Uchiha Massacre, innocent cheer replaced by a cold brooding that not even Naruto’s general tomfoolery had been able to keep at bay—but Sasuke had returned Iruka’s hug all the same when he'd finally came back.
Even now, years after the final battle that levelled the Valley of the End and left Sasuke and Naruto with a missing arm apiece, Iruka’s eyes still sting with tears whenever he remembers Sasuke’s small smile. It’s good to be back, he’d mumbled into Iruka’s shoulder, soft enough that Naruto hadn’t been able to pick up on it and laugh at him for being sentimental, and it only takes a wobbly shunshin before Iruka’s at the gate where they’d all limped into Konoha.
Kotetsu nods back from the lookout, offering a lazy wave that Iruka responds to with his own little wave, but his attention’s drawn away by a note stuck to Konoha’s boundary wall. A small pulse of chakra, a crackling flare, and then the third note falls into his hand—a little charred at the edges, but not much worse for wear.
But it’s not Uzushio’s tight swirl that marks the front of the note, or even a badly-drawn narutomaki.
Bet you weren’t expecting a note from me, were you? Genma asks him in scratchy text, and Iruka laughs before he reads the rest of his friend’s note.
Don’t worry, you’ll get something from your little brother soon, Genma writes next, words wrapping around a cute doodle of a bandanna-wearing rabbit with a senbon peeking out of its mouth. But from one big brother to another—thank you for being the best little brother a guy could ever have (don’t show this to Kotetsu or Izumo).
Iruka calls Kotetsu and Izumo over, of course, because what sort of younger brother would he be if he didn’t tease Genma back sometimes? Kotetsu and Izumo laugh when they see Genma’s aside, mock-sniffling and promising revenge in melodramatic voices that leave them all gasping for breath, but it’s not until the terrible twosome have gone back to their posts that Iruka reads the last few lines.
Remember the place where you told me about your first crush? You’ll find your next note there.
It hadn’t been his first, just the first that he’d felt seriously enough to share with Genma—but Iruka finds himself blushing as he tucks the note away and prepares to shunshin again. I think I’ve found someone I want to spend the rest of my life with, Iruka remembers telling Genma on a particularly warm evening, days after they’d removed the last of the Infinite Tsukuyomi vines from Konoha, and it’d taken weeks for Genma to drop the subject.
It’d also taken some strong words to Raidou, of all people, before Genma would stop acting the part of the overprotective older brother—but Iruka’s all smiles as he appears near the tree where his love life had tentatively taken form. Even now, a little over two years from that embarrassing talk…
Iruka takes a seat beneath its generous boughs, laughing as he pats its gnarled trunk, and doesn’t notice the note until his fingers brush against it. There’s a narutomaki stuck to it too—hard and raw instead of soggy and soft, just the way his younger brother likes it—and Iruka sniffles from the welter of emotions before opening up the note.
The same scraggly handwriting that’d appeared on Sasuke’s note stares back at him, along with a few poorly-drawn frogs and far too many Uzushio swirls.
Iruka-nii! Naruto begins, and Iruka smiles wider as he hears echoes of Naruto’s voice in the back of his mind. Are you having fun? The bastard said you wouldn’t (I only said he wouldn’t be as childish as you about it, Sasuke writes neatly beside it, and Iruka laughs in a watery voice at that) so we didn’t add more notes—but you’re almost there, believe it!
Iruka rubs his thumb across Naruto’s exuberant words with blurry eyes. He’s not that old—certainly not old enough to grow so sentimental in his so-called dotage—but it’s nice to get little reminders that he’s loved. He doesn’t really know why Naruto’s team and Genma have banded together to make him dart across Konoha and back—
But something tells me I’ll find out soon, Iruka thinks, even as he reads the last of Naruto’s words and gets up with a little huff.
He’d gone to the classroom where he’d first became a teacher, bright-eyed and nervous—then to the gates, which had always welcomed him and his loved ones home. He’d found himself beneath the tree where a new chapter of his life had begun—and now…
Another shunshin, a few flights of stairs, and Iruka pauses before the threshold of his apartment.
I’d tell you to find me in the forest, but I think that bastard would make good on his promise to bury me alive, Naruto had written down on his note, so find me where I first thanked you for being the best big brother in the world!
“You’ll always be the best little brother in the world to me,” Iruka confesses to his door in a low voice, swiping the back of his hand against his eyes—and almost doesn’t catch the last note when he opens the door.
There’s no identifying mark on the front, no sign of anything to distinguish it in any visible way—but when Iruka opens it, all he sees is a speech bubble and a single peculiar signature.
Look up, the henohenomoheji says.
Iruka looks up from where he’s bent over, eyes peering into the gloom of his apartment—
And then strong hands cup his cheek before tilting his head into a soft kiss.
“Happy birthday Iruka-nii!” Naruto yells from behind the mystery kisser, shoving them out of the way before throwing himself at Iruka. “Did you like the treasure hunt? Did you have fun rediscovering all those memories?!”
“Dead last, couldn’t you see they were having a moment?” Sasuke sighs, dragging Naruto back before Iruka can get smothered in Naruto’s crushing embrace.
“But I wanted to say happy birthday to Iruka first!”
“You spent the entire day not jumping Iruka—surely you could’ve waited another minute.”
“You’re just no fun, you stupid duck-butt bastard.”
“I don’t have a duck-butt anymore, dead last.”
But as Naruto and Sasuke devolve into their usual bickering, still just as childish as they’d been when they’d been Iruka’s first students, Kakashi rights himself and shoves them out of the way. “I’ll leave those two to you, Sakura-chan,” Kakashi drawls as Sakura appears and brings her fists down on their heads—and it’s such a bizarre but expected occurrence that Iruka finds himself crying with laughter instead.
“Maa, look at what you’ve done,” Kakashi chides his team, even as Genma peers around Sakura to offer Iruka a cheery grin. “We were meant to give Iruka a good birthday, not give him a reason to cry.”
“They’re good tears, Kakashi-sensei,” Sakura primly replies, even as she tosses Naruto and Sasuke over her shoulders without so much as a bat of her eyelashes. “You’ve been together with Iruka-san for long enough. Shouldn’t you know the difference?”
“He’s emotionally stunted,” Genma offers with a little shrug, slinging a friendly arm around Sakura’s shoulders. “Always has been and always will be.
“Still, you alright?” Genma asks Iruka once he’s shifted his narrow-eyed gaze from Kakashi’s blandly innocent face. “We can’t take you to Ichiraku’s like this—Ayame will have our heads for giving you such swollen eyes.”
“It’s alright,” Iruka replies through another sniffle, straightening up from his hunch. “I just…”
“Felt a little too sentimental because you forgot it was your birthday?”
Kakashi’s eye-smiling when Iruka looks at him, mask firmly in place for all that it’d been tugged down to kiss Iruka before, but his gaze is warm when he opens his eyes again. “Maa, Headmaster-san,” Kakashi teases gently, unaware of Sakura’s snickers and Genma’s mock-gagging, “you should take care of yourself a little better, you know. We can’t have you missing out on such a wonderful celebration.
“Now come along,” Kakashi adds with a little wave of his hands, glancing back as Sasuke and Naruto limp back into sight with matching scowls. “Ichiraku won’t wait forever for us.”
“Ramen!” Naruto exclaims, instantly perking up—and smacking Sasuke in the face as he cheers.
But as Sasuke throws himself at Naruto with a feral snarl, as Sakura turns back to yell at her idiot teammates and Genma turns to cheer them on, Kakashi leans forward to kiss Iruka again. “Happy birthday, Iruka,” he murmurs, just loud enough to hear beneath the chaos—
And with some of his precious people by his side and the promise of ramen on the horizon, Iruka draws Kakashi back in for a quick kiss before laughing against his lips, “What a happy birthday indeed.”