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The Scarlet Lantern was one of the larger establishments of its kind in Otafuku City. It sat just beyond the edge of the pleasure quarter, away from the hustle and bustle of the heart of the city in a relatively quiet neighborhood full of relatively quiet estates. High wooden walls lined the streets, marking the area as one of wealth and privacy. The walls of the Scarlet Lantern were taller than most, designed to keep prying eyes out and its occupants in, with its namesake - an entire row of red paper lanterns - hanging from thin metal hooks extending out from the wall. There was nothing special about the large double doors at the entrance to the compound, no plaque or sign to give away the compound's function beyond the tell-tale lanterns.

The guard at the front gate was a thick, burly man named Raiden. He was a former special jounin, well past his prime, and he said nothing, only nodded once in silent greeting as he let Kakashi into the compound. The Scarlet Lantern was not officially tied to Konoha but enough of its ninja frequented it to give it a bit of a reputation among the rank and file.

Kakashi had first learned of the Lantern's existence three months after he'd made jounin rank. He'd been on a mission with an older ninja, a man named Gato, who at the time had held a fancy for one of the ladies at the Lantern. They'd stopped there on their way home and Kakashi remembered sitting awkwardly in one of the private rooms with a buxom young blonde that Gato had insisted on paying for, arguing that if Kakashi was old enough to fight for his village, then he was old enough to enjoy the things he might never live to be of proper age for.

He hadn't touched the girl and she hadn't seemed to mind. They'd sat on the edge of the bed, two feet of open air between them, while she prattled on about her home village and he stayed silent. He'd thanked her at the end, when a servant had tapped discreetly at the door to let them know that Gato had finished.

As he was led out he remembered glimpsing into one of the rooms and seeing a young boy, younger even than Kakashi had been at the time. The boy was dressed in a kimono as blue as the open sea. He'd sat on the edge of a bed much like Kakashi had, patient and silent, his hands folded in his lap. The boy stared at the open door, waiting. His face was calm, almost the picture of quiet patience but the memory of his eyes stayed with Kakashi. They reminded him of the survivors, the people left behind when war faded, the ones who had lost everything and everyone they'd known and had nothing left to live for. The memory of those eyes haunted him for years.

At the time he'd thought the boy had been waiting, like Kakashi, for his escort to take him home. For a while Kakashi had fantasized that the other boy was another prodigy, used to fighting battles meant for people much older than they were. He'd hoped that he could meet the boy again, that they'd be friends, kindred spirits that would connect instantly over shared talent and history.

They did meet again, the next time Kakashi came to the Lantern, years later, shortly after he'd left ANBU. He'd seen those same pair of eyes again and realized how wrong his initial assumption had been. The boy's name was Iruka. He wore a kimono the color of the sea and laughed and flirted with the guests milling in the common room. He'd looked up as Kakashi walked in the room. He'd smiled. It was a fake smile but convincing enough that it nearly had Kakashi fooled. They were connected, Kakashi realized, just not how he'd originally thought.

That had been their first night together. They'd had many since, and now when Kakashi walked into Iruka's chambers, Iruka's smile was wide enough and bright enough that Kakashi almost believed it was real.

Iruka rose from the bed as Kakashi shut the door. "Scarecrow-san. I've missed you."

He was as beautiful as always. Long brown hair fell in loose strands to his waist. Today's kimono was silver with pale blue flowers scattered in small clumps across the fabric. He opened his arms as he approached, demanding a hug, and he lingered in Kakashi's embrace, his head tucked into the crook of Kakashi's neck. Kakashi liked to think that his presence brought Iruka comfort, that he was better than the other men, kinder and gentler and more attentive to Iruka than he was to his own base needs. It was a lie he told himself to mask the truth of the situation and his own helplessness to change it.

"I missed you too." That was not a lie and it scared Kakashi each time he said it. Their relationship was becoming a problem, one that was quickly turning into a liability. If Iruka lived in Konoha, that would be a slightly different story. At least there, the village walls offered some protections. Here, the only thing between Iruka and true danger was an over-the-hill veteran and a wooden wall. Each time he came here, he promised himself it would be his last. He never kept his promise.

Iruka's room was as warm as his personality and never failed to put Kakashi at ease, or at least as much at ease as he could be away from home, which was probably why he could never keep himself away for long. It was nicer than most of the rooms at the Scarlett Lantern, likely due to the number of wealthy patrons among Iruka's clients. It was even nicer than Kakashi's apartment, though that didn't say much considering how little time Kakashi spent there.

An eclectic set of knick-knacks decorated the room, each one of them reminding him of Iruka in some way, if only for the care shown in their crafting. There were paintings of distant landscapes, glass and silver baubles, wooden carvings, ornate figurines. A full set of Icha Icha novels sat on the mantle, braced by a pair of dolphin statues. The statues had been a gift from Kakashi. He'd yet to learn who kept supplying the novels.

Soft hands curled around the edge of Kakashi's mask, pulling the fabric away. Iruka had such strange hands - gentle, hesitant, lacking the scars and calluses all ninja carried. Kakashi had long ago stopped flinching away whenever Iruka tried to remove his mask. Iruka was the only one he'd allow such familiarity, and in a way it was nice not having to hide behind the mask when Iruka was around. It made him feel a little more normal, a little more human. It was a shame he had to pay for the pleasure.

"I'll never understand why you insist on hiding such a handsome face from the world." Iruka stretched up on his toes to place an inviting kiss on Kakashi's lips.

Kakashi murmured his appreciation in lieu of an answer and slid his hands down to squeeze Iruka's bottom. He didn't think Iruka would understand his reasons. Iruka hadn't been born to the life Kakashi had. He wouldn't understand the shame Kakashi felt at wearing a face so much like his father's. He didn't understand honor or duty or the sacrifices of a ninja's life. Kakashi liked it better that way. It was nice being able to distance himself from that world, even if it was only for a short while. Even if that distance came with a price tag. Even if it was a lie.

"Oh well," Iruka whispered against Kakashi's cheek. His lips brushed against the exposed skin, sending small shivers of pleasure down Kakashi's spine. He wanted to pull Iruka tight and take him now, but he knew from experience that it was better if he let things drag out. Iruka had quite the naughty streak when he put his mind to it. "More for me then, since it keeps the competition at bay. They don't know what they're missing."

A grin spread unbidden across Kakashi's face. He couldn't help it. It was so easy to unwind when Iruka was around. Sandaime used to lecture them about work-life balance, a lecture that Tsunade had taken up with equal fervor. They'd talked of coping techniques, of hobbies and lifelines. Kakashi didn't need any of that, not when he had Iruka. He supposed, technically, Iruka was his lifeline, but that term didn't seem right. A lifeline was more stable, more sacred. This was just decompression, nothing more. Or at least, that was the lie he told himself.

"Worried that I might trade you in for a newer model? Ginjou had the fresh meat on display again."

He hated Ginjou. The man was lower than slime and he treated his workers like cattle. Iruka was one of the well established whores and popular enough, even in his advancing age, to demand his own room full of his own things and a modicum of respect. It hadn't always been that way. Kakashi's first time with Iruka had been in one of the shared rooms on the first floor. There'd been bruises on his wrists and fear in his eyes, but he'd still tried to make sure Kakashi left satisfied.

Iruka snorted and pulled away. His hand trailed down Kakashi's arm, a subtle hint for him to follow. "God, no. They're all terrified of you. They think you're some kind of hideous brute." He turned back, a wicked smile on his face. "They pity me, you know, since I never complain to Ginjou about how you ravage me. It's all so traumatizing." He feigned fainting on the bed, landing in such a way that his kimono fell open around his legs, revealing an expanse of bare skin that stopped just short of scandalous.

In another life, Iruka would have made a pretty good actor, maybe even a spy.

Iruka's words rang too close to Kakashi's earlier worries and he frowned. "Am I that bad?" He tried to be a gentleman, to be the kind of man that Iruka deserved, but sometimes, when he was fresh from a prolonged mission, he could be a little rough. He hated himself for those times, even if Iruka never complained.

Iruka lifted his head, surprise washing away his humor. He sat up and let his legs dangle off the side of the bed. "What? No." He held out his hands and Kakashi obediently moved forward to take them, halting just at the edge of Iruka's reach. Iruka pulled him closer. He didn't let go of Kakashi's hands. "You're good to me." His voice was soft, almost shy. Iruka looked down at their hands and smiled, though his expression seemed more sad than happy. "You're kind and nice and you're interested in more than just the sex." He looked up quickly and blushed. "Not that I mind the sex. I mean, that's what you paid for, but... I like talking to you. I like being with you. It makes me feel less... lonely."

Kakashi brushed his thumbs over Iruka's knuckles. He wanted to believe that it was all true but he couldn't. Not when he'd paid Ginjou to have Iruka for a full night, the pre-counted bag of money clinking as Kakashi slid it across the counter.

He'd paid for this fairytale and that was why he didn't dare think any of it was true. That didn't stop him from wishing desperately that it was.

He shook his head. "I like being with you too. But where on earth did they get the idea that I'm a brute?"

The mischievous smile returned to Iruka's face but it was muted this time. "I told them." He let go of Kakashi's hands to wrap his arms around Kakashi's neck, pulling him closer. "Like I said." Iruka's breath mingled with Kakashi's. His lips hovered tantalizingly close, brushing against Kakashi's own as Iruka spoke. "More for me." Iruka's eyes drifted shut as he pressed his lips to Kakashi's.

The kiss started off slow, just lips moving against lips, almost hesitant in their touch. Kakashi deepened it. He moved in stages, first opening his mouth, then sliding his tongue into Iruka's mouth, then pushing Iruka backwards so that Kakashi could press Iruka's body into the mattress, holding him down with his weight alone. Iruka was pliant beneath him. His hands rubbed circles into Kakashi's back, neither stopping him nor encouraging him forward. Kakashi could do whatever he wanted and Iruka would let him. He could hurt Iruka, make him bleed, make him beg. Iruka would let him.

That wasn't what he was here for. That wasn't what he wanted.

His hands wandered over Iruka's skin, retracing a landscape so familiar that he didn't need to look to know where his hands were going. He slid one hand beneath the fold of Iruka's kimono while the other opened the loose knot that tied it shut. The fabric fell open for him, exposing a wide expanse of pale flesh. Kakashi leaned back, balancing on his knees near the edge of the bed. Iruka's lips were parted, mouth open waiting to be kissed once more. Kakashi's hands ran down Iruka's sides, thumbs pressing into the skin as he marveled at how pure Iruka looked. There were no scars on his skin, save for the long slash across his nose, concealed by makeup well enough to fool the average client. Kakashi had seen Iruka without his makeup enough times to know exactly where to look to see the faint trace of the scar. He liked Iruka better without his makeup.

Kakashi could feel his erection straining against his pants. Still, he held himself back. "Are you feeling alright today?"

Iruka smiled sadly and brushed his fingers against Kakashi's thigh. "Yeah. I'm fine." Kakashi couldn't tell if that was a lie.

He leaned forward, resuming his place on top of Iruka. It was hard to hold himself back with such beauty spread out before him. "Did you take your medicine today?"

Iruka's hands slid Kakashi's vest from his shoulders. "This morning."

Their lips met once more and talking ceased. Iruka's deft hands made short work of Kakashi's clothing. Kakashi tried not to think of how many times Iruka had practiced getting a ninja out of his clothes. They twisted on the bed, hands sliding against skin, grabbing and caressing. Iruka's kimono found its way to the floor about the same time as Kakashi's head landed on the pillows. Iruka smiled at him and ran his hands down Kakashi's chest, his nails scratching lightly against Kakashi's skin. He leaned forward, past Kakashi's head, to grab a small vial from amidst the pillows.

Kakashi lifted his forehead protector as Iruka leaned back and opened his Sharingan. Iruka poured a small amount of oil onto his fingers and Kakashi watched with growing anticipation as Iruka shifted, leaning back and spreading his knees as he pressed slick fingers into himself. This was perhaps Kakashi's favorite part of any visit. Iruka was expressive. He put himself on display, stretching himself to give Kakashi the best possible view, and it was hard not to believe Iruka was enjoying it. Iruka's lips parted with a low gasp as his fingers pushed in. His eyes drifted halfway shut and he stared at Kakashi from beneath his lashes, his eyes dark with lust.

Iruka rocked back and forth into his hand, making a show of stretching himself. The sight went straight to Kakashi's groin. Iruka seemed to sense that as well. His eyes traveled down from where they'd been locked with Kakashi's to stare at Kakashi's erection. Iruka's free hand pressed into the mattress next to Kakashi's hip and Iruka curved his back, leaning down until his hot, wet mouth closed over Kakashi.

It wasn't the first time Iruka had gone down on him, but it felt like it. Every time felt like the first, like something strange and new, too good to be real. Iruka moaned as he swallowed Kakashi, sending vibrations of pleasure coursing through Kakashi's body. He curled his fingers into the sheets and watched Iruka's mouth slide down inch by inch. The Sharingan sapped at his energy, a slow drain on already depleted reserves, but it was worth it knowing that he'd have the image of Iruka sucking on him to play back at his leisure.

Kakashi groaned as Iruka swallowed him all the way to his base. He felt Iruka's nose against his skin. A shiver ran through him as Iruka worked his throat around him, flexing the muscles as he swallowed again and again. He could come just from this, but he didn't want to. Not when there was so much more to look forward to. Thankfully Iruka didn't tease him for too long. He bobbed his head, tongue swirling over Kakashi's skin to get him good and wet. Kakashi hissed as Iruka pulled all the way off, his lips making a loud pop. Iruka's slick hand came forward, running over Kakashi's erection once, twice, and then Iruka was sliding forward, lining their hips up and sinking down onto Kakashi like they were two pieces of a puzzle clicking together.

It felt like coming home. Kakashi gripped Iruka by the hips, steadying him as he seated himself on Kakashi's lap. A blush stained Iruka's face, making the scar on his nose all the more obvious. His mouth was open wide, eyes closed. Iruka's nails trailed up Kakashi's chest, then down his arms and back up again. Iruka gripped Kakashi's shoulders as he lifted his hips, rising until only the tip of Kakashi's cock remained inside. Kakashi tightened his hands on Iruka's hips and pulled down, forcing himself back inside of Iruka at the same slow rate.

They moved together, up and down, push and pull. Neither of them tried to quicken the pace, though they were equally affected. Each downward pull wrenched a long, low moan out of Iruka. Each upward slide made Kakashi grimace and suck in air through his teeth. He never took his eyes off of Iruka. He watched the way Iruka's head tilted back, the way his skin flushed, the way his body shook harder and harder with each repetition. Iruka's chest heaved as he panted for breath. His fingers dug into Kakashi's shoulders. His legs trembled against the outside of Kakashi's thighs.

"Scarecrow," Iruka gasped. Kakashi imagined it was his real name on Iruka's lips, and that was all it took to make him come.

He dug his fingers into Iruka's skin and slammed his hips upward. Iruka gasped and fell forward, his loose hair falling in a curtain around Kakashi's face. He jerked up into Iruka, hips hitting together hard and fast as Kakashi spilled his seed. Iruka's eyes squeezed closed and he shivered, his whole body trembling through Kakashi's release. Kakashi's hips stilled and he exhaled, letting his breath out in a long, slow stream. It took a moment before Iruka opened his eyes. His cheeks were still tinged pink. His mouth hung open, like he wanted to say something, but no words came out.

Kakashi's stomach felt wet. He smiled and brushed Iruka's hair away from his face. Some of it stayed tucked behind an ear, most fell right back where it had been. Kakashi always worried about whether Iruka liked being with him. He liked to think that because he made Iruka come, that meant that Iruka enjoyed it. He knew better than to believe that was entirely true.

"Up you go," Kakashi murmured as he gently moved Iruka off of him. Iruka shivered and moaned softly as Kakashi pulled out. He rolled to the side, landing on his back next to Kakashi. A tired smile stretched across his face.

Kakashi brushed his hand against Iruka's cheek. He could feel a similar smile forming on his face. He wished he could have Iruka in his bed like this every night. He wished he could come home to Iruka waiting for him and wake up every morning with Iruka sleeping next to him.

There was a saying about wishes and horses.

Kakashi pushed himself up and slid off the bed. "Let me get something to clean you up."

"No." He turned as Iruka scrambled after him. "Let me. You're the guest." Iruka slid off the bed. His bare feet touched the floor. "I should-"

The words cut off as Iruka pitched forward. His face went deathly pale and his eyes rolled back. Kakashi's arms wrapped around him before Iruka was even halfway to the floor. Iruka pressed against him and Kakashi felt a sudden wave of dizziness. He locked his legs to keep from falling over. The mission must have taken more out of him than he'd thought. After a moment the dizziness subsided and he was able to lift Iruka back onto the bed. Kakashi frowned at how light Iruka felt. Was he thinner than the last time Kakashi had visited?

Iruka was getting worse. Kakashi was running out of time.

There was a washcloth waiting beside the sink in the small attached bathroom. He cleaned them both off and rinsed the cloth in the sink before Iruka started to stir. The bed dipped as he sat on the edge, making Iruka roll slightly towards him. Iruka's fingers curled weakly around Kakashi's hand. His eyes fluttered open.

"Did I fall asleep?"

Kakashi ran his free hand through Iruka's hair. It'd gotten so long over the years. "Yeah. You fell asleep." His hair was so soft. "It's okay. Go back to sleep. You need your rest."

Iruka's hand tightened around Kakashi's, even as his eyes started to close. "Stay with me?"

"I will." More words hung on his lips. Words he'd said before. Words he already knew the answer to.

Each time he came here, it was harder and harder to leave Iruka behind. He doubted Ginjou was getting Iruka decent care. The in-house doctor was laughable. There was a chance that Tsunade could help him. She owed Kakashi a favor or twenty and healing a civilian would be trivial compared to the jutsu she usually dealt with.

That was assuming what was wrong with Iruka could be healed. Kakashi refused to think of the alternative.

He had decent savings. He could support Iruka. He could give up his apartment, move back into the Hatake compound. That would suit Iruka better. But that was all idle thinking. Iruka refused to leave. He didn't want to be a burden, not to Kakashi, not to anyone.

Still, Kakashi could help but fantasize. He slid Iruka under the covers and then curled up beside him. As he closed his eyes, he imagined he was home in Konoha and Iruka was there with him.

*****

Returning to Konoha always felt bittersweet. Each step closer to home was a step away from Iruka. Guilt twisted his stomach. The guilt never fully went away, not until he was back in Iruka's room again.

His first stop, as always, was to the Memorial Stone. His fingers traced over familiar names, the carvings rough against his fingers. His mother. His father. Rin. Obito. Sandaime. Minato. He came here often enough that he had the locations of each memorized. His eyes wandered over the other names on the stone, some familiar, most not. There were far too many names on the stone. One day his name might end up there too.

Kakashi paused with his fingers pressed against the stone over Minato's name. His sensei was surrounded by the names of the many who'd died in the Kyuubi attack but above his name, a few years earlier, were a trio of names that caught Kakashi's eye.

Umino Rei, Umino Kazu, and Umino Iruka. Kakashi stared. His fingers moved up to brush over Umino Iruka's name. It had to be a coincidence. There was no way it was the same person, no way that this was his Iruka's name on the stone. He'd never heard Iruka's last name. As far as he knew, Iruka didn't have one. But Iruka was such an uncommon name. He'd never met anyone else who had that name. It seemed too strange to be coincidence.

His fingers flashed through the pattern for a teleportation jutsu. He landed in the bowels of the Hokage's tower, his sudden appearance making the desk clerk jump and grab for the papers on her desk as they scattered in the wind from his teleportation. Kakashi smiled and leaned over her desk.

"I'd like the personnel file for Umino Iruka."

The clerk stared up at him. "But, you... you don't have access."

His smile widened, though she couldn't see it. He leaned closer, towering over her. "I'd like the file."

The clerk stood quickly and scurried down the row of cabinets. A drawer opened and closed. The clerk returned with a thin manila folder. Her hands shook as she held it out to him. Kakashi flipped it open. There was no picture, meaning that whatever had happened to Umino Iruka to get his name on the Memorial Stone had happened before he'd joined the Academy. Kakashi skimmed over the single sheet of paper inside, then turned it over, hoping for more details on the back. It was blank. He read the paper over again more carefully.

There was a brief description of Iruka as last reported - five years old, brown hair, brown eyes, naturally tan skin, scar across his nose from a childhood accident. His mother, Shizuka Rei, had been sent on a deep cover mission to Wind Country. She'd married as part of her cover. Her husband was Umino Kazu. She'd had Iruka and sent volumes of valuable intel back to Konoha. Her cover was blown five years later. Her husband had helped her escape with the child. They'd been killed on the way to Konoha. Their bodies had been mutilated beyond recognition. The child's body had never been recovered.

Kakashi checked the date. The age matched. The description matched. The scar matched.

He snapped the folder shut. "I'm borrowing this." Kakashi teleported before the clerk could protest. He landed outside the Hokage's office. Shizune stared at him, obviously surprised to see him. He usually didn't check in for another day or two. "I need to speak with Tsunade."

Shizune glanced at her clipboard, then nodded to the ANBU guard standing outside of Tsunade's door. Tsunade looked up as Kakashi walked in and arched an eyebrow.

"You're early."

Kakashi dropped the folder on her desk. "I know where he is."

Her eyebrow arched higher. She glanced between him and the folder. The door clicked shut. "Pardon?"

He pointed at the folder. "Umino Iruka. Son of Shizuka Rei, Leaf citizen. Presumed dead nineteen years ago."

Tsunade didn't touch the folder. "Your mission was to retrieve a scroll for me."

Kakashi bit back a growl. He pulled the scroll from an inner pocket and tossed it on the table. "There. Scroll. Now, can we talk about him?"

She stared at him for a moment before opening the folder. "Why were you looking for a long-dead child?"

Kakashi kept his face carefully blank. He was more likely to get her to do what he wanted if he stayed calm but it was hard. Emotion welled up inside of him – hope, desire, the ever-present guilt, and beneath it all was slowly building anger. Did Iruka even know who he was? Who had taken him? If it was Ginjou, Kakashi wasn't sure what he'd do. Murder was sounding more and more tempting, though it was also unfortunately illegal. "I wasn't. Like I said, I found him."

She flipped the paper over, exactly like he had. "What makes you so certain?"

"Same first name, same features, same scar."

She closed the folder and steepled her fingers on top of it. "Where?"

Kakashi hesitated. "Otafuku City."

He could tell she was fighting to keep her expression neutral. Still, hints of mirth were visible in the lines around her eyes and the way her lips twitched. "Is that so?"

"He lives there," he elaborated.

"Are you telling me there's been an untrained ninja wandering around Otafuku City for the last nineteen years and no one noticed?" She spoke slowly, as if to a child.

Kakashi shifted on his feet and scratched the back of his head. He looked away. "Well, he's not really wandering. And he's not a ninja."

"Both of his parents were ninja and he's not?"

Kakashi shrugged and avoided Tsunade's gaze. It happened, sometimes. It was rare but bloodlines sometimes faltered.

"Where is he?"

The mask only partially hid Kakashi's blush. "The Scarlet Lantern. It's... it's a brothel."

Her lips quirked. He could tell she was enjoying his discomfort. Likely she'd already committed to helping him, to helping Iruka, but she wanted to drag it out, to see how far she could push him."I'm familiar with the establishment. You're sure it's him?"

He didn't hesitate. "Positive."

"Shizune!" Shizune stepped into the room. "Kakashi will need to requisition funds. Consider this an A-rank. Bring him home."

Kakashi bowed, a smile already forming on his face. "Thank you, Hokage-sama. I will." Iruka wouldn't be happy with him, but he'd hopefully forgive Kakashi as soon as he brought him home. If Iruka was the child of a Leaf ninja, then he belonged here, with his people. He belonged with Kakashi.

*****

Iruka heard the commotion minutes before it reached his room. At first he thought it was just a rowdy party, on their way to one of the girls' rooms. But instead of passing his door, the noise stopped. Ginjou was shouting something, the words muffled through the door. Iruka had time to stand and take a step towards the balcony before the door exploded. A shard of wood grazed him across the cheek. The force of the blast knocked him to the floor. Three burly men walked in. One held Ginjou by the arm, the weaselly man dangling in his grasp.

"That's him." Ginjou pointed. His arm shook. "That's Iruka."

The tallest of the men stepped forward. They all had bandanas on, like the ones the Konoha ninja wore, but the symbols were different. He didn't like these men. They looked dangerous, mean. He could guess the likelihood of being able to fight them off and it wasn't good.

Iruka slid back until he hit the dresser. Blood dripped down his cheek. There was a gash on his leg. He barely felt either. "What do you want?"

A huge hand closed on Iruka's shoulder. Thick fingers dug into his skin. It hurt. Iruka reached out blindly. His fingers curled around a statue, one of the dolphins from his mantle. It had fallen off in the explosion. He lifted the statue and smacked the man in the head with it. The man didn't even wince. His other hand closed on the statue and pulled it from Iruka's grasp as easily as taking a toy from a child. The man pulled his hand back and calmly slapped Iruka across the face.

Pain exploded in his head as Iruka crumpled to the floor. He watched the dolphin statue fall as the man tossed it aside. It rolled under the bed. Iruka's skin tingled. He looked up in time to see a strange light gathering around the man's hand. The light surged toward him. Iruka screamed and the world went dark.

*****

Kakashi could tell something was wrong as soon as the gates to the Scarlet Lantern came in sight. There was a second guard present and there was obvious damage to the gates, damage that had been recently repaired. Ginjou paled as soon as Kakashi walked in the front door. He glanced nervously around the room.

"Umi. Riki. Come greet Hatake-san. Let him meet our newest arrivals."

Two scantily clad boys rose from the couches and started to approach. Kakashi's eyes narrowed. He glared and the boys hesitated. "Sit down." They shrank away immediately. All of the color drained from Ginjou's face as Kakashi leaned across the counter. Some of his killing intent leaked into the room, making the civilians nervous, but he couldn't help it. He'd been angry before he'd even come here, angry ever since he left the Hokage's office, and Ginjou's thin attempt to hide whatever was obviously wrong only made Kakashi angrier. A few of the older employees started ushering guests towards their rooms.

"You know," Kakashi drawled, "I don't recall ever telling you my real name."

Ginjou started to gibber. In the midst of the incoherent babbling, Kakashi was able to make out Iruka's name and 'men' and 'taken'. He reached across the counter and grabbed the front of Ginjou's shirt.

"Where's Iruka?"

Ginjou fumbled with his log book. He dropped it twice. A piece of paper fell out and Ginjou pushed it across the desk towards Kakashi. There were no words on the paper, just a map marked with an X.

"Some men took him. They knew you, knew you came here. They wanted to know who you saw. They took him. I tried to stop them but I-"

"Shut up." Kakashi carefully folded the paper and tucked it in his vest pocket. "Just shut up." He pulled the pouch Shizune had given him out of his pocket and dropped it on the desk. "You are selling Iruka to me. He's mine now, and you're going to box up every one of his possessions, everything in his room, everything that he rightfully earned by working here, and you're going to have it sent to the Hatake compound in Konoha. If I find that anything is missing, I will personally come back and collect it. Is that understood?"

Ginjou nodded so fast Kakashi thought his head would fall off.

Kakashi released him and wiped his hand on his pants as he walked away. As soon as he was outside, he bit his thumb and pressed his hand against the lawn. Energy flowed through him and into the ground. Seven pops sounded, followed by seven barks.

"Hey, boss." Pakkun's tail wiggled happily.

"Go to the Hokage. Tell her that Iruka's been kidnapped. I want the rest of you to fan out. Find whoever you can, anyone who's available." He pulled out the map and used a quick copy jutsu to replicate it. One paper turned into seven. He tucked the copies into his dogs' collars. "Show this map to whoever you find. Tell them to meet me there."

Pakkun stared at him. "Where are you going, boss?"

"To spring a trap."

*****

Iruka curled against the wall in abject misery. He felt incredibly ill, worse than he'd ever felt before. Sweat made his kimono cling to his skin. He couldn't stop shivering. The cell they'd locked him in was dark and damp. There was no light, save for the thin ribbon that shone through the crack under the door. He wished they'd give him a blanket. The cold stone felt good against his face. It made him feel less nauseous, less like he was going to fall apart.

He wasn't sure how long he'd been here. He'd woken up twice before, when they'd been in the woods. They didn't let him stay awake long, not until they got to this place, wherever this was. Heavy chains bound his wrists together and connected his ankle to the wall. Men came. They brought him food, then returned to take the plate away. He didn't like it when they came. The light from the hall was blinding. It made his head hurt. One of them liked to touch him but it never lasted long. There was always another there to call the man away.

He needed his medicine. He'd been taking it for as long as he could remember. Ginjou said he would die without his medicine. Ginjou was the only one who knew where to get his medicine, the only one who could keep Iruka alive. He'd used to doubt it. He felt bad when he was late taking a dose but never like this. He believed Ginjou now. He was dying. He was going to die if he didn't get his medicine.

It was getting harder to move. It was an effort to eat. Soon he didn't think he'd be able to manage that at all. In the stories there was always a hero who'd ride out to rescue the kidnapped maiden. No one was going to rescue Iruka. He was just a whore. When they realized who he was, how worthless he was, they were going to kill him.

That was assuming his illness didn't kill him first.

*****

The forest passed by in a blur. His legs ached. He ignored it. His stomach was empty. He ignored it. There would be time for rest later, once he had Iruka back. He marked the passage of time by the dimming of the forest and by the shadows that joined him, each accompanied by a short bark and the release of chakra as his summons disappeared.

He was getting closer. Not long now and he'd spring the trap, fight his way through whatever stronghold they had set up, and get Iruka back. There was no other option.

*****

Iruka lay on his back and stared up at the ceiling. There were colors in the darkness. They were faint at first, but they grew brighter the longer he stared. The light from the hall no longer bothered him. It came and went unnoticed. They brought him food. He didn't touch it. He couldn't. His body no longer allowed for movement. There'd been pain for a while but even that had left him. It was just him and the lights now.

There were shapes in the lights. People-like shapes, moving about above and around him. They circled like a flock of birds, moving in lines and patterns. One of the spots of light was brighter than the others. Iruka often caught himself staring at it, watching as the edges blurred and shifted, the light pulsing faintly. That light was always distant, like the sun, and the other lights circled around it, caught in its gravity.

Today that light was brighter. It seemed eager, the edges of its form pulsating rapidly. Usually it stayed in the same hemisphere but today was different. Today it gathered with the rest of the lights in a corner of the sky, waiting.

The door opened. He felt the tremors of footsteps against the ground.

"What a pretty little thing you are."

Iruka shuddered at the voice. It was the man who liked to touch him. He reminded Iruka of his clients - the greasy, slimy ones who would pet his hair and call him by cute little names while they hurt him.

"Poor little thing. Not feeling well? I'll make you feel better. I know just what you need."

The man's weight settled on top of him. Iruka could feel the man's breath against his throat, hot and rank. Rough hands pushed aside Iruka's kimono. The fabric ripped. His skin prickled in the cold air. As the man's hands lifted Iruka's thighs, Iruka saw something. There was light in this man. It wasn't as bright as the lights above, but it was there, bright and warm. It called to him.

He wanted so desperately to be warm.

He reached up, and it felt like someone else was moving him. He had no control, but he couldn't bring himself to care. It was like he was watching from outside himself and anything that happened was happening to someone else. His hand pressed flat against the man's chest. A strong grip closed around his wrist. The light flickered. Something inside of Iruka pulled and the man gasped. His hand tightened painfully on Iruka's wrist. There would be a bruise there. Light gathered around Iruka's palm and then moved closer, pressing against his skin, then into him, crawling down his arm like multicolored snakes. The man tried to push Iruka's hand away but he might as well have been a child pushing against stone. The light inside the man went away and he fell to the side.

Iruka sat up. He could make out more of the cell now, though the edges were blurred. As he turned towards the door, he caught sight of another light. He was warmer now, a bit of the cold gone, but it wasn't enough. Iruka pulled the fallen man closer and searched through his pockets until he found a ring of keys. The second key he tried opened the cuff around his ankle. The fourth opened the restraints on his wrists. He stood, leaving the keys and the fallen man behind as he walked out of his cell. He wanted to be warm.

*****

Kakashi had pictured the rescue operation as an easy mission. He'd sent for backup because it was protocol, and the smart thing to do when heading into an unknown hostile situation, but he'd only expected to face a handful of men. No more than a dozen at the worst possible scenario.

This was beyond the worst possible scenario. They had a fortress. Stone walls, ramparts, murder holes, the works. They'd left the gate open, inviting him in. He'd sent Gai and Anko around back to rescue Iruka while Kakashi, Genma, and Raidou drew attention to the front. The fortress was simple. An outer wall surrounded a large courtyard with a squat stone keep set back from the gate, close to the rear wall. Iruka would be in that building, probably on one of the lower floors, tucked away in some form of dungeon. It would be easy enough for Gai and Anko to get in and get out with Iruka. The hard part was going to be fighting their way through the mass of bodies that filled the courtyard once Iruka was safe.

Enemy ninja lined the walls, weapons ready as they stared down at Kakashi and his companions. More filled the sides of the courtyard between the gate and the keep. As soon as Kakashi was halfway inside, the gate rolled down, slamming shut with a loud clank. None of the enemy ninja moved. They waited while a lone figure walked out of the keep.

The man was large, similar in thickness to Ibiki with an equally pleasant demeanor. Kakashi vaguely recognized him. Not a bingo book entry, but rather a lower-ranked punk that had crossed paths with Kakashi once or twice, usually with a fair amount of blood loss on the man's part. His name was something like soba. Soubi. He'd learned from the past, it seemed, and brought more than a few friends with him to the fight.

"Someone really doesn't like you," Genma commented from beside Kakashi. He rolled a senbon between his teeth, seemingly unconcerned that they were outnumbered nearly ten to one.

Kakashi shrugged, affecting a lazy demeanor. "Some people simply don't appreciate my charm." He stretched and gathered lightning in his fist.

"Kakashi!" Soubi bellowed. "I'm going to kill you."

Kakashi raised his arm, fist pointing towards Soubi. "Not if I kill you first." He opened his hand and the lighting shot out, arching across the courtyard to slam into the spot Soubi had been standing. It seems Soubi had also learned how to dodge.

Soubi bellowed and the courtyard erupted into chaos.

*****

There was something wrong. Iruka was sure there was something wrong with him but he couldn't place it. It was hard to think. He'd found more lights. Not many, but enough that he felt alive again. The world had solidified back into the shapes he'd once known, but it was still overlaid with glimpses of strange lights. His skin burned. He wanted more light, more warmth. He had choices now. There was the bright gathering he'd seen earlier, now with three new bright spots, or two spots coming closer from behind him.

His feet moved for him, propelling him towards the mass of lights. He wound upward through the halls. People occasionally appeared before him. Their mouths moved. Sometimes they screamed. Tendrils of light curled along the walls, tripping them before they could run away. Their light went out and they were still. Iruka kept walking.

*****

Kakashi twisted to avoid a sword aimed at his back. A shuriken grazed his cheek, another burning line of pain to be ignored like all the others. Soubi shouted and launched a water jutsu at Kakashi. He traded places with an unfortunate bystander, wincing slightly as the sound of the man's bones crunching filled the air.

There was a disturbance near the far side of the courtyard. Kakashi caught a strange flash of light just before he turned to deflect another attack. A wave of malice spread over the gathered ninja. The fighting slowed as everyone tried to catch the source of the aura. The light flashed again, spreading out from the entrance of the keep. Tendrils reached high into the air. They curled into the windows. Screams came from the keep and from those closest to the building. The tide of the battle shifted abruptly as those on the far side started to push their way towards the center of the fray, running from something.

"What devilishness is this, Kakashi?" Soubi shouted. There was a mixture of anger and uncertainty on his face. Whatever this strange interruption was, it wasn't of his making.

"No idea." Kakashi took the opportunity to aim a punch at Soubi's face. It connected, sending the man flying backwards into the crowd.

Genma appeared at his side. "I think a retreat might be in order."

The flare of light from near the keep reminded him of the Kyuubi attack. There was the same feel in the air, the same raw power spreading over them. It was terrifying. But he'd lived through the Kyuubi attack and much more since. He wouldn't let it sway him, not when he didn't even know what it was. "Not without Iruka."

Enemies streamed past them, flinging aside their weapons in their haste to get to the gate. It rattled as bodies pressed against it. Whoever was manning it was betraying orders, judging by Soubi's infuriated shouting as the gate slowly started to creak open. The battle had effectively ended, though Kakashi was still clueless as to why. He figured he'd find out fairly shortly.

The tendrils of light flailed out over the crowd. It picked people out, pulling them up into the air and then tossing them aside as they slumped in the tendrils' grasp. The creature, whatever it was, made no sound as it methodically moved forward. Kakashi had the sinking suspicion that it was heading for him. He'd lost sight of Soubi in the crowd. Likely the coward had fled.

Kakashi braced himself, kunai at the ready. The crowd shifted in front of him. He could hear men panicking as they crowded around the gate. Some fought the creature. He could hear the explosions as jutsu were set off, though they seemed to have little effect in slowing its progress. The crowd started to thin. Genma's hands flashed through a complicated seal and he raised his hands as the crowd parted. Kakashi caught sight of the creature.

Shock delayed him from reacting as fast as he could. He shouted and reached for Genma's arm but it was too late. A blast of fire rocketed from his palm. Enemy ninja dove out of the way but the creature - Iruka – didn't seem to notice its approach. Iruka barely seemed to notice anything at all. Energy swirled around him, growing brighter with each ninja his tendrils of light touched. The fire blast sped through the air towards him, but as it got closer it started to fizzle, dying down to nothing before it even came close to Iruka.

"Wait." Kakashi's arm closed on Genma's before he could fire off another shot.

The gate clanged as it came fully open. People streamed out, rapidly emptying the courtyard. Kakashi took a step forward. There was something off about Iruka. His eyes were glazed and unfocused. His kimono was dirty and torn along the left side. His hair was loose. It floated in the energy wrapped around him.

Two figures launched themselves out of the keep. Their fingers flashed through seals, energy gathering and then disappearing as they were slapped aside by two tendrils of light.

"Wait!" Kakashi sprang forward, racing across the courtyard. "Iruka, stop. They're friends."

Tendrils snaked towards the prone forms of Anko and Gai. Iruka's head titled but beyond that he made no sign that he'd even heard Kakashi. His skin prickled as he came closer. That was raw energy wrapped around Iruka, pure chakra around someone who shouldn't even be able to wield chakra at all. Kakashi hesitated as one of the tendrils brushed against him, sending a wave of dizziness washing over him. He paused and then pushed forward, walking into the light.

"Iruka." There was no response. "Iruka, look at me." He could feel the light sapping his energy. He needed to get Iruka and get out of here before it took all of his energy. "Iruka."

His hand closed on Iruka's shoulder. Iruka turned. His eyes burned with amber light. Kakashi could feel warmth radiating off of him through his clothing. Iruka blinked and the light subsided. A frown marred Iruka's face.

"S-Scarecrow-san?" Iruka's voice sounded hoarse and scratchy. "What..."

Kakashi gasped as a wave of dizziness hit him hard enough to bring him to his knees. It hurt but he could ignore it. He had to. Iruka cocked his head and stared down at Kakashi, confused.

"I don't feel well, Scarecrow-san. It hurts."

Kakashi tightened his hands on Iruka's kimono. "You have to stop. Whatever it is you're doing, you have to stop."

Iruka's frown deepened. "I'm not... I don't..."

It was getting harder to think. His head pounded, like he'd been running for days. He had been, he supposed, but usually his chakra was able to balance that out and give him extra endurance. He didn't have enough chakra left for that anymore. "Iruka, just stop. Close your eyes. Do whatever you need to do, just concentrate. Make it go away. Let it go."

"Scarecrow-san..."

He pulled Iruka down to him and wrapped his arms around Iruka. "It's okay. You're safe now. You can let go."

Iruka closed his eyes. He breathed deeply, almost sighing as he exhaled. The light faltered. Iruka shuddered and moaned. Kakashi tightened his arms. Nausea washed over him as he neared the end of his reserves. The light flickered and went away. Iruka slumped in Kakashi's arms.

Cool air washed over them and Kakashi let out the breath he'd been holding. He gently lowered Iruka to the ground. His fingers pressed against Iruka's throat. There was a pulse, slow but steady. Footsteps approached. Out of the corner of his eye he watched Gai pick himself up off the ground. He assumed Anko was doing the same.

"What the hell was that?"

Kakashi looked up at Genma. "I have no idea." He accepted the hand that Genma offered, swaying a little as he got to his feet. "We need to get Iruka back to Konoha as soon as possible, before any of them come back."

Raidou picked Iruka up and they wearily started the trek back to Konoha.

*****

Iruka woke in a strange white room. For the first time in as long as he could remember, he didn't feel tired or weak or ill. He ached in places he didn't even know could ache but it was a good kind of ache, like the ache that came after really good sex. He also, he realized, had no clue where he was or how he'd gotten there. He vaguely remembered being kidnapped and being placed in a cell but his memory between then and now was foggy. There'd been something about lights, something important, but he couldn't for the life of him remember what it was.

He sat up slowly. His bare feet slid from under the covers. He braced his hands on the mattress as he stood, expecting the usual dizziness to wash over him. There was nothing. His feet touched the floor and he stayed standing, no dizziness, no fainting, nothing. He took a step forward cautiously, then another until he reached the opposite side of the room. He was dressed in an open blue gown, which he quickly exchanged for the blue kimono folded on a chair near the bathroom doorway. Iruka recognized the pattern of the kimono. It was one of his own from the Scarlet Lantern, though not the one he'd been wearing when he'd been kidnapped.

He wanted to see Scarecrow. As soon as the thought passed through his head, he became aware of a presence. Several presences, actually. He closed his eyes and he could see them, a host of different colored lights moving around and above him. It seemed familiar in a strange way, like a missing part of him denied for too long. They were people, he realized. Strange people but he didn't feel threatened by them. He felt safe here, though he wasn't entirely sure why. He thought of Scarecrow again and the lights dimmed, going away save for one distant light. There. That was Scarecrow. Not too far away though very high above him.

Maybe if he found Scarecrow, he could take Iruka away from this place. Maybe he'd take Iruka home. As much as he loathed the thought of seeing some of his clients again, he missed the familiarity of the Scarlet Lantern. He just wanted everything to go back to normal.

Iruka stepped into the adjoining bathroom and checked his reflection in the mirror. There was a brush on the sink and he did his best to untangle the mess his hair had become. Once he passed vaguely for decent, or at least as close as he could come without his makeup and ointments, he steeled himself and ventured out of the room.

Noise assaulted him the second he opened the door. People rushed through the hall, every one of them seemingly in a hurry to get somewhere. A few of them spared him a curious glance but none stopped to address him or tell him to go back in the room. He turned left and headed in the vague direction Scarecrow was in.

The noise increased the further he went into the building. The hall opened up into a large room full of people. They clumped in groups on the banks of chairs stationed on both sides of the room. There was a large square desk in the center with three women inside the square, moving back and forth as they pulled up files and handed people papers. Most of the people wore Konoha uniforms, though some wore uniforms of a different kind, white with a red symbol on the chest. Several people turned to watch Iruka as he crossed the room to the wide glass doors on the opposite side. He tugged self-consciously at his hair, letting it fall forward to obscure his face. No one stopped him as he walked out the doors.

Sunshine greeted him. Iruka paused, his eyes drifting closed as he savored the feeling of being outdoors. It was rare to be allowed outdoors, and usually that was only for parties or a client's request. He sucked in a deep breath of fresh air and smiled. At least being away from home had some perks. He guessed he wasn't too far away if there were Konoha ninja here. He opened his eyes and took stock of the exterior of the building. There were even more people in uniform outside, which meant this was probably one of the cities inside Konoha territory. Probably pretty close to wherever the Konoha ninja lived, judging by the sheer number of them.

Tall buildings rose up around him. There was a big tower off to his left, attached to a long, squat building. A wide, open plaza stretched between the tower and the building he'd just exited - likely a hospital of some kind. There was a big mountain towering over the city with strange, serious-looking faces carved into the rock. He could hear the sounds of a market in the distance. The breeze brought with it the smell of cooking food. Iruka's stomach rumbled, reminding him that it'd likely been a very long time since he'd last eaten.

First, he needed to find Scarecrow. He closed his eyes again and concentrated. Left. Scarecrow was left and up, which meant he was likely in that big tower. There was no obvious door that led straight into the tower so he started with the squat building. A pair of double doors stood open. There was a line of people in uniform inside the room, waiting to approach a long table on the opposite side of the room. The men at the table handed out scrolls or accepted scrolls from the people waiting in line. They stared at Iruka as he crossed the room, avoiding the line and heading for the door on the far wall.

It led into a hallway. Children's voices echoed in the distance. Maybe there was a daycare nearby? He collected more stares as he wound his way through the building. A few people tried to talk to him but Iruka brushed past them with a polite bow and a murmured excuse. He had a feeling that he was definitely not supposed to be here. He'd just find Scarecrow and they could leave, hopefully before anyone got too mad about his presence.

He came to a winding stairwell. He could feel Scarecrow drawing closer with each step he took. The stairs wound up and up. He'd found the tower, it seemed. Scarecrow was somewhere near the top. He kept climbing until he was level with Scarecrow. There was a door there. It opened out into a long hallway. Two figures in red and white masks stood at the opposite end, guarding a door. Scarecrow was on the opposite side of that door, and yet Iruka was reluctant to approach the masked figures. They seemed dangerous.

Iruka slowly walked down the hall. Maybe if he appeared as harmless and unthreatening as possible, they'd let him through to see Scarecrow. He could feel their eyes on him, watching his every step. They stayed frozen in place until he was halfway down the hallway. The one on the left took a step forward and suddenly he was right in front of Iruka, bared steel pressing against Iruka's throat.

"State your intention." Blue eyes stared at him through a mask shaped like a snake's face.

Iruka raised his arms slowly, palms forward to show that he held no weapon. "I just want to see Scarecrow-san."

The snake man's eyes narrowed. "Leave. Now."

Scarecrow was so close. Iruka could feel his presence. If only he could get through those doors.

"Please, I just want to speak to him. He's right through there. He knows me. Please. It will only take a moment."

The snake man's hand pressed flat against Iruka's chest, shoving him backwards hard. Iruka stumbled. He panicked as he fell and shouted Scarecrow's name, wishing desperately that Scarecrow heard him. Energy surged within him. The light that was Scarecrow flickered. Iruka felt a tug in his chest, pulling Scarecrow towards him.

Iruka hit the ground hard. The snake man was staring at him, advancing with his weapon ready while energy gathered around the masked man at the end of the hall. Iruka swallowed heavily. Before either could take more than a step towards him, the door at the end of the hall slammed open.

"Hold." Scarecrow's voice echoed through the hall. The masked men froze.

Iruka nearly fainted with relief. He shifted partially upright. "Scarecrow-san!"

A strange look passed over Scarecrow's face as the two masked figures turned to look at him. Scarecrow shrugged slightly and walked past them to kneel beside Iruka. "You don't need to use that nickname here. My name's Kakashi. Hatake Kakashi."

Iruka frowned. He'd always known that Scarecrow used an assumed name, all ninja did, but he shouldn't be telling Iruka his real name. It was supposed to be a secret. "Hatake-san..."

"Kakashi."

Iruka's mouth hung open slightly. He could feel his face turning red with the familiarity that the lack of honorific implied.

"You should be in bed. Come on. Let's get you back to the hospital." Kakashi supported Iruka by the armpits as he helped him to his feet. His hands lingered, waiting in case the familiar dizziness hit Iruka. It didn't. Kakashi's arm slipped around Iruka's waist, turning them towards the stairs.

Iruka gripped Kakashi's sleeve. "Kakashi-san, wait." He didn't want to go back to the hospital but he wasn't sure if it would be considered impolite to say so.

Kakashi opened his mouth, likely to correct Iruka on his mode of address again, but he was interrupted by a voice from down the hall.

"What's the hold up, brat?"

Kakashi turned to look at the pretty blonde lady who stood in the doorway. The two masked figures bowed deeply and Iruka quickly did the same, a bit awkwardly with Kakashi's arm still around him. Her eyes fixed on him and a small smile curved along her lips.

"Is this the infamous Iruka, then?"

Iruka flushed. Kakashi's arm curled tighter around him, pulling him close. "Yes, this is Umino Iruka." Iruka stared up at Kakashi. He couldn't remember ever telling Kakashi his family name. He supposed he must have if Kakashi knew it.

Iruka leaned towards Kakashi's ear and dropped his voice to a whisper. "Kakashi-san, what's going on?"

The blonde woman had an almost predatory smile on her face as she approached. Kakashi squeezed Iruka's shoulders lightly. "It's okay. She's the Hokage."

Iruka stared. One of his clients, Frog-san, liked to talk about the inner workings of Konoha. He'd explained the rankings to Iruka once. The Hokage stood at the very top of the ranks as the leader of all of Konoha. Suddenly the armed guards made a lot more sense. Iruka flushed. He'd been about to barge in on Kakashi while he was meeting with the Hokage. No wonder the guards had been so forceful in stopping him.

He pushed away from Kakashi's support and dropped into another deep bow. "My apologies for the intrusion. I didn't realize where I was."

The Hokage arched an eyebrow. "You got all the way up here without realizing where you were?"

Iruka nodded slowly.

"How did you get here?"

He glanced at Kakashi before responding. Kakashi's face was carefully blank. "I walked."

She pursed her lips. "And how did you know to come here to find Kakashi?"

Iruka hesitated. It sounded insane. They were going to think he was a crazy person and lock him away and then he'd never be able to see Kakashi again. "I... ah. I don't know, really. He was just... there, and I got lost a little but I just sort of kept following... I mean, kept going towards where he was and then I ended up here and..." He was rambling. Iruka's blush deepened. "...and I was here." He snapped his mouth shut before more unnecessary words could come tumbling out.

Her eyebrow arched slightly higher. "Do you mean to tell me you could sense where Kakashi was all the way from the hospital?"

Iruka nodded slowly.

"Can you sense anyone else the way you sense Kakashi?"

Iruka glanced over at Kakashi but his face was unreadable. He wasn't used to Kakashi like this, so stoic and with his mask up. It was like he was a different person in front of the Hokage. The Hokage was watching Iruka, studying his reactions, though what for he wasn't really certain. He nodded again.

"Come inside."

"Hokage-" Kakashi cut off the rest of whatever he was going to say at a glance from the Hokage.

She turned and strode back into the office. They followed. There was another woman waiting inside. The Hokage whispered something to the other woman, who nodded and jotted a note down on her clipboard.

"I don't think we've been properly introduced," the Hokage said. That predatory smile returned as she settled behind a wide wooden desk. "You can call me Tsunade, and this is my assistant Shizune."

Iruka bowed at the waist. "Pleased to meet you." The door shut behind them, leaving Iruka feeling slightly trapped.

Kakashi had yet to move his arm from around Iruka. He guided them forward and helped Iruka into a chair. Iruka blushed at the look the Hokage was giving them. He wanted to tell Kakashi that he was okay, that he felt fine, but he'd felt fine before and that had never lasted. He was lucky he'd made it this long without his illness returning.

Something Kakashi had once said to him came to mind, something about the leader of their village and healing. "Pardon my forwardness, but... while I was sleeping, did you... did you do anything to me?" The Hokage's eyebrow lifted once more. "I mean, Kakashi had once said... my illness. It's better. I feel better. Do you know if anyone..." He waved his hand similar to the way Kakashi and Frog-san had explained jutsu to him.

He had the distinct feeling that the Hokage was trying not to laugh. Her lips twitched upwards in the corner and she made a very soft sound, almost like an aborted sneeze. Her eyes sparkled at him. "Kakashi had mentioned your condition, but no I hadn't. I had wanted to talk to you first, and here we are."

Kakashi was frowning again, the expression visible only by the faint wrinkling of his mask. He didn't say anything, just stood beside Iruka's chair like a sentinel. Iruka could feel his presence like a solid weight against his back. It was strangely comforting.

"You mentioned that you could sense Kakashi's presence?"

Iruka nodded.

"Can you tell me how many people are in this room?"

He started to give the obvious answer and then hesitated. She wouldn't have asked if it was obvious. Iruka closed his eyes. He barely needed to concentrate at all before the lights showed up. There was Tsunade in front of him - glowing as bright as the midday sun - with Shizune behind her – much paler in comparison – and Kakashi – bright and radiant and warm, like a thick blanket in winter – right behind him. He could see the two steady points of light that were the guards at the door, but there were two other lights that he hadn't seen a body to match.

He opened his eyes. "Six, including myself." He pointed to each of them in turn. It was hard to figure out where to point for the two hidden ones. All he could see was blank patches of wall but he knew instinctively that they were there.

Kakashi's hands tightened on the back of his chair, making the wood groan. Tsunade grinned. "Marvelous." She leaned forward across her desk. "Have you always been able to do that? To tell where people are?"

Iruka shook his head.

"How long ago did this start?"

"Just since..." Iruka hesitated. He looked up at Kakashi's impassive face and then away again. He wanted his Kakashi back, the one that smiled at him and didn't wear a mask. "Since I woke up." Tsunade's expression encouraged him to continue. "It's weird. I mean, I've never done anything like this before and yet I just... know. Is there something wrong with me?"

Tsunade's laugh was loud and a little disturbing. "Hardly. You said you were ill?"

He nodded.

"For how long?"

"As long as I can remember. I was told that I was born with the illness."

Tsunade steepled her fingers. Her mouth pressed into a thin line. "What were the symptoms of this illness?"

Iruka tried to recall everything that had plagued him. It seemed so weird enumerating his symptoms. He'd never known what it was like not being sick, so it all seemed normal to him.

Kakashi answered before he could. "Dizziness. Fatigue. Fainting spells. He's blacked out a few times, with no memory of what happened beforehand."

The appraising way Tsunade looked between them made Iruka blush. He wondered just how much Tsunade knew about him and his connection to Iruka. Probably most, if not all, of it, given that she was entertaining him in her office. "Nausea too," he added. "And sometimes my joints ache and it's hard to move."

Tsunade nodded. "Did they give you any kind of medicine?"

"Daily."

Tsunade held out her hand, palm up, over the desk. "May I?"

He wasn't sure what she wanted, but he nodded anyways. Kakashi gently prodded Iruka's left arm and he reached slowly across the desk, stopping just short of Tsunade's hand. She bridged the distance between them, closing his hand in hers and then shutting her eyes, her expression as peaceful as if she'd just settled down for a nap.

Warmth flooded him. Iruka closed his eyes and watched in fascination as her light spilled over him, twining with a different light inside of him. Their energies met, then parted. Tsunade's light settled back into her body and she let go of his hand. He opened his eyes the same time she did.

"Well, you certainly are not ill," Tsunade said. Relief flooded Iruka and he slumped against the back of the chair as tension he hadn't even realized he'd been holding left him. Kakashi's hands were warm against his back. "What you are is a ninja, an untrained one with a lot of raw power that's been kept dormant for years."

Kakashi jerked behind him. "What?"

Tsunade grinned and looked past Iruka to Kakashi. "You found him, you get to train him. Have fun, brat."

Iruka had no idea what they were talking about. "But what about home? Aren't you going to take me back to the Scarlet Lantern?"

Kakashi gripped Iruka by the shoulder. "That's not home anymore. You don't have to go back there."

"But..." The protest died on Iruka's lips. He felt like he should argue but at the same time he couldn't figure out a good reason why. He didn't want to go back, not really. Life at the Scarlet Lantern had been unpleasant in a number of ways, more than just having to spread his legs for any man with enough coin. But it was also the only home he'd ever known and he felt suddenly bereft now that he knew he would never return.

"You're a free man, Iruka."

He couldn't quite believe that. When he'd been younger he'd dreamed of escape but he'd never really thought of what would happen beyond that. Freedom had never been an option and he'd given up on thoughts of escape long ago. It seemed too strange to be real.

Tsunade was watching him. He couldn't help but feel a little apprehensive about the way she was looking at him. "Your mother was a Konoha ninja, Iruka, and thus you are also a citizen of Konoha. What's more, you seem to have inherited you're mother's abilities. Kakashi here," she gestured towards where Kakashi loomed behind him, "will train you to control your abilities." Iruka opened his mouth but she spoke over him. "I must insist on training. An untrained ninja, especially one with the prowess that you showed, is a danger to both himself and others. I'm quite happy to offer you hospitality in this village until some sort of livelihood can be arranged but I will not allow you to endanger my citizens. Is that clear?"

Iruka nodded meekly. He didn't like the idea of training to be a ninja. He knew the kind of missions they did – ones involving death and deceit. He didn't think he was quite cut out for that, but maybe they wouldn't insist on him participating in those sort of missions. Maybe he could find something a little less dangerous. The fact that he actually had a choice in what to do with his life was boggling. He couldn't quite believe it.

Kakashi squeezed Iruka's shoulders. "It's okay. You can stay with me until you figure things out. There's plenty of room. We'll get you trained in no time."

Iruka wasn't sure if he should feel better or worse about having Kakashi train him. At least he'd get to see Kakashi more. That's what he wanted, or so he'd thought. Hopefully he wouldn't come to regret it but this was Kakashi. What was there to regret?

*****

The Hatake compound was larger than the Scarlet Lantern and also a lot more dusty. At first, when Kakashi had paused outside the tall gates of a massive enclosed compound, he'd thought Kakashi had been taking him to the Hokage's mansion for some reason. But then he'd noticed the plaque by the gates, lacking the ornate decoration that had covered the name plaques on the other gates along the street. The sign read 'Hatake', which meant they were standing outside Kakashi's home. Iruka was suitably impressed.

Kakashi's hands flashed through a complicated jutsu. There was a surge of power that ran along the tall wooden walls and then Kakashi pushed the doors open. The inside was nothing like Iruka expected. There was a wide stone path running from the gate to the front of the complex, a series of low, wide buildings that sprawled across the massive lawn. The path was clear of weeds but everything beyond it was overrun, as if whoever tended to the lawn only cared about being able to get from the gate to the house.

Iruka shot a glance at Kakashi's back as Kakashi led the way to the house. He could guess who was responsible for the lawn.

The interior was in a similar state of disrepair. A cloud of dust exploded into the air as Kakashi opened the front door. He looked back at Iruka with a sheepish smile. "I haven't had a chance to clean up much. Sorry."

Kakashi led him on a brief tour of the main building. Their feet left tracks in the dust. Each room they stepped into had the same stale smell, like they'd been closed up and ignored for far too long. The compound was also strangely barren. Iruka expected to see things on the shelves or art on the walls but everywhere he looked there was a distinct emptiness, like the usual knickknacks and personal touches that turned a building into a home had been stripped away.

It was also strangely quiet. Kakashi barely made any sound as he walked, which only made Iruka even more self-conscious about how loud his footsteps sounded in the silence that filled the compound. Despite being in the center of the city – Konoha, Kakashi had called it – there was no noise filtering through the gate. They might as well have been in the middle of the forest for all Iruka could tell. It made the compound feel even more lonely. Iruka couldn't imagine what it would be like living here by himself, as Kakashi must have done at one point. It didn't seem like he'd lived here recently, though that only made Iruka wonder why he'd chosen to do so now. The compound was somewhat ridiculous as living quarters just for the two of them. It seemed like it'd been built to house a whole village, or at least a whole clan.

"This is your room." Kakashi stopped in front of a plain wooden door and opened it. Iruka hadn't really been paying attention to where they were going so he had no idea how far he was in the compound. Kakashi pointed down the hall. "My room's just down the hall. Third door on the right."

Iruka opened his mouth to protest and then stopped himself, snapping his jaw shut tight. He'd assumed, given his past relationship with Kakashi, that they would be sharing a bed. He'd been looking forward to it and he wasn't sure how he felt about being denied that comfort.

Kakashi frowned. "Is the room not to your liking? There are others. This was the biggest one near mine but there's more deeper in the complex. I can show them to you if you'd like.

He hadn't even looked at the room. Iruka forced a smile. "No, it's wonderful. Thank you." He supposed it was naïve to assume their relationship would stay the same even though their circumstances had changed. He'd thought that Kakashi had been genuinely interested in him, but maybe being a ninja changed that. He'd rather not be a ninja if it meant he could have Kakashi's affections back.

Kakashi smiled hesitantly back. At least he'd taken off that blasted mask once they were in the compound. "I'll let you get settled in then. I'll swing back in a little bit to get you for dinner."

Iruka nodded and took a step into the room. He felt rather than heard Kakashi slip away. All in all, it wasn't a bad room. It was twice the size of his room at the Scarlett Lantern, which seemed like somewhat of a waste. What did he need all of that space for? All of his things from the Scarlett Lantern had been transferred over. His books from Frog-san lined a shelf. His kimono were hung neatly in the closet. Even the dolphin statues Kakashi had given him where there. Iruka brushed his fingers over one of the statues. It'd been chipped during the scuffle when he'd been kidnapped but that only made Iruka like it more.

He sat on the bed and stared at his new bedroom. Even with his things in it, it seemed too large, too empty. He wished he were with Kakashi instead.

*****

The first two days after Iruka had left the hospital passed in a blur of awkward boredom. Kakashi cooked for them, which was a relief since Iruka didn't know the first thing about making a meal. He'd never even been to the kitchens at the Scarlett Lantern, but Kakashi seemed to know his way around fairly well. The meals he made were simple but tasty, better than the over-cooked, over-seasoned slop they'd been fed at the Scarlett Lantern.

Iruka had no idea what Kakashi expected of him. Tsunade had mentioned training, but Kakashi didn't seem inclined to start right away. Likely, Kakashi was waiting to see if Iruka's illness returned but so far Iruka hadn't fainted once. He kept waiting for the usual dizziness to return but it never did. If Kakashi expected anything from Iruka in return for letting Iruka stay with him, he never said so. There was no discussion of chores or responsibilities.

It left Iruka feeling useless. He didn't even know how to clean, really, even though the house desperately needed it. They'd had staff to do that at the Scarlett Lantern. Iruka would step out of his room to entertain a client and when he returned it would be magically clean again.

Kakashi would disappear for long stretches of time. Iruka wasn't used to having free time so he had no idea what to do with himself when Kakashi was gone. He took to wandering the empty compound for lack of anything better to do. Kakashi had shown him the main parts – the entranceway, the kitchen, the formal dining area, their bedrooms, a sitting room, and multiple libraries – but there was still a large expanse of the compound that he'd yet to see.

He felt like he was on a hunt, searching for something that he didn't know the name of, something to give the empty house and his place in it meaning. Some other sign of life maybe. Remnants of occupants long gone. Ghosts of Kakashi's ancestors.

On his third day in the compound, he found it without realizing it, not at first.

At the far back corner of the compound there was a set of rooms that had been sealed tight. The outer door burned when Iruka touched it. He jerked his hand away and then stared. There was light coming from the door, faint light, like the kind he'd seen inside Kakashi. He reached out a second time, but this time his hand hovered slightly away from the door. He could feel strange energy tingle against his skin.

He reached on instinct. There was a sense of familiarity as he did so and a vague memory flashed through his mind – something about cold stone and warm lights and people running. The energy in the door swirled in front of his hand and slid inside of him, joining his own light. The light on the door was gone.

Iruka pushed the door open.

The room was dark and musty. Faint light outlined the edges of what must be curtains. He carefully edged his way through the room to the nearest window and pulled back the curtain. The shutters opened easily, letting light and fresh air into the room. Iruka turned and surveyed the area.

It was a bedroom. A rather large bedroom, dominated by a huge bed and thick, heavy wooden furniture. Iruka opened a second and third window, shedding more light on the room. There was a thick layer of dust covering everything. He half expected to see a corpse seated in the corner but the room was empty. At the far end was another door, which led into a large, empty room with smooth wooden flooring. There were no windows in that room but there was a sliding paper door at the far end. Iruka slid open the door and squinted as the bright afternoon sunlight assailed him.

He heard the water before he saw it. There was a faint tinkling of water hitting stone, which turned out to be the product of a rather lovely waterfall. Iruka couldn't tell where the water came from but it poured down into a deep recess in the lawn, rushing over several layers of stone to form four little pools that dropped down into one big pool. It looked large enough to swim in and the clear water tempted him. His curiosity compelled him to keep exploring.

The little garden he'd found himself in had obviously once been quite lovely. There was a stone path running up to the house and a number of bright blooming flowers – he saw at least four different rose bushes, several lilies, and a bright line of tulips, among others – but it'd been neglected for a long time. Weeds had overgrown the path in parts and there was a high wall of twisted brambles surrounding the area, making Iruka hesitant to explore further into the garden. With a bit of care, it could be a lovely area.

He wondered if Kakashi would be willing to teach him how to care for a garden.

Iruka turned back towards the house. The big exterior room seemed to be some kind of training hall. There were weapons on the walls and padded mats along the edges of the room. He continued on to the bedroom and started opening drawers, trying to find evidence of who had lived here. There was a mix of men and women's belongings. He found an ornate hairbrush that had been picked clean of any hair. There were several Konoha uniforms in the closet in two different sizes. The only thing he found that hinted at the bedroom's occupants was a small scrap of paper. He had to bring it over to the window to read it.

It said: I'm sorry. – Hatake Sakumo

Iruka folded the note up and put it back in the drawer he'd found it in. He closed everything back up, returned everything to the way he'd found it and left the room.

He had a feeling he'd stumbled onto something he wasn't meant to see.

*****

The dinner table was a wide expanse of empty wood separating Iruka from Kakashi. He sat on one end, Kakashi on the other, their places determined the first day Iruka had arrived by the places Kakashi had set. He wanted to be closer to Kakashi, but he wasn't sure if Kakashi would be okay with that.

They each had identical bowls of food in front of them – stir fry tonight, more vegetables than meat but Iruka preferred it that way. Silence stretched between them. Iruka didn't know what to say. He'd never been good at small talk outside the bedroom. Life had been so much easier when all he'd been expected to do was have sex with people.

He should mention the room he'd found but he was reluctant to bring it up. He'd obviously been trespassing, which Kakashi would know the next time he checked the door. The energy – wards, maybe? That seemed like the right word – was gone. Kakashi would surely notice it missing. Would he be mad? Iruka didn't want Kakashi to be mad at him, which meant he should probably say something before Kakashi discovered it on his own.

His mouth wouldn't move.

"How was your day?" Kakashi asked.

Iruka startled. He forced a smile onto his face. Did Kakashi know what Iruka had been thinking? He didn't look mad or even upset, just politely interested like usual. "It was fine," Iruka lied. "How was yours?"

Iruka listened politely as Kakashi talked about meeting up with his former students. He pushed thoughts of the strange abandoned room aside. If Kakashi wanted the room sealed away, then Iruka would honor that and pretend like he'd never seen it. Some things were best left forgotten.

*****

Training began on the fourth day.

"Here." Kakashi dropped a pile of folded green cloth on the table in front of Iruka.

Iruka lifted the edge of the top piece of clothing. It looked awfully like a Konoha uniform. "What's this?"

"Clothes. For training."

Iruka glanced down at his kimono. "What's wrong with the clothes I'm wearing?"

Kakashi frowned. "They're not really suited for fighting. Besides, you might get dirty."

Iruka stared at the uniform. It reminded him too much of what a ninja would wear. He didn't want to be a ninja. He slid his chair back from the table and stood. "I'd prefer the kimono, if that's alright."

Kakashi looked for a moment like he was going to argue but he said nothing. After a minute, he nodded. "This way."

Kakashi led Iruka out into one of the side gardens. It, unlike the garden Iruka had found the other day, wasn't overrun with weeds. A small stone path led out into a wide clearing free of flowers. There were four wooden posts at the edges of the clearing, demarcating what was presumably the training area. Kakashi halted in the center of the clearing.

"So, I suppose we should start with the basics." Kakashi scratched his head. "I don't usually do this kind of thing, so I apologize if I don't make a lot of sense." He stared at Iruka for a minute. "So, you already know what chakra is, sort of. It's the energy that makes up all living things."

Iruka frowned slightly. "That's the light that's inside of people right?"

Kakashi hesitated before nodding. "Yeah, that's it. Every living thing has chakra. It flows through our bodies like blood." Iruka nodded. That made sense. He stared at Kakashi and looked through him to the light inside. Now that Kakashi pointed it out, there did seem to be a pattern to the way it flowed. "A ninja makes use of the 361 chakra points on our bodies to release chakra to perform special techniques called jutsu."

Kakashi walked over and plucked a leaf off of a nearby tree. He then placed the leaf on Iruka's forehead. Iruka's eyes crossed as he tried to stare at the leaf.

"To start, I want you to try and focus your chakra into that leaf."

Iruka frowned. That seemed a little easy. He closed his eyes and focused on the light inside of him. It coiled like a snake inside of his stomach. He reached for it, but it eluded him, slipping away from him like water down a cliff. Okay, so maybe it wasn't so easy after all. Iruka tried again and again to reach for it to no success.

"Don't try so hard," Kakashi said. "The majority of chakra control is about mental control. Will your chakra to follow your commands and it will."

That didn't make much sense but it was worth a try. Iruka let out his breath in one long sigh and tried concentrating on his chakra without forcing anything. His skin tingled and he felt like his chakra responded, like it was intent and waiting. He shifted his concentration to where he could feel the leaf on his forehead.

Pain erupted on his forehead and he slapped the leaf off his head with a loud cry. Ashes and a thin fragment of burned leaf floated to the ground.

Kakashi stared at the fallen leaf. "Well, that's new." He stared up at Iruka and then turned to retrieve another leaf. "Let's try that again."

Iruka repressed a groan. He had a feeling he'd be hearing that a lot. He wasn't wrong.

*****

Iruka's days quickly dissolved into routine. It helped him forget the building homesickness inside of him and his increasing loneliness. He woke alone, he had breakfast with Kakashi, they trained, he explored when Kakashi went out. In the evening they ate together, then meditated before bed, something Kakashi said would help Iruka control his chakra better. Iruka kept expecting the familiar weakness to hit him but he felt stronger than ever. He was even getting better at not setting things on fire when he tried to use his chakra.

On his seventh day at the Hatake compound, there was a stranger seated at the breakfast table with Kakashi, chatting amicably as if he and Kakashi were close friends. Iruka hesitated in the entrance, not sure if he should intrude. Kakashi had his mask down, which was something Iruka assumed he'd only done around Iruka. He'd apparently been mistaken. Whoever the stranger was, Kakashi was obviously comfortable around him. Envy and a thin, sharp line of jealous stabbed through Iruka.

The stranger noticed him before Iruka could slip away. He turned towards Iruka with a beaming smile and stood to execute a gallant, sweeping bow. "Good morning, fair Iruka. I see you have recovered swiftly since the last time we met. My eternal rival Kakashi has told me much of your excellent training progress."

Iruka took a hesitant step into the kitchen and bowed low. He didn't remember meeting the strange man. Maybe they'd met after Iruka had been kidnapped. His weird bowl haircut seemed strangely familiar. "Good morning."

The stranger extended a hand. He was clad in a garish green jumpsuit. "Maito Gai, at your service."

Iruka politely shook the man's hand and then withdrew from the touch as quickly as propriety allowed. His chakra tended to do strange things when he touched people for too long. Memories of lights going out flashed through his head and he stamped them down, ignoring the way his stomach twisted. "Umino Iruka."

Kakashi shot Iruka a reassuring glance from where he was seated. There was a third place at the table and a plate of food waiting for Iruka. "I asked Gai to help with your physical training. He's one of Konoha's leading experts in taijutsu."

Iruka had no idea what taijutsu was. He nodded as if he understood and offered a brief smile.

Hours later, as Iruka was picking himself up off the ground for what seemed like the hundredth time, he was firmly of the opinion that he did not like taijutsu.

"Are you sure you don't want to change clothes?" Kakashi asked, not for the first time.

Iruka growled and launched himself back at Gai. He'd show them what he thought of their uniforms.

Seconds later, he hit the ground again.

*****

There was a hesitant knock on Iruka's door. He turned in the midst of changing and considered opening the door with his kimono partially undone. He could feel Kakashi's chakra on the other side of the door, and there was a growing part of Iruka that would do just about anything to get Kakashi to touch him like he used to, when it was just the two of them alone in Iruka's room at the Scarlett Lantern.

"Just a moment," he called instead, and finished belting his kimono. He moved stiffly, still sore from Gai's training. He was mostly presentable when he opened the door.

Kakashi's eyes strayed to the pale expanse of bare flesh Iruka had left exposed around his throat. He licked his lips, probably unconsciously, and then shifted his gaze back up to Iruka's face. "I warmed up the bath for you. I thought, after training with Gai, you might want a soak. Might help with any soreness."

Iruka smiled without really meaning to, possibly his first honest smile since he'd come to Konoha. "Thank you." The way Kakashi looked at him gave him hope. Words danced on the tip of his tongue, a thousand come-ons left unspoken.

Instead, he stepped forward, moving into Kakashi's personal space as he pulled the bedroom door shut behind him. Kakashi didn't move away. Iruka let his hand brush across Kakashi's stomach as he stepped away. He could feel Kakashi's eyes follow him all the way down the hall.

Maybe there was hope for them after all.

*****

"Is it alright if I go outside?"

The question obviously took Kakashi by surprise. He paused with his chopsticks halfway to his mouth and then slowly lowered them back to his plate. He frowned, his forehead wrinkling, making the scar across his eye twist strangely. "Of course you can go outside. You don't need to ask permission for that."

Iruka hesitated. He wasn't sure if he'd been clear. "I mean outside of the compound. Out into Konoha." He'd pretty much exhausted his exploration of the house, even tried his hand at cleaning some of the more frequently used rooms. He wasn't too bad at it but cleaning got boring quickly. He'd need gloves if he wanted to tackle the garden and maybe a rake or something. Some clippers would be useful too to clear away the larger overgrowth.

Kakashi nodded. "Yeah, of course. You can go anywhere you'd like, but I wouldn't recommend leaving the city until we train you a bit better. The woods can be a bit dangerous on your own."

It seemed a little too easy. Iruka was too used to having his life controlled and his movement restricted. He'd expected to have to explain why he wanted to leave the compound. Kakashi's easy acceptance was encouraging.

"Do you need money?" Iruka opened his mouth to protest. He only really wanted to look. He didn't expect Kakashi to offer any more than that, but Kakashi continued before Iruka could object. "Of course you do. Let me get you some."

Kakashi pushed away from the table. Iruka watched him go, mouth agape.

When Kakashi returned, he dropped a small pouch in front of Iruka. "Here. This is yours." Iruka stared at him. His mouth moved but only a tiny, strangled sound emerged. Kakashi squeezed Iruka's hand before returning to his side of the table. "Don't worry about it. You don't owe me anything. Consider it a gift. Or, if that bothers you, I can talk to Tsunade about getting an advance against future wages. It's uncommon but I think she might be willing to go for it given your circumstances."

Iruka nodded dumbly. He wasn't sure what he should say. It felt wrong to decline a gift and he wasn't really sure he wanted to bet on future wages, not if it meant taking missions as a ninja and murdering someone. He wasn't sure he could do that. His fingers curled around the sack of coin. There were quite a few coins inside. "Thank you."

Kakashi beamed at him. "You're welcome." It seemed odd that such a small token would make Kakashi so happy but then Kakashi had always been a little strange.

They finished their meal in companionable silence. When Kakashi got ready to go out for the day, Iruka followed him, hesitating once they were outside the gate. He was so used to not being allowed beyond the walls of the Scarlett Lantern. He half expected to be punished for leaving the compound but Kakashi was right there next to him. He'd said it was okay.

"That way leads to the Academy and the Hokage Tower." Kakashi pointed down one long road. Iruka vaguely remembered it from when Kakashi had brought him to the compound. "That way leads to the market and most of the shops." Kakashi pointed in the opposite direction. "If you get lost, don't be afraid to ask for directions. Most people in Konoha are pretty nice, even if they seem a bit rough on the outside."

Iruka nodded.

Kakashi squeezed Iruka's shoulder once before turning towards the Academy. "If nothing else, you've already proven that you know how to find me." Kakashi grinned, his smile hidden behind a mask but Iruka could still tell it was there from the way the fabric wrinkled. There was a teasing glint to his one visible eye. "If I'm with the Hokage, just wait downstairs. I shouldn't be too long."

Iruka blushed. He was never going to live that down. "Thank you," he said again. The pouch of coins was a heavy weight in his pocket.

He watched Kakashi walk down the street a ways before he turned and headed in the opposite direction. Apprehension twisted in his gut but he forced himself to keep moving, to put one foot in front of the other until he could hear the sounds of the market drawing him in.

Konoha was a strange and lively place. There were people everywhere. It was strangely daunting after days spent in isolation inside the Hatake compound, but also somewhat comforting. This was more like what he was used to, though amplified. No one seemed to take any particular note of his presence, save for a few appreciative glances, not entirely unlike the way he was used to clients looking at him in the Scarlett Lantern but thankfully much more discrete, and a polite nod every once and a while.

Even with all the training Kakashi and Gai had been giving him, he still felt weak and powerless compared to the hulking men and women wandering the streets. He suspected even the ones that didn't look like bulging towers of muscles could still take him out without any effort. Hell, even the five year old sucking his thumb and clutching his mom's hand probably had a good chance. There were a surprising number of younger people in ninja garb. He hadn't really connected until now that there had to be lower ranks of ninja, waiting to be trained up. The ones he met at the Scarlett Lantern had obviously been adults. Kakashi had mentioned training younger students, which seemed like it could potentially be pretty fun. Iruka smiled at the mother with her five year old. They both smiled back. He wondered if any of the younger ninja in the crowd knew Kakashi.

The first shop he stopped in was empty save for one lone female shopper. He walked slowly down the aisles, his eyes roving over everything with blatant curiosity. He'd never had the opportunity to pick out his own clothes before, or his own anything really. Everything he currently owned had either been chosen by Ginjou or a gift from a client. He picked up a few simple shirts and a plain black pair of pants before moving on. It'd give him something to train it that wasn't a uniform and hopefully make Kakashi stop nagging him about training in a kimono. Iruka didn't think he was doing too bad, but a bit more give around the legs would be useful.

He wandered through the market, passing from shop to shop at a slow pace. There was so much to see and no one seemed to mind him lingering in the shops. After a while he noticed a faint whisper of conversation growing through the crowd. At first he thought the whispering was about him. He looked up from a stall of fresh fruit and glanced at a small circle of women. They didn't seem to be paying him any attention but were instead staring at a glum young boy in an orange jumpsuit. The boy obviously noticed the women staring but was trying to hide the fact that he noticed. His growing flush of annoyance gave him away.

"Stay away from him."

"What?" Iruka turned towards the shopkeeper. The old lady was openly glaring at the boy.

"Didn't anyone warn you?" The lady asked. "That's the jinchuriki."

Iruka blinked and glanced back at the young boy. He didn't seem all that special. "The what?"

The lady frowned. "He's got the demon fox inside of him. The one that destroyed the village sixteen years ago."

Iruka frowned. "The boy barely looks sixteen. How could he have destroyed the village?"

"It's the demon inside of him," the old woman hissed. "It's evil."

Iruka dropped the fruit he'd been planning to buy back into the woman's stall and stomped away. How in the world could they call a boy evil? He was standing next to the boy before he even realized it.

"Hi." The boy dropped the piece of bread he'd picked up and jumped.

"I didn't do anything."

Iruka smiled his best smile, the one that always seemed to placate the surliest of customers. "Of course you didn't. My name's Iruka. I'm new in town and I was wondering if you'd like to join me for lunch."

The boy glanced at the women watching them. Their frantic whispering had increased in volume. Iruka steadfastly ignored them. "Why?"

Iruka smiled wider. "Because I like you and I'd like us to be friends."

The boy hesitated. After a long moment, he offered a tentative smile back. "I'm Naruto. Do you like ramen?"

Triumph ran through Iruka. "I love ramen." The grin on Naruto's face was worth the whispers.

*****

Kakashi returned home to find Iruka and Naruto sitting on the front porch with a half-eaten tray of peaches between them. They both grinned at him as he walked up.

"Good afternoon, Kakashi-san," they said in unison. It was kind of creepy.

He stared between the two of them. "I didn't realize you two knew each other."

It was nice seeing Iruka grin. He smiled a lot, even back at the Scarlet Lantern, but there'd always been a sense of reserve to them. That was gone and Kakashi hadn't realized how fake some of Iruka's smiles were until he started seeing the real thing more often.

"We met in the marketplace earlier." There was a faint hint of mischief in Iruka's expression. Kakashi could only imagine what kind of scene their meeting might have caused. "You never told me anything about your students."

Naruto grinned up at him. "And you didn't tell me you had a wife."

Iruka flushed bright red but he didn't deny it. Kakashi stared at Iruka for a second. He should deny it, but at the same time the thought of having Iruka as a wife filled him with intense pleasure. It reminded him of how much he wanted Iruka and also how twisted their past was. His desire for Iruka had never gone away but now that Iruka was a free man, it just didn't seem right to try and push that kind of relationship back on him. He'd been through enough without having to deal with Kakashi's lust. "It's complicated," he said, in answer to both.

A bit of Iruka's smile faded and Kakashi knew he'd said the wrong thing. He forced himself up the stairs past them. It'd been a long time since Naruto had been at his residence. He should offer him a drink or something. He glanced at Iruka, who was obviously taken with the boy. Maybe he should offer a bit more. He'd always held himself back from his students, kept himself distant. Maybe that was why his team had broken apart so horribly.

He turned at the door and stared down at Naruto. "Would you like to stay for dinner?"

Disbelief washed over Naruto's face. It felt like a punch in the gut. Naruto's expressions shifted in an instant as a wide grin took over. He looked like Kakashi had just offered him Christmas. It made Kakashi regret never inviting him over before.

"I'd love to."

Iruka smiled at him approvingly. He really should have done this sooner.

*****

The first time one of Iruka's strikes landed came as a surprise to both of them. He hit Kakashi square in the chest with a glowing ball of energy that sent Kakashi flying back into a tree. He was so used to not connecting that he hadn't even bothered pulling his punch and now there was a large circular singe mark on Kakashi's shirt.

"I'm so sorry." Iruka took two steps towards Kakashi before Kakashi straightened. He looked down at his shirt and then grinned widely.

"Well done." Kakashi brushed off his shirt and took a step forward. There was a faint trace of manic glee on his face. "Now, let's see if you can do it again."

Iruka leapt out of the way with a squeak. He didn't manage a second hit.

*****

Iruka hesitated with his hand on Kakashi's door. He should go back to bed. It was late and Gai was supposed to be over tomorrow for more training. He should be resting, but his mind wouldn't let him sleep. Instead he lingered outside of Kakashi's bedroom door, wanting to go in but not sure if he'd be welcome.

"Iruka?" Kakashi's voice startled Iruka and he jerked his hand away from the door. "What's wrong?"

He hesitated another second before opening the door. Kakashi sat up in bed, his bare chest visible in the light from the bedside lamp. Iruka resisted the urge to drool. "Sorry for bothering you. I can go." Iruka gestured towards the door, but now that he was inside the bedroom his feet refused to move.

Kakashi shook his head. "No. It's alright. Is something wrong?"

"No." That was a lie. "Not really. I just..." It sounded stupid saying it out loud. "I couldn't sleep."

"Ah." Kakashi smiled slightly. "Do you want to talk about it?"

It felt like all they did was talk, but never about the things that mattered. They never talked about the past, about what had happened between them before Iruka had come to Konoha. But he didn't want to talk about that now. He was past words. He'd been denying himself for so long that he was beginning to forget what it felt like to be with Kakashi, how right it felt.

He moved towards the bed, not really noticing where he was going until he was crawling up onto the mattress and straddling Kakashi's thighs.

"What-" Surprise filled Kakashi's face but Iruka didn't stop. He leaned forward to press his lips against Kakashi's in a gentle kiss. It was too chaste by far, too little for what he wanted but he didn't want to push. He couldn't. Not with this. He wanted Kakashi to want him too, otherwise what was the point of him being here at all? He wanted Kakashi.

He wasn't alone in his desire. Seconds after their lips connected, Kakashi's arms wrapped around Iruka's waist, pulling him closer. Kakashi opened his mouth to deepen the kiss and for one brief, blissful moment it was exactly like the way things used to be. Then Kakashi pulled away.

"Iruka..."

He groaned and squeezed his eyes shut. His forehead rested against Kakashi's. "Don't. Please."

He felt Kakashi's sigh against his cheek. "I don't want you to think you owe me anything. Especially not this."

Iruka almost laughed. He opened his eyes and pulled back, not far, just enough that he could look Kakashi in the face. At least Kakashi hadn't let go of Iruka's waist. That was a good sign. "I don't. That's not what this is about."

"Then what is it about?"

When he'd approached Kakashi's room, when he'd first fantasized about sneaking in and enticing Kakashi to have sex, he'd hoped to avoid talking about it like this. It seemed that wasn't going to happen. He wasn't sure how to explain himself. Sex was just something that happened without needing to be explained. He tried anyways.

"I want you." Kakashi's eyebrows rose. He pressed a finger to Kakashi's lips before Kakashi could object. "No. Really. I do. I miss you. I miss the way we used to be together. I want that back. I want you back."

Kakashi looked down at Iruka's finger until he moved his hand away. "I want that too." Tension that Iruka hadn't even realized he'd been holding melted from his body, leaving him limp and pliant in Kakashi's arms. "I just don't want you to be with me because you feel like you owe me. I want you to be with me because you want to."

"I do." Iruka leaned in to prove his point with a lurid kiss. Kakashi's mouth tasted like the first sip of water to a man dying of thirst. "I really do."

There was no more talking after that, just tongues and teeth and roving hands. Kakashi's chest was already bare and Iruka let his hands explore, remapping territory that he was already so familiar with. It felt different now that he knew exactly what Kakashi's muscles could do. His fingers traced over aged scars with new appreciation. He wondered how long it would be until he had a set to match.

"Stop thinking," Kakashi growled, low and heavy in Iruka's ear.

Kakashi rolled them, pushing Iruka down on his back and it felt achingly familiar. Just like old times. Kakashi's hands slid inside Iruka's yukata, parting the fabric and then kissing his way down Iruka's chest. Iruka moaned and pushed up into Kakashi's touch. He moaned even louder as Kakashi bit him lightly, just above his belly button. His legs parted to make room for Kakashi. Wet kisses continued down over Iruka's stomach and he gasped when they didn't stop but instead kept going down until Kakashi's mouth closed wet and warm over his cock. His fingers twisted in Kakashi's hair, but his hands couldn't quite decide whether to pull Kakashi's head away or push him down further. Kakashi didn't need any guidance. He swallowed Iruka down, taking Iruka deep down his throat in one practiced motion. A shudder ran the entire length of Iruka's body and he screamed, his body pushed so close to release with just that one motion.

He wanted to scream again when Kakashi pulled away but his hand took over where his mouth had left off. Iruka's hands fell from Kakashi's hair as Kakashi sat back, reaching for the bedside table. He gripped the sheets for lack of anything better to hold onto. His needy moans echoed through the room but he couldn't bring himself to care, not when Kakashi was touching him, stroking him, warm and just tight enough and so, so good. He watched through lowered lashes as Kakashi reached into a drawer and pulled out a thick tube of lube.

Iruka forced one hand to release the covers so he could hold his hand out for the lube. He needed Kakashi in him now, which meant getting himself slicked up as fast as he could manage. Kakashi shook his head. Iruka frowned, confused, then blushed as Kakashi popped the lid off the lube and poured a generous amount over his own fingers.

"Let me."

There was no way Iruka could even begin to gather the breath to complain. His mouth only seemed to be capable of moaning and gasping at the moment, which may have a lot to do with Kakashi's hand stroking him faster and faster. Then Kakashi pressed two slick fingers inside of him, shoving them knuckle deep in one go, and he was done. He came with a strangled shout. Kakashi's fingers crooked inside of him and dragged out, rubbing over Iruka's prostate and making his vision go white with stars.

He was shivering when he came back to consciousness. Thankfully he hadn't been out long, maybe a second or two at the most because Kakashi's fingers were still inside of him, still moving, and he was going to go insane just from Kakashi touching him. They hadn't even gotten to the good part yet. It was strange for him to be the first one to come, stranger still to be this lost to pleasure. Maybe it was just because he hadn't had sex for so long, or maybe it was because it was Kakashi and he wasn't getting paid for it but rather he was here because Kakashi wanted him and he wanted Kakashi. Either way, it felt better than anything he'd ever felt before and he didn't want it to end, not ever.

Still, he wouldn't mind if things went a bit further. He shifted, gasping as the movement made Kakashi's fingers twist inside of him, and lifted his legs to wrap around Kakashi's waist. He pressed lightly against Kakashi's lower back with his heels, urging Kakashi closer. Kakashi took the hint. His hand withdrew, shifting instead to spread the remaining lube on his hand across his sizeable cock, already swelled and ready. Iruka tightened his legs, bringing them closer. He shuddered with anticipation as Kakashi's blunt head pressed against his entrance. Kakashi paused there for a brief moment, his eyes fixed on Iruka's face. Then he smiled and pushed forward, entering Iruka in one long, smooth stroke.

Kakashi was always gentle with Iruka, almost as if he was afraid he'd break Iruka. When he pulled out, it was long and slow, almost teasing in pace. Iruka didn't want that today. He wrapped his arms around Kakashi and rocked his hips into Kakashi's, forcing Kakashi back in faster than usual. "Harder. Please."

Kakashi hesitated. Iruka moaned and rocked his hips once more, encouraging. Kakashi shifted his weight, setting his hands on the mattress on either side of Iruka's head and then he moved, pulling out faster, not rough but no longer moving with the same gentleness. There was very little gentle about the way he shoved back in and Iruka loved it. His head rolled back and his fingernails dug into the skin of Kakashi's back. Then Kakashi did it again and he nearly lost his mind as Kakashi kept going, his hips pounding hard and fast and just right.

Iruka screamed and held on for the ride. It was good. Really good. Mind-blowingly good and why the hell hadn't they done this before, because Iruka was certainly enjoying it and judging by the intent, focused look on Kakashi's face, he was more than a little into it. Kakashi's breath came in short, hard pants and it felt like fighting but so much more intimate, so much more primal and if they fought like this every day, Iruka would be the best damn ninja in the village, just so he could get more of Kakashi like this.

He was distantly aware of the headboard slamming against the wall, of the creak of the bed frame as it rocked with the force of Kakashi's thrusts. He didn't care. There were no neighbors to disturb, and even if there were, they could fucking deal because Kakashi was inside him and taking him and it was glorious.

It was over too soon. Kakashi grunted, his hands clenching in the sheets as his hips jerked harder, faster, and then his face twisted in an expression almost akin to pain as he came, seed spilling deep inside of Iruka. He stared down at Iruka for a long moment, his mouth slack and then something shifted in his expression, turning more towards mischievousness than pleasure. Kakashi disentangled one hand from the covers and then reached between them, his hand closing over the erection Iruka hadn't even realized had been growing between them. He shouted in surprise as Kakashi touched him then cursed as Kakashi jerked him off rough and fast. All it took was a few strokes, he was too close to begin with and then he was coming, his body twisting around Kakashi, holding onto him like he was the only thing between Iruka and drowning.

In a way, he always had been. Kakashi was Iruka's life raft. He always had been.

He was vaguely aware of wet stickiness on his stomach and between his legs but it was a distant sort of sensation, not really worth contemplation right now. His body felt loose, relaxed, almost boneless. He stared up at Kakashi who was smiling down at him, his expression soft and tender. Iruka couldn't help but smile back.

"I love you." He wasn't sure which of them said it first. Their words mingled in the air between them and their smiles grew. It felt like coming home. Iruka pulled Kakashi down into a tight hug.

He never wanted to leave.

*****

Iruka was vaguely aware of someone moving around the room, which was strange since he was used to sleeping alone. The bed was too warm and soft to be his own bed though. It smelled of Kakashi. He rolled onto his side and blinked at the not-so-empty room. "Kakashi?" His voice came out rough.

"Shh." A hand brushed through Iruka's hair. He leaned into the touch. "I have to leave for a bit. I shouldn't be gone long. Maybe a week at the most."

He should ask questions, like where Kakashi was going or why he was being called away, but all that came out was a muffled string of nonsense.

Kakashi smiled and leaned down to kiss Iruka on the forehead. "Go back to sleep."

He did.

*****

The Academy was quickly becoming one of Iruka's favorite spots to relax. The lawn was well kept, with a number of benches scattered beneath large shade trees. Likely, those benches were there for parents who wanted to check in on their children in an unobtrusive manner, and there were certainly a number of older men and women who came through at different parts of the day. He felt a bit like a creep for being there without any children of his own to watch over but the Academy was one of most peaceful places in Konoha.

There was something about being around children that put Iruka at ease. He'd never really had a chance to be around any before. Any time one of the girls at the Scarlett Lantern got pregnant, either she left or her child did. He liked sitting and listening to children laughing and playing. Even the occasional shriek or cry didn't really bother him.

He didn't realize there was a woman sitting next to him until a few minutes after she'd sat down, he'd been so entrance by watching the young students – pre-genin, he thought Kakashi had called them – playing on the playground.

Iruka shot the woman a sideways glance. She looked familiar. "Kurenai, right?" She was one of Kakashi's friends. They'd run into her once when Kakashi had taken Iruka and Naruto out for ramen a few days ago.

She smiled back at him. "That's right." She turned towards the playground he'd been watching. "It's a nice day to be outside playing, don't you think?"

Iruka nodded. He'd never played like these children did when he was a child. He didn't remember much of it, but he remembered being sick and unhappy and never let outdoors.

"Do you like children, Iruka?"

He hesitated for a long moment before answering. Like was too simple of a word. It was hard to name all of the emotions that filled him when he came to the Academy. Sometimes it made his chest ache just looking at them. "I envy them, I think," he said quietly, almost too low to be heard. Kurenai didn't turn but he was pretty sure she'd heard him. "I envy them their freedom."

"Freedom you lack?"

It was strange. He knew that he was a free man, but part of him didn't feel like it. He felt beholden to Tsunade and Kakashi for giving him his life here. They wanted him to become a ninja and fight to protect the village. He owed them that. But he didn't want that life, not really. He wasn't bred for danger.

"Why do you think you're not free?" Kurenai asked.

He turned to look at her but she still watched the children play. After a moment, he looked back towards the playground. In a way it was easier directing his thoughts at the playground than at her. "I'm not used to having choices, I guess. I don't really know what mine are. I know the Hokage wants me to train to be a ninja."

"There are many paths a ninja can take. Not all of them end in battle."

He frowned. It wasn't that simple. "The Hokage-"

Kurenai turned to stare at him. Her gaze pierced right through him, cutting off his words. "Is a healer. It's an honorable profession and they only really see the battlefield during all-out war."

That idea didn't seem quite right to him. He didn't really want to be a healer, though he supposed it was better than combat. "Kakashi-"

"Wants you to be happy. No matter what path you choose."

He wasn't sure what to say to that. He knew, logically, that Kakashi would support him but at the same time he felt like he'd be letting Kakashi down.

"Have you given thought to a position in the Academy? There are a few clerical openings. I think they're taking applications for teaching positions soon."

He opened his mouth to respond but the words never quite made it out. Something sharp and painful twisted in his chest and he gasped for air. He was vaguely aware of his hand clutching his chest and Kurenai's worried voice but the Academy grounds shifted, turning black and fading away. He saw stone walls and a vaguely familiar face. A man laughed unkindly. Pain shot across his face, but it wasn't his pain, rather it was someone else's. Kakashi's.

The Academy came back to him in a rush. He gulped in a deep breath of air. Kurenai was close, her hands on his shoulders. She'd been shaking him, he belatedly realized. He stared up at her with wide eyes. "Kakashi."

Kurenai frowned. "What?"

"Kakashi's in danger."

*****

It was surprisingly easy to get into the Hokage's office with Kurenai leading him. They were ushered straight in and Kurenai pushed Iruka down into the chair across from the Hokage's desk. He was grateful. His legs felt like wet noodles. He was only vaguely aware of the trip to the Hokage's office. His mind was fixed on Kakashi. The rest of the world was a blur.

"Iruka. Iruka." Fingers snapped in front of him. He turned towards them, looking up into Tsunade's concerned eyes. She must have been trying to get his attention for a while. There were more people in the room now. Gai and one other Iruka hadn't met before. "Good." Tsunade sat back in her seat. "What happened to Kakashi?"

"I don't know." Tsunade frowned. He quickly elaborated. "I saw... it was a stone room. The man... the one who'd kidnapped me. He was there. Kakashi was in pain."

Tsunade's frown deepened. "Can you tell where he is now?"

Iruka pointed without looking. He didn't even have to think about it. His mind was stuck on Kakashi, and it was like Kakashi was there, just a room away even though it felt like much further. Iruka felt like he should be able to just reach out and touch Kakashi. He wanted desperately to touch Kakashi again, to know that he was safe.

Tsunade sighed. "Gai, Kurenai, Asuma, you'll go with Iruka. He can guide you to where Kakashi is. Bring him back safe."

Iruka paled. His mouth opened to protest then shut just as quickly. There was no way he could refuse, even if the prospect of leaving Konoha and heading into certain danger terrified him. It was for Kakashi. He had to help. He swallowed around the lump in his throat and nodded. "When do we leave?"

The look Tsunade gave him was approving. He knew he'd made the right choice.

*****

A strange kind of peace settled over Iruka once they'd left Konoha. He wasn't used to traveling like this – running at a pace faster than any human really should, bounding from tree branch to tree branch. Gai and Kurenai were always in place, ready to steady him any time he mis-stepped, which was probably the only reason they made any sort of good pace at all. He was getting better at it though the longer they ran. It was hard to stop running. With each step he took, he could feel Kakashi getting closer and every time they had to halt to rest or eat, his skin itched and he wanted to be moving again. He couldn't sleep. He barely wanted to eat. All he wanted was Kakashi.

Then they neared the compound where Kakashi was being held and there was no stopping. Iruka didn't care if the others followed, though he knew they would. He had to go, had to be there now, as soon as he could as fast as he could. Gai stopped him with a firm grip on his arm before he could run right up to the stone walls of the compound. He squinted at the stones. They seemed familiar.

Asuma stared up at the wall. "We should split up. One group can create a distraction while the other gets Kakashi out."

"I'm going for Kakashi," Iruka said, before any of the others could override him. The other three exchanged meaningful glances but none of them seemed inclined to object.

Gai nodded. "Alright. I shall accompany you to rescue your captured love."

Iruka flushed but he couldn't deny it. Neither Asuma or Kurenai seemed the least bit surprised. Kurenai nodded and headed off, presumably towards the main gate. Iruka wasn't sure what kind of signals they used but after several minutes waiting, Gai motioned Iruka forward.

They climbed the wall using a simple jutsu, one Kakashi had initially taught him by having Iruka walk up a tree. Gai paused at the top of the wall and then jumped over. Iruka followed. The compound was surprisingly empty. Iruka closed his eyes briefly to take stock of the area. There were other people here. Not many, but enough that it would be problematic if they had to fight their way out with an injured Kakashi. He knew without needing to look to tell that Kakashi was injured. This close, he could almost feel Kakashi's pain. It was a dull ache reflected on his own skin and he didn't like what that meant for Kakashi.

Getting into the keep was surprisingly easy. A little too easy, but Iruka wasn't going to complain about their good fortune. They wound down through the stone corridors into the dungeon. The area was starting to feel more and more familiar, like he'd been here before.

They stopped outside a thick metal door. Iruka could feel Kakashi on the other side and he wanted to break through the door to get to Kakashi. Instead, he waited while Gai's fingers flashed through an unlocking jutsu. Gai reached for the handle. There was a bright surge of energy just as Gai's fingers connected. Iruka felt it too late to warn Gai. His mouth opened and he got part of Gai's name out just before the door exploded. To his credit, Gai reacted fast. He twisted, turning his face away from the blast and stepping between Iruka and the door. They were both knocked back as a wave of heat and force erupted from where the door had been.

Iruka hit the wall hard. Both he and Gai slid to the floor as one. Gai's body was a heavy weight on top of him and for one brief, terrifying moment, he thought Gai was dead. Then Gai gasped, his breath shaky and weak, and Iruka almost cried from relief. Gai coughed and rolled to the side. He slumped against the wall and closed his eyes. That seemed about as far as he was able to go. He was still breathing at least.

Someone laughed. It was a deep, unpleasant laugh, devoid of any trace of kindness. Iruka looked up at the towering man that stood in the doorway. The man grinned. Recognition dawned on the man's face at the same time as Iruka placed where he knew the man's face from – this was the man who'd kidnapped him, the one who'd been trying to get to Kakashi through him and apparently had been imprisoning Kakashi for the last few days.

"Well, if it isn't the little whore," Soubi said with a grin.

Iruka frowned and clenched his teeth. "I'm not a whore. Not anymore."

Soubi laughed again. "Once a whore, always a whore."

A strange raspy noise sounded from behind Soubi. Iruka glanced into the room and then regretted it. Kakashi was strung up by chains suspended from the ceiling, bloody and bruised.

Iruka's hands curled into fists. Soubi was saying something, taunting him, but his words didn't even register. Iruka's eyes were fixed on Kakashi. His world narrowed, everything else falling away into black nothingness until it was just him and Kakashi and the man that was in the way.

He stood. He was distantly aware of pain in his ankle, of a deep ache in his back where he'd connected with the wall. He ignored it. Twin balls of energy formed around his hands, crackling and swirling. They were a bit bigger than they should be, larger than any he'd made before, but that didn't matter. What mattered was results.

Iruka took one step forward and lunged, his right fist slamming into empty air as Soubi dodged. Iruka's left first was a second behind, connecting even before Soubi knew what was happening. Blood sprayed the walls and coated Iruka's clothes as his hand went through Soubi to exit out the other side. The energy around Iruka's hands disappeared. Soubi's face was frozen in shock. It stayed that way even as Soubi fell to the ground, motionless.

Nausea hit Iruka hard. He wanted to vomit, almost did but he closed his eyes and held it back. With his eyes still closed, he stepped past Soubi's body and didn't open them until he was in front of Kakashi. When he opened his eyes, Kakashi was staring at him, a look of concern on his face. Iruka forced a smile but it came out wrong. It didn't matter. He had Kakashi again. He could give in to the nightmares of what he'd done later. For now he needed to make sure Kakashi was safe.

Iruka reached for the chains around Kakashi's wrists. "I'm here now," he whispered. "It's time to go home."