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Sell Down The River

Chapter Text

1.
Unlike back in Konoha, the air was still in this part of fire country. No breeze to blow through the trees and few trees for it to blow through.
Although Iruka was a teacher full time, he and the rest of the staff at the academy were required to take missions during the off season and on breaks to keep their skills sharp. This particular mission, C-rank, took place during one of the breaks, and as such Iruka and two of his fellow teachers fulfilled their duty as Konoha shinobi by escorting a group of travelers from Hot Springs over to Mizutamari, a small town located close to Uzushio. Iruka took the mission hoping to get a peek at the land his family had once been familiar with. He had gotten a look and now that he had, he hoped his family's home town had been much much different.


The mission was simple. Truly, it only required a chunin captain and two or three genin supports if that. Instead, it got three chunin. It should have been a cake walk. Iruka wasn't sure where it went so pear-shaped.


"Once we make it to the forest we'll have the advantage!" Iruka called out behind him. He heard a shout, then a wiz as a shuriken flew past his ear. He looked behind him. Watomi-sensei had fallen, a shuriken having caught and embedded itself in his Achilles. "Shit."

Iruka stopped and backtracked, dodging a flurry of kunai to reach his comrade. When Iruka got closer he saw that the other teacher had hit his head on a rock on the way down and was barely conscious. The luck of this fucking mission.

"Sorry captain. Don't think I can run." Watomi breathed out ragged and quiet.

Without waiting to ask permission Iruka slung Watomi over his back and took off again. His movements were clumsy and slowed due to the weight but he'd be damned if he left a comrade behind. Meiko-sensei appeared next to him keeping to the slower speed. She sent a barrage of shuriken behind her but none found their mark. To make matters worse, Iruka could sense the enemy catching up to them. They weren't going to make it to the trees in time at this pace.

"We aren't going to make it!" Meiko voiced Iruka's worries making the fact solidify as a pool of dread in his gut. "We have to leave him behi-"

"No!" Iruka barked.

A flash of Mizuki entered and exited his mind. He would not leave a comrade behind. A series of thuds felt against his back brought him back to the present. Watomi's body went limp against his and he felt a warm liquid gather at the nape of his neck. No doubt the man had been hit again.

"Iruka we need to get this scroll-"

"I won't leave him behind and that's final!" As team captain that was his call to make. He had a duty to his teammates and a duty to Konoha to keep them safe.

"And a duty to the people that live there! We have to get this scroll back! We have to complete the mission!" Meiko argued making Iruka realize he voiced his thoughts out loud. God damn it, he must be tired if he was thinking out loud without noticing.

The forest could now be seen on the horizon but they were still about a day's travel away from the village. There was no way they would be able to take down all three enemy nin in the open like this. Not when it appeared that at least two of them were jounin level. Their only hope was the familiar territory of the great Konoha forest and even then their chances of out maneuvering the enemy were only fractionally better than now. Iruka found himself hoping ANBU was patrolling.

He looked around and assessed the situation. They needed a distraction. It seemed Meiko was way ahead of him.

She turned on a pin to face their enemy. "Keep going I'll catch up!"

She flashed through a series of hand signs as Iruka kept running. In front of Meiko a fissure opened up in the ground just big enough to cause some trouble but it wouldn't be enough to keep the enemy at bay for more than a minute or two. That minute might mean the difference between life or death, and Meiko didn't waste one to see if her jutsu had any effect before bolting to catch up with Iruka. He nodded thanks when she caught up but his eyebrows were drawn forward and a bead of sweat trickled down his temple.

"What's the plan if we reach the tree line?" Iruka didn't miss Meiko's use of if rather than when.

He hefted Watomi up on his back again and pushed chakra into his feet. "When we reach it I want you to take Watomi and the scroll. Make sure both get back to Konoha."

Meiko nodded. "What about you?"

"I'm going to buy you some time." He worried his lip.

"Are you kidding me! I'm not leaving you to be killed!" She bit out, a flush rising to her face. "There has to be- If we leave Watomi we can make it."
"We aren't leaving him and that's final!"

"If we don't leave him behind we'll all get killed anyway!"

Iruka sent her a sharp glare. "Don't insult me!" He may just be a chunin but he was a damn good one and had more than a few tricks up his sleeve.

Meiko looked offended at his outburst but also like she wanted to rip his head off herself. She snarled before resigning herself with a nod and getting her emotions under control. She looked ahead at the trees getting ready to jump into them and hopefully disappear.

"You make a shit captain you know that."

Sprinting towards the trees they rooted all the power they could into the soles of their feet. Iruka's ribs ached from where he had been kicked earlier. The cracked rib slowing him tremendously. They had engaged the enemy twice now and both times they had to retreat. Originally, they planned to take them out fast but these were no genin like they encountered is Mizutamari.

They took to the trees the moment they were close enough to do so, and just in time for another flurry of shuriken to overtake them. Iruka ducked behind a large tree and used its trunk as cover. Meiko followed and Iruka transferred Watomi over onto her much smaller but capable frame then dug into his vest pocket and handed the scroll over her waiting hands.

"Now get going. I'll try to cover you. If you see anyone sent them my way but your first priority is getting Watomi to medical." Iruka peaked out the side of the tree. The four enemy shinobi had ceased fire but were only moments from reaching them.

Meiko, stubborn as she shook her head in what Iruka knew to be a last ditch effort to change his mind. "Watomi's already dead I'm not-"

He didn't have time to deal with this. "He's not dead until his heart stops beating now stop complaining and follow your orders!"

Meiko hesitated one-second longer then took off through the trees at top speed. Iruka sighed in relief. That was one problem dealt with now for the three ninjas speeding his way.

Iruka again looked around the trunk, this time only seeing two shinobi. He wasn't sure how the third enemy ninja got past him but there was no denying he had. They must have caught onto his plan. They weren't even in hearing range and they were able to predict that he would have Meiko take the scroll. He really was a shit team captain. He had to get this over with quick so he could catch up with her and offer assistance.

He slapped a paper tag to the tree then met the first shinobi with kunai in hand. They clashed metal to metal and broke apart from each landing on their own respective branches before going at each other again. The young shinobi and he fought head on. Any time one would gain the advantage, the other would quickly steal it back. Iruka fought while keeping aware of his surroundings. There was another more powerful enemy nin near by. But it seemed she was content to lay low, for now, he couldn't lose his focus.

Iruka ducked the kunai slashed at him grabbing its wielder's arm and using his momentum against him tossing him over his shoulder and sending him crashing to the forest floor. He looked up just in time for a sharp blast of wind to bite into his skin. Lacerations opened up across his forearms and legs making him suck in the bite of pain. Next a roundhouse kick was delivered to his midsection. Carefully placed in the exact spot as his cracked rib. A sickening crunch was heard as his back hit the tree trunk. He spits up blood. That wasn't a good sign. At this rate, the fight would be over before he even had a chance.
Iruka dropped to his knees then staggered to a stand and threw kunai with paper bombs wrapped around their handle at the enemy. They exploded as they reached her causing her to jump back and put some distance between them.

He needed to think. He was running on 4 hours of sleep for the past 48 hours and had been running for almost a day at top speed without rest. She was clearly a jounin and no doubt in better shape than he was. He was not going to win this by strength. He had to outsmart her.
He flashed through a series of hand signs saying "Water style: Water bullet jutsu!" Drawing water from the air, an impressive feat on its own, he sent an array of water bullets her way. She countered with a fire jutsu that evaporated most of them before they could reach her. He followed up with another round of kunai under the cover of her fire. Not expecting it, one lodged itself in her thigh. The paper bomb tagged on the end of it sizzled, ignited by her fire. Her eyes widened in surprise. A moment before it detonated in what would have been her messily losing a limb she wedged it free and drop it. The branch she was on exploded underneath her instead, the blast hitting her and sending her back. The power behind it sending her through a few tree branches.
Iruka used the distraction to circle her. He threw a shuriken her way. It was the last one he had on him. The rest had been used in their previous encounters and he hoped in the confusion it would hit his mark right in her neck. It didn't. She parried it and it wedged itself in another branch not far away. He swore and leaped to another tree.

A hand reached up and grabbed his ankle mid leap pulling him down suddenly. He came face to face with the first nin, and a fist met his cheek before he could dodge it. His head snapped to the side and he tasted blood in his mouth. Relying on muscle memory and instinct he brought his leg up in a spinning side kick meant to trip the enemy. There was no time to think, only to react. Using the momentum from the kick, Iruka back-hand-springs off the next branch and spit his own fire ball at the nin. He landed a few feet away on a thin branch, his new opponent by his side, his hair singed. They exchanged a few more blows in close quarters most of which were dodged and countered by the other. His body ached and his muscles trembled. He couldn't keep this up for much longer. He hoped to hell that he bought Meiko enough time to make it. They were still a day out from the actual village, but the village border wasn't too far.

No enemy would cross it. Not unless they wanted to start a war.

A wall of wind knocked him off his feet sending him crashing through the canopy. He channeled chakra to his hands and reached out catching himself on a broken branch. He swung up and landed on his feet just in time to dodge a pair of well-aimed kunai. Twisting in mid-air he caught the third and ran up the side of the tree meeting the younger shinobi half way up. He swiped a leg at him his heal alight with a blaze. The boy dodged slightly off balance and Iruka reacted to the opening. He grabbed his wrist and slammed it against the bark then drove the kunai through his palm and deep into the wood. The boy cried out a sickening scream. It pulled at Iruka's heart strings but he pushed the guilt down then took off up the tree again.

The kunoichi was up there somewhere. Once he reached the branch he had been on before he had been knocked through the canopy he assessed his surrounding. It was quiet. The only sounds to be heard was the young boy's whimpering below him. He held his back to the trunk to cover his blind spot.
Suddenly Iruka found his vision going black. His peripheral shrank away, the light of the world tunneling to a single speck before that too disappeared. He realized with a start that his hearing had also been taken. He was now lost to the outside world and it to him. Panic rose in his chest. The only sense even remotely helpful to him now is his sense of touch. He almost wished he didn't have that as his arms were roughly pulled behind him and he was forced to his knees. His hair was yanked back exposing his neck. Knowing what came next he tried to blink the darkness away and lashed out but that only got him cold sharp metal pressed to his neck.

"Say goodbye Konoha." A female voice sounded in his head. It seemed to reverberate through his very bone, created from within him. He readied himself. This was it. This was the end. He was proud to die for Konoha. To die for his friends who had quickly become his family. He was proud to die.
Iruka didn't want to die.

The grip on his hands and hair disappeared and he fell forward. His vision flossed back to him along with his hearing. The sounds of fighting reached his ears. He held a hand to his neck then looked at it, blood smeared against his fingers but it wasn't a dangerous amount. He looked up. The first thing he noticed was the corpse of a boy who couldn't be older than 14 laying in front of him. This was the first time he was actually getting a good look at him. His hair was light brown and shaved close to his head. His left hand held the wound where Iruka drove a kunai through it. He had to be younger than Naruto. The next thing he noticed was Kakashi Hatake going toe to toe with the enemy jounin.

Meiko must have crossed his path and sent him. He sent silent thanks her way.

He slipped a paper tag onto the trunk of the tree next to him and flipped back. He needed one more tag to form a barrier but seeing his last shuriken embedded in a branch a straight shot between both barrier tags he got an idea.

"Kakashi! Shuriken 7 o'clock! Get her there then get out!" His words were clipped with exhaustion.

Kakashi offered a response in the form of a nod and changed up his fighting tactic. He sidestepped her next punch, grabbed her wrist and twisted forcing her around in front of him. Their positions had flipped 180 and he used this to push her back.

Iruka marveled at him as he formed his hand signs. He wished he could offer more assistance but even if there was an opening he doubted he would do more than get in Kakashi's way. The man was on another level.

The two jounin came closer and closer to the shuriken and Iruka started his hand signs. The moment her foot landed next to the shuriken Kakashi leapt back and Iruka slammed his hand to the tag activating its barrier. A blue barrier connects the two barrier seals and cuts through her body. It was deadly silent as her body split in half. Each side falling away and down to the forest floor.

He dropped his barrier slumping against the tree. A few loose strands of hair fell into his face. He took a moment to breathe then pushed them back and looked up at Kakashi with a lopsided smile.

Kakashi sauntered over to him.

"Did you just use a barrier seal to cut someone in half?" Kakashi's voice was curious with half held humor. He held out his hand when he reached Iruka.
Iruka snorted and accepted the jounin's hand. He was hoisted to his feet. "Yeah. I guess I did." He leaned against the trunk of the tree for support as he tried to catch his breath. He breathed in short bursts and clutched his ribs.

"You, Iruka Umino, are merciless." Kakashi slid his hands into his pockets.

Iruka's eyes followed the movement to the ground where the dead eyes of the chunin enemy nin stared off into the distance. There were cuts all along his arms from where Watomi had hit them with a barrage of weapons from one of his scrolls. The kid was just a boy and was outclassed by both his other teammates. Iruka didn't doubt that whoever sent him on this mission knew he wouldn't make it back alive. A pointless life lost.

Iruka reached his hand back up to his neck to see that the bleeding had almost stopped. It wasn't a big cut but it was right over his artery. Any deeper and Iruka would be bleeding out.

"A ‘thank you’ would be nice." Kakashi's lazy tone brought him back to the present and reminded Iruka just how much he disliked the other.
After Iruka's outburst during the chunin exams two years ago the tension between the two was palpable. Kakashi was arrogant, reckless, and a pervert. He meant a lot to Naruto so Iruka was civil but by no means did Iruka enjoy the others company. Even so, Kakashi did just save his life. Iruka released some of the tension in his shoulder and tried to relax his stance.

"Yeah. Thanks." Iruka breathed out. He bent down next to the boy and closed his eyes. "How's Meiko and Watomi-sensei?"

Kakashi cocked his head to the side. "I'm going to go ahead and assume Meiko is the kunoichi who pointed me in your direction but I have no idea who Watomi-sensei would be."

Iruka anger was just concealed by his concern. Jaw taunt his head snapped to look up at Kakashi. "What?" His voice was low and even.

Kakashi took a step back. "I ran into a short woman, dark skin, curly brown hair," He used a hand to show how tall she was next to him, "but there was no one else with her."

"What about enemy nin?"

Kakashi shook his head. "The only chakra signature in the area was her's and then of course mine."

Iruka was shocked. He could have sworn one of the enemy nin had followed her unless she had taken him out herself. That would explain why Watomi wasn't with her. A casualty?

"Sensei?" Kakashi asked.

"There were three of them. Two came after me, I thought one went after her. Are you sure there was no one else around?"

"Positive. What exactly happened here?" Kakashi looked around as if looking for clues. His hopped one tree over and traced the scorch line then turned around to face the entire battle field.

Iruka shook his head. "I'll tell you on the way. We have to get back to Konoha." Kakashi looked Iruka up and down and hummed. Iruka shifted his weight.

"You sure you'll make it?" His tone of voice gave nothing away but the doubt there was apparent even without it.

Truth be told Iruka was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to collapse right there and sleep. Injuries and corpses be damned. But he had a mission to see through to the end. The missing enemy nin worried him and Watomi was no doubt dead. They had to recover his body. If not for the very few Konoha secrets that lie inside, then for Watomi's family. Iruka nodded fully aware that he had paused in doing so.

Kakashi hummed again. "Maa, I think we should make camp for the night. We'll cross the border then treat your wounds. You look exhausted."

Iruka shook his head. "Are you insane. We need to get back to Konoha. Meiko might need help. There is a missing enemy nin. We need to recover Watomi's body." Iruka counted off the reasons they should keep going with his fingers. "She has valuable information and the Hokage needs to see it. We can't risk it falling into enemy hands. We have to catch up to her."
"You wouldn't be able to catch up to her in your condition for one, and for two I left her with an escort. We make camp for the night."

Iruka was relieved to hear she had an escort back. He didn't fight Kakashi anymore on it as exhaustion slipping into every corner of his body. Now that he didn't have adrenaline coursing through him the pain in his midsection flared. He winced. He didn't like it but Kakashi was right. Konoha was a day away and he wouldn't be able to run for more than an hour without collapsing. There was no getting around it.

They cleaned up their mess, making sure to dispose of the bodies and then were on their way at a nice slow pace. On their way to the village border, Iruka and Kakashi kept an eye out for Watomi's body. They found no trace of him.

It was only an hour later when they crossed into Konoha territory and another hour until Kakashi held up his hand signaling for Iruka to stop. They jumped down from the trees to the forest floor, Iruka staggering a bit. He gained his footing and looked to Kakashi for direction. Kakashi was bent down one hand to the forest floor. There was a pop then all of a sudden a pack of dogs were in front of him. Iruka blinked. He knew about Pakkun but there had to be eight dogs all wearing a bandana indicating they were Kakashi's summoning animals. Iruka didn't know why he continued to be impressed by the jounin. Kakashi told his ninken to secure the perimeter and they were off. Iruka sank down to the forest floor, back to a tree and winced. Kakashi made his way over.

"Fire first or medical attention?"

"Fire." Iruka bit out keeping his breathing even.

Kakashi changed direction and walked off into the forest leaving Iruka to himself. It was nearing winter and the area would grow cold as the last light of day settled over the horizon. It was already getting dark and the breeze nipped at his skin. Kakashi returned shortly with a bundle of sticks and set about making a fire pit so they didn't burn the forest down by accident. Once that was done he breathed a small fire jutsu onto the sticks. They caught, illuminating a small area around them.

Using the tree for strength Iruka pushed himself up and made his way closer to it. He sat back down.

"Alright sensei, let's see them." Kakashi came over and crouched next to him. "Off with the shirt."

Iruka rolled his eyes but complied. "Why do I get the feeling that by 'them' you're not referring to my injuries?"

Kakashi winked or maybe blinked. It was hard to tell with the face mask. "It'll be easier for me to make you feel good if you lay down." The innuendo was thick on his tongue.

Iruka laid back. He rested his head back on his hands and didn't miss the once over Kakashi gave him as he did so. He smirked. Most people assumed by him being a teacher that he was out of shape. Iruka made sure to keep up with his training so that didn't happen.

The Jounin's hands came to rest above a patch of purple, blue, and yellow skin on his abdomen. Kakashi's hands glowed a faint green and he set to work. It wasn't as painless as it would be with professionals. It felt more like Kakashi was forcing the muscles and bones to heal rather than coaxing them to do so, but it would have to do. Iruka grit his teeth as Kakashi took his time. Finally, after a few minutes, the glow disappeared.

The masked man sat back, lone eye crinkling. "That will have to do for now. I managed to set a few of your ribs and took care of some bruising but you're still going to have to stop at the hospital when we get back."

Iruka sat back up happy to saw the pain had marginally decreased when the muscle pulled. He hummed in acknowledgment. It was more than he would have been able to do. "So why did I have to take my shirt off if you were just treating my ribs?" He pulled his shirt back on.

"Maa, Sensei, I thought I made that clear. I didn't want to miss the view." Iruka frowned. "Now, care to tell me what the hell happened?"

"C-rank mission turned A-rank." Kakashi raised an eyebrow. Iruka elaborated. "The three of us were sent to do a typical escort mission. A group of travelers needed to move through territory where there has been some unrest lately. They were carrying a number of scrolls. Upon arrival in Mizutamari, they were attacked by what we assumed to be bandits at the time. Their skills were low, but one of them managed to take off with a scroll. We retrieved it and in doing so discovered the bandits were, in fact, ninja, association unknown." He let that sink in. Kakashi waited for Iruka to continue. "After questioning the travelers we learned that they were paid off in Hot Springs to transport the scroll to Mizutamari. They were to hand it off in a brothel in town. We were going to investigate further but after reviewing the scroll, I decided it was more important to get it back to Tsunade-sama and inquire for further instructions. We were intercepted on the way back." Iruka finished. A heavy silence settled over them. Both no doubt assessing what this could mean.

"You said they had no association?" Kakashi asked.

"Yeah, that's what worries me the most. If they were rogue ninja they wouldn't have went through the trouble of disguising themselves as bandits."

"You're thinking they're shinobi from a hidden village and if that's the case then one of the Kage's has business he doesn't want other Kages’ knowing he’s conducting." Kakashi pulled out two ration bars and passed one to Iruka.

"Thanks." Iruka took it, opened it, and took a bite. He chewed then swallowed. "Yeah. It's too early to say but this could be catastrophic. That scroll... I've never seen anything like it before."

Kakashi wanted to ask about the scroll but if Iruka hadn't said it out right he knew not to. All shinobi did. "Would you like me to heal the rest of your wounds?"
Iruka shook his head. "That's not necessary. I can wrap them myself."

Kakashi went back to tend the fire as Iruka finished his ration bar. Then Iruka took a container that held his first aid supplies off his belt and opened it. He released the seal and set to work. "Who escorted Meiko back to Konoha?" He asked after a moment.

Kakashi pulled up his sleeve in reply showing off his ANBU tattoo. "There's a lookout station not far from here." Iruka let the conversation drop.

Sometime later Iruka finished bandaging the cuts on his legs and set to work on his arms. It was tricky because of the angle and the low light but he would manage. A purposeful rustle to his right alerted him to Kakashi's approach. The ninja was being just loud enough as to not sneak up on Iruka but quiet enough that the echo of crickets, frogs, and birds still seemed deafening to his ears.

Kakashi crouched down next to him, his hands stilling inches from the brunette's bicep. "May I?" His tone was gentle and sincere and so unlike Kakashi that Iruka just stared back at him. It was awkward.

Kakashi cleared his throat and Iruka looked away.

"Sure."

Kakashi set to work. It only took him a few moments to dress his wounds.

"You know," He began as he spread cream on one of the shallower cuts. "The chunin exams were over a year ago."

"A year and a half," Iruka answered automatically and then cringed internally knowing Kakashi wouldn't miss the weight of the correction. "What about it?" He knew what it was about.

"I'm over it." His voice was both quiet and lazy. He wrapped gauze around the wound and secured it then moved into another cut.

"Okay?" Iruka questioned.

"I think it's about time you get over it too don't you?" Kakashi's eye crinkled.

Iruka tensed. "I am over it."

Of course, Iruka was lying. And he knew that Kakashi knew that he was lying but hoped the other wouldn't push the subject. What happened in the Hokage's office that day was not one of Iruka's finest moments and he didn't enjoy discussing it no matter how much his friends did. Talking about it with Kakashi was even less pleasant and even more awkward.

"Really? Because I don't believe you." Kakashi didn't look away from Iruka's arm. Iruka didn't reply and Kakashi continued. "Not that I particularly care either way, but you can stop avoiding me anytime you feel like. I don't know what false pretenses you have about me but I was never even angry, to begin with."

Iruka narrowed his eyes. "For one, I'm not avoiding you." He denied. "And two Naruto has told me all I need to know." Kakashi hummed a humor ridden chuckle and finished patching Iruka up.

When he was done he stood up and walked to the other side of the fire. "I’ll take first watch. You get some sleep."

Iruka rolled over onto his side using a rock as a pillow and closed his eyes. He doesn't remember falling asleep.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

The next morning before they made their way back to Konoha they did a scan of the area for Watomi's body but found nothing. Iruka would ask Tsunade-sama to send out a search party.

As the sun made its way into the sky they made their way through the forest towards the village. Iruka was still sore all over but he felt much better after getting a good night's rest. He could still sleep for a week once he got back to Konoha but the 4 hours he got gave him the energy to keep up with Kakashi. They decided not to take any breaks instead taking the most direct path to the village.

They made it back to the gate sooner than expected. The sun was just starting its descent across the sky. They only had an hour or two until sunset but Iruka was fine with that. He still had to brief Tsunade-sama and stop at the hospital. He half expected Kakashi to split off from him once they were inside the village but the silver haired shinobi kept pace as Iruka made his way across the rooftops towards Hokage Tower. As they got close he slowed not wanting to alarm the ANBU guard. He planned to take the main entrance through the building but as Kakashi hopped up and through the Hokage's offices window he followed suit, immediately dropping to one knee inside. Kakashi did the same next to him.

There was a whirlwind and a sword was pressed against the back of his neck. He lowered his head.

"Hokage-sama." Kakashi said in greeting.

Tsunade spoke up. "Stand down." She seemed unaffected and entirely indifferent to the situation like she was used to shinobi popping in through the window. For all, he knew she probably was. The sword was removed from the back of his neck and he and Kakashi stood. "I'm assuming this has to do with the scroll Meiko brought me yesterday?"

Iruka felt a weight lift off his shoulders. So she had made it after all. He nodded. "Yes, Tsunade-sama. We recovered the scroll during our mission. What's contained inside could be detrimental to Konoha." He sensed Kakashi's surprise next to him.

The Hokage held up a hand to silence Iruka. He immediately snapped his mouth shut. She dismissed the ANBU then closed the window before making her way back over to her desk. Shizune, who was standing behind her picked up Ton-Ton. "Iruka, think you can put up a sound canceling barrier?"

Iruka nodded. He flashed through some hand signs then slammed his hand on the floor. The walls of the room glowed a faint blue then returned to their normal apprearence.

Tsunade raised an impressed eyebrow. "Impressive. No paper necessary, huh?"

Iruka scratched at the scar across his nose. "Heh, yeah." He looked bashful.

Tsunade decided then to cut to the chase. "That skill reminds me. What's contained in that scroll is above your security clearance." She directed her words to Iruka, ignoring Kakashi for the moment. "However, since you've already seen it I'm giving you a temporary security clearance promotion. Has anyone else looked at the contents of the scroll?" She sounded tired. He wondered how much trouble it had caused her in the past 24 hours.

Iruka shook his head. "Just Meiko, Watomi, and myself."

The Hokage swirled a sake cup on her desk the downed the liquid inside. "Alright, report shinobi. Don't leave anything out."
Iruka glanced sideways at Kakashi. He had told him the brief outline of what happened but this hadn't been his mission. Technically he shouldn't be here for the detailed report. Especially because this mission was now classified as A-rank.

The Hokage noticed his hesitance and rolled her eyes. "Unlike you, he actually has clearance for this. Go on."

Iruka obeyed and reported the mission. He talked about how they had met up with the travelers in Hot Springs and how the escort mission had gone on without a hitch. He reported on how once they got to Mizutamari everything went to shit. How as soon as they entered the village, they had been attacked. It was as if they had been waiting for them. He told the story in detail on how one 'bandit' had taken a scroll from the travelers and took off leaving his comrades behind. Once they had secured the scroll, the travelers had been insistent on getting it back without anyone looking at it. This had peaked Iruka's interest and concern. They claimed that the scroll was of no importance but acted like it was made of gold. Iruka managed to get a look inside and what he saw worried him. It was obviously a sealing scroll of some kind. One he had never seen before but he could tell it was powerful. It wasn't obvious but after close examination, Iruka could tell that there was seal layered on top of seal and there was no way he alone would be able to decipher it. Obviously, it was important and need the Hokage's attention.

"So you don't actually know what's inside the scroll?" Kakashi spoke up.

Iruka shook his head in negation. "No, but whatever it is it's important. I tried to release one of the seals and it knocked me on my ass with a lightning strike. I was out for two hours. Someone went through a lot of trouble making sure no unwanted eyes saw the message contained within."

"I already have my best people working on it," Tsunade informed. And that Iruka-sensei is where you're needed. I'm giving you A-level security clearance. Hopefully, this scroll is nothing but from the looks of it, it could be a powerful forbidden jutsu. Until we find out what it contains your off school duty."

"What!? Hokage-sama it's the middle of the school year. What about my class!"

Tsunade slammed her hand on her desk rather loudly and stood up sending her chair clacking to the ground behind her. "Are you questioning me shinobi?" Her voice was level and cold. It demanded obedience and Iruka felt himself shrinking back a bit. He gritted his teeth and looked to the side, no longer being able to keep eye contact. "Until this is sorted out Shino Aburame can take over your class. He made chunin during these last exams in Suna and is more than capable. My decision on this is final."

Iruka steeled himself. "Yes, Hokage-sama." He didn't like this but he supposed he didn't have a choice. Besides his former student have a penchant for teaching. His class would be in good hands.

"Good. Kakashi I want you on standby. As soon as we have the scroll cracked I'm sending you and a team of three to gather information. Don't stray far and don't take any other mission. Am I clear?"

"As sake." He answered. Tsunade's eyebrow twitched.

"Both of you report in the morning for further instructions."

Kakashi made to leave but Iruka stepped forward. "One more thing if I may Hokage-sama." Tsunade nodded and Iruka continued. "As I mentioned we did a scan of the area for Watomi Tomio's body but found nothing. I was wondering if Meiko offered an explanation for what happened to him and where his body might be. I want closure for his family."

Tsunade sat back down. "Meiko reported that after they crossed the village border he became conscious and able to move on his own."

Iruka gasped and took a step forward. "Wait, you mean he's alive!?"

"As far as she knows, one moment he was behind her and the next he was gone. She assumed he went back to help you." Tsunade's gaze was sharp. It held an edge of accusation and curiosity. "Based on your report and the fact that he is not with you I presume he died on his way to your location." Her voice was laced with nonchalance and it infuriated Iruka. He clenched his hands. The Hokage took notice. She smiled softly and visibly relaxed. Iruka had the feeling he just passed a twisted test. "Either way I already sent out a search party for him, so you can calm down Sensei."

Iruka breathed a sigh of relief. "Right, thank you Hokage-sama." He bowed and with that he followed Kakashi out the way they came in. Hopefully, in the morning he would be given news that Watomi had been found alive.

"Don't forget to stop at the hospital," Kakashi said as he split off from Iruka. He held one hand up lazily in parting not bothering turn around.

Iruka pretended like he hadn't completely forgotten and changed direction. A little embarrassed he'd been caught, he made his way across the village to have his wounds tended to properly.

Chapter Text

2.

 

Iruka had intended to rise with the sun the next morning but the comfort of his bed was a siren's call to his aching body. He hadn't been home in over a week and by default hadn't gotten any good rest. Shinobi were trained to sleep while keeping their senses and body alert enough to detect danger. Even when they had someone to watch their back while they slept it, was always good to be prepared for a fight and always hard to get any real sleep. But when faced with the choice between having droopy eyes and muscle pains or possibly being assassinated in his sleep Iruka would always choose the former.

Now in his bed with his apartment locked in a series of chakra release seals Iruka could relish in security between a warm down comforter and his soft cotton sheets. His legs were tangled and arms stretched to the side, a small pool of drool where his head rest on its side had formed.

As the sun crept higher into the sky and the birds sang Iruka's bladder rebelled against him with an uncomfortable whine. He figured it was about time he got up to checked in with Tsunade anyway.

Reluctantly he pushed himself up off his pillow and rolled over onto his back. A few pops were heard in protest and he groaned as he sat up. He was only 23, he shouldn't be feeling this old.

Pulling the comforter away from his legs he stood, stretched his arms above his head, then padded his way across his wood floors, out of his bedroom and took
an immediate left into the bathroom. He didn't bother to close the door as he relieved himself, no one else was there anyway. After that, he stepped into the shower and made quick work of getting himself ready for the day. Thirty minutes later he tightened his ponytail and left his apartment 3 hours later than what he had planned the night before. He did not regret it.

The day was rather sunny when he stepped outside but there was a cool bite to the breeze. Closing his eyes he took a deep breath. It was good to be home. He lazily made his way through the streets, body relaxed and unwinding from the stress of being on a mission. Shop keepers were in full swing selling their products and civilians and shinobi alike were in full swing buying them. A group of children too young to have been tested for the Academy ran through a puddle in front of him splashing his feet as they passed. It was all so innocent and average and normal and Iruka loved it.

"Oi, Iruka!" He didn't bother turning around as a hand clapped on his shoulder. Genma's presence was felt at a nearby fruit stall before the other had spoken and Iruka figured he wouldn't get away unseen. No complaint to him though, Genma was a good friend.

"A few of us are grabbing a drink tonight to celebrate. What do you say?" Iruka considered it. "We're going with or without you so you might as well come," Genma added as an afterthought.

He smiled slightly. It had been a while since he'd gotten a drink with everyone. As long as Tsunade didn't have him working on the scroll too late he couldn't see why not. And on second thought, even if he did work on the scroll into the hours of the night the group usually stayed out into the early hours of the morning getting shit faced. He could meet up with them after.

"Yeah, sure why not. Who else is going?"

Genma dropped his hand and strolled next to him. "So far just me, Raido, Kotetsu, maybe Ebisu, and Anko but it's only noon. Still, time to recruit others."

"No Izumo?" Iruka questioned. It was odd to see Kotetsu without Izumo and vice versa these days.

"As of right now, no. His girlfriend has been making a fuss about him spending too much time with Ko. He's trying to negotiate."

The face Genma pulled clearly stated he wasn't envious.

Iruka purses his lips. "Those two are still together? I thought she broke up with him?"

"Yeah and so did everyone else. At this point, I'm not even trying to keep pace with their romance bullshit." Genma brought out an orange he must have bought at the fruit stand. He started peeling. "I just want to know who's single if you catch my drift.

Iruka scratched at the scar on his cheek. "Yeah, I might follow you on that. Mind if I invite someone?"

Genma shrugged. "Got someone in mind?" He dropped the orange peel to the ground having unraveled it all in one piece.

Iruka pictured Meiko. She would probably fit in with their crazy group. "Yeah, Meiko Futama. She's a new teacher at the academy. A little younger than most of you but she'd probably have fun."

Genma leered at Iruka. "So you like them young eh?"

Iruka shoved him to the side and glared in mock irritation but his smile gave his game away. "Hardly. She's 20, not 12. You're just getting old."

"No, Gai is getting old."

Iruka barked out a laugh. Ever since the enthusiastic man had turned 30 a few months ago his age had been a sensitive topic. "Don't let him hear you say that."

Genma rolled his eyes. "Yeah yeah." He waved him off. "Anyway, she'll catch on almost instantly but don't tell Anko you're interested in this Meiko person. She'll be crushed." Genma received an incredulous look.

"Are you kidding me? Knowing her she'll probably call dibs before I do. And will you stop insinuating that Anko and I are together? We're just friends."

They stopped in front of Hokage tower.

"Yeah 'friends'." Genma made an 'OK' sign with his one hand and slid his other pointer finger through the hole a few times in a lewd gesture. His face was deadly serious.

It was Iruka's turn to roll his eyes. "Where is this thing anyway? Kunai Cavern or over at Hero's?"

A shit eating grin split across Genma's face and he looked to the sky. He must have thought he looked incredibly cool and Iruka couldn't deny it. The senbon in his mouth moved as he spoke.

"Neither." He paused for effect. "We're going to Owl's."

Iruka couldn't help his own shit eating grin from gracing his features. "No. Shit."

Unlike Kunai Cavern and Hero's, Owl's wasn't a shinobi only bar. It held the better liquor so it didn't take as many drinks to get drunk but the price tag was almost twice that of its competitors. The group usually only reserved their outings to Owl's for special occasions.

"Who's paying and what's the occasion?"

Genma's grin melted off his face and his eyebrows recede into his hairline. His eyes were wide and mouth open in what was clearly surprise, the senbon at risk of falling out. Iruka briefly wished he had a camera to take a picture but that was before realization dawned on him. He was missing something here.

"What?" He hadn't forgotten someone's birthday, right? Maybe Watomi had arrived safely? That would be cause for celebration but Iruka doubted Genma knew him so that was out. "Genma...?" Iruka asked hesitantly.

"It almost noon. I thought she would have told you by now." Iruka gave him a confused look. Genma popped an orange slice in his mouth. "Fuck it." Genma smacked him on the back much harder than necessary. "Congratulations man, you made tokubetsu-jounin."

 

----------

 

"What the hell!?"

Iruka opened the Hokage's office with a slam and stormed inside. A startled Ebisu with Konohamaru at his side had clearly been mid conversation with Tsunade. At seeing his fuming state the two took a step back. Tsunade sat calmly as ever at her desk with her hands folded in front of her. She spared a glance his way.

"Ah, I take it you've heard the news then?" She signed a piece of paper.

"Are you kidding me! No, no way in hell."

He stormed up to her and slammed a fist on her desk. ANBU appeared at her side. Other than holding up her hand for the ANBU to stand down she didn't react to his outburst.

"It's just temporary."

"Last time you told me something was temporary I ended up in-charge of the mission desk. Indefinitely." His words were spat out layered in contempt.

She sat back in her chair, made eye contact and crossed her arms under her bust. "How long are you planning on standing still?" The question shook him off guard. "We're short staffed and need able bodied individuals taking missions, that they can complete. With your talents, you have the ability to complete C rank missions alone, captain B rank missions and take A rank missions in a group. We need to utilize your talents."

If it was supposed to to be a compliment it was lost on the hot-headed man. In fact, it sounded more like an insult and he took it to heart. His voice was low.

"I wouldn't call it 'standing still' Hokage-sama. I'm very happy with my life as it is and would like to keep it that way! Changing my rank, against my will might I add, isn't going to change my ability to get a job done!" His voice rose as he spoke. His anger bubbling just below the surface.

"No, but it will change what missions I'm allowed to send you on and the amount information I can share with you!" Tsunade stood up and leaned forward, hands on the desk, challenging him.

"What happened to my special security clearance you gave me last night!?"

"That gives you informational clearance for the scroll alone. Not clearance for missions above your pay grade. Not clearance for the information on those missions!" Iruka grit his teeth. Tsunade stood up straighter and dropped her arms to her side. "Look, I tried, but the council wouldn't agree to it. I'm sorry but it's out of my hands."

This refueled Iruka's anger. "And I'm sorry but that's bullshit!" He shot his hand out to the side in anger. Tsunade's eyebrows shot up. "You know more than I that nothing is out of your hands unless you allowed it to be. You could very well make an exception for me despite the council's disapproval."

Tsunade brushed his words off. "Don't you think it's about time you aspire to more for yourself Iruka-sensei? You have the talent, you just lack the ambition."

He grits his teeth. It was an argument they had long standing. "And why does someone always have to aspire to be more? Why can't we just be happy with who we are? So what if someone doesn't want to be a jounin, tokubetsu or not. I'm a good chunin, let me be a good chunin." He clenched his jaw and his words were clipped.

"You're too good of a chunin in fact and I," Tsunade looked up to make eye contact with him again. "Don't have time to worry about hurting your feelings. You're a shinobi and you better damn well like it!" Iruka opened his mouth to protest. Tsunade cut him off before he could start. "A change in rank won't change who you are or what you're capable of-"

"Exactly! It shouldn't matter whether I'm a chunin or jounin. My skill set stays the same."

"-But if you've been listening to me, it will change what missions I can allow you to go on." She raised her voice to be heard over Iruka but she caught what he had said. "If that's what you believe then why are you so against the promotion? Most shinobi would be shouting in glee. Not disrespecting me or questioning my authority!"

Iruka winced internally. She was right. He would have never spoken to the Third like this and now that his anger was fading, embarrassment was starting to set in. What's worse is Iruka didn't have an answer for her. He didn't know why he was so against rising in the ranks but he was.

He had been a chunin for a while. Found out who he was as a chunin. Showed others that just because you were only a chunin didn't mean you were weak. Plenty of chunin were more than capable of taking care of themselves. Neji, Sakura, and Shikamaru were prime examples of this. He guessed, he felt like in some way if he were to get promoted he would be leaving them behind. Which was honestly stupid cause lord knows they wouldn't take long to move rank. Iruka tried to come up with a valid reason on why he shouldn't accept the promotion and found none. Even his class couldn't be used as an excuse. Though not as common, a few jounin shinobi had taught at the academy full time. He would be able to keep his teaching career. Still, he had accepted a long time ago that he would always be a 'lowly' chunin and that in itself took a lot of work.

Iruka slumped his head and stepped back from the desk. "Jounin...They're all crazy."

Tsunade snorted a laugh. "Yeah, I can agree with you there."

She sat back down and Iruka relaxed his stance taking a step away from her desk. She poured herself two glasses of sake and drank one. The other she passed to Iruka. He took it embarrassed; he had let his emotions cloud his judgment and fuel his actions.

"Look, as I said this is just temporary. And don't think I singled you out. Shikamaru has also been promoted to tokubetsu jounin."

That surprised Iruka. Clearly, Shikamaru had the skill for full jounin. Then again that would require studying and a test. Tokubetsu-jounin, however, did not. If the Hokage saw fit she could wave the test and give them the promotion to tokubetsu jounin effective immediately on a temporary basis. This being said, if they wanted to keep the title, eventually they would have to take the test.

Iruka sipped at the sake.

"After all this, whatever this ends up being, is sorted out you will both have the opportunity to take the jounin exams, keep your tokubetsu title or be demoted back down to chunin. At that time I will honor your wishes but right now we need all the help we can get." Tsunade sat back down in her chair. "Now you can either wait in the hall while I finish talking to Ebisu and Konohamaru here, or you can come back later. I'm sure Shino would like to be informed on the inner workings of his new class."

Iruka's face flushed red when he realized that both Ebisu and Konohamaru were still in the room. Ebisu lurched back when he turned to face them. Konohamaru looked bored, used to Iruka's yelling seeing how he received the majority of it during class.

Iruka bowed deeply to both of them. "My apologies." He stood up and exited the room quickly.

 

-----

 

Finding Shino was a simple matter. The Aburame compound was a bit of a hike from the center of the village but the warm welcome they gave their visitors was a nice change compared to the prestigious clan grounds. It was near impossible to enter the Uchiha compound before the massacre and the Hyuga clan usually escorted visitors with a chaperone unless they had gotten previous clearance from Hiashi himself. Here, a simple signing of his name in the visitor's log at the entrance was all it took before he was permitted entrance.

As he walked through the streets he was greeted with smiles and polite nods from most of everyone he passed. More than once he received congratulations on his promotion but he had no idea how everyone had known before him. He had been teaching at the Academy for 6 years now and as such had taught a number of children belonging to the Aburame clan. Iruka was well known throughout the village for his fair treatment of others no matter the prejudice held against them. This was especially appreciated by the Aburame clan seeing how their method of housing their insects could be seen as questionable. More than once Iruka had noticed the children of the clan being teased by others for having bugs in their body. He took pride in know that he didn't allow that sort of behavior in his classroom.

Iruka strolled through the grid patterned streets until he reached a quaint house. It was towards the middle of the compound and held a beautiful garden out front. A small brick path made its way through the grass from the street to the front deck. Iruka strolled up it, careful of his step and then up the porch. The screen door opened before he had a chance to reach the door bell.

Shino stepped out and softly closed the door behind him. When he turned around he shoved his hands in his pockets "My insects alerted me to your approach." His voice was flat as ever as he answered Iruka's unspoken question. Shino held an empty bag by his side.

Iruka smiled. "Going shopping?"

Shino nodded. "I need to get a few ingredients for a stew I'm making. Would you like to join me?"

Iruka took up the offer and they made their way back down the brick path and onto the road. As they walked towards the market they caught up with each other. Iruka was amazed at how much his quiet student had grown. Out of all of his classmates, Shino had always been the mildest mannered. To a lot of people, he blended into the background but his grades had always been good and his skills better than most. He was the only boy in that year's class that didn't make Iruka wish murdering school children wasn't illegal. The teacher had no doubt that the boy would succeed, but he honestly had no clue in which area that would be. He was glad the boy was finding his way.

They reached the market and Shino started sorting through vegetables. He would pick one up, examine it for a moment and then place it back down before picking up another.

"What kind of stew are you making?" Iruka questioned. He got to work helping Shino sort the bad from the good.

"It's a simple nimono consisting of carrots, sweet potatoes, lotus, burdock, and taro. I'm debating on adding tofu."

Iruka's mouth watered at the picture it gave him. A grumble rose from his stomach reminding him that other than the ramen-to-go he picked up from Ichiraku's on his way home from the hospital last night, he hadn't had a real meal in over a week. Food ration bars and soldier pills were good at keeping a shinobi's energy up but left a lot lacking when it came to taste.

"Ahh, that sounds so good. I wish I could cook." Iruka sighed. He held up a carrot to show Shino and when he nodded he placed it in the bag.

"I can save you some if you'd like. Even with Kiba and Hinata coming over I'll still have leftovers." His voice was even but Iruka could see the start of a faint smile. Those two had done so much for Shino over the years. The odd trio of genin had grown into an unbreakable bond of friendship. "I was going to give the rest to Akamaru but Kiba gets mad when I feed him spicy food."

The offer warmed Iruka's heart and he found himself unable to say no even if he had wanted to. He smiled tenderly down at the sweet potato in his hand. "Yeah, I'd like that." His students really were all grown up.

Shino reached over and picked the potato out of his old sensei's hands, dropped it into the bag then handed the bag over to Iruka. Iruka took it without question and followed Shino when moved across the street to look at some terro roots.

"So I assume you didn't drop by just to help me with shopping." Shino, sharp as ever, got to the point. "What can I help you with Iruka-Sensei?"

Iruka let out a nervous laugh and rubbed the back of his head. "Ah, right." How to go about this. "You see, Hokage-sama has taken me off classroom detail until further notice." He saw Shino's hand still momentarily as he went to reach for a taro root. The small slip up only noticeable to a trained shinobi eye.

"I'm assuming this has to do with your promotion to tokubetsu jounin?" Shino's voice slightly louder than usual. The shop owner looked in their direction from where she was talking with other customers.

Iruka gawked at him. "How-"

"Gai somehow found out first thing this morning. He shouted his congratulations to you from the top of Hokage tower. I'm sure the whole village knows by now."

Iruka groaned. He was going to kill Tsunade. He didn't care if ANBU killed him after, he was going to make it happen next time he saw her. To add salt to the injury the stand owner made her way over to the pair upon hearing their conversation. She had long frizzy brown hair but her features were soft. She smiled at them.

"Iruka-sensei! Congratulations on the promotion. I must say I was hoping my young Yume would be in your class next year so I'm a little disappointed that won't be happening but I'm happy for you. You deserve this. In celebration, everything you buy today is 50% off."

Shino's glasses glinted and Iruka realized with a start he had been played. The sneaky Aburame bastard had planned this, probably from all the way back at the house. Shino had just used Iruka like a coupon and Iruka was both a little offended and incredibly impressed.
The teacher bowed at the stall owner.

"Ah, thank you Aburame-san. But it's only temporary. I should be back in the Academy by the end of the term." He hoped anyway.

"Oh, I'm glad to hear that." She smiled brilliantly at him and took Shino's bag out of Iruka's hand. Looking inside she counted up the price and Iruka handed the coins over. As they left Shino's shoulders shook with silent laughter.

"Sorry about that. Here." He reached into a vest pocket and pulled out a coin pouch. Iruka stopped him.

"Don't bother. I'm impressed and besides after what I'm about to ask of you I owe you a meal anyway."

Shino placed the coin pouch back into his pocket without fuss. "I don't mind taking over your class for you if that's what you're getting at." He stated. "Though I am a little surprised. Tsunade wouldn't take you out of the classroom just because of a promotion, which by my calculations, seems sudden."

Iruka relaxed at Shino's words. His class was in good hands for sure. Shino was sharp and mostly no nonsense but also had an undertone of play to him. His class would have fun trying to figure out his personality and how to best get to him. It would be a sight to see.

Iruka smiled and linked his fingers behind his head. "Yeah, trust me I would rather be teaching but I can't speak too much on the matter right now." Shino nodded. "Would it be okay if I waited until tomorrow to get the leftovers? I'm supposed to be going out to celebrate tonight."

Shino nodded again and handed him a carrot. "For the road. I heard your stomach growl."

Iruka for the second time that day found himself flushing slightly. He took the carrot, turned on his heels and left for the entrance to the compound. "It was nice seeing you again Shino!" He called over his shoulder and bit into the carrot. A cloud drifted past the sun. All things considered, it was turning out to be an okay day.

 

------

 

"Damn it!" Meiko punches the wall.

"I'm getting really sick of people yelling in my office!" Tsunade barked out.

Iruka's blunt nails were digging into his own fists. He and Meiko stood in front of the Hokage along with Kakashi and the three ANBU who had been sent out to look for Watomi's body. They had come home empty handed. Iruka had seen more ANBU in the past 24 hours than he had seen in the past year. If this was the news they came with then he hoped he never saw one again.

"How does that happen? A body doesn't just disappear." Iruka's voice was quiet and cold, barely above a whisper but the whole room had heard. No one answered.

"Damn it," Meiko said again. Her fist on the wall loosened and fell limply to her side. She didn't turn back to face forward, however, and stayed turned towards the wall. Her entire body mirrored guilt and defeat. "I shouldn't have let him go."

"No! You shouldn't have!" Iruka was surprised by his outbursts and recoiled in on himself when he saw tears pool in Meiko's eyes. She blinked them away and very clearly put up a wall to lock her emotions up for another time.

"Kakashi," Tsunade spoke up. "I see you're mulling over something. Care to share with the rest of us."

"Ah," He peaked around the side of his Icha Icha book then closed it with a clap and put it in his vest pocket. The top still peeked out into view. He glanced over at Iruka and scratched at the side of his face.

That got Iruka's attention as well as everyone else's in the room.

"Something's been bothering me about Meiko's story. You said he became conscious and able to run when you crossed into Konoha territory?"

She nodded without looking up. "Yes, that's correct. I'm not lying."

She had jumped to the obvious conclusion that Kakashi was questioning her story. Truth be told Iruka had jumped to that conclusion too and was ready to defend his teammate. However, when Kakashi continued it caused Iruka to freeze in shock.

"I'm not saying you are." He shifted his weight. "It's just that Iruka-sensei said Watomi had taken a shuriken to the Achilles. I'm trying to figure out how a ninja with a severed tendon is suddenly able to run, is all."

Iruka's eyes went wide in realization. How had he not noticed it before? It seemed so obvious. He looked to Meiko and suddenly her story didn't seem so iron clad.

She took a step back. "I'm telling the truth I swear!"

Come to think of it, she had been pretty insistent they leave Watomi behind.

"I swear it on my life, I'm not lying. That's what happened." She looked to Iruka with frightened eyes. Clearly begging for help. Iruka wasn't sure he could give it.

"Iruka are you absolutely sure of the injury?" Tsunade's words were rushed.

"Yes, Hokage-sama. It almost took his foot off." That he was absolutely sure of.

"Or, here's an idea." Kakashi continued. "What if he had never had an injured ankle, to begin with." Iruka felt like he had whiplash.

"No, I saw it. Straight to the bone...unless..." His voice trailed off. "You think a genjutsu of sorts?" Iruka reasoned.

Meiko seemed grateful that the conversation shifted away from her but Iruka could still see the tension in her muscles. She was ready to fight for her innocence if it shifted back.

Tsunade thought it over. "I suppose it's possible. He did have some talent in that area but if I remember correctly he only knew the basics."

Iruka confirmed her inquiries. "But why would he fake an injury like that? It doesn't make sense." He voiced.

Tsunade met Kakashi's eye. "You don't mean-"

"Right," Kakashi answered. "Bare with me for a moment." His lazy voice continued. "There are two possible options for how his body disappeared." He held up two fingers then tucked one away. Again his half lidded eyes met Iruka and in that split second and entire conversation passed between the two. Iruka wasn't sure how but he knew Kakashi was filtering himself in front of Meiko but he did. There were actually three options for how Watomi's body disappeared but for whatever reason Kakashi decided to leave Meiko out of it for now. "The first option is after a miraculous and frankly hard to believe recovery he went after Iruka-Sensei and was attacked on the way. After he was defeated his opponent took his body." He put his second finger back up. "Or option number two, he was never injured, to begin with, and left of his own free will." The silver haired shinobi suddenly found a fist in his vest and a pair of angry black eyes dangerously close to his. He had seen the assault coming and had stopped his body from automatically blocking it. Meiko's gaze was murderous.

"Watomi would- If you suggesting he- he would never betray Konoha! Not the Watomi I know." Everyone was shocked, to say the least. A moment ago she was about to cry. Now she was facing up against Kakashi.

"Then maybe you didn't know him very well." Meiko's fist went to connect with Kakashi's jaw. Instead, it met his palm.

"Please do calm down, Sensei." His tone was bored and his body language didn't betray it. However, Meiko had a point. Watomi would never betray Konoha.

"You don't know him." Iruka hissed out. His feet were frozen to the floor, his hands shaking at the news. This was too much to process at once. He felt like the ground had fallen out from under him. Not only was he told that his dear friend was missing but that he might be a traitor. And Meiko's swiss cheese story didn't add up either.

Kakashi didn't try to deny Iruka's claim and continued. "No, but I do know the facts and the facts suggest he left by himself." The silent 'or Meiko was in on it' rang loud in Iruka's ears. He swallowed.

"No," Meiko said. Iruka reached out to Meiko and put a hand on her shoulder.

"No."

"Meiko-"

"No!" Iruka dropped his hand and Meiko dropped hers, disengaging Kakashi.

Iruka looked to the Hokage with eyes made of steel. She seemed deep in thought. "We can't seriously be thinking Watomi, Konoha chunin, and teacher at the Academy of almost 20 years is a traitor." He pushed her hoping she would deny it.

Tsunade crossed her fingers in front of her. Reluctantly she spoke up. "I don't like it but it is possible."

Another heavy silence settled over the room. There was no way. No way. Iruka had known Watomi since he himself had been a student at the Academy. He hadn't been his teacher but Iruka had seen him in passing. And when Iruka started his training to be a teacher Watomi had been more than happy to help. Watomi always covered Iruka when he was late or sick and Iruka had always returned the favor. He was a smile-eyed old man, with more dad jokes than anyone would like but he always made people laugh. And sure, he disagreed with some of Konoha's decisions. He had been bitter about Tsunade taking office but so had a bunch of people. He was as much a loyal Konoha shinobi as Iruka was and until Watomi told him himself that he was a traitor Iruka wouldn't believe it.

"Why are we writing off the possibility that he had been taken," Iruka questioned. "One of the three enemy nin had gone missing as well. Who’s to say they didn't take him?"

Tsunade hummed.

"It's a valid point." Meiko desperately agreed with Iruka. "If he was working with the enemy there were dozens of opportunities for him to kill both Iruka and me but he didn't." She was speaking directly to Tsunade arguing on Watomi's behalf. "Besides, why didn't he take the scroll from me when we were at the border. It would have been easy for him."

"Like you said, he was injured. Maybe he couldn't take it." Kakashi pulled out his Icha Icha book again having apparently lost interest in the conversation.

Iruka frowned. "You're contradicting yourself. Either he was or wasn't injured. You can't have it both ways."

"In that case, he wasn't injured but had to keep up appearances."

"Or he could have killed Meiko, taken the scroll, and we would have blamed the third ninja on her death and his capture." Iruka countered. "That would tie up loose ends."

Kakashi shrugged. "I'm not saying I have all the answers. I'm just pointing out the different possibilities. The fact of the matter is he shouldn't have been able to run."

Tsunade clapped her hands together. "Either way both stories have holes in them and will be investigated thoroughly."

She sighed and ran a hand through a pigtail. It was a strange gesture coming from her. "Meiko." Meiko stood at attention. "You are dismissed. I want you to help Shino Aburame with Iruka's class."

Judging by Meiko's reaction she hadn't known he had been pulled from his teaching duty. She bowed none the less and left the room, stealing one last glance at Iruka along the way.

Once she was no longer in earshot Tsunade turned to the ANBU. "Until we know what the fuck is going on I want someone following her at all times." The three ANBU promptly flickered and disappeared. She turned back to the two shinobi left in the room. "Right, Iruka put up a sound barrier."

He went over to the window and shut it then walked back into the middle of the room. He bent down on one knee and flashed through a series of complicated sighs. Once complete he placed his hands on the floor and pushed chakra out into the walls of the room. They glowed blue for a second before the light faded.
"Okay, we're secure. You can't seriously think Meiko is in on it. Or Watomi for that matter."

"It would explain the holes in her story," Kakashi spoke up. "Truth be told I find it more likely that Watomi used a genjutsu to fake his injury before making his escape. But the possibility of her killing him also isn't very far fetched." He paused." Then again I highly doubt she's smart enough to dispose of his body well enough to trick ANBU."

Iruka hated to bait the trap but they needed to know. "After he was injured she was insistent that we leave him behind to save ourselves."

Kakashi rolled his eyes dramatically. "Maa, Sensei, but that could also be because she's in love with you."
Iruka gaped at him and a flush lit his face. He knew she might have a small crush but he wouldn't go so far as to say love. He chose to ignore it.

Tsunade tapped her fingers on her desk to regain their attention again. "Let's also not forget the possibility that neither of them betrayed Konoha and that an enemy shinobi really did take Watomi against his will. No matter how unlikely it may be that he was able to run after such a serious injury."

Both ninjas nodded. "Have we made any ground with the scroll?" Iruka changed topics.

Tsunade shook her head. "Unfortunately no and it's put two of my best men in the hospital." She whirled an eye at Iruka. "You weren't kidding when you said it had a bit of a kick back."

"From the look I previously got, the binding seals aren't ordinary binding seals. If you get the release wrong you get fried. If you try to release them in the wrong order you get fried." The seals were the most intricate Iruka had seen and that's saying something.

"Kakashi you might be able to help with that. Not only will your lightning chakra nature possibly come in handy but I also want you to use your Sharingan to help Iruka unscramble the seals." Kakashi nodded. "It's currently in ANBU headquarters for protection but will be moved to Torture and Interrogation in the morning."

"Shouldn't we start working on it now?" Iruka questioned.

The Hokage hummed in thought. "It's mandatory that shinobi take at least 24 hours of leave after returning from a mission. You'll start working on it tomorrow at sun up."

"Yes, Hokage-sama." Iruka bowed his thanks.

"If neither of you has anything else to add you're dismissed."

Iruka looked to Kakashi but he had his head in his perverted book again. He rolled his eyes and dropped the sound barrier.

Iruka filtered out into the hallway with his thoughts racing. There were too many things that didn't add up. Too many loose ends to sort through.

He turned a corner and was surprised to see Kakashi followed him. He didn't say anything and kept his head in his book but when Iruka stopped at the top of the staircase he stopped also. He gave the pale man a once over, his eye twitching in annoyance. Kakashi had followed him like he was waiting for Iruka to realize something. He chewed on his lip and when Kakashi still hadn't moved after a moment Iruka couldn't hold his tongue any longer.

"Can I help you?"

"Gai sends his congratulations on the promotion."

It took a second for it to sink in and when it did Iruka gaped and pointed a finger.

"You're the one who told him!"
Kakashi chuckled.

"Don't start with me Hatake! Don't start!"

He called.

He received an eye smile over the book then disappeared leaving three leaves fluttering down in his wake. That man was going to drive him crazy. Iruka stormed down the stairs. He deserved a bowl of ramen.

Chapter Text

"Wooo!!!!" Anko stood up from across the bar when she spotted Iruka. She was tipsy on her feet and had clearly had a few drinks already. The whole bar looked in her direction to see what the commotion was about. "That's my boy! Woo!!"

Iruka smiled, shaking his head in amusement as he made his way over to the group. Upon arrival he happily slipped his arms around the short woman. "It's just temporary." He laughed over the music and chatter at the bar.

She squirmed out of his embrace and held him at arms length.

"Temporary or not it's about time! Jees, I was starting to think Naruto would become hokage before you got promoted."

He scratched at his scar. "Yeah believe me, so did I." In fact, he had been betting on it.

Iruka scanned the table and was glad to see the majority of them weren't near as drunk as Anko. Kotetsu, however, was looking like he would be there any moment. Anko scooted over in the round booth they had and made room for Iruka on the end. He sat down and Raido passed him a drink. He smelt it then took a sip smiling into the glass. Truly top notch alcohol. After the day he'd had he deserved to get plastered.

The table was almost full but there weren't many people in the bar. Anko of course sat next to him and next to her was Ebisu. Raido, Genma, and Kotetsu sat next to him in the booth going around the corner table. Surprisingly Izumo trailed at the end directly across for Iruka. Happy to see his friend Iruka raised an eyebrow in question. The other man beat him to the punch however.

"I see you made it. I was afraid you would have run off." Izumo's voice was smooth but definitely slurred. Scratch that, Iruka thought, Izumo might be farther gone than Kotetsu. He clearly had some catching up to do. He downed his first glass before replying enjoying the way it warmed his throat.

Iruka shook his head. "The same could be said for you. How'd you slip away from Humiyo?" Humiyo being Izumo's girlfriend.

Kotetsu winched next to him and placed a hand on his best friend's shoulder. Said best friend slumped and mirrored Iruka by downing the rest of his drink then immediately getting up to get another one from the bar. Kotetsu explained "She broke up with him... again."

Fuck. Save it, save it. Anko
came to his rescue and leaned across the table. "It's not all bad. I'm sure Shizune's down for a booty call if need be."

Ebisu spit his drink across the table and started coughing. Genma laughed out loud and Iruka snickered while Raido smacked Ebisu helpfully on the back. as Izumo came back surprisingly quickly with two drinks. He passed a fruity pink one to Iruka.

"Holy shit, Woman." Genma gasped. "Where the fuck do you come up with this shit."

"Come up with what?" The newly returned shinobi asked.

Kotetsu shook his head at him and made a motion with one finger to his ear signaling Izumo to just listen.

"Oh please. We all know Shizune's more a minx than me." Anko was a flirt, that was well known but she did have standards. She was also by no means shy about her escapades and Iruka often found himself in the tail end of her explicit stories that would put Jaraiya's novels to shame. Anko didn't see the shame in enjoying sex and frankly neither did Iruka. This was why many ninja and civilians alike though she was out finding a new partner every night. Everyone at the table knew it to be all talk.

Shizune however, had recently been seen with a plethora of men and women alike. Rumor has it, she still hadn't gotten over Ebisu from when they had dated all those years ago and now that Tsunade had settled into her roll as Hokage, Shizune was trying to find something, or someone, to distract her. Of course, Iruka knew not to hold too much weight in rumors.

Anko caught Ebisu's eye and leered at him. She opened her mouth, Immediately Ebisu's hand was coving it. "No!"

"No?" Iruka questioned. Now he was curious.

Anko bit Ebisu's hand and he pulled it away from her mouth shaking it.

"Remember when Ebisu and Shizune dated-"

"Anko no-" Anko slapped her hand over his mouth.

"-when we were teenagers?" She didn't wait for anyone to respond. "She broke up with him because she also had a thing for Izumo."

Izumo's ahead snapped around. "No fucking way."

It looked like Kotetsu sobered up real fast but then his face split and he melted into another round of giggles.

"I thought that was because she left with Tsunade?" Iruka questioned.

Ebisu slumped in his seat resigned in his defeat and Anko dropped her hand so he could speak. "No, she's right. She said she was confused and then all but vanished with Lady Tsunade a week later."

"And if you look at the people she's been sleeping with, a lot of then resemble Izumo and-or Ebisu." Anko finished helpfully. "I think it has to do with the one time when they had sex-"

Ebisu's groan overshadowed her words. "Anko please. I will leave." He threatened.

She looked defiant for a moment but seeing the way Ebisu chewed on his cheek she sat back down. "Okay, fine fine. You win."

Iruka didn't miss the 'for now' she said under her breath. The moment he left, the table would all be in on the secrete.Iruka shook his head amused at their antics.

"How do you even know this?" Izumo asked Anko.

Anko was still looking at Ebisu. Iruka found himself wondering when they had gotten so close. "We had sex." She answered distracted.

The entire table did double takes and looked between Ebisu and Anko. Kotetsu's snorting laugher the only continuous noice between them. It took a moment but Anko's words caught up to her. When it did it her laugher to be heard across the now very noisy bar.

"No no." She waved her hand dismissively. "I found out about it when me and Shizune had sex. I did say she had been sleeping around quite a bit right?" She waggled her eyebrows.

Iruka let out a relieved breath. Okay that was more normal. The timid Ebisu and dominant Anko having sex was not a visual any of them wanted.

"Have you slept with everyone at this table?" Ebisu shot back at her. It was supposed to be an insult but she rolled with it beautifully.

"Why, are you offering?" She deflected. That shut him up real fast.

For a terrifying second the horrid picture of Ebisu in bondage tied to a bed as Anko stood over him with a wip flashed brought Iruka's mind. He hadn't even finished his second drink yet and by default was no where near drunk enough for this. The pink liquid was tempting him soon finding itself burning a line down his throat.

"You haven't slept with me." Genma nodded at her a smile on his face.
Remembering his and Genma's conversation from earlier in the day Iruka rolled his eyes. The horny bastard would probably fuck a cantaloupe right now.

"That's cause she has standards." Iruka found himself saying quietly enough that it came across as a comment meant for only his ears but loud enough to make sure it reached Genma across the table. He smirked proudly into his glass as he finished it off.

"Oh shit." Genma gapped at him.

Raido brought a thoughtful finger to his chin. "You, just got sassed by the sass master." Iruka wasn't sure how he did it but Raido got the comment out with a serious face.

"Sass master eh?" Iruka looked over his shoulder to see Kuranai smiling at him. Azuma and Kakashi stood behind her. The former with his hand not so discreetly on the small of her back and the later looking bored and detached as usual. At least he don't have his head in his perverted book. "And here I thought you were a seals master, Mr. Tokubetsu Jounin."

Iruka rubbed the back of neck sheepishly. "It's just temporary." He found himself repeating that a lot today.

Genma shuffled over and by default so did everyone else, making room for the three new jounin. Just like that the three had joined in their celebration without being invited and without inviting themselves. Impressive.

"What about you?" Genma questioned Iruka picking up where their conversation had left off.

"What about me?" Iruka sipped on his new drink.

"Any nice lays to report on?"

Azuma leaned into the conversation. "Oh is that what we're talking about?"

Izumo nodded. "Now fess up Iruka. Who was your last lay?"

Suddenly this conversation was a lot less fun now that it was focused on him. But he was a good sport. He went to take a sip of his drink and found it empty. He gave it a confused look. When had that happened? Oh right, he had just finished it. Huh. He grabbed Anko's and placed it infront of him claiming it for himself.

"Loli Dasuke."

The only person who had the possibility of knowing her was Meiko and she wasn't here. No harm done. He figured that would be the end of it. He was wrong.

"As in Kaito's mother?" Izumo asked.

Iruka was surprised. "You know Kaito?"

Izumo shrugged. "The Dasuke's are my neighbors. Kaito's always breaking in and stealing my candy."

"If that's the case then you need better wards." Iuka chuckled. That sounded like Kaito.

"Wait wait. You mean that bald kid who stole my stash of dum dums?" Kotetsu asked. Iruka hid his momentary surprised then questioned it. Of course Kotetsu knew Kaito. Those two didn't keep anything from eachother. Literally nothing. Iruka had once found then sharing the same piece of gum.

Izumo nodded. "Are fucking asshole."

"He 10." Iruka defended. Izumo shrugged as he picked up his drink.

Anko's face was the first split into a sly grin and Iruka realized it didn't take a T&I agent to figure out how Iruka knew Loli. She socked Iruka in the shoulder. "You sly dog. Fucking your students mothers." He tied to shrugged it off. Kissing from the look on everyone's face they still weren't going to let him go.

"When was this?" Kuranai asked.

He had the presence of mind to be embarrassed. "Does it really matter?"

Azuma leaned forward. "Oh now I'm interested."

"Yeah you aren't getting out of it that easily." Genma agreed. "Cough it up."

Iruka searched his mind to find a way out of it but came up short. Damn it. His blush was getting worse.

"Common, it can't be that bad." Azuma reasoned. Azuma took a cigarette out and placed it between his lips. He searched for his lighter.

Genma learned at him. "Obviously you don't know Iruka very well. Iruka, If you will." He nodded at the newly made jounin.

"Please tell me it was durring a parent-teacher conference." Anko barked out as a joke. The heat in Iruka's cheeks intensified but he didn't deny it. Simply took another sip of his/Anko's bitter beer and averted his eyes. His reaction was answer enough.

Multiple things happened at once. Azuma's cigarette fell out of his lips, Genma's lear got bigger, Izumo handed Kotetsu a few coins, and Kakashi put his book away. He prepared himself the the barrage of questioning he knew was about to come.

"Holy...." Azuma muttered under his breath.

"Told you." Genma said. "Our little chuni-sorry, tokubetsu jounin," He nodded at Iruka, "has a bit of an exhibition streak."

"I do not." Iruka protested shooting Genma a look clearly meant to say shut the fuck up before i rip your dick off and shove it down your throat.

"You kind of do." Apparently Genma wanted to give himself a blowy.

"When was the last time you had sex in a bed and not in a public restroom?" Kotetsu asked.

"Or in a park," Izumo provided.

"Or in a closet, which in itself is hilarious." Raido helpfully finished.

"That can't be right." Azuma interjected. "We're talking about the same Iruka right? Umino Iruka, innocent, pre-genin academy teacher Iruka?"

"It's not like I plan it like this!" Iruka defended himself. "It just keeps happening."

"And I'm totally having sex with Genma tonight." Anko answered sarcastically.

"They say subconscious desires can be seen in repeated patters of behavior." Ebisu supplied glad the tables had turned on someone else.

Iruka glared. "Yeah were'd you get that from? A cereal box?" He scoffed.

"Psychology textbook. You're the teacher. Shouldn't you know that?"

That just made him angrier. "My argument still stands. Just because I sometimes find myself having sex in less than appealing places does not mean I get off on the fact!" Iruka was definitely not pouting and Iruka was definitely not an exhibitionist. He wasn't. So what, if he sometimes had wet dreams about bending someone over his desk and-

"Maa, I find it hard to believe you've never at least thought of bending someone over you're desk before, Iruka-Sensei?" Kakashi purred from across the table.

Iruka bristled. He had been caught. How the fuck did Kakashi do that. His lear was treacherous, and insulting and annoying. The spark of arousal that pooled in his gut at the way Kakashi purred his name was undeniable. Well, he thought, that was definitely new. Iruka blamed it on the alcohol and chose to forget it ever happened. Then with a start he realized everyone was staring at him staring at Kakashi. With another start he realized he never denied the silver haired man's words and the acceptable amount of time for him to do so had passed.

Anko laughed outwardly and slapped him on the back bringing him out of whatever strange trance he had been in. His face was no doubt red due to a combination of anger, arousal, and embarrassment. Now that the obscene image o bending someone over his desk was in his head he couldn't make it go away. Kakashi stared at him a moment longer then pulled his book out again. Kuranai's eyes fallowed him.

Iruka was vaguely aware of Kotetsu making a comment back at Ebisu that resulted in the man going silent again. The table laughed at something but Iruka was stuck in his thoughts. He finished Anko's drink and tried to toon back into the conversation. It had now steered away from him as Genma picked up telling a story about how Raido had once had herpes durring a mission. The poor bastard had fallen out of a tree with his hands down his pants as he tried to relieve the itching.

After that everyone took turns telling embarrassing stories about the others and Iruka found himself genuinely enjoying his time again. The drinks kept comming and he kept put in his input when needed. He even told a story of his own about how Genma had walked into a gay bathhouse thinking it was co-ed and freaked the fuck out when he got hit on by someone twice his age. He had slipped and hit his head on a rock giving himself a concussion and taking him off the active duity roster for a week.

Genma threw a straw at him.

It wasn't long before the majority of the table was plastered. Kuranai and Kakashi the only ones sober enough to actually read the bill. Iruka wasn't sure what happened to it but he was told not to worry about it as he stumbled out of the bar and onto the road. After he waved bye to everyone, him and Anko made their way twords her apartment (it was closer) singing a jolly tale about a fiddle and a cat and a star crossed couple. There was something about a moon too.
The moment Iruka's head met the pillow on Anko's couch he realized they had been singing "Hey Diddle Diddle" on repeat the whole time. He laughed so hard at that that he fell off the couch. Too tired to move he cut his loses and fell asleep with the side of his face plastered to her shaggy red rug.

 

-------

Walking through the building with an escort brought back memories and feelings he'd managed to burry long ago. Iruka had only ever been to Torture and Interrogation once before and that was after Mizuki had used Naruto to get a forbidden scroll. The many weeks in the hospital resulting, were only interrupted by a trip to T&I. As per procedure when a ninja went rogue, those closest to them, be it friends or family, were to be interrogated by someone in T&I. That left Iruka and Tsubaki at the top of Ibiki's list. He found Iruka in the hospital having had been literally stabbed in the back. The irony still refused to escape Iruka.

The walls here were just as they had been all those years ago. Plain grey stone cinder block layered on top of cinder block. It gave the feel of being underground and cold and each hallway appeared to be the same damn hallway. Trying to get out of this place without an escort would have been harder than getting out of the maze that Iruka's chunin exam had been constructed of.

In a sense he supposed it was an art the way this place was designed. Purposeful hallways meant to confuse the few lucky enough to break out of an interrogation room. The hallways designed to lead them in loops. The closer they were to getting out the more they thought they were in the depths of the facility. On the flip side, the closer to the center of the facility they were the more the walls made them think they were almost out. The entire building was a filtration system, meant to send escaped personal running right back to their own cells while making them think they were on the edge of escape. There were documented cases of Ibiki "letting" prisoners escape into the hallways as an interrogation tactic. Turning the corner expecting the sky, the hope of escape right in front of them and then realizing they had just willingly walking back into their interrogation room... That could break even the most hardened shinobi.

Him and his chaperone came to a stop in front of a metal door. It took a moment for the T&I agent to undo the locks and seals but when he was finished the door slid open. Iruka took a step inside intent on getting to work.

"If you need anything don't hesitate to ask. I'll be just outside the door."
The agent turned to leave the room.

"Ah.... actually." Iruka called out to him looking around the room. "Do you when Hatake Kakashi is supposed to be here?"

The agent paused, looked at his watch then scoffed. "You were early by 15 minutes. Expect him to be late by at least twice as much."
With that the agent shut the door and Iruka was left alone.

Great. With those calculations Iruka had at least 45 minutes before the jounin arrived. The room was not big by any means, 10 feet by 10 feet at best. A metal table stood in the middle and two metal stools accompanied it. On top of the table sat the scroll. Other than that the room was desolate.

Well this just kept getting better. Nothing to distract from the pounding in his head. Iruka should have asked for water and some pain killers when he had the chance. He debated knocking on the door to do just that but thought against it. His hangover was his problem. That's what he got for getting smashed the night before starting an important assignment. Besides, it wasn't the worst hangover ever. The pounding in his head was just present enough to be annoying.

He pulled a stool out, sat down on it's cold surface and picked up the scroll. The background paper was a deep purple and the active paper a faded yellow. It was odd choices for a scroll no doubt. The standard was white on black or white on red. The yellow on purple seamed almost random. It reminded him of a scroll arts-and-crafts project he had his 8 year olds do. He smiled at the memory.

There was a standard leaf paper tag across the scroll holding it closed. Iruka released it with a press of his own chakra and it fell loose. It was pealed away and set aside so the teacher could take a look at the scroll.

He laid it out on the table. It stretched from one side to the other in length and was half the width of the table in height. The outside purple boarder was decorated with braided words, each an intricate seal weaved into the next creating an elegant and complex boarder. Iruka ran his fingers along it examining the penmanship. It was impeccable, elegant and curvy. The letters were not like the characters he was used to. They flowed into eachother in an endless line. Words or sentences, he wasn't sure, were broken up by break in the flow pattern; a space, a dot, and then the flowing strokes would pick up again weaving into another set of seals and patterns.

His finger tips trailed down from the boarder onto the active yellow paper. This is where a message or contract or seal would have been written. But now in front of him it was completely blank, a contradiction to the complex layering of wards he had seen on it during the mission. His brow wrinkled in confusion and he ran his hand along it letting a trickle of chakra leak out. Slowly, characters started to form but there weren't any characters he was familiar with. Certainly not the ones they taught in the academy. Some of the characters seamed familiar and some seamed more like the writing that was on the border. It was clearly a different language. Iruka had spent a lot of time looking over scrolls, mostly his father's but many others that had to do with seals, tags, and barriers. In doing so he had come across a few that were written in dialects belonging to other nations so Iruka was willing to place a bet that this writing did not belong to any of the other great nations. No as their primary literacy anyway.

Brute strength and precise chakra control wasn't going to work seeing how any previous attempt had resulted in an injury. Before either he or Kakashi tried to unseal any of these they would have to first break this code or translate what Iruka feared to be a lost or unknown language. He hadn't had this time to look at it closely in the field. He was determined to not miss anything this time around. No mater how insignificant it may seam Iruka would study each ink mark down to the letter, down to the type of ink that was used. He was determined not to let anyone else get hurt trying to open the seal before they knew enough about it.

He took out an empty scroll of his own and started jotting down the characters that he recognized contained in the yellow paper. To each character he wrote any pronunciation associative with it. Then as an added thought he wrote down different things the symbol represented. He wasn't sure how much it would help him in the long run but it was a start. A way to start weaving through this mess. Iruka was good at paper and pen. Iruka figured he might be good at his too.

Iruka was not good at this. After what had to have been over an hour of work he had only been able to link a few characters together as "probably" the same language. His scroll was a mess of neat writing slowly getting shakier and rushed as time wore on. A few characters and sounds were circled and lines were drawn between a few. Question marks and asterisks decorated the web of ink on his page. His headache got worse.

He looked up briefly when the metal door slid open. Seeing it was just Kakashi he looked back at the paper in front of him. "You're late."

Kakashi sauntered in, closed the door behind him, and came to stand behind Iruka. He hummed then pointed at one of the characters, a plain circle. "O." He said.

Iruka scoffed. "What you didn't realize you're late?"

Kakashi shook his head. "No, O." Kakashi repeated. "In the land of snow that letter is called O."

Iruka blinked again. Kakashi moved from behind him and placed a bottle of water next to the chunin. Two red and white pillars accompanied it. He then rounded the table and sat on the other side gesturing lazily in the direction of the items he just placed down.

"For the hangover." He explained.

Iruka never thought he would be thanking the gods for Kakashi. But bless this man and his foresight. He picked up the meds and tossed them in the back of his mouth. The water chased them down.

"Thank you. Now what do you mean it's an o?"

"The land of snow doesn't use characters like the great nations do. They have another form of writing in which they combine different letters of an alphabet to make different sounds. Depending on what letters are together can change the sound they produce."

Iruka considered this. He had never heard of something like that before. It sounded incredibly complicated and complex not to mention time consuming to write or read. "Okay what about this one?" Iruka pointed to another 'letter' that looked like the character "no" tilted on its side. He had been having a particularly hard time trying to sort out what this might have been.

Kakashi shrugged. "I only saw them briefly on a mission and that was before I had my sharingan. I recognize a few of these letters but none of them were stringed together in such a way and they were a lot less loopy." Kakashi took a drink of his own water then screwed the top back on.

Iruka considered for a moment that Kakashi was on a mission before he had the sharingan. He didn't know how or when he had gotten it but he knew Lakshi had had it since he was a kid. And Iruka hasn't stupid, he knew the rumors surrounding it but he also doubted that Kakashi was as heartless as most of the rumors had said he was. One thing was fact though, Kakashi was a prodigy and was on deadly missions when Iruka was still a toddler despite that fact that the other man was just three years older than him.

"Okay, so let's fill in the ones you do know." Iruka said.

Kakashi leaned forward and worked with Iruka. He corrected him and helped him pronounce the ones he knew. Some of the swooping lines looked like letters he had seen but not exactly so they made guesses with those. It took a knock on the door before either of them looked up for what they were doing.

Iruka looked up curious but he didn't miss the way Kakashi subtly flipped open the weapons pouch on his side. Iruka figured it was a normal reaction coming from someone with Kakashi's skill and battle history.

A tall woman walked in with two bento's in hand. She brought them to the table and placed them down. "Checking to see if you're alive." She explained. Her words were clipped and sharp. "It's been hours and we've yet to hear from either of you." She kept her face was blank and bothered. "Ibiki says dinner's on him." She turned on her heals to leave, no doubt having somewhere better to be. Her heals clipped when she halted at Iruka's words.

"Dinner?" Iruka questioned. It couldn't be that late. "What time is it?"

She looked at her wrist. "5:44." She still had her back turned to them. Iruka could feel the waves of annoyance rolling off her. What bug had crawled up her ass....

Shit, bugs! Iruka was going to have to apologize to Shino for not picking up the left overs. He figured he still had a long night ahead of him working with these scrolls.

"Oh and The Hokage says you can finish things up for the night if you wish but she expects to see at least one seal or ward disabled by the end of the week." With that she quickly exited, sliding the door closed a little harder than necessary. The resounding clang echoed in the room for a moment then silence settled between the two. A very long night indeed.

Iruka looked to the now lonely bento box on the edge of the table. Kakashi already had his chopsticks separated and had eaten some rice out of his but his mask was still in place. It was a nice party trick.

"I was going to suggest a break for dinner but I see you got a head start."

Kakashi eye smiled. "I do enjoy a nice bento. Especially when it's brought by such a lovely lady."

Iruka snorted a laugh as he opened his own bento box. "She was pretty uptight, huh?" He separated his chopsticks then picked up an onigiri. "Wonder what got her so annoyed."

Kakashi hummed and finished chewing another bite of food behind his mask. Iruka had no clue how he did it. He hadn't seen the man move at all. Not to move the mask and not to put the food in his mouth. He finished chewing and swallowed, his adam's apple bobbing. "Could be because I stood her up." Kakashi said. "And here I thought everyone knew I'm always late."

Iruka couldn't help himself. "Well if comming late is your thing..." Iruka kept his face mostly neutral but the playful suggestion in his tone was easy enough to read.

Kakashi barked a laugh. "Better than coming early don't you think, Sensei?" Even through the mask Iruka could see his smirk. "15 minutes was it? Being too eager can be a turn off.".

Iruka laughed. This was insane. Was he actually flirting with the Hatake Kakashi? Then again this was nothing like the tense atmosphere that had accompanied them in the forest. This Kakashi seamed different. Less on edge and less of a complete prick. Iruka wouldn't count his eggs before they hatched but maybe this wouldn't be so bad. Maybe he and Kakashi could work together just fine.

-------

"This isn't going to work." Iruka stated.

It had been a week since Kakashi and Iruka had started working on the scroll. Of course they weren't the only ones taking a crack at it but they were the only ones making any ground. Unfortunately, that ground was not enough to crack any of the seals. Even if over the corse of the week the once empty room found itself slowly being littered with research scrolls and books.

"Let's just try it." Kakashi reasoned. "The worst that could happen is I get knocked on my ass with a lightning justu like you did, right?"

"Or," Iruka argued. "Since your affinity is lightning the seal could react with it and you could blow up the whole building."

"Maa, don't you think your being dramatic?"

Iruka's fists tightened. "No, I do not." He ground out. "Don't you think you're being a little careless?"

"The chance's of it reacting against my lightning affinity rather than with it are minimal. It's more likely that I'll be able to control and redirect it." Kakashi traced his finger over the seal they were debating trying to break.

"We don't even know what all of it says."

"But we know the gist of it. This seal keeps giving off an electrical ward every time someone tries to unseal it wrong. You said your self that it was unusual that the seal didn't just disintegrate the scroll to begin with as is standard procedure for when a seal is incorrectly disbanded."

"Even still, we can't know for sure that it won't eventually do so." He smacked Kakashi's hand away from the seal and pointed to a symbol in the inside right corner of it. " I've seen this before. You may know these letters but I know the lay out of seals and wards. This could very easily be a trap seal. Even if we know what we are doing there could be two locks. One that destroys it and one that opens it. Just because we have half of one lock doesn't mean we know which one we have and whether it will even disband anything to begin with." Iruka's temper was rising and so was his voice. He was getting impatient with the silverette. "We need to study it more." Iruka insisted.

"We've been doing nothing but studying it for the past 6 days. We've pulled every scroll in the city about the Snow village language and seal layering. We're out of leads. Nothing suggest the scroll's going to react any differently than it has before. The only thing left to do is try and open it."

Iruka was done with this. "I know your used to making split second decisions in the field Hatake-san," His voice laced with venom. "But us normal people would rather take the time to think things through before making reckless decisions that could get out comrades killed."

Kakashi's face dropped to that of a soldier, the same face he saw bestow the man during the chunin exam entries. This was the Kakashi Iruka was familiar with. Not the light hearted joking bullshit he had put up with the past few days. He took a step towards Iruka. "And those split second decisions are what keep my comrades alive. I don't suppose you run into any enemy ninja in the academy do you Umino-Sensei. Perhaps you've grown too soft."

That one hit Iruka hard. It was a bit of a sore subject. He didn't have time to formulate a reply because just then Tsunade slid the door open with a slam.

"Both of you, know it off!" She barked. Neither of the men looked away from each other, poorly hidden anger held just behind their eyes. She walked further into the room, grabbed each of their earlobes, and tugged.

Iruka let out a wine of pain and Kakashi chorused a series of "ow's". Once she had decided they suffered enough she let them go. Both men stood up. Iruka sent a glare at the other. Kakashi ignored him.

Tsunade wake over to the scroll on the table and studied it for a second before nodding. "Good work. Any more leads?" She asked Iruka.

Kakashi spoke. "No, and as such i believe it is a good idea to try and open the seal."

"Did I ask you, brat?" Tsunade turned on him. When Kakashi didn't answer she sighed and turned to Iruka. He felt a little bit victorious. "Report."

"We've managed to decode the majority of one of the seals and believe that we may have found the lock for it."

"Have you tried it yet?"

Iruka shook his head. "The lay out is very similar to one we found in a scroll belonging to my father. There are some inconsistencies but the general layout is the same. This character here." Iruka pointed to the same one he had earlier. "Suggests there are two locks for it. One lock disbands the seal and allows us access to the next one underneath. In seals of this nature, the other lock is used to destroy the seal. We have no way of knowing which lock we have."

"But we also have nothing other than you father's scrolls to suggest that the second lock will destroy the scroll. Multiple people have tried to open it and failed. If we we were going by standard procedure or by what usually happens the scroll would have been destroyed the instant someone tried to disband it without the lock. It would have never even made it back to Konoha." Kakashi jumped in. "There is nothing other than what happens with normal scrolls to suggest that this scroll will self destruct. And nothing about this scroll is normal." He crossed his arms. "Besides, if it was going to self destruct don't you think it would have done so by now?" He leveled Iruka a look. Iruka returned the glare.

Tsunade studied the scroll for a few more minutes then hummed. "Right, let's try it then."

Iruka was pretty sure he got whiplash with how fast he turned his head to face the Godaime. "Lady Hokage, you can't be serious."

"The brat has a point. It been a week and we barely have anything to show for it. I say it's worth a try but to be safe let's do it outside the village walls. I don't need a whole blown in the side of the mountain."
Reluctantly Iruka nodded. He refused to look at Kakashi to see him gloat. "Training ground 87 should do well."

It only took a few moment for them to pack up. Iruka put a paper tag to the scroll to seal it and then tucked it into his vest pocket. A few moments later they were dropping into the clearing that was field 87.

The field was the farthest one from civilization and was rarely used. There was nothing special about it other than the fact it was so far away from everything else. There were dozens more fields just like it closer to home. Just a plain oblong circle of a clearing surrounded by tall Konoha trees. The grass was patchy and short. A few pebbles and smaller rocks littered the rocky dirt. Here, the wind was relatively strong. It pulled at Iruka's pony tail and threatened to let a few strands escape. It succeeded in pulling a shorter loose strand free and it dropped to his cheek, the wind picking it up every other second for it to run along side its brothers or caress his ear.

Iruka and Kakashi walked into the middle of the field, Iruka taking note of the few ANBU stationed in the trees around them. He couldn't see them but they weren't making an effort of hiding their chakra. He assumed they were here in case anything went wrong. Tsunade also stood back towards the tree line.

Once they reached the middle of the clearing Iruka released the paper tag. He crouched down in the dirt and unrolled the scroll picking up a few rocks to be used as paper weights. It was silent other than the rustling wind and his heart pounding in his chest. What they were about to do had the potential to kill them both. It was a small possibility but a possibility all the same. No one knew what would happen when they tried released the seal. "Ready?" Kakashi asked couching down on the opposite side of the scroll and facing Iruka.

The man nodded and they began. The theory was that any backlash would be distributed evenly between the two men lessening their effects. Iruka hopped they were right. He swallowed.

Their signs came relatively slowly, neither of them in a rush and both wanting to get it right. The sequence was a complicated one: Boar, Horse, Bird, Tiger, Bird, Boar, Bird, Hare, Horse, Tiger, Boar, Horse, Hare, Tigar, Boar, Hare, Horse, Hare, Tiger, Dragon.... It went on for a few more lines and then in unison both shinobi brought their fingertips down on the scroll, touching lightly around the word woven circle. Iruka could feel their chakra caress each other, weaving together and spread out to each letter igniting it in a blue light.

One last time their met eyes and then both opened their mouths and spoke.

"Kai."

Chapter Text

For a second the whole world stood still. Anticipation drawing tight in both shinobi's muscles. Again the wind rippled by catching the escaped strand of hair hanging in Iruka's face. His finger tips stayed planted on the scroll. Momentarily, he was sure he felt a tingle in his arm but it was gone too fast to tell.

That second stretched into two then three then four until a whole minute had passed. He and Kakashi had long since broken eye contact to stare at the scroll between them. A bird chirped somewhere in the west. Iruka slumped into a sit. He lifted his gaze to Kakashi. The other man had leaned down closer to the scroll seemingly inspecting something but the part of the paper he was looking at was blank.

"Well that was a bust." Iruka drew his attention.

He looked up briefly. "I told you we had nothing to worry about."

Iruka scoffed. "Of course an 'I told you so' would be the first thing out of your mouth."

It was strange that Iruka felt disappointment at not being blown up. Of course he was grateful of the fact that he was still alive but a lesser part of himself would have liked to rub it in Kakashi's face just a little bit.

"To your credit, I don't think we had the right lock." Kakashi stated the obvious.

The brunet grinned. "Yeah, no shit."

The scroll was sitting between them just had it had been before. The curvy letters hadn't changed at all. They still spiraled together in a circle encompassed by another braid of words. Nothing had changed. The hand signs obviously had no effect and the 'kai' even less so. They might have well had done the hokey pokey and turn them selves about. It would have lead to the same conclusion.

"Well," Kakashi stated. "We should probably let ANBU know they can stand down." Kakashi hunched back and drew his hand away from the seal.

Pain. The world erupted in white and then disappeared all together. Every muscle in Iruka's body was tense, every nerve a searing heat that made him want to cry out. He found his jaw too, was stuck clenched as he burned up on the inside. All senses were cut off and hyper sensitive. He couldn't even think to twitch a finger. It was too much. The pain was too much.

Slowly he became aware that whatever he was against -dirt his instincts whispered- was thrashing against him. It was alive and angry and out of control. It bruised his arms and back and made his teeth chatter but still he couldn't move. None of that mattered though. None of it came even close to overshadowing the pain shooting trough his nervous system. He was being ripped in half. His skin peeled slowly from each muscle. Each bone shattering at an excruciatingly slow pace. He was defenseless. Anyone could kill him but he couldn't bring himself to care. Couldn't bring himself to even be conscious enough to process the thought to care.

A slow ring rose out of the defining silence getting higher in pitch and volume. It rose in intensity until it was just as painful as the burning in his nerves. His ears were bleeding. Maybe his brain was melting. Frying. It hurt. Fuck it hurt so bad. Someone was screaming. His bones were breaking. The screaming got louder. Squeezed. He was being squeezed. He needed to fight. He couldn't move. It hurt. Die. Just let him die. It hurt. There was another blinding light and everything stopped.

He opened his eyes to the blue sky above him, his memory of the intensity of pain quickly fading. His body's way of protecting him. He rolled onto his side and very suddenly hurled his breakfast onto the dirt. His body retched with tremors as it expelled bile. When he was finished, Iruka pushed to the side and fell onto his back, his arms too weak to hold himself up any longer. His shirt was throughly damp with sweat and clung to his skin. He blinked to the clouds. They passed over the sun, casting a shadow over him but shielding his eyes from its glare.

"Iruka?"

He lifted his head lazy to the side. Kakashi sat next to him, sprawled out like he had been thrown to the ground. Tsunade crouched next to him and ANBU surrounded him in a circle. He let his head fall back to the earth.

When it became apparent that Iruka was not going to respond to Kakashi's inquiry Tsunade rushed to his side and started barking orders to the ANBU. She hovered over him and examined him. One ANBU in a rat mask moved to crouch at her side, his hands alight with the medical ninjutsu's signature green chakra. The moment his chakra touched Iruka's skin a blinding flash of pain flooded his nervous system again. He couldn't hold back the cry that left his lips, his back arching off the ground.

Tsunade slapped his hand away. "No one touch him!"

Iruka opened his eyes again, not realizing he had closed them. A fuzzy Tsunade came into focus her own hands were alight with green.

"What's your name?"

Why was she asking that? She knew his name. His name was Iruka.

"Good. Where are you right now?"

What the fuck? Had she read his mind?

"You're thinking out loud dimwit." She scoffed but her words held a tinge of amusement. "Seams you're still out of it." Her chakra lite hands hovered over him. This time instead of pain he felt warm and calm.

There was a rustling to his side and Kakashi stood, then walked over to the two of them. He crouched further down his body, next to the Hokage. His eye was narrowed and his brow drawn forward. Iruka would bet money there was a frown under his mask. It didn't seam right. Kakashi hesitantly reached out then pulled his hand back when he received a glare from Tsunade.

"I said hands to yourself, brat." There was a light in his face. The sun? No. It traveled from his right eye to his left. "His pupils are dilating so there's probably no concussion." The light disappeared, in its place dark spots interrupted his vision. "The seizure worries me though."

"Seizure? Who had a-"

"You did." She cut him off. Thinking back on it, it was a rather stupid question. Why was thinking so hard?

As the Godaime worked the rush of events flooded back to him glazed over with a sheen of needles glee. The seal. They thought they had got it wrong but clearly they were wrong about it being wrong. So he guessed that in a way that meant they were right about being wrong but in the wrong way....? And if that wasn't a confusing thought then Iruka didn't know what was. It ticked him. He narrowed his eyebrows.

"Headache?" Tsunade asked.

Iruka shook his head. "Just thinking."

"Don't hurt yourself." It was Kakashi that spoke up.

"Don't be an ass." He managed to formulate into words. "I was the one who took the hit even though I pushed against testing the seal." The words were thick in his mouth. He chuckled. Judging from the looks he was being given it also took him way to long to say it. Or maybe those looks was because he wasn't yelling. Smiling? Was he smiling? He was smiling. Strange.

He should probably be pissed off. He recognized he had every reason to be pissed off and normally he would be. The fact that Kakashi was present furthers the argument that he should be pissed off. The jounin had a talent of making the teachers temper flair even without doing anything and this time Kakashi had actually done something to warrant being pissed off about. But he wasn't. He was tired, and sore, and wanted to brush his teeth but, he wasn't angry. Considering the circumstances Iruka was in a rather good mood. Maybe the anger would hit him tomorrow. He didn't know. What he did know was that he and Kakashi had been wrong. Their hand signs had an effect, their release had an effect and the consequence had not been distributed evenly between them. They were right about something though. They had the wrong lock.

"Can you feel your toes?" Tsunade's hands lit green again and she passed them over his body. Iruka didn't know she had stopped in the first place. She started on his forehead then slowly worked her way down. The warmth settled in his bones and the calm massaged his muscles.

He wiggled his toes longer than necessary. "Yes."

"Good. Can you move your fingers?"

They had tried to release the seal too soon and as Iruka had predicted the ward had reacted accordingly. They needed to study it more. Get the whole picture. They needed a proper map and proper translation. His thoughts felt heavy on his toes.

When he didn't answer Tsunade pressed. "Iruka?"

They needed both locks and then they needed to study the locks to determine which one was the lock that locked it and which one was the lock that didn't do the locking thing. At least now they knew that the next lock they unlocked would most likely be the lock to unlock the secretes locked in the scroll. Then they could lock up the locked-unlocked scroll and it would be locked away and he could go back to his job of locking the children. Wait no.

He giggled picturing the children locked to their chairs. Konohamaru would throw a fit. Taught, he corrected. He taught them... but he could also lock them. It would keep them at their desks... But that was only after they could lock the scroll with the locks away he reminded himself. Then he could go back to lock-teaching his children.

"Iruka?"

He ssh'd her.

Her eyebrow twitched but Tsunade made her way down his body. The longer she held her green chakra above him the harder it became to think and the more his good mood increased. Not all was lost though. He could be happy about one thing and it was no doubt completely and totally the only thing that fueled Iruka's good mood. He was completely sure of it. No doubt. No doubt. He was sure of it.

He had been right and Kakashi had been wrong. He grinned wickedly.

"Hm?" He asked Tsunade. She had asked him something right? Something about... TOES! He wiggles his toes again and laughed.

Tsunade felt his forehead with one hand. "No fever....? I asked if you can feel your fingers."

Iruka nodded and to prove it he flipped her off. Kakashi let out a bark of laughter then slapped a hand over his mouth to stifle it. Tsunade shot him a look. He was only partially successful.

Iruka was confused. "What's so funny? I thought you wanted to know if my fingers worked." He looked at his middle fingers and bent them a few times. His mind felt hazy and happy. Hazpy. A new word! He would have to write that into his lesson plan.

"Is he high?" Kakashi asked though his poorly concealed snickers.

Tsunade ignored him for a moment. "Possibly. It feels like his chakra is all out of wack. That's probably why it reacted so poorly to Rat's and why it's having such a strange reaction to mine." She hummed, talking more to herself than to Kakashi. Kakashi hoped the effects would last after she stopped examining him. This was down right hilarious. She looked at Kakashi slowly then Iruka and back to Kakashi. "I want to test something. Hatake take over for me."

"You think he might have a different reaction?"

She shook her head. "I'm not sure but it's worth a shot. I just hope this is temporary and that he isn't going to be in excruciating pain or pleasantly buzzed every time someone else's chakra touches him."

Kakashi nodded. "Right here goes." Tsunade dropped her hands from Iruka and sat back as Kakashi took her place. He concentrated and for a moment Iruka's eyes looked less glazed over. Then he placed his glowing palms over Ituka's stomach. The younger man's smile dropped, mouth slightly open. His eyes lidded half way but his pupils were blown. His head fell to the side exposing his neck. The tan skin was smooth but slowly turning a nice pink. Iruka's breath quickened and Kakashi's eye widened. He went to pull his hands away. Tsunade caught his arm and kept it there.

"Anything hurt?"

Iruka groaned in response. It was clearly not a groan in pain. Kakashi pulled his hands back completely. "Interesting."

Tsunade was smirking at him. "Well, that was certainly a different reaction." She replaced her hands again. "What about now Iruka-sensei? Does anything hurt?"

The flush left Iruka's skin and he became very thoughtful, too thoughtful for a such a simple question. Just when both of them had given up hope of him answering his eyes widened and his mouth dropped open.

"You mean other than Kakashi's pride?"

He asked like that was an obvious realization. Like he had been having trouble answering because he couldn't comprehend that something other than Kakashi's pride might be hurting. The Hokage laughed. Kakashi didn't find this funny anymore.

Iruka looked back up at the sky very amused with himself. He bit his lip to keep from bursting out in laughter. When he got himself under control Kakashi and Tsunade were looking at him like he went insane. The 6 ANBU around him probably wore similar expressions under their masks.

"I was right. You were wrong!" Iruka sang. Unnecessary explaining why he thought Kakashi's pride would be hurt.

Tsunade sighed. "Yeah I'm sure our sensei will be just fine." She continues to heal his chakra pathways. "Back to being a nuisance in no time."

Iruka stopped singing. "Hey Kakashi?"

"Yo."

He lifted his head and leveled a toothy smile at the man. "I told you so."

Kakashi rolled his eyes at the childish words ignoring that he had said the same thing not 10 minutes prior. His attention was back on Tsunade now. "If by 'in no time' you mean immediately then yes. Iruka-sensei is well on his way to being a nuisance."

Shortly after, Iruka was transported to the hospital on a stretcher. After doing a full body examination Tsunade concluded that Iruka was suffering from sever chakra depletion but sustained no other injuries that required immediate attention. There was still the question of why he was reacting strangely to the medical ninjutsu and because of that she wanted to do some tests to make sure that the scroll hadn't had any other effects on him. Of course their was still the question on why he was the only one to feel the effects and why the response was so delayed. They had tried to unlock the seal to answer questions. Now they had more than ever. A bird masked ANBU had gathered the scroll as the rat masked one helped Tsunade lay Iruka on the stretcher careful not to let his chakra mingle with Iruka's.

"I can walk." Iruka insisted. Really he was feeling much better. Now that no one was trying to heal him his thoughts weren't fuzzy and he could actually concentrate. His body wasn't in too bad of shape either. He probably could walk himself to the hospital. Tsunade waved it aside stating that she didn't want to take any chances.

When she went to tell Kakashi that he needed to go to the hospital as well they found that he had disappeared to gods knows where. The lucky bastard not only got away with out an effect from the scroll but he had also evaded Tsunade on a medical war path. Iruka was just a little bit jealous.

The trip to the hospital was short. They used a body flicker justu to transport him there. It would have been concerning for the civilians to see a gaggle of ANBU carrying a ninja on a stretcher across the roof top. It probably saved Iruka a headache of rumors as well. No one was better at gossiping than the ninja of Konoha. It was partially the reason why personal secretes couldn't be shared. Get a shinobi drunk and they would tell you practically anything with a little finesse. Iruka had used this to his advantage on more than one occasion.

The hospital room they admitted him too was the same as any other room in the hospital. Stark white walls, a creaky cot, and a variety of medical equipment placed about. An IV was connected to a vein in his wrist feeding his body fluids. His body had felt heavy before but exhaustion was now weighing his muscles down even more. His eyelids slowly creeping down his eyes obscuring his vision half way before they would snap back open. A few more times of that before they didn't open. Iruka fell asleep to the sound of a beeping monitor and Tsunade's promise to check on him in the morning.

 

 

 

--------

 

"He still hasn't woken up?" Was the first thing Iruka heard when he woke up.

His head was pounding. His muscles felt like he had just been forced though one of Gai's work outs. There was a kink in his back. He really had to pee. He groaned.

"Spoke too soon." Another voice spoke.

Iruka opened his eyes. Kotetsu sat on a metal chair at the foot of Iruka's cot and Izumo was leaning against the wall across the room from him. Judging from the amount of sun comming through the window Iruka guessed it was close to noon.

"Morning sleeping beauty." Izumo mused.

Iruka tried to push himself up into a sit. Izumo stepped away from the wall and helped him then adjusted the cot so the back was up at an angle. Iruka leaned back against it.

"How long have you been here?"

His voice was think and his mouth tasted like rotting snails. He smacked his lips together a few times. Yeah definitely gross with definite dragon breath. Izumo picked up a glass of water on the table next to the cot that Iruka hadn't noticed. He thanked him and took a laborious sip.

"Well, Izumo got here when visiting hours opened at 8 and I just walked in. Someone left me to watch the gate." That 'someone' was very pointedly directed at Izumo. Izumo did not look apologetic.

"One of us had to stay. Not my fault that paper covers rock."

"Yeah, how does that work anyway?" Kotetsu inquired. "Paper just rolls on top of rock and wins?" His words were met with blank stares. "Rock should very easily be able to beat paper. It can weigh it down, tear it up, write on it, hell the process to make paper used to involve grinding it up with rocks. If you ask me, paper beating rock because it covers it is about as logical as saying you don't like carrots because apples exist."

The blank stares continued. "Dude, its just a child's game. No need to get so worked up about it."

"The logic still stands. It doesn't make sense." He crossed his arms in a way that reminded Iruka of Udon when he was told to wipe his nose.

"You wouldn't be this bitter if you won with paper. In fact, you would 100% be defending paper as something that can beat rock, right here and right now if that were the case." Izumo accuses his friend.

Iruka was bothered by this line conversation. "I want to know who doesn't like carrots on the pretense of apples existing. That's redicalous."

"Thank you!" Kotetsu threw his hand in the air. Izumo huffed in indignation.

Before he could investigate further there was a knock on the open door. It was strictly to be polite and when Iruka saw who stood there he wasn't surprised at all.

"Sakura-chan. How are you?"

"Aren't I supposed to be asking you that Iruka-sensei?" She walked in with a clipboard, looked to the two jounin and then looked back to Iruka. "Ah, congratulations on making tokubetsu jounin by the way."

Iruka held up the hand connected to the IV. "It's just temporary." A light smile played on his face as it always did when he was around his old students. Sakura had really made something of herself and he was endlessly proud of her. If anyone should be getting congratulated it should be her.

"Even still, wait until Naruto hears, he probably won't stop complaining about how he's still a genin and I'll be the one stuck listening to him." she groaned and set the clipboard down next to her. "Tsunade said your chakra was reacting uncommonly towards other chakra signatures. I'm going to take a look okay?"

She dropped the pleasantries and got to work. When her chakra brushed Iruka's he immediately felt sick, his stomach bubbled and he fought back the bile rising in his throat. He felt shaky and dizzy and sweaty. He shoved Sakura's hand away and hurled over the side of the bed, thankfully avoiding her shoes for the most part. Fuck, he only avoided one of her shoes. She took a startled step back eyes wide. Two startled yells and and quick succession of 'ew's' accompanied eachother.

How embarrassing. He had just puked on his former student, not to mention in front of her. He groaned but the moment her chakra left his he no longer felt sick.

"I'm so sorry." He mumbled out, wiping his mouth with the hospital gown sleeve. He must look disgusting right now.

She waved her hands. "Don't worry about it, happens all the time." The strain m her voice and twitch of her eyebrow confirmed that she was seething inside. No doubt yelling in her mind about how her shoes were ruined. "Uh, let me get Lady Tsunade." She left the room now with one less shoe than when she entered calling for someone to clean up in her wake. Not even a minute passed before a young genin came in with a mop.

Izumo risked a look at the teacher who was drinking the water again.

"What was that about?"

Iruka shrugged.

No more than 10 minutes later Tsunade came in with Sakura and Ino on her heals. Ino sniffed the air and took a step back. Sakura elbowed her and she rightened herself albeit with a forced smile.

"Iruka-sensed!" Her smile twitched. "Congratulations on the promo-"

"It's just temporary." He said again, his words were aimed at Tsunade as if to remind her of what she promised. She grinned wickedly.

"I sent Sakura to check up on you, not to be up-chucked on." She thought she was so clever. She walked over and checked the machines and his IV. "Feeling nauseous?"

He shook his head.

"Didn't think so." Her eyes flickered over to Izumo against the wall. "Kamizuki Izumo." His relaxed posture stood up at attention. "Your turn."

Everyone except for Sakura looked at her confused. Ino's face twisted in was a particularly hilarious combination between the former emotion and dread.

"My turn for what?" The ninja in question asked slowly afraid of the answer. He had a sneaking suspicion and he wasn't liking it. His eyes landed on Iruka, Kotetsu's fallowed.

"I want you to try and heal our dearest Sensei." The Hokage's words confirmed his suspicions.

"Why?"

"Humor me."

Izumo reluctantly did what he was asked and stepped up to Iruka's side. "Don't hurl on me." He warned before placing his slightly glowing green hands over Iruka. Nothing happened. With a little more confidence Izumo poured more chakra into it. Still nothing happened other than the healing of a minor bruise. He stepped back and shrugged at The Hokage. "I don't get it."

"I didn't puke on you at least." Iruka reasoned.

"Alright Kotetsu, have at it." Tsunade instructed.

He got off the stool and backed up. "Actually, you know I think- Right sorry. My turn." He hurried forward to Iruka's side. The only thing scarier than the threat of being puked on was getting on the nerve of the strongest person in all the five nations.

Iruka watched as his friend walked around The Hokage and came to a stand by his side. Iruka offered an encouraging smile and words of consolation about how he would try not to puke on him. Kotetsu wasn't very consoled.

"I'm not very good at this." He warned.

Tsunade pushed him forward with a single finger causing him to stumbled a little. Understanding the threat he got to work. It didn't take more than a moment for him to build up chakra in his hands and turn it into the healing variety.

Now a days, basic first aid was thought in the academy. As a requirement to graduate, genin students, at minimum needed to display that they understood the concept of medical ninjutsu. Back when they had been pre-genin it was optional. Upon Tsunade appointment to Hokage one of her first decrees was that all ninja who did not know medical ninjutsu needed to learn the basics. Iruka himself had been proficient in healing minor cuts and bruises for years because of his job. However, he couldn't do much more. Most, like Kotetsu were not very good or effective. When his hands rested above Iruka and it mingled with his chakra he could feel how unsteady and week it was compared to Izumo's. He could also feel the bile rising in his throat again. He shoved his friend away and swallowed it down before it could make it to his mouth. He reached for his water.

Izumo was suprised at the violence shown twords him as he rightened himself, sick of being man handled. First by Tsunade then by Iruka. "Dude, what the hell."

Tsunade cut him off. "Nauseous?"

Iruka nodded paused and shook his head. "I was but, not anymore."

The smile that stretched across her face caused Ino and Sakura to groan. He spared them a glance. He wanted to asked what got them so worked up but there were more pressing matters at hand. "What does this mean?"

"Well, if I'm right then it means that what's happened to you is only minimally the scrolls fault."

"And if you're wrong?"

"If she's wrong then we have no clue what's going on." Sakura spoke up beside her. "In your case I hope she's right."

The sanin walked across the room and leaned out the door. "Oi! Fukushi! Your a lightning user right?" There was a muffle reply too quiet to make out. "Then get me your sister."

A small ginger bounced into the room a moment later. "You called Lady Hokage?" She gave a bow.

"Your brother told me you're a lighting user, is that correct?" At her nod she informed her that she wanted her to heal one of Iruka's wounds.

The ginger made her way to Iruka's side and gave him a once over. Her eyes settled on a nasty bruise on his collar bone. It was old and yellowing. Iruka figured he had gotten it over a week ago in the wood and it was determined not to heal. Her hands settled over it and glowed.

Iruka but his lip and flushed. She was quite attractive wasn't she. He licked his lips and couldn't old back a small breathy noise. Her hand felt good. Really good. He rolled his head to the side.

"Don't stop." He was vaguely aware of the way his voice had dropped with want.

She gasped and immediately removed her hands, stepping away from him. Reality hit Iruka like a ton of bricks and his eye widened as he looked around the room. His face was burning in mortification. Kotetsu and Izumo wore matching expressions, eyes wide and jaw on the floor. Sakura's face matched the color of her hair. Ino looked away with her hand splayed over her face. Tsunade held a triumphant grin.

"Im so sorr- that wasn't- that- oh my god- I'm so sorry-" He floundered as he waved his hands in front of him frantically trying to apologize to the red headed nurse who had a dainty hand over her mouth. Her cheeks were tinted pink and her eyes averted.

Tsunade laughed and suddenly Iruka found himself angry. This was her fault. She clearly knew something like that was going to happen and she let it happen- no, made it happen anyway. His mortification took a back seat and he turned his fiery eyes on their leader. Her smirk did not drop.

"You think this is funny? You obviously knew that would happen! You can't just play with people like that for your own amusement. You need to apologize to her! Apologize to me! Where the hell do you get off thinking it's okay to do something like that!"

She waved off his anger. That only made his irate flair.

"Don't worry you did that same thing to Kakashi yesterday."

"WHAT!" The memory came back to him slowly.

Tsunade nodded "Right after you told me to fuck off, you tried to fuck him."

Kotetsu and Izumo lost it. Their laughter bounced off the walls as they held eachother up.

"Oh man, oh boy, shit Iruka. God damn." Kotetsu gasped out.

"You are never living this down." Izumo barked a laugh. "Tried to fuck Hatake Kakashi. Oh boy." He wiped a tear.

Sakura and Ino looked like they really did not want to be here. Iruka really wished thy weren't.

"And telling the Hokage to fuck off..." Izumo continued.

"Damn. Just damn." Kotetsu finished.

"If I wanted a commentary I would have consulted Jiraiya!" She bit at them then dismissed the nurse who fled the room with one last bashful glance at Iruka. "Ino would you like to explain to Iruka-sensei what's going on?"

She peeked between her fingers to see if it was safe then dropped her hands and coughed. She still wouldn't look at him, Iruka was finding it hard to look at her.

"You are suffering from a rare form of chakra depletion in which your chakra nature is being overstimulated by others. As a result it is having adverse effects?" She looked to Tsunade for confirmation.

Sakura continued more confidently. "Depending on what chakra nature those around you have determines how they will interact with yours. I'm assuming because you had the same reaction to Dohiko and Kakashi-sensei who both have lighting chakra natures that yours is probably a water chakra nature, is that correct?"

Iruka nodded. She was sharp as ever.

"That makes sense. Water conducts electricity so of course it would stimulate youre libido, working with your body rather than against it." Sakura's voice wavered only slightly when she said libido and Iruka flushed brightly again.

Tsunade nodded approvingly at her students. "Very good. Izumo also has a water chakra nature which explains why there was no reaction at all. That just means I need to get a nurse who's chakra nature is water to check your vitals." Sakura went to write that down on the clip board, paused, then handed it to Ino who begrudging took it and finished the task. "I am curious as to what chakra nature caused you to get sick." She eyed Kotetsu.

"Earth."

"Water is weak to earth so it fits. Rat has a fire nature which explains the pain reaction you had. Fire scalds water."

"So what does this mean?" Iruka asked.

"We found a cure to global warming. Who needs chakra paper when you have a chakra depleted academy sensei." He rolled his eyes at her response. He clearly didn't think she was funny.

"So that means my chakra nature is earth?" Sakura piped up. Tsunade nodded.

Ino stepped forward. "Wait, what about me?"

"Go ahead." Tsunade offered.

"You can't just be offering my body up for other people's uses! Didn't anyone ever teach you any manors!" Iruka barked.

Ino stopped her advances. "Is it okay Iruka-sensei? Just for a moment?"

He had the horrid thought of Ino being of a lighting nature then swallowed it down. Lighting was almost as rare as wind and no Yamanaka to his knowledge was a lighting user. Sighing he nodded to her. She placed her hand over his chest and they glowed green. Nothing happened. He relaxed in relief.

Tsunade cocked her head. "What do you know, water. Save me from looking at paper work to find a suitable water natured nurse. Ino think your up for the task?"

She turned around and faced the other blonde with a determined grin on her face. "Yes, Hokage-sama."

"There you have it. My work is done." The Hokage turned to leave.

"You never actually explained what this means though." Iruka pressed.

She waved her hand and left the room, calling out behind her. "Ino can explain."

With a forlorn look Sakura fallowed her out with a few words telling Iruka to rest well and get better soon. Now he just needed to be told how to get better. Ino faced him.

"Clearly you've never been chakra depleted before or you would have known about this reaction of yours. It's not common, only about 1 in 100 shinobi experience it and even then only when they are severely depleted. You can kind of think of it like being allergic to not having enough chakra. In most instances, when a body is faced with chakra depletion the person is incredibly weak and tired with varying severity but that's about it. Over time and though rest the body rebuilds its chakra until it is at its normal levels." Iruka was impressed she remembered so much from his lessons. On second thought though, she had probably been daydreaming about Sasuke durring that lesson and had relearned the principals of chakra deprecation under Sakura's study. "Your case however, doesn't seam to be too severe. Instead of just being weak and tired, your chakra, when brushed with their chakra, is actively rejecting it in an automated defensive response. The resulting bodily reactions are just symptoms of the process. The healing process is the same though."

"So pretty much what you saying is he just needs sleep and time."

Ino nodded.

"So this had nothing to do with the seal?"

"Other than it depleting your chakra, no. It's a rare but a completely normal reaction."

Iruka swallowed. So he hadn't been right. The seal had reacted just like before, the only difference being this one hit him with twice as much lighting. Probably due to the fact that it had twice as much chakra poured into it. They hadn't released the seal. That didn't change but, they had thought that they knew what lock didn't work. Turns out they never had a lock to begin with. It had been just another useless attempt. Exactly like every one before it. They hadn't learned anything. They had wasted their time. Now, they were back to square one and this time Iruka was being left out of the equation because of strict orders to rest. This was so stupid.

Chapter Text

It only took three days in the hospital before Iruka got restless. One could only count the cracks in the ceiling so many times before it was committed to memory and thus extinguishing the small relief from boredom it gave him. After that first day he had a minimal amount of guests. Kotetsu and Izumo hadn't dropped back in which lead Iruka to believe they had gotten a mission. The quiet he was presented with upon their departure was only a relief for a few hours before he found himself wishing for their presence again. Anko also had not stopped by which was highly unusual. She was protective over Iruka and he didn't have to guess why. He had befriended her upon her return from Orochimaru when everyone else had been too scared to even look in her direction. Because of this her lack of presence in the hospital most likely meant she was also on a mission. Genma had stopped by briefly the day before to drop by a fruit basket. It was very un-Genma like. Iruka found himself looking at it in suspicion.

"It's not going to bite." He drawled when he set it down on the table next to the cot.

"I'm just shy about accepting fruit from you now." He picked up an orange and examined it, side eyeing Ganma. "Especially oranges."

Genma huffed in amusement. "It was one time, and it wasn't even my fault."

"Yeah sure, because I'm going to believe that Raido was the one who henged a lemon into an orange. And it was three times, not once."

"I tell you, that man just hides behind an innocent exterior. On the inside he's a shark." Genma's grin was down right vicious. Very shark like in Iruka's opinion.

Iruka rolled his eyes and started peeling the orange. "How long have you guys been together now? Over a year right?"

Genma picked up an apple from the basket. Iruka plucked it out of his hand and put a piece of orange in its place. Genma's smile dropped to blinked at it.

"Go on, eat it." Iruka shoo'd at him urging him to take a bite.

"Seriously, it's not a lemon. I did say Raido bought the basket, right?"

Iruka laughed. "You're contradiction yourself so I'm going to take that as an admission of guilt." Now his own smirk was looking rather shark like.

"That's not- ah shit. You caught me." He took the senbon out and plopped the piece in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed without any more fuss. "There happy?" The senbon was swiftly re-placed between his lips.

"Very." Satisfied that he wasn't about to bite into a lemon he picked a piece off and popped it into his mouth enjoying the sweet citrus. "You never answered the question though."

"What one was that? I lost track of the conversation on the account of you being a baby and ruining my fun."

Iruka ignored him. "How long have you and Raido been together?"

"Our anniversary was a little over a month ago."

"Congratulations."

"Thanks." Genma picked the apple back up and took a bite into it. The crunch echoed around the room.

"Where is he anyway?" Iruka questioned and scanned the room like he would pop out from a wall.

Genma rolled his eyes. "What is this, 20 questions?"

"You're the first visitor I've had in three days. You damn well bet I'm gunna milk it." Iruka defended himself. He was going to die of boredom otherwise. He slept a lot due to the chakra depletion but the hours he was awake were unusually filled with silence.

"He's on a mission. Speaking of which, I'm about to go pick up my own from the mission desk so I should get going."

Damn. He was going to be left with silence again. Seaming to pick up on Iruka's distress Genma leaned back against the wall and added "A few more minutes won't hurt anyone though."

Iruka expressed his gratitude.

"So how much longer do you have in this hell hole?"

Iruka shrugged as he peeled an orange. "Tsunade says two weeks."

Genma whistled. "Slow recovery?"

"More like cautionary measures. She doesn't want to let me go while my body's still reacting to other people's chakra."

Genma had grinned. "Yeah I head about that. If you're that desperate for a lay I'm sure I could talk to Raido. No need to jump Kakashi's bones-Hey! Ow!" Iruka had thrown an apple at his head. And while it had hit its mark Genma was laughing so Iruka figured he hadn't thrown it hard enough.

"It's not funny."

"It really is."

Iruka threw another apple. Genma caught it and threw it back. It hit Iruka in the shoulder and fell to the floor.

"I'm going to tell Tsunade-sama your abusing her patient."

Genma's mouth went slack and his face paled. "You threw it at me first! Twice actually. Once can be forgiven. Twice deserves retaliation."

Iruka laughed. "If that's the case then you owe me a shit ton of drinks."

"And if that's the case you owe Kakashi a year's worth." He stayed casually.

Iruka reeled back. That didn't make any sense. "How do you figure that? I never drink with him."

Genma gave him a disbelieving look. Iruka's silence was fuel enough for him to explain. "Kakashi was the one who picked up the tab when we celebrated your promotion."

Holy shit. The teachers eyes widened. How had he not known about that? He'd been told not to worry about the tab sure, but he never really thought about it after that. Clearly someone had to have paid and the nights worth of drinks definitely cost more than a pretty penny. The fact that it was Kakashi painted him in a slightly new light in Iruka's mind. In fact, the last few weeks Kakashi had been one surprise after another. He would have to remember to thank him and pay him back for the trouble.

"You really didn't know? Huh." He took another crunch of the apple. "The way I see it, if you really wanted in his pants all you would have to do is ask."

Iruka flushed. "Well I didn't ask you, did I?" He shot a glare at his company. "Gees, why is everything about sex with you!"

Genma smirked. "Just saying."

Iruka threw another apple at him.

Genma left shortly after. Iruka made sure he picked up all the apples on the ground and placed them back in the basket before he did so. That had been yesterday afternoon.

Today his only consistent company was Ino which, don't get him wrong, was nice. She and Iruka had talked extensively about how each other had been doing. In his profession it was hard pressed to get to see one of his old students so happy. Sometimes, while walking the streets he would catch glances of them. Before he could go over and ask how they were doing he'd see the expression on their face and he wouldn't need to ask. After killing someone for the first time a hopeful genin's illusions of how fun being a ninja is were shattered. He prepared his students best as he could but it would never be enough. Iruka sometimes resented himself for it. After all, he was usually the first one to teach a child how to kill. He was also the first one to know which of the children would be killed before their next birthday....

His thoughts had really taken a turn into dark territory. This is why Iruka was a social person. It kept his thoughts from wondering and his mind in the present. He was going to go crazy if he had to be cooped up here any longer with only Ino's complaints of Sakura, Shikamaru, and Choji to keep him company.

A knock at the door snapped his thoughts to the present again. To his surprise he found the nurse with the lightning nature standing in the door way. This was the second time today that someone other than Ino had checked up on him. They must be busy.

"Um, would it be alright if I came in?" Her voice was shaky and shy and she briefly reminded him of Hinata after her father hadn't shown up for the first parent-teacher conference.

He forced a bright smile and nodded. She walked in, checked his machines and hooked up a new IV bag. Her movements were measured. She was careful to not look at him directly but was also taking note of his every breath. Her hands stayed far away from any of his skin. Even so she quickly did her job. He was curious, however. Usually this was Ino's job. He wondered if she had been sent off on a mission too. If so it would seam like everyone Iruka knew was out on a mission right now. He was about to ask but decided against it. The poor girl had been though enough and he doubted she wanted anything to do with him. He would find out from someone else.

The rest of the day went by without hitch. Ino had come back that evening apologizing for not being there earlier in the day. She had explained that she was helping out at the mission desk. He was surprised to hear it but he really shouldn't have been. All chunin worked the mission desk at some point.

"I have a new respect for you Iruka-sensei. Jounin have piss poor hand writing. I'm pretty sure pre-genin can write better than that."

He chucked. "You'll learn to read it and if you still can't read it after that then don't accept it."

"Even if I can read it I'm not going to accept it unless it looks like they made some sort attempt at making it legible." She was stricter than he was when he started working the mission desk. He wondered if she would kick up a reputation too or if she would relax the more time she spent there.

They talked about the mission desk for a while. There had been a sudden influx of missions. Those who weren't assigned one had been assigned to the mission desk or gate duty. With this new information Iruka had no doubt all his friends hadn't come to visit because they'd fallen victim to the system. The conversation then shifted to a new justu she was learning. He listened to her ramble about it with a polite smile on his face. This one he didn't have to force.

-------------

The next day came and went and the day after just the same. It was his 6th day in the hospital that he started planning his escape. He couldn't take another week of this. The silence was becoming defining and the white walls blinding. His skin itched for social interaction and fresh air. He looked at the window with longing.

"I speak from experience when I say this, she'll hunt you down." Iruka's muscles tensed- a jump in surprise for a shinobi- and turned around to see Kakashi leaning against the door fame. He held up a lazy hand in greeting. Iruka took note of the folded piece of paper between two of his fingers. "Yo."

"I took you for more of a window entrance kind of man." He stated.

"Either way I'm off on a mission. Just came by to drop this off." As Kakashi approached the bed his visible eye crinkled in a smile. Iruka couldn't tell if it reached his mouth.

Kakashi looked more like he had just gotten back from a mission. His combat cloths had some mud splattered here and there. His crazy hair looked a bit crazier than usual but other than that there was nothing unusual about the man. Well nothing more unusual than normal that is. Even still Iruka couldn't help but pick up on the weird atmosphere as Kakashi approached. The other seamed almost... giddy? He had a light hop to his step and his shoulders seamed more relaxed than slouched. Iruka hardly ever felt the positive emotion coming from the elite ninja so freely and it threw him even more off kilter than he had been lately. Once again Kakashi managed to catch his expectations off guard. The silver haired man dropped the paper on Iruka's bed then flashed though some hand signs faster than Iruka's eyes could track. He paused and tilted his head to the side. Much like a puppy would, Iruka decided.

"Oh, and one more thing. You wouldn't happen to know what bicurious means would you, Iruka-sensei?" He then then teleported away before Iruka could process the random question that had left his lips. Three leaves fell where he had been standing.

Iruka was left extremely confused. "What... the fuck?" He picked up the paper and unfolded it hoping it would offer an explanation.

Dear Kakashi-sensei and Iruka-sensei,

Iruka beamed, immediately recognizing Naruto's messy penmanship. Kakashi's strange words forgotten, his somber mood flipped 180. He found himself filling with his own giddy happiness. Kakashi's good mood was clearly due to the letter as well. He continued to read, his smile growing impossibly wider.

I'm sorry that I couldn't write both of you separately but, Pervy Sage just started working on his new book and he says he has to save paper so you guys are just gunna have to share.

In my last letter I said you have no reason to worry about me. But now I'm starting to question how true that is. Last week The Pervy Sage ditched me in a brothel and told me to practice my intelligence skills while telling the women to take good care of me. I don't get it. I think it was just his way of trying to get rid of me for a few hours because when he came back he thanked them for babysitting me. Can you believe that! Babysitting! I don't need to be baby sat!

That was the third time he had dropped me off at a whore house to be watched while he goes off and does who knows what. I'm scared he's trying to turn me into a perverted creep like him. Come to think of it I wouldn't put it past him. He's always boasting about how good he is. Of course he would want me to be just like him. Truthfully I think none of the girls want him anymore because he's old so he's trying to live bicuriously threw me. Kakashi-sensei I know that's a big word so if you don't know what it means you can ask Iruka-sensei about it.

Iruka snorted at Naruto's hilarious miss-wording. So that's where Kakashi's question had come from. When Naruto got back Iruka would make sure he knew the difference between bicurious and vicarious but only after he had used the first word incorrectly a few times.

I can't tell you much about where we are incase this letter gets intercepted but wow it's amazing. The only thing it's missing is Ichiraku Ramen and you two. Man if it just had those three things I would say it might be better than the leaf village..... HA! I totally just tricked you! There is no place better than the Hidden Leaf.

Anyway Kakashi-sensei, I've been keeping up my training and I'm getting really good! I have the rasengan mastered. Now we're working on trying to make it even more powerful. Pervy Sage says I have a ton of chakra even with out the nine tails. So don't feel too bad when I come back and kick you're butt durring sparing. It's only natural after all. After that it'll be a breeze to bring Sasuke back!

And Iruka-sensei, I'm really missing you a lot.

Iruka's beaming grin settled down to a watery melancholic smile. His chest hurt. Every time he read one of Naruto's letters it reminded him of just how much he missed the boy who'd quickly grown to be like a younger brother. He wanted to ask Naruto to move in with him when he got back from training with Jiraiya. He wanted to spoil him to raman every night. Hell, he wanted to adopt the boy if he would let him but nothing would ever make up for all the years of his hatred twords Naruto. No number of ramen bowls would make up for the number of times he walked past the blonde orphan, hands held out for money, and didn't give him a cent. Nothing could make up for his neglect tword the boy. Iruka knew that. Now, he would do everything in his power to make sure the boy he loved would never have to go hungry or be lonely again.

Everytime I smell ramen it reminds me of you. I means don't get me wrong it's not like I'm sappy about it but I can't believe it's going to be another year at least before I get to eat 12 bowls of ramen in one sitting. Pervy Sage makes me pay for it myself and that's after he spent half my money on women and drink. I have to admit, moving from town to town like this is getting kind of lonely.

Speaking of which I hope you're keeping yourself busy and aren't moping too much. Maybe you should take Konohamaru out for ramen some time. Or, Oh! Maybe you can take Kakashi out for ramen. He's so skinny that sometimes I wonder if he eats at all.

Anyway that's all I can write for now. I have to help edit pervy sages next chapter and I ran out of room to write on this page.

-Naruto Uzumaki

True to his word, Naruto had indeed run out of paper to write on. His handwriting that had been messy and spaced but legible had gotten less so and more squished together as it descended the page. The last paragraph was squished together so much that it was hard to pick one word from another.

His mood immensely improved as he read over the letter another time still feeling giddy all the same. He placed the letter on the table next to him. The smile on his face was unmovable even as Ino came in later that night and blew his vein four times while redoing his IV. For the first time that week he found himself truly not caring that he was stuck here in the hospital. Maybe if he played good paticent a little longer he would be released soon.

 

--------

 

Iruka was an extrovert. He liked people and he liked interacting with people. If he didn't interact with people his mind went weird places. And it was that excuse Iruka used when he found himself thinking about collaboration jutsus. Specifically about a collaboration jutsu between himself and Kakashi.

While he was scavenging through his father's old scrolls a few years back he discovered a very pointed fact that his mother had a secondary lightning nature. Her and his father had used this nature to come up with a collaboration jutsu. It combined two parts. Mist and lighting and created what was essentially a million tiny bombs the size of a needle head. Iruka had to wonder how it hadn't been classified as a forbidden jutsu. It had the potential to be that deadly.

This had always presented two problems for the teacher, however. Creating mist required more than a substantial amount of concentration. His father was only able to do it because he hailed from Mist and was taught at a very young age before moving to the Village Hidden in the Leaf. Ikkaku had begun Iruka's training shortly before the Kyubi attack. Unfortunately, he had never had the chance to finished it.

But researching the sealed scroll had Iruka delving into some of his father's scrolls he'd never had reason to open before and he discovered a spelled out map on how to create mist. He hadn't had the chance to give it a shot yet. After multiple years of failing to create anything more than a few small water droplets at a time roughly the size of large raindrops- which later developed into his water bullet jutsu- he hug up that hat shortly after he became a chunin. Now, with that instructive scroll open across his lap, he found himself with new hope.

"Are you going to ask him?" Ino asked.

Iruka had tossed the idea off her. He always found he was able to better figure things out when hearing others opinions and concerns.

"Eventually. First I have to figure out how to create mist. No use brining it up until then."

Ino nodded. "When you do figure out how, do you think you could teach me?"

She had been kind enough to retrieve the scroll from his apartment for him. The least he could do is pass on the information. Speaking of which, the scroll contained a jutsu commonly used in an enemy territory. It also should be classified in the Hokage's library and not casually opened in a hospital room. Iruka would make sure it got there. Eventually.

"I don't see why not. It might take a while so I wouldn't get you hopes up just yet." He smiled at her.

She rolled her eyes. "Well duh, I'm not stupid. Learning a new jutsu can take years. This medical ninjutsu isn't as easy as it looks you know."

Iruka chuckled. "You picked it up quickly enough."

"Not as quickly as Sakura."

Iruka couldn't hide his surprise fast enough. Ino was the last person he'd name to admit that she wasn't up to someone's standards. Even more so when Sakura was involved.

She seamed to catch herself and rubbed the back of her neck awkwardly. "Heh heh. That's not to say she's better than me. Just that she's, you know more in Tsunade's favor. Yeah, that's right. If I got the same attention from the Hokage as she does I would be way past her skill level."

Iruka tried to hide his smile behind tight lips. She had changed so much over the years but in the end she really hadn't changed at all. He doubted that her feud with the pink haired girl would ever end.

"You fixed me up well enough. I think that counts for something at least. And I'm sure it's helped your team mates more than once too so don't be so hard on yourself. Most medical ninja take years to learn the extent of craft that you've mastered in just a year. Sakura may be ahead of you right now but it seams as if she's a bit of prodigy with this sort of stuff. Not to mention she has the retrieval of Sasuke and of Naruto's return to fuel her on." Iruka paused giving Ino a chance to interject. When she didn't he continued. "The Sandaime once told me 'you don't have to be the best to start, but you do have to start to be the best and there's no better way to achieve that then through hard work.'" He smiled brightly at her even though she was looking at the floor. "Do you understand?"

She nodded hesitantly. "I think so." Then after a moment her slumped shoulders straightened and she nodded more confidently. "I'll just have to work harder. Thanks Iruka-sensei." She stood up and checked the IV bag. "I'm going to go get you another one, this will be empty soon."

She left quickly. A few minutes later a loud boom of thunder could be heard in the distance. It shook the foundation of the hospital. He checked the window but only saw clear blue sky's. It must have been rolling in from the east if he couldn't see it. He didn't pay it any mind as Ino returned to hanging the new bag and connect it to the IV. She didn't sit down this time and her expression was worried.

His eyebrows drew together. He wasn't going to say anything else and let her get onto her other patients but then she hadn't left after a few minutes he tried for conversation again. "One thing has been bothering me." Iruka spoke up in a change of topic. "Tsunade never explained why I got high off of her chakra."

Ino shrugged. "Probably because she's of a wind nature."

His eyebrows furrowed. "I thought she had an earth affinity."

"She does but her formost is wind. She doesn't have as much practice with it though..." She looked towards the door again trailing off as a few nurses had just run past the room. "I guess she just liked earth better Iruka-sensei. You'll have to ask her yourself." She seamed distracted.

He found he too was a bit distracted by what she'd said. He really wasn't her sensei anymore. After all, up until a few weeks ago they had both been chunin. At this point Ino could probably teach him more than he could her. "Hey Ino?" She stopped at the door and turned back to look at him. "One last thing."

"Sure, what is it?"

"Just Iruka from now on okay? I'm not your sensei anymore. We're colleagues now."

Her distant gaze returned to the present. Whatever she had been thinking about momentarily forgotten as she blatantly snorted in amusement then started laughing. That was not the reaction he was expecting.

"No way. It would feel just wrong calling you plain Iruka. Even Azuma-sensei tags on the honorific and he's older than you. So don't try that crap with anyone else either, okay? No matter what, you'll always be Iruka-sensei to everyone in this village."

With that she exited the room. Those words touched him more than she would ever know.

He rolled onto his side looking at where Naruto's note lay on the night stand. Maybe he would try to get some sleep. As he drifted off he noted that he hadn't heard any more thunder.

 

--------

 

Iruka woke with a start to the sound of his door slamming open. Before he could think he was on his feet, hand reaching for his nonexistent weapons pouch. Upon seeing Tsunade and Ino standing in the open doorway he visibly relaxed. The sanin quirked an eyebrow and took in his state. His hair a was mess with more of it falling out of the tie than in, his hospital gown threatened to fall off one shoulder, and the sheets were tangled around his feet- he was sure he look very threatening at the moment.

"Bad dream?" She asked as she strolled in.

Iruka shook his head in the negative and sat back down on the cot. "Just startled me."

Truth be told he had been in the midst of a nightmare concerning white hair, gentle kisses, and a giant shiriken to the back. He willed his heart to slow and forced the memory into the dark recesses of his mind.

The look she gave him clearly said that she knew he was lying. He mentally thanked her for moving on anyway. "If that's your version of startled I'd hate to see what frightened looks like." She looked down at the clipboard she held in her hand and hummed. She flipped that page up and examined another. "Do you want the bad news or good news first?"

It didn't really matter to him either way as long as he got all the information. He told her as much.

"Well, good news is you're being released. Bad news is you're being released too early." She explained. "It's only been 9 days since you've been emitted, if I had it my way you would stay here for another week at least. Your chakra levels returned enough that it's not dangerous but some of your pathways are still partially blocked. That's probably why you're still experiencing some symptoms of chakra depletion, then there's also the fact that your still experiencing minor reactions to others chakra. Granted, it's no where near the severity it was when you first came in but the idea still stands. And to top it off your ribs aren't completely healed from your last mission."

Iruka cut in. "Then why are you clearing me for release?"

"We're short staffed at the moment. I'm sure you've heard there's been an influx of missions. The mission desk in particular's been having trouble keeping up."

"So you want me to fill in there for the next week while I finish healing." He finished for her.

"That about sums it up."

He frowned. "Why am I not going back to researching the scroll? I could rest my body just as much there."

"Like I said we're short staffed at the mission desk-"

"Don't patronize me. With all due respect you could have a genin work that job just fine. You promoted me to tokubetsu jounin but you're still treating me like a chunin. What's going on? Clearly something happened." She wouldn't be here otherwise.

She sighed pushing back some stray strands of hair. In that moment she looked exhausted and far older than the henge she put out. The bags under her eyes were hidden but visible, a few small smile lines creased the corner of her eyes, and one pony tail tie was slightly higher than the other. A civilian had little to no chance of noticing the changes but Iruka was no civilian. He knew what sleepless nights looked like and Tsunade was the spitting image of it. Ino's didn't escape his notice either. Her eyes were red, a tell tail sign she'd been crying.

"What aren't you telling me?" Iruka pushed.

Her eyes settled on Iruka then after an internal battle seemingly lost she turned to Ino.

"I believe Ganka needs a few vials of blood drawn." Ino got the message and left. She closed the door on her way out. Tsunade locked it then leaned against it. "You're sharp as a tack you know that?" A beat then, "If you would, a sound barrier would be nice."

Iruka was going to question her then decided against it. She knew very well she was asking a chakra depleation paticent to expel chakra. An action she had strictly prohibited him from doing during his stay. A pool of dread sank in his gut.

Iruka leaned over and closed the window. He flashed through a few signs then pressed his hands to the wall. For a brief moment the walls glowed blue before fading back to their normal appearance. He turned back to Tsunade waiting for her explanation.

"We tried to open the seal again."

Iruka didn't react. He figured as much. "I take it, it didn't go well."

"Meiko died."

Iruka felt like he'd been punched in the gut. She was supposed to be under surveillance. She was a suspected traitor- a possible spy- but she was still a friend. He swallowed thickly. Now she was dead. How? He had too many questions. None of them added up. If she was still under investigation why was she let near the scroll. She was a chunin teacher, surely she didn't have the capability to help unlock it, they could have gotten someone more capable... With a start he realized the council had probably thought the same of him before he was promoted. He opened his mouth to speak but Tsunade continued.

"We had three other casualties and a shinobi who's still in critical condition."

"Who?" He almost didn't dare to ask. Anko, Genma, Raido, Kotetsu, Izumo- they all flashed though his mind. He held his breath and hoped to all gods it was no one he knew. Then he felt guilty for thinking that.

"Hatsubi Meiko, Yamanaka Ikuno, Hyuga Tsuyoi, and Fukushi Hachi, all passed away serving their village honorably. Sarutobi Azuma is currently touch and go in critical care."

Iruka's eyes widened. Everyone. He knew everyone but one on the list. Ikuno had been in his class the year he was a teacher's aid, Tsuyoi was council to Hiashi Hyuga, and Meiko-

"How." His voice was thick.

"We found a lock and thought it was the right one. We were wrong."

Anger flared to life under his skin, behind his eyes, beneath his tongue. He clenched his fists. "And the first failure wasn't warning enough!?" His voice came out louder than he meant. Good. "We can't play guess work with the scroll! You should have double checked, triple checked-"

"We had three separate research teams come to the same conclusion!" Her voice overpowered his in volume and strength. "Three different Hyuga's say the chakra entwined in the scroll would accept the new lock! What more was I supposed to do!?"

Iruka shut his mouth but his breathing was still heavy. A stark contrast to how he had been holding it in a moment ago.

She died. Meiko died and he couldn't do anything to prevent it. If she had died honorably she was obviously cleared of all suspicion. He'd been wrong about her and now he would never be able to apologize. The last she'd seen of him he hadn't trusted what she said and looked at her as a traitor, not a friend. He abandoned her. Iruka didn't have to imagine how betrayed she must have felt.

He had to make sure though. His voice came out soft. "Meiko was cleared of suspicion." It was a statement.

"Yes. She was cleared the day before yesterday." Her voice was just as soft in return.

"When did she-they die?"

"Yesterday afternoon." He realized he didn't know how long he'd been sleeping. It must be late at night or early in the morning based on how dark it was outside. A glance at the clock revealed it was almost 4am. So yesterday afternoon would only have been half a day ago. Not even a full day ago Meiko had been alive. Now she was dead.

"What happened?"

Tsunade told him. She told him of the intricacies of the language map Kakashi had brought back before leaving to get more intel. She told him of how three separate teams used it to come to the same conclusion on their own and she told him of the foundation and details of the lock. After the research teams came to the same conclusion she decided that another try to unlock the seal was in order. Iruka couldn't be mad. Based on what he was hearing everything lined up. From his memory it seamed as though the lock should have worked. He would have done the same thing in her place.

For extra measures they were going to use an earth nature ninja and a wind nature ninja to cancel out the lightning nature of the scroll. Azuma, being one of the few wind natured shinobi in the village, was an obvious choice. Kotetsu had been her first choice for an earth nature but newly cleared Meiko wanted to prove herself to The Hokage and Tsunade had no reason to refuse her. Iruka tried to ignore the small part of himself that was happy Meiko had taken Kotetsu's spot among the fallen shinobi.

Tsunade then explained how Meiko suggested that instead of just canceling out the lighting nature it would be better if they completed the chakra nature circle. All three Hyuga's backed her up explaining how it would cycle the lighting energy rather than compress it between earth and wind. Their was less chance of injury and more people for the backlash to flow between. All in all it was a safey measure Tsunade chose to take. That's what lead to the other three shinobi being chosen to partake. Kakashi had been away on a mission which in the end saved him from the same fate as the others. His replacement had been Fukushi Hachi. The small read-head nurse with the lightning affinity that had helped treat Iruka his first day in the hospital. Her smile and name etched itself into his memory. He knew everyone who had died, He corrected. He hadn't remembered her name, hadn't even recognized it when Tsunade listed the fallen. Now he would never forget it.

"The scroll exploded." She continued. "Everyone around the circle was effected based on their chakra natures position in the circle. Fukushi Hachi's body was almost entirely incinerated. Hatsubi Meiko's body was chared beyond recognition. Yamanaka Ikuno's body was severely burnt. Hyuga Tsuyoi survived the initial blast but died on the way to the hospital. And Sarutobi Azuma's organs have been burnt on the inside, miraculously that seams to be the only part of him that was. The rest of his body sustained minor injury. Yet the scroll doesn't have a scratch on it."

Iruka tried to erase the the vivid pictures The Hokage's words were painting in his head. "Why are you telling me this?"

"Because, I want you to know why I'm putting you back on mission desk detail rather than scroll detail. Unless you're 100% healthy I'm not letting you or anyone else within 100 feet of that scroll. Give it another week and I would greatly appreciate your expertise but until then the mission desk needs your help."

He nodded. With out Meiko and the Yamanaka Ikuno the deck was short staffed. But that brought up another question. "What about the academy? With Meiko...gone and Shino taking over my class wouldn't it be better if I go back to the school?"

She huffed and crossed her arms. "Shino's a natural and unless you want to risk the chance of a snot nose brat having lightning nature chakra then I suggest it unwise for you to return to the classroom just yet, Sensei."

She was right. Pre-genin were notorious for leaking chakra in excess. Tsunade had said his reactions weren't as sever but he didn't want to risk getting aroused because one of his kids tripped into him. That would scar the both of them for life. He shook his head. "Yeah best if I wait."

"Thought so. I also told you all of that because I want your opinion."

Iruka thought it over for a moment. "It should have worked." He said. "I'm going off of memory and I would need to look at the scroll but everything you've told me so far sound right. You have no idea why it went askew?"

"Right now all we have to go off of is it being the wrong lock."

"Yeah, clearly, but that alone shouldn't have had such a huge reaction. Some one had to have messed up the hand sign sequence... or maybe a self destruct fail safe that was designed into the scroll. But if that was the case the scroll would have exploded also...?" He was spit balling now. "But even then...." He looked up at the Hokage. "I would need a closer look at the scroll. Now that I know what I'm reading it should be a little clearer what I'm looking at."

She nodded. "When Kakashi returns from his mission you and him can go back to studying the scroll together. I sent him to gather more intel a few days ago. He should be back in four or five days. Think you can handle the desk until then?"

"Should be easy enough as long no one snaps."

"With you working I wouldn't hold your breath. They always seam to snap during your shift. You know why that is?" Her tone was challenging. She was trying to lighten the mood.

If it had been any other day Iruka would have greeted her words with a bright smile and denied having anything to do with it despite the fact that more than a couple shinobi had snapped because he asked them to fill out a new slip. Today, he didn't have the energy.

He rubbed his tired eyes. "I'll go easy on them these next few days but I'm not going to accept it if I can't read it."

"I wouldn't expect anything less." The conversation was clearly over but still she stayed in the room. "You can drop the barrier now."

Ah. He did so. The room went awkwardly quiet as the air settled. She was still leaning against the door.

"Is their something else Tsunade-sama?" He looked at the clock. 4:15. Only thirty minutes had passed since she came in. It felt like longer than that.

She studied him for a long moment and looked as if she was going to say something but changed her mind. Her eyes settled on Naruto's note resting on the night stand and she smiled softly. Opening the door she backed out of the room. "You check out in the morning and have a hectic week ahead of you. Try to get some sleep." The door slid shut then not a second later it slid back open to revel her again. "That's an order."

Iruka turned to the window and opened it. The air was dry and he noted that everything else was as well. Remembering the thunder from the previous evening he noted that it hadn't stormed after all. He also noted that the thunder probably wasn't thunder at all, rather the scroll exploding.

He laid back down as the door shut a second time. A few moment passed with him starring at the ceiling. He was exhausted. The clock ticked another minute. He wasn't getting any sleep that night.

Chapter Text

6.

 

The funeral was held the day after Iruka had gotten out of the hospital. It had been beautiful but not unlike the handful he had attended before. It somehow felt wrong that there was nothing to distinguish it from all the others. After all, they had died on Konoha soil, not even fighting an enemy.

 

The sky looked like it was about to cry down on all of them but the water never reached the ground. The day before was just the opposite. They had almost gotten 3 inches of rain. Despite this, he had come straight here after being released from the hospital and watched as four names were carved into the memorial stone. There were so many decorating its surface now that he supposed they would have to erect another in the coming years.

 

Now, he stood staring at it as the crowd slowly filed out. The Hyuuga family had kept their calm composure with not even a single sniffle among them. The Yamanaka family tried the same. Everyone pretended they couldn't hear Ikuno's parents' sobs. A shinobi was never supposed to cry but surely they could allow them this one kindness.

 

Though they weren't making themselves visible there was also a large number of ANBU held up in the surrounding trees. One of the fallen must have been ANBU and a damn good one to gather the presence of so many.

 

As everyone headed home, sans Ikuno's parents who had now ceased their sobs in exchange for blank broken stares, Iruka walked up to the monument. He found her name second to last on the list and touch it softly. The rock was hard and cold. She had been much too young. Everyone on there had been much too young. And he had been too weak to help them. He would change that.

 

"I'm sorry." He whispered and let his hand drop.

 

The soft crunch of grass behind him alerted him to someone's approach. He kindly stepped out of the way and bowed to Ikuno's parents whispering his condolences. A tear escaped the blond man's eye and Iruka had the decency to turn away. He did so just in time to catch a flicker of silver hair at the far end of the field before it scattered into three falling leaves.

 

Iruka stopped at the sight then abruptly turned on his heel and walked towards the forest that bordered the graveyard rather than the front entrance. Kakashi was back. Kakashi was strong. Far stronger than Iruka. Possibly stronger than any other shinobi in the village. Though Iruka and he now shared the title of Jounin, when standing next to each other and comparing strength, Iruka might as well be a civilian.

 

He passed through the trees and kept walking north. He had a destination in mind and it wasn't home. Kakashi was back two days early and that meant Iruka's time was about to be consumed by the scroll again. He needed to make use of the free time he had, no matter how small it was. Tsunade would kill him if she knew what he was planning. He was still low on chakra but he didn't have time to wait around for his body to heal all the way. Especially when he had a training field calling his name.

 

 

--------

 

"Damn it!"

His lungs gasped for air as he bent over the ground. His fingers dug into his thighs and his chest heaved. His whole body felt twice as heavy as usual and his reaction time was slowing. When walking around town he barely noticed his half depleted chakra reserves but now that he was trying to make use of them his body very loudly proclaimed its displeasure.

 

His hair was slick with sweat and water and his shirt was in the same condition. In the process of trying to make mist, he had drenched himself fully three times now. He looked like a drowned rat. Allowing himself three more lungfuls of air he stood up ready to give it another go.

 

His last attempt had been the closest yet but it was still way off the mark. He knew the hand signs now that he had uncovered the scroll and that was, of course, a tremendous help. He had something to go off, but the amount of chakra and concentration it demanded left him exhausted. Not to mention he had never been a chakra powerhouse, to begin with.

 

He straightened up and breathed the forest air in deep, focusing his mind. Again, his hands flashed through the necessary signs in a calculated manner, not yet put to muscle memory. He concentrated hard on the puddle in front of him. Slowly a few droplets rose, only slightly smaller than his water bullet jutsu. He held them steady then split them in half and then half’s in half and so on. His hands started to shake and so did the water droplets. A few fell from the air back to the ground but this was okay. He was doing it. Kind of. He felt like he was trying to balance dozens on delicate teacups, each placed on top of its own toothpick, all of which were balanced on the very tip of one finger. It was incredibly difficult.

 

He took a deep breath dividing all his attention and chakra between each little ball of water. They were a fraction of the size of his water bullets now. It wasn’t quite a fog of mist, and it only covered a foot circumference but it would get there with time. He pushed his chakra outward and some the water droplets followed. More fell out of his hold and to the ground.

 

His eyebrows pulled together, he pushed his chakra out even further and dropped his guard of his environment to do so. He was entirely focused on expanding his coverage. That's perhaps, how he didn't notice the entrance of another presence to the training ground.

 

“Think up a good definition yet?”

 

All the suspended water dropped as Iruka sent an elbow flying back. It was caught and twisted up forcing his body down. Once again he found himself looking at the muddy ground. He used the slick surface to slide his foot back, hooking his heel with his opponent's ankle and rocking his weight backward. Instead of tripping them, however, the mystery person easily out maneuvered him. Luckily, he let go of Iruka's arm in the process.

 

The teacher used his new found freedom to jump out of the close combat range. Flashing through a short and quick hand sequence as he did so and sent a small barrage of water at his opponent's chest. The man let out a fire ball jutsu in response. A pleasant spark of arousal coursed through Iruka's nervous system as the fire and water clashed in a spray of steam, negating each other. He bit his lip and his pelvic region grew warm. He Ignored it and readied himself for the next attack. There was no retaliation on his opponent's side, however, and now that he got a good look at the man across the field he could clearly see that it was Kakashi. His shoulders slumped in exhausted relief, then anger flooded his system.

 

“What the hell is wrong with you!?" Iruka exclaimed across the field.

 

"Jumpy?"

 

"Who the hell sneaks up on a ninja while their training!? Dumb ass!" Fists clenched, he started making his way over to the lanky man.

 

Kakashi tilted his head in that annoyingly, obnoxiously, adorable way of his. "You seemed to fare well enough. Someone has to keep you on your toes."

 

"And what the hell made you think that's your job!?"

 

The closer he got the better he could see Kakashi. Iruka had gotten a brief glance of him at the end of the funeral and he could have sworn he was covered in dirt with his uniform ripped in multiple places. Now he stood completely clean despite their small fight and he'd clearly put a new uniform on. Iruka distantly acknowledged that he must have gone home and showered. He caught Kakashi giving him a once over and his brain supplied him with a much more vivid mental image of Kakashi's shower than was strictly necessary. He blinked that image away.

 

"Well with you dropping your guard like that, it's a good thing I did drop by," Kakashi said off handily. "I was just making sure you were keeping vigilant as all shinobi are supposed to." There was a bite to his words. Apparently, Iruka wasn't the only agitated one here.

 

"Yeah well, It's not like I was expecting to get attacked on my home turf." He was now only a few feet away from the other and came to a stand still.

 

"And that was your mistake."

 

"Not all of us are paranoid assholes."

 

"Was that supposed to hurt? I have been called worse. Besides it's not paranoia if they're really out to get you."

 

Kakashi, Iruka decided, was a particular brand of insufferable today. He didn't want to deal with this after the morning he'd had.

 

"Did the Hokage send you?"

 

"No."

 

"Then would you kindly piss the fuck off Hatake-san." He knew he was being harsh but right now he didn't particularly care. He was in a shit mood, his good friend's funeral had been that morning, and he was barely making any progress with the mist jutsus.

 

Kakashi crossed his arms in front of his chest. His visible eye was narrowed. "I'm sorry. Did I do something so wrong earn such hostility, Umino-san." He mimicked Iruka's dastardly use of over formality.

 

Iruka grit his teeth. He ached so bad for a fight. For something to aim his anger at. For something to hit. But he wasn't suicidal. If he fought Kakashi in the half dead chakra state he was in he was sure to die a quick death. He slowly breathed in through his nose three times to calm his boiling blood. When he opened his eyes Kakashi still stood in front of him, this time looking more worried than confrontational.

 

The elite took a step forward, a hand reached out hesitantly then dropped it to his side. "Are you alright?" He looked incredibly awkward and completely out of his element. Like he didn't know what to do with his hands so he just shoved them back in his pockets.

 

The teacher deflated at the display and huffed at the ground. He shook his head and rubbed at his eyes. “Yes... no, sorry. Just worked up.”

 

“Right.” For a minute it was quiet. He almost expected Kakashi to be gone when he lowered his hands. He wasn’t. "Do you want to talk about it?"

 

Iruka was taken aback. Not every day was it that the Copy Nin offered to talk about feelings. In fact, he had a reputation for being cold hearted.

 

"Or not. We could also not talk about it... Um..." When Iruka didn't respond Kakashi scratched the side of his mask with one finger and looked off to the side as if meeting eye contact would be painful for him. Iruka decided to throw the dog a bone.

 

"What are you doing here?" His voice clearly delivered his exhaustion.

 

"Well, you know, a little bird brought me down a road less traveled."

 

"What?"

 

"Nothing. Was that a mist jutsu you were trying?"

 

It was Iruka's turn to flush. So Kakashi had seen his failure at it. He mentally shook his head. There was no shame in failing as long as you learned from your mistakes. That's what he told his students so he should live by it as well.

 

"Yeah. As you saw it could use some work."

 

Kakashi's spirits seemed to brighten. "Would you like help?"

 

"You can make mist?"

 

"I copied it from Zabuza." He said. "Plus, Tsunade insisted I take the mandatory 24-hour leave before we get to work on the scroll. I've got some time to kill."

 

Right. Duh. He should have guessed as much. "If you would help, it'd be much appreciated."

 

"Of course," Kakashi closed some of the distance between them. "But, first things first. Does Tsunade-sama know you're here."

 

“No."

 

"Then I'll assume you weren't cleared for training."

 

"Does it matter either way?" Kakashi's looked slightly surprised. "You realize that if you deny me training because I haven't been medically cleared for it, it'd be incredibly hypocritical."

 

The man sighed in exasperation. Despite his earlier words of not having anything better to do he clearly had some reservations. “Buy me a drink after and try not to hump my leg every time I touch you and we have a deal."

 

Iruka scoffed at the wording. He wasn't a dog in heat. Nonetheless, he conceded. "Deal." They shook on it. Iruka ignored the tingling running from his palm south. He wasn't a dog in heat.

 

Despite the deal, they had made Kakashi did not hold himself back from touching Iruka to make corrections. The touching alone wasn't the issue but the small layer of buzzing chakra that coated his person was. Iruka had no doubt that the man was doing it on purpose. Someone with his skill level and background would have no problem stopping himself from leaking chakra. In fact, Iruka was so sure he was doing it on purpose because a half trained genin could stop himself from leaking chakra to some extent and Kakashi had been ANBU. There was no way Kakashi was doing it on accident. No. He was most definitely doing it on purpose.

 

This posed a problem for Iruka. After an hour of training and despite the fact that every muscle felt dead, there was one organ that was intent on coming alive. He thanked the gods that his pants were baggy and he had worn brief's rather than boxers that day. It kept his half hard dick from creating a tent in his pants. This being said, he was getting increasingly frustrated in more than one way.

 

"Better, now rather than infuse your chakra with each water particle, try creating a cloud of chakra that the water can rest in."

 

Ignoring the not so accidental chakra caresses, Kakashi had become the definition of professional once they started training. He was helpful and encouraging but knew when to back off and let Iruka figure it out himself. The teacher was honestly incredibly impressed. It was no wonder team seven had advanced so quickly.

 

"Now take what you have and expand it," Kakashi instructed. "Don't fight the breeze, allow it to help hold the water particles."

 

Iruka did as he was told. He stopped fighting the wind and instead let it guide him. He lost about 20 percent of this water but the cloud became lighter and easier to manipulate. He wanted to try something. Concentrating harder his shoulders tensed as he tried to recover some of his fallen water. Kakashi's hands only took a moment to make contact and press down on each of them. The arousal was immediate.

 

"Relax." His voice was right behind him.

 

Iruka wanted to lean back into his chest to increase the points of contact. He fought his head from rolling to the side to expose his neck but a small almost moan still managed to escape his lips. There was no way Kakashi hadn't noticed it but the other man didn't say anything. Instead, he gave Iruka a comforting squeeze. His touches were getting harder to ignore. After a moment his hands dropped in a way that seemed almost reluctant to the young teacher.

 

Iruka mimicked him and dropped the cloud of water, no longer able to hold it. They had definitely made progress in that hour. Iruka could now cover a yard radius but any more than that and all his metaphorically balanced tea cups fell to the ground. It had come with a price. Iruka's movements were sluggish and heavy. He was also probably dehydrated. Kakashi took a step away from him and walked around to stand in front of him.

 

His eye lingered on Iruka, looking him up and down. His eyes stopped their descent when they leveled with Iruka's crotch. The teacher could almost hear the gears turning in the others head but he couldn't make out any emotions on his face. He felt incredibly exposed and shifted his weight hoping that would make his erection less obvious.

 

"I think we should call it quits for today." Kakashi decided.

 

"What? Why? I can keep going."

 

"Look, I'm already impressed you can concentrate so hard with a boner to distract you but, not to be blunt, the last time I touched you you almost creamed your pants. I think we're done." He eye smiled.

 

Iruka's face turned a brilliant shade of red. He looked down and groaned, glaring at his traitorous body part. When he looked up Kakashi wasn't even trying to hide his amusement and his eyes were half lidded still looking at the tent in Iruka's pants.

 

"Don't stare at it!" He hissed. "We can just ignore it and continue training."

 

"Maa, there's no way I'm going to be able to ignore that."

 

"You're an S rank ninja. I think you'll manage."

 

"Nope, you'll just have to take care of it first." Kakashi's nodded at the tree line.

 

Iruka blushed. "I'm not going to jack off in a bush you pervert!"

 

At this Kakashi out right laughed. "I never said you had to. You really are an exhibitionist aren't you?" His tone was light and teasing and it was not helping Iruka's blood flow naturally at all. Kakashi was having way too much fun with him.

 

Iruka's eyebrow twitched in irritation. "Don't turn this on me, this is your fault!"

 

"Are you saying I made you hard sensei?"

 

The teasing flame in Kakashi's eye shined brighter. Iruka wanted to smother it. If Kakashi wanted to tease him fine. But, two could play at that game. Iruka smirked seductively.

 

"Yes actually. Even though you cheated you made me hard, very very hard. And wet. You gonna do something about it?" He placed a hand in his own pocket and the weight of it pulling at the fabric extenuated his erection through his pants. Of course, his words were empty in a challenge he didn't expect Kakashi to rise to.

 

He was right. Kakashi laughed. "Not that it matters but I wouldn't have to 'cheat' to you make you cum. Give me three minutes and I'd have you moaning my name while you empty your load down my throat."

 

Iruka's eyes widened and his pupils dilated in arousal. "Wanna prove it?"

 

His mouth moved before his brain could. The words hung heavy in the air. Kakashi's own eye widened a fraction in surprise then he composed himself. He seemed to be having an internal battle. After a long minute, he spoke clearly.

 

"Hmmm....Yes.... but I was really only planning on using your dick as a chakra depletion meter today, not a lollipop. You see the more it goes up the more your chakra goes down." Despite his words, Kakashi's took a step towards Iruka.

 

"My chakra is fine. I can do it." He lifted his chin. Training. He was talking about training.

 

"I'm sure you can but, I'm not going to keep training you while you have an erection. Maybe you should go jerk off in a tree."

 

"I'm good, thanks." He insisted.

 

Kakashi took another step towards him. Iruka stood his ground but slipped his hand out of his pocket. "Mind if I check that," Kakashi's eye flicked back to the tent in his pants. "just one more time?"

 

Iruka stepped towards Kakashi ignoring the way the course fabric chafed against him. They were only a few inches apart now. Sure they had been casually flirting over the last few weeks but this was crazy. He knew this was crazy and unnecessary. Any sane person would have stopped training and went their separate ways. If he was honest with himself though he was looking forward to the rush arousal provided him with. Day after day Kakashi continued to surprise him and just once, he wanted to be the one to surprise Kakashi.

 

Iruka smirked up at the other and held out his hand. Kakashi took it and immediately Iruka had to bite his cheek to hold in a small moan as prickles of pleasure coursed through his body. It felt so good. He fought it but his eyelids fluttered closed and his grip on Kakashi tightened. That was way more chakra than he was expecting. It was also more chakra than was necessary and they both knew it. Kakashi, the fucking asshole, was playing with him.

 

‘...If you wanted in his pants, all you would have to do is ask.’ Genma’s words ghosted into his mind. Iruka huffed in amusement at the sheer absurdity of it. Fuck it, he decided. If they were going to act like this they might as well commit to their words. He stopped biting his cheek and a low moan flowed past his lips.

 

There was a moment of tense silence then Kakashi closed the distance between them. To the outside world, it probably would have looked like they were slow dancing. The press of Kakashi's erection against Iruka's thigh proved otherwise.

 

"Maa, you know, I said you could take care of it yourself but it would be rather rude of me to not help out." Iruka's dick throbbed in his pants. "What do you think?"

 

"How chivalrous." Iruka breathed out shaky. "Call me a blushing bride." His hands went to the front of Kakashi's trousers. He palmed at him through his pants first. Offering a sneak peek of what was to come. Kakashi's hissed out a breath then Iruka snapped the first button open. Kakashi's hand quickly closed over his stopping him from acting any further. Iruka looked up confused.

 

"Are we really doing this?" Do you want to do this or is this just the chakra talking? Kakashi's silent question was just as clear as his spoken one.

 

"Like you said. It was either this or a bush and I'd rather jack off on you." Apparently, that was enough for Kakashi because the next moment Iruka's fly was undone and one of Kakashi's hands were in his briefs wrapping around his cock. His breath hitched at the relief then a low down out moan flowed from his lips.

 

"Good?" Kakashi asked as he pulled Iruka out of his cloth prison and started stroking him. His thumb caught a bead of precum at the head and spread it down to use as lubricant.

 

Iruka let his head fall against Kakashi's shoulder and nodded. It took him a few pumps from Kakashi before he had the thought capacity to realize this handjob was entirely one sided. He lifted his head and pulled back enough to unzip the other's pants. It was a little difficult, what with Kakashi working his cock in the same vicinity but he made due. When he pulled Kakashi out he wasn't surprised to see that he too was at full mast. Not wasting any time beating around the bush he swatted Kakashi's hand off his erection then dropped to his knees in front of him. The other must have approved judging by the groan the escaped him but still, when Iruka leaned forward to take him in his mouth Kakashi stopped him once again. This was starting to become an annoying pattern.

 

"What now?" He asked impatiently. There was a really handsome piece of meat in front of him and it had been a while since he'd been with another man. Excuse him for being a little eager.

 

"You don't have to do that you know," Kakashi assured him. There was something in his expression that the brunet couldn't make out and at the moment he didn't really care to. He blinked blankly up at him.

 

"Yeah. I don't have to do anything." He enjoyed the shocked expression that crossed the other man's face before he closed his eyes and took him into his mouth.

 

Kakashi tasted salty and bitter as was to be expected. People generally didn't suck dick for the taste. But Iruka could confidently say that Kakashi's flavor wasn't half bad and he was far from the worst Iruka had tasted. He hollowed his cheeks and sucked as he began bobbing his head on him. When he got to the tip he swirled his tongue around the ridge of the head. Kakashi's fisted his hand in his ponytail and he mentally scowled. He would have to retie it after. That was always a hassle.

 

Putting that thought aside he refocused himself. He bobbed his head on what he could comfortably fit in his mouth and what he couldn't he worked with his hand. It only took him a few minutes to realize Kakashi wasn't the vocal type in bed. Instead, Iruka counted his successes in a number of times his fingers would twitch tighter in his hair. Or the way his breath would hitch. Or the almost silent curses that would leave his mouth. His biggest success was when Kakashi started rocking into him. He let him. He let Kakashi control the pace and depth that he took him in. He never pushed too far and for that he was grateful. When his thrusting got a little more erratic Iruka opened his eyes and met Kakashi's gaze. His eyes lit up as an idea popped into his mind and he impulsively moaned around him. Iruka immediately regretted it when Kakashi pushed him off to the ground. He caught himself on his forearms.

 

He glared once again frustrated. "Why the hell do you keep stopping me!?"

 

"Sorry. I was getting close."

 

"So?"

 

"If you recall I said something about never coming early." Kakashi was looking to the side. He had the decency to look a little bashful. Good.

 

"What the fuck. Who carries their punctuality habits into the bedroom!"

 

"-We're not in a bedroom."

 

"And a little warning would have been nice!"

 

"Iruka."

 

"You could have just said, oh I don't know, stop? That never occurred to you? You didn't have to push me to the fucking gr-" He was abruptly shut up when Kakashi's hand latched over his mouth. The elite ninja had gone from standing above him to leaning over him faster than Iruka could track.

 

"As much as I love your voice, I'd rather the whole village didn't hear about this. Now, I've already apologized so if you'll let me, I'll make it up to you." Iruka was still angry but nodded nonetheless.

 

Kakashi settled between his knees. He grasped Iruka's member in his hand and started stroking like he had before. The academy teachers anger quickly faded away. His grip was the perfect mid-ground between firm and teasing. He watched as another bead of precum formed. Kakashi caught it and smeared it around the head like before. He then sat back, dropping both his hands. Iruka growled but any more complaints were silenced when Kakashi held up his hitai-ate. Iruka touched his forehead. It was gone. He had no clue when the other had removed it but it must have been while he was blowing him.

 

"If you want fair treatment I'm going to have to blindfold you."

 

"Excuse me?"

 

"It's just," Kakashi motioned at his masked face. "Konoha secrets and all."

 

Iruka snorted in amusement. "You know Naruto thinks you have huge buck teeth. Should I be worried about losing an appendage."

 

The jounin pinched the bridge of his nose. "Can we please not talk about Naruto when I'm about to put my mouth on your dick?"

 

Iruka laughed wholeheartedly. "Okay, okay. Deal. Hand me the head band." He held his hand out waiting. If this dragged on any longer he was going to go completely flaccid.

 

Kakashi handed it over and Iruka tied it around his eyes. When only the cool breeze and Kakashi's warm hand met his half hard dick he raised an unseen eyebrow. "You do know how to suck a dick right?"

 

Kakashi chuckled. "Why do you think Tsunade sends me on so many solo missions?" And with that, not so subtle hint dropped so too did Kakashi drop down on him.

 

Wet heat circled his head and Iruka imagined his tongue. It slides under the ridge then he kissed down the shaft before sucking his way back up. Again his tongue circled but this time with a more rigid approach. It probed at his slit and Iruka found himself grasping blindly at the damp grass. His voice was caught in his throat.

 

"Maa.. Sensei. You were all vocal a moment ago. Don't go quiet on me now."

 

In response, he moaned long and loud and Kakashi swallowed him down till his nose was buried in his pubic hair. Kakashi groaned around him and sucked as he rose back up.

 

"Fuck." Iruka's breath hitched and his toes curled as Kakashi released himself. His thighs shook. Kakashi bobbed his head. Alternating between swallowing him whole and shorter bobs. He found himself curling his fingers into fists against the grass repeatedly. Mercifully a hand found his and lifted it, replacing it with something much softer and slightly coarse. Iruka tugged at Kakashi's hair and the vibrations from the groan around his dick brought him to the edge.

 

"Kakashi-" He barely got his name out before he was cumming hard. His vision which was black bordered on going white and he pulled hard at his hair.

 

The orgasm came quick but it left just as fast. Iruka was left panting and gasping for air.

 

"I believe that was less than three minutes." Kakashi mused

 

Without thinking he reached up and pulled the hitai-ate off. His eyes widened when he caught a glimpse of Kakashi's bare face. The smooth pale skin, the slope of his nose, the color of his lips, the shape of his jaw- it all only lasted a split second before Kakashi realized and ducked his head. His mask was quickly pulled up. Then he stood silently and tucked his still half hard cock into his pants. Iruka stayed on the ground staring up at him. It felt like he was dumped in an ice bath when reality hit him. He wasn't supposed to have seen it.

 

He quickly scrambled, tucked himself in and got to his feet while he bit out apologies. "I'm so sorry-"

 

He trailed off when Kakashi lifted a hand. "It's fine." He eye smiled. "No big deal." They stood there for a far too long awkward bout of silence. Iruka looked down to avoid eye contact and happened to settle his gaze on Kakashi's crotch.

 

"Do you want me to-"

 

"Better not. Gai will be here any moment."

 

Iruka lifted an eyebrow. Kakashi looked at the sun. "It's almost 2 and it's a Sunday. He'll be looking for a challenge."

 

Iruka snorted. "And he'll know you're here, how exactly?"

 

Kakashi cocked his head to the side. "Oh. You didn't know? This our training field. Why do you think I was here in the first place?"

 

A small part of Iruka was hurt by his words. He guessed part of himself thought Kakashi had come looking for him after getting back from his mission. Instead, that wasn't the case at all and he had just happened to stumble upon him.

 

"Oh. Right." He scratched the back of his head awkwardly in habit. He scowled when he found that most of his hair had fallen out of its tie. He located the tie and pulled it out then started gathering his hair to be pulled up. "Well, sorry for intruding."

 

Kakashi watched him. "You weren't intruding at all. I was early."

 

This caused Iruka to pause as he bundled his hair high on his scalp. "I thought you're never early. Didn't we just have this conversation?"

 

He rolled his head in an exasperated eye roll. "Sometimes I like to stake out in a tree, read Icha Icha and watch as they wait for me to arrive." He caught himself. "Why am I telling you this? I can't give away all of my secrets in one day."

 

"Beats me." Iruka shrugged and looked to the tree line. He pointed with a finger. "Well, I'll be going then."

 

Kakashi nodded. Iruka waited a beat. He wasn't sure what he was looking for out of that now awkward silence but he didn't get it.

 

"So, thanks, I guess." He promptly turned and walked off then called over his shoulder. "See you tomorrow!"

 

-------

 

 

 

Iruka had plenty of time to pop home and take a shower before his shift at the mission desk started. Good thing too because after a good sniff at his dirty clothing he was pretty sure he smelt of sweat and sex. He even made himself a small meal before heading over for the afternoon shift but he still showed up half an hour early to see a line of people out the door. It was good to be back. Pushing past them he strolled into the room with his head held high. There was clearly commotion going on at the front of the room and the closer he got the more he could make out.

 

"This is the third time I've rewritten it. I'm not leaving until it's accepted."

 

Hinata's quiet response was hard to hear over the chatter of the waiting ninja. It was clear everyone was impatient and eager to get out of there.

 

"The rules say I can't accept it unless I can read-"

 

"Fuck the rules! I have rent to pay too damn it!"

 

Hinata looked taken aback. She blushed and hesitated. "W-well if that's the case I-" She caught Iruka's eye and paused. He nodded an encouraging smile at her and continued to make his way through the crowd and to the desk. She looked between Iruka and the jounin and steeled herself. "I'm sorry Jounin-san but I can't accept it. Please fill it out again."

 

Iruka beamed at her but it was short lived. The Jounin made a grab for her and time froze. Iruka tried to catch the jounin's arm before his fist could connect with her face but it was no use. He was too far away. Luckily he didn't need to interfere.

 

Hinata reacted quickly and ducked then in the blink of an eye the jounin was on the ground and Hinata stood with her Byakugan activated, her fingers held in striking position. The whole room was quiet and staring open mouthed at her. She blushed.

 

Iruka cleared his throat and directed his smile to the whole room. "Does anyone else have any complaints?"

 

All the eyes in the room swiveled to him. Many of them in fear, many of them in amusement. Upon hearing his voice the chunin next to Hinata rose from his chair.

 

"Iruka-sensei! It is a good thing you are here. We could really use your help!"

 

Iruka smiled at Lee and walked around the desk and ruffled his hair. He took the seat between the two chunin and swooped up the report in question. It wasn't as illegible as he thought it would have been but the ink was smeared carelessly rendering half of the characters unrecognizable. Hinata had been right to reject it.

 

"Can we get someone to take the Sugamari-san to medical?"

 

Two ninja stepped up and slung his arms around their shoulders. Iruka thanked them and then called next in line. With three of them working the desk the line went by faster. The crowd seemed to be reassured by Iruka's presence that their reports would get processed promptly so they stayed in check. Hinata's display and a threat of further action if anyone stepped out of line also helped considerably. When the time for shift change came and no one else showed up to relieve Hinata and Lee he was concerned.

 

"Who are your replacements?"

 

Hinata's shoulders slumped and Lees bowed his head.

 

"It was supposed to be Ikuno-san and Meiko-sensei," Hinata whispered as she accepted the report she was looking at and thanked the shinobi for their hard work. Iruka was reminded of the loss of his friend and the good mood he'd managed to grab onto after his encounter with Kakashi fell through his fingers. "We volunteered to work a double shift in their place." She put the scroll in the appropriate basket to be filed away later.

 

Lee nodded. "Right! It is our duty as leaf shinobi to help out where we can. Anything we can do to help our village through these sad times is an honor."

 

Iruka placed his a hand on both their shoulders. "Thank you. Both of you. It means a lot."

 

The two of them nodded and they called the next shinobi in line. When Iruka looked up Anko stood in front of him beaming. She smiled back and he took the scroll from her outstretched hand.

 

"I was going to invite you for a drink tonight since I just got back but clearly that's not happening."

 

Iruka laughed. "Yeah guess not."

 

His eyes widened a fraction when scanned over the report and he saw the names listed next to hers at the top.

 

Shinobi assigned: Mitarashi Anko, Maito Gai, Hatake Kakashi (Captain)

 

Immediately red flags went up in his mind. Iruka had been working the mission desk long enough to spot an Alibi Scroll when he saw it. There was no way those three had been wasted on a B rank mission. He eyed Anko and when she inclined her head in an almost invisible nod she confirmed his suspicions.

 

This scroll was just their cover story for whatever happened on their real mission. If Iruka had to guess it probably involved crossing over into another nation's territory without their permission. That was the most common reason for an Alibi Scroll. But Iruka also knew that per unspoken Shinobi Code; if a ninja had crossed into another nation's territory on a mission that did not have the permission of the others nation's rulers, then should that shinobi be caught by said nation the Hokage and council would deny any knowledge of the mission and claim the captured shinobi were acting on their own. They would then most likely be put to death.

 

Anko snapped her fingers in front of his face. He looked back up. "Hm?"

 

"How about tomorrow?" She leaned against the desk casually.

 

Iruka looked down at the scroll. None of that mattered though. The alibi scroll was proof enough that they had gotten home safe. He would need to talk to Tsunade about making Alibi Scrolls more believable though.

 

"I can't do tomorrow. I'll be," His eyes flicked to Hinata and Lee. He wasn't sure what the security clearance of the sealed scroll was so he played it safe. "otherwise engaged."

 

She caught on to his meaning but wiggled her eyebrows in suggestion to help him cover. "Otherwise engaged? Who's the lucky person?"

 

Hinata blushed next to him obviously overhearing their conversation and thinking it was about her former sensei getting a date.

 

Iruka smiled but quickly held up his hand. "That came out wrong. Anko, no. I'll find you after my shift okay?"

 

"I want to hear all about this. I might have my own opinion about this 'engagement' to share too you know. Can't let my Ruka get married without me." Iruka heard the meaning underneath her words. She had information on the scroll.

 

"I'm not getting married but if I was, you would be my man of honor." He chose his words carefully. He would find her after and then they would talk about what she knew.

 

She nodded understanding. "That's a promise." Then she knocked on the wooden table to seal the promise like they had been doing since they were kids. He watched her leave with bated breath.

Chapter Text

Iruka went searching for Anko after his shift got out and he didn't have to search far. As sporadic as his friend was she was fairly predictable when it came to her night life. Currently, he could see her and Gai in a corner booth of the bar that all the ninja fought over. It provided a wide view of the room without allowing any room to be snuck up on. That and the fact that the acoustics were shit allowed for private conversation. This being said, it was no surprise that by the time he spotted Anko she was already scooting Gai around the corner of the booth so Iruka could sit next to her.

He squeezed his way through the crowd grabbing a light bear on the way and sat next to her. He was careful not to touch any of her bare skin. She was of earth nature and he didn't need to be puking across the table.

"Ah, Iruka-Sensei! It's good to see you again." Gai wasn't yelling but his voice boomed in pleasant greeting all the same.

Iruka smiled and nodded at Gai across the table. "You too. I just saw Lee. The chunin vest suits him."

Gai's smile somehow widened and softened at the same time. It was a look Iruka was familiar with. He saw it on all of his student's parent's faces when he told them how their child was excelling. It was the look of a proud father. It was no doubt the same look he held for Naruto.

"Ah yes. The chunin exams in Suna were difficult indeed. But Lee, Ten Ten and Neiji persevered with youthful passion!"

"I don't doubt it. I wish I could have seen it though. It's rare that an entire team makes chunin in the same exam. You must be proud." Iruka sipped at his beer.

"More than proud, in fact! Those kids are like my own!" Gai flashed his signature smile and thumbs up. "They make fine ninja. Ten Ten will be captaining her first mission soon."

Iruka could believe it. She had always had the stubbornness and will power to make it far. Most people focused on Neiji or Lee when it came to their three man team but in Iruka's eyes Ten Ten was the most capable as leader. She had the people skills that Neiji lacked and the self restraint that Lee was stranger too. He didn't imagine it would be many more years before she made Jounin. In fact, the three of them might possibly make jounin before Naruto got back. He was startled out of his thoughts by Anko rudely pushing her way quite literally forward and into the conversation.

"No to be rude and interrupt you're little father fest but we did have something to talk about."

Immediately Gai's face fell into one of somber serious. His drastic reaction brought Iruka's attention to Anko more than her own words did. He leaned on his left arm and shifted slightly in the seat to give her his full attention.

She discreetly scanned the bar for any easedroppers. If her glare didn't deter them than the little snake that slithered out of her sleeve and to the edge of the table most likely did.

"I take it you didn't you kick ass and take names during the 'B rank' mission." Iruka made a jab at their poorly concealed alibi scroll. Anko's snorted in amusement but didn't react much more than that. "What happened?"

"You're not going to like it but I'll just cut to the chase." She swirled her straw in her drink. Over years of practice he had come to know this as a sign that she was getting ready to tell a rather lengthy story. There would be no cutting to the chase this time it seamed. "There's been trouble brewing on the border of the Land of Hot Water. Rumors that Hidden Leaf Ninja ransacked small towns and farms on Hot Water's side of the border reached us a little over a week ago. Of course the Hokage sent a team out to investigate while you were in the hospital. Genma and his team were then sent to the edge of the border on our side to rule out any possibility of it being the result of rogue leaf ninja but with Hot Water's close proximity to Sound, naturally it had the Godaime worried. As per the Daimyo's request she's beefed up security along the border."

"So that explains why everyone's been on missions." It was more of a statement than a question.

Anko nodded. "It's been kept pretty hush hush and need to know. So far we've managed to spread rumors that it's just territorial disputes between local farmers. Most of the supply teams don't even know the true nature of their mission."

Gai picked up where she left off. "Kakashi, Anko, and I were sent across the border, without Hot Water's permission, to eliminate whoever it is that's staging these attacks." Gai took out a piece of paper with a symbol drawn on it. "While we were there we stopped in at each ransacked town. Except for this," He nodded at the paper on the table, "we came back empty handed."

The lettering was distinctly familiar to the foreign lettering on the scroll. Iruka picked it up off the table. The lines were thin and partially faded. It had clearly been written down in hast but the neatness and accuracy of the foreign curving lines were still notable.

Iruka was trying to make sense of all the information. "So...." He punched the bridge of his nose. "Not only do we possibly have rogue ninja running about but they may also be connected to the scroll that my team found?"

"Right." Anko nodded. "Who ever made the scroll is going down the border ransacking small villages on both sides. The theory is that whoever they are, they're trying to start a fight between us and Hot Water. But not even Kakashi's ninja hounds could smell them out. The only thing of note that we found was this symbol your holding painted on the side of the road in Mizutamari."

"That's-" Iruka's eyes widened fractionally. That was the town he and his team had been attacked in when they confiscated the scroll from the traveling merchants. "Was that one of the villages ransacked?"

Anko shook her head. "It was skipped for whatever reason. Luckily Kakashi's was so pushy about dropping in anyway. Otherwise It would have gone unnoticed. Even then, we had to back track and really look hard before we found it at each of the attack sights."

It made sense. Iruka voiced as much. "Hot water isn't a big nation but they have a lot of connections. I'm assuming there isn't much evidence that proves us innocent. If it got out that we were starting fights with a small nation it would look bad to say the least."

"It would look like we were trying to expand territory." Gai interceded.

"It would look like we were trying to start a war." Anko echoed.

Their table grew quiet as the roar of the bar still echoed around them. Iruka looked around the room seeing all of its patrons. The Land of Fire didn't need another war. The Hidden Leaf Village was still recovering from Orochimaru's attack a little over a year ago. Who ever these people were they were smart. They picked the weakest but most powerfully connected village to make it look like the Land of Fire was attacking. They also no doubt made the scroll Iruka and Kakashi's were trying to make sense of and on top of that with it being so close to Sound now they couldn't rule out the possibility of Orochimaru being involved. That though, Iruka had his doubts on. From what they've seen of Orochimaru, he didn't have any problem slandering his name. It could just be that Sound was conveniently located. Another out to push the blame on if the ransackers needed it.

At least, Iruka though as he looked at back down at the paper, he and Kakashi's would have something new to research in the morning.

 

---------------

 

"Do you have to keep tapping the table like that?"

Huh? Iruka lifted his head from where he was intensely reading a scroll in front of him. A part of himself had distantly acknowledged that Kakashi had said something but what he had said escaped him. "I'm sorry, what?"

Kakashi tilted his head and just stared at Iruka. The brunet waited but Kakashi didn't repeat himself. Iruka went back to reading the scroll, trying to ignore the eye now burning a hole into him. His finger tapping increased in pace when this proved impossible. Iruka looked up and snapped.

"What?"

Kakashi once again didn't respond. He just glanced away and closed his eye. He had been playing this game of cat and mouse all day. Iruka would concentrate on his work, Kakashi would concentrate on him, Iruka would ignore him then snap asking what his problem was or what he wanted or why did you keep staring at me. And Kakahi would glance away at which time Iruka would glare at him then get back to work and suddenly he would find Kakashi's staring at him again.

"You know you could at least help." Iruka gritted out. Ever since their 'encounter' as Iruka had come to call it, Kakashi had become almost coldly distant with the self protested seals master. This aggravated and annoyed Iruka to no end. Part of him was frustrated with himself-honestly what was he thinking having sex with Kakashi because, that's what it was; sex, even if it was just oral- and part of him was angry at the other because what the actual fuck Kakashi.

After their... 'encounter' two days ago Iruka had been in a surprisingly wonderful mood for the rest of the day. He guessed he needed the release. However, upon his arrival at T&I to review the scroll, and his first interaction with Kakashi since their... 'encounter' he quickly came to the conclusion that Kakashi did not share a like mind with him. He had no fucking clue what the other's problem was and he had half a mind to ask him what the hell he was pouting about but that, like all of their forced conversations the past days, would prove futile and a waist of time.

Iruka contained a snarl and went back to his reading. The fact that they had nothing fed into both their bad moods. The news of the recovered symbol had only fed their thought for a day before they ran out of reading material on it. They had even had chunin dig through all the libraries in the city for anything remotely related. Iruka had just finished reading the last book they brought 30 minutes ago with only minimal information gaines. They were practically back to square one for the third time and as far as Iruka could tell, Kakashi seamed to refuse to help unwind the mystery of it.

If Iruka had known one thing to be true about the elite ninja currently sitting across from him it was that he never let personal feelings get in the way of completing a mission. This behavior was entirely uncalled for and not only unhelpful but extremely distracting. He would report as much to the Godaime when they left for the night, hours from now.

"I swear to god, if this has to do with me seeing your face." He mumbled under his breath sure Kakashi would hear it. The other man didn't take the bait and just continued to stare at the opposite wall.

Iruka leaned forward in his seat and pull the scroll that was placed in the center of the table twords him, covering the many books in front of him with it. Again, he let his fingers trace over the many woven words on the border. Everyone had been focusing on the white stage paper and ignoring the border paper for the most part. The Hyuga's, of course, checked it for chakra but after determining it was just fancy and elaborate writing with no encrypted chakra everyone had turned a blind eye to it, Iruka included. Truth be told he didn't expect to find any hidden meaning or message in the border paper but he was desperate. Kakashi was driving him crazy, the stage paper translate that he had been over a thousand times was driving him crazy, and all the pointless research was driving him crazy. He was half tempered to rip the scroll in half and see if that did anything because apparently everything else didn't. Everything in the room was static and sterile and Iruka needed something to change. So, he focused on decoding the tiny braided words on the border.

He leaned in close to read it better. It didn't help that the writing was small and in an alphabet Iruka had only learned a week ago. After three attempted fails to decrypt a section of it he decided he needed a magnifying glass. He sat back, cracked his back then immediately noticed said glass on the book next to him. It had not been their earlier. He looked to Kakashi just in time to see him look away quickly. The caught action tickled him in a way and he found himself smiling lightly at what he assumed was Kakashi's way of apology. Then again it could also just be the start of his next round of cat and mouse staring.

"Thank you." He spoke anyway. Manors have never killed anyone. He didn't expect or receive a response as he took the magnifying glass in hand and started decrypting the border.

Another 20 minutes must have ticked by before Kakashi hummed. Iruka glanced up at him. The mans eyes were closed. No further explanation was given. Again. Silent apology or not Iruka had half a mind to throw the fucking scroll at him. He shook his head and went back to decrypting.

The magnifying glass proved to be a great help. A few minutes later Iruka almost had a full string of the bottom border decoded. Most of it proved to be gibberish and though it was translated into a rough translation of Japanese characters Iruka found himself having a hard time grasping the meaning behind it. He read over the next untranslated string and sound it out in his head.

Constr bį mįlkzä húmokį.

Flicking the pencil in his hand he began to write down the rough direct translation.

Kono shozuku ni hebi sakuru.

Iruka frowned. That didn't make any sense. Much like the rest of the scroll it proved to be more gibberish. He clicked his tongue and set out to find another translation for the line.

After a few failed attempts he came up with something at least a little understandable. He tried the new translation under his breath. "Hebimaru ni zokusuru."

Immediately he felt Kakashi's intense gaze on him. When he looked up the other had leaned forward in his seat and has his fingers steepled in front of him. He sent a wary look the silver haired man's way.

"What's that look for?" Iruka asked.

"Repeated what you just said."

Iruka scrunched his eyebrows together but did as he was told. "Hebimaru ni zokusuru."

Kakashi stood toppling his chair, grabbed Iruka's hand and and pulled him out of his seat. His own chair clattered behind him.

"Alright. Got it. Let's go."

Startled and frankly annoyed Iruka pulled his hand away. It was immediately snatched back up and Iruka was pulled to the room's door. He struggled but Kakashi didn't let up. He was convinced the other was making this as difficult as possible.

"Kakashi what-."

Iruka again tried to pull his hand free as Kakashi reached the door. Kakashi looked back at him confused as if he had no idea why Iruka was so worked up.

"Are you done?" Kakashi words shocked Iruka into silence and his simmered temper started boiling again. Was he joking? He had to be joking.

"Am I....? Am I done!?" His voice rose. "You're the one acting like a child then suddenly pull me to my feet with no explanation and when I fight back I'm the one acting strange!?" Iruka yelled red cheeked. This time he did manage to pull his hand away and keep it away.

"...Oh..." Kakashi looked at their still joined hands but didn't let go. It was as if he had been somewhere else these past few moments and just now understood the extent of his actions. "Sorry."

Iruka breathed in through his nose trying to calm himself then hissed out. "Sorry?"

Kakashi nodded. "Yes." He said slowly as if talking to a child and Iruka crossed his arms over his chest. "I didn't mean to startle you. I just thought you would have connected the frankly obvious dots by now. Guess I was wrong."

Iruka clenched his hands and started listing in his head the reasons it would be bad to kill Hatake Kakashi. At the moment the list was incredibly short. He needed to find a way to ignore the bastard before Iruka ended up popping a blood vessel. After the magnifying glass he had thought that perhaps Kakashi would let up. Clearly he was wrong. Clearly Kakashi was still PMSing.

Leveling his head, an action learned though years of working with people who try to wipe their snot on you when your not looking, Iruka relaxed. "You're an asshole."

"So you've said."

"Can we please get some work done now or would you rather keep staring at the wall?" Iruka mused.

"For your information staring at a wall is work. At least for me."

Iruka scoffed. "Right. And don't give me that crap about it being hard work because jounin aren't able to sit still."

"I was actually accessing the sharingan archives."

"Oh." That caught his attention. Now he was curious. "I didn't realize you had an archive."

Kakashi leaned against the closed door. "I don't. Not really. Just needed a fancy name to impress you." He bat his eyelashes.

Amusement and frustration sweeper though the brunet. Like flicking a whip Kakashi went from insulting to flirtatious in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately for Iruka, Kakashi was just as endearing as he was irritating. "I'm touched, really." His tone was flat and straight faced.

A lear described in a single eye pinned Iruka to the spot. "Are you now? Good." His voice was a promising low purr. Iruka didn't have long to think on it because Kakashi replaced his playfulness with his previous cold focus. "Now, we have somewhere to be."

"I'm assuming this has something to do with what you found in the 'sharingan archives'?" He waited for Kakashi to open the door.

When he did the ANBU guard quickly stood at attention. Kakashi raised his hand and the rabbit masked ninja stood down. He had heard rumors that Kakashi was in ANBU and this rumor was no doubt a fact, or at least everyone knew it to be fact. But Kakashi hadn't been ANBU for some years now. Seeing the casual interaction between Rabbit and the silver hair man however, made him question that. If Kakashi was ex-ANBU then Rabbit shouldn't have backed down without question. Iruka took note of this and fallowed Kakashi down the hall. He would ask him about it up later.

"Actually it has to do with what you uncovered, Sensei."

"You mean the translation."

Kakashi hummed in affirmation then started walking down the hall. Ever since they first started working on the scroll. Iruka was always escorted to and from the scroll room. If he were to go off wandering the T&I corridors he would surely go mad before he managed to find even a single window. But here Kakashi was walking the halls with a calm confidence. There was no question in his step, no hesitance, no confusion. Iruka also took note of this. It backed up the theory of Kakashi still being ANBU. Maybe even high up in ANBU. He would have to know the blueprints of the building if that were the case. Then again, if at any point he had caught a glimpse of the blueprints with his sharingan activated he would have had the place memorized.

"What's so important about it? It barely makes any sense."

"Really I'm surprised you haven't figured it out. Though with there being no direct translation from one language to another it's understandable why you haven't.

The way Hebimaru ni zokusuru is written one would assume it means "I am out of snake." but another way to pronounce it would be...." He cast quick a look at Iruka and suddenly it all clicked. Iruka found his eyes widening of their own accord and his mind raced.

"I am caught in a serpent circle."

"Right." Kakashi nodded.

Iruka continued. "And the common way one would pronounce serpent circle would be with the characters Orochimaru. It's a little bit of a stretch though don't you think?"

Kakashi shrugged. "It could be but all three translations are spelt the same way in Gonzwän so it's worth checking out at least. Pulse sound is just a puddle jump from Hot water."

Iruka nodded. "Where are we going anyway?"

"The library." Kakashi tilted his head slightly back at him then continues walking forward.

"I didn't know there was a library in T&I."

"Tell me, do you know a lot about the various rooms in this building?"

He had to give him that. "Good point."

They walked a few more paces when Kakashi spoke again.
"To answer your question though. There isn't. Not officially."

Iruka's steps slowed. "Even the Hokage's Library is on file and that stores S class forbidden scrolls."

"Right."

"I'll be damned to see what kind of information the hokage keeps stored in here then. What I want to know though is why we havnt been allowed access to it earlier. We can't be the first ones to think Orochimaru might have something to do with this. These days if a cat dies the first person people blame is that bastard."

Kakashi slowed his foot steps. He came to a stop in front of a door identical to all the other metal hinged doors. "Speaking of which haven't you ever heard the phrase 'Curiousity killed the cat?'"

"Haven't you ever heard of a straight answer." He countered as Kakashi opened he door.

When he stepped inside he was surprised to see how big the space was but the amount of reading material in the room did not mirror this. The floors and walls were stone. In the middle of the room stood a metal table bolted to the floor. The floor naturally held dark stains that Iruka chalked up to water damage. There were various book shelves scattered against the walls each holding a decent amount of text. More than anything it was strange to see the room was filled mostly of books rather than scrolls. He looked to Kakashi questioningly as he shut the door as if asking if this was really the grand secrete library he had hinted at.

"I was expecting something more elaborate." He spoke to the dusty air. He walked over to the table and ran his hand along its cold surface picking up a fine layer of dust.

"Hoping to get a peak inside the Beast's library?" He teased. It was clearly meant to be joke but there was a hardness to his voice. A sadness.

Iruka scoffed and made his way over to one of the many book shelves. "If that's the case then mind shedding a little light, Lumiere?" He taunted back.

The cover of the book he was looking at was old and dusty but in good shape. Etched into the leather were the words Summoning Animal Physical Assimilation.

"I just did." Kakashi answered.

Iruka sighed at his still difficult attitude. "Well, we gotta start somewhere."

He brought it over to the metal table and started flipping through the pages. He read the table of contents first to get an outline of the subject and was impressed. Very complicated and delicate work was outlined in the chapters. The one chapter title Aquatic Counter-Tranformations In Practice caught his eye. In the background he could hear Kakashi shuffling though the books on another shelf. Iruka turned back to the one in front of him and flipped to chapter five like the index read and let his eyes skim the pages. The focus was to allow for underwater breathing. It detailed the ways to fuse aquatic creatures and human bodies. Iruka assumed the script was talking in temporary terms. Much like the Inuzaka's with their fang over fang transformation the scroll inferred that if a Ninja signed a contract with an aquatic creature then fused chakra and body the result would be a semi aquatic being who could function both in water and on land. It was truly an impressive jutsu. Who ever came up with it was a genius and Iruka tipped his metaphorical hat to them.

He turned to the next page. There, taped to the page and taking up all the space for writing a picture of young girl no more than 11 starred up at him. Iruka brought a shaky hand to his mouth. She was laid out naked on a metal table staring back up at him with dead eyes. Her arms and legs were bound to the side by chakra thread that gouged into her bleeding wrists and ankles. Her once surely beautiful brown hair hung matted and thin, lifelessly falling out in chunks leaving her scalp bloody and skinned. Her cheekbones were sunken in and her thin mouth, half falling off, had a bundle of soaked fabric shoved in it. Her blue eyes were open wide with fear, fresh tears pooling under her head in an impossibly large puddle. The skin on her body was peeling away from the bone. It was so waterlogged that layers weighed down layers and gave way to raw muscle and flesh. The layer of fat under the surface peaked out. Where the skin wasn't peeling away from her body it was covered in bruises and small burns that looked electrical in nature. Patches of rotted scales littered her body flaking off or gouging incredibly painfully into her skin. Both legs were cut off at the ankle. Where it ended grotesque monster webed feet were sewn in place. The fingers on her hands were done the same way. Worst of all, there was so much blood. So much blood and so much water coming from her body there was no way she would have survived the amount lost. She must have been in excruciating pain. More pain than Iruka would ever have to endure.

He quickly gazed up at Kakashi who still had his back turned and was now looking in a different book then returned to surveying the page for any explanation to why that picture was in the book and how it came to be in the first place. Down at the bottom, faded but written neatly under the image was all the explanation he needed. Subject 0032. Failure.

Iruka stared at it, re-reading it and hoping it the letters would twist into something less horrific. They didn't. He tuned the page in the book and another image stared back at him. The young boy's condition mirrored the girls. His footnote read Experiment 0033. Failure. A few pages later after detailed notes he couldn't bring himself to read, was another picture of a girl, this one younger than the others. If Iruka had to guess he would say she was five or six. Her condition was much better. She was standing, her body heavily bandaged and her eyes down cast. Her footnote read Experiment 0034. Success.

Iruka couldn't look anymore and tore his eyes away from the page. Kakashi was watching him intently wondering what he would do next. How he would react. He clearly had known what the contents of the books were. Iruka found himself wondering if all the books held the same thing. If there were pictures of more children mutilated as test subjects lying between their pages.
Before he knew it he was walking over to another shelf on the wall and pulling a book out at random. This one named Wood Jutsu Reincarnation and scribble on the spine of the book in clear thick letters proclaimed Property Of Orochimaru.

He dropped it and pulled out another one. Property Of Orochimaru. Another. Property Of Orochimaru. Another. Property Of Orochimaru. The three words would repeat like an empty mantra inside his head for years to come but never again would it be as loud as it was at that moment. He blood pounding a steady beat to its haunting song.

Without lifting his head from the book in his shaking hands he spoke. His voice was heavy and thick and not at all relenting. "This isn't T&I's off the map library. It's Orochimaru's study."

"It's one of them." Kakashi confirmed.

"And all of these books...." He couldn't bring himself to ask. He didn't need to.

Kakashi picked up for him. "With failed experiments in each. Yes."

"You mean dead children."

Kakashi didn't deny it. Suddenly the too little books in the room seamed like far too many. He swallowed thickly and shook his head.

"No. I won't do it. I'm not going to use this information to open the scroll. It's practically blood money."

Kakahi narrows his eyes. "Now a days all money is blood money and all information is tainted."

Iruka turned on him. "So you're saying your okay with this!" His eyes flashed with anger.

The other man took a step forward. "If you're implying that I'm okay with torturing children than you really don't know me at all."

His voice and face were steal cold completely devoid of emotion. He was clearly insulted. Iruka ground his teeth and Kakashi held eye contact. Iruka sighed and placed the book back on the shelf. Kakashi walked over and squat down beside him to help him pick up the books he'd dropped on the ground. He handed the younger man one. When their fingers brushed he held still until Iruka met his eye again. Steal grey stormed in a flurry conveying its hidden distress to Iruka's chocolate brown eyes. He saw more genuine emotion in Kakashi's expression in that flicker of an instant than he had in the entirety of the time they've known each other.

His voice came out soft. "I don't like this anymore than you do." His features were just as soft and forgiving and Iruka found himself looking away and pulling the book from Kakashi's grasp. He placed it on the shelf.

"I don't even have clearance to be in here do I." He wondered.

Kakashi's initial silence was conformation enough.

They both stood up. Iruka looked around the room again. The water stains now held a new malicious nature to them. "They were tortured in here we're they?"

Kakashi hummed. "I was still a chunin at the time but there were children going missing in the village and surrounding towns. Almost none of the children we're recovered. Turns out they were here all along in the most protected building in Konoha." The irony was almost sickening.

But something Kakashi said caught his attention. "Almost none? So some were saved then?"

"A few."

It appeared that was all he was going to say in the matter. He tried to recall a time where children were going missing in the village but came up short. If Kakashi had been a chunin then surely Iruka would have been old enough to remember such an event.

"We can leave when ever you're ready." The baritone voice soothed the brunets wrinkled brow. "I found what I was looking for." He held up a light tan leather bound book. Iruka nodded and let Kakashi lead the way out. When the door shut behind him he felt the ghost of the children get locked inside as well. If only he could lock away the images of their broken and beaten bodies that were seared into his retinas as well.

With one last thought he turned around. Kakashi was right, it was indeed a beasts library.

 

---------

 

They were close, they were so close to opening it. The book Kakashi grabbed proved to be immensely helpful. It was a book on self developed sealing scrolls and after hours of search and debate they found one that looked to be an early prototype to the locked scroll.

"We were going about this wrong the whole time." Iruka stated mind racing. He was flipping though the pages again.

"We've been looking for a lock when we should have been looking for a key." Kakashi echoed. He was sat on the ceiling reading the scroll upside down. Iruka would have chastised him for it but there really was no other place to sit.

It was a simple but juvenile mistake. Scroll keys were outdated by at least 50 years. Writing a paper tag took time that most people didn't have a few seconds to spare in the field. A scroll lock was preferable to it as all you had to do was flash through a pair of hand signs. The outdated notary and the book even more proof that Orochimaru was behind the scroll. The people attacking the village likely ninja of the Sound. But Iruka was getting a head of himself.

Finding what he was looking for Iruka wrote done another character on a paper tag. He handed the make shift key up to Kakashi.

The copy ninja scanned it then handed it back. "Close. Try replacing ka with ra."

Iruka nodded and pulled out another paper tag. He made the corrections quickly, neatly, then had the same exchange with Kakashi. He held it up to the scroll, laced in a bit of his chakra, and nothing.

He dropped it back to the table.

Iruka sat back. "We're so close." His stomach growled.

Kakahi gently dropped down to the table. He stood delicately between two fully unraveled scrolls and the cover of a leather bound book.

"Food?"

Iruka shook his head. "Is like having-"

"An itch that you can't reach."

Kakahi hopped off the table and made his way through the likes of scrolls and books to the door. He knocked with the back of his hand and a second later it opened. Two brown paper bags were passed inside. He brought them back over to the table and handed on to Iruka. Iruka looked inside seeing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some carrot sticks. He smiled and reached in taking the sandwich out.

"Reminds me of my kids lunches." He unwrapped the sandwich.

"Do you miss them?"

Iruka nodded. "Incredibly so." He took a bite and chewed throughfully. "I can't wait to get back to them."

Kakashi hummed and Iruka noted that he had already eaten his carrot sticks but his mask was still in place. "You really like teaching,
huh?"

"Love it." Iruka pointed loosely towards his mask. "How do you do that?"

Kakashi's eye crinkled up in a smile. "Trade secrete."

Iruka scoffed. "You seem to have a lot of those."

It went quiet as they both continued to eat their dinner in silence. It was late at night and they would probably work straight through till morning. They were so close to getting the scroll unraveled. At this point both of them just wanted to get it over with.

Iruka munched on one of his carrot sticks as he looked over the paper tag key's he's made so far. They were all written in the scrolls native lettering and then added coding on top of that. Iruka incorporated the necessary signs of a key tag. That took most of the time and concentration that went into making these kinds of tags. Compared to other types of paper tags though, they weren't entirely complex. The hardest part was matching up the signs with the scroll's. If they were off by even one they would most likely be chakra drained and electrocuted by the scroll next time they tried to unlock it's secrets.

He studied the scroll again, now done with his food. They had tried every synonym for open that there was. It was frustrating knowing he was missing something obvious. He worried at his lip. He wished it was as easy as just writing open on the- slowly as if remembering a long ago dream the answer materialized in his head. He grinned wickedly and started chucking to himself. Nothing about this scroll was simple. Everything was calculated. It made no sense for the key to be something as obvious and mediocre as that. And that, Iruka conceded, is exactly why it took them so long to figure it out. It would have been the first thing a pre-genin would've tried.

"For a prodigy and a seals expert we are extraordinarily stupid."

"You figured it out." Kakahi stated. He stood from his seat and carefully made his way over to behind Iruka's chair.

"Yup." He chirped as he grabbed a fresh paper tag. He scribbled something down, forgoing the characters that would have attached the paper tag key to the scroll. Then handed it to Kakashi.

Kakashi belly laughed when he saw what was written on the paper. He brought it around the table to the scroll and infused a bit of his chakra into the tag. This time the tag glowed illuminating their success in the single word Iruka had written on it.

Open.