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Knock on Wood Konoha

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ooo000ooo

Prologue
Shi o motarasu odayakana yuki
a gentle falling snow that brings death

Victory is an illusion, the enemy hides in a dark corner waiting to attack.
Unknown

ooo000ooo

A Year From Now

: :Hokage Monument: :

This was not how she thought it was going to end.

Things hadn’t seemed so bad when they’d been planning. In the months leading up to this fight. At first they’d had a fighting chance, still high on the victory against Kaguya.

She didn’t remember him being this strong. He’d been defeated before and he’d lost the majority of those loyal to him.

Maybe they’d gotten soft? But so quickly after the Fourth Shinobi World War? She’d thought they’d last longer than that. They’d lost so much in that fight and had only just begun to recover. Maybe she had been foolish for hoping that the rest of her reign as Hokage would be relatively peaceful. Let the next one have the next war.

How had this happened? There’s a tint of desperation to her thoughts now. Jiraiya was bleeding all over her as she dragged him away from the front line. Even half conscious he was still trying to get back to the fight.

Out of the corner of her eye she could see Iruka coughing up blood in Obito’s arms as Yajirobi worked frantically to stall the bleeding. Kakashi stood guard over them, but he was barely standing, his body and chakra exhausted. She could feel the Eternal Mangekyo Sharingan draining what was left. She felt a brief flare of hatred for the kekkai genkei that had brought so much pain, but that flare was swiftly doused by the reminder that it had birthed shinobi so loyal they couldn’t even die properly.

Sasuke, Naruto and Sakura weren’t far from their teacher, but Sasuke was down, brought to his knees by a blow meant for Naruto. Sakura was frantically trying to heal him and Naruto was defending them with what he had left, Kurama at his side. But both Naruto and his summoning were distracted and kept glancing over to check on Iruka.

Itachi and Kabuto were side by side as always, not far from Naruto and Sasuke. Close enough for Itachi to keep an eye on his baby brother as they fought. The calm viciousness of Kabuto that had always terrified her was one of their best defenses now.

Shisui was just a step away, a step behind Kikyo and Minato who were reading for another attack and the blind shinobi was still looking for an opening to strike. Kikyo and Minato were the only part of the front line with any significant chakra reserves left to fight. But Kikyo’s shunko was fading and so was Minato’s speed. They were going to start taking serious damage soon.

Tenten and Lee were attempting to hold the right end of the line by themselves, Genma and Raido were too badly injured to stand, not that they weren’t trying and Gai was attempting to pull them back from the fight on broken legs. Asuma was frantically trying to wake Kurenai, down from a blow meant for her former students.

Neji was trying to help his former team but he was still blinded by an earlier attack. Hinata refused to leave Neji’s side and Hanabi refused to leave her sister. Ibiki and Shizune were trying to treat Naji’s eyes while Anko and Kotetsu stood several steps ahead of them, a wall between the injured and their attacker.

Tsume and Shibi stood next to Anko and Kotetsu, flanked by Kiba and Shino. The two former Hanta Nins had taken their promise to Hiashi seriously and hadn’t strayed far from the three young Hyuugas.

Choji had used his family’s famous technique alongside Ino to shield Shikamaru, whose shadow holding technique was the only thing holding back their opponent. Temari and Kankuro were guarding Gaara nearby, who sand was preventing their battle from leaking out into the village. Izumo was with Gaara attempting to add his darkness to the shield without loosing control.

What was left of their ANBU and Root backup were working on saving their own injured and there was no one left to spare for the front line, though Sai was doing his best to lead a few back towards them.

Tsunade hadn’t been Hokage for as long as Sandamine, she was still figuring it out, but she was hard pressed to think of a worse situation in the history on Konoha. Even with the battle against first Obito then Kaguya, the odds had never felt this bad. What would Hashirama and Tobirama have done? Sandamine? She was shocked to realize that at that moment, rather then any Hokage that had come before her, who she really wanted was Madara. Or Fugaku. Iruka was here and so were Itachi and Shisui and Sasuke but they were wrapped up in one another and so, so angry. Their fight was personal and turned towards protecting one another and how sad was it that they felt they had to protect one another against the world because no one had ever been on their side before.

Tsunade wanted to scream her frustration at the sky but she couldn’t see it at the moment because of Gaara’s sand shield. It probably wouldn’t have looked very good if she had, watching their Hokage screaming nonsense because she couldn’t figure out a way to win wouldn’t have inspired much confidence and Tsunade would likely loose what few supporters she had left in the government.

They were loosing ground and shinobi fast. They’d managed to keep the fight contained within Gaara’s sand but there was no telling how long it would be able to hold out. Most of Konohagakure was unaware of the battle currently taking place and Tsunade had dedicated most of the Hidden Leaf’s shinobi to making sure the rest of the village was safe.

They were on their own to win this fight.

How had it gotten to this point?

ooo000ooo

A Year Before (Present Day)

: :Hokage’s Office, Konohagakure: :

Kakashi leaned back further into the wall and glanced at the clock above the door. They’d been here for two hours already and it didn’t look like the meeting was going to end anytime soon. He’d tried pulling out his beloved Icha Icha but the look on Tsunade’s face, righteous fury tinted with a deep sadness, had made him think twice. As much as the fiery Hokage insisted she was fine, Kakashi sensed that the death of her former teammate had struck deeper then even she’d been expecting.

Jiraiya had always been larger then life and it was hard to accept that he wasn’t going to be around any more. Tsunade hadn’t had time to morn until now and Kakashi knew what it felt like to suddenly have nothing but time on your hands to wonder about what you could have done differently. He imagined there were a lot of Konoha shinobi feeling the same way right now.

Kurenai had returned to her jounin duties, her newborn daughter cared for by her cousin in her absence. Kakashi couldn’t imagine what it was like to go home every night to a reminder of the man she’d lost.

Gai was finally healed, but he had yet to challenge Kakashi to any kind of battle. He spent a lot of time training with TenTen and Lee, adjusting to their missing teammate. From what he’d heard from Kurenai Hinata was having a hard time adjusting as well.

Genma didn’t joke as much anymore and Raidou spent most nights at the Tower trying to catch up on work that wasn’t late yet. Ibiki and the ANBU commander had their forces working around the clock to maintain a high security level for the village, even though there hadn’t been an attack in months.

Everyone had celebrated the end of the war but it seemed like they weren’t quite ready to actually let it go. It was understandable in a way. It had been such a big event, life altering. They’d all had a purpose, a goal and in the end it had united them. A dream no one had thought was ever attainable, but here it was. He was almost afraid to think about it, lest it turn out to be a dream that would fade away under his fingertips.

Seeing Obito and Minato-sensei, and his father even if he wasn’t real, had been…something. Kakashi couldn’t really think of a word that accurately described it. And then to find out that Obito had been working so hard on a goal that would have resulted in the destruction on Konohagakure. For a little while there Kakashi had been convinced that he was in hell and this was punishment for every life he’d ever taken and every life he’d failed to save.

At least Obito had come back at the end, saying good-bye had done a lot for Kakashi’s mental state and his soul. Seeing his father again had been…difficult and it had been hard to stop thinking about it. The dreams hadn’t helped, taking him back to the days leading up to his father’s death and that quiet empty room where his father had chosen to take his own life.

ooo000ooo

Years Before

: :Hatake Clan Compound, Konohagakure: :

Kakashi walked silently through the house. Training had finished early and Minato-sensei had sent everyone home with instructions to rest. Rin had asked him to dinner but Kakashi had just wanted to get home. His father’s last mission hadn’t gone well and the stress was taking its toll. It had been a failure for Konoha’s White Fang and while Minato-sensei had done his best to shield Kakashi from it he’d heard the comments. The Great White Fang had gotten soft, had let his emotions rule him and the mission had failed because of it.

Kakashi had always idolized his father, had never questioned that he was the ideal of a Konohagakure shinobi. Learning that his father had failed a mission, on purpose, had been shocking and Kakashi had been angry. He was still angry and he knew it hurt his father, but as much as it hurt him and as sad as it made him, Sakumo refused to apologize for what had happened. He kept saying I brought them back alive, that’s what matters and Kakashi yelled back that he’d failed the mission, that was what mattered.

Minato-sensei had been surprising quiet about the whole thing, carefully maintaining the middle ground whenever Kakashi and Obito started arguing. The Uchiha was firmly on Sakumo’s side and he and Kakashi had gotten into several brutal fights that Minato and Rin had had to break up. The young Uchiha had repeatedly stated that bringing your team back alive was the most important mission of a shinobi, which showed just how soft he was. It made Kakashi even more upset at the situation.

He sighed, dropped his gear neatly on the table in his room before wandering through the house, looking for his father. The rain was failing in sheets when he found him, sitting quietly in one of the far rooms with lots of windows. He was silent, his blade on floor next to him, watching the rainfall onto the world outside. A single torch burned, casting the room in shadows and making the silence all the more oppressive. Kakashi entered silently and knelt next to his father.

“How was training?” Sakumo’s voice was tired. It seemed like he was always tired these days.

“Fine.” Kakashi’s answer was short, clipped, angry.

Sakumo smiled sadly. “Did you learn anything?

“Some. Minato-sensei called it a day early, told everyone to rest.”

“Oh, that was good of him.”

“Che, it’s a waste of time.” Kakashi was training to be a shinobi, not to take the day off.

Sakumo glanced at him, though he had a small smile on his face, his expression was sad. “You have to have some good times Kakashi, otherwise, what are you fighting for?”

“The village,” Kakashi responded instantly.

Sakumo’s smile fell away. “Yes, the village.” His eyes fell to a small cup of flowers, beautiful chrysanthemums in a deep blue hue. They were rare, Kakashi had only seen that color grow in the Uchiha’s gardens deep inside their compound. Obito had brought Rin one once. “How is Obito today? Did you two spar?”

“We fought. He thinks you were right to let the mission fail.” The anger was back, what does Obito know about carrying out missions, he’s a screw up. He has no idea what it means to be a Konohagakure ninja.

“He’s right.” Sakumo declared softy.

Kakashi turned an angry gaze on his father. “They’re calling you a failure in the Hokage’s Tower! Did you know that? They’re making fun of you and saying that you’ve lost your touch!”

“What other people think rarely matters Kakashi.” One mission and I’m already a failure huh, Sakumo let his eyes fall shut, it looks like you were right Fu, the village is falling. With his eyes shut Sakumo could here the raindrops falling, the wind howling, and Kakashi’s angry footsteps as he stood and stormed out of the room. “Kakashi.” His son stopped, Sakumo would here the wood frame of the door creak under his grip.

“Yes father?” The distain was obvious and incredibly painful.

“Someday Kakashi, you are going to be very important to a very broken little boy, whose act of kindness will save the world. Never, ever forget that.”

Kakashi, in his anger, stormed out. Sakumo sat in silence until the torch burned out.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Hokage’s Office, Konohagakure: :

Kakashi blinked rapidly and pulled the sharingan back under control. Since he’d achieved the Eternal Mangekyo Sharingan the memories had been coming back more often and with much more strength then they’d had before. It was hard to tell that they were just memories sometimes. On several occasions he’d woken to find the sharingan spinning wildly and the bitter taste of tears in his mouth. He needed to find a way to get it under control before it started affecting his missions.

He forced himself to focus on the meeting. Thankfully it didn’t look like he’d missed anything important, just budget planning. He slouched further and turned his gaze to the window, surprised to see that it had starting raining, sheets of water diluting his view of the village sprawled out beyond the Hokage’s tower. His home. Kakashi new every street, every alleyway, every vendor and restaurant and bookshop. Sakumo had always believed that knowing what you were fighting for was important and part of his training with his father had always focused on the village. Before everything with Obito and Kaguya had kicked off he’d been planning to teach Team 7 the same thing. Before he’d failed so completely as their teacher.

Someday Kakashi, you will be very important to a very broken little boy whose act of kindness will save the world. They’d been the last words his father had spoken to him. The next day when Kakashi returned he’d found his father’s dead body next to the small cup of blue chrysanthemums. For a long time he’d forgotten those words, grief and anger drowning everything else out. Now, after everything, they haunted him. Running through his head over and over and making him think about what he could have done differently.

The rain outside was just like it had been that day, a steady, rhythmic drumbeat that drowned everything else out. Someday you’ll be very important to a very broken little boy…looks like I failed that one too Obito.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Umino Iruka’s Apartment, Konohagakure: :

Iruka leaned back, arching over the couch behind him, sighing in pleasure as his back cracked in several places. He’d been grading papers for well over an hour and he was nowhere near finished. He took a sip of the jasmine tea he’d made earlier and winced, it had gone cold. He debated making another pot as he placed the cup back on the table, but for some reason he felt lazy tonight. The years were heavy on his shoulders. All the aches and pains were settling deep into his bones and brought on a weariness that shouldn’t exist in someone who was barely thirty.

The war had ended months ago. Things were slowly returning to normal. No one had seen or heard from Naruto or Sasuke since they disappeared into the valley to continue their battle. Iruka hadn’t been happy when he’d learned they’d just been left to fight alone. Tsunade and Kakashi were convinced that Naruto would win and return to Konoha when it was over, but Iruka couldn’t help but think that Naruto, who’d always cared too much, would be more hurt by having to kill Sasuke then the others assumed. Growing up and realizing that pain was simply a part of life didn’t stop it from hurting and Naruto had a habit of feeling more then most people. He never sighed away from his emotions, something that had practically become a written law for shinobi, and instead had embraced them for the strength that they were. There were very few things that made Iruka prouder.

He glanced out his large living room windows at the brightly shining moon. Thinking about Naruto always made him think about Sasuke as well. The stoic young man was exactly what it meant to be an Uchiha. Unbelievably powerful and immensely skilled, proud and arrogant on occasion, and far, far too caring. Too sensitive and kindhearted, just like his brother. They got that from Fugaku as funny as that was. Mikoto had been a loving mother, but an iron hearted shinobi. Fugaku, despite his outward personality felt the weight of the world on his shoulders when it came to protecting his clan and family. They’d been a good match, Iruka mused, pieces of a puzzle that fit together and made a whole; a rare occurrence in the world of shinobi. Iruka had always been proud and insanely jealousy that Itachi and Sasuke had gotten to be the product of it.

Sasuke was a touchy subject in Konohagakure right now. He’d been declared a missing nin before the Fourth war, but Iruka had been hopeful they’d lift it after he’d come to their aid. Tsunade had been making noises about pardoning him if Naruto could convince him to come back but there were others in the government that wanted him dead, no questions asked. Iurka liked to think Tsunade was the kind of person that would fight them on it, but the doubt was hard to dismiss. It didn’t help that she and Iruka didn’t get along and he knew exactly how underhanded the Konoha Council could be.

What he really wanted and would give pretty much anything he had to do, was beat some sense into both Naruto and Sasuke. They were still so young, though they’d both crossed the line that many considered adulthood the first time they’d taken a life. There was still so much more to it that they didn’t understand. So many experiences they hadn’t had yet. But then, Iruka had met shinobi twice his age that didn’t understand either. That was the problem with training children to be soldiers and it was what the founding of Konohagakure was supposed to stop. So much for that, Iruka had taken his first life long before his first kiss and part of the reason he’d become a teacher was to help Naruto, and all of his students really, avoid that kind of life.

Iruka sighed, it was strange that he’d gotten used to the quite. Naruto had always been so loud, so had everyone he’d trained with and his brother, but the huge apartment had been silent for years now.

He picked up the next paper to be graded and steeled himself to continue. He would never, ever admit it but he hated grading papers. As in he’d rather be tortured or forced to help Tsunade with her paperwork for month then grade papers.

Suddenly a gust of wind and leaves scattered Iruka’s papers across the living room. Smoke filled the room and Iruka pulled his shirt up over his nose as he waited for it to clear. Only one person had ever thought to transport directly into his living room and he smiled as the mop of spiky blond hair became visible through the smoke.

Iruka took a deep breath, bringing out his best I-am-your-teacher-be-afraid voice. “Naruto, what have I told you about transporting into my living room?”

The smoke cleared and Iruka’s mouth dropped open. Naruto beamed, beat up, bruised and bloody. His signature orange jumpsuit was in tatters and he was covered liberally in dirt that had once been mud and god knew what else. He was finally growing into himself, almost as tall as Iruka now. It was like looking up at the sun. What surprised Iruka was the unconscious Uchiha over his shoulder.

“Naruto…” Iruka felt his eye twitch. “Why are you carrying Sasuke around?”

It was his creepy calm voice that usually came before a huge blow up and Naruto obviously remembered that because he went from cheerful to terrified in the blink of an eye.

“Ah, Iruka-sensei! I…” Naruto trailed off and Iruka felt a twinge in his chest at the suddenly unsure but still determined look that took over his face. “Sasuke’s hurt.”

Naruto looked at him, eyes wide and liquid, the same eyes he’d used to get Iruka to take him to ramen three times a day and to let him see books and scrolls on jutsu that were supposed to be secret.

“He’s still technically a missing nin.” Iruka reminded him, voice steady and cold.

“What?! That’s bullshit, he helped us fight Kaguya!” Naruto’s tendency to get loudly and violently overprotective of those he cared about was never going to fade and that actually made warmth blossom in Iruka’s chest. “That’s not fair, everyone knows that Sasuke was just trying to figure things out! And he didn’t anything as bad as Black Zetsu or Kaguya! This isn’t fair!”

Iruka couldn’t help but let a small smile grow. “You know as well as I do that life isn’t fair. Sasuke left the village, as far as some are concerned he’s the enemy. And he was for a little while there.”

“Yeah, but he’s agreed to come back!” Naruto was so excited, slamming one foot down on Iruka’s battered coffee table and pointing a finger at Iruka. Iruka could practically see the flames of righteousness coming off of him. Iruka had a brief moment of worry for Sasuke as Naruto swung him around rather violently. “He promised, Iruka-sensei, he’s going to stay with me! We’re going to figure out what to do and then Sasuke will be okay.”

Sasuke will be okay…not the village, not the world….just Sasuke. Iruka laughed. He couldn’t help it, years later, over a fucking decade and that bastard had been right.

Naruto watched his former teacher laugh himself silly on his living room floor and frowned. “Ah, Iruka-sensei are you okay?”

Iruka pushed himself back up straight and looked Naruto dead in the eye as he grabbed his collar and pulled the boys face closer. “Naruto, why did it take you so long to come back?”

“Oh, uh, well Sasuke and I fought for a long time and then we passed out.”

“You idiots used up all your chakra didn’t you?” Iruka guessed and the guilty look on Naruto’s face said everything.

“Yes, but only because we wanted to do our best!” Which had been Naruto’s excuse for a lot stupid decisions when he was small. Always trying to get stronger and be better.

Iruka smiled. “Alright, we’ll talk about that later.” Naruto’s relief at avoiding the lecture was palpable. “What happened when you guys woke up?”

“Err, the first time we fought again.”

Of course you did. Iruka smile turned rueful.

“The second time though we finally talked.”

“To injured to fight again?” Iruka guessed and Naruto nodded.

“Yeah, we managed to stumble to a cave and just talked for a while. Iruka-sensei, Sasuke just wanted to help, maybe he went about it the wrong way, but if he just wanted to help, doesn’t that count for something?”

Naruto looked so damn hopeful and innocent. Iruka sighed, “But do you understand the situation for the Hokage and the government? I know Sasuke probably does, which is what makes me think you just waited for him to pass out and then brought him back here.”

The blood draining out of Naruto’s face and the massive twitching pretty much answered Iruka’s question for him.

“Ur maybe, but the stupid teme doesn’t know what’s good for him!” Naruto yelled, the fire was back and so was Naruto’s tendency for physical expression that resulted in an unconscious Sasuke being swung around as the young shinobi swung his arms wildly. “He thinks he should die so everything will be okay, but it won’t be okay if he dies! See he’s stupid!”

“Ur, well, okay you might have a point there.” Iruka couldn’t help but agree, death never made a situation better. “What are you going to do now?”

“I’m going to protect the stupid teme and the village. No matter what happens I’m not letting the stupid the bastard quit like that”

“Right, and you don’t want him to leave you alone.” Iruka added just to see Naruto’s reaction.

“Exactly! You were the one that always told me never to give up Iruka-sensei and I promised Sasuke that I would end that stupid curse and never give up on him!!”

Naruto pointed an accusing finger at him in the middle of his rant and all Iruka could think was, well at least something sunk in.

“Alright Naruto, I’ll tell you what. Put Sasuke in my bed and I’ll help you protect him.” Like Iruka would ever consider not helping the brat and Naruto probably knew that inside, or he wouldn’t have come to Iruka first.

Naruto’s face lit up with smile so wide it barely fit his face. “Thanks Iruka-sensei!” And he took off for Iruka’s room at the end of the hall.

“Hey, Naruto watch his head!” Iruka winced as Naruto disappeared into the bedroom. Sasuke’s head bouncing off the doorway in the process and Iruka made a mental note to dig out his pain meds and teach Naruto a proper buddy carry for injured nins. Sasuke was going to have more damage from the trip then from the actual fight.

Iruka sighed as he listened to the sounds of Naruto laying, though it sounded more like dropping Iruka was going to give him the benefit of doubt, Sasuke on the bed. It was incredible, how quickly everything could change. How just like that Naruto was back like he’d never left and he had Sasuke with him and it made Iruka want to laugh and cry hysterically at the same time.

He glanced out the window again, the moon still bright and unblinking in the night sky. The stars were brighter now and Iruka grinned. There was going to be a fight of course, when wasn’t there, but this time it would be a good one. For something real, and important with a beating heart and warm skin. Not some improbable dream that required undoing the world. For a boy this time, that made the sun shine brighter.

“Oi, Naruto, you better have taken off his dirty cloths before you put him under the blankets!”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Hokage’s Monument, Konohagakure: :

Tsunade sighed and kept a watchful eye on her shinobi as they headed home for the night. A few were headed out on missions, but things had been oddly slow as the village struggled to find a new normal. Kakashi especially had seemed distracted during the budget meeting and Tsunade suspected he’d be happy to shed some of his new responsibilities and return to simple jounin duties. She doubted he’d be willing to take on another genin team, given that he still blamed himself for failing to keep Team 7 together and for Sasuke’s defection.

Sasuke…Tsunade sighed, that was a complicated situation and one that was on the minds of many. The Uchiha had come to their aid against Obito and Kaguya, but in the end had chosen to follow his own plans instead of returning to the village. Naruto, unsurprisingly, had refused to let him and now they were battling it out in the Valley of the End. Fittingly, the location of Hashirama and Madara’s great battle. Tsunade couldn’t help but wonder how that battle was going. Normally she would never have thought a battle could last this long nor would she have allowed it to happen. The battle was over by now, someone had won, Naruto hopefully, and it was just a matter of time before he returned.

Tsunade tried not to think about it too often. She didn’t know how Naruto was going to handle Sasuke’s death, Sakura refused to talk about it with anyone and Kakashi doubted his ability to understand his students. In the end no one knew what was going to happen and Tsunade wished repeatedly that Jiraiya was still alive. He might not have had the right answer, but he had a hopeful way of looking at things that had always helped to fight off the darkness and he’d had absolute faith in Naruto. But he was gone now, just one of the many casualties of this war. That unbridled light that Tsunade had been convinced was never going to go out had been snuffed out just like all the others. She couldn’t help but be a little angry at Jiraiya for letting it happen, as irrational as that was.

Feh, that stupid prophecy he’d never shut up about, guess he was right. She looked up at the stars, blinking brightly in the night sky. Things were still tense, the Alliance was holding, though sometimes it seemed like it was only through sheer will power. It would be a long time before another war took place. Everyone was tired, recovery was going to take years and Tsunade wanted that to be her legacy. Not the war, but the rebuilding afterward. Her grandfather had built Konohagakure and now she was going to rebuild it and achieve the dream he’d always held for the village. It would be easier if everyone was on the same page, but it seemed like that was the true impossible dream.

The Konoha Council was making noises about re-establishing power. Rumors that Root ANBU was still operating even though Tsunade had supported Sandamine’s decision to disband it. The Daimyo was getting old and Tsunade had no idea who he wanted as his replacement and there were those within the shinobi population who wanted advancement and power. ANBU had gotten new commander and then of course, that damn academy teacher that never agreed with her who pretty much ran the missions desk. Umino. Though apparently he hadn’t agreed with Kakashi that often either if the stories were to be believed, but Sandamine had loved him. Everyone that knew the two of them spoke of the Sandamine’s respect for the young teacher and of Umino’s fearlessness in expressing his opinion to anyone.

He was Naruto’s precious person, according to both Kakashi and Jiraiya and Tsunade was willing to give him a lot of ground just for that but every time they encountered one another she felt like she was being judged and found wanting by a standard she wasn’t aware of. It made her defensive and Umino showed no interest in getting to know her better or to try and work things out. He seemed happy to keep their interactions to a minimum and painfully professional. It made Tsunade want to pull his hair just to get a reaction that was something other then disdain or anger. Normally she wouldn’t have cared, but she couldn’t get over the fact that Sandaimine had thought so highly of him and that many of her shinobi thought the same. His position at the academy meant he dealt with shinobi of the highest levels. She’d heard that he and Hyuuga Hiashi didn’t see eye to eye on Hiashi’s younger daughter Hanabi. He had frequent meetings with the heads all of Konoha’s clans because he taught their children, which meant he probably saw them one on one more then Tsunade did.

What the hell am I missing about that brat? Tsunade didn’t like feeling like she was missing something that should have been obvious. A twin flare of chakra pulled her out of her thoughts and Tsunade sighed.

“Lord Hokage, a moment of your time.”

The Konoha Council, Homura Mitokado and Koharu Utatane, Hiruzen’s old teammates. If Tsunade was being brutally honest, she didn’t share the Sandamine’s level of respect for his old friends and she knew they saw her as inexperienced, young and more then a bit foolish. While things had looked to be improving in the days before and during the war, that goodwill had pretty much disappeared once the war had ended. Both Homura and Koharu wanted to make a show of power, to demonstrate that Konoha was still powerful and Tsunade suspected that they were behind the Root ANBU faction operating in Konoha. If they were it was a blatant refusal to follow Tsunade’s order, but she didn’t have any evidence to bring against them. “Yes?”

“We wanted to speak to you about the Hanta Nin.”

Hanta…hunter nin? Sandamine never spoke of them. How do they know about them? Tsunade turned. “What about them?”

“The duties of the Hanta nin are clear, they are our first line of defense. They gather information, assist the Hokage with maintaining the wards protecting the village, and carry out the execution of any nin the betrays the village.” Koharu’s voice was cold and calm as she spoke, she obviously didn’t expect Tsunade to know any of this. “They are expected to represent the ideal of a Konoha Shinobi. To help lead us in times of war. In fact, their duty, is to insure that it never comes to war.”

“And your point with all of this?” Tsunade asked, trying to stay calm. She didn’t like being lecture like an errant child.

“Our point Lord Hokage, is that they have failed.” Homura responded. “And they must be punished. As an example to the village that we have not gotten soft following the war.”

“The war just ended, no one thinks we’ve gotten soft,” Tsunade argued.

“They shirked their responsibilities,” Koharu stated, “They failed to stop Orochimaru’s defection and later attacks. They failed to stop Uchiha Itachi from killing his entire clan and they failed to apprehend him. They failed to identify Akatsuki and to stop any of their plans. Not once did they attempt to assist the village in the Fourth Shinobi World War. They have abandoned their duties and must be held accountable.”

Tsunade frowned, she couldn’t argue with that, though it was exceedingly stupid to blame anyone for all of that. The case seemed clear cut, but that made Tsunade suspect that there was something else going on. She’d never heard Hiruzen mention Hanta Nins. She knew Mist had them, but they were a corpse disposal unit and Konoha had nothing like that. Obviously the Konoha Council knew exactly who the Hanta Nins were and wanted them out of the picture. If Tsunade admitted she didn’t know their identities then the council could accuse anyone they wanted.

This was dangerous ground. Many Konoha shinobi had broken with tradition, challenging the accepted beliefs and traditions and even the laws in these past few years. That didn’t make them any less loyal to the village and Tsunade didn’t necessarily believe they needed to be punished with death. Once the Hanta Nins were unmasked there was no telling who’d hunt them. But where had they been? Was the council right, did they abandon their duty? Or maybe the council doesn’t know who they are either and this is their way of finding out?

Either way, Tsunade was not going to order the executions without further investigation.

“I’ll take it under consideration.”

That obviously upset the council. “There’s nothing to consider, the case is clear. Dereliction of duty results in treason, punishable by death.”

Tsunade’s eyes narrowed. “That is true, but you haven’t presented any evidence to support your claims.” Both Homura and Koharu opened their mouths to speak, but Tsunade held up a hand to stop them. “I will assign investigators to look into your claims immediately. Once the investigation is finished, I will convene the tribunal and their judgment will be carried out, as is the law of Konohagakure.”

Both members of the Konoha Council looked like they wanted to argue, but they didn’t. They shared a look, then nodded.

“Fine, we expect to be updated on the progress of the investigation,” Koharu agreed.

Tsunade nodded. They disappeared in flashes of smoke and leaves and as soon as they were gone Tsunade let out a growl of frustration.

ooo000ooo

Chapter Text

ooo000ooo

Chapter 1
Henka o motarasu sawayakana kaze
A bracing wind that brings change

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
Martin Luther King Jr.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Umino Iruka’s Apartment, Konohagakure: :

Iruka woke to a painful crick in his neck and a hard floor under his cheek. The sun was up, shining brightly through the window and onto Iruka, warding off some of the chill from the floor. Iruka stretched and winced when every vertebra in his back cracked. It was time to get up, he had class in an hour according to the alarm clock on the floor next to him and he had slept through breakfast. He dressed quickly, pulling a clean uniform from the pile of laundry he hadn’t put away yet.

He checked on Naruto, who was still sprawled out over the bed Iruka had bought for him and sound asleep. Sasuke…Sasuke was in the process of climbing out the window, dragging most of his clothes and sword behind him. Normally Iruka would admire his determination, but at the moment it just made him want to smack the young man. Iruka grabbed him by the back of his shirt and yanked hard, sending him flying back onto the bed with a shout of surprise. Iruka grabbed the clothes and weapons out of his hand as he bounced on the bed and chucked them into the hamper next to the door.

Sasuke’s breath hissed as he landed. Despite landing on the soft bed, the impact jarred several unhealed injuries and Sasuke ended up curled on his side in the fetal position trying to control his breathing. A warm hand came to rest on his forehead, the touch gentle and comforting against his clammy, cool skin. A touch Sasuke recognized immediately.

“You’ve got a pretty bad fever, you need to rest Sasuke.” Iruka took a seat next to him on the bed, shifting his hand to run his fingers through Sasuke’s hair and massage his scalp.

It felt amazing and Sasuke almost fell right back to sleep. “I need to leave.”

“You need to rest,” Iruka corrected, “Both you and Naruto. You’re both beaten to hell after that little stunt in the valley.”

Sasuke did his best to glare at his former teacher and summon what anger he could, “Little stunt?”

Iruka smirked. “You heard me.”

Sasuke’s glare wasn’t much of an answer to Iruka’s challenge, tempered by the fact that he was curled up almost into a ball next to Iruka and fighting to keep his eyes open.

Sasuke was silent for a moment, wondering if he was strong enough to get away and realizing he wasn’t. “Is Naruto…”

“He’s fine, like I said, beat up but he’ll heal. He’ll probably sleep for another couple of days before waking up and eating his weight in ramen.” Iruka grinned. “You should do the same.”

Sasuke frowned, “I hate ramen.”

Iruka didn’t blink. “Miso soup with sliced tomatoes then.”

Sasuke’s eyes widened, surprised.

“You think I don’t remember?” Iruka looked amused, “Every time you packed your own lunch that was what you brought. In that little blue bento box Mikoto made for Itachi when he was in the Academy. He passed it down to you. You used to carry it with you where ever you went.” Iruka laughed suddenly. “You got so angry the day I took it away to clean it. You just stood in the doorway of the teacher’s lounge glaring at me until I finished and then you wouldn’t talk to me for a week.”

Sasuke’s flush was entirely due to his fever and he would swear on it until the day he died. Iruka pretended not to notice and kept running his fingers over Sasuke’s scalp. It brought back memories Sasuke hadn’t thought about for years. He could remember the really bad days after his family’s death, when he’d been so sad that he hadn’t been able to walk home. He’d sat on the steps of the Academy, long after everyone else had left, crying. Iruka had unfailing found him every time and sat quietly next to him.

Sometimes Sasuke would run home in embarrassment; on some rare nights he would hold Iruka’s hand tightly as the young teacher walked him home, passing through the wards surrounding the Uchiha compound without so much as a twitch. Some nights, when Sasuke exhausted himself, he had nothing but disjointed memories of a warm arms and a steady heart beat under his cheek and he would wake up tucked into his bed the next morning. Itachi used to run his hands through Sasuke’s hair the same way Iruka was now, when Sasuke would have nightmares as a child and sneak into his older brother’s room so he wouldn’t have to sleep alone.

“What did the Hokage say? I’m going to be executed right?” Sasuke kept his voice steady, though it was weak.

Iruka looked sheepish, a light blush rising in his cheeks as he scratched the back of his head with his free hand. “Well, I highly doubt that’s what she would have said…if we’d told her you were here. Seeing as we didn’t and they have no idea, they haven’t really said anything about it.” And then he grinned again and winked like forgetting to tell Hokage that Sasuke, technically a highly valuable and dangerous missing nin, was back in the village wasn’t anything. But then, Sasuke remembered seeing Iruka yell at people who outranked him without fear. Even the Third Hokage. Kakashi had even commented on it during training, since Iruka tended to yell at him quite a bit. Iruka must have known what he was thinking because he spoke again. “It’s alright Sasuke, I just wanted both of you completely healed before things came out. At least then you’ll have a fighting chance.”

“You’re helping me?” Sasuke’s voice was full of disbelief.

“Why wouldn’t I?” Iruka asked.

“Why would you?” Sasuke countered quietly and Iruka was silent for a moment, eyes somber.

“Did you know that your father trained me?” Iruka asked quietly, turning to look out the window. Sasuke’s eyes widened in disbelief. “I was there the day both of you were born, you and Itachi.”

“He trained you? Why?” The words are out of Sasuke’s mouth before he can stop himself.

Iruka decides to ignore the slightly insulting tone of Sasuke’s disbelief. “They were a pretty tight knit group. My parents, yours, Tsume, Shibi, Sakumo, and Dai. And of course their teacher Kikyo.”

“They were?” Sasuke’s voice is surprisingly and unfittingly small and all Iruka can think is that a son of Fugaku and Mikoto should never sound like that.

“Yeah. They grew up training together. Fugaku was one of my godfathers actually.” Sasuke’s eyes are wide now and Iruka realizes it’s the first time since Sasuke first began attending the academy that he’s had the boy’s full and undivided attention. Iruka stood, walking to the wall next to the window and moved his hands quickly in the form of a sealing jutsu. The wall simmers and changes, revealing a overflowing bookcase. Iruka selected a binder, a photo album Sasuke realizes and walks back over to the bed. Sasuke slowly uncurled as Iruka flipped through it and, curiosity overwhelming all else, sat tucked up against Iruka’s side as Iruka showed him the photo album.

It’s a picture of his parents. Fugaku, Mikoto, Maito Dai, whom Sasuke recognizes because his son is so obviously his, a beautiful kunoichi that is very obviously a Uchiha judging by her dark looks and the fan emblazoned on her chest, Sakumo, another man whose son has followed in his footsteps, Tsume and Shibi, who looked like they haven’t aged a day, and two tanned shinobi Sasuke realizes must be Iruka parents. In front of them in a tangled line in which everyone manages to have their arms slung around at least one other person is Iruka, an ash blond Sasuke recognizes from the Chunin exams as the jounin who trained Kabuto, Kotetsu, Izumo, and, to Sasuke’s disbelief, his older brother Itachi and his best friend Shisui. He stares at the picture for a long time, everyone in it is grinning and their happiness is palpable. Written in elegant kanji underneath was the title: the world’s most obvious case of favoritism.

Sasuke has no idea what the title means, but it means something because the writing is faded and smudged. Iruka’s fingers must have traced it a thousand times since it was taken. Judging by the ages of everyone in the photo it was several years before Sasuke was born and Sasuke can’t recall any of those he has met smiling that way, not even Iruka. There are other pictures. It’s a huge photo album and Sasuke can see several others on the same shelves. The temptation is there and Iruka makes no argument when Sasuke reaches for the photo album. Simply lets him pull it into his lap, Sasuke’s own fingers starting to trace the words.

Iruka feels a sad smile steal over his face as he stands. “You’re welcome to look through all of them.”

Sasuke’s expression is tinged with panic as he watches Iruka step away from the bed towards the door. “Where are you going?”

It stops Iruka, surprising him, but warming him at the same time. “I have to teach classes at the academy today and then run a few errands, but I’ll be home for dinner.” The panic eases somewhat and Iruka smiles reassuringly. “Help yourself to anything in the apartment, Naruto’s still asleep in his room next door and he’s probably going to sleep for another couple of days so try not to wake him up. We can talk more when I get back.”

Sasuke nods, his grip on the photo album turning his knuckles white.

Iruka turns serious, “Don’t leave the apartment Sasuke. It’s warded so no one can sense your chakra or Naruto’s as long as you stay inside.”

Sasuke nods again, face serious. Iruka gives in to the urge to tap his finger on Sasuke’s forehead, the same way he used to with Itachi and the way he knows Itachi would do to Sasuke. The young man’s eyes widen almost comically and Iruka smiles as he heads out. “I started that by the way, it used to drive Itachi up the wall.”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Hokage’s Office, Konohagakure: :

Tsunade was steadily working her way through one of the many stacks of paperwork when there was a knock on the door. Shizune was preoccupied with attempting to sort paperwork so Tsunade just hollered “Come in!”

The ANBU Commander, Taka, stepped into the office and immediately dropped into a respectful bow. “Hokage-sama, you summoned?”

“Yes, sit, everyone else out!” Shizune and the two ANBU guards that usually resided in the background exited quickly, though Shizune sent her a questioning look over her shoulder. Tsunade finished reading the current request she was working on and put it in the accepted for missions pile before turning to the ANBU commander. His mask was securely in place, Tsunade had told him he was free to remove in meetings with her but he had repeatedly chosen not to. She had a dozen secret theories as to why all based on gossip, battlefield injuries, horrifying birth defects, but she’d yet to find out anything solid.

“Thank you for coming so quickly.” Tsunade shifted the pile off papers to the side of her desk, resting her elbows in their place, lacing her fingers, and resting her chin on her joined hands as she studied the shinobi sitting across from her.

“Of course Hokage-sama. Your summons sounded urgent.”

“Yes, have you ever heard of Hanta?”

His head cocked to the side, “Hanta?”

“Yes, it was brought up to me the other day and I don’t remember Konoha having a hunter nin unit like Mist’s.”

“Because we don’t,” he responded immediately. “It was suggested at one point, by one of my predecessors, but it never gained any traction. The Third didn’t like the idea of that kind of unit. From what I understand, the new Mizukage isn’t fond of it either.”

Tsunade nodded, the last time she’d spoken to Mai the kunoichi had mentioned she was trying to reform several of Mist’s shinobi teams. “Yes, she’s in the process of disbanding it.”

Taka nodded. “May I ask, Hokage-sama, the tone of the conversation concerning the Hanta?”

Tsunade raised an eyebrow, that was an interesting question. “Dark. It was suggested that they be executed for failing in their duties.”

Taka shook his head. “I fail to see how that’s possible. From what I understand we don’t currently have a Hanta unit, they resigned before my tenure as ANBU Commander began and the Third never named replacements.”

Tsunade blinked in surprise, “So we did have a hunter team?”

“Yes and no, Hokage-sama. They were hunter nin yes, but not in the way you are assuming. I never had the occasion to work with them, from what I understand they were tasked by the Third himself and rarely worked with ninja outside the Hanta.” Taka shrugged. “I don’t recall ever hearing anyone speak of working with them.”

“What is their purpose?” Tsunade asked, worried. Why had Sandaime never mentioned or left any information on them?

“I don’t know for sure, Hokage-sama, but everything I know about them, which is admittedly little, suggests that their focus in the protection of shinobi.”

“The protection of shinobi?” Tsunade repeated, surprised. That had not been what she expected at all.

“Yes, the only occasions I have heard about them being called out was in response to shinobi severely injured on missions. Usually when their assigned team was unable to save them. They were called out frequently during the Third Shinobi World War.”

Tsunade winced. The Third Shinobi World War had been a hellish war of attrition, if that was the mission of the Hanta then it wasn’t surprising that they’d been called out often during its tenure. “Were they an execution squad?”

Taka shook his head, again surprising Tsunade. “No, from what I understand they held an almost perfect record for bringing shinobi back alive.”

“Really?” Admiration slipped into Tsunade’s tone.

Taka nodded, “I don’t know what exactly you’d execute them for Hokage-sama?”

“It wasn’t my idea, don’t worry. I’d be more inclined to bring a group like that back into service rather then punish them.” Tsunade sighed and leaned back in her chair.

Taka relaxed. “I believe they resigned sometime during the Third Hokage’s reign, before the chuunin exams and Orochimaru.”

“Really?” That was good news. All the charges the Council had wanted to bring against them were invalid if they hadn’t been operating then. “Have you heard anything else about them?”

Taka shook his head. “That’s all I know Hokage-sama.”

Tsunade nodded, “Okay, that’s great news actually. Taka, I want you to start looking into the Hanta. Find out what you can, ideally the identities of the last Hanta and what caused them to resign.”

Taka nodded. “I’ll begin immediately Hokage-sama.”

“Good, you’re dismissed.”

Taka stood, bowed deeply and disappeared in a flash of smoke and leaves. It was a credit to his skill level that Tsunade never saw his hands move to form the seals. Almost immediately Shizune reappeared, carrying yet another stack of papers. Tsunade groaned and started looking for her sake.

“The Council wants to execute the Hanta?” Shizune asked. Tsunade sighed, not at all surprised that Shizune had eavesdropped on the meeting. Her assistant was highly skilled and had known Tsunade long enough to know when to stick close.

“Yeah.” Tsunade let out a bellow of triumph as she found a nearly full bottle of sake under another pile of papers.

“I’ve never even heard of the Hanta,” Shizune frowned as she added the new pile of papers to the others on Tsunade’s desk.

“Me neither until they brought it up.” She took a long drink. “Bastards are trying to cause problems so quickly after the war,” she signed. “I was hoping for peace for a while.”

“I think every one is. How much trouble do you think they’ll cause?” Shizune sounded worried.

“I don’t know,” she took another sip and dragged a new pile of papers in front of her. “I think they’re going to do something stupid that’s going to get a lot of people hurt.”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Konohagakure Records Office, Hokage’s Tower: :

Iruka was tapping his foot in impatience by the time the records clerk returned with his files. He barely kept back an irritated sigh as the young man slowly combed through the papers, pulling out the two Iruka had requested to check and update. They’d been filed years ago originally and judging by the dust no one has bothered to check them since. Iruka had copies in his apartment but he wanted to make sure they were still official and intact in the records office so they’d remain legally binding.

“Alright, two 1-5 A forms. You want to update and re-file them correct?” The records clerk was a chuunin and Iruka has the undeniable urge to lecture him about taking his job and responsibilities seriously because he is obviously not.

“Yes,” Iruka answered through gritted teeth. He’d waited an hour to do something that took five minutes and his temper was frayed to it’s breaking point. The clerk slid the forms across the counter and left to help another customer. Iruka knew the kid had no idea what the forms were or what they were supposed to look like. He was young enough to resent being assigned a job like this instead of doing missions regularly and he was not paying attention. Normally Iruka wouldn’t stand for it but it worked in his favor today, so he kept his mouth shut and put his new address in the contact block on both and read the forms over. 1 - 5 A form was the legal guardian form and these two awarded Iruka legal guardianship over Uzumaki Naruto, officiated by the Third Hokage himself and Uchiha Sasuke officiated by Uchiha Fugaku in the case of his death. They were legally binding until every person mentioned in them was dead.

They didn’t have to be updated to remain legal, but Iruka didn’t want to take any chances. As the legal guardian to both boys, he was required to be updated on anything that happened with them and if Tsunade were to decide that Sasuke had to be placed under any form of arrest or supervision Iruka was first in line. He forged her signature in the officiate’s box and Maito Gai’s in the witness box, because he had faith that Gai would put the wellbeing of Naruto and Sasuke before almost anything else should he called out for the form. He dated it back two years, when things were so crazy that no one would be able to remember if they actually signed it or not. Both signatures were perfect, Iruka had seen them both sign so often he can do it with his eyes closed and he makes them just different enough to not be copies.

He wondered briefly if he should check on the form awarding him guardianship of Itachi and decided not to. It was still legal after all and Itachi was dead, which broke Iruka’s heart all over again every time he thought about it, so he let it be. He already had the forms awarding him control of the Uchiha compound and anything inside it and the wards were still strong. No one besides Iruka, a Uchiha, Naruto and any member of Hanta could enter the compound. Even the Hokage would be blown so far back that she’d spend time in the hospital if she tried to enter.

The clerk came back and Iruka slid the forms back across the counter. The kid didn’t even look at them.

“Would you like copies, Umino-san?”

“Yes please.” And Iruka feels some of the tension bleed out of him as the kid used a jutsu to make copies and then notarize them. He handed Iruka his copies and used another jutsu to re-file the originals. Iruka wanted to comment that he could have used a jutsu to find them in the first place but he could still smell the smoke from the cigarette the kid snuck while looking for them and decided to let it go.

“Have a good day, Umino-san.”

“You as well,” Iruka replied as he leaves, letting out a deep breath as he took the steps to the street two at a time. He tucked the forms deep into his vest and barely concealed his groan of disbelief when he saw Hatake Kakashi walking towards him. Or rather towards the Hokage’s Tower behind him. There was a moment of brief curiosity at why the jounin was walking on the street instead of teleporting but it was quickly tucked behind Iruka’s need to get away before Hatake noticed him.

It was too late. For whatever reason Hatake chose that moment to look up from his book, the one that made Iruka want to beat him senseless, and he spotted Iruka immediately. Iruka knew it because the jounin lowered his book and slowed to a stop in front of him before Iruka could pretend he didn’t see him and teleport away.

Iruka would be damned if his anger ruined his manners and he bowed deeply. “Hatake-san, good evening.” Iruka was late for dinner and he wanted to be back at his apartment hours ago.

“Umino-sensei, headed home?” The question was polite and innocent and for some unknown reason made Iruka even angrier.

“Yes, have a good night.” Iruka started to leave and he was stunned when Hatake actually called him out.

“I see you’re still not over our disagreement from the Chuunin exams.”

Iruka wanted to scream that it was so much more then that, but he had no interest in sharing that much of himself with anyone and ruthlessly stamped the urge into nothingness. Instead he gritted his teeth, turned, and managed to get out, “If you recall Hatake-san, I apologized and admitted you were right. It is rather childish of you to keep bringing it up.”

“But you didn’t mean it.” Kakashi was not so noble that he’d pass up the chance to tease the emotional chuunin. He was ruthlessly attractive when he was angry and Kakashi secretly liked that he had the balls to argue with people who outranked him. Right now Iruka looked like he was about to explode and there was a vein pulsing in his forehead that Kakashi had the somewhat odd urge to lick. Only the fact that Iruka would probably attempt to rend him limb from limb until Kakashi was forced to hurt him to stop him made him keep his tongue to himself.

“Would you like me to apologize again?” Iruka barely got out.

“Would it be any different?” Kakashi asked, put his book away and stuffed his hands in his pockets. His signature slouch in place.

Iruka wanted to physically straighten Kakashi’s form but that thought lead to places Iruka wasn’t ready to go so he focused on his anger. “All of my apologies were meant with the utmost sincerity Hataka-san.” A bald face lie of the highest order. There had been a dozen over the years since the disagreement and Iruka hasn’t meant a single one.

Kakashi knew it too and has no problem calling Iruka on it. “Not setting a very good example for your students there, sensei. If you’re going to lie like that, you should practice enough to make it believable.”

Iruka saw red but before he could act on it someone else was calling out to Kakashi and they both turn to see a pretty female jounin Iruka recognized from the records room and whom Kakashi knew from ANBU. She joined them, oblivious to the tone of their discussion and put a hand on Kakashi’s arm in a very intimate manner. For some reason it felt like a bucket of ice water had just been dumped over Iruka.

“Kakashi-san,” her voice is liquid sugar and Iruka felt his eye twitch. “I’m glad I ran into you. I was hoping we’d get a chance to talk.”

Another chance, Iruka wants to make a crack about that but he doesn’t. He was well aware that Kakashi overlooked his behavior for whatever reason, but Iruka has seen this female jounin nail other chuunin for being disrespectful and insist they be reprimanded. Iruka’s record, god knows how, was still spotless and he intended to keep it that way.

Iruka turned to leave, only to be called out by Kakashi again. “Maa, Umino-sensei our conversation wasn’t finished.”

Yes it was, Iruka thought furiously as he turned around. He kept a smile plastered on his face, though judging from the amused expression on Kakashi’s the killing aura was obvious.

“I apologize Hatake-san, but I’m late for dinner so I need to be going.” Iruka’s tone dropped into leave-me-the-fuck-alone-asshole regardless of his attempts to keep it professional and the female jounin frowned.

“You should be careful of your tone Umino-san, it’s disrespectful. You should show more respect and control when speaking with your superiors.”

Amusingly enough, the only thought Iruka had was, damn she knows who I am.

Kakashi just looked more amused and Iruka feels his eye twitch as she continued.

“Shinobi custom is built on respect.”

No it isn’t, Iruka thought wildly. I teach this to children every day.

“You should apologize and work harder to live up to your station. Kakashi and I have earned our ranks by protecting this village on countless occasions.”

That’s it. Iruka was done. He bowed deeply and lets his words cut just as deeply. “Respect is something that is earned jounin-san, it does not get awarded with rank or the number of kills you achieve and personally, I don’t think killing is a skill worthy of respect. But I assure you, as soon as I met someone worthy of it, I’ll accord them some.”

The female jounin’s face was so priceless as she processed Iruka’s words that he wished he had a camera. Kakashi’s lost that amused look he was sporting and Iruka straightened and teleported to his apartment before either of them could say anything else.

Damn, I’m actually going to get a reprimand now, Iruka sighed as he took off his shoes in the small hallway leading into his apartment.

When he turned from hanging his vest on the peg near the door he found Sasuke, looking slightly disheveled and embarrassed, holding a tray of miso soup with sliced tomatoes for two. There was a tea set out on the coffee table in the living room and Iruka’s anger dissipated immediately. All the photo albums were out and open and Iruka wanted to laugh when he saw dozens of bookmarks in each album.

“Find some interesting pictures, Sasuke?”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Torture and Interrogation Unit Cells, ANBU: :

Ibiki frowned as he watched the shinobi sitting quietly in his cell, separated by several empty cells on all sides to keep him away from any other prisoners. Since his surrender after the battle against Kaguya Kabuto had been a model prisoner. He’d answered all their questions truthfully, had allowed the Yamanaka interrogators to use their bloodline limit without complaint, and had even assisted in the medical treatment of one of his sick interrogators. Ibiki was not the most trusting person, he indulged his paranoia fearlessly at all times, but even he was hard pressed to call Kabuto anything but honest.

He’d given them the location to old Akatsuki hideouts and Orochimaru’s former labs. They’d found out more about Orochimaru then they’d ever wanted to know, including his obsession and fear of the sharingan and his burning hatred for the Uchiha, who had somehow figured out that his motives long before anyone else and had found a way to prevent him from ever getting his hands on the sharingan.

Kabuto also had a level of hatred for Danza that Ibiki had never seen equaled and, while he took complete responsibility for his actions, he credited Danzo’s recruitment of him for Root and his subsequent tasking as the basis for his loss of identity, which had spiraled into everything else. Ibiki was hard pressed to argue that after learning exactly what Danzo had done to the children he’d forced into Root.

As soon as he’d learned of it Ibiki had begun checking up on the members of Root that Kabuto could remember and a disturbing number had suffered violent, suspicious deaths. It made Ibiki wonder if Danzo had made a habit of removing the soldiers he himself created when they’d gotten too strong. Tsunade had been furious when he’d shared what he’d found with her and instructed him to continue his investigation into Danzo and Root.

When they’d first begun interrogating him Ibiki’d had several units working round the clock to verify what Kabuto had been saying. Now, several months in, he kept one dedicated squad on it and let the others return to their regular duties. So far, every single thing Kabuto had told them had been true. It had gotten to the point that Ibiki had been fighting the urge to take everything at face value and not have it double-checked at all.

Ibiki still wasn’t sure what had prompted the Hokage to accept Kabuto’s surrender instead of executing him on the spot, but whatever it had been had resulted in startlingly valuable intelligence. Kabuto had apparently made a point to keep up with information on missing nin and bloodline limits from all five hidden villages and Ibiki’s bingo book was significantly thicker then it had been before. Ibiki himself had removed Uchiha Itachi’s page amid a small ceremony attended by every available member of ANBU and the Hokage herself. Kabuto had hinted very strongly at the disturbing idea that Danzo had ordered the massacre of the Uchiha Clan, which, which absolved Itachi, and also open up the terrifying idea that someone in high a position of power in the government had knowingly ordered something that could have collapsed the nation into civil war. Not to mention that there had been children and civilians in the Uchiha clan that had also been killed.

Ibiki wasn’t sure what to do with that and neither was anyone else. Kabuto was openly honest that his reformation was the result of Itachi’s efforts to save him and Konoha. It would have been easy to chalk it up to Kabuto’s obviously biased feelings toward the Uchiha, but with everything else he’d learned about Danzo…. Ibiki was shinobi, he frequently took on jobs others found distasteful, and anything to protect the village was what he said. But recently he’d been realizing that even he had his limits. Forcing children to become emotionless tools and wiping out an entire clan were not actions Ibiki would ever support and he’d been unabashedly relieved to find out Tsunade didn’t support them either.

But it left the two of them in the awkward position of what to do with the information they’d received and Ibiki knew it weighed heavily on the mind of the Hokage. Now, she sat across from Ibiki, eyes on Kabuto with a frown marring her pretty face. The subject of her gaze was staring quietly at the wall, almost unnaturally still. Ibiki had to constantly remind himself that Kabuto was the same age as Itachi and not that much older then Uchiha Sasuke and Uzumaki Naruto. He couldn’t help but feel that it wasn’t natural for someone his age to be so still. He no longer bore the marks he had during the battle, he looked exactly like he had at the chuunin exams where Ibiki had first seen him and it was hard to reconcile the two images of him.

“Hokage-sama?”

Tsunade jerked out of her thoughts and turned to the master interrogator.

“Are you alright?” He looked concerned, which was rare.

Tsunade sighed and nodded, “Yes, just thinking.”

Ibiki nodded, Kabuto had put that look on the faces of several of his interrogators.

“What do you think of him Ibiki?” She had a hard time forgetting their first fight, when he’d so easily deduced her weakness at the sight of blood and ruthlessly used it against her. What really stuck in her mind was the intelligence he’d displayed, calming working his way through his body to figure out how to counter the attack that had confused his nervous system and almost returning to full maneuverability. There weren’t many shinobi capable of that level of critical thinking, especially in the heat of battle. He’d have been an excellent medical nin if his life had gone a different way.

“I think he’s telling the truth.” Ibiki answered honestly.

She looked surprised at his honesty, but nodded in agreement. She was surprised to realize that she agreed with him.

“It would be wise to wait a bit longer though, before considering returning him to public view. The civilian side doesn’t know what he did, but I’m sure word has spread through the shinobi population. It’ll have to be addressed if you don’t want to execute him or keep him locked in a cell for the rest of his natural life.”

Tsunade frowned, “I’m not sure what I want to do with him yet.”

Ibiki nodded in understanding. “He’ll be safe here until you decide Hokage-sama.”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Hokage’s Monument, Konohagakure: :

Tsume took a deep breath; let it settle in her lungs and her eyes fall shut. Winter was here, the air cold and crisp. Fresh and clean and a little bit wet. It was her favorite time of year, the favorite for all the Hanta. When the number of missions were low and they could come in from the cold to a warm fire and warmer arms. Though it had been years since she’d served actively with them, she could still remember coming back from missions and collapsing in front of the fire with Kikyo and Mikoto, while Dai would drag Fugaku to the kitchen to make warm sake Shibi and Sakumo would scrounge up every blanket they could find. They’d end up in a tangled mass of blankets and people, still wet from washing off blood, muscles twitching from exhaustion, in front of the roaring fire that had always graced the Hanta Hall deep within the Uchiha Compound.

It had been the living symbol of their Will of Fire, of their love and devotion for the shinobi of their village. It had burned strong and bright back then, but in the years since it had weakened. For a short time that flame had gone out completely, but it had started to come back. Albeit slowly. Very, very slowly. It gave Tsume hope that the long years of darkness were finally starting to recede, that the light might be coming back.

A gentle gust of wind made her smile and Shibi’s warm presence swept over her. The low hum of his insects always in the background. Most people couldn’t hear them without straining, but to Tsume they’d always been a welcome assurance that Shibi and his clan were healthy and alive.

“What are you doing up here so late Tsume?” His voice was warm and low and Tsume could remember the countless horrible nights it had gotten her through. When Kiba’s father had left, the countless lives Hanta had lost in those horrible years following the Third Shinobi World War. They were the only nin who lost more members in peace time then in war time.

“Just thinking.” She didn’t have to look at him to know the expression that would have crossed his face at her words.

“Really?” The amusement in his voice said he didn’t believe her and she didn’t blame him. Tsume wasn’t the deep thinking type. She never had been, regardless of the effort her own teachers had put in all those years ago. Tsume trusted her instincts, like all Inuzuka and her faith in that had been proven time and time again. It was a behavior and practice that had been the reason the Inuzuka had been chosen as one of the three clans to make up the Hanta. They balanced the thoughtfulness of the Aburame and the vicious cunning of the Uchiha, both of whom tended to brood and over think when they had the opportunity. Tsume had always launched ahead full throttle while Fugaku and Shibi held back and mulled.

“I’m worried about Iruka,” Tsume admitted ruefully. “I know he’s not getting along with Tsunade and having to hide Sasuke and Naruto in that crappy apartment of his isn’t helping anything.”

“Did you feel it though?” Shibi asked, voice happy and rich, “They finally figured it out. Shino told me not to expect him home tonight. He’s staying at Iruka’s.”

Tsume nodded, that sudden surge of elated chakra had nearly made her walk into a wall, “Kiba said the same thing, and Hinata met up with him when he left.”

“They’re all going. Iruka’s apartment building might not be standing tomorrow morning.” Shibi sounded proud beyond measure and Tsume shared that feeling. Their boys were growing up fast and strong, the challenges they’d weathered would give them the knowledge they needed to face anything the future could bring. It gave Tsume the courage to face what was coming next herself, knowing that their children would be strong enough to go on when they were gone.

She still worried about Iruka though. He was so strong and so smart, she worried about what he planned to do. He had the same trait of self-sacrifice as Shisui, Itachi and Fugaku, that even Obito had displayed in the end. She wanted him to live on and enjoy a happy life for at least as long as he’d suffered a horrible one. Iruka wouldn’t do that though, unless they gave him no other option.

Tsume’s curse echoed in the quiet night. “Fucking Uchiha’s and their goddamn stubbornness!” They always had to save everybody.

Shibi laughed and Tsume understood the irony of an Inuzuka calling out an Uchiha out for stubbornness.

ooo000ooo

Chapter Text

ooo000ooo

Chapter 2
Kotei sa reta buttai
An immovable object

Tarta, remember this, one who is willing to die is strong. The only ones who can defeat them are the ones who know their own worth.
-Magic Knight RayEarth by Clamp

ooo000ooo

: :Hokage’s Office, Hokage’s Tower: :

Iruka tried in vain to reign his temper in. This meeting, that had begun an hour ago, had gone on an hour too long in his opinion. Between the Hokage butting her nose into academy business, the presence of Hyuga Hiashi who had absolutely nothing to do with this case, the Konoha Council, who had pretty much shown up just to disagree with everything Iruka said, and the actual parent with whom Iruka was disagreeing, he was certain he was in some previously undiscovered level of hell.

“Tea, Umino-sensei?” Koharu asked politely, holding out a cup. She frequently used serving tea to lull people into a false sense of security. It threw off many to have someone in a position such as hers serve them tea. Iruka didn’t share that belief and normally he would have been suspicious of anything she gave him but he wasn’t thinking about it now.

Iruka took it and sipped, anything to distract him from what was happening and keep him from opening his mouth. At this point, anything he said was likely to get him into serious trouble.

“It is more then fair to be concerned with the child’s age, any truly dedicated teacher would be,” Homura spoke calmly. “But we must also take into account any damage that might be done by holding the student back when he is ready to advance.”

Iruka wanted to stab him repeatedly with a dull kunai. The Konoha Council paid little attention to the Academy unless there was some up and coming genius in a class. Iruka could count on one hand the number of times they’d visited while he was an instructor and all of those times they’d simply followed the Third around as he visited. The only reason they’d gotten involved in this discussion was because the Hokage had gotten involved and they wanted a chance to strike at Iruka. He’d clashed with the council before, but this was the first time he’d done it without the Third backing him. Sandaime had had absolute faith in Iruka’s judgment when it came to graduating children early and since Iruka had become a lead instructor he hadn’t graduated a single student early. Which was probably the reason for Hiashi’s presence. He’d come at the request of Jounin Hitsugaya ,whose son, while only six, had entered the academy the year before and was considered a genius. Iruka and Hiashi had clashed on multiple occasions concerning Neji, Hinata, and Hanabi. Hiashi had wanted all three of them graduated early. Iruka had refused for all three and in the end, they had each graduated with their peers.

How Hiashi felt about him now, Iruka had no idea. He’d mourned the loss of Neji. Iruka always felt the death of a former student deeply and he’d always had a soft spot for the castaway from the Hyuga Branch house. Hinata had confided in him that Hiashi had begun to rethink his opinions on the split within the clan and had worked hard to improve his relationships with Hinata and Neji before his death. Iruka hoped that held true now. Hinata had taken her cousin’s death hard. Now that she had nothing else to focus on, the rift between her and her father had begun to return but for different reasons. Everyone was having a hard time adjusting and moving forward.

“Has anyone asked the child what he wants to do?” Tsunade asked. Shizune sat attentively at her shoulder, recording the meeting. This was the first time the Godaime had been involved in an argument involving the Academy. She and Iruka had had their fair share of disagreements, but it had never been over something that was so clearly Iruka’s domain. She had her own opinions on the subject and admittedly, they leaned more towards Iruka’s views but she had four other powerful people in the room and she was wary of just agreeing with Iruka and starting a much bigger fight.

“Yes, Hokage-sama, he wants to graduate.” Jounin Hitsugaya responded immediately and Iruka almost choked on his tea.

“The hell he does!” Iruka slammed the delicate tea cup onto the table and ignored it when it shattered in his hand. “I talk to him everyday and I’ve asked him on multiple occasions, including this morning, and every time he’s said he wants to stay and graduate with his class.”

Jounin Hitsugaya glared at him and Iruka might have been cowed by someone of Hitsugaya’s skill if the man wasn’t a drunkard who usually failed to remember he even had a son.

“My son is ready to graduate. Keeping him in the academy is detrimental to his development. He’s surrounded by weaker children his age and they are constantly dragging him down.” The distain in the jounin’s voice when he speaks of the other students is clear and Tsunade finds her dislike of the man growing.

Iruka saw red, jumped to his feet and snarled, “What the hell would you know about his development? You usually too drunk to even remember you have a kid and when you do remember, you beat him so badly I have to send him to the school medic nin before he can join his class. His grandmother is the one raising him and she can barely walk.”

Jounin Hitsugaya’s face turned an ugly shade of purple as he rose to meet Iruka head on.

“ENOUGH!” Tsunade roared, on her feet herself in an attempt to stop the fight before it started. Everyone in the room had jumped to their feet with the infuriated jounin, though she wasn’t sure if they were going to step in to stop the bloodshed or assist in it. How the hell did Iruka manage to get himself into these situations? “Umino-sensei I assume you wouldn’t make baseless accusations to get your way. Do you have evidence of this abuse?” Tsunade kept her voice steady.

The jounin’s face was incredulous, like he couldn’t comprehend why that would be important. It left an uneasy feeling in Tsunade’s stomach.

Iruka visibly took a second to calm himself enough to speak. “Of course, the academy keeps records of any event in which a student is required to see a medic nin. Toshiro’s given multiple statements as to who hurt him and I’ve reported it on multiple occasions, but nothing was ever done about it.”

That made Tsunade angry.

“You bastard, he’s my son I can do whatever the hell I want to him!”

That makes her rage. ANBU was at her shoulder in an instant and their presence silenced the entire room, except of course, Iruka. Who punched Jounin Hitsugaya in the face as hard as he could and sent the man flying through the window of Tsunade’s office. One of the ANBU has the presence of mind to jump after the man. The other one had a sword at Iruka’s throat in the same instant but the chuunin apparently didn’t notice or care, because he didn’t acknowledge it. Merely straightened and rubbed his knuckles.

Bringing the jounin back into the room was likely to end in some getting arrested so Tsunade motioned the ANBU to take him to the hospital. She’d deal with him later and have ANBU do a very thorough investigation. She doubted that he was going to be a jounin, or even a shinobi, by the time it was over.

The ANBU still had his sword at Iruka’s throat and the chuunin had yet to look at him. Ignoring the ANBU with a skill that suggested he practices it. Given what she’s heard about his temper it wouldn’t surprise to find out this isn’t the first time this has happened to him. She can see the Konoha Council watching her carefully; she knows without the words that they want her to punish Iruka for his blatant disrespect of a room full of higher ranked shinobi. Hiashi was watching quietly, Tsunade had heard about his legendary arguments with Iruka and she was surprised to realize she can’t tell how he wanted this to go.

She motioned the ANBU to leave and he did. Iruka’s gaze met hers head on and she wanted to know who the hell trained him to have such fearlessness and conviction. She wanted to met him and ask what the hell he was thinking because now she was stuck with Iruka and she didn’t know what the hell to do with him.

She grabbed his arm, her face blank, and squeezed. The bones broke in her grip. Iruka went white and doubled over his arm. “Don’t ever disrespect me like that in public again, Umino-sensei. I am more then willing to hear you out on any matter fairly and I have done so on every occasion. But I will not afford you that respect if you will refuse to afford me the same. Sandaime may have been willing to indulge your reckless temper but I will not.”

Iruka hissed in pain, but twisted his arm enough to touch her wrist with his fingers. The Hokage didn’t notice the small blast of chakra he sent into her wrist. “I won’t sit idly by when something is wrong. Konohagakure was founded on the shared belief that children should never have to be soldiers or have you forgotten that Hokage-sama?”

Tsunade stared down at him in disbelief. She was going to kill whoever taught him to be like this. This outspoken chuunin brat was daring to question her dedication to the village. Her knowledge of its history, of her grandfather’s dream. Her hand tightened further in anger. Iruka hissed again, but didn’t apologize. Didn’t surrender. Didn’t weaken and Tsuande was struck by the sudden thought, what a will of fire.

Distantly, far from what is happening in her office now, she wonders how much torture Iruka was trained to withstand and why a chuunin academy teacher would have training that advanced.

Naruto called Iruka his most precious person. The first one in the village to show him kindness. The first teacher to show him how to be strong and protect the village. He’d shaped Naruto’s way, nurtured the same will in the blond orphan. Tsunade could see the resemblance very clearly now. “Everyone, get out now.” Tsunade’s voice was cold, hard, and very angry.

Hiashi avoided Iruka’s gaze as he left. The man might have been cold with a stick up his ass but he didn’t support child abuse. Any chance he’d had at using the meeting to get the moral high ground over Iruka in their arguments had disappeared as soon as Iruka had revealed the abuse. He left without a word.

Iruka didn’t spare the council a glance and they returned the favor. Though they leveled a long look at Tsunade, but the Hokage’s gaze didn’t waver from Iruka and eventually they left.

Shizune slipped out while Iruka and the Hokage glared at one another and shut the door.

Tsunade took a deep breath to resist the urge to put Iruka through the wall and instead shoved him roughly to his knees and retook her seat. She stared at him and he met her gaze fearlessly. She wasn’t going to deny the small spark of pride and smugness at the sight of him cradling his broken arm against his chest as he did it though.

“Who trained you?”

He looked surprised at her question and then suspicious, but he can’t quite keep the absolute desolation out of his voice when he answered. “What does it matter, they died a long time ago.”

Which is exactly what Tsunade expected to hear. Iruka had an anger about him that suggested a lifetime of loss. She’d had the same way about her for a long time after Nawaki and Dan had died.

“Have you ever heard of the Hanta nin?”

Iruka’s heart stopped in his chest. Just for a moment. Long enough for his blood to run cold and a gaping pit to form in his stomach. “The Hanta?” He repeated it to be sure he heard her correctly, even though he knew he did. He taught small children how to use deadly weapons, his hearing was impeccable. Tsunade nodded. “Once or twice I think,” Iruka’s heartbeat slowly returned to normal as he forced the words out. “Rumors mostly.”

Tsunade allowed herself to relax a bit and sighed, “That’s been everyone’s response so far.”

Shit, Iruka thought. “Everyone?”

“Taka, the Clan leaders, Kakashi and several ANBU squad leaders.”

For kaki’s sake is she asking everyone? Iruka can feel his eye twitch.

“Even the Council doesn’t seem to know who they are.”

Bastard ratfucking liars! Iruka’s anger is barely contained as he realized the Konoha Council are likely the ones who told Tsunade about the Hanta to begin with. Apparently they didn’t come right out and say who they were, which raised even more questions. “I haven’t heard anything about them recently. Most of the rumors I heard were when I was younger.”

Tsunade looked honestly disappointed and Iruka wondered what she was hoping for. He decides to take a chance, despite the throbbing in his arm. “Why does the council want to find the Hanta?”

Tsunade blinked, “What makes you think it’s the Council?”

Iruka snorted. “Because I’m eighty percent sure they’re responsible for forty percent of the bad things that happen in this village.”

“Forty?” Tsunade asked, amused despite herself and secretly relieved to find someone who so openly hated the Council.

“Twenty percent of it is for everything outside the village.” Iruka shrugged.

“And the other forty?” Tsunade inquired, wondering at the reasoning behind Iruka’s beliefs.

“Danzo.” Iruka doesn’t bother to hide the disgust and hatred in his voice. He’d be more likely to show mercy to Kaguya or Orochimaru than the former Konoha Council member.

“He’s dead now.” Tsuande pointed out, taken aback by the level of hatred the chuunin displayed.

“I know.”

Iruka responds with the tone of someone who knows and if Tsunade didn’t know for sure that Sasuke had killed the old ninja she’d strongly suspect it had been Iruka. She also suspects that Danzo bloody death hasn’t lessened Iruka’s hatred at all. Iruka’s motivations are as murky as his past at this point. After asking around no one had really been able to tell her anything except that he’d been an orphan after the Kyuubi attack and a troublemaker on a level that made Naruto look like an angel. Though several had complimented his sheer creativity on several pranks. It suggested good problem solving skills and deductive abilities. He’d be a good investigator and Tsunade impulsively decided to do something she would never have expected of herself. “I want you to investigate the Hanta.”

“What? Why me?” Iruka’s eyes are wide in disbelief. This was not going the way he’d been expecting.

“Because no one’s going to suspect you and because you’re like a dog with a bone.” Iruka bristled at that one and Tsunade smiled. “Find me the Hanta and in the meantime I will have ANBU carry out a very thorough investigation of jounin Hitsugaya.”

Iruka’s immediate refusal died on his tongue, his eyes narrowing in thought. “What happens to Toshiro in the meantime?”

“I’ll either put a guard on the boy and his grandmother or find a safe place for the boy to stay until the investigation is concluded.”

Iruka was well aware he was being manipulated. He’d filled enough reports that someone would have to do something soon regardless of the discussion happening now. And despite their disagreements Iruka didn’t think the Hokage would turn her back on the boy just to spite Iruka. This was why Tsunade could never win a bet, Iruka thought, she keeps trying to bluff with nothing in her hand.

Iruka didn’t like the idea of the Hokage tasking anyone like Hatake Kakashi to investigate the Hanta. That was a migraine that Iruka didn’t want to deal with and as much as the nonsensical jounin drove him up the damn wall, Naruto was still fond of him. Iruka would feel guilty killing him when it could have been avoided.

“How much time do I have?”

ooo000ooo

Present Day
: :Umino Iruka’s Apartment, Konohagakure: :

Iruka kicked the door shut with his foot and dropped his bag on the floor under the line of coat hangers. He kept his broken wrist tucked across his chest, he needed to dig out his first aid kit and find a brace or bandages for his arm. There was no way he was going to the hospital, it felt too much like admitting weakness. He wasn’t prepared for the yellow and orange blur that slammed into him and sent him to the floor, his broken wrist slamming into the cold wood. He let out a yelp as Naruto landed on top of him, his arms squeezing Iruka so tightly he couldn’t breath.

“Naruto!” The breath knocked out of him and the pain from his wrist made it come out more like a gasp.

“Iruka-sensei!” Naruto be bbvamed. “Welcome back, I woke up a couple hours ago and the teme said I’ve been sleeping for a week! The liar!”

Iruka would have responded if he’d had the ability to pull air into his lungs. As it was all he could do was wheeze. Thankfully Sasuke chose that moment to come around the corner and roll his eyes at the sight.

“Dobe, he’s not going to respond because he can’t breath. You’re squeezing him too tight!”

“I am not!” Naruto raged, “I would never hurt Iruka-sensei!” Naruto’s grip, in his anger, tightened and Iruka let out a strangled laugh as Sasuke grabbed Naruto by the back of his shirt collar and tried to drag him off Iruka. Naruto fought back and for a moment it was the funniest thing Iruka had seen in a long time. Sasuke, still in Iruka’s too big pajamas, trying to drag Naruto away by the back of his oversized pajamas, that had once been Iruka’s until he’d stolen them years ago. While Naruto fought as hard as he could against Sasuke’s pull, wrapping his arms and legs around Iruka in an effort to stay.

Sasuke was sneaky though, he relaxed his grip letting Naruto think he’d given up and then yanked once, hard and the blond was so surprised he couldn’t grab Iruka fast enough. Sasuke underestimate the strength of his pull though and Naruto flew backwards right into him and they both fell into a tangled heap on the floor.

Iruka, who could finally breath again, laughed as the two tried to stand with their limbs tangled and ended up shoving one another to the their feet. Iruka held out his good hand and they pulled him to his feet.

“What happened to your wrist?” Sasuke’s eyes narrowed.

“It’s nothing, I fell earlier,” Iruka lied smoothly. Neither boy looked convinced.

“Iruka-sensei you’re like the most graceful person I know, since when do you fall?” Naruto asked suspiciously.

Iruka mock frowned at him, using his good hand to rub his head and mess up his hair. “Everyone falls sometimes. I wasn’t paying attention and I didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late. I’ve got a brace in my first aid kit, a couple of days and it should be fine.”

Naruto seemed somewhat appeased, Sasuke still looked suspicious, but Iruka wasn’t about to tell them that the Hokage had broken his wrist because Iruka had been disrespectful during a meeting. Iruka’s fight with Tsunade would just worry the two boys and might lead them to do something stupid.

“Come on, I’m starving and I don’t remember where the first aid kit is.” Iruka ushered them out of the hallway.

“I saw it when I was cleaning, I’ll get it,” Sasuke disappeared into the small laundry closet next to the bathroom.

“I’ll see what we have for dinner! Come help me Iruka-sensei!” Iruka let himself be dragged into the kitchen. This was a tactic Naruto had used multiple times when he wanted to talk to Iruka about something that usually turned out to be pretty serious.

Once they were in the kitchen Iruka started looking through the cupboards as Naruto made tea.

“Hey, Iruka-sensei, do you know what they’re planning to do with Sasuke?” Naruto’s voice was uncharacteristically quiet when he finally spoke.

Iruka sighed. “They don’t know he’s back.”

Naruto turned to him in disbelief, “Iruka-sensei…” Tears were welling up in his eyes.

Iruka smiled softly, “You both need to be a full strength for what is coming. He’s not going to be able to hide in my apartment forever, but at the very least you can have a little while to get your heads on straight and figure out what you want to do.”

Naruto sniffed, ducked his head and rubbed furiously at his eyes. When he finally turned back to Iruka his eyes were bright and his smile was blinding. “Thanks Iruka-sensei.” He turned somber then, “You’re always taking care of me Iruka-sensei. No matter how strong I get you still have to protect me.”

Iruka frowned. “I don’t have to do anything Naruto. As far as I’m concerned we’re brothers, we have been since that first day I took you out for ramen. I’ll always protect you, no matter how strong you get.” Parents protect their children. Those had been his father’s last words to him and they’d always stayed with Iruka, especially whenever Naruto was concerned.

Naruto hugged him, suddenly and tightly and Iruka wrapped his arms around him and held him just as tightly.

“Don’t ever worry about protecting me Naruto, I might not look it but I’m tough and a survivor. No matter what happens I’ll come out okay.” Naruto nodded against his chest. “And I’ll always be there when you need me.”

They stood like that for a moment, before Naruto pulled back, wiping at his eyes again. “I’ll always protect you too, Iruka-sensei.”

Iruka smiled. “That’s what brothers are for.”

Naruto beamed. “We have to protect Sasuke too, nii-san.”

Iruka felt a constriction in his chest he hadn’t felt in years at Naruto’s words, warm and painful at the same time. “Of course, he’s practically my baby brother too.”

Naruto nodded, “Yeah, you were pretty close to Itachi before…everything, weren’t you?”

Iruka sometimes forgot how much he’d trusted Naruto with. “Yeah, before everything. We grew up as brothers. We spent a lot of time together after my parents died.”

Naruto nodded sagely, with a wisdom he was working towards but hadn’t quite reached yet. “I promised him I would protect Sasuke and help him. Itachi sacrificed so much for the village and the people he cared about. I don’t know if I can do that.”

Iruka put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Itachi did the best he could with what he had. There’s so much more to what happened that no one knows. A lot of the avenues and choices were blocked, his options were limited. It could have turned out a lot differently then it did.” Iruka had to pause, to think carefully about what he wants to say next because the instinct to just let loose and rail against the village, Sandaime, Fugaku, Danzo and everyone else involved was still so strong. But Naruto loved the village and he was looking at Iruka with wide trusting eyes and Iruka remembered the little things he loved about the village all those years ago that have remained despite everything that has happened. “No one can say what would have happened had anything been different and dwelling on it won’t help. You’ll find as you grow and meet new people, that the ones who have made the greatest sacrifices, that have achieved the kind of strength you’re seeking, are often the ones who acknowledge the past and leave it there. Itachi always focused on the future.”

Naruto has so many questions he wants to ask, it took a second to settle on the first. “What future was he thinking about when he killed his clan?”

Iruka’s smile is so proud and so utterly sad at the same time that Naruto immediately regretted the question.

“Sasuke. The future Itachi was thinking about was Sasuke. The future isn’t always as big as the entire world or the moon or even the village. Sometimes the future is as small as a flower growing in a crack on the sidewalk or the younger brother you adore. You have to remember Naruto, especially when you become Hokage, that the world isn’t the same for everyone. My world is you, my family, my friends, and my students. The village just happens to be where they all are and there are plenty of people in this village that I don’t like. For others the world is the village and everyone in it, like Sandaime. Or gaining power, like Orochimaru. Or the world can be the clan while everything outside of it is meaningless.”

“That’s… how am I supposed to lead when everyone wants something different?” Naruto sounded like he used to when he was much younger and Iruka would talk about advanced theories of taijutsu. Completely lost but still trying.

“You’ll figure it out. It just takes time, learning how to balance requires a lot of give and take. Something shinobi are famous for failing at.” Iruka sounded rueful and Naruto grinned.

There was another question Naruto wanted to ask, it was obvious. His eyes were narrowed, his brow furrowed in that way he used to look at Iruka when they first met and Naruto wasn’t sure if he could trust the older boy. Iruka waited patiently; Naruto’s curiosity always got the better of him.

“What was Itachi like when you knew him, Iruka-sensei?”

Iruka faltered, a thousand memories assaulting him at once. “He was…gentle. Itachi was never bloodthirsty, he didn’t like killing, but he was so smart that not many things could keep him interested for long. He was constantly trying to learn something new. He’d spend hours a day in the Uchiha library reading everything he could reach.” Iruka smiled, drifting back days when he’d been younger and much more innocent. “We used to go for ramen for lunch every day after he got out of the academy. He’d always complain about going to the same place but we never changed.”

Naruto grinned, “That kinda sounds like Sasuke.”

Iruka laughed, “They are very similar. More than either of them realize.” Iruka had always struggled with that. Seeing a younger, though far more emotional, version of what had been his other half for the first part of his life. He loved Sasuke, but there was a part that always hurt to see the living reminder of what was gone.

“Is it true that Itachi was ordered to kill our clan?” Sasuke’s voice was quiet. Iruka and Naruto both started in surprise, neither had heard him approach. He was carrying the first aid kit and his eyes were downcast.

Iruka sighed and took a seat at the small table in the kitchen, motioning at Sasuke to join him while Naruto finished the tea. Sasuke set the first aid kit on the table, rummaging through it until he found the brace.

It took Iruka a moment to figure out how to explain. “Did Itachi mention anything about what happened while you were with him?”

Sasuke handed him the brace, “He mentioned that there was a lot most people didn’t know about what happened, but he kept talking about protecting the village and not wanting the truth to come out.”

Iruka pursed his lips. That sounded exactly like something Itachi would say. Always working so hard to protect everyone.

Naruto brought tea over and shoved Sasuke into a seat before sitting next to him. Iruka sipped at his tea before he spoke, choosing his words carefully. “There is a lot the village as a whole doesn’t know about what happened to the Uchiha Clan. There aren’t many in the Hokage’s Tower that know the truth any more either. Most have passed on by now.”

“What happened?” Sasuke demanded and there was a desperation in his voice that Iruka recognizes. An overwhelming desire to understand why his family made the choice they did.

Iruka looked him dead in the eye, “The Uchiha Clan was considering a coup against Sandaime, because they felt they had no other option. The Konoha Council and Danzo ordered Itachi to kill the entire clan. Itachi made the choice to follow the order and save you, rather then disobey and have you both be killed along with the clan.” It was a simplistic explanation for something that would take them years to really understand.

Sasuke was silent. He’d obviously suspected something along those lines. Iruka would have been surprised to find out that Danzo hadn’t revealed anything when Sasuke had killed him. Naruto’s eyes went back and forth between the two of them over the top of his cup.

Sasuke sighed and theirs an air of defeat to it. “That’s what I thought. I was hoping there was more to it.”

“There is,” Iruka assured him, “But its complicated and difficult to follow and most of those involved in the outcome are dead. The most important thing for you to remember is that your parent’s loved you. Every choice they made, every action, was motivated by their desire to protect you. To give you a better life.”

Sasuke looked suspiciously emotional and hid his face in tea. Iruka and Naruto shared a secretive smile and pretend they didn’t see it. Iruka could imagine easily what he was thinking, how he can’t see how everyone leaving him was protecting him. Iruka had shared those thoughts more often then he’d like to admit.

“Don’t worry nii-san, I’ll take care of Sasuke-teme. I’ll make sure he’s healthy and happy and he has enough ramen for the rest of his life! I can be his family, and you too of course!” Naruto’s honest enthusiasm made Iruka look at him in surprise.

“I don’t like ramen,” Sasuke muttered, but didn’t argue with anything else the blond said.

Iruka blinked and wondered if he’d heard the exchange correctly. Neither boy was saying anything more but Iruka could have sworn he’d just heard a vow to stay together forever. Maybe he was looking to far into it and he cursed Itachi. The die-hard romantic had always believed that the more arguing and the stronger the rivalry the stronger the feelings.

There was a knock at the door. Iruka surprised and worried, until he recognized the chakra signatures on the other side of the door. He motioned Naruto and Sasuke to stay put and went to answer. They were all standing crowded in front of his door. Sakura in the lead, glaring angrily and flanked by an equally angry Ino, a nervous and blushing Hinata, and a smirking TenTen. Shikimaru, Choji, Kiba, Shino, and Lee are standing behind them, arms crossed. They looked like they were trying to be intimidating but they were failing miserably. No matter how strong they got Iruka’d treated too many scraped knees and bloody noses for that to ever work on him.

It was Sakura who spoke, the one who’d always been so respectful of her elders and a teacher’s pet when she was much younger. There was steel in her voice now. “Iruka-sensei, we know they’re here. Let us in and no one has to get hurt.”

Iruka raised an eyebrow, inexplicably proud but not willing to just roll over without making them work for it. “Sorry, who exactly is it you think is here?”

“You know who, Iruka-sensei,” Sakura was gritting her teeth so hard she could barely get the words out.

“It wouldn’t be wise for us to say it out here, you never know who could be listening,” Shikimaru pointed out quietly.

“Or watching,” Shino added softly.

Ino pulled out a small flowery notepad and started scribbling something furiously. When she finished she ripped it off and shoved it in Iruka’s face.

It took all he had not to fall to the floor laughing. In Ino’s pretty, extremely girly hand writing was: Hand over the idiots for their punishment Iruka-sensei!

Iruka decided he was going to frame that note and put it on the wall. He snatched it out of Ino’s hand and stepped aside to let them in. Closing the door firmly behind them. They were still toeing their sandals off when Naruto and Sasuke, oblivious to what was about to happen, peered into the hallway.

“Oi, Iruka-sensei who-“ Their jaws dropped comically at the site of their classmates. Sakura turned red in rage.

TenTen put out an arm, stopping everyone but Sakura from running at them. “Hey, Sakura gets first dibs.”

“Err, Sakura-chan! Wha-what are you doing here?” Watching Naruto try to shove Sasuke back out of view and lie through his teeth is comical. He was a horrible liar and Sasuke’s too shocked to move himself so Naruto’s attempt at subtle shoving wasn’t going nowhere.

“YOU IDIOTS!!!” If Iruka hadn’t done the silencing wards on the house himself he would’ve be worried about someone in the Land of Snow hearing her. The force of her yell could probably shake the old building’s foundations. He slips past TenTen as Sakura lands on her teammates and proceeds to beat them to the best of her ability. Her screams of rage, of how could you leave me you assholes? What were you thinking? Don’t ever do that again! Do you know how worried I was? Why didn’t you trust me? Drown out Naruto’s screams for mercy and Sasuke’s grunted, barely audible apologies and neither did anything to assuage her anger.

Iruka motioned for the rest of the rookies to follow him and he sent them to the living room as Sakura collapsed sobbing, somehow managing to cradle both of the bruised boys. Both Naruto and Sasuke look like their fighting to hold back their own tears as they hold their pink haired teammate tightly.

The others actually leave them alone for a few minutes while Iruka decides to make more tea, but when he came back out to get them to bring it into the living room he found that Kiba had declared Sakura’s turn over and he and the other boys had a terrifying gleam in their eyes as they advanced on Naruto and Sasuke, who were trying to back through Iruka’s wall. TenTen and Hinata would be kind enough to stop any outright bloodshed and Ino had the muscle to back them up so Iruka tapped Sakura on the shoulder and nodded toward the kitchen.

She followed him without a word and Iruka didn’t say anything as she collected herself, rubbing away the tears in her eyes and running down her cheeks in the middle of his kitchen, while he tried to balance a tea tray one handed. She pulled herself together quicker then he was expecting, as soon as she noticed he was struggling she appeared at his side to help. Taking over silently and gently shoving him out of the way. Iruka pointed out the extra cups and watched her stack them neatly on his battered tray.

“Iruka-sensei,” her voice was quiet and Iruka turned to her, “Will you promise me something? Next time Naruto and Sasuke decide to do something stupid like this will you tell me? I think all they think about is protecting me so they don’t tell me when they’re having trouble. I want to protect them, especially since they’re too stupid to do it themselves.”

Iruka chuckled, inexplicably proud of the young girl who’d grown into such a strong young woman. “Alright, but you have to promise me something in return.”

She turned to him, “Anything.”

“Tell me before the three of you do anything that could in any way shape or form be considered stupid.”

Sakura smiled up at him and it struck Iruka that they were going to be as tall as him soon, if not taller in a few years. He could remember when they barely reached his knees and now they were almost adults. It was actually a sad thought, it seemed like it had been such a long time ago that they’d been so small that Iruka could pick up four of them at once.

Sakura swore, hand over her heart. “Always, Iruka-sensei.”

Suddenly there was a scream from the living room. Iruka heard the signature rustling of a teleportation jutsu and he and Sakura rush out just in time to see Konohamaru lunging at Naruto and Sasuke with a deadly gleam in his eyes. Udon and Moegi had landed on Kiba and Lee and were doing their best to hold the two back from interfering.

“Naruto, you bastard why didn’t you tell you were back?” Konohamaru grabbed the collar of Naruto’s shirt and then Sasuke’s and proceeded to shake the two boys violently while he yelled at the top of his lungs. “What the hell, nii-san! You’re supposed to tell me this shit so I can help you! How could you?”

Neither Naruto or Sasuke attempt to get out of the hold and Iruka saw TenTen start laughing. It only took seconds before the rest of the room followed her example.

ooo000ooo

: :Mission Room Lounge, Hokage’s Tower: :

Kakashi was sprawled out on a battered old couch in the lounge off to the side of the mission room when Kurenai entered with Gai at her side. He was angled so he could watch Iruka running the mission’s desk, flanked as always, by two chuunin Kakashi had never spoken too. Though he’d picked up their names by eavesdropping on conversations. According to all sources Kotetsu and Izumo were close friends of the Academy sensei, both were regarded as competent chuunin and their pasts were as murky as Iruka’s.

Apparently they’d been part of what one scared and now retired jounin had amusingly call the Seven Years of Tribulation, during which Iruka had apparently been a prankster and troublemaker similar to Naruto. Although from what people had described, Iruka had been a whole lot worse. Kakashi figured that was probably what had caused Iruka to take an interest in the Naruto in the first place. One former Academy instructor he’d spoken too had collapsed into mumbling jitters when asked about Iruka’s pranks and all Kakashi had managed to get out of him was ‘hellspawn’ and ‘demons’. At that point Kakashi was actually impressed with the impression Iruka had apparently left on his former teachers. Kakashi had spent most of the morning wondering how the wild child had turned into the prim and proper desk worker that yelled at Kakashi for writing his mission reports with bloody kunai.

Kakashi raised a hand in a lazy salute and lowered his book as they settled in next to him. In the rush for Konohagakure to recover many of the jounin sensei were taking high ranked missions without their teams. While most of the chuunin and genin teams had been dedicated to recovery efforts inside the village. Kakashi had only gotten the chance to see Sakura a few times and he’d felt bad that he’d never had any news about Naruto and Sasuke for her. Kakashi himself was starting to get worried, it had been just over three months and he worried about the state they were in. Even though he’d failed as their teacher Kakashi still felt responsible for all three of them. He’d never felt so powerless before.

Gai’s booming voice broke through his revelry. “My Eternal Rival, how are you this wonderful afternoon?”

“Maa, the same as always.”

Gai glanced towards the mission’s desk then back at Kakashi, an amused glint in his eye. Kakashi kept his mouth shut, glaring at the other man. If Gai wasn’t going to confide his troubles in Kakashi, Kakashi wasn’t going to confide his in Konoha’s Legendary Green Beast.

Gai’s personality hadn’t changed one bit since the war, but something was wrong that he had yet to share. He hadn’t challenged the Copy-Nin to one of their famed competitions since their return to the village; nor had he invited anyone to train with him, which several shinobi had commented on. Kakashi was becoming increasingly worried about his friend.

Genma and Raido appeared in a flash of smoke and leaves and dropped down on the couch opposite Kakashi. Both shinobi looked exhausted and ruffled, their uniforms stained and torn in various places. Several visible bruises made them look like ill-made patchwork quilts.

“What happened to you guys?” Kurenai’s voice held a hint of concern.

The two jounin groaned and replied in unison, “Mission.”

Kakashi winced in sympathy, no further explanation needed. It was an unspoken understanding among shinobi, especially jounin and ANBU. Sometimes the only thing that could describe exactly how horrific a mission was; was that one word. Kurenai and Gai both nodded in sympathy and Kakashi found his eye drawn back to Iruka as the group lapsed into silence. The tan chuunin was frowning over Yamato and Sai’s mission report, the two shinobi staring at him blank faced as they waited. Kakashi, who knew both of them pretty damn well, could see the tension in both their shoulders. Neither shinobi were the type to back down from an opponent and Kakashi found it endlessly amusing that they both dreaded turning in mission reports and went to unhealthy lengths to avoid it. Kakashi himself planned every visit to the mission desk and timed it according to when Iruka was scheduled to work. Watching the Chuunin turn red at the very sight of the Copy-nin made Kakashi feel warm inside.

He watched closely, aware that the rest of the room’s occupants were doing the same, as Iruka finally looked up from the report. The look he leveled at Yamato and Sai was the same one he’d seen the academy sensei level at his pre-genin students when they were being exceedingly stupid. Naruto had told him plenty of horror stories about that look. It was full of disappointment, sarcasm, and outright mockery. “This is your mission report?” His voice matched his face and Kakashi saw Genma wince out of the corner of his eye. The senbon favoring jounin got yelled at almost as much as Kakashi did for his mission reports.

Both Sai and Yamato gave small nods and Kakashi winced himself at that, though he made sure it didn’t show on his face. Never show weakness, Kakashi mused, animals could sell fear.

One of Iruka’s eyebrows rose as he held the report up. “This is a picture of two stick figures doing something. I don’t know what, but it kind of looks like they’re dancing with some sort of mutated octopus. I think there’s two other people involved but it’s hard to tell since they also look like they could be two dogs cooking. But that doesn’t really seem to make sense, since I know you were on a mission to the Land of Snow and I can’t imagine a single way dogs were involved.” Both Sai and Yamato looked like they wished they anywhere else or that the floor would open and swallow them whole. “Do it again correctly or the next mission you get will involve the marsh, an angry cat, and lots of leeches.”

Everyone in the lounge shuddered. That mission was well known as a punishment for unruly genin teams and had been assigned to a few jounin who’d let their egos get too big. Needless to say, they were back to adequate size after that experience. Sai and Yamato took their mission report back and meekly slunk into the lounge. Kurenai waved them over as the rest of the room went back to their own business.

“Still in one piece?” Genma teased.

“Like you fair any better,” Yamato returned as Sai pulled out a blank mission form.

“Umino-sensei is just trying to help,” Kurenai defended the sensei softly, “He’s a teacher, it’s his nature to get you to do your best.”

Neither Yamato or Sai argued. Yamato had spent time as a jounin sensei, to Kakashi’s own team at one point; he could understand where Iruka is coming from. Sai doesn’t argue either, though that might have more to do with Naruto’s influence then anyone else’s. Sai had been a victim to Naruto’s adoration of the chuunin sensei on multiple occasions and Kakashi was sure that Sai, who still struggled to fit in with others his own age, had absorbed some of the hero worship if the effort he was putting into redoing the report was any indication.

“How are you doing Kurenai?” Raido’s question was asked softly, with an air of exhaustion. None of them had had much time to catch up and relax since the war ended.

Kurenai’s answering smile was brittle. “It still hurts. I’m pretty sure that’s never going to go away, but it’s just a dull ache now. Not the vicious stab it was in the beginning.”

It’ll never fade completely, Kakashi thinks but doesn’t say. Kurenai knows. All shinobi know. Loss is a powerful thing that never really leaves you once it’s visited and there is no way to live the life of a shinobi without experiencing it at least once. Kakashi flicks another glance towards Iruka, turned in his seat and talking to the spiky haired chuunin Kotetsu. He wonders what loss Iruka has experienced. He’s heard the story of Iruka’s parents from Naruto, but despite his somewhat obsessive and secretive questioning of anyone who might know something about Iruka when he was younger, he’s never heard of any other family members. No serious friends aside from the two chuunin and even those comments are scarce.

“I wish I’d had a chance to get my hands on Black Zetsu, I might not have been to do much but I would have made him suffer at least for a little bit.” The hatred coming off Kurenai in that moment is impressive and it reminds Kakashi of why he likes her so much. Even in the midst of overwhelming emotion she remembers her own abilities and remains self-aware.

“Have you been to see Yakushi yet?” ANBU is more than wiling to turn a blind eye when it comes to revenge. They’d let Kurenai have a few hours to beat the living hell out of Kabuto if she asked.

But Kurenai just shakes her head, her expression soft. “No. It’s not his fault, not enough for me to want to hurt him anyway.”

They all turn to stare at her in disbelief at that. Yakushi Kabuto is the stuff of nightmares after seeing what he was capable of during the war.

“Seriously?” Genma squawks. “He resurrected Asuma!”

Kurenai nodded with an edge of sadness. “I know, but…” she trailed off.

“But what?” Raido’s not normally as violent as the rest of them, but he definitely sounded like it now.

Kurenai frowned and shook her head. “Never mind.”

“No, tell us. What extenuating circumstances?” Genma demanded.

Kakashi sits up relatively straight and added his gaze to the others pinned on Kurenai. She glared at all of them, but there’s little heat to it.

“It’s nothing, I just…I knew him when he was a student at the Academy. He was there when I was an instructor,” she paused, fiddling with the fabric of her dress. “He was always incredibly smart, but he had a hard time making friends. He kept getting pulled out of the Academy for missions and then he had to spend extra time making up for what he’d missed.”

“They took a kid in the Academy on missions?” Raido repeated in disbelief.

Kurenai snorts, “Something like that. He was in Iruka’s class actually and I know Iruka wasn’t happy about it. Iruka and I used to talk about him.” This time her pause is to control her anger. “Iruka found out a couple years in that Kabuto was part of Root, Danzo’s rouge ANBU faction.”

“What?!” Genma’s squawk echoed and everyone stared at her in disbelief.

“I knew he was part of Root but I didn’t realize he was doing missions that early,” Yamato commented.

Kurenai shrugged. “Iruka threw a fit when he found out and we both suspected that Kabuto’s problems with his social skills and struggling when he was so smart were due to being forced into Root so early. A lot of the time he’d switch personalities or change moods day to day. He had a lot of trouble figuring out who he was or who he wanted to be.”

Kakashi can’t sympathize with that. With being a soldier at a very young age yes, but not with struggling to know what you’re supposed to be. Kakashi was supposed to be a ninja from the day he was born and that will never change. His path was always crystal clear in front of him, even after his father died. The loss he’d experienced along the way had only served to motivate him to become a stronger shinobi.

“It’s hard to blame Kabuto when I saw him change into what he is now at the Academy. I didn’t put in much effort to help Iruka fight for him, so I don’t feel right laying the blame on him when he could have been saved and I didn’t do anything.”

Kurenai’s words are powerful; none of the others have been in that situation. They can’t imagine what they would have one. Though everyone likes to think they would have tried to help, it’s never a sure thing until it actually happens. The idea of willing and intentionally destroying a child until he turns into someone like Kabuto is horrifying. Kurenai is one of the most carrying people Kakashi has ever met, to know that she failed, that she couldn’t care enough when it counted is a sobering thought.

“But Iruka fought for him, you said? What great, youthful spirit!” Gai cheers. “Iruka-sensei’s dedication to his students is truly admirable!” And again he’s sending that sly smile Kakashi’s way.

Kruenai’s smile is soft and sad around the edges. “Yes, Iruka has a bad habit of picking every fight that comes to him.”

“That would not surprise me! I have heard horrible things about Root and what happened to the children Danzo took. It is not the shinobi way. My students have always spoken highly of Iruka-sensei!” Kakashi finally sees a spark of the old Gai as he passionately recounts the many ways he feels Root has betrayed the shinobi way. The most important of which, he declares to be the forced use of children. Kakashi’s not surprised Gai’s against it; Kakashi’s heard his opinion on the subject many times over the years. Even when the war was looming and there were whispers that it was going be just like the Third Shinobi World War and they were going to need every available body, Gai was one of the most vocal voices against pulling in the younger shinobi.

It’s one of the other jounin, Hitsugaya if Kakashi remembers correctly, that takes up the opposite side of the argument and his female companion that looks at Kakashi like he could be her next meal. No matter how often he experiences it, it’s still an unnerving feeling.

“Children are useful as tools, smaller size means they can get in and out of tighter spaces. People make assumptions about them, trust when they shouldn’t.” His voice is cold and Kakashi wonder’s if he’s ever had a genin team. Not, he thinks, if Iruka had any say in the matter.

“Sometimes you have to sacrifice for victory, you can’t go soft if you want to win.” She’s the same jounin that had interrupted Kakashi and Iruka on the street the other day. Kakashi thinks her name is Maho or something similar, but he can’t for the life of him remember where he first met her.

Kurenai snorted indelicately, making her opinion known. “Don’t ever say that in front of Iruka, you’ll end up enjoying a long hospital stay.”

Neither jounin looks very impressed but Kurenai doesn’t seem to mind. Kakashi wonders how much she knows about Iruka that she refuses to tell him. She caught on to his stalking game early on and refused to play any part. Though she did tell him to just man up and ask Iruka out.

Kakashi’s curiosity gets the best of him and he can’t help but ask, “Maa, just how passionate is Iruka-sensei?”

ooo000ooo

Chapter Text

ooo000ooo
Chapter 3
Fukakoryoku
An irresistible force

Soldiers, when committed to a task, can’t compromise. It’s unrelenting devotion to the standards of duty and courage, absolute loyalty to others, not letting the task go until it’s been done.
-John Keegan

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Mission Room, Hokage’s Tower: :

Iruka had to hide his smile when Shikimaru and Sakura not so subtly showed up in the mission room and refused to leave. The solidarity that had grown among the Rookie 11 was impressive. Iruka hadn’t been able to go anywhere alone in the last few days, at least one of them found some excuse to accompany him and if they couldn’t, they’ve taken to stalking him until he returns to his apartment. Iruka hadn’t yet gotten to the point where it really bothers him, so he just makes Sakura and Shikimaru handle all the filing and minor office duties. Their eagerness is endearing and it reminds Iruka of the days when he was still young enough to believe that his mere presence would be enough to protect someone from everything.

Iruka was about to ask if they want to break for lunch, his treat, when it happened. Two chakra signatures appeared and Iruka was on his feet in an instant. Shikimaru froze, the files in his hands scattering across the floor and drawing the attention of the few other shinobi mingling around the mission room. Sakura gasped and barely managed to leap out of the way when Sarutobi Asuma and Hyuga Neji appeared in flashes of chakra smoke and scattered leaves.

The room froze in shock for just a second. Asuma and Neji stood stock still, eyes open and unmoving and Iruka immediately realized that something was wrong. Their eyes are blank. Not the blank that many shinobi use to conceal their emotions, but blank like there was nothing there. Iruka doesn’t have time to contemplate it further because Asuma’s chakra knives come out and Neji folds neatly into the Gentle Fist.

Shikimaru let out a strangled sound when Asuma launched himself at his former student and Iruka barely got across the room in time to get between them. Shikimaru can’t, won’t fight Asuma and Iruka thinks it would be cruel to make him.

Sakura is strong, but she doesn’t yet have the speed or technique to take Neji in a fight. That didn’t stop her from trying though. She launched into the fight with a blind eagerness that she must have gotten from Naruto and relied on what she’s learned about predicting her opponent’s moves and her raw strength.

“Shikimaru, evacuate the building, now!” Iruka’s yell turned into a grunt halfway through when one of Asuma’s fists landed solidly on his ribs. Shikimaru is deeply shaken, but he reacts to Iruka’s order with an uncharacteristic rush, yelling at the others in the mission room to get the fuck out. They can’t go through the doors, because that’s where Iruka and Sakura were attempting to hold back Asuma and Neji so the windows and the lounge were the only options.

Sakura landed a blow that knocked Neji back into the wall and ended up taking down most of the wall in the process. Iruka felt numerous wards go off, raising alarms throughout the village. The mission’s room was probably the second stupidest place to attack; next to the Hokage’s office, it had the most wards and usually it had a large number of highly trained shinobi passing through.

Shikimaru did his best to get the shinobi in the lounge moving. He was a chuunin, yelling at a lot of shinobi who far out ranked him, but they were moving. Even Kakashi, Genma and their group reacted to his order to get the fuck out before they did anything else. It was probably due to the terror and desperation in his voice. Usually Shikimaru was better at hiding his emotions, but two of his teachers were fighting, one of whom is supposed to be dead and the other that was hiding a missing nin in his apartment like he did it every day, and they’re managing to cause a lot of structural damage while they did it. Shikimaru felt a tightness in his chest, just like the one he’d felt when Asuma had died before the war. Whoever brought him back was going to pay when his team got their hands on them.

Sakura was outclassed. She knew it before she entered the fight and it was a lesson that was getting beaten into her now. But it didn’t stop her from trying. She’s tough; she can take more of a beating then most. Iruka was holding Asuma back with a surprising amount of skill and Sakura felt vaguely guilty that she was surprised by it. When she was younger he was Iruka-sensei, the one with all the answers. The one that knew everything, that always had time to sit down with Sakura and explain everything in so much detail that she understood every aspect of it. She felt guilty that she hadn’t kept up with him as much as Naruto.

They needed to switch opponents, Sakura realized. She was much better trained to take on someone of Asuma’s skill set, who depended on chakra based attacks, then she was Neji, whose taijutsu left her completely on the defensive. She saw Shikimaru make a desperate lunge for the doorway to the jounin lounge and took a blow that dislocated her shoulder.

“Iruka-sensei!”

Iruka’s head snapped around at Sakura’s cry and he almost lost an ear to one of Asuma’s chakra knives.

“We need to switch!”

Iruka was halfway through the hand signals before Sakura even finished talking and the two reappeared in one another’s positions seconds later. Their fight took down the wall and part of the doorway to the lounge. It had been a while since Iruka had taken on anyone half-way skilled in taijutsu and Neji is beyond good. For someone his age with his training, but Iruka had been at a far different level when he was Neji’s age and his teachers had only allowed him to use taijutsu to defend against their own overwhelming attacks. More than that, Iruka’s body was born for the old style of taijutsu that makes what they teach at the academy look like child’s play.

They crashed into the rapidly emptying jounin lounge and Iruka saw several support beams to the tower shatter.

Sakura managed to get a grip on Asuma’s vest and chucked him hard through the opposite wall leading outside. She watched Iruka execute a combination flip and kick she’d never seen before and Neji went flying through the same wall. It was nothing but instinct that made her follow Iruka as he launched outside to continue the fight.

Sakura found herself facing a barrage of chakra knives as soon as her feet hit the ground, Asuma had not been a highly respected jounin without reason. She managed to avoid all but one, that’s aimed directly for her heart. It was cliché she thought, that Sasuke and Naruto, who have only been back in the village for a couple of weeks, immediately flashed in her mind. They still have bruises from their fight and they still spend most of the day sleeping, trying to recover their chakra. They still need her and Sakura was not ready to leave them.

She didn’t have to it turned out. Shikimaru appeared, reaching out and taking the chakra knife to his forearm, stopping it from piercing Sakura’s heart.

Guilt washed over her, but she was relived at the same time. “Shikimaru, you don’t have to…” she trailed off.

Shikimaru gave her a firm nod though, with a small smile. “I know.”

They shared a look, an understanding that neither of them were ready to go anywhere just yet and turned their attention back to Asuma.

Iruka and Neji slammed into the ground with surprising force. Hiashi, who’d rushed to the Hokage’s Tower the moment he’d felt Neji’s chakra signature, barely managed to leap out of the way.

There was a crowd gathering, the jounin are finally starting to react. It’s only been a few seconds but the shock of seeing Asuma and Neji, who’s deaths were felt so strongly by every shinobi in the village, was enough to make even Konoha’s most elite ninja stare in shock for a few seconds.

Iruka managed to pin Neji, after knocking him hard enough into the ground to stun him with a technique Iruka hadn’t used in over a decade. Using a trap jutsu and chakra laced rope he kept the Hyuga genius pinned and immediately looked for Sakura and Shikimaru.

Sakura launched into an assault in Asuma, knocking him back until his back was to Shikimaru and the talented Nara used his family’s signature jutsu to grab ahold of Asuma’s shadow and rendered him immobile. It was a surprisingly unsurprising end to the fight. Asuma might have been strong enough to break free if he’d been himself, but whatever this shadow of the former jounin sensei was, couldn’t even twitch.

There was an odd moment of silence. For the most part the jounin and other shinobi present had circled around the five combatants, ready to step in or take out, whatever became necessary. A few had disappeared; there were people to notify so decisions could be made and orders given.

The Hokage arrived with Shizune, Taka and a squad of ANBU as Iruka dragged Neji over to Asuma, Sakura and Shikimaru.

Kakashi, Gai, Raido, Yamato, Sai and Genma were standing around a stunned Kurenai, equally ready to leap into the fight to keep her out of it at a moments notice. Iruka was pathetically grateful that they were there for her; putting aside the age-old notion that shinobi can have no emotions and show no weakness.

The Konoha Council arrived and Iruka had to fight the urge to grab Asuma and Neji and make a run for it. To disappear somewhere he can handle the situation himself. Sakura and Shikimaru didn’t react to the Council’s arrival as much as they reacted to Iruka’s sudden tension and flash of anger. To their credit, nothing showed in their body language or expression.

“What the hell is going on?” Tsunade demanded, pushing her way through the gathering crowd. She stopped dead when she saw Asuma and Neji. Shizune, always at her shoulder, gasped in disbelief. Tsunade’s eyes strayed to Iruka with a question he’s surprised she’s looking at him for answers to and all he could do was nod. Yes, they’re real, solid, here.

Asuma and Neji are still struggling and Iruka half expected them to start foaming at the mouth. Whatever was controlling them had a strong hold and he hasn’t seen anything like it before.

“Finish them off,” Koharu ordered immediately, stunning most of those present.

“What?” Genma’s outburst was echoed by several shinobi.

Unnoticed by most Taka motioned to one of his ANBU and the man disappeared immediately. There was only one shinobi alive that had the knowledge necessary to deal with resurrections and regardless of whatever orders the Council wanted to give, Taka was not ordering the execution of any Konoha shinobi without ruling out every other possible course of action first.

“No one is executing anyone until we know for sure what is going on,” Tsunade snapped, facing off against the Council.

“They attacked Konoha shinobi,” Homura pointed out, much calmer then the situation dictated he should be. “That is an act of war.”

“Bullshit!” A masked ANBU returned, completely forgetting who he’s speaking too.

“They’re obviously under some sort of genjutsu,” Kakashi pointed out as calmly as he can. “We should figure out who’s controlling them.”

“And if it can’t be done?” Koharu demanded, “What if they get loose?”

“They will not get loose. The Hyuga clan will take responsibility for their imprisonment until the genjutsu can be broken,” Hiashi interrupted, inserting himself into the conversation without fear. As one of the most influential clan leaders in the village Hiashi had a certain pull with the Council and the elders.

Another ANBU stepped in, “Or we can hold them in the ANBU cells, they won’t get out of there either.”

“There is no way to know for sure if the genjutsu has been released,” Homaru argued. “They could pretend for weeks, months even. Lull us into a false sense of security for an even more devastating attack.”

Iruka, Shikimaru, and Sakura watched the argument grow with apprehension. The Council was not backing down and while they didn’t have many, they did have some supporters. Asuma and Neji were dead men if the Council got control of them. Iruka turned back to Neji. The boy’s eyes were wide and white and blank, except…Iruka focused, looked as deep as he could and he sees a spark of something hidden behind wall after wall. Neji’s habit of hiding his emotions had only helped whatever is controlling him, because Iruka could barely pick out the spark. But he did see it. Neji was still there, buried so deep as to remain unseen unless someone actually looked hard for him. Which meant he wasn’t a puppet, not a soulless clay model. It was Neji and Iruka reached out and touched his forehead and the boy flinched.

Neji was like Sasuke that way, not used to physical displays of affection or unnecessary touching. He snarled but Iruka held him in place easily.

“They’re not puppets and it’s not a jutsu,” Shikimaru stated and Iruka nodded.

“What do we do?” Sakura hissed, watching the Council and Tsunade continue to argue. More and more shinobi were showing up. Drawn by the commotion and the chakra signatures.

Iruka concentrated. He couldn’t use anything too flashy because it would draw to much attention to what he was doing. The first spark of elevated chakra levels or kekkai genkei and every secret he had will be out in the open for all to see. It took a moment for his chakra to stretch out; it’s been so long since he’s had to do something like this, it’s like he’s stretching muscles that haven’t been used in years.

He reached out, his chakra stretching, and he found it. A small, barely present chakra signature in Neji’s chest that didn’t belong to the young Hyuga. He looked closer and refined his search. There’s a red string coming from the center of Neji’s chest. Its chakra signature so weak that it wouldn’t have been noticed at all without a serious effort and a high level of skill.

Iruka tapped it with his finger and Neji’s whole body twitched. Sakura and Shikimaru gasped and leaned forward. Iruka could see the exact moment they saw the red string he took between his fingers.

“What is it?” Sakura asked, “I can just barely feel its chakra.”

Iruka frowned, “I don’t know.”

“It’s what’s controlling them though,” Shikimaru stated and they both turn. He had an identical red string, coming out of Asuma’s chest, in his fist. Every time he tugged in one direction or another, Asuma twitched. “Whoever planted it must be sending the commands through the string.”

Kurenai couldn’t take her eyes of Asuma. She was supposed to be better than this. An elite jounin of Konoha. Her emotions should not have been ruling her but they were. Asuma was just feet away and all Kurenai wanted to do was run to him. She couldn’t though; her feet were stuck to the ground like she’d been caught in Shikimaru’s shadow jutsu. She didn’t fight it, because underneath the panic and overwhelming desire, she was insanely grateful.

Taka’s ANBU reappeared with Ibiki and another squad of ANBU. Ensconced inside their protective circle was Kabuto. There were no chains; there wouldn’t have been any point. Ibiki and Taka were immediately dragged into the argument between the Hokage and the Council, but Kabuto wandered over to Iruka and dropped onto a crouch next to him. His ANBU guards followed discretely. He’d been so cooperative, so little trouble that even ANBU was inclined to give him some freedom. It wouldn’t stop them from killing him if the time came.

Iruka and Shikimaru held up the red strings and Kabuto frowned. A tear slid down Asuma’s face.

“Weak chakra signature,” Kabuto hummed, “The string is probably what’s being used to control them. Even with that weak of a chakra pulse, if it’s sent directly into a chakra center it would have the same influence as a powerful genjutsu.”

“How do we stop it?” Shikimaru asked, trying to look everywhere but at Asuma’s face. Sakura had tears welling in her own eyes.

Kabuto shruged. “I’m afraid I’ve never used this method before. Or seen it used. The ability to maintain the string over such a distance would take someone with an impressive amount of chakra and control.”

“Could we use a conflicting chakra pulse, send it the opposite way?” Sakura suggested.

Kabuto frowned. “Perhaps, but I don’t know that it would do anything. It’s likely that what is ending as a small pulse started as a larger one in order to survive the distance. The blast wouldn’t remain large enough to do any damage at the opposite end.”

“We could just cut it,” Iruka mused and the other three looked at him in surprise. Kabuto’s ANBU guards remained impassive in the background. They could hear the argument waging between the Council and the Hokage, everyone in a hundred foot radius could, but they had yet to make a move to stop Iruka or Kabuto from doing anything.

Iruka had been impulsive since the day he was born. It was why he had half the scars he does and all of the friends. He took stupid risks on people for the smallest reasons. He’d started looking after Naruto before he knew who he was, solely because his blond hair reminded Iruka of the sun.

Iruka pulled out a kunai and cut the string leading out of Neji’s chest. The string stretched briefly, but the kunai had no problem cutting it with a minimal amount of force applied. The limp strand of string hung out of Neji’s chest, the opposite end disappeared, and Neji almost seemed to wake up.

“Iruka-sensei?” Neji’s voice was a little shaky and rough with disuse.

Kurenai watched Iruka cut something in front of Neji’s chest. She saw a brief flash what looks like red string before it faded completely and an obvious change overcame Neji. Something in her chest constricted, when Neji looked up and she could see the young jounin who’d tried so hard to fit in to his own family.

“It worked,” One of Kabuto’s ANBU guard exclaimed and inadvertently gained the attention of everyone in the area. Kabuto cast an angry glance his way, showing a spark of temper that he had, until now, kept tightly under control.

The Council and Tsunade both begin making their way over and Iruka knew it would be over as soon as they got there. Tsunade might have been willing to let Iruka cut Asuma’s string to see what happened but the Council wouldn’t. In a fit of desperation Iruka lunged and cut the string coming from Asuma’s chest as well.

The Council started yelling and Tsuande was demanding to know what was going on just as loudly. Iruka mustered the most innocent expression he could; it’s actually pretty damn good considering he got at least one from several of his students every day. He put all his effort into it and said “Oops,” as convincingly as he could.

The Council was furious and Iruka had the amusing thought that the single flag in his file was no longer going to be a fluke, because that is definitely going to get him a second one, if not jail time.

Tsunade was incredulous. She’d seen that lunge, seen the second Iruka had made the decision to do it. There was no oops about it. She’d seen Iruka cut something that looked like a red string, but it was gone now and Tsunade couldn’t see anything as she walked over to crouch in front of the two bound shinobi. Her ANBU guards made a sound of distress that she’s getting so close but Tsunade wasn’t the Hokage without reason. The two shinobi that meet her gaze were battered, slightly bruised, and very confused, but they were also the Sarutobi Asuma and Hyuga Neji that died defending those they cared about.

“Asuma, Neji?” She kept her voice soft, calm, comforting. Both shinobi looked very young as they stared at her. “Are you going to attack us again?”

“No,” Asuma’s voice was gruff, scratchy. Neji just shook his head.

Tsunade took a deep breath. Her gut said it was them. The fact that Iruka, Sakura, and Shikimaru and even Kabuto look like they were ready to jump in if anyone so much as tried to lay a hand on them just added to that belief. But Tsunade’s not stupid, the more she counters their desires, the more the Council would push until they do have the upper hand. “Taka, Ibiki, take them into custody. They’ll remain there until we know for sure the hold over them is broken. Shizune will accompany you to carry out a medical examination.”

Shinobi started moving to follow the Hokage’s order, murmurs started and suddenly the area was far too busy. Iruka stepped back, pulling Sakura and Shikimaru along with him and stayed well out of the Council’s line of sight in a spark of self-preservation.

Kabuto stepped over to Iruka quietly, drawing the young teacher’s attention. His ANBU guards still had a close eye on him, but they stayed a step behind at the moment. They were surprisingly attuned to the emotions of others from behind their masks and sensed that the conversation coming was a personal one. Sakura and Shikimaru weren’t as attuned, because they stuck close to Iruka and eyed Kabuto with suspicion. Kabuto didn’t mind their presence though, he was rather fond of the Rookie 11 and he had no issue having a personal discussion in front of them.

“Ah, Iruka-sensei, do you have a moment?” Kabuto smiled, which amusingly enough, seemed to make Sakura and Shikimaru more suspicious.

“Of course.” Iruka hasn’t spoken to Kabuto face to face since before the Forth Shinobi World War when Yajirobi had insisted on letting him find his own way. They have a bad habit of that the Hanta, Iruka thought, they gave almost too much freedom when it came to deciding what path to take. Yajibori still believed that the only way Kabuto would overcome all the damage done by Danzo and Orochimaru would be to let him follow his chosen path to the end until he realized the truth himself. It looked like Yajirobi had been right and Iruka was chagrined to realize he owed the other man a very expense bottle of sake.

Kabuto pushed his glasses up his nose, he’d decided to keep them after everything, and felt a sudden, uncharacteristic nervousness. Between what Kabuto remembered from his childhood and time at the academy and with the insanely high regard Yajirobi and Naruto held the sensei in, he felt like he was stepping forward for judgment from a god. But there was no animosity from Iruka; just a warm feeling that seemed to emanate from the teacher. “I wanted to apologize and say thank you.”

“For what?” Iruka looked honestly confused.

Kabuto felt like he was back in class, shuffling his feet nervously as he faced his teacher. “You fought for me.”

Now it was Iruka’s turn to shuffle, reaching up to awkwardly scratch his scar as a blush rose, “I didn’t succeed.”

Kabuto smiles, honest and bright for the first time in a very long time. “But you tried.”

When Kakashi finally pulled his gaze away from his resurrected friend he immediately looked for Iruka. He found him, standing away from the main crowd and flanked by Sakura and Shikimaru, both of whom are leaning heavily against their former teacher. Sakura actually had her arms wrapped around Iruka’s arm, as all three faced Kabuto. The former Akatsuki member looked very much his age at that moment. One hand kept pushing his glasses up his face as a small blush graced his cheeks. He looked up at Iruka through his lashes, like a child worried about impressing the adult he was facing. Iruka was blushing himself, scratching absentmindedly at his scar as he smiled at Kabuto and Kakashi had the inexplicable urge to stomp over to the group, grab Iruka and yell ‘He’s mine!’ But he was smart enough to know that that would likely result in his body being rent limb from limb by the academy teacher.

He was struck by the thought that Iruka can make S-Class missing nin blush like school a child and he wanted to yell at the sky, what the hell?! He’s still not sure what he did to make the other man hate him so much, he was convinced it went beyond the chuunin nominations, but Iruka always found a way to avoid saying anything that would be remotely useful in figuring it out. He seemed content to spend the rest of his life hating Kakashi for whatever reason.

There’s one thing Iruka wasn’t counting on though and that’s Kakashi. He’s the Copy-nin, genius, Master of a Thousand Jutsu and he was tired of coming home every night to an empty apartment. He wanted a partner, someone to spend the rest of his life with. He didn’t want to die like so many shinobi did, alone and regretting what they could have had. He doesn’t know exactly why he’s so fixated on Iruka being the one, he’s gotten plenty of other offers, but the chuunin’s dislike and temper have made it impossible for Kakashi to even consider someone else until this challenge is resolved. He didn’t want to spend his life with a partner that fawned over him and laughed at whatever he said. Kakashi’s not that funny. He wanted someone to yell at him when he was being lazy, to cook him dinner on his bad days and demand he cook them dinner on theirs.

And for some, so far unknown reason, he’s chosen Umino Iruka. He thinks it might be some unknown deity’s idea of a horrible joke.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :The Road to Konoha, Land of Snow, Land of Iron: :

Kikyo sighed and stretched fluidly, feeling her muscles shift and waken. The cold felt good on over worked muscles, but it left her feeling stiff. The Land of Snow lived up to its name and Kikyo, despite her love of the fire jutsu and taijutsu that her clan favored, had enjoyed the years she’d spent there. The small temple she’d been living in was comfortable and more importantly well hidden, allowing her to heal and retrain Shisui until he was recovered from his final confrontation with Danzo.

It had taken her years to do it. Not to mention the fiasco that had been searching for his barely breathing body and the weeks it had taken to sneak him out of Konohagakure without Danzo or his Root ANBU finding them. Travelling to the temple hidden deep in the mountains of Snow had taken months; she’d had to stop constantly to heal him to the point where he’d survive further travel.

But it had been worth it in the end. Uchiha Shisui of the Body Flicker was alive, even stronger then he’d been the day he’d faced Danzo, despite the loss of his eyes. Kikyo had painstakingly trained him to use his other senses and chakra to make up for his blindness and he’d succeeded beyond her wildest expectations. His large chakra reserves, a signature of their clan, let him see far beyond what the normal eye could and he could identify individuals through their unique chakra lines with more accuracy than any Hyuga she’d ever seen. Judging from Iruka’s communications only the oldest daughter of the current head had any chance of reaching Shisui’s level of awareness. And she’d been removed from her inheritance because her clan thought her weak. It was a complicated situation according to Iruka, but it just sounded like people being stupid to Kikyo. It seemed like the shinobi of Hidden Leaf had become so obsessed with attaining strength that they’d forgotten what it actually was. They were going to get a nasty wake-up call if they didn’t wise up.

She glanced over at her two travelling companions. Their plans to travel to Konoha had been put on hold by the Forth Shinobi World War. Kikyo had chosen to recover Itachi when she realized he’d been resurrected with the others. Getting his body back hadn’t been easy; avoiding the Allied Shinobi Forces was difficult. They’d filled the areas surrounding the battlefield with scouting party after scouting party and though Kikyo had managed to get Itachi out without getting caught, there were a few Allied Shinobi with a few hours missing from their memories.

It had taken an additional three months to heal Itachi; he’d been smart enough to do what he could to keep his body alive when he’d felt Kikyo’s chakra pulse. Healing Itachi had really just been an intensive realignment of his chakra lines and he was ready to fight again, though she hadn’t been able to completely erase the side effects of the plague he’d suffered from for the rest of his life.

Itachi and Shisui had been thrilled to be reunited and cautiously hopeful about the future. The news of Danzo’s death had heartened them considerably and Kikyo really hoped that he was going to stay that way. She hadn’t shared her suspicions, both Itachi and Shisui needed time to get their feet back on the ground and Kikyo wanted to get them back to their remaining family as soon as possible.

The trip was going to be long though. The war was over but the hassle of having someone recognize the two supposedly dead Uchiha wasn’t worth it. To that end they’d set out a few days ago on the road to Konoha, travelling at night and under heavy genjutsu. They were making good time, Itachi and Shisui, driven by a chance to see what was left of their family, were pushing the pace on their own. Kikyo maintained the genjutsu, years without a challenging fight left her with chakra to spare and she folded it around the three of them layer after layer.

Dawn had broken an hour before as they entered a large agricultural area that signaled the end of the Land of Snow and the beginning of the Land of Iron. Kikyo was fond of the samurai way of life and had a special place in her heart for the practice of Bushido. But it was like the ninja arts, some parts were good, others not. Itachi had spent most of their walk so far explaining what had happened since Shisui’s supposed death, with Kikyo interrupting every once in a while to share news Iruka had sent that they’d both missed.

They needed to find shelter, some place to rest and sleep until night fell again. Somewhere away from wandering eyes. The endless fields were pretty but they provided no protection. There was a farm coming up, which meant people and they’d made a point to avoid spending any extended amount of time around anyone. Kikyo figured they could continue onward for bit, until they’d safely cleared the farm. Both Itachi and Shisui were smart enough to continue walking as if nothing had happened when the famer left his house to pull water from the well out front. Though Kikyo almost dropped the genjutsu in shock.

Itachi and Shisui just kept walking, if anything, becoming more determined to continue and doing their best to ignore the fact that the Yondaime Hokage was apparently alive and well and a farmer in the Land of Iron.

For his part, Namikaze Minato didn’t seem to recognize any of them, turning a friendly smile and wave on Kikyo as he continued pulling water from the well. Kikyo stared at him, her memory inadvertently flashing back to the last time she’d seen the genius. Technically the second to last time, she didn’t count when she’d seen his battered body after the Kyuubi sealing. They hadn’t parted on good terms, but then, that wasn’t surprising. Minato had been the first Hokage of Konoha that didn’t have a strong tie to the Uchiha Clan. Kushina and Mikoto had been friends, but that relationship had never passed on to their husbands and after Obito’s death there hadn’t been anything to bind them together. Minato’s prize student, Sakumo’s son, hadn’t wanted anything to do with the clan after he’d lost his teammate, despite possing one of their eyes.

Yondaime had been the first Hokage to come in at a time of peace. He hadn’t called on the Hanta nor had he learned their identities until a period of time after he’d become Hokage. Kikyo’s dealings with him had been brief and heated. Having Minato question her service and loyalty to the village hadn’t given her a good impression and his foolish desire to have a child with the Kyuubi carrier hadn’t helped. Despite the Uchiha’s best efforts Kushina’s pregnancy had been doomed from the start. Mikoto had been inconsolable for a very long time afterward, especially when she’d been refused permission to adopt Kushina’s newborn son.

Shisui and Itachi kept walking.

“We’re just going to keep walking,” Shisui stated and Itachi nodded furiously next to him. They were determined to ignore him, focused solely on getting home to what was left of their family. The Yondaime spelled nothing but trouble and delayed travel at this point. Enough time had been wasted already.

A sudden deafening crack made them stop.

“Don’t turn around,” Shisui muttered.

“We can make the boarder of Konoha in two days if we keep going,” Itachi agreed.

They both turned.

Shisui hollered when he saw what had happened. “What the hell Kikyo? You destroyed his house!”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Hokage’s Office, Hokage’s Tower: :

Tsunade collapsed at her desk with a groan. The Council had finally left after arguing with her for six goddamn hours about Asuma and Neji. They wanted them turned over to ANBU so they could be interrogated but Tsunade was convinced that the minute the Council had the chance they’d both be dead. She’d had ANBU take them for the initial exams, but Hiashi and several of his clan’s best shinobi were standing by to take custody as soon as Shizune finished her checks.

Hiashi had not backed down in the face of the Council’s rath, which had impressed Tsunade, and he’d agreed to keep several ANBU on the clan grounds as additional security. Tsunade had been struck by the odd thought that a Uchiha would have been perfect for this situation. She could remember the Military Police Force they’d led and the faith Hiruzen had had in their ability to handle every situation from missing nins to traitors to mental breakdowns. No one had ever escaped their hold.

Kakashi was doing his best to use his Mangekyo Sharingan to assist with the investigation but his knowledge was limited, despite his years of training and studying with the sharingan. Sasuke might have actually been more helpful in this situation, given his access to his clan’s library. Until he returned though, that library was sealed deep within the Uchiha compound and no one had access.

Tsunade grabbed a bottle of sake and went to take a deep drink. She let out a cry of frustration when she realized the bottle was empty and slammed it down on the table. The pain that erupted from her wrist and spread up her arm made her howl in shock and clutch her wrist.

“What the hell…” she trailed off. Her wrist was broken, not seriously but a decent fracture that she hadn’t noticed because of its placement. “When did that happen?”

She hadn’t fought anyone lately. She’d been stuck doing paperwork since the war ended and the only time she’d had to get physical with anyone had been the other night with Iruka.

“Son of a bitch!” Tsunade seethed, but there was a hint of respect and pride underneath the anger, “That sneaky little brat.” The brush of Iruka’s finger tips against her wrist when she’d held his wrist and broken it. He’d broken her wrist in return, but subtly enough that she hadn’t noticed at the time.

The anger faded as Tsunade healed her arm. It wasn’t bad; she could have healed it in her sleep. It was the fact that he’d gotten it past her was impressive that spoke to a level of skill she hadn’t thought he had. Though now that she thought back on the reports of the fight earlier that day, Iruka had been the one to take the brunt of the fight, taking on first Asuma and then Neji when Sakura had struggled to match the Hyuga genius. Apparently the academy sensei held a higher level of skill then everyone assumed.

A small smile stole over Tsunade’s face as she eyed the towers of stacked papers surrounding her desk. Iruka could do a good chunk of her paperwork as payback for her wrist and that would give her the chance to ask about his investigation into the Hanta. Maybe she’d even get to know the temperamental chuunin a little better in the process.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Konohagakure Village: :

Kakashi had escaped while Ibiki and Hiashi were hashing out the security arrangements for Asuma and Neji. The investigation had concluded for the day, after Shizune had declared that both shinobi needed rest before any other tests were conducted. Kakashi had debated staying to keep an eye on his friend or trying to use his influence to get Kurenai in but the woman had disappeared after they’d been taken into custody. Kakashi figured she probably needed some time to sort herself out before she faced Asuma and he’d decided to leave her alone for now.

Iruka had disappeared quickly too. Kakashi returned from escorting Asuma and Neji to ANBU headquarters only to find out the chuunin had already been cleared to leave. So had Sakura and Shikimaru. Kakashi spared a brief thought for the Nara, seeing Asuma again had to be tough. Getting attacked by him even worse. Kakashi hoped the kid had someone to talk to. Kakashi made a mental note to hunt down Sakura the next day though and check in on her. Right now though, Kakashi wanted to talk to Iruka.

Iruka, according to the witnesses, had performed admirably against both Asuma and Neji during different points in the fight. His performance had, several shinobi commented, been quite above the level of most chuunin. None of them had been expecting to see the level of skill he’d displayed and that left Kakashi with two conclusions about the outspoken academy teacher. Either he’d gotten lucky, which was unlikely, or he was hiding his true skill level, far more likely. But that made Kakashi wonder why Iruka would hide his abilities. Why not just go for jounin when he was clearly at that level?

Even more interesting was the skill Iruka had displayed in taijutsu. He’d used a flip and kick combination Kakashi had never seen before to pitch Neji outside. Kakashi was more then intrigued by the idea of a taijutsu combination he didn’t know. He’d never seen Gai use anything like it and he wanted to learn it. But more then that, he wanted to learn about Iruka. He’d tracked the chuunin’s chakra signature to his neighborhood but he’d continued past his apartment almost absentmindedly and was headed for the small park at the end of his street. Night was falling, it hadn’t yet completely, but it was dark enough that there was no else around when Kakashi teleported himself right into Iruka’s path and threw several deadly kunai at the teacher.

ooo000ooo

Chapter Text

ooo000ooo

Chapter 4
Ōku no chie ga mōke rarete iru
Are provided in the wisdom of oak

If fate is a millstone, then we are the grist. There is nothing we can do. So I wish for strength. If I cannot protect them from the wheel, then give me a strong blade, and enough strength to shatter fate. – Kurosaki Ichigo, Bleach

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Konohagakure Village: :

To his credit, though Iruka had been completely lost in his thoughts, he reacted the second he heard the telltale whistle of kunai in the wind. He twisted, immediately identifying Kakashi as the attacker and the four kunai flying at him. Iruka’s stomach dropped violently as the four kunai scattered across the ground where he’d been standing seconds earlier. Iruka launched himself into the park on instinct and didn’t stop till he’d reached a small, relatively unknown clearing. Kakashi was hot on his heels and a dark weight settled on Iruka’s shoulders. It figured that it would be Kakashi they sent to kill him; the Council probably had no idea of the irony in their choice.

Kakashi followed Iruka into the clearing and stopped. The other shinobi was simply waiting for him, he hadn’t made a single move to attack Kakashi or actually defend himself, aside from running into the park. Kakashi studied the other man, while he waited for his reaction. The younger chuunin looked sad, Kakashi realized, but why? While Kakashi was fully aware of his fondness for the man, he hadn’t thought it was returned all that strongly. If at all. But Iruka was looking at him like Kakashi was about to end his world. Why hadn’t he defended himself?

Iruka waited, but Kakashi didn’t attack. He just studied Iruka and the teacher felt like a bug under a microscope. It made him angry that Kakashi was drawing this out. “Well?”

Kakashi blinked. “Well what?”

Iruka glared, “Aren’t you going to attack me again?”

Kakashi cocked his head to the side, hands stuffed deep into his pockets. “Why sensei, do you want to fight?”

Iruka frowned. If Kakashi had been sent here to kill him he was doing a terrible job of it, but why else would he follow Iruka and throw a bunch of kunai at him? “Why are you here Hatake?”

Kakashi let a bored expression settle over his face, though little of it was visible due to his mask and hiate. “Maa, I was curious.”

Iruka frowned again. “Curious?”

“You fought Neji and Asuma with a certain amount of skill Iruka, I didn’t think you were that good,” Kakashi shrugged. He wasn’t about to sugar coat things just because he liked the man.

Iruka’s temper rose. “You attacked me in the middle of the street because you didn’t think I was that strong?” His voice rose with every word and Iruka was yelling at the end. “What if someone had seen you? Or there had been children around? Are you crazy?”

“There’s no one around sensei, or do you think that lowly of my skills?” Kakashi asked, his own temper rising slightly.

Iruka let out an inarticulate sound of rage as his temper got the best of him.

Kakashi had a second of smug superiority before Iruka was on him and their fight began. Iruka’s temper ruled him in the beginning, it was obvious and Kakashi held back until the other man had calmed down. It didn’t take long, a calculating look came over Iruka’s eyes and they stopped dancing around the clearing like genin and started flying around like shinobi.

Kakashi’s speed was impressive for someone who didn’t practice at it constantly and he seemed fond of using kunai, senbon, and several other projectile weapons. Iruka dodged them all, he didn’t like projectile weapons, especially in enclosed spaces. In the heat of battle Iruka rarely drew on them or even remembered he carried them. He wouldn’t be able to hit Kakashi with any of them anyway. The jounin’s chakra had stayed steady so far, which meant he’d have full reserves when the fight progressed to chakra based attacks and techniques, which would immediately put Iruka at a disadvantage. Kakashi would recognize the differences in Iruka’s chakra immediately, especially because of his time with Obito and Sasuke.

Iruka seemed content to simply dodge everything Kakashi threw at him and Kakashi wondered if the other man even remembered he had his own arsenal. He carried it, Kakashi knew that for a fact, but he didn’t seem to be in any hurry to use it. His speed however, adjusted to whatever he needed effortlessly. Kakashi had had one nearly breathless moment when Iruka’s speed had far exceeded what Kakashi was capable off and he’d dodge a row of ten kunai in one step. His chakra never spiked, it remained slow and steady and smooth and Kakashi frowned. The chuunin was holding back, just as Kakashi was. Iruka, Kakashi noted, had an impressive amount of control.

Iruka felt the air change the second Kakashi’s chakra spiked and he immediately launched forward to prevent Kakashi from using whatever chakra-based attack he was starting. He didn’t land the blow but he managed to knock Kakashi off balance and made it a taijutsu battle by pressing his advantage.

“Not bad sensei. Who taught you taijutsu?” Kakashi was no slouch when it came to taijutsu either; he trained with Gai constantly and had a natural aptitude that made him one of the best in the village. Iruka, he was pleased to note matched him blow for blow using the simple basics of the fighting style. There was no flash or pomp with the academy teacher.

“The one who came down from the mountain,” Iruka answered honestly, knowing Kakashi would have no idea who he was talking about. Sakumo had kept his son far away from the Hanta in a desperate attempt to keep him safe; he’d never met the woman responsible for founding the Hanta. That demon who’d drilled Iruka and the others until their hands and feet bled day after day. Iruka shuttered at the thought of Kakashi and Kikyo ever meeting.

Kakashi frowned and neatly back flipped, avoided Iruka’s high kick. “Is that some sort of codename?”

“More of a nickname,” Iruka shrugged and ducked one of Kakashi’s fists.

“Mmm, he sounds interesting.” Kakashi smirked as he feigned left and struck right and frowned when Iruka didn’t fall for the feint and blocked his fist.

“She’s a demon in human flesh,” Iruka muttered, but there was a strong fondness under the anger. He kicked at Kakashi’s knees and immediately leapt away. “But she’s one of the best teachers I ever had. I’ve never forgotten a single lesson.”

“Oh,” Kakashi’s actually curious now. He’s heard Tsunade’s rants about the stubborn chuunin and wanting to beat whoever made him that way. Given that they grew up in a similar time, only a few years difference, during the Third Shinobi World War. They’d been so pressured to put more shinobi in the field that the soul focus of teaching was obedience and strength. Iruka’s preference of teaching his students to think and problem solve for themselves had only come into practice several years after the war ended and the peace had proved stable. Kakashi’s own sensei, Minato, had managed to balance both views, but Kakashi had seen the results of sensei who had not. “Is that who made you such a rule follower sensei?”

One of these days Iruka was going to smack Kakashi for saying sensei like that, low and dirty in a way that made Iruka’s stomach tighten and twist. “Actually, they taught me something very different.”

“They?” Kakashi pulls a one two-punch combo that Iruka had to roll to avoid.

“I’ve had a lot of teachers in my life Hatake, they’ve all taught me something.” From his crouch Iruka swept out a leg, actually catching Kakashi’s ankles. The jounin caught himself and back flipped neatly. “But there are two lessons that have always stuck out more then the rest.”

Kakashi’s sweeping kick nearly took Iruka’s head off and the chuunin left a cloud of dust and grass as he slid across the ground. “And what would those be sensei?”

“Blind loyalty is fine, as long as you know when to dissent.” It’s a violent rule, that’s made the Hanta’s superiors nervous on many occasions. Iruka thought that should probably be their clue to rethink their actions, but he also knows, that its part of the reason the Council still worked so hard to annihilate the Hanta and the Uchiha. Judging from the frown on Kakashi’s face he was taking it the way the Council did.

“And what’s lesson number two Iruka? Plunge the village into civil war every time you don’t agree with something?” Tsunade had made it clear she wanted Kakashi to succeed her as Hokage. Kakashi wasn’t too keen on the idea, but he was more sympathetic to her side then he was to Iruka’s.

Iruka’s snort was derisive at best, making it clear that Kakashi had not taken the right message away but he continued regardless as he folded into a warrior stance Kakashi didn’t recognize. “Lesson number two. Always get back up, always stand fast, always draw first blood, and always be the first to show mercy.”

Iruka didn’t attack so Kakashi sat back on his heels and contemplated Iruka’s favorite lessons and tried to think of which shinobi could have taught him that. “I’d like to met your teachers sensei, they sound interesting.”

Iruka dropped his stance completely, surprising Kakashi, as a horrified look came over his face. “Hatake-san, I pray that you and they never, ever meet.”

Kakashi frowned, “I think I’m insulted Iruka, are you worried I’d embarrass you?”

Iruka frowned, Kakashi actually sounded hurt and Iruka had an uneasy feeling that he’d stepped into something he wasn’t aware of. “No, I’m worried they’d like you.”

Kakashi blinked, Iruka had completely dropped any fighting aura, “Does this mean the fight is over?”

“Why did you attack me Hatake?” Iruka was tired, exhausted not only by the day’s events but by everything that had been happening since the war ended. That feeling pushed its way to the forefront now as he faced Kakashi.

“You’re hiding something,” Kakashi accused, voice calm and cold. He wanted the truth and he was going to push as hard as necessary to get it.

A desolate feeling settled over Iruka, turning his blood to ice. “What is it you think I’m hiding Hatake?”

Kakashi shrugged, “I don’t know, but you held your own against Asuma and Neji which is relatively impressive given your status. It made me think that perhaps there was more to you then just the academy teacher who works at the mission’s desk.”

Iruka blinked, honestly surprised by Kakashi’s honesty. “That’s it?”

There was disbelief in Iruka’s voice and it made Kakashi wonder what he’d been expecting. He shrugged; sticking his hands back in his pockets since it was obvious the fight was over. It had served its purpose, as short as it was. Iruka was trained far beyond a normal chuunin and now Kakashi had a hint about the chuunin’s own past.

“Why?” Iruka meant the question to be simple. He should have remembered that it never was.

Kakashi blinked and cocked his head to the side, “I thought that was obvious.”

“Apparently not!” Iruka snapped.

Kakashi started to look sheepish. “Maa, sorry about that sensei, I spent months hitting on you. I thought you’d figure it out.”

“Hitting on me?” Iruka sputtered. “Are you talking about those stupid pickup lines you kept saying?” Iruka was aware that his voice was getting steadily higher. Not long before the war started Kakashi had started asking Iruka if it had hurt when he’d fallen from heaven, if his eyes were made of stars. It had driven Iruka up the wall and made him feel like he was the butt of some unknown joke. Everyone else in the mission room thought it was hilarious and Iruka had actually gotten to the point where he’d been chucking actual scrolls at Kakashi before the jounin had finally stopped. Iruka was still getting shit from Izumo and Kotetsu. The spiky haired chuunin had gone so far as to find an identical mask and tilt his hiate the same way. It was creepy.

“They aren’t stupid,” Kakashi muttered, defensive. “And I tried other things. I visited you at work.”

“You interrupt my classes and distract the students!” Iruka squawked.

“I talk to you whenever I see you,” Kakashi continued.

Iruka glared at him. “You keep bringing up the chuunin exams and telling me I was wrong.”

“I only turn in my mission reports to you,” Kakashi’s visible eye closed, making a happy crescent.

A violent blush rose on Iruka’s face. “They’re always in horrible condition and incomplete! You make me do twice the work making you correct them!” Iruka stopped yelling as it dawned on him and he felt like an idiot for not seeing it sooner. “Pulling pigtails,” he muttered in disbelief and Kakashi was actually starting to look a little cowed now, at the anger building around Iruka. “You’ve been acting like a child with a crush. Are you insane?” Iruka roared.

Kakashi’s shoulders hunched defensively, though it didn’t make him look any less dangerous then usual. “I tried to be obvious.”

Iruka sputtered but couldn’t come up with anything to say. In all fairness, if he thought back on it, Kakashi had been obvious. Now that he knew what he was looking for, Iruka had to admit to himself, that it was in fact obvious. And he felt like a complete fool for not seeing it earlier. “You’re serious? You were actually hitting on me?”

Kakashi sighed, “There’s no need to sound so surprised sensei.”

“I think there is!” Iruka snapped, “We don’t even get along!”

“That’s a good sign, there’s a spark!” Kakashi announced.

Iruka opened his mouth to yell and then shut it again. Arguing, according to most of Iruka’s family, was a sign of affection. If you didn’t care enough to argue with someone, then you didn’t care enough to have a relationship with them. The serious rows that took place when Iruka was a child were violent and sometimes bloody, frequently demolishing small parts of the compound or someone’s house and they almost always resulted in an immense happiness nine months later.

And Iruka is struck by the terrifying thought that he’s spent a very, very long time arguing with Kakashi. Shit, Iruka thinks, when did that happen?

“Iruka?”

Kakashi’s voice was gentle, soft, and right freakin’ in front of him. Iruka jumped about a foot in the air when he realized Kakashi had moved to stand right in front of him. His hand was outstretched, like he’d thought of touching Iruka and realized it was a bad idea.

Iruka was struck again by an epiphany. He didn’t know what to do. This was literally the last thing Iruka had been expecting. All his careful planning, all those lessons on observation and human behavior and he’d missed something that was right in front of his face. He hadn’t been expecting it and he had no idea what to do now. Whatever Kakashi was looking for, whatever he was offering, Iruka couldn’t take it now. He had Sasuke and Naruto hiding out in his apartment. The Council was making powerful moves behind the scenes. Asuma and Neji had just come back from the dead and no one had any idea who was behind it.

“Sensei,” Kakashi’s voice was gentle again, calling him out of his thoughts.

“Don’t say it like that,” Iruka blushed, reaching up awkwardly to rub at his scar.

Kakashi watched the young man struggle. He’d been honestly surprised at Kakashi’s confession, which was sweet. Not a way Kakashi had thought to describe the teacher before now, but he found that he liked it.

“Look Hatake,” Iruka paused, “Kakashi, I’m not…I’m not in a good place right now. I appreciate your interest, really I do.” Iruka had to struggle to push thoughts of Kakashi in his bed, spread out and open, out of his head. “I just can’t right now.” Iruka wanted to, should have said ever, but he couldn’t. As much anger as he still holds towards the jounin, the silver haired man is one of the most attractive people Iruka’s ever met. In another life Iruka might have even found his off the wall attempts at wooing cute and now that the possibility of having Kakashi has been presented to him, he can’t stop thinking about the possibility.

Kakashi frowned, “You won’t even try? Take a leap of faith Iruka, it could turn out better then you think.”

Iruka struggled, “Its not that Kakashi, I just don’t have time right now. I don’t have the attention to spare for a relationship.”

This was not how Kakashi had been expecting things to go. He’d been expecting some token resistance. Maybe a playful chase, but Iruka looked and sounded like he actually felt guilty about telling Kakashi no. Kakashi wasn’t about to give up though. Iruka said he didn’t have time for a relationship. Kakashi could work with that. “Are you involved with someone else?”

Iruka shook his head, “No, I just have too much going on.”

The jounin nodded, silver hair waving as he did and Iruka had the strongest urge to give it a tug and see how Kakashi would react.

“Then maybe we start out as something else,” Kakashi suggested. He’d had relationships before, admittedly just a few, but he was well versed in sex outside a declared relationship.

Iruka raised an eyebrow, “Are you suggesting a fuckbuddies kind of thing Hatake?”

“If you want to put it that way and let’s stick with Kakashi, Iruka.”

“I haven’t agreed yet Kakashi,” Iruka sounded amused despite himself.

“Let’s be frank sensei, you’re stressed and need some sort of relief. I could use the same. Why not work it out together?”

Iruka frowned. It was a tempting offer. A very tempting offer. Iruka hadn’t been laid in a long time and Kakashi looked like he had the stamina to go for multiple rounds. And the idea of having someone so powerful on his knees had its own attraction. “Are you sure you’d be okay?”

Kakashi smirked, “I’m not a teenager with a crush Iruka, I can handle myself.”

That’s a challenge if Iruka had ever heard one and his concern about Kakashi’s emotions dwindled. Iruka gave in, the first time in a long time he’d just let go despite the risks. He pushed Kakashi against a tree, pulling that infamous mask down, and the jounin let himself be pinned, opened his mouth under Iruka’s and let the chuunin attempt to put his tongue as far down Kakashi’s throat as possible. It’s wet, sloppy in the best way, and it sent a heat through Kakashi that he hadn’t felt in a long time.

Kakashi was a fair trade kind of guy when it came to sex. If his partner was skilled enough he was more then happy to let them take the lead and if the way Iruka kissed was any indication of how Iruka made love, Kakashi was going to be on his back a lot. He’d let Iruka take the lead this time, next time, later tonight if Kakashi had any say in it, he ruin the chuunin to the best of his ability in return.

Someone moaned, low in their throat and Iruka had a brief flash of embarrassment that it might have been him. He pulled back for air and let out a strangled sound at the sight of Kakashi. Cheeks flushed, eyes slightly glazed and mouth swollen. He looked like sex incarnate and Iruka wanted to mess him up even more.

“What, done already sensei?” Kakashi teased, breathless. His hands were twisted in the back of Iruka’s vest, making sure the chuunin didn’t go anywhere.

Iruka glared at him, hands pulling at the Copy-nin’s mask. Working at getting his mouth on Kakashi’s pale, unblemished neck. Iruka didn’t know what it was, but something about Kakashi’s pale skin made him want to mark it up. He started with Kakashi’s neck, his teeth grazed with a bit more force then necessary before he laved the skin with tongue and sucked. Kakashi let out a long, low moan, as a hand made its way to the back of Iruka’s neck and held the chuunin in place while Kakashi shivered.

Kakashi could feel Iruka’s smirk against his skin. It made something spark in Kakashi’s belly and he hooked a leg around Iruka’s, grinding against the chuunin. Iruka was built better then Kakashi had been expecting. He could feel coiled muscle under his uniform. Power ready to be released at a moment’s notice and Kakashi desperately wanted it against his own without any barriers.

Iruka moaned. His breath hitched as he felt Kakashi hard cock through the confines of his pants. The jounin was rubbing himself against Iruka shamelessly, making little breathless gasps on every down stroke and it fueled Iruka’s already painful arousal. One of Kakashi’s hands was leaving bruises on the back of Iruka’s neck, the other had dropped down to his ass and was rhythmically squeezing in time with Kakashi’s motions.

Iruka traced Kakashi’s ear with his tongue, nibbling on the delicate lobe and tugging gently. Kakashi whined, tilting his head in the opposite direction and shuddering when Iruka’s teeth kept his ear lobe firmly in his mouth. Iruka left a trail of kisses and nips along Kakashi’s jawline as he worked his way back to the jounin’s mouth, pausing every few seconds to shudder and moan at the pleasure running through him.

Kakashi hauled Iruka’s mouth back to his and started sucking on Iruka’s tongue the most obscene way he knew how. Iruka responded by pushing him further back into the tree, so hard that Kakashi actually started feeling the bark through his uniform and vest. Iruka’s hand slipped down to his ass and a powerful squeeze made Kakashi arch into him. “Fuck, sensei…” Kakashi moaned into Iruka’s mouth as wrapped his legs around the chuunin’s waist and held on at the tan skinned nin started rubbing himself against Kakashi in a way that made it incredibly hard to think.

The pleasure was spreading; growing in little leaps as Iruka pressed against him and rubbed. They were dry humping against a tree and it was going to be enough to make Kakashi come if they didn’t stop soon. It was a struggle to move his hands off Iruka and form the signs for a teleportation jutsu. Iruka must have recognized the movements, because he pulled Kakashi away from the tree just in time and the next thing Kakashi’s realized he was flat on his back on his own bed.

Iruka spared a second for a quick prayer of thanks that he didn’t recognize the room they ended up in. That meant it was Kakashi’s, hopefully, and not his. Given his current guests, teleporting there could have ended up in a lot of bloodshed and yelling. He pulled back to admire the sight below him. Kakashi was sprawled out on dark, navy blue sheets, face tinted pink and covered in a very light sheen of sweat. His mask was rumpled and twisted around his neck, his hiate was close to falling off and Iruka fumbled as he tried to get Kakashi’s vest unzipped.

Kakashi laughed as the chuunin struggled with his vest, unable to resist teasing the younger man as he fumbled with the zipper, “Having a little trouble there, sensei?”

Iruka glared at him and finally gave up on the vest, instead he stood and starting pulling off his own clothes. “Get your damn vest off Hatake and the rest of your clothes too.”

Kakashi gave an exaggerated shiver and a leer at the commanding tone of Iruka’s voice, “So bossy, sensei. Gonna teach me a lesson?” He did as Iruka said and stripped himself in what was probably record time. Kakashi grinned when Iruka shuddered and visibly had to control himself at Kakashi’s words. There was definitely something there they were going to explore later. But for now, Iruka was naked, Kakashi was naked and his cock was hard and leaking against his stomach. He gave it a few tugs, settling deeper into the bed as his eyes fell to half mast and beads of pre-come dripped over his fingers. He spread his legs as Iruka stared down at him, a shell-shocked look on his face. “Iruka,” the chuunin’s name came out more breathy then Kakashi had been intending, more of a moan then he’d wanted it to be, but it seemed to stir Iruka to action.

Iruka climbed onto the bed, settling between Kakashi thighs and finally getting his hands in Kakashi’s hair. He tilted the jounin’s head back with a bit more force then necessary and took his mouth like he owned it. Kakashi jerked under him, whimpering as Iruka’s abdomen trapped Kakashi’s hand and cock between them and applied enough force to his strokes to make him twitch. Iruka swallowed his moans before moving down. Biting gently on Kakashi’s adams apple as it bounced up and down with Kakashi’s uneven breathing.

Kakashi shuddered violently when Iruka turned his attention to his nipples. The application of teeth and tongue took Kakashi apart piece by piece and left him shaking under Iruka until they were hard and peaked and throbbing. The cold that settled when Iruka moved away made Kakashi gasp and squirm, then cry out when Iruka blew a warm breathe over each.

The chuunin’s mouth moved south with determination and Kakashi nearly jackknifed off the bed when Iruka pried his hand off his cock and swallowed him down in one go. “Fuck!” He let out a garbled moan as his hands buried themselves in Iruka’s hair, the tie flying someone off to the side of the bed. The head of his cock brushed the back of Iruka’s throat and Kakashi twisted on the bed, hips thrusting without any semblance of control. Tiny bursts of light went off behind his eyelids as waves of pleasure ran through him, making his muscle spasm uncontrollably.

Iruka dugs his fingers into the crevices of Kakashi’s hips and held them down as he hollowed his cheeks and sucked. Kakashi’s head thrashed against his sheets, his fingers pulled Iruka’s hair almost painfully. Kakashi’s cock was hot and heavy in his mouth, jerking with every suck and Iruka watched as Kakashi tired his best to fight against Iruka’s hold and thrust into his mouth without abandon. He was so overwhelmed with pleasure that his attempts were half hearted at best and Iruka kept him pinned easily.

Kakashi’s heels dug into mattress as he tried to get leverage. His toes curled so hard around his sheets that the muscles in his calves started to cramp. Iruka’s tongue was doing ridiculous, wonderful things to the underside of Kakashi’s cock. Kakashi was moving steadily closer to the edge, sweat dripped into his eyes, making them sting so he squeezed them shut and distractedly tried to rub his face against the sheets. “Gods, Iruka!”

Kakashi’s voice was low, rough, so close to breaking. Iruka pulled off his cock with a pop and Kakashi whined as the heat left and the cold made him shiver. “What are you doing? Get back there!” Kakashi was breathless, demanding while he laid out wrecked in front of Iruka. It made the chuunin smirk; made his cock impossibly harder till it almost hurt.

“Where’s the lube?” Iruka was a bit breathless himself and he had to take several deep breaths while Kakashi dug around in the nightstand drawer until he found the lube to keep himself under control. Kakashi practically threw it at and Iruka slapped his thigh hard in retaliation when it bounced off his forehead. Kakashi’s laugh turned sharply to a moan and his cock jerked. Iruka raised an eyebrow as he popped the cap to the lube and Kakashi blushed. “You like being spanked Kakashi?”

Kakashi’s blush strengthened but he raised an eyebrow in challenge. “Only when I deserve it.”

Iruka fumbled the lube violently and it went everywhere. ”Fuck you,” Iruka seethed as his cock jumped at the idea of bending Kakashi over and making his ass burn.

Kakashi grinned cheekily, “If you get on with it yes. What’s wrong sensei? You look a little overwhelmed,” his voice dropped into a low timbre that swept over Iruka like warm honey.

Iruka took another deep breath, trying to steady his hands as he pushed Kakashi’s thighs further apart. They quivered under his touch and Iruka scattered several nips across the unblemished skin. Kakashi’s legs jerked with each one and Iruka pulled back to admire the red marks that would take a couple days to fade. He watched Kakashi’s face as he slid a hand down, fingers brushing gently against his entrance as it twitched against his touch. Kakashi’s hips moved involuntarily, pushing against Iruka’s fingers.

“Come on sensei, get on with it.” If Iruka didn’t start moving faster Kakashi was going to take things into his own hands. The fluttering touch of Iruka’s fingers against that place made him shake in the most delicious way. He grabbed a pillow and shoved it at Iruka. The chuunin shoved it under Kakashi’s hips and gently rolled Kakashi’s balls in one hand as he started pressing a finger inside.

It was always an odd feeling at first; being invaded and Kakashi hissed once as Iruka’s finger slipped in past the knuckle. It took a few strokes of Iruka’s finger before Kakashi relaxed enough for a second. Squeezing his eyes shut and throwing an arm across them as he tried to breath. It came out in shaky gasps as Iruka peppered his hips and abdomen with biting kisses and steadily worked his fingers in deeper. Kakashi’s free hand twisted in the sheets as Iruka’s fingers stroked places that hadn’t been touched in a while. Fissures of pleasure were making their way up Kakashi’s body and he spread his legs as wide as he could. Iruka licked Kakashi’s cock from root to tip as he stroked Kakashi’s inner walls and searched for that bundle of nerves he knew would drive Kakashi crazy.

“Aah!” Kakahshi’s cock jumped at the stroke of Iruka’s tongue and he lifted his hips into Iruka’s fingers. “Oh!” Iruka’s fingers found Kakashi’s prostate and pressed with unerring accuracy. A blinding wave of pleasure made Kakashi cry out, hips stuttering as Iruka worked him open and slipped in a third finger. The burn was hot and brief, fading almost immediately into another wave of pleasure when Iruka’s fingers returned to his prostate.

Kakashi eyelashes fluttered under his arm and the sight made Iruka’s cock twitch. Kakashi’s lashes were long, delicate; they didn’t really fit with the image he projected as the undefeatable Copy-nin. Especially when they fluttered like a butterfly’s wings in response to Iruka’s fingers.

“Move it along sensei, I’m ready,” Kakashi looked down at Iruka, eyes barely visible. One of Iruka’s hands stroked up his flank and grabbed a handful of his ass, opening him further as Iruka’s fingers pulled out.

“You sure?” Iruka asked, breathless himself. He grabbed the lube again; he was so hard spreading it over his cock was almost painful. Kakashi lifted his head, running a hand through his sweat-slicked hair and pushing it out of his face. He looked like a feast set out just for Iruka.

“Get fucking on with it Iruka or I’ll take care of it myself!” It was an empty threat. Kakashi was shaking and had to concentrate to actually talk. His lips were swollen where he’d been biting them in an attempt to keep himself quiet. One hand was still tangled in the sheets with such a ferocious grip that his knuckles were white. His legs were trembling; spread wide around Iruka and the chuunin had a hard time pulling his gaze away from the expanse of pale skin standing out starkly against the dark blue of Kakashi’s sheets. Kakashi looked like a marble statue come to life.

The blunt head of Iruka’s cock pressed against his entrance. Kakashi took a deep gasping breath as Iruka pushed in. There was pain, dull and throbbing as Iruka pushed in all the way to the hilt, but it faded quickly and all that was left was the overwhelming pleasure of being so perfectly full. Kakashi’s hand tightened in his hair as his other hand released the sheets and moved to pinch his nipple. It sent violent jolts of pleasure through Kakashi, becoming overwhelming in combination with the throb of Iruka’s cock inside him.

Iruka trembled as he held himself still, trying to control the urge to just let go and pound Kakashi into the mattress. He watched Kakashi fondle his own nipples and they turned an angry burning red at the violent ministrations. Kakashi was making small, broken noises every time he moved, his hips making tiny aborted movements as he tried to work himself on Iruka’s cock. Kakashi’s legs wrapped around Iruka’s waist, pulling him impossibly closer and deeper. Iruka groaned; Kakashi was impossibly tight and hot around him.

Iruka gave in, pulled out and thrust back in with more force then he’d initially meant to. It was just so hard not to bury himself as deep as he could in the Copy-nin and Kakashi didn’t make it any easier as he gripped Iruka’s biceps, digging blunt fingernails in so hard it would leave marks, and throwing his head back as he lifted his hips to met Iruka’s thrusts. The pace started slow, until it got to be so much that Iruka stopped caring if Kakashi was ready and started putting effort behind his thrusts.

Kakashi let out a gasp as Iruka’s thrusts picked up their pace and bolts of lightning starting shooting up Kakashi’s spine. He tightened his legs around Iruka’s hips, heels digging into the chuunin’s lower back in an effort to make him go faster. It was too much and not enough at the same time, Iruka was reaching the deepest parts of him and then he found that bundle of nerves and groaned low in his throat as the pleasure doubled. Iruka was watching him, his hair falling around his face, sweat dripping into his eyes. Kakashi leaned up and lick a drop sliding down the teachers chin. It made Iruka groan and his tempo fluctuate. Kakashi shook violently when Iruka thrust hard against his prostate and stayed there, pressing and the pleasure didn’t stop, didn’t cease. There was no respite and Kakashi couldn’t go anywhere to escape. He was trapped, speared on Iruka’s cock as the chuunin refused to let up. Kakashi could feel the flex of Iruka’s muscles under his hands when he finally began to thrust deeper into Kakashi but no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t touch every part at once. His hand slipped on the chuunin’s muscled arms as his palms began to sweat and Iruka’s body became covered in a thin sheet of perspiration.

Iruka could feel the change in Kakashi when he found his prostate, could feel the pleasure building in the other man when all he could do was hang onto Iruka and pant. He was getting tighter around Iruka in everyway possible and Iruka knew he wasn’t going to last. Maybe next time he could draw it out, but not this time. He thrust desperately into the jouninn and the pace made Kakashi cry out as Iruka pounded into him. Iruka’s own pleasure was building, the edge was near, it was impossible to stave it off with Kakashi’s clenching around him and making gasping little moans at every instroke. Iruka’s answering grunts were almost drowned out by slap and slide of their skin.

Kakashi’s eyes kept falling shut and as Iruka felt his orgasm build he desperately wanted Kakashi to come first. He grabbed a fist full of Kakashi hair and jerked the jounin’s head back, latching on to the sensitive spot at the junction of his neck and should and bite down hard as he thrust in deep, nailing Kakashi’s prostate. Kakashi’s eyes snapped open and he let out half garbled scream as his orgasm slammed into him, washing over him like a tidal wave of sensation and overwhelming pleasure. His hands scrabbled uselessly against Iruka’s arms in a desperate attempt to hold on. Iruka continued to thrust as his own orgasm rose, moving through the aftershocks of Kakashi’s orgasm until the jounin was twitching helplessly below still speared on Iruka’s cock and unable to get away. It was the sounds he was making that tipped Iruka over the edge, soft mewling whimpers as Iruka thrust into his over sensitized body and he was too fargone to stop him. Iruka’s orgasm slammed into him as he gave one final, deep thrust and buried himself as far into the jounin as he could.

The heat that came with Iruka’s orgasm in Kakashi’s already overwhelmed system made the Copy-nin jerk violently one last time and he let out a surprised cry, body arched under Iruka’s before he finally collapsed completely.

Kakashi was muttering unintelligibly, mismatched eyes staring unseeing at the ceiling while his body shook and the sharingan turned slowly. His hands were still locked like a vice around Iruka’s biceps, leaving bruises that were going to last for weeks, and Iruka knew the other man’s hands had to be cramping by now. Iruka was gasping for breath, staring down at the jounin and struggling to hold himself up rather then collapse on the other man. Kakashi’s legs were still locked around Iruka’s waste, but they fell away when Iruka finally started to pull back. Falling uselessly onto the bed. Iruka pulled out and paused to admire his come leaking out of Kakashi before collapsing next to him.

“Shit,” Kakashi muttered and Iruka nodded in agreement. That had been much more intense then either of them had expected and they lay in silence trying to catch their breath. Night had fallen and the moon was visible through the window. The moonlight cast an eerie pallor on the world outside and across Kakashi where it shone through the window. He was a stunning sight, Iruka would readily admit, bonelessly sprawled out against sheets that look like the rippling ocean at night. He looked like a bright star against it and Iruka had to fight back the urge to reach out and touch him.

Iruka was already in over his head. Sleeping with Kakashi was amazing but Iruka couldn’t help but wonder what Kakashi would do if he found out every little dirty secret Iruka was keeping. Iruka had never been good a separating his emotions and his actions. They tended to get irreparably tangled together in knots so complicated Iruka couldn’t even figure out where they ended and began and Kakashi had the ability to be the most complicated one of all.

Kakashi had no desire to move, the sheets and his skin were cooling rapidly and it felt good on muscles that were just beginning to realize how sore they were. He turned to Iruka, face have hidden by the sheets and watched the chuunin catch his breath. His caramel skin glistened in the moonlight, giving him an ethereal glow, like he was getting ready to fade away. Kakashi was about to reach out and touch him when Iruka spoke.

“I need water,” he turned to Kakashi who’s visible eyebrow raised.

“Don’t look at me, you did the fucking sensei, you get the water. Next time when I fuck you I’ll get it. Oh, and I want one too.” Kakashi smirked with all the energy he had left.

Iruka rolled his eyes, but his lips were twisted in a small smile as he levered himself up. “That’s a great way to treat a guest Hatake,” Iruka mocked, but there was a note of fondness in his voice that told Kakashi not to take it seriously.

“Hey, I’m the most hospitable host in history at this point,” Kakashi leered, “I let you into the deepest, darkest recesses of my temple. It scared there.”

Iruka smacked his thigh without much force, shaking his head in disbelief. “Is that a line from one of your precious pornos?”

“Miki says it to Lee in Vol. 13, although he treats it like the honor it is,” Kakashi fake pouted and Iruka laughed and stood.

“Alright, water it is.”

“Kitchen’s straight down the hall,” Kakashi flapped a hand in that direction. “And bring a wet towel too, or I’m using your shirt to clean up!”

Iruka threw him a dirty look over his shoulder, but since he didn’t seem to have problem walking through Kakashi’s apartment naked Kakashi figured it was just for show. He stood once Iruka was gone, stretching and hearing several things pop. He felt good, relaxed and sore in all the right places. He started pulling the dirty sheets off the bed, he had plans for a repeat performance before sunrise but on clean sheets.

Iruka paused in the doorway, two glasses of water and a wet towel balanced in his hands. Kakashi was remaking the bed with clean sheets, Iruka’s come was till visible dripping down between his legs and Iruka felt his own cock stir again at the sight. Kakashi’s hair was even wilder then it normally was and he looked relaxed in his own home with the mask or the hiate to hide half his face. It was a good look on the man, one Iruka truly appreciated. It was almost enough to make Iruka forget all the trouble that was brewing, the danger that was growing in Konoha, the anger.

He thought of Kakashi’s own father and the complicated relationship he’d shared with Tsume and Shibi and the sacrifices all three had made for the betterment of their clans and the village. And he thought about how, no matter what happened and what choices they’d made, they had always come back to one another in the end. Iruka’s father had called them the greatest definition of love you’d ever see in the flesh. He’d told Iruka that it wasn’t about the attraction and the passion but the acceptance and the trust.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Umino Iruka’s Apartment, Kohonagakure: :

Sasuke scrubbed his hair with a towel viciously, attempting to dry it as quickly as possible. A quick glance into the living room found Kotetsu and Izumo sacked out on the floor, but Iruka had yet to return. The two chuunin had scared the hell out of everyone when they’d suddenly appeared in the apartment a couple of days ago, but Iruka had quickly explained that he trusted them and asked them for help. Sasuke actually liked them. Izumo was quiet, but viciously funny and he had seals running over his body that he hadn’t explained yet. Naruto was making up wilder and wilder stories in an attempt to get the quiet chuunin to reveal his secret.

Kotetsu was a mother hen to rival Sakura, but he allowed no weakness either and he had the same sarcastic wit as Iruka. Listening to the two of them talk was an education in the art of insulting someone and Sasuke had filed several away for future use. Kotetsu was also, Sasuke had noticed, the only one who outright challenged Iruka on his decisions. When he’d found out about Sasuke and Naruto he and Iruka had gotten into a yelling match that lasted two hours and had only ended when Yajirobi had arrived and literally thrown cold water on both of them. Yajirobi was Sasuke’s favorite and the one responsible for Kabuto, which made him terrifying.

Sasuke stepped into Naruto’s room and closed the door as quietly as possible. Hinata, Kiba and Shino were spending the night and the team, with Akamaru, had co-opted Iruka’s bed. Kiba was going to have a hell of time getting rid of the dog hair before Iruka noticed it. Their sensei was amusing anal about having a spotless bed, he’d made Sasuke and Naruto wash his sheets three times to get all the mud out.

He tossed the towel in the hamper by the door and climbed onto the bed. It was late, darkness had fallen and the moon was up. Naruto was already in bed, propped up on pillows by the window and staring out at the stars.

“What are you doing dobe?” Sasuke crawled under the covers and tucked his body as close to the blonde’s as he could. Shoving his cold feet against Naruto’s calves in an effort to warm them up.

“Hey, asshole, your feet are freezing!” Naruto exclaimed, shaken out of his thoughts. He glared at Sasuke, who grinned back without shame. “How the hell are you a Uchiha with feet that cold?”

“Its normal idiot, winter’s here.”

Naruto narrowed his eyes suspiciously, but that didn’t stop him from hauling Sasuke closer. Twisting so the Uchiha was half way under him on his back. Sasuke shoved Naruto over to get a decent piece of the pillow, but ended up with his head tucked in the junction between Naruto’s neck and shoulder, looking up at the same stars Naruto couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of.

Sasuke settled in, the heat from Naruto’s body warming him slowly from the outside in. Sasuke wondered if the blonde was a furnace because he had the demon fox inside him or if it was just Naruto himself. Either way Sasuke, who ran hot but always felt cold like all Uchiha, had no shame in bumming heat of Naruto has much as possible. Right now the blond was too distracted to even notice.

“What are you staring at Naruto?”

“The stars.” Naruto sighed and Sasuke stayed quiet, waiting for the blond to continue. “Do you remember the overnight field trip we took at the academy, when Iruka-sensei explained what the stars were?”

“Gas?” Sasuke guessed, since that was in fact, what stars were.

“No,” Naruto chided him like Sasuke was still schoolboy. “What they really are.”

“That is what they really are dobe,” Sasuke dug his fingers into Naruto’s ribs and the blond tangled their legs together and effectively pinned the dark hair boy to the bed in retaliation.

“No, remember, they’re souls.”

ooo000ooo

Years Ago

: :Forest Outside the Gates of Konohagakure: :

It had taken Iruka three hours and two additional chuunin and a jounin to wrangled his class when it was finally time for them to sleep. The annual overnight field trip was always exhausting for everyone involved; especially the teachers and Iruka had no qualms about blackmailing Kotetsu, Izumo, and Yajirobi into helping him with his class. They’d spent the entire day covering tracking and concealment and the students were filthy and starving. Izumo and Yajirobi’s impromptu cooking class had scarred everyone, including Iruka and Kotetsu for life, and he’d over heard several students declare they were going to be vegetarians for the rest of their lives.

It would last a week Iruka mused, but now most students had blood and gore to add to the mix of mud and leaves covering them. Iruka fully intended to return them to their parents smelling and looking as horrible as possible. The one year he’d returned them clean he’d been accused of not teaching them anything, the hell he was going to hear that shit again.

Now they were tucked together on the small traditional style bridge that crossed one of the many small rivers in the forest just outside the gates of the village. It was their last night out, tomorrow morning they started the trek back to the gates to meet up with the other classes. The river was filled with lily pads and reeds and the moon was a thin crescent. Iruka was leaning against the railing, Naruto and Sasuke tucked close on either side of him, arguing. Sakura and Ino were arguing next to Sasuke, while Shino and Hinata quietly watched. Kiba, Shikimaru, and Choji were sprawled along the railing beyond Naruto and seemed like they were enjoying the night.

Iruka smiled, a strong warmth blossoming in his chest and turned his gaze back to the stars, shining so brightly in the warm sunny night.

“Hey, Iruka-sensei what are you looking at?” Naruto demanded, squirming his way into Iruka’s arms.

“Just the stars Naruto.”

Naruto made a bored looking face. “Why? They’re not going anywhere, they’ll be there tomorrow night sensei.”

Iruka had to laugh at the truth, however simplistic it was. “That’s true. I suppose I’m not watching so much as saying hello.”

“Saying hello?” Naruto looked adorably confused. All of them did now.

“Yes, do you know what stars are?” Iruka asked.

“Exploding gases,” Sasuke answered immediately.

Iruka laughed, “Yes, I suppose they’re that too. But that’s not what they really are.”

“That’s what our school books say they are!” Sakura sounded panicked and Iruka gave her a reassuring smile.

“What are they Iruka-sensei?” Naruto demanded.

“Look closely,” Iruka said and the students shuffled to get as close to the railing as they could. “Do you see all those stars, the ones that shine so brightly?” Naruto nodded, the tips of his hair brushing Iruka’s chin. “They are the souls of every shinobi that has given their life for the village. Every shinobi that died in the hospital from wounds. In distant lands so far from home. Or even in their beds of old age. Their souls ascended to join their fellow soldiers so they can be together for the rest of eternity. And now they are waiting together.”

“What are they waiting for Iruka-sensei?” Shikimaru actually sounded interested and Sasuke was leaning heavily against Iruka’s side.

“For you. For your brothers and sisters who believed you were worth fighting for and who loved you without ever knowing your name. They are always watching over you. And when your time comes, like it does for all of us eventually, there is an army waiting to welcome you home with open arms.”

Naruto’s eyes were wide, staring up at the stars enraptured. All of them were.

“Who told you that Iruka-sensei?” Shino asked quietly.

Iruka smiled and hoped the darkness hid the sadness as he answered. “Someone who is already waiting for me up there.”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Umino Iruka’s Apartment, Kohonagakure: :

Sakura carefully peaked into Naruto’s room. The lights were off and the candle on the window was steadily burning down to nothing. Naruto and Sasuke were tangled together under the blankets; sound asleep in one another’s arms. She smiled when she realized they were at the wrong end of the bed, under the window Naruto loved to leave wide open no matter how many times they told him to be careful.

She wanted to creep into the room, blow out the candle and climb into bed with them, but something stopped her. Whatever the two of them had, whatever was developing between them Sakura didn’t want to get in the way. She’d already seen such a remarkable difference in the two from before the war. They were finally becoming happy without remorse or regrets.

She watch them sleep for a few minutes, her own sadness swallowed by her happiness for her teammates and she just barely jumped when a gentle hand landed on her shoulder. She turned to find Hinata standing behind her, a soft expression on her face.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Sakura shook her had. “It’s fine, I’m was just about to grab a blanket and go steal part of the couch.”

Hinata studied her friend for a moment and Sakura fidgeted under the unrelenting gaze of the Hyuga. “You know,” Hinata’s voice was soft. “They would never turn you away.”

Sakura froze. “I-.”

Hinata smiled, “But if it makes you that uncomfortable you’re more then welcome to join us.”

Hinata motioned to Iruka’s bedroom and through the cracked door Sakura could see Akamaru asleep hanging off the side of the bed and Kiba and Shino tangled together the same way Naruto and Sasuke were.

Sakura blushed as realization set in. “Oh.”

Hinata’s smile was warm and confident, despite the blush settled over her cheeks. “I know how you feel. That’s how I know you won’t be turned away.”

Sakura frowned, glanced at Naruto and Sasuke and felt her face burn. She didn’t want to get in the way, but she wanted to be part of the team. More then that, she wanted to be a part of her teammate’s lives. She wanted to stand by Sasuke as he faced the future and learned to celebrate his family. She wanted to be overwhelmed by Naruto’s happiness and willingness to trust. And she wanted to see both of them grow.

They wouldn’t turn her away, Hinata was right. They would always welcome her, just like she had welcomed them back. She didn’t have a tragic past like Sasuke’s or a future like Naruto’s, but she would be their rock. She smiled at Hinata. “I think I’ll be okay. Thanks for your help.”

Hinata smiled. “No problem.”

Sakura slipped into Naruto’s room, blew out the candle and carefully climbed onto Naruto’s bed. She snuggled up close, felt the heat the two radiated and fell asleep with a smile on her face.

Hinata watched happily, glad her friend was finally finding her place and her true value. She crept into the room silently, pulled the covers up around Team 7 to make sure they didn’t get cold and slipped back out, shutting the door behind her. Hinata checked on Kotetsu and Izumo in the living room before she returned to Iruka’s bedroom and climbed into bed. Kiba and Shino didn’t wake, but they shifted in their sleep to pull her into the tangle of limbs.

ooo000ooo

Chapter Text

ooo000ooo

Chapter 5
Ni tsunagatta chūshin-bu
Center that lead to the

One of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night. – Margaret Mead

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Land of Iron: :

Kikyo’s eye hadn’t stopped twitching. Her migraine was growing and her patience was paper thin. Itachi and Shisui had been giving her judgmental looks for the last hour. They hadn’t been all that willing to stop and deal with Yondaime in the first place and what little willingness there was had disappeared by midnight. They were distracting themselves by halfheartedly cleaning up what was left of the farm house Kikyo had accidently put Yondaime through. She hadn’t meant to hit him that hard, but a flash of temper and instinct had flared and now Yondaime had been unconscious for six hours.

The blond man was laid out in the grass, covered up to his shoulders by Itachi’s cloak. There was a gash above his right eye that was still sluggishly leaking blood, but he was still breathing.

Shisui checked on him every hour or so. “Superficial head wound,” he murmured as he gently prodded it and then began replacing the bandage. Itachi took his pulse. “He’s probably got a pretty bad bump though, could be problems later if it’s not treated.”

Both shinobi cast her glances under their eyelashes and Kikyo rolled her eye. Itachi and Shisui were more than competent healers. The large chakra reserves of the Uchiha lent themselves well to healing jutsus. Their love of battle had led to an almost obsessive interest in anything that would keep them on the battlefield longer, thus even the lowest level Uchiha was more skilled than most jounin in healing jutsus. Itachi and Shisui were two of the strongest Uchiha in the clan’s history, either one of them could heal Yondaime’s injury with ease. Unfortunately for Kikyo they both also shared an overdeveloped sense of honor and responsibility and Kikyo was the one who hit him.

Kikyo reached out and pressed two fingers to the unconscious Yondaime’s forehead.

“This is slowing us down,” Itachi stated, eyes pinned on the horizon in the direction of Konoha.

They were itching to continue. Kikyo could feel their chakra buzzing with excitement. The same way she could still feel that distant tug, trying to pull her back to the place where all Uchiha belonged. It was more annoying than anything else, but she knew Itachi and Shisui, who’d been forced to stay away from home for so long, could not focus on anything but their first chance to go home.

Relief that the battle with Kaguya and Black Setsu was over was combined with worry about what was happening in the village now. Kikyo could sympathize, a very long time ago she’d felt the same. It seemed like no matter how hard they fought or how much work they put in, disasters just came one after another. The same pattern that had resulted in the annihilation of the Uchiha clan and that was enough to put all of them on edge. That same pattern of disaster after disaster could easily lead to the collapse of the entire Village Hidden in the Leaves. Kikyo was furious with the direction the village was going, but she’d stood the day it was founded and she wasn’t going to let it fall without a fight.

Unfortunately, the most pressing issue wasn’t the direction of the village, it was the random resurrections. Yondaime here and by Iruka’s reports at least two more in Konoha. It took an immense amount of chakra and knowledge, not to mention skill, to resurrect the dead. Access to the necessary ingredients was almost impossible. Especially in the case of the Hyuuga, who religiousy guarded their clan’s Kekkie Genkai. And yet someone had resurrected one of them. Yajirobi’s precious and troubled protégée was at the top of the list, but itachi remained convinced he’d truly turned over a new leaf. Even Iruka seemed convinced. They were unrepentant idealists, but generally decent judges of character.

Which left what? Orochimaru and Danzo were both dead, unless someone decided to bring them back. The idea that someone with that kind of power was allied with the Council terrified Itachi, Shisui and Iruka. The fact that they’d slipped past Iruka’s notice concerned Kikyo. Had they somehow gotten access to the Uchiha Library? Iruka’s Susanoo and wards made it impossible for anyone to enter the compound, let alone the library within. Fugaku had laid jutsus and traps that would level the entire village if anyone forced their way in. Since Kikyo had yet to see flames and billowing smoke filling the sky in the direction of the Village Hidden in Leaves, she was fairly certain the wards and Susanoo were still in place.

There had been a summoner a hundred years ago that had figured it out, but Kikyo had killed him and his scrolls were carefully hidden deep in the Uchiha Library.

Why bring back the Yondaime though? He’d been a forward thinker in his own time, a genius beyond compare and not someone easily hoodwinked. His morals and beliefs contradicted everything the Council wanted and he’d never been afraid to stand for what he believed in. Kikyo had every confidence that the Council would never be able to control without a powerful mind-control jutsu. The strange red string coming out of his chest matched what Iruka had described. Itachi had cut it immediately. But it was a technique none of them recognized.

Itachi and Shisui watched the dark haired kunoichi in silence. She looked worried, out of character from the intimidating, overbearing figure of their childhoods. She’d inspired some hellish nightmares until they’d grown old enough to appreciate what they’d learned.

Suddenly, she stood and threw Yondaime over her shoulder like he weighed nothing.

“Alright, let’s go.”

Itachi and Shisui were on their feet and walking before she finished speaking.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Umino Iruka’s Apartment, Konohagakure: :

Kotetsu was slumped over a cup of coffee at Iruka’s tiny kitchen table. Across from a still half-asleep Anko. Izumo and Yajirobi were making enough breakfast for the army of young shinobi that were still sound asleep throughout Iruka’s apartment, when Iruka teleported in.

Kotetsu’s head snapped up so fast Iruka was actually worried about his neck before realizing that this was the worst place to appear.

Kotetsu took one look at him and a dangerous glint sparked in his eyes.

Yajirobi and Izumo took one look at Iruka and the hickey barely concealed by his vest and turned back to their cooking, content to let Kotetsu and Anko dole out the humiliation as they saw fit.

“Teleportation of shame, eh Iruka?” Kotetsu’s grin was so wide it practically split his face in two.

Iruka made one brief, desperate glance at the doorway before deciding the effort wasn’t worth it. He hadn’t had coffee yet and he was exhausted and sore in places he hadn’t been sore in a very, very long time.

“I’m not admitting to anything,” Iruka stated, crossing his arms and immediately winced as the muscles in his shoulders protested.

“Tea?” Izumo offered.

“Coffee,” Iruka pleaded.

Anko bounced up to Iruka and poked fearlessly at the half-covered hickey on his neck. “So who’s the biter?”

Iruka batted her hand away with as much of a glare as he could muster. “None of your business Anko.”

“Aww, come on Ruka,” Kotetsu’s voice dripped with honey, “Confide in your best friends. You know we won’t tell.”

Yajirobi snorted as he started flipping pancakes.

“It’s no one,” Iruka shrugged as he took the cup of coffee Izumo handed him. “Thanks.”

“If it was no one you’d tell us who it was,” Izumo commented lightly, going back to the fish he was grilling.

Iruka frowned at him, “Whose side are you on?”

Izumo grinned over his shoulder, unabashed.

“What happened to respecting the word of your Taichou?” Iruka complained as he downed half the coffee.

“We all resigned remember, there’s no Hanta anymore,” Kotetsu responded immediately, his voice tinted with sadness.

Iruka paused, the pulse of hurt radiating in his chest at Kotetsu’s words. “There will always be Hanta,” Iruka sighed, “Even if we have resigned our positions and there is no one to carry on the traditions, the spirit remains.”

“The spirit’s not worth much without the body to carry out the action,” Yajirobi added quietly.

“Well the spirits all that’s left so they’re going to have to make due,” Iruka snapped in a momentary flash of temper.

They looked sad. They knew him too well, loved him too much, to feel pity for him. But they all felt the loss, the missing piece of the call that would never come again. It burned quietly, an ember that never stopped glowing deep inside, but it had long since ceased to provide any warmth. Iruka could still remember what it felt like to have that warmth in his chest, to feel so fulfilled as the call swept through him and gave his life purpose. He loved teaching, loved helping his students learn and grow and watching them become adults, he would never choose another path. But the instinct to protect, the urge to let loose and run and fight with abandon, still ran through his veins.

“Do you think we’re not going to approve? Is that why you won’t tell us who it was?” Kotetsu asked, single mindedly bringing them back to the original conversation.

Iruka rolled his eyes.

“Iruka-kun,” Anko purred, “You’re starting to make me worry and you don’t like me when I worry. Remember what happened last time.”

Iruka did remember what had happened the last time Anko had been worried about him. She’d followed him around for days, never further than a few inches away, refusing to let anyone she thought might hurt him get close. Iruka could appreciate the thought, but he couldn’t stand the action. He loved Anko like a sister but he also loved his privacy at times and he knew she wasn’t above doing it all again just to wheedle the information she wanted out of him. “You’ve been spending too much time with Ibiki,” Iruka told her ruefully.

Anko’s grin had a lot of teeth, “He’s got his uses. And his talents.”

Yajirobi, Izumo and Kotetsu all made disgusted faces and Anko stuck her tongue out at them.

Iruka sighed, “It was Hatake.”

The kitchen fell silent as they stared at him in disbelief.

“Hatake as in Hatake Kakashi?” Anko repeated, her voice terrifying void of emotion.

Iruka steeled himself and nodded.

Kotetsu’s face turned dark. “Are you insane Iruka? You know how bad an idea that is, what the hell were you thinking?”

Both Anko and Isumo looked more upset about Kotetsu’s outburst then Iruka’s revelation. The spikey haired chunnin wasn’t temperamental, his laid back and relaxed personality was one of the reasons they all trusted him so much. He kept a cool head in pretty much any situation and was rarely, if ever, judgmental.

“It just happened,” Iruka snapped, “That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen again.”

“He was mooning over you for weeks Iruka, I doubt he’s going to accept a one off it was fun see you later!” Kotetsu pointed out angrily, “What happens if he starts sniffing around?”

“He won’t find anything Ko, he doesn’t even know where to start looking.”

“But he suspects something doesn’t he?” Yajirobi broke in. Iruka and Kotetsu were best friends, had been since they’d first bonded over their shared fondness for pranks in the Academy, but Yajirobi and Iruka had a much deeper understanding of one another. In their training for Hanta it had been Yajirobi who’d acted as Iruka’s shadow and double. His almost instinctive understanding of Iruka’s thought process and decision-making had allowed them to fight together without a sound. Their bond was born out of their shared experience of betrayal and survival as children and it had only grown stronger over years of fighting together. He remained one of the few people whose judgment Iruka trusted without question. And he was also one of the few Iruka knew that never pulled his punches.

“How did this happen?” Izumo asked.

Iruka hesitated to respond, the fact that Kakashi had attacked him in an effort to test his strength after watching him fight Neji and Asuma spoke for itself. He should have said it wouldn’t happen again, but Iruka tried not to lie to his friends when it wasn’t absolutely necessary. And he really wanted to sleep with Kakashi again.

“Pretty into him huh?” Kotetsu guessed, the anger leeching out of his voice at Iruka’s hesitation to answer.

Iruka shrugged a little bit helplessly.

“Couldn’t you just decided to have a serious thing for some random mist nin or something easier to deal with,” Kotetsu muttered.

“I never said it was serious,” Iruka returned.

Kotetsu gave him a look that spoke volumes. “Iruka, you’ve never had a problem telling us who you’ve been sleeping with before and the guy’s been driving you up the wall for months, which is exactly what you tend to go for.”

“Hey! I do not go for people who make me angry!” Iruka protested loudly.

They stared at him in silence and Iruka relented. “Fine, maybe I do, but that’s not important.”

Izumo actually looked a little bit fond as he rolled his eyes. “It’s alright Iruka, pretty sure you get it from your dad anyway.”

“You get a lot from your dad,” Kotetsu muttered, annoyed.

“Hey if Iruka wants to bang Kakashi he can bang Kakashi!” Anko broke in angrily, hugging Iruka tightly at the same time. Iruka wheezed slightly as he tried to breath in her grip.

Yajirobi smirked as Iruka started to turn red. “It’s fine, let it run its course, we can deal with him when it’s over. Maybe we won’t even have to.”

“We won’t need to deal with him,” Iruka responded breathlessly, “He doesn’t know anything. Anko I can’t breathe!”

Kotetsu pried Anko off him and Iruka took several gasping breaths.

“We can handle Kakashi if anything does happen, he wouldn’t be able to take all of us,” Anko declared going limp in Kotetsu grip and dragging them both to the floor.

“Let’s not assume we’re going to have to kill Kakashi just because he and Iruka don’t work out,” Izumo chided, sighing at the way the rest of his comrades skipped escalation and went straight to killing. “We’re Hanta, whether we resigned or not. We’re supposed to protect our fellow shinobi, not kill them whenever they hurt us or make us angry.”

Anko looked disappointed from where she was wrestling around on the kitchen floor with Kotetsu. Iruka looked relived, which meant they needed to have a whole different conversation about how deep his feelings for the last Hatake actually ran. Yajirobi looked indifferent, as always, and Kotetsu was too busy losing the wrestling match to Anko to care.

“What’s a Hanta?” Naruto’s sleep heavy voice silenced the kitchen. He stood in the entryway, wearing a pair of Iruka’s old pajamas that were still a size too big for the barely legal teenager. He looked like he was still asleep. Sasuke, standing next to him, did not.

Fugaku’s youngest son bore a striking resemblance to his mother in that moment. Dark eyes narrowed and searching as he scanned the room. It had surprised them all how much he’d taken after his mother and his older brother. Like Itachi he’d taken on her inherently kind personality, but where in Itachi it had been balanced by Fugaku’s ruthlessness; Sasuke, despite everything he had done, had yet to develop what had allowed his brother to wipe out their clan and remain sane.

Iruka had always been relived about that, had hoped that that might be what would prevent Sasuke’s fall into the Curse of Hatred. It hadn’t, but it had helped Sasuke pull himself back out and Iruka doubted he would fall again. Especially if Naruto had any say in it.

Sakura wandered in then, Ino hot on her heels. Iruka could hear the others waking. The bathroom door slamming because Kiba took a while to wake up completely. By the time Iruka had made a decision on whether or not to answer Naruto’s question they were all in the kitchen, staring bleary eyed at Kotetsu and Anko on the floor, Izumo and Yajirobi at the stove and Iruka looking like a thief caught in the act. They’d discussed whether or not to tell Naruto and his friends. Iruka had wanted to wait a little longer, a last-ditch effort to keep them out of it in the shallow hope that everything would just fade away. Iruka still had an irrational hope that the two old bastards on the Konoha Council would just keel over and die of old age. Or a severe, painful incurable disease.

Sakura frowned, “What’s going on?”

Iruka sighed. Telling them had always been inevitable. Iruka refused to break away enough to keep them completely out of the matter and it was far too late to change his mind now.

“What are the Hanta?” Sasuke demanded. The others were starting to look interested or somewhat awake in Naruto and Kiba’s cases.

Iruka glanced at the others, meeting their gazes. They’d talked about this before and they were all in agreement on what to do but Iruka still wanted to double-check. One by one they nodded and Iruka took a deep breath. He’d never had to explain the Hanta to someone who wasn’t already aware of them and despite spending his entire life contemplating what it meant to be a Hanta, he found he had no idea what to say.

He rubbed his forehead and considered his words carefully. “The Hanta are the Hunter-nin of Konohagakure.”

“Like Mists?” Sakura asked warily.

“Not at all,” Iruka said quickly. “Our jobs is, was, to protect our fellow shinobi. We weren’t like ANBU or the Konoha Military Police. We were sent in when a ninja needed to be rescued or there was an internal threat that needed to be dealt with.”

“That sounds cool,” Tenten commented.

Lee nodded vigorously. “That is a very honorable profession, Iruka-sensei! These Hanta are truly great shinobi!” Shikimaru and TenTen had to duck Lee’s arms as they waved enthusiastically along with his speech. Iruka’s eyes slid to Kotetsu and Anko still wrestling on the floor.

“Yes, they are.” Iruka agreed, kicking Anko and Kotetsu to get them to stop. He could feel the amusement radiating off Izumo and Yajirobi.

“You said ‘was’ before.” Shino commented quietly.

“Oh, ah, right. You see, we’re the remaining members of the Hanta, along with several others,” Iruka gestured to himself, Kotetsu, Anko, Izumo, and Yajirobi. “After the Uchiha Clan Massacre, their enemies in Konohagakure’s government began targeting us. With most of our allies gone and peace holding on we decided to resign our positions, rather than risk another war.”

“What’s the real reason you left Iruka-sensei?” The others had looked like they were about to accept Iruka’s explanation, but Naruto had seen through it. The years he’d spent observing the young sensei, practicing his newly acquired shinobi skills on the temperamental teacher had given him insight he hadn’t realized he’d had until recently.

A sad look crossed Iruka’s face and Naruto instantly felt guilty for putting it there, but he knew Iruka was holding back something. His most precious person didn’t give up just because he lost some allies and there was peace. Shinobi never rested. If there wasn’t a war going on, they were working to prevent the next one. Iruka would never have left without being forced and Naruto wanted the truth from the one person that had always given it to him. Iruka’s eyes gave him away, flecks of gold in chocolate brown that glowed or dimmed depending on his mood. They’d dimmed considerably when he’d spoken of leaving the Hanta.

“Our families were gone. Betrayed by the village and we didn’t see a reason to continue protecting the people that killed them.” And by we Iruka mostly meant himself. He’d been the first to decide to resign, the others had understood and chosen to follow him rather than risk getting pulled into ANBU or Root. Iruka loved them for it but he still felt guilty.

“All your families?” Hinata whispered.

Iruka nodded.

“Who betrayed them? Why would they do that?” Naruto demanded angrily.

Kotetsu and Anko finally pulled themselves to their feet, brushing off their clothes.

“Izumo, Yajirobi and I are all orphans,” Kotetsu explained. “We were raised, like Iruka, by allies of the Uchiha and members of the Konoha Military Police. When the Konoha Council and Danzo forced Itachi to assassinate the Uchiha Clan our families were also killed.”

“Wait, Danzo and the council did what?” Ino sounded horrified.

“Are you serious, the Konoha Council had Itachi killed his clan?” Shikimaru repeated and Iruka could see the wheels turning in his head. “That means Itachi wasn’t actually evil and the stories about the Uchiha Clan…”

“Some of them are true,” Iruka admitted, “Most are exaggerated.”

“The attempt to assassinate the Sandaime?” Shikimaru asked.

“There was one but the Clan dealt with it internally, just not fast enough to stop the Council and Danzo from acting. Fugaku had hesitated because he didn’t want to kill his own clansmen and make the Curse of Hatred even stronger.”

“If the Council and Danzo managed to order the assassination of the Uchiha, why use Itachi to do it? Why not just order ANBU to carry out the attack and not have the risk of Itachi surviving? He was strong, probably strong enough to kill them if he wanted to.”

“Itachi was more than strong enough to kill the Council and Danzo,” Iruka agreed.

“So why didn’t he?” Ino looked confused.

“Because they had the moral high ground,” Shikimaru responded, eyes pinned on Iruka. “With all the stories about the Uchiha, even if Itachi had killed them in self-defense the clan would have been through. The Elders, the other Clans, ANBU, someone would have taken action with or without the Hoakge’s permission. Not even Sandaime would have been able to save them. Itachi’s a genius and the Uchiha were the strongest clan in the village, but they must have realized that they didn’t have any allies left who could have helped them. Or their allies themselves were under attack and unable to fend off their own attackers, let along come to the aid of the Uchiha.”

Shikimaru stopped, suddenly doubting himself. The rest of the Rookie Eleven were hanging on his every word.

“Keep going,” Iruka instructed. Shikimaru’s genius, often overlooked because of his laziness, could someday be on par with Fugaku’s when it came to strategy and tactics. It was an odd reminder of the man who’d shaped Iruka in so many ways, whom he saw glimpses of in Itachi and whose heart beat Iruka could still feel deep inside the Uchiha compound.

“Sandaime must have known what was going on though. Danzo left or was removed from the Council the day after the attack. I remember my father talking about it. He didn’t like Danzo, mentioned something about it being less than what he deserved and he told me not to ask about what happened. Said he would explain when I was older but he never got the chance.” Shikimaru’s voice turned sad at the memory of his father. He was still struggling with that loss and the loss and now return of Asuma, who’d been a powerful father figure for him.

“Sandaime removed Danzo from the Council,” Shino added.

Iruka nodded. “Stripped him of all his power.”

“Why didn’t he do it to the Council too?” Kiba demanded.

“Not enough evidence right?” Shikimaru guessed and Iruka nodded again.

“Why were the Hanta allies of the Uchiha? If they’re supposed to protect the shinobi of the village, shouldn’t they be allies with everyone?” Naruto asked.

“They were allies of everyone, I promise, even if it didn’t seem like it sometimes.” Iruka paused. “The Hanta were founded during Tobirama’s time as Hokage, but the actual story starts long before that. Even before the founding of the village.”

They stared at him wide eyed and Iruka tried to tell the story the way he’d heard it as a child, when he would sit enthralled for hours at Fugaku’s or Tsume’s feet as they told stories of times long past.

“Like the Senju the Uchiha were a mercenary clan before the founding of the village. Unlike the Senju their actual beginning was much more volatile. They were descended from Indra, the elder son of Hagoromo. His children followed their father’s path, splitting and walking their roads alone. One of them, Indra’s only daughter, was the first to fall victim to the Curse of Hatred and disappeared into the great mountains far to the north. She would not return for over two hundred years. The story goes that Indra’s bloodline almost died out, until the one whose bloodline would eventually produce Madara and Izura convinced them to band together. As it’s told the Uchiha fought a great battle and won, resulting in the their opponent, another clan, being annihilated in the final battle. Indra’s daughter was so impressed she came down from the mountains to teach the Uchiha. They called her the Great Sage of the Mountain, the God who came down from the heavens to teach the Uchiha to fight. She remained with the Uchiha as they became a mercenary clan and she was the one who trained Madara and Izura. The story goes that she decided to stay with the clan, even fell in love and married one.”

“Which one?” Sasuke demanded.

“Kagami.”

“She was married to the Uchiha Kagami!” Ino gasped. “Wasn’t he one of the strongest Uchiha ever?!”

“He was one of the Second Hokage’s direct subordinates!” Sakura sounded excited. “He was there the night Sarutobi Hiruzen was chosen as Third Hokage!”

“Yes, he was one of Tobirama’s most trusted shinobi. The story goes that they had two sons. One died without children and one married into a Senju bloodline, merging the two lines to make what became the Uchiha clan leader’s bloodline.”

“My bloodline,” Sasuke stated.

Iruka nodded.

“Wait, that means Sasuke’s dad wasn’t a full blooded Uchiha? Wouldn’t that have been a big deal?” Shikimaru asked.

Iruka nodded, “That’s a whole other story. The Hanta were founded after her marriage to Kagami, as the war with Rock was winding up. She didn’t like that the shinobi of the village were depended on for its defense but there was no one to defend them. Back then the village was so focused on growing and building a strong foundation that they rarely had the shinobi to spare for rescue missions. Ninja were expected to make it out alive or die to ensure the enemy didn’t capture them. She decided to create the Hanta as a way to protect the shinobi of the village. The Hanta wouldn’t be used as an actual unit in war. They wouldn’t fight in pitched battles. They were meant solely to rescue captured or endangered shinobi. To save lives and ensure that the ninja that sacrificed for the village were protected while they did their duty. The Hanta were meant to be the ones who endured the eternal chase.”

Iruka couldn’t help but smile, feeling lightened at the looks of awe on their faces. Lee practically had hearts in his eyes.

“Iruka-sense! What a noble calling! To protect your fellow shinobi, how honorable! Where are these Hanta? May I join?” Lee’s arms were pin wheeling again, but no one seemed to mind at the moment.

Iruka starred at him, surprised. Now that he thought about it, it made sense. Lee’s beliefs and dedication were the perfect fit for Hanta. The same reason Dai had been chosen and Gai had been considered before his father’s death. Iruka still wanted to recruit Gai despite the fact that he was technically retired. Recently though, Iruka had noticed something going on with Konoha’s Green Beast. He hadn’t come back from the battle at the Valley of the End in one piece and Iruka wasn’t sure what was missing.

“I’m sure an elite unit like that has some qualifications or tests to join, you can’t just volunteer Lee,” Tenten said gently. “You probably have to be a jounin or have served in ANBU?” She looked to Iruka for confirmation.

Iruka rubbed at his scar awkwardly, a flush rising. The others didn’t look any better. Kotetsu was looking pointedly at the ceiling; Anko’s eye was twitching. Yajirobi and Izumo were both very busy cooking.

“Well,” Iruka started and trailed off. “You would think so and there probably should be…”

“Are you serious, all you have to do is volunteer?” Kiba squawked.

Iruka nodded. “Yes, but the Taichou can, of course, decide to say no. It has always been more about the spirit and the will then anything else.”

“I volunteer!” Lee roared immediately, making everyone else in the room jump from the force of his voice.

“Damn!” Kotetsu winced at the volume. Izumo yelped when he accidently burned his hand in surprise. Yajirobi actually looked impressed as he glanced over his shoulder at them. Flames were practically leaping off Lee’s body and it wasn’t just the Green Beast in training. Naruto was practically dancing in place and Kiba was actually dancing. Sasuke, Shikimaru, and Shino were smiling; the widest Iruka had seen since they’d hit puberty and stopped being amused by the simplest things. Ino and Choji high-fived and Hinata still looked awed. Tenten and Sakura had a certain look of victory that Iruka usually saw when they realized they knew something no one else did. Inner Sakura was probably doing cartwheels.

It was the first time since his resignation that Iruka really, truly wished he’d made a different choice and the Hanta were still active. But he hadn’t so he sighed and scratched the back of his head. “The Hanta are no longer active.”

“Why not?” Naruto demanded.

Iruka shifted as the sadness settled over him. How did he explain that he’d lost faith? Those dark years following the Uchiha Massacre hadn’t been pretty. Iruka had been angry and so, so lost and alone. Itachi had been god knows where, effectively banished from Konoha and Sasuke’s memories had been sealed. The rest of the Hanta hadn’t been in any better shape and none of them had had any sympathy to share for the village. It hadn’t been a good time for anyone.

“After the Uchiha massacre there weren’t many of us left and at the time, I didn’t think the village was worth fighting for.”

“That’s changed though, right?” Naruto asked, eyes wide. He already sounded convinced as he asked the question.

Iruka smiled softly and nodded. “Of course it has and you don’t have to be an actual Hanta to carry out the duty. We can still train you, although it will have to remain a secret.”

“Why are the Hanta a secret?” Sakura asked.

“Why is ANBU?” Iruka returned and she flushed. “There are other duties the Hanta carry out where secrecy is very important. In past times they would carry declarations or war or peace to other villages or lands. Secret treaties that could decide the fates of thousands. They acted as secret keepers for entire villages or clans.”

“Secret keepers?” Hinata repeated.

“An ancient tradition,” Kotetsu responded. “It’s not in use as much anymore. Secrecy is just safer right now.”

“The Hanta’s enemies are still in play,” Shikimaru stated.

Iruka nodded.

“It’s the Council isn’t it?” Sasuke guessed, voice filled with anger. “They were Danzo’s allies and they wiped out my family and they’re still walking around like they run the village! They have to be held accountable!” Sasuke sounded like he was ready to go make them pay that very second and Iruka worried briefly that he actually might. Naruto and Sakura apparently shared Iruka’s concern; they each grabbed one of Sasuke’s hands and squeezed tightly.

“They will,” Iruka put what he hoped was a comforting hand on Sasuke’s shoulder. “Eventually all the debts that are owed will be paid, but you have to be patient. Rushing in will only get more people hurt.”

Sasuke didn’t look convinced, but he didn’t try to leave. The self-control was impressive; Iruka hadn’t had any at Sasuke’s age.

“Tell you what,” Iruka’s voice was full of pride, “How about this, we’ll start teaching you guys some of the Hanta practices and jutsus, but you guys have to keep it a secret. No one knows that Naruto and Sasuke are back and its best to keep it that way for now.”

The Rookie Eleven nodded in unison, though Sasuke still looked angry.

“Are you going to take on the Council?” Naruto asked. His focus was intense, Iruka could remember seeing hints of it when he was younger. His determination to become stronger, to beat Sasuke and to become Hokage. It was maturing now, as the lessons of life sank in and Naruto was truly beginning to learn what looking underneath the underneath meant. And how people were rarely what you first thought they were.

Iruka could feel Kotetsu’s eyes burning holes into the back of his head, the former fuku-taichou of the Hanta was vehemently opposed to involving anyone else in the situation, especially those that were still basically children. Iruka was going to destroy the Council, eventually, but there was no need to involve Naruto and the others yet. Maybe there would never be a need. “When its time, I’ll tell you. For now, there’s a hidden training ground inside the Uchiha compound. Get ready and meet me there in ten minutes. Don’t let anyone see you.”

Iruka teleported away before any of them could say anything and more importantly before Kotetsu or Yajirobi could ask him what the hell he was thinking.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Training Grounds, Uchiha Compound: :

To their credit it took the Rookie Eleven just under nine minutes to get into the Uchiha Compound and locate the training grounds. Naruto and Kiba were both sporting minor burns from where they’d tried to run through the wards before Sasuke could change them. No one had seen them, though Iruka was torn between being relieved that they hadn’t been caught and concerned about the level of security in the village since Naruto, Kiba, Choji and Ino still weren’t any good at camouflage jutsus.

They stumbled into the training area with more energy then they’d displayed since the night they’d showed up at Iruka’s door demanding to see Naruto and Sasuke. It was even funnier to note that they’d been in such a hurry that they’d barely managed to get dressed. Sakura and Ino looked like they’d been hit by a tornado and TenTen’s hair wasn’t even properly done up.

“Alright, pay attention. Today’s just going to be a quick lesson since its last minute.” Eleven pairs of eyes pinned Iruka to the spot, just like they had all those years ago when he’d first begun teaching them the shinobi arts. “Today I’m going to teach you shunpo. The flash step. If you master it, truly master it, you’ll be able to move faster than the human eye can see. So fast that you’ll leave an after image behind that your opponent can actually feel themselves strike before it disappears.”

“Whoa,” Naruto eyes were wide as saucers.

“It’s actually a pretty basic jutsu. It involves pushing chakra to your feet and using it to propel you in whichever direction you want to go.”

“Like using chakra to walk up trees or on water?” Sakura asked, hand raised.

“A bit, but shunpo is actually much more powerful and requires much less chakra.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” Kiba pointed out.

Iruka smiled. “It will when you figure it out. For walking up things or on water you need a enough chakra to hold up your weight. In shunpo all it does is give you the initial push and your weight actually becomes part of the force moving you, carrying you in the direction of the initial push until you stop yourself. A single shunpo step can launch you a hundred feet using a minimal amount of chakra.”

“Iruka-sensei, what if you cannot stop yourself?” Lee asked.

“Well you’ll stop eventually in every case, unfortunately it’s pretty likely that you’ll stop because you hit something. Stopping is the hardest thing to learn in shunpo. It takes an immense amount of control.”

“If shunpo is a targeted boost of speed from your chakra does that mean you can use it in other ways?” Ino looked thoughtful.

“You can use shunpo on any part of your body, though I’m going to tell you right now if I catch any of you hitting anyone with shunpo outside of a life or death situation I’ll make sure you never do anything above a D ranked mission again.”

They nodded, properly terrified.

“The best way to stop shunpo is to use shunpo. A targeted blast of chakra, the opposite of what you started with. If you use to much chakra or too little it won’t work.”

“That sounds really complicated,” Naruto muttered.

“Think of riding a bike down a hill. If you hit the brakes too hard you go flying over the bike. If you don’t hit them hard enough you’ll just slip and slide. You have to hit them just right to stop without hurting yourself.”

“That…makes sense I guess? But I don’t know how to ride a bike,” Naruto pointed out. Sakura groaned.

“Dobe,” Sasuke sighed.

Iruka paused and felt a little bit guilty that he’d never taught Naruto to ride a bike. Added it to the list of a million things he had to do. “It’s the principle that matters. Equal and opposite reactions. Shunpo is the second Hanta jutsu.”

“What’s the first?” Shikimaru asked.

Iruka smirked, “The first Hanta jutsu is Shunko and it’s one of the last one’s you’ll learn.”

“Why?” Hinata’s voice was soft.

“Shunko takes a level of skill and control that most shinobi never achieve in their lifetime. The other Hanta jutsus will help you get to the level you need to be at to learn Shunko.”

“So what’s shunko?” Naruto’s eyes were bright, that same obsessive gleam he’d shown attempting to learn kage bushin and every other thing people had told him he couldn’t learn.

“Not until you’re ready,” Iruka said pointedly. Naruto’s shoulders fell. “Now, spread out and concentrate on sending a small pulse of chakra to your feet to push you forward.”

Naruto, of course, went flying head first into Iruka’s stomach on his first attempt. Sasuke had to grab a training pole to stop himself from running into another one. Hinata and Kiba ended up running into one another and Shino tripped over a pebble he hadn’t noticed. Sakura had trouble starting her first step, too worried about loosing control. Ino got started, then panicked and grabbed Shikimaru and Choji and took them down with her. TenTen grabbed Lee to steady herself, but the Green Beast in training didn’t notice before he took off and they both went flying.

Iruka couldn’t stop smiling. It was pretty much exactly what had happened the first he’d tried to teach them chakra blasts at the Academy.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Umino Iruka’s Apartment, Konohagakure: :

Kotetsu sighed in annoyance as Iruka disappeared in a cloud of smoke and leaves before any of them could stop him and the kids frantically followed. “Damn it, what the hell is he thinking, training them now?”

“Calm down, Iruka knows what he’s doing,” Anko’s faith in Iruka was unshakable. It had been since he’d let her rebuild her life on his couch when she’d first returned to Konoha after Orochimaru had taken her. ANBU had kept her under surveillance for almost two and half years and no one had trusted her until Sandaime had stepped in, but Iruka had been her staunch defender from the moment he’d seen her stumble through the gate half-dead and barely conscious.

Yajirobi stuck a plate of food in front of Anko’s face, immediately distracting her. “Iruka has his reasons, you know he’s wanted to bring them in and train them for years.”

“Pretty much since they ended up in his class,” Anko spoke around her food and Izumo made a face at her. She stuck her tongue out at him in retaliation when he threw a napkin at her.

Yajirobi started dishing up the rest of the food. “Iruka won’t put them at risk.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about. I’m worried about Iruka putting himself at risk. He’s in a bad enough position as it is and this shit with Kakashi isn’t going to help,” Kotetsu didn’t want his friend to suffer any more, he’d seen enough of it in their childhood. Iruka deserved a happy, peaceful life at some point.

“This shit with Kakashi makes Iruka happy,” Yajirobi said quietly, “So does training the kids. You know he misses his family. We all miss them but it’s different for Iruka. The blood ties of the Uchiha never fade, not even in death. There’s just a bunch of emptiness that never leaves. Its why they fall to the Curse of Hatred.”

“Iruka’s not going to fall,” Anko snapped, defensive.

“Iruka fell a long time ago,” Yajirobi countered, “Those kids are the main reason he never went mad and left. Things are only going to get worse from here, let him have the kids and Kakashi. He’s going to need them.”

Kotetsu screwed up in his face in a wince. Izumo’s eyes narrowed as Kotetsu’s sleeve shifted. “Kakashi’s just going to hurt him.”

“Kakashi doesn’t have a fucking clue,” Izumo muttered, “If anyone’s going to get hurt it’ll be him.” The bump in Kotetsu’s sleeve shift over his shoulder and around his back. Yajirobi’s eyes narrowed when he saw it shift.

“Oh yeah, because a pissed off and emotionally injured Hatake is going to be a bundle of joy to deal with,” Kotetsu’s voice was full of sarcasm. “Everyone’ll side with him against Iruka.”

“I don’t know, Hatake’s got a lot of pride and he’s paranoid and private as fuck. I’d bet good dango he won’t tell anyone,” Anko put in, shoving food into her mouth between words.

“How does Ibiki sleep with you?” Izumo muttered, watching her in a horrified fashion. Anko grinned with her teeth.

“What if he takes the story about his dad seriously and commits suicide?” Yajirobi didn’t actually think Hatake would ever kill himself, but it was funny to watch Kotetsu pale as he considered it.

“Jesus fuck, I didn’t even think about that,” Kotetsu was actually worried about Kakashi at that thought.

Izumo and Anko both rolled their eyes. “Hatake would never commit suicide, especially over a break up.” Anko assured her teacher.

Izumo glared at Yajirobi who hide his smirk by turning and beginning to clean up the kitchen. The bump under Kotetsu’s shirt crawled up his chest.

Anko pointed at it with her chopsticks. “Is that?” A small furry head poked out of Kotetsu’s shirt before she could finish and the squirrel clawed its way onto Kotetsu’s shoulder.

Izumo sighed. “Iruka will permanently damage you if he finds out you sic’d your squirrels on Kakashi.”

Kotetsu scratched the squirrel’s chin and it chittered happily. “What Iruka doesn’t know won’t hurt, will it precious,” he cooed at the squirrel.

“No but it’ll hurt you,” Izumo muttered.

“Doesn’t Kakashi have dogs?” Anko whispered. Kotetsu cackled.

ooo000ooo

Chapter Text

ooo000ooo

Chapter 6
Kowasareta memori
Memory that has been broken

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work. You don’t give up. – Anne Lamott

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :ANBU Briefing Room, ANBU Headquarters, Konohagakure: :

Kakashi scanned the gathered shinobi with his visible eye. Ibiki’s team was due back from the Valley of the End today and Kakashi wasn’t the only one eager to hear their report. Kurenai had beaten him here, Gai, as he had always been these last few weeks, was with her. Kakashi still hadn’t managed to pin down Konoha’s Green Beast and find out what was wrong with him.

Genma and Raido had shown up shortly after, still showing the bruises earned during their last mission. Yamato and Sai were present, taking up the wall on either side of Kakashi and just as eager to hear any possible news about Naruto and Sasuke.

Everyone wanted to hear news about the young shinobi. Every ninja that had born witness to the final battle with Kaguya and Black Zetsu knew the battle would have been lost without them. Stories of the battle they’d begun following the war had taken on epic proportions in the village.

Kakashi just wanted his students back in one piece so he could make an attempt at apologizing for his failure and to celebrate the shinobi they’d become. He hadn’t seen Sakura much lately, he’d learned from Tsunade that the young kunoichi had begun pulling away from the Hokage and Shizune and almost everyone outside the Rookie Eleven. Kakashi didn’t blame her. He hadn’t exactly dealt with the loss of his own genin team well, but he was disappointed that hadn’t come to him.

He’d seen her talking to Iruka over ramen at Ichiraku’s a few days ago. He didn’t blame her for feeling more comfortable with the Academy sensei then with Kakashi himself. He’d paid more attention to Sasuke and Naruto during his time as their sensei, distracted by their special situations. He suspected that was one of the reasons she’d turned so quickly to Tsunade when the opportunity arose. Kakashi owed her a pretty big apology. Maybe he’d ask Iruka for advice. The sensi had been gone when Kakashi had woken up the morning after their tryst, nothing but the wards rustling in the wind to signify his hasty exit. Kakashi had been impressed with his skill, something that was happening with starting regularity in relation to the young teacher. The academy sensei was turning out to be so much more than he’d been expecting, thinking about him was starting to take up the majority of Kakashi’s time and the last time he’d been so focused on one thing he’d created his famed chidori technique.

It was odd, that it had ended up being Iruka who earned Kakashi’s focus. He’d had a handful of lovers over the years, even a few that had lasted more than a week or two in duration. But none of them had been as fascinating as Iruka. A simple chuunin academy teacher who was skilled enough in taijutsu to take down a Hyuuga genius and to last against Kakashi. Who was always perfectly respectful when he was telling off his superiors and whose temper was twice as strong as his chakra.

He was nothing like Rin. In fact, if Kakashi really thought about it, Iruka had much more in common with Obito. Before he’d been crushed in the rock slide. The same loud personality and determination and fearlessness that Kakashi had looked down in his childhood teammate until it was too late. Maybe that was why he was so drawn to Iruka. Although that was a terrifying thought in and of itself.

Ibiki entered the room then. Flanked by two ANBU who, judging by their slumped postures, were exhausted. They were empty handed. That didn’t bode well. The room fell silent.

Taka appeared in a flash of smoke and leaves, but stayed off to the side. The highest ranked ANBU tended to stay hands off and allowed his subordinate commanders to run their divisions and missions with little interference. The man was still a complete enigma to most of Konohagakure’s ninja. No one knew his identity or even his age and no one had ever seen his face. Kakashi assumed they were around the same age, but it was also a tradition that the head of ANBU’s identity always remained a mystery. The myth was that it was same shinobi since the time of ANBU’s inception during Tobirama’s reign.

There were long running bets among ANBU members and so far no one had been able to conclusively prove any fact about Taka. They couldn’t even prove that it wasn’t the same person since its founding. Given ANBU’s purpose and role, having someone in Taka’s position wasn’t absolutely necessary. The Hokage still have orders personally for missions, but Taka acted as a kind of organizer and tasker, as well as an advisor to the Hokage. Every ANBU held him in high respect. Kakashi, like all the others, had a powerful desire to see him fight, but wasn’t expecting to get lucky any time soon.

Ibiki didn’t beat around the bush. “There’s no sign of them in the Valley of the end.”

Murmurs of disbelief rose.

“What about tracks or a trail?” Someone demanded. Ibiki had refused to allow Kakashi to join the team travelling to the Valley, citing Kakashi’s close relationship with the boys and his inability to remain unbiased. Kakashi could understand the logic, but couldn’t stop the thought that the outcome might have been different if he’d been there.

Ibiki shook his head, “It doesn’t look like anyone’s been there for weeks.”

Kakashi could feel the anger build, almost completely overwhelming the dark pit of dread slowly growing larger in his chest. Where the hell were Naruto and Sasuke? The longer they stayed gone, the harder it would be for them to come back. Sasuke was already in danger of being named a missing nin again and Kakashi knew that despite Naruto’s heroics, there were still those who wanted him gone permanently and would use any excuse to make it happen.

“Have any sources reported sightings?” Sai spoke up. His relationship with Team 7 was difficult and Kakashi still worried that the attachment was stronger for Sai than the other three. Sai needed a family and he wanted it to be Team 7 but Team 7 was currently shattered and it showed. Sai was slowly reverting to the personality he’d had before he’d met Team 7. Yamato had expressed his own, similar concerns to Kakashi during a recent investigation into a possible Root member. The possibility that Root was still operating had brought back nightmares for all three of them and the frustrations stemming from their failure to find anything were feeding into everything else. The war against Kaguya and Black Zetsu was finished but the battle for Konohagakure was far from over.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Hyuuga Compound, Konohagakure: :

Neji and Asuma had been confined to the Hyuuga Compound until their tests had cleared. A messenger had come to Hiashi’s personal office only moments earlier to tell him that the Hokage had cleared both shinobi to return to duty. It hadn’t even taken forty-eight hours for Tsunade to make her decision and while Hiashi was surprised at the speed, he wasn’t surprised at all by the outcome. Tsunade trusted her instincts and her shinobi beyond all else. What the Konoha Counsel called impulsive and emotional Hiashi was coming to see as true leadership and a mentoring that diverged from Sandaime’s methods of more focused teaching. It would be interesting to see where the village would go under her leadership now that the war was over.

The Hyuuga Clan hadn’t changed much, despite the massive change the village had and was still under going. As Hiashi walked through the compound the cherry blossoms were lush and danced in the light breeze. Members of the clan went about their business, training and tending to the grounds almost as if the outside world didn’t exist. It was a mindset Hiashi had once fully embraced, but had begun to question in recent weeks. Hanabi, now heir to the clan, was fully immersed in her training and ecstatic to have Neji back. The bond the two shared was far stronger then the bond Hanabi and her older sister shared. Though Hinata had always doted on her, her weakness had made it hard for Hanabi to look up to her sister. Hiashi knew he bore some of the blame for their failed relationship, he’d failed as a father to guide both girls and while he was making up for that lost time now with Hanabi, he couldn’t quite seem to do the same with Hinata. His oldest daughter was rarely at the compound these days; it was almost as if she’d been sucked out of the clan by the world outside and had never looked back.

Hiashi saw her randomly in the village, most frequently with her team or the other members of the Rookie 11. A brief run in with Tsume at the Hokage Tower had confirmed that she spent most nights at the Inuzuka or Aburame Compounds. Tsume hadn’t been too willing to talk about it. She disagreed with almost every decision Hiashi had ever made, though he’d never seen her as angry as when he had removed Hinata as the heir to the clan and replaced her with Hanabi. Hiashi stood by his decision and remained confident that Hinata would eventually return. He was more concerned with any influence Tsume would exert while Hiashi wasn’t there to mitigate it.

Neji’s return had taken up most of his time the last few days and Hiashi was angry that Hinata had not even come by to see her cousin. He assumed that would be rectified soon enough, especially with Neji’s release and return to service as a Konoha shinobi. He’d expected to see Neji’s genin team as well but they had also remained surprisingly absent. Hiashi knew there had been rocky points in their relationship but Neji had seemed close with Tenten, Lee and Hinata in the days before his death. The complicated workings of young relationships hadn’t interested Hiashi when he was their age and they still didn’t now, but that didn’t stop it from worrying him on occasion. Not all the members of the Rookie 11 were a good influence according to the Hyuuga Elders and Hiashi had a hard time making arguments for them in certain cases. The Elders had quieted down recently, the actions of the Rookie 11 during the war spoke for themselves, but Hiashi knew it wouldn’t’ stay that way for long.

Hiashi turned a corner, neatly sidestepping a maid with her arms full of laundry. The rooms Neji and Asuma had been confined in were perhaps the most comfortable prison cells in the village. They opened straight into the lush gardens and with the warm spring weather it was more a vacation then anything else.

They were sparring as Hiashi arrived; the wisp of smoke from Asuma’s most recent cigarette was faint on the air. Hiashi refrained from commenting, given what Asuma had been through, and he paused to watch them fight. Neither seemed to have lost any of their skill in the time they’d been gone. There was an underlying intensity to their fight, a slight desperation. They were itching to get back to the lives they’d lost. Hiashi had been there when they told Asuma he had a daughter he couldn’t see until he’d been cleared.

It took a moment for Neji and Asuma to finish their match. Neji had grown by leaps and bounds through his training but Asuma was one of the most experienced and seasoned shinobi in the village and they came out surprisingly equally matched. Hiashi joined them in the training area once the dust had settled.

“Uncle,” Neji bowed respectfully and Asuma nodded.

“Your dedication is admirable,” Hiashi commented.

“Not much else to do,” Asuma shrugged, running a hand through his hair.

“Is there news from the Hokage’s Tower?” Neji asked, showing an impatience that was out of character.

Hiashi allowed a small smile to cross his face, “Yes, you’ve both been cleared to return to duty immediately.”

Asuma’s entire posture changed. “Well then, thanks for the room but if you guys don’t mind I’ve got somewhere way more important to be.”

Neither Hiashi or Neji tried to stop him, simply nodded their goodbyes as the jounin disappeared in a flash of smoke and leaves.

“How are you feeling?” Hashi asked, once they were alone.

Neji shrugged, “Fine. I remember parts of the fight but that’s all.”

“Umino landed a few good blows,” Hiashi agreed. The office worker had landed a lot of very good blows and it had surprised Hiashi to see that level of skill from the schoolteacher. He’d never considered the clan-less teacher a truly gifted shinobi, what with his work split between the Academy and the mission’s desk and so few actual missions.

To be fair, Hiashi and the academy teacher had never gotten along. They’d fought viciously over the years about Hiashi’s children and the Hyuuga clan leader had twice attempted to have him removed from the academy. Both times Sandaime had refused, arguing that Iruka was there for a reason and he would not remove him for something as petty as a disagreement with the parent of a student. Was this newly demonstrated skill why Sandaime had refused to remove the young instructor?

“Uncle?” Neji frowned. Hiashi had fallen silent, a frown marring his normally stoic face. “Where’s Hinata?”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Residential Neighborhood, Konohagakure: :

Hitsugya Toshiro was only six, but he was already smarter then pretty much everyone else. The couple he’d been placed with apparently refused to believe the extensive warning they’d received when he’d been left with them. He’d eavesdropped on the conversation after they’d sent him to the tiny back room and locked the door. It had taken all of a few seconds for him to pick the lock and slip into the hallway where he could hear the conversation clearly. The medical shinobi that had dropped him off had left quickly, but in his place two jounin Toshiro didn’t recognize had arrived and begun briefing the shinobi couple.

Toshiro was only in his first year at the academy in a class with students coming up on their final year, due mainly to his father’s insistence that he was a genius. Toshiro himself hadn’t been too keen on being years younger then everyone else, but his entrance test had placed him in Iruka’s class. Iruka had pulled him aside his first day at the academy and asked the six year old why he was there. He hadn’t been happy when Toshiro had simply responded that his father had enrolled him because he didn’t have time to take care of him. Toshiro had sat outside Iruka’s classroom when his grandmother had come down to the academy to discuss the situation with Iruka because his father was too drunk to do it.

In the end, Toshiro’s ailing grandmother had managed to convince Iruka to allow Toshiro to not only stay at the academy, but to remain in Iruka’s class. Since Iruka was pretty much the only adult, besides his grandmother, that Toshiro respected and had no problem allowing Toshiro to stay late after class it worked out. He’d earned Toshiro’s undying devotion for helping him take care of his grandmother when her illness became too much for the six year old to handle and discretely paying the many medical bills she’d accumulated when his father was gone on mission or too sober for Toshiro to get at his wallet. Iruka was the only person Toshiro had trusted with the issues about his father and in return Iruka pretended not to notice that Toshiro had figured out the truth about Iruka’s parentage and several other things Iruka had been keeping secret. Like the fact that Iruka was worried about Root ANBU’s growth in the past few months and that he had access to the sealed Uchiha compound.

Toshiro’s intelligence was how he knew the two shinobi he’d been placed with were members of Root. Iruka taught his students that one way to tell how honest a person was, was by how real their emotions felt the moment you first time met them. The couple had greeted him at the door with smiles and a warmth that was so cold it made Toshiro, who usually preferred the cold, shiver. The wards inside the house were advanced and Toshiro recognized several from the various scrolls Iruka kept hidden around his apartment. The hallway had several other rooms, all with locked doors and Toshiro hadn’t seen wards that strong outside the Hokage’s office.

He inched towards the living room.

“Keep him here, don’t let him out of your sight.”

“He’s just a child. What possible use is he?”

“He’s important. He’s close to Umino.”

“Umino has had a lot of students over the years, they’re all important to him because he has no control over his emotions.”

“This is different, Umino and the boy’s father had it out in front of the Hokage. She intervened. It’s clear the boy is more important then the others.”

“Do you think Umino has the same relationship with the boy as he does with the jinchuriki?”

“That’s what the Council suspects. You need to question the boy while he’s here, but be careful. Umino thinks he’s a genius.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, Umino has a good record spotting genius. He taught the Hyuuga genius, the Uchiha, Nara, and he has a couple in his current class, besides the boy, who might qualify. If Umino thinks the kid is that smart then he probably is. Be careful. We can’t afford any mistakes right now.”

“What are they going to do with him?”

“Nothing for now, they just want something to keep Umino in check. They might place him in Root eventually.”

“Should we start preparing him for Root?”

“Go ahead, but don’t do anything that might reveal who you are. We can’t afford any distractions right now. The plan has to go off without any interruptions.”

Toshiro slipped back into the small room and relocked the door. He’d stay tonight he decided, they had to let him go to class the next morning in order to keep up appearances. He could warn Iruka at the Academy.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Archives, Hokage’s Tower, Konohagakure: :

Iruka hefted the last box of scrolls with a grunt and carried it to the shelf. The archives of the Hokage’s Tower were a maze of shelves dating all the way back to the founding of the village. Trying to keep everything organized and up to date was nearly impossible. Iruka had put in plenty of overtime attempting to sort them out and had never succeeded in getting more then a few rows in. They’d tried making it a C or D rank mission for genin teams but one attempt by an unsupervised genin and a forbidden scroll had scrapped that plan, along with half the building.

Iruka had never minded the filing though. It was mindless work and he spent the majority of the time thinking about other things. The other ninja who worked in the Hokage’s Tower never bothered him; too worried they’d get dragged into the filing. He was pretty sure that the shinobi who didn’t work in the building didn’t even realize there was an archive. Even Iruka himself had never made it back to the oldest scrolls. He’d tried once when he was young and bored and it had taken Fugaku and Sandaime three hours to find him. Iruka had thought it was funny, Fugaku had not and Sandaime had just banned Iruka from entering the archive unsupervised. He hadn’t lifted the ban until three years into Iruka’s position at the mission desk, which had always amused Kotetsu and Izumo.

A sudden overwhelming force of chakra washed over Iruka like a cold bucket of water. He’d long since gotten used to their sudden appearance and he took pleasure in the fact that he’d learned quickly how to conceal any reaction to it.

Iruka didn’t pause in his work as he spoke. “Something I can help you find?”

“Where is the boy Iruka?” Koharu’s voice was cold as ice.

Now that he thought about it, Iruka didn’t think she’d ever spoken to him in any other tone. He played dumb; it was always guaranteed to infuriate her. “Which boy?”

“You know which boy. Don’t play dumb, we don’t have time for this.” Homaru had no patience; he shared that trait with Danzo. Koharu was the only one of the three who was any good at playing the long game and even she’d been no match for the Uchiha. Fugaku had laid plans that would still be effective a hundred years from now and he’d put gears in place to insure that those responsible for the annihilation of the Uchiha Clan paid for their crimes. Even Iruka wasn’t aware of all his plans and between himself and Itachi they’d ensured that even in the events of their deaths Naruto and Sasuke would be protected regardless of what the Council was expecting.

“Last I heard they were battling it out in the Valley of the End,” Iruka slid the last scroll in place and turned. They were blocking him in; they had a habit of doing that whenever they spoke to him. It was funny to watch them try to corner him when Kotetsu and Izumo were there, they always inched around and forced the two Konoha Council members to shift as a joke. One day they’d literally gone in circles for ten minutes before Koharu had realized what was happening. Iruka figured that by this point Koharu and Homura might actually hate Kotetsu and Izumo more then they hated him just for the constant mocking.

“That was months ago,” Koharu pointed out, which meant she and Homura had already sent their spies out to check and they’d come back empty handed. Ibiki’s investigation must have returned empty handed as well.

“If you can’t find them what makes you think I can?”

The looks they gave him spoke volumes. “We are not fools Iruka.”

Iruka had long since gotten past being polite when the Council cornered him in private. “I beg to differ, but I guess it’s a matter of personal opinion.”

Koharu’s chakra slammed into him like a wave, she liked to use it to intimidate anyone she felt was being disrespectful. “You know where Uzumaki Naruto and Uchiha Sasuke are, don’t you Iruka?

“No, I don’t. Don’t you think I’d be there with them if I did?” Iruka snarled.

They studied him in silence for a moment, weighing what they thought they knew of him and the situation. Someday Iruka was going to take great pleasure in informing them of every single mistake they’d ever made, starting with his birth and ending with whatever it was that finally led to their deaths.

“Loyalty to the dead will get you nowhere. You should reconsider where you stand, you might find yourself more welcome,” Homura warned.

“More welcome where? In your little Root Army? No thanks. I’ll stick with what I’ve got.” Iruka responded coldly.

“We stopped you from becoming a jounin Iruka. We can take away your chuunin rank as well, or your position at the Academy. Don’t forget that.” Koharu hissed.

“How could I when you remind me every chance you get.”

“Perhaps if you’d listen for once we wouldn’t have to,” Homura pointed out.

Iruka bristled, opened his mouth to speak but Koharu cut him off.

“Watch your step Iruka, you could always end up joining your clan much earlier then you were planning.” Koharu warned; a cruel smile twisted at her lips. She never forgot to remind Iruka that she’d had a hand in killing his entire family.

“You mean the clan you wiped out? That one?” Iruka snarled. He never failed to loose his temper when she brought it up.

“Think carefully Iruka, that the only thing that kept Uzumaki Naruto alive was your presence. If you are gone there are those who fear the boy might become uncontrollable and thus a danger to the village. And you know what happens to those that are considered a danger to the village.” Koharu, Homura and Danzo had considered the Uchiha a threat to the village and the lengths they’d gone to see them destroyed had far surpassed even the evil Orochimaru had been capable of.

“Not to mention what is to be done about Uchiha Sasuke. He is technically a missing nin and it would be easy to make him one again. It would be foolish for the village to trust him again after everything he has done.” Homaru added, his voice heavy with the implication of what they would do to him if they got the chance.

Red started to bleed into the corner of Iruka’s vision, his fists clenched so tightly his knuckles turned white and he had to fight to control his chakra. But there were more important things at stake than Iruka’s pain and the desire for vengeance that ate away at him as soon as night fell. “What is it exactly, that you’re suggesting I do?”

Koharu’s smile was smug, “While the two of you may not like each other, for some reason the Hokage trusts your opinion. So much so that she asked you to investigate the Hanta, which is quite ironic. We want you to insure that she never finds them.”

“And what about Naruto and Sasuke?” Iruka demanded.

“They will be left alone for now, though the matter will have to be revisited when they return,” Homaru made it sound like they were doing him a favor.

“Fine,” Iruka’s voice was full of venom. Koharu and Homura didn’t seem to notice, too smug in their victory as they teleported out of the archive room. As soon as they were gone Iruka put his fist through the wall.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Hokage’s Tower, Konohagakure: :

In the hallway outside the Archives Room, Kurenai and Gai stared at the door in horror.

“Oh my god,” Kurenai breathed.

“We must report this at once! To blackmail someone as honorable as Iruka-sensei with the lives of his students!” Gai hissed. He started for the door but Kurenai grabbed him.

“Gai, wait! Wait.” Kurenai took a deep breath to calm herself. A fired up Gai was hard to handle, especially when it concerned an injustice. He didn’t have it in him not to try to fix it. He was practically on fire and it was the first time she’d seen him anywhere near the man he was before the war since the final battle.

She tugged Gai away from the door. “It sounds like its been going on for a while so why hasn’t Iruka said anything?” She questioned. Iruka wore his heart on his sleeve, had since the day she met him. He’d never been afraid to speak out about something he disagreed with no matter what someone’s rank was. “We need to wait and talk to Iruka first. He’s hasn’t reported it for a reason.”

Gai paused and frowned, clearly struggling. He couldn’t argue with Kurenai’s logic and his own knowledge of Iruka supported her opinion. Still, to not say anything when the teacher was clearly being threatened. What if Naruto and Sasuke returned? What about the hundreds of other students Iruka had had over the years? Gai was firm, “We cannot wait long.”

“We can find him this evening.” Kurenai promised. “Come on.” Kurenai tugged him away from the door and Gai followed reluctantly. They hurried out of the building without bothering to leave the scrolls they’d come to return.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Far Outside the Village of Konohagakure: :

Naruto collapsed onto the hard ground with an ‘oomph’ and sent up a cloud of dust that briefly encompassed him. Sasuke coughed theatrically next to him and a brief, halfhearted shoving match ensued before Sakura put an end to it by collapsing on top of both of them.

“Holy crap,” Kiba gasped for air. Shino and Hinata were propped up against him, both breathing hard.

“That was incredible,” TenTen breathed, leaning against a rock and soaked in sweat. Lee was still running around the valley with a maniacal smile on his face, stopping briefly to check on his teammate and the others.

“I’m so hungry,” Choji whimpered, sprawled out flat on the ground. Shikimaru and Ino were both using him as a pillow.

“We should have brought food,” Sakura agreed as Naruto’ stomach growled.

“Ugh, I don’t know if I have the energy to make it back.” Ino groaned.

“Tell me about it,” TenTen agreed, watching as Lee finally made his way back to them. “Maybe Lee can just carry us all back.”

Lee collapsed next to her on the ground with a cheer, “Two hundred laps completed! I cannot feel my legs anymore!”

“Or not,” Kiba muttered.

“I think I have enough energy to get about halfway back,” Hinata said softly. Shino nodded in agreement.

“Great, one of you can carry me,” Sakura groaned.

“We should start heading back anyway, it’s getting dark.” Sasuke commented.

It took a while for everyone to drag themselves to their feet. Lee made it two steps before collapsing face first back onto the ground and TenTen and Shikimaru had to haul him back up.

Naruto predictably caught his second wind first and fired a wicked smirk at Sasuke. “Bet I beat you back teme.”

Sasuke’s eyes narrowed as Sakura groaned. “Not a chance in hell dobe.”

“Great,” Ino muttered as the air started to crackle with chakra.

Kiba smirked and jumped in, “Bet I can beat both of you.”

Naruto let out a whop and took off, Sasuke and Kiba hot on his heels.

“Well I’m not going to be last,” Ino declared, with a significant look at Sakura, who glared back at her. Shikimaru rolled his eyes with a sigh.

They took off, bounding and pushing the limits of their chakra reserves. Kiba almost ran into a couple of trees and Naruto ended up in a lake twice, but they made it over halfway back to the Village of Hidden in the Leaves before they had to stop and simply walk the rest of the way.

“Man, that was awesome!” Kiba cheered, slinging his arms over the shoulders of Hinata and Shino.

“Right! I wonder if that’s how your dad was so fast?” Sakura pondered, linking her arms through Sasuke and Naruto’s.

Naruto paused, the thought had never occurred to him. “Huh, that’d be crazy.”

“Has Iruka-sensei said anything about your father?” Tenten asked.

Naruto shrugged, “No, I haven’t really asked.”

“Your dad was one of the most influential shinobi in the history of the village, but no one ever talks about anything except the way he died. It’s kind of weird,” Ino commented.

“Yeah, Kakashi-sensei talked about him once or twice, but he always looked like it hurt him a lot to talk about it. I tried not to ask,” Naruto admitted. It had been the same with Jiraya. “Besides, he died protecting the village and me, that’s all I need to know. I had a family even though he was gone. Iruka-sensei was always there, even when I was too young to realize it. Itachi too, later.”

“Itachi?” Sasuke asked, surprised.

Naruto glanced at his teammate. “Yeah. We got to talk a couple of times, before he died. He taught me a lot of important stuff.”

“About what?” Sasuke demanded.

“Being Hokage, what it takes and what’s really important. I didn’t realize it before, but Iruka-sensei was telling me a lot of the same stuff. Do you remember when he had to teach us that class on the shinobi rules?”

“The one where he got to rule three and got so angry he threw the textbook out the window?” Sakura asked. It had been her textbook he’d tossed and she’d never gotten it back.

“He made us memorize them anyway.” Kiba sulked.

“He also said some of them were wrong,” Hinata added quietly.

“A lot of them were wrong,” Choji muttered.

“Yeah, but I didn’t get it. Not then anyway, I do know though,” Naruto shrugged self-consciously. “To protect and lead the village it has to respect you and to earn that respect you have to prove you’re the strongest beyond everything else. If the village doesn’t acknowledge you completely you can’t be Hokage.”

“It makes sense,” Shikimaru admitted. “Itachi was a missing-nin but he was still influential in the village after he left. Just a whisper of him being in an area and the village would change its entire security posture. They wasted hundreds of man-hours trying to track him down and sent the strongest shinobi in the village after him all at one time. He influenced policy and law without having to set foot in the village. Not to mention how things will change when what really happened to the Uchiha Clan comes out.”

“If it comes out,” Sasuke murmured. The others looked at him in surprise, except for Naruto, who just looked sad.

“Why wouldn’t it come out?” Ino demanded.

“Itachi didn’t want it to come out. He said it would do more damage to the village if we revealed it now. Iruka-sensei said the same thing.” Naruto answered, he didn’t sound happy about it.

“No one would believe it anyway,” Sasuke commented despondently.

“Then we’ll prove its true!” Kiba declared.

“If Iruka-sensei wants to wait, he probably has a good reason.” Hinata cautioned.

“There’s only a few Hanta left. If their enemies managed to turn the entire village against them, it wouldn’t matter how strong they were.” Shino added quietly and Choji nodded in agreement.

“My dad says you always have to remember that the people you’re fighting beside have their own families. Their own people who matter. Just because you don’t see them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.” Choji’s voice was low. His father never spoke about the subject in anything above a whisper, a show of respect to a universal truth that had more influence on the outcome of a battle then anything else. “Who knows who else Iruka-sensei is protecting?”

“You’re family’s not always defined by blood,” Naruto exuberance returned with the words Iruka had spoken to him when he was young, and alone and so angry.

“Hell yeah!” Kiba cheered. “We’re family!”

“Definitely!” Ino agreed as they approached the gates.

The conversation changed quickly, easily among friends who considered themselves family. “I’m hungry, want to pick up food before we head back to Iruka-sensei’s?” Choji suggested.

“You’re always hungry,” Shikimaru muttered, but no one argued.

“I kind of want dango,” Sakura rubbed her stomach as it growled.

“And ramen,” Nartuo added, his stomach far louder then anyone else’s.

Sasuke groaned. “No more ramen, dobe, you’re brain’s turning into a noodle.”

“No it’s not!” Naruto’s response was loud and indignant, like all those arguments they’d had in the academy. A hard reminder that while they’d grown, they were still young. Just barely beyond children and still struggling to figure out what it meant to be an adult in the world of shinobi. So far it was off to an interesting start.

Shikimaru sighed and stuffed his hands into his pockets as far as they could go. He had the nagging feeling he was forgetting something. An itch in the center of his back that he couldn’t reach no matter how he bent or flexed.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Village Gates, Konohagakure: :

Temari did her best not to yawn as their delegation from Sand and the welcoming party from Konohagakure went through the standard greetings. Gaara looked as interested as he ever did, face blank and eyes cold. His diplomats were mostly used to it now, conducting their work around Gaara’s disinterest in the everyday social graces that diplomacy survived on. Fortunately Gaara’s strength still spoke for itself.

Kankuro’s shoulders vibrated slightly. He was yawning under his mask. Kankuro was better at the diplomacy aspect then either of his siblings and he frequently handled matters in Gaara’s place. Konohagakure held a special meaning for the three sand siblings though, so they always came together when there was a need to visit. Temari had been hoping Shikimaru would have been part of the welcoming party, but so far she hadn’t caught sight of him. They hadn’t seen each other much since the end of the war and those few crazy weeks after the final battle when everyone had been trying to get home and figure out what to do next. She was a little unsure where they stood now. Despite the strong relations between Sand and Leaf she knew their budding relationship wouldn’t last without one of them moving.

Sand was stable, her brother had seen to that. What would happen if she left didn’t worry Temari. Her brothers would be fine. So would Sand. They had a promising new crop of genin and Temari was actually looking forward to the next Chuunin Exam. It was her official reason for serving as a member of the diplomatic party and it looked like it was going to be the most peaceful one she’d ever seen. She wasn’t going to leave however, unless Shikimaru asked her too. She wasn’t going to be one of those women who followed guys around like puppies. She had too much self-respect.

She studied the welcoming party again. Shikimaru still wasn’t there, neither were any of his friends. She would never admit it but she’d been looking forward to seeing them all again. Sai was in the welcoming party though, along with Yamato. Temari recognized them both though she’d never really worked with them. She knew Sai, from his pale skin and blank face, as Sasuke’s replacement on Team 7 during his time as a missing nin. Yamato had been Team 7’s jounin-sensei during Kakashi’s absence. Gaara had informed her that Naruto had liked them both, despite the situations surrounding their presence.

The thought made her wonder where Naruto and Sasuke were. Gaara received regular updates on the status of the search and he’d been disappointed when the most recent investigation had come up with nothing. The main reason Gaara had agreed to come on this trip was the chance to talk to Ibiki and Hatake about the investigation. He’d been sending Sand shinobi out to follow their own leads on the possible whereabouts of the last Uchiha and Uzumaki but they hadn’t had any more luck then Konoha’s nin. It was confusing, even with Naruto and Sasuke’s skills they shouldn’t have been able to hide for this long. Every shinobi nation was looking for them.

Though she would never say it out loud, deep inside Temari wondered if they were still alive. Gaara was insistent though, that Naruto and Sasuke were fine and given what Temari had seen them do, she couldn’t really argue with him. If there was one person who could pull off the impossible it was Naruto.

She yawned and glanced around. The diplomats were taking forever, blocking a large portion of the road through the gates and into the Village Hidden in the Leaves. A few civilians had inched by, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible around a large group of foreign shinobi. There was a surprisingly large group walking towards the gates now. Temari squinted. The sun was behind them, making it hard for her to make out their faces. Something made her turn though, a sudden pit in her stomach as she recognized that certain gait Shikimaru had when he was walking, exhausted and thinking too hard. He was with the rest of the Rookie 11 and Temari couldn’t stop the soft gasp when she recognized the two boys walking close on either side of Sakura.

Her gasp made Shikimaru’s head snap up and his face pale.

Kankura, Gaara and the rest of the diplomatic parties turned to her.

“Temari, what’s wrong?” Gaara’s voice was cold.

She pointed. Too stunned to do anything else.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Village Gates, Konohagakure: :

Shikimaru’s head snapped up at the sound of a very familiar gasp.

Temari was standing at the gates with the diplomatic party from Sand. Both her brothers were present, along with Yamamoto, Sai and several high-ranking Konoha shinobi there to greet them.

And here they were, just walking up to the gates like there was nothing wrong.

That itch turned into a white hot flash of terror. No one in the village knew Naruto and Sasuke were back. They’d spent the last few weeks hiding in Iruka’s carefully shielded apartment for their own safety, but now they’d walked up to the village gates in broad daylight. Shikimaru was reminded of the lesson his mother had always drilled into him when he was in the academy. It’s the small things that get you, she said; the best plans in the world fall apart because of little details that get over looked. In the excitement of learning a new jutsu and the rush of adrenaline from the run, Shikimaru had completely forgotten the need to sneak back into the village.

“Shit.” Shikimaru couldn’t help it when Temari raised her hand and pointed right at them.

“What?” Ino was instantly ready for a fight.

“This is my fault,” Shikimaru muttered, “Damn it, I wasn’t thinking.” It had been a long time since Shikimaru had wasted energy panicking about anything, but he could see Sai and Yamato in the Konoha welcoming party. If they were there Kakashi and the other jounin would know what had happened in minutes. So would the Hokage.

One by one the other members of the Rookie 11 realized what had happened.

“Naruto! Sasuke!” Sai’s excitement was clear and it made Naruto feel slightly guilty for shutting the other boy out. Sai had never done anything wrong and Naruto considered him a good friend, but he hadn’t been with Sakura when she and the others had banged on the Iruka’s door and demanded to see Naruto and Sasuke. The connection with Sai didn’t run as strongly yet, but Naruto wanted it to. He still considered the pale former Root ANBU a member of Team 7. He’d have to work on it now that there was no point in hiding in Iruka’s apartment.

“What do we do?” Kiba hissed.

“Go with it,” Shikimaru’s mind spun, “Pretend we snuck out of the village to search and found them.”

“Yamato-sensei! Sai! Look we found them!” Sakura’s voice boomed with false enthusiasm.

Lee jumped in, “My friend Gaara from Sand! How wonderful to see you on this glorious day!”

It was hard to tell who looked more startled. The Konoha delegation at the sight of Naruto and Sasuke or the Sand delegation at the sight of Lee in all his green glory barreling toward their Kazekage, then hugging him tightly.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Hokage’s Office, Hokage Tower, Konohagakure: :

Iruka slipped through the chaos of the mission room and into the quiet of the Hokage’s Office. Tsunade was in a meeting with the village elders, Shizune was at the hospital. ANBU left cursory guards on the office when the Hokage was out to protect any important paperwork but they’d been letting Iruka in without question for years. They barely even glanced at him now and he kicked the door shut behind him. Tsunade’s office just boarded on organized due to Shizune’s tireless efforts and Iruka sighed as he set the stack of papers down on her desk. Tsunade’s sake habit was obvious, usually Shizune was better at hiding it.

Iruka slipped his copy of the cabinet key out of his pocket and grabbed the closest stack of papers. For some reason every Hokage he’d ever know was against filing paperwork. Tsunade just left it in stacks until someone else, usually Shizune or Iruka, finally broke down and did it for her. Sandaime had believed in taking people at their word and personal communication. The Third had ignored the piles of papers until they’d fallen on him or some poor shinobi unlucky enough to be in his office at the wrong moment. Both of them ignored Iruka’s insistence on getting the paperwork done and out of the way.

Or, Iruka sighed, ANBU decided they’d had enough of the paperwork getting in the way and just stuffed random handfuls into random drawers for one of the office workers to find later. He started pulling the crumpled scrolls out of the drawer and doing his best to flatten and role them neatly. Most were too damaged to salvage and Iruka realized exactly how long it had been since he’d done the filing. It had been the first job he’d had in the mission room, when Sandaime had asked him to fill the position he’d been looking for a way to pull Iruka out of the darkness he’d sunk into following the annihilation of the Uchiha Clan and the last of Iruka’s family. It was a classic Sandaime move, Iruka mused and one Iruka himself had not realized until many years later. He’d kept Iruka close not just to protect him but to protect the village from a very angry young man. He’d pulled the same thing with Naruto and demonstrated why he was the only Hokage that had ever earned Fugaku’s full esteem.

Despite everything, Iruka still held the old man in high regard and missed him terribly. Kikyo had always warned them that eventually the quality of those elected to the position of Hokage would decline. Iruka had worried that it would come with Sandaime’s successor, but he had to admit that Tsunade was holding her own. Iruka still didn’t like her. Though if he was honest, it was more an issue of trust, then like. He still had a hard time looking past her bloodline and abandonment of the village after the death of her lover Dan. She was loud and opinionated and stubborn and in an odd way she reminded him of a lot of Kikyo and Tsume and a little bit of Mikoto. Umino Kohari, the woman Iruka would always consider his birth mother, had a stillness that none of the others managed to carry and Iruka had learned from her to walk softly and strike swiftly.

The recent rash of resurrections, two more had been discovered last night and quickly handled by ANBU, worried Iruka. Neither Koharu or Homura were powerful enough to pull them off and Kabuto had refused to explain how he had done so to anyone except Iruka and Yajirobi. That meant there was someone involved that remained unseen by Iruka or anyone helping him. Someone was walking far more softly then anyone Iruka had ever encountered before. Which made every step Iruka or any of his friend’s took a huge risk. Iruka refused to put Naruto or the others in the line of fire. They might be chuunin now and on their way to adulthood, but they would always be the little children Iruka had shielded from the monsters hiding under their beds.

He frowned and burned another scroll that was too damaged to repair. He could hear faint footsteps outside the office and felt Tsunade’s chakra clearly. Her meeting with the village elders must have ended early. That had been happening a lot lately and it wasn’t a good sign of stability at the leadership level of the village. Now that things had quieted down the village elders and the council were pushing their own agendas again. Trying to consolidate power and grab everything they could. It made Iruka angry and a little bit sad that the people tasked with protecting the village were so self-absorbed and willing to sell out the health of the village for their own personal gain.

Tsunade swept into her office with her usual presence and headed straight for the bottle of sake she kept hidden in her desk. Shizune entered more quietly, closing the door behind her and shooting Iruka a tired smile. “Iruka-sensei, sorry to disturb you.”

Iruka shrugged and smiled. “You’re fine, I’m just trying to catch up on the filing before the weekend. Besides, it’s your office.”

Shizune smiled bashfully. It might have been the Hokage’s office but Iruka ended up taking care of most of the paperwork inside it.

Tsunade downed half the bottle of sake and belched loudly.

“I take it the meeting went well?” Iruka joked.

Shizune laughed, Tsunade snorted in derision.

“Those fools want me to release control of ANBU to the Konoha Council.” Tsunade snarled and took another drink.

Iruka’s blood went cold. Was that why Kaoru and Homaru had cornered him, testing the waters before they tried to grab ANBU and effective control over the majority of Konoha’s fighting forces from the Hokage? Granted Iruka wasn’t in the best of positions to do anything about it but the council was clearly covering their bases. If the council got their hands on ANBU they’d turn the entire organization into their personal army, Iruka and most of his friends would likely be dead in a week, along with Naruto, Sasuke and many of Iruka’s other students.

Tsunade held the bottle out to Iruka. “I told them no way in hell but they’re pushing the issue. They think it would be more beneficial if I was free to worry about the overall safety of the village instead of having to micro manage missions and ANBU.”

Iruka took the bottle. “No offense, Lord Hokage, but I handle most of the mission paperwork and organization.”

Tsunade pounded her fist on the desk. “That’s what I told them. We have mission’s desk workers for a reason and the damn process works fine. No point in wasting time fixing something that isn’t broken.”

I’ll bet they just loved that, Iruka thought and took a long pull from the bottle. If anything that would make them fighter harder to take away ANBU.

Tsunade sighed. “Have you found out anything about Hanta?”

Iruka shook his head and slipped Shizune the bottle when Tsuande wasn’t looking. The other woman disappeared silently, taking the alcohol with her and leaving Iruka and the Hokage alone. “There are stories, but no one knows anything concrete.” Iruka lied.

Tsunade looked openly disappointed and leaned heavily on her desk. “Damn, I was hoping one of you would find something.”

Iruka frowned, “One of us?”

“I asked the brat to look into it too,” Tsaunde explained.

The brat being Kakashi, Iruka mused and a cold pit formed in his stomach. Was that why Kakashi had tested his abilities the other day? Because he suspected something? The fear was there for a moment and quickly gone with the realization that Kakashi would never have slept with Iruka if he suspected him of being a member of the Hanta.

“Taka too,” Tsunade added.

That didn’t worry Iruka. Taka was loyal and he’d been Hanta long before he’d become the head of ANBU. Taka would lie, stall, hide, kill or destroy whatever necessary to keep any secret Iruka asked him to and he understood the importance of keeping the identities of the last Hanta members secret.

“Maybe there’s nothing left to find.” Iruka suggested, keeping his voice light.

If anything that made Tsunade look even more upset. “Maybe. I’m not ready to give it up just yet though. I have faith you, Kakashi, or Taka will come up with something. You’re excellent shinobi.”

Iruka was taken aback at her open admission. He’d never had a conversation with her like this. “Lord Hokage-”

“Tsunade,” she interrupted him. “You can call me Tsunade in private Iruka, it’s fine. I’m sure you didn’t call Hiruzen Lord Hokage while you were playing shogi.”

Iruka flushed and rubbed at his scar. “Well no,” he admitted, “But we had a much different relationship then you and I do Lord- Tsunade.”

She nodded as if she understood, “He was like a father to you.”

Iruka paused and decided to take a risk. “In a way.”

Tsunade arched an eyebrow at the statement. “Go on.”

“I had a father Tsunade, a good one. And I had several teachers who were like fathers to me. By the time I came under the care of Sandaime I didn’t want another one. I owe him more then I care to admit because of the way I treated his efforts to care for me, but it wasn’t just me. He cared the same amount for everyone in the village.” He was and always would be the ideal of the idea of the Hokage, even Iruka would admit that.

Tsunade smiled softly, “He was a father to the whole village.”

“Yes, he was,” Iruka agreed.

“What was your father like, Iruka?” It was a surprisingly personal question and Tsuande gaze was calculatingly curious.

“My father?” Iruka repeated, a little surprised and very wary.

“Father’s shape their sons,” the Hokage mused, “Look at Naruto and Sasuke. What was yours like?”

For a moment Iruka had nothing to say. It had been years, almost a decade he realized sadly, since anyone had asked about his father except to criticize his parenting. “It depends on which one you’re asking about. The man who raised me, Umino Ikkaku, was a shinobi. A jounin who specialized in taijutsu and had the patience of a saint. He left ANBU when they got me because he didn’t want to miss a moment of my childhood. Most of the shinobi he worked with looked down on his decision and the idea that he was willing to put something above his duty to the village.”

Tsunade started digging around in her desk for another bottle of sake. “Who was your birth father?”

Iruka blinked. “What?” The Hokage let out a cry of triumph when she found another bottle and set it on the desk between them.

“You said he left ANBU after they ‘got’ you,” Tsuande repeated; resting her on her laced fingers. “Where’d they get you from?”

It was the little things that always got you Iruka mused. A small slip of the tongue that most wouldn’t have noticed made for a small demonstration of why Tsunade was the Fifth Hokage. He debated how to answer. Honestly? That he’d been brought to their doorstep by bloody, betrayed Fugaku on a night that had resulted in the death of Hashirama’s only other descendent besides Tsunade.

This was a pinnacle moment Iruka realized. Either he and Tsuande maintained their adversarial relationship until one of them, most likely Iruka, finally lost or they finally moved towards trusting one another. She was one of the best choices in the village to protect Naruto and the others. Between her position as Hokage and her connections outside the village she could keep them safe almost as well as Iruka and her attachment to Naruto and Sakura ensured she wouldn’t be swayed to let anyone seriously hurt Sasuke.

She was a Senju though and it was hard to forget all the stories he’d heard as a child. It was a moment of dark humor that he was sitting across from her now. A generation ago it wouldn’t have been possible, but a lot of things had changed since then.

“The woman who gave birth to me died when I was a few days old. The man who killed her entrusted me to the Uminos.”

Tsunade looked surprised. “Damn. I’ll admit that is not what I was expecting to hear from you of all people sensei.”

Iruka shrugged self-consciously. Half the time he didn’t believe his own story, he couldn’t blame others for being surprised. “Sandaime kept it quiet, for my sake.” And his own Iruka thought but didn’t say.

“You seem surprisingly well adjusted despite that,” Tsunade commented, taking a drink from the new bottle and pushing it towards Iruka.

Iruka raised an eyebrow, “If you say so.” He wasn’t at all but if Konoha’s greatest medical nin wasn’t going to say anything then neither was Iruka.

Suddenly, Tsunade sighed. “I spent a long time trying to live up to my grandfather and his brother. It didn’t occur to me until I was an adult that I didn’t have to.”

Iruka nodded, he’d had a similar lesson. Most children did.

“I need the Hanta Iruka,” she continued, “An organization like that is exactly what the village needs right now. Hope, honor, a return to the glory days.”

Iruka couldn’t argue with that. “Why don’t you create a new group to take up the role of the Hanta?”

“It wouldn’t be the same. I’m ashamed to say the situation is too far gone for a simple band aid.” She looked honestly upset and a little bit guilty. “The Konoha Council want ANBU, the village elders want the ability to create and control missions. They both want me gone and god knows what they want to do to Kakashi, Naruto and Sasuke.”

Iruka knew but he stayed silent. It was clear Tsunade understood the seriousness of the situation.

“I don’t know why we don’t get along Iruka. Though I admire the guts you had to break my arm while I was breaking yours.”

Iruka blushed; surprised she’d brought it up. “Well I –“

“Don’t apologize,” she interrupted, “There aren’t many people in the village who speak as freely as you do. It can be a welcome change, when it isn’t annoying.”

Iruka shot her an annoyed look and she smirked.

“It works both ways sensei.” She still wasn’t completely sure why Sandaime had trusted the chuunin so much. She thought she caught glimpses every once and awhile but whatever had forged the Third’s iron trust in the academy teacher had yet to show itself fully to Tsunade. What she had seen though, was enough to make her curious.

ooo000booo

Chapter Text

ooo000ooo

Chapter 8
Yowai Hikari
Weak light

Sometimes the hardest storms to get through are the ones your soul needs most. And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. But survive you did. And one thing is certain, when you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storms all about. – Haruki Murakami

ooo00ooo

: :Hokage’s Office, Hokage Tower, Konohagakure: :

Yamato kept a firm hand on Naruto and Sasuke as he marched them through the Hokage’s Tower. Sai was hot on their heels, the three Sand siblings not far behind. The Rookie 11 followed a bit further back, content to allow Naruto and Sasuke to remain the center of attention. There was no reason to jump in now. No one had tried to harm Naruto and Sasuke yet, which had been their biggest concern. So far everyone just looked stunned.

Sai was excited, awkwardly asking questions that Naruto avoided answering and Sasuke just ignored. Sakura was doing her best to make up answers on the fly that all made sense and were easy to remember later. She wasn’t doing very well.

Shikamaru’s mind was racing, planning and trying to account for every possible question that could come their way. Yamato had been silent thus far, only stating that they were going straight to the Hokage and refusing to bend when Naruto asked if they could stop for ramen first.

Kiba and Shino were trying to subtly send out chakra bursts to get Tsume and Shibi’s attention. Shino was having more luck; every time Kiba tried the ANBU guards started looking around.

Hinata was surreptitiously trying to keep an eye out for her father or Neji, so were Lee and TenTen. They still hadn’t decided what to do about their newly returned teammate and they’d been evaluating their team and how they wanted to move forward in general. They both new something was wrong with Gai and they’d shared their worries with Iruka, who’d agreed to pick up the slack in their training until Konoha’s Green Beast recovered.

ANBU had clearly been warned they were coming. The number of guards surrounding Tsunade’s office had doubled; the wave escorting them slowly growing as word spread and more trickled in.

Tsunade was in the middle of arguing with Iruka and the Council over Toshiro when her office door slammed open and ANBU stormed in. Before she could even demand to know what was going on, Yamato hauled two figures forward and Tsunade’s heart lodged in her throat.

Naruto and Sasuke, both looking surprisingly clean and healthy considering they’d been god knows where in the months following the fight with Kaguya. The rest of the Rookie 11 piled in behind them, along with the official part from Sand. Tsunade’s office was suddenly very full and terrifying quiet.

Tsunade opened her mouth.

Shikamaru subtly kicked Naruto. Ino wasn’t nearly as sneaky but her blow propelled Sasuke, and with him Naruto, across the room.

“Iruka-sensei!” Naruto and Sasuke tackled the surprised academy teacher. All three went down in a heap, nearly taking out Tsunade’s desk in the process.

Thankfully, Iruka wasn’t an idiot and realized immediately what was happening. ANBU tried and failed to pull Naruto and Sasuke away, eventually Tsunade motioned them to stop and allowed the reunion to take place.

Iruka managed to get his feet under him and stand, dragging Naruto and Sasuke up with him. Naruto immediately launched into a story, babbling through nerves and panic, well aware he wasn’t going to be able to lie his way out of the situation. “It was crazy Iruka-sensei! We fought for days after you guys left. It was so hard and I was so hungry, can we get ramen?”

The Rookie 11 piled in, putting on a show that made Iruka proud. Eleven voices drowned out the ANBU trying to get everything under control, Yamato trying to get everyone to focus and the Council furiously demanding answers.

“Naruto!” Tsunade’s voice cut through everything and silenced the office.

Naruto slowly faced the Sanin.

“Do I even need to ask?” Her voice was cool, steady, hiding the thundering heart in her chest. Naruto’s face took on that stubborn look. The one that drove Tsunade crazy and inspired her at the same time. A look she’d seen on Jiraya when he was that young, and Minato. And Nawaki. She knew instantly that whatever he was about to say was a lie.

“Where have you been?” Koharu demanded, stepping into the fray.

“Travelling,” Naruto mumbled, eyes shadowed.

“Travelling where boy? Speak up. You do realize your future depends on your justifications for abandoning the village.” Koharu’s mouth twisted.

“I didn’t abandon the village!” Naruto denied furiously. “I just needed time to figure things out.”

“Doing who knows what in places you won’t talk about,” Homaru remarked.

Kakashi appeared in a furious flash of smoke and floating leaves. Tsunade didn’t even have to look at him to feel the anger rolling off him in waves. “He can’t explain anything if you don’t give him the chance to answer the question.”

“Kakashi-sensei!” Naruto’s exuberance was quickly dampened by Kakashi’s cold exterior. Tsunade knew exactly how much he cared about his former students, but she also understood the ramifications of Kakashi blindly defending them. One grain of doubt would be enough to ruin them all. Kakashi’s best course of action was to be harder on them then everyone else, to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that they were loyal shinobi and always had been. Just knowing a shinobi who’d betrayed the village was enough to cast a palm over another entire life. Miturashi Anko was a prime example, so were her fellow genin teammates Yamake Yajirobi and the now dead Hayate. Orochimaru’s actions were forever associated with them.

Tsunade hoped Sasuke was smart enough to realize the affection behind his actions. It was hard to tell. Even know he watched the room silently, face blank, eyes shadowed, staying close to Iruka. She hadn’t realized the academy teacher was that close with the last Uchiha. She’d never picked up the ability to read the Uchiha they way she could Sakura and Naruto. He was, like Iruka, an enigma to her.

Speaking of which, the teacher was keeping a firm hand on both his former students. Stopping Naruto from flailing around like he usually did and Sasuke from likely running out the door. Tsunade had a deep suspicion that the only reason Sasuke was back was Naruto’s influence.

“What have you been doing? You’ve been gone for months,” Shizune asked, voicing everyone’s main question.

“We were training,” Naruto shrugged like the answer was that simple.

For him maybe it was. Naruto had never had much patience for politics. He didn’t have the heart for it. Part of Kakashi hoped he would never develop it, but it was a necessity for anyone who wanted to be Hokage. Eventually Naruto would have to grow up and understand that it was a necessary part of life in a shinobi village.

“Why didn’t you just come back?” Shizune sounded as confused as the rest of them.

Naruto floundered. “We weren’t ready.”

“That’s it?” Koharu demanded.

“What did you expect?” Iruka broke in. “They’re still young.”

“They’re shinobi,” Hamura argued.

“They’re children,” Iruka almost snarled, gearing up for an argument he’d had hundreds of times with hundreds of different people about hundreds of his students. “You sent them to war before they were old enough to even understand what it was.”

“We’ve sent nin younger then them into wars before,” Koharu pointed out, nodding at Kakashi as her prime example.

Kakashi looked perfectly uninterested.

Iruka dealt a low blow, “They are not Hatake. Their situations are different, they were born into peace. Hakate may have been suited for killing at a young age but that doesn’t mean everyone is and it sure as hell doesn’t mean it’s okay to take that path.”

“They need to be questioned.” Ibiki interrupted.

“They need to rest, you can question them tomorrow,” Iruka argued.

Ibiki actually looked ready to back down, to Tsunade’s surprise. The Council weren’t as willing to let things go.

“All shinobi are immediately questioned on their return from a mission,” Homura pointed out.

“Most of them just write reports,” Iruka argued, “And they’re usually late.”

“Enough!” Tsunade roared, silencing the room. “Naruto, Sasuke,” she paused just long enough to make them worry. “Do you have somewhere to stay?”

They both immediately pointed to Iruka.

“I disagree,” Koharu jumped in immediately. “They should be kept under supervision by ANBU until they are cleared.”

“You can stay with Iruka, I will assign someone else as your guardian until your cleared to return to duty.” Tsunade broke in, desperately attempting to keep the situation under control.

“Very well, I’ll summon an ANBU,” Koharu agreed.

Iruka looked ready to disagree. Any ANBU Koharu sent was almost guaranteed to be a member of Root.

“I will choose,” Tsunade stated.

“You’re hardly unbiased, Lord Hokage,” Homura pointed out.

“Nevertheless, I am Hokage,” Tsunade’s voice was firm as she stared down the council.

There was a glint of something close to respect in Iruka’s eyes.

“I’ll do it.” Yajirobi’s voice was soft, the man hardly ever raised it, but it still managed to echo through the room. He was standing in the back, leaning against the wall in a manner similar to Kakashi’s favorite slouch.

The Council disagreed immediately, aware of his close connection to Iruka, though the majority of the room was not.

“That’s hardly appropriate,” Koharu snapped. “Given your own clouded past.”

“Yamake has a clean, decorated history of service to the village,” Ibiki broke in, “We’ve never found any evidence that he was ever involved with or aware of Orochimaru’s actions. He’s also an incredibly skilled shinobi, he’d be able to handle them if things turn bad.”

Ibiki’s logic was solid, if surprisingly flattering to the quiet jounin many had worked with but none knew. Kakashi had nothing bad to say about the man, despite his relationship with Orochimaru and Kabuto. No one had ever found proof connecting Yajirobi to their actions.

“Very well. It’s settled.” Tsunade declared.

“What?” Koharu’s surprised showed clearly on her face.

“This is not a wise decision Lord Hokage,” Homaru warned.

“It’s settled. Yamake, all other missions are on hold. Until I say otherwise, you’re only assignment is the supervision of Naruto and Sasuke.”

Yajirobi nodded. “Understood.”

 

“We object,” Koharu snapped, control slipping. “Stop being a foolish child and do as we say. They should be remanded to the custody of one of our shinobi.”

The room went silent.

Tsunade’s face went carefully blank.

The Rookie 11 inched towards Iruka, who stared at the Konoha Council in disbelief.

ANBU was at the ready, though they didn’t look nearly as threatening as Shizune whose face was twisted in fury. Kakashi had a similar look as he turned to Tsunade, clearly awaiting the order to remove the Council from her office.

Before anyone else could respond, Yajirobi stepped in front of the Council. Effectively blocking their path to Naruto and Sasuke and stalling anyone else who was preparing to speak. His voice was cold, empty, and terrifying. “You’re supposed to set an example. Clearly you can’t set one about character, but you should at least set one about behavior and not disrespect your Hokage in a room full of people. Even the children in here know better then that.”

Jaws dropped. Even Kakashi and ANBU, hidden behind their masks, couldn’t hide their surprise.

Tsunade had never heard Yamake speak and for a moment, she just stared at him.

The Council looked furious instead of embarrassed. For a moment Iruka thought they might actually push their luck, but Koharu and Homura hadn’t lasted this long by being that foolish. They back peddled with impressive skill, turning to Tsunade they bowed deeply and apologized. “Our apologies Lord Hokage. The stress of the situation caused us to be disrespectful in the heat of the moment.”

Tsunade looked torn. She wanted to destroy them, but the logical part of her knew it wasn’t the time for that. It took her a moment to get herself under control enough to speak, “That’s understandable, it’s been a long day. Go home and rest, we will discuss this more at a later date.”

The Council bowed deeply and left. Silence reigned for a moment, before the tension began to bleed away. Tsunade waved ANBU away and the gawkers in the hallway began to disperse. Murmurs of disbelief, equally dispersed between the return of Naruto and Sasuke and the behavior of the Council.

Tsunade sighed, suddenly very tired. Naruto tried to look as innocent as possible. Iruka looked annoyed and Sasuke’s face was still blank. The rest of the Rookie 11 stared at her with big, hopeful eyes. “Do you have somewhere to stay if I let you go tonight?”

Naruto immediately pointed to Iruka, “I still have my room at Iruka-sensei’s place, Sasuke’s staying with us too.”

Tsunade looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded at Yamake. “You too.” He nodded in understanding and she turned back to Naruto and Sasuke. “For tonight, get some rest. You’re going to need it tomorrow.”

ooo000ooo

: :Hyuuga Clan Compound, Konohagakure: :

TenTen and Lee hesitated at the sight of the intimidating gates to the Hyuuga Compound. Despite being teammates since the academy, TenTen and Lee had only been allowed in the Hyuuga compound a handful of times. Neither of them was that upset about it, the strict rules and practices of the clan were more then a little off putting. Neither Lee or TenTen were from shinobi clans and the environment of the compound was unlike anything either of them had experienced before. Neither liked it and in recent days they’d begun wondering if all clans had the same kind of environment. They’d gotten to visit the Inuzuka, Aburame, Nara,Yamanaka, and Akimitchi compounds and talking to Sasuke and Iruka had made them curious about what the Uchiha compound had been like. Regardless, they were both convinced all of them were better than the Hyuuga compound.

“Maybe we could meet Neji somewhere, a restaurant or tea shop?” TenTen suggested.

“No! Neji needs to spend time with his family to heal from this ordeal! We should not interrupt the process! We must protect Neji as long as possible!” Lee declared, always the better of the two of them when it came to putting on a brave face.

“I think that means he’d be better off with us then them, but whatever,” TenTen muttered. Neji had always struggled with social bonds, even with the team he’d spent so much time with. TenTen was convinced it came with being a genius; Sasuke and Shikimaru had their own versions of the problem. Both of them had made leaps and bounds in the last couple years and TenTen had thought Neji was doing the same. Hopefully, the whole coming back from the dead thing didn’t change that. But Lee was right, they needed to protect him. Someone was clearly trying to use Neji for something that could get him killed and they weren’t going to allow it.

They knocked, were greeted coolly by a clan member they didn’t recognize and followed him quietly inside.

The Hyuuga Compound was clean, stark and simplistic; a drastic contrast from the crowded homely feeling of the Inuzuka compound or the dark warmth of the Aburame clan’s home. It made TenTen and Lee nervous to even touch anything.

He left them alone in a plain pale blue room that smelled like lilacs and overlooked the garden. Tea was already set out, in cups that cost more then Lee or TenTen would ever be able to afford.

Watching Lee try to sit still and not touch anything while they waited was priceless. He only made it to a minute before he started doing pushups in the corner of the room. TenTen sniffed the tea. It was that fancy orange spice Neji liked and she thought tasted like grass. She sighed; even the teacakes were plain.

Neji arrived with little pomp. Lee launched himself across the room before TenTen could even say hello and she watched Lee nearly smother their teammate in his joy. For once, Neji didn’t immediately try to break away.

“Neji, my eternal rival! I am so glad you are back! We should spar!” Lee was practically on fire.

TenTen rolled her eyes with all the fondness she could manage and hugged Neji tightly. “Ignore him, he’s just happy. We’re glad your back.”

Neji smiled, well, as close as he ever got to one. “Thank you. It feels strange to be back, but good at the same time.”

They sat around the tea and for a moment the camaraderie they’d had before was back as Lee and TenTen filled Neji in on what they could without giving too much away.

“Do you know what you want to do next?” TenTen asked over the rim of her teacup.

Neji didn’t blink, “I need to focus on the clan for a while, Hanabi needs to be protected as she begins training to lead the clan after Hiashi. After that I was thinking about ANBU.”

TenTen stilled. “Hanabi’s still taking over the clan?”

Neji nodded.

“But Hinata’s gotten so much stronger!” Lee gapped. Hinata had grown by leaps and bounds and though she was still somewhat quiet and shy, she’d become better at speaking her mind. Her family however, always managed to send her right back to the shy, stuttering girl she’d been in the academy.

“It doesn’t matter, Hinata will never be as strong as Hanabi. She doesn’t have the right personality to lead the clan.” Neji looked like he was trying to be sympathetic towards Hinata, but his words were cold and final. He still loved his cousin, but the clan was suffering. They hid it well, but behind closed doors and deep within the compound conflict was brewing over the clan’s path.

Lee and TenTen shared a look and a silent agreement. They’d chosen to stick with the Rookie 11 and that meant Hinata. Her own clan’s refusal to see her strength and value stung and they were instantly defensive on her behalf. They set their cups down and stood.

“Thank you for the tea, but we should be going.” Lee, ever polite, bowed deeply.

TenTen didn’t bother being polite, too angry that even after all these years Neji still hadn’t caught on. “Lee and I are going to be a team by ourselves for now. When you finally get your head out of your ass, you know where to find us.”

“What?” Neji looked stunned. “You’re kicking me off the team?”

Lee was uncharacteristically somber as he spoke. “We’re not kicking you off the team, my eternal rival! We are simply suggesting that you take some time to reconsider your opinions on certain matters. And that you consider where you would like your life to go. Until then, TenTen and I shall uphold the name and honor of Team 11.”

Neji was starting to get angry. He’d just come back from the dead and the first thing his supposed teammates did was tell him he wasn’t on the team anymore. Their disapproval of his clan’s decisions was a low blow and not something Neji had ever thought would impact their friendship. Forcing Neji to choose between his clan and his team wasn’t fair. “That’s not your decision.”

“Actually it is,” TenTen’s voice was cold, “Gai-sensei has taken a leave of absence, we’re training with Iruka-sensei until he comes back. Gai-sensei left membership in Team 11 up to us. When you figure out what your fighting for let us know. Until then, good luck searching.”

TenTen turned and walked out. Lee hesitated, studying Neji for a moment longer, before he too turned and walked out.

Listening through the door, Hanabi watched, furious, as Lee and TenTen left. How dare they accuse Neji of being weak. He was stronger then both of them combined. They were jealous, she concluded, of her cousin’s strength. Well he didn’t need them, he had the clan. When Hanabi took over she would make sure they never treated Neji like that again.

At another door, Hiashi frowned. He had thought Neji’s relationship with his team had improved before his death. This seemed out of the blue, unless he had been under the wrong impression. Perhaps it was further evidence of his failure as a parent and a clan leader. Hinat had not been back to the compound in three days. He’d received word that Naruto and Sasuke had returned, but he had yet to see them. He knew without a doubt that Hinata was with them and he was sure that was what had prompted Lee and TenTen’s ultimatum. What were they planning, Hiashi wondered.

ooo000ooo

: :Umino Iruka’s Apartment, Konohagakure: :

Sakura was the only member of the Rookie 11 at Iruka’s apartment when they arrived. The others had gone to their own homes for the night, Hinate was staying at the Inuzuka compound and Naruto and Sasuke were getting checked out at the hospital. Sakura had been banned from going with them and she been pacing with worry when Hanna and Taka arrived. Hanna’s smile was warm and friendly, exactly what Sakura would expect from Kiba’s older sister.

Taka was…Taka was different. Sakura didn’t recognize him at first, without the mask and cloak he almost always wore. He was surprisingly attractive. The striking looks that all those associated with the Uchiha seemed to have. Even Iruka-sensei in a way. His kindness made him one of the most attractive people Sakura had ever met and he would always remain the golden standard by which she measured kindness.

Taka though, Taka had a physical virility that Sakura hadn’t noticed before. He was built like a tank. He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt so she could see every muscle defined clearly in his arms. Over written with scar upon scar and a collection of intertwined tattoos that Sakura was very interested in seeing up close.

He held himself with a confidence that only came with years of experience. Something Sasuke still lacked, though Sakura was certain he’d have it soon. But she’d been watching his growing relationship with Naruto and that small ember of hope that he’d one day realize he loved her that way was dwindling. Her love for her teammates and her desire to see them happy soothed the hurt though and it was finally allowing her to start to notice other options. She’d even had a moment of realizing that Kiba and Shikimaru were both very attractive. Of course she’d wanted to puke seconds later because she considered them brothers but for a brief second she had noticed them in that light.

Taka though… Sakura watched him discreetly as he and Iruka talked in the living room. Facing one another across Iruka’s battered old coffee table. The air was tense. Iruka rubbed his hands together, a nervous tick Naruto had pointed out, and gazed solemnly out the window. It was odd to see someone like Taka, who looked like he beat up kids like Iruka in the Academy, sitting across from Iruka asking for advice. There was a familiarity between them that surprised Sakura, a level of comfort that suggested something more like family instead of friends.

Hanna relaxed easily in the company of both men, providing a sounding board and level head to two hot tempers. Sakura was beginning to admire her the way she had previously admired Tsunade.

She grabbed the teapot when it started to whistle and poured the water carefully into Iruka’s beat up old tea set. There was a faint, faded impression of a fan that Sakura had never noticed before. She placed the set gently on an equally aged tray and debated whether or not to add a few sugar cookies.

She scrapped the idea. Iruka’s sweet tooth leaned more towards fruit and Taka didn’t look like someone who indulged in sweets ever. Hanna was forever lecturing Kiba on his eating habits.

She carried the tray into the living room as an excuse to listen in on the conversation. All three of the adults were too distracted to pay her much attention as she poured the tea and took a set next to Iruka, across from Taka.

“They’re pushing harder then ever. Yesterday they showed up at the training grounds and started dictating training routines.” Taka sounded angry, at the end of his rope. He had the same nervous habit as Iruka, massaging his hands until his knuckles were white. Two scars ran horizontally through his eyes, similar to Kakashi’s, making Sakura wonder what they were from. His hair was a dark, spikey mess, reminding Sakura even more of Sasuke and Itachi and she caught herself staring.

“They’re pushing because Tsunade has been busy trying to get the village back in order and they know she only do so much at once.” Hanna interjected. “Mom’s about ready to start taking heads if things don’t get back under control.”

“Maybe we should just let her,” Taka muttered.

Iruka snorted, “There wouldn’t be anyone left. How did ANBU take it when they showed up at the training ground?”

Taka smirked, looking something like cheerful for the first time that night. “I didn’t think it was possible to ignore someone that effectively.”

“Well at least we don’t have to worry about ANBU taking their side,” Hanna commented, smiling as she took a cup from Sakura.

“No, just Root,” Iruka frowned, accepting his own cup.

Sakura felt her cheeks flush as she handed Taka his cup and he smiled briefly at her.

Iruka watched the interaction and frowned. Hanna hid her smile behind her cup.

“What happens if the Council gets control of ANBU?” Sakura asked.

“Everybody dies,” Iruka responded darkly.

“Not everybody,” Hanna corrected dryly, “Just anyone associated with us. The problem,” she explained to Sakura, “Is that, while we’ve identified some members, we don’t have an accurate count on exactly how many members they have. The couple we’ve caught and interrogated,” and killed and buried went unsaid, “have a jutsu written onto the backs of their tongues that prevents them from speaking about anything related to Root.”

“Whoa, that’s dedication,” Sakura muttered.

“Its not always done willingly,” Taka murmured.

“That’s also part of the problem,” Hanna admitted, “Only the person that cast the jutsu to begin with can remove it.”

“So there’s no way to know who willingly joined Root and who was forced too.” Sakura concluded, her face twisting in horror. “And there’s no way to save those that were forced to join.”

“Exactly,” Iruka had his head in his hands now, shaking it slowly.

ooo000ooo

: :Mission Room, Hokage’s Tower, Konohagakure: :

Kotetsu yawned and cursed the short straw that left him with the last of the day’s filing. Iruka had needed the break though and Kotetsu wanted a chance to observe Tsunade himself. Iruka was an excellent judge of character, but even he had his weak points and the last Senju was definitely a sore spot.

He’d been hoping for a quiet night, after the chaos that followed Naruto and Sasuke’s return. The Hokage’s Tower had been buzzing for a couple hours afterward. Genma and Raido had eventually ordered everyone out so the Mission Desk workers could finish their work in peace. The only people left in the building now were Kotetsu, Tsunade, Shizune, and the Hokage’s ANBU guards.

It lulled Kotetsu into the false hope of finishing early. He was unaccountably upset when Jiraya came crashing through the newly repaired wall, sending two ANBU guards flying through the opposite one and sending the small stack of reports Kotetsu had left flying. He frowned at sheets of paper as they scattered and wondered why, as a child, he’d ever thought fifty-two pick up was fun.

Tsunade, Shizune and the rest of ANBU came running and nearly got taken out in a isngle blow when Jiraya fired off a Rasengan attack with more speed then Kotetsu thought he was capable of.

“Surround him,” the ANBU captain roared, then turned to Shizune, “Stay with the Hokage.”

Kotetsu glanced at the Hokage, she was frozen in shock at the sight of Jiraya and he frowned. She’d frozen at the sight of blood when she first fought Kabuto too. That wasn’t promising.

Tsunade couldn’t believe it. First Naruto and Sasuke were back and now Jiraya. Something was clearly wrong with her old teammate though; Jiraya had the same blank look on his face Neji and Asuma had when they’d first appeared.

Tsunade immediately looked for the red string that had been in the report. She couldn’t see it at first, Jiraya was on full attack and ANBU wasn’t holding anything back trying to stop him. They weren’t doing much against the sanin. The office nin, Hagane, was staring at a pile of papers slowly floating to the ground. They’d clearly been disrupted by Jiraya’s attack and Hagane looked more upset about the papers then the actual attack.

“Look out,” Shizune screamed as Jiraya lunged toward Hagane.

Kotetsu turned just in time to see Jiraya charging toward him with that utterly blank look on his face. The sanin’s hand was raised, the Rasengan attack already forming. Kotetsu barely had time to brace himself before it hit.

Tsunade launched herself into the fight while Jiraya was distracted by Hagane. The chunnin was holding his ground against the powerful attack and Tsunade had just a half a second to admire his strength before she was engaging her friend.

She couldn’t see the red string at first and she had to knock him back a few times before she could get the right angle. It glinted briefly in the light, just for a second but it was enough for Tsunade memorize where it was. Getting at it was another matter. She loved Jiraya, more then she would ever admit out loud, but she couldn’t allow him to hurt anyone. Jiraya would never allow it and more importantly he would never forgive himself. Tsunade would do everything in her power to stop him without killing him, but if it came down to it, she owed Jiraya a quick and painless death.

Jiraya landed a lucky blow, knocking Tsunade back into the only wall still standing. She pulled herself to her feet just in time to see two of her ANBU knocked clear out of the building. Neither of them were going to be back in the field anytime soon.

Tsunade turned to Shizune. “Keep everyone out of the way.”

“Tsunade-sama, what are you going to do?” Shizune sounded terrified, torn between joy and sorrow at the sight of Jiraya and the thought of what Tsunade was going to have to do.

“I will take care of Jiraya, just keep everyone else back. And get that idiot Hagane out of the way, he’s going to get himself killed!” Tsunade launched back into the fight

More and more shinobi flooded the area. Kakashi returned, Genma and Raido hot on his heels. Kakashi might have been some help in the fight against Jiraya with the sharingan but she didn’t know what Genma or Raido, both still recovering from harsh missions, would be able withstand.

Shizune and the fear of getting into a fight with a sanin kept most of the newcomers back.

Kakashi and the others began pulling wounded out of the Tower and Tsunade spared a moment to consider the toll this would take on Kakashi, mentally and physically, the poor brat just couldn’t catch a break when it came to the people he loved. Kurenai and Asuma arrived, followed closely by Sai and Yamato. Tsunade had a brief moment of terror thinking that Naruto and Sasuke might someone how appear, but the hospital went on lock down whenever the Hokage’s Tower was under attack. Even Naruto wasn’t mischievous enough to make it out of there.

Tsunade’s next attack knocked Jiraya back and Kotetsu leap back, admiring Tsunade’s technique, maintained even though she’d been off the front line for years. She wasn’t half bad, for a Senju and he smirked. No wonder she bugged Iruka so much, he couldn’t even classify her as useless fighter. A sharp pain on his wrist alerted Kotetsu to Iruka’s message. An old Hanta jutsu that allowed them to send messages written on their skin to one another with a small burst of chakra. Iruka wanted to know if he needed to respond, messages came through from Izumo, Yajirobi, Hanna and Anko not long after. Kotetsu told them all not to bother. Tsunade looked angry enough to handle the whole situation by herself and Kotetsu wanted to see her do it.

He side stepped a chunk of desk and landed lightly among several ANBU trying to guard the last wall still standing. Behind it was the main support beam for the entire tower, if it was damaged the destruction would be un-repairable. Unfortunately, a few ANBU weren’t enough to stop Jiraya, who suddenly changed direction and turned his attention to the wall instead of Tsunade. He sent the ANBU flying with relative ease, though they didn’t seem that intent on fighting back. It seemed like most of those present weren’t ready to hurt Jiraya and it was hurting their ability to fight back.

Kotetsu grinned and met Jiraya head on. He heard someone scream and then it felt like he was getting hit by boulder falling from the top of a very high mountain. He’d been hit by worse though, Tsume and Kikyo weren’t known for pulling they’re punches and managed to stop Jiraya in his tracks, sliding back only a bit. The support beam was safe and before Kotetsu could counter attack Tsunade was there, slamming Jiraya into the ground and cutting the red string Kotetsu couldn’t see.

Silence fell. Kotetsu stayed close until Jiraya’s eyes cleared, then backed away. The sanin looked confused, a little lost, and somewhat pitiful. Kotetsu slipped to the back as a flood of Konoha shinobi suddenly rushed forward to help.

Kakashi was the first to reach them, followed closely by Shizune. There was a moment of chaos, of Shizune and Kurenai demanding to know if they were all right, Asuma and the ANBU captains were trying to get everyone organized and the Tower locked down and Genma and Raido kept trying to pull Tsunade away from Jiraya for her own protection.

For such high-ranking shinobi the chaos lasted longer then Kotetsu had been expecting. Fuagku would never have allowed it, nor did Iruka. They both focused on efficiency in situations like this and Kotetsu couldn’t help but pick out what they would have handled better. Kotetsu himself was more lenient, but he didn’t usually step in unless someone was reaching the breaking point. It was why he and Iruka had made such a good team, why they still did even if it wasn’t official.

The Hanta believed in balance, the taichou and fuku-taichou were always opposites. Kotetsu was the kindness and compassion to Iruka’s iron will and devotion to the mission. The Hanta used this balance to account for every possible event, every possible action the enemy could take and their record spoke for itself. The Hanta had never failed to bring back alive those they’d been sent to rescue. Kotetsu was proud of those statistics, less proud of their records outside of that and he knew Iruka’s hesitance to resurrect the Hanta stemmed from their lack of a support system within the government. They didn’t want to risk the Inuzuka and Aburame being targeted any more then they already were, like the Uchiha had been.

Kotetsu studied Tsunade. Things were finally calming down. ANBU had Jiraya in chakra restraints but he was cooperating fully. Tsunade was checking him over while the newly arrive Ibiki asked questions. He had the same story as Neji and Asuma. No memory until the red string had been cut and no idea who or how he’d been resurrected.

Izumo appeared, sticking to the edge of ANBU’s cordon. Kotetsu made his way over and they watched the scene play out in silence for a few moments.

“How’s Iruka?” Kotetsu broke the silence first.

Izumo shrugged, “As good as he can be. He still keeps way too much bottled up.”

“At least we don’t have to hide Naruto and Sasuke anymore, that was a giant pain.” It was a load off Kotetsu’s shoulders, there were only so many ways to scare shinobi away from an apartment building they lived in. Naruto still sucked at being sneaky, or quiet.

Kakashi hung back after he was satisfied that Jiraya was in one piece and as all right as could be expected. Tsunade was yelling at him now and Kakashi felt a small spark of happiness deep inside at her happiness, though it was thoroughly masked with annoyance. He glanced around. The damage to the Hokage’s Tower was immense, but it was still standing. The main support beam was still in place, thanks mostly to the mission desk chuunin who’d some how withstood Jiraya’s attack. Kakashi studied the scene and frowned.

Jiraya’s mind was still foggy, but it did nothing to stop the sheer joy at being alive that ran through him. Tsunade was the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen, yelling at everyone else and lecturing him at the same time. Ibiki, members of ANBU, Shizune, and a couple of jounin all peppered him with questions at once and all Jiraya could think about was all the time he’d wasted never telling Tsunade how he felt. She’d always just assumed it had been a joke when they were young and things had gone so bad so quickly that he’d just dropped it entirely.

His last thoughts had been of her, of how he’d failed to protect her and Konohagakure. It figured that the first thing he would see when he came back was her.

How many people got a second chance?

With his hands still in chakra restraints he grabbed Tsunade, hauled her in close and kissed her with everything he had left.

“Well that’s not exactly what I was expecting,” Izumo muttered. Kotetsu sighed. Maybe Iruka was right, all these people were crazy.

Kurenai barely concealed a squeal of glee when Jiraya grabbed Tsunade and kissed her. She might have been a highly trained jounin but she was also a romantic and she’d caught the looks Jiraya shot Tsunade when she wasn’t looking. This was long overdue and Kurenai was still high on Asuma’s return. The man in question was trying to find his footing again, sticking close by Kurenai’s side and doing his best not to jump in and get involved. Kurenai had always admired his willingness to help and watching him now, he resembled something of a lost puppy she wanted to cuddle and protect. Once things calmed down she was going to take him on a long vacation away from everything. Maybe in Mist? Konoha’s newly found friendship with Mist had opened doors for travel that had been closed for many, many years and Kurenai was itching to visit.

Maybe she could convince Kakashi and the others to take a trip too. Everyone needed a break, sometime to unwind and really relax. It would be fun. Speaking of Kakashi, Kurenai knew he was struggling to figure out where to go since the war had ended. He hadn’t said it out loud but she knew the idea of becoming the next Hokage terrified him.

“Kakashi?” Kurenai looked around and finally found the silver haired jounin standing off to the side, staring at the floor. They wandered over.

“What’s wrong brat?” Jiraya asked, slapping him hard on the shoulder.

“A foot,” Kakashi muttered.

“What?” Tsunade could barely hear him.

“A foot, “ kakashi repeated pointing at the ground. Kotetsu’s foot prints, where he’d been standing during the fight with Jiraya. One set, from where he’d dug in and blocked Jiraya’s attempt to take down the support beam. The streak in the dust and dirt where he’d been forced back was only a foot long. “On full attack, you only managed to move him a foot.”

Silence fell. The others crowded in closer, jostling to get a better look.

“Where’d he go?” Genma glanced around.

Kotetsu was laughing, talking to Izumo, off to the side. Clearly replaying the battle with exaggerated hand gestures designed to entertain.

“Raido, pull his file the next time you’re in the archives,” Kakashi suggested. The scarred jounin nodded in agreement.

ooo000ooo

: :Hatake Clan Compound, Konohagakure: :

The night was quiet. The moon was out and bright. The air was still. The trees stood like silent sentries outside the window and hundreds of red, glowing beady eyes glinted out from the branches and leaves.

Pakkun growled softly.

They’d been in the trees, watching Kakashi’s apartment since the sun had begun to fade. The Hatake Family summons had taken notice immediately. Pakkun couldn’t smell anything out of the ordinary, even though he had the best nose of the group. None of them had been able to pick out shapes or forms; whatever was watching them was using an advanced form of concealment. A jutsu Pakkun couldn’t detect.

“Hey boss,” Aki’s voice was soft as he joined the small pug.

“What?” Pakkun was not in the mood. Someone spying on Kakashi’s home made him protective. The fact that he couldn’t figure out who or what it was made him angry.

“No sign of anything.” Aki’s voice was soft.

There were minute traces of chakra, but they were spread out and didn’t seem to form any kind of coherent pattern or jutsu.

The tree branches shifted, leaves fluttering.

There was no wind.

Pakkun growled softly.

A pair of beady red eyes advanced toward the window, flashing in and out of sight as whatever they were attached to moved in and out of the leaves.

Pakkun stepped closer to the window, growling as the others joined him.

Excited chittering broke the silence.

“What are they?” Uhei hissed.

“Someone should go get Kakashi,” Bull murmured.

“No,” Guruko put a paw down, “You can already feel that he’s going through an emotional time.”

“Something is happening in the Hokage’s Tower,” Aki agreed.

“Leave him be, we can handle this,” Bisuke remarked.

The red eyes advanced closer.

The Hatake family summons moved to the window, noses pressed firmly against the glass.

The moon was bright and full.

A small squirrel leapt off the branch and landed on the windowsill outside.

“Damn squirrel’s in the way,” Shiba growled.

Pakkun blinked, then narrowed his eyes.

The squirrel stared at them through the glass. It pressed its face and tiny paws against the glass and peered inside.

Guruko growled, “Scram rodent.”

The squirrel cocked his head to the side, nose twitching in time with its bushy tail.

The minute chakra signatures that had been driving their senses crazy suddenly started to gather at the window.

“What?” Bisuke’s eyes widened.

The squirrel’s eyes turned a bloody, glowing red. Dozens more squirrels appeared on the branches and in the trees behind it. They’re shapes suddenly clear in the crisp moonlight.

“It’s them,” Aki growled as another squirrel suddenly crawled along the seal of the window and picked the lock on the latch. Before any of the ninken could react a single squirrel slipped inside and was suddenly loose in Kakashi’s room.

“Get it!” Bisuke roared and they leapt after it. The chase that followed resulted in the destruction of most of Kakashi’s property. The squirrel was small, agile and Kakashi’s ninken tripped over their own feet trying to catch it in the small room. The bed, the nightstand, and the mirror were destroyed. Aki knocked the door half way off it’s hinges lunging after the squirrel and Bisuke sent the chair flying into the wall, where it shattered into a dozen pieces.

In the midst of the chaotic melee Mr. Uki, sitting innocently on the windowsill, was knocked from his perch and died a violent, shattering death when he hit the floor.

Pakkun immediately rushed to the shattered remains of the plant and it’s pot. Kakashi adored that plant, the last gift he’d ever received from Obito. He’d kept it alive for years with an almost obsessive drive.

The squirrel paused on the windowsill, looking down at the mess and Pakkun. It cocked its head to the side. Pakkun snarled. The squirrel disappeared out the window. Bisuke hit the sill a second to late and landed on Pakkun and what was left of Mr. Uki.

The squirrel leapt to safety among the trees and it’s cohorts. Pakkun would have sworn up and down that it smirked at them before disappearing into the darkness.

Kakashi opened the front door to the compound.

The ninken froze.

“Oh no,” Aki whimpered, as they looked around and realized how much damage had been done.

“What happened to the door?” Kakashi sounded angry and already exhausted. The ninken could feel the misery radiating through his chakra and the guilt was immediate.

“Wait, don’t come in here yet boss! We were just cleaning up!” Pakkun tried as the others rushed around desperately trying to clear the mess.

Kakashi kicked the door the rest of the way off the sole hinge still holding it up. He took one step into the room and stopped, staring in disbelief. “What the hell happened?”

Pakkun subtly shifted in front of the remains of Mr. Uki.

“They came through the window boss,” Bisuke tried to explain.

“Who?” Kakashi demanded. His bed was destroyed, so was the chair he’d gotten on a mission in Snow Country. He loved that chair.

“The squirrels!” Shiba explained.

Kakashi studied Pakkun suspiciously, eyes narrowed. “Pakkun, move.”

“Now look, boss,” Pakkun tried, desperate to save Kakashi from even more pain. “You don’t need to see this. Go sleep in the guest room tonight while we clean this up.”

Kakashi’s face turned stormy. “Move.”

Pakkun debated, whatever had happened at the Hokage’s Tower had clearly made Kakashi into nothing but a raw nerve. The hurt was palpable. As much as he wanted to avoid adding to it, he also realized it would be even worse if Kakashi found out later.

Pakkun stepped aside and watched Kakashi’s face fall at the sight of Mr. Uki.

Kakashi kneeled silently next to the remains of the plant, gently picking up what was left. He knew it was stupid, that it was just a plant. But that plant was the last and only gift he’d ever received from Obito. They’d been teammates, if they’d had more time together they might have been friends eventually, but back then Kakashi had been young and stupid and not ready to value anything but his own strength. Obito had at least been smart enough to try, despite the fact that Kakashi hadn’t been all that receptive. Mr. Uki was a reminder that someone had cared about Kakashi, even when he’d been a useless angry child. Even when they hadn’t gotten along. He was reminder of the ideals that his father had died for and now he was dead.

“Boss,” Pakkun started, only to be silenced by the furious expression on Kakashi’s face.

“What happened?” Kakashi demanded.

“There’s something going on,” Pakkun explained, “There were dozens of them in the trees surrounding the compound. They were spying on us. One of them got inside, we tried to stop it.”

“Stop what?” There was a distinct air of bloodlust behind Kakashi’s words.

Pakkun hesitated, “The squirrels.”

Kakashi’s face darkened. The killing aura rolling off him made Pakkun step back. Though the pug wasn’t actually worried that Kakashi would hurt him, it was still intimidating.

“Boss, we’re not lying,” Aki tried to help.

Kakashi wasn’t hearing it. “Squirrels, that’s the best you could come up with?”

“Boss,” Aki tried to inch closer to the jounin but Kakashi backed away making her whimper. The jounin turned stiffly and stormed out of the room.

The ninken watched him go silently, heavy with guilt.

Kakashi went to bed furious. His ninken were acting like dogs.

ooo000ooo

Tsunade let the door slam shut behind her and let out a bone deep, weary sigh. Jiraya was under the care of the doctors at the hospital, he’d be checked out and released the next day provided she hadn’t done any internal damage unintentionally.

He’d also kissed her and it had been the best kiss she’d had in years. Damn it, what the hell had that been?

She drapped her robes over the chair and winced when she caught a look at her own face. No wonder ANBU had hung around. She had a deep bruise on one cheek and nicely swollen black eye. Her hair was a mess, half falling out and she was covered in dirt. She looked like hell and she felt worse.

Jiraya was back. Deep down she was more ecstatic then she would ever admit out loud, but she was also terrified. Who had the power to bring back Jiraya?

She rinsed off quickly as she pondered the connection and slipped into her sleeping robes without bothering to brush her hair.

She caught sight of it out of the corner of her eye. A small faded, dust covered edge of paper, the same garish orange as Naruto’s old jumpsuit. It was underneath the nightstand that had been in the room since before Sandaime’s time in office. No Hokage had bothered to get rid of it. It was just within her reach from the bed, or she might not have bothered with it until morning. She recognized the Sandaime’s handwriting on the envelop immediately.

It was addressed to her.

She tore it open.

ooo000ooo

….to be continued…

Chapter Text

ooo000ooo

Chapter 8
Seiten no heki-reki
Thunderclap from a clear sky

Sometimes the hardest storms to get through are the ones your soul needs most. And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. But survive you did. And one thing is certain, when you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storms all about. – Haruki Murakami

ooo00ooo

Present Day

: :Hokage’s Residence, Konohagakure: :

The scroll was old, the paper aged and crumbling at the edges, covered in water stains and faded ink.

Dust flew as she unrolled it, making her sneeze as the jutsu activated and the smoke took the form of the Sandaime in his final days.

Tsunade made an aborted attempt to reach out to him, before remembering he wasn’t really there.

“Tsunade,” he smiled at her, like he had countless times over the years, soft and warm and affectionate. It made her heart twist in her chest. “I apologize for not being there for you in this trying time. I had hoped this day would not come. That I would find someway to prevent what is coming. I am sorry for what you will have to do and for the decisions I have left you to make.”

Tsunade watched the smoke curl around him, wary and torn. “What decisions?”

The Sandaime scratched his nose, a familiar gesture from his years as her teacher and, she jolted with the realization, one she saw echoed by Iruka frequently. “I am proud of you though, you’ve grown into such a strong, capable leader.”

He turned wistful, “I had hoped though, that this day would never come. That I would find someway to prevent what is coming. We shinobi of Konohagakure have spent so long concerned with being the weapons necessary for protecting the village, that we forgot about the very reasons we founded the village to begin with. I hold great faith that by now Naruto has begun to grow into his own and that the message he represents has begun to spread.” Sandaime eye’s hardened, “He is hope incarnate Tsunade and he was the choice of the only man who’s judgment I trust without reservation. The man who named Namikaze Minato as Forth Hokage.”

Tsunade straightened, like most of the village she’d always believed Minato had been Sandaime’s first and only choice to take his place all those years ago.

The Sandaime glanced away; off to the side at something Tsunade couldn’t see. “I have seen a great many men who wanted to be leaders in my time Tsunade, but I have only seen a few great leaders who just wanted to be men. Danzo wanted to be a leader and he wanted the glory that comes with serving the village and leading shinobi into battle, but he was never quite strong enough. And he could never get over that. He resorted to methods that many questioned and which, if reveled, would have cost him any support he had in the village. I never though that my old friend would resort to the murder of an entire clan, justifying it by some misguided belief that they were a danger to the village.”

A chill came over Tsunade; only one clan in Konohagakure had ever been almost completely wiped out.

The Sandaime turned back to her, as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. “You must be confused, it is probably best that I start at the beginning so that you fully understand. When the village was first founded, it was on the shared desires of the Senju and the Uchiha to end the wars they had been fighting for generations. Neither clan wanted their children to have to fight the way they had and both sides put aside immense amounts of hatred in order to make the village possible. Hasirama and Madara were key in this, as you well know. And of course, you know of what followed.”

Tsunade straightened, an automatic response to the mention of her grandfather.

“Believe it or not, there was a brief period of something akin to perfection in the first few years following the village’s founding. But like many things that are not nurtured correctly, it did not last.” Sandaime sighed, shoulders drooping. “It is an unfortunate truth of life that you can’t just tell people what to think and expect them to fall in line. Those first years were hard and bloodier than those the village had been founded to escape. The Senju were always idealistic and determined, but they underestimated the rest of the world’s refusal to recognize them. That is where the Uchiha came in. They realized that it would take violence to protect the village and make it strong, thus the Uchiha took on the task of dealing with the village’s enemies. They worked in the shadows fighting battle after battle, war after war. They carried out assassinations and annihilated entire armies and clans that threatened the village. Eventually they brought in two other clans to assist them, the Inuzuka and the Aburame, with whom they shared a blood bond of loyalty. These three fought secret wars without the knowledge of the rest of the village for decades, eventually whittling their numbers down until they were a mere fraction of what they had been when they first joined the village. I should not have allowed it to continue. I always had grand ideas about ending the practice and revealing their dedication and sacrifice to the world so they could be honored the way they deserved, but I fell into the same trap as the previous hokages. It was so much easier to use the Uchiha, the Inuzuka, and the Aburame to deal with serious threats and sweep them under the rug as it were. We ran them into the ground, until their backs were permanently bent with exhaustion and their dreams overcrowded with nightmares… but they never hesitated. The three bloodlines that led these clans are the oldest in shinobi history. Fugaku’s bloodline traces back directly to Indra, the Aburame clan’s bloodline was born not long after and the Inuzuka, the youngest of the three were born several generations before the founding of the village in an event strongly influenced by the Uchiha matriarch and they have been bound together ever since.”

Sandaime straightened, “Time flows forward no matter what men want and our brief happiness crumbled before we even realized what was happening. The events that followed; the battle between Hashirama and Madara, the wars with Rock, the nine-tails attack, even Orochimaru, were like a set of dominos that moved the village closer to destruction step by step.”

Sandaime brightened. “But the village was not destroyed. It fell, stumbled and tripped but it did not fall. Hope, weak and flickering as it was, kept us afloat just long enough to survive and continue on. Then, the nine-tails came. The night of the nine-tails attack has become almost mythical in the mind of the village. The truth has become so distorted and lost, the lessons that saved us completely forgotten. The night of the nine-tails attack Tsunade; was the last great act of a founding clan and the beginning of the end of the Uchiha.”

Sandaime pulled his pipe out of his robe; the same damn pipe he’d always smoked and she watched thin tendrils rise. “That night, I arrived late, just in time to watch Minato breath his last. None of us had headed the warnings of the Uchiha and we paid the price. You know Biwako died attempting to protect Kushina and Minato was able to successfully seal the nine-tails inside Naruto. Mikoto, Sasuke’s mother, arrived seconds before me, I found her crying over Kushina’s body. It seems like an odd fact and it was quickly forgotten, that they were best friends and had been since the Academy. Mikoto wanted Naruto’s birth to take place in the Uchiha compound, it was fortified and has never been successfully breached by an outside force, but my darling wife was stubborn till the end and refused. Had Naruto’s birth taken place in the Uchiha compound things may have turned out much differently.”

Sandaime took a deep breath, “Naruto was gone when I arrived.”

Tsunade twitched in surprise, a chill running through her. “What?” That was completely different from the story she’d always heard.

“The Uchiha had been warning us of an attack for months but we still remained completely unprepared for what happened. Only Fugaku retained his composer and thought to do more then simply try to block the nine-tails. His military police evacuated the majority of civilians that survived and sent a team to track down the summoners responsible for releasing the nine-tails. None of the summoners survived, the Uchiha have always been the most efficient of hunters and the least forgiving of threats to the village. He tried to organize the front line but was rebuffed by Danzo. Instead, realizing where the true attack was taking place, he spread his forces throughout the village to stop any attempts to get to Naruto. Only Obito was strong enough to get through them.”

The Sandaime paused, his eyes unfocused and somewhere else. “I don’t know what transpired between Fugaku and his sons that night, but whatever it was wrote the future of our village more then any other action in its history. I was unaware, until many years later, that Obito had also sent an attack against the Uchiha compound in an attempt to get to Sasuke. Itachi and the Hanta managed to repel the attack but many were killed in the process. The Hanta’s numbers were decimated that night. Fugaku arrived at the bodies of Minato and Kushina not long after, covered in what I will always believe to be the blood of the summoners.”

“What about Naruto?” Tsunade couldn’t help but ask, even though she knew he couldn’t hear her.

“Though he and Minato frequently argued, I think both our hearts were broken that night. He had after all, turned down my offer to become the Forth Hokage and named Namikaze Minato in his stead.”

Tsunade gasped, unable to stop herself.

“By the time I could get my feet under me, Iruka returned with Naruto. Fugaku never told me what he’d said to Iruka to convince him to fight his brother for an infant he did not even know, after he had lost the people that raised him less than an hour before.”

For a second Tsunade couldn’t breathe. “Brother?”

Sandaime continued without pause, “I can only guess at what Fugaku saw in all those involved that caused him to make the choices he had that night. I will not claim to have been capable of the same insight at any point in my life. But Fugaku perhaps, understood the psychology of loss better than any of us. In a moment when Iruka had lost so much he placed a tiny, helpless child in his path. The ultimate test. Defenseless and experiencing a great loss he would not understand for many years, Naruto was a tangible representation of the pain of the night and of the hope for the future. Fugaku gambled more than anyone realized on Iruka’s heart. Whether he would choose to destroy or protect what was at the center of the event that cost him so much. I think I have begun to see it in the years that have passed since, as I have begun to see the brilliance of Fugaku’s far-reaching plans. He was after all, the man who started a civil war within his own clan to take down his father when he began to rebel against the village.”

Tsunade sputtered, she’d never heard about that.

“Fugaku understood an intrinsic fact about people. If you give them a good example to follow they will be good. If you give them a bad example to follow they will be evil. And there will always be those who will want so much to change the world, to make it a better place, that they will take actions that are not always good in their desperation. To lead them you must be that unflinching example of ironclad strength and will. You cannot show weakness. It is a hard balance to strike, the strength and admiration it takes to be Hokage. It takes an immense amount of patience and understanding. Fugaku had it, though he was loath to admit or display it outside of his clan. Did you know that Tsunade?”

“No,” she couldn’t help but whisper.

“I don’t think you did. Another of my many mistakes. I begged him to become Hokage, promised I would be by his side to fight all those who distrusted his clan. But he would not hear of it and refused to allow me to consider anyone else but my other choice, his perfect opposite, Namikaze Minato.” Sandaime rubbed his eyes tiredly. “It was only ever the two of Tsunade. I never considered anyone else to be the Forth Hokage. Even those countless names Danzo, the Council, and the Elders put forward. I never even glanced at most of the files. They were perfect opposites in personality but absolutely identical in their beliefs. Minato and Fugaku were ahead of their time, they shared the same intrinsic faith that the Village of Konohagakure was good and right and would continue to be despite the challenges that lay ahead. Minato was much kinder in his methods, an excellent mentor like myself. Fugaku was a teacher, like Iruka has become, but where Minato felt it was important to influence everyone to the path of good; Fugaku believed in allowing people to find their own paths no matter what it may be. I followed this belief with Orochimaru and I never quite forgave either of them for what happened.”

There might have been tears in Sandaime’s eyes, but Tsuande’s were watering too much for her to tell for sure.

“Fugaku, of course, was right. Minato was the better choice for the village. But that brings me back to Danzo. I don’t know where Danzo will be in your time Tsunade and I apologize that I have left him for you to deal with. I failed to see the truth of what my old friend had become. I bear much of the blame for not seeing what was happening and stopping it when I had the chance. His hatred of the Uchiha will never fade Tsunade. The Uchiha are a terrifying enemy, Tsunade, because they will never surrender. For them the battle just goes on until they’ve won. I’ve never known a clan so stubborn and so utterly hopeful. After Rock and the loss of Minato, I was so terrified of another war that I allowed Danzo to convince me that the Uchiha would be the ones to start it.”

Sandaime’s gaze hardened, “It was a mistake Tsunade, one that haunted me for every moment of my life after, but I made the decision to allow Danzo to take action against the Uchiha and that is not even the worst of it.”

Tsunade briefly considered destroying the scroll before he could finish.

“I told Fugaku that the death of his clan was inevitable, either by the hand of Danzo or war with the village. I could have told Fugaku that he had my support. That I would stand by him, but I didn’t. I told him the Uchiha would not survive and that was the end of everything.”

Tsunade slid to the floor, legs suddenly to weak to hold her up.

“I failed Tsunade. I allowed my own personal fears to rule my judgment and I allowed the annihilation of an entire clan because of it. You must understand what it was like after the wars and the nine-tails attack Tsunade. I felt the weight of every life lost because we could not put aside our hatred and distrust. I was exhausted, the village was exhausted. Our faith was wavering. The only ones who didn’t seem tired of the bloodshed and fighting were the Uchiha. Ready to go again without a seconds hesitation. You know the rest. Despite the efforts of Fugaku and his sons to cleanse their clan of those who wanted to destroy the village, they realized there was no stopping the coming tide. I made this scroll so you would know the truth of what happened and you could help heal the village and repair the damage I have done. Please understand that it was not my intention to leave all of this on your shoulders, but I remain absolutely confident you will succeed. If you need help, it is buried under the Hokage’s Tower. Follow the instructions on the back of this letter and the jutsu will summon what you need.”

Sandaime fell silent and Tsunade stared at him, trying to will him into saying more. He didn’t and as the seconds ticked by, the smoke began to fade. The Sandaime gave her one last, sad look, and a whispered, “I’m sorry.” Before he faded away completely.

Tsunade stayed on the floor for a long time, staring unseeing at the place where Sandaime had been. What the hell was she supposed to do now? Her teacher, the man she trusted more then anyone else, had be complacent in the annihilation of the Uchiha Clan. A clan that Tsunade had been raised to hate, but about which she apparently knew nothing. It had been a long time since Tsunade had felt like a misinformed teenager, facing a reality she didn’t want. Sandaime had clearly just covered a small portion of what had happened and it made Tsunade wonder what he’d left out.

Was the bond between the Uchiha, Aburame, and the Inuzuka still there?

Did the Aburame and the Inuzuka know the truth?

Did Sasuke?

Did Naruto?

A weight settled on her shoulders, more and more questions coming to her mind. What the hell was she supposed to do with this? Tell everyone? The resulting outcry could destroy the village.

She turned the letter over. A jutsu written in faded ink and two genjutsu symbols for memory that Tsunade had not seen outside of a school book. She cut her finger and pressed it to the first symbol.

The memory flooded over her.

ooo0000ooo

Years Ago

: :Uchiha Compound: :

Sandaime took a deep puff from his pipe and slowly expelled the smoke. The Uchiha Compound was quiet, the cool night air settled Sandaime’s nerves after a day full of nothing but budget meetings. The sky was clear, the moon full and bright. It bathed the compound in a silvery light and made it seem like some sort of ethereal plane that didn’t belong on Earth. Sandaime loved it, the Uhciha Compound was his favorite place to sit and think.

He glanced across the pond; Fugaku and Mikoto were having a discussion on the porch of the main house. Trouble was brewing inside the clan; a splinter faction was starting to push against Fugaku’s rule. They were growing restless with the rules imposed on the clan by the rest of the village and Hiruzen knew that Fugaku was struggling to keep everything within the walls of the Uchiha Compound. Hiruzen had tried to convince Fugaku to stop hiding it all, but the Uchiha clan leader was stubborn. As far as he was concerned Uchiha business belonged in the compound and nowhere else.

Mikoto glanced at Sandaime, kissed Fukagu gently and disappeared inside. The Uchiha clan leader made his way across the small bridge spanning the pond and joined the Sandaime. He didn’t speak; they simply existed together in silence as the cicadas started to sing.

Suddenly, several shadows appeared, falling over Sandaime. He smiled around his pipe and tilted his head back. Fugaku’s boys, Itachi, Obito and Iruka, were peering over the edge of the roof, along with their constant companions, the orphans Shisui, Yajirobi, Kotetsu and Izumo. It always lighted Hiruzen’s heart to see the group of gangly children following after Fugaku as he went about his work and training in the compound. Like ducklings following their mother. The thought made him chuckle, though he dared not share it with Fugaku.

The Uchiha Clan leader didn’t blink, his gaze never moving from the Hokage as he spoke. “It is hours past your bed time.”

The shadows disappeared, followed by the giggles of children who knew they were caught but not in trouble. One by one, with the preternatural grace of extremely gifted shinobi children, they leapt off the roof and landed in a scattered circle around the man they all viewed as their father.

“Come on, it’s still early and we don’t have school tomorrow!” Obito, the oldest and easily the loudest of the group, tugged on Fugaku’s vest.

It was still odd. To see a man Hiruzen had a hard time seeing as anything other then a brutally efficient soldier roughhouse with his sons, like a lion with its cubs. Fugaku was by no means an easy man to understand or know. He was brutally efficient on the battlefield, cold and unforgiving to any who crossed his path as anything less then a peer. He offered no personal connection, no friendship or encouragement to those he worked with. Those outside the Uchiha Clan struggled with it, but those in the clan and in the Aburame and Inuzuka Clans seemed to thrive in it. They never doubted his dedication to them and Hiruzen had noticed that despite their different personalities, Tsume and Shibi led their clans in a similar style.

“Perhaps they could stay a while?” The Sandaime suggested. “All of my children are grown or dead. I am a father who is no longer needed and I would not mind a moment in the company of such innocence and enthusiasm.”

Fugaku frowned and for a moment Hiruzen actually thought he would say no. But the Uchiha simply studied him, dark eyes unfathomable, face expressionless, with his children gathered around him. While they looked different, were built differently and had different bloodlines, they all stared at the Third with the same curious eyes.

When Fugaku finally spoke, his voice was soft. The same lilt he used to tell his sons stories as he put them to bed. “You are Hokage Hiruzen.” The statement more powerful then the ceremony that had made it official. “You are a father to the entire village. You are always needed.”

Hiruzen took a deep puff and let it settle into his lungs. Fugaku had a way of cutting through the bullshit. He was a man of few words and even less free time. He didn’t waste either.

In a graceful move, Fugaku kneeled until he was eye to eye with the hodgepodge of boys around his feet. “You still have training in the morning and you’d better not tell your mother I let you stay up.”

The children grinned, open amusement and delight at getting to keep a secret from one of their parents. Shinobi or civilian it was a universal joy of children.

They swore their silence with the enthusiasm and suddenly Hiruzen was surrounded by seven curious minds and energetic hands. They pulled him towards the mysterious Uchiha gardens with the deep blue chrysanthemums, one of Hiruzen’s favorite places to meditate when it was allowed.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Umino Iruka’s Apartment, Konohagakure: :

Iruka woke drowsy, still chasing the memory of a night long ago. He could still feel the mist on this skin and smell the chrysanthemums that littered the Uchiha Compound. He laid still for a few more minutes, hopelessly trying to recapture the dream, before giving up and climbing out of bed.

The apartment was quiet, the sun was barely up which meant all of Iruka’s guests were probably still sound asleep. He checked in on Naruto and Sasuke, not at all surprised to see Sakura sound asleep next to them.

From the kitchen he could see the Hokage’s Tower across the village. It was barely standing, Kotetsu had sent a missive to let him know what happened and to warn all of them to steer clear until the dust settled. Jiraya was back, Naruto had been ecstatic and had only just been convinced not to rush over to see him.

This didn’t bode well, the amount power it took to resurrect someone, and then to control someone like Jiraya. The Sanin was strong, stronger apparently then Iruka gave him credit for according to Kotetsu and apparently the first thing he’d done when he’d come back to himself was make a move on Tsunade.

Iruka sighed and sipped his tea, Kotetsu hadn’t sounded all that happy about what he’d dubbed ‘The Kiss’ and Kotetsu had a good eye for judging personal relationships and how they might affect the Hanta and their allies. Jiraya and Tsunade were an explosive tag with a hair trigger. Who knew what they were going to do?

Iruka poured himself a second cup of tea and pulled another cup out of the cupboard.

Kotetsu appeared in a cloud of smoke and Iruka handed him a steaming cup of tea.

“Well?”

Kotetsu collapsed into a chair and sipped his tea. “You don’t want to know.”

Iruka sighed and sank deeper into his tea.

Kotetsu cracked his neck; trying to work out the kinks that came from a night of stressful, worry filled sleep. “He’s at the hospital today, medical evaluation will probably take all day.

“Is Tsunade there with him?”

“No, actually, she went home late last night and I haven’t heard if she’s come in yet.” Kotetsu took a sip of his tea and cleared his throat before continuing, “How’s Hatake?”

Iruka stiffened, “Don’t know, I haven’t seen him recently.”

“Oh?” Kotetsu frowned.

Yajirobi wandered in, looking weirdly put together for someone who’d just woken up. “Anything new?”

Iruka and Kotetsu shook their heads.

“Want me to start breakfast?” He got two pathetic nods in return and started pulling down pots and pans. “Where are the kids?”

“Still sleeping,” Iruka muttered. “When do you need to report in?”

“I’ll take them over to Ibiki after breakfast, wake them up for me?” Yajirobi cracked several eggs into a pan, paused, and cracked every egg Iruka had in refrigerator.

Iruka made his way back to Naruto’s bedroom and entered quietly. Normally Sasuke at least would have woken when Iruka entered the room but he was clearly lulled into a strong sense of safety in Iruka’s apartment and he didn’t even twitch. As he reached the bed Iruka was surprised to see a small tuft of silver hair sticking out from under the blankets next to Sakura. Toshiro was tucked safely in between her and Naruto and it made Iruka smile.

Sakura was the safest bet to shake awake and he gently took hold of her shoulder. She blinked up at him; eyes still unfocused with sleep and Iruka felt a rush of fondness.

“Mmmm, morning Iruka-sensei. I’ll wake them up.”

“Thanks, breakfast will be ready in a few minutes.”

Iruka slipped out to wake up the others and before long Yajirobi was dishing out plates in Iruka’s overcrowded kitchen, the mood lighter than it had been in weeks. Iruka did his best to ignore the dark cloud of foreboding that settled over him.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Intelligence, Torture and Interrogation Headquarters, Konohagakure: :

Kakashi frowned at the clock on the wall of Ibiki’s office. It was ticking slower than usual.

Ibiki sighed and glanced up from his paperwork, Kakashi had been glaring at the clock for the last hour, trying to will it into the moving quicker. “Knock it off Hatake.”

“I thought you said they were coming in first thing.” Kakashi slouched into a chair.

“They are, I’m sure Yamake and Umino are just getting them breakfast first.”

That made sense. Iruka had always been overprotective of his students, even if it was dangerously close to being detrimental to the village or against orders.

Ibiki’s headquarters seemed busier than usual, word about Naruto and Sasuke had spread like wildfire and many shinobi wanted to catch a glimpse of them before they went into interrogation. Kakashi’s temper spiked at the thought of his students being treated like traitors, there was no way Naruto would betray the village. Sasuke was more of a concern but even Kakashi was willing to admit that he actions weren’t completely without justification in a certain light. Sasuke would need to be watched but as long as he stuck with Naruto Kakashi didn’t think he’d go AWOL again.

“I heard Jiraya was cleared by medical,” Ibiki commented. A less then subtle hint at Kakashi to get the hell out of his office. The jounin didn’t take it. “That was quick.”

“He’ll want to see Naruto,” Kakashi commented.

“Has he spoken to the Hokage yet?” Ibiki asked; word about their kiss had spread through the village like lightning, almost as fast as the news about Naruto and Sasuke.

“Shizune said she hasn’t come in yet.” Normally Tsunade was in by now, but after everything that had happened Kakashi wasn’t surprised that she was taking a morning for herself.

“Have you considered the repercussions of their return?” Ibiki’s voice was cold and he didn’t look up from his paperwork.

Kakashi stiffened. “What would those be?”

“Don’t play stupid Hatake, you know that this is going to cause upheaval in the village. Someone’s going to want Sasuke’s head on a platter and we both know that Naruto will never let that happen.”

Kakashi glanced at the master interrogator; he hadn’t realized Ibiki was aware of the strength of Naruto’s feelings about Sasuke. He had a sudden, surprising desire to find Iruka and talk to him. If there was any one who could understand Kakashi’s feelings when it came to Naruto and Sasuke it was the academy teacher. “What are you suggesting?”

Ibiki finally looked up, “As of right now, nothing. We’ll see if that changes after the interrogations.”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Interrogation Room A: :

Naruto squinted against the unnecessarily bright lights of the interrogation room. He’d caught a glimpse of Kakashi when they marched him in but the jounin hadn’t so much as glanced his way. It hurt and Naruto wanted to talk to him. To apologize and tell him everything that had been happening. Kakahsi had been best friends with an Uchiha, he probably understood more than anyone else what Naruto was going through with Sasuke. He probably needed to talk to him about whatever he had going with Iruka-sensei too. Naruto wasn’t sure he liked that though. Iruka-sensei deserved someone who was perfect and Kakashi was great and all, but he was a huge pervert. Naruto had seen the telltale orange cover sticking out of a pocket of his vest.

“Mr. Uzumaki, pay attention!” The interrogator’s yell made Naruto jump and turn. He was red in the face, eyes bulging behind his glasses.

“What?”

He sputtered. “Answer the question!”

Naruto shifted, guilty. He hadn’t been paying attention at all. “What was the question?”

The interrogator let out an inarticulate cry of frustration and rage. “What is the nature of your relationship with Uchiha Sasuke?”

“Seriously?” Naruto stared at him. Who didn’t know about his relationship with Sasuke? It wasn’t a big secret. Sakura and Iruka-sensei had even said they should probably tone it down.

“Yes, seriously,” the interrogator ground out.

Naruto sighed, he’d been expecting harder questions, but if that was all they wanted to focus on that was fine with him. “Sasuke’s my best friend.”

The interrogator nodded, made a note on notepad in front of him.

“I trust him more than anyone else, we’re teammates. We’re going to spend the rest of our lives together.”

The interrogator paused, “Sorry, please clarify what you mean by that Mr. Uzumaki.”

“Uh, clarify what?” Naruto asked, confused. How could he be any clearer?

“Your relationship with Uchiha Sasuke.” The interrogator had gotten weirdly intense in the last few seconds.

Naruto leaned back. “Uh, well, he’s staying with me at Iruka-sensei’s apartment.”

“Where does he sleep?”

“My bed.”

“You’re bed? Why?”

“Uh yeah. Where else would he sleep?”

The interrogator looked lost, “Why are you sharing a bed? Doesn’t Umino have a couch?”

Naruto rolled his eyes, “Yeah, but it’s not really comfortable. I broke it once when I was little and we just patched it up instead of buying a new one. There’s a weird bump in the middle that messes up Sasuke’s back whenever he sleeps on it.”

The interrogator blinked, “Doesn’t the Uchiha have rooms in the old compound?”

Naruto snorted, “Yeah, but it’s empty. He gets really lonely when he sleeps there. I’d sleep with him there but the place is super creepy at night. Plus my bed at Iruka-sensei’s is way more comfortable and a lot quieter. Sasuke’s springs squeak.”

The interrogator made a choking sound.

“Are you okay? Do you want some water?” Naruto pushed his glass across the table.

“No thank you, I’m fine. Uh, so your relationship with Uchiha Sasuke, would you say he feels the same way about you?”

“Oh yeah, we already agreed to stay together for the rest of our lives.”

“Really?” The interrogator’s eyes narrowed, “You’ve made it official? Where?”

“At Iruka-sensei’s apartment.”

“Who officiated?”

“Officiated what?”

“You said you made it official?”

“Yeah, we agreed.”

“What about children?”

Naruto stared at him blankly, what the hell did being children have to do with it? “Children? Uh, I don’t know if you’ve noticed dude, but we are legally adults now? Sasuke and I can both drink legally in Kohona.”

“I-“ the integrator paused, trying to figure out what to say. “Okay.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Interrogation Observation Room: :

Kakashi beat his head against the thick glass, regardless of the damage and unprofessionalism it displayed. Ibiki had his head in his hands, his shoulders were shaking but Kakashi couldn’t tell if it was laughter or frustration.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Interrogation Room B: :

Sasuke sat stone-faced across from one of Ibiki’s top interrogators. The jounin had been waiting patiently for Sasuke to respond to his first question. It had been almost an hour and the young Uchiha showed no inclination to even blink.

“Are taking this seriously Uchiha? Do you realize how much trouble you’re in?”

No response. The interrogator waited another twenty minutes before resorting to threats.

“You realize you’re going to be executed Uchiha. You’re a missing nin, a traitor to the village. You spend your last few days being tortured in ways you can’t even imagine to gain every last ounce of knowledge you have before you’re executed.”

Not even a twitch.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Interrogation Observation Room: :

“God damn it,” Ibiki tossed Sasuke’s file on the desk so hard it knocked over a cup of pencils. They scattered over the desk and floor. “If he doesn’t talk I don’t have any justification for releasing him.”

“Naruto spoke on his behalf,” Kakashi pointed out. “So would the rest of their group.”

“It won’t help, not with the Council calling for blood. At best it would just stall the inevitable.” Ibiki sounded defeated.

“How many people would it take? Speaking on Sasuke’s behalf?” Kakashi knew he could count on Genma, Raido, Kurenai, Asuma, Yamato, Sai, Jiraya, Shizune, the list went on.

Ibiki was quiet, his own mind spinning. “Why don’t you let me work on it for a bit. See what I can arrange.”

Kakashi hesitated for a second, then nodded. “Alright.” He could work on it without Ibiki’s knowledge.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Umino Iruka’s Classroom, Kohonagakure Academy: :

Iurka kept one eye on his students through the window as he graded a stack of tests. They’d just started their lunch break and they’d run for the door almost before Iruka could finish dismissing them.

A knock at the door took his attention away from both. Ibiki stood in the doorway, fist still raised.

“Iruak-sensei, I was hoping to speak to you.” Ibiki stayed firmly outside the classroom until Iruka sighed and waved him in.

“Are Naruto and Sasuke okay?” Iruka asked, ready to leap to his feet.

“They’re fine,” Ibiki assured him as he took a seat at one of the student desks in the front row. “For now anyway.”

“Did something happen during the interrogations?” Iruka relaxed marginally.

“Naruto managed to make one of my interrogators cry.” Ibiki responded dryly.

Iruka couldn’t help but laugh, “He did?”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone be so honest without answering a single damn question.” Ibiki shook his head ruefully before turning serious. “Sasuke is another issue.”

Iruka put his pen down. “What happened?”

“He didn’t say a damn thing. A twelve-hour interrogation and not a single damn twitch. He didn’t give me any justification for leniency.” Ibiki gaze turned intense.

“What would he have to say to get leniency?” Iruka asked. He could convince Sasuke to say whatever he needed to.

“You’d have to ask the Council, they’re the ones calling for blood.” Ibiki was used to Iruka’s temper and didn’t flinch when Iruka’s fist hit the desk so hard everything on it bounced. “Kakashi thinks if he gets enough shinobi to speak up on Sasuke’s behalf, they’ll drop it. You and I know better.”

Ibiki, through a youthful indiscretion, was one of the few shinobi outside of the Hanta that new the truth about Iruka and the Uchiha Clan. He’d jealously guarded the secret for over twenty years, his famed scars a reminder of the harsh lessons he’d learned that day.

“Why don’t you just come out and say what you came to say Ibiki,” Iruka growled.

“I think you need to consider giving ground to the Council. At least long enough to establish Naruto and Sasuke’s safety.”

Iruka felt his temper rage at the mere suggestion. Ibiki clearly recognized it, because he pushed ahead without giving Iruka a chance to say no. “They’re the ones pushing for Naruto and Sasuke to be put into ANBU’s custody. If that happens it won’t be long before Root has them. They’re strong, but are they strong enough to take on the Council and all of Root?”

It was a low blow but the only one guaranteed to make Iruka look beyond his hate for the Council.

The words tasted like ash in Iruka’s mouth, “I’ll deal with the Council.”

Ibiki nodded and left, he knew not to overstay his welcome.

ooo000ooo

Chapter Text

ooo000ooo

Chapter 9
Nise Kaze
A False Wind

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride. I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close. – Pablo Neruda

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Office of the Konohagakure Council of Elders, Konohagakure: :

Koharu set her tea cup gently on her desk. Homura watched the door with ill-disguised impatience. They both knew what was coming. It was inevitable really. Iruka’s love for the Uzumaki boy and the young Uchiha had allowed the Council to finally out maneuver him. It wouldn’t be long before Iruka approached them and fell neatly into Koharu’s trap.

The sensei’s inability to control his emotions had always made him weak, Koharu had warned the Sandaime about it. She’d even warned Fugaku before it became obvious that he was determined to turn a blind eye to any possible fault his precious Iruka had. Koharu had known then that Fugaku and his clan were beyond saving. Danzo had been right, they needed to be eliminated for the safety of everyone in the village. Such foolhardiness could not be tolerated among the ranks of Konohagkure nin if the village was expected to survive. Iruka and his kin had become a blemish on their village and Koharu refused to allow their continued existence.

Danzo’s victory over the Uchiha had just cemented that belief but Iruka had some ungodly luck that had prevented Koharu and Homura from finishing him off. There were some who whispered that it was Fugaku’s reach from beyond the grave but Koharu did not believe in fairytales. Iruka had been blessed with the Sandaime’s affection and for many years that had held Koharu and Homura back from taking action. That was no longer a concern. Now was the perfect time to take down the troublesome teacher, then disposing of the jinchuriki and the Uchiha would go relatively unopposed. The Hokage could be dealt with then and instead of her brat Hatake they could install someone who would actually have Konoha’s best interest at heart. Things were finally falling into place.

“What’s taking him so long?” Homura murmured.

“Patience,” Koharu counseled. “His time has come and he knows it.”

“I am anxious to get started.” Homura commented, fingering a kunai she knew he’d carried since his first mission.

“As am I.” It had taken so long to get to this point. “But we must not rush now that the end is in sight. Let Iruka think he has some power left in his fina hours.”

“This has gone on far too long,” Homura had always advocated simply killing Iruka but the threat of the Inuzuka and Aburame clan retaliations had prevented him from carrying it out. “We will still have to deal with the other two clans. The Inuzuka and Aburame will not go quietly.”

“But they will go, if the Uchiha could not save themselves what hope do they have?” Koharu smiled. The idea of finally shutting up that loud mouth Inuzuka bitch was almost as rewarding as finally destroying Iruka.

A flash of smoke and leaves erupted as Iruka teleported directly into their office.

“Have you forgotten how to knock boy?” Homura demanded.

“I figured you’d like to see me as soon as possible,” Iruka barely kept the snarl out of his voice.

“Sir down Iruka, we thought this would be a good time to talk about your future plans,” Koharu smiled and waved to a seat at the low tea table that filled the other half of the office.

Iruka stubbornly crossed his arms and remained standing. “I’d rather just get this over with.”

Koharu smirked, “I’m glad you realize the severity of the current situation.”

“I realize that you want to kill Naruto and Sasuke,” Iruka returned.

“And we realize you would like them to live long, happy lives.” Homura interjected. “Unfortunately, that is not always possible.”

“It’s possible if the two of you leave them alone.” Iruka paused to take an angry breath, “I also realize that Tsunade isn’t going to be able to stop you.”

“Stall us perhaps,” Koharu agree, “But eventually even the Godaime will come to understand that we are correct.”

Iruka clenched his jaw so hard his teeth started to hurt. He needed to go along long enough to figure out what deal would buy Naurto and Sasuke time. Koharu and Homura clearly realized they had the upper hand at the moment and it was obvious they intended to use it.

“Has the Hokage made any headway into the investigation into the Hanta?” Koharu asked, sitting back in her chair.

“Not that I’m aware of?” Tsunade hadn’t dropped any hint that progress had been made. Taka would never talk and Kakashi’s situation with the Hanta was so confused in general that he’d likely never believe them if they did tell him the truth. Iruka was confident that the truth of the Hanta would never come out.

Koharu and Homura shared a look. He nodded and she turned back to Iruka. “Turn yourself in as the leader of the Hanta. Take whatever punishment the Hokage deems fit for your desertion of the village.”

Which would undoubtedly be execution. Even if Tsunade had liked Iruka, a charge of desertion would unarguable and there was no doubt in Iruka’s mind that the Council would ensure that was the punishment.

But Iruka wasn’t completely helpless. The Council would never be able to prove he was Hanta unless he admitted it. Neither was Hokage so neither could cast the summoning jutsu to bring the Hanta taichou to them. And only the taichou of the Hanta could summon the other members. Iruka’s death would effectively seal away the identities of any surviving Hanta members forever. Koharu and Homura would have to constantly look over their shoulders in fear of retaliation from some unknown shinobi. Would they risk that? Or were they confident enough not to fear it.

“Naruto and Sasuke,” Because they were really the only thing Iruka would throw away his chance at vengeance for, “Drop the charges, let them return as Konoha shinobi and leave them alone. Let them live out their lives. For Yakushi Kabuto as well.”

“That is a very large request, Iruka,” Homura caution.

“You’re only getting my life in return,” Iruka snapped.

“Why Yakushi?” Koharu asked, suspicious.

“He’s paid his debt to the village.” Iruka shrugged. Koharu didn’t look convinced. “He was a close friend of Itachi.”

She smiled and shook her head, “Such a bleeding heart Iruka. It makes you weak that you still cannot move on.”

Iruka snarled, “I want his record cleared.”

“Moreno has already removed his page from the Bingo Book,” Homura took out his pipe and tobacco.

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Iruka shook his head, “I was a published retraction of the crimes he was charged with.”

Homura filled his pipe and lit it, “Publishing a retraction like that would leave us open to many questions about the Fall of the Uchiha Clan.”

“No it wouldn’t, the story that he rebelled against the clan would still makes sense. Most of the village would never even notice.” The truth of that was bitter in Iruka’s mouth. Despite the truth behind Itachi’s actions coming out, not only did the majority of Konohagakure not know about it, but of those who did, there were doubts. It was something that made Iruka’s heart hurt, the knowledge that no matter what he or any of the other’s did, the reputation of the Uchiha and Itachi especially, was ruined regardless. All the good they had done for the village and what they would be remembered for was their fall.

“You will surrender yourself to ANBU. You will not fight back and you will plead guilty to any charges brought against you.” Koharu stated, “In return we will assure that Uzumaki and Uchiha, as well as Yakushi, are cleared and allowed to return to their duties as Konoha shinobi. With clean records.”

Koharu stood and extended her hand. An odd offer, Iruka couldn’t remember a time when a physical touch between the two of them wasn’t painful for one or the other. Iruka hesitated, long enough for Koharu to raise an eyebrow. This was, in essence, his death knell. Without a miracle of the highest order, Iruka would be executed. Likely within the next couple of weeks. Iruka didn’t believe for one second that the Council wouldn’t find some way to skirt around their agreement and have someone else kill Naruto and Sasuke. Iruka’s death was only a way to buy time until the rest of the cogs fell into place and the wheel of fate started spinning fast enough that Koharu and Homura and their allies couldn’t stop it. And hopefully they got run over repeatedly in the process.

It made the knowledge of what iruka had to do somewhat easier. At least he was dying for something that mattered to him, protecting Naruto and Sasuke were the only things Iruka was willing to give up his chance for vengeance against the Council and Danzo for. Eventually Naruto and Sasuke would be ready to take on the Council, they were strong enough for sure, but knowing how to deal with those in your own uniform that would smile to your face and stab you in the back was a completely different kind of challenge. Iruka wanted them to remain innocent as long as possible, even if he wasn’t alive to see it.

Iruka took her hand and shook. A death sentence sealed and two lives saved, for now.

“As a symbol of our good faith, you have six hours to turn yourself in Iruka. Plenty of time to say your good-byes.”

Iruka snarled and teleported out.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Flower Shop, Konohagakure: :

5 Hours 42 Minutes Remaining

It was a small flower shop, quaint and on the corner of a busy four-way intersection. It was the same flower shop Iruka always stopped at to buy flowers when he went to visit the graves. He’d known the owners since he was in the Academy, now their daughter ran it and she always made sure to set aside Iruka’s chosen bouquets every Saturday morning. She’d been surprised to see Iruka outside of his regular schedule but hadn’t wasted any time ducking into the back to make them.

Iruka waited at the register, trying not to watch the clock that hung on the far wall. The bell above the door chimed and Iruka turned, blinking in surprise when Kakashi stepped inside.

“Kakashi-sensei, good afternoon.”

“Maa, Iruka-sensei, bying me flowers? How sweet,” Kakashi’s visible eye took on the crescent shape it always did when he was making dirty jokes.

Iruka rolled his eyes, “You already put out Kakashi-sensei, it’s too late now.”

Kakashi surprised Iruka further when he threw his head back and genuinely laughed. Iruka deliberately stuck his hands in his pockets as Kakashi sauntered across the shop and joined him at the register.

“Shouldn’t you be off learning how to run the village?” Iruka asked and forced himself not to step back when Kakashi made himself comfortable a step inside Iruka’s personal space.

“There’s really not that much to learn,” Kakashi shrugged. A complete lie.

“I know that’s not true and you better not say things like that in front of Naruto.” Iruka’s eyes narrowed. Kakashi was going to be the last instructor of Team 7 after Iruka died. After Kakashi the team had split and taken different paths. Essentially leaving behind their childhoods for lives as shinobi adults. He doubted even Kakashi realized how much they were going to come to depend on him.

Kakashi grinned, confident that Iruka couldn’t tell through his mask. It was so easy to rile up the chuunin sensei and Kakashi really, really liked the result of their last fight. “We should spar Iruka-sensei.”

Iruka was taken aback at the sudden change in subject. “What?”

“Another sparing match and maybe another stretching session after.” Kakashi leered.

Iruka was surprised at his own visceral response to Kakashi’s offer. He hadn’t realized his own feelings had gotten that far out of hand. The blistering heat at the memory of that night made Iruka’s face burn. A deep well of sadness rose in Iruka as he realized he wasn’t going to get to do that again, or to very reluctantly see where things with Hatake went. Iruka took a long look at the legendary jounin, trying to take in everything as it dawned on him that he was going to miss things he’d never expected. He still had a lot of anger towards the last Hatake twisted up in the anger at the situation in general. But he was ridiculously attractive and that night they’d spent together definitely ranked as one of the best of Iruka’s life.

Kakashi’s smile faded as Iruka continued to study him. The chuunin seemed a bit off today, definitely quieter then he usually was. His expression had a hint of sadness to it that Kakashi had never seen on him before. “Maa, Iruka-sensei, everything okay?”

His words seemed to shake Iruka out of whatever funk he was and flashed Kakashi the brightest, fake smile he’d ever seen. “I’m fine, bad day at work.”

A lie and Kakashi filed it away for future examination along with all the other facts about the young sensei that didn’t add up. He had plenty of time to investigate and get to know the Academy teacher, especially since his investigation into the Hanta wasn’t turning up anything of value. Kakashi was starting to think they were just another shinobi ghost story that people wished were real but never had been. Even Jiraya had been at a complete loss when he’d asked the Sanin. That there was an organization of shinobi in the village that neither he Tsunade, Jiraya or Ibiki knew about was a terrifying thought. One that was so terrifying it was almost impossible.

“Special occasion?” Iruka asked, startling Kakashi out of his thoughts.

That’s right, he’d come here to try and salvage Mr. Uki. His nin dogs were back at the Hatake estate, still suffering his wrath for the nonsense that had damaged the precious gift. He patted a pocket on his vest, filled with dirt and Mr. Uki until Kakashi could get another pot. The plant was still hanging on, but it’s leaves were dull and listless. Kakashi was hoping the young woman who ran the shop had some miracle she could work to keep it alive.

Iruka eyed the plant that seemed to be planted in Kakashi’s vest pocket. “What is that?”

“Mr. Uki.” Iruka raised an eyebrow in confusion so Kakashi pressed on, “He was gift from a friend a long time ago.”

“Oh, looking for a planter?” Iruka guessed, even Kakashi wasn’t crazy enough to plant plants in his vest pockets.

Kakashi nodded, “The old one broke.”

“How?” This was turning out to be the most adult conversation the two of them had ever had so far.

“It fell off the windowsill.” No need to mention the seer amount of damage to the rest of the room. Even Naruto hadn’t caused that much damage on his more rambunctious days.

“Ah, your dogs?” Iruka hadn’t had pets since he was a child but he had plenty of students that caused the same amount of damage.

“Squirrels according to them, but there aren’t any on the Hatake Compound grounds. Think they just got rowdy after being cooped up there for so long.”

Iruka nodded, but squirrels made him suspicious. “How do you keep the squirrels out?”

“Wards. Keeps out most small animals. Makes it easier to keep up the grounds.” Kakashi was the only one who occupied the extensive, worn down grounds and it would have been far too time consuming to keep them up to the standard they’d been at when his father was still alive. Kakashi barely had time to check the wards every week as it was.

Squirrels who could get through wards. Kotetsu. Iruka gritted his teeth. So much for his fuku-taichou’s agreement to leave Kakashi alone for the time being. Kotetsu’s squirrels were the stuff of nightmares.

“Maybe you can get Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura to help clean-up the mess?” Iruka suggested.

“It’ll be taken care of by the time they get released by ANBU,” Kakashi growled. Not only were his nins working around the clock to fix the mess, but he didn’t think ANBU would release Naruto and Sasuke for at least another couple of days.

“Oh, they’re being released today.” Iruka grinned, “Cleared to return to active duty.”

Kakashi blink, stared at Iruka in surprise. “What?”

Iruka nodded, “I ran into the Council on my way here. They told me.”

That was impossibly great news. What the hell was going on with the Council?

The young woman who ran the store returned from the back, carrying a beautiful, exotic bouquet of white flowers. She smiled and handed them to Iruka.

“Here you go Umino-san. Sorry for the wait.”

Iruka cradled the flowers carefully, “No problem. Thanks for rushing them.” Iruka turned back to Kakashi. “Kakashi-sensei, it was nice to see you.” Iruka paused, thoughtful, “I hope you know, that despite our disagreements over the years-”

Kakashi raised his eyebrow at disagreements. That was a delicate word for screaming matches that had concerned onlookers sure someone was going to be murdered.

“-You’ve been a phenomenal influence on Team 7 and they hold you in high regard.”

Kakashi blinked, stunned.

“I know I haven’t agreed with all your methods, but I do consider you a very good influence on them.” Iruka resisted the urge to huge Kakashi good-bye and teleported out before the jounin could respond.

Kakashi stared at the empty space Iruka had been occupying. Was that a goodbye?

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Meeting Hall, Inuzuka Clan Compound: :

4 Hours 31 Minutes Remaining

Tsume took a long drag from her pipe and watched the shinobi of the Inuzuka clan run through drills. The training area occupied the center of the clan compound, a large dirt field that also served as the clan’s gathering place when they needed to hold clan meetings. Tsume often spent her free moments watching the drills from the steps of the Inuzuka Shrine, Kuromaru curled up at her feet.

A young kunoichi set a tray of tea on the step next to her and left to join the drills. The steam from the tea wafted up and Tsume inhaled the scent of a good, strong green tea. It went well with the smoke from her pipe and the crisp fall air. They’d been drilling non-stop for the last few weeks. Tsume had no intention of being taken by surprise by the Council when they finally decided to strike. She had her shinobi keeping an eye on the Council and the investigation into Naruto and Sasuke. While there was no doubt they were strong enough in a pitched battle, like Iruka, she worried about their experience dealing with false allies like Koharu and Homura. Who made their living in the darker shadows of the shinobi world and usually resorted to stabbing their allies in the back. Kind hearts and trusting souls didn’t always last long and Tsume had no intention of seeing the damage Iruka would wreak if something happened to the two. Of course, Tsume and the others would be right there with him.

Shibi and his bodyguards entered the training area. Shibi nodded respectfully to the drilling ninja and joined Tsume, while his bodyguards jumped in on the training. She had no doubt Shino was with Kiba, wherever he was. They thought they were being so sneaky, but Tsume and Shibi had both caught on relatively quickly. They hadn’t said anything though, comfortable waiting for the two to approach them when they were ready. Hinata kept them well informed on any developments anyway.

The young Hyuuga had spent most of her nights at the Inuzuka compound since the end of the war and despite Tsume’s many loud discussions with Hiashi, there had yet to be any resolution to the problem. Tsume was rapidly approaching the end of her rope. Shibi had counseled patience, like he always did, but he hadn’t told Hiashi where Hinata was staying either. Shibi had a quiet way of making his opinion known that was, at times, far more effective than Tsume’s violence. In the wake of the war the clans of Konohagakure were withdrawing into themselves, the exact opposite of what they needed to be doing.

Iruka was wrapped up in worrying about Naruto and Sasuke and his revenge against the Council. The rest of the Hanta were torn between their desire to follow Iruka and whatever lives they’d managed to scrape together for themselves in the last few years, all under the shadow of the Council’s threats. If Fugaku had still been around he’d never have allowed it to go on this long. It made Tsume’s heart hurt to think of her old friend and the suffering felt by his children that he would have killed to prevent. Sakumo and Duy would have been just as upset and Tsume found that she missed the two kinder members of the Hanta the most in these less then kinder times. Their sons were exactly like the men who had begot them, though she knew that at least in Kakashi’s case he strove to be different. But no matter how hard the exterior he tried to project, he still had Sakumo’s kind heart. Tsume had been present at his birth, the first to hold him after his father and she’d always kept an eye on Kakashi after his father’s death, though she respected Saukmo’s wish to keep him away from Hanta. She laughed to herself as she thought about Sakumo’s reaction to learning that his son was in line to be the Rokudaime Hokage.

“At least they were allowed to say a proper good bye,” Shibi broke in, as always well aware of what Tsume had been thinking. “I’m sure Sakumo rests much better now that he and Kakashi were able to settle their differences.”

“They weren’t differences,” Tsume growled, “It was a stubborn child refusing to listen to his father.”

“Yes, genius always goes hand in hand with stubbornness,’ Shibi’s amusement as clear and he picked up his cup of tea and sipped. He’d always refused to try her pipe, the Aburame were strictly against any kind of tobacco due to the smoke and the negative effect it had on their insects. The Aburame compound was the only place in the village Tsume would never light her pipe. Sakumo had loved her pipe and the expensive specialty tobacco Tsume gathered from the far northern lands that were covered in snow ninety-percent of the year. He’d never smoked it at the Hatake compound though, afraid Kakashi would see and pick up the habit.

“Any news about Naruto and Sasuke?” Shibi interrupted her thoughts again, as his Aburame shinobi launched into an attack against a pack of her Inuzuka.

Tsume shook her head. “I expect Iruka will tell us as soon as he finds out.”

If he didn’t, the giant explosion and the multitude of screams and fire and death that followed certainly would. The tell-tale hum of Iruka’s chakra appeared at the edge of her senses then, his timing somehow perfect. He appeared just to the edge of training bout and ducked to avoid a kunai at the last second.

The training bout was mostly for show after his arrival, all the shinobi were trying to keep one eye and both ears on the news Iruka carried.

“Tsume-meijin, Shibi-sama,” Iruka bowed respectfully.

“Well?” Tsume demanded, though logic dictated that it was too early for the Council to accept a completed investigation.

“Naruto and Sasuke have been cleared. They’ll return to duty as active shinobi.” Iruka sounded victorious but something was off. Tsume had been present at his birth and every major milestone of his life, she could tell whenever he tried to hide something.

Shibi clearly suspected something as well because he said, “They came back that quickly? It hasn’t even been a day.”

Iruka shrugged, careful not to look away lest he make it even clearer he was hiding something. He needn’t have bothered. Tsume had the scent now, it just seemed too good to be true. “What did you give the Council Iruka?”

Iruka squared his shoulders, clearly ready to fight to defend his decision. “No one but myself. Don’t interfere.” That was the Ookami, leader of the Hanta.

Tsume bared her teeth, “Don’t order me around boy. I helped make you what you are and if you think I’m going to let you throw it away, in some foolhardy plan then your stupider then even the Council thinks you are.”

Iruka bristled, “I’m not stupid, I know they won’t hold up their end of the bargain. I just need to buy time.”

“You’re sacrificing strength for time,” Shibi counseled, “It may help in this battle, but it will not help in the war.”

“I know that, but the whole point of the war was to protect Naruto and Sasuke and to make sure the Council and Danzo pay for what they did.” Iruka swallowed past the tightness in his throat, “If they get Naruto and Sasuke what’s the point of saving the village?”

And that was what it always came down to. Iruka had lost faith in the village, but he hadn’t lost faith in Naruto and Sasuke. The village was where Naruto and Sasuke wanted their futures and that made it valuable to Iruka. Tsume had her own days like that, but she’d also had decades to learn that it was only a passing feeling. The Clan was hearth and the Village was home and Tsume could still remember the loneliness from the decades spent up on the mountain by herself.

Iruka took a deep breath, “I just came to say goodbye.”

The Inuzuka and Aburame had stopped pretending to spar and were openly watching the three of them now.

“Iruka, reconsider,” Shibi stood, taking the young teacher by the shoulders.

“No,” Iruka shook his head, stubborn until the end.

“Tsunade may yet step in,” Shibi tried but it fell on deaf ears. None of them held much hope of that. Tsunade was a competent Hokage but she was unaware of the history between the Council and the Clans that made up the Hanta.

Iruka pulled away from Shibi and stepped back. “Don’t interfere, please.” And he disappeared in a cloud of smoke and leaves.

Tsume took a long pull from her pipe, the calm of battle coming over her. Shibi turned to her, apprehensive.

“Tsume…”

She released the smoke and took a sip of tea. The Inuzuka and Aburame shinobi watched with baited breath. “If they kill Iruka, I will kill them all.”

Her words put a chill in the air.

“You will start another war Tsume,” Shibi cautioned, as though he wouldn’t be right at her side if it came to that.

“Apparently it is needed as no one seems to have learned anything from the last one,” she snarled. “This foolishness has gone on long enough.”

“It is Fugaku’s plan and it is going exactly as he predicted.” Shibi reminded her. “He warned us that this would happen. The final dark before the dawn.”

“It is not a price I am willing to pay and I told him that then,” Tsume remembered that meeting and brutal fight that had come after. She hadn’t agreed with the plan to sacrifice the Uchiha clan but Fugaku had been adamant, there was no other way out. “He should have considered that before he died.”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Hanta Shrine, Uchiha Compound: :

3 Hours 26 Minutes Remaining

The Uchiha compound was quiet, like it had been for the last decade. A graveyard. A living memorial to the Clan that had once fought and died with honor for their village. To the parents that had raised generations in its ancient homes and the children that played in its streets without fear. To the people who had loved Iruka before he had ever earned it and who had left long before he was ready for it.

Everything was covered in dust now. Doors that hadn’t been opened since that night were practically rusted shut. Iruka had never been able to bring himself to maintain the buildings, that would have meant going inside and facing what was left.

The flags with the Uchiha fan still hung over every door, faded with the years. Iruka walked the main road, past the Military Police Headquarters. The bittersweet building that had been meant with good intentions but resulted in the opposite. Beyond it lay the famed Uchiha gardens.

Fugaku hadn’t given a damn about them but Mikoto and the Sandaime had loved them. It was the only place on Earth where chrysanthemums grew in a beautiful, rich pacific blue. The plants had simply appeared one day, a few months after the Uchiha had built the compound, using the same wood release Hashirama had used to build the foundations of the village itself. Linked to the Clan’s chakra; one flower budded, bloomed with the achievement of the Sharingan, lived and died with each Clan member. There had been multiple times in the Clan’s history when they’d learned of the death of Clan member through the death of a flower, long before they’d been notified by ANBU. On rarer occasions it had confirmed a missing member was still alive and given hope. Iruka and Fugaku had known the darkness to come when Obito’s flower had remained in full bloom long after his reported death.

The day after the Fall of the Uchiha Iruka had checked the garden, relieved to find five in full bloom and one still a bud. He’d been elated again, several years later when another had returned in full bloom and less elated when the bud itself had bloomed. Iruka regularly checked on all seven, just to make sure. Now, he just glanced at them on his way through the garden.

Ensconced in the garden lay the Uchiha Cemetery. Some Uchiha had been carved into the Memorial Stone, the Clan as a whole was listed for the Fall. The Uchiha had always taken the deaths of their members deeply and the mistrust of the village had stung with every name omitted from the stone due to questions of their loyalty. Their personal cemetery had a headstone for every clan member that had died going back to Indra, his stone at the far back, marking the beginning of the cemetery. Iruka laid the flowers at Fugaku’s headstone and paused for a few seconds. An apology for not sticking with the plan Fugaku had died to implement. An apology for not being the son he should have been. The brother he should have been. But Fugaku had always understood the importance of protecting Naruto and Sasuke. It had been the one thing they had never argued over.

In the farthest corner of the sprawling compound stood the Uchiha shrine, Hantahoru. It was the first building the Clan had built during the establishment of the village and it was the only building in the compound that those outside the Uchiha Clan, the Inuzuka Clan, and the Aburame Clan were not allowed to enter.

They were waiting for him inside. What remained of the last generation of Hanta that would ever live in the Village Hidden in the Leaves.

Mitarasi Anko. Hebi. The Snake. The newest member of the Hanta, she’d only been active for a few years before Iruka had resigned and ended the group. She’d been angry, but ever since they were kids she’d trusted Iruka and she’d followed without hesitation.

Kamizuki Izumo. Kurayami. The Darkness. Kind, gentle Izumo. Who held a darkness in him that could destroy the world. He was always the last of them to enter battle, out of fear that the distraction would leave him unable to control the wards that bound it inside of him.

Inuzuka Hana. Ryoken. The Hound. The complete opposite of her mother in temperament but just as brutal in battle and the heir to the Inuzuka Clan. The Three Haimaru Brothers, lay quietly at her feet. Sensing the somber mood, the normally rambunctious brothers were still, watching Iruka enter with the same wild eyes Hana did.

Yakushi Kabuto. Tora. The Tiger. He’d been a member of the Hanta since Yajirobi had found him at the orphanage run by his then-love Nono. Nono had introduced Yajirobi to the five your old Kabuto and Yajirobi had recognized his talent immediately. The tragedy that had followed with Root had left the Hanta even more furious with Danzo and Iruka was ridiculously happy that Yajirobi had been reunited with his apprentice. Kabuto seemed much more secure with himself now and Iruka was further comforted by his fondness for Naruto, Sasuke and Itachi.

Yamaki Yajirobi. Fukurou. The Owl. Iruka’s training partner. From the beginning Yajirobi had been a rock for the other members of Hanta. Quiet, calm and always collected. Iruka had never seen him loose control.

Taka. The Hawk. So dedicated that he’d given up his name and face in the name of duty. Iruka could still remember the first day he’d seen the younger man. He’d been a young boy then, an average shinobi in every way except his will. He’d wanted to be better and his desire had been noble so the Uchiha had given him what he wanted. He’d been absolutely loyal ever since. Though Iruka was slightly concerned about the interest Sakura had into the older shinobi. He hadn’t thought she was old enough to really be interested in things beyond a schoolyard crush.

Hagane Kotetsu. Sutaggu. The Stag. Fuku-Taicho of the Hanta and Iruka’s left-hand. Iruka’s opposite in almost every way. One of Iruka’s closest friends and one of the few that would argue with him to his face and blatantly disregard his orders when he felt justified. The others would look to him when Iruka was gone and Iruka was confident he would take care of them. Although he was going to make sure Kotetsu did leave Kakashi alone.

The holes from their missing members were painfully obvious. Itachi. Tatsu. The Dragon. Iruka’s other half. Shisui. Washi. The Eagle. The most level headed of the Hanta and frequently, their heart. Tsume, who’d named her son after her codename, Kiba, the Fang and Shibi, Wasupu, the Wasp, no longer attended Hanta meetings, trying to step back and make way from the next generation. Though Iruka knew that the losses of Fugaku, Mikoto, Sakumo, and Might still weighed heavily on the only two surviving members of the last generation of Hanta.

“This is a stupid plan,” was out of Kotetsu’s mouth before Iruka had even reached them.

“It’s just to buy time,” Iruka insisted.

“Except you’ll be dead after,” Hana interjected.

That was the downside to Iruka’s plan.

“With the way things are going that might not be a big issue,” Yajirobi pointed out and they all paused at that.

“You’re going to leave right when we’re needed.” Kotetsu pointed out.

“They made it through the war without us.” Iruka argued.

“With Naruto and Sasuke,” Anko pointed out, “If the Council gets to them there won’t be anyone else left.”

“And after them, who knows who else.” Taka interjected quietly. “What’s to stop them from going after Kakashi and Tsunade next?”

“That’s why I have to do this,” Iruka insisted, “And that’s why all of you have to kill the Council when the time is right.”

“That won’t be a problem,” Izumo agreed. They were all just waiting for the right time to do it anyway.

“And you,” Iruka turned to Kotetsu, “Leave Kakashi alone.”

A look of total innocence came over Kotetsu’s face, “I don’t know what you’re talking about and since you’re so determined to die, guess you won’t be around to make me.”

Iruka sighed, Kotetsu was the only person that could come close to reaching Iruka’s levels of stubbornness. “Ko, Naruto and Sasuke are going to need him.”

“He has no idea what’s going on,” Kotetsu argued, “That was the only reason he was allowed to keep Obito’s eye.”

“He’s not exactly a bad guy,” Izumo pointed out. Kakashi was a great guy, even when he worked hard not to be.

“He was Root,” Yajirobi reminded them. He had a personal vendetta against them that he’d never let go of.

“He’s not anymore,” Anko reminded them, “Kakashi’s a good guy and he loves Naruto and Sasuke.”

“Is this really what everyone wants to talk about right before Iruka’s execution?” Hana broke in.

“He might not get executed,” Anko responded but there was no confidence in her statement. Even if Tsunade pardoned him Iruka would likely die of some unknown poison or accident while in ANBU’s custody. In a rare show of genuine affection, Anko hugged Iruka tightly and Hana followed suit. The two kunoichi kept Iruka wrapped tightly in their arms as the others joined in. It seemed like a childish thing to do but they’d fought together since they were children. They were all that was left of the way of life that had existed when they were children and when the last of them died it would be gone forever and most of the world would never even know it had ever existed. It was a depressing thought. When they were children the Hanta and the 3 Clans that made it up had seemed like an undefeatable force that would go on forever.

So many things had changed.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Mission Room, Kohonagakure: :

2 Hours Remaining

It was a regular day in the Mission Room. As regular as they got after the end of the war. Kakashi was in the midst of formulating a plan to subtly confront Iruka and ignoring Kurenai’s disapproval. She and Guy had tucked themselves into a small corner and seemed to be deep in discussion about something they wouldn’t share. Kakashi was glad they’d both found someone to confide in but a small part of him was hurt that his best friend wouldn’t talk to him. He’d always considered Kurenai a close friend too and he was honestly kind of surprised that the two of them had turned to one another.

Asuma had rejoined the active ranks, as had Jiraya and both men sat with Kakashi now. They were much more willing to indulge Kakashi’s antics with Iruka than Kurenai. Genma had volunteered to help, he thought the whole thing was hilarious. Raido was more disapproving but he didn’t tell them to stop. Yamato and Sai stayed out of it, Sai didn’t want to make Naruto and the others angry and Yamato was too mature. Kakashi had been careful to keep the scheme from Shizune and thus from Tsunade.

She and Iruka couldn’t seem to find common ground and it had already caused several public outbursts between the two. Tsunade had never punished iruka, out of respect for her old teacher and his fondness for the Academy sensei, but Kakashi knew that as Hokage she wouldn’t be able to let it slide for much longer. Some of the jounin and ANBU shinobi that weren’t as familiar with the teacher were already whispering that he needed to fix his attitude or be taught a lesson. No one Kakashi counted as a friend felt that way, most of them were familiar enough with Iruka to realize that his passion came from his love for his students and they all understood that feeling.

Iruka may have only been a chuunin, but he was well respected for his work and his care for his students. Even Kakashi, who didn’t always agree with his opinions, respected him greatly. It made the odd little things that didn’t add up all the more interesting and since Tsunade had relaxed her Hokage-in-Training regime Kakashi had a little bit of time to kill. What better way to spend it, then getting to know the man Kakashi had decided to make his mate? Eventually he’d have to tell Iruka about that little development, but he had plenty of time for that.

“Has anyone seen Tsunade-sama yet?” Shizune wandered in, carrying a giant stack of scrolls for the Hokage’s review.

Kakashi shook his head, he had a meeting scheduled to update her on his Hanta investigation but so far she was a no show. He’s just figured she’d gotten stuck at another meeting, it had happened often enough.

They all looked up when a large group of ANBU arrive and shuffled off to the side. Not a large group, it looked like all of ANBU that weren’t on guard duty or missions. Kakashi straightened, something was wrong and he wasn’t the only one that thought that. Asuma, Genma, Radio, Yamato, Sai, even Kurenai and Gai had abandoned their conversation and were openly watching as Taka arrived.

Ibiki arrive seconds later, flanked by the heads of each of his departments.

“Ibiki, what’s going on?” Genma stood, as head of the Hokage’s Protection Force he was usually aware of any major meetings.

“Hell if I know,” the interrogator growled, “I was summoned.”

“So was I,” Taka stated softly and he didn’t sound happy about it. Not many people dared to summon the Head of ANBU.

The Konoha Council appeared in a flash of leaves and smoke, escorted by ANBU members wearing masks Kakashi didn’t recognize. Root.

For a second it was like the air had been sucked out of the room. Root had never been so bold as to appear in the open and especially not in a room full of Konoha shinobi, several of whom were former members. The way they stood, flanking the Council made it clear what they were doing there.

“You’ve got some guts showing up here,” Asuma growled and climbed to his feet. The others followed suit.

Root didn’t respond, remaining silent fanned out around Koharu and Homura.

“They are here at our command,” Koharu responded smoothly, unruffled by the fact that the majority of Konoha’s strongest shinobi were facing her down.

“You don’t have the right to summon me,” Taka broke in, ramping up the tension further.

Homura stiffened, “We thought you might want to be present for this instead of hearing it secondhand.”

“We simply thought to keep you abreast of the situation,” Koharu interjected smoothly.

“Don’t assume on my behalf again,” Taka growled and to the surprise of everyone, teleported out with his personal guard.

“How disrespectful!” One of the Root ANBU seethed.

Or how well planned. The Council didn’t seem surprised by his actions. Kakashi stepped in then, still unsure if he was going to try and prevent bloodshed or lead it. Root wouldn’t have shown its face without relative confidence that this was going to go their way. “What is going on?”

Koharu smiled and it sent chills down Kakashi’s spine. “A traitor to the Village Hidden in the Leaves has been identified.”

“A traitor?” Genma repeated, “We haven’t heard of any attack?”

“This traitor is charged with dereliction of duty for turning his back on this village at its most dire hour.” Koharu stated and held motioned a Root ANBU holding a scroll forward. He held it out to Kakashi, faltering when the Hokage in training didn’t reach out and take it. Silence fell as everyone watched the battle of wills. The Council bristled, well aware that Kakashi wasn’t just refusing the scroll, he was openly challenging their authority. It would set the tone for his time as Hokage and if the Council failed to maintain their influence while he was still in training then they sure as hell wouldn’t have any when he became Hokage.

“This matter cannot be ignored Hatake,” Homura growled.

“Last I checked you don’t have the authority to issue warrants or declare shinobi traitors without a trial,” Kakashi kept his voice cool and void.

“The shinobi in question admitted his guilt.” Koharu stated.

“To who?” Raido asked.

“Homura and myself, in our office.”

“When?” Ibiki broke in.

“A few hours ago. Out of recognition for his prior service we gave him five hours to say goodbye to his loved ones.” Koharu managed to make an act of mercy sound slimy.

“Or a five-hour head start,” Ibiki pointed out. He didn’t like when people pointed their nose into his business, it always meant more work for him.

Koharu just barely managed to contain her glee, “If he does he will be hunted down.”

“Who is it?” Yamato asked as Sai reached out and took the scroll from the Root ANBU and handed it to Kakashi.

Kakashi unrolled the scroll.

Koharu openly smiled. “Umino Iruka. He has one hour left to surrender himself into our custody or he will be declared a missing nin.”

ooo000ooo

Chapter Text

ooo000ooo

Chapter 10
Kokoro no Kaze
A cold of the soul

There is probably no more terrible instant of enlightenment than the one in which you discover your father is a man – with human flesh. – Dune

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Mission Room, Kohonagakure: :

32 Minutes Remaining

Kakashi could feel the seconds ticking away in time with his heartbeat. The clock on the wall of the mission room was the focus of the majority of Konoha’s jounin and ANBU. Koharu, Homura and Root occupied a small corner of the Mission Room, wisely keeping themselves separate from the majority that were already jumpy and paranoid with their presence. Kakashi stroked the kunai in his pocket, reassured by its presence and the edge he’d sharpened the night before. His mind was racing, trying to figure all the angles and avenues of what was happening and what could happen. Was this connected to Tsunade’s investigation into the Hanta? But what did Iruka have to do with that? The Academy Sensei had worked the mission desk for years but hadn’t taken anything more than a B-ranked mission since he’d joined the Academy. He was an advisor to Sandaime but he and Tsunade didn’t get along and Kakashi doubted she’d listen to Iruka’s opinion on anything except maybe Naruto or the Academy.

“I can’t believe this,” Shizune murmured. “I thought he fought during Pain’s attack?”

“He did,” Asuma growled and nodded to Kakashi. “Kakashi saved him from Pain himself.”

“This is bullshit,” Genma growled, “They’re trying something.” Raido nodded in agreement and all of them kept one eye on the Konoha Council and Root.

“I don’t like how fearless they are,” Ibiki muttered, “Their criminals but they act like they’re the law.”

“As long as they’re with the Council they might as well be,” Raido pointed out, “At least until someone finds Tsunade.”

Hiashi entered the room, Neji and Hanabi with him. “Hatake-san, where is the Hokage?”

“No idea,” Kakashi shrugged.

“ANBU’s been trying to find her all morning,” Shizune worried, clutching an armful of scrolls tightly to her chest.

“The Hokage is missing?” Jiraya’s voice boomed in the quiet room and made a good number of shinobi jump and reach for weapons. “What the hell is going on?”

“The Council is charging Iruka with treason,” Kurenai explained.

“Iruka? You mean Umino, Naruto’s teacher?” Jiraya had only met the teacher a handful of time, but Naruto’s adoration of the man was well known.

“We can’t find Tsunade,” Shizune broke in. “Did you stay with her last night?” A wildly inappropriate question only justified by the honest worry behind it.

Kakashi snapped to attention and around without thinking, the others only half a second behind him. Iruka’s chakra flashed over them, unhidden and moments later he appeared in a flash of smoke and leaves. He was in his normal uniform, hair up like always and just as defiant. He didn’t look around for support, didn’t even hesitate as the Konoha Council approached him and Root moved to surrounded them all to prevent interference.

“Iruka,” Koharu could barely contain her glee.

“Koharu.” It took every ounce of strength Iruka had not to stab her in the eye with a kunai. They familiarity didn’t go unnoticed.

“Umino Iruka,” her voice dripped with victory, “You are hereby charged with treason by way of dereliction of duty during Pain’s onslaught of the village. Surrender yourself to ANBU’s custody. You will be tried by a jury of your peers for your crimes.”

Root ANBU surrounded Iruka, but stayed well out of arms reach.

“No one is arresting him without the Hokage’s order,” Kakashi stepped in. Neither Koharu or Iruka paid him any attention, continuing their stare down.

“Well where is she, boy?” Homura growled.

No one answered.

“You don’t know where the Hokage is?” Homura demanded.

“No one has seen her today,” Shizune admitted because by now, it was a serious problem that no one knew where the Hokage was.

“Root is not an official organization. They have no authority,” Kakashi growled.

That got Koharu’s attention. “They serve the Konoha Council.”

“The Konoha Council is meant to advise the Hokage, you do not have the power to issue arrest warrants.” Kakashi stood his ground.

The air in the room became tense as Koharu turned to Kakashi. Genma and the others immediately flanked him and Jiraya stepped forward.

“Don’t over step your responsibilities, Koharu.” Jiraya warned, “You are not the Hokage.”

“The same could be said for you, Jiraya.” Koharu sneered. “Just because you bed her, does not allow you to make her decisions.”

Jiraya snarled and Raido and Asuma had to grab him before the Sanin started a war.

Her chakra appeared before she did. Heavy, angry and blanketing as Tsunade appeared in a flash of smoke and leaves and her presence silenced the entire room. She was dressed in the same clothes she’d worn yesterday, circles under her eyes revealed she hadn’t slept the night before. Her eyes located Iruka and didn’t move.

Iruka finally turned, he and Tsunade facing one another. She had a dusty old scroll in her hands and Iruka recognized the hand-writing immediately. She knew then. It figured that the Sandaime would find a way to interfere from the grave.

Tsunade ignored everyone but the chuunin staring her down with a defiance that seemed a lot more like hatred now. The Village would have to wait, dealing with Iruka was more important and Tsunade had faith that Kakashi and the others wouldn’t let anything catastrophic happen in her absence. There was a deeper anger to her drive though, she was the last Senju, she was meant to be the one to take down Iruka. And she knew just where to do it. “The Valley of the End.” She smirked as she said it and Iruka answered in kind.

“Fitting.”

They teleported out before anyone could stop them and left a heavy silence in their absence.

“Go after them!” Homura snarled at his Root soldiers.

“Anyone that leaves without the Hokage’s approval will be arrested!” Shizune snapped in a rare show of temper. Whatever was happening with Tsunade was clearly taking its toll on her.

Voices rose as shinobi demanded to know what was going on and became more panicked as everyone realized no one knew what was actually happening. ANBU blocked Root from leaving but it placed Kakashi directly in the Council’s line of fire.

“Stand down Hatake, you are not in command.” Koharu snarled.

“Yes he is,” Genma argued, “The Hokage has already announced her intention to have him succeeded her.”

“That has not been voted on yet,” Homaru’s tone suggested something ominous.

But it was Kotetsu and Izumo, Iruka’s close friends and office mates that managed to silence the room.

Standing off to the side, Izumo nudged his teammate. “Did you get it?”

Kotetsu smirked and held up the scroll that had been clasped in Tsunade’s hand. It was Koharu taking notice that alerted the rest of the room.

“Hagane,” her voice was a warning.

“Not a chance old hag.” It had been his chosen nickname for her since he was a child and his brazen defiance made the rest of the room stop and stare.

“What is happening?” Sai demanded, pushing forward to stand with Kakashi.

“Do not make a mistake now Hagane, your precious Taichou isn’t here to defend you.” Homaru sneered. Root surrounded him and suddenly shinobi throughout the room were drawing weapons and preparing to fight. Izumo’s eyes went completely black as his chakra roared to life. Koharu and Homura took an inadvertent step back.

“What is that?” Raido hissed, he’d never felt chakra like Izumo’s before. None of them had but clearly Root knew something about it because they were slowly backing away.

Kotetsu’s smile was full of promises of blood. “What’s wrong? I thought Root wasn’t scared of anything?”Kotetsu’s own chakra began to rise, surpassing anything Kakashi and the others had ever felt from him before.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Umino Iruka’s Apartment, Kohonagakure: :

They were all gathered in Iruka’s living room, waiting impatiently for Naruto and Sasuke to return from their interrogations with ANBU. Iruka had cautioned them not to be optimistic, it was likely they’d end up being in ANBU’s custody for several days.

Kiba groaned theatrically, “I can’t take this, when are we going to find out anything?”

“They could be in there for days,” Shikimaru muttered.

Ino and Sakura shared a look. “So Shika,” Ino started with a grin. Shikimaru instinctively inched away.

Sakura matched Ino’s grin. “Have you talked to Temari?”

Shikimaru winced, “No.”

“Why not? You know she came to see you?” Ino demanded.

“She did not, she’s here to help her brother.” Shikimaru snorted, inching further away.

Sakura and Ino rolled their eyes.

“She is not,” Sakura jumped in. “She definitely came to see you.”

Iruka’s front door blew open, bouncing off the wall with a crack that made them all jump. Naruto burst inside, dragging Sasuke behind him.

“WE’RE FREE!!” Naruto roared with glee, Sasuke winced and covered his ears.

“Yes!!” Kiba and Lee roared in response and leapt to their feet.

“I feel like that’s not exactly what happened,” Shino commented, though he climbed to his feet as well.

Naruto threw his arm around Sasuke’s shoulders and grinned. Sasuke permitted a small smile, that grew bigger as the rest of the Rookie Eleven enveloped them in a group hug.

“It’s not what happened,” Sasuke agreed, “The Dobe’s simplifying it.”

“What did they say exactly?” Sakura demanded.

“We’re on probation. Yajirobi and Iruka have to know where we are at all times and we have to have weekly meetings with Ibiki. We can’t go back on active service yet either.” Sasuke explained.

“That seems way too easy,” Shikimaru frowned.

Naruto shrugged, “It’s the first step in the right direction. I saw Iruka-sensi talking to Ibiki before they let us go. He probably knows more.”

“You didn’t get all the information before you left?” Sakura squawked.

“Iruka-sensei is handling it.” Naruto’s faith was blinding and rock solid. They all shared it but it occurred to Sakura that neither Naruto or Iruka talked about their first years together, before the rest of the world had become involved.

“How did you and Iruka-sensei meet, Naruto?” Sakura asked.

Naruto was quiet for a minute, his gaze somewhere beyond the small living room of Iruka’s apartment.

ooo000ooo

13 years ago

: :Streets of Konohagakure: :

He was small for his age. At five he could walk, run and climb but most kids his age were a few inches taller than him. Their ribs didn’t show. They didn’t have untreated scraps and bruises. The Sandaime made sure he was taken care of, but he was the Hokage and he couldn’t be there every minute of every day. His care drastically decreased when the Sandaime wasn’t there to oversee it.

He’d started making a game of sneaking out when the Hokage was working. No one tried too hard to stop him. So far he’d managed to get away for two days without anyone coming after him. Things were heating up with Rock again and anyone that worked in the Hokage’s Tower was busy.

But he had a problem now. A big one. He was starving and he didn’t have any money or anyway to get any. No one would give him any handouts, they all recognized him. If he managed to get in the front door it only took a few minutes for the whispers to start. If someone didn’t kick him out immediately the whispers drove him out after a few minutes. He was getting better at staying longer, in the beginning he wouldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds. Now he could stand them for almost ten minutes.

Tonight wasn’t one of those nights though. He barely stepped inside before the owner of the restaurant had blocked his path. He’d snuck around the back alley to see if there was something stacked by the back door or in the dumpster and had no luck. It must have been trash pickup earlier that day. He wandered to the entrance of the alley. It started to rain. Feet bare, he’d lost his shoes the day before. Shorts and shirt torn, he didn’t have many cloths so he wore them until they fell apart at the seams. He was covered in dirt; the rain would wash it off now.

He watched the crowd move along the street. No one looked at him. A few made a point to look away. No one spoke to little boy getting soaked in the midst of the trash filled alley. Naruto fought back tears. He tried to be strong but the cut on his knee started to sting as the rain washed out some of the dirt. He scrubbed his arms over his eyes to force the tears away.

“Hey.”

The voice was warm and startled Naruto. He looked around to see who it was for. There was no one in the alley but him. He turned. Two boys, teenagers, had stopped and the crowd was forced to flow around them. Like rocks in the river that refused to be moved no matter how strong the current.

Naruto blinked. Maybe he’d been imaging the voice.

“Kid, you okay?” The taller of the two spoke. His eyes were big, dark and depthless. Naruto had never seen eyes like that before. His skin was a weird color. Darker than most of Konohagakure, at least the ones Naruto had seen. He looked like he was tanned from the sun but it hadn’t been sunny in weeks. He had a long, vicious scar across his face, his haired pulled back into a high ponytail. A shinobi then, despite his age. He stopped forward, waved a hand in front of Naruto’s face. “Yo, can you talk?”

The other boy stepped up and nudged him aside. His skin was pale as moon light, his eyes just as fathomless but a blue instead of brown. His long hair was pulled back into a low pony tail. He was shorter than the other boy, but moved with a more unnatural grace. Like a cat. Naruto had never seen anything like it. Despite their differences, Naruto sensed they were connected. They stood inside one another’s space with ease, all the small touches that came with living in another person’s life seemed like they were treasured. No one touched Naruto like that.

“Are you alright?” He was more refined then the other boy, his voice softer.

They stepped into the alley with him but the fear that normally came with strangers blocking him in, didn’t come this time. Naruto had to crane his neck back to look up at them.

“How old are you?”

Naruto bit his lip, debated answering. Maybe they didn’t know who he was? He finally held up a hand, all five fingers up.

They looked shocked.

“You’re five?” The tan one was clearly the louder of the two. “But you’re so small! Doesn’t anyone feed you?”

Naruto flinched away from him. The pale boy immediately put a calming hand on the other boy’s arm. “Don’t yell Iruka.”

Iruka sputtered but made a visible effort to calm down. His words came through gritted teeth. “He looks like he hasn’t eaten days. Why the fuck isn’t someone taking care of him?”

The pale boy smiled at Naruto. “Where are your parents?”

They didn’t recognize him. People were glancing at them as they walked by. Someone would tell them soon and then they’d stop talking to him just like everyone else.

“Dead.” Neither boy even flinched and Naruto blinked.

“Who’s supposed to be taking care of you?” Iruka demanded. The other boy looked at him with resigned fondness. Iruka apparently couldn’t control his temper.

“The Hokage.” They didn’t even blink. Naruto started to get nervous. If they didn’t care about the Hokage, then they weren’t scared of him. He backed away.

“Where are you going?” Iruka demanded and advanced as Naruto retreated, gaining speed with every step. Iruka reached for him and Naruto threw up his hands in self-defense.

“Leave me alone! Don’t hurt me!”

Iruka froze, face going pale. Naruto peeked out from behind his arms. Iruka and the other boy both looked furious now. They were going to kill him.

An adult broke off from the crowd and stepped into the alley. Would he save Naruto? No, he ignored him and spoke to Iruka and the other boy, bowing deeply. Naruto had only ever seen people bow to the Hokage like that.

“Iruka-san, Itachi-san.”

“What do you want?” Iruka still sounded furious and he turned on the stranger with that rage, like he wasn’t afraid at all of the adult and what he might do. Itachi stepped between Naruto and Iruka, but he stood at Iruka’s shoulder in support. Naruto couldn’t see the adult anymore.

“I wanted to warn you Iruka-san.”

“About what?” Iruka sounded like he was losing his patience. If he had any, Naruto certainly hadn’t seen it.

“That thing.”

Naurto didn’t think it was possible but he thought he felt the temperature in the alley drop several degrees. Itachi stiffened and Naruto saw his hand fall to something under his jacket. He was armed.

“What thing?” Iruka repeated, his tone terrifyingly cold now.

Naruto couldn’t see the adult so he couldn’t tell what happened next. Itachi, moving faster than Naruto had ever seen, wrapped him in his cloak and covered his eyes. Naruto heard a crunch, a cry of pain and then raised voices from the street, but Iruka’s voice drowned everything else out.

“GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE YOU USELESS PRICK! Anybody else have something to say?!”

Naruto, wrapped in Itachi’s cloak and arms, heard everything muffled but felt Itachi’s laughter as the boy’s body shook. “Sorry about him, he’s not good at being subtle.” Itachi’s arms were warm so Naruto was willing to go along with whatever he said.

“FUCKERS!” Iruka’s language was a lot more mature than him apparently.

The next thing he knew, Naruto was pulled from Itachi’s arms and off the ground. When he opened his eyes, he was eye level with Iruka’s bright, brown eyes. “Hey kid, are you hungry?”

Naruto blinked, not sure what to do. He cast a sideward glance at Itachi and noticed he was looking towards the entrance of the alley with a terrifying look on his face. Naruto looked beyond Iruka and realized the crowd was rapidly moving away from them. Whoever Iruka and Itachi were, they were somebody.

Naruto turned back to Iruka, the older boy had defended him to complete strangers and he hadn’t even hesitated. So had Itachi, but it was hard not to focus on anything but the emotional face that held Naruto hostage. He was still waiting for Naruto’s answer.

Naruto’s stomach answered for him, gurgling loudly. For a moment nothing happened then Iruka broke into a huge smile that seemed to brighten the whole world. He hugged Naruto close, the way Naruto had seen parents carry their children but in a way no one had ever held him. Itachi joined them and Naruto realized he had the same expression. Despite their drastically different looks, they had to be related. They had the same world-shifting smile.

“Ramen it is,” Iruka announced and Itachi groaned. Iruka looked at him, comical betrayal on his face. “What? Ramen is awesome.” Iruka turned back to him, “Right Naruto?”

Naruto’s heart stopped. They knew who he was. They’d always known. They’d always known and they’d stopped to talk to him anyway. Naruto nodded frantically, hunger taking over, fisting his hands in Iruka’s shirt so the older boy wouldn’t let him go. Itachi sighed dramatically and Naruto saw his hands moving quickly to form seals Naruto had seen the Hokage make. Smoke enveloped them and when everything cleared, the most delicious smell filled Naruto’s senses.

“Welcome to Ramen Ichiraku.”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Umino Iruka’s Apartment, Konohagakure: :

“Oh my god it’s all Iruka-sensei’s fault!” Sakura wailed.

“What? What’s Iruka-sensei’s fault?” Naruto looked confused, Sasuke just put his head in his hands as the others started to laugh.

Naruto shrugged, an invisible yoke of guilt settled over his shoulders as he glanced across the room at a picture of his younger-self on Iruka’s shoulders. “Most of Iruka-sensei’s scars are from protecting me.”

“You mean the big one on his back?” Kiba asked, leaning in. “The one he got from Mizuki-sensei?”

“Yeah that one, but there’s others,” Naruto admitted. “He’s got scars on his hands from catching me before I fell onto broken glass. His shins are all scared up from when he caught me and covered me when I fell down the side of hill in the forest. He’s got three scars running up his rib cage from catching me when I was trying to juggle shuriken and I slipped. He broke his arm twice while I was trying to learn how to ride a bike and I broke his toe when I was trying to teach myself how to skateboard and almost ran into a light pole. I burned him a few times when I was trying to learn fire jutsus. Actually, I burned down his apartment once too.”

The group stared at him with a mixture of horror and awe.

Kiba was the first to find her voice, “Naruto, you pretty much owe Iruka-sensei your first born.”

“And any kids that come after that,” Choji muttered.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :The Valley of the End: :

The Valley of the End hadn’t changed much since Naruto and Sasuke’s epic confrontation. Tsunade paused for a moment to look over the land her grandfather had molded with his own two hands and the power that rested in them. Before he was all she would have thought of in that regard but now, there was another factor to consider. Uchiha Madera. Tsunade had only ever considered him as an abstract piece of the story, essential but not important. What would the First have said to that? Nothing good, his fondness for the Uchiha was still famous. What would he think of them now? What would he think of the village he founded? As much as she wanted to think he would share her opinions, she had a sinking pit in her stomach that told her he would not be proud of what they had become.

She turned to Iruka. The young sensei just watched her, unblinking in a way she was startled to realize Sasuke did all the time. Something she’d once seen Itachi do. His eyes showed no sign of the kekkai genkai of the clan Sandaime claimed he belonged to. He didn’t have their pale skin or sharp features but the unearthliness was there now that she looked closely. He didn’t look like a stock Uchiha but he didn’t look like everyone else in the village either. There was a terrifying calmness to him and it sent a chill down her spine. Why had she never noticed it before? Iruka’s temper had always made him seem chaotic, all that energy and emotion shooting out of control in every direction. The perfect distraction from the thinly veiled truth and suddenly she was inexplicably, volcanically angry.

“You traitor,” Tsunade snarled.

Iruka sneered. “Traitor to what? The village that turned their back on us? The shinobi that killed us? The people who hunted down my brothers and slaughtered them? You don’t even know what my loyalties are, how can you call me a traitor?”

Sandaime’s words bounced around her skull. “You were a member of the Uchiha uprising. You were going to assassinate Sarutobi.”

“I relented,” Iruka didn’t look happy to admit that, “I trusted my father to guide me and agreed to give the Sandaime a second chance. There were many who did not. The Sandaime forgave me.”

“He was always to trusting for his own good.” And Tsunade hated that that was a bad thing.

Iruka’s laugh was bitter, “I won’t argue with that. He wanted to forgive the others too. He allowed Danzo free reign for years. And when he finally realized what was happening, he supported the annihilation of an entire clan and dozens of their allies!”

“Your clan betrayed the Village,” Tsunade stated.

Iruka shook his head, “Not all of them. And many of us changed our minds while it was still just angry gossiping. Didn’t you ever wonder why there was never a public trial?” Iruka smiled turned bloody.

Tsunade stilled, there had never been a public trial of the Uchiha despite wide spread belief in their treason.

Iruka continued, “When those who refused to reconsider began to plan, we fought a civil war that wiped half of us out. We killed our own flesh and blood to protect the man who turned a blind eye to our demise.”

“The Sandaime was a good man and a great Hokage,” Tsunade said, refusing to believe her beloved teacher would have allowed such actions. “There was evidence against the Uchiha.”

“Created by Danzo, apparently the man trying to steal his position was more trustworthy then the shinobi that died for him every day.”

“So what, you could never forgive him?”

Iruka snorted, “I may have been angry with his decision, but I never took action against the Sandaime. We respected his choices because he never gave us a reason not to. Our quarrel has always been with Danzo, the Council and their Root lackeys.”

Tsunade huffed, “I don’t understand. Why was it so hard for you to just live in the village like everyone else?”

Iruka laughed again, still bitter. “How could you? You’re a Senju.” It sounded so dirty coming out of his mouth. “You’re so damn focused on the future and what could be that you forget to see and consider what actually is. All we wanted to do was the right thing. Protect the village that was our home and the children that were our future.” Iruka paused there, shoulders slumping. “But it’s so damn hard to keep doing the right thing Tsunade, when everyone else is doing something different.”

“You could have told someone what was happening? You could have told everyone. Why let it continue in secret. Maybe if you had, the clan would still be alive.”

Iruka met her eyes for the first time since they’d arrived at the Valley. “You’re asking for the truth only because you think you know what it is. Truth is not what you want it to be; it is what it is, and you must bend to its power or live a lie.” [1]

It was too much to believe. It changed the very foundation of everything Tsunade knew about the village and the shinobi that protected it. She could feel the Seal of a Hundred snapping, her chakra readying itself for battle. “I won’t allow a traitor to remain in the village. Not when we fought so hard for this peace.”

Iruka smiled and Tsunade breath caught in her throat as his eyes began to spin wildly. The Mangekyo Sharingan flared to life in both of his eyes, identical to what Uchiha Itachi wielded before his death. Tsukuyomi in the left, Amaterasu in the right. Which meant he also had the ability of casting Susanoo. For the first time in her life, Tsunade wondered if her strength would be enough. Iruka’s chakra was building wildly, released from whatever seals he used to hide it every day, but she could sense limitations as the edges. Was he limited the same way Itachi had been?

Iruka’s hands flew, making symbols almost faster then she could keep up with and his chakra started to glow a warm golden hue. “I’m sure you recognize my eyes. If not from personal experience, then the reports you’ve read.”

“You took them from his body,” the thought made Tsunade’s stomach turn.

“No,” and he said it so sincerely she believed him. “We were always close, twins in every way but blood.”

“He was a hero.” Tsunade said.

And this time Iruka scoffed, “You say that now, but what did you say before he died?” Iruka raised a hand, index finger pointed at Tsunade. “Before it was more popular to hate him, now everyone feels guilty so they say the love him. But no one really cares Tsunade, because they don’t have to face him.”

“And you do? How twisted was your clan that they’ve made you so messed up?” Tsunade began to gather her chakra.

“Not twisted, connected,” Iruka corrected. “The real kekkai genkai of the Uchiha.”

Tsunade was caught off guard. “What?”

“It’s never been the sharingan Tsunade.”

“Then what is it?” She was getting tired of all this talking.

“Our blood. The blood line of Indra. A genetic memory shared by everyone in the clan.”

Tsunade stopped, “That’s impossible.” And too horrifying to comprehend.

Iruka smirked, “Every love, every loss. Every triumph, every broken heart. Every life and every death. Every memory and emotion, all shared. I can remember the day Madera was born. The day Kikyo came down from the mountain. The day my father took his first step and the moment he first saw my mother. I can still feel Sasuke’s pain when he discovered the clan dead and his trust in Naruto. Why do you think the Curse of Hatred is so strong?”

That made a terrifying amount of sense. The Uchiha had always been emotional, far more than the other clans and the average shinobi.

“We feel one another live and we feel one another die. Can you even imagine what it felt like when they were killed and the slow death in the years before? The loneliness?” There was rage in his voice now. Flames leapt from Iruka’s finger.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Land of Snow: :

Even lands away Kikyo felt Iruka’s chakra roar free of its bonds. It had been sealed away for so long that when it went off it screamed into the sky like a flare. She saw Itachi and Shishui freeze, heads snapping instinctively towards Iruka. There was no chance they’d stick to taking it slow now. Iruka would only lose control in a few, very limited, very serious situations and all of them were enough to make even Kikyo worry.

Itachi’s hand was already reaching for the sword at his back. Shishui was halfway through the hand symbols to teleport. She didn’t bother trying to stop them as they disappeared in a flash of smoke and leaves. Instead she turned back to the Namikaze. Unconscious, he still had the boyish innocence of his childhood. Once he woke, that would be replaced by the iron-willed shinobi that had become Hokage and that was not something Kikyo was looking forward to dealing with. She’d have to work fast to keep him under control.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :The Valley of the End: :

It had been a long time since Tsunade had fought a one on one battle. There had been brief attempts during the war but it had almost always become a team matter. She’d never fought a Uchiha one on one either and even a few minutes into the fight she was already seeing just how different it was. Iruka was at once tightly controlled and completely out of control. He didn’t telegraph any of his movements, there was no hint if he was coming from the left or the right. He switched flawlessly through multiple styles of taijutsu but always seemed to settle back on one she didn’t recognize.

“The Uchiha have their own taijutsu?” It was a guess, but an educated one. It made sense.

Iruka grinned and there was blood on his teeth from a successful blow she’d landed early on. “It’s called Shunko.”

Shunko. Fitting. For the clan in Konoha dedicated the most to war. Tsunade had no idea what kind of taijutsu it was but so far every blow she’d seen had been meant to kill. There were no katas, no combinations, no feints. Iruka’s skill with it did not require any and only Tsunade’s own immense skill had kept her alive. Her rock-solid faith in her own abilities didn’t allow her to consider failure but she was painfully aware that Iruka might actually be the better fighter of the two of them. Which meant Tsunade’s advantage lay with her chakra, Iruka had yet to draw deeply on his. Afraid of emptying his reserves? The Uchiha and the Senju both had huge chakra reserves, but Iruka could only hide so much. He was limited somehow.

She dodged a punch and dropped to sweep Iruka’s feet out from under him. He back flipped clear and she followed. “Who taught you?”

“My father.” Damn, he was flexible and fast.

“His name?” She wanted to hear it from his mouth. As if that would make real what she already believed.

“You already know.” He refused to give her the satisfaction and kicked her into the side of the mountain.

Tsunade coughed up blood from the broken ribs in her chest and with a burst of speed shouldered Iruka through a huge boulder. He rolled and came up on his feet but she’d heard bone break. “Say it anyway.”

She wasn’t prepared for the sadness that swept across his face like a tidal wave and she was even less prepared to hear the truth from his lips.

“Uchiha Fugaku.”

Without conscious thought their battle paused. Both of them breathing through bloody lips. Uchiha Fugaku was Iruka’s father. That made him Itachi and Sasuke’s brother. As the oldest son he’d be the heir to the clan. He should have been the head of the Konoha Military Police.

“Who was your mother?” Because there was no way it had been Mikoto, not with his skin and eyes.

Iruka sneered, “Sarutobi Mali.” He loved his father, but he clearly didn’t feel the same way about the woman who had given birth to him.

God, the Sandaime’s only daughter. Dead how many years ago now? The timeline clicked into place, she’d died in childbirth the same year Iruka had been born. Years before Fugaku and Mikoto had married. Gods, Iruka was a Sarutobi and a Uchiha. He was practically Konoha royalty.

“Mali died giving birth to you.” Even though she hated him, she felt for him. She’d lost her own mother when Nowaki had been born.

Iruka laughed and she straightened. There was nothing sad or suffering about that laugh. He shook his head, “No she didn’t. The Sandaime and Fugaku came up with that lie to protect the reputation of the Sarutobi clan.”

“That’s a lie, Sarutobi would never do that.”

Iruka gave her a pitying look. “She was a member of Root, loyal to Danzo.”

A cold chill washed over her, “That’s impossible.”

“Danzo wanted Uchiha blood but the Clan had never trusted him. Fugaku had been in love with Mali for years, even though she never returned the feeling. He had Mali start a relationship with him so he could have the child.”

“You.”

“It lasted five years before the Uchiha realized what was happening. By then she was already pregnant with me so he waited until I was born before confronting her. But Mali wasn’t stupid.”

No, the woman Tsunade remembered had been anything but. Saurtobi’s daughter had been beautiful and calculating, with her big dark eyes and tan skin, a brilliant kunochi.

“She went to Root to give birth, but she underestimated my father.”

“He followed her,” Tsuande guessed but Iruka shook his head.

“No, he told the Sandaime. Sarutobi didn’t want to believe it at first so he went to see for himself and arrived just as I was born. Danzo wasn’t present but several other high ranked members of Root were.”

“What did he do?” Tsunade had never even rumors of a story like this involving Mali. So few had spoken of her, wary of hurting Sarutobi, his wife or Asuma. They’d even said the child had died in birth as well. The father had never been spoken of.

“He removed their seals and opened the door to my father and the Hanta.”

He opened the doors to a bloodbath was what Iruka really meant. There was no doubt in her mind that Mali had died at the hands of the Hanta, and mostly likely Fugaku’s, for her actions. Along with every other member of Root that had been present that day.

“My father refused to give us up to the Sarutobi clan and the Sandaime felt guilty enough about what had happened that he didn’t fight for us.”

Us? Who the hell was us? There was another sibling? They had to be older then Iruka, unless there was another Uchiha besides Fugaku pulled into Danzo’s scheme. But no more than five years older if they shared the same mother. That’d put them somewhere near Kakashi’s age. “Us?”

Iruka didn’t answer and she wondered if he was considering the intelligence of telling her all these things.

“We’re going to fight to the death, you may as well tell me.” Tsunade said. One of them was going to die today, most likely Iruka. Unless his sibling was also still alive it wouldn’t matter who it was.

Apparently he felt the same way, though she doubted he planned on dying. “Are you sure you want the truth? Do you want to die with it on your conscience?”

Tsunade snarled, “I’ll be fine.”

“No, you won’t.” Iruka’s faith in that was rock solid and it only made her angrier.

“What is the name of the other child?”

“Uchiha Obito.”

She wished he hadn’t told her.

ooo000ooo

Truth is not what you want it to be; it is what it is, and you must bend to its power or live a lie. (Miyamoto Musashi)

Shunko - Instant War Cry (from Bleach)

Chapter Text

ooo000ooo

Chapter 11
Kishi kaisei
Wake from death and return to life

Kiani… There is a great misunderstanding about pain. We are taught to fear it, to avoid it. But pain is a vital part of our lives. For it is simply a reminder to our body that there is a world beyond our simple shells. We are not autonomous beings. Separate from that which is around us. Everything is connected in life. – Fathom (Michael Turner)

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Mission Room, Konohagakure: :

Koharu reached for the scroll but Kotetsu held it over his head and well out of her reach.

“Back off old hag, unless you want to fight for it.” Kotetsu looked like he wanted her to take that route, but Root was careful to stay out of his and Izumo’s reach.

Koharu sneered, “You’re picking a fight you can’t win, Little Boy. Iruka and the Hokage will likely kill each other with their little brawl and when they do, the Council will arrange for a new Hokage.”

“You mean a puppet who’s strings you can pull?” Izumo asked. He glanced around, he and Kotetsu were the only Hanta members there. With Iruka fighting Tsunade and Itachi and Shisui god knows where; only Anko, Yajirobi and Kabuto were unaccounted for. Where the hell were they?

Kakashi and his allies stood together but Izumo wasn’t about to count on them for sure. Iruka’s personal involvement with Kakashi might not work out in their favor, especially when he found out that his father had been Hanta.

“What the hell is going on?” Jiraya roared. The Sanin’s presence was keeping the violence at bay, for now, but if he did decide to start throwing punches there was little chance that anyone would be able to prevent a full-on war.

“Yes, why don’t you tell everyone,” Koharu purred. Kotetsu snarled in response. “Explain how you two, Konoha’s great Hanta, turned your backs on the village. Explain why Iruka did not fight Pain. Why none of you stepped forward during Sound’s assault on the village.”

Kotetsu was honestly surprised that Koharu would so freely admit information that she’d held as power over them for so long. She must have felt she could use it to keep the advantage. And she was right, because he could feel the anger in the room growing. The majority of the shinobi were confused, but charges of desertion were universally hated. He waved the scroll in front of Koharu’s face, childish but he knew it would piss her off. “Sure I can. How about I also tell them how you participated in the slaughter of an entire clan and attempted to do the same to two others? Maybe we should also talk about how you’ve been assassinating shinobi you think you can’t control in the village for years?”

Koharu and Homura stiffened. “All lies.”

“Right. So you haven’t been threating to kill Naruto and Sasuke to keep Iruka from speaking out against you?” Kotetsu tossed the scroll from hand to hand, looking thoughtful. “Why don’t you tell them why you want Hitsugaya Toshiro.”

“The little boy from the meeting the other day?” Shizune demanded.

“He’s of no importance,” Homura sniffed.

“No, except that Iruka’s attached to him, so it’s just another way of the keeping the Taichou of the Hanta under your heel.” Kotetsu grinned. “You’re so damn scared of us, you’ve been trying to kill us for years. You just haven’t had anyone powerful enough to do.”

“You’re spinning tales to justify your failures,” Koharu stated, regaining some of her composure.

“You blew up my apartment last year,” Izumo commented dryly. “You took out the whole building and put three people in the hospital for months.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Koharu said, but the mood in the room was beginning to change. Shinobi were attuned to lies and even though Koharu didn’t flinch or give off a single tell, something just didn’t sit right.

“Enough!” Jiraya was going to lose his voice if he had to keep yelling. “ANBU, arrest all of them until Tsunade returns.”

ANBU moved and were met immediately by Root members, who surrounded Koharu and Homura. Kotetsu and Izumo didn’t flinch or make any move to fight the ANBU members who surrounded them, but Kotetsu refused to release the scroll.

“You are not Hokage,” Koharu snarled.

“Neither are you,” Jiraya snarled right back.

“We are the Konoha Council.” Homura insisted. Kotetsu snorted loudly and Koharu glared at him.

“You’re also trying to take over,” Izumo muttered.

Confusion was starting to make Kakashi’s head pound. Iruka was Hanta? So were Kotetsu and Izumo, but who else? Why the hell were Tsunade and Iruka fighting? Kakashi made his way over to Kotetsu and stood toe-to-toe with the surprisingly unafraid chuunin. He could feel the rest of the room watching them.

“Hagane.”

“Hatake.” Kotetsu was probably having more fun than he should have been, but facing Kakashi, it was hard to think of the silver-haired jounin as anything other than Iruka’s maybe/something important. That and his squirrels had been reporting back to him that despite Kakashi’s reputation, he still lived a relatively lonely life. That was something that always made Kotetsu’s heart hurt. He’d been an orphan with no living blood-family, but he’d never been lonely, and he wouldn’t wish it on his worst enemy. Hatake needed his feather’s ruffled, the same way Iruka sometimes did, to remind him that life was more than grand schemes and power plays played out in the backrooms of the Hokage’s Tower.

Kakashi waited, he wanted to see how long it would take for the chuunin to start talking. It was an easy though not always reliable way, to identify guilt. Guilt frequently made people feel the need to talk and that gave way to dozens of tells. Either Kotetsu was well trained enough to ignore the urge or he wasn’t guilty, but the chuunin didn’t flinch. He simply looked Kakashi in the eye and waited. So Kakashi asked, “Why?”

“Be specific,” Kotetsu countered, not taking the bait.

“Why?” Kakashi returned.

“Because some of it isn’t my story to tell and I won’t betray that confidence.” Kotetsu shrugged, it was the truth. It wasn’t his place to blast out Iruka’s family secrets. And he didn’t want to have to be the one to tell Kakashi about his father.

Kakashi considered Kotetsu’s answer. His gut said the chuunin was being honest. Just how honest was he willing to be? “How long have you been Hanta?”

“Since I was four.”

Kakashi frowned. Chosen at four years old? Even ANBU and the Academy didn’t allow recruits that age.

“That’s pretty average for us,” Kotetsu offered. A small olive branch to get Kakashi asking more questions. If Kotetsu could get Kakashi asking the right questions, it’d be more believable then just coming out and telling everyone everything.

“Who recruited you?” Kakashi needed names to make connections.
Kotetsu debated his answer for a second. He’d been recommended by Hatake Sakumo but trained by Tsume. He decided he wasn’t quite ready to open the can of worms that was Sakumo and said instead, “Inuzuka Tsume.” It was close enough.

Several gasps echoes through the room. Hiashi pushed his way through the crowd, Neji and Hanabi on his heels. “Tsume is a member of Hanta?”

“Well she’s retired now.” Not that she acted like it.

“We should bring her in for questioning,” Neji commented.

Kotetsu and Izumo laughed, wildly amused by the suggestion. “You do that. Just give us a heads up so we can be in another village when it happens.”

“She won’t come willingly?” Kakashi asked.

“No, she will. You’re just not going to like the answers she gives you.” Tsume would turn the entire village on its head if she got the chance. “Or what those answers will bring with them.”

“The truth needs to come out,” Jiraya growled.

“Which one?” Kotetsu returned. “I think you have an idea in your head of what the truth is and I can promise you, that’s not what you’re going to get.” Kotetsu paused, his eyes flicking to the doorway. “Looks like you’ll get to see it for yourself.”

Tsume, flanked by Hanna and several of her Inuzuka shinobi swept in. Shibi and his own Aburame shinobi followed more quietly. It took Kakashi a second to feel beyond their overwhelming chakra and realize that there were Inuzuka and Aburame shinobi surrounding the entire tower.

Tsume immediately sucked in all the attention. Most of the room had been witness to her explosive temper at least once and they were all expecting a repeat. She stormed to the center like there wasn’t anyone else in the room and breezed past several Root members to stand face to face with Koharu. The Root ANBU didn’t make any move to stop her. The rest of the Inuzuka and Aburame blocked the doorway and windows and Kakashi abruptly realized they were trapping everyone inside. Hanna stopped next to Kakashi and Shibi quickly joined them.

“What is going on Tsume?” Hiashi demanded. He and the Inuzuka clan leader had faced off in some pretty vicious arguments, especially since Hinata and Kiba had been placed on the same team. They saw eye to eye on nothing and they’d never been able to find a common ground.

Tsume glanced at him briefly, then dismissed him with a smirk and turned back to Koharu. “I heard you put out an arrest warrant for Iruka.”

“For dereliction of duty.” Koharu answered evenly. There was a cold familiarity between the two women.

Tsume made a point of looking around. “So, where is he?”

“He and the Hokage decided to settle their differences in the Valley.”

Tsume laughed, “Of course they did. Fitting place, their forefathers settled their differences there too. Maybe they’ll reshape into something worth looking at.”

“What are you talking about?” Sai asked, though he wasn’t the only one wondering. Tsume ignored him too.

“I would think you’d be fond of the place too. If I recall, you fought your fair share of battles there.” Koharu smirked.

“Yeah, I’ve slowed down in my old age,” Tsume smiled with her teeth, “Not that you’d be able to tell.”

The smile left Koharu’s face and settled into something much darker. “This is not your battle Tsume.”

“You made it my battle you little witch,” Tsume stepped further into Koharu’s face, forcing the older woman to take a step back. “Not only did you try to wipe out my clan, you tried to steal my children and force them into Root. You nearly ripped this village apart in an attempt to gain power. And you’ve been trying to kill my godsons for years.”

“Your loyalty to a dead man’s bloodline will be the end of you,” Koharu promised. The threat obvious.

It made Tsume smile. “Don’t worry, the day that comes, you’ll be long dead.”

Kakashi moved to get between the two women, to try and restore some order but Hanna grabbed his arm and stopped him. “Don’t,” the Inuzuka heir murmured. “Let Mother and Shibi fight this battle.”

“It shouldn’t be a battle,” Genma muttered. Two of the village’s leaders throwing threats at one another wasn’t good for morale.

“It’s been a war since before you were born,” Hanna said evenly.

“A war over what?” Raido asked, exasperated. Hanna only glanced at him briefly before turned back to watch her mother and Koharu.

“I’ll make this very simple for you Koharu,” Tsume stepped back, “I’ve had enough of your foolish attempts to take over the village and kill Iruka, Naruto and Sasuke. Stop immediately or the Inuzuka and Aburame Clans will go to war against the Village Hidden in Leaves. And we’ll burn it to the ground.”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Umino Iruka’s Apartment, Konohagakure: :

Naruto paced Iruka’s tiny living room.

“We need a plan,” Sakura said.

“Somethings wrong,” Sasuke muttered, “Iruka-sensei should have been back by now.”

Naruto let out a cry of frustration and made them all jump. “I feel like the more we learn, the more the history of the village changes. I don’t even know where I’m from anymore.”

That Naruto’s faith in the village might be wavering was a terrifying thought. It had carried them all through some of the toughest days of their lives.

“I don’t think it has,” Hinata said softly. “I think it’s still the same place, maybe the people are different, but that’s it.”

“Hinata’s right,” Shino broke in.

“The village is only as good as the people in it,” Shikimaru added. “Iruka-sensei said that, remember? When we had that class on the founding of the shinobi villages and why they were all so different.”

“It’s a good thing we’re all different,” Naruto muttered. He liked visiting the other villages and seeing how they’d changed and adapted to different challenges. Iruka-sensei had always said to learn from that and Naruto always tried. But now Konoha was struggling to change and move forward from everything that had happened. Part of that healing process, Naruto realized, was facing what the village itself had done and finding a way to prevent it from ever happening again. “The village is still home, even when it’s being stupid we still love it.”

Iruka hadn’t stopped caring about Naruto when he’d made mistakes and Naruto had never stopped caring about Sasuke, even when the stupid Teme was running around with Orochimaru and Akatsuki. Love was a pain in the ass when the person you loved was an idiot, Naruto mused. Then something Iruka had said years ago, when Naruto had been convinced the village would hate him forever and Sakura would never look at him, popped into his head. “Love is a grace, not a list of criteria.” He murmured.

It was the only way Iruka had been able to explain the nonsense that was love to the seven-year old Naruto and it had made sense. You could change yourself in every way possible and it still wouldn’t make anyone love you. Iruka had always loved like he didn’t mind getting a broken heart and Naruto decided then and there to do the same.

Sasuke agreed, if the twinkle in his eyes said anything. Though the Uchiha was still stoic and emotional as a rock, he was slowly growing out of it and having Iruka and Naruto, neither of whom could control their emotions, in his family was slowly bringing about change. He smiled more, despite the dire situation they were now in and he’d voted without hesitation to tell the rest of the Rookie 11 what was going on. The pride made Naruto’s heart hurt, not that he would ever admit it out loud to Sasuke. It made the idea of what was coming more bearable and the days beyond that something Naruto was very much looking forward to.

Naruto was lost in thought, Sasuke was becoming very familiar with that face. He’d called it the Dobe’s constipation face when they’d first been put on Team 7 but now it made him proud. Naruto had gone from the headstrong fool who’d rushed in without thinking to, well, he still rushed in without thinking and he was still annoyingly headstrong, but it was tempered now with his experience and what Sasuke refused to admit might have been a little genius. Watching Naruto grow was like watching a wolf go from playful pup to alpha leader, though he still had a tendency to trip over his feet at times. It was going to be fun, Sasuke realized, watching Naruto grow the rest of the way to Hokage and he was going to be right by his side as he did it.

“It’s the council,” Sasuke said and Naruto nodded in agreement.

“So how do we get rid of them?” Ino asked. Could they just kill the council? She didn’t think they were ready for that.

“Iruka-sensei will kill us if we butt in,” Naruto groaned. Iruka had been crystal-clear when he told Sasuke and Naruto to stay out of it for the time being.

“So what?” Sakura stood, fists on her hips. “You want to be Hokage right? At some point you’re going to have to do something someone doesn’t want you too.”

Going against what he was told wasn’t the problem. The problem was that this time it had been Iruka that had told him not to and Naruto didn’t want to betray the sensei’s trust in him. But she was right, he had to do something. Iruka might be angry, but eventually he’d understand. “Alright, we need to find Root.”

Sasuke nodded in agreement, “Where’s Sai? He could tell us.”

“He’s with Kakashi-sensei and the others, we won’t be able to pull him away without someone noticing.” Shikimaru muttered.

“He’s not with Root anymore,” Ino interjected and then she smirked and flipped her hair over her shoulder, “But he has talked about a few places, I’m pretty sure they’re Root bases. We can start looking there.”

Lee nudged Tenten. “Neji?”

She shook her head, “No. Not yet.” She looked to the rest of the Rookie 11. “We don’t want to drag him or Guy-sensei into this.”

Hinata, surprisingly, agreed. “Leave Neji-san alone. He just got back, he doesn’t even know what’s going on. He deserves to have a life.” She looked sad, the same way she always did when she spoke about her cousin. She’d loved him all her life, even her feelings for Naruto had never been able to completely eclipse her feelings for her cousin. They were all aware that there was a chance this wouldn’t end in their favor. By keeping Neji clear, there was also chance he could pick up where they left off and it selfishly allowed Hinata to protect him for as long as possible.

“Alright, we need to find Root,” Naruto turned to Ino. “Where do we start?”

Ino smirked, “There’s one place, out at the old training grounds. Sai’s, well, he hasn’t come right out and talked about it, but he avoids that place like the plague. I’m pretty sure it’s their headquarters.”

“The old INFIL training site?” Tenten asked, Ino nodded. “I’ve seen shinobi out there, even though the place was marked for burning.”

“Then that’s stop number one!” Naruto announced. He rubbed his forearm. Iruka had embedded all of them with the Hanta’s communication jutsu. Anything they wrote on their arms would be send to everyone else on the link and it took everything he had not to write to Iruka and ask where he was. He’d felt Iruka’s chakra spark and he knew Sasuke had too. Whatever Iruka-sensei was doing was important, but Naruto had to fight the urge to run to his teacher and try to help. Iruka-sensei could hold his own, Naruto had never doubted that. But he still hadn’t gotten the chance to fight side by side with him and he wanted to so badly.

Iruka-sensei had protected him his entire life, he wanted to the do that same for the man that had given him so much and asked for nothing in return. He needed to protect the village too. Just because a few of the shinobi in it were bad, didn’t mean they all were. And Naruto still felt that burning desire to prove himself and become Hokage. He wanted Iruka there that day. And Sasuke, without the village sneering at him for his Uchiha blood.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Valley of the End: :

The four sons of Uchiha Fugaku. Obito. Iruka. Itachi. Sasuke. Summer. Fall. Winter. Spring. Earth. Fire. Water. Lightning. Villain. Teacher. Hero. Orphan. But those last four were interchangeable, weren’t they? Because Iruka had been the villain when he’d sided with those trying to overthrow Sandaime; he’d changed his mind. Then looked her dead in the eye and said he had no idea what the Hanta were, when he’d been the leader since he was a teenager. Sasuke had been a villain at one point. Obito had been a hero once. Itachi had been a teacher, despite the distance and rarity of his lessons. He’d taught them all, even when they hadn’t wanted to learn. They were all orphans.

Uchiha Fugaku. So much of Konoha’s recent history came down to him now. A man Tsunade had only rarely spoken too and had never paid attention too. She’d been gone from the village during the Fall of the Uchiha and the Sandaime had never spoken of it during their few meetings after.

She’d heard all the stories about him. The unbending will and harsh gaze. The unforgiving leader and the strict father. The skilled shinobi who had been considered for the position of the Forth Hokage, before Minato had been chosen. He’d turned it down, according to Sandaime. Which didn’t fit with any of the rumors she’d heard about him. But those were rumors, weren’t they? Every time the Sandaime had mentioned him, in his letter and the memories he’d left behind for her, his respect and fondness for the Uchiha clan leader was clear. It was hard to picture him, between two such drastically different depictions. But then, the Sandaime had loved Iruka and Iruka had once been part of the group planning to assassinate him. She couldn’t get past that, even though Sandaime had.

“What was he like?” She couldn’t help but ask.

Iruka blinked, momentarily confused. “Who?”

“Fugaku.” The name tasted odd on her lips. Like she was summoning a ghost by saying it out loud.

Iruka stared at her for a moment and she thought he might not answer.

“Are you anything like him?” She pushed. Like father, like son? Brother like brother? But then how did you explain Itachi? And Iruka’s years at the Academy. And Sasuke. Naruto, because even Tsunade would never dare say that anyone had a bigger influence on raising Naruto then Iruka. “Did he leave you to finish the job? Or fix his failures?” Her anger made her cruel.

Iruka’s face crumpled, the hurt child inside proving much stronger than the disillusioned adult when faced with his dead father. Tsunade had not been old enough to understand her own father’s death and she’d been grown enough to deal with her grandfather’s. But they had also not chosen to die without a fight and in shinobi culture that was almost unheard of. Hatake Sakumo’s suicide had done untold damage to Kakashi, she could still see it sometimes, when the brat was so focused he forgot to hide it.

To hold onto his anger for so long. Clearly Iruka had idolized his father and such a choice must have felt like the ultimate betrayal. On top of everything else that had happened, it made sense that Iruka had never been able to let go of his hatred. A family destroyed, torn to pieces and remade and then set at one another’s throats by a village that didn’t care. Iruka’s anger didn’t seem like enough of a response when Tsunade objectively considered the entire history of his family. She’d forsaken the village and her duty as a shinobi over Dan and Nowaki but Iruka, Naruto and Sasuke had lost much more than that.

“My father never wanted to be a shinobi.” Iruka’s words threw her so much that she had to stop and stare at him for a minute.

“What?”

“My father, Fugaku, he never wanted to be a shinobi.” Iruka looked away, his eyes looking somewhere into the distant past. “He wanted to teach children.”

Tsunade didn’t believe that for a second and it must have shown on her face because Iruka sneered.

“He was the youngest son, fifth born and useless as far as his father was concerned. He didn’t like to fight, had no interest in village politics. He didn’t even enroll in the Academy at the normal age. He managed to put it off for two years before two of his brothers died and his father forced him to enroll. He was never supposed to be clan leader. He was never supposed to marry Mikoto. He was never supposed to carry Taten Botan.”

Taten Botan? What the hell was that? “If he didn’t want to do it, then why did he?” She’d never even heard of Fugaku having siblings. She’d never heard much about his parents either. It seemed like Fugaku and his sons had eclipsed everything else about their clan.

“His father and brothers wanted to rebel and kill the Hokage.”

“So, there was an attempt!” Tsunade felt victorious, justified. But the blank expression on Iruka’s face made her pause.

“Fugaku knew what would happen if they carried out the plan. Other members of the clan came to him and asked him to stop them. In the end, Fugaku fought and killed his own father to stop the rebellion.”

Tsunade’s jaw dropped.

“He thought everything might go back to normal. That the others would let the matter lie. When the time came he chose duty over desire and gave up on the life he wanted for the one that was needed. That has been the practice of our family back to the beginning.”

Fugaku had become clan leader after he’d killed his father. That made sense, he was clearly the strongest of his siblings. Why allow a weaker member to lead the clan? Tsuande wanted to point out that she’d done the same thing. But what good would that do? She had made her choice, just as Fugaku had, and she hadn’t been looking for recognition when she did. She couldn’t ask for it now. Not from Fugaku’s son.

“But it didn’t stop there, did it?” It couldn’t have, Iruka hadn’t even been born during that rebellion. There had to have been a second one, for him to have been a member.

“When I was a teenager, my uncles and half the clan started planning again. I was angry after losing my parents.”

His parents. The Uminos?

“I wanted revenge and it was easy to hate the Sandaime when he kept defending Danzo.” Iruka paused, trying to choke back the emotion that came with remembering those years. “Fugaku talked me out of it. In the end, I loved our family more than I hated Sandaime. We fought a Civil War within the clan.”

Tsunade stared at him in disbelief. A Civil War within the clan? “And those behind the assassination?”

Iruka nodded, “We gave them the chance to change their minds. They refused.”

And they’d been wiped out in response. Fugaku and his sons had shown no mercy, not even to their blood kin. Absolute and unyielding dedication to the village. Sandaime had said that once. The ideal shinobi. Tsunade’s knees felt weak as she watched Iruka fight back tears. His bloody fists clenched, his chakra fluctuating wildly.

The Uchiha, with a genetic memory, had wiped half of themselves out to protect the Hokage and the village. They had known how painful it would be. Killing their loved ones knowing they would not only feel their anger and sadness, but their betrayal and death. And they had done it anyway. They’d broken their own hearts, inflicted themselves with the Curse of Hatred and Tsuande wondered if the shinobi of the Uchiha Clan had ever even hesitated. Or had their loyalty to Fugaku and his sons made it null and void, a matter not worth thinking about. Had there ever even been a question in their minds that they would do what he ordered them too?

What kind of man could inspire that kind of loyalty?

“The Uminos? The people that raised you, who were they?”

“Members of the Military Police. They died the night of the Nine-Tails attack on the village.”

Right, Tsunade had heard that story. Naruto had once told it to her. Parents protect their children. It had driven Iruka to protect Naruto, even though he’d carried the beast responsible for the Umino’s deaths.

Had it simply been a goodbye? Or had they known their son well enough to know he would never be able to stay out of it and taken their dying moments to impart a lesson he would never forget? One that would change the future of their entire village? They had been chosen by Fugaku to raise his son. From everything Tsunade was learning, she doubted Fugaku had chosen fools. They hadn’t wasted their last moments on something as trivial as a goodbye.

“What did Fugaku want you to do?” There must have been some plan. Some task Iruka was supposed to carry out, someone he was supposed to kill. But the chuunin just shook his head.

“You still don’t get it do you?” He sounded mocking and, to her surprise, tired. “I’m not,” he paused, “I hate the village, but I’m not going to harm it.”

“Why not?” She demanded, and she realized the answer before she’d finished her own question. Iruka wasn’t going to harm the village because Naruto was in it and Naruto wanted to be Hokage. Iruka’s love for the little boy he’d protected eclipsed his hatred of the village. Iruka had had plenty of opportunities to destroy Konoha or to simply stand aside and let it happen. And while, he had never stepped forward as the Taichou of the Hanta, Tsunade couldn’t honestly say he’d turned a blind eye to what was taking place.

Iruka straightened suddenly. The cloud of smoke and leaves erupted midway between the two of them and Tsunade watched in disbelief as it cleared.

Uchiha Itachi and another shinobi, a Uchiha from the look of him, stood calmly amid the dissipating smoke. She was too stunned to speak. Iruka frowned.

“If you two are done being foolish,” Itachi drawled, “There are more important things to do.”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Abandoned Training Ground, Konohagakure: :

Naruto and the rest of the Rookie 11 carefully crept closer to the abandoned training site. It was fenced off, signs warning it was set to be burned down and then rebuilt posted along the fence. Sasuke and Sakura with him, the rest of the teams spread throughout the trees. They were trying to get a 360-degree circle around the training area, but it was large and oddly shaped, and they had a few gaps. Shikimaru had decided the best course of action was to stick with the teams so no one was alone. They arrived in henge and Naruto was certain Root had no idea they were there. Shikimaru, Kiba, Sasuke, and Hinata were leading the charge. With Sasuke and Hinata’s eyes, Kiba’s nose and Shikimaru’s brilliance they were ready to react to anything. Shino’s bugs were spread out behind them, an early warning system.

“This is taking forever,” Naruto muttered. The old rotted building was badly damaged, listing slightly to one side. Sakura hushed him as Sasuke darted forward for a closer look. There were no other buildings in the field, but something didn’t feel right. Something tingled at Naruto’s senses and deep inside him Kurama stirred.

A meadow lark’s whistle echoed on the wind. A second answered it. Tenten and Lee were in position. So were Ino, Choji and Shikimaru. Sakura whistled a soft melody and waited. It took a second for Shino’s response. Everyone was in position to advance on the building. Sasuke had demanded to take the lead and given how angry he’d been explaining Root’s roll in his clan’s fall, no one had argued. Sakura was fully expecting to have to pull Sasuke back at some point.

They advanced to the final line of trees before the clearing. Hinata whistled the all-clear. There was no sign of anyone besides them in the training ground. Naruto was just preparing to launch himself across the clearing when the building exploded in a flash of chakra and fire. Sakura tackled him to the ground, covering him as best she could as debris flew through the air.

Naruto’s heart was hammering his chest as they looked up. The scattered remains of the building were strewn across the field. A crater was all that was left and in it, Naruto could just make out a staircase leading down into the earth. He started to push himself up only to have Sakura shove him back down.

“Shhh!” She hissed in his ear. He waited. Gai and Kurenai burst out of the staircase, both looking like they’d come out of a brawl. Hot on their heels was a squad of ANBU. Root. They surrounded the two jounins before they could make the tree line.

A Root member with a cat mask stepped forward. “That was a stupid thing to do Kurenai-san.”

Kurenai didn’t respond, she and Gai stood back to back, ready to fight.

“You shouldn’t have come here,” Neko’s voice was bland, like every Root member Naruto had met, but his words were mocking. “Now you’ll pay for your arrogance.”

A meadow lark’s whistle erupted, and the Rookie 11 burst out of the trees before the Root ANBU could attack. They surrounded the Root members and Kurenai and Gai immediately leapt free of their containment and joined their teams.

Neko turned on Naruto. “You little brat, what are you doing here?”

“Investigating Root. I know you’re trying to overthrow the Hokage.” Naruto said and stood his ground as Neko drew his katana.

“Stand down,” Kurenai snapped, “Your actions are illegal, and you will be arrested under the Hokage’s authority.”

“The Hokage has no authority here,” Neko said and advanced on Naruto. More Root members poured out of the crater.

Naruto was ready to fight, “The Hokage is the only authority in Konoha!”

“How dare you threaten our village! Your vile actions will not be ignored!” Lee declared as he and Gai struck their nice-guy pose and Tenten pulled out one of her weapon’s scrolls.

“My honorable student speaks the truth! You will not be allowed to continue, surrender yourself to our custody immediately!” Gai’s voice shook the trees.

“You won’t get away with this,” Kurenai said, her voice steady and strong.

More Root soldiers. Shikimaru frowned, they were outnumbered now. That didn’t mean they’d lose but it definitely meant they’d have to change plans. “Plan Echo!” He shouted, trusting Kurenai and Gai were sharp enough to go with it.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Mission Room, Hokage’s Tower, Konohagakure: :

Kakashi would never admit it out loud, but he was well and truly scared. Tsume wasn’t joking and Shibi looked deadly serious. Their shinobi had block all exits and access to the Hokage’s Tower. Yamato had tried to leave and been stopped by two Inuzuka.

“You wouldn’t dare,” Koharu snarled.

Tsume just smiled and cracked her knuckles. “Sure, I would. If we kill all of you and destroy the village, we can just build a better one on the ashes.”

She was serious, and the rest of the room was starting to realize it. Kakashi could feel chakra spiking all over the place. Disbelief and confusion giving way to panic. Hiashi approached Tsume, ignoring Root and grabbed her arm. Kakashi felt Hana stiffen, but he couldn’t tell if it was because she didn’t like her mother being handled that way or because she knew what Tsume would do in response.

“Tsume, that is enough!” Hiashi snapped, “You will not plunge this village into another war just because you’re angry!”

Tsume looked at his hand on her arm. The chakra of her shinobi and Shibi’s rose briefly, but they knew better then to interfere. The violet-eyed Hyuuga had a stick up his ass Tsume hadn’t been able to dislodge yet, not for a lack of trying. Add that into his ego and Tsume had been waiting for the chance to demonstrate just who’s clan was better. Trust him to give it to her. Tsume let her chakra flow free, spiraling out in every direction and it felt like freedom. A refreshing jump into a cold pond, the first stretch the next day after a hard fight.

She saw Hiashi’s eyes widen, the slightest indication that he’d activated his byakugan but still not fast enough to stop her. She had him by the throat before he could react, her fingers digging into his windpipe and arterial veins with crushing effect. He didn’t panic, she’d give him that. He went very still, limbs loose and ready to fight. His eyes pinned on her. She could feel him gathering his chakra and she waited, in a few seconds he’d realize it was pointless. No matter how much chakra he gathered, he didn’t have enough to put a dent in Tsume. She straightened her arm, his feet dangling a foot off the floor. His eyes were still on hers though and it only then occurred to her why. Her bloodline was showing, her eyes slowly turning red as the veins in her eyes burst. Her clan’s bloodline gave the Uchiha a run for their money in the demonic eyes department. She squeezed a little tighter, she wanted to see that perfect Hyuuga composer crack. A little bit of panic and she’d let him go. She’d long ago promised Hinata she’d never kill her father and Tsume adored the girl enough to keep her word.

His body wanted to panic. Hiashi could feel his muscles tightening and forced them to relax. He knew the grip she had on his throat would be fatal in a few minutes, but he refused to give her the satisfaction of open panic. Through the Byakugan he could see her chakra, overwhelming and suffocating and a violent, blood red. Like a lion’s roar, it made his heartbeat skip and refuse to settle. If it pressed to hard, it could stop it completely. He’d never seen anything like it. He hadn’t thought her capable of that kind of power. Her loud, boisterous, brutish ways were uncouth and undisciplined. Hiashi had been furious when Hinata had been placed on a team with her son. One of the many arguments he’d had with Iruka over the years, but neither Tsume or the Academy teacher had budged. Her eyes. Her eyes were terrifying, worse than the few Uchiha Sharingan he’d seen. The burst blood vessels had turned the whites of her eyes red, her dark pupils barely visible. She smiled, sharp canines glinting. With the red fangs on her cheeks, she was a horrifying image of power.

Kuromaru’s howl tore through the air, deafening even from outside the tower.

The wall of the mission room exploded inward. The Rookie 11, led by Shikimaru and surrounding Kurenai and Gai, sprinted inside. Hot on their heels came what seemed like an army of Root soldiers.

“Mom! They’re trying to kill Kurenai-sensei and Gai-sensei!” Kiba yelled.

Tsume threw Hiashi at his clansmen and shot forward, knocking the closest Root ANBU back out the opening for her clansmen outside to handle. She grabbed a Root ANBU with a porcelain cat mask by top of his head. He swiped at her with his katana and she grabbed his wrist and pulled. She ripped his arm out of its socket and crushed his skull in her hand. The satisfying crack of his bone under her fingers had the desire effect. The rest of the Root members stopped their advance and she tossed his body and arm at their feet. She felt Shibi teleport to her side, the rising hum of his insects always welcome at her back in a fight.

Someone threw up. It sounded like a few others were barely holding it in. Kakashi readied himself for a fight and forced down his own urge to look away from the pulp that was left of Neko’s skull. He wasn’t completely sure who he’d be fighting but there was no doubt there’d be a fight. The Rookie 11 stuck close to Kurenai and Gai, both of whom were injured and stayed behind Tsume and Shibi.

He watched Tsume grin and lick the blood off her fingers. Many faces in the crowd of shinobi were too stunned to hide their horrified expressions. Killing was a way of life as a shinobi, but good shinobi didn’t celebrate cruelty or brutality. They were necessary tools, not past times. Tsume’s display was not something that should have ever happened outside a life or death fight. The bloodlust coming off her was suffocating. Kakashi had never felt such something so unbridled, so uninhibited.

“You bitch,” Koharu breathed.

Tsume turned on her with a grin, blood staining her lips. “The bitch,” she corrected.

“You’ll pay for that!” Homura roared and on cue, Root attacked. Tsume let out a bloodcurdling howl and leapt to meet them.

Shibi, his ever-present cloak rising as his insects took flight, followed her into battle. Kurenai and Gai joined the fray, regardless of their injuries and the Rookie 11 followed suit. Kakashi was distractedly proud of Team 7 as they demonstrated a level of teamwork they’d struggled to achieve before the war.

“Onee-san!” Hanabi’s scream made him turn. Hinata, distracted covering Kiba’s back, didn’t see a Root member throwing a handful of kunai at her back. Kakashi threw his own and knocked them out of the air.

“So we’re in this?” Genma demanded, senbon at the ready.

“Capture and contain!” Kakashi snapped and in unison they replied, “Hai!” and launched into the fight.

The mission room wasn’t big enough for the fight taking place in it. Everyone’s movements and attacks were hampered by their concern over hitting their allies in the close quarters. He couldn’t use chidori in this, he’d take out just as many friends as enemies.

“Where’s Naruto?” Jiraya yelled. They couldn’t find him in the chaos. His chakra put him somewhere near Sasuke but there were to many people to see clearly. Kakashi ducked just in time to avoid losing his head to a shuriken. “God damn it watch where you’re aiming!” Jiraya roared.

Naruto ducked a swing from someone’s katana and tried to find Sasuke. He’d never call himself the world’s best strategist but even he realized they needed to get out of the damn mission room. “Teme! Where are you?”

“Here!” Sasuke’s voice at his shoulder made him jump. “We have to get out of this building!”

“Where are the others?” They looked around, the rest of the Rookie 11 were tangled up in Root ANBU and Konoha shinobi. It would be impossible to grab them all at once. He watched Sakura hit a Root soldier with enough force to sending him flying backwards. He took a tangle of shinobi from both sides down with him. Naruto concentrated, gathering his chakra in his palm.

“Dobe,” Sasuke’s voice held a subtle warning.

Naruto grinned, “Don’t worry Teme, I’m just going to give us some breathing room.”

Kakashi and Jiraya felt it at the same time. “Naruto, no!” Their yell wasn’t in time. They watched Naruto’s Rasengan grow as any shinobi nearby tried to get clear. There was nowhere to go. He saw several try to teleport but whatever barrier the Inuzuka and Aburame had put up prevented it.

Naruto slammed his rasengan into the remaining portion of the wall. It shattered, dust and debris filled the room. Blinding and choking everyone. Naruto and Sasuke immediately leapt through.

“Drop the shield!” Sasuke roared and the Aburame shinobi surrounding the tower immediately did. The rest of the battle began to spill out into the streets at the foot of the tower. Naruto hit the ground and turned as he slid. The rest of the Rookie 11 were clear of the Mission Room and he saw Kakashi-sensei and Jiraya-sensei leap clear. He needed to tell them what was going on, make sure they understood so they could help. He had no doubt that they would. But as he moved to sprint for them, he realized he couldn’t move his feet. Root ANBU surrounded him. Naruto focused his chakra into his feet and tried shunpo, but it didn’t work.

“One of them’s a Nara!” He heard Ino scream. But it was too late. Naruto was frozen in place as the Root nin launched into their attack. One of them wielding a huge shuriken, something Naruto had always felt uneasy about since the night Iruka-sensei had taken one to the back protecting him.

“You’re dead Uzumaki!”

“The hell I am!” Naruto snarled. He tried to lift his feet, but they didn’t budge. He tried to teleport, but it didn’t work. Damn the Nara and their shadow technique. When this was over Shikimaru was going to tell him exactly how it worked!

“No!” Sakura’s scream alerted the others. The Root nin launched the shuriken. Chakra infused it spun towards him with incredible speed. Naruto could feel Jiraya and Kakashi both sprinting to reach him in time. Sasuke and Lee, even Neji, but none of them would be fast enough he realized. They were too far away, and Root was too close and there was nothing between Naruto and the shuriken.

He dug his nails into his forearm and flared his chakra as much as he could.

ooo000ooo

…tbc…

Chapter Text

ooo000ooo

Chapter 12
Ame futte chi katamaru
After rain, earth hardens

Something very beautiful happens to people when their world has fallen apart: a humility, a nobility, a higher intelligence emerges at just the point when our knees hit the floor. – Marianne Williamson

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Valley of the End: :

The mysterious shinobi smirked; he wore his hiate low, covering his eyes. Something about him itched at Tsunade’s mind.

Three Uchiha shinobi. A cold feeling settled in her stomach. She couldn’t win this fight now. Iruka was much stronger then she’d assumed. Itachi was one of the strongest in the village’s history and the second highest score ever in the Academy, second only to the Forth Hokage. Something told her this new shinobi would be no different.

“Get out of the way,” Iruka growled. He intended to finish this fight. Itachi turned to him, ignoring Tsunade.

“No.” Itachi crossed his arms as he and Iruka faced off.

It struck Tsunade that this felt like an argument they’d had hundreds of times. The other shinobi certainly didn’t seem worried as he leaned against a boulder and just watched, a small smile playing on his lips. All three of them seemed content to pretend she wasn’t there. She could see some of the family resemblance, now that she knew to look. Iruka and Itachi both stood the same way, backs straight and braced for a fight, their form a perfect mirror. Itachi crossed his arms with the same stubborn stance she’d seen Iruka use in the Mission Room and his classroom a hundred times. And now they stared one another down with identical eyes. Maybe they were different colors, Itachi’s deep blue to Iruka’s warm brown, but they both had the same depthless quality that sucked you in and drowned you if you looked too long. Their sharingan were identical, down to every fleck of red and black. She’d seen identical twins that didn’t have that strong a similarity.

She cleared her throat but Iruka and Itachi were too wrapped up in their staring contest to pay any attention. The other Uchiha turned to her though and shook his head.

“Let them figure it out,” he advised.

She turned on him, “Who are you then?”

He cocked his head to the side, “Who are you?” He parroted.

“Tsunade of the Senju, Hokage of Konohagakure.” She drew herself up, every inch the granddaughter of the First and the reigning Fifth Fire Shadow.

All it did was make him smile and drop into a deep bow, “Uchiha Shisui.”

“Shisui of the Body Flicker?” Her heart pounded in her chest. Shisui of the Body Flicker was a legend and supposed to be long dead.

“Hai, Lord Hokage.” He straightened.

“How?” Another resurrection? But why hadn’t he shown up in the village like the others? And where the hell had they gotten his body? It had never been recovered after his death.

“Now is not the time.” Shisui advised, glancing briefly at Iruka and Itachi again.

“The hell it isn’t.” Tsunade snarled, suddenly angry.

Shisui didn’t seem bothered by her temper. Instead he opened his vest and pulled up his shirt, so she could see the tattoo that sat directly over his heart. “I am Washi of the Hanta.” He tugged his shirt down and nodded to Itachi, “Tatsu.” Then to Iruka, “Ookami, Taichou.”

Which brought them around to how this whole thing had started, Tsuande mused, when she’d asked Iruka to investigate the Hanta and he hadn’t even blinked. “The others?”

“Still in the village.”

“Their names.” She ordered and to her surprise, he gave them.

“Hagane Kotetsu, Sutaggu, Fuku Taichou. Yamaki Yajirobi, Fukurou. Inuzuka Hana, Ryoken. Kamizuki Izumo, Kurayami. Yakushi Kabuto, Tora. Miterashi Anko, Hebi. Uchiha Aki, Taka.”

Taka, Commander of ANBU. Gods, they’d been right in front of her face the entire time.

“Inuzuka Tsume, Kiba, retired. Aburame Shibi, Wasupu, retired. The rest are dead.” Shisui finished.

And two clan leaders. It wasn’t a far stretch to figure that Fugaku had been Hanta. “The dead.”

Shisui shifted, a moment’s hesitation followed by, “Uchiha Fugaku, Ookami, Taichou. Maito Dai, Tora, Fuku Taichou. Hatake Sakumo, Fukurou. Uchiha Mikoto, Tatsu.”

“Hatake Sakumo,” she felt a bubble of rage grow. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Kakashi had no idea of his father’s involvement in the Hanta. She couldn’t think of a single member of the group that had ever had anything to do with him, aside from his fights with Iruka. The same could be said of Maito Guy, but she wasn’t as close to him and couldn’t say for sure.

“His last request was to keep Kakashi away from the Hanta and the war with Danzo.” Iruka interrupted and she turned to him. Iruka and Itachi stood side by side now, so close there was barely air between them. They both pinned her with dark eyes, one pair blue, the other brown, no sign of the sharingan.

“A lot of good that did,” she pointed out. Kakashi had been pulled into that mess regardless, saved only by his own conscience and the Will of Fire of the Third Hokage.

She felt the flare of chakra at the same time they did, but she had no illusion that she wasn’t the slowest to react. They were already gone by the time she’d formed the seals to teleport.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Streets of Konohagakure: :

Kakashi pushed himself to the limit, unable to tear his eyes away from the shuriken flying towards Naruto. He felt Naruto’s chakra, but it was useless against the Nara’s shadow hold. A cold pit settled in his stomach, no matter how fast he was, or any of the dozens of Konoha shinobi moving to try and intercept, none of them were fast enough.

The shuriken was only inches away from Naruto. Kakashi was going to put himself between Naruto and that weapon regardless of what happened to him. A cry of anguish from Kurenai, they were too far away!

The shuriken was a hair’s breadth from piercing Naruto’s chest when Iruka slammed into him and took the giant shuriken in the back of his shoulder. His momentum sent them both sliding across the dirt street. Iruka twisted to protected Naruto from the rocks ground and felt the telltale burn of a vicious cause of road rash up his leg and arm.

“YES!” Sakura’s scream practically deafened the crowd of fighting shinobi.

It was terrifyingly reminiscent of the most formative night of Naruto’s life and the only person in the village who’d loved Naruto when he was at his worst. Naruto clutched Iruka’s vest and tucked himself against the sensei’s body. Iruka’s warmth was an immediate comforting blanket as they slid across the ground and Naruto let out a sob of relief he’d deny later. There had never been a doubt in his mind that Iruka would save him, but it had definitely been down to the last second. He felt Iruka twist to get his feet on the ground and slow their slide. Naruto did his best to help without letting go.

Without releasing Naruto, Iruka yanked the giant shuriken out of his shoulder and threw it with all his strength at the Root soldier who’d fired it at Naruto. He wasn’t fast enough to dodge, and it buried itself in his chest.

Kakashi’s relief was like the sudden onset of extreme exhaustion. His limbs heavy and aching as he slid to a stop. He turned to find the Nara who’d held Naruto in place and felt a sharp, cold stab of terror in his gut.

“Oh my god!” Shizune exclaimed.

Standing over the bodies of the Root ANBU who’d surrounded Naruto were Uchiha Itachi and another shinobi Kakashi vaguely recognized as Uchiha Shisui. Blood dripped from the blades of their katanas and for the first time in over a decade, they wore the uniform of Konoha shinobi.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Land of Snow: :

Minato woke slowly. His head was pounding, his memory fuzzy. His vision started to clear, then sharpen. The sky above him was clear but the air smelled like rain. He reached out with his chakra. His body was healed, his chakra completely restored. There was a distant memory of the Nine-Tails and a man in mask, then a stronger one of a war and…Naruto.

He reached out further, nothing. No one else, except… It felt like a mountain. The chakra was huge, held tightly together and something Minato was sure he’d never felt before. Was it even human? He sat up and turned to find its source.

It took a minute to place the woman who sat calmly in the tall grass, watching him. They’d only spoken a handful of times, she been more present in the days of the Third Hokage. Minato recalled a couple brutal arguments but little else. Still, Uchiha Kikyo was not a woman easily forgotten and she looked at him now like she had unfinished businesses.

He’d thought she was dead. She’d disappeared only a few months after he’d become Hokage. She hadn’t approved his nomination as Hokage, but whenever he’d broached the subject to Hiruzen or any member of the Uchiha Clan he’d been stonewalled. He’d dropped it amid bigger concerns, but he had the nagging sensation that he should have pushed the issue.

Now, she watched him with a blank face. Minato reached out again but her chakra now blanketed everything, and he couldn’t find the edges. She raised a perfectly arched eyebrow at him. He considered his options. He’d been dead, he knew that, and he knew that Kabuto had unlocked the resurrection jutsu during the war. He’d thought Naruto had convinced him to stop. Had Kikyo resurrected him? He knew next to nothing about her, except that she was a Uchiha and Hiruzen had admired her. How powerful was she?

She shifted, reached out and placed her index finger on his forehead. Minato pulled in his chakra, ready to fight but all she said was, “I need to show you something.”

Then the rinnegan appeared in her eyes.

ooo000ooo

Years before the Nine-Tails Attack

: :Uchiha Compound, Konohagakure: :

Itachi frowned and crept to the edge of the rooftop, carefully to stay concealed under the dangling branches of the willow tree. The lush Uchiha gardens sprawled out to the left of the building. To the right lay the main street of the compound, most of the homes and businesses run by the Uchiha clan members.

At only four Itachi had already committed every inch of the clan grounds to memory. He knew every nook and cranny, exactly where he needed to stand to remain invisible. Which shadows provided the most cover and when they moved and shifted as the light changed throughout the day.

At four he was already well past his peers in skill and intelligence, he was even allowed to train with his clansmen and the Hanta. But he spent most of his time training with his older half-brother Iruka. Training under Fugaku when he wasn’t at the Academy meant the older boy was always around and quite often in the company of Obito, when he wasn’t off training with his genin team. Fugaku was a firm believer that to truly learn something, you had to be able to teach it to someone else. As such, Iruka was frequently teaching Itachi whatever Fugaku had just taught him and he was advancing at a rapid rate.

Those members of the clan not out on missions, were milling around, it was late Sunday afternoon. The clan’s rare downtime, though compared to the rest of the village it was still a heavy work day. They were waiting for Iruka and Fugaku who were due back any minute.

Mikoto appeared at the foot of the willow, looked up and pinned him immediately. Itachi huffed, his mother could always find him, no matter how well he hid.

“What are you watching, Itachi?” She didn’t seem angry, she’d given up trying to get him to stop climbing on top of the buildings a while ago.

“I’m not watching anything,” he muttered.

She cocked her head to the side and waited him out.

“I’m waiting for Iruka-nii-san.” He admitted.

Mikoto smiled, that was almost always Itachi’s answer these days. She was proud of the attachment between the two boys. She might not have been Iruka’s biological mother or even the one who did the majority of work raising him, but she still considered him one of her sons and she always would.

Iruka arrived, running through the gates of the Uchiha compound at Fugaku’s side. He was laughing and from the small smile on Fugaku’s place she could tell they’d had a good training session. Iruka learned in fits and starts sometimes, his natural affinity for taijutsu and fuinjutsu and sometimes senjutsu when he was really focused, meant he was progressing well overall. But there were days where Iruka and Fugaku couldn’t find a balance between their tempers and nothing got done.

The other members of the clan went out of their way to greet the two. Gentle touches and smiles that would never happen outside the compound. Itachi was only be four years old, but he’d already heard the way those outside the clan referred to them. Cold. Emotionless. Cruel. Even evil. But the way the clan looked at Iruka was like a lifelong wanderer finally finding home.

“Why do they look at him like that?” Itachi wondered.

Mikoto smiled, “Because he is the tenshi heisoban. The prince who will save the world with an act of kindness.” She paused to watch Fugaku and Iruka stop by the dango stand two of the clan elders had opened when they’d retired from active duty. “He is physical proof that there is still hope. That someday we will be accepted by the village and have a real home. One day, Iruka will be all that stands between the village and annihilation and he will give his life to defend it. Like we all will eventually. And when that day comes, we will burn his ashes on the same stone on which the Hanta were born and he will live forever. You’re going to be one of his swords, Itachi. You’ll spend your life at his side and lead the clan into war next to him.”

It was a Uchiha prophecy. Fugaku had been the tenshi heisoban of his time, fated to save the clan from annihilation. He’d done so when his father and brothers had tried to rebel against the Hokage and Fugaku had lead half the clan in a rebellion that eventually saved them from war with the village. It had been his duty to kill his father and brothers and restore peace in his lifetime. The moment Iruka had taken his first breath the title of tenshi heisoban had shifted and the prophecy had changed. Now Iruka was fated to commit an act of kindness that would save the entire world.

Iruka would lead the Hanta after Fugaku, that had already been decided. That Kotetsu would be his Fuku Taichou was a forgone conclusion. Obito desired to be Hokage, so Fugaku had not brought him into the Hanta. Itachi had already decided he wanted to follow Iruka into the Hanta, but since he wouldn’t be Taichou it had been decided he would be the next clan leader. Tsume’s daughter Hana was Iruka’s age and already a Hanta apprentice and heir to the Inuzuka. Shibi had yet to choose an heir.

Obito, Iruka and Itachi snuck into every Hanta and clan meeting they could. If the matter wasn’t serious enough, the adults let them stay, but recently things had become so serious that they hadn’t been allowed. Hana usually took them out to train or just get ramen and sulk. Iruka bounded over to Mikoto, dango in hand, as Fugaku stopped to speak with two clan members.

“Mikoto-sama!” They hugged tightly and Iruka blushingly offered her some of his dango as Itachi crawled to the edge of the roof above them and jumped. Mikoto didn’t even blink, taking a delicate bite of dango as Iruka spun and deftly caught Itachi. The youngest Uchiha giggled as Iruka spun them around and they collapsed onto the grass.

ooo000ooo

Night of the Nine-Tails Attack

: :Konohagakure: :

Fugaku could feel the overwhelming pressure from the Kyuubi’s inhuman chakra. It blanketed the village like a deadly fog. The sounds of the battle echoed through the expanse of the village. Easily heard even in the Uchiha Compound. He’d gathered the children and those too old to fight in the Hantahoru. The seals on the shrine would protect them.

Sasuke’s cries made him turn. Mikoto, still recovering from the birth, gently rocked the infant to sleep. For the first time since her labor she wore a shinobi uniform.

“You could stay with him,” Fugaku asked quietly. She quelled any further conversation with one look. Mikoto would not sit idly by while her clan, her village and her best friend were attacked. Itachi was organizing what was left of the clan, their numbers still depleted from the Civil War several years ago. Their inability to explain the sudden loss in their numbers had only fueled more rumors about the clan and Fugaku had no doubt that the presence of the Kyuubi would be attributed to them. Regardless of the fact that no one in the clan was stupid enough to actually summon a tailed beast and let it loose.

Iruka was with the Uminos and Fugaku could feel the tenuous link thin slowly as the night wore on. They were on the front lines, the Uminos had too much honor and love not to be. Iruka was too attached to let them go alone, even though they would never let him fight. He had chosen well when he’d picked the young couple to raise Iruka. They had no problem telling him no when they disagreed with what was best for Iruka and they adored Itachi and now Sasuke, which meant Iruka’s bond with his brothers was strong despite the secrecy.

He regretted not giving Ikkaku and Kohari Obito to raise as well, perhaps the future of the village would be different if he had. But Iruka had looked so much like Mali that it was easy to deny he was a Uchiha. Obito looked so much like his bloodline that no one would have ever believed he was anything else. Separating the two was a decision that would haunt Fugaku for the rest of his life.

Itachi returned, ready to fight and Mikoto handed him Sasuke.

“Protect your brother.” She ordered, securing her own blade to her back. She kissed Itachi gently on his hiate; then Sasuke, wrapped safely in his brother’s arms. She would not be fighting with the clan tonight. Fugaku waited patiently for his own kiss goodbye and took a second he didn’t have to admire the woman who’d proven to be the best partner for him, regardless of Fugaku’s own plans. Mali still burned whenever Fugaku thought about her. Regardless of her betrayal a part of him still loved her and always would. He had long ago accepted that a part of him always would. Mikoto had never been shy about talking about her, well aware that she lived with Mali’s ghost in Fugaku’s life.

Mikoto had been his older brother’s chosen bride, even though she was Fugaku’s age. She was the strongest kunoichi in the clan and had been since she was a teenager and beaten Fugaku’s own mother. She had loved his brother, even long after his death in the War against Rock but she was a Uchiha shinobi first and foremost. She hadn’t hesitated to approach Fugaku about becoming his wife when it was clear he would become the clan leader. In a lesser woman it would have been seen as power hungry, but Mikoto had always put the clan first. It needed the strongest shinobi as leaders and she and Fugaku were those shinobi. She didn’t mind that he still loved Mali, she minded more that he’d been duped than anything else. But she always got angry on his behalf, not at him and it made it easy for him to love her as his equal and partner.

Perhaps it wasn’t the all-consuming, heart wrenching love that had been Mali, or Mikoto for his brother, but what they had was still stronger than most and Fugaku found it much more valuable. Like Tsume and Sakumo. And Shibi and his wife. Love tempered with trust and friendship, two things startlingly overlooked when passion came into the picture. She placed a gentle hand on his cheek, they didn’t need words. She would go after Kushina and die protecting her best friend and the unborn child if that was what it took. Fugaku, with Sakumo and Dai, would go after the summoners responsible for the Kyuubi. Itachi would protect Sasuke and the compound with Kotetsu, Izumo, Yajirobi and the other members of the Hanta. The rest of the clan would join the fight against the Kyuubi, if Danzo allowed them too.

Tsume and Shibi were both caught up protecting their own compounds. The attacks on the Inuzuka and Aburame clan compounds had already begun. Unidentified shinobi had swept in with the early dawn light, effectively tying down the two clans and preventing them from intervening with the Kyuubi. The Uchiha Compound had been surrounded moments before. No one Fugaku recognized but it went without saying who was behind the attack. Danzo. No doubt about to expend a huge number of his Root lackeys in a fruitless attempt to annihilate all three clans in a single night. Danzo had always been foolishly focused on quantity over quality and the smaller numbers of the three clans and the Hanta easily equaled ten times their number in skill and power. It would be a hard fight, but Danzo would lose in the end. Like always.

He kissed Mikoto goodbye. Enjoying the warm softness of her figure and the strength it hid.

“Be careful,” her voice was calm, controlled. More for the benefit of those watching then either of them.

Fugaku lifted her hands to his lips and pressed kisses to the fingers he’d seen treat his sons cuts and scrapes one day and then rip the throat out of his enemies the next.

“You as well.” He’d barely finished the words before she was gone in a puff of smoke and leaves. Fugaku took one last look at Itachi and Sasuke. Itachi nodded, he was ready. They nodded to one another and Fugaku left Itachi to lead the defense of their clan.

: :Forbidden Forrest: :

He could feel the comforting presence of Sakumo to his left and Dai to his right as they made their way towards the second group of summoners. The first had fallen easily enough, so wrapped up in their summoning that Fugaku, Sakumo and Dai had cut through them with ease. The battle against the Kyuubi still raged and Fugaku kept his attention split between the Iruka on the front lines, Itachi and Sasuke at the compound and Mikoto making her way to Kushina. They were spread so thin, even with the three clans and the Hanta.

A sudden jarring scream ran through his head and Fugaku stumbled to a stop.

“What’s wrong?” Sakumo demanded, he didn’t like to slow down when the hunt was on.

Fugaku turned towards the battle. “Iruka.”

“Go!” Dai snapped.

“We’ll take care of the summoners.” Sakumo nodded. They were gone before Fugaku could respond. He teleported to the front line of the battle and was instantly engulfed in the chaos. It only took seconds to realize what was wrong. Iruka was with Ikkaku and Kohari. But they were both mortally wounded, though they continued to fight.

Kohari was down, a vicious wound across her back that had already sealed her fate. She was comforting Iruka and Fugaku, so attuned to their voices, could hear their words above the din of the battle.

“I’ll protect you!” Iruka, afraid because even as young as he was he recognized the seriousness of the injury.

Kohari hugged her adopted son tightly. “I love you, but you need to go. I’ll be fine.”

“No!”

Ikkaku, just as battered as his wife, appeared as Fugaku started to make his way towards them. Ikkaku grabbed Iruka by his shirt. “Cut the crap! Parents are supposed to protect their children!”

“But I’m stronger then both of you!” Iruka tried to argue.

Ikkaku and Kohari both shook their heads. Kohari’s eyes found Fugaku through the chaos. “That doesn’t matter. Parents protect their children. Always.”

With a sudden burst of strength Ikkaku threw Iruka into Fugaku’s arms. “Run!”

“No! Let me go!” Iruka struggled frantically to get free. The Kyuubi’s fire rained down, engulfing the area in fire. Ikkaku and Kohari disappeared in the flames and Iruka screamed for his parents as Fugaku ran to get them clear of the devastating flames.

: :Uchiha Compound: :

Movement in the trees outside the compound caused Itachi to draw his blade. The other Hanta fell into formation around him as he kept Sasuke cradled in his free arm. A sleeping jutsu insured his baby brother wouldn’t wake up until the battle was over.

Itachi kneeled, rested the tip of his blade on the floor and bowed his head. Closing his eyes and opening all his other senses. The Hanta followed suit. It was a ready position they used they were on the defense. In this case, Itachi held Sasuke in the middle of their defensive perimeter. His infant brother, only a few days old, was Danzo’s true target. The sons of Tsume and Shibi were targets as well and Itachi pitied the shinobi foolish enough to try and take the children from their Inuzuka and Aburame kin.

Footsteps barely heard. A whisper on the wind and Itachi felt them breach the perimeter wards of the compound. They moved passed the shrine, unaware of its importance. They were blinded to everything but their mission of getting to Sasuke and wiping out the clan’s fighting force.

Itachi let his eyes open as the first attacker made it into the main house. It was hard not to feel sorry for them. They didn’t stand a chance against Itachi and the Hanta and he doubted they even knew what they were dying for.

Kotetsu got first blood, not surprising. The war orphan tended to be over-protective and he’d placed himself right in front of the only door into the room. The sweet, heavy scent of blood filled the room and Itachi felt the Sharingan stir, it was looking for a fight.

: :Safe House: :

By the time Fugaku and Iruka arrived Minato and Kushina were dead. Mikoto, having arrived minutes earlier, cried quietly over her friend’s body.

The remains of Minato’s seal were strewn about, chains and charms that the Forth shouldn’t have bothered with. Fugaku released Iruka and the crying boy stumbled away, too wrapped up in his own suffering to really noticed what had happened.

The mighty Forth Hokage was dead and Fugaku kneeled by Minato’s body. For all their differences, Fugaku had respected Minato. Unlike the majority of their peers Minato was smart enough to make up his own mind and not assume rumors were true. But he had still been too blind to see the truth. He had made a decision tonight and stuck with it instead of asking for help. So had Kushina. Mikoto had spent months trying to convince her friend to let them help, to trust the Uchiha, but Danzo’s undermining was so strong that the rest of Konoha’s leadership had refused. Mikoto and Kushina were the latest collateral in Danzo’s war against the Uchiha.

“Fugaku!” Hiruzen’s voice cut through the dark night. He was still trapped behind what remained of Kushina’s barrier.

Mikoto released the last of Kushina’s chains, allowing Hiruzen to run to them. He was battered from the fight. His wife had been with Kushina. Fugaku didn’t see her now, which meant she’d most likely died with the rest of Kushina’s ANBU guards.

Then Fugaku noticed something that sent a chill down his spine. Hiruzen was not carrying the child. He turned to Mikoto, she didn’t have the child either.

“Hiruzen, where is the child?” Fugaku demanded.

“Tobi has taken him.” Hiruzen breathed, looking at the body of his chosen successor and his wife. “Oh god, Minato, Kushina.”

“Tobi?” Fugaku froze. “Hiruzen are you sure?”

Hiruzen nodded, taking a knee next to Minato’s body.

Fugaku turned to Iruka. His tears had stopped, he stared at the Third and the body of the Forth. “Iruka.”

Iruka’s eyes flicked to him, then back to the body. It occurred to Fugaku that Iruka and the Forth had never gotten to meet. Fugaku had been so desperate to protect him that he’d kept him as far from any of the village leadership as possible. His own failures as a father had already gotten Obito killed and Fugaku refused to lose another son. But even he was beginning to flail, stretched too thin in too many directions. His sons. The clan. The Hanta. The village. The Hokage. Danzo. Whatever the hell Orochimaru was up to. He’d been carefully laying plans to face what was coming, but he’d always been counting on all four of his sons to be there. Obito’s death had changed that and caused a drastic adjustment to Fugaku’s safeguards for the village. He’d wanted them to fight as a united front, the last stand of the Uchiha Clan. Now it would be up to Iruka and Itachi to hold the line until Sasuke was old enough to fight. He wanted Minato’s son to fight beside them, but Minato’s son would have to be protected until he was ready. Another burden for Iruka and Itachi to carry.

“Iruka!” Iruka focused on him. Fugaku saw the haze in his eyes start to clear. “Iruka, is he here?”

“Who?” Iruka hedged.

“Is your brother here Iruka?” Fugaku demanded. If it was Tobi, then this situation went beyond Danzo. Even the power-hungry Root leader had no control over the rogue shinobi outside of Konohagakure and it was something else that Fugaku needed to put safeguards in place for.

“Itachi’s at the compound. So is Sasuke.” Iruka was deflecting. Fugaku was skilled enough to locate anyone he wanted via their chakra. But the bond between his four sons went beyond anything like that. They had an awareness of one another that was at times terrifying and utterly reassuring. Even after Fugaku and the rest of the clan were gone, they would still have each other.

“Where is Obito Iruka?” Hiruzen’s head snapped up. Even in his grief, he was skill the God of Shinobi, still aware.

Iruka looked away. “I don’t know.” His sadness was bleeding into anger.

“Did he die Iruka?” Was there a chance Obito was still alive? His team had been convinced otherwise, but then Kakashi wasn’t skilled enough with his new Sharingan to use it for sure and Fugaku had made sure to bind its strength. Kakashi would never have access to anything beyond the Sharingan’s ingrained abilities; he’d never be able to access the chakra or the genetic memory of the Uchiha. It was the only way Fugaku and the clan had agreed to allow the transplant to remain. That and Fugaku would never harm the son of his left hand, Sakumo.

Iruka looked everywhere but at Fugaku, so he took him by the shoulders and forced him too. “Iruka, is Obito dead?”

It took a second, he felt Iruka’s chakra reach out to something Fugaku couldn’t feel. “I can’t tell for sure. His chakra doesn’t feel like it used too. I won’t kill my brother!”

Fugaku believed him. Iruka wasn’t stupid, he understood the ramifications if Obito was still alive. His instinct to protect his brother warred with his intelligence about what could happen if things continued on the path that they were.

Fugaku kneeled down, eye level with Iruka. “Iruka, you don’t have too, but he can’t take the boy.”

Iruka had just lost his parents. Fugaku would never forget his screams as he’d carried him away from their bodies. Parents protect their children. Ikkaku and Kohari had always been fearless in giving Fugaku parenting advice and it seemed they’d chosen to spend their last moments to impart a final lesson. Fugaku wanted to protect all his sons, but he wouldn’t always be around. His days were numbered, along with the majority of his clan. Minato’s son was alone in the world now. The Kyuubi inside of him would ensure that the village wouldn’t accept him until he’d proven himself. If only Minato had stopped to listen to him before rushing in headfirst!

And Iruka was angry, he’d be angry at the village for a very long time. He needed something to keep him tied to it, to give him hope. Of all his sons, Iruka was the one mostly likely to leave the village, a broken heart unable to forgive and forget. “Iruka, he can’t take the child.”

Iruka looked away, towards the only road leading out of Konohagakure that was still open. He disappeared in a cloud of smoke and leaves.

Fugaku turned to Hiruzen. The Third was still kneeling beside Minato’s body. “You’re needed back in the village Hiruzen.”

The Sandaime bowed his head one last time over Minato and stood. Mikoto cradled Kushina. “This night, it will take years for the village to recover.”

“If it ever does,” Mikoto might have had tears in her eyes, but her voice was calm, collected.

“Minato does not wish the village to know the truth.” Both Fugaku and Mikoto looked at him in shock. “He wants Naruto to be seen as a hero.”

“Naive until the end,” Fugaku commented, the damn fool. Naruto had a long road ahead of him before the village would trust him without learning the truth. Perhaps it would be good then, to put Naruto in Iruka’s orbit. Naruto would keep Iruka in the village and Iruka’s innate kindness would keep Naruto from becoming the monster he carried. They would save each other and that would save the village.

: :Road out of Konohagakure: :

Tobi had just reached the edge of Konohagakure’s province when he felt his chakra. He stopped on the empty road and looked up at the moon. It was full and heavy, casting shadows through the trees and over the dirt road. The infant cradled in his arms was crying but Tobi’s seals contained the sound. There was nothing to hear but the wind in the trees.

Iruka appeared in a cloud of smoke and leaves. He was still covered in blood and grit from the Nine-Tails attack, dried tear tracks covered his cheeks. The Nine-Tails attack had killed someone important to the three clans. Tobi hadn’t felt any one die, so it wasn’t a Uchiha. Judging from Iruka’s face it was most likely Ikkaku and Kohari. That was unfortunate. Aside from their dedication to their village and their agreement to raise Iruka, Tobi had no problem with them. They were an unfortunate casualty to the cause.

Iruka still looked defiant, he always did. If there was one constant in life, Tobi mused, it was that the sky was blue and that Iruka was and always would be, defiant of anyone who tried to tell him what to do.

“Are you going to hide behind that stupid mask the entire time?” Iruka growled.

Tobi cocked his head to the side. His face was still horribly disfigured from the rock slide, he didn’t like looking at his own reflection and he didn’t want Iruka to see it.

Iruka’s temper flared violently. He was too emotional, too unsteady after the events of the night. “Give him back.”

Tobi’s grip on the infant tightened. He hadn’t expected to face anyone from the clan, let alone one of his brothers. He’d expected to sneak in and out without them even noticing, his chakra mutilated from his death and Madara into something unrecognizable. It hadn’t been enough to fool Iruka. Something Tobi found unsettlingly comforting.

The Mangekon Sharingon started spinning in Iruka’s eyes and Tobi’s heart leapt. When had Iruka gained that? Tonight? Losing the Uminos had been harder than Tobi had expected. Iruka opened his mouth to speak, to say a name Tobi wasn’t ready to hear.

He held out the infant and Iruka stopped, surprised. “That’s it?”

Tobi’s plans didn’t absolutely require him to take the infant tonight. Madara would have preferred it, but all leaving him would do was extend their plans out a few years, let the village slide further over the edge of no return. Tobi could justify that to avoid fighting Iruka.

“It won’t change the outcome.” Of that Tobi was certain.

Iruka got that look though, as he awkwardly held the infant. The one that usually meant that he was ready to argue his point until they all just shut up and agreed with him. The last time Tobi had seen that look, he and Iruka had been arguing over the value of allowing ANBU to recruit regardless of age. His teammate Kakashi had been pulled in at age nine. Tobi thought it was fine, Iruka was dead set against anyone who was still considered a child fighting. He was a hypocrite in that regard. He’d taken his first blood before Tobi, even though Tobi was older.

“You could come home. That’d change the outcome,” Iruka offered. The clan would take him back no questions asked.

“It’s too late for that.” Tobi insisted, because it was. The rage still burned, a slow shimmer in his stomach that never went away. The village needed to learn, it couldn’t just throw people away. It needed a lesson and Tobi was going to teach them that. They’d pay for what happened to him and what was going to happen to his clan.

“No it’s not,” Iruka argued. It was never too late.

Tobi stepped back, out of Iruka’s reach and left; before his brother’s words made him wavier.

: :Safe House: :

Fugaku and Mikoto covered the bodies of Minato and Kushina. They deserved some dignity in death. Hiruzen had refused to return to the village until Iruka returned and he’d ordered everyone else to stay away, less the already panicked population learn that Tobi had escaped with Minato’s child. Fugaku wondered if Minato had recognized Tobi. Was that why the Hokage had stumbled? Fugaku had expected him to handle things much quicker than he had, had been expecting a different choice when it came to sealing away the Nine-Tails. Had something spooked the Namikaze? He was the genius of their generation, there was no one better. It was entirely possible that Minato had figured out what, or rather who Tobi was and who had sent him. If he had, sealing the Nine-Tails into Naruto actually made sense. A shinobi unafraid to draw on the Kyuubi’s chakra would be unbelievably powerful. As long as he grew up to be human and not a monster. In the past, clans with a jirincikri had either tried to seal the beast away so deep the carrier couldn’t be infected by the chakra at all or let them grow unhindered and watched them turned into psychopaths. Fugaku would not let that happen.

Mikoto reached for his hand and squeezed. Her tears were gone, replaced by a steely-eyed resolve Fugaku recognized.

“We will raise him,” she stated. Fugaku was in full agreement. Naruto would be safest with the clan, until they were gone and then Iruka could take him.

“No.”

They both turned to Hiruzen in surprise.

“She was my best friend!” Mikoto snapped, a rare flash of temper. “You didn’t listen when we warned you that this would happen, the least you could do is let us protect him!”

Hiruzen looked sad. “Minato made his wishes clear. He wants him raised as a hero.” It went unsaid that wouldn’t happen if he was raised by the Uchiha. The village would hate him, just as they hated the clan.

“You can’t just tell the world to see him that way, not unless you’re are going to tell the village exactly what happened here tonight.” Mikoto pointed out.

Fugaku let them argue and reached out. Iruka’s chakra was still strong, another smaller light wrapped within it. Iruka had Naruto then. Part of him relaxed. He reached out again. Itachi and Sasuke’s chakra signature was still strong; surrounded by Kotetsu, Izumo, Yajirobi, and the rest of the Hanta. Sakumo and Dai were in the midst of a dozen rapidly fading chakra signatures; they’d found the summoners then and dealt with them with a deft hand. The Inuzuka and Aburame compounds were awash in chakra, but he could feel Tsume and Shibi like beacons among the masses. The rest of the Uchiha were scattered throughout the village, attempting to evacuate the terrified population. The fight was still on, though he doubted for long.

“Minato does not want what happened here revealed. It is to remain a secret.” Hiruzen tried to be gentle.

“He’s dead,” Mikoto was blunt, “They both are, and their son will be, unless he is protected.”

“He will be, I will see to it personally.” Hiruzen promised.

“And who will be Hokage?” Fugaku returned to the conversation. With the Forth dead a new Hokage would either have to be elected or Hiruzen would have to return to his former position. And quickly to prevent more damage to the village in the aftermath of the attack.

Hiruzen seemed resigned, “I will return. At least until the village has healed.”

“And you can do that and raise the boy?” Mikoto pressed. He was Kushina’s son and Kushina had been her best friend since they were children. She should be the one to raise her son.

Hiruzen nodded, “Yes.”

He wasn’t going to budge, Fugaku realized. He was afraid of what was coming for the Uchiha and that leaving Naruto with them would cause him to fall with the Clan. Fugaku put a calming hand on Mikoto’s shoulder. “Iruka could-“

Hiruzen smiled before Fugaku had even finished speaking, “I was of course thinking that Iruka would be his guardian when the time came.”

Mikoto relaxed, fractionally.

“But until then he will remain in the care of the Village, under my guardianship. As Minato requested.”

Hiruzen didn’t completely agree with Minato’s decision, Fugaku realized, but he felt trapped. He didn’t know if the Uchiha, Inuzuka and Aburame would still be around when the boy came of age, but at the very least the Village would be and Hiruzen could order the Village to recognize Naruto. The boy wouldn’t have an easy life, but he would be alive and that was something. So would Sasuke and Iruka would ensure both boys grew up in relatively safety. Sakumo’s little boy could help. Hiruzen was fond of him and Minato had always been clear that someday Kakashi would succeed him. He had to stay away from Hanta though and the Uchiha. His borrowed Sharingan was already bringing him unwanted attention.

A cloud of smoke and leaves signaled Iruka’s return. The small bundle in his arms was quiet, but Fugaku could feel Naruto’s chakra, healthy and whole. Iruka looked distraught. Mikoto immediately rushed over and took the child. Iruka looked relieved to let him go and stepped back.

Hiruzen moved to comfort Iruka, hugging him tightly with a whispered “Thank you.” Before releasing him to Fugaku.

Mikoto rocked Naruto, who slept on, unaware of the heavy choices being made for his future.

“We need to leave,” Fugaku murmured, an arm around Iruka’s shoulders. He reached for his wife as Mikoto reluctantly handed over Naruto to Hiruzen.

The Third Hokage held the baby with practiced arms and looked Mikoto dead in the eye, “I will protect him Mikoto.”

She straightened, whether she believed him or not she was too well trained to do anything but bow deeply. “Yes, Lord Hokage.”

Hiruzen watched the three disappear in a cloud of smoke and leaves, then looked down at Naruto. “Someday you’ll know the truth, Naruto. And you will do better than all of us.” He whispered.

ooo000ooo

Five years after the Nine-Tail’s Attack

: :Umino Iruka’s Apartment, Konohagakure: :

Itachi was sprawled on Iruka’s bed. The tiny apartment had two small bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen with a small dining area. It had belonged to the Uminos and they’d left it to Iruka in their will. It was a haven away from the politics of the village and the final days of the Uchiha. It was full of secret scrolls Iruka and Itachi had been secretly gathering for years, in an attempt to delay or outright stop what was coming. Itachi was pouring over them now. Iruka was set to return from a mission any time now and Itachi already had dinner waiting. Still warm on a tray next to him.

He came in through the window, soaking wet and bruised. Itachi listened to the wet thud as Iruka shed his mission gear and stumbled to the bathroom. Itachi finished two scrolls before Iruka stumbled out of the shower and collapsed onto the bed next to Itachi. His skin was still damp from the shower as he gave into exhausted and just laid there, letting the softness of the blankets and heat from Itachi push away the stress and exhaustion from the mission.

Itachi moved onto the next scroll and nudged Iruka with his elbow. “Eat.”

Iruka sat up with a groan and dutifully tucked in. Itachi stole sips of his tea as he read. They sat in silence until a hesitant knock on the door made both of them turn. It only took seconds to identify the chakra signature in the hallway outside the door. Iruka frantically dressed as they rushed to the door.

Naruto hovered in the hallway, dirty and a little broken around the edges. He must have been in a fight Itachi realized and was surprised at the amount of rage he felt at that. He was as far away from their door as he could be without leaving the hallway and Iruka had to step outside to get him to look up.

“Naruto?”

The little boy scuffed the floor with his bare feet and sniffed.

Iruka inched closer, “Naruto, what are you doing here?” Iruka was gentle. He was the one who taught Itachi how to gentle wild animals, scared children and traumatized shinobi.

Naruto sniffed again, rubbed his nose against his dirty sleeves and looked up at Iruka from under his lashes. “I’m hungry.” He was so quiet that Itachi, still in their doorway, could barely hear him.

Iruka softened even further and immediately picked up the little boy and carried him inside. Itachi closed the door as Iruka took Naruto into the bathroom for a quick wash, he redid the wards for the apartment. He made them stronger, added a chakra blinder to completely hide Naruto’s chakra from whoever might come looking. By the time he finished Naruto was probably cleaner then he’d been in months and wearing one of Iruka’s old shirts. It was so big on him that it dragged along the floor and he stumbled trying to make his way to the bed, where half of Iruka’s dinner remained.

He was adorably industrial as he tried to maneuver around Itachi’s scrolls without spilling anything. He failed but Itachi was quick enough to catch everything. Itachi settled him in and pushed the food towards him as he listened to Iruka leave the bathroom and head to the kitchen, likely grabbing whatever they had left that was edible.

Iruka returned with a veritable feast of random snack foods and Itachi cleared out his scrolls so they could all eat together on the bed. Naruto was a bottomless pit despite his size and Itachi was slightly in awe of how much the tiny boy could eat. When he was finally finished, Naruto burped loudly and immediately got a frown from Iruka and he blushed bright red. Itachi grinned and sipped his tea to hide it. Iruka saw it, if the side eye he gave Itachi was any indication.

“Where are your guardians Naruto?” Iruka asked. Naruto shrugged, his small, bony shoulders sticking out of the neck of Iruka’s shirt. He looked so small in Iruka’s shirt and it immediately reminded Itachi of Sasuke. They were both small for their age and it broke Itachi’s heart to think that Naruto had never been cradled in his mother’s arms. Since they’d run into him in the alley, he’d gotten braver about approaching them. Iruka, when he wasn’t on mission, sought the boy out, making sure his guardians never had a clue what was happening.

“They don’t stick around much,” Naruto admitted and Itachi could feel Iruka’s rage through his chakra. He felt the same. Naruto looked away and Itachi silenced Iruka’s next question with a quick brush of chakra. Naruto was preparing to say something important and he might lose his courage if Iruka spoke again. It took a minute, but Naruto screwed up his courage, “I’m not enough to keep them around.”

Iruka’s anger has a very specific feel to it when it was about someone else. He doesn’t get angry on his own behalf but when he saw someone being hurt… It felt like trying to touch a wildfire. Or the sacred fire that burnt in the Hantahoru. It was hot and destructive and everywhere all at once. Itachi, who had never been the focus of that anger, had been assured that it was even more terrifying when it was aimed directly at you.

He watched Iruka gather Naruto in his arms and the little boy sniffed again, fighting back tears. “You are enough Naruto. You’re so enough that it’s unbelievable how enough you are [1].”

It occurred to Itachi, as he watched Naruto start to wail and Iruka hug him tightly, that this was it. The little boy who carried the Nine-Tails in him could have grown up to destroy Konoha; shunned by the village he could have turned into a psychopath like previous jiniriki or simply lost control over the seal and released the Nine-Tails again. But he wouldn’t if someone loved him and Itachi realized he’d just been blessed to watch Iruka and Naruto fall in love with each other. The same way Iruka had fallen in love with Itachi when he was born and the same way Itachi fell in love with Sasuke when he was. It was that love that bound the Hanta and the three clans to one another and then to the village.

This was Iruka’s act of kindness that would save the world.

ooo000ooo

...tbc...

Chapter Text

ooo000ooo

Chapter 13
Ku areba raku ari
There are hardships and there are delights

I walked with clenched fists, bloody lips, bruised knuckles. Because life doesn’t knock you down and stop, it stomps your face into the curb and kicks you till you piss blood. I pity soft hands. – Dave Wise

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Streets of Konohagakure: :

Kakashi watched, unable to do anything else. Tsunade’s timely arrival had stopped dozens of shinobi from attacking Itachi and Shisui. She and Iruka both looked like they’d been at the bad end of a brutal fight. Had they done that to one another? Both were bleeding from multiple injuries and Yajirobi and Kabuto were bent over Iruka’s shoulder, trying to repair the damage from the shuriken before he bled out. Naruto, still pale from the close call, hung onto Iruka’s hand and hoovered. The Rookie 11 not far behind.

Itachi, Shisui and Sasuke stayed close by. Surrounded by the Rookie 11 and Izumo, Kotetsu, Anko and Hana. Tsume stood in the center of the chaos, as defiant as ever, Shibi at her side. It took everything Kakashi had not to blast her with his chidori for this mess she’d started. A small part of him wondered if she’d even feel it. Her suffocating chakra still lingered at the edges of everything and now Kuromaru sat at her side, tail sweeping left and right in a hypnotizing beat. His dark eyes narrowed whenever someone came too close.

A few others had been injured in the fight Tsume had started but none were serious. Medi-nins were treating Kurenai and Gai off to the side and several others had already been taken to the hospital.

Tsunade waved away a medi-nin and whistled sharply. Conversation ceased, everyone’s attention on their Hokage.

“If you’re a member of Root, leave now or you will be arrested for treason.” Tsunade roared and Kakashi wasn’t the only one who jumped at the force of her voice.

Koharu and Homura pushed themselves to the center, but Tsunade held up a hand to stop them before they could speak.

“Now.” For some reason, that one word in the ice-cold tone was more terrifying then her yell. Koharu seethed but neither she nor Homura stopped the Root soldiers from disappearing in clouds of smoke and leaves.

“How dare you!” Koharu said, fury in her voice.

“I’ll dare to do whatever the hell I want, I’m the Hokage of Konohagakure.” Tsunade stated. “Something you seem determined to forget.”

Or change, Kakashi mused. But Tsunade’s statement, bursting with ego, was reassuring. If she wasn’t going to go down without a fight, then they had a chance.

“The Hanta were founded to protect the shinobi who protect the village.” Tsunade looked at the hundreds of shinobi now gathered and watching with a vested interest. “They are not ANBU, they are not teachers, they don’t work in T and I and they don’t work in the Mission Room,” she gave Iruka the side eye, “Unless they want too. They are here, because they love you and the hiate you wear. They aren’t going to be able to save everyone, that is not their job. But they will hunt down every missing nin, every traitor, anyone who decides to betray what you and this village stands for.”

There were cheers from the gathered shinobi, those who weren’t aware of the significance of Tsunade’s words. Koharu and Homura looked stunned by their reversal of fortune and could only watch as Tsunade spun on Iruka.

“You will return to active duty as Taichou of the Hanta.”

Iruka was silent under Yajirobi and Kabuto’s hands, but only for a moment. With a dark look, he waved them away and pushed to his feet. Naruto hovered at his side to make sure he didn’t fall. Kakashi spared a second to think that even he and Naruto had never made Iruka that angry. It wasn’t the kind chuunin school teacher that stepped before the Hokage. It was the Captain of the Hanta. He had Iruka’s face and uniform, but the warmth in Iruka’s eyes had been replaced by a depthless abyss. Where the kind soul had stood before, now there was iron. Maybe it had always been there and they’d all been too blinded by his temper and emotion to see it.
Iruka and Tsunade stared one another down for a breathless moment, then Iruka dropped to his knee, a fist over his heart and bowed his head. “Yes Lord Hokage.”

Tsunade turned to Kotetsu, who immediately stiffened like he knew what was coming and wasn’t looking forward to it. “You will return as Fuku-Taichou of the Hanta.”

In a flicker Kotetsu was kneeling beside Iruka, “Yes Lord Hokage.”

Tsunade turned to the others. “The rest of the Hanta may choose whether or not to return to their former positions.” She paused and Kakashi watched in awe with the rest as Hana, Yajirobi, Kabuto, Izumo, Anko, Itachi and Shisui all knelt and agreed to return. The Rookie 11 were the only ones who looked absolutely thrilled.

“This should be discussed before any official ruling is made,” Koharu insisted. The councilwoman was either deliberately ignoring Tsunade’s mood or she was panicking.

“Stay out of it, you old bat!” Naruto snapped and was immediately slapped upside the head by Iruka.

“Manners Naruto!”

Yajirobi promptly slapped Iruka upside the head and said, “Injury Iruka.”

The crazy jounin part of Kakashi’s brain tried desperately to get him to start laughing like he’d lost his mind. Decades of discipline kept him still.

Shizune returned to Tsunade’s side, “Where were you Tsunade-sama?”

“The Valley,” she and Iruka shared a significant look. Yajirobi returned to Iruka’s shoulder.

Something big had happened between them in the valley Kakashi realized. Something had changed things between them and it wasn’t just the revelation of the Hanta. For the first time in his life Kakashi felt like he was drastically behind the curve.

“You were in the valley when Naruto’s chakra flared.” Jiraya repeated, voice suspicious. That Tsunade might have been able to pull something like that off was one thing. But Iruka had beaten her back, Itachi and Shisui on his heels. Kakashi and Jiraya weren’t the only ones who turned to study Iruka and he glared defiantly from under Yajirobi’s hands. It was physically impossible to travel that distance in seconds. Not even the Forth had been that fast.

Kotetsu stepped over to Iruka and punched him hard in his wounded shoulder. Yajirobi sighed and threw his hands up, stepping aside to let them settle things as Iruka turned on Kotetsu with a growl.

“What the hell Ko!”

“You stupid fuck, you used shunpo in the shape you’re in!” Kotetsu yelled back louder.

What the hell was shunpo, Kakashi wondered as he watched Iruka and Kotetsu argue like there wasn’t a crowd of shinobi watching.

Tsunade yanked them apart by the collars of their shirts before things got too far out of hand.

“Enough, you can settle it later.”

Ibiki broke in, gesturing to Itachi and Shisui. “They need to be examined and questioned.” It was standard procedure. A process that could take days, probably weeks in this case. Neither Itachi or Shisui spoke, their faces carefully blank.

Iruka pulled free of Tsunade’s grip. “They’re my soldiers and my responsibility. They should be released into the custody of the Hanta.” He and Tsunade shared another long look.

“They’ll be examined and questioned at the hospital and released into your care by nightfall,” she turned to Ibiki for agreement and the scared jounin nodded. If the sharingan hadn’t recorded that memory Kakashi wouldn’t have believed it had ever happened. Next to him, Jiraya sputtered in disbelief. Tsunade was just going to release them, after only a minimal examination. Standard examinations of ANBU members after missions took at least two days.

Koharu broke in, “This is utterly foolish! They abandoned the village-“

“We didn’t abandon anything, we resigned and were released from service by the Third Hokage.” Iruka cut her off.

“We haven’t been half as damaging to the village as you’ve been,” Anko accused.

Yajirobi made another grab for Iruka’s shoulder. Naruto leapt into the fray, picking a fight with Koharu. “Iruka-sensei has always protected the village! You just don’t like him, you’ve been trying to sabotage him for years!”

“Keep your mouth shut you little brat!” Koharu seethed and before anyone could move Tsume had her by the throat.

“Tsume calm down!” Genma snapped as he, Asuma, Raido and Yamato tried to pull her off the Konoha Council member.

“Somebody get her under control!” Someone else snapped as more shinobi moved to help. They weren’t enough to make Tsume move an inch and Koharu’s face started to turn purple. Tsume’s oppressing chakra was growing again.

Tsunade turned to Iruka, “Do something!”

“Move!” Iruka snapped and years of taking orders made the shinobi surrounding Tsume jump to follow.

The Hanta moved with the preternatural grace of extremely skilled shinobi and surrounded Tsume in an eight-pointed star sealing formation. Grasped in their hands were binding jutsu written along bandages that held Tsume in place. Her chakra disappeared immediately. Her eyes faded back to their normal appearance. For a minute she continued to hold Koharu aloft. The binding seals wrapped tighter around her. Finally, she smiled, shrugged and dropped Koharu, who collapsed and gasped for air.

Homura dragged Koharu away and after a moment, the Hanta released Tsume. It didn’t escape Kakashi that they moved completely out of the Inuzuka clan leader’s reach.

Tsume watched Homura help Koharu to her feet and gave a bloody smile. “Consider your next actions carefully brat. Your father died for his shortsightedness.”

Koharu’s chakra raged but it was nothing compared to Tsume’s. A fledgling blade of grass in the shadow of an ancient oak. Koharu seemed to understand that, because while she glared at Tsume with a level of hatred she hadn’t displayed before, she made no move to fight the clan leader.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Land of Snow: :

Minato stared up at the clear blue sky. The bright afternoon sunlight made his eyes hurt, but the warmth seeped into his skin. It felt like it had been decades since he’d felt the sun on his skin. The breeze in his hair. The dirt under his hands.

It felt like the world he’d left, but it wasn’t. What Kikyo had shown him... It was like waking from a dream he thought he remembered, only to find out he’d forcibly ignored the parts he didn’t like.

Kikyo sat a few feet away, eyes distant. After she’d shown him everything she’d remained silent. Minato had passed out halfway through the memories, the weight of everything they entailed too much to handle.

The idea that he’d missed so much about the village he’d died for made him feel like a failure. The challenges Naruto had faced because of his decisions and the fate of the Uchiha Clan made his heart ache. That Fugaku had foreseen it all and taken steps, that included sacrificing his entire clan, to combat what was coming made his heart seize. There was a stinging betrayal from Sarutobi knowing and choosing not to tell anyone. From Sakumo and his decision to take his own life and leave Kakashi behind. From the Uchiha Clan themselves, for not asking anyone for help.

“What’s coming?”

Kikyo finally turned to him, her eerie eyes pinning him in place. “Not what, who. An old enemy. From the ages before the Five Villages. Danzo and his fools are going to release them.”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Hokage’s Office, Academy, Konohagakure: :

Kakashi spent the rest of the day mulling over everything he’d seen. There were still huge gaps in his knowledge. Tsunade clearly knew more then she’d said and that went double for Iruka and his Hanta. Jiraya was just as confused but even the two of them combined hadn’t been able to convince Tsunade to tell them more. As soon as Itachi and Shisui, accompanied by the Hanta and ANBU had been taken to the hospital, Tsunade had locked herself in her office with Iruka, Kotetsu, Tsume and Shibi. Not even Shizune had been allowed inside.

Rumors were spreading like wildfire through the shinobi population. Kakashi couldn’t tell if the majority leaned in their favor, with the revelation of the Hanta, or against, knowing that Iruka had resigned rather than continue his service to his fellow shinobi. The sight of Itachi had sent a bolt of terror down Kakashi’s spine. Despite the knowledge that Itachi had always been acting in the best interest of the village, the memories of their battles still chilled him. The sheer amount of power and skill Itachi had demonstrated was enough to give any shinobi with half a brain concerns, even if he was on their side. Kakashi was man enough to admit that probably wasn’t the best way to address the situation, fears like that were part of what had led to the Fall of the Uchiha. But he was also a shinobi, a soldier since he was a child and being wary of people with that kind of strength had kept him alive.

Itachi and Shisui didn’t seem to be part of the rash of resurrections that were plaguing the village. Kabuto’s release and subsequent return to Hanta, had cleared him as far as most were concerned. Kakashi didn’t think he was behind the resurrections, but he intended to investigate and rule him out for sure.

Iruka, though, was a much bigger concern. He hadn’t spoken to Iruka since the night they’d shared. With everything that had happened, it had been pushed to the back of his mind. Right up until Iruka had stepped forward as Taichou of the Hanta. All of a sudden his hesitation to get involved with Kakashi had made sense. The few pieces of the puzzle that Kakashi had had slipped into place. It wasn’t enough for the whole picture yet, but it was a hint of something that deeply worried Kakashi. It made his thoughts wander to Naruto and Sasuke and through them the rest of the Rookie 11. The nickname they’d given themselves was catching on, Kakashi had overheard it mentioned in conversations more and more often. He wondered if Naruto and Sasuke realized the depth of what Iruka being Hanta meant?

A bolt of lightning went down his spine and he straightened. Neither Naruto or Sasuke had looked surprised at the revelation. None of the Rookie 11 had. Had they known? Naruto was shit at keeping secrets and he’d always been incredibly close to Iruka. Which begged the question, did Sasuke know? Did the rest of their group? Had Iruka allowed a bunch of children to know the truth and then hidden it from the rest of the village? Why?

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Exam Room 1, Hospital, Konohagakure: :

Kurenai fussed over Gai as the taijutsu expert lay in the small bed. He was pale against the white sheets and Kurenai had already called in the nurse twice to check on him. Whatever was wrong with Gai had only been compounded by their run-in with Root. He’d tried to insist on talking to Iruka before they’d gone to the hospital, but in the chaos following the fight he’d collapsed and Kurenai hadn’t wasted a second teleporting them straight into the emergency room. The medi-nins had only noted the injuries he’d sustained in the fight with Root. When Kurenai had mentioned something seemed wrong with him before that, they’d dismissed it as chakra strain. Kurenai didn’t agree but she didn’t have the expertise to argue.

Gai had come around a few minutes earlier and quietly asked for painkillers. That alone was enough to terrify Kurenai. Konoha’s Green Beast was not a fan of medication and only took it when it was absolutely necessary. He didn’t like to introduce unnatural elements to the body he’d spent decades honing into a weapon. She was about to call in another nurse, when Yajirobi entered and locked the door behind him.

Kurenai only vaguely recalled working with the blond jounin on a few missions, but he’d made one hell of an impression today, when he’d stepped forward as a member of Hanta.

He didn’t speak as he picked up Gai’s chart from the end of the bed and studied it. “Did they give you painkillers?” Yajirobi asked.

“Not yet,” Kurenai answered. Yajirobi’s gaze flicked to her, then Gai, then back to the chart.

“Do you need painkillers Maito-san?” He asked without looking up.

Kurenai frowned, but Gai squeezed her hand so she stayed silent.

“Please,” Gai’s voice was weak. It was taking all his control not to curl into a ball and scream in pain. It felt like his chakra was trying to tear his body apart at the seams.

Kurenai grabbed a wet cloth and gently brushed his forehead. Yajirobi replaced his chart and stepped next to Gai’s bed, across from Kurenai. Before either jounin could move he pressed two fingers to the center of Gai’s chest. The relief was instantaneous, as was the kunai Kurenai had drawn. Warm chakra flowed over his body and numbed the pain, not completely, but enough that Gai could function like it wasn’t there. He moved to sit up but was surprised to be pushed back down.

“Rest,” Yajirobi ordered and then began examining Gai’s injuries and ignored Kurenai slipping the kunai back where it came from. He worked in silence for a several minutes, while Kurenai helped Gai drink a glass of water. “What were you doing in Root HQ?”

The question was relatively out of the blue. Yajirobi didn’t raise his voice or look at them, he simply continued to work his fingers down Gai’s arm. Kurenai and Gai shared a look. They had been planning to take what they’d found straight to Iruka, but he was still with the Hokage. They knew for sure that Yajirobi was Hanta and their information was time sensitive. Gai nodded.

“We heard the Council threaten Iruka,” Kurenai said. Yajirobi stiffened briefly, before continuing his work.

“About what?”

“Naruto and Sasuke. We followed them, they led us to the Root HQ. We waited several days and then snuck in ourselves to investigate.” Kurenai paused and struggled with what came next. Yajirobi moved on to Gai’s leg. “We found, we found a laboratory. And the remains of several bodies.”

Yajirobi glanced up briefly at that. “Clones or golems?”

Kurenai shook her head, “Corpses.”

Yajirobi finished examining Gai’s leg and straightened, “Corpses?”

“It looked like someone was attempting a resurrection jutsu, but without the correct… pieces,” Gai said, subdued as he pushed himself up.

“We destroyed the laboratory and everything in it.” Kurenai added.

“Good,” Yajirobi frowned, “Who else knows?”

“We were hoping to speak to Iruka-sense directly,” Gai responded. They had gathered scrolls full of evidence before they’d destroyed the lab and they were secreted away until both Gai and Kurenai were sure they were in the right hands.

Gai swung his legs over the side of the bed and prepared to stand. A sudden hand on his arm stopped him. Yajirobi met his gaze head on.

“Who have you seen about your leg?”

Gai carefully climbed to his feet. “The excellent medical-nins in this very hospital assure me it will heal correctly in time!” Gai beamed and Kurenai watched, amused, as Yajirobi struggled in the face of Gai’s light.

“Yeah, that’s,” Yajirobi looked honestly sad for a minute, “Your leg is not going to heal on its own. I don’t know who told you it would, but they’re incompetent.”

Kurenai felt a sick pit form in her stomach. If Gai’s leg never healed…he was a taijutsu expert, if he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t fight.

If Gai was upset, he didn’t let it show. He smiled again, that blinding expression that always lifted the mood of those watching. “I see. Never fear, I will endeavor to regain my strength through other means! The springtime of my youth is far from over!” He struck his ‘Good Guy’ pose.

Kurenai watched with a bit of awe as Yajirobi blinked and then a small smile stole over his face. Kurenai paused and wondered if that was what Asuma had looked like when he’d first fallen for her. The thought surprised her and she looked closer at Gai and Yajirobi.

“It’s not something you’ll be able to fix on your own.” Yajirobi came around and gestured to Gai’s leg. “The chakra lines are tangled, almost knotted.”

Gai frowned, “You can see them?”

Yajirobi shook his head, “No, but I’ve seen this kind of injury before. In shinobi who use taijutsu for extended periods of time. Eventually the lines become so tangled they end up in knots. The more knotted they become, the more you’ll lose the physical ability to function. Eventually you’ll become paraplegic.”

Kurenai gasped. “Is there a way to prevent that?”

Yajirobi nodded, “You need someone to untangle your chakra lines.”

“I would be honored to have you work on me!” Gai stated and Kurenai would have sworn there was a twinkle of something in his eyes she hadn’t seen before.

Yajirobi shook his head. “Unfortunately I don’t have that ability. You can learn the technique, but not the ability.” Someone tried to open the door. Yajirobi ignored it. “You’ll need at least three people to work on you. You could do it with one, but it would take longer, and the procedure is unbelievably painful.”

“Painful?” Gai repeated, “I have a very high pain tolerance.”

“You’ll need it,” Yajirobi didn’t sound impressed but he had a thoughtful look in his eye, “Being unconscious during the operation is too dangerous.”

“I am willing to begin as soon as you can gather the necessary individuals!” Gai exclaimed.

“Let me talk to Iruka and Itachi, they’re both trained on how to do it. If they can train Sasuke that would be the three you need.” Yajirobi looked like he was considering something else for minute, but when he spoke it was so low neither Kurenai or Gai could make out what he said for sure. “Unless she comes back and then she could help.”

“What can I do to help?” Gai asked.

“Rest. Stretch. Try not to fight or use your chakra any more then you absolutely need to.” Yajirobi scribbled a list on a small notepad, tore the page off and handed it to Gai. “Swing by the pharmacy. Follow the instructions.”

Gai nodded, committing the list to memory. Yajirobi glanced at Kurenai, obviously expecting her to keep an eye on Gai.

She nodded. “What about the lab?”

“I’ll tell Iruka. He’ll find you when he has time to talk to you.”

Kurenai and Gai nodded and responded in unison. “Understood.”

Yajirobi turned back to Gai, “If you need me, just call.”

Kurenai smothered her smile as Gai grinned, “I will!”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Umino Iruka’s Apartment, Konohagakure: :

Kakashi decided to confront the problem head on. He needed to talk to Iruka face to face and he would have done it as soon as the other man was done with his meeting with Tsunade but the Hokage had insisted Kakashi sit through another group of meetings to contain the damage from the earlier fight. He’d spent the latter part of the afternoon watching her apologize to several civilians whose property had been damaged.

Kakashi’s mind had wandered after the first few minutes, formulating a plan to approach Iruka away from the kids. He’d figured catching Iruka at his apartment, where he’d feel comfortable and off-guard was his best bet.

He’d considered just teleporting inside. Iruka’s wards weren’t anything special and Kakashi had been inside before with Naruto. He’d watched with the Sharingan when the boy had taken the wards down. But that had been when Iruka was just a chuunin school teacher. Now he was Hanta and significantly more dangerous. So Kakashi teleported to his front door at two in the morning and knocked, loudly.

It took a minute before Kakashi felt a flare of chakra from within the apartment. Someone moving to answer the door. It was too well shielded for Kakashi to tell who, but he’d timed his visit carefully. Naruto and the other Rookies were gone, spending the night at the Inuzuka compound. He’d accounted for Kotetsu, Yajirobi, Anko and Hana. Only Kabuto and Izumo were unaccounted for. The chakra presence reached the door.

Iruka answered with a wary look on his face. “Kakashi?”

“Maa, Iruka-sensei, good evening.” Kakashi didn’t bother trying to smile, Iruka couldn’t see it under his mask anyway. He did his best to ignore the visceral arousal that swept through him at the sight of the Academy teacher.

Iruka glanced over his shoulder, “Now’s not a great time.”

There was someone else in the apartment. Kakashi could feel the hint of a concealed chakra somewhere in the area of the kitchen. “I’m afraid this can’t wait, sensei.” Kakashi pushed passed him into the apartment.

Iruka frowned. He shut the door behind him and followed Kakashi inside. “Is something wrong?”

“We need to talk,” Kakashi answered vaguely, distracted by the other presence in the kitchen.

Iruka shifted, uncomfortable. He wasn’t ready to have this conversation with Kakashi. He had no interest in trying to explain and justify his actions to anyone and Kakashi had always stirred mixed emotions in Iruka. The son of Sakumo, whom Iruka had always admired and respected, but Kakashi was so different from his father. He was a piece of a past Iruka couldn’t escape and Kakashi didn’t understand. He was absolutely infuriating. “About what?”

“You forgot to mention a few things, the last time we talked.” Kakashi left it open ended, hoping Iruka would feel compelled to explain.

The last time they’d talked, they hadn’t said anything at all. Iruka had given few answers and that was before they’d fallen into bed together. Kakashi wandered further into the apartment, surprised Iruka didn’t try to stop him. Kakashi turned toward the kitchen and stopped.

Itachi. Itachi wearing Iruka’s clothes, his hair and skin still damp from a shower. He was sipping tea from a cup Kakashi recognized from the last time he’d had tea with Naruto at Iruka’s apartment. He looked comfortable. Familiar. There was another cup of tea across from him and a pot resting on a warming plate. A single plate of food, picked at absentmindedly, sat in the middle. Kakashi felt like he’d stumbled into something he was never supposed to see, but Iruka hadn’t tried to hide it.

Itachi’s eyes never even flicked toward Iruka. He raised an eyebrow at Kakashi and nibbled on a piece of tempura, perfectly comfortable where he was. Like there was no question he belonged in Iruka’s apartment, in Iruka’s clothes, at his kitchen table after a shower at two in the morning. There was an intimacy there that Kakashi didn’t think he’d ever fully recover from.

Iruka didn’t look bothered. He raised an eyebrow at Kakashi, like he was waiting for him to say something. But Kakashi didn’t know what to say. It made sense that Iruka and Itachi knew one another, since Itachi was apparently a member of Hanta before he’d left the village. They would have at least a passing familiarity with one another. But this was not a passing familiarity. Itachi looked like he belonged in Iruka’s home. Like he was a missing piece to a blank space Kakashi hadn’t realized was there. He was making the hand symbols to teleport before he even realized it and he was gone before he could finish the thought.

Iruka and Itachi stared at the dissipating cloud of smoke. Iruka confused, Itachi thoughtful. Itachi turned his gaze to his brother and couldn’t help but smile. “You suck at relationships.”

“Shut up, I do not.” Iruka huffed, but the thoughtful crease between his eyebrows was still there.

“Hmmm. The fact that Kakashi’s going to kill me the first chance he gets says otherwise.” Itachi poured them both another cup of tea as Iruka glared fiercely at the space where the last of the smoke hung in the air, like he could light it, and the man that he was really focused on, on fire if he thought it hard enough. Some things never changed, Itachi mused, and that thought, more than anything, comforted him. The fight wasn’t over, but he was finally home.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Root ANBU Safehouse, Land of Fire: :

Thank god Root’s reach extended far beyond what Tsunade and her supporters believed. Koharu moved through the dark halls of the safe house, hidden deep in a forest with very few inhabitants. It had once been a safe house for the Uchiha, cared for by a family who’d sworn their loyalty to the clan in their blood. They’d fought to the death when Root came, two years after the Uchiha Clan had fallen.

Even dead the Uchiha Clan managed to be a pain. It’s last sons especially, Koharu mused. So much like their father and Madara, so much like Indra and his daughter. It was interesting, how much of them had survived over the years, flaring up every few generations to wreak havoc. Such a persistent bloodline. Like cockroaches. She slid the paper door shut behind her and crossed to the porch.

A tray of tea sat at his side. Steam wafting up from the two cups. Koharu took a seat next to him and gratefully lifted the cup to her lips. Her throat ached, sore inside and out. Molted purple and yellow bruises covered her throat, a persistent reminder of the bold Inuzuka matriarch. Koharu was going to savor the day they finally ground the Inuzuka under their heal.

“How are you feeling?” Danzo asked, reaching out a hand to shift her collar. He examined the finger shaped bruises lining her neck.

“I’m fine. I just don’t heal like I used to.” It was a bitter reminder of her age. Gone were the years when she could out run the best of them. She had one more good fight in her. Homura as well. Danzo more than that, with the Sharingan imbedded in his arm. But in the end it was only putting off the inevitable, they knew. Without Uchiha blood the full abilities of the Sharingan were out of their reach.

“We will deal with the Inuzuka Mother.” Danzo promised.

Koharu smiled. “How is your arm?”

“Good.” Danzo flexed. He had full movement now, it had taken weeks of physical therapy after they’d resurrected him. “He’s still under surveillance?”

Koharu nodded, “Yes, distracted enough by everything that he hasn’t noticed it.”

“Good, if we cannot deal with Iruka and his kin soon, we may have to bring him into play.” Danzo looked thoughtful. “Is Tsunade still considering him as her heir?”

“She’s been quite obvious and does not expect any opposition to the official announcement.” Koharu sipped her tea.

“Do you think he will come willingly?”

Koharu snorted, set her cup down. “No. His…infatuation with Iruka has grown stronger. He’s still close with his former students and they’ve firmly aligned themselves with Iruka.”

Danzo frowned, “That is unfortunate. He was…malleable after his father’s suicide.”

“I had hoped he would come around after the war, but so far,” Koharu turned her gaze out into the forest. “He remains stubbornly ignorant.”

“He will come into the fold, we’ll simply have to nudge him a bit. And once he does, we shall see if he has managed to break the final wall with the Sharingan the Uchiha allowed him to keep.”

“If not, we can always rip them out of his head and use them ourselves,” Koharu muses.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Hokage’s Tower, Konohagakure: :

It was midnight before Tsunade finally had a moment alone and could make her way to the foot of the tower undisturbed. Extreme paranoia had finally worn down her ANBU guards, Shizune had given into exhaustion hours ago, and Kakashi had snuck off to confront Iruka about whatever was going on between them, still cloaked in the disillusion that she didn’t know.

It had been Jiraya, out of all of them, that had been the hardest to shake. Her teammate had been different since he’d come back. But maybe different wasn’t the right word. He was still Jiraya, loud, annoying, still spending far too much time staring at her chest. But where there had been distraction, concern for something far out of their physical reach before, now there was nothing but focus. And it was all on her. It was flattering and terrifying all in the same breath and if this was how Iruka was feeling with Kakashi’s attention, the brat had a long fight ahead of him.

Jiraya had finally fallen asleep in her office. Not even soldier pills could help him stay awake after everything that had happened. She’d covered him with a blanket and left him to rest. She had Sarutobi’s letter safely tucked inside her top. Though she’d memorized every word, she still carried it with her everywhere. She should destroy it, she knew, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it just yet.

Instead she’d climbed down to the foot of the Hokage’s tower. To the very bottom level of the tower, where the foundations descended deep into the Earth and the heart of her grandfather’s chakra resided. While it wasn’t officially sealed off, few ever ventured to this level. There was nothing there, just the support structured from the central part of the tower and dirt.

Tsunade took a deep breath. The air was cool, slightly damp and tasted like dirt and rain. She walked to the center of the room and shivered. An odd feeling came over her, a chill. It felt like she was standing a grave, but not her own. Someone else’s. Someone important. It felt like holy ground. She reached out with her chakra, let it seep into the ground trying to find what was buried. They were farther down then she was expecting. She felt the fleeting touches of her grandfather’s chakra as she followed the roots of the tower down.

They were almost a hundred feet underground. There was no way someone had buried them by hand. She could just make out the shape, coffins. Dozens of them. Arranged in a circle spiraling out in waves from the center of the tower.

The coffins were sealed, beautifully intricate fuinjutsu that wound around them in delicate, complex patterns. Tsunade had never seen or felt anything like it. Not even Kabuto’s resurrection techniques came close.

Shinobi tradition dictated a funeral by fire, in the rare cases when the body survived long enough to return to the village. Even for the Hokage.

Who would be important enough to buried at the foot of the Hokage’s Tower?

ooo000ooo

…tbc…

Chapter Text

ooo000ooo

Chapter 14
Nokorimono ni wa fuku ga aru
Luck exists in the leftovers

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. – C.S. Lewis

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Memorial Stone, Konohagakure: :

It was hard to remember the last day he’d been truly happy. Years had passed, each one marred by the loss of someone else close to them. The Forth Shinobi World War had been devastating, though Kotetsu, along with the rest of the Hanta, had relished the return to battle. Today was a good day, the closest he’d been to truly happy in a long while. The return of Itachi and Shisui was like having a long-lost love return. Brothers in all but blood and parts of Kotetsu that he’d feared he’d never get back.

The glee rippling through Iruka’s chakra had made Kotetsu so happy he’d nearly cried and it had yet to dissipate. Even his awkward encounter with Kakashi the night before hadn’t dimmed it. Though to be fair, Kotetsu was fairly confident that Itachi was right and Iruka didn’t realize the depth of Kakashi’s feelings. That was a problem they were going to have to deal with sooner rather than later. There was no way it wasn’t going to come out and as soon as the Council realized what was happening, they’d jump to use it to their advantage. There was no way Iruka and Kakashi could become a solid enough couple to handle them together in such a short amount of time. Which meant to Kotetsu that they had to stay separate until the Council and Danzo had been dealt with. Kotetsu was hoping that the revelation of the Hanta would force Kakashi away for the time being.

He stared at the Memorial Stone. The Umino’s were listed with the rest of the shinobi who’d died the night of the Nine-Tails Attack. No Hanta were listed on the Stone, their private burial ground hidden deep within the Uchiha Compound. But Kotetsu had loved the Umino’s and made a point to always stop by and tell them what was happening with Iruka. Iruka had a hard time with the memorial meant for shinobi of the village that somehow contained only a handful of the multitudes lost and so few of the people he’d loved.

Though Iruka’s rage had mellowed in the years he’d dedicated to Naruto and the Academy, it still burned. Embers waiting to reignite in an instant. Kotetsu would even admit to being slightly worried about Kakashi and what would happen if he pushed Iruka too hard. Iruka’s feelings about Kakashi, Sakumo and the mess of secrets that surrounded them were still too volatile to be good for either of them. Kotetsu was terrified of what would happen if they fought and Kakashi tried to use Obito’s Sharingan. Iruka’s response would be volcanic and utterly uncontrollable. It would strain even Itachi to try and hold him back. Maybe Kotetsu needed to pull Kakashi aside and have a word with him.

“You two were great parents, but damn you for leaving the rest of us to deal with him.” Kotetsu sighed. The wind shifted the trees and Kotetsu let it flow over him.

His chakra appeared at the same time he spoke, “Where’s Iruka?”

Kotetsu’s eyes snapped open. Goddamn it. His own temper flared, not at the man behind him but at whoever was playing around with this new resurrection jutsu. He turned.

Obito stood in the mid-morning light. The morning fog was still lifting and he look like an apparition, except that Kotetsu could feel his chakra and hear the beat of his heart. The scars were mostly gone, faded, jagged marks on one half of his face. It made Kotetsu’s heart ache but only for a moment.

“How did you get back?” Kotetsu asked, ignoring Obito’s question.

The Uchiha shrugged, “Woke up in a Root safehouse. Killed them all and left. It was somewhere in the Land of Waves.” He was wearing the same clothes he’d died in during the war. They were tattered now, dirty and frayed and falling apart. But his eye was bright, a haphazard bandage covered the empty socket. Kotetsu had an extra hiate in his nightstand drawer. He’d grab it on the way.

The red string jutsu didn’t work on a Uchiha apparently. Which made sense. It was hard to use mind control on the clan that had perfected it and the Sharingan itself went to great lengths to protect its bearer from outside control. Could it be used on Kakashi, Kotetsu wondered. He’d been Root once before and while he had a Sharingan. He didn’t have Uchiha blood so the Sharingan couldn’t be fully utilized. Would it still protect him?

Kotetsu sighed. “Did anyone else see you?”

Obito smirked, “What do you think?” He paused. “Why’d they bring me back?”

“They’re trying to takeover Konohagakure and kill Iruka. You aren’t the only one they’ve brought back.”

Obito frowned. “Who else?”

“Asuma. Neji. Jiraya. You. That we know of.” Resurrecting Obito was a huge leap from Jiraya and the others. Root was getting bold, so bold that they’d risked bringing back someone they couldn’t control. “Did you recognize any of the Root members at the safe house?”

Obito shook his head. It was a leap anyway, given how long he’d been away from the village. “Where’s Iruka?”

“Teaching. At the Academy. You’re not going anywhere near him until he finishes his classes for the day.” Trying to contain Iruka and Obito would be near impossible and Kotetsu had to limit the damage they’d do.

Obito frowned, “How much longer?”

“A few hours. You can wait.”

Obito snarled. The draw of his bloodline was getting stronger and stronger, pulling him towards Iruka, Itachi and Sasuke. His years away magnified the draw, made it an itch under his skin that he couldn’t ignore. Kotetsu would fight him if necessary, he knew that. And Kotetsu was not someone to be trifled with on the battlefield. Obito had nothing but respect for his brother’s Fuku-Taichou. And under the pounding of his heart and the overwhelming desire to unite with his family, he knew Kotetsu was right. The family reunion shouldn’t happen in front of witnesses.

“Besides, the amount of paperwork we’re going to have to deal with is going to take a few hours.” Kotetsu really wasn’t looking forward to that.

Obito made a face. “Can’t that wait?”

“No,” Kotetsu snapped. He’d take him straight to Ibiki. Have him summon Tsunade. Make everything legal before Kotetsu unleashed all four sons of Fugaku on the village together. Maybe he’d gather the rest of the Hanta and the Rookie 11 and have them be a buffer. Maybe Naruto’s rasengan and Sasuke’s chidori together could blast some sense into Iruka and Obito. Kotetsu always felt bad when he had to physically beat sense into them.

“Fine, let’s get it over with. I can’t wait much longer.”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Morino Ibiki’s Office, T & 1 Headquarters: :

There were days when Ibiki really, truly wished Fugaku had let him bleed out that day in the forest. Today it seemed, was going to be one of those days. There was still a full bottle of sake hidden in his bottom drawer, although Uchiha Obito certainly warranted more than one bottle. Many, many more.

Tsunade appeared in a flash of smoke and leaves. Ibiki mentally added to the tally of bottles needed. The Godaime didn’t bother to hide her look of stunned amazement at the sight of Obito. Ibiki’s office was one of the most secure places in the village, even Root hadn’t managed to get inside. It made it an ideal place to conduct business that didn’t need to be shared and she’d been using more and more.

Kotetsu, sulking in a chair in the corner, looked like he wanted to throw himself out a window. Which made sense, Iruka and Obito were likely to beat one another into the hospital as soon as they set eyes on one another and Kotetsu would be forced to run the Hanta and deal with the revelation of Obito’s return in their absence. Which included dealing with Kakashi and the Council. Maybe Ibiki would join him and they could throw themselves out the window together. But then Anko would be sad and Anko when she was sad, could be even more terrifying then Iruka when he was angry. Ibiki didn’t like making Anko sad.

Tsunade turned to Ibiki, “Where’s the sake?”

He opened his drawer and handed her the bottle. While she took a long swig he turned back to Obito. “Alright, start from the beginning. Every step since you woke up. Let’s get this over with before Iruka realizes you’re here.” And tries to kill us all for keeping it from him, he added in his head.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Inuzuka Compound, Konohagakure: :

Sasuke let out a grateful sigh and stretched his muscles. After a second the pain receded, and a pleasant soreness set in. Next to him Naruto twisted around until he resembled a pretzel and collapsed onto the grass. There were times when the positions Naruto got himself into made Sasuke wince in sympathy or stirred something in his belly.

Konohamaru was nearby, trying to teach Toshiro the Sexy No Jutsu. The silver haired boy just seemed to think it was stupid, thankfully, and was spending more time trying to figure out how to transform into something different than actually paying attention.

The Inuzuka Clan’s extensive training grounds reminded him of the Uchiha’s and were, according to Shino, very similar to the Aburame’s. The revelation of the long relationship between the three clans made Sasuke’s head spin, but it was nice too. He felt like he’d gone from being alone in the world, to having a family that was, quite frankly, way too big for him. He’d stuck close to Naruto and the Rookie 11 so far. Too overwhelmed to branch out to the calmly accepting Aburame or the violently affectionate Inuzuka. Tsume was fucking terrifying and Sasuke was never, ever going let Naruto leave him alone with her. She kept referring to his father as Fu-chan. Fu-chan.

He watched Naruto unbend himself and sprawl out like a starfish. The Dobe did the same thing when he slept and Sasuke had ended up with odd limbs in his face on more than one occasion. Sakura thankfully, slept like a log and never moved, but she’d been spending more and more time with Taka, so he figured her nights with them were only going to grow more limited.

Sasuke was looking forward to getting his own place with Naruto, eventually. One of the small loft apartments in the Uchiha compound, they over looked the entire compound and even out over the Aburame and Inuzuka compounds. They didn’t need much. He loved Iruka’s apartment. It felt lived in, there was love and life in every piece of furniture, every knick-knack. Having the brother he’d never known about and now, the one he’d lost, so close. But he’d never lived in someone else’s space before and Sasuke wanted to see what kind of life he and Naruto built together.

He knew Naruto and the others were waiting for him to get angry, especially at Iruka, and Sasuke had looked for it in himself more than once; but he couldn’t find it. Any anger was overshadowed by the overbearing relief of not being alone and realization that he hadn’t been the only one who’d suffered. Whatever secrets, whatever seals Iruka and Itachi still had on his Sharingan Sasuke was willing to accept, for now.

Naruto rolled over and nosed into Sasuke’s shoulder, automatically drowsy in the warm summer sun. Sometimes Sasuke suspected that Kurama gave Naruto more than just chakra. The blond definitely took on foxlike traits at times. And he gave off heat like one. Sasuke was already feeling hot on one side. He half-heartedly shoved Naruto.

“Dobe, you’re a damn furnace,” he grumbled.

“Didn’t complain last night,” Naruto, half-asleep, cackled childishly and nuzzled back into Sasuke’s side.

Sasuke rolled his eyes and didn’t bother to shove him again. The harder you pushed him away, the more Naruto tried to hold on. Sasuke had learned that lesson in spades.

“Weren’t you going to train with Jiraya today?”

Naruto yawned, “Nah, he’s too busy with Tsunade and all the resurrections.”

Sasuke frowned, Iruka was working on them too. And now Itachi. He believed Kabuto when the man said it wasn’t him, but it left open some terrifying possibilities. Coupled with Iruka’s firm belief that Danzo wasn’t dead and Sasuke had a hard time falling asleep when he didn’t know where everyone was. He wasn’t worried for his own safety, there was no doubt in his mind that eventually someone would come after him for what he’d done and that he’d pay the ultimate price. But Naruto spent 90% of his time with Sasuke and Sasuke knew that anyone who came after him, would be more than willing to kill Naruto too. There was strength in numbers and he knew that the Rookie 11 shared his concerns. None of them had spent a night alone since he and Naruto had come back.

Naruto cracked one eye open, “Thought you were going to train with Kakashi-sensei?”

Sasuke looked away. “He’s busy.” He was, but Sasuke had begged off the training session, saying he wanted to spend time with Itachi. Kakashi’s expression had only fallen for a second before he’d caught himself, but Sasuke had still seen it. He felt bad, even horrible, but there was a wall between them now, that Sasuke couldn’t quite get past. Before Kakashi had been the only one who could teach Sasuke about the Sharingan. Had been the only one strong enough to give Sasuke an actual challenge. But that had changed. Iruka’s knowledge of the Sharingan and the Uchiha far outstripped Kakashi’s and Itachi was back and they were both his brothers and Kakashi wasn’t.

He figured when this whole thing was over and Kakashi knew the truth about what was happening, when Kakashi and Iruka had figured out whatever the hell was going on between them. Then Sasuke and Kakashi could train together again, not as teacher and student, but as equals, teammates. He liked the idea of Kakashi and Iruka, the same way he liked the idea of him and Naruto. Even if he did agree with the whispers that the blond and Kakashi could do better. Sometimes it wasn’t about doing better, sometimes it was about having what you wanted, instead of what you needed. Naruto wanted Sasuke the same way Sasuke wanted Naruto. And he thought Kakashi and Iruka were the same. It was just a matter of admitting it to yourself, but he knew Iruka wouldn’t do that now. Not until he thought things were safe for anyone who was involved with him. Kakashi wouldn’t accept it either, not while he suspected there were things Iruka was keeping from him. Trust was the most important part of any relationship for a shinobi, especially ones of Kakashi and Iruka’s caliber. And according to Itachi, they both had a long way to go before they truly trusted one another.

Regardless, Sasuke thought, when this was over, regardless of where Kakashi and Iruka were, he’d apologize to the silver haired jounin and tell him exactly how much he meant to Sasuke and all of Team 7. For now, though, he had to stay in the dark. Where it was safe for him. Sasuke rolled into Naruto, tucking his face into Naruto’s hair and breathed deep. For now, there was just this.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Forest outside the Inuzuka Compound: :

Hana waited impatiently under the oak tree that had been ancient when her parents met. The Three Haimaru Brothers were cuddled together in the grass. Dozing and enjoying one of the last summer afternoons before fall settled in. He was late and while Hana definitely had more patience then her mother, she’d been waiting for this reunion for almost a decade.

Hana cast a glance up at the sky. A few more hours until evening. The Rookie 11 were training at the Inuzuka compound and she knew Shibi and his clan planned to join them for dinner at the compound later that night. Tsume and Shibi were trying to keep their clans from overwhelming the Rookie 11 with the bond between the three clans, but she knew Sasuke was already starting to feel overwhelmed. Only Naruto didn’t seem to notice the suffocating affection. Shino and Kiba were used to it and because she’d been on their genin team, Hinata was as well. Ino, Shikamaru and Choji were adapting, since their clans had a similar, though not as deep, bond. Tenten and Lee were projecting their loss of Neji, and now Gai with whatever was wrong with him, onto the clans. Several weapons and taijutsu experts from the Inuzuka and the Aburame had stepped up with their training, as well as Kotetsu and Yajirobi. The issue of Neji rejoining his team and the connection this would bring with the Hyuuga was already being discussed.

Yajirobi had already discussed Gai’s treatment with Iruka and Itachi, but it would take time before Sasuke was ready to assist in the operation. Until then, Yajirobi had put out the word to keep Gai out of the fight. Kurenai had taken up the mantel of his care, to spare Iruka from losing any of his Hanta at such a vital time. Hana had already heard the whispers. Traitor. Abandoned. Failed. She could understand the hurt, she’d felt it too when Iruka had originally decided to disband the Hanta. But she understood why he’d done it and she didn’t begrudge him the reluctance to admit he’d been wrong. She didn’t know if he really had been. Yet.

A faint breeze picked up, ruffling the trees and grass. It lifted her hair briefly and Hana spared a moment of vanity to try and brush it back into place with her hands. He wouldn’t care if her hair was slightly out of place, but she did. He couldn’t see it with his eyes anyway. Her throat tightened. When she got her hands on Danzo she was going to rip his eyes out with her fingers and see how he liked it.

His chakra was a rush of warmth, tendrils reaching out to hers with the same gentle hesitance he’d always had. Always worried about pushing too hard, too much. The same fear all Uchiha felt reaching out to anyone who wasn’t part of the three clans. But Hana was not some inexperienced shinobi or civilian that didn’t understand chakra bonds. She was an Inuzuka, the only clan that indulged in them as much as the Uchiha and she reached out and pulled him in with a wanting that had been years in the making.

Shisui smiled, hands tucked deep in his pockets. He stood between two trees, hiate tied over his eyes. Hana drank him in like a desert traveler took in water in the deepest heat of the summer. “You look good.” She praised, took a step towards him and paused. She didn’t need their chakra bond to feel that he was hesitating.

Shisui’s smile was real, if a little brittle around the edges. “You’re still beautiful.” His chakra control was so precise he could see her through it. Even the blush that stained her cheeks.

“I was a gangly, awkward teenager the last time you saw me.” Hana remembered her awkward teenage years very well. When she’d worried every day she’d never develop the grace and beauty of her mother. Shisui had never, ever doubted she would, and he was the only one she’d ever believed.

“You grew out of it,” Shisui breathed. A decade of wanted crashed over them both.

“So did you,” Hana let herself grin and took another step forward. “I didn’t wait for you.”

“Good, I’m glad.” Relieved. He was relieved that she hadn’t. The idea of the pressure that would have come with that was terrifying. Part of why he loved her was her practicality. “Did you have to leave someone?”

Hana shrugged and continued forward, “They ran their course, like all things do. Good men, good memories.” Because there was no doubt she would have left whoever it was, the second he’d returned. “Iruka and I had a brief fling.” When they’d both been too emotional, too hurt, too alone. It had been a learning experience for them both.

Shisui laughed. Wide, open and happy, like she knew he would. “Oh god, I can just imagine that. Which side of the bed did you take?”

“We never actually settled that,” Hana admitted grudgingly. It turned out she and Iruka both favored the right and their nights had turned into epic battles over who slept where. Her boys, the Three Haimaru Brothers, had actually refused to sleep in the same room as the two of them because of it. She stopped a few feet from him. “Did you ever?”

Shisui shrugged, “A few short term…dalliances, I guess you could call them. I was too weak for a long time. Too angry for a while after that.” And he’d always looked for someone like her, afraid he’d never get back to Konohagakure and the real thing. No one else had ever come close. “Kikyo threatened to throw me into a brothel a few times, just to burn some of the frustration off.”

Hana laughed, bright and cheery. Like he knew she would at the idea of him in a brothel. “You’re far too proper for a brothel.” And her grin had a bit of Tsume in it. Shisui had always blushed when any woman around him had started taking off her clothes. It had been something that had gotten him teased by his peers in all three clans. But he’d also taken one look at her on their first day at the Academy and decided he was going to marry her. And Hana had instantly been intrigued by the boy who was mature beyond his years but had still helped her prank her classmates and laughed like a madman when they’d gotten away with it. People were still blaming Genma for the itching powder.

“I’m back now.” Shisui stated. And he was going to stay that way, no matter how many members of Root he had to kill.

“You are,” Hana returned serenely. And then she launched herself at him and they fell to the grass laughing like teenagers and got reacquainted in oldest of ways.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Umino Iruka’s Classroom, Konohagakure Shinobi Academy: :

There was something beautiful about watching Iruka teach. He was one of the few instructors at the academy that actually had an easy time connecting with his students and a gift for inspiring others to want to learn. Most of the instructors were too ingrained in the world of shinobi, they had a hard time understanding how to introduce children to a world with which they had no experience. You had to be careful in how you introduced children to death and too often, instructors didn’t do it the correct way and it took years to fix the damage. Iruka loved children and the Uchiha, Inuzuka and Aburame held those who were skilled as teachers in high regard. Kurenai had benefited from that; because, though she’d been inexperienced when she’d taken on Hinata, Kiba and Shino, she had the same skill with children Iruka did. And the same desire to teach. Her late jounin status had hurt her with her peers, but it had endured her to Tsume, Shibi and Iruka, who valued a life well lived over status gained.

Iruka was always animated with his students. Fearless about showing emotion on any spectrum. Children were the best lie-detectors of all and Itachi felt that shinobi had forgotten that. They could tell instantly when an adult wasn’t being honest and while most children were too young to understand it, those who inevitably chose the Academy and the life that followed, did. Good shinobi skills made for shitty parents. Itachi’s own desire for children had stalled because of that belief. As had Iruka’s. The lives forced on Naruto and Sasuke were a direct result of their parent’s skill and had only served to deepen that belief.

But every time Itachi saw Iruka with children he thought it was a waste. He understood how to break down complicated ideas and explain them in ways that children could understand. He knew how to make learning fun, to engage children and his sixth sense for trouble was so finely honed that it had been years since any student in his class had gotten away with anything. He was so much like Fugaku that there were times when Itachi saw their father in his place. During his exile he’d frequently returned to Konoha, sneaking in to check on Sasuke, Naruto and Iruka. He’d spent time camped out in the trees beside the academy, watching Iruka teach. On more than one occasion he’d had to remove himself because visions of his father had threatened his control over his chakra.

Fugaku had the same gift with children, though he went to great lengths to hide it. When Fugaku had chosen to turn his back on his desires to be a simple school teacher and return to the world of shinobi, he’d done his best to distance himself from anything that reminded him of the world he’d given up.

Itachi, though he’d accepted his father’s choice, had never quite been able to forgive the people that had forced him to make the choice in the first place. But Fugaku had always demonstrated a will of fire, a refusal to quit and a rock solid belief that a shinobi protected the village. He’d passed it on to all his sons. They all took after him in certain ways, but of the four, Sasuke was most similar to Mikoto. Ironically, so was Obito, though he and Iruka had repeatedly demonstrated edges inherited from their birth mother. It was Iruka and Itachi who took after Fugaku. So like their father that they had struggled to deal with one another. Itachi had been blessed with balance from Mikoto, but Iruka, Iruka was so like Fukgau that Itachi remembered members of the clan wondering if he was a clone instead of offspring. Iruka and Fugaku had never been able to reconcile looking at one another and seeing themselves.

Iruka planted his fists on his hips and grinned at his class. “Alright, that’s enough for today.” The children cheered, excitedly shoving books into their bags. “Make sure you do your homework this weekend!” Half of them were already out the door as he finished speaking, but Iruka watched them with a fond expression.

The door slammed shut behind the last student, before Iruka turned to Itachi, balanced comfortably on the window sill. “Enjoy that?” Iruka sounded more amused than angry. Itachi had teleported into his class in the middle of a lecture on Shinobi law and missing-nin status, a deliberate choice, and the chaos that had briefly ensued had taken Iruka a while to control. He had no doubt he’d be hearing about it the next time he was in the Mission Room.

Itachi grinned, unrepentant. “Have they made the connection between not turning in homework and pop quizzes yet?”

“Nope. It usually takes about half a year before they start to pick up on it.” Iruka laughed, “Although Naruto’s class never figured it out.”

“Too many genius’ in one class,” Itachi murmured as Iruka walked to the window sill and leaned against his legs.

“Probably,” Iruka agreed. The class list for Naruto’s year had been hotly debated. Parents who didn’t want their kids in the same class as the demon carrier had done everything from bribe to threats to get their child moved. In the end, Fugak had stepped in and made the list and given it to Sarutobi, surprising everyone. To this day neither Iruka or Itachi were sure if the Sandaime had intended to use it or not; but before the announcement was made, the Uchiha Clan had fallen. Sarutobi had published the class list the day after the massacre. They’d long suspected guilt had caused Sarutobi to use Fugaku’s list, but the old man had always refused to answer either on them on the subject. Fugaku’s reasons behind the students chosen, had remained a mystery for years, until they’d begun to see them grow together. But it had still been a gamble uncharacteristic of the man who’d taught them to never enter a battle they weren’t sure they could win. Fukgau had made a bet on the students in Naruto and Sasuke’s class and somehow won, despite impossible odds.

“I like him,” Itachi commented, changing the subject.

Iruka stiffened, then relaxed, leaning more of his weight on Itachi and scratching at his scar. A nervous tick he’d never managed to drop.

“You should talk to him.” Itachi pushed. “Before he gets so far inside his head that he can’t get back out.”

Iruka let out a long breath. “The only way to do that would be to tell him the truth and that’s still too dangerous.”

Itachi hmmmed thoughtfully, “And he doesn’t trust you enough to take you at your word.”

Iruka shook his head, “Why should he? We didn’t exactly have a great relationship before this mess started. I didn’t think he even knew my full name before last year.” But Iruka still wanted him anyway.

That Kakashi hadn’t known something so simple about someone so close to his students was unlikely at best. But it highlighted how out of the blue his romantic interest in Iruka had been.

Itachi shrugged. It wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that Kakashi had simply looked at Iruka one day and decided he liked him. It wasn’t even impossible that he’d had feelings for Iruka since their first meeting and gone to lengths to hide them until he’d been ready. Itachi wasn’t as concerned with how the feelings had come about, as he was with how Kakashi choose to handle them with the revelations that were to come. Because there was no doubt in his mind, nor Iruka’s, that Kakashi would soon have to be told the truth about his father. And it was entirely possible, that it would end with Kakashi deciding he no longer wanted anything to do with the chuunin Academy teacher who was already half in love with him.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Ramen Ichiraku, Konohagakure: :

Iruka only had an hour to eat lunch so Naruto sprinted to the ramen stand and slid into the empty seat next to the Academy teacher just as Ayame was setting their bowls of food on the counter.

“Sorry Iruka-sensei, we got caught up in training!” Naruto smiled brightly and immediately turned his attention to the ramen.

Since Iruka could still see the imprints of blades of grass and Sasuke’s shirt on the side of his face, he let it go. Naruto had obviously run straight from the Inuzuka compound and didn’t realize half his face was still pink and creased.

“Where’s Itachi-nii-san?” Naruto asked around a mouthful of noodles.

Iruka frowned at him, “Manners, Naruto. He’s having lunch with Sasuke.”

Naruto slurped his noodles and watched Iruka out of the corner of his eye. The Academy sensei ate his own noodles at a more sedate pace, savoring one bowl while Naruto downed four. He seemed pensive, his gaze thoughtful and somewhere miles away. Which was understandable Naruto figured. There was a lot happening. But there was also no denying that Iruka was glowing, it was subtle, barely noticeable to someone who didn’t know him well, but it was there. And it was the first time Naruto had seen Iruka look like that. Not once in the years since Iruka had first found him in that alley way and taken him for ramen the first time.

He figured there were people who thought he should be jealous that someone else had made Iruka happy like that, but Naruto figured that anyone who made Iruka happy was good in his book. Besides, he was just as happy that Itachi was back. Sasuke’s legendary big brother had helped Naruto a lot on his journey and had been the one to finally talk Kabuto down from his plan. Coupled with the truth that Naruto knew about Itachi and his clan and Naruto was ecstatic to have him back. Itachi, along with Kabuto, was planning to take on the majority of training for the Rookie 11. They were all excited about that. Lee had already challenged him twice and lost, which had just made Gai’s mini-me more enthusiastic. Thankfully, Itachi seemed to find it fun and had no problem indulging him.

Naruto finished his first bowl of ramen and signaled Ayame for a second. “Hey Iruka-sensei…”

Iruka turned to him, “Yes, Naruto?” The boy looked like he wanted to say something, but he wasn’t sure how. Iruka stayed silent and let him figure it out.

“What are you going to do when this is all over?” Ayame set another bowl of ramen in front of him and winked as she moved away. Naruto stirred it with his chopsticks, suddenly unsure if he was still hungry.

Iruka bit back an automatic response, being sarcastic wasn’t what Naruto needed now. “It might never be over.” He pointed out instead.

Naruto gave him a level look, “It’ll be over. We’ll end it.” There was no doubt in his voice. “And we’ll have peace.”

Naruto’s eyes were bright, practically burning. His drive and determination to protect everyone was inspiring. Enough to pull Iruka from the pit of despair his heart had been in for so long. There had been a time when Naruto was the only one who’d been able to do so and Iruka had put more of his own health on the boy then he should have.

Naruto turned back to his ramen, twirling the noodles around his chopsticks and letting them fall back into the broth. Iruka watched him and realized that Naruto wanted to ask him something but he didn’t know how. He’d gotten the same way when he’d asked Iruka why everyone hated him. Why Sasuke seemed so sad. Why Kakashi never talked about his own father. Iruka motioned to Ayame and she brought him two popsicles. He dropped his hand onto Naruto’s shoulder and squeezed. “Come on.”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Park, Konohagakure: :

Iruka and Naruto found the same bench they’d met on before and sat. Iruka handed him a popsicle and stuck his own in his mouth, waiting for Naruto to figure out what he wanted to say. The cool ice slide over his tongue and tasted like watered down orange juice and sugar.

Naruto hunched over and peeled strips of wrapper away from his own popsicle. He knew what he wanted to know, but he couldn’t figure out the question. Iruka always answered him honestly, sometimes even when Naruto didn’t actually want him to. They’d come such a long way since that first meeting in the alley. When Iruka had been so angry he’d snapped at anything and everything and Naruto had tiptoed on egg shells until he’d realized that Iruka yelling didn’t equal Iruka leaving. He remembered the terrifyingly quiet years after the fall of the Uchiha and the shorter one that had come after Pain’s assault on the village. When Iruka was in real pain he got quiet and when he got quiet Naruto got scared. He didn’t ever want to hear that silence again.

Iruka sucked on his popsicle and watched the people of the village wander by on their lunch hour. For someone who was so impulsive, there were times when Naruto got stuck in his head, usually when he was worried about someone. Iruka had learned the best way to handle it was to let Naruto stumble through his words.

Naruto took a deep breath and leaned back. He took a bite of his popsicle and winced when the cold sank into his teeth. He sucked on them, trying to warm them back up and decided to just ask. “When are you going to get over it?”

Iruka, popsicle between his lips, turned to him, one eyebrow raised. It made Naruto smile. Iruka took the popsicle out of his mouth. “Over what?”

Naruto twirled his popsicle. “Over everything. The village, Sandaime, the Uchiha, Obito. Danzo. Is it going to be over when Danzo and the Council are defeated?”

“Maybe. You can’t tell the future Naruto, you just have to try. And if the first way doesn’t work, you have to train another way.” Iruka shrugged.

“But you won’t be over it.” Naruto pressed.

“Over it, is not the right wording.” Iruka mused, but he thought he understood where Naruto was going.

“Are you ever going to stop being sad?” Naruto burst out, then immediately looked apologetic.

“You think I’m sad?” Iruka asked, surprised. “I just got Itachi and Sasuke back, why would I be sad?”

“You’re always sad.” Naruto mumbled and stuck the popsicle in his mouth before he said anything else.

Iruka winced. He thought he’d hidden it better than that. “Maybe I am,” he admitted grudgingly, “I’ve got a lot to be sad about.”

Naruto side-eyed him around his popsicle. No shit clearly written across his face.

“It’s not something that ends, just because you get rid of whatever made you sad. I think, the kind of sadness just changes.”

“Instead of being sad about not having Itachi, you’re sad because you lost so much time together?” Naruto guessed.

Iruka turned to him sharply, “Been talking to Sasuke?”

Naruto flushed. “A little.”

Iruka smiled, “Good. He needs someone to talk to.” Then he sighed and scratched at his scar, “Sadness isn’t a physical thing Naruto, it’s not that easy to fix. You can’t judge someone else’s scars. No one can quantify sadness or happiness or hurt and apply it to a group. No one can say whose loss is greatest.”

“Everyone suffers,” Naruto murmured, eyes sad and Iruka nodded. “I didn’t get that at first. I thought it was just me. Then I met Sasuke and he was sad in a whole different way. So was Sakura. And everyone else in our class. Everyone had some thing and no one’s was the same as someone else’s.”

Iruka nodded, “Yeah your class, that was a sad year.” Had Fugaku done that on purpose?

“So how do you fix it?” Naruto asked, a little helpless.

“I don’t think you can Naruto. There’s always a little sadness and sometimes there’s a lot. There’s no measurement for it all, just how you choose to live your life after. And it’s not on you to fix everyone. You just have to fix yourself and show them that it’s possible. If they chose to try, good for them. If not, it’s on their shoulders, not yours.” But that was Naruto, Iruka mused, he always wanted to save everyone.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Hokage’s Office, Konohagakure: :

Tsunade shoved another stack of scrolls to the side and leaned back, cracking her back. She waved at Shizune, “Got get food and tea.”

Shizune eyed the other stacks of paperwork. “We still have a lot to do.”

“I’ll keep working, but if you don’t go get food, I will.” She threatened and then they’d be done for the day, because Tsunade wouldn’t come back.

Shizune seemed to realize that, because she frowned at Tsunade as she stood. “Fine. We’re behind schedule Tsunade-sama.” A reprimand. Shizune had been doling them out with more vigor lately. Angry about whatever was happening that Tsunade wouldn’t tell her about.

Tsunade admired her backbone but refused to be moved. There would be time afterward to tell everyone everything, but they had to get there first and Shizune, loyal, kindhearted, Shizune, couldn’t help with that. They needed chakra and fists and weapons and eyes and Shizune, for all her skill, was an administrator, not a soldier. Tsunade needed an army to take on Root’s army, but she needed one who’s loyalty couldn’t be questioned. Root had too much knowledge about mind control, too much influence in the shadows of the village for Tsunade to trust anyone who might waiver. The Council claimed to be working for the betterment of the village and Tsunade was well aware that not everyone thought the village needed the same thing.

Shizune left in a pop of smoke and seconds later Kabuto entered the same way. ANBU revealed themselves, more out of habit than anything else.

“He’s fine,” Tsunade waved them away, “Get out, we need a private meeting.” ANBU bowed deeply and did as they were told. Tsunade put up her own barrier jutsu as Kabuto gracefully took a seat across from her desk. He didn’t bow or wait for her to signal him. None of the Hanta did, Tsunade mused and wondered if it was a byproduct of having Iruka as a Taichou or if the Hanta had always been allowed such freedom with the Hokage. She was leaning towards Iruka’s influence. “What is it?”

Kabuto smiled, “Stressful day?”

Tsunade glared at him. She’d gotten over her fear of blood, but she still felt wary around him. The memory of him calmly working his way through figuring out which neurons commanded which limb after she’d severed his nerves, was one of her most terrifying. She’d reassessed her opinions of both Itachi and Yajirobi due to their relationship with him. He and Itachi seemed to have a very close, very personal bond. Enough that Itachi had talked him out of his plan to reinvent the world and he’d gone to extreme lengths to protect Sasuke. Yajirobi had trained him. “Nothing unusual.”

Kabuto looked amused at her annoyance, “I, ah, dig some digging.” He smirked, and she resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “There’s no record of anyone being buried at the foot of the Hokage’s Tower in the village records or the Hokage’s archive.”

“Damn,” Tsunade huffed. “What about Hanta records? There has to be something stored somewhere?”

Kabuto smirked. “There is a Hanta archive. And like the Inuzuka and Aburame clan histories, it’s stored in the Uchiha Library.”

Tsunade’s eyes narrowed. She’d asked Kabuto to investigate because he was smart, and he had access, or at least knew how to get access, to every archive in the village. He was just being an ass now. “And?”

“I did a cursory search of the Uchiha library, but it’s extensive. It’s possible that there’s an oral record of what’s buried down there. Iruka or Tsume may know.”

“I don’t want them involved yet,” Tsunade stated. But she was well aware that might be pointless, she didn’t know if Kabuto had already reported his investigation to Iruka or not.

He looked thoughtful, “It could save quite a bit of time.”

Tsunade shook her head, Sarutobi had left her that letter. For some reason that made her consider that he hadn’t wanted Iruka to know about the coffins. She’d considered asking Kakashi to investigate but his father had been Hanta, according to the Hanta themselves. She needed him to stay clearly separate from anything that involved them for the time being.

Kabuto’s eyes narrowed, “Have you considered that what is buried at the foot of the Hokage’s Tower should stay there?”

Tsunade stiffened, “I haven’t decided to move anything, I just want to know what it is.”

Kabuto’s smile was sharp, a little cruel, “You don’t lie well for a Hokage Tsunade.” Before she could snap back, he continued, “If Iruka or Tsume were to hear about this, they might caution patience. And that you consider that those who lay beneath, may lay there for the protection of the tower and that moving them, may remove that protection irreparably.”

He had told Iruka, she realized and found she wasn’t that surprised. But would he admit it? “One can’t help but wonder, if they’d be more useful elsewhere. What do you imagine they would say to that?”

“They might wonder where you thought needed more protection than the heart of the village? And if you had considered, that their reinternment may not be possible. They were buried there many, many years ago. It’s possible that no one involved remains.”

Tsunade’s eyes narrowed. She’d stake her life that Tsume, at least, had been present whenever those coffins had been buried.

“Perhaps, if you shared with them what was in the letter the Sandaime left you.” Kabuto suggestion was like a gentle nudge and on someone less than Tsunade, it might have worked.

“I would think a shinobi of Iruka’s suspected caliber would already know.” If he wanted to play cryptic hypotheticals, she could too.

“I’m sure Iruka would realize there are so many possibilities. It could take years to be sure without seeing the actual letter. He might consider that a waste of time.”

Tsunade smirked, “Any good shinobi knows the importance of patience.”

“A childish lesson with little relevance in the current world,” Kabuto returned, “The enemy is embedded well within our own lines. They have been moving pieces across a battlefield we weren’t aware we were on until recently. To say they have an advantage is an understatement. If we apply patience before aggression, we’ll simply stay behind the curve until we die.”

Tsunade blinked. It was hard to argue that logic, the Council was several steps ahead of them at this point. But rushing in like fools was not going to help the situation. She wasn’t going to waste shinobi by throwing them at the situation without the proper time to prepare and to prepare, they first had to learn what they were dealing with.

“I was counseled once, that fear has no place in war. And in order to not fear something, you must understand it.” Kabuto continued.

He was calling her a coward but Tsunade ignored it for the time being. “That’s why we need to take our time and learn everything we can about the Council and Root.”

Kabuto shook his head, “You’re wrong. It’s not the Council and Root you need to understand.”

“It’s not?” Tsunade sat back, intrigued despite herself.

“Is it the Council and Root you’re fighting?”

“Yes.”

“No.”

Tsunade’s eyes narrowed. “Continue.”

“The Council and Root are soldiers. The Hanta are soldiers, but who decides what the Hanta do?”

And abruptly it fell into place. “Iruka. Danzo.”

“The Taichou. Though, Danzo is more of a general than a captain.” Kabuto shrugged, “If you fight the foot soldiers you’ll just spend the entire time slogging through the mud and not make any progress. You have to fight the general controlling them. In this case, stop focusing on understanding the Council and those under their control and try to understand who controls the Council.” He pressed on. “And what is the one thing, we know for sure about Danzo?”

“That he wants to be Hokage.” Tsunade mused and chewed on her lip. “He thinks like a Hokage.”

Kabuto smiled. “So much so, that he came back from the dead for it. What do you understand about a man who didn’t let death stop him from achieving his goals?”

That he should be feared, Tsunade thought and she shivered.

“A man who has died once, no longer fears dying,” Kabuto murmured.

So what did Danzo fear?

ooo000ooo

Chapter Text

ooo000ooo
Chapter 15
Sen no shitsuren
A thousand broken hearts

Anger if not restrained, is frequently more hurtful to us than the injury that provokes it. – Seneca

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Hatake Compound, Konohagakure: :

Iruka and Itachi. Kakashi couldn’t get the scene in the kitchen out of his head. His imagination had started moving Iruka to the seat across from Itachi at the table, imaging the conversation they’d been having. Stories about things that had happened in Konoha while Itachi was gone. Adventures Itachi had while roaming outside the village. Stories about Naruto and Sasuke and Kabuto. Had Iruka mentioned Kakashi? Had Itachi laughed at the thought of someone else taking his place in Iruka’s life?

Probably. Itachi didn’t seem the type to laugh out loud. He’d likely just chuckled at the idea of Kakashi moving in on his territory. Amused at Kakashi’s obviously failed attempts to gain Iruka’s affection. Because clearly, if Itachi was staying in Iruka’s apartment, they’d picked up wherever they’d left off.

Which left Kakashi alone and sulking in his old family home, mourning a relationship that had been over before it had even begun. He’d considered going back to his apartment, but too many people knew where he lived and the wards at the old Hatake Compound were much better at keeping people out. He’d let the dogs loose in the yard and they’d immediately muttered something about checking for squirrels and disappeared.

He’d tried sulking in the living room and given up when the picture of his mother and father on the mantel wouldn’t stop looking at him. He’d tried his childhood room but hadn’t been able to escape the memories of his father’s last days. Eventually he’d ended up in the training room where his father had taken his life. Though the blue chrysanthemums had long since turned to dusk, the vase still sat on the floor, next to the handwoven mat his father had been kneeling on. Kakashi tucked himself into a corner and stared at them. He hadn’t let anyone touch the room after his father’s suicide.

His chest hurt. Like it had when Obito and Rin had died. When Minato-sensei had. But Iruka wasn’t dead. He rubbed his chest. Sure any chance of a relationship was pretty much out the window unless Itachi left or died. And even Kakashi, stunted as he was with romantic relationships, knew that helping Itachi along would not go over well with Iruka. But why did his chest hurt so much?

And now all four of them were living happily even after in Iruka’s crappy apartment. Iruka, Itachi, Naruto and Sasuke and there was no one left that wanted Kakashi in their family. Which was a stupid thought, rationally he knew that, but that didn’t stop it from taking root in his head. Kakashi was a brilliant shinobi, an excellent soldier, everyone wanted him in their army, but no one had ever wanted him in their family. Not since Minato-sensei.

It made Kakashi angry, for a second, before the anger gave way to self-doubt and the crushing disappointment of not being wanted. And why did he care if Iruka wanted him anyway? Iruka had lied, for years, for the entire time he and Kakashi had even known one another. He was Hanta, captain of the squad of shinobi dedicated to the protection of their fellow ninja. And he’d disbanded them. In the end it all just left Kakashi confused. Why had Iruka, who’d always demonstrated an above average dedication to the village, there was no way it had all been a lie. And their night together hadn’t been a lie either. The passion had been real.

Kakashi wasn’t so foolish as to think you only ever loved one person in your life. But he and Itachi had been compared to one another their entire careers. Between the Sharingan and their genius and their personality. Once upon a time, one loyal to the village, one a traitor. And apparently, they had the same taste in men. But now it turned out that Itachi was so far above and beyond what it took to be a hero, that Kakashi was choking on his dust. And the only way the Famed Copy-nin Kakashi could deal with it was to sulk in his old house. He’d be drunk if there’d been any sake left in the compound.

He was so deep in his wallowing that he almost didn’t notice the chakra signature that suddenly appeared.

Almost.

But Kakashi had felt this chakra before. A long time ago. In happier times arguably. With Rin and Minato-sensei and…. Obito.

Kakashi had felt that chakra before. When he’d knelt beside the body of his crushed teammate and felt that last of it drain away. He’d carried of a physical piece of it with him ever since.

Obito.

A quiet beat started in his head. A barely noticeable throb.

Logic said it could be Obito’s chakra. He was dead. He had died. And when he’d come back the first time his chakra had been different, mutated. This, this felt like the Obito Kakashi had fought beside with Rin and Minato-sensei. This was the Obito from his childhood, before the darkness that had ruined him.

Kakashi’s heart started to race. It was Obito’s chakra. It defied all logic and common sense, but Kakashi felt the undeniable truth down to his bones.

Obito.

He stumbled to his feet and barely managed to shove the sliding door aside before he stumbled out into the yard. Obito’s chakra was coming from across the village. The Uchiha Compound.

Kakashi was moving across the rooftops of the village before he’d even thought about it. There were other chakra signatures around Obito’s. No one bothering to conceal their chakra. He recognized Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura. And Tsunade.

He’d crossed the village in record time. The throbbing in his head growing with every step. It was his Sharingan, he realized as he got closer. It was reaching for something and drawing on Kakashi’s chakra to do it.

Asuma and the others had noticed Kakashi’s wild sprint across the village. The Sharingan blasting his chakra out across the village. They fell in on Kakashi’s heels as he made his way to the compound. Jiraya, Yamato, Sai, Genma, Raido, Kurenai, Gai, and Neji had brought the Sand siblings with them. That would be more than enough to handle whatever was happening at the Uchiha Compound.

The wards were weaker than usual. There was a group of people on the main street. Something was happening. Obito was there, looking like the man he would have grown up to be if Kakashi hadn’t fucked up the mission that got him killed. He still had the scars, faded, along one side of his face and a lopsided hiate covered his missing eye.

Obito turned at the telltale cracking of the wards as Kakashi slammed through. He wasn’t the only one. Team 7 and the Rookie 11 were there, with Tsunade, Kotetsu, Kabuto, Yajirobi, Anko, Hana, Shisui, and Izumo. Tsume and Shibi watched from a rooftop, faces carefully blank.

Kakashi stumbled to a stop.

“Oh god,” Kurenai breathed.

“Is that Obito?” Sai’s normally monotoned voice was high pitched. He was panicking, not sure how to deal with the situation emotionally.

Obito looked…he looked like he should have looked if he’d had a normal life. If he hadn’t tried to remake the world. If he hadn’t been Kakashi’s enemy for so long. The Sharingan burned. The throbbing increased.

Obito gave a weak smile. “Hey, Kakashi. Been a while.”

The Sharingan started to spin on its own. It was trying to pull him towards Obito and he had to forcibly pull his chakra back.

Kakashi stared at him. Tried to speak and couldn’t. What the hell did he say? Obito was standing before him, alive, breathing.

Tsunade stepped forward, “Kakashi, stay back.”

Obito winced.

And suddenly Kakashi was blinding angry. “How long?”

Tsunade and Obito looked guilty. “Only a few hours.” Tsunade answered.

It didn’t make him any less angry. Kakashi took a step forward and was surprised to find himself face to face with the Godaime Hokage and not the woman who’d treated him like a younger brother. “No.”

“Why not?” Kakashi snarled. Behind Tsunade, Obito flinched. Kotetsu was holding him back, Kakashi realized. A firm grip on Obito’s shoulder. It shouldn’t have been enough to hold him, but Obito wasn’t fighting it.

“Because you’re not the one who deserves the first blow.” Tsunade stated and even though she sounded sad, she didn’t move. Naruto and Sasuke looked torn, firmly ensconced by the other members of the Rookie 11. It was hard to tell if they were holding them back or protecting him.

Kakashi opened his mouth to ask who deserved to see him more, but before he could, a puff of smoke and leaves, a flash of light and Iruka and Itachi appeared. From the second their feet touched the ground, all Obito and Iruka saw was each other. The heavy, deafening boom of their chakra swept over the compound, like two storms meeting and combining into one superstorm. Kakashi was so stunned at the vulnerable despair on Iruka’s face and the insecure, anxious wanting on Obito’s that he didn’t even register Iruka’s chakra stretching far beyond what it should have been capable of.

“Hey bro,” Obito smiled.

And all of a sudden Iruka’s loss turned to anger. Iruka snarled, “You fucking left us!”

“Fighting is not going to help!” Tsunade tried to break in.

Iruka’s eyes darkened then turned red. The Mangekon Sharingan appeared, started spinning and turned into the Rinnegan. Obito answered in kind, his own Rinnegan appearing as Iruka launched at him. Itachi and Sasuke’s spun into their own Rinnegan, their chakra rising in answer to Iruka and Obito’s.

Kakashi’s own Sharingan started to spin wildly, started pulling on his chakra, yanking until it was drawing on the majority of his reserve. The Mangekon Sharingan appeared, the burning intensified, and it started memorizing everything. Kakashi tried to pull it back and shut it off but he couldn’t. It wanted them, the Uchiha. Tried to pull him towards them as Iruka and Obito erupted into a bloody fight. Kakashi grabbed his head, tried to cover the eye. Blood roared in his ears, someone screamed and dimly, detached Kakashi realized it was him.

The pain increased as his chakra waned and suddenly someone’s hand pulled his away and clamped over his eye. “Stop fighting me Kakashi!” Izumo. Chakra flowed into his Sharingan, weaving around it in what Kakashi remotely registered was a seal. The last pieces snapped into place and just like that the Sharingan slept, his chakra settled. Kakashi gasped for air and crumpled, only to realize that someone was holding him up. Asuma and Jiraya.

“What’s wrong with him?” Asuma demanded.

“It’s the Sharingan,” Izumo explained, “It’s trying to join them.”

“What?” He still sounded distant through the pounding of Kakashi’s heart.

“It wants to be with the Uchiha, it knows they’re fighting, and it wants to fight with them.” Izumo said and put another seal over the Sharingan.

“Has it ever done that before?” Jiraya asked.

“He’s never been around four Uchiha that are about to fight before.” Silence fell at that. “Their blood calls the Sharingan. Even the one Kakashi has. He might not have Uchiha blood but the Sharingan he bears will still try to answer the call.”

“Why didn’t it ever happen with Itachi or Obito, he fought both of them? Or Sasuke, he taught him how to control his Sharingan.”

Izumo was quiet, hesitant. Kakashi took in gasping breaths of air as what was left of his chakra began to even out. “Sasuke doesn’t know how to release the Sharingan that greatly. Itachi and Obito know how to hold back.”

And no one had ever suspected that Iruka was a Uchiha.

“Right now, Iruka and Obito are too emotional to control it. You need to keep that seal on your eye until they get themselves under control. You’re not ready to use the Sharingan with them.” Izumo stepped back.

Kakashi’s knees started to hurt, the cold stone biting through the thin yukata. Iruka landed a blow that bounced Obito off the wards of a house. Everything in Kakashi tried to leap to his former teammates aid, even with his limited chakra and the residual pounding in his head, he was more than effective in a fight. But Taka’s grip was like iron. Kakashi had never had occasion to fight the ANBU Commander, had only heard rumors of his strength, so his ability to hold Kakashi in place, surprised the Copy-nin.

Obito launched a fireball at Iruka and the Academy teacher executed a neat back flip to avoid it.

Tsunade turned on Itachi with a snarl, “Stop them!”

Itachi didn’t so much as blink, simply watched the fight with a passive expression. “No.”

Kakashi tried to stand, but Asuma pushed him back down.

“Knock it off Kakashi,” Izumo snapped, “If you push too much the seal will break and the Sharingan will drain your chakra until there’s none left.”

It would be fatal. Kakashi had spent weeks in the hospital recovering from chakra exhaustion before, but it had always been willingly induced. The idea that the Sharingan could drain him dry and he couldn’t stop it was chilling. He’d lost control of it before, but never to that extent and he’d religiously trained himself to prevent that from ever happening again. But this time he hadn’t even realized it was happening until it was almost too late.

But Iruka and Obito were trying to kill each other. Itachi wasn’t stopping them and neither was Tsunade. Naruto and Sasuke looked like they were trying to memorize the fighting techniques the two were using.

Iruka and Obito slammed into the cobblestones with a crack. Naruto cried out and Tsunade cursed. They were going to kill each other. Iruka dragged Obito to his feet. He had Obito by his collar. Finally, the others seemed to think it was time to intervene. Itachi stepped between them, Sasuke on his heels, grabbing Iruka’s vest. The Hanta surrounded them, though Kakashi couldn’t tell if they were going to break up the fight or join in.

“Well, well, well, look who it is.”

Everyone turned to the gates of the Uchiha Compound.

Root. A squad of them, balanced lightly on the entrance gate to the compound. The leader’s mask a stylized cat. Neko. They’d slipped in unnoticed through the wards Kakashi had broken.

“Traitor!” Ino snarled. Neko had assisted Asuma’s genin team several times in the years leading up to the Fourth Shinobi War.

Yamato and Sai stiffened, ready to fight but Raido stepped in front of them with a quiet, “Wait.”

Neko didn’t pay them any attention, all of Root’s focus on the four the Hanta surrounded.

“Quite the event. A special day in history. How long has it been? Since the four sons of Uchiha Fugaku were together?” Neko purred.

Uchiha chakra started to rise again, like a tidal wave pulling back to gather its power before slamming into anything in its path.

“Four sons?” Shizune repeated.

“Oh my god,” Raido breathed.

Jiraya turned to Tsunade, but the Godaime was looking at Obito, Iruka, Itachi and Sasuke and the four of them were glaring at Neko. “Tsunade-“

“Not now,” She snapped, and her eyes flicked back to Jiraya for half a second before returning to the four Uchiha.

Neko drew his katana, balancing lightly on the balls of his feet. His squad drew their own blades. “I would say this is will be sad, to fight and kill the Tension Heisoban.” Iruka flinched. “The four princes of a dead clan. But we all know that’s a lie.”

Executioners Kakashi realized. Sent to kill the last of the Uchiha. Root was making a bold move. But what was the Tension Heisoban?

“Aw, did you come out to play kitten?” Obito mocked.

Neko stiffened. “From the World Destroyer? Have you returned to the fold lost one?”

Obito was about to launch into battle Kakashi realized as he watched him pull from Iruka’s grip and square up to Neko. And Kakashi couldn’t help him, Izumo’s seal was too strong for him break without using up the last of his chakra.

“Stand down Neko!” Tsunade snapped, trying to head off a battle.

But Neko simply sneered. “Stay out of our way Lord Hokage or you will be seen as aiding the enemy.”

Shizune sputtered, “How dare you speak to her that way!”

“You’re committing treason,” Asuma tried, still propping Kakashi up.

“I am following orders and completing my mission.” Neko responded.

“Your mission is to kill them?” Genma asked.

“My mission,” Neko purred, “Is to wipe the Uchiha Clan from existence.”

“How can you just wipe out an entire clan?” Asuma demanded.

“Danzo’s orders,” Neko leapt from the gateway and landed lightly on the cobblestone street. His seven-man squad followed suit.

“Danzo’s dead! You’re following orders from a ghost,” Jiraya snapped.

Neko didn’t respond and a cold spiral of dread formed in Kakashi’s stomach.

“Stand down Neko,” Tsunade ordered. “This is your last chance.”

Neko’s blade glinted in the sunlight as he twirled it. “You’ve only gotten weaker since the war ended Godaime, I’m not afraid of you.”

Tsunade snarled but it was Shisui who reacted. He flickered out of sight and a second later arcs of blood filled the air behind Neko as he took out the entire squad in the blink of an eye. Neko froze, the tip of Shisui’s katana resting at the back of his neck, in place to perfectly slice through his spinal cord with minimal pressure.

“You may not be afraid of me Neko, but I am Hokage and I command the Uchiha.” It was a daring declaration. A dangerous statement to make about a clan that was so polarizing in the village when her position as Hokage was already under attack. “Take a message back to Root, I’ll pit my six Uchiha against their army any day.”

Neko snarled. Shisui blade pressed closer and a drop of blood slid down Neko’s neck.

“Loose with grace,” Shisui advised. “And carry the Hokage’s message as ordered.”

“Fine,” Neko snarled. Shisui flickered, reappeared in front of Neko. The Root ANBU inadvertently backed up a step and teleported away.

“What the hell is going on?” Jiraya roared, his temper getting the best of him. He turned on Tsunade, but her attention was once again on the Uchiha and Iruka.

“They’re stepping up their timetable a lot faster than we were expecting,” Kotetsu commented, ignoring Jiraya.

“And getting bolder, we’ll have to check them hard. Soon.” Kabuto pushed his glasses back up his nose.

Naruto crowded close to Iruka and Sasuke, tucked between Itachi and Obito. Tsunade turned to them. “There’s no way to keep this quiet now.”

Iruka still looked angry, though it was impossible to tell if it was still because of Obito, or Root or the fact that there were now a bunch of witnesses to his secrets.

Tsunade finally turned to Jiraya and the others. ‘You will not breath of word of what you’ve seen here.”

“How long have you known?” Jiraya demanded.

Tsunade was silent.

“Since the valley, right?” Kakashi pulled himself to his feet using Asuma’s shoulder. “You and Iruka-sensei were fighting?” It made sense now, Senju and Uchiha. The Valley of the End.

Tsunade gave a brittle smile, but it was Iruka who answered. “It’s a family tradition.” Sharp, bitter. They hadn’t found the answers either of them were looking for then.

“Why is Root so determined to kill off the Uchiha?” Shizune asked.

“Danzo.” At least a dozen people answered at once.

“Danzo is dead.” Neji snapped.

None of the Uchiha or the Hanta responded and they certainly didn’t look like they agreed.

“To be fair, no one knows for sure either way,” Shikimaru broke in, trying to keep the peace.

“But wasn’t he killed?” Radio asked.

“I killed him,” Sasuke snapped, “But that doesn’t mean he stayed dead.”

Which was a fair point given what had been happening recently.

“It doesn’t matter,” Iruka broke in. “Root follows Danzo’s dream, if they haven’t brought him back yet, they will.”

“But that’s, you’re…” Shizune trailed off, not sure what to ask.

Iruka’s eyes narrowed, the Rinnegan faded until nothing was left but his normal warm brown. “I’m what?”

Iruka was definitely still angry, picking fights to try and burn it off. He’d used Kakashi for that more than once, the Hatake heir mused. Fights that had started before Kakashi had even entered the conversation but been enjoyable none the less.

“How the hell are we supposed to get the situation under control, when none of us know what’s going on?” Jiraya snapped.

“I don’t want you to get the situation under control Jiraya,” Tsunade snapped. “It’s being handled.”

“How? By those two trying to kill one another? The blind one killing seven members of Root?” Jiraya anger had more than a hint of betrayal. “What about the resurrections? You’re putting that aside to deal with this?”

“Root is responsible for the resurrections.” Iruka broke in.

“How do you know?” Jiraya snapped.

“Because I woke up in a Root safehouse,” Obito responded, glaring at Jiraya as he leaned into Iruka.

“Why are they bringing people back from the dead?” Genma asked.

“The people they’ve brought back so far aren’t the point,” Iruka explained and suddenly he looked more exhausted than angry, “It’s just practice for something bigger.”

“He’s right,” Kurenai broke in and they turned to her in surprise. “Gai and I found one of their labs. The day of Tsume and Koharu’s fight. It was full of shinobi they hadn’t managed to bring back correctly.”

“Why the hell didn’t you tell anyone?” Jiraya demanded.

“They told us,” Yajirobi broke in, “And we checked out the lab, what was left of it anyway.” He gave Kurenai and Gai an amused look.

“Yes! Our enthusiasm for our noble work may have gotten slightly out of hand!” Gai boasted and posed.

“Gai, calm down,” Yajirobi snapped.

Gai had to forcibly calm himself down and the apologetic look he shot Yajirobi was something Kakashi tucked away to examine later.

“I don’t understand,” Sai said quietly, looking at Team Seven and the rest of the Rookie 11.

“Neither do I,” Gaara added, the first of the Sand Siblings to speak.

“We’re not trying to cut you guys out,” Naruto spoke up. “It’s just… what Root wants, the Council makes it sound like it’s good for Konoha but it’s really just a way for them to cover up what they really want.”

“To wipe out the Uchiha and their allies, Inuzuka and the Aburame.” Sasuke finished.

“That can’t be,” Sai denied.

“It is,” Naruto’s face was sad, “Danzo is the one who ordered the Uchiha Clan massacre. That’s why the Sandaime took ANBU away from him. He was killing members of the clan and stealing their Sharingan.” Naruto’s gaze flicked to Kakashi, “That’s why he wanted Kakashi-sensei in Root.”

There was a brief flash of killing intent in the chakra of the Uchiha, but it was extinguished as quickly as it appeared and Kakashi couldn’t tell who it had been.

“Why does he hate the Uchiha?” Temari asked.

“People fear what they don’t understand,” Itachi explained. “Danzo’s history with the clan goes back to the days of Tobirama’s time as Hokage and the founding of the Hanta.”

“He was always afraid the Uchiha would rise up and take power in the village.” Iruka shrugged, “He’s a paranoid old fool.”

Obito snorted, “Delusional.”

“You tried to take over the world,” Kankuro commented.

“Yeah, but I didn’t try to take over the village,” Obito pointed out and the statement was so achingly Obito that for a second Kakashi saw the child he’d served with. “No Uchiha ever would.”

“Why not?” Sai still looked lost.

“Mura no tame no subete,” Sasuke spoke, “The Oath of the Uchiha Clan. All for the village.”

“It’s the same oath the Inuzuka and the Aburame take,” Shino added. Kiba nodded in agreement.

“And the Hanta,” Anko added.

“It’s why Itachi-nii-san followed orders and killed his clan. It’s why Iruka-sense stayed and protected the village he hated, why Obito left, and Sasuke. Why the Inuzuka and the Aburame stayed even after Root tried to wipe them out too.” Naruto explained.

“How did Danzo manage all that without Sandaime finding out?” Raido wondered.

The silence that followed chilled the air. Jiraya look to Tsunade, horror in his eyes. “He didn’t?”

Tsunade nodded, “He did.” She pulled the letter out of her coat. “He said that in the moment, it seemed like the only option. It was only once it was too late to stop everything that he realized it was wrong choice. He protected Iruka, Itachi and Sasuke after. Even left holes in the wards around the village so Itachi could return unnoticed to visit his brothers. He let Iruka disband the Hanta because he didn’t feel he had the right to command them.”

“The Sandaime allowed a clan of the village to be wiped out?” Gaara had only met the old man a handful of times, but he hadn’t seemed like the type to do something like that.

“The history of Konohagakure is not as clear cut as it has always seemed,” Hinata whispered.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Taka’s Apartment, Konohagakure: :

The apartment was small. Not cramped, Taka didn’t have much. Most of it was still stored in the Uchiha Compound. Taka resolutely refused to move it out, still holding out a childish hope that he’d be living there again before he died.

The events at the compound tonight had proven that Iruka’s fears about Rot were correct. They were getting bolder, Tsunade had made decisive statements but taken no decisive action. Root was testing the boundaries of what they could get away with and from what Kotetsu had reported, it seemed like they were going to get away with a lot before they were crushed.

Taka had felt the draw when Iruka and Obito had fought, only Kotetsu’s order to stay hidden had kept him from responding. He’d felt Hatake’s Sharingan, any shinobi with basic skills had probably felt his manic run across the village. It wasn’t often that Taka felt sympathy, for anyone, but even he would admit that Kakashi might deserve a little. The return of Obito, the revelation of Iruka and Taka could feel who Kikyo was bringing with her. The Hatake heir might not be sane by the time this was all over.

He dried his hair with a towel as he walked across the apartment. He’d had to meditate to keep from joining the fight, his own twin Sharingan had tried to rip themselves out of his head. Taka had been trained to use the Sharingan, gifted with Uchiha blood through transfusions and it had still been that bad for him. Kakashi had never been taught to use the Sharingan by someone who knew anything about it, Taka had been surprised when Jiraya and Asuma had carried him out still conscious.

He dropped the towel on the kitchen table and gathered the makings for tea. He put the kettle on to boil and then someone knocked at the door. He recognized Sakura’s chakra and flashed in own in response, instead of walking to the door. She stepped inside, calling out in greeting as she closed the door. Taka flashed his chakra again to redo the wards and dug out a second cup for tea as Sakura took off her vest and sat on his couch.

“Kakashi-sensei will be okay, extreme chakra exhaustion from the Sharingan.”

The kettle whistled, Taka turned off the oven and filled the worn pot. He carried the tray to couch and the small, battered coffee table he’d had since before he’d become ANBU’s commander.

“I’m worried about him though, when he saw Iruka-sensei’s Sharingan…” Sakura trailed off and Taka stayed silent as he pour them both tea and handed Sakura a cup. “I don’t think they’re communicating very well.”

Taka snorted, knowing Iruka well and Kakashi from ANBU, he’d bet they weren’t communicating at all. He took a seat next to her.

“Having Obito-nii-san back, and Itachi…” She sipped her tea.

It was a tossup, Taka mused, over which one of them was more unbalancing for the Hatake heir. His best friend or the shinobi he’d been compared to his entire life. The bond between Iruka and Itachi would no doubt be something that made Kakashi wary. It was hard for people who weren’t Uchiha, or Inuzuka or Aburame, to understand how the bonds worked. Sakumo and Dai had spent their entire lives within the three clans, so had Taka, Kotetsu, Yajirobi, and Izumo. Anko, the newest member, had joined them only after the Uchiha Massacre, so she lacked the basic understand as well. But Anko was dangerously devoted to Iruka and the Hanta, Taka wasn’t worried that she’d ever have a problem.

Kakashi was different.

“Jiraya and Tsunade-sama had a big fight too, yelled at each other in front of everyone. And Gaara and his siblings were there. Naruto tried to explain, but I don’t know if they really got it.” She sighed. “Naruto is so worried about Iruka-sensei and Sasuke-kun, he doesn’t have time to deal with anything else. Hinata is still separated from her clan and Kiba and Shino are afraid to leave her alone. I think they think the Hyuuga are going to try and kidnap her in the middle of the night. Ino, Shikimaru and Choji are worried about Asuma and Lee and Tenten are trying to keep Gai-sensei from overdoing it and keep Neji out of it. Which, there’s no way that’s going to happen. And now Iruka-sensei is taking in Toshiro and Konohamaru and his team are trying to get involved. Not to mention Kakashi-sensei’s friends.”

It was a giant shit show, Taka thought and not one that had an easy, one step solution.

Sakura finished her tea and curled into his side. “I’m worried that the village isn’t going to accept any of this. It took so long for them to accept Naruto himself. And everyone gets so touchy about the Uchiha.”

Taka snorted, touchy was an understatement. He curled around Sakura, tucking his face into her hair. They hadn’t actually talked about their relationship yet, aside from a short initial discussion the first time Taka had taken her out to dinner. There was an unsaid understanding that they were taking things slow, not getting serious while there was so much other stuff going on that they were both directly involved in. Taka wasn’t a Uchiha by birth, his blood and Sharingan had been gifts, and neither he, nor Iruka, were sure if he’d suffer the same curse as the rest of the clan. He’d avoided any kind of emotional attachment to anyone outside the Hanta and the three clans his entire life because of that possibility. But Sakura hadn’t taken no for answer, gently pushing until Taka had worked up the courage to consider trying.

She must have been perfecting her technique with Sasuke and Naruto for years and he admired her skill. He even admired her seven-step plan, complete with dates, timelines and stickers for how their relationship was supposed to go. Even Ino had seemed a little terrified when Sakura had shown it to her. Of course, that had only lasted for a few minutes and then they’d set to work building one for Ino and that weird kid, Sai. Apparently their first date wasn’t even supposed to take place for another year. Taka half wanted to warn the kid, but the other half of him wanted to recruit Sakura and Ino into ANBU.

“Which member of Root showed?” He asked.

“Neko. He had seven others with them, but Shisui took care of them. Tsunade sent him back to Root with a message. She pretty much picked a fight, so hopefully this will be over sooner than we thought.”

Neko. Taka knew his face behind the mask, knew where he lived too. It was odd though, that Root had only sent eight when they’d known that at the very least Iruka, Itachi, Kabuto and Kotetsu would be there. Root considered them the heavy hitters and usually sent multiple squads. He’d have to talk to Iruka about it tomorrow. Sakura sighed, eyes slipping shut. He’d have to talk to Iruka about a few things tomorrow.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Mission Room, Konohagakure: :

An uneasy truce had settled between Tsunade and Jiraya. By her order and common sense, none of them had spoken aloud what they’d seen. They also hadn’t talked to one another. Kakashi was stuck playing messenger between the two of them because the first chunin Tsunade had tried to send had been terrified of Jiraya after the Sanin had lost his temper. Kakashi had made three trips before he just started ignoring their summons.

Kakashi hadn’t been able to stop thinking about Iruka’s eyes. The flawless twin Rinnegan. Iruka was a Uchiha. The four of them were brothers. Obito, Iruka, Itachi and Sasuke. All four the sons of Uchiha Fugaku, a man whose legend was growing by the second. Iruka had achieved Rinnegan and from his ease at using it, it hadn’t been recently. All four of them had it. Knowing what it took to achieve Rinnegan made it all the more impressive. He suspected Shisui was at least level with them as well. But Tsunade had said six Uchiha? Who was left? There was no way she was counting Kakashi as one of them.

He flipped to a new page in Icha Icha without bothering to read the words. Genma and Yamato were close to leading an insurrection of their own, right along with Jiraya’s and Kakashi could see the toll the situation was taking on Sai. The boy kept watching the members of the Rookie 11 like he wanted to talk to them, but he never seemed to work up the courage.

Naruto burst into the Mission Room, a bright ball of energy, seemingly oblivious to the dark airs surrounding almost everyone he knew. Sasuke and Sakura were hot on his heels and Kakashi knew immediately that something he wouldn’t like was coming because they were both grinning. Wide, face splitting grins that he’d never seen on Sasuke’s face before.

Kotetsu and Izumo were running the mission desk and they both looked at Team 7 with warm smiles. But even they looked as surprised as everyone else when they realized what Naruto was carrying in his arms. He held it up, thrust it towards Kotetsu and Izumo in triumph. “Look what Iruka-sensei and Itachi-nii-san gave me!”

In his hands was a fox. A fox the size of a large house cat, with nine tails that fanned out almost a foot behind it. The fox’s fur was a burnt shade of orange, its eyes an eerie yellow and black. It was the nine tails. The demon fox.

Kakashi stood, “Naruto, is that…”

Naruto turned to him, grin getting even brighter and held out the fox. “It’s Kurama!”

“Kurama.” Kakashi repeated.

“Gods.” Genma muttered in disbelief and beside him Raido rose, shaking.

“Yes! Iruka-sensei and Itachi-nii-san made him small, so I could keep him as a pet!” Naruto beamed and held out Kurama. “Want to pet him? He’s really friendly.”

Kurama, the house cat sized demon fox, did not in fact, look friendly. His eyes were narrowed, his upper lip curled back to reveal sharp little teeth. He made a hissing noise that sounded like an angry kitten.

“Naruto,” Kakashi tried and stopped because he couldn’t figure out what to say. Sasuke and Sakura were both still grinning, and they knew, probably more than Naruto did, exactly what bringing the demon fox into a room full of Konohagakure shinobi meant. And they were both still smiling. Smiling because Naruto was clearly ecstatic. Because they trusted Iruka and Itachi. Kotetsu and Izumo were both smiling indulgently at the boy who was on the cusp of becoming a man, but they were also braced, Kakashi realized, to launch at anyone who went after Naruto and the fox in his hands.

The rest of the Mission Room’s occupants started to take notice of what was happening.

Naruto’s smile started to dim slightly and Kakashi recognized the glint of stubborn determination enter his eye. Maybe Naruto did realize the danger, but he was choosing to ignore it.

Kakashi stared at the fox. He wanted to pet it, for Naruto’s sake but the idea was enough to make him shake violently. Memories of that night came flooding back. The screams, the smell of blood and fire. Kurama’s tail twitched, the fox’s yellow eyes narrowed further. He felt several other shinobi teleport out. There were more than a few weapons drawn when Iruka and Itachi entered.

“Naruto, what are you doing?” Iruka had a scroll in his hands, old and tattered. Itachi was dressed in the uniform of Konoha shinobi and looked more relaxed and at ease than anyone else in the room.

Kurama’s head snapped around instantly and he peered at Iruka and Itachi as they stood in the door way. He twisted his way out of Naruto’s hands and landed one all four paws. Kakashi took an inadvertent step back and heard several others flinch. Kurama dashed towards Iruka and clawed his way up the chunin’s pant leg.

“Oi watch your claws!” Iruka snapped.

The little fox clawed its way up his vest and stuck his face in Iruka’s. “You! Vile fiend! Betrayer! How dare you do this to me! I am the great demon fox, you will be punished for this insult!”

Iruka rolled his eyes and batted the little fox off his chest with one hand. Kurama was spitting mad, “I will eat you in your sleep human!”

Itachi caught him by his scruff and cradled him like a baby. As soon as he dug his fingers into the fur under Kurama’s chin the fox melted into a puddle of goo in his arms and started purring loudly enough that Tsunade came out of her office to see what was making the noise.

“Please tell me that’s not the nine-tails.” She glared at Iruka, who looked unrepentant and Itachi who was petting the demon fox like a kitten.

“Oba-chan look!” Naruto beamed and tweaked Kurama’s ears.

Tsunade shot Iruka an annoyed look. “You thought that was going to go over well?”

Iruka shrugged and held out the scroll. “This is the one you need.”

Tsunade snatched it out of his hand and turned to Itachi. “Why the hell didn’t you stop him?”

“Kurama’s harmless in this form,” Itachi handed the fox back to Naruto and Kurama immediately rubbed his face against Naruto’s chin and chittered. “His chakra is sealed unless Naruto calls on it. Just like it was before.”

Kakashi watched Tsunade’s face soften at the sight of Naruto and the fox. Sakura reached out to rub the Kurama’s ears and he licked her fingers, making her giggle. Tsunade wasn’t going to do anything about he realized and felt strangely disappointed in her. Why was she letting Iruka and Itachi get away with everything? His stomach turned, and he realized that the dark feeling was anger mixed with jealousy. Tsunade was doing exactly what the Council were worried about, giving Iruka and the Uchiha free reign to do whatever they pleased in the village. The thought sent a chill down his spine.

ooo000ooo

…tbc…I swear to god it’s going to end soon. I’m aiming for 20 chapters in this volume. Then a shorter second volume and a bunch of one-shot side stories.

Chapter Text

ooo000ooo

Chapter 16
Kisetsu wa mawaru
The season turns

And then, I will teach you happiness…the likes of which you only realize when it has passed. – Planet Ladder

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Sai’s Apartment, Konohagakure: :

Sai’s tiny, staid apartment fit his personality. Everything was plain, simple. His art supplies his only indulgence, tucked neatly onto shelves next to his books and scrolls. His sketches covered the walls. Like his personality, it was blank, expect for the pieces he’d picked up from others. The few pops of color throughout the apartment were from gifts he’d received, mainly from Naruto and Sakura during his time on Team 7.

Tonight it was suffocating. He’d tried to draw but nothing came to him. He’d trained until his muscles could barely hold him up anymore, but he still couldn’t forget what had happened at the Uchiha Compound. Iruka’s Rinnegan, Obito’s return, Naruto’s truths and Sasuke’s declaration. Years in Root had ingrained a certain history of the village into his head, even after he’d left it was hard to change it, but hearing it from Naruto, who he admired and Sasuke, the one he’d been sent to replace, had shaken him.

The bond between the Rookie 11 was clearly growing stronger. And Sai felt something dark twist in his chest. He wanted to be a part of something like that. More specifically he wanted to be a part of the Rookie 11 and Team 7. But they were such a tight knit group, it was like there was a wall between them and everyone else. Sai felt like he was standing on the ground looking up at them on pedestals as they stood for everything that was right and just, always just out of his reach.

A furious knock on the door jerked him out of his thoughts. He stood and answered.

Yamanaka Ino was at his door. He stared at her in silence.

“Well,” she huffed, “Are you going to invite me in?”

He stepped aside and she swept into the apartment, looking around as he closed the door and re-did the wards. Then he stared at her. The beautiful blond had always intimidated him. She was just like Sakura, but without Naruto to give them a buffer, he had no idea how to talk to her. He’d painted and sketched her, dozens of times, but he could count the conversations they’d had on one hand.

She turned to him and Sai vaguely recognized the expression on her face as what Shikimaru and Choji referred to as ‘judgey’. He suddenly remembered a lesson Root had made him take about proper manners and how to use them to lull someone into a false sense of security. “Would you like tea?” He offered.

“Please,” She smiled and Sai’s heart skipped. He paused, rubbed his chest as he headed into the kitchen. That was weird. He’s heart didn’t usually do that. He made tea in and served it in plain white cups that had come with the apartment and then sat next to Ino on his beige couch.

They drank their tea in silence. Sai, unsure. Ino, waiting.

Eventually she couldn’t take it anymore and set her empty cup on the simple coffee table. “So, how have you been?”

“Fine,” Sai set his cup on the table, put his hands on his knees and turned to her.

Ino frowned, Sai was doing that weird thing where he tried to act like a normal person and came off as a robot. Sakura had complained about it at length when he’d first joined Team 7. Naruto thought it was hilarious. Apparently being away from Team 7 was causing him to regress. She made a note to make sure they made him hang out with the rest of the Rookie 11 more. “Look Sai, I came to ask you something very important and I need you to be honest.”

Sai nodded, a personal request. Intimate. Something that happened between friends. His heartbeat started to pick up. “Okay.”

“You know that Root is trying to kill Iruka-sensei and take over Konoha.” Sai froze. He even stopped blinking. Ino wondered if he’d even realized it or if he was doing it on purpose. “We’ve been keeping an eye on them and we saw something…concerning.”

Still not blinking, Sai nodded.

Ino raised an eyebrow, his eyes had to be hurting. “We saw you. At Root’s secret base. At a couple of them actually.” And she had to work hard to keep the anger and betrayal out of her voice. He wasn’t one of them yet, so it wasn’t fair, but he was Naruto’s friend, so he should have known better.

Sai just sat there looking at her. Heart hammering in his chest.

Ino waited, then realized she hadn’t asked a question. “Are you still part of Root Sai?”

He didn’t know how to answer that. Ever since Yamato and Kakashi had told him the truth about Root he’d hated them as much as he knew how. But his mission was need-to-know only and the only ones who needed to know were Kakashi, Yamato and Taka, who’d given him the assignment to begin with. He was sworn to secrecy. The safety of the village depended on it. But he didn’t want to lie to Ino. The idea made something in his chest hurt.

He chose his words carefully, made sure to look her dead in the eye as he spoke. “No.”

Ino blinked, “No?” That was it? “Sai, why were you at those Root bases if you’re not a part of Root?”

“No,” Sai repeated, unsure of what else to say.

Ino’s temper sparked. “No? What is wrong with you Sai? You know Root is the enemy!”

Sai blinked, confused. He opened his mouth, hoping the right thing would come out, but nothing did. Ino grabbed the front of his shirt and the heat from her hand made his heart beat faster.

“Sai-“

“I’m not part of Root,” he blurted out.

“Then why were you there?” She snapped, shaking him a little.

Sai clamped his mouth shut, he couldn’t tell her. He was under orders. It would put her in danger if Taka found out. It would put her in even more danger if Root found out.

“Sai, Naruto and Sasuke have been defending you ever since we found out.” Something like surprised crossed his face and made a little part of Ino happy. “They refuse to believe that you’re back with Root. I trust them, we all do. But,” She paused for effect, “We’re not going to let you hurt them. If you can’t prove to me you’re not part of Root, you’re not walking out of this apartment alive.”

Sai stared at her. She was serious about killing him if he was going to hurt Naruto and Sasuke. The idea of doing that made him want to let her. But he couldn’t tell her, he’d sworn on his own blood and he was under orders. Ino’s chakra was building. Sai wasn’t certain how strong she was, but regardless, the fight was guaranteed to bring unwanted attention.

“Wait,” he raised his hands, trying to placate her. Her eyes narrowed, watching him. “Use the Mind Body Transmission Technique.”

Ino paused, “What?”

“I can’t tell you anything. Use it on me.” Sai stated. It was the only option.

“Oh,” Ino breathed, it only took seconds for her hands to form the symbols and then she was inside Sai’s mind. She winced. Unused to the experience Sai tried to push every memory and feeling he thought was important at her and it created an overwhelming wave that took Ino a moment to shift through. As soon as Taka’s mask appeared in his memory Ino knew why he couldn’t tell her and she immediately ended the technique.

“Wait,” Sai protested, “There’s more-“

Ino shook her head and interrupted him, “No. It’s fine, Sai. I understand.” She didn’t need to know what he’d found, just that Taka was the one controlling him. Ino trusted the ANBU Commander. Sai was definitely unware of who Taka was behind the mask but Ino knew. She’d sat in on his planning meetings with Iruka and Shikimaru and Itachi, now that he was back. She was Sakura’s closest confidant about her growing relationship with the adopted Uchiha. Ino liked him and Iruka trusted him.

Ino sighed, released Sai. “I’m sorry, but I had to know.”

Sai nodded enthusiastically, “It’s okay. No problem. I understand.”

But that just made Ino angry again. She felt like a bully for trying to protect her friends because Sai wouldn’t just admit he was hurt or angry.

“Oh my god would you just man up and stop worrying about fitting in!” She snapped.

Sai stared at her, confused. “What?”

“Why don’t you say how you really feel for once! Stop looking like a blank piece of paper every time something happens!”

And Sai flinched, “Okay.”

Ino frowned, now she felt bad that she’d said something mean enough to make him flinch, but he needed it. “Okay?”

Sai nodded, squared his shoulders, decision made. “Okay.” He took her face in his hands and kissed her before she could react.

For a heartbeat, Sai was absolutely terrified. Ino was still with shock and then she wasn’t. She titled her head, kissed him back and her warmth started to sink into his bones and Sai’s fears evaporated.

Hours later, when the moon was high and barely visible through Sai’s window, the Root symbol on the back of his tongue burned. Sai came awake with a jolt but forcibly stopped himself from climbing out of bed. Long strands of silky blond hair were draped over his arm and chest. A warm body curled into his side. He could feel Ino breathe, her chest rising and falling in concert with his. He stared up at his ceiling, wondering if he could slide out of the bed without waking her.

“Sai?”

Apparently not. He turned, found her peering up at him, her chin on his chest. Her blue eyes were bright, like all shinobi she came awake instantly alert, but her body was lax, soft. Sai found he liked the sight of her fair skin next to his, relaxed and sleep soft.

The mark burned again. He frowned. He really, really didn’t want to get out of bed. That was a first.

“Are they summoning you?” Ino asked, a slender hand finding his. Sai laced his fingers with hers and studied their clasped hands. He nodded reluctantly.

She squeezed his hand. “Be safe.”

“I don’t want to go,” Sai admitted and it made her smile.

“There’ll be plenty of time for a vacation when this is over. Then we can spend all day relaxing.” Ino assured him, suddenly driven to make him smile before he left. “We can go to the hot springs district. Stay in the water until we’re all wrinkled. Then spend all day in the room. Have room service.”

Sai blushed, smiled and Ino giggled, before sitting up. Sai watched the moonlight make her hair gleam until she nudged him. “Get up and go Sai.” She leaned in and brushed a kiss to his lips. “Be safe.”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Hyuuga Clan Compound, Konohagakure: :

Hinata had intended to go alone, but when Konohamaru had caught her sneaking out of Iruka’s apartment in the middle of the night he’d insisted on coming along. He was a sweetheart and so much like Naruto that it made her smile.

“Let me do the talking when we get there okay?”

Konohamaru nodded. “Okay. What are we looking for?”

“I need to see one of the old scrolls. The Hyuuga elders keep very detailed records about what happens to the clan day to day,” Konohamaru made a face and Hinata smiled, “I want to look up something.”

“Cool,” he skipped along-side her. “Why not go during the day?”

Hinata’s smile faded, “I can’t. I’m not really allowed anymore.”

Konohamaru frowned, “Oh, is that why Naruto-nii-san and the others don’t like them? Tsume-chan called them-“

Hinata clamped her hand over his mouth before he could repeat whatever Tsume had said about her clan. She knew Tsume’s views, apricated the older woman’s protection and guidance, but she still loved her family, even though they’d exiled her. Konohamaru had clearly heard Tsume latest rant about Hiashi and the elders.

They approached the ornate gates to the Hyuuga Compound and Hinata paused. It felt like it had been years since she had passed through them. In reality it hadn’t been that long, things had started to improve with her family during the war, but that had stalled when the fighting was over. Then Naruto and Sasuke had come back and Hinata had decided to focus all her energy on helping them. She hadn’t spoken to her father or sister or Neji in weeks.

She missed her cousin desperately, had never even dreamed that one day he might come back. She didn’t even know what to say, but she wanted desperately to talk to him. To a have few moments just to look at him. She didn’t dare do it though, too afraid of her own weakness where Neji was concerned. Hinata had accepted her own feelings for her cousin after his death. Settling into the sad acceptance that she’d missed her chance with the one great love of her life. She’d realized the difference in her feelings for Naruto and her feelings for Neji after the war. The childhood crush of the person she wished she was, Naruto, and the quiet, calm, rock steady storm that had somehow always been overshadowed, Neji.

She’d buried her sorrow in Kiba and Shino, who despite their intense bond, had always welcomed her with open arms, but now Neji was back. Except that he might be on the opposite side of the coming battle and the thought made Hinata’s heart ache.

She pushed those thoughts out of her mind as she approached the gate and the two Hyuuga chunin guarding it. Both were members of the branch house and Hinata smiled warmly at them. “Good evening, Ami-san, Mori-san.”

They both bowed deeply, “Hinata-hime.”

Hinata blushed, “Oh, you don’t have to call me that.”

They straightened, responded with warm smiles of their own, “It is an honor to have you visit Miss Hinata.”

“Thank you. I’m glad to see you both are well.” And she meant it.

“We are.” Ami answered. Hinata had always been kind to the Branch House, something none of them ever forgot.

“I was wondering if it would be okay if we visited the archive? I wanted to show Konohamaru a couple of our scrolls about the Sandaime.” Konohamaru did his best to look appropriately sad and the two chunin gave him sympathetic looks.

“Of course Hinata-sama,” Mori stepped aside, “Please. Do you need assistance?”

Hinata shook her head, a small twinge of guilt at having to deceive them. “No thank you.” Konohamaru grabbed her hand, started to pull her inside, the perfect image of the grandson eager to learn about his beloved grandfather. As soon as Mori and Ami were no longer looking, Hinata quickly guided him around to the back of the main building and found the servants entrance to the Main House.

It was late enough that most of the house was already asleep. Hinata used the Byakugan to make sure they had an uninterrupted path to the archive before she carefully picked the lock. Konohamaru was practically glowing with glee as they slipped into the house and made their way to the archive room on silent feet.

“This is so cool!” Konohamaru whispered as she slid the door shut behind them. The archive was extensive, the day to day happenings of the clan since its inception. Hinata remembered her mother adding to it on quiet days. Since her death, the Elders had taken on the task.

“It should be back here,” Hinata tried to pace out where the scrolls from a decade ago would be.

“What was the date?” Konohamaru asked, helping her sort through the stacks.

“It would have been right before the Uchiha Massacre. I don’t remember the exact day.” Hinata frown and set aside another scroll.

Konohamaru shoved a stack aside and started sorting through another. “I think this one is from right after?” Konohamaru set it down and grabbed the next one. “Here.” He handed it to Hinata who carefully opened it.

The frown that immediately crossed her face let Konohamaru know it was the right one. “Come on, let’s get out of here before they catch us.” He turned for the door as it slid open and revealed Hanabi, standing in the hall with her arms crossed. “Ur, damn.”

“Konohamaru language!” Hinata chastened as she too turned to face her sister, scroll clutched tightly in her hands.

“Onii-chan? What are you doing here in the middle of the night? Why didn’t you tell me you were coming over?” Hanabi looked confused.

“She doesn’t have to tell you anything!” Konohamaru snipped, stepping in front of Hinata and doing his best to look intimidating.

Hanabi rolled her eyes and sneered at him. “No one can visit the archive without permission worm!” She looked at Hinata. “Father didn’t tell me you were coming. I would have made them keep dinner warm for you.”

“I can’t stay Hanabi-chan,” Hinata felt bad for not spending time with her sister, but she could feel rising chakra in the main house. Her father and Neji were too good not to notice that they were here if they stayed much longer.

“Why not? You haven’t visited us in months!” Hanabi was angry now, hurt. “It’s like you’re abandoning us!”

Hinata flinched. “I’m not abandoning you Hanabi-chan, there’s just so much going on. When it’s over we can talk.”

Konohamaru glared at the Heiress to the Hyuuga. Hanabi was stuck up and bratty and she’d always laughed at him in class when she’d shown off how much better she was. She reminded him of Sasuke, except Sasuke was cool and had taken to teaching Konohamaru all the secret techniques he’d learn in his travels and Hanabi was just a brat.

“What are you talking about?” Hanabi demanded, voice rising.

“Shhh!” Konohamaru hissed, “You’re going to wake them up!”

Hanabi blinked, “Father doesn’t know you’re here?”

“Oh no,” Konohamaru blurted, realizing he’d just given them away.

In a flash of smoke and leaves, Hiashi, Neji and several Hyuuga shinobi appeared in the hallway behind Hanabi.

“Hinata?” Hiashi looked at his oldest daughter, “What are you doing here?”

Neji looked stunned, part of him wanted to run to his cousin, but he stayed put. Feet rooted to the ground. She hadn’t come to see him once since he’d come back. After the disastrous conversation with Lee and Tenten he’d avoided the rest of the Rookie 11. Training with Hiashi and running missions with Genma and the other jounin. He’d only caught glimpses of her in passing.

Hinata clutched the scroll to her chest and stepped protectively in front of Konohamaru, who grabbed her hand and squeezed in silent support. “I just came to look at the scrolls.”

“Only members of the Hyuuga are allowed access to these scrolls.” Hiashi stated, voice stern and ignored the young Sarutobi as he glared at Hiashi from behind Hinata. “You should have requested permission.”

Hinata frowned, gave herself a quiet pep talk to straighten her spine. “I remembered something, from when I was a child and mother was still alive.”

Hiashi and Hanabi flinched at the mention of her mother. Neji’s eyes widen fractionally, no one in the clan talked about Hiashi’s dead wife. Hiashi had forbidden it after her death giving birth to Hanabi, the loss of his wife too much for the clan leader to bear.

Hinata continued, “Right before the Uchiha Clan Massacre. I thought I remembered Uchiha Fugaku coming here.”

Hiashi’s eyes narrowed, “You remember what?”

Hianta held up the scroll. “I thought I was remembering it wrong. I hoped I was. I wanted to make sure…”

ooo000ooo

One Day Before the Uchiha Clan Massacre

: :Hyuuga Clan Compound, Konohagakure: :

Hinata was only four, still following her mother around the compound every day. She’d been clinging to her robes, watching the rain pour down, when he’d arrived.

Uchiha Fugaku, in full regalia as the leader of the Uchiha Clan. Her mother had instantly swept Hinata into her arms and whispered for her to be silent as the Uchiha had bowed respectfully on his way through the gardens.

“Welcome, Uchiha-sama.” Her voice had been gentle, kind.

Fugaku had bowed deeply. “Lady Hyuuga, I apologize for interrupting.”

“No apology is needed. I’m afraid Hiashi is not here.”

Fugaku had frowned, the lines around his eyes deepening. Hianta had through him much older than he actually was in that moment. “When will he return?”

“Not for another week I’m afraid, the Council of Elders is here. They just started their weekly gathering.”

“May I join them?”

Her mother had nodded, “Of Course,” gestured to the end of the compound and the Meeting House.

Fugaku had bowed and again and set out with purposeful steps. Hinata had always remembered the sad look on her mother’s face as she watched him go.

“Mama?”

“Yes darling?” She brushed Hinata’s hair behind her ear.

“What’s wrong?”

Her mother had quickly mustered up a smile for her daughter’s benefit and knelt on an expensive tatami mat. They’d relaxed there, watching the rain and the garden, while Hinata had pondered her mother’s silence.

It was an hour before Fugaku reappeared. No happier then when he’d gone in. Hinata had been playing the rain by that point, dancing among the flowers and raindrops when she’d stumbled into Fugaku’s path. The Uchiha had stopped and caught her before she fell into a puddle.

“Careful little one, you’ll catch cold.” He smiled softly then, a smile Hinata would recognize years later when she saw Iruka look at Naruto and Sasuke.

It wouldn’t occur to her until many years later, how unworried her mother had been, as she’d watched Hinata giggle while the ferocious Uchiha clan leader deftly braided a handful of flowers into a crown for her daughter and shielded her from the rain with his body. Hinata had been delighted with her gift, enough to allow Fugaku to pick her up and carry her over to her mother without complaint.

He’d set her in her mother’s arms and stepped back into the rain and her mother had, for the first time in Hinata’s short life, broken every rule of protocol Hinata had seen. “Fugaku, what is wrong?”

He hadn’t strayed far, barely a step from the porch and the mat where Hinata and her mother resided. Close enough for Hinata to see the sadness in his eyes and for Fugaku and her mother to carry on a whispered conversation without being overheard.

“We’ve come to the end of our days, Airi,” he’d admitted.

Horror had flashed over her mother’s face unguarded. “What happened?”

“Danzo has ordered the execution of the Uchiha Clan.”

Her mother’s horrified gasp had echoed in Hinata’s mind for years after.

“No, how can he? The Sandaime will not allow it.” Her mother had insisted, her grip tightening on Hinata as she reached out to Fugaku with one hand.

He’d taken her mother’s hand, small and delicate against his large, battle worn and scarred, and worn the most heartbroken expression Hinata had ever seen. “The Sandaime did not object.”

It was the only time Hinata had ever seen anger in her mother. “How dare he! He has no right, the Hyuuga clan will not stand for this. I will talk to Hiashi when he returns.” She’d promised but Fugaku had just shaken his head.

“There is not enough time. The execution will take place tomorrow. The Elders have refused to speak on our behalf. They don’t feel it is in the best interest of the Hyuuga to intervene.”

“Tsume and Shibi will not allow this,” Her mother had tried, but again Fugaku had shaken his head.

“Danzo has threatened them as well. There is no telling what he will do if they speak up.”

A hopelessness had settled over them then and they’d stood in silence. Her mother safe and dry on the porch, their hands clasped where the rain started to fall over the edge of the roof, and Fugaku, desolate, rain pouring down on him.

“I have a favor to ask Airi,” Fugaku had broken the silence.

“Whatever you need Fu.” Hinata had never before or ever since, heard her mother use a nickname for someone.

“Sasuke will be spared. As will Iruka. Itachi will carry out the execution and leave the village. Please look after Sasuke and Naruto and Iruka while they remain.”

“I will look after them all Fu,” her mother had mustered up a sad smile, “I will make sure they are safe for as long as I breath. All of them.”

And Hinata hadn’t understood what her mother meant by all of them then, but years later Tsume would tell her of her mother’s strong friendship with the Inuzuka matriarch, with Shibi’s own wife and Sakumo’s and the quiet touch her mother had employed at various places throughout her years to ensure Iruka never truly got in trouble for his pranks. That she’d left a secret account to feed Naruto when she’d learn of his mistreatment and had helped calm Izumo’s darkness when it had first been freed. Why she had never again allowed the Sandaime to set foot in the Hyuuga Compound after that day or ever taken an audience from the Hyuuga Clan elders again. She had known the truth of the Three Clans and the Hanta. She had, Tsume assured Hinata, been sorely missed when she died and her name was listed in the Hanta’s Roll of Honor.

Fugaku had thanked her mother, squeezed her hand one last time and left, while Hinata had clung to her mother and watched his broad shoulders until they were out of sight.

Her mother had cried from that night on until news of the massacre had come and then cried for days after. Inconsolable despite the hisses of the elders that it was not appropriate behavior for the wife of the clan leader. They’d called Hiashi back early from his mission in a desperate attempt to make her stop, but even he hadn’t been able to cheer his wife and had sat silently outside their bedroom door for three nights before she’d allowed him in.

Hinata had kept the flower crown tucked away in a box in her closet for years until time had turned it to sweet-smelling dust.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Archive Room, Main House, Hyuuga Compound, Konohagakure: :

Hinata tried to keep the betrayal out of her eyes but wasn’t sure she managed completely. “You knew that the Uchiha Clan was going to be wiped out and you didn’t try to stop it.”

Hiashi stared at his daughter. He didn’t know what to think. He took the scroll when she tossed it at him, reading the short note written in his dead wife’s hand.

Uchiha Fugaku visited to ask for support of the Clan. Elders refused. An even shorter note followed. Uchiha Clan Executed.

“That’s a lie!” Hanabi screeched.

“No its not!” Konohamaru screamed back.

Neji was silent, gaze sliding from Hinata to Hiashi and back. He didn’t believe his Uncle would do something like that. Regardless of the bad relationship between the Hyuuga and the Uchiha.

Hiashi stared at his wife’s handwriting. She had never spoken of what had transpired while he’d been gone on that mission. He’d returned the day after the massacre and assumed that she was mourning the unnecessary loss of the children and civilians who had died during the massacre.

Executed. Why had she written executed? His wife had been a kind and gentle woman, but she was by no means stupid. She picked her words carefully. She’d never mentioned the Uchiha after that either. But she had stopped speaking to the elders, he realized as he started to think back. Traditionally day to day concerns of the clan and the Main Family’s household had gone through her and the elders, to allow Hiashi to focus on bigger concerns, but after that day she’d refused the Elders every time they’d tried to call on her. Hiashi had thought it had been the sickness, but had it been something else?

“Father?” Hanabi sounded so young as she turned to him, her eyes begging him to say it wasn’t true.

Even Neji had turned to him now and the shinobi that had responded when he’d called for guards.

He turned to Hinata. “I have never heard of this. Who is telling you this nonsense?”

Hanabi and Neji looked relieved, but Hinata was not moved.

She looked at him and for the first time since she’d been born, Hiashi saw something akin to disappointment in her eyes as she looked at him.

“I was there,” Hinata said quietly, “I watched him leave.”

“But you weren’t at the meeting?” Neji clarified. “You didn’t hear the Elders refuse to help.” He didn’t want to think that the clan and village that he’d died for had been complicit in something like this.

Hinata didn’t look away from her father and ignored Neji for the first time in her life. “I cannot forgive this.”

Hiashi stiffened as Hinata continued. “It is not the way. Shinobi or otherwise. I apologize for breaking in tonight. This is the last time I will visit.”

“What?” Hanabi reached for her sister, but Hinata didn’t reach back, “What are you saying?”

Hinata looked endlessly sad for a heartbeat, then her face closed off. “I am done with the Hyuuga Clan. This is the last time I will visit. I hope you will all have long happy lives.”

“Hinata-“ Neji started.

“I hereby disavow the Hyuuga Clan and any ties I have with you. I will never return.” She pressed two fingers her forehead and broke the jutsu that bound her to the clan. The flash of chakra knocked back Hanabi and the other shinobi, rattled the doors and windows of the mansion, while Hiashi and Neji stared at her in horror. The jutsu had been her last tie to the clan after her father had removed her from the line of succession and placed her in Kurenai’s care. Konohamaru stared up at her in awe.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Umino Iruka’s Apartment, Konohagakure: :

Iruka woke with a start when small hands shook him. Only his sleep addled recognition of Konohamaru’s chakra kept him from reaching for the kunai under his pillow.

“Iruka-sensei wake up!” Konohamaru was whispering, which Iruka found amusing since he was trying to wake the chunin up.

“What is it Konohamaru?”

“Can you talk to Hinata?”

Iruka sat up, something was wrong with Hinata? On the other side of the bed Itachi stirred, sat up with his hair sticking out of his pony tail at odd angles.

There were only so many sleeping surfaces in Iruka’s apartment and as brothers they’d shared a bed for half their lives before. Iruka didn’t see the problem with them sharing a bed now. Itachi had seemed to think Kakashi wouldn’t like it before the revelation at the Uchiha Compound, but Iruka hadn’t gotten whatever had made Itachi smile. Itachi had said something about it to Obito, who’d cackled loudly as he’d dove into Iruka’s bed earlier that evening. Three full grown shinobi had finally been enough to make Iruka’s king sized bed feel small.

Itachi nailed Obito in the side with his foot and the oldest went tumbling off the bed with a yelp.

“What’s wrong with Hinata?” Iruka asked, ignoring Obito’s vengeance in the form of a pillow to Itachi’s face.

“We, uh, we visited her clan tonight and some stuff happened. And well, she broke her last tie with the clan. She said she’s okay, but I think she’s really sad and I don’t know what to say?”

Both Itachi and Obito stilled then, attention on Konohamaru.

Konohamaru looked up at him with big, wet eyes and Iruka frantically realized the genin was holding back tears. What had happened with her clan? Iruka stumbled out of bed. “Where is she?”

“In the living room.”

Iruka tugged on his shirt and stuck his feet in his slippers. “Okay, go make tea.” Because he could tell without asking that Konohamaru was too emotional to sleep. Itachi and Obito scrambled after him.

Konohamaru rushed to the kitchen while Iruka headed to the living room, pausing to shut the door to Naruto and Sasuke’s room so they didn’t wake them up. Sakura was absent again he noted, relatively certain he knew where she was, so he let it go. Toshiro was curled up between the two older boys instead, silver hair just barely sticking up over the edge of the blanket. Konohamaru usually slept with them as well, which made Iruka wince in sympathy. Naruto and Konohamaru both tended to kick when they dreamed and Sasuke had already muttered about bruises a few times. Kurama was tucked under Sasuke’s chin, tails somehow covering Naruto’s face. Obito cooed and Iruka elbowed him in the stomach as Itachi closed the door.

Hinata was sitting on the couch, staring out the window, her forehead creased in thought.

Iruka sat next to her and didn’t even get a word out before she threw herself in his arms and started to cry. Iruka wrapped his arms around her and gently rubbed her back as he let her cry it out. Itachi took a seat on her other side and gently pulled her hair out of her face. Obito sat on the floor but didn’t reach out. He hadn’t had much dealing with Hinata yet and knew better then to jump in. She’d bonded with Itachi the minute he’d returned; they shared that deep, innate kindness Iruka envied.

She’d run out of tears by the time Konohamaru returned, barely managing to balance the tea tray. Obito caught it before anything when tumbling and helped Konohamaru pour cups of steaming jasmine tea. Konohamaru looked terrified at the sight of the drying tears on Hinata’s cheeks and Iruka spared a moment of amusement at a young man’s inability to deal with a woman’s tears.

Hinata sniffed and took the tissue Itachi offered her. “What happened Hinata-chan?”

“I remembered something, from when I was a child.” She sighed and gave Konohamaru a smile when he handed her a cup of tea. Konohamaru smiled back, so big it had to be forced, because he thought a smile would make everything okay. “I remembered your father visiting the day before the Uchiha Clan was executed.”

Iruka stiffened, looked at Itachi over her head. A silent question and Itachi shook his head.

Hinata continued, “He visited to ask for the clans support to stop Danzo. They refused to help.”

Itachi’s hand grabbed Iruka’s wrist and squeezed hard enough to compress the bones in his wrist just shy of breaking them.

“They knew the Uchiha Clan was going to be wiped out and they didn’t try to stop it.”

“They wouldn’t have succeeded Hinata,” Itachi soothed, while Iruka ruthlessly forced his temper down. The bone in his wrist fractured under Itachi’s grip.

“I know, but they still should have tried. It’s been years and they never even said anything.” She sighed, “I broke the clan binding jutsu and disowned them.”

Obito whistled. “Whoa, how’d they take that?”

Hinata gave him a small, wet smile. “Not well. I hurt Hanabi-chan and Neji-kun.”

“I’m sorry Hinata,” Iruka finally managed to get some words out and he was genuinely sorry that she’d had to do that.

“It’s okay. I just couldn’t… Father said he didn’t know what I was talking about but,” she trailed off and stared down into her tea. “I don’t know if I believe him or not.”

Iruka winced. He might not have gotten along with Fugaku all the time, but he trusted him implicitly. Ikkaku too. He couldn’t imagine not trusting his father.

Konohamaru tucked himself under Obito’s comforting arm and watched Hinata with worried eyes. He had a small crush on the Hyuuga Princess Iruka realized, something that had started with her affection for Naruto and morphed into its own thing.

“You can stay here as long as you need, you know that.” Itachi assured her and Iruka nodded.

Hinata mustered up a smile. “Thank you. I need to tell the others what happened tomorrow. Lee and Tenten…they need to know so they can help Neji-kun if he needs it.”

Privately Iruka thought Neji would need Hinata more than his former teammates, but he doubted either Hyuuga was ready for that.

“Do you think they’d side with Danzo?” Obito asked, bluntly bringing the conversation around.

Hinata looked thoughtful for a moment. Fingers gracefully holding the cup of tea and managing to look like a princess despite her cheap training clothes and Iruka’s cracked tea cup. The unearthly beauty of the Hyuuga sitting in Iruka’s ratty apartment, tears on her pale cheeks, considering what it would take to bring down her own clan if they chose to side with the enemy.

“I don’t think they would willingly,” she added the last word as an afterthought, “But I don’t think they’re strong enough to fight him off either.” Too many elders with too many opinions, too many branches not united. It would be easy for someone as brilliant as Danzo to split the clan in half and set it at its own throat.

“Do you think you could protect them better if you went back?” Iruka asked, because as much as he didn’t like the overly-proper clan, he didn’t want them wiped out either.

“Maybe,” Hinata admitted, “But I don’t think I can go back. We’re meant to protect the ones we love. To help them become stronger, better, happier. Not judge them when we find them lacking. The purpose of life is to love and if you cannot love something that is not perfect, you can’t love at all.” She said, unknowingly echoing words Fugaku had spoken decades earlier, when Iruka and Itachi had come to him with similar questions. Because you couldn’t think something was perfect and love it. And if you refused to love anything that wasn’t perfect, there was nothing to love, because perfection did not exist in the world of men.

“I can’t, I can’t love them enough to help them right now.” Hinata admitted. The Hyuuga Clan would have to find its way without her in the coming battle, because if they couldn’t, there was no hope for them at all.

In that instant Iruka made a decision. One that might serve to make the situation in Konohagakure worse now but would help save it in the decades to come.

Itachi caught his eye over Hinata’s head, gentled his grip on Iruka’s wrist and healing chakra infused the broken bone. Warm amusement filled his voice, because Itachi, as always, knew exactly what Iruka was thinking. “You just can’t help picking fights, can you?”

Ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Great Lodge, Inuzuka Compound, Konohagakure: :

Rain poured down as Hiashi trudged through the mud up to the front steps of the Great Lodge. The Inuzuka guards at the compound gates had looked endlessly amused at his black demeanor and soaked robes and allowed him entry between snickers.

He shoved aside all pretense of decorum and manners and pounded on the door. He felt entirely out of shorts, not sure how to deal with what warred inside him. Unprepared for how Hinata’s disappointment had felt like a knife in his heart. The terrified fear in Hanabi and Neji, though Neji hid it well, at the idea that their clan had known and turned a blind eye to the death of the Uchiha.

Tsume answered the door in a blood red robe, hair wild from sleep. She snapped awake at the sight of him and for a second they stared at one another in silence. Then she burst out laughing and Hiashi’s temper sparked back to life and he shoved passed her to stomp inside and out of the rain.

“Wow, what’s got you in such a tizzy that you forgot that giant stick up your ass?” Tsume cackled.

Hiashi glared at her, stormed further into the lodge, toward the huge fireplace and warmth of the flames. Tsume followed him, dropped onto a pile of pillows with exaggerated grace and popping open a bottle of sake as she watched him pace in front of the fire.

She caught the scroll with ease when he threw it at her. “It is true?” He demanded, before she could even open it.

She skimmed it before she answered and figured out immediately what he was talking about. She played dumb anyway, just to piss him off. “Is what true?” She tossed the scroll onto the sake tray and took another swig from the bottle. The Hyuuga Clan leader need a little rage in his life. It was unhealthy to be that in control all the time.

Neji had confided in Hiashi what had happened at the Uchiha Compound. Hiashi knew how much it bothered his nephew to break the Hokage’s order and he’d fully intended not to break Neji’s trust in him. But this had to be verified. His daughter thought he’d been complicit in the massacre of the Uchiha Clan. “Did Uchiha Fugaku ask the Hyuuga for help before the massacre?”

Tsume stared at him, a hint of something in her eyes that Hiashi had never seen before. “You weren’t there?” She asked in return.

Hiashi’s eyes narrowed at the unsaid accusation. “I was on a three-week mission when massacre happened. I was called back early, but I had still been gone two weeks by then. The mission report will confirm that.” He didn’t like having to prove himself to anyone. The Hyuuga only answered to themselves and the Hokage, but here, now in the warmth of the fire and Tsume’s piercing gaze, Hiashi felt strangely compelled to do so. He expected her to ask for the mission report but she didn’t.

Tsume softened slightly, somewhat unwillingly. “Yes, it’s true.”

Hiashi flinched.

“Sit down Hiashi, this discussion needs alcohol.” Tsume waved to the cushions next to her and poured another cup of sake. Reluctantly he took a seat, somewhat dazed by her confirmation. He took the sake without complaint and downed it all before holding it out for a refill. Tsume obliged without comment.

“The Elders turned him down.” Hiashi started, “I was not aware… Apparently Hinata was there, she remembers seeing Fugaku. My wife…” He worked through it as he spoke, “She must have seen him as well, Hinata always followed her around at that age.”

Tsume stayed quiet, drank her own sake and watched Hiashi’s world fall apart.

“She stopped allowing the Elders to call on her after that. They were very upset, but I couldn’t bring myself to overrule her so I simply took over all the household duties she normally carried out. The Sandaime tried to visit a few weeks after that, I remember preparing for the visit and she asked me to wait inside while she greeted him at the gate. I agreed without thinking, she came back sometime later and told me that he’d had to cancel. Something happened that required his immediate attention. He never came to the Hyuuga Compound again.”

Tsume nodded, “She banned him.” And the thought of that conversation made Tsume smile.

“Why?”

Tsume debated answering and eventually figured that it was better to get it all out there now, rather than in pieces later. “Danzo ordered the execution of the Uchiha. The Sandaime had the chance to protect them and chose not to. He regretted the decision of course, he was too good a man not to, but he had the chance to stop it and he willingly chose not to. Airi was never able to forgive him for that.”

Hiashi jerked at his wife’s name. No one had spoken it out loud since her death. Tsume said it casually, like she’d never stopped saying it. “The Sandaime knew.”

Tsume nodded and they both took another drink of sake.

“Danzo, of Root?”

Tsume nodded again.

“And the Inuzuka and Aburame are allied with the Uchiha and enemies of Danzo.”

Another nod. Aware that he had revealed Neji had defied Tsunade’s order, but confident that Tsume would have no problem with that.

“He is behind the resurrections?” Another nod. “Why?”

“He’s trying to wipe out the last of the Uchiha. And possibly something worse, but we’re not exactly sure what, other than his known desire to be Hokage.”

Hiashi frowned. He’d had multiple dealings with Danzo. Had lost several young members of his clan to Danzo’s organization and never heard from them again. The man had always seemed like every other power-hungry politician, if slightly more intelligent than most. He’d never made a clear move towards the Hyuuga so Hiashi had been content to keep a relaxed eye on him. He’d never believed for a minute that Danzo would ever be chosen as Hokage.

“Airi…” He trailed off, it hurt to say his wife’s name. He’d never loved another after her, never even taken another to his bed.

“I considered her a friend,” Tsume commented, “So did Mikoto, and Aiko, Shibi’s wife and Little Bird, Sakumo’s. She came to us after it happened and told us that Fugaku had requested she look after Iruka, Naruto and Sasuke. She was determined to do so. Wanted to start a war over what had happened, but we managed to talk her out of it.”

His gentle wife had wanted to fight?

“She called in a lot of favors keeping Iruka out of trouble those first few years.” Tsume mused, not that she hadn’t broken a lot of bones making sure people didn’t get Iruka into trouble either.

“Why?”

“Danzo is afraid of the Uchiha. Always has been. When he first started his little Root organization, he tried recruiting from the Three Clans. We let him, at first, he had a good pitch. Protect the village, similar to the Hanta,” Tsume let out a bitter laugh at the thought of the good clansman she’d lost to him because of her own foolishness. “We put a stop to it when we realized what he was really about. He knows he’d never be able to be Hokage with any of the Three Clans still alive so he’s tried multiple times over the years to wipe us out. He succeeded with the Uchiha, but Fugaku was always better than him and put safeguards in place to protect the rest of us and the village.”

“Safeguards?” Hiashi repeated.

“Iruka and Itachi, Naruto and Sasuke, even Obito in his own way. And the Hanta. Plans that protected the village long after he’d died.” No one planned better than Fugaku, Tsume mused. The loyalty, the love that he’d left them enough to protect the world for generations to come. Only Fugaku could have pulled something like that off.

Hiashi sighed, “It doesn’t really change anything,” he mused.

Tsume frowned at him. “Why not?”

“Root has already become too powerful to challenge.” The Hyuuga elders wouldn’t go back on their decision and Hiashi knew they would never consider allying themselves with the Inuzuka and Aburame. Or even Iruka and his Hanta, as noble as their cause was.

Tsume snarled at him, “Speak for yourself.”

Hiashi glared at her, “Don’t presume to know my clan Tsume. Not everyone is as open with their secrets as the Inuzuka.”

“You don’t hold your sake well,” Tsume purred, “It’s making you bold. You forget who I am.”

Hiashi sneered at her. There were rumors circulating about who or what Tsume might actually be, but nothing had been confirmed and Hiashi refused to be intimidated by rumors. “You are a clan leader, the same as me and bound by the same constraints.”

Tsume laughed, “I am not bound by foolish old shinobi who refuse to change with the times. The Inuzuka Clan has no elders, like the Aburame and Uchiha.”

“No elders?” Hiashi repeated, confused.

Tsume’s canines gleamed, “We cull our elders to prevent the same problem you have now. An advisory council so big, they make decisions in place of the clan leader.”

Hiashi stared at her in disbelief. “You cull your clan?”

“It’s an ugly word, for something that is rarely so. There is no retirement in the Three Clans,” Tsume explained. “You serve until you die. As such, we have very few who live as long as your elders. And no warring parties within the clan.”

Barbaric was the first word that jumped into Hiashi’s mind. But the idea of not having dozens of elders to answer too was undeniably appealing. The Hyuuga Clan’s internal struggles all stemmed from too many powerful people with their own opinions, unwilling to consider others.

“Hinata is under the protection of the Inuzuka Clan.” Tsume warned him. She had been since the day she’d been assigned to Kiba’s team and Tsume had met the too-shy Hyuuga Princess. Her maternal instincts had roared to life at the sight of Airi’s small daughter and she’d decided then and there that she’d fight anyone tooth and nail for the girl. Even Hinata’s own father. “Change is coming Hiashi, if you want your clan to survive, they’re going to have to change too. Because I am not planning on leaving much standing when the dust settles.”

ooo000ooo

…tbc….

Chapter Text

ooo000ooo

Chapter 17
1tsu to shite
As one

Sometimes love does not have the most honorable beginnings, and the endings, the endings will tear you in half. It’s everything in between we live for. – Ann Patchett

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Rock Lee’s Apartment, Konohagakure: :

Neji banged on Lee’s apartment door without remorse for his neighbors. Thankfully Lee opened the door before anyone else in the neighborhood woke up.

“Neji-san!” Lee greeted him with a bright smile. “What are you doing up this late?”

“Can I come in?”

“Of course!” Lee stepped back and let him inside.

Neji paused in surprised when he saw Tenten in the living room, tucked under a blanket in her pajamas on Lee’s couch.

“Neji!” She exclaimed in surprise.

“Hi.” Surprised and still a little sensitive from what had happened with Hinata, Neji wasn’t sure what to say.

Lee closed the door and ushered Neji to the couch, shoving him down before the Hyuuga could complain. “My eternal rival, it has been too long! How are you?”

In the face of Lee’s earnest concern, Neji had a hard time not telling the truth. “I don’t know what’s happening.”

Tenten was better had hiding things than Lee, but her blank face was a dead giveaway.

“You two are hiding something from me,” Neji continued, “Hinata left the clan for good,” and Lee and Tenten shared a surprised look at that, “Something is wrong with Gai-sensei and no one will tell me what!” Neji felt an uncharacteristic burst of emotion.

“Neji-san,” Lee paused, stopping to think about what they could tell Neji without hurting him and realized that the truth about Gai-sensei wouldn’t hurt and might keep Neji away from Danzo and Root long enough to keep him safe, “Gai-sensei is hurt.”

Tenten nodded in agreement, on the same page. “He’s badly injured.”

Neji’s eyes narrowed, “How?” Gai-sensei looked fine.

“It’s his chakra lines,” Tenten explained. “They’re tangled into knots, if he doesn’t get them fixed soon, he’ll lose all function in his limbs.”

Neji’s eyes widened in horror.

Lee nodded, “There is a procedure that could fix him, but Iruka-sensei and Itachi-nii-san need time to train Sasuke-kun for it.”

“And then he’ll be okay?” Neji asked. He filed the Itachi-nii-san away for later reference.

Lee and Tenten nodded. “He’ll be fine, it’s just going to take a little while.” Tenten assured him. “The only catch is that he can’t fight until then or it could make the damage impossible to fix.”

“So tell the Hokage to take him out of active service.”

“Easier said than done.” Tenten pointed out.

A silence fell over them that Neji had never experience with his team before. There was a gulf between them that Neji didn’t like. It felt like Lee and Tenten were moving beyond him and leaving him behind. “You knew about Iruka-sensei.”

They stiffened.

Neji turned to Lee and his spandex loving teammate looked away, confirming Neji’s suspicions.

“We’ve chosen our side Neji,” Tenten broke in, she knew exactly what Neji was doing. “We’re with Naruto and Sasuke and Iruka-sensei, no matter what happens.”

Lee nodded in agreement. “Yes, we have joined Iruka-sensei’s brave fight against the evil Root and it’s leader Danzo! It is a noble battle, my eternal rival and we hope that someday, you will be ready to join us in it!”

Someday? Not now, Neji thought. Lee and Tenten still weren’t planning on letting him return to the team. “Why not now?” He couldn’t help but ask.

Tenten looked apologetic. It was Lee this time, that looked strong, driven.

“You are not ready yet, my eternal rival,” Lee declared. “We will wait for you, never fear. For as long as it takes,” Lee vowed, but he didn’t waver.

Neji wanted to argue, but the confused space in his heart. Where Hinata’s break with the clan, his concern for Gai-sensei the first teacher who had seen Neji for himself, his own resurrection, concerns about Danzo and disagreements in his own head about the Uchiha Clan and what it meant to break from tradition without fear, smothered his heart and he realized, somewhat unwillingly, that Lee and Tenten knew that. They were protecting him, even though he didn’t want them too.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Ambassador’s Hotel, Konohagakure: :

The delegation from Suna woke to the somewhat terrifying sight of a Lee’s Eternal Youth at the door to their suite. Behind him, Shikimaru yawned.

“Good morning our Honorable Friends from Suna!” Lee’s loud greeting brought the three Sand Siblings stumbling into the main room.

“Lee, Shikimaru, what are you guys doing here so early?” Kankuro muttered as the Suna shinobi reluctantly let them enter and secured the door behind them.

Temari’s eyes narrowed as she studied Shikimaru. Either the Nara had gained weight or there was something inside his vest.

“We have come to speak with our dear friends from Suna!” Lee announced.

Gaara understood immediately and motioned for the other Suna shinobi to leave and give them privacy. Though reluctant, they did as ordered.

As soon as they were alone, Kurama’s poked his head out of Shikimaru’s vest and Temari started in surprise.

“What the hell is that?”

Shikimaru looked down at Kurama. The fox look up at him, then licked the Nara’s chin. Shikimaru winced. “This is Kurama.”

“Naruto’s tailed beast,” Gaara interrupted. Temari and Kankuro froze as the youngest sibling immediately approached Shikimaru. “How?”

“Iruka-sensei and Itachi-nii-san,” Shikimaru explained, “Some Uchiha Clan jutsu they know.”

Kurama sniffed at Gaara and growled. “Shukaku.”

The beast inside Gaara stirred, tried to answer and couldn’t. Kurama wriggled free of Shikimaru’s vest and started to climb up Gaara’s leg.

“Hey! Knock it off Kurama!” Shikimaru growled and grabbed the fox by the scruff of his neck.

“Release me human!” Kurama chittered but couldn’t break free of Shikimaru’s hold. “Shukaku! My ally! Destroy them all!”

“What the hell?” Kankuro muttered.

“He has delusions of destruction,” Shikimaru muttered. “But he’s harmless.” He set the fox on the floor. “Look, we came by to talk to you guys. Give you a heads up about some stuff that’s happening.”

“Does this have something to do with what happened at the Uchiha Compound?” Temari asked.

“Yes!” Lee responded.

“We wanted to clear a few things up, between us.” Shikimaru added.

The Three Sand Siblings shared a look. This sounded interesting and concerning.

“Okay.” Gaara agreed, he gave a lot of leeway to Naruto’s friends. He couldn’t stop looking at Kurama. The little fox was sniffing his feet.

“Root is trying to wipe out the last of the Uchiha. Once they do that, they’re going to move on to the Aburame and Inuzuka.” Shikimaru explained.

“Why?” Gaara asked, it didn’t seem like a good idea for a village to wipe out its own clans.

“They want to put Danzo back into power and they can’t do that while the Three Clans are still alive. They won’t allow it. Tsume and Shibi have already threatened to start a civil war in the village.”

Gaara, Temari and Kankuro stared at him in horror. “A civil war?” Kankuro repeatedly dumbly.

Lee nodded, “Yes. Danzo is quite evil. He had been kidnapping shinobi and forcing them into Root, where a jutsu lets him control them. And, he used to hunt down Uchiha and steal their eyes!”

“What?” Temari sputtered in disbelief.

“He’s got a bunch of Sharingan embedded in his arm. It’s a long story. We just wanted to make sure you guys knew, the Rookie 11 have chosen to fight with the Three Clans.” Shikimaru stated.

“Are the Three Clans not allied with the village and the Hokage?” Gaara asked, thoughts whirling. He could offer them safety in Sand if they lost, but they’d still be hunted for the rest of their lives. And Suna would likely lose its alliance with Konohagakure.

“They are and as long as Danzo and Root don’t come into power, it’ll be fine. But on the off chance that something happens…” Shikimaru trailed off.

Temari and Kankuro watched Gaara. Shikimaru’s request put Suna in a tough spot and Gaara was still a relatively new Kage. Losing the village’s alliance with Konohagakure could damage the peace following the Forth Shinobi War.

“You can count on us.” Gaara promised. “I only have a small contingent of Suna shinobi here, but I can call more.”

“It would take a few days for them to arrive,” Temari commented, unsure if she agreed with brother’s decision, but willing to go along with it for now.

“There’s no need for that!” Lee assured them, “We just wanted to know if we would have your support!”

“Things are changing fast,” Shikimaru looked annoyed, eyes distant with worry. “We can’t explain everything now, but once it’s over and things are stable.”

“We have lots of stories!” Lee burst out. Kurama chirped and leapt into his lap. Lee started to pet him and Kurama’s purrs filled the room.

“Okay,” Gaara nodded, focused on Kurama and Lee’s dexterous fingers buried in his fur.

“Temari,” Shikimaru suddenly looked embarrassed as she turned to him. “Could I talk to you for a second?”

She nodded, followed him to a corner by the window. “What’s wrong?” Was he blushing?

“Look, I just wanted, uh, that is…” He trailed off, took a deep breath. “I know we’re from different villages, but I wanted to ask you to be safe.”

Temari’s heart rose and fell in a single breath. “Be safe?” She repeated, now completely lost. That was not what she’d been expecting him to ask.

“Uh,” Shikimaru seemed to realize he’d said the wrong thing. “What I mean is, you mean a lot to me. More than… pretty much anyone else.”

Temari felt her cheeks heat as her blush spread.

“Be safe so we can have an important discussion when this is over.” Shikimaru finally finished.

Temari’s heart hammered in her chest, “Okay. You stay safe too.” And the smile that stole over Shikimaru’s face brought one to hers.

Kankuro clapped, mostly just to annoy Temari, but also happy on his sister’s behalf.

“How noble! True love truly does conquer all!” Lee cried, leaping to his feet. Kurama dug his tiny claws into Lee’s vest and hung on for dear life. “My Eternal Rival!” Lee spun on Gaara and grabbed him by the shoulders. “We shall make the same agreement!”

Kankuro stopped clapping and choked on air. Temari and Shikimaru stared at them with impossibly wide eyes.

“The same agreement?” Gaara repeated, lost. Lee was right in front of him, hands warm on his shoulders. Kurama was squished between them, tongue lolling out as he twisted back and forth trying to get free.

“Yes! I wish you to remain safe, so that we may have the same conversation when this is over!”

Lee’s bright eyes were mesmerizing as he nodded so fast he practically created wind and Gaara found himself nodding along. “Okay.”

Kankuro burst into hysterical laughter. Both his siblings in one day and just the thought of introducing Lee to the elders of Suna was enough to keep him laughing for years.

Shikimaru sighed, “How troublesome.”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

:Hatake Compound, Konohagakure: :
Iruka approached the compound with something akin to trepidation. He’d only ever visited it a handful of times with Fugaku. When Kakashi was at training or on missions, Sakumo had almost never been at the Hatake Compound, preferring the Uchiha gardens or the Inuzuka compound with Tsume.

After his death Iruka had blamed Kakashi and stayed as far from any reminder as possible. In the passing years his anger towards Sakumo’s son had faded, listening to Naruto repeat Kakashi’s strict rules about always protecting your teammates had helped. Of course, it had all gone downhill with the chunin exams, but to be fair, Iruka had hated Kakashi for all new reasons after that.

He paused at the gates. They were rusted in place. Kakashi clearly didn’t spend much time at the compound either. He leapt over it and waded through the overgrown garden. He wasn’t really sure what he was doing here. He’d called in one of his rare sick days after staying up all night with Hinata. Itachi had been giving him significant looks all morning, to the point that Obito, who was usually oblivious to all things personal or romantic had noticed. Iruka had escaped when Itachi had started making threats to tell Obito that Iruka and Kakashi had slept together. Iruka didn’t want to deal with an overprotective big brother and Kakashi and Obito were avoiding each other as much as two people could in the days that Obito had been back.

Iruka didn’t want to admit it, but Kakashi had been on his mind a lot since he’d shown up at the Uchiha Compound, called by his borrowed Sharingan because none of them had thought to conceal themselves. Tsunade had examined Kakashi at the hospital before releasing him and had passed on through Sakura that it was simple chakra exhaustion and he’d be fine in a few days. He figured it was a safe time to talk to Kakashi, when the other man didn’t have the necessary chakra to try and chidori him when Iruka revealed some secrets that were sure to piss him off.

He knocked and waited. No one answered so Iruka reached out and felt for Kakashi’s chakra and just teleported to it. The jounin was sitting on the back steps of his house, looking over the back yard. A huge plant like tree that stood taller than the compound roof filled the yard. Iruka stared at it, he’d never seen a tree like it.

“Uh, what kind of tree is that?” Iruka blurted out, his own nerves getting the best of him.

Kakashi shrugged, his yukata slid off one pale, bony shoulder. He wasn’t wearing his mask or hiate, his scar stood out in the afternoon light. He was staring at the tree too. “It’s not a tree.”

Iruka turned to him in confusion.

“It’s Mr. Uki.”

“Mr. Uki?” Iruka repeated, suspicious. “Wasn’t that your houseplant?”

Kakashi nodded.

The houseplant he’d needed a new pot for because his ninkin had broken the original when they’d chased squirrels around his house. Squirrels. Kotetsu. That rat-fucker Iruka thought with admiration as he tried to see the top of Mr. Uki. Mr. Uki had been smaller than Iruka’s hand when Kakashi had had him in his vest pocket at the flower shop.

“I told Kotetsu to fix it.” Iruka admitted. He should have known something was off when Kotetsu didn’t argue.

“He was here when I got back from the hospital.” Kakashi explained, “Apologized for his squirrels and offered to pay for any damage. Told him he didn’t have to, but he insisted. Mr. Uki was dying so I didn’t think there was any harm asking if he knew a way to bring him back.”

No harm at all, Iruka mused. “Well, he definitely brought him back.” The plant-tree definitely looked healthy, vibrant green leaves hung over the roof and the rest of the compound. So heavy Iruka was sure they’d require a handful of shinobi together to move just one.

Kakashi nodded again and now he was starting to look a little haunted.

“I can have him undo it,” Iruka offered.

The jounin was silent. “He was a gift from Obito.”

Iruka straighten, “I know. Itachi left it for me one day while I was in class. Obito needed a gift for someone and stole it. He never told me it was for you.”

Kakashi turned to him in surprise.

Iruka shrugged and offered a small smile, “The secret lives of gifts.”

“Huh,” Kakashi turned back to staring at the giant Mr. Uki. The lost demeanor faded, the hardness of the legendary jounin returned. “Did you need something Iruka-sensei?”

Iruka flinched but figured Kakashi was entitled to be a little angry. “I figured it was time we talked.”

“About?” Kakashi drawled.

“Us. Me. There’s things you need to know…” Iruka trailed off. Kakashi stiffened, his gaze locked on Mr. Uki and not moving. “But I’m not going to talk to your back, so look at me so we can have an adult conversation, or I can just leave.”

For a minute Kakashi didn’t move. Torn between ignoring the chance to have what would undoubtedly be a very painful, emotional conversation, and not, effectively ending any chance that he and Iruka would ever be together. It was odd, a few months ago Kakashi would have sworn up and down that he could see an easy relationship with the seemingly simply chunin. Something normal, if he was lucky as passionate as some of the stories in his beloved Icha Icha, a definite possibility given Iruka’s temper, but something like what Asuma had with Kurenai. After everything that had happened since then, Kakashi could resolutely say he had no idea who Iruka really was or what a relationship with him would be like.

Iruka was surprised at the level of panic that built inside him as Kakashi sat unmoving. Hatake had pushed so hard for something between them, that it had pushed through Iruka’s own fears and anger. A small pit of hope had formed, despite Iruka’s common sense warning him that it would never work. Now it seemed that small spark wasn’t going to survive the harsh reality of the secrets between them. Maybe he’d better leave before it got even worse.

“You’re a Uchiha.”

Kakashi’s voice made Iruka jump. The jounin visibly steeled himself and turned to look at Iruka. Iruka nodded. “Born and bred.”

The venom in Iruka’s words made Kakashi raise his visible eyebrow. Iruka took a seat next to him, not touching but close enough for Kakashi to feel his body heat.

“I was an experiment,” And Iruka’s voice broke a little as he said that. “Danzo wanted the Sharingan. He killed dozens of Uchiha trying to get one, but he never could. Sarutobi Mali, Asuma’s sister, was a member of Root and one of his strongest supporters.”

Mali? Kakashi could just vaguely remember a pretty woman with Asuma’s coloring. She died a long time ago.

“Mali was assigned to seduce Fugaku, he’d been in love with her since they were in the Academy together. They had a relationship for five years, before he realized what she was doing.”

“Five years?” Kakashi repeated. How had she managed that?

Iruka shrugged, “He loved her. He loved her long after she was executed for what she did. Hell, he loved her the day he died.”

“Why?” Kakashi couldn’t imagine loving someone after finding out they’d betrayed him like that.

“Love with the Uchiha is… different. The Sharingan magnifies emotion, makes them more intense. Mali was the love of Fugaku’s life and he could never forget her.” Iruka paused. “Her mission for Root was to get pregnant with Fugaku’s child. Danzo figured that any child of his was guaranteed to have the Sharingan.”

A queasy feeling started in Kakashi stomach.

“She had Obito, then me, four years later. The Hanta found out she was working for Root while she was pregnant with me and waited until I was born before they went to the Sandaime. The day I was born the Sandaime learned the truth about his daughter and ordered the Hanta to end the breeding project. They killed every member of Root present at my birth. Fugaku refused to let the Sarutobi clan take either of us and the Sandaime felt bad enough about what happened that he didn’t fight it. Danzo tried to take us back, but I think he realized that he would have lost Sandaime forever if he did.” Iruka rubbed his arms, suddenly cold thinking about how he’d come into existence.

“Did Root have any other breeding projects?” Kakashi asked, mind reeling.

Iruka shook his head, “No. It was just one of Danzo’s many attempts to get a Sharingan. Fugaku thought it would be too dangerous to announce who we were, so Obito was adopted into the Uchiha Clan and I was adopted by Ikkaku and Koharu. They served under Fugaku in the Konoha Military Police. They were amazing people.” Iruka smiled at the memory of the couple who had raised him.

“But you were still trained by Fugaku?” Kakashi guessed.

Iruka nodded. “Obito wanted to be Hokage, so Fugaku had him serve on a regular genin team. Or what he thought was a regular team.”

Iruka slanted Kakashi an amused smile and the jounin smirked. Team Minato had been anything but normal.

“I wanted to be Hanta, like Fugaku, so he took me as his apprentice. Members of Hanta only ever take one student in their lifetime.” Iruka explained. “I was Fugaku’s, then Itachi was mine. Yajirobi, who was Tsume’s student, trained Kabuto. Shibi’s student was Hana. Mikoto trained Izumo, who trained Anko. Might Dai trained Kotetsu, though Tsume took over when Dai died.” Iruka hesitated. “Sakumo trained Shisui.”

Kakashi froze. “Sakumo?” The only Sakumo he’d ever known was his father.

“Hatake Sakumo was a member of Hanta.” Iruka stated and tensed, half concerned Kakashi was going to turn violent.

Kakashi stared at the tan schoolteacher. The air around him sparked with electricity. His father had been Hanta. “How?”

“He was on Fugaku’s genin team. Apparently Fugaku recruited him the day they were assigned to the same team.”

His father had been Hanta for decades and Kakashi had never known. Anger started to rise. “Why didn’t you tell me?” Kakashi demanded.

“Sakumo’s last request was that you be kept away from the Hanta and the Three Clans. You were already gaining attention in the village for your skill, Danzo was watching you. He thought you’d be safer away from us.”

Something thick and heavy stuck in Kakashi’s throat.

“He made a deal with Danzo after that mission,” they both knew exactly what mission Iruka meant, the one that had destroyed Sakumo’s reputation, “Danzo wanted him out of the way, so Sakumo agreed to leave, as long as Danzo stayed away from you.”

“He agreed to leave?” Kakashi repeated.

Sadness filled Iruka’s eyes, “They all thought he meant he would leave the village, but he killed himself instead. Fugaku and Tsume tried to stop him, but they weren’t fast enough.”

“He killed himself to protect me?” Kakashi snapped, anger growing. “I joined Root after he died!” Because he left me! But Kakashi didn’t say that part out loud. Lightning danced over his clenched fist.

Iruka winced, “I know. The Inuzuka Clan had to bind Tsume when she found out Danzo broke his word and recruited you. We were all so relieved when you left Root.”

Rage bubbled inside Kakashi. Even when he said goodbye to his father during the war, Sakumo had never mentioned any of this.

“We were in a stalemate of sorts with Root after they executed the Uchiha.” Iruka voice was dark and bitter. “A few assassination attempts over the years, but after Sandaime stopped supporting Danzo, they stayed hidden. I disbanded the Hanta not long after you left Root. I hated the village,” Iruka admitted, “I didn’t want to fight for it anymore. I just wanted to teach and watch over Naruto and Sasuke. Itachi and Obito were both gone, and it felt like most of me went with them. They weren’t good years.”

Kakashi’s rage subsided. “That was after I helped you on that mission.”

Iruka nodded, a small smile on his face. “You did help Kakashi. Teaching was always something I’d thought about, but I didn’t have the courage to actually do it until you talked to me about it.” He paused again, “Fugaku was a teacher. It was all he ever wanted to do. He wasn’t even going to be a shinobi at first.”

“What?” Kakashi couldn’t believe that. He’d grown up with stories about Wicked Eye Fugaku.

Iruka laughed, “Yeah, he wanted to teach at one of the civilian schools, elementary. He only agreed to become a shinobi because his father was trying to rise up against the Hokage. Fugaku fought him and his brothers and defeated them. The clan decided to make him clan leader and he started the Academy that year.”

“He was already clan leader when he started the Academy?” Kakashi muttered.

“Wicked Eye Fugaku was not someone to be trifled with.” There was pride in Iruka’s voice as he spoke about his father. “He hid his Mangekon Sharingan from the entire village and half the Uchiha because he was worried they would misuse it. We fought a second Civil War after the Nine-Tails attack, Fugaku won. I was so angry I almost fought for the other side, but I changed my mind a couple days before the battle.”

A civil war within the clan? Kakashi had never heard of such a thing. And a second one?

“Believe it or not, I had a lot of anger in me back then.”

Even in his confusion Kakashi couldn’t help but huff out a laugh. Iruka without anger wasn’t Iruka.

“It took me a long time to understand the choices Fugaku made. I wish more than anything that I had the chance to talk to him one last time, to apologize for who I was then, to show him who I became.” Iruka’s shoulders slumped, “I failed at so many things because I couldn’t get over what happened to the Uchiha and the people I cared about. Even now.” Iruka scratched at his scar.

Kakashi sighed. “You’re not a failure Iruka.”

Iruka snorted, “That’s nice but I am.”

“No, you’re not,” Kakashi repeated, firmer this time. “Look at Naruto. You didn’t fail him. You didn’t fail any of your students. They’re strong today because of what you taught them.”

Iruka gave him a small smile. “I feel like I should point out that it’s the same for you.”

Kakashi blinked. “I didn’t do half as much for them as you did.”

“Kakashi, they love you because you made them stronger. I shielded them too much. You didn’t. You made them learn things that can’t be taught in a classroom. That’s something I admire.”

Kakashi blinked, honestly surprised at the admission.

Iruka sighed, “I figured I owed you an honest explanation after everything that happened. I do like you Kakashi, more than I should. It’s just…”

“Just what?” Kakashi couldn’t help but ask. He had a strong suspicion about what was holding Iruka back, but Kakashi was damn well going to make him say it out loud.

Iruka stared at Mr. Uki. “I’m not going to be here much longer. Everything that’s coming. Sometimes I’m amazed I survived this long.”

Something in Kakashi’s chest turned to ice.

“I want a life outside of being a shinobi. Someone to come home to, to go on vacations with, or just be lazy with on my days off. But,” he paused and turned to Kakashi and there was a fire in his eyes, “I will sacrifice everyone else in this village, including myself to make sure Naruto and Sasuke survive and have a chance to be happy.”

The ice in Kakashi’s chest thawed a little, warmed by the strength of Iruka’s love for the two young men he’d practically raised. “I’ve been a shinobi since birth, Iruka. I was doing A and S-rank missions by the time I was six. That I’ve lived this long is a miracle. I know time is not a friend to shinobi.”

“All I have to offer is a small piece of myself. Everything else is already given away; to my brothers, my teammates, my friends, my clan. Most of them took those pieces of me to the grave and I’ll never get them back. But you can have part of what’s left, if you still want it.”

Kakashi studied the chunin. The man honest enough to admit that he could only offer a small part of himself, but he did want Kakashi enough to offer what little he had left.

“Do you want a relationship?” Iruka asked suddenly insecure.

Kakashi’s immediate answer was yes, but he paused to think about his answer, aware of the momentous occasion. “I want someone to come home to a night. Someone to leave a letter for when I leave on missions. Someone to watch over me when I’m injured so I don’t have to stay at the hospital.”

“I’m not a housewife Kakashi. I’m not going to have dinner ready and waiting when you come home. I’m not going to join the spousal support club or do all the chores and cleaning around the house.” Iruka’s voice rose. “I won’t be safe behind the lines while your leading the attack. Hell, you might end up taking orders from me at some point. It won’t be the happily ever after like the endings in your porn.”

Kakashi glared at him, “I’m not a child, sensei. I would prefer us to be equals.” And he was never going to admit out loud that he’d pictured Iruka in an apron cooking for him once. Clearly danger lay that way.

They lapsed into an angry silence, both staring at the giant Mr. Uki.

“I’m a horrible cook,” Iruka admitted out of the blue. “That’s why I always take Naruto out for ramen.”

Kakashi gave him side eye, “So you are responsible for that obsession.”

Iruka blushed, scratched at his scar. “I’ll deny it if you tell anyone.”

“I forget to eat,” Kakashi admitted, “Especially when I’m on missions. And there’s dog hair all over my apartment. I stopped noticing it years ago, but Kurenai refuses to set foot in my apartment anymore.”

Iruka threw his head back and laughed, it was easy to imagine Kurenai’s disgusted face when she realized her dress was covered in dog hair.

Kakashi watched Iruka laugh, surprised at the delighted frizzle of warmth that shot through him at the sight. “I like watching you laugh.” He admitted, a flush stealing over his face. Should have kept my mask on Kakashi thought, but the glance Iruka slanted him, smoldered and Kakashi felt the flush spread.

“I like watching you blush.” Iruka teased and Kakashi half-heartedly glared at him in response. “I like watching you with your students. And the few people you consider friends. Watching how you love them makes me want to try harder to do the same.”

“Iruka-sensei, you’re the only person I’ve ever seen love absolutely without fear.” Kakashi admitted. “It’s terrifying.”

For a moment they just sat and smiled at one another.

“So, we’ll try?” Iruka asked, his previous uncertainty gone.

Kakashi nodded and answered simply, “Yes.”

Like lightning Kakashi reached out and pulled Iruka into a kiss. They made out like teenagers until Kakashi was practically in Iruka’s lap and his yukata was dangerously low around his shoulders. Somehow Kakashi had gotten his hands underneath Iruka’s clothes to his skin and was dragging his nails over his ribs and making the tan chunin shiver.

Kakashi’s lips were soft, if a little chapped. Like he’d been licking them under his ever-present mask. Iruka reluctantly pulled away when the need for air demanded it. His chest heaved and he would have felt embarrassed if Kakashi’s hadn’t been doing the same.

“Oh,” Iruka blinked, “I should tell you. I’ve chosen the next Taichou of the Hanta.”

Kakashi leaned back, eyes narrowed in suspicion. Why did that make Kakashi think he wasn’t going to get laid for a while?

Iruka’s smile looked like war. “Hyuuga Hinata.”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Hokage’s Office, Konohagakure: :

Tsunade shoved aside another completed stack of paperwork as Jiraya entered. Still in a funk she noted, they hadn’t spoken since their argument at the Uchiha Compound. Tsunade’s ego warred with her desire to have her lifelong friend back at her side. But she was also acutely aware of the rumors about their new relationship and the fact that Jiraya had turned down the Hokage position multiple times before it had been offered to Tsunade. Her pride wouldn’t let her take the first step.

Jiraya stomped over to the window behind her desk and stared out over Konohagakure. Tsunade moved on to the next stack of paperwork. An hour and two more stacks passed before Jiraya finally spoke.

“What is your plan with all of this Tsunade?”

She finished her signature and set the brush down. She laced her fingers together and rested her chin on her hands, staring at the door to her office, even though it remained shut. “From the history I’ve learned from Sandaime and Iruka, it seems the previous Hokage’s used the Uchiha, Inuzuka, and Aburame heavily, for the most dangerous missions that expected high body counts, because those three clans had higher survival rates than anyone else in the village. Hiruzen said flat out they’d nearly used them to extinction during the Second and Third Shinobi World Wars.”

“Extinction?” Jiraya questioned.

“The Uchiha, Inuzuka and Aburame have always had the lowest population numbers, since the founding of the village, other clans have boasted numbers well over two hundred before, but none of the three clans has ever topped a hundred. Before the Uchiha Clan Massacre, a jounin from the regular forces averaged 9 S-class, 23 A-class, and 33 B-class missions a year. A jounin from one of those three clans averaged 17 S-class, 36 A-class and 46 B-class missions in the same year.”

“What?” Jiraya turned to her in shock.

“And that’s not counting missions undertaken in war.” She added.

“There were thousands of missions that took place during that war.” Jiraya pointed out.

But the horror of the numbers Kabuto had gathered had burned themselves into Tsunade’s brain. “Of the 48 missions deemed not survivable during the Third World War, 92 percent of the shinobi on those missions were from those three clans.”

“Hiruzen would never have allowed that!” Jiraya snapped.

“He did,” Tsunade said gently, finally turning to her fellow Sanin. “He didn’t like it, but he said by the time he realized how bad it was, he was already facing rumors of the Uchiha’s first coup attempt.”

“First?” Jiraya repeated.

“Uchiha Fugaku’s father tried to start one, but Fugaku stopped them so nothing came from it. The Third World War furthered the problem. Hiruzen thought Minato might be able to break the cycle, but the Nine-Tails Attack happened before he could fully explain the situation to him.”

“And Fugaku tried to start a second coup.” Jiraya assumed.

“No, members of the clan did.” Tsunade hesitated, “Iruka was with them for a while, but Fugaku changed his mind before they ever did anything.”

“Umino? Naruto’s precious person?” The academy sensei had seemed kind of timid the few times Jiraya had met him before his death, though timid was definitely not what Jiraya would call him after the fight at the Uchiha Compound.

“Apparently he had a hell of a rebellious teenage phase.” Tsunade snorted, the thought of the hellion Iruka must have been during his emotional teenage years made her shudder. “But Fugaku put down that rebellion as well, unfortunately Danzo was able to convince the rest of the village that wasn’t the case.”

“Gods,” Jiraya collapsed onto the window sill as he considered the ramifications of Konoha’s false history.

“Sandaime stripped Danzo of all his power after the Uchiha Clan was wiped out, but it was too late to undo most of the damage. To this day the Inuzuka and Aburame clan numbers haven’t recovered to what normal levels of the other village clans are.”

“So he knew about Itachi then?” Tsunade nodded. “And Obito?” Another nod. “What the hell was he thinking?”

“He did the best he could.” Tsunade sighed and searched her drawers for a bottle of sake. “And he doesn’t try deny he’s at fault. Even Iruka loved him, he just didn’t agree with certain decisions.” She let out a cry of triumph when she found an unopened bottle and immediately twisted off the cap and took a long gulp.

“What else was in the letter he left you?” Jiraya accepted the bottle and made room for Tsunade as she made herself comfortable next to him on the window ledge.

“I don’t know. I only made it half way through the memories he sealed into it before I had to stop. I haven’t had the time to see the rest. And honestly,” She paused, took a deep breath. “I’m afraid. My grandfather found this village with all those grand ideals. Peace. That children wouldn’t have to fight anymore. But we’ve kept fighting wars. Kakashi went on his first S-class mission when he was 7 years old. Naruto and his friends were only teenagers during this last war. I feel like I’ve failed to live up to his ideals.”

Jiraya sighed, his anger slipping into sadness. “If you’ve failed to uphold his ideals Tsunade, then so have we all. I was so focused on the prophecy that I forgot about the village I was trying to save.”

They shared the sake bottle between them in silence until it was empty.

“I’m trying to change things, I want too,” Tsunade admitted, “But I feel like every time I try I hit a brick wall. I want to investigate Danzo and Root, but the ones who know the most about them are Iruka and the Hanta. The only ones I know for sure aren’t Root are Iruka and the Hanta. The only ones who know, or have had experience fighting Danzo are-“

“Iruka and the Hanta.” Jiraya finished as understanding dawned. “You want to spread the work out but the time it would take could cost us the war.”

Tsunade nodded miserably. “I can’t afford the time it would take to train more shinobi to help Iruka and the others. I can’t afford the bodies it would take to truly protect the Inuzuka and Aburame if Root tries to finish its plans to knock off all three clans. I don’t have the time to explain what’s happening to everyone in a way that won’t collapse the village into chaos.” Tsunade took a deep breath, trying to control the storm of tangled emotions. This was the closest she’d been to crying since Jiraya’s death. “I’m a healer and I don’t have time to heal anyone.”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

:Forest of Death, Konohagakure: :

Crickets chirped, birds sang, and Koharu and Homura watched Neko, the fifth since this mission had begun, carefully open the sealed scroll they’d stolen from the Uchiha Library after Hatake had broken the wards. It had cost them Neko’s team and an addition twelve shinobi to get into the library. The seven survivors of that team were badly injured and wouldn’t be able to fight for a few weeks. And Neko wouldn’t shut up about getting the first shot at Shisui as soon as it was time. Privately Koharu doubted he stood much of a chance against the Body-Flicker specialist, but he was a good distraction if nothing else.

Danzo was safe, surrounded by guards in the safe house near the borders of the Land of Fire and the Land of Earth. They’d determined they only needed a minimal number of shinobi for this. The majority of the fighting would be done by Konoha’s main forces against what they were about to release. Once the situation looked futile, Danzo would bring the rest of their forces to the field and they would reseal Shinmoro the Summoner back in the scroll the Uchiha had trapped him in a hundred years before.

Popular opinion always went the way of the savior and even if it wasn’t enough to demand a new Hokage, it would be enough to bring Danzo back as the head of the Konoha Council. Removing Tsunade would come easily after that.

Neko carefully unrolled the scroll, revealing the elegant, hand painted kanji and summoning symbols that covered it. It would take decades to decipher it and to understand how the Uchiha had created seals that could trap powerful beings inside innocuous objects. Their library had been full of weapons, scrolls, jewelry, and random knickknacks that had been used to seal dangerous opponents away. They’d only had time to grab the one scroll before they’d had to run or die in the Uchiha traps. They hadn’t even been able to take the bodies of their dead comrades back with them.

Neko laid the scroll on the grass and took out a small vial of blood. Years of study had revealed that releasing the seal was near impossible without the blood of those who had made the seal to begin with. It had taken a half dozen attempts to sneak into the hospital when Iruka had been admitted for various injuries to steal a single vial of blood. Iruka hadn’t made the original seal, but his ancestors had. Iruka’s blood combined with Shisui’s from the Sharingan Danzo had stolen from him would hopefully be enough to weaken the seal enough for Shinmoro to break free.

The demon summoner had wreaked havoc in the years just after Konohagakure’s founding. One day he had just disappeared, and it had taken years of research for Root to put together that the Uchiha had sealed him away during the First Shinobi World War. The Three Clans had lost sixteen shinobi in that fight.

The air chilled. They all took a step back as Neko poured the vial off blood onto the scroll. For a moment it just pooled there, a puddle of bright red blood. Then the scroll shook, and the blood was suddenly sucked into it with a disturbing slurp. The ink followed, fading away until the scroll was blank. The seal shattered and in a puff of smoke Shinmoro the demon summoner appeared.

He was small, short for a full-grown man and plain. Nothing remarkable to him, but that was what had made it so hard to find him. He’d passed under the radar until a dedicated effort had finally cornered him. He looked up at them with beady black eyes, his summoning pot still clutched to his chest.

Koharu stepped forward. “Shinmoro the demon summoner?”

He cackled and rocked back and forth on the ground, “I’m free! I’m free! Free, free, free!”

“Yes, you are.” Koharu smiled, “Would you like revenge against those that locked you away?”

ooo000ooo

…tbc…

Chapter Text

ooo000ooo

Chapter 18
Moichido
Once Again

Still, I rise. – Maya Angelou

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Land of Rain: :

They’d slowed to a leisurely walk to enjoy the Land of Rain’s legendary waterfalls when Kikyo felt the seal break. She stopped, stunned. The two Uchiha brothers that had made that seal had died in the process and the only way to break that seal was their blood. The Konoha council hadn’t even been alive when they’d died, how had they…

Oh, Fugaku’s blood line was descended from one brother. Shisui’s from the other through his ancestor and Kikyo’s dead husband Kagami. The Council must have gotten their hands on enough blood to weaken the seal.

Minato made it another few feet before he realized she wasn’t with him. When he turned back her eyes had morphed into her six tomoe rinnegan, her gaze distant, towards Konohagakure. He shivered slightly at the rinnegan. He’d been shorting through his confused memories of the war as they walked and the terrifying power of the fully evolved sharingan featured heavily. Until hers he hadn’t realized there was a level above the three tomoe that Sasuke bore.

He studied her as he waited. They hadn’t talked much and aside from the memories she’d slammed into his mind, she hadn’t said much. The vague memories he had of her didn’t really seem to fit the woman he was travelling with currently. She was distracted, something was happening in Konohagakure. Something connected to his resurrection and very likely, Naruto. Minato felt a pang of worry at the thought of his bright-eyed son. Naruto was strong, stronger than Minato had ever thought possible, but he was still young. From the memories Kikyo had shown him Hiruzen and Iruka had done their best to shield Naruto, to give him a normal child as long as possible. A part of Minato wanted it to stay that way, let Naruto be happy and unaware his entire life. But another part of him knew Naruto had already started on the path to realization and there was no going back now.

“Kikyo, what’s happening?”

“Those stupid-“ she snarled, rage made her chakra spark and Minato jumped at the chance to memorize its signature. “They just released the demon summoner!”

“Who?”

“The Demon- never mind.” The rinnegan faded as she turned him, annoyed. He couldn’t tell if that was just her default setting or it was just him. “Back during the First Shinobi War. A couple of years after the villages were founded, a useless little man found a special pot that let him summon demons. He summoned thousands of them. Among them the Tailed-Beasts.”

“Hashirama sealed away the Tailed-Beasts.” Minato said.

“And we destroyed the rest. Thirty of us hunted down the summoner. Ten Uchiha, Ten Inuzuka, Ten Aburame. Only Tsume and I returned. Most died fighting the demons to get to the summoner. The rest killed themselves to seal him away.”

“How did they seal him?”

“Into a scroll using a six-element spirit sealing technique.”

Minato blinked, “I’ve never heard of that before.”

“It’s a forbidden technique. Known only to the Three Clans. It was deemed too cruel for general use by the First Hokage.”

“Why was it too cruel?”

“Because it seals the individual inside the object, fully awake and aware. They can see the world outside but there’s no escape, no interaction. They feel time pass. The Senju were too soft to allow its use after we perfected it.”

“There’s a difference between being soft and being kind.” Minato pointed out.

“There’s also a difference between being just and being righteous and interestingly enough, the difference is usually that you’re on different sides of the war.” Kikyo returned.

Minato let the subject drop, mind stuck on the fact that’s she’d said she and Tsume had survived sealing the demon summoner during the First Shinobi World War. That had been over two hundred years ago. Had they died and been resurrected as well?

She raised an eyebrow at him and he flushed, realized he’d been staring at her. “What’s wrong Blondie? Figure something out?”

She was mocking him. Minato glared, his temper sparking. “We need to get back to Konohagakure.” He ground out, then spun on his heel and took off without waiting for her.

Her laughter followed him as he launched into the trees and within a few leaps he felt her chakra sweep past him. He bit back a snarl and picked up his pace.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Uchiha Library, Uchiha Compound, Konohagakure: :

Kabuto hummed and took a deep breath, inhaling the warm, dry air, the smell of dust and time and blood that was unique to this place. Itachi was a warm presence at his back, checking the wards to confirm their suspicions.

He loved this library, the most complete collection of shinobi literature, knowledge and science. It was a place of reverence. Yajirobi had taught him there. He’d first met Itachi when they were both still clinging to their innocence, wide eyed and following around Iruka and Yajirobi like faithful puppies.

They’d played hide and seek in the endless rows of shelves and stacks of books and scrolls. Kotetsu and Anko used to climb to the high shelves and try to sneak attack unsuspecting adults. Kabuto loved the place enough that he’d been unwilling to break in, even when he was ruled by his madness and trying to remake the world. He’d refused Orochimaru’s pleas for access and even threatened him once over it.

Itachi slipped past him, their arms brushed, and Kabuto followed him through the winding rows. There were no labels, no maps. Removal of the scrolls by anyone who wasn’t granted access through the wards resulted in several different and painful ways to die. The Uchiha knew the layout through their shared memory, they remembered the first steps taken in the building, how the first scrolls added to the shelves felt under their fingers and where every scroll after that had been placed.

They rounded a corner and found the remains of Root’s second team. Five bodies and blood trails suggesting a couple others had tried to run. Judging from the amount of blood there was no way they’d survived their wounds. Kabuto expected they’d find the bodies some random day, there was no point in trying to search the entire library. Even if the Root shinobi had managed to survive, they’d die of dehydration long before they found help. The Uchiha had used time-space jutsus to fold the space inside the building in on itself in symmetrical layers. You could walk for days in every direction and not reach the walls. You had to actively think about what you were looking for to get to that section quickly.

Itachi stared at the scrolls on the shelves, his sharingan spinning slowly. Kabuto kneeled over one of the bodies, the poor bastard had been hit with one of Iruka’s specialty traps. A lightning and chakra wire trap that had split the ninja’s skin open in multiple locations and caused his finger, toes and eyes to explode. His blood had already dried.

“Shinmoro.” Itachi murmured and Kabuto straightened and returned to his side.

“The demon summoner?” Kabuto vaguely remembered hearing stories about him. Itachi nodded. “They can’t release him, can they? The ones that sealed him in are dead.”

Itachi frowned and Kabuto knew just from the look on his face that there was a way. He took Itachi’s arm and teleported them to Iruka’s apartment.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Training Ground 42, Konohagakure: :

Jiraya relaxed, watched the last vestiges of his rasengan fade away and leave nothing but a small crater in the middle of the training ground. So far, he felt better than he had those last few months before he’d died. He felt renewed, with more energy and greater drive. His quest to find the child of prophecy had been a success, Naruto was thriving and Tsunade was happy and they were….something. It was slow going, but they’d spent most of their lives pushing and pulling over what was between them, so it wasn’t any surprise their steps were small and carefully thought through now.

Kakashi was happy too or Jiraya had thought he was, but this whole situation with the Hanta and Iruka has thrown them all through a loop. Jiraya wanted to offer guidance but found he had no idea what to say. That Hiruzen had kept so many secrets, that there was so much Jiraya hadn’t known about the history of the village couldn’t imagine the rage running through them all. Naruto might want to believe that it was all to protect the village, but Jiraya knew better, part of it was vengeance, an attempt to hurt the village and those in it that had, whether willfully or through ignorance, turned their backs on them.

Jiraya wasn’t sure he trusted the academy instructor and Hanta Commander or his soldiers. Speaking of which…

“Did you have a question or were you just spying because you’re bored.” He asked without bothering to turn around.

A snort. “Bored. You haven’t done anything we haven’t seen before.”

The Fuku-Taichou. Hagane. Iruka’s right hand.

“Seen that much already in your short life?” Jiraya asked, not afraid to mock. They were infants compared to him.

“You see a lot more when you’re not obsessively chasing fairy tales.”

Obito. Kakashi’s beloved teammate. The one who’d tried to remake the world. Iruka’s brother.

“That fairy tale stopped you.” Jiraya pointed out and finally turned.

They were watching him, relaxed and unafraid. They were all so unafraid. Did death mean so little to them?

“A lot of things stopped me,” Obito said. “Besides Naruto would have done all that even if there was no prophecy.”

“How would you know?” Jiraya asked. “Besides, you have your own prophecy, or did you think I wouldn’t notice? What did you call him, the Tenshi Heisoban. The godly gear. Plenty of ego there.”

“Ego is one thing we do very well,” Kotetsu smirked. “The Tenshi Heisoban isn’t a prophecy, it’s a duty. The one tasked to save the world with an act of kindness.”

“An act of kindness?” Jiraya questioned. Wait, hadn’t Kakashi told him his father had said something like that years ago?

“It’s a Uchiha thing.” Kotetsu rolled his eyes. “Iruka is ours, before him it was Fugaku. Fugaku had to kill his entire family to save the clan and the village. Iruka saved Naruto and Naruto saved everyone else.”

Jiraya paused, “Saved Naruto from what?”

“Turning into a monster,” Obito answered. “Iruka was the first person unafraid to show Naruto love and affection. To give him hope.”

Kindness. It was an odd way to think, especially for a shinobi. Saving the world with something other than strength and power and sacrifice.

“There’s one born every generation in the Uchiha Clan.” Obito continued. “We never know what they’re meant to save until it happens.”

There was a light in Obito’s eye as he spoke, but Kotetsu, Jiraya notice, didn’t look all that impressed. In fact, he looked disgusted. “You don’t believe in Iruka?”

“I believe in Iruka,” Kotetsu hissed, “I don’t believe in prophecies. They’re just nonsense weak men use to get someone else to do the work.”

“Nonsense?” Jiraya growled. He’d dedicated his life to prophecy.

Kotetsu smirked. “Weak men turn to the omniscient, to anything that makes it not their fault when they fail.”

Jiraya snarled. His chakra rose, this half-grown brat was calling him weak. “You’re picking a fight,” he warned.

Kotetsu looked delighted. “I know. I wanna see if your worth our time.”

And then he attacked with such speed that Jiraya had a flash of Minato, before he had to duck out of the way of Kotetsu’s bo staff. He’d summoned it so quickly Jiraya hadn’t even seen the scroll. Obito seemed content to watch and Jiraya distractedly noticed that his remaining sharingan was spinning as he did, memorizing Jiraya’s movements and pathways.

Jiraya ducked a swing, kicked up with his feet and started to form rasengan. Kotetsu seemed to favor combat in close quarters, surprisingly agile with his weapons and little room to maneuver. He was a weapons master Jiraya realized and probably in taijutsu too. Jiraya couldn’t even recognize which style the chunin was using. He was playing, that much Jiraya did know. Slipping in close enough to test a strike and see what Jiraya would do. Confident enough to not put in a full effort. Jiraya was going to make him regret that.

Kotetsu ducked his feint and Jiraya fired off his rasengan with such speed that it took Kotetsu by surprise. The Hanta member froze and Jiraya realized he wasn’t going to dodge the attack. The rasengan slammed into Kotetsu, knocking him back and kicking up a cloud of dust that obscured most of the training area.

Jiraya fell back into his attack stance, ready. Kotetsu didn’t seem foolish enough to take a blow like that if he wasn’t confident, he’d survive and sure enough, as the dust began to settle, he appeared. He was still on his feet, singed around the edges and disheveled. He had a look of reluctant admiration.

“You pulled that,” Kotetsu accused, but he was still grinning. He stretched, pulled off his gloves and slammed his fists together. He had two small blue rhombus marks, one on the back of each hand.

Two Strength of a Hundred seals? Jiraya hadn’t thought that was possible. “You have two?”

“Actually, I have four, but I haven’t ever fought someone strong enough to make me use all four at once.” The markings started to spread from the rhombus, slithering along Kotetsu’s arms. “You should be flattered old man, the last time I used two at once, I took out an entire battalion.”

Kotetsu’s chakra roared to life. Jiraya gathered his own, began to summon another rasengan. He knew what it felt like when Tsunade hit with the strength of one seal. Getting hit by two was guaranteed to kill whoever it came in contact with.

Kotetsu’s hands flew through seals. Horse. Ox. Monkey. Thunder boomed. “Raioken no jutsu!” Lightning gathered around Kotetsu’s fists.

Jiraya found himself pausing to studying Kotetsu’s chakra. It felt white hot, gathering around his fists like gloves and spreading up to his elbows. He was impressed with the control the chunin displayed and the sheer power he had available. He poured more chakra into his rasengan. He smirked, “Might as well see which one survives.”

They rushed at one another, Jiraya fired off his giant rasengan then leapt clear to watch Kotetsu’s thunder fist technique. The chunin’s fists connected with the rasengan at its center. A deafening boom followed, chakra exploded in a storm of wind and lightning. Jiraya had to brace himself to keep from getting blow away.

When the dust finally settled the training field was gone, replaced by a huge crater in the Earth. Except for the patch of ground where Obito was standing. Kotetsu landed gracefully in front of Jiraya, but the Sanin didn’t bother to raise his fists. Their fight was over.

“If you hadn’t spent all those years looking for some chosen one you could have actually faced and defeated, maybe even prevented the evil Naruto was forced to fight.” Kotetsu pointed out and he must have felt Jiraya’s anger, because he smiled. “Don’t take it personally, I’ve known a lot of people who put faith in things like prophecies and gods and luck. It’s comforting, like a security blanket. But at some point, you’re going to have to step up and do the fighting yourself, because there’s not going to be anyone left to do it for you.”

Something in the way Kotetsu spoke made Jiraya pause. “You sound like you already know when that day will be.”

Kotetsu smiled, “I do.”

“It’s today,” Obito finished. “We know what Root is after.”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Great Lodge, Inuzuka Compound: :

“We need a plan,” Shikimaru insisted, leaning over the table until his face was only a hair’s breadth from Naruto’s.

The blond blinked at him, confused. “Uh, what?”

“A plan,” Shikimaru repeated. “You want to do all this stuff, make all these changes, you need a plan to do that.”

Sasuke, sitting next to Naruto and sipping one of Tsume’s fancy foreign teas, smirked.

“I don’t need a plan,” Naruto declared, “I’m just going to do it!”

Sakura groaned, “Naruto, people are not going to just agree with you. Look at all the trouble Iruka-sensei has with the village elders. Even with everything he does for the village, they’d rather kill him then work with him.”

“Mom says we need a big strike to weaken the Elders and Root,” Kiba put in.

Shikimaru frowned, “Iruka-sensei and his side need a big strike, I don’t think we do.” The rest of the Rookie 11 turned to him.

“What do you mean?” Tenten asked. “We’re on Iruka-sensei’s side!”

“Yeah, but Iruka-sensei and the others are fighting for the village now.” Shikimaru turned uncharacteristically somber eyes on Naruto. “Now is Iruka-sensei’s responsibility. The future is yours. Don’t worry about what’s happening now. Iruka will take care of it. You need to worry about the village after Iruka and his allies are finished.”

Naruto slumped, “How am I supposed to do that?”

“Well, you want to be Hokage right? Tsunade won’t live forever.” Ino pointed out.

“There will probably be one more Hokage before you’re ready,” Shino pointed out.

Naruto squawked, “What? I’m ready now!”

Sasuke snorted, “The hell you are.”

“Don’t be stupid Naruto,” Sakura sighed, “You want more time to get ready.”

“Plus, you should enjoy just being a shinobi for a while. Once you’re become Hokage there’ll be no going back.” Choji added.

Lee nodded, “Yes, you should learn all levels of service to the village first! Gai-sensei says you must understand all the parts to understand the whole!”

“Hmmm,” Naruto looked thoughtful for a moment. “So my plan is…I’ll be Hokage.”

Sasuke’s head hit the desk with a thumb. “Dobe…” Everyone else groaned.

“Shikimaru will be my advisor. Sakura will be head of the hospital. Shino, you want to be a teacher, right? So you can be head of the Academy. Plus you and Kiba are going to be clan heads, and Hanta right?” They nodded. “So Hinata, Lee, Tenten, Ino,”

“And Sai,” the blond interrupted.

Naruto nodded, “and Sai can all be Hanta. Or I guess Sai would rather be ANBU.”

“I WOULD BE HONORED!” Lee cheered, “I will also be one of our ambassadors to Suna!” Shikimaru nodded in agreement. “As Shikimaru-kun and I both have dear ties to Suna!”

“Dear?” Ino repeated, looking at Shikimaru with narrowed eyes. “This doesn’t have something to do with that blond with the fan does it?”

A light blush appeared over Shikimaru’s cheeks.

“We need a head of ANBU,” Hinata pointed out quietly.

“Hmm, Sai?” Naruto mused.

Hinata’s voice was barely above a whisper as she fiddled with her tea cup. “Or Neji-kun…”

Lee and Tenten both perked up. “Yeah, Neji would be good at that!”

Ino looked thoughtful, “I agree with that. I don’t want Sai to be that busy once we get married.”

Sakura nodded in agreement, “Yeah, it’ll be a pain. Taka’s super busy, I want him to retire before we have kids.”

“You can’t just decide their futures for them.” Kiba pointed out, only to back away when Sakura, Ino and Tenten glared at him. “Err, or you can. Go for it!” He ducked behind Shino.

Naruto turned to Sasuke, “What do you want to be?”

Sasuke blinked, taken aback. “You don’t have something you want me to do?”

Naruto shrugged, “Well you’re going to stay with me, right? As long as you do that, I’m good.”

Sasuke blinked, his face slowly turning red as the others started to snicker and giggle.

Naruto, apparently satisfied that it had been decided, turned back to Shikimaru. “Alright, as my advisor Shikimaru, it’s your job to come up with a plan while I fight everyone!”

Sakura punched him in the head.

“Ow!”

“Naruto be serious!”

“I am!”

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Umino Iruka’s Apartment, Konohagakure: :

Kakashi was working his way down Iruka’s chest when the puff of smoke and leaves appeared next to the bedroom window. Years of survival and instincts honed in ANBU were the only things that kept him from leaping out of the bed naked and attacking in surprise.

Iruka did let out an unmanly squeak as Kakashi bit down harder than he meant too on one of his deliciously formed abs when the recognition of the two chakra signatures registered.

Kabuto cleared his throat, pushing his glasses up his nose with a smirk. Itachi stared at them, face blank. Kakashi felt a flush rising across his skin and realized his mask was somewhere on the floor by the door.

“What’s wrong?” Iruka asked, apparently much less embarrassed and uncomfortable than Kakashi currently was.

“Root stole the demon summoner’s scroll.” Kabuto explained and he and Itachi continued to stare at Kakashi.

Iruka launched out of the bed and started looking for his pants. “How many were there?”

“At least seven, five bodies in the library. The other two managed to crawl somewhere else.” Itachi answered, cocking his head to the side as he studied Kakashi.

“Where the hell did my pants go Kakashi?” Iruka growled, running a hand through his hair in frustration.

Kakashi tried to glare at all three of them at once and tugged the sheet securely around his waist as he started to look for his own. “I don’t know, you were the one who threw them.” He found his and had just leaned over the edge of the bed to grab them when the bedroom door blew open and Obito, Kotetsu and Jiraya burst in.

To their credit, Kotetsu and Obito barely spared him a glance before they turned to Iruka. “Root’s after the scrolls!” Obito burst out.

“We know!” Iruka yelled back and then let out a cry of victory when finally found his pants.

Jiraya stared at Kakashi, “Are you naked Kakashi?”

The flush built, Kakashi could feel the heat spread over his chest and realized there was no way he could hide it. Obito and Kotetsu turned back to him. “Why is everyone staring at me?” Kakashi growled.

“Because you’re naked,” Kabuto responded.

“So is Iruka!” Mortification made it easy to throw his lover under the bus.

“No he’s not.” Itachi intoned and Kakashi’s head snapped around to see Iruka fastening his pants.

“Besides,” Kabuto smiled full of cheer, “We’ve already seen him naked. We haven’t even seen you without the mask.”

“Why have you seen him naked!?” Kakashi demanded, an irrational rush of jealousy shoving embarrassment to the side just for a second.

“Not now,” Jiraya growled. He grabbed Kakashi’s mask and someone’s pants off the floor and tossed them at the Copy-nin. “Get dressed.”

It took a few minutes of jostling for Kakashi to get dressed in Iruka’s tiny bedroom with six other adults in the room without giving anyone a show. Kabuto, Itachi, Kotetsu and Obito kept staring at him until Iruka had snapped at them to stop teasing and started shoving them all out of the room. Jiraya’s aura of calmness had a distinct tang of fear to it as he followed them out. Kakashi got the feeling he didn’t want to be left alone with any of them.

They congregated in the living room and Kabuto veered into the kitchen to make tea as Itachi reported what they’d found in the Uchiha Library. Kakashi’s mask and hiate now hid his face, but he got the distinct impression that they weren’t hiding his sulk at being interrupted.

“Neko and his team were just the distraction,” Iruka agreed with Itachi’s conclusion.

“We have to find that damn scroll before those idiots open it,” Kotetsu seethed.

Kakashi had never realized the spiky-haired chunin had a temper so similar to Iruka’s. Apparently Jiraya had had a taste of it, he’d kept a wary eye on Kotetsu ever since they sat down.

“They must be planning on releasing him.” Iruka murmured, as he and Itachi leaned toward one another the way they always did when they were talking.

Itachi nodded. “Have Root come in and save the day. I’m sure they think they have a way to control him.”

Kakashi studied to two, the way their chakra meshed and their body language matched. There was still a twinge of a jealously, but the knowledge that they were brothers took away some of the sting. Clearly, despite their years apart, they were still very close. An elbow dug into his side and Kakashi turned.

Kabuto smiled at him and whispered, “They’re twins in all but birth. Same mind. Same soul. Same heart.”

“It’s not annoying until they start having conversations the rest of us can’t hear,” Kotetsu interrupted. All three of them turned to Iruka and Itachi, who’d lapsed into silence as they looked at one another. “Like they’re doing now! Stop it!” Kotetsu squawked and threw a pillow at them.

Iruka and Itachi, in perfect harmony, turned and stared at him and said. “Stop what?”

Kakashi and Jiraya inadvertently shivered. That was creepy.

“How bad is it if they release him?” Jiraya tried to get them all back on track.

“Shinmoro has a pot that allows him to summon demons. He was sealed away by the Three Clans during the First Shinobi World War.” Iruka explained. “He was the one who summoned the tailed beasts in the first place.”

“There’s no limit to what he can summon, the pot is a gateway and his limited chakra a beacon. Once they start coming through, they feed off all the chakra in the world and grow stronger.” Itachi added. “The longer they’re here the stronger they become.”

“They’ll slowly drain the world of chakra.” Iruka finished. “We need to get the scroll back.”

“And strengthen the wards around Konoha.” Jiraya added, thinking about how they could defend the village.

“How long will it take them to release him?” Kakashi asked.

“Not long if they have the blood they need.” Itachi answered. “Shinmoro’s strong enough to break the seal if they can weaken it.”

“We need to tell Naruto and the others.” Iruka added.

“We need to tell Tsunade,” Jiraya corrected.

“We need to tell everyone,” Kotetsu finished. “There’s no point in trying to be secretive about a fight that’s going to make the Fourth Shinobi World War look like a sparring match.”

“Hinata’s staying at the Inuzuka compound. She can lead the Rookie 11 in this.” Itachi muttered.

Kotetsu’s eyes narrowed, “Why does that matter?”

Iruka glanced at him and smirked, “Because I chose her to be the next Taichou of the Hanta.”

“The Hyuuga?” Jiraya asked and Kakashi nodded. “She seemed a little timid for a job like that.”

“She’ll be great,” Iruka’s smile softened.

Kotetsu glared at him, “You’re just starting fights because you like it!”

Iruka rolled his eyes, “I am not.”

Jiraya looked to Kakashi for clarification, but the jounin had no idea and just shrugged.

“Naruto’s with Sasuke.” Kabuto changed the subject. “I think they were planning to spend the night at the Inuzuka compound. Tsume set a room aside for them.”

“Hopefully away from everyone else, I can’t imagine those two are quiet.” Obito snickered.

“They’re getting better, they can talk without screaming now.” Kakashi responded, talking directly to Obito for the first time since his return.

Obito blinked at him, “I don’t think they’re going to spend the whole night talking Kakashi.” But he smiled warmly, happy to finally be talking to his former teammate.

“What else would they be doing?” Jiraya snorted.

The rest of room stared at the two of them.

“Uh….” Kabuto trailed off.

“Well Naruto and Sasuke…” Obito struggled with his words in the face of Kakashi and Jiraya’s apparent obliviousness.

“Naruto and Sasuke?” Kakashi repeated.

Iruka tensed, something in Kakashi’s voice sent a shiver of worry through him.

“Naruto and Sasuke?” The jounin repeated, like he was testing out how it tasted on his tongue. Jiraya’s face went steadily paler.

Obito’s meaning hadn’t set in yet, Iruka realized. Maybe he still had time to head this off at the pass. “Kakashi-“

Iruka realized the second Kakashi figured it out. His visible eye slowly bugging out of his head, blood draining from his face. “Naruto and Sasuke. Naruto and Sasuke.” He repeated over and over.

Itachi and Kabuto both stopped what they were doing to turn and watch as the jounin sank deeper into Iruka’s couch and started to rock back and forth. “Naruto and Sasuke.”

Jiraya’s face was stark white, eyes wide and unseeing. Kotetsu tapped him on the shoulder, then waved a hand in front of his unseeing eyes.

“Kakashi,” Iruka tried again, starting to become seriously concerned. Maybe Kakashi just needed a few moments for it to sink in.

“You really didn’t know Kakashi?” Obito broke in.

Kakashi just rocked. He’d never even considered that their draw to one another had been that kind of connection. They were so different, though, as he dwelled on it, he realized they were really only different on the outside. Inside, they were very similar.

“I mean, they’ve always been kind of obvious about it.” Obito commented, “You could see it even back when they first got put on a team together.”

Iruka unwillingly nodded in agreement when Obito turned to him for support. There was a gleam in Obito’s eye that Iruka hadn’t seen since before his death. It sent a wave of warm happiness through him, quickly followed by one of cold terror. What was he planning?

“See it?” Kakashi parroted, voice high pitched and reedy. Too panicked to realize what Obito had said.

“Yeah, the rivalry, the way they were always arguing. How they could never ignore each other.” Obito shrugged, it sounded pretty obvious to him. He turned back to Kakashi and smiled.

“But that’s normal,” Kakashi argued, voice shrill, “You and I were like that.”

And Iruka really, really should have seen it coming.

Obito’s face went painfully blank, “You mean you…You never realized…” Obito trailed off, eyes wide and hurt, he reached towards Kakashi, “How I really felt?”

Kakashi’s eyes impossibly grew wider. He was close to hyperventilating as Obito reached out to him.

“I thought, after all these years, that you knew I was…” Obito paused, picked up Kakashi’s hand and cradled it in both his tenderly, “In love with you.” His face was the picture of heartbreak. Kakashi looked like he was about to launch through the roof from terror.

Itachi and Kabuto lunged and pinned Kakashi to the couch before he could run.

Thankfully, Obito couldn’t keep a straight face for long and he was laughing hysterically when Iruka punched him into a wall.

Kotetsu howled with laughter. He couldn’t tell if Jiraya’s look of terror was from the idea of Naruto and Sasuke in a relationship or the actions of the rest of the living room.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Forest of Death, Konohagakure: :

The forest was still in the darkness. Not even the wind blew. All living things had escaped when his dark chakra started to grow.

Shinmoro cackled as he sat in a small clearing, rocking back and forth, side to side and he held open the pot and the demons started to crawl out. Little ones at first, the size of small children, spiders with ten legs and centipedes with razor sharp teeth. Then they started getting bigger, a rat with fangs the size of a teenager, deformed insects that lived on blood. Demons the size of full-grown men crawled through, then, the ancient ones. Bigger that buildings, twisted and dark.

They started to fill the forest, crawling through the darkness towards the village and the wards that protected it. The chakra of everyone living in the village calling them like a beacon.

Koharu and Homura watched, shielded by wards to keep the demons from reaching them. They kept their final resurrection with them. His own snake-like appearance at home in the writhing mass of demons.

Orochimaru. He was their second greatest success so far. They hadn’t even needed to use the red-string jutsu to control him. The Sanin had come back angry, wanting vengeance on his former teammates and village.

Their greatest success, the Yondaime himself, was hidden away, far outside Konohagakure. He would be their final blow, the shinobi capable of defeating the demons and saving the village. His loyalty to Danzo would pave the way to making Danzo the Rokudaime Hokage. They’d dispatched a team that morning to recover him. They’d put the final stages of the red string jutsu on him before they brought him back into the village, to make his forced loyalty permanent.

“How many more can he call?” Orochimaru asked.

“As long as he is alive, they will continue to come through.” Homura explained. “They will be you’re army. There are not enough shinobi left in the Three Clans to stop them all.”

Orochimaru smiled. “Excellent. It is time.” He stepped through the wards, unafraid. He took off through the forest. The demons skittered, began to follow him towards the village.

They were near the northern end of the village, where the Hokage’s Monument stood. They would attack the walls near the Hattori Clan ruins. Away from the Main Gate, but far enough from the Monument and Hokage’s Tower, that security there would be weak.

And it was. Orochimaru landed on the wall without being stopped. The wards shimmered but when he moved to step through, he was blown back. Alerting the two chunin guarding that section of the wall. They came running as Orochimaru regained his footing and drew Kusanagi. He killed them before they could speak, kicking their bodies to the demons gathering at the foot of the wall. Let them have a taste to whet their appetite.

He turned back to the wards. How long would it take for Tsunade to feel his chakra he wondered? She’d turned out to be much stronger than he’d ever expected. At least one of Fugaku’s sons was still in the village. One of the older two, with the scar. He’d be as troublesome to deal with as Tsunade. Hatake was in the village. Koharu and Homura had been overly concerned about the amount of dangerous shinobi currently in the village, but Orochimaru was still confident. An attack on the village would lower their ability to fight back, too concerned with the protection of civilians and the village itself. The same plan had worked when he’d killed the Third.

He stabbed Kusanagi into the wards and stepped back. Kusanagi would slowly cut a hole into the wards, allowing Orochimaru and the demons inside. The sword would prevent the alarms from going off, delaying the realization that the village was under attack.

A whoosh of wind as the only warning he had as they appeared, facing him from the other side of the wards.

The Yondaime. Even dressed like a farmer, there was still no doubt of his skill. He held himself with the same ease he’d displayed during the Third Shinobi World War. Orochimaru could remember when he was a child, training as a member of Jiraya’s genin team. He’d been annoyed by his bright smile even then. Clearly, he was no longer under the Council’s control. “I see you’ve freed yourself.”

Minato frowned, “I had help.”

Orochimaru glanced at the woman at the Yondaime’s side. She looked familiar. Like he’d seen her before somewhere, albeit briefly. She had the coloring and build of a Uchiha. Hair dark, skin pale, lithe and built for taijutsu. She didn’t look worried, studying him with that blank face Orochimaru remembered from Itachi. “Oh?”

“Remove Kusanagi, Orochimaru-san,” Minato ordered.

The Sanin sneered at him, the arrogant little boy who’d replaced him in Hiruzen’s favor and still dared to order him around.

The woman smirked. The Sharingan flashed in her eyes, morphed into a six tomoe Rinnegan. “You’re not under the red string jutsu.”

Orochimaru smiled, “I am not.” Minato looked disappointed, not that Orochimaru cared. “Who are you?”

“No one. You should have stayed dead,” she informed him as her chakra grew.

Before Orochimaru could respond Tsunade arrived, flanked by Shizune, Neji, Genma and Raido. All four of them looked stunned to see Orochimaru and Minato.

“The Yondaime!” Shizune gasped.

Yamato and Sai appeared in a cloud of smoke and leaves, “Hokage-sama! The Council-“ Yamato stopped, stared.

Jiraya, Kotetsu, Kabuto, Kakashi, Iruka and Itachi bounded over the rooftops and landed between Tsunade and Orochimaru.

Iruka turned to Tsunade, “Send up the alert!” But she was staring at Orochimaru in disbelief.

Jiraya looked at Orochimaru, “What are you doing?!” Kusanagi slid deeper into the wards.

Itachi glanced the Yondaime. “Took you long enough.” Minato flushed, unsure what to say.

Kabuto sighed and sent up his chakra in a flare no shinobi in the village would be able to ignore.

Kotetsu looked at Kikyo and groaned, “Oh god, why are you back?!” She smirked in return.

“IRUKA-SENSEI!” Naruto’s scream ripped through the air as the Rookie 11 arrived. Naruto sprinted to Iruka’s side, “We’re ready to fight! Let’s kick the Council’s ass!”

“Language Naruto!” Iruka yelled on reflex.

Naruto stopped, noticing his father for the first time. “Ah, Dad!”

Minato’s face lit up as he turned to his son, “Naruto!”

Kikyo punched him in the head. “Don’t get distracted now!”

Naruto and the others winced at the strength of her blow as Minato fell into a crouch and held his head in pain.

“Orochimaru what are you doing? I thought you-” Tsunade demanded, shouldering her way past Iruka, Naruto and Jiraya.

“You thought I what?” Orochimaru sneered. “That I had changed my mind? Relented? Don’t be foolish, I simply picked the side most likely to survive.”

Tsunade flinched. Jiraya growled, “What the hell are you talking about?”

“At the end of the war he joined our side,” Kotetsu muttered. “Apparently he wasn’t sincere when he claimed he’d reformed.”

“What!?” Naruto screamed at Orochimaru, “You bastard, you’re evil again!?”

“Reformed or not, he still needs to die.” Kikyo snapped, crossing her arms and tapping her foot in impatience.

“Who are you?” Genma snapped. The senbon favoring jounin looked ready to tear his hair out.

“Uchiha Kikyo,” Koharu’s voice floated on the wind and she and Homura appeared on the wall, inside the wards. “First and matriarch. The god who came down from the mountain to teach the Uchiha to fight. Daughter of Indra.” And the hatred on Koharu’s face was dark and twisted.

Minato studied Kikyo. The daughter of Indra. First of the Uchiha. That was why she was so strong. Why her chakra felt so heavy and so old. How the hell was that possible?

Kikyo smiled, “Aw, brat, I’m surprised to see you’re still alive. Haven’t followed in your father’s footsteps just yet?”

“We’d hoped you were dead in a ditch somewhere,” Homaru muttered.

“Happy to disappoint, but you’re still not strong enough to kill me.” Kikyo smirked.

A rumble silenced everyone. The temperature dropped, and a chill entered the air. Cracks began to appear in the wards around Kusanagi.

“They’re coming,” Kikyo murmured, eyes turned towards the Forest of Death.

The demons gathered, slipping and slithering and crawling through the overgrown forest. They massed at the foot of the wall as Kusanagi burrowed deeper into the wards. A giant knot of demons rose above the trees, tangled together and making its way towards Konoha.

“Oh my god!” Shizune gasped in horror.

“What the hell is that?” Genma demanded.

“Demons,” Itachi murmured.

“Demons? Like the tailed beasts?” Shizune repeated.

“How the hell do we fight them?” Asuma demanded, as he, Kurenai and Gai arrived with Taka and three squads of ANBU.

“We have to evacuate the civilians from the areas near the wall.” Shikimaru.

Tsunade stared at her old teammate, taking in Orochimaru’s cold eyes and snide smile. She turned her back on him. “Start the evacuation procedures and get our main forces to the wall.” She turned to Kakashi and Asuma. “We need a line of defense around the entire village.”

More ANBU arrived. Most of their active roster. A handful of Jounin and Chunin, immediately took off with orders to organize the defense of the village.

“Pull the civilians back to the shelters. Split the genin between guarding them and send the rest to the hospital to help out.” Tsunade ordered. “Sakura, Shizune, you’ll be in charge of triage-“

“No.” Kakashi watched Sakura grab Naruto’s hand, her face taking on that stubborn look. “I’m staying with Naruto and Sasuke this time.”

Her defiance made Tsunade pause and Iruka smile. The Godaime was silent long enough to make Sakura shift nervously, then, “Fine.”

“I can handle triage on my own Tsunade-sama,” Shizune assured.

Tsunade softened, just a little. “Okay.”

“How exactly do you plan on defending the village from this?” Koharu demanded.

Tsunade turned to Iruka, gestured to the Hattori Clan ruins. The only building still standing was a huge, ancient gate that had once been the entrance to the compound. “Make your stand here and don’t let any past you.”

They starred at one another, then Iruka nodded. He, Itachi and Obito leapt onto the gate to get a better view of what was coming. The mass of demons was as high as the wall now. They started to press against the wards and chakra sparked. The wards strained to hold them back.

Taka, to the stunned amazement of his ANBU took off his mask. Neat vertical scars bisected both his eyes and all his major arteries. The Uchiha hadn’t just given him two sharingan, they’d done a blood replacement to make him a true Uchiha. Several of his ANBU backed away as Taka’s mask dropped and his sharingan started to spin and imbedded itself in the ground a good three inches before stopping.

Taka leapt and joined the other Uchiha on the gate. Shisui and Hana appeared in a flicker and Kotetsu and Kabuto landed on the gate. Yajirobi, Izumo and Anko arrived and Anko stumbled only briefly at the sight of her old teacher. Izumo squeezed her hand.

“Anko,” Orochimaru purred.

She snarled in return, “Sensei.”

The demons crawled over one another, pressing against the wards higher and higher.

“The Uchiha and the Hanta will hold the line here.” Tsunade declared. “Everyone else will fall back to hold the secondary line.”

“What?” Naruto wasn’t the only one who turned to her in surprise.

“Alone?” Asuma asked.

“They’ll be fine,” Tsunade stated.

“Wait! You’re going to leave them to fight alone?” Naruto demanded. “You’re doing the same thing the other Hokage’s did!”

Tsunade’s face was cold, like it was carved from stone. “You’re going to have to learn Naruto. You cannot risk the whole village just for a single clan. The Uchiha understand that.” That was why they had chosen the path they had. Absolute devotion to the village, Tsunade mused, was an ugly, horrifying thing.

“There’s another way! It might be harder but it’s the right way,” Naruto argued.

It was the righter way, Tsunade knew that. But to take that route could take more time than they had. She wanted to the same, in her heart she agreed with Naruto, but what he still failed to understand was the reality of war. “We can’t just ignore what is happening to right one wrong. Maybe when this is over, we’ll have time.”

Naruto stared at her in disbelief. “If you just keep putting it off, it’ll never get done! They’re all going to die because no one cares enough to fix it!”

Tsunade was silent, she refused to be moved from her chosen path. There was no other option that would leave Konoha still standing after the battle was over.

“Just because something is good for village doesn’t mean it’s right. Shinobi protect the village. The village should protect their shinobi in return.” In his passion Naruto was getting louder and louder.

Kakashi’s mask hid his smile. He was proud of Naruto for standing up for his beliefs. Kakashi understood Tsunade’s position, they didn’t have time for the Uchiha to train everyone to fight the demons and until they did, they were the most effective fighting force. The village’s best chance for survival. It was an unfortunate cycle, one they couldn’t afford to break with the enemy at their doorstep. But Naruto’s passion and love was inspiring. He would be a great Hokage someday.

“This is something you will have to learn if you want to be Hokage Naruto,” Tsunade said calmly. “You can’t just do what you want, you have to do what’s best for the village no matter how much it hurts the people you care about.” It would be the hardest lesson Naruto would ever learn.

Naruto glared at her, but it wasn’t hatred, it was disappointment and Kakashi realized that regardless of how much he loved Tsunade, Naruto was never going to forgive her for this decision.

Tsunade seemed to understand that as well and turned away, unable to bear the young shinobi’s expression. She turned her wrath on the Council. “If you think I’ll forget you did this, you’re fools.”

Koharu sneered. “You have no proof of your accusations.”

“You’re pretty confident that I won’t reveal what Hiruzen left me.” Tsunade was calm as she held up the Sandaime’s letter.

“The village would fall apart if you revealed that,” Koharu was smug.

Shikimaru jolted, nudged Ino with his elbow and whispered, “I’ll get the letter, do the Mind Body Transmission Technique!”

Ino blinked, abruptly realizing Shikimaru’s plan. She smirked, “Alright.”

The cracks in the wards spread.

ooo000ooo

…tbc…

Translations:

Mura no tame no subete – all for the village
Raioken – thunder king fist (from Bleach)

Chapter Text

ooo000ooo

Chapter 19
Itsunohika watashitachi wa jiyuderu
Someday we are free

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. – Mark Twain

ooo000ooo

Two Weeks Before the Uchiha Clan Massacre

: :Caves in the Forest of Death: :

They’d gathered to plan, deep inside the rock caverns in the forest outside the village. The maze-like cavern system was off limits to genin and below. Too many had gotten lost and died or required massive search parties to find. An entire Academy class had once been lost for three days before ANBU had finally found them. The Yondaime Hokage had put up barriers after that to ensure no one else entered the caves. In the years after his death most of the village had even forgotten that the caves were there.

When Fugaku’s father and brothers had begun planning the first coup against the village they’d used the same place. Fugaku had placed further seals on the area after suppressing their revolt and the brief civil war that had followed. They’d assumed no one would consider that they’d use something as obvious as the same place.

And most others wouldn’t, but Fugaku had not fallen into the category of most others since he was toddler. He’d fought and killed his father and brothers in the largest cavern, nicknamed the Black Grotto for the dark water that flowed through it. He’d burned their bodies and those who’d supported them, and the black ash marks of their final moments were still on the walls. Fugaku had brought his sons there once, to demonstrate the cost and corruption of power. To show how powerful the oath they took as Uchiha was.

When Fumoro had started the second coup and convinced Iruka to join, Iruka had suggested the grotto as their base. Fugaku known the moment Iruka had confessed to joining them where they were based. Though Iruka would never admit it, but he’d picked it because he knew Fugaku would immediately figure it out and stop them. Fugaku had ignored Iruka’s involvement for weeks, to let him work through his anger at Obito’s absence and the loss of Kohari and Ikkaku.

Fumoro and his supporters were weak ninja, complainers who thought they were entitled to the might of the Uchiha just because they’d been born into the clan. When Fugaku had given Aki two Sharingan and Uchiha blood and brought him into the Hanta as Taka, Fumoro had been furious, under some delusion that Fugaku had been considering him for the position. Iruka’s friendship with the boy on top of Fumoro’s general incompetence had quickly distanced his group from Iruka and eventually he’d come back around on his own. Fugaku had been immensely relieved, though he’d never doubted the outcome. Iruka had a temper, it blazed hot and fast, but his heart was stronger, and his insight and judgement were impeccable. He might stumble and take the wrong path, but he always arrived at the right decision. Fugaku had never considered anyone else to be the next Taichou of the Hanta.

Now though, they had to deal with the half of the clan preparing to carry out a coup against Hiruzen. It was a clan issue so Fugaku had ordered the Hanta and Tsume and Shibi to remain outside and insure no one escaped. He led Mikoto, Iruka and Itachi through the caves. The rest of the clan had wanted to help, but Fugaku was the clan leader. It was his family’s responsibility to answer for any members of the clan who strayed. If they hadn’t been good enough to keep them in the fold, then they were the ones who would kill them. By the old laws only a member of the clan leader’s family could execute a fellow clan member. And it would be the second time in his life Fugaku had had to do so.

The Black Grotto hadn’t changed. The rebellious Uchiha were gathered in the center, listening as Fumoro preached his false gospel. They would attack tonight and kill Hiruzen in his bed, along with any ANBU that tried to stop them.

It spoke to how little skill they had that it took the entire group minutes to realize that Fugaku and his family were there. To his credit, Fumoro seemed to realize exactly why they were there.

“Fugaku,” Fumoro snarled.

“Fumoro,” Fugaku’s voice was empty, cold. “Your group has been declared traitors to the village. Lay down your weapons and surrender immediately.”

“We’re going to save the clan and the village, Fugaku, stay out of our way.” Fumoro growled and readied for battle. His supporters followed suit.

Fugaku felt Iruka and Itachi stiffen, unprepared. They were nervous, Fugaku knew, and it had nothing to do with the battle and everything to do with the fact that they were going to fight their own clan. Mikoto was calm, as always, still beside him as she would be until the moment she launched into battle. “You have disgraced the village and the Uchiha Clan. I will not allow it to continue.”

Fumoro activated his Mangekon sharingan and smirked. “Didn’t think I had achieved it did you? Foolish Fugaku, I’m stronger than you are and I’m going to lead the clan to victory. We will take over the village and save it!”

Fugaku allowed his own sharingan to awaken, to morph into the Mangekon and then the Rinnegan. “You are an undisciplined shinobi and a thoughtless man. Only a fool thinks controlling someone will save them. Like all others who have betrayed the clan, you will not leave here alive.”

“That’s the Rinnegan!” Someone cried out. “The legendary eye!”

Fugaku felt Mikoto, Iruka and Itachi’s sharingan activate and morph into the Mangekon.

It was a short battle. Fumoro and his supporters could barely offer a dozen sharingan between them and none of the skill Fugaku and Mikoto had ingrained in their sons. Despite the sadness Fugaku could feel from both Iruka and Itachi, neither hesitated. Fumoro’s Mangekon didn’t even have a chance to start to spin before Fugaku cut his head from his shoulders with Tatenbotan.

Blood flowed over the smooth stone, darkening the already black water. Fugaku burned the bodies, just as he had last time and the smell of burning flesh and smoke filled the air.

ooo000ooo

The Night before the Uchiha Clan Massacre

: :Hokage’s Office, Konohagakure: :

A lone lamp lit the office, casting long shadows in the weak moonlight. The lights from the village a warm hue through the window. Sarutobi looked out over the village while Danzo eyed his desk. Sarutobi hadn’t yet undone all of Minato’s changes, didn’t have the heart too erase his successor so quickly.

Fugaku appeared in a flash of light and smoke and leaves. “You summoned?” He ignored Danzo and bowed to Sarutobi.

Danzo sneered. “We did.”

Fugaku didn’t look away from Sarutobi and the Sandaime found himself studying the stoic clan leader. Fugaku’s face was blank, but Sarutobi had long ago learned that the way to read a Uchiha was their eyes. And Fugaku’s eyes looked like they were anticipating heartbreak.

“We have gathered proof that the Uchiha Clan is planning a coup against the Hokage, in an attempt to take over the village.” Danzo accused and gestured to the multitude of scrolls piled on the Hokage’s desk.

Hiruzen reluctantly nodded in agreement. Danzo had put forth an impressive collection of physical evidence and sworn statements.

“Those members of my clan behind that plan have been dealt with,” Fugaku responded. “None remain.”

“Really,” Danzo smirked, the jaws of his trap in place. “Iruka is dead then?”

Fugaku finally looked at him, the barest flicker of his eyes, before his gaze returned to Hiruzen. “No, he is not.”

“So you haven’t dealt with the traitors.” Danzo’s trap snapped into place.

“Iruka turned away from them weeks ago. He never took part in any planning or action. He was simply angry and sad. He lost his brother, parents and many friends. He is a child in morning.” Fugaku explained, face still blank.

“He was still an active participant. How are we to know he’s truly turned from that path?” Danzo pointed out. “It could be part of the plan.”

Fugaku snorted dismissively. “He was at my side as we took down the traitors. And we left none alive. It would be rather stupid to only leave one member to carry out a coup that required at least a dozen.”

Danzo glared, Fugaku’s insult clear.

“I have no doubt of Iruka’s loyalty,” Hiruzen broke in. “I am glad to hear he is doing better.”

Fugaku nodded. Better wasn’t the word he would use, but he saw no need to give Danzo more ammunition than he already had.

Danzo snarled, “He’s still a traitor.”

“He is not.” Hiruzen said with finality. “And that is the last we will discuss of him.”

Danzo stiffened but knew better than to press his luck on that front. “Word has already begun to spread of the coup. Fears have risen that the Uchiha will take over the village. Several individuals have already come to me, speaking of concerns and the possibility of taking action to prevent that. We could have a civil war on our hands because of your clan’s actions.”

Fugaku stayed still despite the accusation. “My clan has done nothing but serve this village.” But he could see Sarutobi’s worry, the threat of a civil war in the village.

Fugaku had confided in him the harsh reality of the civil wars fought inside the Uchiha Clan and despite his long life and the multitude of experience, the Sandaime found that nothing terrified him more than the idea of a civil war tearing apart Konohagakure. The village would rend itself to pieces and Hiruzen would be left looking over a village of ruins and graves.

“There must be a way that we can counter these accusations against the Uchiha,” Hiruzen stated.

“It is too late,” Danzo insisted. “More and more shinobi have approached me in this last week. They want to strike against the Uchiha as soon as possible.”

A strike against the Uchiha would inevitably lead to war. Hiruzen knew that. Petty rivalries would fuel the fight until most of Konohagakure was involved. A village totally aligned against the Uchiha and its allies. Tsume would not allow the insult of an attack to stand and the idea of what she might do in response made Hiruzen’s breath catch. She would not leave anything standing.

“Perhaps there is a way to save the village.” Danzo murmured. “We are moments away from war, but there may be away to turn to a different path.”

Honey for a fly, Fugaku mused sadly. Whatever Danzo suggested was guaranteed to destroy the Uchiha.

“Execute the Uchiha.”

Sarutobi turned to his former teammate in surprise. “How will executing a clan avoid war in the village?”

“Explain that it was part of their civil war. That they wiped themselves out fighting. There could even be a few survivors. Your sons for instance.” Danzo looked at Fugaku, feigned concern. “Iruka, Itachi and Sasuke. Perhaps they will be the only survivors of the massacre. Their brave father died protecting them.” He offered.

“And what would it take for them to survive the massacre?” Fugaku asked. And to not walk out the gates of the Uchiha compound and into an execution of their own.

“They could be put into my custody. I will protect them from the village until it is ready to accept them.”

“Because it hasn’t already?” It took everything in Fugaku not launch across the office and tear Danzo’s head from his shoulders as his true goal became obvious.

Hiruzen frowned. He was no fool, he knew Danzo had been trying to recruit Iruka and Itachi for years. He was still ashamed of the fact that he’d allowed the breeding program that had resulted in Obito and Iruka to happen under his nose and that his own daughter had been a part of it. He knew Iruka would rather die than be forced into Danzo’s care. As much as he didn’t like the realization, Hiruzen was well aware that Danzo may have fanned the flames with a few allies in an attempt to get Iruka and Itachi within his grasp, but that didn’t change the fact that war was at their doorstep.

Fugaku watched Hiruzen as the Hokage stayed silent.

“War is coming to Konohagakure,” Danzo insisted, “A war that will destroy us all. A war that we can prevent with a single action. Minimal casualties.”

Fugaku’s heart hardened as the Hokage did not speak. Sarutobi was torn he knew, save the village and lose one clan or save one clan and lose the village. Danzo had demonstrated impressive skill to get them to this point. The Hokage was stuck, showing favoritism by saving the Uchiha in the face of war in the village, would only make the hatred for the Uchiha greater. It would result in war eventually. Danzo had somehow managed to manipulate the situation so well that no matter what happened, the survival of the Uchiha equaled war in the village.

Hiruzen could not stop Danzo, Fugaku realized. Sarutobi would simply think himself in circles trying to find a way out of what was inevitable at this point. Hiruzen’s silence only proved that he knew the same.

Fugaku bowed deeply. “As you command, Lord Hokage.” Danzo may have succeeded here, but Fugaku could still out maneuver him in the future. He teleported out of the office.

ooo000ooo

Day of the Uchiha Clan Massacre

: :Uchiha Compound: :

Iruka and Itachi were playing with Naruto and Sasuke. The Sandaime had not argued when Mikoto had fetched the small blond from his guardians that week. She’d already prepared the memory sealing jutsu of Itachi and Sasuke for him. They had agreed it would be best if he only remembered Iruka. For now, the two older boys were chasing the youngsters through the gardens, growling like bears and pretending to die when the shrieking Naruto and Sasuke remembered to fight back.

The clan gathered around Fugaku. Mikoto had spread the word to gather for a clan meeting. Normally it was held in the Shrine but Fugaku hadn’t wanted to be inside during his last day on earth. It was a bright sunny day. Warm, the sky clear. The flowers in full bloom and the air sweet. He wanted to watch his children play one last time.

He had sent Iruka and Itachi off with Sasuke and Naruto to prevent them from hearing the conversation he was about to have. One last attempt to put off their suffering, if only for a few more hours.

Mikoto rejoined him, with the last members of their clan. Their numbers had been whittled away to barely a forth of what they had been before the Third Shinobi World War. The loss of those attempting the coup had further decimated what was left and Fugaku still physically hurt from the phantom injuries to the dead. His greatest failure as a father was that his sons would now carry that pain their entire lives.

“Fugaku-sama?”

He turned from his sons and faced his clan. They watched him, still, depthless eyes focused as he squared his shoulders. “We have reached an end, brothers and sisters.”

The chakra in the air stilled, carefully pulled back by everyone presence.

“Danzo has convinced the leadership in the village that we will bring war and destruction on Konohagakure.”

One of the jounin scoffed, “We ended the coup. The traitors were eliminated.”

Fugaku nodded, “The village now believes the entire clan has decided to betray the village.”

Murmurs of disbelief filtered through them. Generations of service and the village still turned on them.

“Danzo has gathered enough support to launch an attack against us and to plunge the village into civil war if we fight back.” Fugaku could feel the horror the clan members felt through the chakra bond.

“What did the Hokage say? Surely he didn’t agree with him?” A newly ranked chunin asked.

“The Hokage can no longer help us. Danzo has convinced him that our survival will be the destruction of the village.”

“So it’s not enough that they think we called the Nine-Tails? They think we want to burn the world now?” A teenager, not much older than Iruka. He was preparing for the next chunin exam and Fugaku had no doubt he would have passed.

“What did Danzo offer?” One of the clan’s oldest and most experienced jounin. He’d fought with Fugaku against his own father all those years ago.

Fugaku hesitated, his eyes flicking to Iruka and Itachi. The clan’s eyes followed his. “He offered to allow survivors, if I gave him Iruka and Itachi and Sasuke.”

Rage came through the chakra bond and Fugaku viciously stamped down on it before Iruka and Itachi noticed.

“How dare he?” A female jounin, a good friend of Mikoto, seethed. “He’s wanted them since they were children and now, he’s going to plunge the village into war to get them?”

“He can’t touch them!” Another agreed. “Iruka is the Tenshi Heisoban. Who knows what Danzo will do if he gets his power.”

“What can we do?” A civilian member of the clan asked. His father had married a Uchiha shinobi and he’d grown up in the compound.

“We could run?” Someone suggested. “Find a new home?”

But the idea of leaving the Village Hidden in the Leaves physically hurt.

“We’d never be able to settle anywhere, Danzo would chase us until there were none left.” Another elder shinobi pointed out. And eventually hiraeth would get them all, they’d die whittled away to nothing in some distant land that wasn’t theirs.

“It could ignite another world war, instead of just a war in the village,” a female jounin agreed.

“And there’s always a chance he would somehow get his hands on the boys,” the elderly retired kunoichi the boys called ‘grandmother’ added.

They lapsed into silence as they reached the conclusion Fugaku had already decided on.

Naruto tackled Iruka into the grass with a war cry that echoed over the compound. Itachi and Sasuke fell on top of them as Iruka laughingly declared Itachi a traitor for joining the boys against him.

“It’s settled then.” A Uchiha genin declared. The others nodded in agreement and calm resolution settled over the clan’s chakra bond.

“Hiruzen will protect them from Danzo.” Fugaku stated, confident in that above all else.

“And they will protect the village,” Mikoto declared, slipping her hand into Fugaku’s as the clan agreed to die to ensure that Fugaku’s sons would live.

ooo000ooo

Hours before the Uchiha Clan Massacre

: :Hantahoru, Uchiha Compound, Konohagakure: :

Fugaku kneeled at the head of the shrine and prayed to whatever gods that were left. It was an empty prayer, he’d lost his faith in otherworldly beings that never answered long ago, but there was something comforting about the practice. The hardstone floor beneath his knees and the oppressive silence of the thick walls locking its occupants away from the outside world.

Behind him Iruka and Itachi followed suit, though he knew neither of them believed any more than he did. As always, Iruka’s patience gave out first and he burst out, “What happened at your meeting last night?”

Fugaku stiffened, rested his hands on his knees. They were both looking at him now, trained eyes trying to see any little tick that could give away something.

“It has been decided that the clan will be executed.” His words echoed through the halls of the shrine. Iruka and Itachi both silent in shock. “Our continued survival equals war within Konohagakure. We must to protect the village.”

“Why?” Iruka’s rage bubbled over. “They aren’t protecting us!”

Fugaku could feel Itachi’s rare anger rise in answer. “It is not the village’s job to protect us. It is our duty to protect the village. And this is what we must do to see that duty done.” Fugaku kept his voice calm.

“What about Naruto? If we’re gone, he won’t have anybody?” Iruka demanded.

Fugaku steeled himself. “The two of you and Sasuke will be spared.”

“Why?” Itachi’s voice was filled with suspicion.

“Danzo thinks that leaving you alone in the village will bring you under his command.”

Iruka’s anger expanded, joined with Itachi’s and Fugaku felt like an inferno had ignited. His boys were not to be trifled with and he allowed himself a small smile. Danzo had signed his own death warrant in the foolish hope that he could control Iruka and Itachi the way he thought Fugaku did. Fugaku took comfort in the fact that Danzo would one day learn what Fugaku had realized when all his children were still young. They would not be controlled by anyone. A father’s annoyance would be Danzo’s downfall.

“Itachi, as a member of ANBU will carry out the execution. Then leave the village to ensure its protection from afar. Iruka, as Taichou of the Hanta you will leave the village until the execution is complete. Then return and maintain its protection from inside. And Iruka, you will not interfere in the execution.” Iruka let out an inarticulate sound of rage.

“There has to be another way!” Itachi tried, desperate.

“If we resist, Danzo will kill us all. At least this way, the three of you will survive.”

“And the clan agreed to this?” Iruka asked in disbelief.

“The agreement was unanimous. Those are your orders. You will carry them out.” A captain’s last order.

In a fit of anger that was mostly sadness, they both teleported out of the shrine and left Fugaku alone to contemplate the way his future plans would play out.

His silence didn’t last long.

“You’ve lost your goddamn mind!” Tsume snarled, storming into the Hantahoru, Shibi on her heels.

Fugaku sighed. “Mikoto told you.”

“Of course she did. She also told us your decision. Why the hell aren’t you going to fight Fu?” Tsume demanded, throwing herself down next to him. Shibi silently slid to his knees on Fugaku’s other side.

“Just because I will die here tonight does not mean I will not fight. My sons will carry on my battle, just as they will carry on my blood and my sword.”

“You’re leaving them alone to fight a war that started before they were born.” Shibi pointed out.

“They are strong. Danzo is not strong enough to defeat them and he is foolish enough to give them the time they need to make the village strong enough to withstand him.”

“What about Naruto and Sasuke?” Tsume asked. “Hiruzen wouldn’t let us take them.”

“Iruka will remain in the village and look after them.”

“Alone?” She demanded.

“Will you not look after him?” Fugaku questioned, though he knew the answer.

“Of course we will, they’re practically our children as well!” Tsume hissed, “How dare you even question that!”

“Good.” Fugaku turned back to the shrine and the great fan carved into its wall above the holy fire.

ooo000ooo

: :Forest outside the Walls of Konohagakure: :

Iruka and Itachi collapsed to their knees as the smoke dissipated.

“What do we do?” Itachi murmured as they leaned into one another. But it wasn’t really a question because they both knew what they would do. They would carry out their father’s order. If Fugaku had not seen another way to fight this, there wasn’t one.

Iruka shrugged hopelessly. Even killing Danzo wouldn’t stop the wheels that were already in motion. “Father is no fool.” Iruka recited, trying to convince both of them that this was what they wanted.

It didn’t work, but the sudden wind, flash of smoke and leaves and Obito’s new, weird chakra filled in the holes that had been gaping since he’d left. He was wearing that stupid mask and Iruka and Itachi both glared at him until he took it off.

“You two don’t usually sneak out this time of year. What’s going on?” He’d crossed the Land of Sky the minute he’d felt their chakra leave the wards surrounding Konohagakure. The two of them hadn’t passed the wards alone in years and there was no mission that Fugaku would risk sending the two on them on alone. Regardless of their skills, they were too important to the clan to risk. He joined them on the ground, shifting until he was comfortable, and their heads and hands were all touching as they stared up at the sky through the leaves.

“The clan is going to be executed tonight,” Iruka explained.

Obito froze, “Which one?”

Itachi rolled his eyes, “Ours. Yours.”

“Danzo managed to convince the village to go to war with us.” Iruka added.

“Then why the hell aren’t you killing him?” Obito snarled.

“Father has a plan.” Itachi stated.

“So?”

“So you left,” Iruka snapped, “It’s not up to you anymore. You don’t even know what’s going on in the village.”

They settled into an angry silence.

“The entire clan?” Obito’s voice was small no matter how large he tried to make it.

“Except for us, and Sasuke.” Itachi murmured. “Danzo was going to have Root carry out the execution and allow the three of us to survive provided we were placed in his custody.”

“What’s the actual plan?” Obito demanded.

“I’m going to execute the clan and leave the village. Iruka’s going to stay and protect Sasuke and Naruto.” Itachi said.

“And that’s it?” Obito demanded. “You’re just going to do it?”

“There’ll be a civil war in Konohagakure if we don’t,” Iruka sighed, fists clenched so tight his muscles were beginning to cramp.

“Maybe it needs one,” Obito muttered.

“No, it doesn’t.” Itachi responded. Iruka was silent and they watched the sky darken. A few minutes later, Itachi sat up. “I should go.”

Iruka sat up, but before he could speak. “You have to stay Ruka.”

Iruka glared at him, “I’m not letting you go alone.”

Obito rolled to his feet, “I’ll go with Tachi. It’s not like they know I’m alive.”

Iruka rolled his eyes, “You’re an idiot if you think father believes your dead after that stunt you pulled with the nine-tails.” And there was a still a bit of rage in his voice towards Obito.

“It won’t matter, it’s his order. You should visit your home one last time anyway, before it’s gone for good.” Itachi decided.

Itachi and Iruka embraced holding one another tightly. After a second’s hesitation, Obito threw himself into the hug and the three of them stood there, entwined in one another, until the moon rose, and it was time to begin.

ooo000ooo

Morning after the Uchiha Clan Massacre

: :Uchiha Compound, Konohagakure: :

For the first time since the founding of the village, the compound was silent. Iruka could hear the wind shift the limbs and leaves of the trees, the trickle of water in the stream that flowered through and the rivers of blood over the tatami mats.

It was finished.

The air smelled sweet from the flowers and heavy from the blood. Iruka, barely standing, limped down the main street. Kikyo followed but didn’t try to help him. He wouldn’t have accepted it if she had.

He’d tried to intervene, as soon as he felt the first Uchiha fall under Itachi’s blade and his brother’s heart break beyond repair. He’d raced towards the compound only to find Kikyo waiting for him. Fugaku had known Iruka wouldn’t stand by and sent the Uchiha matriarch to stop him from interfering. Iruka had nearly killed himself, exhausted his chakra to dangerous levels and burned out his eyes in attempts to get past her. He’d even achieved Rinnegan in his last, desperate attack, but it hadn’t been enough.

Now the clan was gone, his family dead, the few still alive about to be exiled forever and Iruka could barely stand. He found Obito and Itachi together, covered in blood, their Rinnegan spinning. They’d achieved it the same moment he had, when they’d killed Fugaku and Mikoto.

Iruka stumbled towards them, ignoring Kikyo’s steadying hand as they all collapsed together. Itachi was crying, Obito stubbornly refusing to let his own tears fall. Iruka didn’t have any tears left, he’d spent them all while trying to fight Kikyo and he hadn’t even managed to scratch her.

She stood over them as Hiruzen arrived. Alone. “You have to hurry. ANBU is on its way.” His words were soft, but he made no move to approach them. Wise enough to know he wouldn’t be welcome.

Kikyo reached out, found the chakra signatures of the ANBU. They were just getting organized, it would be a few minutes before they arrived.

“I won’t change the wards,” Hiruzen said softly, “So you can visit.”

Obito, Iruka and Itachi began to untangle themselves and straightened. Turned to Hiruzen and Kikyo saw the old shinobi’s shock.

“All three of them?” Hiruzen murmured in disbelief as five rinnegan’s framed by tears focused on him.

Kikyo briefly wondered if she’d have to stop the three of them from killing the Sandaime, but when they did nothing in the first few seconds, she relaxed.

Obito and Itachi stepped away. “You’ll stay? Protect Naruto and Sasuke.”

Iruka nodded, fists clenched.

“Promise.” Itachi demanded.

Iruka glared, “I promise.”

In a swirl of leaves and smoke Itachi and Obito disappeared. Iruka stared until the last wisps of smoke disappeared, leaving him completely alone.

“Iruka,” Hiruzen tried quietly. “You need medical attention.” He was bleeding badly. Kikyo hadn’t held back when she’d stopped him. The teenager ignored him, so Hiruzen tried again. “Iruka, let me take you to the hospital, then you can stay with me.”

That made Iruka shake and he turned to Hiruzen, all rage and sadness and hurt. “I should have killed you when I had the chance!”

Hiruzen flinched, bowed his head, because he couldn’t argue with that. “I understand. For what it is worth, I am sorry that I was unable to stop this. That I didn’t see it coming. I will never forget the Uchiha and their sacrifice. I hope someday you will be able to look at me with something more than just hatred.”

The blood drained from Iruka’s face as he collapsed, his wounds finally taking their toll. Kikyo caught him before he hit the ground and easily lifted him. “I’ll take him to Tsume, she can look over him until he’s healed.”

Hiruzen nodded, shoulders bowed in defeat.

“If you waver now, it will all be for nothing,” Kikyo offered, voice steady despite the immense pain coming over the Uchiha’s chakra bond.

“My failure has killed an entire clan,” Hiruzen murmured. “I orphaned my grandson. He will never forgive me.”

“No, he probably won’t. Love and forgiveness are different things Hiruzen, and they can exist independently of one another. Iruka will grow up to understand why things happened the way they did. So will Obito and Itachi.” Kikyo shifted, started to push healing chakra into Iruka to stop the bleeding.

“I look forward to the day when they are grown and Danzo will stand before them to answer for what has happened.” Hiruzen admitted. “My own judgement will come, my path to the pure lands will be lined with red eyes and broken hearts and I will answer for my failures.”

“We all answer for our failures eventually Hiruzen. You have some time left to start repaying your debts before then.” Kikyo offered, somewhat surprised by the depth of Hiruzen’s defeat.

She left him there, on his knees in the now silent Uchiha Compound. Even the village itself would one day have its reckoning for its betrayal of the Uchiha. Whether or not the village survived, would be up the orphans she had left in her wake.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Hattori Clan Compound, Konohagakure: :

Kakashi felt numb. Cold, as the Sandaime’s memories washed over him. Everything from the secret of Iruka’s birth to the day Iruka and the others had knelt before the Sandaime for the last time and resigned from the Hanta. Unable to continue their service because they had lost their faith.

“It would seem I underestimated Hiruzen-sensei,” Orochimaru laughed. “I didn’t think he was capable of that level of cruelty.”

Jiraya snarled, torn between anger and disbelief and still somewhat hesitant to believe that Hiruzen’s own memories were true.

Kakashi felt a sudden rise in chakra over the village. Something he had never felt before, except… He turned and met Asuma’s eyes as they both realized what had happened at the same time. They turned to the Rookie 11 and the guilty looks on the faces of Ino and Shikimaru.

“Shikimaru, what-“

“It had to come out,” Shikimaru insisted. “Wounds that are ignored never heal.”

Tsunade and the others seemed to realize what had happened.

“What have you done?” Koharu shrieked.

“You’re not going to get away with this anymore!” Naruto snarled, his own chakra rising with the village’s as Hiruzen’s memories reached every corner of the village thanks to Ino’s jutsu.

The Council’s role was obvious, their treason revealed to everyone. The image of the Uchiha Clan voting to die to insure the survival of the village burned into the minds of everyone. Even more poignant, the image of the doting father, Fugaku, with his adored sons, Obito, Iruka and Itachi, as he ordered them to stay behind, alone, as the rest of their family stepped beyond their reach in death.

Sakumo. The image of his father at Fugaku’s side, an arm slung over Tsume’s shoulder after a battle, with a grin on his face that Kakashi had never seen before. He’d known so much more than Kakashi, been so much more aware and he had loved Kakashi more than the copy-nin had ever realized.

The wards around Kusanagi cracked.

Kakashi, startled out of his thoughts, looked up in horror to see the first demons coming through as the rest of the wards shimmed, held for a moment, then fell in a cascade of broken chakra. It was beautiful in a horrifying way. Like a sky of falling stars. Flames roared, Itachi’s Amaterasu Firestorm ignited the wards as they fell and created a wall of fire around the village.

The demons slammed into the flames, some of the smaller and medium sized ones burst into flames.

Iruka turned to Hinata and the rest of the Rookie 11. “You’re in command, Hinata.”

The poor girl looked terrified, Kakashi mused.

“What? But I, I do-don’t-“ Her stutter came back, her eyes wide.

“Yes, you do. Command Hinata,” Iruka ordered, “Hold the line.” And then the Rinnegan spun into his eyes and Iruka turned and leapt into battle, Itachi and Obito and the Hanta on his heels.

Hana, at Shisui’s side, turned to Kiba, “Call mom, Kiba! Shino, call your dad!” And then they turned and followed Iruka into the fight.

Kiba didn’t hesitate, tilted his head back and howled as Shino’s bugs rose and released a deafening buzz.

An answering howl echoed over Konohagakure. The Earth shook.

“What is that?” Raido asked as they turned in time to witness a colossal wave of bugs reaching far above the tallest buildings, sweep over the village as the Aburame, following Shibi, launched into the fight. The shaking continued and Kiba cheered. A pack of nin-kin, all bearing the markings of the Inuzuka thundered through the village. Sprinting through the streets and bounding off the sides of buildings, the Inuzuka shinobi easily keeping pace with Tsume at the head, her eyes already filling with blood. Several jounin and chunin rushed to grab civilians out of their way.

Kuromaru grew bigger as they approached and leapt over Tsunade, Jiraya and Orochimaru to attack a huge centipede like demon. His teeth tore it to pieces in seconds. Tsume used the back of her nin-kin as a spring board and launched into the air to attack a spider demon starting to spin a web around the nearby buildings. She started ripping off legs as the rest of the Inuzuka and Aburame spread out to follow the Hanta into the fray.

Kakashi could feel the reverberation of the Uchiha chakra, closely followed by the heavy Inuzuka and the wispy Aburame. He watched Iruka fight with twin Rinnegan, slipping into the unnatural grace he’d seen in Sasuke and Itachi. It was mind bending. It seemed so out of place on the formerly cheerful chunin, but it was the truth of him, Kakashi realized, watching Iruka roll seamlessly into multiple fire releases and then a form of taijutsu Kakashi didn’t recognize.

“Oh, it’s shunko!” Sakura cried. The Rookie 11 watching in wonder as the Hanta and Uchiha wrapped their chakra around themselves like armor.

It had a golden hue to it and Kakashi realized immediately how deadly it was, turning any blow into a killing one by turning their very touch into a weapon. It seemed to increase their speed as well, they looked like blurs of light as they engaged the massive group of demons pouring over the wall. Iruka and Itachi paused on the Hattori gate, their hands moving too fast to be sure of what jutsu they were casting before leaping off into battle again.

Naruto turned to Hinata, “Well?”

She hesitated, for just a second, “Right. Let’s go.” She turned to Shikimaru.

“Stick together, we’re better as a team.” Shikimaru decided.

Kakashi didn’t even have a chance to cry out before Naruto was forming rasengan and Sasuke’s rinnegan were spinning. Hinata’s twin skulls speared and Sakura released her seal. Lee had dropped his leg warms and opened at least two of the gates and Tenten already had several weapons scrolls out. Ino’s Mind Body Transmission Technique was still going strong as she, Shikimaru and Choji launched into their team-based attacks. Despite the presence of their clans on the battlefield, Kiba and Shino stuck close to the other Rookie 11.

“Damn it,” Asuma cursed, “They shouldn’t be out there.”

“Are you kidding?” Some random jounin snapped, “They’re close to Iruka, they probably know more about fighting those things than we do!”

A mutated demon, that might have been a scorpion once, slipped past the battle and mad a dash towards a small group of civilians in the middle of their evacuation. Kakashi leapt forward, chidori gathering in his hand. He slammed it into the demon’s head and jumped back. Asuma and the others quickly joined him, watching as the demon stumbled around without its head. Its tail making random strikes in every direction. It wasn’t dying. Asuma sent a pair of chakra knives through its heart and stomach and it finally collapsed.

“That, shit,” Genma breathed, “If it takes all that to take down one of the small ones…” They turned to watch the huge demons making their way towards the village.

Obito, Iruka and Itachi landed on the street.

“Get back!” Iruka yelled and they started forming summoning symbols. They bit their thumbs and let their blood fall on an ancient scroll. The summons released and a pack of wolves, so tall they reached Kakashi’s shoulder, arrived. And then, the alpha. A huge wolf with three tails, sharingan in her eyes and a fan on her forehead. She turned to the three Uchiha who’d summoned her.

“Pups,” her voice was raspy, like smoke.

“Moro!” Kurama chittered, tucked safely behind several medical jounin who didn’t seem to realize he was there.

The wolf Moro turned to him as the rest of the pack joined the battle. “Little fox.” The jounin backed up.

“Moro!” Kuromaru landed next to her, “Welcome.”

“Kuromaru, things do not seem to have changed much,” Moro eyed the demons.

“Many things have happened since you were last called,” Kuromaru assured her.

“We need your help Moro,” Iruka explained.

“I see that,” the great wolf growled, “You will have it.”

“You’re not the only ones who can summon something terrible,” Orochimaru broke in and no one could reach him before he’d summoned Manda.

Tsunade turned to Jiraya, “Do what you can, I’ll be back!” She paused to find Kakashi, “You’re in charge, don’t let them into the village!”

For a second, he looked like he was going to argue, but in the end he just nodded. “Be safe.”

Manda rose above the fight, “Moro, it’s been too long.”

The great wolf snarled. “Not long enough.” Then she leapt, the ground under her feet breaking as she took off.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Bottom of the Hokage’s Tower, Konohagakure: :

Tsunade kept one ear on the battle as she raced to the Hokage’s Tower. Kakashi and Iruka could command the forces fighting, she needed something to turn the tide. Iruka and the others were holding on, but Tsunade knew a battle of attrition when she saw one, and despite the amount of demons they were killing, more were coming, and they couldn’t split their forces to find the summoner without the line breaking.

She knew what was needed, Hiruzen’s letter had been clear and she released the Strength of a Hundred seal. The stored chakra coursed through her, a wave of power that she started to pour into the Earth at her feet.

The dirt shifted, thunder and lightning filled the sky above the village. The coffins rose from the Earth. Most had Uchiha fans carved into the lid. Some bore the twin fangs of the Inuzuka and others the bug that symbolized the Aburame.

Fifty-two coffins in all. Tsunade stopped pouring her chakra and watched as the lids started to fall away, revealing those sealed inside.

ooo000ooo

Present Day

: :Hattori Clan Compound, Konohagakure: :

One of the Inuzuka appeared on what was left of the Hattori gates. “Where’s triage?”

The second line of shinobi stared at him. Kakashi had ordered the line to remain back and then taken Asuma, Genma, Raido and Kurenai to take out several demons that had slipped through the battle.

Neji had apologized and left, he hadn’t said where he was going but Gai, who along with Izumo, had been left in charge of the second line, seemed to understand and only wished his student luck before turning back to monitor the battle.

“Triage.”

“For the wounded.”

One of the medic-nin stepped forward. “All wounded should go to the hospital.”

“That takes too much time,” he snapped. “The need to be healed to rejoin the battle.”

“What?” She sputtered, “They can’t go back to fighting.”

He leapt from the gates and landed in front of her. “Do you have the bodies to replace them?”

Her mouth opened and closed without sound.

“This is a battle of attrition. We have to keep bodies on the battlefield or we’ll lose.”

“Triage is right here.” An older medic-nin, a nurse at the hospital who’d treated Kakashi on multiple occasions, pushed herself between them, “Bring them here, we’ll treat as many as we can.”

Instantly he flickered and returned with a badly wounded Tenten.

“Tenten!” Gai leapt forward to assist his student. She had a gaping wound in her side and a dozen smaller wounds. The nurse grabbed Tenten and immediately formed the symbols of an organ rebuilding jutsu.

Tenten smiled weakly, several shades lighter than she was normally. She turned to the Inuzuka. “Go, I’ll be fine.” He gave her a short nod and flickered out of view.

“My dearest student! How may I assist you?” Gai clasped her hand, let her squeeze until she broke his fingers.

Tenten had enough energy to say. “No fighting Gai-sensei!”

Gai softened, “I know. But I may still assist you. What do you need?”

“I’ll be done in just a minute, she’s lucky it didn’t hit anything serious. Just looks a lot worse than it actually is.” The nurse commented, sweet accumulating on her brow as she worked.

“Nurse Nakimara? What should we-“ The medic-nin.

“Go get everything you can grab form the emergency room. And bring back everyone not currently engaged.” To her credit, the medic-nin didn’t argue, just teleported away.

“Gai-sensei, I need a boost.” Tenten was regaining her strength, her voice steadier.

Gai stared at her, “A boost?”

Tenten let go of his hand and point up to the sky.

Gai’s bright, blinding smiled appeared. “A boost. I shall arrange it!” He leapt to his feet and ran to the edge of the battle.

Kakashi tensed, kept an eye on Gai as he dodged a creepy looking beetle the size of a horse, not sure if he was going to drag him back or fight with him, but Gai didn’t rush onto the battlefield. He simply stood at the edge, cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled, “Wolf-san, your assistance is needed!” at the top of his lungs.

One of the huge white wolves of the Uchiha launched from the battlefield and landed in front of them. Blood and gore covered his muzzle and teeth. His coat was streaked with blood and dirt. His eyes twin Sharingan and the Uchiha fan on his forehead. He watched them with a low growl and they stared at him in fear in return. “I am Kiba of the pack, what do you want?”

“Wolf-san, my dear Tenten needs a boost!” Gai pointed to the sky and the wolf followed his finger.

“Done.” He growled and moved towards Tenten. Several shinobi stepped back as he approached.

Tenten struggled to her feet.

“Hold still!” Nurse Nakimara, “Just another second to make sure it’s going to hold.”

Kiba’s three tails swept back and forth as he watched Nakimara finish healing Tenten’s side.

“Okay, you’re done.” As soon as the words left her mouth an Inuzuka hound appeared carrying a wounded Aburame chunin. Nakimara immediately grabbed him and gently lowered him to the ground, one of his legs was almost completely severed. The hound pressed its nose to Nakimara’s cheek, making the old nurse jump, then turned and sprinted back into the fight.

“How long?” The Aburame asked through gritted teeth.

“Longer if you don’t shut your mouth and lay still.” Nakimara snapped, but there was a flush to her cheeks Kakashi had never seen.

Gai hauled Tenten upright and they hugged briefly before he stepped back and Kiba stepped forward.

“Get on sister,” Kiba growled. Tenten fisted her hands in his scruff and leapt onto his back. “Hold on!” He leapt, giant bounding leaps up to the top of the broken gates to Konohagakure. Then onto the guard tower. He paused, looking for his next target in the battle that ragged below them. He coiled, launched and landed on the back of a huge scorpion demon, then it’s tail and made his way across the battlefield until he could dig his claws in and climb up the back of one of the largest demons until he reached its head. “Jump sister!” And Tenten braced on his back pushed herself up into the air above the battlefield, pulling out one of her weapons scrolls as she flipped through the air.

Ox. Fox. Boar. “Summoning Scroll, One Thousand Shuriken!” And a thousand shuriken rained down on the battlefield.

“A thousand?!” One of the jounin now guarding the triage section yelped and looked at Gai like he was a mad man.

Gai beamed, the flames of youth burning bright. “Indeed! My beloved student does not waste time!”

ooo000ooo

Iruka sliced a demon in half with Tatenbotan and twisted to look for the others. Itachi, Kabuto and Yajirobi were killing anything they could touch with that weird elegance the three of them possessed. Obito, Kotetsu, and Anko were wreaking havoc the way only they knew how. Shisui and Hana were proving they were the best team on the field, aside from Iruka and Itachi themselves.

Naruto was a bright, golden light on the battlefield. His large chakra reserves giving him an edge against the demons, just as it drew them towards him. He was flinging rasengans around the battlefield like he was tossing candy to kids. Iruka made a mental note to start teaching him tactics and strategy. Sasuke’s much more controlled chidori was always nearby, flashing a cool blue and proving that Fugaku’s youngest son might the most precise out of any of them. The rest of the Rookie 11 proving they were just as much trouble on the battlefield as they had been in his class at the academy. There was so much fondness in that thought that Iruka’s chest constricted and he smiled as he dodged something’s tail.

He caught sight of Manda out of the corner of his eye. The King of Serpents had a score to settle with Sasuke and Naruto and seemed intent on settling it. He’d snuck away from Moro and moved to strike against Naruto. Iruka waited half a second too long. Naruto noticed Manda, turned to fight him only to get sideswiped by a smaller serpent. Manda shot forward with a speed Iruka hadn’t thought he possessed, jaws wide as Naruto struggled to his feet.

ooo000ooo

Tsunade sprinted back to the battle, the comforting wave of chakra at her back. She had no idea what she would do after this battle. How she would explain this? She pushed the concern out of her mind. There would be time later. When this battle was finished. When the village was safe, and they’d dealt with all the revelations Hiruzen had left them.

Fifty-two. Fifty-two and now she had to deal with them.

Tsunade really, really wished that Hiruzen was still alive, she’d give him a piece of her mind over this whole mess. She’d started to explain what had been happening to them, only to realize that there was no point, they knew. They’d simply turned towards the battle and demanded she take them there. She recognized the majority of them. A few so obvious everyone would recognize them. Others though, she recognized from her childhood and some even predated that. And they’d all been resting at the foot of the Hokage’s Tower for decades.

ooo000ooo

Kakashi killed the beetle and turned to Kurenai. “Is your genjutsu doing anything?”

She shook her head, stabbed a kunai into the eye of giant spider. “No, it’s not having any effect.”

“Damn,” Genma cursed and they quickly rejoined Gai and the others.

“Stick to chakra-based attacks and taijutsu,” Kakashi ordered. The shinobi on the line nodding in response. Kakashi turned to Izumo. “Can you fight?”

“As a last resort,” Izumo explained. “There’s always a danger I’ll lose control.”

“Lose control of what?” Genma demanded.

A group of demons roared and took off towards the triage area.

Izumo’s eyes turned black as his chakra rose. The darkness of his chakra started to spread, darker even than what the demons were putting off. “I’ll show you.”

Izumo flickered into their path, fingers forming symbols to release part of his seal. He spread his arms wide as the demons rushed closer, the seal in chest opened and revealed the darkness inside. It started to suck the demons in until all those attacking the triage area were gone and Izumo closed the seal again. He collapsed to his knees and his chakra shook violently while he fought to get it back under control.

“Holy shit,” Raido muttered in disbelief. “What kind of seal is that?”

“A jail-seal,” Izumo wheezed. Gai and Kurenai kneeled next to him, “Just give me a minute, I’ll be okay.”

“How many can you contain?” Kakashi asked.

“I can take more, but I need time. If I get too weak, they can break the seal from inside.” Izumo leaned on Kurenai and she helped him straighten and stand.

“Save your strength then,” Asuma decided and Kakashi nodded in agreement. “We might need you if they get past Iruka and the others.”

Suddenly Izumo jerked, eyes going wide and turned back to the battle.

“What? What’s wrong?” Nakimara demanded.

“Iruka!” Izumo collapsed to his chest, hands clutching at his chest.

And from the terror on his face Kakashi knew Iruka would never recover.

ooo000ooo

Naruto froze, Manda’s jaws inches from closing around him. The smaller serpent had knocked him hard enough to slow him for just long enough. Then, Iruka was there and Naruto’s body refused to move as Iruka’s knees bent under the weight of Manda’s bite. The snake’s fangs pierced through Iruka’s vest and deep into his chest and back.

Iruka coughed, blood staining his lips red. Manda’s poison coursing through his veins. He twisted, jammed his katana through Manda’s mouth. The snake hissed, released him and jerked its head side to side trying to dislodge the katana.

“Iruka-sensei!”

Iruka hit his knees, the poison like fire in his veins. Naruto reacted in time to catch his academy sensei before he hit the ground. Cradling Iruka as the poison reached his heart and his last breath left his body. Iruka managed one last smile for Naruto before he slipped away.

ooo000ooo

…tbc…