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Iruka woke with an inhale and saw nothing but black.

His confusion lasted for a split second until the fabric pulled against his eyes and memories of a short battle neatly filed in. He dismissed them in favor of blindly appraising his body, finding his hands tied and wrapped together behind his back and his left arm numb from taking the brunt of his body weight.

Iruka wiggled his fingers experimentally against the bindings and almost grinned.

The idiots had been smart enough to wrap his hands and take his weapons pouch, but his ninjutsu scrolls hung heavy in his flak jacket. Rookie mistake, he tutted. Really, it was the best thing they could’ve left him with. He threw out his senses and picked up the unfamiliar chakra signatures of the group of nin that had attacked the convoy. Eight total; two had displayed jounin-level prowess and the rest were chuunin-level threats. Two were in the room with him.

So far, nothing terribly concerning; besides the insistent, painful pulsing from a well delivered kick to the back of his head, he was fine. Any T & I nin worth his salt would’ve been extracting information the moment they dragged him underground, and the fact that Iruka still had all of his fingers was telling. The scent of fresh earth and stale air wasn’t overpowering; they likely weren’t that deep. Iruka hazarded it might be one of Orochimaru’s abandoned hideouts — a fair amount he had located, tagged, and disarmed the protective wards for on this side of Fire Country. One look at the stonework was all he needed.

Iruka idly surmised he was being kept alive as collateral — he hoped the others had gotten away. He moved to sit up and his sandals slid on the concrete, the dirt crackling in the silence.

“Oi, he’s awake.”

Iruka stilled, recognizing the voice as the young boy that had attacked Izumo.

Someone else shuffled to their feet. “Get Mitsuye.” Iruka guessed this was one of the chuunin he hadn’t fought.

Footsteps left the room and the other nin approached. Iruka turned his ear towards the sound, trying to gauge the distance between them and the size of the room from the reverb. It sounded large. A cave? “Where am I?” he rasped, plying on a faint waver of fear.

The nin grabbed him by the shoulders and Iruka kept himself limp as he was forced to sit up, the edge of a kunai pressed beneath his jaw. “Nowhere important.”

Iruka swallowed, the blade moving with his skin. The wrapping dug into him as he discreetly tested the knot for a weak spot. “Nowhere, huh? What do you want from me?

A set of new footsteps entered the room. “Nothing. You don’t matter.”

The blindfold was ripped away and in the obscenely bright light of the torches, Iruka found himself blinking up at a young woman garbed in a beige flak jacket and a white headpiece that hung around her head like a curtain. Iruka caught the insignia on her hitai-ate: Sunagakure . These are Sand-nin. Or, at least pretending to be .

She crouched down to his level and fingered the material of her headpiece in a way that suggested habit. “I should thank you. You’ve made this incredibly easy for us. Your little self-sacrifice played right into our hands.” She tilted her head. “Don’t worry about your friends; we let them go with a very important message.”

“What exactly have I made easier?” Iruka asked, genuinely interested. He leaned forward and hissed as the nin behind him dug his kunai in as a warning and grabbed a handful of his hair. The knot loosened and Iruka carefully turned his wrists to face each other. Sensation had almost fully returned to his arm.

The kunoichi waved the nin off and he shoved Iruka’s head forward as he let go. “How do you think your precious Konoha will react when they receive word that Suna is holding one of their nins hostage? How do you think Suna will react when Konoha launches an attack for no reason?”

Iruka paused his escape and looked up through the strands of his hair. “You’re trying to instigate a war.”

“Oh, we’ve captured a smart one!” She grinned and rocked back on her heels. “The downside is that you’re nothing but a lowly chuunin, Umino-san. Not much bargaining power with your corpse. Konoha could very well give you up for the sake of maintaining safe trade negotiations with Suna.” She shrugged. “It’s a risk, I’ll give you that but you Konoha shills know all about risks, don’t you?” The kunoichi rose to her feet and snapped her fingers, another nin jumping to his feet and stationing himself at the entrance to the room. A large iron fan was holstered on his back, the sharp edges winking threateningly at Iruka in the torchlight. “You can try to escape, but then we’ll have to kill you a lot sooner than intended.” She blew him a kiss and waltzed out of the doorway. “I’ll be back for you, Umino-san!”

The kunai-happy nin hooked his hand beneath Iruka’s armpit and dragged him over to a cot, throwing Iruka on top with enough force to slam the already tender back of his head against the stone wall. With a muffled groan, Iruka slid sideways and pinned his right arm beneath him. Incensed, Iruka spat hair out from his mouth. You’re fucking first.

Purposefully, Iruka made a show of his pitiful struggle to sit up, using the facade to scoot back so his hands were well hidden behind him, now completely free and fingering the chakra wire he’d stitched into the lining of his flak jacket. His blindfold wasn’t replaced and Iruka surveyed his surroundings, confirming it definitely was Orochimaru’s old stomping grounds. Offhandedly, he wondered if the large chunks of snake skin were still hanging around, or the tanks full of green liquid — he never did ask Anko what had been inside. He side-eyed the nin as he planted a chair in front of the cot.

“How did she know my name?” Iruka probed.

The nin glared at him and tapped his hitai-ate and only then did Iruka realize his was missing. Rather, Kakashi’s hitai-ate, inscribed with Iruka’s name. His irritation mounted; he liked that hitai-ate.

“They should’ve received word by now, either from our message or the return of your team,” the nin added, “and we’ll see if Konoha gives two shits about you. Personally, I’d rather slit your throat now and leave your body at Konoha’s gate. All of you deserve to rot,” he spat.

Iruka considered the venom in his voice. “Why do you hate Konoha that mu— wait.” He paused for a beat, an incredulous look on his face. “You sent Konoha my hitai-ate?”

The nin stood and loomed over Iruka. “What’s so funny?”

Iruka barely held back a snort. “That was a mistake. You shouldn’t have done that.” He laughed again, stopping when the nin backhanded him with enough force to split his bottom lip. Calm anger surged in Iruka’s blood and he licked the wound. The chakra wire tightened in his grip and Iruka turned back to the nin. “He’s not going to be happy you did that.”

“I don’t give a shit.” Sand-nin looked down at him in disgust. “Mitsuye wants you alive, but she never specified in what state.” The nin grabbed Iruka’s chin and jerked his head up, his stubby fingers digging into Iruka’s cheeks. “I could flay you, strip by strip, and send Konoha the pieces and —”

Somewhere above ground, the shriek of a familiar lightning jutsu pierced the air and Iruka felt butterflies in his stomach. Right on time. Iruka gave the startled nin a wide, bloody grin, the raw edges of his lip stinging. “Kakashi’s here.”

  


 

Tsunade turned the scuffed hitai-ate over, running her fingernail along Iruka-sensei’s name etched on the plate that had been issued to Kakashi.

She held it out of sight as Kakashi entered, closely flanked by two ANBU. Together, the ANBU sealed the room and stationed themselves in strategic spots around the tower, facing Tsunade and Kakashi.

Tsunade searched for blood, but Kakashi appeared uninjured from his mission, no signs of significant trauma on his ragged uniform or exhaustion from his usual chakra depletion. To his credit, Kakashi looked mostly indifferent but the hard line of his shoulders and the tightness around his eye revealed an undercurrent of suspicion. He shrewdly eyed the seals, the ANBU, and finally Tsunade herself.

“Tsunade-sama,” he greeted and it didn’t escape Tsunade that he was using Iruka-sensei’s greeting for her. She’d have to pry the details from the sensei later; Kakashi wouldn’t break easily.

“Brat.” Tsunade poured herself a cupful of sake from the stash Shizune hadn’t found yet and dove right in. “Yesterday, a convoy of specialized nin on an A-rank mission were intercepted by a militia of rogue nins from Sunagakure. The Kazekage confirms their weaponry and jutsu styles are from Suna and believes them to be from a faction lobbying to ruin the relationship between Konoha and Suna.”

Kakashi slouched and stuck his hands in his pockets. “What’s their play?”

“Holding one of our own hostage.”

His interest piqued, Kakashi cocked his head a degree. “Who?”

Tsunade didn’t try sugar-coating it. She dropped the hitai-ate on the table and Kakashi automatically picked it up.

The Tower was eerily silent.

Kakashi didn’t move, the exposed corner of his face becoming a mask itself, but the sudden blood-tinged killing intent swamping the room undeniably came from him. Taken aback, Tsunade felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise and the ANBU shifted in response. She waved them off and swallowed down the taste of copper with a hidden gag.

Kakashi’s slow inhale broke the silence and he rubbed his thumb over Iruka’s name. “Is he injured?”

“We don’t know, but it’s a possibility.”

Kakashi’s chin dipped in acknowledgement and his chakra grew incredibly unstable. Along the walls, the seals isolating the room glowed red and sizzled as waves of Kakashi’s chakra rose and lashed out.

“Kakashi,” Tsunade warned.

Kakashi blinked and the mask broke, revealing an icy fury Tsunade rarely saw. He composed himself but the grip on the hitai-ate was taut. “Why did they take him? Was his team specifically targeted?”

Tsunade chose her words carefully, exchanging uneasy looks with the ANBU. “We don’t know if they set out to deliberately attack Iruka’s convoy or if they merely got lucky they encountered a team from Konoha. On the other hand, intel on the mission directive could’ve been leaked.”

Her answer didn’t seem to please Kakashi and he fingered the edge of the metal plate. “You said it’s a hostage situation - what do they want?” His tone turned to steel. “What are they bargaining Iruka’s life for?”

“The usual. Inciting war. Shikaku figures that by holding Iruka-sensei hostage, we’d denounce Suna as traitors and attack. To Suna, we’d look like traitors and they’d be forced to counterattack. War.” Tsunade gave a rueful grin. “They didn’t count on the friendship between our jinchuuriki, however.”

“Does Sand know where Iruka is?”

Tsunade nodded towards the opened scroll on her desk. “The moment Gaara discovered the ploy, he dispatched his own teams to deal with the defectors and sent the intel to us about the situation. They’re looking for him.”

“Yesterday.” Kakashi‘s eyes cut back to Tsunade and she held his harsh glare without flinching. “This happened yesterday, and they still haven’t fucking found him? What kind of bullshit team did he send? His chakra crackled hotly, hints of lighting in the air.

The ANBU bristled and Tsunade felt her own temper flaring, already over the dramatics. “That’s why you’re heading out to provide back-up!” she snapped. “Our nin, our problem.” She threw a new scroll at him and tossed her head back and downed her cup.

Something blew past her and the disorienting pop of a broken barrier exploded in her right ear, knocking her paperwork to the ground and Tsunade off balance. When she looked back, Kakashi was gone and the ANBU were climbing to their feet and rushing towards the Tower windows.

“Kakashi-san, wait!” Hawk cried, jumping onto the ledge and avoiding the dent Kakashi’s foot had left in the stone.

“Sonofa—” Tsunade’s grip threatened to shatter the cup. “I swear I’m going to court-martial him one of these days. Cat!”

Tenzou jumped and snapped to her desk. “Yes, Hokage-sama?”

“Go with him. Make sure he doesn’t kill the wrong ones.”

 


 

The Sand-nin looked away and Iruka moved.

He sprung forward and caught the Sand-nin in the midsection with his shoulder and slammed them both into the ground, smoothly transferring the momentum to his hands to spring to his feet.

“Koji!”

Iruka sped through a seal and he leapt backwards as a blade of wind split the stone in front of him, quickly retaliating with a kunai he filched off the first nin. It pinged off the fan and sunk into the ground, the metal singing as it vibrated. Iruka thought quickly. He palmed the last two kunai and launched them at the nin’s fan, grinning as the nin knocked them away and embedded them into opposite walls. Finishing his seal, Iruka released his chakra and a barrier surged from the chakra paper wrapped around the kunais, connecting in the middle with a flash of blue.

No one could get in; no one could get out.

The first nin, Koji, climbed to his feet as the other nin threw a volley of wind slashes that struck uselessly at the barrier. “Huh? A barrier?”

“Yato, I think he broke my fingers!” Koji glared viciously at Iruka, cradling the injured hand. “You piece of shit!”

Iruka mimicked Kakashi’s favorite one-shoulder shrug and dropped a ninjutsu scroll on the ground, unraveling it with a kick. “Oops.”

“Ha!”

As if on cue, Yato jumped at Iruka, the blades of his fan widening to create a deadly slash of wind as he brought it down. Timing it carefully, Iruka twisted on his heel and narrowly avoided the chakra-laced wind, activating the scroll the moment Yato’s feet touched the ground. The trap lit up and glued him to the spot, but faster than Iruka expected Yato reversed the fan’s direction. The edges caught the front of Iruka’s flak jacket and sliced a line up Iruka’s sternum and chin, throwing him hard on his back.

“Fuck!” Iruka gasped, winded from the impact. Somewhere above, another chidori screeched to life and Iruka swore he heard Mitsuye and the rest of the nins screaming.

Yato flipped the fan, bracing it on his arm as he tried to cut himself free. “Koji, we have to help Mitsuye! Get me out .

With a hiss, Iruka kicked up and slapped his palms together, drawing out long threads of chakra wire. From the corner of his eye, Koji charged in with a kunai aimed at Iruka’s side and Iruka caught the blade with his wires, spinning the threads and dislodging the kunai. He saw the kick too late and braced as it connected with his ribs, barely managing to block the second kick with a high knee. Koji’s fist sailed towards him and Iruka ducked low and sunk his own fist into Koji’s stomach, driving up from his feet. Needing distance, Iruka slid back and brandished the wires again, his fingers slick with his own blood.

To his right, Yato prepared another wind attack and Iruka feigned to the left, distracting Koji enough to weave past him and chuck a loose bundle of chakra wire into the fan’s blades and Yato’s arms. Normally not strong enough to withstand direct force from a kunai, let alone iron fans, the wires infused with Iruka’s chakra triggered a seal hidden within the trap. Working in tandem, the seal rejected Iruka’s chakra in favor of Yato’s and used his own chakra to strengthen the wires, keeping him immobile and the fan useless.

Iruka circled around, keeping Yato’s struggling form between him and Koji, and stole his weapons pouch. He palmed a sleeve of shuriken and slid a kunai against Yato’s throat with a mild sense of regret. Koji wouldn’t be the first after all.

“F-fuck!” Yato cried out. “Koji, help me!”

“I’d keep you alive, but I only need one of you,” Iruka said pleasantly. He dug the kunai in and carved a wide, gaping smile into Yato’s throat. The trap released as Yato’s chakra faded, dropping him with a solid thump .

Iruka spun the kunai around his finger and avoided the pool of blood soaking the used scroll. Yato had been the stronger of the two — Koji would be clean-up. He quickly assessed his own state, alarm bells beginning to go off about his chakra levels; he was using too much, the tremor of exhaustion creeping into his hands.

A ground-shaking blast from overhead suddenly rocked the room, sending dust and debris raining down on them. Iruka shielded himself, cursing as the stone walls cracked and severed the chakra connections keeping the barrier in place. The blue shimmer died away with the dust.

Koji glanced between him and the doorway and flung an explosive-laced kunai towards Iruka at the same moment Iruka pitched his shuriken. The tag exploded as Iruka raced through a seal, managing a fledgling barrier wall that protected him from the brunt of the attack and shattered immediately.

The explosion took out a chunk of the back corner and Iruka’s hands stung. He looked up in time to see Koji rip his arm free from the line of shuriken holding him in place, and Iruka scrambled to his feet after him, vehemently cursing as he ducked the chunks of the ceiling crashing down around him.

Catching a glimpse of Koji as he rounded a corner, Iruka boosted his speed with a reckless push of chakra. If Koji got out of sight, he was as good as gone — Orochimaru’s hideouts were labyrinths inside of labyrinths.

“Shit, shit, fucking run!” a new voice howled from ahead and Iruka skipped back on instinct and prepped a defensive seal as Koji reappeared with another Sand-nin hot on his heels.

The hallway burst with white-blue electricity and Kakashi’s black silhouette appeared behind the other nin. Without breaking stride Kakashi stabbed a kunai into the other nin’s neck and shoved him against the wall, pinning him into the stone with the blade. Electricity sparked off the handle and the nin slumped, the kunai forced up into his jaw.

Kakashi pulled away and looked over at Iruka, dragging his gaze up and down Iruka’s body. The Sharingan spun lazily. “Sensei,” he said, his voice pitched low. “I thought we had dinner plans.”

The butterflies in Iruka’s stomach returned and he wanted to squirm. He cocked his hip out, ignoring Koji and his panicked cursing as he realized he was surrounded. “Minor change in plans,” Iruka quipped. “Nothing like a kidnapping to spice up the night.”

“Looks like you’ve been having fun without me,” Kakashi drawled, his gaze hardening, no doubt taking in Iruka’s injuries.

The hairs on the back of Iruka’s neck stood and he resisted a shiver, running his tongue over his wounded lip. “Not my fault — you made me wait. Koji here has been keeping me company.” He sent Kakashi a coy smile and faster than Iruka anticipated, Koji whirled around and launched himself at Iruka with a kunai braced in his hands. Iruka knew he was too close to avoid the attack and steeled himself for the pain.

Koji managed a single step before Kakashi appeared behind Iruka, wrapped an arm around his waist, and smoothly spun him out of the way. In the same move, Kakashi caught Koji’s arm and slammed him into the wall chest-first. He grabbed Koji’s face and pushed it into the wall , a blue spark growing in his hands. 

Iruka watched in morbid fascination as Kakashi cleanly electrocuted Koji, relentlessly pouring in chakra until Koji was smoking and the hallway reeked.

Koji’s body dropped unceremoniously as Kakashi stepped away and dispersed his chakra.

Iruka peered around Kakashi’s side and whistled. It was a little overkill. “I hope you kept one of them alive — Tsunade-sama won’t be happy.”

“Fuck if I care,” Kakashi growled, turning halfway.

Finding himself on the receiving end of Kakashi’s furious glare, Iruka backed up until his shoulders pressed into the wall, Kakashi steadily advancing in on him. “I thought I was the one with anger issues,” Iruka breathed as Kakashi caged him in with his body. “Miss me that much?” Sliding his palms up Kakashi’s chest, Iruka could feel how tense he was and it thrilled him.

Kakashi’s hands gripped his hips painfully tight. “Iruka, I swear, if you don’t—”

Iruka ripped Kakashi’s mask off and yanked him into a hungry, well-deserved kiss. He left himself open as Kakashi took over and made Iruka’s knees weak with his tongue, being careful to avoid his wound. How long had it been since he’d last seen Kakashi, a month? Two? It barely mattered as all he could smell and touch was his angry nin.

Kakashi slid something into his hand and Iruka recognized the weight and shape of his hitai-ate and he melted. He weighed the consequences of fucking Kakashi right then and there, already hiking up his leg on Kakashi’s waist and Kakashi responding enthusiastically, pressing in close.

Someone coughed from the end of the hallway. “Oh great, you found him. Glad you’re safe, Iruka-sensei.”

Iruka pulled away and blinked as an ANBU half-waved at him. The Cat mask was familiar. “Thanks for the rescue,” Iruka managed as Kakashi immediately tugged him back into a kiss, not-so-subtly blocking Iruka’s view of the ANBU with his shoulders.

Cat sighed. “Right. Well. I’m all in favor of happy reunions, but we need to collect bodies and head back to Konoha...sometime today would be nice.”

Iruka tried to respond but Kakashi didn’t let him, slipping his hands beneath Iruka’s torn flak jacket and spreading them wide over Iruka’s stomach and ribs.

“I can’t leave unless you two do, please,” Cat begged. “I don’t want to make you.”

Kakashi snorted, the you can try almost audible and Iruka bit him for it.

“Oi.” Iruka expertly slithered out of Kakashi’s unbreakable grip and out of range, smiling smugly at Kakashi’s bewilderment. “We’re coming, aren’t we, Kakashi-sensei?”

Kakashi blinked and his eyes narrowed dangerously. He gave Iruka a crooked grin that sent warning signs all through Iruka’s body. “My clone’s already waiting for you, Iruka-sensei. Did you want to buy your painkillers on the way back or in the evening?”

Iruka let out a choked cough.

Up ahead, Cat tripped on nothing.