His sandals slapped the wet tree branch, and he felt his foot slip a little before he steadied his foothold with chakra. He knew better than to get impatient – knew better, but was getting impatient anyway.
He stopped, drawing close to the tree trunk.
The rain was coming down harder, now, and he could barely see through the storm.
He considered the sodden earth below him. He didn't even want to be in the treetops, because he didn't have the chakra to spare, but he could hear a river roaring angrily not too far away, and he knew that being on the ground put him at risk if the river should flood.
He sighed, considering his options. The ground was unsafe to traverse, but his chakra burned so low that continuing to run through the treetops would soon be equally unsafe. He was still a good half hour away from Konoha, even at full speed. As much as he hated being in the deluge, he knew that he might have to find somewhere to stay and sleep through the worst of the storm.
He hated sleeping in the trees during rainstorms, and this was proving to be a particularly bad typhoon. It didn't help that it was early in the season; he hadn't expected to get caught in a storm like this, or he would have set up camp long ago, while he was still on higher ground.
He grimaced beneath his sopping wet mask. He'd have to tie himself to a tree trunk. He was too exhausted to be sure he wouldn't fall out of the tree once he fell asleep, otherwise.
He jerked his head up at the familiar voice, single eye struggling to pierce the gray curtain of rain.
"Iruka?" he asked, too quietly to be heard, stunned by the appearance of the teacher on the muck below him.
The man in question leapt up into the tree beside Kakashi. "What are you doing out here? You look like a drowned rat." The teacher's face held an unusually concerned expression, his own clothes soaked through, his ponytail so wet that it drooped with its own rivulet of water running from the end, loose strands sticking to his skin. Even this close, Iruka practically had to shout to be heard over the rain and the rushing river.
"On my way back from a mission," Kakashi managed. "What are you doing out here? Who's with you?"
"Just me. I had a feeling," Iruka said vaguely. "Come on, I know a place."
Iruka leapt down and looked back over his shoulder at Kakashi. Kakashi was too tired to move away from the tree trunk, too worried that he would freefall to the ground if he did.
Iruka leapt back up. "You okay?" he asked.
"Just tired," Kakashi said. It was an understatement. He hadn't realized how badly the fatigue pulled at his bones.
Iruka stepped close and pulled Kakashi's arm over his shoulders before Kakashi could react. Kakashi let himself collapse against Iruka instead of the tree trunk. He could hold himself on his own feet, but barely. Iruka swept Kakashi's legs up in his free arm, carrying Kakashi bridal-style.
Iruka leapt down to the ground, his sandals squelching in the mud.
"It's not far," he said as he began leaping through the trees.
Kakashi was far too tired to ask, let alone to complain about being carried like a child.
They were, Kakashi realized with a mild but growing alarm, going towards the sound of the river, not away from it. But the exhaustion ate at him, and he couldn't even bring himself to argue.
Iruka jogged for fifteen or twenty minutes, conversation stilled by the wind and rain, but being in his arms made Kakashi feel safe, and Kakashi found himself chuckling at the silliness of their circumstance.
Iruka began chuckling, too, and his laughter fed into Kakashi's and Kakashi's fed into Iruka's until they were both laughing at the absurdity of it all. There was something about being with Iruka that made Kakashi feel young and free. Even the rain couldn't bring down the sense of glee bubbling in his chest.
Through laughter, Kakashi's gaze scraped at the dilapidated building for several minutes before he realized what he was looking at, by which point, they'd drawn close.
It was a surprisingly large building for a waypoint, two stories high, all termite-eaten wood and splintered boards over windows and blackly shadowed eaves. It probably should have been condemned a decade ago.
"Is it safe?" Kakashi shouted over the tempest. "It doesn't look safe."
"I know. It is, though. It's a safehouse. Come on."
So saying, Iruka set Kakashi down by the front door and pushed it open.
They stumbled inside, dripping water all over the front entryway cobblestones.
It was just as broken down inside as it was outside, but Iruka didn't appear to care. He kicked off his shoes, so Kakashi did, too.
"I'll get them later," Iruka told him when Kakashi tried to bend to pick up the sandals. If this was a safe house, it was best to keep evidence of their presence out of sight. "Come on, let's go inside."
Iruka locked the door behind them and helped half-carry Kakashi into the darkness.
The building was the sort that might be used as the setting for a horror film, Kakashi reflected distantly. The broken floorboards, the boarded-up windows, the dirt piled in corners.... Yet, the debris was swept to the sides of the rooms and hallway, the stairs were – except for one broken step – whole, and there were no leaks in the roof.
Iruka helped Kakashi up the stairs to a shockingly clean, well-managed second floor. Though they could hear rain battering shingles above them, and humidity hung oppressively in the air, the roof kept the water out.
They shuffled down to a room at the end of the hall, where Iruka slid open a door and let them in.
The room, small but so nice as to defy expectation even from a moderately-priced inn, had been outfitted with a small kitchenette. The smell of humidity and tatami lay like a dusty blanket in the air. It smelled like home. Kakashi could see a bathroom attached to the opposite wall of the room, and Iruka helped him that direction.
"I didn't know about this place," Kakashi said accusingly. He should have known all of the safehouses within a three-hour radius of Konoha.
Iruka tried to shrug beneath Kakashi's weight. "I don't think anyone other than me uses it anymore," he mused. "My parents showed it to me, and it was a mess, even then."
Iruka helped him sit on the wooden stool in the shower, then Iruka pulled off his own flak jacket and weapons pouches and hung them on a hook. He stripped, throwing the rest of his wet clothes on the shower floor with unattractively wet splats.
"Come on, let's get you cleaned up and dried off," Iruka said gently.
Too tired to help, Kakashi let Iruka undress him almost as if he were a doll. The flak jacket and weapons pouches went up on the hook beside Iruka's; the tantō was leaned up against the wall; the clothes came off and were unceremoniously tossed to the floor beside Iruka's.
"May I?" Iruka asked, already tugging at Kakashi's hitai-ate and mask.
Kakashi didn't respond, knowing he didn't need to, and the mask and hitai-ate followed the rest of his clothing.
Iruka's hands were cold from the rain, but Kakashi's skin was colder. He shivered as Iruka opened the tap into the bath and ran the shower water for a long moment.
The spray was blessedly hot against Kakashi's freezing skin.
"How?" Kakashi asked tiredly.
"It connects to the hot springs," Iruka explained, understanding Kakashi's question.
Iruka stood behind Kakashi so Kakashi could lean back against Iruka's steady torso, and Iruka gently rinsed his hair, protecting Kakashi's face from the water with a careful hand.
His mission had been just under two weeks long, and this was the first time he'd really been able to bathe. The dust and grime and dried blood – not his own – running from his skin and swirling down the drain reminded him of his exhaustion. He let his open eye fall closed.
Iruka's bare skin rubbed against his own as Iruka washed him with scentless soap procured from... somewhere. The movement would have been stimulating, if Kakashi wasn't quite so exhausted. He could feel Iruka's body responding to the closeness, though Iruka didn't verbalize it, only continued to wash Kakashi's tired, sore body with a gentleness that Kakashi realized he'd missed terribly during his mission.
Once Iruka was satisfied with Kakashi's cleanliness, he turned off the water and helped Kakashi rise to slide into the bath. He shut off the spigot feeding the bath.
The hot water made Kakashi begin to feel a little more human almost immediately. He sank down to his chin, curling against the wooden side, full of unspoken gratitude.
Iruka turned the shower back on and washed himself brusquely and efficiently, keeping one eye on Kakashi to make sure the exhausted man didn't slip beneath the water. As soon as he was done, he, too, slid into the water, collecting Kakashi in his arms. Kakashi leaned back against Iruka's chest, eyes closed, and smiled wryly to himself. So much had changed in the past year or two since he'd really begun getting to know Iruka. He should have felt on edge, wary and alert, because of his weakness, but instead, he just felt warm and cared for. Nowhere did he feel as safe as he did in Iruka's arms. No one did he trust the way he trusted Iruka. Even here, in an unknown house, helplessly chakra depleted and exhausted, with no safety but that provided by Iruka, he couldn't help but relax his guard and let down his walls.
Kakashi woke to a post-storm silence. Somewhere off in the distance, water rushed in the river. The futon was still warm where Iruka had been lying beside him, but the bedding was cooling rapidly. A candle had been lit and placed on the counter of the kitchenette, and streaks of dirty gray light broke in between the slats of a window.
Kakashi sat up groggily, more surprised by how tired he didn't feel than by how tired he did feel. He must have slept for a long time.
His weapons pouches and tantō lay beside him, dry and clean, and his clothes lay folded neatly beside the futon as well. There was no sign of Iruka.
Kakashi dressed slowly, his muscles aching too much to move quickly, but other than the chakra depletion, he felt healthy. He left his mask pooled around his throat but tied his hitai-ate on over his now-dry hair and Sharingan eye.
Still, he was too tired to get up and head back to Konoha immediately, so he busied himself by putting the futon back into the oshīre closet and tidying what little Iruka had left out.
Iruka had left out a bento box of cold rice and salt-broiled saury, and upon further exploration, Kakashi realized that the tin cup on the stove carried eggplant miso. A beaten-up kettle – presumably belonging to the safe house – held steaming hot water, and a mug had been set out with powdered green tea already heaped at the bottom. Kakashi smiled and applied himself to the food and drink with gratitude.
He wished he could have seen Iruka off, but he thought Iruka might have mentioned his own mission, or class, or something. Kakashi couldn't quite remember what Iruka had said, the night before, because he'd been so exhausted. Still, it was clear that Iruka had stayed until only just a short while ago, and Kakashi knew that Iruka had stayed until he was sure Kakashi could take care of himself.
For all that he wasn't safely in Konoha, Kakashi felt surprisingly safe and content. It certainly didn't hurt that Iruka had made him his favorite foods for breakfast as a welcome home after a long mission.
Kakashi cleaned up the dishes, packing Iruka's tin cup, mug, and bento box into a sealing scroll to return to Iruka later. The kettle, he emptied and placed back into a cupboard, and the counters, he wiped down.
Kakashi used the toiletries from his field kit to wash up at the sink of the kitchenette before pulling his mask back up over his nose and mouth.
He looked around the little room. He could use another hour or two of sitting and staying put before heading back to Konoha, particularly if the ground was very muddy and the trees very wet. Even rejuvenated as he was by the best full night's sleep he could remember, his bones still ached with fatigue.
That decided, he sat down by his weapons and drew his tantō.
The tantō was a poor mockery of his White Light Chakra Sabre, but a sword had been a necessary weapon for his mission to the Land of Lightning so that he could blend in with the local people. He'd chosen a tantō for its familiarity, though it was only his on loan from the armory. Now that he looked at it, it needed to be resharpened and the hilt wrapping needed to be replaced before he could return it. He sighed and pulled out a bundle of soft white leather strapping from a pocket of his flak jacket.
Sharpening the blade took less than half an hour. He had almost finished wrapping the hilt with the white leather when the ANBU appeared.
Kakashi continued wrapping the hilt, unperturbed by the sudden appearance of the masked ANBU before him. He knew Tenzō, and he'd felt Tenzō and two others coming since some time prior. The other two prowled the perimeter, a seamless team.
"How long have you been here, sempai?" Tenzō asked into the stillness only broken by the slight sound of Kakashi wrapping the cord tightly around the handle of the tantō.
"Since last night," Kakashi said mildly. "Got caught in the rain." He could practically feel the tension of the nerves beneath Tenzō's skin. Something was wrong, but he knew Tenzō would tell him sooner or later.
"Who were you with?"
Kakashi looked up from the sword. "Why?"
The porcelain mask gave away nothing.
"There's been another Hyūga murder," Tenzō said instead. Kakashi started with alarm. What was that, four in a month, now? All Hyūga family members, all with the capability to use byakugan. The unspoken question swirling through Konoha abruptly came back to Kakashi: How?
"Where were you between seventeen and twenty-five o'clock last night, sempai?" Tenzō continued, oblivious to Kakashi's thoughts.
Kakashi opened his mouth, then closed it again, sharply puzzled. He didn't remember when he'd fallen asleep, but it must have been after eight or nine in the evening. That couldn't have been that long after he and Iruka had arrived at this safe house. But he had no memory of more than a few moments before Iruka had found him, and no memory of anything after the bath, no memory of getting ready to fall asleep. He must have gone through the motions – his mouth hadn't felt disgusting enough this morning to have missed brushing his teeth last night, and his hair wasn't standing up as if he'd fallen asleep on it while it was still wet – but he had no memory of doing those things. Except for the brief half hour or hour with Iruka, he had no memory of the time frame provided by Tenzō whatsoever.
"I was on my way back from my mission, and I stopped here," Kakashi finally said, slowly. "I must have. But... I don't remember. Am I under suspicion?" He kept his voice level, the tone lazy, but he frantically searched his memory for anything from the night before. He kept coming up with nothing.
"Everyone with water release and fire release is currently being investigated," Tenzō said, revealing without giving away the details that, like the previous Hyūga murders, this last one had been committed with a water-fire combination technique. "You're not under suspicion, exactly, except...."
Kakashi waited until it was clear that Tenzō didn't mean to continue on his own. "Except...?" Kakashi prompted.
"His body was found not too far from here, near the river," Tenzō said reluctantly. "Who were you with, sempai?"
"I was with Iruka-sensei," Kakashi said softly, barely registering the tiniest flinch in the frame of the ANBU operative standing over him. "He was the one who found me and brought me here. But I don't remember what happened before I ran into him. I don't remember much after we arrived. Tenzō, I... I think you'd better take me into custody." He said it calmly, his voice flat, but his heart had leapt into his throat. He carefully sheathed the tantō and set it down, moving back from it carefully as though it might bite him. If he was guilty, and if his memory was no longer working, that meant he was a risk to those around him. Better that he didn't hold edged weapons. "I may not have known if I was under genjutsu. I was too chakra depleted to use my Sharingan."
Tenzō hesitated. "You're not under suspicion, sempai."
"Maybe I should be," Kakashi said flatly.
"Where is Iruka-sensei now?" Tenzō asked instead.
Kakashi shook his head. "He left before I woke up. He'd left out food that was still warm, so it couldn't have been long before I woke up, but I don't remember where he said he was planning to go, last night."
"Sempai," Tenzō said very carefully, "Iruka-sensei has been missing for two days."
"What?" Kakashi demanded, rising. He swayed, vision going murky for a moment as his blood protested the sudden battle against gravity. Tenzō caught his arm and steadied him. "What do you mean, Iruka-sensei has been missing for two days?"
"He didn't show up at the Academy two days ago, and no one has been able to locate him since," Cat said, letting herself into the room.
Kakashi spun, then immediately crumpled to the ground, too chakra depleted to hold himself up. "But..." he whispered, looking at his gloved hands where they pressed down against the tatami. He shivered.
"Tenzō," Kakashi said quietly, a shadow of fear beginning to rise like bile in his throat, "this safe house. How did you find me here?"
He could hear Tenzō cock his head slightly with confusion. "It was the safe house closest to the body, and we found your footprints."
Kakashi closed his eye. "This safe house is in active use." It wasn't quite a question.
"Yes," Tenzō said, sounding more puzzled than before.
"Why didn't I know about it?"
There was a long pause.
"What do you mean?" Tenzō finally asked. "We've stayed here before."
Kakashi's hands fisted against the tatami. Something was terribly, terribly wrong, and he was beginning to understand just how wrong it truly was.
"You need to take me into custody, and that's an order," Kakashi said softly. "I have no memory of this safe house, no memory of what happened for most of last night, and now I'm not even completely sure I really met Iruka-sensei."
He felt rather than saw Tenzō and Cat exchange looks.
"Okay, sempai," Tenzō said emotionlessly. "You don't look like you can walk."
"I'm afraid I can't," Kakashi agreed ruefully. "I'm still exhausted. But there's no sense in taking any risks."
He climbed slowly to his feet, trying desperately to stand steady, and held out his hands, wrists together.
Tenzō and Cat both hesitated, but then wood sprang up from the floor, wrapping around Kakashi's open hands, binding them tightly enough that he would be unable to make hand seals, and more wrapped around his ankles, binding his legs together.
"I'm sorry for causing you trouble," Kakashi said softly.
He was so exhausted. The effort and the battering thoughts were too much, then, and he let darkness envelop him.