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Opening the Roads

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Iruka had barely gotten five minutes into his lesson when Kotetsu slid the classroom door open and nodded sharply toward the hallway.

"What is it?" Iruka asked quietly, shutting the door behind him.

"Godaime wants to see you now," Kotetsu said, his face expressionless but still somehow conveying urgency.

Iruka didn't ask any more questions, just motioned to his classroom and said, "They're all yours. Make them learn the names of the chakra pathways by lunch."

Kotetsu's blank expression slid into something rather horrified. "Aren't those the six-year-olds?" he asked, as Iruka turned to go.

Iruka gave him a bright smile and set off for the Hokage's office.


Although working in the mission room while Tsunade was there had somewhat inured Iruka to her presence, there was something about her sitting at her desk in her office that made him very, very nervous. He wondered if her teeth were really as pointy as they looked, sometimes.

"You sent for me, Hokage-sama?" Iruka said after a moment.

Shizune, standing quietly next to the desk, handed Tsunade a folder, which Tsunade didn't even bother to look at.

"Your mother wasn't born in this village," Tsunade said, watching Iruka over her interlaced fingers.

"No, Hokage-sama," Iruka said, wondering what that had to do with anything.

"Your father's family, before Konohagakure was founded, came from the southern peninsula. They came from the oceanside -- hence your family name of Umino."

Iruka didn't think that was a question. "That's what I recall being told."

Tsunade opened the folder, but didn't take her eyes off of Iruka. "Your mother taught you the dialect of the Lightning country, didn't she?"

Iruka blinked. "She often spoke it at home with me. She spent a long time undercover in Kumogakure, since she grew up on the border with the Lightning Country, and I think she wanted me to know multiple languages. We talked about starting on the Waterfall dialect. We…didn't get the chance, in the end." He didn't have to mention why, and Shizune, at least, looked sympathetic.

"I have a mission for you. You know that Konoha and Kumogakure have been at war for decades now, on and off. We -- Konoha, and our daimyo -- can't afford to have multiple enemies at the moment. Last week, the daimyo sent an envoy with one of our jounin, in an attempt to negotiate a non-aggression pact. I might add," Tsunade said dryly, "that this was all at my urging. So when the envoy was assassinated four days ago, our benevolent daimyo decreed that he wasn't going to waste another Lightning-speaking courtier on what he views as a hopeless cause."

It didn't take Iruka long to divine what she wanted. "You want me to go and continue the negotiations?" He couldn't say he'd ever done anything like that before. He was a chuunin academy teacher, not a courtier trained in statecraft and diplomacy.

"I don't have anyone else who can make sure they're not trying to screw us over. You'll go as a courtier -- there's no reason to advertise that you can defend yourself, not when we're still unsure who assassinated the original envoy. If Kumogakure makes an attempt on your life, we'll know they're still a bunch of scumbags. But if it's someone else just trying to destabilize any possible pact between our two countries…" Tsunade trailed off, but Iruka knew enough to suppose that she suspected Orochimaru's influence.

"When do I leave?" he asked.

"Tomorrow morning. I'll send your escort to your apartment tonight to discuss arrangements," she said, in what was clearly a dismissal.

"Yes, Hokage-sama," he said, and bowed deeply.


The house he grew up in had been mostly destroyed in the Kyuubi's attack. He'd salvaged some pictures and a few things from the kitchen. His mother's wooden chest, a dense, unwieldy thing, had been strong enough to withstand a support beam leaning on it.

He'd left it where it was. It didn't seem worth it to go in and get it.

The third Hokage had come around to the house before it was going to be demolished. "Iruka, hadn't you better get that chest out of there?"

"I don't need it," he'd replied, sullen and still hurting so terribly much.

Sarutobi's eyes had been gentle, and he'd said, "You know, one day you might be glad you kept it." An almost soundless jutsu deposited the heavy thing at Iruka's feet, and the support beam had groaned to the ground.

When it came to Iruka, Sarutobi always seemed to know what Iruka needed, in ways he wouldn't always realize until later. Like now.

He undid the seal on the chest and carefully pushed it open. Inside were things he hadn't looked at in a long time -- the jutsu had kept everything inside in more or less perfect condition, so that the clothes that had belonged to his grandfather were still soft instead of stiff and brittle. His mother's books, too -- the pages hadn't yellowed at all.

He stood up slowly and began to strip off his shinobi uniform. He'd never met his grandfather, but he remembered his mother telling him stories. A strong scent of cedar from the box clung to the gi, haori, and hakama, and when he turned to look in the mirror, he wondered if he looked anything like his grandfather.

"You'll need hair lacquer and face paint. Unless that's in the box, too, although that kind of jutsu doesn't really mix with liquids," came a voice from the doorway.

Iruka had already fished a kunai out of his clothes on the floor and turned to face the intruder before he finished his sentence. "Kakashi-sensei," he said, making an effort to be professional and civil in light of the fact that the man had broken into his apartment. Just because he was a jounin didn't mean he couldn't at least knock.

Kakashi was silent for a moment, before carefully reaching a hand forward to adjust the the neckline of the haori. Iruka watched him as if in slow motion -- he knew that Kakashi was taking exaggerated care, because a swift move toward any shinobi's neck was asking for a fight.

"Thank you," Iruka said eventually, trying not to look suspicious.

"The courtier who was assassinated was under my protection," Kakashi said, in a manner that would have been abrupt if his voice hadn't been so soft. "We take no chances. How paranoid was the former owner of these clothes?" His hand found its way inside one panel of the haori, and Iruka attempted not to jump despite having another man stroke his fingers against his clothing. "Paranoid enough," Kakashi said after a moment, withdrawing his hand. "I count four hidden pockets in one side, and one at the neck. I assume there are others."

Iruka stiffened at the realization that Kakashi hadn't been rearranging his collar so much as feeling up his clothes for their defensive capabilities. "I haven't checked," he said shortly.

"Do so," Kakashi coolly. "Our intelligence still hasn't uncovered what we're up against, and you're useless to me if you can't even protect yourself."

Iruka bristled at that, his hands clenching into fists. "I may be a chuunin and a teacher, but don't you dare assume I'll be a burden. And without me, you don't have a mission at all -- and no second chance to fix your mistake."

Kakashi's visible eye narrowed almost imperceptibly. "And you have too much of a temper to really be suited to diplomacy. Make sure you keep it in check, no matter what. We'll leave at dawn."

He left without another word, and Iruka fumed at the closed door for a few moments before cursing succinctly. And then, because he was too good of a shinobi not to, he shucked off the clothes and began to check for places to hide weapons, mentally matching them up with his personal inventory.


It had been more than a year since Naruto had left in the company of Jiraya, and Iruka didn't have anyone else to say goodbye to, not really. Mizuki had been in prison for years, his family was gone, and Naruto was wandering the countryside with the biggest pervert Konoha had ever produced. He often wondered what they were up to -- it wasn't that he didn't trust Jiraya to see to Naruto's shinobi education, but really, what kind of role model was Jiraiya, anyway? Still, Iruka supposed that several years of exposure to Hatake Kakashi had given the boy some immunity.

He tugged a comb through his lacquered hair, endeavoring to produce the sort of smooth, no-hair-out-of-place high ponytail favored by young men from the daimyo's court. If he had been older, he would have gone for the more respectable topknot, but appearing younger might make him look harmless. If the enemy underestimated him due to his supposed youth and inexperience, so much the better.

After applying the necessary cosmetics and donning the heavily embroidered haori over dark blue damask, he wasn't sure he recognized himself in the mirror. He didn't look like a teacher or a shinobi, and it was probably just as well. He sneered at himself in the mirror and ruined it by laughing -- he looked just like a young fop he'd once escorted many years ago.

His things were packed, so he locked his apartment and went to Konoha's main gate to find Kakashi waiting, the reins for two horses held in his fist. He shouldn't have been surprised, not really -- although Naruto had bitterly complained about Kakashi's tardiness, of course the man would be punctual for an important mission.

"What do you think?" Iruka asked as he approached.

Kakashi looked him over slowly. "You'll do."

Iruka refrained from rolling his eyes and instead secured his baggage to his horse.

"You are armed, aren't you?" Kakashi asked.

"No, because I'm an idiot and I want to die. Of course I'm armed," Iruka said scathingly as he swung a leg up and over the horse, settling himself securely in the saddle.

"You might have forgotten while you were painting your eyelids," Kakashi said in a reasonable voice, sitting astride his own horse.

"I could prove it by giving you an impromptu haircut," Iruka offered. "It looks a little overgrown, anyway."

"You could try," Kakashi said, in a bored tone that nonetheless suggested that such a maneuver would not be conducive to Iruka's future wellbeing.


When the requisite traps had been set around their campsite for the night, the horses taken care of, and a simple meal eaten, Iruka relaxed in front of the fire with one of his mother's books spread out over his lap. Kakashi sat across from him, giving every appearance of avidly reading one of his smutty novels, but Iruka still felt like he was being looked at, somehow.

He'd resisted broaching this topic most of the day, but after all, Naruto was the bond that had welded them together, however unwillingly. "I've been wondering," Iruka said, keeping his voice low, trying not to startle a ninja he was reasonably sure was paying attention to him anyway. "I don't know if you can tell me, but if you can -- have you heard from Naruto or Jiraya-sama?"

Kakashi made eye contact, but if his mouth twisted into a pitying or disapproving frown, his mask hid it completely. "No," he said after a moment.

Iruka wasn't entirely sure if that negation meant that Kakashi hadn't received word, or if he wasn't allowed to tell a chuunin anything. Still, in the spirit of sharing, he said, "I received a letter from Naruto, about six months ago."

Kakashi didn't say anything, but Iruka thought that swift glance indicated some interest in the subject.

"He didn't say much," Iruka said, looking out over the forest around them. "He's learning new things, had a bit of a growth spurt. He's aiming to be as tall as you, apparently," Iruka said, giving Kakashi a sidelong glance.

Kakashi seemed to be amused, if the crinkling of his visible eye was any indication.

Iruka smiled ruefully, mostly to himself. "I even missed his atrocious kanji. I always knew he'd grow up and leave his childhood behind, but I didn't know it would be so soon." He regretted it almost after he said it -- what would Kakashi think of an Academy teacher waxing maudlin over one of his former genin?

Kakashi shut his book. "We should get some sleep," he suggested, but it wasn't so much of a suggestion as an order.

Iruka realized, too late, that the dissolution of Team 7 probably weighed heavily on Kakashi's mind, and he might not appreciate the reminder. Still, Iruka thought, closing his own book carefully, he didn't appreciate Kakashi ending the subject like that and sending him off to bed like a child or a disobedient subordinate.

After setting out one of the thin bedrolls to sleep on, Iruka changed out of his inherited finery into a yukata to sleep in. He was about to settle in for the night when he remembered he was still wearing makeup. "What a nuisance," he muttered. "I'll be back in a minute -- I'm going to go wash this off," he said to Kakashi.

When he came back, Kakashi was already lying down in his bedroll, which he'd placed right next to Iruka's. He could have placed it next to the banked fire, but he'd put it next to Iruka's in a protective position, as though Iruka really were the courtier in need of defense he was pretending to be. He couldn't fault Kakashi for sticking to their cover so assiduously, but some part of him still felt mildly irritated for being forced into the position of being protected by a man who probably didn't think he could defend himself anyway.

Kakashi was reading again, so Iruka settled into his bedroll and pointedly said good night before closing his eyes.

Kakashi didn't return the sentiment, and Iruka tried not to get worked up over the man's rudeness. He heard Kakashi's book shut and the slight rustling of a blanket, and when he was drifting along the edge of sleep, he heard Kakashi murmur, "Don't you know how much he loves you? He'll never grow out of that."

Coward, Iruka wanted to say, only telling me that when you think I'm asleep. Then again, this was Sharingan Kakashi -- maybe he'd wanted Iruka to know, after all.


It was downright chilly in the morning, and Iruka knew it would get worse as they moved farther north. Kakashi was already up and feeding the horses, and Iruka felt a little crabby about Kakashi patronizing him by letting him sleep in.

He got up and splashed water on his face, and redid his hair. He could already see that make-up every day was going to be annoying, but there was nothing to be done about it, really. He sighed and went to work on covering up the scar that crossed his nose.

After he had moved on to carefully lining his eyes, Kakashi approached and studied him for a moment. "That's a deep scar -- you've covered it well," he said. Scars were a fact of shinobi life -- everyone had them, and it wasn't seemly to explicitly ask about them. Iruka was thankful that Kakashi was socially aware enough to abide by this unspoken rule.

"Thank you," he said casually, and resumed painting his eyes as if Kakashi hadn't just stumbled on an area that Iruka had no intention of discussing with him.

Besides, even if Kakashi had directly asked, Iruka couldn't have told him what he wanted to know.


Iruka had taught horseback riding to any number of academy students, so he felt at ease in the saddle. Shinobi usually walked (or, more accurately, ran), but if the circumstances of the mission required it, they would ride alongside their clients. He hadn't ridden a horse this extensively in…well, it must have been years.

"I'd forgotten how the trees change up here," he said to Kakashi. The broadleaf trees of Konoha gave way to evergreens and birch, the further north they went.

Kakashi, who rather astonishingly had perfect posture in the saddle, was riding easily beside him. "Don't get out of the village often?" Kakashi asked, although it didn't sound quite like a criticism.

Iruka tilted a hand over his eyes and looked at the horizon. "At first, I thought I could handle missions on top of the academy, but…it just took more and more of my time, and well. It took me awhile to reconcile to it, but this is my shinobi way." He smiled deprecatingly to himself. "We can't all be Sharingan Kakashi, after all."

"I don't know that I would recommend it," Kakashi said dryly.

Iruka tried to fight back a smile. "In between complaining about your, er, unique time sense, Naruto used to tell me how relentlessly cool you were. Must be tiring," he said, ruining his deadpan delivery with a little snicker at the end.

"Well, it does interrupt my reading time, which is pretty tragic," Kakashi said, pulling out a familiar book.

Iruka looked at the book skeptically. "Isn't that the same book that came out last year?"

"And not a new once since," Kakashi said mournfully, turning a few well-worn pages. Then he looked at Iruka, and his gaze turned intent. "How did you know this was the last book to come out? Tell me, sensei, are you an Icha Icha fan?"

Iruka turned his nose up in the air. "If I had time to read, I wouldn't waste it on that."

"Are you sure?" Kakashi drawled. "Tell you what, I could read aloud to you as we go."

"No thank you!" Iruka said, and nudged his horse to go a little faster.


"You remember it all?" Kakashi asked, sounding genuinely curious.

They had made camp for the night, and Iruka was sitting with one of his mother's books again. He traced one finger down the characters on the page. "I kept it up. I had her books, and old Hashimoto-san down in the market was from the Lightning Country, so I had a chance to speak it occasionally."

Kakashi attended to the fish they were roasting over the fire in lieu of answering.

"I guess it is a little unusual. Did your parents pass down anything like that to you?" Iruka asked, feeling warm and comfortable.

"I became a genin when I was five," Kakashi answered flatly. "That was the only thing my parents were interested in passing on to me."

Damn, damn, damn, Iruka thought. And just when he'd thought Kakashi was warming up to him.


It grew colder as they went further north -- not cold enough to snow, but cold enough for Kakashi to shove their bedrolls together and share covers. It wasn't anything Iruka hadn't done hundreds of times before, but something seemed a little off, somehow.

"Lacquer your hair and suddenly you turn into a ninny," Iruka admonished himself in a mutter, stripping off his clothes determinedly for an evening bath. Kakashi had led them to what looked like a hot spring built up for travelers -- nothing fancy, but the hot water sounded heavenly.

He draped his clothes over a low hanging tree branch, next to Kakashi's uniform, and padded quietly over to the makeshift granite tub, which frankly looked like someone had put a jutsu to creative use. He decided he didn't want to know, and joined Kakashi next to the bath.

"Bucket method, I'm afraid," Kakashi said, lifting out two buckets of hot water out of the bath.

"I'm not fussy," Iruka assured him. "It wasn't like I was expecting a high-class resort out in the middle of nowhere."

"Have a seat, sensei," Kakashi said, nodding his head at the raised block of stone outside the bath. Iruka sat obediently, his towel draped over his lap. He reached for one bucket to start washing himself, when Kakashi said, "I've got it."

"What--" Iruka started to ask, when Kakashi slowly tipped the contents of one bucket over Iruka's shoulders. Iruka breathed in sharply, because the water was just a touch too hot after being cold all day. He was about to ask for the soap when he felt Kakashi touch the braided cord that held his hair up.

"Should I take this out?" Kakashi murmured, closer to Iruka's ear than he'd realized.

"You don't need to--" Iruka began to say, but he stopped protesting the minute Kakashi's fingers began rubbing soap into his hair after wetting it down.

"All part of a shinobi's service, wouldn't you say?" Kakashi said, pressing his thumbs into Iruka's neck.

Iruka closed his eyes blissfully. "I can't say I've ever washed a client's hair before."

"First time for everything," Kakashi said. "Tilt your head back so I can rinse."

Iruka did so, and shivered at the feel of Kakashi's fingers stroking through his hair.

"Wash your back too, shall I?" Kakashi said softly, his callused fingertips brushing over Iruka's shoulderblades.

It would have taken a man much stronger than Iruka to refuse.

Iruka languidly went to work scrubbing the rest of himself afterward, and Kakashi sat down next to him. Kakashi had a towel tied around his face in lieu of his mask, and Iruka sat very still for a moment, and then asked, "Could I -- that is, would you like me to--"

Kakashi's covered eye was closest to him, so he couldn't see his expression. "My back, if you wouldn't mind," he said after a moment, sounding too casual. "I'll wash my own hair."

Iruka had thought as much. Anyone who went to as much trouble as Kakashi did to conceal his face wasn't going to be eager to have another person's hands anywhere near their head.

Iruka rose slowly and made every effort to be deliberate and obvious in his movements. The very last thing he wanted was for a paranoid jounin to react instinctively to a surprising touch to his back. He drew a soapy cloth across Kakashi's back, and noticed small, thin scars here and there in the pale skin. Nothing like the scar mass in the center of Iruka's back, which he belatedly felt a little self-conscious over. In fact, Kakashi may have been the first person to see it outside of the medical nin who had tended to him.

Iruka concluded that he needed to get out more, if the first person who had seen him in a state of undress in more than a year was a jounin escort who was probably a little mentally unbalanced. Then again, there was nothing quite like being actually stabbed in the back by a former lover to make one reconsider the wisdom of personal liaisons.


Iruka woke the next morning to a hand clenching at his hip. He knew better than to move, especially when he felt Kakashi trace the field shorthand for "we're being watched" against Iruka's skin with his thumb.

Iruka blinked his eyes open and stretched a little. "It's cold," he made himself say petulantly. "Couldn't you at least build up the fire?"

"My apologies," Kakashi said, and slipped out of bed. Iruka hoped the excuse of looking for more kindling would allow Kakashi to find out who was keeping them under surveillance.

"How much further do we have to go, anyway?" Iruka said in a fair imitation of one of his student's whining. "I'm sick of sleeping outside."

"Another day at least, Iruka-sama," Kakashi said. "Please be patient."

Iruka flopped back into the bedding with a huff, his mind working that information over. Mostly likely Kumo shinobi, if they were that close, and they'd probably be tailed the rest of the way to their hidden village. Oh well, Iruka reasoned -- at least he'd have a head start on establishing himself as a useless fop.

"We should be on our way as soon as possible if we want to make good time," Kakashi said.

"Fine," Iruka grumbled, and got out of bed. He took his time fussing over his makeup, preening in the small mirror he'd brought with him. "This is just terrible," he complained out loud. "All this wind. It's going to ruin my hair in five minutes, and you can't expect me to go to negotiations looking like some backwater nobody." He looked over at Kakashi. "I can't even see properly. Come make sure my hair is okay," he said imperiously.

Kakashi stood up from putting a pot to boil over the fire, and obediently joined Iruka at one side of the camp. Kakashi smoothed his fingers through Iruka's hair, then put his lips next to Iruka's ear. "Six," he said almost soundlessly. "Keep going."

"Oh," Iruka sighed, not entirely feigned, letting his head drop back against Kakashi's shoulder. Kakashi stroked his fingertips down Iruka's neck and under the collar of his yukata, and Iruka's eyes fluttered almost shut. "Are you sure we have to get going right away?" he asked, trying for pouty and maybe a little breathless.

If Kakashi's sharply indrawn breath was any indication, he succeeded. "Iruka-sama," he said regretfully.

Iruka sighed, sounding less aroused and more annoyed. "You'd just mess up my makeup, anyway," he said, and stepped away. "I'm making breakfast. I refuse to eat one of those horrible ration bars again."

"As you like, Iruka-sama," Kakashi said.

Iruka wondered how many more days they were going to have to do this.


Even though Iruka knew he was coming as an official envoy, there was something about walking straight into an unfamiliar hidden village, unconcealed and wide out in the open that made him very nervous. A small escort of Kumo shinobi accompanied them on foot, and Iruka did his best to ride with his back straight and his head held high.

They stopped at the gate, and Iruka didn't bother to dismount, yet. "I am the envoy from the Fire Daimyo. I wish to meet with the Raikage as soon as possible." He said it in quite possibly the snottiest tone he could manage, and was actually a little surprised when people started to scramble around to make things happen.

Somebody who actually seemed to know what was going on stepped forward and said, "I'd be pleased to show you to your quarters. The Raikage will meet with you first thing in the morning."

Iruka sniffed a little at that. "Very well."

Kakashi rode close to him, and Iruka didn't have to look at him to know that they were vulnerable and Kakashi was on the alert.

After being settled in a spacious and rather tasteful suite of rooms, Kakashi inspected the food laid out for them with a variety of jutsu. "It's safe," Kakashi said shortly, keeping his eyes on the door.

"Good, because I'm starving," Iruka said, and began trying to eat dinner without trailing his sleeves in anything. He politely kept his head turned from Kakashi, as he had since the beginning of their journey during mealtimes.

"You don't have to do that," Kakashi said after a moment.

"Hmm?" Iruka said around a mouthful of food.

"You don't have to look away. I'd rather you looked than got killed because you were too busy being polite to see danger," Kakashi said.

Iruka swallowed. And looked.

And looked some more. And then turned his eyes firmly toward the dish of sweet simmered pork in from of him, and hoped the white powder concealed the blush on his face.


Kakashi pushed their futon together again, and put himself between Iruka and the entrance to the room. Iruka was a little too keyed up to sleep -- would an assassin come tonight? If they did, how would they distinguish between Sound and Cloud, and what if a Cloud shinobi was in the employ of Sound? A lot could go wrong, and Iruka promised himself that he'd never complain about grading papers again if he lived through this.

Kakashi set various traps around the room, and then came to bed. His jounin vest went right beside his futon, and various kunai and scrolls were tucked under the pillow. With the light doused, Iruka waited.

And sure enough, Kakashi lifted up Iruka's cover and settled himself over Iruka, bending his neck down to whisper in Iruka's ear. "Still being watched by Kumo shinobi. The assassin last time attacked on our way back from an audience with the Raikage. I don't know if they'll even let us get a chance to see the Raikage this time, so we'll have to be on our guard." He was quiet for a moment. "Make some noise, Iruka -- we should entertain our voyeurs."

Iruka breathed in through his nose and then moaned softly. He changed his breathing, a little sigh now and again, remembering the feel of Kakashi's fingertips along his neck, stroking down his back, remembered how long it had been since anyone had touched him like that.

And then Kakashi whispered, "More."

Iruka wondered what he wanted until he felt Kakashi's hand part his yukata and circle his cock, and then he bucked up into Kakashi's grip with a surprised gasp. He could feel that Kakashi was reaching out with his senses to listen to their spies, and wanted to listen himself, but he could only feel the firm weight of Kakashi's thigh between his legs, and the slow, torturous rhythm of Kakashi's hand on his erection.

And when he moaned out, "Please," and "Oh," and, "Faster," he wasn't sure how much was acting and how much was him straining against Kakashi for release. He added a whimpering, "Don't, not there," just for their audience, and felt Kakashi grin against his neck.

And after far too long of keeping Iruka teetering on the edge, Kakashi had mercy and let him tumble over, embarrassing and unscripted noise spilling from Iruka's mouth as his hips jerked against Kakashi's hand.

"Oh, Iruka-sama," Kakashi said in a low, satisfied groan, and then whispered, "Not bad, sensei."

If it hadn't been during the immediate afterglow, Iruka might have clocked him upside the head, mission or no mission.


The Raikage turned out to have two things in common with Tsunade -- one, he was rather beautiful, and two, he gave the air that he could wipe the floor with a hundred people and barely lift a finger.

"I assure you, Iruka-dono, Kumogakure had absolutely nothing to do with the very unfortunate assassination of Miyabe-dono. You must understand, these are uncertain times for us all, and who knows what lengths to which other hidden villages might go to disrupt our new…relationship?" The Raikage brushed his fingers through his long, inky tendrils of hair, but the eyes he turned in Iruka's direction were serious and piercing.

Iruka bowed his head to the floor from his seat on the tatami. "These are uncertain times, as you say, Raikage-sama," Iruka said, successfully rendering the response fluidly in Lightening dialect. He felt reasonably certain that the Raikage understood Fire dialect or even the common dialect perfectly well, and was merely insisting on his native dialect to be difficult. "But surely we should not let jealous outsiders prevent us from conducting ourselves as we please?"

The Raikage's painted lips curved into a smile. "What a well-mannered and wise young man you are. Truly, if the Hokage had sent you in the first place, no one would have dared to remove your beauty from this earth."

Iruka froze, and then relaxed with a forced little laugh. "I'm just a lowly courtier, Raikage-sama," Iruka answered lightly.

"But one authorized to negotiate for the Hokage and her daimyo," the Raikage said sweetly, with a thread of chill analysis.

"As you say," Iruka replied, feeling just a little uncomfortable.

"Then, by all means, let us negotiate," the Raikage purred. "Won't you sit closer, Iruka-dono? I hate to shout across the room."

Iruka gave a nervous glance back at Kakashi, who was stoically kneeling behind him and just to the left, and inched forward toward the Raikage.


Later that night in the dark, Kakashi rolled over on top of him again, and whispered in Iruka's ear, "You know, when the Hokage said, 'negotiate,' I really don't think she meant, 'flirt madly."

Iruka bit gently on Kakashi's ear, by way of revenge. "I wasn't flirting. I was trying to keep one of the five most powerful people in the known world from molesting me in public."

Kakashi's hand smoothed down Iruka's hip. "You fluttered your eyelashes."

"You're delusional," Iruka snapped in a whisper. "And where do you get off criticizing me?"

"What kind of team leader lets one of his subordinates put himself in a dangerous position?" Kakashi asked, ghosting a little warm breath in Iruka's ear.

Iruka gasped at that, and then glared at Kakashi mutinously, for all that they couldn't see each other in the intense dark of the room. "Is it my position as your subordinate you're worried about? Because I'm pretty sure I'm lying underneath you, not the Raikage." Iruka arched his hips up, rubbing himself against Kakashi and feeling a familiar hardness against his hip in turn.

"You don't even know what you're doing," Kakashi said, grabbing one of Iruka's buttocks to lift him into the slow grind of their bodies against each other.

Iruka decided to cheat, and rubbed at Kakashi's nipples through his uniform. "Mmm, don't I?" he said coyly, loud enough to be heard by any onlookers.

"This isn't a game," Kakashi warned softly, hips still pushing insistently against Iruka's, the hot length of his erection rubbing next to Iruka's. Iruka made some throaty, theatrical sighs in between kissing and sucking at Kakashi's neck.

He ground himself against Kakashi in a slow, goading circle, and said, "It's not a game? Then stop."

Kakashi froze.

"I'll do what it takes for a mission," Iruka whispered. "But don't think you can screw with me and say it's nothing when you act like this." He pushed at Kakashi's shoulders. "Get off of me."

Kakashi obediently rolled over. "Now I see why your students live in fear of you."

Sexually frustrated or not, Iruka smiled, all teeth. "And don't you forget it."


Iruka felt a strange sort of kinship for the Raikage's staff -- after all, he was all too familiar with what it felt like to work for an insanely powerful, and probably also just insane person.

In particular, he liked an elderly man called Nowaki -- Nowaki looked like he'd been a shinobi in his youth, but had since become a steward of protocol and had helped Iruka out in any number of ways during the rather grueling past week of negotiations. Nowaki had the sort of inner calm that Iruka associated with Sandaime -- a sort of internal peace that Iruka longed for but could never achieve.

"So much more difficult to do this with an intermediary," Nowaki sighed, but he didn't sound particularly put upon. "We'll have to rewrite the third section to reflect its proxy negotiation."

Iruka tried not to chew on the top of his pen, having already gotten a look for it once. "Do we have to change the fifth section too?"

Nowaki scanned it quickly. "Yes. Good catch."

Iruka didn't really fight the smile the crossed his face. When it came right down to it, this was what he liked -- helping organize and expedite, in addition to teaching. It really wasn't anything like what Kakashi did (who was waiting just outside the door to the cramped and tiny office), but a hidden village needed a bureaucracy in addition to its assassins and spies.

Iruka began to rewrite one of the sections, while Nowaki worked on the other. Time passed in mostly comfortable silence, with occasional consultations about a word or a phrase. It was well into the night when they had a clean copy, and Nowaki stood up with a sigh. "I'm getting too old for this," he said with a wry grimace.

"Nonsense," Iruka said, "you write with a steadier hand than I do."

Nowaki waved the compliment away, straightening up the desk and putting everything in order. "That's it for now -- I'll take the final version to the Raikage to look over before the morning."

"Thank you for all your help," Iruka said, and bowed lower than he probably should have, if he had really been a little lordling from another country.

"Don't mention it," Nowaki said. "But maybe you could tell me something."

"What's that?" Iruka asked.

Nowaki looked him straight in the eye. "Who are you, and why are you wearing my clothes?"


Kakashi was in the room and between Iruka and Nowaki before Nowaki's thumb even touched the bridge of Iruka's nose.

"There's a scar there, isn't there," Nowaki said, a strange kind of intensity to his voice, so calm before. "Right across your nose."

Iruka could only stare, rooted to the ground in shock. "Who…"

"We're not doing this here," Kakashi interrupted sharply. "Nowaki-san, do you have a safe location?"

Nowaki's eyes flickered at Kakashi once before settling back on Iruka. "Yes. Follow me."

The place he led them to looked like an old estate -- not wealthy, but respectable. "Come in," he said, and then with a look to Kakashi, "Do you want to perform the necessary jutsu, or shall I?"

"I will, thank you," Kakashi said, and with a blur of hand seals, Iruka recognized the jutsu for sound-blocking settling in a ring outside the room.

Nowaki was still looking at Iruka, like he could hardly believe he was there. "Show me," he said, bringing a damp cloth. "Show me."

Iruka took the cloth from him, and with a quick look at Kakashi for reassurance that this wasn't a completely foolish thing to do, began to clean the makeup from his scar.

"Those clothes were for my twentieth birthday. I had already been a jounin for two years -- I couldn't stand the thought of even a shrine visit without being armed." Nowaki's eyes did not stray from Iruka's face, not once. "I always wondered why Aranami took them when she left."

"Aranami?" Iruka repeated, almost soundless. He hadn't heard his mother's name in so long.

"Even when she found out that man was Konoha spy, she wouldn't give him up. She gave up her village instead -- and her family." Nowaki turned his head to one side for a moment. "I said so many terrible things to her -- called her traitor, faithless, not fit to be my daughter or a shinobi of Kumogakure. But she's been dead for thirteen years now, and I'll never have a chance to apologize."

"What are you saying?" Iruka asked, although it was more like begging.

"You can only be my grandson, whom I tried to take from Aranami when he was a child," Nowaki said heavily, seeming to age another twenty years in an instant.

Iruka abruptly sat up straight, his fingertips resting on his scar. "You can't be serious. My mother wasn't a Kumo shinobi. She -- all her life, in Konoha--"

Iruka felt Kakashi's fingers curl around his shoulder. "I think you should listen," Kakashi said quietly, and Iruka felt a vicious stab of betrayal at the pitying look in his eye. Kakashi had known?

"I couldn't forgive my daughter for leaving our village, but mostly what I couldn't forgive her for was leaving me alone," Nowaki said. "My wife had passed on several years before, and Aranami was my only child. I couldn't forgive her for leaving."

Iruka swallowed around the tightness in his throat. "The scar -- I don't remember getting it. My mother said the scar was an accident."

Nowaki smiled sadly. "It was. I tracked down you and your mother on your way to the Fire daimyo's castletown. I grabbed you and tried to persuade your mother to leave her husband behind and return home, but she wouldn't hear of it. You took one of my kunai when I was still arguing with your mother, and when she tried to take you back from me, you accidentally sliced your own face." Iruka was vaguely shocked to see tears welling in the old man's eyes. "I was so horrified to see blood on your face that I let Aranami take you back without saying anything more. I've done a lot of terrible things, but I would never have purposefully hurt you, not for anything."

Iruka could feel something wet and scalding pour down his cheeks -- tears, not blood as it must have when he was four.

And then he felt a not-so-delicate shove in the center of his back, toppling him forward into his grandfather's arms.

"She said you were gone," Iruka said, his voice choked. "I thought you were dead."

He felt Nowaki's hand cup the back of his head. "After the Kyuubi…it took me years to find out if the boy she named Iruka was still alive. I saw you pass the chuunin exam -- and I thought it was too late, that you would be better leaving everything behind you."

"No," Iruka said. "Never. I thought I was orphaned completely." He felt something like confused wonderment, for a lifetime of assumptions turned on its head.

"I'm old," Nowaki said hoarsely. "I've wasted years being angry with a daughter I'd give anything to see again. And someday I'll have to leave you alone again, but until then…" He took a deep breath. "What you came here to do -- I'll make sure this pact succeeds, so that the roads between Fire and Lightning are opened. I don't want to live in a world where I can't spend my last years with my only kin."

They were silent in a moment, and then Iruka was a bit startled to hear Kakashi's voice. "Nowaki-san, do you know who killed the previous envoy?"

Nowaki's arms tightened around Iruka, as if to protect him. "A Sound assassin," he said. "He was caught yesterday. I think the Raikage is dealing with him as we speak."

Iruka wasn't all that surprised at the news, and then he remembered something. "We forgot to give that draft to the Raikage," he said tiredly, worn out from too many surprises.

"We'll go in a bit. Just a little while longer," Nowaki said, something painful and desperate in his voice.

Iruka wasn't in a hurry to go anywhere.


"…and let us work toward mutual benefit, and defend each other from our enemies," the Raikage said solemnly, and brought his seal down onto the scroll in front of him.

Iruka bowed and held his hands out it, looking up only when he felt the scroll's weight settle in his palms.

"Thank you for your hard work, Iruka-dono," the Raikage said. "Perhaps, now that our countries are united in friendship, I'll see you again someday."

"Perhaps," Iruka stammered out. "Thank you, Raikage-sama."

The Raikage smiled, maybe the first honest one Iruka had seen on him. "Nowaki, would you like to escort our honored guests to the gates? I imagine Tsunade would like to see them as soon as possible."

Nowaki bowed in answer, and shortly after they arrived at the gates, where their horses were waiting for them.

Iruka turned to Nowaki. "I…I guess I should say--"

Nowaki took one swift step forward and embraced him. "Not goodbye. I'll see you as soon as I can. Well, if you're not on a mission, that is."

"Actually," Iruka said, "I'm a teacher."

Nowaki pulled back to look at him. "A teacher?" he asked. "I'll be damned. Your grandmother was a teacher."

For the first time, Iruka felt honestly proud, and not the least bit guilty or ashamed of being a teacher instead of a field agent. "Must run in the family," he suggested, and the smile on his grandfather's face was brilliant.

"Safe journey," Nowaki said. "Take care of him, jounin-san."

"With my life," Kakashi answered, bowing surprisingly low.

Iruka had a feeling he was missing something. But he and Kakashi got on their horses, Iruka waved once more, and they set off for Konoha.


"Aren't you going to yell at me?" Kakashi said eventually while setting up camp, midway through their trip home.

"Why would I yell?" Iruka asked.

Kakashi gave him a look and instead of clarifying, he said, "I've heard you yell. In fact, I'd wager all of Konoha has heard you hollering after Naruto. If you're not going to yell at me right away, some advance warning might be nice."

"Mighty jounin of Konoha don't really need advance warning, do they?" Iruka wondered aloud.

"Apparently they don't need thanks, either," Kakashi muttered.

"I'm supposed to thank you? I thought you wanted me to yell at you," Iruka said, giving Kakashi a sidelong look.

"Can we get this over with?" Kakashi said. If Iruka didn't know better, he'd think Kakashi was perilously close to whining.

"I assume you didn't tell me anything because Tsunade-sama ordered you not to unless it became necessary. I'm not going to yell at you for that, and if you think I would, you obviously don't respect my position as a shinobi of Konoha."

Kakashi held his hands up in truce. "I've got nothing but respect for you, Iruka-sensei."

Iruka walked toward him and stopped with just a few inches between them. "Good. Because then I can thank you properly for protecting me all this time. So, thank you, Kakashi-sensei."

It was silent for a minute.

"Is that it?" Kakashi asked.

"Did you want to say something?" Iruka asked.

Kakashi rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, I never thought I'd get the chance to see Iruka-sensei in eye makeup."

Iruka felt a vein in his forehead begin to throb. "After everything we've been through, you're fixating on the makeup?"

"Well, I kind of like you, too," Kakashi confessed.

"Are you trying to get me to yell at you?" Iruka said after a moment, almost growling in frustration, his hands clenching into fists at his side.

"Maybe," Kakashi said, his sidelong glance frankly appreciative.

Iruka's mouth twitched at that. Kakashi was just like one of his students, relentlessly teasing the person he liked. "Wouldn't you rather kiss me instead?" he asked.

Kakashi pulled down his mask with one finger, slowly revealing the slope of his nose, unfairly attractive cheekbones, and a handsome, expressive mouth. And when he leaned in to kiss Iruka, soft and wet and like he really meant it, Iruka wondered why they hadn't done it before.

Iruka felt a little dazed when he pulled back. "Do you think it's, um, a good idea? We're still technically on a mission," he said, feeling wretchedly obligated to point it out.

"We're well within Konoha territory, I set the traps, and I've spent the past two days on the road imagining you in every position in Icha Icha," Kakashi said, rather vehemently. "So I'd have to say it's verging on the best idea ever."

"Oh," Iruka said a little weakly. "Well, when you put it that way." And there was knowing Kakashi was fast, and then there was being on his back on a bedroll with haori and hakama stripped off before Iruka even knew what happened to him.

Kakashi was still kissing him, lips wandering down his jaw before returning to his mouth again. "Page fifty-six," he murmured, opening Iruka's gi, "but more like this--"

Iruka stiffened when Kakashi began licking at his nipples, and writhed when Kakashi made eye contact as he began to suck and nibble a bit. "Don't tell me you have it memorized," he managed to say before Kakashi switched his attentions to the other nipple.

"It's been a year since the last one," Kakashi said, blowing across one pebbled, wet peak. "You'd better believe it."

"Page thirty-two?" Iruka picked at random.

"Oh, sensei," Kakashi said appreciatively. "Don't mind if I do." He stripped off Iruka's underwear, and kissed slowly up Iruka's thigh.

Iruka waited for him to do something else, before he realized what the problem was. "Next page?" he tried desperately.

Kakashi smiled. "I think you'd like thirty-five even better," he said, and took Iruka's cock in his mouth and sucked and licked until Iruka was a sweat-slicked, hormonal mess.

"Wait," Iruka begged. "Just tell me."

Kakashi raised his head slowly, letting Iruka's cock go with a last, loving lick. "Tell you what?"

"Tell me what page number gets you to screw me into the next week," Iruka asked, and then deliberately licked his lips in the dirtiest way he could imagine.

"Listing them all would take awhile," Kakashi said. "I'd rather do this."

It was probably some sort of ointment from the medkit, but Iruka was really past caring -- as long as it got Kakashi's fingers in him, stretching him carefully but quickly, he didn't care at all.

Iruka watched Kakashi take off the rest of his own clothing, and then asked, "How do you want me?"

"You're perfect just like this," Kakashi replied, lifting Iruka's legs over his shoulders and then pressing gently in.

Iruka was waiting for Kakashi to give in to weeks of sexual frustration, especially considering the nature of his invitation, but instead of the frenzied sex he'd imagined, he got something quite different. Kakashi thrust slow and deep, catching Iruka's lips in messy, sweet kisses, so that Iruka watched the flickering emotions across Kakashi's face even as he felt him move inside.

"Touch yourself for me," Kakashi said. "I want to see you come, this time."

After having sex in complete darkness before, Iruka had wondered if it would feel strange to do it in the dying light of the day -- if anything, he felt more free than before, knowing that Kakashi couldn't take his eyes off him. So he wrapped his hand around his cock in a nice, slow counterpoint to Kakashi's thrusts, moaning at his own touch with no self-consciousness whatsoever.

"Almost," Kakashi breathed. "Iruka."

His careful rhythm began to falter, and Iruka began to stroke faster, and then Iruka came and let Kakashi watch his fill. Or at least, very nearly, because it didn't take Kakashi much more to come himself, and then they were breathing hard, chins tucked over each other's shoulders.

After a few moments, Iruka said, "I kind of like you, too."

Kakashi didn't tense in his arms, but he was still quiet for a moment. And then he said, "I don't know how I feel about entering a relationship with a man who's never read Icha Icha."

Iruka rolled his eyes. "Look, I've read your stupid book. Just because I don't have it memorized--"

Kakashi pulled back, looking frankly delighted. "Love me, love my porn, that's what I've always said. Which part was your favorite?" he purred.

Iruka twitched. And then cleared his throat. "Um. Well. I don't remember it all that well, but there was this part where…"

"Go on, go on," Kakashi coaxed, a wicked, warm smile on his lips.

Iruka couldn't quite believe he was doing this, but began, "You know the chapter with the guy in the kimono pretending to be a prostitute?"

"Ooh, that one. Not that the yukata isn't hot on you, but I'd love the chance to strip you out of a kimono."

"If you keep interrupting me, I'm never going to get through this," Iruka threatened, his cheeks already bright red.

"I'll be good," Kakashi promised, and he was. He really, really was.


After they debriefed with Tsunade and delivered the scroll from the Raikage, Kakashi asked Iruka to come back to his apartment.

"I have something to show you," Kakashi said.

Iruka raised his eyebrows. "Again?"

Kakashi gave him a fond look. "Yes, but I mean this."

He held out a letter with some very familiar, terrible kanji with many things crossed out. Iruka read it quickly, then read it again, unable to keep himself from smiling.

"I told you he loves you," Kakashi said, putting his arms around Iruka's waist. "He'll be home before you know it."

Iruka looked at the letter, then at Kakashi. "Try not to traumatize him too much about us when he does."

"Where will I find my fun?" Kakashi asked, and kissed Iruka's smiling lips.