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Kakashi pushed his hair out of his face, frowning as he had been since they left Konoha.

"Why did my hair have to be black?" Kakashi asked for perhaps the dozenth time, a note of petulance creeping into his tone.

"Oh, I don't know." Tenzo replied, exasperation clear in his tone. "Maybe because a grey-haired shinobi with one eye this close to Fire Country is a little distinctive, and we're not supposed to attract any attention?" He was right, of course, but that didn't make Kakashi any happier about suddenly having black hair. It was disorienting.

"Plenty of people have lost an eye," Kakashi groused, but there was no heat in it. "And I'm not even wearing my mask!"

Tenzo glanced over at him, one eyebrow raised. "And we can all tell, with you all wrapped up in a scarf like that."

He wasn't wearing his hitae-ate, either -- none of them had even brought one with them. Their ANBU masks were bad enough, proof of shinobi involvement on a delicate border, but custom stronger than caution made them impossible to leave behind. The masks and characteristic armor were carefully wrapped and tucked in scrolls, ready to be summoned at need but otherwise invisible.

We have a non-interference pact with the Land of Sight. Tsunade had said. A serious one, so it is absolutely imperative that there be no trace of shinobi involvement and no links back to Konoha. No flashy chakra use. No chakra use at all, if you can manage it.

The leaves above them began to rustle slightly, and Tenzo looked up.

"Well, shit," he said. "It's about to start pouring." Kakashi sighed. No flashy chakra use meant no jutsu to keep the rain off, and certainly no growing a house in which to wait it out, which was going to be annoying. It started to drizzle, and they moved on, shrugging cloaks up over their heads and tucking delicate scrolls under their civilian-style clothing. The rain was just heavy enough to be irritating, and just light enough not to erase their tracks behind them. The scattering of saplings they were moving through provided almost no protection at all. Tenzo and Kakashi both grumbled a little when the first raindrops found their way down their backs. Sai continued forward as if the weather had not changed at all.

"You'd call this pouring?" Kakashi asked after a few minutes, raising an eyebrow at Tenzo over his shoulder. "It could be worse."

The sky opened up and fell down on them.

"You had to go and say that, didn't you, Kakashi-sempai?" Tenzo's tone was a blend of exasperation and resignation. It was a very long hour before they got to the outskirts of the next town and found somewhere to stop.


Kakashi shook his head as they entered the inn: it was still raining hard outside and he felt a few more drops of water trickle down to the small of his back even after they'd stepped indoors.

"Sempai!" Tenzo exclaimed, ducking away from him, "you'll get us all wet too if you do that!"

"You're already soaked," Kakashi pointed out, and he shook himself again, imitating one of his dogs. The resulting spray of raindrops was really quite impressive: he'd forgotten just how much water civilian clothes soaked up.

Tenzo squawked again in indignation; Sai appeared to have simply moved out of the way.

A man in a pale blue yukata approached them, dark hair loose around his shoulders.

"Good evening," he said, bowing slightly. When he looked back up, he startled so slightly Kakashi almost didn't notice it, glanced at Sai and Yamato, and then stared at Kakashi for a moment. "Welcome to Senami Onsen." Kakashi stared right back: this wasn't an onsen attendant. It was a Konoha Academy instructor.

Naruto's old teacher glared at Kakashi and pulled one hand through his hair, making one of the more obvious signs for "undercover."

"Well," Tenzo said, after an awkward pause during which Kakashi was pretty sure only Sai didn't look vacantly, obviously surprised, "we'd like a room, to start with. Is the kitchen still open?"

Umino Iruka nodded, and then led them down a hallway and into another part of the compound, chatting quietly with Tenzo about the age of the hot springs, the specialties of the chef. It was an entirely unremarkable encounter for an onsen of this caliber, except that one didn't generally run into Konoha shinobi in the guise of inn attendants. Kakashi found himself paying attention to the conversation and watching the two of them out of the corner of his eye. Naruto's teacher had apparently managed to cover up the scar across the bridge of his nose without using chakra: he looked softer without it, somehow, younger and more vulnerable.

Umino Iruka left them at the door of their room with a bright smile and assured them that food would be sent over in an hour, to give them some time to recover from the road.

"Huh," Tenzo said, once they'd closed the door. "That was unexpected."

Kakashi made a noncommittal noise, unwrapping the thick scarf from around his neck and face, shaking it out a little and laying it out to dry along with his cloak. The lack of his mask made Kakashi feel a little bit nervous, a little off-kilter. He quashed his discomfort firmly, resisting the urge to duck his chin. They made their way to the baths, where Kakashi and Tenzo made a point of dropping their clothes haphazardly into baskets: Sai folded everything neatly in his. Kakashi just shook his head: you didn't tell another shinobi what to do with his gear. Well, Kakashi amended, remembering the times he'd berated Naruto for one thing or another, you didn't tell another shinobi what to do with his gear so long as he wasn't incompetent.

The baths were as good as Iruka had said. The cool rain made the naturally-heated water all the more welcome and also meant that the three of them were pretty much the only ones taking advantage of the hot springs. The occasional burst of laughter or strand of music drifted out toward them, hinting at the other entertainments available; Kakashi just leaned back and listened, feeling muscles unknotting that had been a mess for days. He itched to tie a towel across the lower half of his face, but Tsunade was right: the best disguise right now was none at all. Kakashi knew that giving in to his habits would only betray them all, but it didn't mean he had to like it.


A pair of young women brought their dinner in on lavishly heaped platters, setting it out carefully and leaving without saying a word. Sai inspected his for a moment, before looking at Tenzo suspiciously out of the corner of his eye. Tenzo, for his part, appeared completely unaware of Sai's regard, heaping his plate with crab legs and sitting back with a truly ridiculous amount of food. Kakashi helped himself to some of the untouched dishes. He was unsurprised to see Sai doing the same, such that no more than two of them ate from the same dish.

When they'd finished eating, Tenzo and Sai headed back out to the springs, while Kakashi changed back into his own (well, the mission's version of his own) clothes and pulled out a book. When he heard a maid walk by in the hallway a little while later, he stopped her and asked for some tea. Then he went back to his book: he already knew what happened to Tanaka in the end of this chapter, but somehow it still managed to be a gripping read every time.

The door slid open almost silently, and Kakashi looked over the edge of his book, raising an eyebrow.

"Your tea," Iruka said, padding into the room almost-too-quietly. Kakashi nodded. Iruka knelt next to the room's small table and put the tray on it carefully.

"I hope your evening has been satisfactory?" Iruka remarked quietly. Kakashi nodded.

"Well, other than you staring at me," he offered, quirking an eyebrow. Iruka blinked and flushed, looking at a point just above Kakashi's left shoulder.

Iruka took a deep breath and folded his hands on his knees. He seemed to be doing his best to avoid looking directly at Kakashi's face. The reminder of his unmasking made Kakashi unaccountably uncomfortable: he hadn't expected anyone from Konoha other than Tenzo and Sai to see his face.

"It's all right, sensei," Kakashi drawled. He let his tone go just the slightest bit condescending, just to see how Iruka would react. Iruka's head snapped up to stare at Kakashi directly. He looked alarmed. More than that: he looked pissed off.

"Are you trying to --?" he hissed. He took another deep breath, and then looked Kakashi dead in the eye. "Kano-san," he said, pointedly using Kakashi's mission-name, "May I pour you a cup of tea?" Kakashi nodded, curious to see what the Academy sensei would do.

And then Iruka flawlessly worked field sign into a very delicate, ritualized tea-pouring. Kakashi blinked, but read Iruka's hands through instinct and force of habit.

Undercover, Iruka's fingers said. Smuggling ring. Don't blow my cover. The last bit was just a little more forceful, as if to emphasize its importance.

"Thank you," Kakashi said, taking the cup of tea from Iruka, and meeting his eyes. Iruka stared back, apparently unfazed. "You can go now," Kakashi said. "I'm sure my friends will be back soon enough." He gave Iruka the tiniest of nods when he stood, and Iruka's expression smoothed out. It was funny to see him so calm, Kakashi thought. Iruka had usually been much more animated during their interactions. Iruka nodded back politely, and departed with soft footsteps, sliding the door shut behind him.

Kakashi finished his chapter before Tenzo and Sai returned, and they settled in for the night, silently arranging for an unobtrusive watch cycle, just in case. He didn't see Iruka when they left the next morning.


The mission itself went relatively smoothly.

Their intel had been correct: before the founding of Konoha, a branch of the Uchiha clan had lived here, and the small temple did have a stela that displayed a wealth of information to the Sharingan. Nearly all of it was different than that which it showed to the naked eye, and some of it would be crucial to negotiations Tsunade was holding with the feudal lord.

Kakashi had narrated while Sai made detailed notes, including a sketch of what Kakashi described. It wasn't a small task, and by the time they had finished, Kakashi had been able to feel the strain of such extended use. They had gotten out of the temple complex unobserved and perhaps they had let their guard down after raising no alarm.

The three of them had been set upon by a large group a few miles from the border with Fire Country.

Badly outnumbered, Kakashi had had to use a water jutsu to extinguish a ball of exploding tags large enough to take out not just Kakashi but also three or four of the men attacking him. After that Kakashi had used ninjutsu to take out the rest of the band, which would make Tsunade unhappy, even if he had used only jutsu learned from fights with Mist and Stone shinobi. They left the scene as swiftly and tracelessly as possible. There was nothing linking the fight specifically to Konoha, but if they were tailed going back to Fire Country it would look bad.

"Kakashi-sempai," Tenzo said, when they finally stopped to dress wounds and change clothes, certain they were far enough ahead of any pursuit to take a brief stop. "This information has to be in Tsunade-sama's hands tomorrow, and it's too sensitive to send ahead unaccompanied." Sai looked as close to unhappy as Kakashi had ever seen him, as if the fact that they daren't send an ink-bird were somehow his fault, or he expected to be blamed for it.

Kakashi didn't sit all the way up: the ground was far too comfortable, and his limbs too heavy. He just propped himself up on his elbows and looked at Tenzo in response: he knew that as well as Tenzo did, and there wasn't much point in talking about it. Tenzo sighed.

"I'll go ahead," Tenzo said. "You won't make it back to Konoha at speed without knocking yourself out for a week, and Tsunade would have my hide for letting you do that. Sai can stay with you."

"You're not taking that information back alone," Kakashi retorted. "Two have a better shot than one of getting it back to Konoha safe and sound. Besides, you'll need Sai to interpret the shorthand when you get there, unless you want to piss off cryptography again."

The young man in question sat impassively on the ground examining the bristles of his paintbrush, apparently unbothered by being referred to as if he were not present. Kakashi figured he'd probably gotten used to it in Root, which was disturbing, but not exactly a surprise.

Tenzo looked at him for a moment, and then shrugged in irritated acquiescence.

"Fine," he agreed. "But you'll stay at the onsen we stopped at on the way here for at least two days before continuing on to Konoha. It's only a little way from here." Kakashi gave him a skeptical look, and stood, struggling to move smoothly instead of as if his limbs were weighted with stones.

"Onsen are a good environment for recovery from chakra fatigue," Sai pointed out, abruptly standing and joining the conversation. "And Iruka-sensei's presence only adds to its security. What Yamato-taichou proposes is a sensible course of action."

Kakashi looked between the two of them and then threw his hands in the air, complaining mildly, but he thought even Sai wasn't really taken in by it.

It wasn't that Kakashi objected to being put in a chuunin's care, though he knew there were jounin who would take it as an insult. No, that had happened before, and would presumably happen again. And he didn't particularly mind being left behind: under the circumstances, it only made sense. Guy couldn't always be there to carry him back when he overdid things.

It was that, somehow, he didn't think Iruka-sensei would be particularly happy to see him. Kakashi pulled out the plain merchant's clothing they had all been wearing on the way here, and changed back into the few pieces he'd taken off, handing Tenzo the scroll containing his ANBU vest and mask, as well as the majority of his weaponry. It grated to leave himself so unprotected, but none of them could afford to advertise being a shinobi right now. And it wasn't as if the clothes he was wearing were completely useless: he'd had time to add a few pockets here and there, just in case. Tenzo and Sai quickly emptied generic, civilian items from their own inventories: enough supplies to make Kakashi's traveling gear plausible rather than suspiciously minimal.

Without the mask or his hitae-ate to hold it up, his hair flopped into his field of vision.

"I still don't see why my hair has to stay black anymore," he groused, mostly for the sake of complaining.

"Oh," Tenzo said, sticking the scroll containing Kakashi's ANBU gear in a pocket, "did we forget to tell you? It's permanent dye."

It was a really good thing Tenzo and Sai had the information their mission depended on, because otherwise Kakashi would have been sorely tempted to strangle the two of them.


"Welcome to Senami Onsen," Iruka said, turning with an armful of towels.

"Yo." Kakashi said, and gave Iruka a little wave. It was amusing to see how long it took for Iruka to recognize him without Sai and Tenzo in tow.

"Why are you here?" he hissed, eyes wide. "Are you trying to --" He shoved the towels onto a chair and stalked toward Kakashi, radiating irritation. There, Kakashi thought, that's the Iruka-sensei I remember.

Two people moved in the hall around the corner, their chakra signatures blurry and muddled in the way of civilians, but one of them stronger than it had any right to be. Kakashi heard voices raised in indistinct conversation.

"Shit." Iruka glanced over his shoulder toward the door; his chakra signature dimmed drastically. "You were really not supposed to come back." The voices rose and fell in argument, and Iruka paled as they drew nearer, loud footsteps announcing their presence even before the door started to creak open.

"I'm sorry, Kakashi-san," Iruka whispered. He sounded nervous. "Don't deck me." And then he was kissing Kakashi, leaning into the kiss and pressing Kakashi's back to the wall. Iruka melted against him as if they were long-time lovers, winding his hands into Kakashi's hair and licking at his lips with a little moan. Kakashi froze. Iruka tightened his grip and pulled Kakashi closer, whispering almost inaudibly: "Kakashi-san, don't break my cover." Kakashi nodded slightly and let Iruka kiss him, putting his hands awkwardly on Iruka's waist and closing his eye almost all the way.


Iruka startled, jerking back from Kakashi. Kakashi was surprised to find himself holding onto Iruka's waist, steadying him and preventing him from disentangling himself all the way.

"Boss!" Iruka's voice was breathy. He tried to pull away but Kakashi held him in place. "I'm -- I can explain!"

"I bet you can." The man's voice was low; he almost sounded amused. He turned to the man behind him. "See?" He said, and the amusement was clear now. "Just a little something on the side."

The other man nodded. Kakashi remembered seeing him at the gates to the compound earlier, standing guard: he'd looked bored and dangerous then. Now he looked dubious and dangerous, armed and clearly shinobi trained, from the silence of his tread. Kakashi wondered which village he'd defected from: not Cloud, with his coloring; more likely Mist or Stone. Whichever it was, the fact that this place employed missing-nin as guards didn't bode well.

Iruka pulled himself out of Kakashi's grip, straightening his yukata with quick, meticulous gestures.

"I'm sorry," he said, bowing slightly. "I'll get right back to work." And he grabbed Kakashi's hand and dragged him out of the room, his footsteps loud against the tatami mats.


Iruka's grip didn't slacken as he led Kakashi down a hallway, through a door labeled "Staff Only," and then into a small, neat, almost featureless room.

"What was that about?" Kakashi kept his voice carefully neutral. He leaned against the wall, letting it prop him up just a little bit. Iruka shut the door and then turned to face him, surprisingly subdued after the show he'd just put on. He looked Kakashi in the eye when he spoke, and Kakashi had to strain to hear him.

"They thought there was something odd about the three of you when you were here." Iruka bit his lower lip.

Kakashi waited.

"They -- well, Rojii, really -- he was the guard just now --" Iruka paused. "He started questioning me about the three of you, after you left. I think he pegged you as shinobi, and that made him nervous." Iruka closed his eyes for a moment, and then continued, his voice very low. "He's already nervous enough about the smuggling ring he's conducting here under the boss's nose. I --" he made a frustrated noise. "I can't tell you all of it right now, there's not time."

Kakashi considered that for a moment.

"That doesn't quite cover everything," he said, gesturing between the two of them. Iruka flushed slightly, but didn't hesitate.

"How else was I supposed to explain you coming back?" Iruka snapped back. His voice was still low, but carried a surprising amount of venom. "When you left I could have just continued having no idea who you all were. But, now? You weren't supposed to show up again!"

Kakashi considered this. It wasn't exactly standard operating procedure, but, well, Kakashi had heard of worse snap judgments in the face of a mission's cover being blown. Now, though, Iruka was in a difficult situation; worse if Kakashi wouldn't play along. Of course, Iruka didn't yet know why Kakashi was here.

"Well," Kakashi shrugged, keeping his voice low as well, "I suppose I can't really argue when I've had such a long, hard trip, can I?" Comprehension flickered through Iruka's eyes, and something very much like relief followed.

"Ah," Iruka replied. "Right." This wasn't a one-way transaction, after all: Kakashi might have to play along to preserve Iruka's cover, but Iruka was giving him a safe place to rest and recover.

Iruka met Kakashi's eye, and nodded briskly.

"All right," Iruka said, speaking at a normal volume again. "I have to get back to work." He went to the door, and opened it partway. "Just --" he made a seemingly frustrated gesture that would be visible to anyone in the hall. "Just stay here for now, until I figure things out. Get some rest, or read or something." Kakashi considered the situation for a moment, and stepped forward. Iruka blinked at him, apparently confused. His expression changed to one of surprise when Kakashi put his hands on Iruka's waist again.

"No good-bye kiss?" Kakashi asked, mostly teasing, and Iruka flushed. But there were footsteps in the hall, and when Kakashi leaned in, Iruka's mouth met his. Iruka pulled away when someone coughed discreetly and turned to go.

Kakashi met the eye of a surprised maid -- the same one whom he'd asked for tea when he was here before, if he remembered correctly -- and deliberately winked at her, causing her to flush almost as pink as her yukata. He left the door slightly ajar, the better to hear the hallway. Then he settled back against the wall and thought about what Iruka had told him, now, and before.

Rojii, who was a missing nin if Kakashi had ever seen one, was conducting some kind of smuggling operation. If Iruka was right, the owner seemed unaware of it. Rojii himself was nervous, and dangerous enough that Iruka felt the need to stay out of conflict with him. Or else Iruka didn't have what he needed to complete his mission yet, and didn't want to break cover before he'd achieved his goal, whatever that was.

Kakashi tried to put the pieces together, but he just didn't know enough to draw any conclusions. He didn't exactly trust this place, but Iruka had as good as told him it was safe to sleep, and he was exhausted. Just getting to the onsen had convinced him that staying would be a better idea than trying to keep up on a mad race to Konoha. He leaned back and closed his eye, slipping into a half-doze.

Kakashi stirred a short time later at a tentative knock on the door. At his murmured acknowledgment, two young women entered and substituted a large futon for the narrow one that had been in the closet. Then they nodded at him and left, shutting the door silently behind them. Kakashi heard one begin to whisper to the other as they walked down the hall, but it wasn't anything important: she was apparently disappointed that Iruka was spoken for.


Iruka sent back tea after a little bit, and word that Kakashi was free to wander a little in the public areas if he liked. The girl who delivered the message eyed Kakashi speculatively, but didn't say anything.

Kakashi dozed on the surprisingly comfortable futon for a little while longer before he got up and wandered to the central garden, where he sat on a bench and just watched the new spring leaves sway in the evening breeze. Other guests and onsen staff passed by, and Kakashi overheard snippets of conversation. It was cool in the courtyard, and Kakashi was glad of his long sleeves when a breeze wafted by. Annoyingly, he found he had to pay attention to keep himself from plucking at the neck of his shirt, trying to pull it up to cover his face. Old habits died hard.

The guard from earlier --Rojii, Iruka had called him -- walked by, and paused when he saw Kakashi sitting on a bench by himself. Kakashi found himself hoping the man would go away: he looked like trouble, and Kakashi wasn't in any mood for a verbal confrontation, nor in any state for a physical one. Even after having slept half the day, he still felt like a baby deer, all shakes and uncertainty.

"So," the man said. He sat right next to Kakashi, a bare hand's breadth between the two of them. It was a calculated distance, Kakashi was sure: this man moved with too much deliberation for it to be anything else. Kakashi nodded.

"Kano," he said, holding his hand out in introduction.

"Hm," the man said. He didn't take Kakashi's hand, staring Kakashi straight in the face. It made the back of Kakashi's neck itch. "Rojii. Iyashi tells me you've known each other for some time?" Kakashi blinked at him, concentrating on keeping his expression carefully blank. He couldn't risk contradicting whatever Iruka had said -- but Kakashi had no idea what that was.

"Well," he said, and raised an eyebrow. "Time does fly when you're having fun." The man snorted, but it sounded rehearsed to Kakashi's ear.

Rojii's chakra was subtly invasive, putting Kakashi slightly on edge. He suspected that most of the people Rojii interacted with wouldn't know what it was that was making them feel so off-kilter around him: it probably made him a lot more effective at his job. Kakashi imagine it was probably even more helpful in a black-market environment.

"It's a nice place," Kakashi offered, after a moment. Many people reacted to being uncomfortable by talking, and Kakashi figured he might as well do the same. "Kano" hadn't been more than a fake ID before he got here, but it looked like he was going to have to be a lot more than that.

Kakashi spared a moment to be glad he'd paid strict attention during the training for undercover missions he'd gotten before Kannabi Bridge, and another to wish that hadn't been so many years ago. This was part of helping Iruka keep his cover, after all, and in theory it was perfectly straightforward. Develop your persona; forget the things you're not supposed to know; submerge yourself in your façade.

But Kakashi hadn't taken on a deep cover mission since before he was thirteen, and never one of this nature. Certain things just didn't happen when you were the Copy Nin, not when Konoha had so many other, less immediately identifiable shinobi.

"I mean," Kakashi continued, figuring that anyone who would kiss Iruka senseless in public might as well be chatty, "Iyashi talks it up, but," he waved a hand in what he hoped was a sufficiently unconvinced manner to be insulting without being something Rojii could call him on, "you know, people talk. Have you been here long?"

Rojii looked at him in what looked almost like surprise, though he hid it well.

"A while," he admitted. "The boss is good to us, you know. Likes having people around he can trust." Maybe he meant to put stress on the word trust -- but Kakashi doubted it.

Clumsy, Kakashi thought, very clumsy. He smiled brightly. "Well," he said, "I'd lend Iyashi money, if you know what I mean."

Rojii looked skeptical, and Kakashi decided not to push it. A silence fell between the two of them, awkward and charged. Again Kakashi fought the urge to tuck his chin, to pull up a non-existent mask. Rojii looked at him, and seemed to make a decision of some kind.

A few minutes later, another man, whom Kakashi didn't recognize, walked into the courtyard and caught Rojii's eye. He stood up and left without another word. Kakashi leaned back and wondered what Rojii had gotten out of the conversation. He closed his eyes, and just listened to the courtyard for a few minutes, to the staff hurrying or hesitating in the enclosed hall, the birds singing brightly, as if they hadn't been dead silent in Rojii's presence just a moment ago.

Kakashi stayed out a little longer, but didn't see Iruka, and eventually he went back to the room and stretched a little bit, wishing it were possible to spar or even just run through some kata without risk of discovery. He was exhausted, and ached all over, and he knew from experience that inaction now, no matter how appealing, would just make him all the more stiff and uncomfortable later.

Instead he pulled out the futon, which appeared to have put itself away in his absence, curled up with his book, which had been moved, and skimmed it slowly. He'd already read it several times, of course, but there was something about re-reading a book whose plot you already knew that he'd always liked. The familiarity of it, perhaps, or the knowledge that no matter how dire the situation seemed, things worked out for the best in the end. When Iruka returned to the room with dinner on a tray, Kakashi woke instantly, surprised that he'd fallen asleep and that Iruka's approaching presence hadn't registered as a threat.

Iruka blinked at the sight of the larger futon, but didn't say anything, holding out a tray to Kakashi. They talked a little as they ate, mostly Iruka gossiping about his work here, slipping tidbits of information to Kakashi in the course of what sounded like an innocuous, if gossipy, conversation. When they finished, Iruka got up and gathered dishes to go back to the kitchen, motioning at Kakashi to stay seated.


Kakashi had curled back up on the futon with his book by the time Iruka returned. Iruka glanced at him before getting ready for bed as if Kakashi weren't present at all.

"One of Rojii's friends came by just now and wished me a good evening," Kakashi mused. He closed his book and put it aside as Iruka slipped under the covers, and then continued more softly, "I think he's going to make sure of it."

"You're kidding." Iruka whispered. He sounded almost shocked. Kakashi let himself smile: this might be as amusing as Kakashi had thought it might be.

"Mmm," Kakashi hummed. "You know I'm not." He leaned back on his elbows on the double futon that had so generously been provided for them. He was sure it was a kind of test: were they really lovers, or would they slip up and share a chaste bed? With the display Iruka had put on earlier, there was no doubt what they ought to be doing now that they were alone together. Kakashi felt Iruka go still, the better to extend his chakra awareness, and could tell when Iruka registered the fuzzy presence in the room next to theirs.

"Damn," Iruka whispered. He shook his head, and then sat up, suddenly all business, not at all flushed anymore. All right, he signed, his hands barely visible in the scant light. Noise should be fine. Tetsu isn't shinobi-trained. And then Iruka leaned back, rustling the sheets, and gasped. His breath caught in his threat, the sound undeniably erotic.

Kakashi sat frozen for long enough that Iruka leaned over and whispered, just loudly enough to be heard: "This is more fun for two, Kano..." He signed quickly I can't do this alone. Kakashi nodded, and made some rustling noises of his own, feeling increasingly awkward and exposed as he did so. He hissed in surprise when Iruka jabbed him in the side with cold fingers.

"Let me hear you," Iruka said, and his voice was all provocation and promise. When Kakashi glanced at him, surprised, Iruka tipped his head in silent question. Well? he asked. He seemed to be taking it all in stride remarkably well. Maybe that was part of the training Kakashi had never received.

But watching Iruka was even stranger than just hearing him had been. Kakashi was struck by a forceful memory of Iruka's outburst at the nominations, how Kakashi had dismissed him even though Naruto sang his praises. Remembering Naruto just made things worse.

"All right," Kakashi choked out. He closed his eyes and tried to pretend he was somewhere else, with someone else, anywhere but here with a schoolteacher and a civilian voyeur and a mission riding on his performance. Closing his eyes didn't entirely work, but he did manage to stop thinking about Iruka in the context of the Academy.

It was a very long fifteen minutes.

After they'd been silent for a time, Kakashi dared to open his eye again. Iruka was watching him, a speculative expression on his face.

What? Kakashi signed, but Iruka just shook his head and began to straighten out the bedding.

Can you sleep if I'm touching you? Iruka's hands managed to look tentative. Aloud he said: "Pull the sheets up!"

"All right," Kakashi replied. Iruka nodded, then, and edged a little bit closer.

"I think --" Iruka said, and his tone was a little tentative, oddly uncertain for someone who had just put on such a show. "Here." He rested his head on Kakashi's shoulder, and laid his arm delicately across Kakashi's chest. Aside from those two points of contact, Iruka kept his body away from Kakashi's, obviously trying not to get in his way. "Okay?" He looked up at Kakashi through a fall of hair.

"Yeah," he said, "yeah, that's fine." He wasn't really sure what to do with the arm Iruka was sleeping half-on-top-of, so he let it sprawl out to one side, his hand tipping off the edge of the futon. Iruka hummed something, and appeared to fall almost instantly asleep.

Kakashi listened to Iruka's steady breathing in the quiet of the room, and didn't fall asleep until he heard the faint sounds of their observer in the next room getting up and walking away.


Kakashi woke just after dawn when Iruka got up to start work.

"Don't get up," Iruka said. "You need the rest."

Kakashi blinked sleepily up at Iruka, wondering how he knew that. Iruka dressed unselfconsciously; Kakashi didn't watch. Well, not that much. Iruka was fit for an Academy instructor.

Day one, Kakashi thought. He wondered how long he would have to stay here for Iruka's cover to be salvaged. More than the two days he'd promised Tenzo, at any rate, that was for sure.

"I'll bring you something for breakfast a little later," Iruka said, and then he closed the door behind himself. Kakashi toyed with the idea of getting up, but he was still tired, and he had a feeling he shouldn't be wandering around at such an early hour, when most guests should still be sound asleep. Rationalization complete, Kakashi lay back and slept until Iruka showed up several hours later with a modest breakfast for the two of them. It was certainly more comfortable than the hospital, which was where Kakashi would probably be if he were in Konoha today.

They made casual conversation over the meal, and Kakashi gathered that only some of the staff were involved in whatever it was Iruka was investigating.

"It's going to be a nice day," Iruka said brightly, gathering up the dishes again. "You might like the smaller courtyards," Iruka said, "maybe the one with the cherry trees. If you get tired of being cooped up in here later today."

Kakashi nodded, rolled over, and went back to sleep. The fight had taken more out of him than he'd expected, or maybe it was the extended use of the Sharingan to read the double-encoded tablet. In either case, sleep was the fastest route to recovery, and he intended to take full advantage of having somewhere comfortable and reasonably safe to rest.

When he went out to find the smaller courtyard in the very late morning, Kakashi realized why Iruka had suggested it: a staff walkway ran along one side, enclosed only by traditional paper-paneled walls. It was probably freezing in the winter, but it kept the staff out of the sight of guests. Its flimsy construction also meant that Kakashi could hear muttered gossip as people walked back and forth from the kitchens to the main building.

A couple of hours later, Kakashi knew that one of the cooks was having an affair and that two maids were fighting for the attention of a regular guest who was, according to another set of gossips, actually far more likely to take a young man into his bed. He'd also gathered that Rojii and the man he'd seen yesterday with him were officially gardeners. Since the gardens seemed in most places to be rock gardens, with minimal greenery, Kakashi bumped Hidden Stone up his list for Rojii's potential origin.

But Kakashi got nothing more than hints about the supposed smuggling ring: the staff were frustratingly circumspect about their illegal activity. No wonder Iruka had had to join the staff: and how frustrating it must have been for him to find out that just joining the workforce didn't get him into the swing of things. Kakashi had caught some speculation about himself among the maids, but he didn't seem to be a major topic of conversation except among those who had been eyeing Iruka with intent.

The same maid he'd seen twice before came out sometime in the mid-afternoon with a covered tray.

"Kano-san," she said, "Iyashi asked me to bring this out. He says --" she paused, as if bracing herself "-- he said to tell you to eat up so you don't keel over on his watch." Well, Kakashi thought, that pretty well answered for how Iruka thought he was doing.

"Thank you," Kakashi said. Then he grinned wickedly, and said, testing something he'd overheard a little earlier: "I'd ask you to thank him for me, but ... I think I can take care of that myself." He gave her a slantwise look, and she raised one hand to her mouth to hide a laugh; she balanced the tray expertly in one hand.

"I might just tell him you said that," she said. It was almost a dare.

"Will you, now?" Kakashi arched an eyebrow and leaned back on his hands. She opened her mouth, and then shut it quickly. Then she handed him the tray, bowed, and turned to head back to the kitchens.

"I hope Ayumi hasn't been bothering you," a voice said from behind Kakashi. "She does tend to gossip." Kakashi turned to see the man Iruka had identified as the owner.

"No," Kakashi said, "not at all." He thought quickly, putting down the tray and ducking his head in respect. "I should probably apologize for the other day," Kakashi said. "I hope I didn't put Iyashi in a difficult situation..." The boss -- really, Kakashi thought, he didn't even know the man's name -- shook his head.

"Oh, no," he said, waving a hand. "Don't worry about it." Kakashi eyed him. "In fact," the man said, "I've been meaning to have a chat with you. If you'd care to join me?" Kakashi stood, uncertain what to do with the tray Ayumi had handed him.

"You can leave that," the owner said. "I was just about to eat. Would you be so kind?" Kakashi nodded, and set the tray down. It was only when the man looked at him that Kakashi realized it had rattled when Ayumi handed it to him, but not when he'd put it down. Then he followed Sano to a small, private courtyard.

The food was impressive, but Kakashi hardly tasted it, concentrating on eating slowly, and on the conversation. The owner -- Sano -- was a curious, loose-lipped man. Kakashi knew he had no children and that his wife had died recently within the first fifteen minutes of the conversation. The problem was that Sano was just as curious as he was effusive, and he peppered Kakashi with questions about himself and "Iyashi." Kakashi evaded when he could, and stuck as close to the truth as he could manage, uncertain what Iruka had already said. Once he finished eating, Kakashi folded his hands very deliberately in his lap, to keep from plucking at the neck of his shirt, the way he was tempted to.


When Kakashi finally left, Sano was smiling, and appeared to be under the impression that they'd had a nice little chat. Kakashi just felt drained. He was in no mood to go back to the staff-lined courtyard, and instead chose one where the sun was falling through the leaves and dappling an elegantly understated rock garden. Whatever else they were doing, one of the gardeners employed here had a good eye for proportions.

Kakashi just sat in the sun with his eyes closed for a time. Iruka found him there as the sun was setting.

"I'm off shift now," Iruka said, and joined Kakashi on the bench. He hesitated for a moment, and then leaned against Kakashi just a little bit. Reminded, Kakashi wrapped an arm around Iruka's waist. There wasn't much to ask about from the morning's eavesdropping, really, and not much to be said about Rojii without arousing suspicion. And he was still sorting out the conversation with the owner in his own head.

They didn't speak for some time. Then Iruka surprised him.

"Have you read it before?" Iruka asked, "Restless Sun? I saw you reading it last night." Kakashi blinked.

"Yeah," he admitted, "but it re-reads pretty well." Iruka nodded, his hair brushing Kakashi's shoulder and stray strands tickling his neck.

"I think so too," Iruka said. "Though I always get a little annoyed by the scene on the mountaintop." Kakashi knew which one he was talking about. It was a dramatic shinobi fight scene at the mid-section of the book, part of which took place on a nearly sheer cliff-face. If you had learned to shape chakra as a child it made sense, but the book had expanded past its original market and become popular among civilians, who tended to view the scene with disbelief, at best.

"Imagine it not being quite so steep," Kakashi replied. He chose his next words carefully. "Then you don't have to worry about whether or not the premise is believable, and you can focus on the details of it." Please understand that, he thought at Iruka. "All the little pieces of it hold together," he added, "if you're paying attention." And then he tugged Iruka just a little bit closer. Iruka didn't resist, and he even tipped his head to rest on Kakashi's shoulder. Okay, Kakashi thought, and felt a little bit of tension go out of him.

After sitting for a little while longer, Iruka stood and tugged Kakashi to his feet.

"Come on," Iruka urged. "I'm hungry." Kakashi raised a suggestive eyebrow, and Iruka flushed just as a maid went by.

Iruka dragged him over to the kitchens, where the head cook, Kanako, sat them down on a pair of stools in a corner and shoved more food at them than Kakashi had seen in one place for quite some time. It was plain: nothing like the delicacies guests could order, but it was cooked well, and fresh.

"Thank you, Kanako-san," Iruka said. When he stood to help with the dishes, she laughed at him.

"Maybe later," she said, "when your young man isn't here to keep you company, hey?" Iruka glanced at Kakashi almost guiltily, and Kakashi shrugged in response.

"Come on, Iyashi," he said, and then he turned and gave a short bow to Kanako. "Thank you," he added, amused to see some of the serving girls giggle at his formality.

"Oh, off with you," she said, shooing them out of the kitchen. "Let us get back to work, you two!" But her tone was well natured, and almost amused.

When they got back to Iruka's room, the futon had been folded and replaced in the closet, and Kakashi was dead certain that his clothes hadn't been arranged nearly so neatly when he'd left the room this morning. He'd expected the room to be searched, but he'd expected the searcher to be a little less obvious about it.

"Well," Iruka said. He sounded a little tentative. "That wasn't so bad. So long as you don't get in the way, I don't think they'll mind if you stick around for a little bit." He shrugged. "You could use the hot springs," he offered, "if you wanted." It was a good idea -- that was one place Iruka really couldn't linger, and if any of the guests were involved, they might be less cautious than the staff. Kakashi nodded.

"I talked with the owner this afternoon," Kakashi confirmed. "So long as we don't cause any more scenes like that first one, I can stay for a little while." Iruka nodded, and looked like he was about to ask something else. Kakashi allowed himself to yawn, and Iruka checked himself.

The two of them maneuvered the heavy futon out of the closet, and Iruka laid it out and made it up expertly in a surprisingly short amount of time.

"You're good at that," Kakashi observed, which for some reason made Iruka flush.

"I wouldn't still work here if I weren't," Iruka said, and his voice was tight. Kakashi waved a hand, but there was a tension in the room that hadn't been present before.

"I'm tired," Iruka announced. He changed clothes quickly, his back to Kakashi the whole time, and slipped into bed immediately. "Turn the light off when you come to bed." He rolled over onto one side, back to the center of the bed, and closed his eyes. Kakashi stared at him, a little bewildered. When he got into bed, Iruka didn't move.

"Hey," Kakashi said, certain Iruka was still awake. Iruka didn't respond at first, but when he tugged at Iruka's shoulder, Iruka rolled over with a huff. Kakashi made as if to pull him closer, and Iruka sighed.

"I don't need you to tell me how to do my job," he said, aggravation clear in his tone.

"All right," Kakashi agreed, not really sure what Iruka was talking about. "Just -- come here, okay?" Iruka sighed again, and inched closer to Kakashi. His touch was as tentative as it had been the night before, as if Kakashi were made of spun glass, likely to crack at a moment's notice.

Kakashi closed his eye; when he slipped into sleep, Iruka was still awake, holding perfectly still beside him.

Kakashi woke when Iruka got up in the middle of the night. Iruka still seemed a little blurry with sleep, and he submitted without protest to Kakashi disarranging his clothing and hair before he slipped out of the room. When he came back, it was apparent that he had tried to fix his clothes and hair without a mirror.

"Rojii saw me!" Iruka hissed. "What did you think--" Kakashi tugged him back into bed.

"Good," Kakashi said, and tipped his head toward the room that had been occupied by their impromptu audience the previous night. Tonight it was empty, but Kakashi had woken each time someone walked by in the hall, and once their door had creaked before someone padded down the hallway suspiciously quietly. Iruka blinked. Then he nodded.

"Oh," he said. "Thank you," he mouthed. Then he clambered back into bed, and paused. "Um," he said, his voice a bare whisper, "someone looked in earlier -- do you mind if we -- I mean, can you sleep if --" his face was flushed even in the scant light. Kakashi shrugged.

"Sure," he said, "whatever." He'd certainly slept in less comfortable situations than this one: any discomfort here was irrational, at best. Iruka took a sharp breath, then nodded.

"Okay," he said. "Then --" he rolled over, his back to Kakashi, and gestured at Kakashi to move closer, until they were nearly spooning, Iruka's back a bare inch from Kakashi's chest. Iruka tugged Kakashi's right arm over his side, clasping their joined hands to Iruka's chest. Kakashi noticed that Iruka had arranged them so that they were facing the door, and Kakashi was lying on his left side.

"Good," Kakashi said, and pushed some or Iruka's hair out of his face. The eye patch would probably stick to his face in the morning, but he didn't dare take it off even at night: the scar was too distinctive. He wondered absently how Iruka was disguising the scar across the bridge of his nose. It might be a useful jutsu for any number of purposes, especially if Kakashi wanted to pass as a civilian in the hot springs while other people were close by.

"Good night," Iruka said, hesitantly. Kakashi hummed in response, and promptly fell back asleep.


Iruka rose before Kakashi again the next morning, but Kakashi got up before Iruka returned with breakfast, and was dressed and reading when Iruka nudged the door open with one foot. After they'd eaten, Kakashi wandered out to the main courtyard, which was enclosed on three sides, but open on the fourth to allow guests to walk through a brief, carefully groomed "forest" before they got to the springs. A quick check confirmed Kakashi's suspicions: the open side of the courtyard faced the border with Fire Country, which was less than a mile away.

Ordinarily, Kakashi would have sent out a clone to inspect the fencing around the springs, but he didn't dare with his chakra as low as it was right now. and so little information about the onsen's staff and their habits. Instead, he wandered, stopping in conversation with some of the guests he passed, affecting a sort of cocky affability, the demeanor of a man who traded in anything available, including gossip, trying to establish a persona for Kano, ingratiate himself with the customers in a way Iruka couldn't. He took lunch with an older merchant, who seemed endlessly curious about Kano's route and goods. Kakashi was glad all over again that he'd chosen to skim his original mission's notes with the Sharingan, because its recall allowed him to pass as a convincing merchant, if a slightly green one.

Feeling a bit drained by the verbal grilling that had taken place over lunch, Kakashi spent the remainder of the afternoon sitting in the small courtyard again, following the sun around as its shadows lengthened and tracked around the courtyard. When the shadows had spread across the whole space, Kakashi went back to Iruka's room. He itched to be able to explore, but if Rojii was still keeping track of him, which seemed likely, that would be stupid -- perhaps even suicidally stupid, in Kakashi's current condition. Rojii didn't look like he was the type to ask questions first, and while Kakashi could probably take him down, Kakashi hadn't made it to twenty-nine by counting on "probably."

Still, he had already managed to single out the most likely drop point for the smugglers. There was one building at the back of the property, where it backed up into the woods, that looked abandoned, weeds growing up around the foundation, windows boarded up. It was the perfect place for an illicit exchange: almost too perfect, except that Kakashi had noticed that some of the windows had newer boards than the rest.

"Well, yes," Iruka said when Kakashi brought it up in their over-dinner conversation that evening. He sounded a bit surprised Kakashi was asking -- probably surprised Kakashi was bringing it up aloud, when there was a good chance of them being overheard. "But guests don't stay there, and it would be so much work to fix it up: we don't go over there much." He added, his hands hidden between the two of them, the words emphatic: don't be seen around it. Kakashi shrugged.

"Seems odd," was all he said, and they went back to other topics: Kakashi was pleased to discover that Iruka had interests other than teaching, and they maintained a lively conversation about absurdities seen at hot springs for the rest of the meal. Kakashi wondered if Iruka realized that the "acquaintance" he referred to being kicked out of establishment after establishment was Jiraiya, but there would be few things stupider than asking here and now. All told, it wasn't a bad evening.


But as Kakashi pulled the futon out, he felt Tetsu's chakra signature in the hallway, and heard footsteps enter the room next to Iruka's. He set the futon down, and sent a look at Iruka, who stepped close.

"Well, shit." Iruka whispered. He sounded irritated, and Kakashi grinned, knowing it would be visible in the not-quite-dark room. Iruka's right hand twitched. "Do you have any suggestions?"

Iruka crossed his arms.

"Well," Kakashi suggested, voice pitched low, "he can't see us." He leaned in provocatively close and breathed against Iruka's ear: "But he can hear us." He moaned theatrically, breath fanning against Iruka's neck, and whispered "Come on, Iyashi. Let's give him something worth listening to."

Then he laid back against the futon, rucking up and rustling the covers as if the two of them were moving under them. You probably weren't supposed to get into the mindset for faking sex by actually thinking about your putative partner, but Kakashi was short on time, and he wasn't willing to leave this to chance, or to second-bests. This might not have started off as his mission, but now that he'd blundered into it, he was just as responsible for its success as Iruka was. And after three days with Iruka, it didn't seem like such a terrible thing anymore: at least he didn't think of Naruto every time he looked at Iruka.

Iruka remained stock-still for a moment, probably surprised at the change in Kakashi's reaction. Kakashi almost wished he could see if Iruka was blushing, which was something of a surprise.

"All right," Iruka said, just loud enough to be heard. "If that's what you want." There was something almost like challenge in his voice, and Kakashi stretched out flat on his back. He ran a hand up his own side, rustling against his yukata, and let his breath come a little faster, a little louder, remembering past lovers. Iruka was still and quiet beside him.

Then Iruka stretched out against Kakashi's side, barely touching, and took one of Kakashi's hands in his own, rubbing his thumb in circles against Kakashi's palm. His fingertips were warm and callused against Kakashi's skin. When Iruka gasped, Kakashi could feel the little puff of air against his neck: he shivered, and Iruka made a low, pleased noise before stroking Kakashi's wrist and letting go of his hand.

"Like that?" Iruka's voice was deep; Kakashi repressed a shudder: he hadn't expected Iruka to up the stakes that way. Still, he was surprised to find that he didn't mind.

"Yeah," he agreed, a little hoarse, "sure, just like that." But Iruka didn't touch him again, just stayed close, breathing heavily and gasping every once in a while, rustling the blankets every now and again. Even so, the sound of Iruka's voice and his breath hot across Kakashi's neck were enough to get Kakashi hard, and he had to resist the urge to touch himself, to touch Iruka and see if the noises he was making were the ones he'd really make for a lover.

The presence in the next room perked up at a particularly loud groan, and moved closer to the wall.

"Closer," Kakashi whispered, meaning to tell Iruka their spy had moved, but Iruka rolled half-over, so close Kakashi could feel the warmth of his body all along one side. Kakashi let his hand drift to his erection, just teasing. He could hear a steady rustling and feel Iruka moving, but couldn't tell what Iruka was doing, exactly.

"Ohhhh," Kakashi let himself moan, eyes closed. He could feel Iruka beside him, almost but not quite touching, and couldn't help imagining Iruka's hand in place of his own, palm pressed hard and unmoving against his cock. Iruka's breath gusted out across Kakashi's ear and he shivered again.

Kakashi wanted desperately to come, to move his hand the little bit it would take to push him over the edge; he wanted to hear Iruka come, to be touching him when it happened. He wanted to feel the shudders of orgasm work their way through Iruka's solid frame.

Instead he pulled his hand away from his erection and pressed it hard against the futon, fingers splayed as he cried out, faking a civilian's almost unrestrained noise. Beside him, Iruka did the same thing, and Kakashi squeezed his eyes shut hard and tried not to imagine fucking Iruka until they both really came, the way their bodies would fit together, how the sounds Iruka really made might sound.

Kakashi gradually slowed his breathing, shuffling his feet around to mimic the sound of getting ready for sleep, and pushed his arousal aside. Beside him, Iruka's breathing slowed. Kakashi wondered if there were rules for how long to wait before talking after this kind of thing.

Earlier that evening, Kakashi had hoped to discuss things in some detail after the rest of the building had settled down. But Tetsu didn't seem to be going anywhere, and they couldn't talk with him in the next room. But that didn't mean they couldn't talk at all -- just that they couldn't talk here.

"Um," Kakashi said, slipping out of bed, "bathroom. I'll be right back." He caught Iruka's eye, and signaled I'll leave a clone. The bathroom was communal, of course, but it was empty at this time of night, and it had a window big enough to climb out of, if necessary. Kakashi splashed his face with cold water when he got there, the shock of it enough to wake him up a bit. He was still a little thrown by the black hair on his reflection: it was eerie, looking at this alteration of his self-image.

Kakashi leaned against the window frame, and carefully formed the seals to create a shadow clone, which would have the memory and focus to talk intelligently with Iruka's, instead of just observing. Kakashi felt the chakra rush out of him as it puffed into existence, and grabbed at the window-frame to stay upright. The drain wasn't as bad as he'd feared it might be, but he wasn't going to be in anything like good shape tomorrow. He met his clone's eye (the clone, he saw, had grey hair) and nodded briefly before heading back to Iruka's room. He managed not to wobble too obviously on his way back into the room; Iruka seemed distracted when he left, in any case, and still distracted when he returned.

"Come here," Kakashi said, and Iruka slipped closer to him. Kakashi bent to whisper in Iruka's ear: "We'll be fine. Just try to get some sleep." Iruka nodded, and then, almost tentatively, put his head on Kakashi's shoulder. Kakashi felt Iruka's breathing even out when he slipped into sleep a few minutes later, but forced himself to stay awake.

The clones puffed out of existence at about two in the morning, when Kakashi was fighting sleep. Their shadow was long since gone, which was a good thing: an observer might have noticed the way Iruka seized when the clone's memories hit him.

"Shhh," Kakashi said, putting a finger to Iruka's lips. "It's okay."

"But that was --" Iruka gasped, and Kakashi shook his head. Rojii had almost spotted the clones. Fortunately, by that point they had already managed to share nearly all of the information that each of them had, and been able to just puff out of existence.

"Yeah," Kakashi said. "I know." If Rojii was so nervous that he was walking rounds at night, Iruka's cover might rest on the smallest of actions.

The smuggling ring was moving weapons and some drugs, but those weren't the problem. The problem was that they were also trafficking in soldier pills. Those pills were a specialized, shinobi-specific item, and one that most ninja villages kept a close eye on. That suspicion alone would be enough to attract the attention of any of the hidden villages. None of the villages took the selling of shinobi secrets lightly, and Konoha even less so when it was happening on their doorstep.

As a teacher on summer leave, and someone who was familiar with onsen, Iruka had been a natural fit: competent, but without a jounin's distinctive chakra patterns. The most disturbing fact was that Iruka had received no response to any of the messages he'd sent to Konoha, which implied that messages were being intercepted. It made Kakashi glad he'd insisted that Sai accompany Tenzo back to Konoha, just in case.

There wasn't really much to be said, but Kakashi still slept badly for the rest of the night, his dreams cycling through different interpretations of the information Iruka's clone had given him.


Iruka brought breakfast in the morning, as was apparently becoming habit, and Kakashi slept in late again, thankful that Iruka was the one who had to be up and about early in the morning. He wasn't as badly tapped out as he had feared, but he could still feel the drain from the clones they'd formed. Motions so small as just sitting up took more energy than they ought.

It might not be a bad idea to stay here for another day or two, both for his own state and to help keep Iruka's cover. He firmly ignored the part of himself that suggested that he might have other, ulterior motives for staying longer, like Iruka's steady warmth at night, or the hints of humor in his eyes when they spoke about nothing in particular.

Other than Iruka's aghast expression when Kakashi had to struggle to sit up for breakfast, it wasn't an unpleasant morning, and the first part of the day slipped by quickly enough in napping and reading. Kakashi even hauled himself up for a little while in the afternoon. He swung by the kitchens to see if he could get something to eat, and could feel the sharp edges of Rojii's unpleasant chakra from almost a whole room away.

When he got to the kitchen, Kakashi saw Kanako and Rojii bent over the stove, arguing in low voices. The tension in the room was palpable, and Kakashi saw that the rest of the staff were pretending very hard to not be aware of what was going on.

"Kanako-san," Kakashi ventured, leaning into the kitchen and interrupting Rojii's low-voiced rant. "Oh, I'm sorry, I don't mean to interrupt --" Rojii glared; Kanako looked relieved as much as anything else, and bustled over to get him a plate.

"That isn't the end of it," Rojii spat, and stormed out. His footsteps were almost inaudible, despite his obvious anger, and Kakashi added another tally mark to his "Hidden Stone" list.

Kakashi installed himself on one of the stools in the corner, and leaned back into the corner. After a few subdued minutes, the kitchen staff seemed to forget he was there, though the maids who ducked in and out picking up customers' orders sometimes did a double take on seeing him sitting there.

Ayumi came in a little later, whispered with Kanako for a moment, and then pulled up a stool next to Kakashi's.

"Thank you for getting rid of Rojii before," she said. "But you know you're on his bad side now, right?" Kakashi nodded.

"I figured," he said, and shrugged. Ayumi's brow furrowed.

"I don't think you understand," she said, keeping her voice low enough that the general clatter of kitchen work almost drowned her out. "The last few people to get on his bad side have all --" she paused "-- retired. Suddenly." She locked gazes with him. "They all left notes," she said. "Nobody saw them leave." He nodded.

"All right," he said, "I'll keep an eye out." She frowned.

"You'd better be sure you aren't alone with him," she said. Then she leaned back. Kakashi wondered if his reaction to that news had been appropriately shocked, but it was too late to change it now. When Ayumi spoke again, her voice was louder.

"You know," she said, "your brother had such good manners." Kakashi looked at her, surprised. "Well," she continued, "we all noticed, you know. He folded everything so neatly."

"Oh," Kakashi said. "My brother." She must mean Sai -- he supposed that with black hair they would look more like each other than like Tenzo, and merchants like Kakashi was pretending to be often worked in family-centric groups. "He's always been like that." Ayumi looked at him a little oddly, and Kakashi floundered for a better response.

"Just don't remind Iyashi," he tried, "or he'll be after me to do the same." He cracked a grin, and it felt like his heart started beating again when she smiled back at him conspiratorially.

"Well," she said, "I think I can manage that.." She got up soon after that, but Kakashi stayed for a few more minutes, watching the patterns of work in the kitchen, how well coordinated everything was. He walked out to the small, cherry-tree courtyard, and sat there for a little while listening to staff chatter before deciding to go back to the room. He was increasingly convinced that no one was going to talk in public. Not if Rojii were the kind of man who "disappeared" people he didn't like.

Kakashi curled up on the futon with his book; he stirred when Iruka came in some time later but didn't bother to wake up all the way. He got a vague impression of amusement and concern from Iruka, who pulled the book from Kakashi's hands and joined him in bed silently. Kakashi let Iruka tug him close before going back to sleep, drifting off with his head on Iruka's shoulder.


Iruka rose just before sunrise, and Kakashi dragged himself upright at the same time. A quick check revealed that other people were still sleeping, or weren't close enough to their room to be a problem.

"How did you do that?" Kakashi asked, gesturing at Iruka's face. Iruka blinked at him.

"Oh," he said, "the hot springs." Kakashi nodded. He could go out to the hot springs today, but a single glance at the scars he'd accumulated over the years would raise eyebrows, at the very least.

Iruka shut his eyes for a moment, and Kakashi realized he was chakra-sensing.

"All right," Iruka said. "It's a variation of the low-drain henge." Kakashi nodded, and was silently glad that, even seemingly un-observed, Iruka hadn't mentioned Tsunade's name. He pulled the eye-patch out of the way and gestured at Iruka to continue. "It sets in place for days, or even weeks, and this version will tamp down your chakra signature," Iruka said. "You need a small, physical focus point, which will look like a tattoo." Kakashi nodded. "You visualize your excess chakra, the tattoo, and the henge," Iruka said. "And you have to get it right the first time," Iruka said, "or else layer it, because I wasn't taught how to take it off again."

Kakashi opened his left eye; Iruka ran through the hand signs slowly, in demonstration. He was remarkably good at not concentrating chakra in his hands, so as not to activate the jutsu by accident. As soon as he had finished, Kakashi snapped the Sharingan shut, already feeling the drain. I really would be in the hospital for a week if I'd sprinted back, he thought. As strange and potentially dangerous as things here might be, the onsen was definitely preferable to immobility in a sterile hospital bed.

Kakashi visualized his chakra; he left aside a small amount to ebb away gradually through the Sharingan, having long ago accepted its perpetual tax on his reserves as a given. The design of the tattoo didn't matter terribly much, so he focused on the henge, on smoothing the puckered skin of old scars and muting the flush of newer ones. The tattoo would have to be somewhere no one had seen yet, and he didn't dare concentrate chakra above the Sharingan, so he couldn't hide it under the eye patch. He visualized a small, nondescript tattoo above his left shoulder blade, and began to run through the hand signs.

But just as he was about to form the last three signs, footsteps sounded in the hallway, and the door began to open. Iruka was thankfully still standing between Kakashi and the door, and he leaned in, leaving Kakashi's hands space to flip through the last seals. But the noise, the door opening, and Iruka's breath hot against his cheek distracted Kakashi, and he felt the jutsu slipping as he moved into the last seal. He hung on to the image of the henge, but was unable to keep his mind from jumping to alternatives, if it came to a fight. Then he felt the backs of his shoulders prickle, and the jutsu slip into place, and let his hands come to rest on Iruka's waist.

"Oh, I'm sorry," a female voice said, "Rojii told me to -- Iyashi, they need you to see to a guest."

"Right," Iruka said, dislodging Kakashi's hands as he turned to face her. "I'll come right away." Kakashi took the chance to step up behind Iruka again, and whisper confirmation of the jutsu's success in his ear. Iruka squirmed away with an exasperated sound.

"A bit bold, that one," she said, as they were walking down the hallway.

"Handsy," Iruka agreed. "But," and his voice dropped, suggestive and confiding at the same time, "I can't say I mind all that much." Kakashi heard her giggle as they walked away.

Kakashi considered going out to the baths now, but it was still early, even for the staff, and he hadn't checked the henge yet -- he'd need Iruka too check his back, since there were no mirrors on hand. He climbed back into the futon, which still smelled a little bit like the two of them, and fell asleep, irrationally comforted by the trace of Iruka's presence.

Iruka showed up with a breakfast some time later, looking a little bit harried.

"Sit down for a minute," Kakashi suggested, and Iruka did. Kakashi restrained himself from making any comment: Iruka looked like he could use a couple of minutes off his feet. There was enough food for two -- and then some, really, though Kakashi was hungry enough to take care of any leftovers. There was plenty of protein, which was good for rebuilding chakra. Kakashi wondered if this was Iruka's influence, or if Kanako, the head cook, pressed this much food on everyone.

"Let's see," Iruka said, after he'd finished his meal. Kakashi arched an eyebrow, and Iruka flushed. Strange, Kakashi thought, that Iruka could be so forward around other staff, and so easily embarrassed when they were alone.

"You know what I mean," Iruka snapped. Kakashi stripped off his shirt. Iruka looked him over, and motioned for him to turn around.

"Whoah," Iruka said, as Kakashi turned. "That's -- well, that's quite a tattoo." Kakashi turned to look over his shoulder, but couldn't make out much. He cast an inquiring glance at Iruka. "It's a pack of hunting dogs," Iruka explained. "It runs from here --" he touched the edge of Kakashi's right scapula, "to here --" he brushed tentative fingers against the curve of Kakashi's left shoulder. "It's well done," Iruka said, "but don't you think it might give the wrong impression?"

"Well," Kakashi said, rapidly calculating the extent of the tattoo -- it was much, much larger than he'd intended. "I imagine I'm hardly the only person here to have had an eventful youth." He lowered his voice. "Besides, it might be useful: someone might approach me, if they get a certain impression." Iruka nodded. He picked up the breakfast tray, and nudged the door open with a foot, the motion smooth and practiced.

Just as he was about to leave, a thought struck Kakashi.

"They're not identifiable?" Kakashi asked, pointing at his shoulders, "I mean --" Iruka's look of confusion melted away, and he nudged the door closed again.

"No," he said, "the dogs aren't collared, and they're too stylized to be any breed I've ever seen." He paused. "And there are only five of them." Kakashi felt himself relax. Anyone who had heard of his dogs would think either of Pakkun or of the whole pack. Five dogs shouldn't be a particularly noteworthy number.

"Still," Iruka continued, turning to face him fully, "you were here before." He sounded hesitant. "That means people saw you before -- and they'd remember a tattoo this large. I think --" Iruka sighed. "I think you'd better do it again."

Kakashi checked quickly as Iruka closed his eyes. No one was close by, so he ran through the seals again, faster this time, and focused very carefully on the totality of the henge, including the focus-point tattoo, a small spiral on one shoulder. When he turned around this time, Iruka nodded, looking a little relieved.

"Much better," Iruka said. "Now I really have to get back to work: Rojii's still in a mood, and he's terrorizing everyone he can get his hands on. I think it's my turn."

After sitting for a little while longer, Kakashi went to the hot springs, where he soaked for a time and made polite conversation with the other men. This onsen seemed to be a favorite of several of the older guests, who were happy to regale him with stories of previous visits, and it also appeared to be a popular stopping-point for parties traveling from the Land of Fire into the Land of Sight. While there were few single travelers, making him a bit odd, Kakashi thought that his cover would hold well enough for a short time.

The lunch conversation he'd had a few days ago ended up coming in handy, because it had given him some idea of what the trade routes through this onsen were like, as well as a few names to drop. Those, in combination with his "brother" and "cousin" who had gone on ahead, ended up getting him invited to dine with a merchant party from Mist who dealt mostly with textiles. Kakashi figured staying with them couldn't hurt. It ended up being just what he'd been hoping to have happen.

Over dinner, Kakashi heard from them that there had been an altercation of some kind nearby a few days ago. Although the head merchant's son, a reckless teenager, seemed convinced that it had to have been shinobi, the rest of the group thought it was more likely to just be the local toughs.

"These hot springs are so good," the head merchant explained, "and we run into so many other traders here. It's worth a stop in the area. We just never stay here over the new moon." Careful curiosity revealed that people or goods went missing every once in a while, always on the night of the new moon. Kakashi quickly steered the conversation back to natural dyes for fabric, which seemed to put everyone at their ease.


After dinner that night, Kakashi went out to the hot springs again, and after a little while talking with the more gregarious guests, Kakashi wandered away to sit next to a little natural waterfall that happened to be secluded and out of the way of most of the guests, though well within yelling distance, just in case Ayumi's warning were correct: Kakashi didn't want a fight anywhere near the inn's customers. Iruka showed up when his shift ended, and joined him. They spoke low, allowing the falling water to mask their conversation.

Kakashi conveyed the little he'd learned from other guests, and then the possible windfall mentioned by the textile merchant.

"Well," Iruka mused, "that would fit -- Rojii was nervous like this last month, too. The new moon." He looked thoughtful, and Kakashi nodded.

"You haven't been able to find out which village's formula they are, have you?" Kakashi asked after a moment. Iruka shook his head. "That would be too easy. Can you -- mgph!" Iruka kissed him, effectively ending the conversation.

Kakashi froze as he heard someone approaching, footsteps muffled by the sound of the falling water. He bristled a little bit at the idea that Iruka had heard it before him, and then shivered when Iruka ran a hand up his naked chest, drops of warm water trailing from his fingertips. Iruka licked at Kakashi's lips and wound a hand in his hair, tugging lightly.

"Come on," Iruka murmured, kissing down the line of Kakashi's throat. He moved with what felt like no hesitation at all. "Come on." He grabbed at one of Kakashi's hands, and Kakashi caught his meaning. He ran his hands up the line of Iruka's arms, pleased all over again by the muscle under his touch. Iruka leaned into the touch and made a little sound in the back of his throat that sent heat flooding down Kakashi's spine. He allowed himself to lean into Iruka's touch just a little bit.

The footsteps sounded closer, and Iruka jerked away as if surprised, leaving Kakashi reaching after him as he retreated, only half in simulation. Iruka's lips were obviously just-bitten, and he looked dazed and a little bit anxious. Tetsu rounded the bend and raised an eyebrow at the two of them. Iruka flushed down to his shoulders, and Kakashi made himself grin slightly in response, affecting a cocky confidence that made Iruka's embarrassment all the more obvious. Kano, Kakashi had decided, was distinctly hard to embarrass. Tetsu didn't stop, just shook his head and walked by. Iruka was silent until the footsteps had faded, and then he shook his head. It was the first time Kakashi had seen Tetsu all day, and the only time he'd ever seen Tetsu holding gardening tools: Tetsu had a huge shovel over his shoulder.

"All right," Iruka said, all business again, "I think we should go back to my -- our -- room now." Kakashi hated the idea of losing this chance to trade information, but it did make sense. When they stepped out of the water, Iruka looked away, hastily handing Kakashi a robe and pulling one on himself.

"Come on," he said, still not looking at Kakashi, "we'll go this way." The route Iruka followed kept them in sight of other people nearly the whole way back.

They were both quiet on the way back into the room. When they got there, Iruka slipped into clothes almost instantly and Kakashi pulled on something he could sleep in. They were quiet for a short time, before Iruka spoke up.

"Are you doing all right?" His tone was hesitant, but it was clear that he'd noticed Kakashi's economy of motion, the faint signs of fatigue that were still there if you were looking for them. Kakashi shrugged.

"Well enough," he said. "It was a long trip." He couldn't speak any more clearly when they were indoors, but Kakashi was still surprised that Iruka hadn't asked him yet what had happened, or why Kakashi's team had been sent in this direction to start with.

"Hmm," Iruka said, but he didn't say anything more about it. He closed his eyes for a moment and Kakashi felt him reaching out carefully for nearby chakra signatures. He apparently didn't feel anything, because he opened his eyes and shrugged.

"I have to be up for an early shift. Shut the light off when you turn in?" And just like that, Iruka was in bed and asleep.

Kakashi didn't join Iruka for some time, just sat with his back to the wall, trying to find patterns in the information Iruka had shared, to see some shape, some plan that Iruka had missed. If Rojii was selling soldier pills to civilians, well, they'd undoubtedly be fatal from time to time, especially for people unaccustomed to managing their chakra levels. It wasn't just the Akimitchi's pills that had dangerous side-effects, after all. Best case, they were making the pills themselves; worst case, they'd sold the formula to a civilian drug dealer. Kakashi had never heard of a missing nin going so far astray as to do something like this, but medi-nin didn't often go rogue.

He finally had to admit that if Iruka had missed anything, he was going to miss it, too. But that just left thinking about Iruka, and his part in the situation here. The part that troubled Kakashi most was the lack of backup -- Iruka's clone had said that he'd sent out more than one such request.

Iruka shifted and muttered something unintelligible in his sleep, and Kakashi glanced over. He looked absolutely ordinary, lying there with his hair loose against the pillow, and Kakashi was surprised to feel a flutter of want stir in him. He shook his head as if that might clear it, and crawled carefully into bed next to Iruka.

Iruka woke, blinked at him for a surprised moment. Then he moved over to give Kakashi a little more space.

"Come back here," Kakashi said, tugging Iruka closer. The maids still might peek in the morning, and Iruka was a comfortable weight against him, not fidgety or aggressive in his sleep as some shinobi were. Iruka blinked at him again, and then comprehension flickered across his features.

"Kano," he said, his voice almost petulant. "Not now." He curled up, resting his head against Kakashi's shoulder and curling his arms between the two of them, hands in loose fists. Then he went back to sleep.

Kakashi looked at him, a little surprised, and willed himself asleep as well. He woke when someone stopped in the hallway and then shifted the door aside just slightly a couple of hours later, but didn't stir, recognizing Rojii's abrasive chakra signature. So they're still suspicious, Kakashi thought. Or at least curious. Iruka's breathing didn't change, but Kakashi felt him tense up slightly when the door whispered shut. Neither of them said anything, and Kakashi slipped back into sleep more quickly than he might have expected.


Maybe that would have been the end of it, if it had been any other week. But Rojii was keyed up and almost angry, and Kakashi was almost certain he was using clones, because Kakashi had felt his chakra from two different directions at least once since waking. When Kakashi got to the kitchen, it was a bustle of activity, all rush and steaming platters and hurry. He stayed out of the way as best he could, slipping between people to reach Kanako. She looked surprised to see him.

"Iyashi's sleeping," Kakashi offered. "I'm here to pick up breakfast for him." She nodded, and had one of the kitchen girls make up a tray. Just as she was about to hand it to Kakashi, Rojii slammed the kitchen door open. Kanako started to turn around in surprise, and the tray slipped from her hands.

Kakashi caught it just before anything spilled and had time for only a split-second of satisfaction before he realized what he'd just done. He looked up, and locked eyes with Rojii, whose glare was almost tangible. Kakashi suspected that he'd been waiting for something like this to happen.

But there wasn't any way to change it now, only to go on from here and see what happened. Kakashi walked past Rojii with the tray, and managed to completely ignore him, despite the way Rojii's chakra put his back up. His hands, carefully balancing the tray, practically itched for lack of kunai.

"Shit!" Iruka glared at Kakashi. "Shit. And the handoff is tonight!" He shook his head. Kakashi sat back and ate quickly. Apologizing wouldn't fix anything.

Kakashi almost wished Rojii would try something, but Iruka's mission carried the same riders as Kakashi's had -- no flashy chakra use, no ninjutsu -- no evidence of shinobi activity. And a fight with Rojii, no matter who started, no matter how satisfying it might be, would definitely break the rules. He kept to the large courtyard for the rest of the morning and early afternoon, and then stayed in Iruka's room until dinner.


After the meal, Kakashi took the plates back to the kitchen.

"What," he asked Ayumi, when she asked him what he was doing in the hallway. He affected an almost petulant tone. "I can't just do something nice?" He winked at her, and she blushed; her companion giggled, and they went on their way. Kakashi dropped the tray and plates off in the kitchen. Kanako shooed him out of the kitchen -- but not until she'd pressed a couple of sweets into his hand, "just because." She was a plump, middle-aged woman with blurry but pleasant chakra, and Kakashi hoped Iruka was right about her not being crooked.

When Kakashi got back to the room, Iruka was dragging a comb through his hair and making a face. Kakashi closed the door. When Iruka paused, Kakashi handed him the sweets Kanako had given him. Iruka's expression brightened.

"How did you --"

"Kanako wouldn't let me leave without them," Kakashi said. "She was very insistent."

"Well, here," Iruka said, and held one out for Kakashi, who shook his head.

"I'm not much for sweets," he said, and then, teasing, added: "really, Iyashi, you should know that by now." He'd meant it as a little joke, but Iruka didn't seem to take it that way. He straightened up, flushing a little bit, his jaw set in a way Kakashi recognized from the chuunin exam meeting.

"Of course," Iruka said, voice tight. "How stupid of me to forget." He put the sweets down beside him, and yanked fiercely at the comb, wincing a little bit when it remained stuck in his hair.

"Here," Kakashi said, "let me." He pulled the comb carefully from Iruka's hand.

"What?" Iruka protested, as Kakashi settled to the ground behind him. "No, you don't have to --" He sounded confused, and unsettled, which made Kakashi unaccountably displeased. Did Iruka really think Kakashi would insult him so casually? The idea soured his stomach.

"It's no trouble," Kakashi said, starting to unpick the tangle with the tip of the comb. Iruka sat rigid in front of him, and stiffened when Kakashi put a hand on his shoulder. It took a couple of minutes to get Iruka's hair un-tangled, and Iruka's posture had loosened up just a little bit by the end of it. Kakashi found he was pleased by that unconscious admission of trust. He stopped, but didn't hand the comb back to Iruka.

"Would you like to know about the conversation I had on my way back from the kitchen?" Kakashi asked, keeping his voice low. Iruka turned partway to look at him. When Kakashi quirked a suggestive eyebrow, Iruka flushed.

"I don't want to know, do I?"

"Mmmm," Kakashi hummed, leaning in, watching as Iruka's gaze drifted to his mouth. He nodded. "No, probably not." Then Iruka shut his eyes, and Kakashi knew he was sensing the nearby area, feeling for company. When he opened his eyes again, they were clear, and nowhere near as embarrassed as they had been a moment earlier.

"Let me guess," Iruka replied. He turned closer, and moved to breathe in Kakashi's ear. "You were talking to Rojii, weren't you?" Kakashi nodded, a bit unsettled by Iruka's change in demeanor. Iruka's fingers brushed Kakashi's arm. He's a sensor. A good one. He'll be watching our chakra signatures, not just listening. Iruka paused. We can't risk faking things like before, he added, as if that had been unclear.

Kakashi hadn't entirely expected Iruka to lean in and press a kiss to his cheek right away, but he didn't move to avoid it.

"Well," Iruka suggested, "I don't see what he has to do with us, mm?" His fingers brushed against Kakashi's upper arm. Consent? Iruka asked; Kakashi blinked in surprise, before nodding.

"Yeah," Kakashi said. "I think you're right about that." Iruka smiled, then, and Kakashi felt a shiver run down his spine. This time when Iruka leaned in, Kakashi met him halfway. Iruka kissed him softly this time, seeming almost hesitant. For the first time, Kakashi was the one to open his mouth first, to press closer and run his hands along Iruka's arms.

This is just part of keeping Iruka's cover, he reminded himself, but it certainly felt real. Iruka shuddered when Kakashi scraped his nails lightly down the backs of his arms, and pressed forward a little closer as if he couldn't help himself. If Iruka was acting, he was shockingly good at this. Kakashi let himself hope that Iruka might actually be enjoying it, that he wasn't the only one for whom this falsity was going awry.

Kakashi let Iruka direct the kiss, though he couldn't help sneaking his hands up the sleeves of Iruka's yukata to grip at his biceps. Iruka pressed kisses down Kakashi's neck the way he had in the hot spring yesterday. This time no one walked by to interrupt, and Kakashi shivered when Iruka kissed his pulse-point, the join of his collarbones, the underside of his chin. No one had ever been so forward with him before, so intently focused on his reactions: when Kakashi's breath hesitated, Iruka made a pleased sound in the back of his throat and repeated whatever it was that had elicited such a reaction from him.

"I think," Iruka said, untucking Kakashi's shirt; Kakashi surprised himself by pulling it off and leaning into Iruka's touch. He smiled at the way Iruka's breath caught at that. "I think--" Iruka said again, "we might want to --" Kakashi kissed him, and Iruka kissed back almost desperately, moving to straddle one of Kakashi's legs. Kakashi ran his hands down the broad stretch of Iruka's back; he hesitated only a moment before slipping his hands down below Iruka's waist and tugging him closer. This close, Kakashi could feel Iruka's erection brush against his hip, and Iruka made a little gasping noise when Kakashi pulled him in again, Kakashi's hands spanning his ass. He kissed Kakashi deeply, framing Kakashi's face in his hands, and Kakashi bit lightly at his lips, evoking another gasp. Then Iruka pulled back, putting his hands on Kakashi's shoulders to hold him in place. Kakashi fisted his hands in Iruka's yukata and tried to pull him close again.

"Ka -- Kano!" Iruka protested. The assumed name was a sudden reminder, and Kakashi felt like someone had just dropped an ice cube down his back. "There's a perfectly good futon," Iruka said, but his voice faltered a little bit. He stood, and offered Kakashi a hand up, the unnecessary gesture another stark reminder of their circumstances. Kakashi took Iruka's hand and wobbled a little bit when he stood for effect. Standing, it was clear all over again that they were nearly the same height.

"Okay," Iruka said. He hadn't let go of Kakashi's hand, and he drew Kakashi over to the futon. He looked over, and his eyes were questioning: apparently he'd noticed Kakashi's reaction. Okay? his fingers traced. Kakashi nodded. He was a more than a little surprised at the ease with which Iruka had slipped into this role.

Stereotypes will get you nowhere, Kakashi reminded himself. You know damn well that him being a teacher doesn't mean he lacks other skills. But the idea of this being nothing but a mission for Iruka, just a mechanical exercise, made Kakashi's stomach clench. Something must have shown on his face, because Iruka tugged him a little closer. Are you sure? he asked. Kakashi didn't know what kind of reaction Iruka expected to that: did he really think Kakashi might say "no" at this point, knowing that to do so would endanger Iruka's mission even more? This was nothing, if it fixed his earlier mistake. Kakashi nodded again, and leaned in to kiss Iruka again to make his point.

"Yeah," Kakashi said against Iruka's lips. "Come on." Maybe this was a bad idea -- it was definitely a bad idea if Kakashi kept forgetting it was all a lie -- but it would take more than a little confusion before he'd let another shinobi's mission be endangered. And, if he was perfectly honest with himself, it wasn't exactly a hardship. Kakashi took a moment to appreciate the contrast of his fingers laced with Iruka's before he gave in.

"So," Kakashi said, running his hands up Iruka's arms again, "is this all you had in mind?" He gripped Iruka's shoulders beneath the yukata and held him close to kiss him again.

"Mmmpgh--" Iruka protested, pulling away. Kakashi let go, slightly alarmed. "You didn't give me a chance to answer," Iruka pointed out.

"So I didn't," Kakashi said. He ran his hands down Iruka's torso to the belt of his yukata. "Maybe I can make it up to you?"


That was when two kunai flew through the rice-paper door. Kakashi rolled the two of them out of the way at the last minute, and the door slammed open. Kakashi let fly at the incoming figure just as Iruka did, not bothering to dodge the two kunai Rojii threw at them. All three disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Hidden behind a pile of crates in the outbuilding, Kakashi felt Iruka shudder when the memories hit them. Kakashi took a deep breath and willed away the erection that had come hand-in-hand with the clone's memories. On the other side of the boxes, someone had cried out; Rojii, receiving his clone's memories. He'd know now that Kakashi and Iruka had tricked him and swapped clones for the two of them despite his closest surveillance.

Something made a humming noise, and Kakashi flung himself to one side, out from behind the crates, dragging Iruka with him. The crates exploded into a burst of splinters. Kakashi pulled kunai from the belt of his yukata.

"Well," Rojii said, and there was satisfaction thick in his voice. "Our little spies come out to play." Behind and beside him, the two strangers -- Iwa nin -- pulled a sword and a kunai. Tetsu stood in a far corner, next to a deep hole with a steel box sitting in it. The heavy shovel would make an excellent weapon, if it came to it. About half of the building's floor appeared to have been torn away; there were piles of wooden debris in the corners, or stacked up to block a window.

"Well," Kakashi said, "with such a warm welcome, how could we stay away?" He tugged at Iruka to stand behind him, but Iruka refused to budge.

"I've got Rojii," Iruka said. His voice was steady, and venomous, which surprised Kakashi. He added, lower, "the odds aren't great, but --" he shrugged. He raised his voice, adding, "I really can't complain about the chance to teach the bastard a little humility."

Rojii snarled and surged forward. Iruka and Kakashi both side-stepped him neatly, and Kakashi dropped down for a ham-stringing blow, which Rojii dodged by a hair's breadth. Then Kakashi spun to face the rest of the room, just in time to dodge a blow from one of the Iwa nin, with the other one close behind.

There were a dozen jutsu that would work in this situation -- ones to freeze people in place, or to sink them into the earth, to blind them or slow them down or trap them in genjutsu of any of a hundred kinds. And Kakashi couldn't use any of them right now.

"Well," he said, facing the two men and risking a glance over to where Iruka and Rojii circled each other, "I guess it's a good thing I take so many of Guy's stupid challenges." One of them -- the one in the back, unfortunately -- looked momentarily confused. The other just sneered at him and stepped closer, almost in sword range.

Kakashi flung one kunai at the swordsman, who batted the knife out of the air almost contemptuously. Kakashi took advantage of that slicing movement to duck within the man's reach, too close for accurate swordplay, and stab him in the neck with a senbon he'd pulled from his sleeve. The man stared at him, incredulous, and staggered backwards; Kakashi took his sword as he fell.

The other Iwa nin was still hanging back, and the man's hands started flicking through seals for the headhunter jutsu. Kakashi feigned inattention, looking at the sword he'd just liberated, and jumped up onto a crate just as the other man finished the seals and disappeared into the ground. Usually, Kakashi didn't much trust wood: too much time training with Tenzo and too many ambushes in the forest around Konoha. But right now, it was one of the best things to have between himself and the ground. Kakashi tried to locate the other man by his chakra signature, but it was too diffuse. He glanced over to see Iruka still holding his own, though by this point both he and Rojii were bleeding.

Then, all of a sudden, Iruka was pulled downwards into the earth. Kakashi saw the Iwa nin rise up behind Rojii, and Kakashi threw the sword just in time to deflect the blow Rojii aimed at Iruka's head. And then Kakashi blinked, because Iruka disappeared into the ground.

Kakashi just had time to duck before the air around him became a rain of senbon. They clattered against the crate he'd ducked behind, and Kakashi rolled to the side just in time to avoid the crate's explosion. He didn't have time to wonder where Iruka had gone: a shovel came down where his shoulder had been a moment before, and Kakashi had to dodge projectiles and Tetsu's swinging blows at the same time. He kept one ear open to hear Rojii and the other shinobi, and pulled another senbon from his sleeve.

Tetsu's lack of shinobi training meant that his swings and jabs at Kakashi were erratic and unpredictable, as if even he weren't in total control of his movements. It was simple enough to lure him into the floored section of the room, which would at least limit the earth jutsu that could be immediately performed. Disarming him was more of a puzzle, and Kakashi breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Iruka rise up out of the floor just behind Rojii, who began to sink just as Iruka stabbed him in the back of the neck. Rojii tried to turn toward his attacker, the expression of surprise on his face almost comical before he slumped to the floor.

At the same moment, Tetsu's grip on the shovel failed, and Kakashi had to bend over backwards until his shoulders nearly touched the floor to avoid being decapitated by the its rusty, heavy edge. After that, however, it was the work of moments to catch Tetsu and knock him out with a couple of well-placed blows. As Tetsu fell, Kakashi heard Iruka cry out, and whipped around to see the Iwa nin holding Iruka captive, a kunai to his neck.

"Hands up and apart," the man said, "where I can see them." Iruka blinked at Kakashi, holding very still. He didn't look as frightened as Kakashi might have expected him to, with an enemy's blade at his throat.

"This doesn't have to go badly," Kakashi said, keeping his hands up and apart and stepping closer. "You can still get out of here alive." Iruka wiggled his fingers: distract.

"Like you're in any position to tell me that," the man sneered, and his grip on Iruka tightened. "What are you going to do, beg me to death?"

Kakashi sighed. "I don't need to," he said. This was a lot easier when people recognized him. He dropped his left hand to his face and pulled aside the eye patch, revealing the scar beneath but keeping the eye shut. "Think really hard about where we are," he said. "Let him go, and I'll let you go home."

The man made a skeptical face, and Kakashi opened his eye. At the sight of the Sharingan, the man froze, and Iruka simultaneously jerked his head backwards violently and stamped on the man's instep, causing him to let go.

"Nice," Iruka said, holding a blade of his own to the man's throat. "Tell me you have more senbon?" Kakashi blinked. He hadn't thought Iruka had seen that part of the fight, when he'd been tied up with Rojii. "Well?" Iruka asked.

Kakashi shook his head, as if to clear it, and pulled another senbon from his other sleeve. Iruka jabbed it almost viciously in the man's neck, and held him still until the sedative had time to kick in.

"Well," Iruka said, "now what?" Kakashi looked around at the room, which was now filled with splinters and weapons, and was very, very obviously the site of a serious fight.

Kakashi walked over to the steel box and opened it. The weapons it held were nothing spectacular, and the soldier pills were of an unfamiliar make.

"Now," Kakashi said, pocketing a handful of the soldier pills for Konoha's labs to analyze, "we tie them up, and send word to the feudal lord to come get them. And we go home."

They tied the Iwa nin hand and foot, in case they woke up sooner than expected, and Kakashi warded the outbuilding to prevent anyone else entering it.

A noise from the rest of the courtyard brought them both to full alert, and both of them spun around, Kakashi pulling Iruka by the wrist and drawing him close until the courtyard was revealed to be clear.

"Well," Kakashi said. They were both a mess, smudged with dirt and dust, sweaty and exhausted. "I think that went well, don't you?" Iruka stared at him, incredulous, before bursting into almost hysterical laughter. It took him a minute to stop laughing, and Kakashi became consciously aware of how close he was holding Iruka, and of the fact that Iruka hadn't moved away.

"Yeah," Iruka said, wiping tears from his cheeks and pulling his wrist from Kakashi's grip in the process. "Yeah, that went well." He looked at Kakashi for a moment, and seemed to make a decision. "Now," Iruka said, "we have to tell Sano something. But after that --" he licked his lips, and Kakashi found himself fixated by the movement "-- I'd say we have a little bit of unfinished business of our own to take care of?" Iruka's voice was low and heated enough for there to be no doubt what he was suggesting. Kakashi surprised himself by smiling.

"I think we do," he said, and pulled Iruka in for a kiss.