Note: So... years ago I wrote a couple crack one-shots where Iruka teaches DADA. (It's still up on this site, under the same title because I have no imagination.) Then, BAM out of nowhere a full-fledged plot sprung out and bit me. Sometimes the muse wants what the muse wants.
That oneshot collection is all finished, and I didn't want to erase it and lose the reviews. So it'll stay up while I write this plotty fic.
FINALLY: This chapter is a little... heavy. Please trust in the fact that this isn't my first rodeo, and that this will have a happy ending.
Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world. Malala Yousafzai
- Malala Yousafzai
Iruka felt the ANBU's presence before the children did. Pausing mid-lecture, he turned with chalk in hand.
Cat and Crane stood politely at the door. Shizune, the Hokage's assistant, stood with them.
Oh, Iruka thought. They're here for me.
A door slammed shut in his mind: he locked grief, shock, and fear away behind it. His student's eyes were on him, and it was his responsibility to show them how to properly react when the worst happened.
Most of the kids (the ones who weren't half asleep—it was a difficult lecture on the theory of the Fabian strategy by wearing down one's enemies through targeted skirmishes) had followed his gaze, and the air became crystalline with dread.
Everyone with shinobi families knew what news two unannounced ANBU brought.
Iruka strode calmly across the room, then bowed to Shizune and the ANBU, who bowed back.
"Is it Naruto?" Iruka asked through stiff lips.
Shizune gave him a soft, sad look. "Naruto's safe, Iruka-sensei. I'll take over your class this afternoon."
Not Naruto. Then... Then...
His mind shied away from completing the thought. (He would not break in front of his students.) Instead, Iruka handed Shizune the stub of chalk, as if passing a baton. "We are discussing skirmishes as a technique against a more powerful enemy. My notes are on the desk."
"Thank you, Iruka-sensei."
He and Shizune exchanged places, and Iruka followed the ANBU to the hall.
Once out of view of the class, Cat laid one hand on Iruka's shoulder. He didn't fight the man's chakra as a swirl of leaves whisked them to the morgue.
Iruka disliked this building—he didn't know anyone who did like it. The air was too cold, and as clean as the staff kept it, the scent of blood never quite went away. Iruka just kept moving forward. The door holding back his emotions rattled in its frame, but stayed tightly shut.
There were people waiting for him in the next room over, but Iruka's gaze was all for Naruto. The boy looked wretched, the muscles ticking wildly on his chin in his effort to hold back tears.
Silently, Naruto held a familiar black hitai-ate across his palms. Iruka took it, the metal plate clicked softly against his wedding ring. With his free hand, he reached to grip Naruto's shoulder. "You're safe? You're not hurt?"
Naruto shook his head, too choked to speak.
"We're safe, Iruka-sensei," Sakura piped up from behind him. Sasuke grunted his agreement.
"Iruka-sensei," said a female voice.
He glanced up and noticed belatedly that Tsunade was there as well. On any other day, Iruka would be embarrassed he didn't greet her with respect. Now, all he could see was that she stood before a sheet covered body on an autopsy table.
"Would you care to view the body?" she asked.
Which was how Iruka found himself staring down at Kakashi. He still wore his uniform, his mask in place. His eyes, uncovered because Iruka held his hitai-ate, were peacefully closed.
He looked like he was asleep.
He'd been dead for enough time for rigamortis to set in. His skin, when Iruka laid his hand on his cheek, was cold, the neck stiff and unmoving.
What was the last thing I said to him? Iruka thought, with sudden, sharp panic. Did I nag him to take out the trash? No, I'd never… Not before a mission. Even an easy one that this was supposed to be. I must have told him to go and come back-I made him break that promise. Why didn't I tell him I loved him, so he heard it from me one last time...
Grief and rage and sucking despair banged on the other side of his mental door. Iruka clenched his fist and held it shut by force.
Distantly, he heard the voices of his former students speaking to Tsunade. They were giving their report.
A distant part of Iruka knew he would want to hear this—he would want to know how and why Kakashi died: What he'd given his life for.
It all washed over him as noise, until one thing Naruto said stood out from the rest.
"...never heard a Jutsu like it before. Abracadabra, or something. And there was green light—"
"Avada Kedavra," Iruka corrected absently. That would explain why Kakashi's body was unmarked.
The room had gone silent. Iruka felt a prickle up his neck and turned to see everyone looking curiously.
"Something to add, Sensei?" Tsunade asked.
Iruka's voice sounded calm and remote. Still stuck in lecture-mode it seemed. "It's a wizard jutsu for instant death—one of their few fatal techniques," Iruka said. Kakashi wouldn't have felt anything, wouldn't have known he was dying.
... Why didn't that feel like a mercy?
Naruto scrunched up his face. "…Wizard?"
"Wizards aren't allowed in the five countries without an escort," Sasuke said.
"How do you know this?" Tsunade asked.
"My grandmother on my mother's side immigrated from one of their countries, England, before the borders shut," Iruka said. It was no secret. It was in his file. "Were any carrying wands? They'd look like sticks. Ten to twelve inches long?"
Naruto and Sasuke looked at each other in confusion. Sakura stepped forward. "We were fighting three missing nin on the other end of the field. Kakashi-sensei had joined forces with Jokari-san and Gyuniku-san to take down a swordsman."
"The other two jounin were killed with kunai," Tsunade said.
"I see." It was a reflex. He didn't. Two men of jounin rank killed with kunai, when they'd been fighting a swordsman, and the village's most elite felled by a mere wizard?
Tsunade gaze was fixed so intently on Iruka and if he were in another frame of mind he'd be unnerved. Now, he only felt numb.
Naruto stepped forward, curling a hand around Iruka's elbow. "Sensei, let's get you home."
When his parents had been killed, Iruka learned the hard lesson that life moved on. No matter what. As a child, it had enraged him: how could people keep living, keep laughing when his mother and father were dead? When Iruka had been all alone with a grief so wide and deep he felt like he was drowning?
He'd acted out. Played pranks. Been a complete hellion so someone-anyone would see him and his pain.
Now as a supposedly more responsible adult he couldn't do that. He had an example to set, a grieving Team 7 to watch out for. Classes to teach.
(Well, he could express himself in the healthy ninja way and kill a few Konoha's enemies, but he wasn't a usual field agent and his requests for high ranking missions kept getting denied.)
So he lived on. One day at a time. One foot in front of the other. He made himself eat at least twice a day—dinner was accompanied by Naruto, Gai, or Yamato more often than not. Tried and failed to sleep.
Tried and failed to sleep.
He packed up Kakashi's belongings in their shared house and put them in storage. Accepted the paperwork with deeds to Hatake holdings, and promptly locked them in a safe, with the intention of never opening it again.
And if the world had become gray and lifeless, as if he'd become unanchored from his life and set adrift at sea... well.
He spent hours, sometimes, twisting his wedding ring around and around his finger. As shinobi custom, it had been imbued with a little of Kakashi's chakra for Iruka to always carry with him. The fact it hadn't dissipated with Kakashi's death spoke more of Iruka clinging onto his memory than Kakashi's power. Kakashi's own ring was lifeless and empty, the sliver of Iruka's chakra wiped away in the same jutsu that had killed him.
At night he dreamed Kakashi was alive. They danced at their wedding. They sat at the same table at restaurants, quietly chatting with their knees and calves pressed to one another in a secret only they shared. They trained — Kakashi could kick Iruka's ass without even trying, but occasionally Iruka could surprise him.
Every morning Iruka woke alone in his bed and had to remind himself that Kakashi wasn't coming back.
Six weeks after Kakashi died, Iruka received a message bird for him to go to the Hokage's tower. Maybe one of his requests for an out-of-village mission had gone through. Maybe his quality of work had slipped and Tsunade was about to yell at him to snap out of it.
Iruka couldn't find it in himself to care, either way.
When he first walked into her office, he thought he had come at the wrong time. Tsunade sat at her desk across from a man even older than the Third had been, dressed in heavy blue robes.
A wizard, Iruka realized, dully.
Tsunade looked up and beckoned him in. "Ah, Iruka-sensei. We were waiting for you. This is Dumbledore-san." She looked pointedly at Iruka. "I assume you've kept up your English?"
So, Tsunade had bothered to read up on Iruka's file. His grandmother had taught the language to him before she died, and he occasionally spoke it with foreign merchants, to keep up the practice.
"Yes, Lady Tsunade," he said, in that language. "Though I am told I have an accent."
"You're perfectly understandable." The old man smiled. "I understand you're the grandson of Delphina Black."
"Yes." Iruka inclined his head politely, wondering what this was about. Surely, no one would have business with his grandmother after so many years? "I was named for her."
"I knew her as a young woman in school. She was a powerful witch—utterly devious with charms."
Iruka nodded. "I remember her using her witch magic to clean the house and cook family meals." He paused. "I'm sorry to tell you she passed away two years prior to the Kyuubi attack on our village."
"Yes, yes, it's clear from both your prattling that he's fluent," Tsunade interrupted in Japanese. It appeared she didn't know the language, and didn't appreciate being left out. "Have a seat, Iruka-sensei. Dumbledore-san here is the current headmaster of their Wizard and Witch school."
"Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry," Dumbledore elaborated. "It is a fine institution. One of the best schools for magic in the world, if you don't mind my very biased opinion." He studied Iruka over half-moon glasses. "This year we have an opening for a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. I was hoping to interest you in the position."
Iruka waited until Dumbledore had left the room before he looked to Tsunade. "Permission to speak freely?"
"You want to know if this has anything to do with Kakashi's death," she said wryly. "Of course it does."
Iruka took in a sharp breath. His heart pounded with something akin to eagerness. "What is the rank of this mission?" He wasn't a fool. Dumbledore had spoken of generous pay for Hogwarts's professors, the chance to mold new minds, and the extensive library in case Iruka was the researching type.
But Iruka was a shinobi first. Teacher second. He read underneath the underneath. The fact Tsunade had allowed Iruka to be interviewed was as good as an order to accept.
Tsunade took a scroll and slid it across the table. The chakra seals indicated it was of the highest rank.
"I'm not complaining," Iruka said carefully as he accepted the scroll, "But wouldn't Ebisu-sensei be better assigned to an S-rank?"
"He can't speak English, and we both know you'd rate Special Jounin if you ever pried yourself out of the Academy." She snorted indelicately and reached under her table, bringing up a bottle of sake and two cups. She spoke as she poured, "What Dumbledore-san neglected to tell both of us is their entire blasted country is on the brink of civil war. They have a Dark Lord who fancies himself as their new overruler."
"What does this have to do with Konoha?" What does this have to do with who killed Kakashi?
"We suspect the people who targeted Team 7 are working for, or along with, this new Dark Lord. They call themselves," she paused and words came out heavy with the unfamiliar words. "Death Eaters."
Iruka blinked. "Death Eaters?" he translated back into Japanese.
"Eh? Well, that's a name filled with charm." She lifted her cup and clinked it against his own. "Kanpai."
They drank. It burned all the way down in a way that didn't relieve a quarter of his pain.
"Why did your grandmother cross the border?" Tsunade asked. "Our file on her was limited."
"She was under threat from a previous Dark Lord, I believe," he said, adding dryly, "It's a reoccurring problem in Europe."
Tsunade nodded and laced her fingers, collecting her thoughts. "Dumbledore-san wants a shinobi within his walls to teach his children to defend themselves properly. To prepare them for the upcoming war. No doubt when the time comes, he will try to convince you to fight for their side."
"Should I let him?" Iruka asked bluntly.
"You are to protect your students as any sensei would, but Konoha has no stake in wizard matters. No," she shook her head. "Fighting their battles for them will not be your primary objective."
He nodded and she filled his cup again before she spoke.
"All of our intelligence about their country comes second or third hand, from immigrants such as your grandmother. We haven't had such an opportunity for a spy on the inside in generations. Use the good sense you're so known for, Sensei. I want constant reports on this brewing war, and what we are to expect from these people afterward." Her voice grew icy. "And you are to find out whatever you can about who killed Kakashi Hatake, and why. Then eliminate them."
This was the sort of mission assigned to ANBU. Iruka was only a chuunin, but he didn't hesitate for a second.
"I thought you might. Don't think I haven't noticed you signed up for every dangerous mission that crosses the mission desk." She looked hard at him. "Naruto's worried about you. He isn't the only one."
"I do my duty to Konoha," he said stiffly.
"Some might say Kakashi's death snuffed out your Will of Fire."
He bristled, even though deep down he suspected it was true. "Death is a part of shinobi life."
"That's what we tell ourselves, yes." She said in a gentle manner of another who had also suffered a loss. "We tell ourselves that existing is living, and that living is moving on. Teach these wizard children the Will of Fire, Iruka-sensei. Perhaps you will find it again, in yourself."
Note: Thanks for reading! Again, kinda a bummer start... but I do promise a happy ending. (HINT: HAPPY ENDINGS DON'T CONTAIN CHARACTER DEATH.)