Author's Note: Thank you so much to everyone who reviewed. It's nice to see that my efforts are appreciated. Judging from the reviews, I may add a little revenge on Katsura. Also FYI, I do not at this point anticipate Naruto, or any of his year-mates having any more involvement with this fic. Yes, the kunai will be explained. No, not in this chapter. Now, for special messages and Explanations…
Smoking Panda: Yes, I realize this is coming off a little Mary-Sue ish, but it's really difficult to avoid that when a story is focused on a single character. If it's any comfort, I intend to try and reveal a more fallible Iruka. Most of it's that I think Iruka is AWESOME. Training a class full of ninja-brats? I couldn't handle 6 NORMAL kids.
Flare2 and anonymous10; The paper thingie was like a lie detector. Feed it three sentences, and if they're all true it evaporates. They are difficult to make, so aren't frequently used. They're only valid if the person isn't under duress, and subjective as well (depends on the user's point of view). I will be inventing many other tools and jutsu as I go.
Nezuko: Thank you for several amazingly detailed reviews. I'm glad that I didn't lose everyone with the paper-interrogation device. As for the ahem expression, I don't think so, but it's possible. I was just looking for something to swear by, and there really isn't much if you avoid religion. Of course with a female Hokage, they're going to have to change that…
Title: Against the Tide
Summary: Iruka's scared…but that just makes him dangerous.
Rating: Episode-level violence.
Review: Very much appreciated
"Iruka-sensei" the Jounin said with a grin (at least as far as Iruka could tell) planting his hands firmly on Iruka's desk. The Chuunin blinked in shock. He hadn't felt the Jounin coming at all, and wasn't sure if that was due to the man's inarguable skill or the numb brain that resulted from 27 academy student level essays. "Guess what? I have a mission."
"That's … nice" he replied hesitantly, not quite sure how he was expected to react.
"And since I'm supposed to have backup, you're coming too!" Iruka knew how he felt about that. He scowled, feeling his face twisting into the unfamiliar shape of a frown.
"The Hokage put you up to this didn't she?"
"Well, you certainly impressed a lot of people last week. You've been down lately. A mission will take your mind off of it." Quite possibly permanently. I'm sure getting killed will put me in a much better mood.
"When do we leave?"
"As soon as you're ready." Iruka nodded, already stuffing papers into his desk and locking it. He jotted a short note for the substitute teacher on the board and changed his day vest for the heavier missions vest in the closet. He pulled a few of his rarer supplies out of the day vest and repacked them.
"Ready." The whole process had taken less than five minutes. Kakashi nodded shortly, and the two ninja headed for the gates.
"So what exactly is our mission?" Iruka asked as they ran through the treetops. The pace was punishing, better suited to ANBU and top Jounin than to Chuunin instructors who'd spent a long day trying to pound knowledge into tiny little minds.
"We're meeting a possible spy from Sound. It could well be a trap, but we can't afford to ignore the chance."
"Un." Iruka wondered if Kakashi had chosen him for availability, competence (which he considered unlikely considering the other nin had never seen him fight), or the fact that he had no access at all to Konoha's critical information. At least as far as anyone alive knew. Sandaime-sama, that library of yours probably saved my life, but it does complicate things sometimes. His mind cringed away from what he had done to attract that attention. Iruka prepared an amnesia jutsu for use on himself as a precaution. He flat out refused to be a weak link in Konoha's security. Though being one in this mission might be unavoidable.
Extending his senses as far as they could go, Iruka settled into a rhythm and ran and ran and ran.
"Kakashi-san" the Chuunin called out quietly from beside him as they ran through the treetops. The Jounin tilted his head to show he was listening. "I need a break."
The words jolted him out of his running fugue and he started looking for a good place. A large tree up ahead seemed suitable and he stopped on a branch there, Iruka more or less collapsing against the trunk, sides heaving. With a flash of guilt Kakashi realized he'd been traveling at the ANBU pace his body was most used to, years of conditioning making it natural.
"If that was too fast you should have said something" he reproved the schoolteacher. If he couldn't count on the other ninja to stand up for himself, he'd have to watch him like one of the students. He'd been looking forward to a break from that level of attention.
"The speed is fine Kakashi-san, it's the distance that's trying. I guess I'll need to train more" the Chuunin said, flushing pink. Kakashi snorted at this. Iruka was up at five without fail, trained for two hours, taught all day, worked in the missions room all evening, and didn't get to bed until midnight if he was lucky. Even for a ninja that was a grueling workload. When was he supposed to train more, in his sleep? Kakashi noted with interest that Iruka was bright red now and determinedly sorting through his vest pockets. He's so tense. Probably worried. Still, he was going out with me or Genma. And as much as he trusted Genma, the idea of him being on a mission with Iruka was…worrying. Like not knowing exactly how many kunai were left in your holster. Better to have him where I can keep an eye on him. The idea was comforting in a way he couldn't really explain.
The Chuunin had forced himself to relax and had pulled a pair of envelopes from his vest. He offered one to Kakashi who was surprised to find chakra replenishing powder inside. The stuff had all the advantages of soldier pills, but without the crash afterwards. And it was damn expensive. Some of the top ANBU had used it, but not him. He waited until Iruka was taking a drink of water, then tried a taste.
"Ugh, tastes like dog food" he said handing the packet back to Iruka.
"Keep it. And how do you know what dog food tastes like anyway?" Kakashi just sighed.
Kakashi staggered into his apartment, shutting the door behind him and leaning against it.
"You look like crap" said Pakkun. Kakashi spent several minutes trying to think up a suitably sarcastic response before giving up.
"I feel like crap." His stomach growled and if he hadn't been leaning against the door he would have fallen over.
After a moment he managed to stagger to the kitchen and collapse in a chair. His head tried to sag forward, but he knew he couldn't pass out – not yet. If he fell asleep like this he'd wake up in the hospital if he was lucky. He needed to get some food into his system. He didn't want to get up, didn't even have the energy to call for takeout.
I want somebody to feed me. Now he thought petulantly. Someone to feed me and help me to bed. Someone…For a second he could almost feel it, a warm place to rest his head, gentle fingers running through his hair. His eyes drifted shut…
"Yow!" He was on his feet before he realized it, Pakkun, no fool, was out of range on the other side of the table. Kakashi eyed him, then eyed his now-bleeding ankle.
"Eat something before you die you moron."
Kakashi sighed and started going through the cupboards. He winced as he realized he'd slowly been eating his way through them from more edible to less. Now, even the cans of tuna were gone. I was going to go shopping he offered plaintively to the cupboard gods.
They ignored him.
The only thing that could remotely be considered edible was the bag of dried dog food. He picked it up, and looked at it speculatively.
"You're kidding" said Pakkun. Kakashi looked down and poured half the bag out onto the mutt's head. Pakkun barked at him, which meant he was really upset, before going off to sulk in the corner.
And Kakashi sat back down at the table and had dinner.
"We should be moving." Iruka nodded and tucked the canteen away. Resting a hand on his partner's shoulder for a second, Kakashi was pleased to feel the other ninja's chakra low, but stable. Heading towards Sound, they moved out.
Iruka looked up at his manacled hands. This is not exactly how I wanted to spend my evening he thought to himself. Truth be told, he was terrified. His brain was throwing up image after terrifying image of what could happen. Physical mutilation, jutsu torture, interrogation genjutsu that could leave the victim a vegetable, and…other things.
Images of the worst time of his life rushed forward and pulled him under. For a moment he was back there, the pain of kunai wounds biting into his back and Mizuki's gloating words…No!
Iruka snapped himself out of it, forcing his breathing into a meditation pattern. He flat out refused to be trapped in a memory. When he was a bit calmer he looked up to see Kakashi, manacled across from him, staring at him expressionlessly.
Iruka flushed with embarrassment, and then anger. He glared at his teammate. Well excuse me for not being Mr. Cool-Even-Though-I'm-Probably-Going-To-Be-Tortured. Iruka transferred his glare to the manacles. He jerked on the short chain angrily, letting his whole weight fall on the join with the rock. This made them…do absolutely nothing. After a minute his wrists started to hurt, so he shifted his weight back to the ground of the small cell.
Iruka had a number of escape tricks on him, from an anklet made of unlocking seals to a perfectly normal set of lock picks in his belt. Presumably, they were with his pants. Which he was currently not wearing. Along with his vest, shirt, underwear and socks. They'd even taken his hair tie, though what exactly he was supposed to be hiding in that was beyond him. The only thing that could possibly be considered clothing he had left was his hitai-ate which had been retied around his neck after being searched.
Well, at least if Orochimaru shows up and tries to give us a curse seal he'll chip a tooth. Iruka snorted to himself and curled into as much of a ball as he was able to, arms stretching up against the low ceiling only a couple feet over his head.
"This is so humiliating" Iruka muttered to his knees.
"It's an intimidation tactic" said Kakashi quietly, the first time he'd spoken since they'd been captured. Iruka didn't remember much of it clearly. Just the sudden explosion of a trap he'd sensed too late, an impression of the trees exploding with enemy nin. After that, it was the blur of battle, blood and smoke.
He could remember seeing Kakashi tearing through enemy ninja with a frightening efficiency, and trying to cover the back of someone he now realized was on a level he could never hope to reach.
The Jounin had told him to run. Not questioning the orders of a superior, and suspecting that Kakashi would do better without him in the way, Iruka had tried to. He couldn't remember anything after that, though the ache in all his joints told him an electricity jutsu had been used on him at some point. Iruka had the unhappy suspicion they'd held him hostage to make Kakashi surrender. There was no way in hell he was going to ask though. No way in hell.
Where the hell did Kakashi get off dragging Iruka along and handicapping himself like that? If he'd been alone, he'd have probably escaped. He'd probably not even have been seen. What right did he have to make Iruka responsible for whatever was going to happen to them next?
"Really? And here I thought they'd turned Sound into a strip club and were auditioning for dancers. How foolish of me." Iruka cut himself off before he could say any more. He had his mother's temper and tongue and both of them had sharp edges. It was fear driving them here more than true anger.
"Hm, actually I think the look is more bondage club chic. You must go to the most interesting strip clubs sensei." Iruka let out a short laugh, but felt a little better.
Count your mercies he told himself. You've managed to keep Kakashi-san from seeing your back, and the manacles cover the other scars quite nicely. Too bad they drain any chakra near my hands. Other than the Hyuuga, most nin could only expel chakra from their hands. And feet of course, for water walking. Wait, is there some way to use that?
Just then, the cell door opened. Their time was up, the interrogator had arrived.
Iruka's eyes widened. It was one thing to be told, but…
"Kabuto-san?" The Sound ninja focused on his face before making a soft noise of satisfaction.
"Umino-san. How interesting." He could feel Kabuto's gaze on him, cold and contemptuous, an expression mirrored on the faces of the two thuggish Sound ninja flanking him. With the touch of a carved stone to a plate outside the cell, the manacles unlocked and the barred door swung open. Iruka rubbed his wrists, and shot a look at Kakashi, still chained to the wall.
"If it's all the same to you Kabuto-san, I'd like a pair of pants first." Smirking, the man who had been one of his first students tossed clothes at him from a cupboard. Iruka slipped them on quickly, not trusting to the medic-nin's patience.
"So modest, Umino-san. This must be a recent development." The purr of his voice made the hairs on Iruka's neck stand up as he ducked out of the cell and was herded from the room. He didn't look back at Kakashi.
"It's an odd thing" Iruka murmured as he was escorted down the hall. He was discovering that past a certain level of terror, everything more or less evened out. Not that his heart wasn't pounding like crazy, not that he didn't want to curl up in a corner and have a nervous breakdown, but it was … tolerable. How odd that it hadn't happened last time.
"What, that I'd betray the great village of the Leaf?" Said Kabuto mockingly over his shoulder. "Is it really so difficult to understand?"
"No. I was actually wondering Kabuto-san, why you would chose to work in a place where you can trust no one, for a man who would cheerfully devour his subordinates." Kabuto stopped abruptly, allowing Iruka to stand equal with him, very conscious of the guard looming over him from behind. "In either the literal or figurative sense."
For the second time in his life Iruka looked into the eyes of someone he'd considered a friend and saw contempt staring back.
"You're a fool Iruka, and a weak one" said Kabuto, adjusting his glasses. "It's sad to see how little you've changed." He made a gesture, and a weight smashed into the back of Iruka's head, snapping it forward and bringing darkness.
When Iruka woke up he was lying down. Keeping his breathing even, not even twitching, he let himself absorb impressions of the room. It was small and Iruka could smell medicine and blood. He could hear two people, one almost on top of him, the other across the room. Carefully not altering his own chakra, he managed to pick up traces of the others'. A guard, the same one as before, was sitting hipshot on the bed, kunai resting on Iruka's throat. Guard-san's chakra was strong, but that itself showed a lack of finesse. Kabuto was an icy presence near the far wall.
The rest of the area felt enclosed and empty, which was just as well. He was pretty sure he could take the guard and had no idea about Kabuto, but adding anyone else would have made things impossible.
Iruka knew he had to escape before someone tattooed a prisoner-seal on him. He lay there motionless and relaxed, ignoring the death pressing against his throat, and worse waiting across the room from him. He visualized his hand wrapping around the guard's own kunai, shoving it away from himself and into his captor's throat. Once for the path his arm would travel. Twice for the movement of every muscle involved. Three times to see it happen.
And then he did it, right hand levering the knife upwards against muscles that tried to resist too late, at a point where it was Iruka who had the leverage. Edge slicing through an unprotected throat, turning his head away from a hot spray of blood that caught his face, filled his ear and flooded over his shoulder. Iruka hopped off the table, chakra flooding his hands as he turned to meet Kabuto, only half a step away, chakra knife slicing toward him. There was no time to form seals, just a variation on a jutsu that had cost him everything.
Things were moving in slow motion. Kabuto's right hand knife arching down for his heart, left up for the same. Iruka could only block one, so he chose the right, and cupping chakra coated hands around the blade shattered it, blasting the pieces back through Kabuto's arm.
Kabuto snarled in pain and Iruka twisted as the chakra blade he hadn't been able to avoid sliced through his chest.
Iruka's knees hit the floor as warm fluid filled his lungs. Kabuto was scrabbling around for a kunai, the pouch on the wrong side of his body for the mangled arm to reach. Too late, you lose. Without pause he tacked Kabuto onto the floor, sending his glasses flying. Part of Iruka found it funny, that even with all the blood coating the ninja and the room, he had to do himself another injury to get it in the right place. He bit the inside of his cheek and pulled chakra into the blood just as Kabuto's good hand slammed into his shoulder, breaking it, throwing Iruka across the room…and sending the mouthful of Iruka's blood into Kabuto's face.
Kabuto screamed and arched as the blood acid jutsu hit his eyes, staggering backward and out the side door before Iruka could make it to his feet, slipping a little in the blood coving the floor and his right side, and wiping at his burning lips. He didn't waste time swearing. He had until Kabuto healed himself to get out of there, because there was no way the Sound-nin would risk showing vulnerability to anyone. The arm could be covered well enough, but showing a weakness like being blind in the village of Sound could well be fatal. With Kabuto's skill it wouldn't take long.
His left hand unknotted the Konoha hitai-ate well enough, though he had to lean against the wall to hold his right in position as he tied a Sound one in its place. It was an act that hurt in more ways than one. The clothes Kabuto had given him wouldn't do, so he stripped the corpse and dressed himself.
He shrugged on the dead Sound-nin's vest and headed for the door. He looked back as he did, and spotted his and Kakashi's supplies piled in a corner. Swearing under his breath he went back for them. There were several things, in his at least, that were irreplaceable but his instincts were screaming at him that any second from now a herd of ninja were going to come through the door led by a very pissed off Kabuto.
And Iruka wanted very badly to be somewhere else when they arrived.
He stopped again at the door, half certain he'd find Orochimaru waiting on the other side, and opened it.
Iruka slowed his heart as he walked down the hall dressed in a dead man's clothes and blood. A dolphin in these waters is nothing but prey. Be a predator. He forced the little chakra he had left into the simplest genjutsu possible – projecting emotion. He pushed cold and dangerous until his head and heart hurt, and watched as Sound nin who could have taken him down effortlessly got out of his way.
And he shoved the little voice screaming at him to run in with all the other little voices and shut the door.
He passed by nin after nin as he slowly but deliberately made his way back to his partner. The ranks were higher in this area, and some glared at him, but the subliminal jutsu and the blood coating his face were enough of a mask to camouflage his features. Besides, Iruka figured there was probably a high turnover rate here.
He finally made it to the holding area, the guard glaring at him suspiciously. Feeling sick and dizzier by the second, something he wouldn't be able to camouflage for much longer, Iruka knocked firmly. The vests were slipping from his right hand, sweat and blood loosening them as his shoulder shot bolts of pain to complain. He didn't want to draw attention to them by adjusting his grip and couldn't risk occupying his good hand.
A sudden panicked thought hit him, should he have asked the guard for entry instead? Oh god, he'd screwed up …
Then a slot in the door opened, and suspicious cell guard stared out at the pair of them, opening the door at a nod from Iruka's escort. Without waiting for a pause, Iruka walked in and up to the cell bars as the door shut behind him. Kakashi sat there, in exactly the same position as before. Nude. Well, except for the hitai-ate over his sharingan. Which really just made him look more naked, if that was possible.
A slow rising of his eyebrow was Kakashi's only expression as he turned to look at Iruka, who was slowly turning pink. Kami-sama, he was going to start giggling, and then they'd both be dead, done in by Iruka's bizarre sense of humour, though hardly the first victims of it.
Iruka shifted his eyes to a point a few inches above Kakashi's gravity-defying hair.
"Open the cell" he ordered in a flat voice, his back to the guard.
"Uh, sir I can't…" Iruka let his voice drop to a whisper and pushed danger as well as he could. He felt like throwing up or passing out. Possibly both.
"At what point exactly did I invite you to express your opinion?" he spoke slowly, casually, as if every second couldn't end with a kunai. He slowly turned to face the guard, blood soaked clothing coming into view. "Open.the.cell."
Shooting him a nervous look, the guard unsealed the door with his charm.
"Now the binds as well" he could feel the cough gripping his throat, and knew when it happened he'd be bringing up blood.
He could see the guard freeze, at the limit of orders and bluff. I'm going to have to kill him realized Iruka dimly. He had almost no chakra left, and with his injuries it wouldn't be easy. And then he'd have to get his partner out of chakra-draining binds. And Kabuto would be after him in a few seconds. This was not looking good. Iruka abruptly resigned himself to the fact that he was going to die here. He was surprised to feel only a vague sadness…and the leading edge of a sort of berserk ruthlessness. I may die here, but I'm sure as hell not going to be the only one. Iruka could feel it flowing through him, muscles relaxing, worries fading to nothing. It felt nice, so he smiled.
Iruka wasn't sure what the Sound ninja saw, but from the look of terror on the face it wasn't a nice expression. He darted to the release panel and let Kakashi loose, who broke his neck in a movement almost too fast for Iruka to follow. He watched detachedly as the body hit the floor.
I would give anything to protect the people of Konoha, but here it's a mercy to kill a man who failed his master. The snake who devours his children.
Iruka coughed absently, then hard enough to hit the floor if Kakashi hadn't caught him. Holding him in a kneeling position as he started to cover the floor of another room with blood.
"Impressive" said Kakashi quietly, making Iruka shiver a little as breath whispered across the back of his neck. Iruka switched to the scout hand signs he'd taught for years, and replied that he was an experienced Chuunin, not a person who needed humoring.
Then he spoiled it by throwing up.
Kakashi saved him the indignity of falling face first in it, and when he was finished hauled Iruka effortlessly to his feet.
"So Mr. Experienced Chuunin, what now?" In the background an alarm started shrieking. Iruka wiped out his mouth as best he could with the Sound hitai-ate, and dropped it to the floor.
"Run like hell" muttered Iruka, rapidly regaining his balance and heading for the door. A fully dressed Kakashi beat him there, opening the door and slitting the guard's throat in one smooth motion.
"Works for me" chirped the Jounin as he darted down the hall. Iruka blinked as he realized that Kakashi had reclaimed his vest, and slipped Iruka's on him too. He smiled as he ran after the advanced ninja, watching for pursuers.
With a current like Kakashi drawing him on, how could he falter?