A/N: For Melissa and all of our wonderful readers.

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Leaves in the Wind

Chapter Thirty-Two: Higashiyama Yukio

Morning brought soft rays of light streaming in through the windows of Iruka's apartment. Yasuo, Isamu, and Tekki remained asleep in their designated areas, both men on a futon Iruka had pulled out into the living room, and Yasuo sleeping soundly on the couch. Kakashi had decided to stay in the apartment as well, keeping a watchful eye on the area and sleeping propped up against the wall. The night had gone by smoothly, with not even the simple hoot of an owl to place anyone on alert.

The jounin silently stocked and packed his weapons, shrugged on his vest, and stopped in the kitchen to steal food. He then stepped around peacefully slumbering bodies, and exited. The streets of Konoha had been quieted since the attack on the hospital. A ceremony had been held for remembrance yesterday, but they had all been conveniently preoccupied with a couple of white-haired, golden-eyed twins. Questions would rise. This would not stop the Jounin.

Dew glinted in the grey morning light. Heavy clouds scarred the normally blue sky, and the air was heavy with moisture. The training grounds were devoid of all life but for Kakashi, simplifying his job. His feet carried him beyond the genin designed grounds and into the more advanced areas. Poisonous plant life began to creep into the surroundings, and Kakashi was forced to take the higher rout through the thick branches.

Kakashi kept a steady, careful pace, open to all alterations in the area. This time, he would not be searching for a person. He would not be looking for stray weapons or other physical items. He would be searching for chakara, for presence, for change. His instinct would tell him when something was amiss; it always did.

The area was just as Kakashi remembered it, sans the moaning Umino Iruka. He stared down into the infamous poison-dart plant, then let his attention trail across the ground to the neighboring trees. There might have been something he had missed the first time around, and it might still be around to find. He stepped lightly across the tree limb and into the neighboring tree.

No birds were around to watch or antagonize him. There had been birds that day. Iruka had killed one, apparently, or at the very least, one had been killed. There had been trauma to the head, Kakashi remembered, but that did not necessarily mean that that was the reason he lost his memory. Who had Naruto managed to bring to the rescue? It had been Matsuhara Tekki. There was also a female companion. He couldn't recall the name at the moment.

Kakashi dropped down to the ground, fingers tracing across the tree trunks as he walked. Iruka had experienced a harsh reaction to poison-dart. The plant was known among the population as one best avoided, but he had not ever thought of it as a potentially fatal plant. Kakashi scratched at the back of his neck, sighing and coming to a stop, eye still flickering over the area. It had been a long time; he should have returned sooner.

A small shadow distorted the sunlight as it floated lazily down to the earth. It was a lone black feather, spiraling in the light breeze as it continued its decent.

Kakashi observed the feather for a moment. Yes. It was indeed floating against the wind.

He barely nudged up the rim of his hitae-ate and peered through the shadow cast by his headband. A small, blue string of chakara lead away from the feather and trailed upward. He followed the string into the treetops with his eyes. "You've effectively gathered my attention."

"Good morning, Hatake-san." Kakashi was briefly surprised. No birds talking in his head. That voice was definitely coming from above.

The jounin remained firmly grounded, but opened himself up a little more to search out a presence. "It is, indeed, a morning."

"But not necessarily a good one, so you have implied." The presence he had pinpointed slightly to the left flickered and rapidly relocated to a tree, if he was correct, directly above him. "I was wondering how long it would take for you to come back here."

"Shit happens." His eyes lifted upwards to land upon a black-masked figure. Painted white streaks tapered from the right and left of the mask to end at the eyes, this feature was accented by a wide, thin white grin. Long strands of dark hair hung around the sides of it. The person wore a plain brown shirt and the rest was hidden by the leaves. They were hanging upside down. "And to what do I owe the pleasure of finally meeting you, 'Sensei-san'?"

"Hm. You certainly do not view it as a 'pleasure', Hatake-san. I can see it all in your eyes." Sensei laughed, high and feminine yet tinged with an echo of hoarseness. Its gender was indiscernible, voice obviously being manipulated by jutsu. "I have been here throughout most of your ordeal. In fact, I have been here many times before you consider the start of the problem. I just felt it was time to speak with someone of intelligence. The birds bore me."

"Then perhaps this conversation will be worth while." Kakashi pocketed his hands and shifted his weight to one foot. He continued looking up to the person. The jounin had expected to find something, but he hadn't expected to find this. Despite that fact, he was not all entirely surprised. He would have to play it cool for the moment, and attempt to identify his enemy.

"It depends on what you wish to gain from it. I will vanish if I tire of you. You should note- should I indeed decide to leave, you will be unable to follow me. Just a forewarning, I would not want you to waste your time."

If Kakashi had not been an experienced Jounin, he would have been irked by this remark. Instead, he remained cool. He waved a hand in the air conversationally. "So, 'Sensei-san'. To start, do you have a name or should I give one to you?"

"Give me whatever name you think I possess. I know you have suspicions." The shinobi twisted in place, bringing thin arms to rest over its chest. "Harogami. Matsuhara… Kazahaya…"

"'Kazahaya' seems enticing for the moment," Kakashi offered. "They're all pretty twisted clans, as I've gathered."

"Only the central clan is really 'twisted'. The Harogami, the Matsuhara, the Akino, the Amuro. These branches tried many times to separate. After the revolt, they were no longer oppressed by the main house." Sensei closed his fist then opened it over Kakashi's head and let a feather drop from his palm.

Kakashi watched the feather drift to the ground. It landed in the grass with careful ease. "Kazahaya has a tendency to cause trouble for other people."

The soulless black slits in the mask stared down at him relentlessly. "So they do. Has Isamu-tan been giving you problems? He was always so rambunctious."

"Oh, come now, Sensei-san. Surely you would know what kind of trouble Isamu-san has been giving me." He looked up, a small grin tugging at his lips under the mask.

"He ever enjoyed leading the naïve by the nose. The young and inexperienced continue to attract him. How he chanced by you, I suppose that was by my fault." Sensei chuckled, shifting from one foot to the other, still comfortably hanging upside down. "Oh, before I forget, I do want to clear a misunderstanding concerning the Waterfall village hunter that was killed. You understand, Hatake-san, that Amaya-chan's death was purely an act of equivalent exchange? She was the one who had killed Suien. I thought it only fair she be returned the favor- To unjustly take the life of another is a heavy burden."

Kakashi's finger twitched. "Then that could only naturally mean that every life you took at the Konoha Hospital was justified. Not to mention the mysterious disappearance of another Konoha shinobi in Morino-san's team, Kurosaki Jin, and the murder of an old man, Kosuke Jiro."

"Some of those souls were innocent, that is true. I regret the loss of civilians in the hospital, but it all had to be done. There were those within those walls that were tainted." Kakashi heard a slight anger creep into Sensei's tone. "Their deaths were justified."

"Tainted," Kakashi mocked, prodding at the anger. "Would that be the right word to use?"

"You are an excellent shinobi, to lie so close to a fire. Yes. Their blood was tainted blood. It is tainted blood." It laughed lightly, stretching its arms out. "Hatake-san, I am doing what my homeland should have done hundreds of years ago. And what Konoha neglected to do for me. That would be purifying the world."

"That's quite a daunting task to take upon yourself, Sensei-san." Kakashi shifted his weight, still looking up to the person. "There are so many people to take care of."

Sensei laughed again. "I believe I have done well thus far. I have help."

"Indeed. The Harogami brothers seem very loyal to you." Hands were pocketed. "Though, they appear to be having a bit of trouble completing tasks as of late."

"I gave them what they wanted. Man is fickle. But he is useful as well. I will protect them as long as I can." The stranger pointed down at his momentary companion. "You know this well, do you not? That man is fickle. That he is useful and that you will protect him for as long as you can. Why is this? It has left me very confused."

Kakashi lifted an eyebrow. "I will protect those that I care for," he replied. "It's a simple concept."

"What a strange man you are. Well, I grow bored, Hatake-san. Will you entertain me or are you finished? Perhaps you would prefer to find entertainment elsewhere?"

"My schedule is flexible. I've got time." He lifted a hand and brushed it through his messy silver locks. "Though, I do plan on looking into a couple of possibly old acquaintances of yours. Perhaps I should get a head start."

"Perhaps you should. If these old acquaintances are indeed acquaintances of mine. They might reveal something valuable, yes?"

"Except that Higashiyama Yukio and Kazahaya Mokomo are already supposedly dead. That complicates the situation."

Kakashi watched the shinobi bodily swing onto the branch he had been standing on. The masked face peered over and down once again. "It was inevitable. They both had to die. She was tainted and he merely got in the way."

"The way Isamu-san says it, Kazahaya Mokomo was a pretty strong person."

"Yes, she was. But power only amounts to so much when one has been dead for six years. I doubt she can still use anything now that her body has been rotting for half a decade."

"And how was Higashiyama Yukio? Simple enough for someone like you, I imagine."

Sensei snorted indifferently. "Please, Hatake-san. Do not treat me so simply. Of course he presented no challenge. Momoko, however, was far easier than he was." The deviant sighed deeply. "You know a bit more than what I had assumed. That makes this far more interesting."

"This is far more than simply 'interesting'," Kakashi added on. A brush of wind pushed through the trees, and he stepped to the side to have a clearer view of the person through the waving leaves. "Higashiyama Yukio and Iruka-san knew each other very well. That's how you've learned of Iruka-san?"

"Maybe. But that would raise more questions would it not?" Sensei waved a hand through the air flippantly.

"And so," Kakashi continued, "what is it about Umino Iruka that interests you? Or perhaps, is it that he's disinteresting?"

The person stood. "Close. Very close. But not quite. I could inquire the same of you, Hatake Kakashi. What is it about Umino Iruka that interests you?"

"I don't plan on using him," he responded simply, "so my interests are rather irrelevant to the situation."

"No," Sensei leapt to an adjacent branch. "It is entirely relevant. If you choose to entangle yourself any further, then I cannot continue to work at such a leisurely pace. As it is, the more you know, the faster I must work." Sensei bowed. "Now then, Hatake-san, I have a mission to be completed."

Contemplation flickered through Kakashi's eyes. He then lifted a hand. "I do as well. I'll see you around, 'Sensei-san'."

The man vanished in the span of a blink and in his place, a raven fixated beady dark eyes on the jounin below. It croaked once before lifting off and sailing away through the leaves, into the sky.

---

Sifting through musty, dusty, old scrolls, papers, and books wasn't exactly Kakashi's primary method of research. It was his style to be out in the field, interrogating other shinobi and spying upon politicians. However, the jounin was not beyond the tedious work needed to pick through files to find information hidden away within the Konoha records located directly below the Hokage's office. Getting permission to search through the top-secret files was simple enough. The Third and other ninja recognized that he was heading up his own leads on the 'Sensei Crisis', and none were about to stand in his way.

The large, shelf-filled room had been cleared out by Kakashi the instant he entered. People, though they often tried to help, stood in the way when he was working on following a trail. A gloved hand flourished in front of the books as he quickly read off titles in his mind. His fingertips traced down one spine, then to a new shelf where he plucked at scrolls. Information on Higashiyama Yukio wouldn't prove to be entirely difficult to locate, just a little irritating due to the time gap.

The jounin pulled at a thick, grey book. His thumb pushed at the edges of the pages, and it flipped open and fluttered. An old Academy class book. A single eye landed upon the picture of a young boy, grinning sheepishly at the camera. Dark grey eyes glinted through wavy brown bangs. Kakashi could see innocence, yet an abundance of knowledge. With another flip, he glanced over the typed profile that soon led into hand written notes that were added as he grew. He set the book down on a research desk, and then looked back to the shelves.

The next resource he would need would be a catalogue of B rank missions. He peered around a shelf, gazing down the long line of blue, hard-bound books. He walked down the isle and his hand landed upon a six-year-old catalogue. He pulled that from the shelf and tucked it under his arm. The index slammed down upon the table as he dropped it, and he sat at the chair, pulling the Academy profiles closer to him.

He found nothing entirely outstanding about the personage 'Yukio'. The man had showed immense promise as a future team tactician and was apparently easily assimilated into social groups via an amiable but reasonably respectable nature. Similar, the jounin noted, to Iruka, but supposedly far more distanced from those he chose to associate with on more intimate terms -'friends', as it were. There were many documented accounts of the boy consistently shirking out on training and several instances where he would vanish from the academy for days on end. Obviously not one for monotonous routine. The similarities between Yukio and Iruka dwindled as line after line of information was processed.

Yukio became a Chuunin at age fifteen. Reached Jounin status several years later at the age of twenty-one. He was slightly above average but-

More pages were scanned and then the volume was closed with a soft, firm thud, another cracked open and scoured.

Some information presented itself as useful, most as potentially useless, but all of it concerning the dead man was stored away, ready for immediate access.

Another volume devoured, Kakashi discarded it with a twitch of the wrist, pausing briefly before inquiring into the next hard bound set of records and nudging the Missions records catalogue open with an ever present air of disinterest.

A vague sense of amusement stirred when he passed over certain missions. There were a few reports written in Maito Gai's bold yet vibrant calligraphy. A passive, orderly account from Genma. An older mission of his own. One of no particular significance. Nothing it seemed, of any relevance to the situation.

Report trailed after report until the Jounin's eye settled on a page very near to the last page in the catalogue. Technical, procedural phrases constructed the appearance of a follow up report stating that the shinobi sent to bird country concerning foreign diplomacy and trade between itself and Konoha had failed. That in itself implied a C-rank given the 'non-hostile' label to Yukio's proposed destination. There had been, apparently, no particular threats in concern to the route that was designated. No estimated threats from other outside villages or rogue factions.

The report was fake.

The mission may or may not have been for diplomacy but any shinobi would be instantaneously struck by realization; that there was something amiss. This was a mission that had been loaded with falsities and upon reading further into it, 'Konoha' had conveniently documented the case in vague details rather than specifics. It reeked of impeding ensnarement in conspiracy. Kakashi noted the brief reference to a previous mission Yukio had taken into Bird country two decades earlier. Within his missions records, Yukio had been sent into the 'peaceable' territory several times after a documented 'revolt' among a clan of ninja bearing the name 'Kazahaya'. This last was supposed to have been no different.

Why the man had been sent on such an obviously suicidal mission or even conceded to take it with such a blatantly tragic end in store, it was not about to become resolute. The jounin considered the information before him critically. It was horribly insulting to stumble across such a poorly done cover up, but Kakashi merely continued pillaging for more…

---

Within the relatively short time Iruka had become acquainted with Isamu, he found that the occasions he wanted to strangle the man within a day usually outnumbered the times when he presented himself as a decent companion. The occasions during which Isamu appeared as an utterly bizarre creature of unidentifiable species outnumbered the violent urges and just about everything else a person could feel toward the man.

Returning from the missions room and feeling far too harried to properly deal with the man, he slipped into his apartment into a suspiciously quiet living room. He found Isamu sitting on the floor atop a small reed mat, legs crossed, eyes closed and a small steaming tea set laid before him. Tekki and Yasuo were in another room, apparently, but he could not detect any movement from them.

Iruka moved with extra caution, making a point of keeping his eyes focused on Isamu's hands that were curling around a small tea cup.

"Hello, Iruka-sensei. How was work? Were they busy in the missions room?"

Iruka stared at Isamu, caught between feeling far too stressed to address the situation and far too paranoid not to. With a soft sigh, Iruka spoke. "Isamu-san, I don't want to seem rude but I'm afraid I have to ask- What did you do to Tekki-san and Yasuo-kun?"

A peaceable expression beamed through from behind long black strands of hair and a serene smile curled Isamu's thin, painted lips. He had decided on coral today. As the question seemed to penetrate the man's hazy thoughts, the grin grew relatively larger, pearly white teeth flashing even in dim apartment lighting. "I molested them in their unconscious state."

Iruka pointedly stared, having all the patience of a god. Or, at least, a man who had dealt with many, many children.

"Of course not." Isamu chuckled lowly, opting to put a tea cup between his smile and the chuunin and taking a few delicate sips, watching wisps of steam billow over him. "They were arguing. I merely gave them some tea to help them relax." He sipped again after slightly turning the cup.

"Isamu-san, you cannot- cannot- drug someone when they are being 'loud' or 'obnoxious'. That is generally frowned upon in most societies. And fortunately, including the shinobi variety."

The grin persisted, if not a little brighter. "I didn't drug them, sensei. I gave them tea."

"That likely contained some sort of-"

"No, no. I am drinking the same tea I gave them. As you can see, I am absolutely unaffected."

Carefully, Iruka squatted down next to the man and reached out for the tea pot. His hand was immediately slapped away.

"Don't touch it." Isamu re-sheathed his clawed hand in a kimono sleeve and fixed Iruka with a scandalized frown. "The host must serve the tea." Disregarding, of course, that he was serving tea in Iruka's apartment; Isamu did not leave much to logic.

Iruka sighed deeply. "Isamu-san…drugging both Tekki-san and Yasuo-kun was completely unnecessary."

The man's smile assimilated itself into a near scowl. "Unfortunately, that is incorrect, Iruka-sensei."

And suddenly, Iruka found he was sitting far too close to him. "…Would you explain your reasoning to me, Isamu-san?"

"I thought it would be better for them if they weren't conscious when Sensei came by."

The chuunin immediately met Isamu's dark eyes. He felt no traces of anyone other than Tekki, Isamu and Yasuo within his apartment and no residue from anyone else but Kakashi. Iruka was well liked but not overly visited. "H-"

"No. Not here. He passed by but he did not come inside. We spoke briefly but he was several blocks away."

"Then why the need for-"

Again, Isamu cut him off. "Because he seemed particularly angry and the resonance of that was rather painful to experience. I imagine anyone close by was suddenly afflicted by a nasty headache."

They both paused as they sensed Kakashi's imminent arrival. Isamu glanced down at his tea cup before gingerly lifting it once more. "I don't know what he was doing, really…"

The door swung open carefully and a certain silver-haired ninja popped his head in the doorway. A single grey eye landed upon Iruka and Isamu crouching down in the corner of the room. There was an intake of breath as if to say something, a pause, and he dismissed it. The door shut behind him. Another pause. "Who drugged Tekki-san and Yasuo-kun?" A suspicious glance towards Isamu and he dismissed that as well.

Kakashi's eye turned to a crescent and he lifted a hand in greeting. "Yo. Nice day at work, Iruka-san?"

"Good afternoon, Kakashi-san." Isamu procured his tea cup as a greeting.

"Yes, Kakashi-san. It was fine." Iruka offered him that short string of words and nothing else. He was still crouching next to Isamu and his posture, although astute, still read 'weariness' and 'fatigue'. "'Sensei' passed by earlier today."

The cross-dresser nodded fervently in agreement.

"Passed by?" Kakashi lifted an eyebrow at the comment. He sat on the couch and leaned forward on his elbows, keeping a watchful eye on the two. "What do you mean by that?"

Isamu grabbed the tea pot and set a small cup in front of Iruka, pouring out a small amount. "He claimed he was looking for Iruka-sensei, but if the man really knows as much as it's been claimed, then I really don't know why he was in this area."

Iruka stared down at the cup, analyzed the current situation and opted to take a small, resigned sip.

Iruka's response triggered a warning glance from Kakashi. "I see. So he's finally come out of the wood work to do things for himself. Probably because his best minions are out of commission for a while now." The Jounin approached the tea set, swiped the cup out of Iruka's hand, nabbed up the pot, and quickly began to drain it into the kitchen sink. Steam wafted up around his action and he grinned again. "I suppose our efforts are finally beginning to pay off."

Both veteran shinobi and chuunin affixed Kakashi with glares. Isamu seemed about ready to unleash a horrifying genjutsu on the man and Iruka merely looked like he was about to shower shuriken at Kakashi's back. "I do believe we were enjoying that tea, Kakashi-san." Isamu stood and continued to glower.

"I'm sure adding ginseng rather than subduing drugs would taste much better." The water was turned off and Kakashi turned away from the sink, politely ignoring the death glares. "Iruka-san," hands clasped together, "how about I treat you to sake instead?"

Iruka's expression clearly said 'no way in hell'. "I'd rather not, but thank you for your offer."

Isamu huffed, whirling on his heels and stalking toward Iruka's bedroom- where he had stashed the others. He paused in the hallway, glanced over his shoulder to Kakashi and murmured, "And I will have you know that the tea was infused with a natural relaxant. A very low dose too." Another short, indignant huff followed. "I used a little genjutsu to quiet them down afterward because I was trying to be polite."

Neither man could understand how rendering an unsuspecting shinobi unconscious via herbal remedies and an attack on their nervous system was 'polite'. But Isamu had drifted into the room and shut the door before retorts could be made.

"Alright, alright." Kakashi lifted a hand, attention shifting back to his fellow shinobi. "What about dinner then? We can go to the place we went before, Nomikui." At Iruka's incredulous look, Kakashi added sarcastically, "I'm sure the boys will be fine while we're out."

"I'm very tired, Kakashi…" He watched Iruka's gaze flicker to his bedroom before returning to lock with his own. Kakashi translated this now as, 'convince me and I'll consider it'. They could hear a soft thud and both translated that as Isamu collapsing onto Iruka's futon- a groan followed this and that likely meant he'd fallen onto one of the fortunately unconscious men.

"Come on," Kakashi walked forward, placing an amiable hand on Iruka's tense shoulder. "It'll be entirely my treat this time. It'll be fine; I promise."

---

Nomikui promised much good food and service and leaving it had been almost painful for Iruka, buzzed but not as thoroughly intoxicated as he had expected. Kakashi, of course, had made for interesting conversation and at times, regardless of the surreal likeness of such an uneventful dinner permeating his thoughts, relaxation was not as hard to grasp. His gait was stable, his mind was relatively clear and as always, he was alert and watchful but the outing had him feeling much more energized. Visions of a charred Harogami Kuro had haunted him earlier, as smoking meat had been delivered to a nearby table, but even now, as a few dark birds passed over head, he felt like he had before any of this madness had ensued. Stressed but not unhappy. Iruka felt like Iruka. Perhaps he had not favored Kakashi's company as much before, but now it seemed like a welcome addition, cruising through Konoha's streets with a smart ass companion keeping the pace.

He did not completely register the fact his feet were driving him in the direction of his apartment complex.

The streets remained dark, yet populated with a few late-night partiers. As they began to break away from the primary streets, the population began to die down to the occasional pedestrian or passing shinobi. Kakashi kept their conversation tactfully lively and casual, letting Iruka lead in direction of topic and of the streets. As Iruka reached upon his own apartment complex, Kakashi continued forward. The Jounin returned his companion's hesitation with a smile. "Come on," he pointed down the street instead. "I really don't feel like putting up with Kazahaya Isamu's chatter. Do you?"

Iruka's echoing footsteps as they passed the complex was answer enough.

The two continued in serene silence after that, minds milling over the day's events and the enjoyable last hour and a half. Before Iruka really realized it, the door to Kakashi's apartment swung open. The living area was empty, as nearly expected, though traces of Yasuo could be felt and occasionally seen. He had gotten out of the habit of leaving dishes in the sink, but a set of folded clothing was left on the arm of the couch, and a pair of sandals were by the doorway. The door clicked shut, and the Jounin let out a deep breath, kicking off his own shoes before entering the rest of the way into his housing unit. "Lets see if he's holding up his end of the deal," Kakashi said in good humor, crossing to the kitchen and opening up a cabinet. Food was, indeed, neatly stocked and fresh. The cabinet was shut with a satisfied motion.

He turned to see Iruka slowly settling into his couch, nearly sprawling out. The jounin got the satisfaction of seeing a clearly content expression on the academy sensei's face. "Thank you, Kakashi."

The Jounin grinned, a tinge of guilt eating at something inside of him. "Hey, no problem." He leaned against his table top and crossed his arms casually. "I needed an outing as well. It was nice taking you with me."

Iruka laughed lightly. "There are times when I believe ulterior motives are what really inspire these outings."

Kakashi's eye casually flickered away to stare at his refrigerator. It had once been bare, but it now contained a few notes stuck on by small magnets. Words such as 'Milk' and 'Eggs' were scribbled across the papers. His attention landed on 'Exploding Tags'. "Yeah," he quietly agreed.

He could feel the chuunin's dark brown eyes fixate on him. "Something on your mind?"

"I'm just thinking about 'Sensei' I suppose," Kakashi offered the information without much resistance. His eye slowly slipped away from the notes to meet Iruka's gaze. "That's all."

"So what else have you found out?" He shifted, motioning for Kakashi to join him. "I would have done more but the kids seemed especially aggravated today and the missions office was flooded."

Kakashi complied to Iruka's silent demand and he flopped back against the cushions. He pulled his feet up, letting his hand hang over the armrest. "I was able to confirm that this 'Sensei' has an amazing flow of chakara, though I could not confirm how he manages to contain it all. He plans to 'purify' the Konoha population, really. Having to do with family relations to the Kazahaya clan, most likely." The Jounin scratched at the back of his neck and shifted so that he faced Iruka slightly more. "I also looked into the mission archives this afternoon."

"And you found what?" Patient and complacent Iruka.

"I ran across a few leads." Kakashi waved a hand in the air as he spoke. "About twenty years ago, a young Konoha shinobi was sent into Bird country to investigate a clan that held enormous potential for our forces. The intentions were to confirm the rumor, and if it proved true, establish positive relations with the clan leaders."

Iruka raised a brow. "And?"

"Fourteen years later- or six years ago, that is- the same shinobi was sent on a class B follow-up diplomacy mission after a revolt had broken out on the country side. He was to re-establish relations with the clan and improve trade with the Bird Country. The mission details stated there was no potential danger to our man, and he would be gladly welcomed within the borders." He paused, letting Iruka follow him in his mind. "The mission failed, our shinobi was brutally murdered, and not much was pursued from there."

The chuunin's gaze fell. "Right…"

"This was not any ordinary mission, Iruka." Kakashi leaned forward and pulled a folded piece of paper from his back pocket. He handed it to his companion. "This mission detail was an obvious fake. Disgustingly fake. The shinobi had accepted it without qualm, which could only mean that he had an ulterior motive in entering Bird Country." Kakashi looked to Iruka gravely as the man slowly unfolded the sheet. "Whether or not Konoha was aware of or conducting a secondary mission, I cannot tell at this point."

Iruka did not look at the paper. "He always did everything his way. He never listened to common sense." The man laughed calmly. "I think I liked that most about him. I was too sensible. He was my foil…"

"Iruka," Kakashi started cautiously, finally reaching upon his goal, "is there something about Higashiyama Yukio that… I have not been informed of?"

"He was a good friend. A good shinobi. That's all." Iruka frowned slightly, shifting on the couch and stretching out his legs.

"That's all I've heard of him," Kakashi responded calmly, watching Iruka's disposition shift to slightly tense and a bit defensive. "But I'm still missing a piece of information that ties this all together."

"Yukio was always striving to best himself. He'd constantly try to outdo everything he'd done. Week after week or day after day." Iruka sighed. "I remember that three weeks before he'd accepted that mission, that he was uncharacteristically lethargic. I remember how he drifted into a room like a ghost. Pale and silent. He always seemed like he was about to say something and then he would turn his head and leave to train. And I never figured out why. Kasane wouldn't talk to me. Both of them exuded guilt and I could never…get them to tell me why." He tossed his head back and tightly shut his eyes. "So they could be directly related to sensei, is what you're implying. Correct?"

"Precisely," Kakashi said, producing another piece of paper from his back pocket. "This is his second to last." He passed the paper to Iruka. "It occurred one week prior to his departure for Bird Country. He left Fire Country with his primary partner, Murakami Kasane- otherwise known to me as Kazahaya Momoko."

"Kazahaya…Momoko…" Iruka shook his head slightly. "So what are you thinking? That her connection to Sensei is what brought this on us?"

Kakashi shook his head slowly. "It's her connection to you that brought this on us." He shifted, pulling his feet onto the couch and facing Iruka fully. "I think you know something. There is something that happened or something that was said. You might not even realize the significance of an event, but you have to know something that happened between you and Higashiyama Yukio or Kazahaya Momoko."

"I don't." The chuunin's gaze dropped to his hands in his lap. "I don't remember anything, Kakashi."

"What do you mean by that?" Kakashi murmured.

"There was nothing between us that I ever considered unusual. They never asked anything of me that I found peculiar or seemed overtly interested in anything that I did. Beyond what is considered normal in a bond like ours." Iruka straightened. "I'm sorry, Kakashi, but I have nothing to offer…"

A sigh escaped the Jounin and Kakashi sank into the cushions, a weary look finally daring to stir in his posture. He closed his eye and tilted his head forward, keeping a loose focus on his breathing. Finally he spoke, "How did you meet him?"

"I was skipping class."

The mask's subtle curves shifted as Kakashi grinned at the irony. "Elaborate."

He felt Iruka settling down again, body relaxing and melding into the couch, inhaling and exhaling deeply. "I literally ran into him when I was training on the chuunin grounds." After a beat he added, "Well, it wasn't really training it was more like…helping them train." He laughed. "I was feeling spiteful that day because of my sensei, so I decided to lighten up the training grounds. Yukio just happened to be one of my victims."

"I see." An interesting story, but lackluster in detail and direction.

"I know it's not useful information. But you asked. I answered." Iruka turned his head and offered Kakashi a sheepish grin.

Iruka was a terrible liar when he'd had one too many drinks. Kakashi's gaze flickered away momentarily, a stir of conflicting emotions revealing themselves for an instant. The ninja waited for himself to level out, and he returned his attention to the teacher. "Well, I appreciate your cooperation, at least." A pause, so slight that it was questionable if Iruka caught it. He continued carefully. "Perhaps a second set of eyes would assist us in digging up some information. I know it isn't particularly kosure, but given the threat to Konoha, this is probably our best chance. Iruka-san, would you agree to participate in a mental exploration conducted by Morino Ibiki's team? They are particularly good at pulling out relevant information from old memories."

The expression on Iruka's features was quite similar to that of 'shock'. The chuunin blinked owlishly at the proposition, turned his head away from Kakashi as he considered. "Ah…"

The jounin smiled rather politely. "There's really no reason to refuse. Morino Ibiki is rather exact, there's no reason to fear any unreasonable privacy invasion."

Umber eyes flickered back to Kakashi, and here, a little nervous grin tweaked at the corners of Iruka's lips. "I suppose you're right…"

"Excellent," Kakshi clapped his hands together. "I shall inform Ibiki-san and we'll be prepared for this by the morning."

Iruka lifted a hand and placed it over his forehead, murmuring, "I'm afraid I really did drink more than I should have…"

The Jounin shrugged. "That might be a bit my fault, considering I kept serving it up." He grinned. "But it did make this conversation got a whole lot smoother."

"My apologies but…" Iruka stood slowly, brushing at invisible dust particles on his pants legs. "I should probably get back to the apartment. I'd like to be certain Yasuo-kun has kept out of trouble." The chuunin adjusted his vest as he started for the exit. "Thank you, Kakashi, for the meal and drinks." Iruka inclined his head. "Good night."

"No problem," Kakashi offered, and here, he too stood. "And I think I should walk you back."