Iruka was the first to see the returning Cell Seven. The trembling, white, shaken Naruto. The silently sobbing, empty Sakura. The pale, trembling, blank Uchiha. The absent instructor.

It took a few moments for it to sink it. When it did, however, the realisation made up for lost time in the most painful way possible. It sank deep into him, into his very centre, and then detonated, exploding and shattering, rocking his very world with each and every single breath.

The absent instructor.

Numbly, he retreated back to the safety of the mission desk, where facts were facts and truths were truths, where the world was the same, day in and day out, just the steady, numb flow of paper from person to person, where the only things shared were silent condolences, the silent pity, all of it silently unbearable in its audibility. Unfeelingly, unseeingly, he accepted papers, gave them back to their proper owners, functioned. His air of chilled, shaken absence rubbed off on those who dealt with him, and it wasn't long before nin were coming and going as speedily as possible, just to escape the room with its palpable air of human pain.

Sasuke came in sometime around ten. He did not come alone, though, for he brought a sheaf of papers in with him. Iruka looked up as the white, shaking, bandaged hand slid them under his nose.

"Sasuke?" he questioned, staring up into exhausted red eyes.

The boy blinked and shook, trembling like a leaf in a strong breeze. "He…he…"

Iruka stood up and ran around the desk in time to catch the trembling, exhausted, tired Uchiha. Sasuke leaned into him like an overly tired child, like someone who has been very, very overworked.

"He…he said to…to…to tell you he…he was sorry," he sobbed into the teacher's shoulder. "He said he was sor…sorry to all of us…but…but mos…mostly to you…"

Iruka clung to the teenager like a drowning swimmer, both of them exchanging agonised tears. They clung and they cried for what felt like forever, but was, to the real world, only half an hour.


And that is the reason Iruka now kneels in front of the most dangerous missing-nin in the all of anywhere.


"Yes, Master," he sighs.

"Good," Orochimaru purrs, licking Iruka's ear. "You want your lover back, now don't you?"

"Yes, Master," Iruka says. He is patient. He is emotionless. There is no though beyond Kakashi, and the power the devil is offering.

"Kabuto," the devil snaps. "Come here."

Iruka is not the first to be tempted by the power the devil has. Many are drawn to him, like moths to a bright flame. He calls them to him, a call to the lost like the song of a siren to sailors. And they come, just he knows they will, the lost, the broken, the confused and needy, they all come to him. The devil's call is hard to resist, hard to ignore, especially to those who fell as though they have lost everything. They are drawn to him, the lost people, like moths to a flame.

And, like moths, they are burned.

In the two years Iruka has been with Orochimaru, he has learned a lot. He has learned to fight (not always fairly) and how to win (again, not always fairly). He has learned bits and pieces of the art of puppetry, not that he knows that's what he's learning. He has learned how to be the proper soldier, how to be a proper weapon. He's learned a lot under Orochimaru's tutelage, perhaps because Orochimaru understands that desperation will lead people to go to amazing lengths for relatively little. He knows that their loyalty to him is all in his promises, and that they will fight for the chance to hear those promises, the chance that perhaps their dreams are true.

Right now, Iruka is promising to spill all of Konoha's little secrets. He's promised before. But, before, he's never told. That's why he wears the scars he does, the lines marching steadily down his back. That's why he wears that special seal around Orochimaru's, the one that makes calling on any chakra painful, let alone calling on the seal. All because he's never told. And after all that pain, here he is, offering to tell.

He's not going to do it.

Iruka's seen something. He knows a lot, more than people give him credit for. If he doesn't want to be seen, he won't be seen. He knows this and uses it to his greatest advantage. He has sometimes hidden himself and kept himself hidden, all in the name of learning more. And learn he does.

On one of these creeping sessions, he found out that Sasuke, genius Sasuke, is here, too. He's crept into his room in the dark hours of the night and comforted the sobbing, shaking little boy. Because that's all Sasuke is, really, a shaken, scared, lost little boy. Sure, he's fifteen (almost sixteen). Sure, he's as tall as Iruka (almost as tall as Kakashi). Sure, he's the worst nightmare of a full third of the ANBU forces (Iruka, on the other hand, scares the shit out of the rest of them). But he's still a little boy. Just a scared, shaken, sad, confused, lost little boy.

Iruka can empathise.

He's learned a lot on his night-time wanderings…including a great secret. He has learned what he came here to learn, all on his own.

He's learned how to bring Kakashi back.

It wasn't hard. In fact, there was a scroll with it helpfully illustrated, explained in full detail.

Iruka smiles.

Tonight, he's leaving.


When they lock his door, he is ready. He gathers up the supplies he's going to need, plus a few of sentimental value. Quickly dressing in the black night patrol suit, he slides a mask over the lower half of his face. He grabs a bottle of chloroform and a rag. It's time to roll.

Iruka slips into the hallway, heading along the shadowy path he has learned so well. As he slips past Kankuro, the one who coined the term 'privileged prisoner', he can see a hidden thumbs-up and a weak. Good. The plan is now in motion. There is no stopping or turning back now. Kankuro slips something from behind him, and it begins.

Once it has begun, it lasts only seconds. Fourteen doors, fourteen guards, two of them. It's silent except for the swish-thump of bodies falling on tightly packed dirt.

Kankuro stops and unfurls from his crouch, staring at Iruka as he races along the hallway, placing chloroform soaked rags over the faces of the guards. Iruka shoots him a glare, and he snaps out of his stupor. He races along the hallway, picking locks and opening the doors.

Iruka counts as they exit the doors. Asidi, from Stone. Maruke, from Sand. Sai and Kai, twins from Mist, both of whom thought the other dead. Lekiko from Grass. Mir, from Earth. Suni, from Grass. Taiji from Thunder and Jaimaru from Tea. Tashin from Sand. Ebiso from Mist. Kankuro, from Sand, Gaara's spy and Iruka's co-conspirator. Sasuke, from Leaf, sick and weak…too weak to stand on his own, and so chakra-sensitive that he's still in his room.

"Sasuke?" Iruka asks, masking his chakra so as not to blind the boy as he enters the room.

Sasuke whimpers around the wires holding his mouth only partially open. He holds up a box and Iruka understands.

"Good job," he whispers reassuringly as he wraps the bandaging around Sasuke's eyes. He follows that up with a hitai-ate, turned backwards so that the only colour on Sasuke is black.

Sasuke lifts the box again. This time, Iruka grabs it. Inside are twenty-six mouthpieces made of wires and condensed chakra powder. They're going to need them. Iruka's has painkillers mixed in with the chakra powder.

He's going to need it.

Iruka lifts the skeletal Sasuke onto his back. In truth, he's not much better. But he, at least, has been allowed to leave his room this past six months. It's sad, but even weak as he is, Iruka can lift Sasuke onto his back and run back to the group, barely feeling the strain.

Mir passes out the mouthpieces. Iruka reminds them all about salutes of surrender and how to kill Orochimaru and his faithful followers. Sai and Kai start the base for the genjutsu that will get them all out of here alive. Kankuro opens a communication jutsu with Gaara.

"Kazekage-sama, send a team. We're out of here." He looks over to the rest of his companions, all skeletally thin, weak, sick, and broken. His eyes linger on the broken Uchiha prodigy as he grimaces and adds, "we're gonna need a medical team."

Iruka smiles tightly at them all. They smile back, and then they begin to run. They run as far and as fast as they can, making it deep into the woods. Kankuro leads them with tracker's hand kanji, bringing them right to where a large contingent if nin from all nations is waiting.

Sasuke whimpers as they get close and tries to shield his eyes, and Iruka realises that he must be more chakra-sensitive than they realised previously. The boy whimpers and stretches out a hand suddenly, and Iruka realises like a shock to his soul that Naruto must be here.

Sure enough, his sunny blonde comes forward, the sign of 'Hokage' on the chest plate of his ANBU uniform, several ANBU guards trailing him. Iruka gently hands the boy over.

"Careful," he whispers, disused voice cracking. "His eyes are very sensitive."

Naruto suddenly recognises the masked, skeletal man. "Iruka-sensei?" he asks in wonderment.

"You mad Hokage. Good job, runt," Iruka whispers around the lump that formed in his throat upon hearing the pain in his little boy's voice. "If I can call the Hokage 'runt'," he adds, laughing through his tears.

And then he's running, running as fast as he can. Silent, like the good little ninja he is, he runs through the bushes. He never notices the tattoos on his body slowly fading as the curse seal reverts to back to the first level, and then to dormancy. He never notices any of the changes happening to his body.

He trips and falls, catching himself painfully with his hands. A pained cry is torn from his throat, possibly from the pain of landing directly on his hand bones, seeing as he has no fat to cushion them, or possibly from the agonising envy of knowing Sasuke has received all he has ever wanted already.

Not bothering to cover his pained sobs, he begins the process he memorised to bring Kakashi back.

Rat. Dog. Ox. Ox again. Dog. Rat. Rat. Dog. Ox. Ox. Dog. Rat.

As his hands flow, Iruka's thinking desperately. 'Oh, please, let his flesh not be torn. Let his blood leave no stain. Thought they beat him, let him feel no pain. Let his bones never break and however they may try to destroy him, let him never die. Let him never die!'

Rat. Dog. Ox. Ox. Dog. Rat. Rat. Dog. Ox. Ox. Dog. Rat.

"What good is this?" Iruka wonders desperately. "I've got no idea what I'm doing!" he rages loudly to the silent night air, though it offers no answer. Hot, thick tears pour over his trembling face.

His screams are muffled in his mask as the second seal activates and his body is wracked with pain. The spirals glow bright and painful, lighting up the clearing. Iruka is shaking, skin jumping over his bones. He's quivering and trembling, but he never halts from his movements.

One more seal, and Kakashi will be back. All he needs is that one last seal. Ryu, the dragon. As his hands drift together, he breathes in deeply. Soon. Soon all his dreams would come true.

Someone comes barrelling out of the bushes, crashing into Iruka and breaking the seal flow. Iruka spins down with the strike, hands grabbing kunai out of instinct. It's not until he's on the ground that he realises that the blow was soft, that his tackler is being as gentle as possible while pinning him to the ground, even going so far as to cradle his head in one large hand.

"Who…who are you?" he demands weakly.

Instead of answering, the person reaches up and tugs down his ANBU mask, and then the black mask beneath that. With nothing left between his face and the night air, Kakashi leans down and presses a soft kiss to Iruka's forehead. He slowly lifts Iruka against him. For once, his soft blue Hatake eye is crying just as hard as the swirling red one that is Obito's Sharingan.

"Iruka," Kakashi whimpers. He pulls the stunned chuunin tightly against his body, sobbing and rocking back and forth. "Oh, Iruka."

"Ka-Kakashi?" Iruka asks, barely daring to hope. Oh, please, he's thinking. Please let this be true. Please let him say it's him. Please let this not be a dream. If it is, then please, let me sleep forever. Just don't make me leave him. Not again.

"Kakashi…but…I didn't finish the jutsu!"

Kakashi squeezes him so tightly that Iruka fears for his ribs. Still, he welcomes the pain as a sign that the man he loves is alive.

"'Rukie, I never died," he whispers. "I never died! It was all an illusion that Sasuke and I had running, because we needed to fool the enemy. The day after you left, Sasuke collapsed from Sharingan overuse and the jig was up. Oh, 'Rukie, baby," he breaks down into sobs.

Iruka, too, suddenly begins to cry. He feels so stupid. Of course. No wonder Sasuke looked so shaken that day. He was all but dead on his feet, undoubtedly. And how could he have not realised that the boy's Sharingan was activated? All because of his own stupidity, he's lost all of this.

It's been two years since he's been held like this, like he's necessary for someone's very survival. It's been two years since he's felt this warmth, this warmth that warms up every part of him, no matter what the temperature elsewhere.

It's been two years, two long, long years, since he's been held and cradled, rocked and comforted, whispered to and told not to worry, that everything will be alright, that he's loved, that it's ok.

Iruka can't stop crying. He's not exactly sure why not; all he knows is that he can't stop. Kakashi slowly stands up, still holding Iruka. He begins to walk, tucking Iruka's still-tearful face against his shoulder, after first tugging the mask down.

Kakashi carries Iruka back to the main Konoha contingent. By the time they arrive, Sakura has thick layers of chakra-blocking bandages wrapped over Sasuke's eyes as she and some of the medic-nin from Suna work on removing the wires from his jaw. The Uchiha is whimpering, but Naruto stands by, holding his hand, wiping sweat from his forehead, kissing his forehead, kissing his hand.

The blonde looks up as Kakashi pads over. He stares, eyes bright and full of hope. Kakashi shits the now sleeping teacher, revealing his face. Naruto can't help but notice how perfectly Iruka's head fits into Kakashi's large hand.

"Oh, gods in heaven!" Sakura swears as she sees them. She waves Tsunade over so that they may both begin their work on the chuunin. Tsunade snaps a mask over Iruka's face as Sakura lays him down. A needle is slipped into his vein, pumping in painkillers and drugs and fats and nutrients. He whimpers and beings to thrash, nearly dislodging the needle, and Kakashi gently pets his face. A free hand begins to stroke the long, silky brown hair. Kakashi marvels that it's still so soft and silky, despite the fact that Iruka's so thin that his heart can be seen, pumping frantically beneath his chest, and his lungs, rising and falling unsteadily.


Iruka whimpers and slowly opens his eyes. His soft, fuzzy brown gaze is met by a bright green, a pale blue, and the unlikely blend of icy blue and bloody red.

All of the eyes staring down at him are full of love and warmth. A warm hand settles on his, buried beneath blankets. It rubs his fingers in a comforting manner, and Iruka squeezes it weakly. The hand squeezes back as everyone but Kakashi leaves them alone. Iruka smiles exhaustedly up at his silvery-pale lover.

Kakashi sits down on the bed and threads an arm under Iruka. He gently tugs the weak man into his lap, hugging him tightly. His hand ceases rubbing Iruka's for a moment, just long enough to tug the loose sweatpants Iruka's wearing up. Though, to be fair to their donor, anything would be loose on Iruka right now, though he's gained weight over these past few weeks.

"Oh, love," Kakashi whispers helplessly. He buried his face in Iruka's neck. "Oh, love."

Iruka cries.


It's another month and a half before Iruka is allowed to leave the hospital. Kakashi brings him home, into the bed he left two years ago. It is just as warm as when he left it, and he is happy just to sink into the soft warmth of the futon. Kakashi brushes a gentle kiss against his forehead. With a whispered, "good night," he turns out the lights and lets him sleep.

Sometime around midnight, Iruka awakens. He pads into the living room to see Kakashi asleep on the couch. He smiles gently and pads over to him. Just as gently as Kakashi's earlier kiss, he lays himself down on top of the sleeping man. Then, just as he has done so many nights before, he tugs down the mask and lets his lips do the talking.

Kakashi wakes up, his lips and tongue already involved. His first thoughts upon waking are of the warmth of Iruka's lips on his, the smooth, dominating feel of Iruka's tongue tangling with his own. Then Iruka's teeth enter the game, nipping and nibbling. Kakashi surrenders himself to being dominated as Iruka's hands begin to slide beneath his shirt.

Few people would believe Kakashi if he told them that his greatest fantasy always has been to be dominated by Umino Iruka.

Fewer still would believe that it happened on a near-nightly basis for years.

"Oh, GOD!" Kakashi yelps suddenly.

Iruka looks up, smiling wickedly, drawing his teeth from Kakashi's chest. "There's no need to call me God, Kakashi. Master will suffice," he purrs.

Fuzzily, Kakashi realise that this is probably a bad idea. They probably shouldn't be doing this. Iruka just got out of the hospital. He's still terrifyingly underweight. He's…


…that's nice…

…yes, master, that's very nice…