Recipient's name: kiasca
Pairing(s): Mild Kakashi/Iruka, Iruka/Anko
Warning(s): Death of main character(s), some swearwords.
Genre(s): General, angst
Word Length: 2724
Description: It's nearly pathetic how easy it is to fool a village full of ninjas. Iruka lies so much that he can hardly remember the truth. (written for Naruto Wishlist, on livejournal) Edited to add warnings and correct a few spelling mistakes.
Iruka is fifteen when he becomes a chuunin, and immediately signs up into Intelligence – not Ibiki's department, Torture and Interrogation, or Shin's department, Foreign Intelligence, but the other one. The one no one really knows about, which is only given the moniker of 'Beta', and is made up solely of chuunin.
Iruka does not rise in the ranks quickly – there are no real ranks in Beta Intelligence, save for the head of the department – but he does gain a reputation for a wide-eyed innocence that fools most of the population within the village. He gains a reputation for living a lie so thoroughly that it is hard to tell where Iruka ends and the mask begins. When geniuses like Kakashi walk past Iruka with barely a glance of acknowledgement – he's the cute guy with the scar, no outstanding skills – Iruka has already catalogued their mental weaknesses, potential risk to the village and the easiest way to make them 'disappear'.
Beta Intelligence does not look kindly on those who would put the village at risk, and jounins are notoriously unstable. Every jounin has hundreds of invisible strings tying them to the village; lovers who don't know the meaning of love, friends who report back every word – a spider web of deception and betrayal, and Iruka thinks he is born for this life.
A year later, Iruka sits there in front of a wary Sandaime, his brown eyes lowered modestly as he waits for his Hokage to finish scanning the documents of recommendation. He is applying for 'any position near the vessel' to 'ensure the continuation of the security of the village'. There is logic in the proposal Beta Intelligence has put forward – the Kyuubi holder must be kept loyal to the village, and if not, must not be allowed to give his strength to any other – but Iruka's superior believes that Sandaime's fondness for the boy may keep him from doing what is logical.
They needn't have feared. Sandaime has not survived so long on blind emotion.
"You will be joining as an assistant teacher," he says in a raspy voice, "To take over from Emiko-sensei when she chooses to retire. If you happen to befriend Naruto, then…" he shrugs long and slow, "There is little I can do about that."
"Hokage-sama," Iruka says, bowing his head in respect. Sandaime sighs through his nose.
"Please… do not harm him, Iruka-kun. He is much like you were at his age."
"I will do my best, Hokage-sama," Iruka says, and if Sandaime hears the lie he does not show it. Iruka's loyalty is to the village, as it should be. Emotional attachments are weaknesses Beta Intelligence does not believe in.
He becomes Emiko-sensei's assistant, and soon much of the Academy is in love with the wide-eyed blushing teenager who stutters and smiles and does more than his fair share of work. They laugh when he blows up at the students – "It's the only way to work the stress off, Iruka-kun," – and don't bat an eyelid when he confesses incompetence with higher leveled jutsus, trading their own tales of mishaps with kunai and accidents with explosive tags.
Iruka stores this all mentally, and keeps his smile on his face. He calculates how to take the Academy down from inside out, and then how to prevent that from happening. He blushes when Chiako flirts with him, and ignores a bemused Anko who knows full well that Iruka is not what he pretends to be. One night he takes Anko out, and threatens her with a pleasant smile on his face, warning her just what will happen if she loosens her tongue.
He sinks into the Academy mindset after a while, and slowly lets his apparent dislike for Naruto dissipate – the boy is wary enough not to trust anyone who is friendly at first sight; wary, but not intelligent, and Iruka finds he approves of this. When the boy is eight, Iruka lets a word of praise slip out of his mouth; when he is nine, he treats him to ramen.
Iruka buys a jinchuuriki's loyalty with cheap food and false words. He is almost amused by how easy it is.
Mizuki is a fool. He does not realise how thoroughly he has been played, even as Naruto stands there with a scroll that was far too easy to steal, and proclaims his determination to protect the village that silently hates him. Mizuki does not seem to realise that Iruka is not bleeding as much as he should have been if he had taken the shuriken instinctively, or that he is fully capable of removing Mizuki himself, but wants to see how far Naruto can be pushed.
(and Naruto is weak against lightning attacks and poor with genjutsu. As long as these exploitable weaknesses are there, he is never a risk, and Iruka runs them over in his mind, just in case)
Iruka covers up a smirk with a look of awe when Naruto floods the clearing with shadow clones, trying to play shocked (although, really, he hadn't known Naruto had that much chakra). He forces pride onto his face as he ties the forehead protector around Naruto's head, and doesn't let on that he'd already put Naruto on Sasuke's team.
Everyone is so predictable. It's really rather boring for him.
...He needs to find a way to pull himself back on a knife-edge again. A ninja's life is meant to push them to the limits after all – complacency should never be acceptable.
He doesn't really expect anything to come of his argument with Kakashi over entering the kids – the genin – into the chuunin exam. Maybe a jounin who'd be pissed at him, a way to play around and see just how far the legendary copy-nin's temper stretched. Anko understood when she heard about it, but no one else did really. They thought Iruka was mother-henning, which did no harm to his carefully crafted reputation.
Iruka sees the interest that flickers in Kakashi's eyes for a moment, and can barely resist the temptation to cock his head in challenge. Just how good is Sharingan Kakashi? he wonders. What weaknesses does he have, save the obvious regret over his dead comrades? How can I play this?
Anko is amused when she informs him that Kakashi is acting like a lovestruck girl, and Iruka nearly flinches when the realisation hits him – how could he have missed this, isn't it his job to notice these things? He is ordered to take advantage of the situation, and he does so without hesitation – prostitutes himself on a word, he thinks with a dark grin that looks out of place on his soft face.
He is just another check on a too-powerful ninja who never suspects a thing.
Iruka objects to being treated like a girl. He hates it when Kakashi placed flowers 'anonymously' on his desk and having to blush as if he is secretly pleased with them but trying so hard not to show it. He's never hated his 'sweet and innocent' act more than now, especially when gloved hands stroke across his scar with unveiled tenderness,and all Iruka wants to do is slam him against a wall and chew his bloody lips off.
They talk in low voices now that Naruto has left on a training trip, and Kakashi confesses that he feels he has failed Sasuke. Iruka does not mention that he predicted Sasuke's defection three years before the event, only to have the submitted report ignored by the council. Instead, he comforts Kakashi with shy touches and fleeting glances, and tries to drive Kakashi up the wall with frustrated hormones.
They don't 'make love' – Kakashi's words, not Iruka's, idiot romantic that he is beneath the porn – until the seventh month of their relationship, and Iruka suspects that by that time Kakashi is very well acquainted with his left hand. The thought makes him chuckle softly at night, when he is curled up against a warm body (because of course shy-sweet-school-teacher-Iruka-who-only-shouts-at-students likes to cuddle), and relaxes him when Kakashi takes this as an invitation to pull him closer as if trying to force the two to blend into one.
Kakashi is far too bony. His elbows stick into Iruka's stomach uncomfortably when they lie together, and that is the only reason why Iruka keeps on bringing him food.
It is hard to truly like someone when you are forced to analyse their every move, writing them up in long, coded reports. It is hard to dislike someone though, when, for all your training, everything he does radiates that he is in love and it is with you.
It makes Iruka feel uncomfortable, and stiff, with this sort of prickly feeling that runs up and down his spine. He wants to shout that it is over. He wants to go and quit his job, go into something nice and sane, like child assassination maybe. He wants to carve that goofy look off Kakashi face with a kunai – are you blind, can't you see I'm using you? He wants to do a lot of things, but instead he finds Anko one night and fucks her, hard and rough, just how they both like it; just how Kakashi would never dream of treating Iruka.
It makes him feel so much better. He can smile at Kakashi genuinely for a few more weeks, and that makes Kakashi happier, some indefinable tension seeping out of him. Anko finds it funny. Iruka can't help but laugh with her when she brings it up, because oh the irony.
He wakes up one day and it is three years later. Naruto is back and his resemblance to Yondaime is uncanny.
Sakura dies on a mission, fighting against Sasuke. Naruto was there, and he killed Sasuke. It was a fight to go down in legends, people are saying now. The blond jounin is an awe-striking figure, six-foot something, blond and tanned and alive, and still confessing everything to his Iruka-sensei.
(are all jounin idiots?)
Naruto says, "I don't know why we were fighting."
Naruto says, "Sasuke was my best friend."
Naruto says, "Is this what being a ninja is really about? Getting blood on your hands, and just repainting them over and over again?"
Naruto says, "Sasuke had a kid, you know that? That bitch Anko, she just killed the little boy. He was... what, two?"
Iruka reminds himself to congratulate Anko on managing to end one of the most mentally unstable bloodlines to ever grace the Hidden Continent, and goes back to listening to Naruto rant with tears glistening in his blue eyes.
Naruto says, "I don't know if I want to fight for a place like this anymore."
Iruka writes the whole conversation down in his report. He tells himself he feels no guilt.
Kakashi leaves on a mission and Iruka works on memorising the new code for Beta Intelligence. Kotetsu (the paranoid bastard) is afraid that someone might possibly be working on cracking the first layer out of its ten, so obviously that means it's time to move to a whole new system.
There is a knock on the door, and Iruka shouts that the door is open – ohsotrusting of him, but he is Iruka after all. He fights back a shiver as Naruto enters, covered in blood and with haunted eyes.
"I killed a kid today," he says slowly. "He looked just like Ino's brat."
Naruto's hands are shaking, and Iruka can feel something nasty twisting in his gut. He knows where this is going, and for some reason, he doesn't want Naruto to say it. If he says it, then Iruka has his duty.
"I don't want to live here anymore," Naruto says abruptly. "Gaara said I could go and live in Sand. Help him protect the place. Never take a mission like that again."
"Naruto-" Iruka begins, but fuck, Naruto's already gone past the line.
"Every day that I walk these streets," Naruto whispers slowly. "All I can see are those people I killed. Maybe- maybe Haku had the right of it, and we are just tools, but I can't take Konoha anymore."
"At least- wait until Kakashi comes back," Iruka says with a breaking voice, He needs the time to have his report processed and dealt with. "I don't think he could deal with not knowing why."
One week later, before Kakashi has returned, Naruto is dead.
They hold the funeral on a Saturday, and more people than Iruka would have suspected turn up. There is one girl he does not really recognise – the year below Naruto's, not one of his students – who is blank-eyed with grief, one hand over a yet-unswollen stomach. Iruka wonders if Naruto knew about the pregnant girl, then dismisses the thought – reckless though he may be, Naruto never would have abandoned the chance for a family.
At least the Uzumaki-Namikaze-whatever the clan line was would continue. Any child of Naruto's would be formidable.
He turns away from the girl, and his is a practiced grief. No one suspects him of faking it – and for crying out loud, are they ninja or not? Kakashi's hands that rest on his shoulders, to 'steady' Iruka, are trembling. Iruka forces himself not to notice.
"I'm thinking about retiring. I have no one left on the field to care about, and someone to come home to now," Kakashi says. "I don't want to lose you."
Iruka barely manages to keep the panicked look off his face.
He is stifled by the loving glances and warm embraces. It is not meant to end like this for Kakashi, and Iruka is losing any semblance of the real him because one man won't fucking die. He smiles sadly and avoids ramen, and prods at the grey hairs the mix with his brown. He talks to Anko, who is speaking about joining T&I, 'cause fuck but she's slowin' down on the field and that damn well ain't good, yeah? Even she seems to be forgetting about the old Iruka, and never bothers to proposition him any more, like she doesn't even think Kakashi and Iruka could ever break up.
He gets insanely drunk that night, and when Tsunade is standing over him with worry in her eyes because she does not know how he has been faking everything, he excuses himself so, so easily.
"I saw Kajou," he whispers. "He looks so much like... like Naruto used to."
Tsunade breaks down crying over his bed, and Iruka bows his head. He does not think the excuse will work again, as Kakashi hugs him tightly and whispers words of agonised reassurance.
There is a war on with Cloud. Kakashi has been put back onto the field – every ninja that can be spared is on the front line, but Iruka's life stays at the same placid pace, teaching children who will go out to stain their hands with blood and die and accomplish nothing but death in their lives, Kajou among them.
He feels like he can breathe without Kakashi there constantly, but when he sleeps it is with a cold space at his side, and when he eats, he keeps on forgetting Kakashi isn't there, and there's no need to make the food that he likes. He keeps an ear out for when Kakashi will return, and goes out on the practice fields from time to time to keep himself sharp.
He is at one of the practice fields when Genma finds him, looking particularly old. "Iruka," Genma says. "I-" he hesitates, and then grimaces. "Kakashi's dead."
"Oh," Iruka replies.
Iruka wonders if this is what it is like to be free, as he goes to the mission room and requests to be put on active duty again. As he pushes himself recklessly, never bothering to cry. As he stumbles home mission after mission, injuries hobbling his motion-
As he stares at the names on the memorial stone for hours on end, wondering where the pain is coming from, just two names that really matter-
This is freedom, and he knows it. Why isn't he happy?
Live a lie for too long, and it will become you.