The First Step

Disclaimer: I do not own. I do not make money from this. All I do is plot new ways to embarra—create new situations for the characters to be in.

Summery: Iruka didn't warrant much attention…until he staggered in the Hokage's office, barely in one piece. Takes place during the time skip.

Rating: T

Kakashi never took much notice of Iruka. Other than encouraging Naruto's unhealthy obsession with ramen and not knowing his place in the order of things, he didn't warrant much attention. As far as Kakashi was concerned, he was bureaucratic-slaving little chunin (who only reached that rank by extreme luck, weak opposition, and the good graces of the Third) that terrorised students and stupid jounins that didn't know better. He could bellow and glare—Kakashi would give him that—but that was it.

No, Iruka didn't need a second glance.

That is, Iruka didn't need a second glance until he staggered into the Hokage's office looking worse than something Kakashi's dogs dragged in. The kimono and haori he was wearing at one point would have been a gorgeous set of clothing, but the rips, blood, snags, mud, and other unidentifiable stains had ruined them. Blood matted the heavy brown hair and Iruka not only could barely stand upright, but his arm hung awkwardly on his shoulder.

Tsunade glared at the exhausted chunin and Kakashi felt grateful that for once, it wasn't him that was on the receiving end. "Why the hell aren't you in a hospital?" she bellowed.

A lesser man would have cowed in the face of such fury. Iruka nodded his head and less destroyed shoulder in something that would pass for an attempt at a bow of respect; clearly, he had no survival instincts. "Information…have to hear…shouldn't wait." He mumbled, his voice painfully dry and scraped.

She gestured angrily at Kakashi. "Go away. And you," she snarled at Iruka, "are going to go to a hospital right NOW!"

"Mission was trap." Iruka whispered, ignoring the order. He clearly was fighting to keep his slurring words distinct and unmuddled. "Knew we were coming…saw through it all…hit us with elites…lots of elites…want war…" He swayed dangerously, face going from 'blood loss' white to 'I'm going to die in the next two minutes' white. "Amaya's dead…Hana and Asuma in hospital." Fingers that Kakashi had previously associated with ink and guidance and children's hands fumbled weakly at the remnants of the tattered obi. "Don't know where Li's gone…think he's dead." The cloth fell away and Kakashi stared at the filthy sloppy bandage that it revealed. It started at the top of Iruka's flat stomach and went down to almost his knee. Tsunade made a sick noise at the copious amounts of blood that was seeping slowly from under the soiled material.

She ripped the scroll out of Iruka's trembling and limp fingers and flung it in the general direction of Shizune's desk. "Get him up here!" She snapped, the hysterical edge from seeing the blood well-hidden. A single brutal noisy sweep cleared her desk of all paperwork and related objects.

Iruka felt too small and floppy when Kakashi scooped him up and carefully placed him on the vacant surface and he felt anger boil under his skin. True, he had never thought well of Iruka when he had given him a thought, but a chunin who spent his day with children and paperwork shouldn't be going on missions with jounins and tokubetsu jounins! He couldn't believe that they were so short on manpower that they would do such a thing.

Tsunade made another unhappy sick noise when she got a good look at the wounds underneath the grimy bandage and clothing and Kakashi considered finding a corner to vomit in. As far as he knew, arms should never be in that position and Iruka probably should have lost that leg; how the hell he had walked with it at all baffled Kakashi.

"Get me an antidote kit!" Tsunade barked harshly, glowing hands moving rapidly. He heard her mutter as he left something about "stupid idiot never does anything by halves and always makes more work!"

He had barely returned when she sent him back out to get more medics. The ashen colour of Iruka's and her face made him leave with a speed he normally reserved for when he was on a mission or when Gai was in the vicinity.

Once he sent the med nins to the Hokage's Tower, he did a little informal digging. A little flirting and one-eyed winks had the nurse on duty giggling and eating out of the palm of his hand. He suspected if he asked, she would tell him everything about her and her family and her friends and her family's friends and her friends' families…he made a mental note to complain about the willingness to spill information to Tsunade when she wasn't busy saving Iruka.

He thanked the nurse and wandered down the surgery wing. He felt particularly lucky when Kurenai and Kiba were both pacing in the waiting room. Shikamaru was lying across a few chairs with an arm across his eyes while Chouji munched nearby. A small bouquet of flowers sat between them—probably from Ino.

"What happened?" He casually asked Kurenai.

She rubbed the bridge of her nose. "He's in surgery right now. Along with Hana-san." She added, probably for Kiba's sake. "All they could tell me was that we were lucky that their team mate managed to get them here as quickly as he did." Her voice wavered a little. "I saw Hana-san…"

From the way that Kiba's face changed and the way he stomped over to a corner, he had seen his sister as well. He was beginning to think that Iruka's wounds were the pin-up wounds of the groups. "What were they doing?" He asked, offering Kurenai a hospital-issued tissue.

Kurenai ironed the fear out of her face and politely waved the tissue away. "I'm not entirely sure. I think it was supposed to be a simple scouting mission or spying or something like that, but they stumbled on something big and it all went wrong from there."

He nodded slowly. Not precisely what Iruka had said, but close enough. He politely excused himself, and made his way back to the Hokage's Tower, brain whirling. If the mission was not ranked properly, then it made perfect sense that it accidentally got passed to a chunin, but that still didn't explain the tokujou or Asuma on the mission, much less what Iruka was doing with them.

Tsunade looked terribly drained when Kakashi hopped through the window. "What do you want now?"

He inclined his head towards the now-empty desk. "How is he?"

"Stable." He blinked; for a moment there, when she had rubbed the bridge of her nose, he thought he had seen her illusion slip. "He's going to need a lot of rest after this and some serious physical therapy for his leg. He shouldn't have used it at all, much less run back here with it. The damage was severe enough that if it had been anyone other than me healing him, he would have lost it. It's going to be a while before he gains full use of it again."

Kakashi felt something akin to pity drip into his system before he pushed it away sharply. "Why did you send him?"

"It was a simple B-ranked mission." Tsunade snapped. "He's done harder than that numerous times, so it shouldn't have been a problem! Besides," she glared at him, "it went wrong, which nobody could have foreseen!"

"You sent one chunin with a group of jounins." He stomped on the little voice in the back of his head that asked why he even cared in the first place. "Clearly you thought that it was more than just a 'simple B-ranked mission'."

As the exhaustion left her face in favour of anger, he wondered why he questioned her decisions when he knew few things made her madder. Her voice smashed his eardrums and he decided it was his service to Shizune. By questioning the Hokage, he was giving her a place to get rid of all that negative energy and stress that invariably built up. A less stressed Hokage created a better situation for everyone.

Everyone but him, that is. Good gods, wasn't she done yet?

Kakashi knew he shouldn't have questioned her the moment the words "since you're so damn concerned" fell out of her mouth. She was going to punish him, he knew it. This was going to be her revenge.

"YOU get to make sure that Iruka doesn't overdo it in the next few months!"

Scratch that, she was punishing him for ever being born in the first place. "I'm sure there others who would be better suited for that task." He said lazily, hiding his irritation.

"Since you want a mission so damn badly—despite all I've said"—did she really have to go back to the argument they were having before this all happened?—"think of this as your mission. Now," she said, the nasty silkiness suddenly gone, "get the hell out of my office and leave me in peace!"

Kakashi wondered if she'd notice if he slipped a laxative into her sake.