Iruka entered the whitewashed confines of the Torture and Interrogation holding cell. One of the guards locked the door, his brows drawn tight in a troubled expression. "Do you need anything, Umino-san?" He asked uncertainly.
The chunin didn't turn to face the speaker; he merely shook his head.
The guard shifted on his feet uncomfortably. He didn't know Iruka well, beyond the fact that he was the man to whom he handed his mission reports. "You…er…want to talk about it or something?" The man had witnessed the events in all the hearings, and he couldn't help but disagree with the verdict.
Iruka did turn at that, a touch of surprise showing in his eyes. Then he smiled, "No thank you. I just need some time alone."
With a nod, the man retreated down the hall.
When finally alone, the smile, whose edges had been brittle to begin with, broke down completely. He shut his eyes against the burn that threatened behind them.
For his student's sake, he had needed to be composed and accepting. In front of Kakashi, who had worked so hard to help him, he dared not show his dismay.
Even now, he wasn't even certain he had a right to be upset. All things considered, this was a better outcome than he could have expected. Perhaps better than he even deserved. He was responsible for Kento's death. And even if he didn't kidnap the boy as far as legal definitions go, he had a hand in allowing him to remain so. The fact that he meant to return him unharmed meant little in light of what really happened.
Relaxing his clenched jaw, he lowered himself onto his cot and decided instead to focus on the practical implications.
Twenty-five years. He couldn't continue paying rent for so long on an unoccupied apartment, especially without income. His furniture could be left there for the next occupants' use, as there was nowhere for him to take it, but arrangements needed to be made for the removal and storage of his personal belongings.
The rest of the year's curriculum was already planned, but the next teacher would have to be trained in how to create one himself for next year. He wondered if he would be allowed to help while in prison.
Ah, his students. He would ask for a chance to say goodbye to them. At least to as many as possible. Especially Konohamaru, who had gotten used to their Tuesday night ramen outings. They would be upset, but he needed them to move on. Kami, but he'd miss them.
That thought undid him, and before he could restrain it, a strangled sob escaped his throat. It hurt to smile, to be mature about this, to pretend his life hadn't been ripped away from him.
He dug his palms into his eyes, fighting to keep the moisture back. He should be strong enough to win this fight. But perhaps, just for tonight, he could let himself be weak.
Toric entered the comfortable room that Konoha had provided for him at a large, expensive inn. He knew that the other Suna ninja were housed in the additional rooms along this floor. Each suite was elegantly furnished and decorated.
The medic was quite unaccustomed to the fancy surroundings. While he earned a significant salary, neither he nor his late wife were concerned with things like ornamental lamps and landscape paintings. Suna itself was not a place known for the arts. It had been making him uncomfortable all week.
Now he barely registered the attractive surroundings, instead sinking heavily into the soft, yielding mattress. His head seemed unwilling to support its own weight and lowered into his hands.
He was tired. So tired. And he stayed there, sitting on the edge of the bed, elbows on his knees and head in his hands, wondering just when had he become so old.
For the past ten years, he'd been consumed by the desire for revenge. Now, after finally achieving it, he expected some measure of closure, at least a shred of peace. He'd punished the man who killed his son. He'd atoned for how he wronged his wife.
Instead it seemed like the fires of vengeance, once put out, left him empty and ravaged.
He pushed his hands up to run through his thick grey hair breathing in deeply and slowly releasing it. If he were honest with himself, he knew peace eluded him because, no matter how he justified it, he wasn't sure if what he'd done was right.
Finally, he lifted his head, and was nearly startled out of his skin to see another person in the room. He had never even sensed the other presence. He reached for his side pouch to retrieve some senbon.
A hand in fingerless gloves caught his wrist before it reached his weaponry. "None of that, Adachi. I only want to talk," a familiar voice murmured close to his ear.
"H-Hatake! What is the meaning of this?" the medic growled, masking the very real fear he felt rising in his chest. "When the others catch you here…"
Hatake's masked face hovered mere inches before his own. "I've placed a soundproofing jutsu on this room, and the others are all in bed, except the Kazekage, who is attending a late night meeting with Lady Tsunade."
"Your Hokage has ANBU guards stationed to prevent…"
"Assassination attempts. I know," Kakashi finished. "The ANBU are aware of my presence; they let me through. I told you, I'm here to talk."
The silver haired jounin released his wrist and took a step back. Toric watched him carefully, nervous, but also aware that any attack would be extraordinarily foolish on the famous Copy Ninja's part. Surely…surely, Umino was not worth starting a war over?
"What do you want?" the medic demanded.
"You know Iruka is not guilty," Kakashi said.
"I didn't make the call. The Council decided…"
"I'm not talking about what the Council decided, Adachi." The Konoha jounin's normally sleepy gaze was smolderingly intense. "I'm talking about what you know. You know that verdict was preposterous. You know it wasn't justice."
"That man killed my son," Toric contested hotly. "He's lucky he's still alive."
"Mizuki is responsible for Kento's death. He kidnapped the boy, manipulated the situation. He eventually betrayed Konoha, and he will spend the rest of his natural life locked up in an insane asylum."
"Get out of here!" The medic shouted. Anger was usually an effective shield. "Just leave me alone!"
"Iruka-sensei is not a criminal," Kakashi continued, unperturbed. "You've heard his testimony. You've talked to him privately. You've seen him with his kids. Look me in the eye and tell me you really believe this is right."
Toric breathed in sharply, as Sharingan Kakashi echoed the issue he'd been pondering himself. Did he believe this was right, not based on his old anger, but on the facts he had learned recently?
He knew now that the previous Kazekage had withheld medical research that Konoha needed to save hundreds of lives. The Sand Councilors themselves confirmed the truth of the story when he asked last night. Had Toric been made aware of this request ten years ago, he would have fought against the denial.
He knew now, because Kakashi had proved it earlier, that Iruka could not have anticipated Kento's position and therefore could not have intended to impale the boy. If Toric had taken his son away from the fight, rather than allowing his rage to cause him to press the battle, this never would have happened.
He knew now that the man he'd always thought of as cruel, inhuman, and treacherous; had a long history of compassion and mercy, that he had somehow won the hearts of the younger generation of Konoha and acted as a guardian to the many orphans in it.
"No, Hatake." Toric lowered his ice blue eyes, taking them off his uninvited visitor for the first time since his entrance. "It is not right."
He rubbed his eyes. The bone-deep weariness returned as the adrenaline wore off from Kakashi's intrusion. "But the Council has already made their decision. It's over. This is out of my hands now."
Once again, a steel grip was on his arm. It seemed that taking one's eyes off the Copy Ninja was never a wise thing to do.
"Come with me." Kakashi demanded.
- The Following Morning -
Genma watched Iruka through the bars of the holding cell, teeth biting down tightly on his senbon. The chunin had requested the necessary papers to arrange for the removal, storage, or, in some cases, distribution of his property so that it wouldn't simply get thrown away when the landlord sold his apartment. Genma was the one sent to deliver the forms.
The ex-sensei looked calm as he wrote out instructions in his tidy script- as though he were doing nothing more them filling out the quarterly assessment report of the Mission Department.
"I don't understand why you're not more upset about this, Iruka," Genma finally ground out.
The chunin did not look up from his work. "Can I change anything by being upset, Genma?"
"But they know you killed the brat by mistake. Why are they still punishing you?"
Iruka didn't answer immediately, but once he finished the paragraph he was working on, he sighed. "It's called 'manslaughter.'"
"It's called bullshit," the tokubetsu jounin snapped. "Manslaughter is for civilians. If they jailed ninja for collateral damage, we'd all be locked up! I know I've killed people I wish I hadn't. I'll bet you anything that Sand prick has as well, if he even goes on real missions."
"It's more complicated than that, Genma." Iruka rubbed at his scar in a weary gesture. "They think I kidnapped him to begin with. The case is high profile, and not only because it involves the son of the most well-known medic in Sunagakure. It also involves a possible breach of international treaty, so…"
"So you're the sacrifice for good relations between Konoha and Suna," the other finished. "With the Council being set up the way it is, it's no wonder they convicted you."
Silence filled the space between them, broken only by the scratching of Iruka's pen against parchment. Genma turned over the situation in his mind, and it became clear why his friend seemed resigned to his fate. "I'm sorry Iruka. I guess this is just one of those times where the good of the village has to come first."
Iruka nodded at these words, and ignored the way his throat felt constricted. Every good ninja knew that the life of one shinobi was nothing in the face of their village's prosperity. It shouldn't hurt Iruka that his friend was a good ninja. It shouldn't.
"When you're done with those forms, you can give them to one of the T&I staff. I've got to get back to work."
"I will, Genma. Thank you."
- The Night Before -
Two of the most powerful ninja in the world were seated in the Hokage's office. One was a blonde kunoichi who looked far younger than her years, and the other was a red haired shinobi who acted far older than his.
"I apologize for what happened in that courtroom, Lord Gaara," Tsunade sighed. "Iruka is...a well-liked member of Konoha's community. We failed to anticipate that sort of response from the people."
Gaara frowned, "It would appear that you've made yourself very unpopular. Will your people still be willing to listen to you?"
Tsunade drew herself up at the question. "Of course. Konoha has mature ninja who know better than to let their emotions get in the way of their service."
Gaara did not look convinced. "You also have very immature ninja, one of whom threw his sandal at me. This trial hasn't helped Sand-Leaf relations."
Remembering the homemade signs that read 'Hey Sand, Get Out of Our Land!' Tsunade had to concede that point. "No. It has not. But legally, we can't interfere with the Council's decision."
A tapping sound on the window caught their attention. The Hokage frowned when she noticed who it was. With a huff, she rose to open the window and allow the brat entry.
Hatake Kakashi had better have a good reason for interrupting an important diplomatic meeting.
To her astonishment, once the jounin entered the room, the Sand medic entered right after. He had obviously been following the Copy Nin, but looked for all the world as though he had no clue why they were here.
"Lady Hokage, Lord Kazekage," Kakashi greeted them both in turn, as though he had not just intruded upon a meeting he had no business attending. He pulled out a dusty, yellowing scroll, that had clearly seen better days, and that Tsunade recognized from the label as belonging to the legal section of the Hokage Library.
Hatake Kakashi had better have a good reason for stealing a scroll that he had no business possessing.
- Back to the Next Morning -
Another set of approaching footsteps roused Iruka from his task of accounting for every item he owned. Had Genma returned after all?
But the shinobi who entered into view was not the the tokubetsu jounin. Iruka couldn't help but smile when he realized the visitor's identity.
"Kakashi. I'm glad you came by." The chunin gestured at the papers in his hand. "I want to ask you: would you be interested in holding on to any of my books?"
One silver brow was raised, or perhaps both, since Iruka couldn't actually see the other. "Your books?"
"Yes," the chunin confirmed. "Since you've already invaded my apartment, I'm sure you've seen my collection. If you noticed anything you liked, you can consider it a twenty-five year loan."
"I don't think I'll be taking you up on that offer, sensei."
The chunin offered him a half smile, "My books aren't quite your style, eh?"
"Sorry, but Cultural Anthropology of the Five Great Shinobi Nations is a rather dry read," Kakashi responded. "A Cultural Overview of Ninja Nations was a lot more interesting, and covers the same information. I'll let you borrow it, if you ask nicely enough."
Instead of a stunned stare, Iruka's grin widened. "I knew you must read something other than Jiriaya's trash."
Kakashi grinned back. "Trash? I'll have you know that Jiriaya's books are a fascinating culture study of their own."
It was nice to have someone not act shocked by the prospect that Kakashi just might have a varied taste in literature. Icha Icha was not the only thing he read. It was just the only thing he read in public.
The Copy Nin pulled out a key. "Actually, Iruka, I didn't come for a book club meeting. I'm here on business."
The sensei uneasily watched him open the cell door. "They're transferring me already?...But, I thought…I thought that wasn't going to happen until tomorrow. Ibiki said he needed some time to arrange for a cellmate that wouldn't have some kind of personal grudge against me…and…"
"Relax, sensei." Kakashi smiled. "I'm actually here to give you something. You'll be wanting to file this in your record." He entered the cell and handed the chunin a scroll.
"I'm hardly in a position to do any filing," Iruka reminded him, though he took the parchment in hand. "What is it, anyway?"
"Just a bit of paperwork I thought you'd be interested in seeing."
While Kakashi and Iruka were discussing literature in a prison cell, the company from Sunagakure made their final preparations for departure from the Konoha inn.
Gaara observed the best medic that Sand had to offer. Somehow, Toric seemed lighter than the Kazekage ever remembered seeing him. Not happy per se- but the man stood a little straighter, and moved a little easier, as though some ancient burden had finally been taken from his shoulders.
The young Kage could not fathom why the man acted as he did.
The grey haired medic paused from his packing and bowed low, "Yes, Lord Kazekage?"
Gaara was uncharacteristically hesitant. Finally, he entered the room and shut the door behind him. "I thought...I have heard others say…that you loved your son."
The elder swallowed and nodded. "I do, Lord Kazekage. I still do."
"Then why…?" Gaara's normally impassive face scrunched slightly in frustration. "You must not love him, if you refused to take revenge for his death." He could not imagine someone killing a person he cared about, and then allowing that person to go unpunished.
The elder's mouth hung open, startled by the statement. He quickly shut it when he realized how he must look.
He also realized that this would be the same accusation he'd face from his own father when he returned. How was he going to explain what went on in the Hokage Tower tower last night?
"But there is a way out of this," Kakashi claimed. "It doesn't matter how high-profile this case is. From the beginning, it's been classified as a civil case between Adachi and Umino, never a military one between Suna and Konoha."
"And why does that matter?" Tsunade pressed. "It was still to be decided by a military council. To overrule their verdict is considered a breach in the balance of powers. Even a Kage has no right to flout the laws of the nation."
"You're right, Lady Tsunade," Kakashi conceded. "But take a look at this section Pakkun found about civil cases. As Toric is the one who is officially brought up the charges, he is also the only one who can drop them…"
"It's too late for that, Hatake," the medic pointed out.
"…And he is also the only one with authority to appeal for a Kage's pardon." Kakashi finished. He gazed at Toric intently. "If you are willing, you can request that Iruka be granted a pardon, releasing him from the penalty imposed by the council. The choice is in your hands."
Toric had chosen last night to request that pardon. It had been quickly drawn up and signed by both Tsunade and Gaara. As proof of his willing participation in the pact, he had to sign it as well.
The medic realized he'd been staring out into space while the Kazekage was waiting for him to respond.
His love for Kento was the same. So what had changed? The answer came to him suddenly, and Toric faced his leader, confident of his response. "Revenge has a lot more to do with hate, Lord Gaara, than with love. Fate has already punished the man truly responsible for the loss of my son. As for Umino...he's not really a criminal. There's no need to hold onto my hatred for him."
"Then you forgive him for the role he had in this?" the red haired youth asked.
"Forgive him?" A humorless chuckle escaped the elder's throat. "Not yet, Lord Kazekage. Maybe someday." Toric slung his pack over his shoulder. "For now I just want to get back to my patients. I've been gone long enough."
Kakashi wasn't sure how he expected Iruka to react when he read the pardon that would grant him his freedom. He couldn't say he was too surprised by the way the chunin stared at the document, reading and rereading it several times, eyes lingering over the signatures of the Kages, and for a much longer time over the signature of the Suna medic.
He also wasn't overly surprised that, when the astonished expression faded, tears glimmered in those brown eyes.
But Kakashi was utterly shocked when the sensei pitched forward and captured him in a Naruto-esque hug. The Copy Nin barely refrained from reflexively slicing the man's throat, and instead stiffly patted him twice on the head. "You're embarrassing me, sensei."
Iruka quickly pulled back. "Sorry," he rubbed the back of his neck, his face reddened in embarrassment. "I…Just…" he sighed and offered a deep bow. "Thank you."
Kakashi raised his eyebrow. "Why would you thank me?"
A roll of his eyes indicated his exasperation. "You must think I'm rather stupid, if you don't expect me to realize who orchestrated this. I don't know how you managed it but…"
"Actually sensei, Pakkun was the one who figured out that a pardon was possible…"
"Of course," Iruka smiled. He remembered what Kakashi had said about having no living friends. If the jounin wanted to create distance by diverting attention to his nindog, he wouldn't argue. At least not outwardly "And if that's the case, I owe Pakkun quite a thank-you. Friends like that are hard to come by."
"It was Pakkun," Kakashi frowned.
"I know," Iruka replied blithely. He eyed the parchment in his hand. "So…am I free now?"
"Yup. Just report to the T&I main office to have the chakra suppressor removed. You can even collect your regular uniform. You know the way?"
"Yeah." Iruka looked like he wanted to say more. He glanced down the hall in the direction of the main office, but instead of continuing on his way, he looked back at Kakashi. "Say... after I've been discharged, do you think Pakkun would like to go out for ramen? It would be my treat of course, just to say thanks and celebrate. You could even come along, if you want."
Kakashi frowned thoughtfully.
"I'm sorry, sensei," he answered finally. "I don't think Pakkun likes going out."
Iruka tried, and failed, to keep the disappointment from his face. "I understand. Sorry to bother you." He turned to leave.
Kakashi watched him walk away, and suddenly realized he felt a bit disappointed himself.
Making up his mind, he caught up to the chunin, and added, "But I guess I could still go with you. If you don't mind."
If interested, check my profile for the sequel to this story, Sharpening Iron, the prequel, Shattered, and sidefics written by other authors. Also, First Impressions is an origin story for the Uminos in Konoha, and fits into the universe.
Author chibi heishi explores the fight Inuzuka Tsume had with Hyuuga Hiashi in In Defense of the Tamer. Pen-Always-In-Hand wrote about the the aftermath of Kakashi's punishment of Hanabi in Laughter.
You'll also see my progress report for any current project on which I may be working.