Stumbling Into Secrecy

At twenty-four, he should have learned to take care of himself. Kakashi breathed raggedly, one hand on his fractured ribs. He stumbled down the alley, trying to get to ANBU headquarters, but his vision was blurry and he was too exhausted to tell where he was in the village. Someplace with tall buildings and billboards. That was helpful. That was ninety percent of Konoha.

His mask was broken, his lip was bloody, and he felt pretty sure that if anyone saw him, they'd have a heart attack. His sharingan eye was exposed, along with the scar, and there was blood in his hair that wasn't his.

His legs were about ready to give out, too, which was inconvenient.

Amazingly, he saw a building ahead that might be one of the ANBU patrol stations for the village. He thought it was. Five stories tall, blue, and mostly constructed in a sane perpendicular to the ground. It had a conical roof, like Sandaime's hat.

Kakashi passed out on the front step hoping he was right.


Iruka left the Friday night teacher's get-together at the local bar before he could get smashed. Most of the teachers wanted to get smashed. Iruka didn't begrudge them that. Dealing with ninja kids was tough. But he preferred to be able to walk home under his own power, and not singing out of key.

Mildly buzzed, the village took on an interesting appearance. The buildings reaching for the sky, piled up and up and up, seemed new to him, and the crooked drainage pipes and power lines patched in seemed humorous.

He was so consumed with taking in that sight that he almost stepped on someone. Iruka drew back his foot with a yelp, glad all over again that he hadn't imbibed too much. He would have fallen over.

A man was curled up on the front step of his apartment building. He looked like he was asleep, except for the obvious injuries covering his body. Moreover, he was dressed in ANBU gear, and ANBU did not randomly sleep on doorsteps. This man had been attacked.

Iruka felt cold. Was there a threat loose in the village?

This is only one ANBU agent, he reminded himself. Hardly indicative of a mass invasion that has wiped all of our forces out. For all you know, he's returning from some ill-fated mission and just happened to collapse before he could report.

That raised the intriguing question: Do I share an apartment building with an ANBU agent?

He supposed people must. ANBU had to live somewhere. And since they were supposed to blend in, why not share quarters with normal people like Iruka?

Iruka found himself kneeling and taking the man's pulse. The ANBU agent was out cold. The pulse was steady, though, so Iruka didn't need to grab him and run to the hospital.

But what knocked you out, ne? Chakra exhaustion?

Iruka sighed and investigated further, knowing that he couldn't just leave the man here. Spongy ribs, fractured or broken. Twisted, swollen ankle. Shallow cut on left leg.

He didn't bother trying to identify the man. He could be court marshaled for that, since no one was supposed to know an ANBU's identity, and anyway, this man had his identity pretty well hidden. A mask over his face to compensate for the broken ANBU mask, blood matted in his hair to the point that its color was obscured. The only telltale mark was the scar over one eye and partway down the cheek, but that could be fake.

Now what do I do with you? Iruka straightened and planted his hands on his hips, thinking. The street around them was deserted. Everyone was either at home or in a bar somewhere at this time of night. Provided they weren't on a night shift, in which case they'd be patrolling or at a guard station.

Iruka didn't know if ANBU went to the hospital. He didn't know anything about the way ANBU worked, which he knew was a purposeful withdrawal of information. So he could either risk taking this man to the hospital, which might be the wrong thing, or he could carry the man up to his apartment, which might be seen as...what? Kidnapping? How could a teacher like him kidnap an ANBU agent?

Having had fractured ribs once before in his life, Iruka knew the extent of the care the hospital would give was painkillers. He had painkillers in his apartment. What ninja didn't?

He could carry the man upstairs, administer pain relief, bandage the leg, and probably just wait for ANBU to pick up their own.

That decided, Iruka knelt down and carefully lifted the man up. He was fragile in this state, and felt small, even though he had long legs.

Iruka sighed to himself and carried the man inside the door to the apartment, using the security pad to punch in the code to unlock the door and the handicapped button to make the door open and shut by itself.

Once that was done, he uncharacteristically took the elevator, not wanting to subject this man to being carried up three flights of stairs. Luckily, the elevator was deserted. Iruka thought the sharp ping of arriving on the third floor might wake the man, but it didn't.

Iruka carried the ANBU down the hall to his room, 303. He stopped to fish out his keys, which was awkward with the man in his arms, and unlocked the door after a moment of fumbling. Then he stepped inside and shut the door behind them.

The man moaned.

Iruka thought it was ironic that the elevator didn't wake the man up, but the small sound of a door closing was enough to make him stir. Or perhaps the man would have started coming out of it at this point anyway.

Either way, Iruka went through with his plan, carrying the man over to the sofa and laying him on his back, then crossing through the apartment to the master bathroom and retrieving the pain medication. Iruka passed through the living room to the kitchen and filled a glass with water. Finally, he came back, bottle in one hand and water in the other. He knelt beside the sofa.

The flaw in his plan presented itself: the man's mask.

Iruka grimaced and gingerly worked the mask down. The man stirred, shaking his head, but weakly. Iruka didn't know if it was better to speak or stay silent, so he didn't say anything. He just pressed the rim of the glass to the man's lips and tipped slowly, allowing a trickle of water to touch the man's lips.

The ANBU agent willingly drank.

Iruka let out his breath and administered two pills of prescription strength painkillers, left over from dislocating his shoulder last month during a class. He'd been more or less tricked into slamming against a wall, which he had to admit was clever, but he was less than enthusiastic about the results.

The man swallowed the pills and drank the rest of the water, then shifted sluggishly. "Report."

"Not here," Iruka said, afraid the man might spill something confidential. That could possibly cost Iruka his life.

That response seemed to startle the man. " I?"

"In my apartment," Iruka said. "I'm a resident of the apartment building. A teacher. Name is Umino Iruka, ninja identification number 1458357."

"Teacher," the man mumbled in disbelief. "Iruka-sensei? Umino-sensei?"

"I'm twenty years old," Iruka said. "I prefer Iruka-sensei."

The man nodded and then fell silent, limp against the sofa.

Iruka wondered if he had passed out.

Eventually, the man said, "Dizzy."

"I gave you a couple of pain pills left over from when I dislocated my shoulder, sir," Iruka said. "You have cracked or fractured ribs."

"Explains...why I can breathe."


Iruka waited, but there was no more.

A couple hours later, two ANBU, one in a crow mask and another in the mask of a green dragon, came to the door. Iruka was not at all surprised. He bowed and let them in. "I didn't know whether I should take him to the hospital or not."

"You were wise," the man in the crow mask said. He sounded calm, but then, all ANBU were trained to sound that way. "We have our own facilities."

"Where did you find him?" the man in the dragon mask asked.

"On the front doorstep of my apartment building. I was coming home. That was 2300 hours," Iruka said.

The man in the dragon mask nodded and collected the fallen ANBU from the sofa.

"He's unconscious," Iruka said. "I gave him painkillers for his ribs. Left over from a shoulder injury I had a month ago."

"Hmm." The dragon ANBU nodded. He carried the man Iruka had rescued to the door, and he and his partner in the Crow mask teleported out.

Iruka didn't expect he'd ever hear why an ANBU collapsed on the doorstep of his apartment, or what the mission was, or who the man was. That was the way of living in a ninja village. One just didn't find these things out.

Still, Iruka was relieved that he had taken the man to his apartment. In any case, ANBU authorities did not seem to be angry with him. And briefly being involved in something more important than settling a child's dispute on the playground felt good. Iruka was reminded that he was an adult, and he could do adult things.

As he got ready for bed, his thoughts turned to the ANBU agent he'd helped. He hoped the man got home alright and wasn't stuck in a private hospital for too long. Heck, he hoped the man had somewhere nice to go back to, maybe a girlfriend or a boyfriend and a dog. His mask had been a dog design. Maybe that meant something.

But then again, Iruka reminded himself that he would never know. This was just one more secret event in a hidden village.