Title: Evanesce 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - ?
Rating: Kakashi/Iruka-Mature-h/c-Angst-Non-con-semi-established relationship
Spoilers: General (everything Pre-Shippuden)
Summary: Iruka arrives back to the Hidden leaf after a simple but failed mission to investigate an abandoned shrine. Little by little, he realizes that maybe there was more to the mission than he'd thought. And those closest to him start to notice the same.
Thank you jinkamoo! <3
Cross-posted to: The Kakairu Livejournal Community
Kakashi had made it through another day and hadn't lost one single eye.
He wasn't exactly sure when the bar had dropped quite that close to the ground as to consider that feat a success, however, genin class had their own occupational hazards. Kakashi shifted in his crouch. He'd been lingering on a rooftop in sight of the Tower for longer than usual. Mostly to watch the sun set. As dismal as the wash of yellow was through the patchy clouds it was, for the first time in weeks, visible.
His thoughts wandered to the training session that had lasted into the late afternoon. Not only hadn't he lost any body parts, but his team had almost made it through the entire lesson without seriously injuring one another on purpose. Almost. He'd leave Sasuke's newest black and blues out of his report this time. Just to assure the bosses that he wasn't leading a band of irredeemable idiots. Though to be fair, Sasuke did have it coming after he'd very subtly tripped Naruto off a substantial cliff.
The other reason he was perched on the roof was an old habit of watching for the evening allotment of messenger birds coming in and out from the spiral of the aviary. It was always easy to tell when the winged carriers arrived or departed off schedule--even easier to discern any which carried extraordinary remittance.
A tremor of cold shook through his muscles as the warmthless sun finally dipped behind the cliffs and the gray light deepened to slate.
Not that he did much with information about bird schedules but store it for his Just in Case files. What could he say? He'd been raised to know more and always be well ahead of those around him. What he couldn't piece together on his own, his network amongst the ranks filled in. He watched a few chunin leave the Tower talking idly about whatever happened during their late running shifts. Everyone on the regular day rotation would have gone home hours ago.
Kakashi was hungry and not all that tired. And that only meant one thing.
It was strange to see Iruka's apartment dark at this time of evening.
It was much too early for him to have gone to bed. Not that Kakashi knew exactly what Iruka did and when but the teacher was, much to Kakashi's inner ANBU dismay, completely and utterly predictable. He had been meaning to have a small talk about that with him eventually. Truth be told, Kakashi had kept putting it off. He was fairly certain the chunin would not take it well if he suspected he was being spoken to like a subordinate.
Which technically Iruka was.
A glance through the windows revealed what he already knew.
There wasn't even the familiar cast off satchel Iruka always dropped by the entry way. He checked all the other windows. All, of course, were uncovered. Kakashi grit his teeth. Another thing he'd have to include in the eventual tutorial of How Not to Die. Wards were certainly practical in their line of work, but privacy had helped many of their kind live longer.
These wards were flimsy, anyhow, and of little use. Not against someone like him anyway. Or someone like him who happened to be very determined. He slipped in and let the drapes blow around him as his gaze swept the room.
"Anyone home?" he said, knowing there'd be no answer but it felt polite. "Just... stopping by."
Half hoping to find the discarded leather bag filled with academia thrown further in out of sight by the front door, he peered in but there was nothing. No dampness on the mat to indicate Iruka had stepped in and out again. Dinner with his mission office friends? A visit with his student's parents? Maybe back at the Academy determinedly sawing lumber to rebuild the school all by himself? Kakashi suddenly felt ridiculous looking around in the empty darkness.
He thumbed through a book left open next to a half empty mug of morning tea on the kitchen table.
Iruka wasn't here and may not be for quite a while. He had spent the previous night wholly uninvited, with Iruka burned out as he was, and Kakashi hadn't been much help in making sure he’d gotten any decent sleep.
The clone ruse was just a habit. He had wanted to be there himself but the Hokage and the elders had mired him in a clan meeting all damn day. It was completely understandable why Iruka might not be in a great big rush to get home. Kakashi always provided him plenty of reasons.
Time to go.
Closing the window behind him, he reset the wards. Feeling inexplicably heavy he took back to the streets and decided to pick up a conbiniben from the small shop at the corner of his own far off block. Team 7 would be waiting at dawn for their D-Rank. Nothing sounded better at the moment than some draining and mindless task.
If he was going to bother to eat tonight, he might as well get some sleep while he was at it.
Iruka wasn’t exactly sure when his eyes started to play tricks on him.
One moment, he’d recognize a red painted street sign only to blink and find he’d been staring at the purple hat of a passing woman. He knew it had been hours since he'd left the Tower but he wasn't certain of how many.
Sounds were becoming strange, pitched at a register he wasn’t sure he was supposed to hear. Extra noises flitted in and out of his consciousness, making him turn suddenly, eyes searching frantically for the source.
It was all so distracting that he had to stare hard at the paper in his hands.
He was concentrating so hard on the folded paper that he barely noticed the people walking to and fro on the footpath. It was a very basic and mostly unmarked map of Konoha. Something made for very young children with exaggerated pictures for only the most important landmarks. Not very useful but it was all he could find in his bag besides text books and half filled out mission rank forms.
Iruka flinched at the sound of his name. Dropping the map to his side, he clutched both hands on the bottom edge of the bench he'd been sitting long before the sun had gone down. If he gripped hard enough no one would see how much he was shaking.
"It is you! How nice to see you!"
The woman was backlit by a street lamp leaving her in shadow but he knew her voice. It was the mother of one of his students. Gripping the bench tighter he tried to smile in greeting. There were twinkling lights adorning the trees that lined the street, banners, and sparkling ornaments. Blue paper lanterns swung in the chill breeze almost in time to holiday music being played somewhere nearby.
"Come to see the festival decorations? So many people have been coming to see our part of town! We always do the best. Finest in the village!"
'Keep talking. Please! What part of town? Keep talking until I know where I am.'
He couldn't ask her. No one who lived their entire lives in the Leaf asked for directions. If he did that it would rouse some concern or suspicion and then the military police would show up. Even worse maybe even the ANBU considering his links to the Tower. Realizing he was clenching his jaw, he tried to breathe slowly.
"I bet you're really here just to get a look at the theatre," her voice dropped in confidentiality. "I just know it. I cannot believe it will finally be reopened just in time for the festivities!"
Iruka felt himself nodding. Reopened theatre? There was an old movie theatre on the far east side. He knew that. It used to be nothing more than a makeshift stage built decades ago. It was deemed historical and the budget committee passed over the Academy to fix it up--
"But there aren't any out just yet. You'll have to wait until the festival starts!"
Iruka realized he'd been looking at her but hadn't been listening.
"I-I'm sorry, what's not out?"
Right. Movie theatres showed movies. He hadn't been to one in so long he forgot that some people looked forward to them. The face of the woman standing over him was still in hidden with the street light glowing behind her. But he began to be distracted by something else. Even though he hadn't been paying much attention to his surroundings before her arrival, he was still surprised he hadn't noticed it earlier. Beyond her shoulder across the street and too far away to be caught in cast shadow there appeared the shape of a man. The silhouette stood out even more because of its unmoving position among the flow of the shifting crowd. Iruka squinted trying to get a better look. The figure was pitch black compared to the people walking past. It was too tall and too thin. For a moment his vision flashed with the shrine. The weak flicker of a camp fire. The foul smelling smoke.
"Have a nice night, Iruka-sensei!," the woman seemed to be leaving. "I'll be sure to tell Minako that I saw you!"
Minako. That was the name of his student. Before he could mumble his response she was walking away and his gaze returned to the still figure across the street.
"Don't stay out too long," the woman called back over her shoulder. "Or you'll catch your death of cold!"
Not trusting his voice, Iruka let one of his hands unfasten from the bench so he could wave at her in acknowledgement. As soon as she was out of sight he returned his gaze to the strange figure still standing right where he'd first saw it. He wasn't sure how long he been watching but the store front lights gradually began to blink off one by one and the thinning crowds dwindled to nothing. It was so cold. Iruka got stiffly to his feet, wincing at the sharp cramps in his back and legs. How long had he been sitting there? Eyes locked on the still form across the street, he walked unsteadily as it urged him forward. He knew somewhere in the back of his mind that he should run. Stay away from it. But fear felt hidden and far away.
As he drew closer he saw it was no play of shadow. It was nothing. A featureless outline.
A voice reached him very much like its shape, flat and toneless. It lulled Iruka to speak, his tongue thick in his mouth.
"Who...Who are you?"
Come back to your home. Warm there.
"What are you talking about?" he breathed the words, transfixed by its slow shifting whirl.
You are the reliquary. You must survive.
Iruka stumbled backwards as it gently drifted closer.
You have been marked.
The wound on his arm flared.
Iruka shuddered at the strange smooth slide of black slither into his hand, entwining through his numb fingers. It seemed suddenly taller than it had before as it flowed backwards, not seeming to have a front or back to its form. Iruka staggered forward with the painful pull, feeling like a child being led by its parent.
"S-Stop." Iruka stammered. "Let go of me...let go..."
The reliquary must endure.
Iruka watched in detached horror as the swath of pitch stretched and expanded, swallowing his hand and running up his arm. The wound on the inside of his elbow pulsed red hot as it oozed past and up his shoulder. Iruka dropped his weight hoping to break free but the being lashed onto him just bent and shifted to every move he made like viscous water. Then it reached his face.
The scent of the thing stuck him like a blow and Iruka's mind reeled. All he could see was a small flickering campfire. One of the countless he had made in the shrine in an effort to drive off the cold. Oily smoke, thick and pungent.
When Iruka could open his eyes again he was staring at a door.
His front door.
He was home.
The very first winter festival had started and another D-Rank was halfway finished. Three days since Kakashi last saw the village and he was feeling optimistic. He appreciated the time spent in the great outdoors with nothing but a shovel and a never ending litany that repeated like a song in his head.
"Come on," he cheerily encouraged his lagging genin. "Almost home."
Granted the litany was a meditation Kakashi had been taught to withstand relentless and brutal torture. But despite that he firmly believed the premise applied to most anything that required a mind to fall in synch when confronted with the unbearable.
Kakashi felt great. Fantastic even.
He was covered in filth and not in good way. This was nothing like dirt and grime from days of stealth and espionage in a foreign savage clime. There had been no calculated battles or blood dripping from the leaves of the trees. None of that admirable and honorable business this time around. Kakashi and his much less elated genin were splattered in enough horse manure that he was fairly certain that with some effort they could build another good sized horse.
"The gate is just up ahead," he pointed out in case his team hadn't noticed. "Not long now."
Having spent the entire past several days mucking stables of a dozen surrounding farms it would be a sign of a job poorly done if they were not in their current unspeakable state. He had kept telling them that they should be thankful it wasn't summer, but by the wretched looks on their accusing frozen faces he saw that winter probably wasn't that great either.
Kakashi breathed in a lungful of air. He hadn't felt this invigorated in a long time.
One of the squad had stopped behind him to retch in the bushes. Again. Stopping at that dango stand might have been very a bad choice on a team leader's part but he hadn't suggested they stuff it all down like it was the cure for onbaa pox.
"K-Kaka-sensei...," Sakura croaked from the shrubs. "We really have to do this again tomorrow?"
"We sure do," Kakashi answered brightly. "Four more days to go!"
He didn't have the heart to tell them he had picked this week long assignment on purpose. Tedious chores always cleared the mind. At least he made sure they'd have at least one night to live it up at some new festival the Hokage invented so the populace wouldn't go completely insane over the course of the coming months. Pausing to wait for his bedraggled team to collect themselves he felt a brush of sympathy. They really did look horrible.
"Ok guys," he announced. "Why don't we all get some--"
"Wow! Ramen!" Naruto piped up. "That sounds great!"
Kakashi had been about to say 'rest' but he supposed his genin could use some real food.
"Uh, no thanks," Sakura moaned. "I'm going home."
"Me too," Sasuke was already walking away.
Kakashi watched them both leave before wearily turning his attention at the last to remain.
"I guess it's just you and me Kaka-sensei!"
Kakashi would be doing some wash up before any eating would be taking place. Now that his buzz was dying down he found that he wasn't exactly enjoying how he smelled. He'd hit the shower and get on something with less of a barn yard hue. After he was suitable to exist somewhat normally in public he'd eat some noodles and listen to Naruto complain about that goat that kept biting him in bad places.
"Ichiraku's in 30 minutes!" Naruto ordered as he dashed off in the direction of his place.
Glad that Naruto was thinking of cleanliness for a change, he himself managed to shower, dress, and arrive at the ramen stand late enough that he expected a fuming genin waiting to drag him inside. Oddly enough, Naruto wasn't there yet. Taking a seat at the counter he spoke to Teuchi about the upcoming gala and remarked politely on the holiday garlands that were draped all over the small restaurant. Garish but unarguably festive.
"Sorry I'm late."
Kakashi watched a freshly scrubbed Naruto hop up on a stool with much less enthusiasm than normal. He tilted his head in a frown when Naruto also preceded to order his food without the usual boisterous gusto. And then, instead of chatting incessantly with Teuchi he just hunkered down into his crossed arms.
"Something..." Kakashi hazarded a guess. "...bothering you?"
"Nah," Naruto shrugged. "Yeah. I dunno."
"Ya see, I really wanted to see Iruka-sensei and I figured since you were payin that-"
"I didn't say-"
"- that he should come eat with us. So I went to the Tower and they said he's been home sick for three days."
"He's not sick," Kakashi felt the need to amend. "He just had a very difficult mission."
"Yeah, I know. But I went over to his apartment to see if he was up for just some ramen. That's all."
Obviously seeing no Iruka, Kakashi realized what had happened. "Iruka-sensei needs rest right now," he assured. "He'll back up and around before you know it."
"I KNOW, but, but he was home."
"Where else would he be?"
"I mean he was home and he didn't answer the door. I could TELL he was in there, I could feel it. Why wouldn't he want to talk to me?" Naruto looked even more miserable. "He coulda at least told me to go away."
Kakashi blinked down at the steaming bowl being set down in front of him.
"You are sure he was home?"
"Yes!" Naruto cracked his chopsticks apart harder than necessary. "I could tell. Just like I can ... tell yer sitting right next to me."
Suddenly not feeling very hungry, Kakashi made a show of moving his noodles around while Naruto ate. The kid perked up a bit with some food in him, Naruto's shifting moods never leaving him anywhere for too long. Kakashi half listened to the one sided conversation about some new jutsu involving livestock excrement.
It was one thing to dismiss the world. Quite another for a man like Iruka to ignore Naruto. Ever since he'd returned from that mission he had been acting strangely. It was easy to cast it off to a number of elements but Kakashi had a growing sick feeling that he had missed something. Something vital.
After the kid thanked him and yawned his way out to the street, Kakashi paid the bill and had his own bowl wrapped up for take away. Iruka could probably use something other than what he usually kept in his cabinets most of the time. He would stop by. Nothing obtrusive. Bring him some ramen and if he were lucky get at least one of those smiles in return. However, before any potential smiles and eating were to occur there was something else he had to do first.
All it took was one small detour to the hospital.
The tired man regarded him with apprehension.
"You want what now?"
Kakashi checked himself from idly toying with the medical supplies on the man’s exam table by putting his hands in his pockets. He knew cracking this guy would take some well honed tenacity. "I’d like to review a file."
“Denied.” The man said gruffly, shuffling reports on his desk dismissively.
Kakashi took that as cue to continue. "Just one--from a recent deploy. The mission is no longer active so the medical reviews should all be in."
The medi nin studied him closely. "And why would I-"
"I have clearance?" Kakashi tried.
"You know, Kakashi-san," the older nin crossed his arms with a sigh and leaned back in his chair. "Even you don't get access to anything and everything just by showing up and asking."
"True," Kakashi conceded. "Then you should be glad I bothered."
"What are you implying?"
"I could go straight to Hokage and put in a request," Kakashi tapped his chin thoughtfully. "Or I could just find a very broken window later tonight. You see, all of that takes so much effort and time. It would be soooooooooo much easier if-"
"Fine!" he grumbled with a pound of a fist. "But if you are after something code restricted there's not much even I can do about it."
"Relax," the jounin smiled. "I'm not interested in any of the black ops."
Looking somewhat relieved, the doctor sagged in defeat. "Names and Team designation?"
"No designation and just one name."
"Wait, wait, if this is an S-rank then you of all people know those reviews go straight to the Tower."
There was a moment as the name slowly registered and the medi nin's disparaging look turned to utter bafflement. "The teacher from the Academy?"
Kakashi nodded patiently.
"Are you sure?"
Kakashi wondered as he stared into the man’s open mouth if this person actually believed another someone named Iruka Umino might exist in Konoha.
"THAT is really the file you are after?" the doctor's perplexed face was bordering on distress. "But why?"
This exchange was beginning to get a tad tiresome.
Kakashi shrugged. "May I see it please?"
Rolling his chair back, the doctor reluctantly pulled open a deep drawer at the bottom of his desk. "I actually happen to have it right here," he noticed the jounin's questioning look. "He's been back a few times for treatment so his mission file stayed open."
"Treatment?" Taking the proffered folder, he frowned at that bit of news. "For what?"
"This really is a terrible breach of confidentially--."
Kakashi gave him a skeptical look over the folder containing Iruka's medical records as of that month. Not to mention it had been seen by every nin and ninkin in the Tower that had anything to with the mission debriefing.
"I think we've already burned that bridge don't you think?" He flipped it open and saw the very first page had a photo of Iruka clipped to its corner. "So. What is he being treated for?"
The medi nin let out a deep breath. "Abrasions that weren't healing well. Some pattern bruising that were still giving him discomfort. By the way, we were all quite amazed that he managed not to lose any outer extremities due to the weather conditions-"
"All and all," the man tossed up his hands. "There was nothing but the typical injuries we see from extended field work in that sort of harsh environment."
Kakashi's shoulders hitched in a small laugh as he flipped through the pages. Naruto's apartment was a harsh environment. He knew exactly where they had sent Iruka and that environment was a bit more than what the mere word implied.
All those weeks ago shortly after Iruka's departure, Kakashi had read from an innocently borrowed mission plan that detailed the chunin's assignment and its geographical location. He reflected once again how it was odd to have to go through some trouble just to find out about a C-Rank. However, there was some unknown seal involved and some of the elders got touchy about access to that sort of intel. Kakashi had dismissed the secrecy at the time but now it made him edgy.
The doctor was still talking.
"....Some moderate malnutrition. Loss in muscle mass. Basic fatigue. Mental and physical. Dehydration of course..."
Kakashi listened to him run down the details of a body's deterioration like a grocery list as he studied Iruka's picture.
"There were some burns he had treated himself," the man went on. "But we had to go over those again. There was repeated scoring in the same areas and it seems he didn't have an adequate supply of medical gear."
"The Tower... misjudged... how long he might have had to be out there."
"I'm not told much," the doctor muttered a little bitterly. "They just tell us enough to know how to treat the ones that make it back."
Pulling the photograph in the file free, Kakashi looked at it closer. It was dated the day the chunin had arrived back. Iruka looked strange when he wasn't happy, angry, or just about on the verge of becoming either. He looked blank. In fact, the photo reminded him of just how much weight Iruka had lost. Of course, he had noticed it himself when the body he knew didn't feel the same, but that degree of emaciation happened when you spent a month on nothing but food pills.
"Burns?" Kakashi caught up with what the doctor had said. "Oh, on his hands. They're fine now."
The doctor's brows furrowed, obviously wondering why the infamous Kakashi of the Sharingan would know the current state of some chunin's hands.
"He was doing seal work," he didn't feel like explaining much more than that. "And the abrasions?"
"Uh, yes, moderate to minor on his arms and legs."
Kakashi had seen all of those too and he knew none of it was very serious. There had to something else here. Something to explain why Iruka would lock himself away and not even speak to a boy he considered his only family. There had to be an answer for that and all the other recent behavior since the shrine mission. Kakashi hadn't added it up then, but he sure was now. The nervousness. Being absent minded. Falling down the damn stairs. Flipping through the pages again all he could see was what the doctor had already mentioned but just recorded in greater detail and medical jargon. It just didn't make any sense.
"So what exactly was he still coming back here for?"
The medi nin faltered under Kakashi's sudden renewed and harder focus. "Some of the injuries weren't healing as quickly as hoped. There was one in particular on his right arm that was giving him a lot of trouble. It's right there in the chart."
Kakashi snapped the folder shut and sent it in a flat spin through the air to land neatly on the desk.
"If I may ask, why are you so interested in this chunin?" the medi nin ventured. "Is he one of your operatives, or ... or something like that?"
Kakashi made for the open window instead exiting via the door. "Something like that."
It was time to see Iruka.
He had some questions about a seal.