Iruka woke just after dawn to the sound of someone pounding on the door. He was immediately on edge, pushing aside the disturbing dream he'd been having
as he hurried to answer the summons. His recent flurry of solo missions was paying off. When he'd first gotten the apartment he had jumped at anything
resembling a knock and would have panicked had someone pounded on his door that way. Now he was just as quick to react, but more curious than
concerned. He opened the door to a seething and very familiar woman. Mizuki had angrily dubbed her 'that crazy bitch' because she lived directly above his
apartment and reacted violently when he had too many people over. Iruka wasn't aware of any recent altercations between the two of them. In fact, Mizuki
hadn't mentioned her at all in over a month, so he had assumed the two of them had either worked things out or learned to ignore each other.
"Can I help you?" Iruka asked. "Mita...rashi-san, was it?"
"Anko," the woman snapped. "Where is he?"
"If you're looking for Mizuki, I haven't seen him since last night." Now that he could look past her open hostility, he realized what a sorry state she was in. She
was one of those who didn't bother with the standard uniform, and her mesh shirt was tattered and filthy. The short sleeve was split on her right shoulder, and
he could see the beginning of a long bruise stretching down her arm. He didn't think Mizuki was strong - or lucky - enough to have caused that even if the two
of them had gotten into another fight. Rather, she looked as if she had just gotten back from a rough mission. "Are you all right?"
"Do I look all right? This is all his fault. If you're hiding him-"
"Please come in," Iruka said quietly, stepping aside. "I'll make you a strong cup of ration coffee. You look like you could use it."
She stalked past him, her eyes darting suspiciously around the living area. Iruka opened the door to his bedroom so she could see for herself that no one was
hiding in there. He wasn't insulted when she checked the bathroom as well. Her suspicion had faded by the time she came back out. She must have glanced in
the mirror while she was in there, because she was rubbing at the dried mud on the side of her neck. Iruka grabbed the tin from his pack and she followed him
quietly into the kitchen.
"I thought I was the only one who drank that stuff at home," she muttered, taking a tired seat at the table.
"It's all I have on hand," Iruka admitted, as he made them each a cup. "I've been taking a lot of missions lately, so I don't keep much here."
"If it's good enough for missions, it's good enough for home," she stated, as if repeating a personal motto. She took a sip, wrinkled her nose at the bitter flavor,
and then took a longer drink. The mug clacked hard on the table as she gave him a sharp stare. "You honestly don't know where he is?"
"No. I just returned from a mission last night. He stopped by for a few minutes and said he was meeting some people. Have you tried his apartment?" She
leaned back with an incredulous expression, and he blinked in surprise. "What?"
"You really don't know," she said, frowning at him. "He was kicked out over a month ago for not paying his rent. I figured he moved in with you. That's why I
came here. I helped him out on a mission last month in exchange for him helping me out on one of mine. I waited at the rendezvous point all night and he
never showed. He'll be lucky if I decide to beat the hell out of him instead of reporting this. Either way, he owes me forty thousand ryo for that mission. If you
see him before I do, you can tell him I expect cash. I won't count on another promise to team up with him."
Iruka's stomach churned and it was all he could do not to get up and pace. He'd been afraid something like this would happen. After finally making chunin he
had decided to strike out on his own. That meant his own missions and his own place. That also meant he would no longer be obligated to pick up the slack
when Mizuki decided to goof off. They had to be responsible for themselves at some point, and he had been more than ready. Obviously Mizuki wasn't. And
he'd be damned if he were going to help dig him out of whatever mess he was in now.
"I'll pass your message along," Iruka promised softly. "Were you still able to accomplish your mission without him?"
"No. It's a two person job." She eyed him expectantly, and glowered when he didn't take the bait. "I know you've been sticking with the solo distance jobs.
Genma says you're the reason there are never any breezes left for the rest of us. But this is a quick job, a few hours at most. I'll do all the dirty work. All you'd
have to do is act as a lookout for me." Her eyes narrowed resentfully. "I'll split the pay..."
Iruka grinned. "Half if there's trouble, ten percent if it goes smoothly."
"Deal," Anko said instantly. "Can you go now, or later this morning? I really want to get this done. I still don't have the best record around here, so the last
thing I need is a suspicious delay."
That meant the mission probably had to do with Sound. Iruka had heard all about her troubles as a genin, thanks to Mizuki's loose lips. As far as he was
concerned, that was none of his business. The Hokage wouldn't have promoted her to chunin if he didn't trust her. That was all he needed to know. "Let me
get packed and we can go now. Would you like a ration bar? It's not the tastiest breakfast, but it'll do in a pinch."
"Sure," Anko said, flashing a grin. "That's all I've got at home, anyway. I can't remember the last time I went shopping for anything other than mission supplies."
She was even worse than him. Iruka tossed her a bar and then shut himself in his room. He ate a bar himself as he dressed and repacked his vest. He hadn't
actually decided whether or not to get a new mission this morning, so this worked out well. They weren't likely to run into complications in the daylight so he'd
still be saving her money, and it had been a while since he'd last held a sentry position so it would be good practice for him. It would also postpone a
confrontation with Mizuki. If he lectured him, he'd be obligated to help him, and there was no point lending money to someone who was fully capable of taking
missions but who chose not to. That would just be enabling him. The only way to help Mizuki was to not help him at all. That didn't stop him from feeling guilty
about Anko. Mizuki had never said a decent word about her, so he was appalled to learn he had asked for her help during a mission. He had probably never
had any intention of returning the favor. That he had led her on to the point where she had waited for him in dangerous territory was reprehensible.
Two hours later, Iruka had transitioned from feeling sorry and responsible for the woman to being impressed by her. She was faster, but hadn't offered a
single complaint about having to match his pace. He could see why she might resent him taking so many of the B-rank transport missions. If her stamina
matched her speed, she could probably have done them faster. Her true talents lay elsewhere, though, so he didn't feel guilty for taking those missions. He
certainly couldn't have completed the one she was on. She was setting up a contact point for a surveillance team. He knew how to set up contact wards that
would enable a team to teleport directly to the spot, but she was tying those to seals he had never learned. The only one he recognized was the chakra
sensor, which would warn the team if anyone was in the area. Even if he had learned to place the seals, he couldn't have done it himself. They were being
placed underground by means of snake summons. She was one of the few shinobi in the village who had those and he hated that Mizuki had compromised a
mission only she could do.
His role was almost too easy. The only sign that anyone had been in the area recently was a furrow in a nearby embankment, which Anko reluctantly admitted
she had made after being spooked by an owl she had mistaken for a summon. There was a good reason these jobs were performed by two-man teams. Iruka
found and disposed of the bird, and erased the evidence of her mishap. He also located the spot half hidden in the brush where she had lain in wait for Mizuki.
It would have been a great place to hide without using any ninjutsu if it hadn't been the only place in the area thick enough to conceal a person. It was no
wonder she had eventually gotten spooked. With her tracks covered, Iruka did careful patrols of the area while she worked. He couldn't help but wonder what
sort of traffic the surveillance team would be watching for, and why they had picked this particular part of the border to monitor. He suspected there was more
to the mission than Anko had explained. She'd probably accomplished the solo portion herself last night before coming here to meet her backup.
His suspicions were confirmed when they returned to the village and she told him what ten percent amounted to. He'd unwittingly helped her with the back-end
of an A-rank mission. It was his very first A-rank mission and all he felt was disgust that Mizuki had known that and left her out there alone anyway. He felt
obligated to berate her for not telling him. He wasn't ready for A-rank missions and he knew that better than anyone. She didn't take the lecture well until she
realized he wouldn't accept more than the eight thousand that ten percent of an easy B-rank would have netted him. She laughed then, grinning and slapping
his back so hard he felt it through his vest. He served her another cup of overly strong coffee while he wrote up the report on his portion of the mission. She
left filthier than ever but in a much better mood. Iruka was in a better mood, too. He had technically cleaned up part of Mizuki's mess, but he hadn't done it for
Mizuki. He'd done it for a fellow shinobi. One he might very well look to the next time he was offered a mission that required a partner skilled at seals and
infiltration. He had an idea she wouldn't refuse so long as she received a reasonable share of the pay.
Once he'd cleaned up, he gave in and bought just enough groceries to have something other than rations for lunch. Then he set to work with a few seals of
his own. At their base they were standard, but he added plenty of his own touches. By the time he was done he admired his handiwork, confident even a truly
determined thief would balk at the seemingly chaotic web. Mizuki wouldn't stand a chance, of course. He had never had the patience for puzzles, especially
ones with trick answers. Iruka didn't kid himself that his work would do anything more than irritate and inconvenience a jounin, but if someone that skilled
wanted to raid his apartment there wasn't anything he could do about it, anyway.
It was late afternoon by the time he settled at his table with Kakashi's scrolls. He knew there was little chance of the man contacting him so soon, but he got a
thrill out of opening the little scroll and knowing the possibility existed. He was also excited to open the large scroll. All shinobi had a library, built from buying,
trading, and writing their own scrolls and books. Iruka had only a modest start to his own collection. He looked forward to expanding on it once he was working
at the Academy and had free access to their archives. All of the justus on Kakashi's scroll followed the same theme of storing, transporting, and summoning.
He immediately spotted one he would never have the chakra to perform on his own. Kakashi needn't have worried that he would burn himself attempting that.
He had excellent chakra control and was very aware of his limits. He could honestly boast that there was no waste involved in his ninjutsu. Except he would
never boast of that because it was only his average chakra reserves that had led him to be so efficient. He took note of the techniques that would suit him the
best, and then turned his attention to the jutsu Kakashi wanted him to learn. It started with the small scrolls, so the quickest way to learn would be to replicate
He studied the seals and practiced drawing the ones he was least familiar with. Then he memorized their arrangement. Once he was sure he had it down, he
drew them out on two blank scrolls of his own. Naturally his first attempt to transport a coin from one scroll to the other failed. At first he thought he had
messed up the amount of chakra he was using, since the scroll dictated only that more was required for larger objects. Finally he had to accept that he had
messed up somewhere while drawing out the seals. He couldn't find any flaws when he compared them individually against Kakashi's. But when he placed
them side by side he spotted the differences. He had just corrected the seals when someone pounded on his door for the second time that day.
He rolled up Kakashi's scrolls and hid them away. His own he slid under the bed where they could dry out of sight. Despite his initial rush, he took his time
answering the door. He had a good idea who it would be this time. He unlocked and opened the door to find a flushed and furious Mizuki fuming on his
"What the hell, Iruka?" Mizuki growled as he pushed his way past him and into the apartment. "I thought you were kidding about putting up a seal. If you didn't
want me teleporting in anymore, you could have just said so."
Iruka rolled his eyes as he shut the door. He had said so, on many occasions, and Mizuki knew it. "Touch my refrigerator and you'll lose your hand," he
warned. Mizuki sent him a scowl, but he bypassed the fridge to grab a cup of coffee instead.
"I knew you'd be pissy today," Mizuki muttered. He sat down and immediately spotted the little jar in the middle of the table. Iruka took it away before he could
raise it to his nose.
"It's blood and ink," he said reprovingly. "You can't be hungry enough to drink that even if you are broke."
Mizuki scoffed at that. "I'm not broke. You're the one scrimping and saving so much you can't even share your food with a guest. Which I guess I am now that
you've got me sealed out of here." He shook his head, giving him a disgusted look. "You hold a grudge worse than a woman."
"Speaking of women," Iruka said coldly, "Anko stopped by here this morning looking for you. She said you were supposed to have had a mission with her last
night, and that you owe her forty thousand ryo. She wants cash."
"The hell she does!" Mizuki choked and slammed the coffee cup down. "I don't owe that crazy bitch a damn thing! I can't believe she came running to you with
her bullshit. Did she happen to mention that she got me kicked out of my apartment?"
"She said you were kicked out for not paying your rent," Iruka sighed. "How could you let that happen?" Mizuki's apartment had been even worse than his, with
rent to match. He'd never find somewhere cheaper.
"I didn't," Mizuki snapped. "What, just because she's a woman you believe every word she says? You're so gullible it's pathetic, but you could at least give me
the benefit of the doubt as your friend. Two C-rank missions a month would cover the rent in that hellhole. You think I can't handle two C-ranks a month?"
"I know you could," Iruka said quietly, "if you were actually taking missions. But you're not, are you? That's why you didn't tell me you had lost your apartment."
"I didn't tell you because I knew you'd just worry and lecture me," Mizuki waved dismissively. "I'm staying with someone now. The only reason I'm not taking
missions is because he'd rather have me available than rich, if you know what I mean. It gives me more time to train, which is a lot more important to me than
making money right now." He gave him a pointed stare. "I have to make up for not passing the exam sooner, after all."
Iruka's lips pressed into a thin line, anger roiling in his gut. They had failed the chunin exam three years in a row and each time Mizuki had insisted it was his
fault. They would probably still be genin if they hadn't been separated in the final stage of the last exam. They simply couldn't work together at a chunin level,
and Iruka knew Mizuki was as much to blame for that as he was. That wasn't the point right now, though. No matter what circumstances had led to Mizuki losing
his apartment, that didn't change the fact that he had abandoned a comrade in a potentially lethal situation. "Were you aware that Anko's mission was an
"No, but I wouldn't have teamed up with her even if it were an S-rank mission after she got me thrown out of my place. Not that I believe they'd actually give her
an A-rank in the first place, or that she'd be stupid enough to expect me to help on one if they did. She helped me out with a simple B-rank mission, and I
offered to return the favor the next time she had one. If she really did expect to call in that favor on an A-rank mission, she's crazier than I thought."
"She did expect your help," Iruka informed him, "and she waited for you all night. You not only risked compromising her mission, you endangered her life. What
were you thinking? How could you do that? No matter what personal issues you have with her, you should have at least warned her that you wouldn't be there."
Mizuki's eyes narrowed, and he leaned over the table, his voice dropping. "I would have if I had known anything about her mission. But I didn't! We made our
deal over a month ago and I haven't talked to her since. She named the time and place, but she sure as hell didn't mention anything about it being an A-rank
mission. After she got me kicked out - without my security deposit, by the way - I naturally assumed the deal was off. You don't do that to someone and then
expect them to help you out. That's assuming anything she told you about her mission was true, which I doubt. They don't give A-rank missions to chunins,
especially ones who happen to be former traitors like her. Shit, Iruka, wise up a little. You can't believe every sob story you hear." His eyes widened suddenly.
"You didn't give her money, did you?"
"No," Iruka said, dropping his eyes with a frown. He was suddenly aware of the fact he hadn't asked to see Anko's mission scroll. He only had her word that
what they'd been doing was part of an official mission. And it was right on the border of Sound. He didn't want to suspect her when he knew so many others
did, but now that the seed had been planted he couldn't help but worry. He had given her his report. All she had to do to keep their actions a secret was to not
turn it in.
"Good," Mizuki sighed, sitting back down with a satisfied smile. "No self-respecting shinobi should be doing that crazy bitch any favors. I bet the only reason
she was able to get me kicked out is because she was fucking the landlord. She sure as hell dresses like a whore."
Iruka slammed his palms on the table, his eyes flashing as he shot to his feet. "One more comment like that and I will throw you out."
"Damn," Mizuki breathed, leaning away with a wince. "I'm sorry. I guess I forgot who I was talking to for a minute there. You've always been quick to defend the
ladies," he smiled weakly. "Not another word on the subject, I promise."
Taking his coffee cup, Iruka moved to the counter so Mizuki was at his back. He didn't want to look at him. As angry as he was at Mizuki for defaming Anko that
way, he was just as angry with himself for doubting her. All it had taken were a few insinuations from someone with a grudge against her. The worst part was
knowing he couldn't risk ignoring his doubts out of blind trust. If that mission didn't show up on his record he would have no choice but to assume he really had
been helping her weaken Fire country's border. He was torn between judging her unfairly and possibly hurting the village, and he couldn't blame Mizuki for
that. Standard procedure when joining someone on a mission was to check the mission scroll to make certain it contained the Hokage's seal. That was one of
the first things pregenin learned in the Academy. And to think, he fancied himself a teacher.
"So," Mizuki drawled, "I heard about your little trip to the bar last night."
Iruka groaned, knowing he didn't have the patience for this talk. He turned and folded his arms over his chest. "I'm not discussing that with you. Hurry up and
finish your coffee. I have to get to the mission office and you're not taking that mug with you. I only have three left as it is."
"Like you ever need more than two, anyway," Mizuki scoffed, rolling his eyes. "And of course you're going to the mission room. I'm just surprised you didn't do
it last night. Or maybe you couldn't walk straight enough to get there." He turned in his chair with a leering smirk. "Did it hurt?"
Everything in Iruka screamed at him not to ask, but his mouth moved anyway. "What?"
"Being fucked in the alley. You never could take it standing up and I bet the brick wall scraped the hell out of your palms. It must have hurt."
Iruka's hands curled into fists, digging painfully into his folded arms. "I didn't fuck anybody in the alley!"
Mizuki snorted. "That's not what he's saying. Really, Iruka, you could have at least picked someone who can keep his mouth shut. He said you promised not to
scream and then squealed so much the people walking by thought a pig was being slaughtered."
"He's lying," Iruka ground out, "and if you believed him you're as disgusting as he is."
Mizuki's face sobered swiftly. "I wouldn't have believed him if I didn't know for a fact you never came back here last night. If you weren't getting reamed in some
alley, where the hell were you?"
"Out," Iruka snapped. "The same place I'm about to throw you." He saw Mizuki's eyes narrow and wondered if he would have to make good on that threat. He
wasn't sure he'd be able to without damaging his apartment. While he had been busy with missions, Mizuki had been training. He had no idea what sort of
things he'd learned. He doubted a fight with him now would be anything like the immature scuffles they'd had as genin. Maybe it would be good for them,
though. Whether he won or lost, Mizuki dropped some of his bravado after a fight, making him much easier to deal with. "Is that what you want? A fight?"
Mizuki grinned suddenly, pushing away from the table. "It has been a while," he acknowledged with a wry laugh. "Your kitchen isn't the best place to get into it,
though. You'd probably make me replace anything we damaged."
"You know I would."
"Okay, okay. You don't have to throw me out. And don't worry about the rumors, either. I'll play damage control for you. Just stay away from the bar for a while,
okay? I can shut up that slob for you, but if you piss off one of the jounin you're on your own."
"I'd rather just let the rumors die out on their own," Iruka frowned. "I'm not going back to that bar, so people will find better things to talk about before long,
anyway." And Mizuki was still acting as if he thought the story might be true. His method of snuffing out the talk could just as easily feed the flames instead.
"Just leave it alone, please?"
"Well, if you're sure..."
"I am," Iruka said firmly.
"Fine, have it your way. Good luck at the mission office. I sure wouldn't want to go in there at this hour if I'd had a night like yours. If anyone gives you a hard
time, just remember it was your idea to go there, so you brought this on yourself."
"I know," Iruka muttered. Last night was worth being the butt of a ridiculous rumor. No one who actually knew him would believe it, anyway. The only reason
Mizuki believed it, if he really did, was because he wanted to be proven right. He locked the door behind Mizuki and hurried back to the bedroom. His scrolls
were dry, so he hid them away with Kakashi's. Then he left, heading straight for the mission office. He braced himself so he wouldn't worry too much if there
was no record of the mission. Plenty of people waited till the next day to turn in reports, especially if they had come back exhausted. He had the good part of
forty-eight hours before he could justify panicking.
The mission room was crowded, but much more relaxed than it had been last night. The Hokage often put in a shift in the mornings, so it would take a while
before the people manning the desk started cracking and the real frenzy began. Iruka kept to the back of the room and tried not to notice that a few people
were looking toward him. They were chunin, and the looks were more curious than mocking. They could easily be wondering why he had waited till late
afternoon to pick up a mission. Most of the people here at this hour were turning in reports, after all. He got in the far line reserved for inquiries and
corrections. It was the shortest but slowest moving line in the room. He had only gone forward two steps when he spotted someone making a beeline toward
him. He made out Genma's grin and stiffened his back just in time to be whacked on the shoulder. He'd never understand why some people chose to show
their amusement by hitting him. He shot the man a reproachful look, resisting the urge to rub the sting out.
"I should have known you'd be in here to see it in writing," Genma said teasingly. "They haven't updated records for the day yet, so you'll have to try again
tomorrow. Or next week, considering how behind they are around here. You should have come in with Anko earlier. She threw a real tantrum about that. This
was her fourth A-rank this month and she still hasn't been paid for the last two. She's bound and determined to make special jounin before the year's out. But
what's your story? I thought you were going to wait at least a year before trying your hand at an A-rank."
Iruka had stepped out of the line, and he didn't resist when Genma drew him off to the side. He was heady with relief, and feeling guilty as hell for having
doubted her in the first place. He would never forget to check the mission scroll again. "It was a spur of the moment decision," he said, in answer to Genma's
question. "Luckily she didn't end up needing my help for anything."
"Luckily," Genma repeated, giving him a knowing look.
Iruka knew he was referring to the streak of good luck he'd had with his missions so far. It was only a matter of time before his luck ran out and he encountered
trouble during one of them. "I know, luck only goes so far."
"Just so long as you remember that," Genma said seriously. Then he smiled again. "When you set out to turn heads, you don't do things by halves. Snubbing
a jounin, making a chunin piss himself, and then turning up on an A-rank with Anko first thing in the morning? No one's sure what to make of it. I have my
ideas, though. My guess is you finally broke up with Mizuki and now you're on the prowl. If chunin and jounin are out, what about a special jounin? I'd be happy
to keep you company until Anko gets her promotion."
"Oh, please," Iruka groaned, backing away before the teasing went too far. "You shouldn't listen to rumors." Though it sounded like the rumors Genma had
heard were at least closer to the truth.
"What rumors?" Genma demanded, as if he were insulted. "I got it straight from Kotetsu. You must have seen him at the bar last night. He sure saw you. He
said the look you turned on that chunin was so scary it's a wonder no one else had an accident. Not that I'm surprised," he grinned, clapping his palm on
Iruka's shoulder again. "I always knew you had it in you. No one with hair that tight could be as mild-mannered as you put on."
"I need to get in line for a mission," Iruka said uneasily. If he really had made that chunin wet himself, then it was no wonder the man was now lying about him.
There would be more buzz now that there were two versions of the story circulating. He decided to look on the bright side. If people assumed he had either
gotten together with that chunin or gone home alone to prepare for his mission with Anko, then no one would ever guess where he had actually spent the
night. He frowned when Genma caught his arm.
"They're all out of the missions you like," Genma explained. "In fact, Anko nabbed the last one on her way out."
"That figures," Iruka sighed with a weak smile. So they really were in competition for those missions. He wouldn't begrudge her this one, but he'd be back first
thing in the morning for any new ones that popped up. No shinobi could have more than three outstanding missions at a time, so it wasn't as if either of them
could really monopolize the breezes. "I guess I'll have to settle for a C this time."
"Or you could forget about nabbing a mission and have dinner with me instead. What? Did you think I wouldn't ask now that you're available?"
"I think I'd better stick with a mission," Iruka said, softening the rejection with a smile. "I'm not actually available, as you put it. Even if I were, you're a little
too...friendly for me."
Genma's brows lowered at that, though it was more of a pout than a glare. "Meaning what, you like 'em shy instead? Because Anko is not shy. Don't let that
little-girl blush of hers fool you. She can be downright sadistic when she sets her sights on something. Or just in general, for that matter..."
Iruka's eyes widened and he couldn't stop himself from asking. "You and Anko?"
Genma shifted uneasily, not meeting his eyes. "I never said that." He drew a senbon from his jacket and placed the tip in his mouth, where he had to talk
around it. "Anyway, let me know if you change your mind. Offer's open any time."
Bemused and curious, Iruka watched him walk away and disappear into the crowd the way so many special and regular jounin were prone to do. He would
never have guessed those two might have history. It was no wonder Genma had been so curious about his mission with her. Iruka was more curious about the
way he had mentioned Mizuki, though. He had told Genma, repeatedly, that they were not and had never been a couple, but the man had continued to tease
him about it. If he had known all it would take was one solo trip to the bar to convince him they weren't together, he might have done it months ago. Unless
Genma had only been fishing? He replayed the conversation as he waited in line. Genma could easily have been fishing with all the comments he had made
about Anko, and the bits about breaking up and turning heads had probably been meant to con a reaction from him. He didn't think he had said anything that
could be added to the rumor mill.
The angry looking chunin manning the desk scowled when Iruka asked him what sort of solo B-rank missions were left. This really wasn't the best time of the
day to be picky. Iruka quickly lowered his sights and left the mission room with two menial D-rank mission scrolls. The pay was next to nothing, but they would
have him spending the afternoon at the Academy, doing the same sort of work he'd be expected to do during his temp period. Unlike most people he knew, he
actually enjoyed cleaning up the back rooms and taking care of the equipment. Now that he was a chunin, these missions included sorting through the offices
for misplaced files and helping to sort incoming scrolls. Most chunin, himself included, only worked in the offices when there was nothing better available. He
didn't view that as an excuse to be sloppy, though. It just came around to hurt anyone trying to get a mission the next day, not to mention the payment delays
due to all of those misplaced files. He'd have to remember to keep an eye out for Anko's last two reports. If she really was aiming to be a special jounin, they
had probably been placed in that section by mistake.
He teleported back to his apartment, telling himself he did it to test how he'd set up his wards and not to avoid running into anyone on the walk back. There he
settled down to work with his scrolls again, tweaking the seals until he could transport a coin from one to the other easily. Ever so often he'd stop and stare at
Kakashi's open scroll, wondering what he was up to. As a jounin he undoubtedly did a lot of A-rank missions. The man could easily be undercover somewhere,
tracking an assassination target at this very moment.
Kakashi was in fact tracking a target at that very moment, but he knew better than to hope for it to end as smoothly as an assassination might have. Naruto
had once again skipped out on his training and as his father was currently occupied in the tower, it was left to Kakashi and a few select Anbu to track him
down. This was becoming a far too regular occurrence. The kid had all the enthusiasm and potential one could hope for, but he was still a six year old child at
heart. He had the energy for daily taijutsu workouts, and he honestly seemed to adore working with Jiraiya's toads. But the moment he was assigned someone
for chakra control or expected to sit through a lecture, he bolted. Each time he made it a little harder for them to find him, which was the main reason Minato
made no attempt to curb him. Kakashi understood why he would want to encourage him to hide better, given the kid's natural desire to stand out. These treks
through the village frayed his nerves, though. Just last week they had found him crawling out of one of the Anbu training grounds, singed and bloody from all
of the traps he had managed to set off while trying to get in there. Kakashi didn't know what to hope for this time, finding him in the market where his antics
would be met with exasperated resignation, or finding him at the Academy trying to pick a fight with boys twice his age. Either would be a minor irritant
compared to the more deadly places he was prone to wander.
Kakashi paused on a rooftop halfway between the Academy and the market. The other members of the guard turned search-squad were checking the training
areas Naruto had failed to make entry into, in case he had gone back for another try. Kakashi summoned his two fastest nindogs and kept his best tracker,
Pakkun, on hand in case they had to call in the help of an Inuzuka. He would be impressed if they did. Naruto still hadn't mastered the henge, and the only
time he covered his scent was when he crashed into a water source during one of his escapes. As far as Kakashi was concerned, the boy wasn't ready for the
rigorous training the Hokage was trying to give him. All Naruto wanted was to play with kids his own age, and while he was mature enough to understand that
doing so would place them at risk, that didn't stop him from seeking the attention he craved from civilians and pregenin and any stray shinobi he could catch
off guard during one of his romps through the village. He was getting quite a reputation for a child who had little officially sanctioned contact with the rest of the
village. Kakashi suspected Minato liked that. He kept him isolated and had him trained young for his own protection, but he didn't want him to turn introverted
and emotionally distant from the rest of the village. Kakashi could have told him there was little chance of that. Naruto was a born 'people-person' and if his
father wouldn't give him access to people, he would get it on his own. Leaving it to the rest of them to protect him from himself and minimize whatever damage
A few civilians scattered when Kakashi dropped to stand on one of the busiest streets. The sudden appearance of someone in full Anbu dress often had that
effect. A few shinobi eyed him warily as they hurried past, but the vendor across the street from him merely smiled and shook his head. Kakashi walked to him.
"You just missed him," the man grinned. "He went through about five minutes ago. Grabbed two of my riceballs, said mine were his favorite, and tossed me
some change. He's still overpaying for these."
"Take it as a compliment," Kakashi said bluntly.
"I do!" the vendor cried after him.
Kakashi took back to the rooftops, noting the lack of damage or confusion below. That meant Naruto had only been making a pit stop on his way somewhere
else. Classes had been over for hours at the academy, but he swept by there anyway. Sure enough, there were a few pieces of rice in the dirt below the swing
outside. Kakashi set down the brown pug dog that had been riding on his shoulder. Pakkun sniffed around, muttering about the sweet bean paste used in the
riceballs Naruto liked so much. As if he wasn't hyper enough without sweets. Then the dog took off around the side of the building. Kakashi passed him up,
stalking leisurely onto the little training area reserved for students. Naruto was pouting at one of the pock-marked targets, his arms folded over his chest.
"I can throw better than that," he grumbled, shooting a resentful look over his shoulder at Kakashi.
"Take it up with your father," Kakashi said flatly. "Let's go."
Naruto refused to follow him to the rooftops, so they walked down the darkening streets. Bright-eyed and smug at having gotten his way, the boy looked at
everyone they passed, grinning or waving at anyone who offered him a smile. He glowered at the ones who didn't, and glared after the few who ignored him
entirely. Kakashi was sure only his presence kept the kid from charging after these last few in a fit of mischief. He'd definitely gotten that from his mother. Once
they'd left the heart of the village, Naruto picked up the pace. The rest of the guard had caught up and he knew better than to try sneaking off at night. He had
only tried that once, and although the attempted kidnapping had quickly been halted by his Anbu guard, the experience had left him cowed for weeks. Kakashi
suspected it wasn't the scare that had upset him so much as his father's disappointment and seeing the injuries his guard had sustained while protecting him.
The brat was willful and impatiently defiant, but he came from good stock and it showed.
Kakashi left them safely within the sheltered acres set aside for the Hokage's family, and set out for the tower. Once he'd detailed Naruto's latest escape, he
hoped to get an assignment more attuned to his skills. There were a few missing nin he'd been hearing about that he really wanted a crack at. One that had
been rising in the sheets was targeting kids as young as his own wayward charge, using them for a particularly gruesome forbidden jutsu. He would wave the
pay for a chance to hunt that one. His Anbu name was Hound, after all.
A scuffle broke out in the Academy training ground during the midday break the following day. Iruka and the other chunin working in the back rooms hurried
out to help the teachers break it up. He had heard about these incidents, but this was his first time witnessing one. The Hokage's little blonde son was every bit
the firecracker people said he was. Despite his small size, the teachers had a difficult time holding him back. Iruka noticed the two older boys he had drug off
the pile were a lot less eager to get back into it. They were eager to get away, however. There was a lot of yelling and finger pointing, as even those who had
not been involved in the fight were eager to place blame. An older girl marched into the fray and placed a kiss on the struggling blonde's cheek. He
immediately froze and turned bright red. A hush fell over the kids, interrupted only by a few sighs and giggles from the girls and grumbling from the other boys
who'd taken part in the fight. The teachers were just starting to get to the bottom of the mess when two Anbu arrived to escort the suddenly meek blonde boy
away. By the time Iruka went back inside, the teachers were the ones whispering like excited pregenin.
"Isn't he just the cutest thing?" cooed the woman who'd been helping Iruka clean the equipment. "He looks just like his father, and he's such a little hero! You
know, the boys have been teasing that poor girl all year, just because she's maturing quickly. He must have heard them bullying her."
"He's not supposed to be near school grounds," one of the subs muttered. He hurried to finish filling a pouch with kunai for his class before the break ended.
"There's trouble every time he shows up. I say if he wants to go to the Academy that badly they should just sign him up already."
"He's much too young," the woman said disapprovingly. "He's bound to graduate right away, and then he'll never get to know his peers."
"As if he'll have any. Did you see him? Not a scratch on him. If that had been a real fight instead of a brawl he could have killed someone. They should either
enroll him so he has to behave like any other student, or keep him out for real. I'm going to have a hell of a time making my class concentrate after that scene.
As if subbing wasn't bad enough without that brat showing up."
The woman turned to Iruka, her voice dropping as she watched the angry man storm out. "He's just mad because he's been stuck as a sub for the last two
weeks. He really messed up on his last mission, so he'll probably be assigned to sub for the rest of the month."
Iruka shook his head, not wanting to encourage her. "We should get back to work. I'll be putting in a few hours in the mission filing room as soon as I'm done
"Oh, we'll have this done in no time," she smiled. "It's much easier with two people. Not that I mind this assignment. I love cleaning weapons and repairing the
nicks. My father has his own shop, so I get plenty of practice. But usually the students help out so there isn't as much work to do. The older ones are too close
to exams now and the younger ones, well," she lifted a badly sanded kunai, "they haven't quite learned how to do it yet."
Now that she was content to talk about herself and the work they were doing, Iruka let her ramble. It was nice to see someone who didn't resent putting a few
hours into helping out here. She only took missions to supplement her father's business, which she planned to take over for him once he was ready to retire.
Of course, since her father supplied most of the practice weapons used by the Academy, she had an invested interest in ensuring they resisted wear and tear
as well as advertised. By the time Iruka parted ways with her, it was with a promise to stop by her father's shop the next time he needed to acquire new
weapons. He didn't believe her guarantee of a discount, but he had seen for himself the quality of their work.
His time in the filing room went much more smoothly. Not only did he locate Anko's reports, he found one of his own in the genin files, and a dozen more that
had been listed as missing. He also had a new appreciation for how easy it was to misplace things as he watched harried shinobi drop off stacks of the day's
take without sticking around to make sure they were filed correctly. That was left to the next shift, who were too busy handing out missions to make sure the
stacks they filed were presorted properly. It was an organizational nightmare. As much as Iruka enjoyed feeling useful and needed, it was much quicker to
simply take charge. The chunin out front were quite willing to let him take over the filing for the rest of his shift, and when his reluctant replacement showed up
he conned him into picking up where he had left off. He hung around for a while, not wanting to see the afternoon's work degenerate into chaos again. He
might have lingered longer if one of the special jounin assigned to delivering freshly sealed scrolls hadn't spotted him.
"If you're looking for a regular position, apply at the tower," the man informed him.
"I'm not," Iruka said quickly. "I was just putting in a few hours."
"Can't afford it, huh?" The man smiled knowingly. "It helps to have a day job."
"I'll consider it when I get one," Iruka assured him with a laugh. He had actually already considered doing just that. A few of the full-time teachers put in an
evening shift in the mission room. He planned to apply during his temp period when he'd be restricted to the village and every cent he could bring in would
supplement his savings. He was still a long way from that, though. He went home and wrote up his reports over a quick lunch-slash-dinner. Then he was right
back in the mission room.
The evening crowd was gathering en masse, and Iruka was halfway up the line before he realized it was manned by the same chunin he'd spoken to
yesterday. With all of the shinobi the man had seen since then, maybe he wouldn't remember him. Iruka was determined not to leave with anything less than a
solid C-rank mission. He handed in his report and once again asked if there were any solo B-ranks available. He knew from the man's face that there were
none, and that the man definitely did remember him.
"No," the chunin snapped. "If you're going to be particular, come first thing in the morning."
"I have one," the man in the seat next to him said cheerfully. "I saved it for you," he told Iruka with a wink, "as thanks for helping us out today."
"Thank you," Iruka said, blinking in surprise. "And you're welcome." He heard the first man mutter about 'preferential treatment' as he hurried away. If one of
the people out front appreciated his efforts enough to do him a nice turn, that was just fine with him. There were plenty of shinobi who loitered around the
mission room day after day hoping for the sort of missions they liked best. Any of them could have spent the last few hours helping instead of standing around.
Genma was a perfect example. Iruka couldn't figure out when the man found time for missions. It seemed every time he came in here the man was hanging
around, just talking to people. Maybe he worked as an undercover T&I nin and was here to gather information. Trying not to be spotted, Iruka ducked out on
the other side of some entering shinobi. As silly as the idea of Genma being an open plant was, there was also a ring of truth to it. The man certainly made it a
point to know everyone's business. Iruka had no intention of offering himself up for another fishing expedition so soon.
A few hours later, Iruka was ready to leave. He had finished off his perishables and placed some nasty traps over the cabinets, just in case Mizuki decided to
pick the front lock and brave his new wards for a foraging trip. The last thing he did was hide away Kakashi's scroll. He had practiced with his own for hours
last night, and gone to sleep with Kakashi's open on the floor beside his bed. That seemed foolish now. The entire point of partners of convenience was that
they be convenient. He couldn't sit around and wait for Kakashi to contact him any more than he would expect Kakashi to sit around waiting for him. It was only
a matter of time before their schedules and needs matched up, and then he'd see him again.
Kakashi missed his target by a few hours. He arrived at the scene just in time to interrupt the disposal team. The Mist team was a long way from home, but only
because their missing nin had been. They let him linger long enough to confirm that the job had been done, though they refused to say who they had hired to
perform it. Since they were on neutral territory, Kakashi left them to their work. It was just as well they had gotten to him first. He would have been obligated to
deliver the remains to Mist and despite their tenuous truce, Konoha shinobi weren't exactly welcome there. He still resented that they had allowed the man to
stray so far before taking him out. It wasn't as if Konoha didn't have enough trouble without worrying about rogues. There were rumors of a possible
underground alliance between Sand and Sound that the Hokage was particularly eager to get to the bottom of. They were already taking steps to increase
their watch on the Sound border, but there were no precautions they could take against Sand. They were too deeply involved in mutual ventures with Sand to
put them under surveillance as well. The Kazekage continued to insist the rumors were nothing more than scare tactics being presented by their common
enemy. So long as Sand continued to publicly deny any dealings with Sound, all they could do was wait. Kakashi did his own waiting at a respectful distance
from the disposal team. He would see them on their way before heading back to the village. He was sure the Mist team expected no less.
Iruka had known the mission would be more complicated than his usual ones when he was required to have an identification seal placed on him at the T&I
building beforehand. Rather than a delivery, he was to rendezvous with a stationary team and pick up their progress report. Just finding the designated
rendezvous point was difficult since it was on the outskirts of Wind country and, honestly, the sandy terrain all looked the same to Iruka. He lingered for nearly
a day wondering if he was in the wrong spot before he realized the team had merely been reluctant to break cover in front of him. In the end he couldn't have
said exactly where they had been hidden, though he suspected he might have walked right over them at one point or another. He was handed a heavily
warded scroll by a grim-faced jounin, and then he started back. The complications began almost immediately.
He gained his first tail purely by accident. It was a small three-man team of unidentified shinobi who had been covering their progress over the open sand as
carefully as him, or as poorly depending on the judge. Iruka would have liked to believe he had noticed them first, but in reality they probably noticed each
other at the same moment. The team immediately veered off and Iruka did the same. He headed for the border where the terrain suited him better, while they
went deeper into the desert. They didn't go far, though. They must have decided a lone shinobi was worth investigating because two of them doubled back
before he could lose sight of them in the haze. They followed casually, making no attempt either to close the distance or to hide their pursuit. That meant their
third member was likely circling around in an attempt to get ahead of him. Iruka maintained his speed, resisting his first instinct to run all out. If their third
member was circling around, the only way for him to come out alongside or ahead of him would be for the man to cut through the edge of Rain territory. Iruka
had intended to cut away diagonally so as to avoid that border altogether. Just because he hadn't spotted any squads on his way past earlier didn't mean they
hadn't spotted him. He was sure only the current lack of open hostilities between their villages had kept them from interfering on his first pass. This time he
would be passing much closer.
When it came, the ambush was pathetic. The man looked as if he had run into an ambush of his own or, more likely, set off some nasty traps while rushing
through enemy territory. If it hadn't been for the two men closing in from behind, Iruka would have avoided a confrontation. He didn't know who they were, so
he didn't want them following him into Fire country. He took their leader out, and it was the closest thing to a mercy killing he had ever performed as a shinobi.
There was no satisfaction in it whatsoever. He immediately bolted, letting the other two believe he was aiming for an escape. The two men paused over their
fallen comrade, and Iruka took shelter behind a rocky outcrop near the mouth of the bottleneck canyon they had hoped to trap him in. He only paused there
for a moment, just long enough to see them fall into his own trap. All he spotted was a flash of metal as a single Rain shinobi swept down on them. This time
Iruka bolted for real.
He picked up his second tail a day into Fire country. For the first hour he worried that the Rain shinobi might have decided he was worth pursuing. But that
shinobi could have easily taken him out before he reached Fire country if he had wanted to. This tail was more raggedly stubborn than anything. He couldn't
lose them with false trails, and they didn't set off any of the traps he seeded along his path. At one point he risked doubling back to force a confrontation, only
to have them vanish into hiding. It was apparent they were trying to run him down until he succumbed to exhaustion and was easy prey. If he hadn't been so
close to Konoha he would have gone into hiding himself and left them no choice but to attack now or risk him recovering. At his top speed he was only a few
hours away. He couldn't justify risking his mission when all he needed was a quick boost to reach the village.
He disliked chakra pills on principle. They were expensive and the momentary benefits rarely outweighed the strain they placed on one's body. They were only
really useful for those performing jutsus that would be physically impossible otherwise. But it was standard procedure for anyone on a solo mission to have a
supply handy if necessary. He had to admit a pill was necessary now. His speed missions hadn't prepared him for a sleepless day after day marathon. Even if
his pursuers were as weak as they appeared to be, he might still struggle in his current condition. He didn't for a moment consider that he might lose, let alone
die. One didn't think like that during a mission. But he knew a fight would certainly leave him in no condition to safeguard the scroll he'd been entrusted with. If
he didn't eat a pill now, he'd be taking two or three of them later.
The sudden boost got him back into the trees, not quite at his fastest pace but a huge improvement nevertheless. He still had difficulty concentrating, but he
wasn't worried about bursting the bark on a few of his landings. His pursuers had probably been tracking his scent all along. Despite his increase in speed, he
was less than an hour from the village when they finally gave up. He didn't slow down, knowing once he stopped his body would begin to crash hard and fast.
He dropped to the ground only when he was within sight of the walls. He barely acknowledged the sentries as he passed through the gate. Reality was setting
in almost as fast as the exhaustion. He'd learned his lesson. Whether Genma had jinxed him or his luck had run out, he knew he'd come too close to failing this
mission. He should have brought someone along as backup or settled for a lower ranking mission. Most importantly, he needed more training. It was all good
and well to supplement his chakra in a pinch, but it didn't help much when he couldn't concentrate enough to fight. Or walk straight, for that matter. He stepped
shakily out of the thoroughfare and then teleported to his apartment. He wrote his mission report automatically and trudged back out to turn in both it and the
scroll he had picked up. He dropped the scroll off at the front desk of the T&I department as ordered, and then stood in line for a half an hour in the evening
crush of the mission room. He barely had the forethought to wait until he was back outside before teleporting straight to his bedroom. He took off his vest and
forehead protector, opened Kakashi's scroll with a tired smile, and then crawled into bed fully clothed. He wasn't even aware that he had fallen asleep with the
It felt as if he had barely closed his eyes before he suddenly became aware of a presence. He bolted upright. In the back of his mind he was surprised and
pleased that he could still react so quickly. That was marred when he recognized Kakashi and realized from his stance that he could have been standing there
for a while before he had noticed him. His eyes dropped to the scroll on the floor to see what sort of object Kakashi had sent, hoping to understand why he
had failed to notice its arrival. He was confused to find the scroll closed. He looked back to Kakashi just in time to see him frown.
After watching the man sleep the sleep of the dead or drugged for the last hour, Kakashi didn't expect him to be lucid enough for a lecture. He couldn't help
his frown any more than he could help regretting how wary and disappointed Iruka was to see it. He had been trying to contact him for the last three days. He
had even considered finding out what sort of mission he was on, once he realized the chunin was probably away from the village. With Iruka's facial scar, he
wouldn't need his last name to do a little investigating. He had been confident Iruka would make himself available as much as possible, at least in the
beginning, and not being able to reach him had worried him. He didn't like knowing his worry had apparently been justified.
"You're only supposed to open the scroll when you're available," Kakashi said quietly. "When you're too exhausted to notice an intruder, you're not available."
Meaning Kakashi really had been there for a while. Iruka flushed and pushed the cover aside so he could sit up properly. What he was about to say would
have sounded more believable if he had taken the time to remove his sandals before getting into the bed. "I am available. I'm sorry I didn't notice when you
contacted me, but I'm glad to see you." In truth, he felt heavy and groggy and filthy, but he never felt his best immediately following a mission. Who did? He
would still rather spend some time with his partner than be alone. "You should have woken me sooner."
Kakashi hadn't intended to wake him at all. He still wasn't sure what had startled him awake so suddenly. He might have sighed audibly, but he doubted it.
More likely, Iruka had simply reacted the moment he had recovered enough to notice him. "What sort of mission were you on?" It had occurred to him that
Iruka was unlikely to contact him right away, even if he wanted to see him. Perhaps he had fallen asleep while trying to build up the courage to contact him for
the first time.
Iruka wasn't sure what to make of the question. All missions were classified by default. Many genin talked openly about E and D rank missions, and some
chunin had no qualms about sharing the details of C's now and then. But no one was foolish enough to disclose the details of a B-rank mission, especially to
someone of a higher rank. He shifted uncomfortably, hoping this was a slip on Kakashi's part rather than a test of his discretion. "You know I can't discuss that."
Kakashi blinked in surprise. He hadn't expected him to be such a strict adherent to the rules. He was only a chunin. It wasn't as if he were doing highly
classified A and S-rank missions. "I do have the clearance to find out for myself," he informed him. That came out more patronizing than he had intended, so
he was surprised when Iruka smiled.
"In that case, we can discuss it once you've found out for yourself," Iruka offered teasingly.
Iruka had assumed he was joking. Kakashi tried not to be exasperated. "Alright, then. Grab some fresh clothes. I'll treat you to a bath and a meal at my place
when I get back."
Iruka gaped when he abruptly found himself alone in his room. He slid off the bed sluggishly, and not just because his limbs resented having to move. The
mission room was bound to be closed by now. As far as he knew even jounin didn't have access to the back rooms after hours. The only ones he knew for
sure had that sort of clearance were members of the T&I division, who were tasked with investigating Konoha's ninjas as a matter of course. Kakashi certainly
had none of the sadistic tendencies of the T&I hopefuls he had met. He supposed Kakashi could be more into the intelligence side of the field, but he
preferred to believe his clearance came from something completely unrelated. Perhaps he worked in administration or was one of the elite jounin assigned to
the Hokage tower. Either position required extra discretion and a naturally high clearance. Or maybe he was over-thinking things. Even chunin working the
mission room had a higher clearance than he did, simply because they had to know the general parameters of the missions in order to hand them out
accurately, and they had to be trusted not to read the reports for the high ranking missions. He knew S-rank reports were sealed, but he didn't think the
A-rank ones were. If the chunin manning the desk had clearance to handle those then maybe even average jounin had access to B-rank mission reports.
He decided to find out later. There was bound to be detailed information on security clearances in the library, and even if he never worked in the mission room
himself it was the sort of thing an Academy teacher should know inside and out. He was suddenly curious why none of his teachers had bothered to broach
the topic. They had barely spent a month on the inner workings of the village, and what he had picked up since was more rumor and guesswork than fact.
Then again, he hadn't exactly been the best student in his class, so he couldn't complain too much if his teachers had chosen to gloss over topics they weren't
to be tested on. If it weren't for Kakashi, he wouldn't even be thinking about clearance levels at this stage. He was barely a chunin. He had a long way to go
before he could be trusted with vital information. This mission had proven that quite nicely.
He was sitting on the edge of his freshly made bed, a change of clothes in his lap, when Kakashi returned. As soon as he saw his expression, he stood up. He
wasn't about to take recriminations from him sitting down. If Kakashi had read his report then he knew about his shoddy performance and the needless risks
he had taken. He was fully prepared to own up to his mistakes and didn't need to have them pointed out to him. "I should have taken someone with me. I
realize that now."
"You shouldn't have had a choice in the matter," Kakashi said flatly. Iruka hadn't even known who he was meeting with or why. "As a solo run that should have
been classified as an A-rank mission. The only way it could possibly qualify as a B is if it required a three-man team led by an experienced jounin with full
knowledge of the situation." He could hardly believe the man had come so close to direct contact with a Rain shinobi while carrying a scroll detailing all of the
information their team had gathered on them after nearly a year of surveillance. Even if he hadn't been personally invested in Iruka's safety, he would still
have been outraged by the blow the village would have faced had that scroll fallen into Rain's hands. And all because of a clerical error? He didn't believe that
any more than Ibiki had when he'd handed over both the original mission scroll and Iruka's report. It would be investigated thoroughly. Kakashi was particularly
interested to know who had placed the identification seal on Iruka without wondering why a single inexperienced chunin would be tasked with such a mission.
The only saving grace was that the scroll Iruka had obtained had gone straight to T&I where it belonged. "It was a mistake."
"Oh," Iruka sighed. That didn't excuse his own shortcomings, but he was relieved to know he wasn't entirely to blame. "This was the first mission I've done
where I honestly felt I wasn't qualified for it," he admitted quietly. "If my pursuers had been stronger, I wouldn't have been able to protect the scroll by myself. I
really need to train more, both in combat and hiding."
"It's just as well that you ran straight through," Kakashi sighed. He had to let go of his anger, otherwise Iruka would probably beat himself up just to keep him
from bothering. "If the second pursuit was a Sound team, they would have found you by your heartbeat no matter how well you hid." The man had only been a
chunin for three months and according to Ibiki he was already making a name for himself by snatching up every solo B-rank he could get his hands on.
Shinobi burned out fast doing that. If this mission caused him to slow down then at least some good would come from it. "Come on, let's go to my place." He
would coddle and feed him, and then let him sleep it off in his bed. He had an idea that was what Iruka needed the most right now, and as his partner it was
both his obligation and right to service that need. That he looked forward to doing so was merely a perk.