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Sanctuary for Flames

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The plastic door was dimpled from the elements, the bright red pigment faded to dull rust-and-pink. No sign hung above the building, just a single symbol seared into the top of the door jam: a dolphin reading a book with a stylized mug on the cover. A long slash had been melted through the dolphin’s face, as if the artist’s hand slipped. Kakashi almost thought the swirling interior and chipped rim of the mug looked familiar, if he squinted, but it could have been coincidence. It had to have been. It wasn’t a poorly hidden ode to the Konoha leaf.

Even in the Slums, no one would advertise support for the former regimes. Not if they wanted to live.

It didn’t matter. Kakashi couldn’t walk much further, not in his current state, and the streets had eyes.

The door creaked on it’s hinges, the soft electronic ding an almost surprising sign of technology compared to the barren exterior. It was early enough for the sun to be high in the sky, filtering warm light through the windows, highlighting swirling dust motes that indicated either a broken, ancient, or absent filtration system. The place was sparsely decorated, with shoddy tables and rickety chairs that bore years of abuse and strange wax stains—but it was mostly clean, and blissfully empty.

Neither of those things would last for long.

“What can I get for you?” The man behind the counter asked.

It was too early for a bar to be open, but Kakashi didn’t think patrons were common enough for anyone to be complaining about a paying customer. That was good, for his own sake—although, he realized in the next second, he didn’t have a Currency Chip on him. Assassination and concealed identities and all that.

Not paying, after all.

Shit. He didn’t want to kill anyone else today. The guy looked like a civilian, with kind eyes and knitted sweater, but he wouldn’t have survived running a bar in the Slums if he couldn’t take care of the occasional violent straggler or pissed off guard.

Luckily, even half-dead, Kakashi was a bit more skilled than either of those. He should be able to knock the man out without permanent damage, even with the ten pounds of muscle those broad shoulders had on him. Hopefully. Probably. Kakashi wasn’t sure how well he would do controlling his strength while fighting broken ribs and a stab wound. Best to try to talk it out first. They should have a few minutes. If nothing else, perhaps he could lure the man close enough to knock him out in a single blow.

Kakashi let the door swing shut behind him. He intended to walk forward, to take a proper seat at one of the barstools, but his knee, dislocated only a few hours earlier, complained by refusing to support his weight. A single step, a sick pop and racketing pain, and he fell back into the wall, ass landing hard against the railing. The twist of broken ribs punched a sharp breath through Kakashi’s teeth.

The bartender’s gaze shifted from placid, to concerned, to wary.

Not a complete idiot, then.

The luring was looking less likely.

The man was young, probably mid-twenties, with tanned skin and dark hair tied up in a ponytail that Kakashi didn’t think was fashionable on this planet. It was practical, though, keeping it out of his face as he wiped down a glass. Kakashi could respect pragmatism. Expressive brown eyes took in Kakashi’s concealing leather duster, steel-toed boots, the mask around the lower half of his face that would have been reasonable on Suna, but not on the lush green surface of Konoha. The scarf over his left eye marked him immediately as a Slummer, but Kakashi was banking on that.

A long scar bisected the man’s face, and Kakashi realized the dolphin wasn’t a mistake after all.

Kakashi would call him Iruka, then.

Iruka was looking at him expectantly, features slipping closer to distrust with every moment Kakashi didn’t respond.

Well. Given his fall and the warm blood he could feel trailing down his calf, there wasn’t much he could hide. He wasn’t going to be able to masquerade as a casual customer now.

“Sanctuary.”

Iruka’s eyes widened and his fingers clenched tightly around the glass.

Kakashi hoped he wasn’t planning on using it as a weapon. Broken glass was a hassle to get out of his hair.

“That’s a tall order.” Iruka said finally. “You got any way to pay for that?”

Kakashi thought about it for a moment, and the two Dimension-Seals on his belt. One for Pakkun, one for his target. Or his target’s corpse, at least, which was too dangerous to leave laying around unattended. “I have a Cyhound.”

Iruka brows raised almost comically high, but the man answered soberly. “I don’t need a dog.”

“Good, you can’t have him. But you can pet him. His paws are very soft.”

Kakashi was starting to think he had a concussion, from the weird, swirling-cottony feeling throughout his body, but he didn’t think he had gotten hit in the head, and his brain was probably still kept up there. Last time he checked. Maybe blood loss, then.

Iruka’s face twitched in multiple different ways, and his hands slowly lowered to the table, setting down the glass. Kakashi watched closely in case he reached for another weapon. He didn’t think fighting was going to be necessary, but a good assassin was always paranoid.

Strangely, the sudden blaring of the village’s defense sirens didn’t seem to be Iruka’s primary concern. He frowned disapprovingly, as if Kakashi had suggested he use a dinner napkin to wipe off his boots. “This is a food service establishment.”

“Oh.” He could almost see the man in a prim teacher’s uniform, slapping hands with rulers. “You probably won’t be happy about the blood, then.”

Iruka’s stare flickered down to the floor, and Kakashi used the moment to force his body to lumber forward. Kakashi could barely keep his good eye focused, but he had seen enough of both the building and owner to feel fairly confident about his next actions.

Staggering to the left, Kakashi managed a few steps and threw open a storage pantry. He scanned the space, taking in crates of potatoes, gallons of oil, and barrels of various alcohols. And writing slates with a bin of half-used chalk. What sort of bar needed school supplies?

Not a Royal one, not under Danzō, and that was good enough for now.

“What the hell are you—”

Kakashi kicked the door shut behind him, almost catching Iruka in the nose, and practically fell forward. Landing on his knees with a hefty thump, a shock of pain jarred him with such ferocity that he froze for a half-second before resuming his task.

Pain was not a primary concern.

Crimson stained the cement floor from his soaked-through shirt.

That was much higher on his list. Not the blood, but the fact that it wasn’t currently inside of his body nearly as much as it should be.

Kakashi idly noted that the abdominal wound would take at least eight sutures (he didn’t know anyone other than Asuma even used Compressed Wind Blades anymore, but apparently Danzō was a believer in tradition). He dragged a hefty bag of something—onions, probably, by the smell—over the trail, smearing the blood and disguising the lingering stain with dust and dirt.

Iruka started to open the door again just as Kakashi scooted into the corner, pulling the sack in front of him.

Ducking down knocked the breath from his lungs, jostled his ribs (this would not be an opportune time for a punctured spleen, but what could he do?), tore at his belly, and no doubt ripped the soon-to-be-grisly-scar-if-he-survived-that-long another few centimeters open. Kakashi presses a gloved hand against the wound, but applying pressure was useless in his position.

On the bright side, bleeding out would take longer than dying at the hands of the Royal Guard.

The door to the pantry snapped closed, and Kakashi peered around the sack. The room was devoid of life, so Iruka must have stayed on the other side.

The soft ping of an electric bell chimed in the main room.

There was noise after that, voices and brisk orders and a sneer that felt like the gallon of corn oil digging into Kakashi’s shoulder was sliding down his throat. It was all Kakashi could do to focus on not retching, both from the physical pain and the nasty remnants of adrenaline and Soldier Injections littering his system. Gagging would be suspicious for a bag of root vegetables.

He couldn’t focus well enough to make out individual words, but he managed to slide the scarf from his robotic eye with trembling fingers. There were no windows or light in the pantry, meaning he would need his thermal vision if it came down to a fight. He reached into his pocket and palmed his chidori in the other hand, thumb pressing against the small silver switch, ready to flip. The sound would give away his position in an instant if he turned it on, but he had nothing else on him that would cut through three guards at once.

He would have to be quick, if Iruka ratted him out.

Seconds ticked by, then Kakashi heard the nasty impact of knuckles against flesh, but there were no sounds of pain. Heavy boots stomped on the floors, sending vibrations all the way to Kakashi’s positions. The pantry door slammed open. Kakashi tensed, muscles bunching, waiting with bated breath for five hummingbird heartbeats.

The guard retreated.

Then, they were gone.

Somehow, miraculously, Kakashi had gotten his first lucky break since finding a place to stash Naruto after the Land of Waves fiasco.

He did it.

His job was done.

Now it was up to Genma’s team to put the last legitimate Senju back on the throne. The automatic hit on Kakashi’s head might even be waived before the week was through, though he knew better than to bank on it. Tsunade would have more important things on her mind for the next few days, like a coup to complete and a village to stabilize.

The illegitimate Senju’s patience wouldn’t hold out forever, though, so Kakashi needed to live. Needed to find a ship, pick up Naruto before Tenzō decided he would be of more use as a whiskered paperweight (not that Kakashi disagreed, but, well, former King’s son and all that). Kakashi had to get back, had to take care of Naruto, and his pack, maybe pick up the pieces if Genma’s side of the plan went FUBAR. He had to survive—

One pair of soft footsteps approached the closet door.

“The Royal Guard doesn’t go after petty criminals.”

Kakashi pushed the sack of onions. A few fell out of the opening, rolling across the floor to knock dust off the wall. Kakashi did his best to curve his eye into a smile in response to the impressive glare on Iruka’s face.

He must have looked worse than when he came in, because Iruka’s gaze rested on his scar and his next words were significantly softer, less damning than the migraine already splitting Kakashi’s skull.

“What did you do?” Iruka asked quietly, kneeling in front of him.

He looked worse, too, Kakashi could see from this distance. His full lower lip was split, vivid red already starting to blossom on his jaw. The sound Kakashi heard must have been a right-hook from a guard. Iruka’s tongue darted out nonchalantly to gather blood before it could spill down his chin, as if he enjoyed the thick cloy of iron and salt every day.

That thought was more intriguing than it had any right to be.

Kakashi tried to focus on Iruka’s hand as it reached out, biceps tensing even as he decided it was more important to keep pressure on his abdominal wound than to stop whatever Iruka was going to do with one, empty, ink-stained hand.

The bartender (or was he?) gently pulled the sash down over Kakashi’s glowing red iris.

“Nothing you would have a problem with.” Kakashi’s voice came out garbled, but Iruka seemed to understand. His brows furrowed.

“How can you be sure?”

Wheezing where he might have once chuckled, Kakashi fumbled in one of his side pouches for his medkit. It was sparse after too long without replenishment, but it would have to do. Iruka tugged his coat to the side to allow more room for clumsy fingers.

“You a big supporter of Danzō’s regime?” Kakashi asked, entirely rhetorical.

Iruka’s warm hand brushed Kakashi’s waist as he tugged the entire pouch loose from the belt, apparently deciding expediency was more important than personal space. For once in his life, Kakashi agreed.

“Why do you think I’m not?” Iruka grabbed Kakashi’s hand to press his right index finger to the medkit’s lock. Kakashi had reprogrammed the kit so that any of his fingers would actually do—he didn’t want to run the risk of a simple amputation keeping him from life-saving medical supplies, after all, and if an enemy had access to any of his fingers, chances were they had all of them—but this wasn’t the time to brag. Plus, Iruka’s skin was surprisingly soft.

“The scar.” Kakashi had a feeling Iruka was trying to keep him talking now because moving him would be easier if he was conscious. The man was going to get an unpleasant surprise if that was the case. Kakashi’s limbs were going numb, and he wasn’t sure he could support an ounce of his own weight if he tried. His tongue still worked, though, which Tenzō would have said was unfortunate.

“If you were Danzō’s, you woulda been part of Orochimaru’s body mod experiments to fix ‘damaged goods’.” It was part of how Danzō had risen to power: offer the latest craze of robotic surgeries to rich bastards, in exchange for currency to buy weapons; or kidnap those who didn’t have clout using the slimmest of pretenses, such as physical imperfections, and perform biological experiments on their bodies to create weapons.

Weapons, weapons, all day long.

Kakashi continued. “You’d be a brain-dead weapon, actually dead, or a pretty pretty princess.” Not that Iruka wasn’t pretty as it was, just, not the fake kind of pretty. The good kind. Kakashi should tell him that later, when he wasn’t dying. But maybe he wouldn’t die. Iruka’s hands seemed to know what they were doing, movements quick and efficient as he ripped open a triangular bandage.

“That, and you wouldn’t be runnin’ a bar out here. No Slummers liked Danzō.” He continued, finding the effort of moving his tongue a suitable distraction from the tingling in his extremities.

The fact that Slummers hated Danzō really went without saying. Following Sarutobi Hiruzen’s murder, anyone who had served him and refused to prove their loyalty to Danzō was executed. Except the numbers were far too high, and Danzō’s advisors eventually convinced him there would be no one left in Konoha to rule, to run the factories and till the fields. That was when the Slums were born, the least dangerous of the disloyal population shoved to the outskirts and taxed to extraordinary measures for the right to live and manufacture.

Anything except for weaponry, of course. But as the Flames had proved, adaptability was the only true necessity for survival.

(Kakashi had been the one to settle on ‘Flames’. It was better than Guy’s suggested ‘Burning Passionate Youths’, or Genma’s sarcastic ‘Willians’. The Will of Fire may have been the motto of Konoha’s rulers since the days of Hashirama, but there were only so many ways it could translate into a good moniker for an organized rebellion.)

Kakashi just hoped their adaptability would match up against the skilled few Danzō had brainwashed into submission. He truly believed they had a chance, now that the head had been severed (quite literally) by Kakashi’s own hand. They had planned this for years, lost more double agents and spies than Kakashi could count, hidden away every possible heir with the protective instincts of a mother bear and her cubs, all for a single chance at removing the power-hungry tyrant from the throne.

Uchiha Itachi had done more for them than the worlds could ever know, created the opening that made any of this possible, the one that got Kakashi close enough to strike.

Now, those bright, sharp eyes were lifeless and dull. Itachi wouldn’t be able to help them again. Not from a wooden box six feet under the earth.

If this didn’t work, there might not be enough people to regroup for a Plan Z.

“Liked? Past-tense?”

Right. Iruka was still there. And very warm. How could Kakashi have forgotten him?

There was shock, and a kind of disbelieving, awed hope in Iruka’s tone and big brown eyes.

It had been a while since Kakashi had been looked at like that. It was nice. It would have been nicer if it wasn’t all fuzzy around the edges. Maybe he would have time to appreciate it more later. He was in no shape to fight, so maybe he could rest. Just until he was needed to sweep up the ashes, whichever way they fell.

In the meantime, maybe he’d have time for some hot food, too. Oh, but he still didn’t have anything to pay with. He really wanted some hot food. And hot hands, and hot lips, and—

Kakashi had forgotten what they were talking about.

“Hey, if you don’t wanna pet Pakkun, how ‘bout you pet me instead?” He slurred hopefully.

He liked to think there was a red tint to Iruka’s cheeks before Kakashi passed out and crashed violently headfirst into the wall (possibly not in that order), but that could have been the bloodloss talking.

It was probably also the bloodloss that said:

“Hatake Kakashi, huh? You’re not what I was told to expect, but I can’t say that’s a bad thing.”