Kakashi just stared at the Chunin before him in surprise. It was Iruka-sensei's apartment that had burned down? Upon closer inspection, Kakashi noticed the flush to Iruka-sensei's cheeks, as well as the flush on the cheeks of his friends as well. Had they been out celebrating Iruka's birthday? The way they were standing, with the one's arm flung haphazardly over Iruka-sensei's shoulder and the other one was swaying with the wind, Kakashi figured it was safe to assume all three were drunk. The sensei was the most sober of the three, but it was hard to tell by the way they had simply frozen in shock.
"I'm sorry," Kakashi told the sensei.
"It's okay," Iruka said. He shrugged his friend's arm off his shoulder and fully straightened up. "Is there anything left to salvage?"
Kakashi looked over his shoulder at the shuddering building behind him. It was little more than a blackened frame held together by ash and smoke. Rubble had settled on the ground floor that had once been furniture from upstairs apartments, but the items that weren't buried were charred beyond recognition. Had Tenzo not enforced the wood of the neighboring buildings in time they would have been more than a little singed. As it was, only a handful of people were out of a home.
"I doubt it," Kakashi said calmly as he returned his gaze to the stunned shinobi before him. "We're tallying the damage and we're looking for witnesses. You weren't here when it started?"
Iruka shook his head numbly, his eyes never leaving the frame of ash and smoke that had been his home. "We were out drinking."
So they were drunk. "Then you should go to the housing department for a place to stay," Kakashi said briskly. Then, because there was a lot of work left to do, he walked away toward a few other shinobi to give them orders.
He wasn't there long, though, when he noticed that Iruka hadn't left. He hadn't stayed in his spot, either. He was slowly moving toward the charred remnants of the apartment building.
Iruka couldn't help but stare at the place he'd called home since his parents had died. Very little of the walls were left, and all the floors had collapsed into the wet puddle left over from Kakashi's jutsu, turning the ash into a dirty kind of gloppy soup. He wondered briefly if it was edible, and then promptly blamed that gross thought on the booze he'd drunk earlier. Ash continued to fall from the walls – the roof was on the ground beneath his feet.
When had he gotten here? He was inside the building – what was left of it. Mechanically, he started ruffling through the hot remnants of his building when he felt someone behind him.
"Ruka, what are you looking for?" Izumo asked.
"I don't… know," Iruka replied. "I think something should have survived… maybe my kunai?"
"Iruka…" Izumo started, but he was distracted when Iruka moved a pile of tiles and something gleamed. "What's that?"
Iruka dusted some soot off of the shiny thing, revealing more iron. Then he pulled out a heavy round shield with a wave etched into it. The paint had been burned off and it had begun to soften at the edges, but the unusually thick shield was still mostly intact. The Chunin held it to his chest as he continued to rummage through the fire looking for things that hadn't been burned or melted. Most of the stoves and washers weren't in working order and the furniture was little more than rubble. Not even a picture frame was left.
Izumo grabbed Iruka's shoulder and pulled him in, wrapping his arms around the other Chunin. Iruka leaned in and wrapped an arm around his friend, but he was still too numb to really say anything except, "I'm hungry."
Izumo chuckled. "I guess we should get you something to eat."
"But I have to find someplace to stay," Iruka said.
"You can stay with me and Ko," Izumo volunteered as he started to steer Iruka out of the wreckage. "I doubt he'd mind."
"I don't want to be a sardine!" Iruka whined. Izumo gave Iruka the benefit of the doubt on that one: Izumo and Ko lived in a studio apartment together. It had started out as a punishment by the Sandaime for a prank, but they hadn't bothered to move since the Sandaime had died the week after at the Chunin Exam. Not to mention, Iruka thought, the two of them were barely home to do more than sleep, anyway, between gate duty and their mission room hours.
And Iruka figured that the two of them were sleeping together.
"It's not like we can't make room for you!" Kotetsu said. He'd approached the building with Izumo, but hadn't entered the destruction to retrieve Iruka. "Besides, I thought you liked sardines."
"That doesn't mean I want to be one," Iruka said, the light coming back into his eyes a little. "Kakashi-sensei was right: I should go to the housing department and get an assigned room. Considering I haven't requested one in fourteen years, I'm due an upgrade." Chunin got bigger apartments than Genin, and he was still in his Genin-assigned quarters. Maybe this was a good time for a fresh start.
"But is the housing department open this late?" Izumo – ever the practical one – asked.
Iruka snorted. "Zumo, I think Ko's starting to rub off on you! All Ninja services are always open twenty-four hours a day. They just go half staffed at night. How long have you been working for the village?"
There was a long pause before Izumo said, "I'm drunk. And I lost my brain."
"They're open all day every day," Iruka said with a gentle tease in his voice. "Just like the mission desk."
Just as the Chunin were about to leave, the Hokage showed up. Her hair was disheveled and her man-eating breasts were nearly falling out of her robe, but she was suddenly there shouting orders and demanding answers. She turned her head and golden eyes rested on Iruka for a moment.
"You need a place to stay?" she demanded.
"Who else needs a place to stay?" Tsunade demanded. When several other people stepped forward, the Hokage said, "Speak with Shizune so she knows your name and apartment number. Volunteers, please also speak with Shizune so that she can assign you a houseguest. Because of the dignitaries and the high presence of shinobi in the village due to the Chunin exams next week, there aren't any more apartments available. Until we get things sorted out, this will have to do.
Iruka went up to the kind brunette woman and gave her his name and apartment number. Then she asked for his whereabouts when the fire started. When Iruka had finished talking, Shizune sent him to a table that was being set up by some of the neighbors where tea was being made, along with a promise that she would be by soon to tell him where he was going to be staying.
Ko and Zumo stayed with him, drinking tea and talking about the academy, training, anything to keep Iruka's mind of the ruined building nearby. Slowly a gathering of Iruka's neighbors joined them, and just as slowly they were called by Shizune to find their foster homes. Before long everyone was gone but Iruka and his friends.
So he started watching Shizune as he waited patiently for his fate to be sorted out. By now most of the passersby had left with only a few stragglers and the people who had organized the fire brigade left behind. Iruka watched as Shizune walked up to Kakashi and said something. Kakashi glanced lazily over at Iruka (who smiled and saluted him with his cup of now-cold tea) before he turned his eye back to the blond woman. Presumably he said something, because after a moment Shizune bashed him over the head with a clipboard, causing the legendary Jounin to wince and rub his head in pain.
"Iruka-san?" Shizune asked as she walked over to the scarred shinobi with a very disgruntled Sharingan no Kakashi in tow. "I'm sorry to make you wait, but I have a foster home for you."
"I'm to stay… with Kakashi-sensei?" Iruka asked.
"He's 'volunteered' his house," the Hokage said as she walked up behind her assistant. Iruka assumed that she'd seen the same display as he had and had come to the same conclusion. "No need to fear, Iruka-sensei: you can stay with him as long as you need. He will not complain. To you," she mumbled under her breath.
Iruka stared at the embarrassed-looking white-haired shinobi. It was clear that Kakashi didn't want Iruka in his place, but it was also obvious that Tsunade (or at least Shizune) had something on him. If she didn't, Kakashi wouldn't have been so compliant. He was notoriously uncaring and callous, and even Naruto had told him how Kakashi only really did stuff that suited himself. Fortunately, taking care of his team was something very important to Kakashi – a trait that, no matter how saturated with self-interests it may have been, did constitute itself as a redeeming quality.
So, Iruka bowed to the tall Jounin with all the respect he could muster despite his pounding headache and said, "Thank you, Kakashi-san, for giving me a place to stay.
The look of amazement that was in Kakashi's eye when Iruka rose surprised the Chunin. Despite the look, though, Kakashi's tone was nothing but its normal lazy timber. "Maa, Iruka-sensei, it's what I can do to help in this situation. I wouldn't want Naruto to ever think that I left his beloved Sensei to sleep out in the cold."
Speaking of which, Iruka shivered. He'd been handed a blanket some hours ago, but the darn thing was almost as cold as he was. "Thank you nonetheless," Iruka mumbled into his blanket.
"All right, Lady Hokage, things seem to be all sorted out here. I'm going to take Iruka home before he freezes to death," Kakashi said. Tsunade simply nodded as the Jounin turned and started walking away.
Izumo and Kotetsu each gave Iruka a quick hug and a whispered warning to call them if he ever needed anything. With barely a backward wave Iruka ran to catch up to the famous Copy nin.