1. Chapter 1 by Karuka Ikashi
2. Chapter 2 by Karuka Ikashi
3. Chapter 3 by Karuka Ikashi
4. Chapter 4: Rivals by Karuka Ikashi
5. Chapter 5: Lessons by Karuka Ikashi
The academy grounds of Konoha were swarmed with miniature shinobi as classes were finished for the day and the restless children scampered home. A pack of excited six-year-olds burst through the doors and out onto the sunny street, happy to be done with school for now. A tan boy with a light smirk on his face was among them. He walked with a group of friends, trailing slightly behind them and daydreaming about what he was going to do for the rest of the day.
“Hey, Iruka! Snap out of it! Why are you going so slow?” a boy in front of him yelled.
Iruka quickened his steps and caught up quickly. There was a reason the kids were so excited- this was their first time walking him alone without having to wait around for a parent to pick them up. Their faces lit up as they chatted happily and looked around at the places and people they passed on their way down the street. When they reached the main district, the group suddenly came to a halt. Iruka, lost in a daydream again kept on walking until one of his friends grabbed him and yanked him back. Iruka’s face twisted in puzzlement until he looked at where the group was staring. Outside a weapons shop stood a tall man with long silver hair that was tied back in a ponytail. He was wearing a jounin vest and talking to the shopkeeper while rustling the identical silver hair of a small boy standing next to him. Iruka looked the boy over- he couldn’t have been much older than himself, maybe just a year or so. He was wearing a black mask on his small face, just like the man standing next to him was. The masked boy looked up fondly at his father as the large man continued to talk with the owner of the weapons shop.
“That’s Hatake Kakashi, isn’t it?” one of the boys asked, pointing.
“Yeah,” said another, “ I heard he already graduated from the academy…two years ago.”
“What? How old is he?”
“Seven, I think. They call him a genius.”
“Yeah! Can you believe he’s already a chuunin?”
Iruka listened with interest as he watched Kakashi from a distance. He must be really good, the young shinobi thought to himself, If I could graduate right now- His thoughts were interrupted as the silver-haired boy turned his head to look in their direction. The six-year-olds flinched at being caught and rushed away immediately. Iruka took a bit longer than the rest, trying to get one last look at the glaring seven-year-old before dashing away with his group. I wonder what he really looks like under the mask?
A few days passed, and Iruka didn’t see Kakashi again. However, for some reason, he couldn’t seem to keep his mind off of him. He was fascinated. He was someone who had graduated from the academy a year before the age Iruka was now. His father was famous too. Iruka had heard stories about Hatake Sakumo. He was a legendary ninja in the village of Konoha, just as respected as the three famous sannin were. His son looked just like him, except for the shorter hair. Iruka wanted to talk to him. What’s it like having a famous father? Iruka didn’t see the silver-haired boy, though. It seemed like he had disappeared from the village altogether.
One rainy day, Iruka found himself walking home alone. His friends had lost patience with him and finally left him behind. Tears ran down the small boy’s face in hurt and anger. Some friends they are. Why did they leave me here all alone? He was so upset, he didn’t even want to go home. Instead, he wandered off the main road and followed a trail towards the open clearing. He kept on walking until he saw an area with three large posts, and not too far away from that was a large memorial stone. There was small figure crouched at the foot of the stone. Iruka walked closer to investigate.
The small shinobi crouched by the stone turned his head as he heard the other boy approach. Iruka barely saw the flash of his eyes before Kakashi turned away quickly, hugging his knees close to his chest. Iruka stared at him curiously and took a step closer. Kakashi stiffened as the water dripped from his silver strands of hair. Why won’t he look at me? Iruka wondered. The young ninja sensed something wrong with the boy crouching before him. Was this the way the son of the “White Fang” was supposed to act?
“What’s wrong?” he asked innocently.
The silver-haired boy didn’t answer. Iruka took another step closer.
“Why are you sitting out here in the rain? You should get inside. Mom says you’ll get sick if you stay out in the rain…”
“Leave me alone,” the other boy grunted finally.
Iruka was not intimidated however. Seeing Kakashi like this bothered him, and he was determined to do something about it. Slowly, he reached out and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“Don’t touch me!” Kakashi snapped, hitting the younger boy’s hand off of him, “J-just go away...”
Iruka flinched not from Kakashi’s yelling or having his hand slapped away, but from hearing the painful crack in his voice. It made him feel uncomfortable- seeing someone who was supposed to be so great and talented looking pathetic and weak. Something horrible must have happened to him…
“What’s wrong?” Iruka asked again, persistently.
All he received in response was a glare from the other boy’s tear-soaked eyes. Iruka almost couldn’t tell he was crying in the rain, but the silver-haired boy’s eyes were red and slightly puffy. Kakashi turned away quickly, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand embarrassedly. A shinobi didn’t cry. Not for anything!
“Why do you care?” he muttered after a moment, “You don’t even know me.”
Iruka just stared at him. He was right- Iruka didn’t know him, but why did that matter? The boy couldn’t pretend like he didn’t care. Even though he didn’t know what was wrong, he could still feel the older boy’s pain. You’re sad, just like me…
Iruka let his sentence trail off and instead, sat down next to Kakashi. The seven-year-old chuunin moved away from him slightly. Iruka looked at him sadly and then turned his gaze to the stone in front of them. He put his hand onto it curiously, running his small fingers over the engraved names. He couldn’t really read too well yet, but he sensed the significance behind the niches in the smooth, wet stone. He had heard about this stone before- this was where they carved in the names of ninja who had died in battle. Kakashi’s eyes never left one spot. Iruka followed his gaze and tried hard to make out the words he was staring at.
“Ha..ta..” the six-year-old sounded out.
He froze. Kakashi stiffened.
“Someone in your family died?” Iruka asked quietly.
Kakashi didn’t say anything, but Iruka saw him give a small nod. The brown-haired boy frowned and stared back at the stone unbelievingly. He couldn’t even begin to imagine what it would feel like to lose someone so close to you. He could feel his own tears coming back. He had been upset because his friends had left him, but this boy…he had lost something much more important.
Kakashi reached out and touched the wet name of his deceased family member. Iruka let his tears go, dripping down his face with the rain. He hated seeing someone so sad. Kakashi’s face twisted uncomfortably under the wetness of his mask. He pulled it down slowly, not caring that Iruka saw the part of his face he often kept hidden. He had started hiding his face more and more lately, but somehow, he still wasn’t used to it. It reminded him too much of him…
“Mom,” he choked letting his fingers fall from the name, “He should be here, next to her…He was a hero!”
Iruka looked at him curiously.
“Who?” he whispered.
Kakashi didn’t answer his question or look at him. Instead, he seemed to be talking to himself.
“I found him…He was just lying there, and they told me he-”
Kakashi couldn’t say anymore. He just hugged his legs and cried into his knees. Iruka choked slightly from the tears he was failing to hold back. He was crying just as much as Kakashi. The silver-haired chuunin didn’t really understand this. Why would someone be crying with him when he hadn’t even known the person who had died? Kakashi rested his chin on his knees and turned his head slightly to look at Iruka. The academy student was leaning against the stone, watching Kakashi through blurry eyes. Both of them shivered in the cold, their clothes soaking wet.
Suddenly, the younger boy moved forward and Kakashi’s eyes widened as he felt Iruka’s arms wrap around him. I told him not to touch me, he thought, but didn’t say anything or push him away.
“Don’t cry anymore,” Iruka pleaded.
Kakashi sniffed and leaned into Iruka slightly. People had been trying to hug him a lot lately- teachers, parents of other students, strangers he didn’t even know…He didn’t want sympathy or comfort from them. How could they possibly understand the pain he was feeling? He hated people telling him “It’s okay,” when it obviously wasn’t and never would be. Iruka didn’t lie to him, however. Somehow there was a connection between them that Kakashi didn’t have with anyone else…
“Why did he have to leave me all alone?” he choked, “He didn’t have to...He didn’t care! He didn’t even think about me!”
Iruka hugged him tighter as his tears stopped. He didn’t know who Kakashi was talking about or anything about what had happened, but he understood this feeling of loneliness and the remedy that would make it disappear.
“You can’t be alone if we’re together,” Iruka told him, “Let’s be friends…okay?”
Kakashi lifted his head and turned to look at Iruka with an expression that was unreadable despite the absence of his mask. The six-year-old curved his lips into an encouraging smile, letting go of Kakashi slowly and waiting for an answer. Finally, the genin closed his eyes and gave a small nod. He had chosen friendship. Iruka stood up and offered him his hand. Kakashi looked at it a moment before taking it and rising to his feet. The rain was slowly stopping. Kakashi wiped away the last of his tears, and taking one last look at the memorial stone, began walking with Iruka back to the village. They didn’t let go of each other’s hand.
I’ve Got Your Back
“Today, Kakashi, I’m going to teach you how to use summoning jutsu.”
The tall man was met with eyes that were bright despite being dull gray in color. Training time! This should be fun. There were always so many new things to learn, and Father always gave lots of praise when what he was teaching was done right.
The man smiled and put one hand to his mouth, biting his thumb hard. The tiny shinobi winced slightly at the blood, but kept on watching carefully. After all, ninja saw blood all the time, and a little bleeding thumb was nothing to take seriously. The boy’s father pulled out a scroll and began forming the hand signs, moving his hands slowly so his son could see. Then, he smeared his thumb across the scroll as he let it fall open and rolled it back again just as easily before slamming it onto the ground.
The boy jumped when the scroll hit the floor and then again when a giant cloud erupted from it. A pack of dogs appeared in its midst, all different sizes and colors. The young shinobi stared at them, wide-eyed as they came to inspect and sniff him. His father smiled as he watched his son pet the summons.
“These are the nin-dogs. You haven’t seen them before because I usually only call them when I’m out on missions. They are very loyal and reliable companions. And these,” he indicated a pack of eight puppies hidden behind the larger dogs, “are yours to train. These are your Ninken.”
The boy grew excited as the nin-dog puppies wagged their tails happily at him and licked him- all except one, who wore an obvious wrinkled frown upon his face. The boy frowned back at him as the small saggy-skinned puppy, about four months old, gave a small yip. He felt his father’s hand on his shoulder.
“Hey there, are you doubting my son?” the man joked, “I’ll have you know he’s already graduated from the academy and is well on his way to becoming a chuunin. I assure you, he’s well beyond his years and more than worthy of having a pact with.”
The tiny shinobi beamed. His father smiled warmly at him and took out the contract scroll for him to sign with blood. The boy’s hand only shook slightly as he raised a kunai to his thumb. Once he had made his pack, he was swarmed by nin-dog puppies as all eight jumped on him at once.
“Otosan!” the five-year-old whined from underneath the puppy-pile.
Sakumo laughed and pulled him out.
“There now, you respect Kakashi,” he scolded the puppies.
“Kaka…shi,” the wrinkled puppy croaked.
The silver-haired boy’s eyes widened, and he stared at his father unbelievingly.
“Kakashi,” the puppy said again, confirming the information.
Now the boy was smiling uncontrollably.
“Pak-kun!” he yelled excitedly, giving the puppy his new name.
Kakashi opened his eyes suddenly and looked around an unfamiliar room. He had been dreaming about his father again. His father and something else that had happened in what felt like a long time ago, but maybe not as long as he thought. It had only been a few weeks since his father had died, but Kakashi was already starting to forget what his voice had sounded like. Even in the dreams, it wasn’t clear.
“Well, did you wake me up for nothing?” the small dog grumbled, “If so, I’m going back to sleep.”
Kakashi shook his head, trying to banish the thoughts from his mind. Then, he blinked and took a look around the room, trying to remember where he was. Oh yeah…Sensei’s…
Though he had Iruka as a friend, Kakashi couldn’t help feeling alone after his father left him for the next world. At first, they tried putting him in the orphanage, seeing as he had no living relatives to care for him. Once he arrived, he isolated himself from the rest of the children. He wouldn’t talk, except when spoken to, and the only time his hidden face showed even the illusion of happiness was when Iruka came to visit him. His guardians began to worry about him- this child that always kept his face under a mask and rarely smiled. He was the perfect image of a well-trained shinobi, but to become like this so early in life wasn’t healthy for his development, they knew. So they began looking for a suitable family to adopt him.
Iruka’s parents were always very kind to Kakashi, but they sadly admitted that they couldn’t afford to raise another child right now. They were good people, proud of their village and willing to protect it at all costs. Both Uminos had reached chunnin rank with little difficulty, but neither had ever risen above that. His father had been seriously injured on a mission a few years ago, back when Iruka was too young to remember. It had left him with a bad arm that never fully healed and eventually had to be amputated. It was hard for him to live with, especially when he was forced to take lower-ranking missions. His mother had plenty of scars to show her own dedication to her village. She was often away on longer missions, but she always looked forward to coming home and spending time with her young son.
Kakashi remembered the first day he had met Iruka’s parents. It hadn’t been long after he had met Iruka himself...
A wet and still-traumatized Kakashi was led by the hand back to the outskirts of the village from the memorial stone. There, he and the younger boy entered a modest home and were greeted by Iruka’s worried mother.
“Iruka! Where have you been? Why didn’t you come straight home from the academy?”
“I met a new friend,” Iruka replied, pulling Kakashi forward from the place he had reluctantly hidden behind him.
His mother’s face softened a bit. She smiled kindly to the older boy.
“Oh! What is your name?”
“H-hatake Kakashi,” the seven-year-old muttered nervously.
He wasn’t a shy child, but he felt so awkward. I hardly even know this kid, and now I’m meeting his parents. What if they don’t like me? What if they’ve heard-
“Hatake?” Iruka’s mother whispered.
Kakashi’s tears resurfaced as he gripped Iruka’s hand tighter. Iruka’s
mother immediately dropped down to her knees and took Kakashi into her arms, almost instinctively. The tiny chunnin stiffened. It had been so long since his own mother had died. Is this what it felt like when she hugged me?
“There, there…I’m sorry about your father, Kakashi-kun. How would you like to have dinner with us tonight?”
Kakashi looked at Iruka, who smiled and nodded encouragingly.
“Okay,” the chuunin agreed.
The silver-haired boy squirmed slightly in his seat as he tried not to stare at Iruka’s father and his missing arm. The man regarded the small chuunin with a small, almost hidden smirk.
“Don’t look so nervous, son. We don’t bite.”
Kakashi twitched at being called “son” by Iruka’s father. Iruka’s mother caught her husband’s eye and shook her head at him. The man quirked his lip and tried to give Kakashi a friendly smile.
“Get ready for some good food, kid- because my wife makes the best.”
“Stop it!” Iruka’s mother said embarrassedly, “Don’t raise his expectations.”
“But it’s true!” Iruka’s father laughed.
His son smiled brightly at him, and Kakashi watched curiously as Iruka’s mother began to serve the food, still blushing slightly. A bowl was placed in front of him, hot and steaming. Kakashi’s mouth watered as he suddenly realized how hungry he was. The first time he felt the flavor of the soup in his mouth, his eyes widened in surprise.
“What is this?” he asked before taking another spoonful…then another and another.
Iruka’s mother smiled.
“Miso soup with eggplant,” she replied, “Seems you like it.”
The soup was gone before Iruka’s mother had the chance to say anything else.
“I’m glad you liked it. You can come over whenever you like, and I’ll make that
for you, Kakashi-kun.”
The chuunin blinked.
Iruka’s mother nodded.
“Then- can I have another one… please?”
She grinned and went to go refill his bowl.
Kakashi had continued to visit the Uminos many times after that. Sometimes Iruka’s mother would find the masked boy staying up late with Iruka in his room, Kakashi having snuck in through the window. She never had the heart to kick Kakashi out, though she knew the orphanage was becoming concerned by his constant disappearances.
Finally, the man the young chunnin was training under, widely known as the Yellow Flash, declared himself the boy’s new guardian.
At first, Kakashi hadn’t liked it. Who wanted to have a live-in sensei teaching you “lessons in life” in addition to lessons on the training ground? His sensei was such a strange man. His attempts to entertain his new charge usually resulted in Kakashi staring at him blankly and asking, “Sensei, what are you doing?” to which he would reply, “You’re far too serious for a seven-year-old.” And no more than a few seconds later (he was a genius) would come the retort, “You’re not serious enough for an adult.” Little smart mouth. Then again, the Yellow Flash didn’t seem to realize that attacking various household objects with origami shuriken was not always a chunnin’s idea of fun, even if said chunnin was still too small to wear his forehead protector without being blindfolded.
After a while, though, Kakashi began to like living with Sensei – especially since he let Iruka come over whenever Kakashi wanted. Iruka loved Kakashi’s new home and guardian. The boys would sit around him with the Ninken and listen to the golden-haired man talk about all the high-rank missions he had been on and what had happened during them. They were fascinated.
“Aren’t you get tired of this yet?” he’d ask.
“No, keep going!” would come the reply from the two boys in unison.
Eventually, the stories would stop when Iruka had to be sent home. His parents worried when he was gone for so long, even though they knew he was safe with the Yellow Flash. The man could understand them wanting their child back for most of the day.
As time passed, the boys’ friendship had continued to grow. Sometimes after training, Kakashi would go meet Iruka at the academy and walk home with him. Today was one of those days. He said goodbye to Sensei and left carrying two sticks of dango to share. Kakashi didn’t like sweets too much, but he knew Iruka would love them. He focused his chakra and used it to jump up high onto the rooftops to make his way to the academy even faster. Then, the chuunin had an idea. He reached down to his knee, where he had gotten cut during training and slid hid thumb over the blood. A few hand seals later, a medium-sized white and yellow dog with small black sunglasses appeared before him- the dog that liked Kakashi the best. He smiled beneath his mask and ran his hand over the fur on the dog’s head.
“Can I have a ride, please?”
The dog gave a happy yip and offered Kakashi his back. The chunnin climbed on, and instantly, they were off.
When he got a bit closer, he could barely see Iruka standing near the outside swing where he usually waited for him when he knew Kakashi was going to come. There were two other boys with him, though. They were both bigger than him, but not any older than Kakashi. The silver-haired boy wouldn’t have cared, except that one of the boys was holding a kunai.
“You think you can get away with that, Umino? Making fun of my clan? What are you? You’re nothing. I bet no one in this village has even heard of your pathetic family.”
Iruka was scared, but he glared defiantly.
“I can say whatever I want! My dad says you’re the ones who always steal on missions, and because your dad got caught doing it, the people attacked their squad! It’s your fault his arm got hurt!”
The older boy grabbed Iruka’s collar and shoved him up against a tree. He gave him an icy look that made the seven-year-old tremble.
“He’s not the only one who’s going to get hurt,” came the low growl.
Iruka screamed in pain as the boy pressed the tip of the kunai up to his cheek and slowly started to drag it across his face, leaving a deep, bloody gash going from his cheek up to the bridge of his nose. The seven-year-old tried to push the hand away, but the other boy was stronger than him.
“H-hey, stop that,” the second boy stuttered timidly, putting his hand on his friend’s shoulder, but not daring to try to pull his arm away.
“Shut up!” the other boy snapped at him.
“He’s just a little kid!”
Iruka’s attacker didn’t let go of his shirt, but he lifted his kunai off the seven-year-old’s face long enough to elbow his friend in the ribs, knocking him down. The second boy gave up trying to help Iruka as he picked himself up from the ground and rushed off. The older boy scoffed in the direction he had run, but suddenly whipped back towards Iruka as the younger boy attempted a badly aimed kick. The bully glared and suddenly lifted his kunai again, slashing Iruka on the other side of the face to meet the first gash in the middle. He smirked at the symmetrical mark he had created, just as he heard the small thump of two sticks of dango hitting the ground behind him and the growl of a very angry nin-dog.
Before he knew it, the boy had been yanked backwards. He let go of a wailing Iruka and turned his head to meet the death glare of a certain silver-haired chuunin…who happened to be his former classmate.
“Still picking on kids weaker than you?” came the cold reply, “It’s time you learned how it feels.”
By the time the bully’s friend had come back, scampering behind his sensei, Iruka’s attacker was on the floor, hands and legs tied, begging for mercy from the eight-year-old sitting on top of him and holding a kunai near his face. Iruka had his arms around the nindog, who was nuzzling him gently and licking the cut on his face.
“Hatake Kakashi!” the sensei snapped, “Off!”
The parent-teacher meeting that followed included the bully’s parents, the Uminos, and a very upset Yellow Flash giving his charge the Frown of Disapproval along with the secret He-Had-It-Coming Wink when no one was looking. The wink had only come after he had found out Kakashi had been protecting Iruka. Iruka’s mother threw a fit when she saw her son’s face, and it took almost a quarter of the meeting to calm her down. His father held a glaring contest with the bully’s father as the academy sensei talked on and on about school grounds policy. The rest of the meeting consisted of a round of lectures and half-hearted apologies. The boy who had attacked Iruka ended up being expelled from the academy for conduct unbefitting a future Konoha shinobi.
“It’s okay, Iruka,” Kakashi told his sulking friend later, “Scars make you look cool! Only the toughest ninja have them.”
The academy student was not comforted. He had spent most of the day moping around the house, staring at his stitched-up face in the mirror every now and then until he couldn’t look at it anymore.
“I bet most of them didn’t get them from school bullies,” he mumbled to the chuunin.
“You never know. Besides, you said he did it because he was mad at you for saying what you meant! You stood up for yourself. That’s brave.”
Iruka turned his dark brown eyes to meet Kakashi’s marble grey ones.
“You really think so?”
The silver-haired boy nodded.
“That takes guts. You have the spirit of a shinobi!”
He pointed to the bridge of Iruka’s nose. The seven-year-old stared cross-eyed at the chuunin’s finger.
“And that’s just proof of it.”
Iruka smiled, and Kakashi stiffened in surprise as he was thanked with a hug.
“I never said thanks for saving me.”
The chuunin gave his friend’s back a pat.
“You don’t have to.”
The next day, Sensei took the two of them out for ramen. He led them down the street, taking small steps to match their own pace and grinning down at Iruka now and then. The tan boy was swinging Sensei’s hand happily, smiling despite the large white bandage wrapped around his face. Kakashi, standing on the other side of the Yellow Flash, refused to hold hands. Sensei made another attempt to grab his.
“Stop it, Sensei! I’m too old to hold hands!” the eight-year-old pouted.
“You’re still short. And if you’re short, that means you can still get lost in a crowd, chuunin or not.”
“I will not get lost. If I do, I can just feel for your chakra and-”
“And what if someone tries to kidnap you? Someone stronger than you?”
“I’m not a baby! I can take care of myself!”
The Yellow Flash felt a tug on his other hand as Iruka tried to pull away.
“I’m not a baby either! I don’t wanna hold hands!”
Sensei frowned at him and then sighed.
“You’re still seven, Iruka-kun,” Kakashi informed him, “You still have to.”
Iruka scowled at him.
“No, I don’t! I’m almost as big as Kashi-kun,” Iruka whined to Sensei.
“What am I going to do with you two?” the golden-haired man moaned, “Your mother will have my head if I lose you, Iruka-kun.”
The seven-year-old was still resisting, until the taller man bent down and scooped the boy up, relocating him up upon his shoulders. Iruka seemed to like this new position and pointed down at Kakashi triumphantly.
“Now I’m taller than you!”
Kakashi frowned at him.
“You never do that for me, Sensei.”
“That’s because you told me you were too old for it last time I tried, remember?”
Sensei crouched down, offering the boy the vacancy on his back.
“Do you want a ride too, Kakashi-kun?” he asked with a sly smile.
“No,” Kakashi responded indignantly, crossing his arms, “Chuunin don’t ride piggyback.”
The Yellow Flash smirked and leaned closer to Kakashi.
“No one has to know you’re a chuunin,” he whispered, “You look like an eight-year-old to me.”
Kakashi rubbed the back of his neck embarrassedly. It was true- he did want a piggyback ride, but what if someone made fun of him for it later? Then I’ll just kick their butt, he thought, but part of him still wasn’t convinced. He looked up to see Iruka smiling at him.
“Come on!” the younger boy said, “Aren’t you hungry too?”
Kakashi gave a nod. Not much of an excuse, but better than nothing, he decided. It’s better than holding hands. Taking one glance around to make sure no one was watching, he carefully climbed onto his sensei’s back, grabbing onto Iruka’s ankles on the front of his sensei’s chest to keep them both on while Sensei held onto Kakashi.
“Now then, if everyone’s happy, let’s get going!”
“Why do I have to sit under Iruka’s butt?”
The Yellow Flash’s triumphant smile faded slightly, but he decided to ignore Kakashi for once. The eight-year-old pouted but didn’t complain anymore. Sensei made sure neither of the boys was going to fall off, and then, the burdened man trudged forward on to his favorite ramen place, Ichiraku.
“Quite a load you’ve got there,” the young chef greeted him.
“They’re quite the handful,” Sensei laughed before wincing as Iruka tugged out a strand of his hair.
Kakashi stared at the man indifferently from his sensei’s back. The Yellow Flash swung him around into a stool and then lifted Iruka off his shoulders to put him down in the stool next to him.
“Order anything you want,” Sensei told them with a smile.
The boys looked through the menu excitedly and had soon made their choices. As they waited for their meal to arrive, Kakashi and Iruka listened to the Yellow Flash’s latest story.
“This was one of the most difficult missions I’ve been on so far,” he told them, “There were a lot of risks involved, but my team came up with a plan to help us succeed. Two of them lured away the people standing guard at the front of the mansion. Then, I went in for the assassination with my other teammate as my backup. She was attacked halfway through, but I fell back and helped her defeat the enemies.”
Iruka watched him, fascinated. Kakashi only looked down at his ramen, unimpressed.
“The rules say you shouldn’t go back. Completing the mission is the most important part,” he mumbled, “not saving your teammates.”
The brown-haired boy stared at him, wide-eyed.
“But she could have died!”
“She had her own role in the mission. What if sensei had been defeated too? Then they both would have died, and the mission would be failed.”
“He wouldn’t have been defeated!” Iruka argued, “No one can beat him!”
While the two debated this, the Yellow Flash simply studied his student while taking large slurps of ramen. Was this really coming from the boy he had just given a piggyback ride to? He’s a chuunin. He’s not like other children. Still, the way he thinks…This must because of what happened to his father.
“Hey,” the blonde man told them, “Of course it’s important to complete a mission, but to do that, your team must be strong as one. Your comrades are your friends. You should think of them as part of yourself and always watch each other’s backs. If you lose trust in each other and separate, there’s a greater chance you’ll be picked off one by one. That’s why you should remember that the most important thing to a shinobi is teamwork!”
Iruka beamed brightly, and even Kakashi cocked his head a little while finishing his bowl of ramen, but the young chuunin didn’t say anything after that.
“Hey, Kakashi-kun,” the younger boy said to him after a while, “If we’re ever on a team, I’ll watch your back for you!”
Kakashi suppressed a snort. Iruka protect him? He hadn’t even graduated from the academy! Despite this though, something felt inside the chuunin felt warm and made him smile at the promise.
When they all had finished their meal, Sensei paid, and the three of them walked towards the training grounds. Kakashi’s eyes lit up as they reached the field. He loved to train. He was driven by the desire to grow stronger and stronger so as to keep up with the adults he now worked with. The chuunin and jounin he was grouped with on missions would always tower over him and boss him around with orders – usually simple things even a genin could do. They never trusted him with night watch. He’d end up with the earliest shift for fear that the little boy would fall asleep on the job. Like a baby. Kakashi hated it. After all, he could stay up till midnight without getting sleepy…well, sometimes anyway. He hated that they rarely took him seriously due to his size, but he was determined to prove them wrong. He hadn’t gotten this far just to be considered a pushover.
“Come on, Sensei!” he said, pulling on the man’s sleeve impatiently, “Let’s train!”
“Hold on just a moment, Kakashi-kun,” the Yellow Flash replied, “Let’s give Iruka a chance to show us what he’s learning in class.”
“Our sensei lets us practice with shuriken now!” the academy student stated proudly, “I can throw them without getting cut.”
Kakashi held a bored expression, but Sensei gave him a look that told him he better be nice. The chuunin crossed his arms and gave a slight nod.
“All right. Let’s see it. Hit that tree over there.”
Iruka turned his head towards the tree his friend indicated and asked Sensei for some shuriken. The Yellow Flash handed them over reluctantly. He had never worked with small children before Kakashi and still felt guilty handing them such dangerous weapons.
“Be careful,” he told the boy.
“Don’t worry. It’s easy!” the boy assured him and threw a shuriken at the tree.
It missed and sailed off to the right.
“Wait! That one didn’t count!”
He threw another and also missed.
“That one didn’t either. This one-”
Another miss. Kakashi shook his head to himself.
“Let me show you, Iruka-kun.”
He took a shuriken between his fingers.
“Hold it like this,” he said.
The younger boy copied him.
“Pick a spot on the tree and aim a little higher than it. Flick your wrist like this.”
He demonstrated in slow motion. Iruka did the same and released his shuriken. It landed with a thump on the tree.
“I did it!” he yelled triumphantly.
“Great job,” Sensei told him.
Kakashi smiled a bit under his mask and gave an approving nod.
“You’re a good shinobi, Iruka-kun.”
His friend turned to beam at him. Then suddenly, he leapt onto the older boy and hugged him.
“H-hey, stop that,” the chuunin said embarrassedly, trying to push him away.
He always does this. Iruka held on tight.
“You’re a good teacher, Kakashi-sensei.”
The silver-hair boy blushed. Kakashi-sensei? He liked how it sounded. Iruka finally released him and gave some more shuriken a throw. He jumped excitedly whenever one hit, and Kakashi couldn’t help but smile some more.
If we’re ever on a team, Iruka… I’ve got your back too.
Iruka’s breath hitched as he pushed his back against the large, thick trunk of a tree. Can’t get caught. Gotta get away. He tried to slow his panting breaths down so that the sound of his quick breathing wouldn’t give him away to his pursuer. He felt a bundle of nervous excitement building up in his stomach as he pressed his back against the bark and crouched down at the foot of the tree. So this is what a mission feels like, he thought. Just like Mom and Dad go on. I can’t give myself away. I have to stay hidden or else-
It was too late! He was trapped in the shadow of his hunter.
“Found you,” the silver-haired boy said, grinning under his mask.
Iruka frowned at him.
“You always find me too fast! When I’m it, I take forever…”
He tried not to let his pout show. Kakashi held onto his triumphant look until Iruka noticed something moving at his feet behind the tall grass. Kakashi quickly stepped to the side, as if trying to cover something up, but Iruka was too fast for him. The eight-year-old jerked the grass aside with one hand to reveal…Pak-kun. He gaped slightly and then turned angrily to Kakashi with fire burning in his eyes.
Kakashi smiled crookedly and immediately sped away, laughing.
“I don’t need Pak-kun to smell you!”
The younger boy raced after him, furious.
“Hey! Get back here!”
He didn’t catch up with the nine-year-old until they had made it back into the residential part of the village. Kakashi was still laughing between gasping breaths, Pak-kun sitting lazily at his feet. Iruka gave him a glare as he caught up but hid a small smirk that had come from enjoying the chase.
“I don’t smell,” he informed him, “You’re the one who sleeps with dogs.”
Kakashi and Pak-kun both frowned.
“And what’s wrong with that?” the pug challenged, showing Iruka a glimpse of small white teeth to encourage the appropriate answer.
“Nothing,” Iruka muttered, “Are you going home, Kakashi-kun?”
“Not yet,” the older boy replied, “Sensei said he’d meet me at Ichiraku. He said you could come too.”
The remains of Iruka’s frown vanished and were replaced by a grin.
“All right! Ramen!”
He sped off towards the small restaurant, leaving Kakashi and Pak-kun staring blankly after him.
“Where did that energy come from?” the exhausted boy asked the dog.
A huff was all he received in reply.
Kakashi and Pak-kun joined Iruka and Sensei at the ramen restaurant. The masked boy sat down and greeted them before deciding what he wanted for lunch. His guardian grinned at him as he watched Kakashi squeeze the soft and bouncy paw pad Pak-kun had offered him. Once everyone’s food had arrived, the Yellow Flash began explaining the reason for this meeting.
“Kakashi-kun, tomorrow, we’re setting out on the first A-rank mission we’ve had in a while.”
Kakashi looked up from his bowl in interest. An A-rank mission! It really had been a long time. Most ninja children Kakashi’s age had never even dreamed of going on such a high-ranking mission so early, but Kakashi had already been on two. These missions were always extremely dangerous, even scary sometimes. There were more risks involved…and often a lot of killing.
Sensei’s expression remained serious, but he put a reassuring hand on his ward’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be going on this one with you. It’ll be a breeze.”
“I’m not scared,” Kakashi told him, calmly taking another sip of ramen as if to support this fact.
Why did Sensei look so concerned?
He knows I can take care of myself, the chuunin thought. He shouldn’t act all worried about me.
“Of course you’re not,” the blonde man agreed, giving the chuunin’s hair an affectionate ruffle.
He turned back to his ramen and resumed his own slurping. Kakashi stared down into his bowl and saw his vague reflection in the broth. He really was still just a kid. His face was small and rounded. There was nothing mature in his features, except maybe his eyes, which stared down at the soup coldly the way only an adult could.
“Hey, Kakashi,” Iruka said, grinning up from his bowl once the last noodle had slipped past his lips, “Let’s play ninja tag next.”
“Okay,” Kakashi agreed, allowing his mood to lift a little.
“You boys don’t stay out too late. I want you back by sunset so you can get a good night’s sleep before tomorrow. Okay, Kakashi?”
The Yellow Flash paid for the food and headed home as the two young ninja returned to the training grounds. Kakashi walked a little slower than his friend, eyes watching the road beneath his feet. An A-rank mission. I wonder how it’ll be. His thoughts were interrupted by a sudden tap on the shoulder.
“You’re it first!” Iruka yelled before speeding away and bounding up into the trees.
The chuunin smirked.
“You’re going to be sorry you said that!” he yelled after him.
He chased the younger boy through the branches and caught up easily. After he had tagged Iruka, he spun around and fled, the laughter of his friend echoing behind him. Kakashi smirked beneath his mask. There was nothing else to think about while playing the game except having fun. It was a relief to get the heavier thoughts off of his mind and just enjoy himself for a while, the way children his age were supposed to. Once the brown-haired boy got frustrated from his lack of success, Kakashi slowed down – just a little.
Sunset came inevitably. Kakashi and Iruka walked home and stopped in front of Sensei’s house as the sky reddened behind them.
“I’ll see you when you get back from your mission,” Iruka said, giving his friend’s shoulder a pat, “Good luck!”
“Thanks,” Kakashi said, turning towards the house, “I’ll see you when I get back. Goodnight, Iruka.”
He waved as the younger boy headed down the street back towards his own house. When he couldn’t see him anymore, Kakashi let his hand drop and went inside.
The next morning, not long after the sun had risen, Kakashi and the Yellow Flash walked through Konoha’s gates out into the forest. Sensei carried a large backpack full of supplies while Kakashi carried a slightly smaller one with extra weapons and other various necessities. They met up with two other shinobi who had been assigned to their cell. One was tall and had blonde hair like Sensei. The other was a bit shorter and had dark brown hair that he kept pushed back behind his ears. The Yellow Flash and Kakashi greeted them; then, together, the four bounded through the trees, headed in the direction of the Mist.
Kakashi kept up with his sensei easily, though the blonde man tried to maintain a slow pace so the nine-year-old ninja wouldn’t get tired. Their other two teammates exchanged looks, but acted like they didn’t care if the team traveled slower. The group stopped for a break only once to rest and take a soldier pill to keep from getting hungry. Then, they were off again, traveling until they finally arrived at their destination right as the sun began to slip away into the west. The night would give them the cover they needed for the infiltration.
Kakashi peeked at the campsite before them through the leaves of the tree he sat in. It wasn’t too impressive, but the guards did seem well armed. There was a solid defense around the commander’s quarters. Small tents covered the clearing along the edges, housing many wary soldiers. Kakashi could sense the chakra of a few ninja as well. There weren’t many of them, but their chakra levels were all above average. The small shinobi worried that his team would be short too many ninja to complete this mission. His sensei was far more confident.
“I’ll take the frontal attack,” he told his team, “Kakashi, you cover me from behind, and you two spread out to the sides to take the soldiers who will be coming in from the outside tents.”
All three nodded and did as their leader commanded. Kakashi could feel the wind whip against his face as he rushed forward, silver hair sweeping behind him. He pulled out a kunai and held it before him, preparing himself for an encounter with the first enemy.
A cry of alarm sounded throughout the camp, as the guards realized they were being attacked. Kakashi found himself locked in battle with one of the well-trained shinobi protecting the outside tents. His sensei had run off ahead of him to continue to the commander’s tent. The boy had no time to think of him. His enemy was attempting to disarm him by knocking the kunai out of his hand. Kakashi dropped the weapon purposefully, letting his opponent believe he had succeeded, but at the same time, his free hand reached back and gripped the hilt of his chakra blade. With one swift movement, the chuunin unsheathed it and brought it down on his attacker’s shoulder, sending blood splattering. The red liquid drenched his own clothes as Kakashi embedded the blade into the man’s heart before he had time to recover from the first blow.
There wasn’t time for rest on the battlefield. Kakashi would never admit to being tired, but chuunin or not, he still had the body of a nine-year-old. He panted heavily, as he charged for the next assailant, who was running back at him at matching speed. Just before they collided, Kakashi leapt aside and ranked the man’s ribs with his kunai. This guard, not even a shinobi, fell quickly with another swift blow. Kakashi could feel this man’s blood splatter onto him too, mixing with the blood of the first. His hands felt sticky with it now, but he had to ignore it as another attacker came for him.
Kakashi’s new opponent was more skilled than the others had been. He attacked the chuunin with a fire jutsu that forced Kakashi to dodge quickly to the side, unscathed except for a burn on the shoulder that had been the last to make it out of the jutsu’s path. The boy winced in pain, but raised his arms to form his own hand seal. His opponent saw one Kakashi become three and held out his kunai readily, prepared to bring down the real one. The chuunin rushed forward with his clones, closing in on the man from the front and the sides. The shinobi’s hand dove for his leg holster, and he immediately threw a shuriken at each clone, but hit only two. The third Kakashi had disappeared. Only a moment passed as the man looked around for the boy wildly before suddenly, Kakashi burst up from the ground beneath him. He held his chakra blade before him and swiped upwards, killing the man instantly.
The nine-year-old wiped away the sweat that was dripping down his forehead and mixing with the blood of his defeated foes before glancing around the campsite. It seemed like most of the guards had fled or were lying on the ground, clearly defeated. There was no sign of his teammates anywhere, not even Sensei. Kakashi rushed to the commander’s tent where he knew the blonde man had gone, but it was empty. Puzzled and uneasy, he walked back onto the battlefield, only to brace himself for an attack at the first sense of enemy chakra. The guard leapt at him from behind and dodged Kakashi’s chakra blade as he swung it in defense. Kakashi tried to evade the flurry of kunai and shuriken that followed, but one hit his arm, leaving a deep gash. The silver-haired boy grunted and countered quickly with a genjutsu that was meant to make the man feel like he was being bound tighter and tighter by thin barbed wire. Kakashi wasn’t too skilled as a genjutsu user, though, and his opponent broke out of it easily.
Kakashi was exhausted by now, and even though he hadn’t thought he’d used that much chakra, he felt drained. He held out his chakra blade defensively as the shinobi came at him. Taijutsu might be his only chance, but Kakashi was still too small to be very strong physically without a chakra boost. His chakra blade seemed to be getting shorter and was flashing in spurts of light. Kakashi’s opponent grinned confidently, but the chuunin wasn’t ready to give up. He lunged at the larger man and swung his weakening chakra blade. The shinobi dodged it easily, but had to guard against the round of shuriken Kakashi threw at him next. Only one sharp star embedded itself in his opponent’s side. The boy punched him in the stomach, but the man just grunted and smirked slightly.
“Your pathetic punches don’t hurt me, little boy.”
Kakashi glared at him, fighting back the anger that might make him attack without thinking first. Using all his strength, Kakashi fell to the ground and swung his small legs towards the man’s ankles, knocking his opponent down. Taken by surprise by the boy’s sudden show of power, the man was unprepared to avoid the group of kunai Kakashi threw at him to keep him down until the chuunin could leap at him with the nearly depleted chakra blade. One swift slash and it was over.
Kakashi fell to his knees, all energy gone with the last of his chakra. His world was looking a bit fuzzy in the darkness, but Kakashi fought for consciousness. He couldn’t pass out here, in the middle of the battlefield so far from home. He had to find Sensei.
The night was eerily quiet in the still camp. Kakashi felt alone among the corpses, and though he believed he was too brave to admit it, the chuunin was scared. There was still no sign of Sensei or his other teammates anywhere. What if something had happened to them? What if they-
“Sensei!” Kakashi cried out into the darkness.
There was no answer. The chuunin’s chest rose and fell more rapidly with each panting breath. He could still feel the awful stickiness of his enemies’ blood all over his clothes and skin. Even his silver hair was stained with patches of crimson. Kakashi tried to wipe it away with the palm of his hand, but only ended up spreading it further. His eyes darted around the camp desperately, scanning over the dead bodies in the hope of finding a familiar person standing there. Or at least someone alive.
The chuunin suppressed an involuntary whimper as he trudged around the bodies, still looking for his guardian. He made it to the edge of the campsite and searched from there, but there was nothing. His nose was filled with the scent of blood and freshly dead corpses. He wanted to wash the stench away with the foreign blood that covered him.
The silver-haired boy slunk into the forest and hid himself behind a clump of trees, among the brush. It felt a bit safer here, away from the lifeless stares of the dead bodies. Kakashi almost felt like he was playing hide-and-seek with Iruka, but he wasn’t sure what he was hiding from. All he really wanted was to be found. The chuunin shivered as a cold breeze blew over him and peeked through the bushes back in the direction of the battlefield. Sensei, where are you? I want to go home.
It was during those moments of hiding that Kakashi realized how afraid he really was. Afraid of everything- of dying, of being alone, of killing. Wasn’t killing what a ninja was supposed to do? When the mission called for it, it had to be done, no matter who the target was. Kakashi had learned this at the academy. He had learned that a ninja was supposed to take orders and not question them. He had also learned that a ninja was supposed to show no fear or emotion towards the assignment. He had completed his mission successfully, so why was he feeling so uneasy? Was he sorry he had taken the lives of strangers?
They attacked me, Kakashi thought, I had to defend myself, or I’d be dead. But Kakashi realized it hadn’t been the camp guards who had originally attacked him. He had been part of the invading squad. His team had started the fighting. Each side had fought for its own purpose, the guards to protect their camp and Kakashi to complete a mission. Somehow it wasn’t enough of a justification for him, but he was afraid to question it further.
Kakashi waited alone in the dark, hoping his strength would recover soon so he could resume his search for Sensei. He can’t be dead…No one can beat him, he thought, remembering what Iruka always told him. His mind drifted back to his friend, waiting for him in the village. Iruka would probably wait for him at the tree outside the academy for a while after classes let out tomorrow, hoping that Kakashi had already come home from his mission. Kakashi wished he were there instead of this place that smelled overwhelmingly of blood and death.
The gash on his arm and burn on his shoulder stung as the chuunin leaned back against a large tree, eyes blinking sleepily. He couldn’t be patient any longer. Running his thumb over the deep cut, he prepared to summon the Ninken. They arrived with a cloud of smoke in the middle of his hiding spot, tails wagging. The nindogs yipped happily in greeting once they realized there was no danger near and therefore no need to keep silent. It made Kakashi feel better to know that all of the enemies were really gone. A few nindogs nuzzled the exhausted chuunin before he whispered their command.
“Go find Sensei…”
Then, with the last of his energy gone, Kakashi’s eyes began to close, the image of the running nindogs fading into blackness.
It was like living that night all over again. It felt like it had been a nightmare while it was happening, and now, it finally was. Kakashi made his way into his home after a long day of training with Sensei and called out a greeting. He was met with an unusual silence. His father always came to meet him at the door when he got back from training. He walked down the cold wooden floor of the long hallway, calling out for him.
Still no answer. He called again, louder.
“Otousan! Are you here?”
He pushed back the sliding door that led to his father’s room. The silver-haired boy was met by more silence as he stood in the doorway, staring at the still figure lying on the ground. The room was dark, and he couldn’t see clearly. He opened the door a little wider, allowing more light in. He could see the figure more clearly now. Slowly, he took a few cautious steps into the room, wondering why his father was lying on the floor. One more step soaked his foot in warm liquid that hadn’t had time to cool yet. Kakashi trembled.
Kakashi jumped as he felt a large hand place itself reassuringly on his shoulder. The chuunin stopped shaking in his sleep and opened his eyes widely. The Yellow Flash’s familiar face smiled back at him. Kakashi’s nindogs sat beside him, tails wagging as they looked at their small master anxiously.
“Are you okay, Kakashi-kun?”
The chuunin was suddenly overcome by the pack of Ninken that jumped to lick his face. He petted each on the head, thanked them for finding his sensei, and finally dismissed them. The blonde man was giving him a guilty look.
“I’m sorry I left you alone on the battlefield,” he told him, “The commander’s group tried to escape in secret during the battle, and I ended up chasing them for a good while. They put up a good fight once I caught up with them too. They were quite a handful, even for me.”
Kakashi looked up at his guardian with dull eyes. The images from the battle were still fresh in his mind, as was his nightmare. He cast his gaze back down to the ground.
“Our teammates – they’re dead, aren’t they?” he asked quietly.
Sensei gave a sigh and stared down at the same spot with blue eyes full of regret.
“There were more guards stationed at the outer sides of the camp than we previously thought. Our teammates fought well to keep them from interfering with our fights in the middle of the camp, but they – they didn’t make it out.”
He said that last part a little more softly than the rest. Kakashi clenched his fists more tightly. Then they would be going home alone. The shinobi that had accompanied them here would not be returning with them. They died for their mission. Kakashi thought back to his father, lying in the pool of blood in the middle of his room, a dagger still weakly held in his pale motionless hands. The ninja that wouldn’t let his teammates die on their mission and instead had died because of them. The thoughts sent chills down Kakashi’s spine. The way of the shinobi…It kills so many people.
“Kakashi,” Sensei said before pouring some of the water from his cask onto a bandage and wiping away the dried blood from his student’s forehead, “Are you sure you’re okay? This was a difficult mission, and I could understand if you were-”
“I’m fine,” Kakashi snapped suddenly, pushing his sensei’s hand away.
As much as he wanted the blood gone, he wouldn’t be fussed over.
“No,” the Yellow Flash replied, “I don’t think you are. What’s wrong, Kakashi?”
“Nothing,” the chuunin insisted, “I don’t need you to treat me like a little kid. I’m not afraid.”
“You were shaking when I got here.”
“It was cold.”
“You were crying out for your father.”
Kakashi’s eyes flashed up at him defensively and met the blonde man’s with a cold stare. The Yellow Flash only looked sympathetic. He wanted to help his student, but part of him wasn’t sure how. He remembered his first large battle, when as a young boy, the time he had realized that he wasn’t just following orders – he was taking lives. The Yellow Flash’s own sensei, Jiraya, hadn’t been much of a comfort with his simple “that’s just the way it is” for an explanation. Maybe he hadn’t been able to think of anything better to say at the time.
“It’s okay to be afraid,” Sensei tried cautiously, “Actually we all are now and then. Even the bravest shinobi.”
Kakashi didn’t seem convinced. He kept his eyes turned down at the forest floor.
“They don’t show it,” the chuunin grumbled bitterly, “A true shinobi doesn’t show his feelings.”
“That’s true,” Sensei said, “A lot of them are good at suppressing them because that’s what they feel like they have to do. But those emotions are also part of what make us human, Kakashi, and no matter what, that’s always going to be what you are.”
“I don’t want to fight anymore,” the chuunin sighed, looking down at has bloody hands, “I’m tired of killing. I don’t want to take anymore lives.”
The Yellow Flash was surprised at his student’s sudden confession. Could the boy who had trained so hard to be good at being a ninja really want to give it all up? Just like that? The blonde man studied the chuunin for a moment before he spoke.
“Kakashi, why do you fight?”
“Because I have to,” the nine-year-old replied, “To protect the village.”
“And what would happen to the village if you just gave up? If you decided that they weren’t worth protecting anymore?”
The chuunin was a bit taken aback. He thought of Iruka and the other children at the academy depending on him. He thought of the Uminos and other ninja families working to protect the civilians that couldn’t defend themselves. And what was he doing? He just wanted to run away.
“I can’t let anything happen to them,” the chuunin said decidedly, looking up at his sensei again, “I want to keep protecting them.”
His mentor smiled at him warmly.
“When a shinobi starts fighting blindly, that’s when the killing becomes meaningless,” he told his student, “Fight for what you want to protect, and don’t forget why you’re doing it.”
Kakashi nodded. He tried to rise, but his strength hadn’t seemed to return to him yet. His sensei smiled and bent forward to wrap his arms around his student. Slowly, he picked up a protesting chuunin and hung the nine-year-old over his shoulder.
“Just call it teamwork,” he said with a smile, and Kakashi stopped struggling.
As his sensei bounded through the trees, Kakashi couldn’t help but feel relieved at the thought of going home, back to Konoha. Maybe because of today, I have a home to return to, he mused thoughtfully. He hadn’t been told exactly how the targets were a threat to his village, but he was sure they hadn’t been just a client’s request. Sensei never looked so serious when the job they were doing was just for money. Kakashi realized that his teacher’s reason for fighting was the same as his own and probably the same as most of Konoha’s shinobi. They all fought to protect what was important to them – their village and all of the people there who depended on them.
The Yellow Flash sensed a calmness come over his student as the small boy slowly fell asleep on the blonde man’s shoulder. Maybe Kakashi understood what being a shinobi was about a little more now, thanks to him. He didn’t have to doubt his motives anymore since he had discovered what was worth protecting. His guardian couldn’t help but smirk smugly and give himself a mental high-five.
I’m such a good sensei…
The tan boy stirred in his bed as he heard his mother call his name. He blinked sleepily and shielded his eyes from the sunlight pouring in through his window. Iruka was used to waking up early, but last night, he had stayed up late with Kakashi. The Uminos had invited his friend over for the night while the silver-haired boy’s sensei was gone on a long mission. Kakashi, happy to get away from the empty house, had met Iruka by the tree as soon as the younger boy had gotten out of the academy. They had played until dinner and stayed up the rest of the night talking about training and what Iruka was going to do when he graduated from the academy.
“Do you think Sensei will take me on his team?” he had asked, “I want to stay with you!”
“I don’t know. Don’t they usually keep kids from the same class together?”
Iruka had frowned.
“I don’t know who I’d want to be teamed up with from my class…”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s still a couple of years away.”
Somehow this had not made Iruka feel any better. He wanted to catch up with his friend so badly, but part of him kept saying it was impossible. Kakashi was years ahead of him even though he really wasn’t that much older. Even though Iruka had just turned nine, it would be three more years before he graduated from the academy. Then, he’d have to wait till he was ready to take the chuunin exams because he would still only be a gennin. What if Kakashi was already a jounin by then? Iruka tried not to let jealousy get the better of him. He was proud of his friend and didn’t even envy his rank sometimes when he heard Kakashi’s stories about the type of missions he went on. Would Iruka ever be ready for that?
He saw Kakashi stir tiredly on the futon next to him. The chuunin was a light sleeper, but he was also not a morning person, so even though Mrs. Umino’s call had woken him up, he just closed his eyes to go back to sleep. Iruka crept by him as silently as he could and went to go meet his mother, who was out in the kitchen.
“Morning, Okasan,” Iruka yawned.
“Good morning to you, sleepyhead,” his mother replied, “Is Kakashi-kun awake?”
Iruka shook his head. He stretched as he watched his mother shuffle around the kitchen, checking on what she had cooking.
“He’s still sleeping,” Iruka said, “but I think he’ll wake up soon.”
“All right, then. When you’re both ready, come back for breakfast. You don’t want to be late to the academy.”
Her son nodded before walking back to the bedroom. When he got there, he saw that Kakashi had changed his mind about going back to bed. He was still lying down, however, and looked up at Iruka from the floor with sleepy eyes.
“Breakfast is going to be ready soon,” Iruka told his friend.
“Sounds good,” Kakashi said with a slight smirk, “I’m hungry.”
The chuunin rose from the futon that had been laid out for him and rolled it back up. Then, he and Iruka changed out of their pajamas and went to the kitchen.
“So, training today?” Iruka asked with a mouth full of rice and egg.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Mrs. Umino chided.
Iruka swallowed with a big gulp as Kakashi nodded.
“Sensei won’t be back till later, so I was going to practice on the training grounds for a while until he gets back.”
“Can I come? I can meet you there after I get out of class.”
Kakashi gave a nod, and Iruka smiled excitedly.
“I’ll still be there,” the chuunin said, “Sensei told me that we’re going on another big mission soon. I want to make sure I’m ready.”
“You train so hard, Kakashi-kun,” Iruka’s mother said, impressed, “No wonder you’re such a fine shinobi.”
Kakashi turned a bit red at the praise, much to Iruka’s amusement.
“Yes, Kakashi-kun, you’re such a fine shinobi,” he imitated in a high voice.
Both Kakashi and Mrs. Umino glared at him.
“Iruka, stop teasing him and finish your breakfast,” she told her son.
“Yes, Okasan,” Iruka mumbled, and went back to shoveling food into his mouth.
Despite Iruka’s fast eating skills, Kakashi still finished before him. The chuunin thanked Iruka’s mother and prepared to leave for the training grounds.
“Hey, wait for me!” his friend called from the table, still gulping down the last bits of his breakfast.
“You’re too slow,” Kakashi said with a slight smirk.
“I’m almost done,” Iruka insisted as he took one last bite from his plate.
“You have to go to the academy anyway,” the silver-haired boy told him, “I’m going further.”
“But we can go together,” his friend said, “The academy’s on the way. Just wait a sec.”
Kakashi sighed, knowing he wasn’t going to get there any faster if he kept talking about it. It wasn’t as if he was in much of a hurry anyway. He waited patiently for his friend to pull on his shoes, and finally, the two were off.
Iruka struggled to keep up as the older and faster chuunin sped ahead of him. With each chakra-powered leap, he felt as if he was getting closer, but Kakashi always seemed to remain out of reach, no matter how quickly Iruka tried to go. Frustrated, he called out after his friend.
“Hey, Kakashi! Slow down!”
The chuunin gave him a puzzled look over his shoulder. Iruka frowned in response. His friend slowed down for him a bit, but didn’t look happy about it.
“You’ve got to keep up,” he told him, “On missions, shinobi travel much faster than this.”
“I’m not slow!” Iruka said defensively, “You’re just a bit faster than me.”
Kakashi shook his head.
“It’s okay, Iruka. You still have time to train and bring your speed up. Don’t forget, you’re a year younger than me.”
The brown-haired boy would rather not have been reminded. Everything Kakashi had excelled at over him had always been a result of his exceptional skills as a prodigy ninja. Iruka knew that even if he had been the older one, Kakashi still would have surpassed him, so he wondered how much age had to do with any of it.
“I’m fast enough now!” he told him, “Race you to the academy!”
With that, he sped off, attempting to leave Kakashi in the dust. The chuunin stared blankly after him and followed with large bounding leaps. When the two finally reached the academy, they landed at the gates at approximately the same time. Iruka huffed to catch his breath but still held a victorious gleam in his eyes.
“See? I won! I’m faster than you are.”
“No, it was a tie.”
“I touched the ground first! Admit it – you lost to an academy student.”
Iruka frowned at him, noticing that he wasn’t even breaking a sweat. His breathing was even, as if he had just taken a stroll around the village. Had Kakashi tied on purpose?
“You weren’t going as fast as you could have, huh?” Iruka asked finally, “You could have beaten me here if you had wanted to.”
Kakashi didn’t deny it. He hadn’t wanted to make Iruka disappointed, but he also refused to let his friend gloat about a victory he hadn’t really won. He had thought this would be the best way.
“We tied,” he said, “That’s all.”
Iruka didn’t buy it, but didn’t have time to argue anymore as the students started pouring into the building. He said a hasty goodbye to Kakashi and followed his classmates into the academy.
The chuunin continued on to the training ground and started going through the drills that his sensei had taught him. He worked on his chakra control, accuracy, strength, and speed. He ran laps around the training grounds and practiced with his weapons in the target range. By the time Iruka came, Kakashi was worn out. He sat beneath one of the trees, catching his breath as the younger boy came up to him.
“Done already?” he grinned, “I thought you’d still be going.”
“I’ve been practicing for hours,” the chuunin panted, “It’s time for a break.”
“Sounds like easy training to me,” Iruka said as he sat down next to his friend, enjoying the moment of relaxation just as much as the chuunin, who no doubt needed it more.
“Just a bit longer,” Kakashi sighed and leaned back against the tree.
Iruka thought he looked as if he was going to fall asleep. The brown-haired boy appreciated the light breeze blowing through the training ground; it was a fairly hot day. The visible part of Kakashi’s pale face was slightly sunburned, and Iruka knew it’d be a funny sight when he saw the chuunin’s bare face with its new mask tan line.
After a few moments, Kakashi rose slowly to his feet, ready to resume his training. Iruka jumped up after him, excited to be training with his friend who would surely teach him what he needed to know to surpass his classmates. Iruka had been falling behind a bit in class lately; he hated watching his classmates surpass him in exams and physical tests while he struggled. He was more determined than ever to train with his friend so that he could pull ahead.
“What are we going to do first?” he asked anxiously.
“I already went through most of the drills,” Kakashi answered, “Warm up with some laps and target practice. Then we can spar.”
“Yeah. Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you. Fighting me will be good practice for you, and I’ve done almost everything except spar since Sensei’s not here.”
“You don’t have to go easy on me,” Iruka replied indignantly, “I can handle whatever you throw at me!”
Kakashi’s eyes crinkled slightly with amusement and pride at his friend’s confidence.
“We’ll see after you’ve warmed up. Now go ahead.”
Iruka didn’t need to be told; he was already sprinting around the training grounds in preparation for their mock battle. Kakashi went to the target range to practice throwing his kunai and shuriken until his friend had finished. Iruka joined him not long after. As soon as the two had finished their target practice, they went to the center of the main field to fight.
“Let’s lay down the rules,” Kakashi told him, “No lethal jutsu, no leaving this training field, and no summons. The first one to give up or be unable to continue fighting loses. If you or I get in a lock or jutsu we can’t get out of, we have to quit. Sound okay?”
“I’m ready when you are,” he told the chuunin.
“Good,” Kakashi said, “Then let’s start!”
Iruka ran forward first, but Kakashi wasn’t surprised. He waited for his friend to approach him and then dodged at the last minute. Iruka stumbled forward, missing his target completely. Frustrated, he turned to the spot were Kakashi had moved, several feet away. Iruka came at him again, but Kakashi formed a quick hand seal and suddenly split into three. Iruka looked around at them for a moment, baffled, but he focused on the one closest to him. He turned to aim a punch at it, throwing all of his force into the motion. His target disappeared in a cloud of smoke as soon as he made contact however, and Iruka was unprepared as the real Kakashi dropped low to the ground and kicked his legs out from under him. The younger boy fell to the ground, but was on his feet again instantly, ready to counter whatever the chuunin decided to throw at him next.
It’s going to be hard to win this one just by hitting him, the nine-year-old thought, I need to come up with a plan.
Iruka evaded the next round of punches the two remaining Kakashis threw at him. He struck one as it was flying past him, and the clone disappeared to leave the real chuunin standing before him.
“Not bad,” the older boy admitted.
“Stop going easy on me!” Iruka demanded.
“Who said I was going easy?”
“I know you can do better than that! You didn’t pass the chuunin exams by using shadow clones!”
“You can’t handle more than shadow clones.”
“Try me!” Iruka challenged and held his ground.
Kakashi looked at him right in the eyes and saw that he was serious. He didn’t want to hurt his friend, but he knew Iruka wouldn’t buy any more faking. He’d give him a challenge then. This fight would only be over sooner.
“I hope you’re ready,” Kakashi told him.
“Always,” the younger boy replied confidently.
Kakashi didn’t wait for another cue. He shot off towards Iruka as fast as he could. All Iruka saw was a blur of black and silver before Kakashi’s fist connected with his stomach. The chuunin tried to hold back just a bit, but the force of his attack was still enough to knock his friend to the ground. Iruka fell with a sharp cry that made Kakashi flinch. Did I go too far?
Iruka lay on the floor clutching his stomach while Kakashi stood over him worriedly.
“Iruka, are you okay? I didn’t mean to-”
“Fine,” Iruka told him, scrambling to his feet despite the pang of pain he still felt.
Kakashi really had hit him hard. There’d be a bruise there tomorrow for sure. Iruka didn’t care though. His only concern was to finish the fight.
“This isn’t over yet!” he said, “I can still keep going.”
Kakashi was impressed by his friend’s endurance. He put his arms up in front of him, ready to fend off the coming attack. Iruka glared at the chuunin and reached for his shuriken. He threw a round of weapons at Kakashi, but the silver-haired boy dodged them with well-practiced ease. Iruka grew more frustrated and charged at him, hoping to catch him with a punch before Kakashi had time to react. The chuunin saw Iruka’s fist coming and moved aside. Iruka had thought a step ahead, though, and before Kakashi had the time to look down, the brown-haired boy’s foot had connected with his shin. The chuunin staggered backwards. Shocked that he had actually been hit, Kakashi stared at Iruka with a stunned expression. His friend smirked back at him and took advantage of the opening to aim another punch at Kakashi’s abdomen. The chuunin had decided he was through messing around, though, and caught Iruka’s punch in his own hand, gripping it tightly.
I can’t let my guard down anymore, Kakashi thought, If I can just get him in a lock, this will be over.
He grabbed for Iruka’s other hand, but the younger boy avoided him, trying to pull free. Kakashi pulled back, determined to outdo him in strength, and for a moment, the two were playing tug-of-war with Iruka’s arm. Thinking quickly, Iruka suddenly gave in. As Kakashi stumbled backwards, Iruka used the momentum to throw himself forward, right at Kakashi. His fist met the surprised chuunin’s stomach as both he and his attacker fell to the floor with a thump. Iruka landed on top of Kakashi and grabbed both of his friend’s arms, pinning them to the floor. The chuunin was still in shock after falling for such a simple trick. His stomach hurt and now he could barely move his arms. Iruka was sitting on his stomach, and Kakashi felt like he couldn’t breathe properly even though his friend wasn’t pressing down on his lungs. He thrashed around, trying to knock Iruka off, but the younger boy held him down as best he could. The slight difference in size wasn’t enough to make throwing him off easy. Even though Kakashi had trained hard and was stronger than the other boy, Iruka’s determination to win had seemed to give him strength to match.
“Give up,” Iruka grunted, “You can’t fight anymore. I’ve won.”
The chuunin wouldn’t admit it. He refused to acknowledge that he, a chuunin, could be beaten by a younger boy who hadn’t even graduated the academy yet. It’s impossible. Why did I let my guard down? I held back too much, even after I said I wouldn’t. He’s not going to let me forget it if I let him win now.
Kakashi stopped his thrashing and went limp for a moment. Iruka looked at him skeptically, wondering if Kakashi would really admit defeat, but all the chuunin needed was that second of hesitation to throw everything into a single movement that sent the younger boy toppling off of him. He threw up both his right arm and leg and used the unbalanced force to roll them over so that he was the one pinning Iruka to the floor. Stunned at the sudden change of positions, Iruka stared up at Kakashi blankly.
“You left yourself open,” Kakashi panted, a bit tired from his struggle before, “Now you’re the one who has to give up.”
Iruka gritted his teeth and struggled. Though Kakashi was more worn out than his energetic friend, he had little trouble keeping himself from being knocked off.
“This isn’t fair,” Iruka protested, “I won! You were going to give up.”
“But I didn’t,” Kakashi told him, “You can’t let your guard down until you’re sure that the battle is over. It’s a simple rule.”
“I’m not going to lose!” Iruka yelled, “Just because you’re a chuunin doesn’t mean you’re better than me!”
“WELL SAID, MY YOUNG COMRADE!” a high voice suddenly echoed from the edge of the clearing.
Kakashi looked in the direction that it had come from and stared at the intruder who approached them in the middle of their battle. It was a boy that looked about his age, but with a very unusual appearance. He wore a tight green jumpsuit with light orange legwarmers. He had a neat bowl-cut and smiled with bright shiny white teeth. Kakashi had never seen a stranger child in all his ten years.
“I SHALL AID YOU IN THIS STRIFE AND TOGETHER, WE WILL DEFEAT YOUR FORMIDABLE OPPONENT!” the boy squeaked, the words sounding far too big in his mouth.
“I don’t need your help!” Iruka growled from the floor, trying to shove off a very distracted Kakashi.
“Who are you?” the chuunin asked the green-clad boy.
“My name is Maito Gai!” the boy replied, in a slightly quieter, but more serious tone, “I have trained hard in the art of taijutsu to protect those weaker than me and overcome those who abuse their power in order to bring harm to others!”
“We were just training,” Kakashi replied coolly, “You’re interrupting our practice battle.”
Iruka was still struggling beneath him, trying to take advantage of his distraction by using the same method Kakashi had used on him. The chuunin wouldn’t be overcome so easily, though. He kept his weight on Iruka so the younger boy couldn’t roll them back over. Gai watched them, as if trying to decide if he still wanted to interfere further after Kakashi’s dismissal.
“If you’re just going to stand there,” Iruka grunted finally, close to defeat, “At least help me give Kakashi a real sparring match!”
Kakashi stared at his friend in disbelief as the intruder cried out gleefully from beside them.
“I WOULD BE HONORED TO ASSIST YOU IN THIS BATTLE!” he shouted with all his renewed enthusiasm.
Immediately, he leapt at Kakashi, landing a roundhouse kick before the chuunin even had time to react. Kakashi toppled off Iruka and landed with a thump on the grass. He scowled at his attacker from the ground.
“Two against one isn’t fair.”
“You’re a chuunin,” Iruka pointed out, “We’re both academy students. This makes it even.”
Kakashi frowned at him.
“Fine,” he said, “If that’s how you want it. I won’t hold back this time.”
“That’s exactly how I want it,” Iruka replied with a smirk.
“Alright then. Let’s start.”
Kakashi had barely blinked before Gai shot towards him. The chuunin was impressed by his speed, but the other boy was still too slow for him. Kakashi stepped aside and let the green blur shoot past him. Iruka had followed right after him, and though the younger boy was slower, he was too focused to just blow by Kakashi the way Gai had. The chuunin blocked him as Iruka’s fist came down at his stomach. Iruka swung again, this time higher. Kakashi grabbed his friend’s arm and used his momentum to throw him over his shoulder. Iruka landed on the floor roughly but unhurt. Kakashi realized in a panic that he hadn’t seen where Gai had gone. The other boy surely hadn’t taken that long to recover from missing his target. He whipped around just in time to see Gai leaping at him. Kakashi ducked, crouching on the floor before he lifted his feet off the ground to kick his attacker in the stomach. Gai was knocked backwards and fell. He clutched his abdomen painfully but was back on his feet within seconds, ready to continue the fight.
Iruka attacked again from behind; Kakashi was able to avoid him this time, but had no time to recover before Gai came at him with a flurry of punches and kicks. The chuunin had no trouble blocking him, but he had to admit that he was getting worn out. He rarely fought two or more people at once on the battlefield and never during training unless Sensei had made some shadow clones. These were two real opponents he was facing, however, and he had to make sure to bring them both down quickly without injuring them too badly.
The numbers are against me, he thought, I can make it fairer by creating some shadow clones, but I’ll need to use some other techniques too…
Kakashi multiplied himself into three, and both clones stood with him, facing their opponents. Gai and Iruka attacked the clones immediately, and both of Kakashi’s copies disappeared in a puff of smoke. The boys leapt at the remaining Kakashi at the same time, but when they came in contact, this Kakashi also disappeared, leaving a large wooden stump in his place.
“A substitution jutsu?” Iruka asked surprised.
He had never seen his friend use that before, though he didn’t doubt that he knew it.
“Our opponent has disappeared!” Gai stated.
“Obviously,” Iruka grumbled, looking around the battlefield in search of Kakashi.
The chuunin was nowhere to be seen, however. He seemed to be biding his time.
“Maybe we should split up and search for him,” Iruka suggested.
“No, my comrade!” Gai argued, “It is far better to stay together and fight as a team! We should not risk being ambushed alone.”
He had a point there, Iruka had to admit. The two boys stood back to back, scanning the terrain for any sign of Kakashi, but wherever the chuunin had gone he was keeping himself well hidden.
He would have attacked by now, Iruka thought, Not to the left. Not to the right. Not in front and not behind. Could he really be…?
Before he had time to finish the thought, the ground beneath his feet shifted and two hands suddenly shot out. One grabbed Iruka’s ankle, and the other latched around Gai’s left legwarmer before the dark-haired boy had any idea what was going on. Together, they were pulled right into the ground so far down that they were buried up to their necks in the soil. Kakashi emerged moments later, looking down at the two dumbstruck boys with an amused glint in his eyes.
“I’ve been working on that one. You can’t move, can you?”
Iruka grunted and struggled in place, trying to free himself from the tightly binding hole. It didn’t do any good, though, and Gai wasn’t anymore successful.
“Alas, I must admit defeat,” the other boy confessed finally.
“Me too,” Iruka sighed, his voice full of resentment, “but I’ll win next time! Don’t let your guard down, Kakashi. I won’t be beaten so easily once I’ve trained some more!”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” the chuunin assured him, reaching down to pull his friend out of the soil.
After he had Iruka out, he walked over to Gai, and together, Kakashi and Iruka pulled him out of the ground as well. The silver-haired boy looked exhausted now. Iruka wondered how he had found the strength to pull both of them under. I wonder how much he was really holding back, the younger boy thought bitterly. Unlike Iruka, however, Gai seemed surprisingly happy after his loss.
“Your fighting skills are nothing short of amazing! Even the skills I’ve acquired through my intense training, which has bested many of my own youthful peers, was no match! You’ve proven yourself a worthy opponent. From this day on, I’ll train even harder so that I may one day become even greater. We are now eternal rivals!”
Kakashi just stared at him, half wondering if he should have left the loudmouthed boy in the dirt to dig himself out. Iruka seemed a mixture of amused and embarrassed by the other boy’s short speech. Him take on Kakashi-kun? The scar-faced boy had to admit that he kind of admired Gai’s determination, despite the other boy’s ignorance of what he was getting himself into.
“Someday we’ll both beat you,” Iruka told his friend with a mischievous smirk on his face.
“You can try,” Kakashi shot back with a good-natured smile.
The two boys braced themselves for Gai’s blinding grin. The strange boy gave a quick farewell and rushed off to resume his training immediately. Kakashi knew Sensei would be impressed with that kind of motivation.
“I think we’re done with our own training for today,” he said to Iruka, who was still trying to brush dirt off of his now not-so-white shirt and pants, “It looks like Sensei is going to be back late.”
“Let’s go home for dinner!” Iruka said cheerfully, the thought of his mother’s cooking quickly putting him back in good spirits, even after his loss to Kakashi.
The chuunin agreed, and together, the two of them made their way back into the central part of the village, on the way to the Umino’s house. Kakashi stared at the sky, absently wondering when Sensei would come home. Iruka’s mind was partly on his mother’s cooking, but mostly, he was thinking over the battle. What would it take to finally overcome the chuunin? He felt as if he had been so close, but he had to admit to himself that Kakashi couldn’t have been fighting him at full power, even for a non-lethal match. It frightened him a bit to think of what his friend might be capable of in a life or death situation. He really isn’t that much older than me…
Kakashi came out of his own thoughts and looked at his friend curiously. Iruka was wearing an expression that was far too serious for him.
“What’s wrong?” Kakashi asked, “You’re not mad because you lost, are you?”
Iruka snapped back to reality and frowned.
“You’re a tough opponent,” the tan boy said grudgingly, “Any kid younger than you would have lost.”
“You put up a good fight too,” the older boy told him, “You almost had me for a moment.”
“You let me do that.”
“No, I didn’t,” Kakashi admitted, “but I did let my guard down because I underestimated you. Next time, I won’t make that mistake.”
His eyes squinted slightly in a smile, and Iruka couldn’t help but feel proud for being acknowledged as an opponent who should be taken seriously in the future. He had proved that he was not just some weak little kid that a chuunin could just ignore. He didn’t have the strength or the skills his friend had, but maybe he would be able to find his own way to make up for it.
“Race you to my house!” the younger boy yelled suddenly and bolted off.
“W-what?” Kakashi gasped, breathlessly.
His friend must have known how exhausted the chuunin was. Oh well, Kakashi thought with a reluctant smirk, At least if he wins this one, it won’t be because I let him. He hurried after Iruka with heavy panting breaths passing through his mask, determined to give the other boy a challenge despite his exhaustion. Far ahead of him, Iruka’s laughter echoed down the streets of Konoha.