Be My Friend by Karuka Ikashi
Summary: The White Fang's son captures a six-year-old Iruka's interest...but why is he so sad? Follows the lives of Kakashi and Iruka as they grow up together. Please R&R!
Categories: General Fiction Characters:
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 5 Completed: No Word count: 26097 Read: 5778 Published: 10/09/06 Updated: 24/07/08

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

Chapter 1 by Karuka Ikashi
Author's Notes:
Some spoilers about Kakashi's past. I started this fic on my birthday. I've been wanting to write something with young Kakashi and Iruka in it for a while. I hope you enjoy it! Please let me know what you think!
The White Fang’s Son

 

            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…

 

            “I…”

 

            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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2 by Karuka Ikashi
Author's Notes:
Second chapter- finally! Hope you enjoy~ Let me know what you think!

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.

 

            “He talked!”

 

            “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.

 

            “Pak-kun!”

 

            “What?”

 

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.”

 

“It’s…so good!”

 

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.

 

            “Really?”

 

            Iruka’s mother nodded.

 

            “Of course.”

 

            “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.

 

“H-hatake!”

 

“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.

 

            “Okay.”

 

            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.

Chapter 3 by Karuka Ikashi
The Reason The Reason

 

            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.

 

“You…CHEATED!”

 

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?”

 

“Yes, Sensei.”

 

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.

 

            “Otousan?”

 

            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.

 

            “OTOUSAN!”

 

            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?”

 

            “Sensei…”

 

            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…

Chapter 4: Rivals by Karuka Ikashi
Rivals Rivals

 

            “Iruka!”

 

            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.”

 

            “I didn’t.”

 

            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.”

 

            “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?”

 

            Iruka nodded.

 

            “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. 

 

           

           

           

 

 

           

           

 

Chapter 5: Lessons by Karuka Ikashi
Lessons

Fire – it was burning everywhere. Iruka could feel the sweat dripping down the sides of his face as the heat surrounded him. He looked all around, searching for a way out, but all he could see were flames. Far away, he could hear voices mixed in with the sizzling crackle of his world being consumed, but he couldn’t make out whom they belonged to at first. Something about them sounded familiar, he realized. It was almost as if they were calling his name.

“Iruka! Iruka, run away! Get out of here!”

“ I c-can’t,” the young boy choked back, coughing as smoke entered his lungs, “There’s no way out!”

“Don’t die here!” the voice wailed, clearer now, “Please-”

It was desperate and begging. Iruka still didn’t recognize whom it belonged to, but he could feel a sickening twist in his stomach as he realized it might be someone he knew, whose voice had been grossly mutated. Not her…

“Iruka!”

A face burst through the flames directly in front of him, and Iruka saw what he had feared seeing most – the burned and distorted face of his mother. He couldn’t stand to look at her burned flesh or hear her weak damaged voice. He closed his eyes, covered his ears, and screamed.

“Iruka. Iruka!”

The voice was different now. It was smoother, comforting, normal. Something about it was also familiar, but he couldn’t remember whom it belonged to either.

“IRUKA! KAI!”

The tan boy blinked. It wasn’t hot anymore, but he was still sweating. He winced against the bright light of the sun as several eyes fixed themselves upon him. There was a patch of grass beneath his feet, still healthy and green. Not burnt. Slowly, Iruka began to remember where he was. It wasn’t anywhere near a fire – it was outside…with his classmates.

“Iruka, you’re the only one who wasn’t able to break out of the genjutsu,” his sensei told him, frowning with disapproval, “Did you allow yourself to believe everything you experienced was real?”

“It was real!” Iruka insisted, “I was hot, and I could smell smoke.”

“That was a mid-level genjutsu,” his sensei corrected him, “It affects every one of your five senses. Weren’t you paying attention when I explained this in class?”

Iruka looked away embarrassedly. He knew he had heard his sensei mention this, but experiencing it had been a whole different story. He had actually felt like he was going to burn up. He looked down at his hands and checked himself over again, but he was fine – no singes, nothing. How can I be the only one to fall for that genjutsu?, he thought bitterly. I wonder if they all saw the same thing I did.

He turned to see his sensei already preparing for the next round of training, and Iruka frowned at the possibility of failing to expel even more horrible images. Only two more years till we graduate. No one’ll let me live it down if I freak out over every little genjutsu. I gotta break out of the next one. This one didn’t even turn out to be scary; but Iruka was enjoying his fantasy world of playing with his classmates at the lake so much that he forgot he was supposed to be reaching back for the real world. It earned him another lecture from his sensei. The genjutsu that followed were more frightening than any that had come before. In one, a large monstrous creature towered over him as shinobi he had seen around the village were dying left and right. Iruka struggled, but by the time he broke out of it, he was shaking pretty hard and time had already been called. A classmate wetting his pants later on made him feel a little better.

The end of the school day came quicker than Iruka expected. Usually the afternoons before a day off just dragged on, but now Iruka found himself outside the academy building wondering what he should do with his newfound free time. He walked towards the tree with the swing before realizing that Kakashi wouldn’t be meeting him there today. His friend was still off on a mission. Too bad he’s not here, Iruka thought to himself, I’m sure he could help me with the genjutsu. The dark-skinned boy was not at all pleased with today’s performance. There had to be someone who could help him get better at it over the break. He wanted nothing more than to come back having mastered it to the point where he could show off his new skills without any trouble. Let them laugh then. Iruka knew his parents weren’t too skilled in the area either and blamed his genes for a while until he thought of someone else who might be able to help him.

A few minutes later, he found himself outside this person’s door. As it opened, he was greeted with a smile.

“Oh, Iruka! Good to see you. You know Kakashi’s out, right?”

The tan boy nodded and looked up at the blond man with his best pleading eyes.

“I came to see you, Sensei. Can you please help train me in breaking out of genjutsu?”

“You want my help, huh?” the Yellow Flash asked with a small laugh, “What about your parents?”

“They’re not any better at this stuff than I am,” Iruka mumbled, remembering his father’s last attempt to teach him resistance against genjutsu.

It had ended with Iruka quivering on the floor and sleeping next to his mother for a week. Actually I think they’re worse.

“Well, I have to admit it’s not my favorite area either, but I can help you out if you like,” the man told him, “I have a bit of time early tomorrow if you think you can get up.”

Iruka made a face at the thought of rising early on his day off, but he nodded.

“Thanks, Sensei!”

The next day, the two of them were standing on the practice field. Iruka gave a sleepy yawn but then tried his best to look awake. His mother had had to drag him out of bed herself since Iruka had asked her the night before to wake him up so he wouldn’t miss his lesson. He had eaten breakfast in a hurry, but had still arrived on the field not long after Sensei had gotten there.

“Ready for today’s lesson?” the blonde man asked.

“Yep!” Iruka chirped, determined not to look tired anymore.

He would have to be on full alert for this.

“Good. We’ll start with a lower level genjutsu and work our way up.”

The tan boy nodded. He was confident in his ability to dispel the lowest level of genjutsu at least, but he was sure he could learn more from practicing with them that would help him fight against the stronger ones.

“First,” Sensei said, “You have to get a feel for where you are. Look around – attach yourself to this place so that you won’t get sucked away into a world that doesn’t exist.”

Iruka glanced around him and took in everything on the training ground – the stretch of grass he and Sensei were standing on, the trees that lined the sides, and even the partly cloudy sky above. He closed his eyes and memorized the sounds and smells of the place he was standing in. He could sense Sensei watching him even though his world was dark.

“Focus,” the voice said, “Don’t let yourself drift away from where you are. Don’t think about anything outside this training field. When I try to take you away, fight back with your mind and remember what this place feels like. Try to get back here.”

Iruka nodded slowly. He felt like he was going into a trance. Is this how people meditate? He kept his mind attached to the training ground, and it wasn’t until a few moments later that he felt himself being pulled away. Heat- he felt himself getting warmer. He was pretty sure his eyes were still closed, but he was starting to see his parents standing before him. Okasan? Otosan? Where did you come from? You’re not- You’re not supposed to be here. Though it was difficult, Iruka tried to pull his mind away from his parents and think of the training field again.

“Iruka…”

They were calling his name now. It all seemed so real. Those voices – they were exactly what Iruka’s parents sounded like. No, Iruka thought, It’s fake. My parents aren’t here. I’m on the training grounds with Sensei. Focus. He pushed his mind away from their voices and tried to picture the grass and trees. There. He could feel them now. He had gotten a sense of where he was again.

“Iruka.”

The voice was different now. It didn’t belong to either one of Iruka’s parents, but it wasn’t Sensei’s voice either. Still, it was also familiar. Could it be…

“Kakashi!” Iruka blurted, surprised, and his friend appeared before him.

He hadn’t really expected to see him, but there he was. No wait, Kakashi’s out on a mission. He couldn’t be back already. No way – it can’t be. You’re not here. You’re not- Iruka tried to pull his mind away, but he got distracted from where he wanted to go back to. I wish he were back already. Kakashi had been gone for a while. What if – what if something happened? What if he didn’t come back? The kind of missions Kakashi went on were so dangerous. No, what am I thinking? It’s Kakashi. No way he’d ever let someone beat him…By the time Iruka had finally pulled his mind away, he had forgotten where he was.

“Kai,” Sensei said, and Iruka snapped back to the training field.

“Sorry, Sensei,” Iruka muttered, “I let myself get distracted.”

“Don’t worry about it,” the blonde man replied, “It was only the first round. You saw something you didn’t expect, right? Well most of genjutsu is about seeing what you don’t think you will and actually making you believe that you are seeing it. If you get too caught up in it and ask yourself too many questions, then you forget where you’re going.”

Iruka nodded. Part of him had been expecting to see Kakashi, or at least hoping to, and that was what had led to the confusion.

“It was only the first level too,” Iruka sighed.

“Just because it’s low level genjutsu doesn’t mean it can’t be tough without practice. Let’s try it again.”

Iruka nodded and closed his eyes. This time he thought only of the field. Whatever popped up was promptly ignored, even though some things tended to draw Iruka’s attention away if only for a second. Ramen! No, training field, training field…

“Kai,” Iruka finally said after a few moments, but he wasn’t free of the genjutsu.

“Try again,” he could hear sensei say.

“Kai!” Iruka yelled, putting all his mental force into it.

Finally he was free! Though he could swear the scent of ramen was still in the air…

“I did it!” Iruka said happily, “You are real, right, Sensei?”

“I was the last time I checked,” the blonde man smirked as Iruka gave him a poke just to make sure, “Well done.”

The tan boy grinned and waited eagerly to move on to the next level.

By the end of the day he was exhausted. He walked with Sensei as far as the jounin’s house, thanked him, and made his way back towards his own neighborhood. The sun was setting now, casting its orange rays on the statues of the three Hokage that overlooked the village. Iruka wondered absently what was for dinner; then his thoughts went back to Kakashi. Maybe the small chuunin would be home by tomorrow. I’ll go meet up with him then. We could practice together.

When Iruka arrived him, he was surprised that only his father greeted him.

“Where’s Okasan?” he asked.

“She got called away suddenly,” his father replied, with the usual quirk on his lips, “Seems some skirmishes have started on Konoha’s borders. Hopefully they’ll let her come home soon, though.”

Iruka frowned, but nodded understandingly. This kind of thing happened all the time. His mother had many talents and was sometimes needed on special force teams. Her missions usually didn’t last long though, so Iruka usually had little time to miss her. Still, she had recently started teaching Iruka how to use exploding tags on his kunai, and the young boy was impatient to master it. It was always so exciting to learn something new, and his mother was an excellent teacher. He pouted a bit.

“Cheer up,” his father said, “At least you’ve still got me to make you dinner! Hey, don’t make that face.”

Iruka gave him a mischievous smirk.

“Just don’t destroy the kitchen before she gets back,” he said, “Or she’ll have a new mission to make you fix it.”

“I’ll do my best to keep it in one piece,” his father replied.

Despite how his wife and son might have teased him, Mr. Umino was not a bad cook. It was just that cooking with one arm tended to be a bit of a challenge. Kind of like a C-rank mission – not as hard as it could be, but not as easy as D-rank. Rice he could do. As for anything beyond rice, well, Iruka’s father would just have to get creative. And juggle a little bit.

A few painstaking moments later, they had a meal. Iruka helped set the table while his father got the food ready. They sat down together at their small low table and began to eat.

“Itadakimasu!” Iruka said cheerfully before he dug in.

“Any good?” his dad inquired.

His son grinned.

“Not bad. Maybe soon you’ll be as good as Okasan.”

“Don’t flatter me too much,” his father replied, putting down his chopsticks to ruffle Iruka’s hair like he always did, “Otherwise, I’ll never believe you.”


The tan boy laughed and tried to stop his father’s hand from messing up his ponytail.

“It really is good though. She’d be impressed.”

“Well, maybe I’ll ask her to give me a few more lessons when she gets back,” his father said with a smile, and then a little later, “So, what were you up to today? Playing with Kakashi-kun?”

Iruka shook his head.

“He’s still off on his mission,” he replied, “and it’s not playing, Otosan! It’s training! Training!”

“Oh, right. Pardon me,” Mr. Umino replied, amused, “So you were training on your own then?”

“Not alone,” Iruka replied after gulping down a mouthful of rice, “With Sensei.”

“Private lessons from the Yellow Flash himself! You’re lucky.”

“He’s teaching me how to break out of genjutsu,” Iruka told him, “I’m having trouble with it at school.”

“Genjutsu was never my strongest point either,” his father sighed, “But you’ll get the hang of it. I’m sure with a sensei like that, you’ll master it in no time.”

“But I believe what I see too easily,” Iruka murmured, “And some things scare me so bad. It’s like being trapped in a nightmare, and you can’t wake up.”

“You have to learn how to wake yourself up,” the older man said knowingly, “It’s hard sometimes, but part of you will always remember what is real.”

Iruka shuddered to think of the images the genjutsu had made him see. The scariest part about seeing the destruction and loved ones in pain was that it was all a very real part of every ninja’s life. Iruka had never thought about what shinobi had to go through and how much one person must have seen by the time he or she was an adult. His eyes fell on the place where his father’s missing arm should have been, and he found he couldn’t take his eyes off it.

At some point his father noticed him staring and put his hand up to the empty shoulder. Iruka jumped as he broke out of his trance and looked away from his father guiltily.

“Otousan?”

“Yes, Iruka-kun?”

“Do you ever wish you hadn’t become a ninja?”

His father blinked in surprise, but then smiled, a little sadly.

“Sometimes I wonder how things would have been different,” he admitted, “I could have a safer job. I could have an easier life. I could leave home knowing that I’ll come back just fine. I could have two arms. But without anyone to protect this village, well, I couldn’t really have any of that, now could I?”

Iruka wasn’t sure what to say. All he could do was stare at his father with a stunned expression.

“I’m proud of what I do,” his father continued, “Because of me, people in Konoha can feel safe. Families like ours can eat dinner together and sleep without worrying about any danger. Everyone depends on each other. That’s why, no matter what, I’ll protect this village, until I can’t fight anymore.”

Iruka’s stunned look turned to one of admiration. He was proud of his father too. Maybe someday he’ll be proud of me, Iruka thought. Someday, when I’m a shinobi protecting this village with him.

“It’s not an easy way of life,” his father said, “but it’s the one I’ve chosen, and I know it’s right for me.”

“Me too,” Iruka agreed.

Mr. Umino smiled at his son and ruffled the tan boy’s hair playfully again. They finished the rest of their meal and went off to bed not long after. Iruka was excited to show his class what he’d learned the next day.

Thanks to Sensei’s special training course, Iruka was able to break out of his genjutsu much more easily than the time before. His sensei congratulated him and praised him for his improvement. After school, he waited by the tree to see if Kakashi would come. How long was this mission going to take? Iruka wanted his friend back. He also wanted to show him what he had learned. Time passed, however, and the chuunin didn’t show up. Must still be traveling back today…

Iruka was surprised to find an empty house when he came home.

“Otosaaan!” he called, but no one answered.

He walked into the kitchen and saw a note lying on the table for him in his father’s handwriting.

“Iruka – come to Konoha hospital. Don’t panic.”

And that was it. Iruka’s eyes widened as he stared at the note in disbelief. How could he not panic? The note didn’t even say why to come! What could have possibly have happened? There was only one thing he could think of.

He rushed off to the hospital as fast as his legs could carry him. Finally, he arrived at the door, panting, barely able to make it to the reception desk. Once he had gotten his breath back, he approached the lady standing there.

“Is my father here?” he asked.

“What’s your name?”

“Umino.”

“Oh yes, he’s with his wife on the third floor. I’ll have someone take you to them.”

Iruka followed a nurse up to where his parents were. When they entered the room, the first thing he saw was his father sitting next to the hospital bed. His mother lay on the bed, eyes closed and wrapped in bandages. His father, who had been watching her, looked up as his son came in.

“Oh, Iruka…”

The boy sped to the bedside.

“Okasan! Is she going to be okay?!” he asked desperately.

“She’ll be fine,” his father sighed, “She just overdid it a bit. Her chakra’s low, but once she gets her strength back, she’ll be ready to come home. She’s sleeping now.”

“Okasan…”

Iruka was upset with his mother for worrying him like this, but at least she was going to be okay. The young boy couldn’t help being disturbed by the image of his mother wrapped in bandages and lying in a hospital bed. Even though she was a ninja and it was common to be injured on a mission, it was too much like a genjutsu for Iruka’s comfort. What if something worse had happened? He thought about Kakashi and the trouble he could be facing right now. If his mother could come back in this condition, what could happen to an eleven-year old boy? Iruka knew that his mother and Kakashi were both chuunin, but still, Kakashi seemed like the more vulnerable one. Iruka had a hard time sleeping that night worrying over the ones he cared about.

The next day, after a minor cooking disaster that resulted in the near destruction of the ceiling (Iruka still wasn’t sure exactly how it had happened), Iruka’s father took him to Ichiraku for dinner. Though Mr. Umino’s kitchen shenanigans had been amusing, Iruka still couldn’t help feeling down after what had happened to his mother. He sipped his ramen slowly, while beside him, his father slurped as loud as possible.

“What’s wrong, Iruka?” the man asked once he had gulped down half his bowl, “Don’t you like your ramen?”

“It’s good,” Iruka said quietly, taking a larger sip to prove his point, “but I wish Okasan was here to eat it with us.”

His father smiled at him sympathetically and turned so he could pat Iruka’s shoulder with his single hand.

“Your mother will be fine,” he assured his son, “Don’t worry – she’s tough enough to get through this easily.”

“What if something worse happens to her next time?” Iruka asked worriedly.

The look in his eyes was almost desperate, pleading his father to give him a satisfactory answer that would take away all his concern. Mr. Umino sighed and stared down at his half-filled bowl.

“The hardest part about being a shinobi,” he said, “is never knowing if you’ll always come back. The time before every mission might be the last chance you get to see the ones you love.”

Iruka shuddered slightly at his father’s words. The thought of his parents leaving him was too much for him to handle. He couldn’t imagine life without his mother and father there, waiting for him at home when he came back from school, eating dinner with him at the table, saying goodnight when each day was over…

“What would you do if Okasan didn’t come back?” Iruka managed to ask in a low voice.

It was his father’s turn to flinch, but Mr. Umino thought carefully about his son’s question so that he could find the best way to answer it.

“That’s something I can’t ever prepare myself for,” he replied, “but I have to try. The reality is, no one lives forever. Some of us find our time here cut short, but no matter how many years we get, our spirits all have the same lifespan. When we lose someone we love, we cry because their physical self is gone, but that doesn’t mean they’re dead. They live on within you. And you have to live for them too and value their life for what it was. If something were to happen to your mother, I would grieve until I could join her – but at the same time, I’d be proud that she gave her life for this village. You can’t show anyone greater love than that.”

Iruka gave a nod and went back to sipping his noodles. He couldn’t think of a response to his father’s words, but he did have to admit that they gave him a lot to think about. Could a person really feel pride and sadness at the same time?

After dinner, the two Uminos headed home. Iruka stared at the sun growing redder and at the large shadow the three carved faces of the Hokage were casting. The village was growing quieter as the last of the children scampered home before dark. Iruka turned in the direction of Kakashi’s house and wondered if the chuunin was home yet.

“You can go on ahead, Otousan,” Iruka said, “I’m going to wait for Kakashi.”

His father gave a nod.

“Don’t stay out too late. I’ll be waiting for you at home.”

Iruka nodded back and went to up to Kakashi’s house to knock at the door. The Yellow Flash opened the door and explained to a disappointed Iruka that his friend still hadn’t returned.

“He should be home by tonight, though,” the blonde man told him encouragingly, “You’re welcome to wait here for him if you like.”

Iruka accepted the offer happily and drank some tea with Sensei as the two waited for the young chuunin’s return. Time passed, however, and after an hour or so had gone by, Iruka realized that his father would be worried about him.

“Sorry, Sensei, but I have to go home,” the tan boy sighed, “I’ll come say hi to Kakashi tomorrow.”

“Alright, Iruka. Sorry he didn’t show up. I’m sure he’s just a bit slow getting back. Probably tired after such a long mission.”

Iruka nodded understandingly, trying to hide his concern as best he could. He knew Kakashi could take care of himself, but after that talk with his father, he was beginning to wonder how he really would handle it if his friend didn’t return. The young boy had no choice but to shake off the feeling.

The next morning was a strange one. Iruka woke up to the sound of his father talking to another man in the living room. Who could this be, so early?

“Yes, I understand,” his father was sighing, “It might be a bit hard on him, but if the village needs me- Oh, Iruka, you’re up.”

The tan boy walked into the room and stared at the other shinobi that his father was talking to. He didn’t recognize the man, but the uniform told him he must have come to talk to his father about a something mission-related.

“Is everything okay?” Iruka asked worriedly.

“Just fine,” his father replied, “I have to go away for a mission for a few days, though, so someone else is going to look after you for a while until your mother can come home.”

“I can look after myself,” the boy protested.

“Konoha law requires all underage shinobi to stay in the academy dorms if they are unsupervised,” the stranger told him, “It won’t be for long.”

“Why can’t Sensei watch me?”

“The Yellow Flash is off on his own mission today,” his father replied, “but if you like, I could ask someone to ask him to look after you when he comes back.”

Iruka looked a little more hopeful, but he still didn’t like the idea of being forced to leave home and live with those…orphans.

“It’s just for a while,” his father said, giving him a half-hug, “Be strong, Iruka.”

Iruka had found himself inside the academy dorms by that afternoon. It wasn’t quite as bad has he had pictured it – a little rundown, but still all right. He was given his own room, which was a bit larger than his room back at home. The ten-year-old dumped his suitcase beneath the bed and took a look out the window. He had a great view of Konoha from up here, and in the end, Iruka decided that as long as it was only for a little while, living here wouldn’t be so bad.

“I’ll come in to check on you now and then,” his chaperone said, “If you need me for anything, my room is just down the hall. Dinner’s at sundown.”

Iruka thanked him and went back to arranging his things. It felt strange being away from home like this even though Iruka was used to mission survival training and spending the night at Sensei’s now and then. He wondered who had lived in this room before him.

As Iruka shuffled through his belongings, his thoughts drifted back to the academy. He was glad that breaking out of genjutsu wasn’t as difficult as it had used to be. The other children had gotten the hang of it much quicker, but there were some that still weren’t so good at it. Maybe Iruka would surpass them all with a little more practice. He’d ask Sensei for more help later, he decided.

The last thing Iruka unpacked was a picture of his family. His mother and father were standing behind him with Iruka in the middle. There were smiles spread across everyone’s faces, and Iruka noticed that his smile was almost identical with his mother’s. His father had a hand on his shoulder, the hand belonging to the arm that was now gone. Looking at himself, Iruka thought he looked so much younger back then, so tiny compared to now. Time really did pass by fast.

As the sun set, Iruka made his way down to the cafeteria. He could smell the food before he got there, and it made his mouth water. Other children stared at him as he walked in the large room. Iruka thought he heard some whispers, but decided he was imagining it. He walked over to the other side of the cafeteria and lined up by the trays. After he had been served, he scanned the tables looking for a place to sit. The cafeteria was packed, and there were only a few open spots. The young boy made his way over to the closest place, next to a boy with long silver hair that reminded him of Kakashi’s, only not so fluffy.

“Is it okay if I sit here?” he asked.

The other boy looked up at the stranger with a slight frown, but it soon turned into a friendlier smile.

“Sure,” he said and made some more room for him.

“Thanks,” Iruka said happily and sat down.

“You’re new here, aren’t you?” the other boy asked between mouthfuls of food.

“Yeah,” Iruka replied, “but I’m not staying for long. Just till my mom gets out of the hospital.”

“That’s lucky,” the other boy said, as some of the warmth drifted out of his voice, “Most kids here won’t ever see their parents again.”

Iruka flinched slightly.

“I’m sorry…Did you-?”

“Lose mine? Heh, a long time ago. My aunt takes care of me now, but she’s been out of the country for months, so they sent me here.”

“When is she coming back?”

The other boy shrugged.

“I dunno. This place isn’t so bad, I guess. I don’t mind it here, but sometimes I just want to go home.”

Iruka gave him a sympathetic look. Looking around, he really did realize how lucky he was to have a home to go back to and parents who were still alive to love him and teach him what he would never learn on his own. He thought about Kakashi, a genius. But even his friend was a lot like these children in a way. The chuunin didn’t have his own mother and father to go back to, but at least he had his guardian. Iruka was glad that Sensei was there.

“Maybe she’ll come back soon,” Iruka said, offering some comfort.

The silver-haired boy looked up from his meal and stared at Iruka for a moment.

“Maybe,” he muttered, then, “How did you get that scar on your nose?”

“This?” Iruka asked, touching it, “Some bully dragged a kunai over my face.”

The other boy grimaced.

“At least it makes you look tougher. Most kids have to graduate from the academy before they can get scars like that.”

“It’s not like I got it on a mission or anything,” Iruka told him.

“No one else has to know that,” the other boy replied, grinning mischievously.

Iruka smiled at him.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Mizuki. Yours?”

“Iruka.”

“I think I’ve seen you around the academy, now that I think about it. You’re in the year below me, right?”

Iruka shrugged, honestly unaware.

“I’ve only got a few more years before I graduate,” he told the other boy, “I can’t wait to train as a gennin!”

Mizuki just kind of chuckled to himself.

“That’ll be next year for me. It might not be as great as you think. But it’s a step up from the academy.”

Something about his cool and distant attitude reminded Iruka of Kakashi. This boy seemed so sure of himself, of his own power. Iruka wondered how good he really was.

The two boys finished up their meal and headed back upstairs. When Iruka stopped at his door, Mizuki began to head further down to his own room, but after a few steps, he stopped and turned back to the other boy.

“Do you want to sneak out tonight?”

“W-what?” Iruka asked, surprised.

“Come on, it’ll be fun,” Mizuki said, smiling encouragingly, “We can go explore Konoha under the cover of night – like real ninja!”

“But if the supervisor catches us, we’ll be in trouble…”

“That’s part of the fun,” Mizuki grinned, “besides, ninja don’t get caught.”

“Well…”

Iruka had to admit, the idea made him nervous. The ten-year-old had never been out in the middle of the night with no adults around, but he didn’t want his new friend to think he was a coward. Besides, it was only inside Konoha. As long as they stayed in the village, they should be safe.

“Great,” Mizuki said, not giving him time for a real answer, “I’ll tap on your door later, so make sure you’re awake, okay?”

Iruka managed a nod, and with that, Mizuki was off. Iruka opened the door to his own room and went inside. There wasn’t much to do until lights out, but Iruka entertained himself with a book he had brought until it was time for everyone else to go to sleep.

Midnight came. The supervisor had already come by to make sure everyone was in bed. Iruka lay awake listening for the sound of Mizuki tapping on the door, but it was a while before he heard anything at all in the darkness. Finally, a soft tapping came, and
Iruka rose silently from his bed and snuck over to the door. He opened it slowly so it wouldn’t creak, and in front of him, stood Mizuki.

“Come on, let’s go,” the other boy whispered, and to Iruka’s surprise, he pushed his way into his room and went over to the window.

“What are you doing?” Iruka asked.

“This is easier than sneaking out of the front,” Mizuki explained, swinging a foot outside, “Hurry up, and watch your step.”

Iruka followed him cautiously. There were some shingles outside his window, which sloped down to cover the first floor. It was kind of steep, but he was able to grip the pipes that ran along the wall to help him keep his balance. His sandals weren’t much good for standing on the slanted shingles. He hadn’t learned to control his chakra well enough to use it to grip onto the building to help keep him from falling, but at least he had mastered the chakra-powered jump that might help him land safely if he should slip.

He inched across the roof, following Mizuki’s feet rather than the back of his head. He kept a firm grip on the pipe, but his ankles were getting tired of keeping him from slipping down the steep angle.

“Quicker,” Mizuki told him, inching further ahead.

Iruka tried to keep up the best he could, but he lost his footing and began to fall. He barely had enough time to yell out before he stopped suddenly and found himself hanging by the arm. Mizuki had grabbed a hold of him just in time. The other boy tightened his grip and helped Iruka get his balance back. The young boy could still feel his heart thumping from his near fall.

“Thanks,” he managed to pant.

“Be more careful,” Mizuki whispered, “And stay quiet too. We don’t want anyone hearing us.”

“This isn’t a good idea,” Iruka hissed back, “It’s too dangerous. There’s no point in climbing around this roof if we’re just going to get in trouble for it.”

The other boy gave him a strange look and said quietly, “Maybe you don’t know because you haven’t been here long, but it gets boring. This will be fun, trust me. Better than sticking around locked up in this place.”

“What are we even doing?” Iruka demanded, “You want to go run around Konoha at midnight just for fun?”

“Don’t you have any sense of adventure? What kind of ninja can’t get away with creeping around a bit with no one noticing? Consider this training. I bet they don’t do stuff like this at the academy.”

Iruka just shook his head. He still didn’t know what he was getting into, but there was a part of him that was really excited at the thought of wandering around like a shinobi on a mission. It was all just one big game, and he didn’t want to be left out of it. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to break the rules only for tonight…Mizuki had just saved him from falling after all, so Iruka felt like he was in his debt.

The two boys finally made it off the roof safely. Iruka landed on the other side of the dorm’s fence swiftly and silently. He followed behind Mizuki as the other boy leapt forward several feet in front of him. It was hard for Iruka to describe how he felt right then. Part of him was terrified at the thought of getting caught, but the same fear also made him more excited about the risk they were taking. For one night, they were free to do as they wanted and explore the village, going wherever they felt like.

Iruka tried to land as quietly as possible as his feet touched the roofs of sleeping families. He and Mizuki sprang through the village, cutting through neighborhoods and passing the small shops and restaurants that lay in between. Iruka felt himself getting out of breath, but he wouldn’t admit he was tired. Instead, he did his best to keep up with Mizuki’s pace. The other boy was never far ahead of him. It didn’t seem like he had a certain path set in mind, but Iruka didn’t ask any more questions. He was too distracted by the thrill of the adventure to wonder much anyway.

“Look, it’s the Hokage’s tower,” Mizuki said with a grin, pointing, “Let’s go check it out.”

“But there’s got to be a dozen guards posted there!” Iruka protested, “What if someone sees us?”

“What, scared?” the other boy questioned, giving him a disappointed frown, “We won’t get that close. I just want to check out the tower. Come on.”

He turned around and was gone before Iruka had the chance to say anything else. The tan boy groaned to himself and followed again, this time keeping more of a distance. As they neared the tower, Iruka found himself fascinated by the size of it and the power it seemed to emit. He felt like the tower itself was watching him, and he grew a bit more intimidated.

“Mizuki!” he hissed, but the other boy didn’t hear him.

Iruka hurried to catch up and found that Mizuki had stopped on the roof of a building not too far from the tower. Iruka landed nervously behind him. The other boy was staring at something, and as Iruka followed his gaze, he could see what had him so transfixed. There was a figure moving out of the shadows and along the wall of the Hokage’s tower. The boys couldn’t see the figure’s face too clearly, but there was no doubt that it was not just a guard on patrol.

“Who-?” Iruka gasped.

Mizuki watched the figure silently.

“He’s not from Konoha,” he said after a moment, “I’ve never seen a shinobi that moves like that. Also, it’s weird for anyone to be sneaking around the tower at this time of night. It must be a spy.”

“We should tell someone!” Iruka told him.

“No,” Mizuki replied, a mischievous grin slowly working its way across his face, “We’re going after him ourselves. If we catch him, we’ll be heroes. Everyone will have to take us seriously. Besides, there’s two of us and only one of him. We can do it!”

“Are you crazy?” Iruka asked, unbelievingly, “He’s a trained shinobi! Maybe even ANBU level. We don’t stand a chance!”

Mizuki wasn’t even looking at him, though. His eyes were filled with a fierce determination, and Iruka’s heart sank at the thought that he wouldn’t be able to stop the other boy no matter what he said. I can’t let him do something this stupid, he thought, Somehow, I have to get him to listen to me.

Mizuki had already sped forward. Iruka bolted after him, determined to catch up. The other boy had proven himself faster than Iruka so far during their adventure, but he had started to tire a bit, and Iruka’s own determination to stop the silver-haired boy gave him both strength and speed. He reached forward and managed to grab the other boy’s shirt. He yanked him back as hard as he could, still getting pulled forward a bit as Mizuki skidded to a halt on the ground below.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” the other boy demanded, “Let me go!”

“You’ll get yourself killed!” Iruka hissed back, “Just think about this for a second!”

“You’re getting in the way,” Mizuki growled, freeing himself from Iruka’s grasp and pushing the tan boy away from him, “You do what you want – go ahead and run home, but don’t stop me from doing my duty as a shinobi!”

Iruka flinched. Mizuki gave him a glare and sped away again.

“You’re just a kid!” Iruka yelled after him, “You can’t...”

His voice trailed off as he watched the other boy run too far to hear. Iruka began to gave chase, but felt a bit sick to his stomach. What would happen if the spy attacked Mizuki? Should he go and get help? Or stay and fight beside him? He didn’t have too much time to question the current situation though, because only moments later, he was faced with a new one. As he rounded the next corner, he saw Mizuki and the spy squaring off. The dark figure still had an escape route, but seeing that his opponent was just a child, he didn’t seem intimidated enough to continue running. Instead, he turned to face Mizuki, kunai in hand.

“A little late for children to be running about, isn’t it?” a gruff voice asked the boys.

“What are you doing in Konoha?” Mizuki demanded, “You have no business sneaking around here!”

“What does it matter to you?” the spy asked, “In a moment, you’ll be dead, and then no one will ever know I was here anyway.”

Before Mizuki had time to answer, his enemy rushed forward at him. The other boy dodged the kunai he threw – barely. The next one the man threw grazed his thigh, which made Mizuki wince for a second, but he recovered quickly and prepared to fight his much older opponent.

“Mizuki!” Iruka yelled, rushing forward to join his friend.

He couldn’t go run for help and just leave Mizuki to face this opponent alone now.

“Are you sure you can handle this?” the other boy murmured as Iruka stepped in beside him, “This isn’t a battle for little academy students.”

“I can fight him too! Don’t underestimate me,” Iruka growled, annoyed that Mizuki was talking as if he had already graduated himself.

All Iruka wanted was to be taken seriously for once. Maybe he would finally get his chance. The intruder seemed to be having second thoughts about whether or not he wanted to waste his time fighting two Konoha brats or if it was better to simply flee the village before anyone else noticed he was here. His options decreased when the two boys charged at him. Iruka let out a loud yell as he ran, hoping it would alert anyone nearby of the battle that was taking place. The streets were quiet, though, and it seemed nobody was stirring despite the ruckus that was taking place just outside their windows.

Mizuki gave Iruka a sideways annoyed look, but turned his attention back on the target. He threw a round of shuriken, which the man avoided easily. Mizuki reached back and pulled out a scroll. Iruka’s eyes widened. He had never seen anyone so young use a summoning scroll. There was a puff of smoke, and all eyes turned to see what would emerge from it. Mizuki gripped his hand around his new weapon, a giant shuriken bigger than his head.

“Bet this makes the regular shuriken look like toys,” the silver hair boy chuckled quietly and with a great swing, sent the metal star flying.

The weapon sliced through the air at top speed, headed straight for the enemy. The other ninja saw it coming, but did not move completely out of the way fast enough. The giant shuriken cut his left arm, leaving a deep gash.

The boys’ opponent screamed and clutched his new wound. His infuriated eyes flashed at Iruka and Mizuki, and it was almost like the boys could feel their burn on their skin. The man charged at them for a moment, and then appeared to vanish.

“Where did he go?” Iruka whispered, eyes darting around him.

“He’ll come back in a moment,” Mizuki answered, “Don’t let your guard down.”

Iruka froze, still searching for where his enemy had gone. He strained his ears for every little sound, but it was the light thump the young boy felt through his feet that alerted him of the spy’s presence.

“Behind you!” he yelled at the other boy as a shadow loomed over them both.

Mizuki and Iruka jumped out of their attacker’s path, escaping his katana by just a hair. Iruka could feel his heart pumping even more fiercely in his chest. It wasn’t from the thrill of being out here anymore; now it had turned into fear as well as the determination to survive.

“Look out!” he heard Mizuki shout, but the scar-faced boy had already prepared to dodge the next attack.

I can’t keep this up, Iruka thought. Eventually, we’ll be hit. We have to get out of here fast. He knew Mizuki wasn’t likely to give up now that he’d already started, though. They’d have to find someway to end this quickly – someway to end it alive.

“Arghh!”

One of the enemy’s jutsu had sent Iruka’s friend flying. He hit the ground with a sickening thump and struggled to rise.

“Mizuki!”

Iruka ran over to where he had landed and helped the other boy up. Mizuki grunted a warning, and the tan boy turned around to face the much larger shinobi not too far away. Iruka stood in front of the other boy protectively as their enemy charged, but the man simply knocked him out of the way and lunged for Mizuki, kunai in hand. From the ground, Iruka could see the other boy struggling to get away as the enemy ninja slashed him repeatedly. He closed his eyes, but couldn’t block out Mizuki’s screams. I have to do something.

The ten-year-old shinobi rose bravely to his feet and with a trembling hand, took some shuriken from his pouch. His opponent had foolishly turned his back on him, not seeing him as much of a threat. Iruka would make him take him seriously. I’m not a weakling. I can fight as well as anyone. I’ll protect this village and everyone in it.

He threw the shuriken at an enemy who was too preoccupied with torturing his small victim to block in time. The sharp stars embedded themselves in his back and shoulder. He let out a cry in pain and gave Mizuki one final kick before whipping around to glare at his offender. Iruka was stiff with fear at this point, but tried his best to hide it. He glared back at the man with as much ferocity as he could muster and went into his fighting stance. He waited for his opponent to launch an attack, but the man only stood there, still glaring. Iruka suddenly felt a chill, as if his body had suddenly gone cold, but only for a few moments. The moon looked red in the sky now, with a few dark clouds flowing over part of it now and then. Iruka shivered a bit, but he ignored the feeling and instead focused on his fight.

His eyes darted around the battlefield, searching for his opponent, but the intruder had vanished again. Quickly, Iruka ran over to where Mizuki lay, motionless. The young boy froze, staring at his new friend with wide, frightened eyes. He bent down to nudge his shoulder. The other boy’s body was very white and stiff. Iruka froze with the realization that Mizuki wasn’t breathing. He felt his own breath growing short. There was blood leaking from Mizuki’s wound and mouth too. No, he can’t be…

Iruka was shaking as his angry, tear-filled eyes shot back up to where his enemy had suddenly appeared, not too far from him. The small ninja gritted his teeth and stood ready to fight. The other man was smiling at him, staring right into his face with heartless eyes.

“Do you want to kill me?” he taunted, “Do you really think you can?”

Iruka had a hand gripped tightly around a kunai now. He didn’t know if he had the power to defeat his opponent, but he knew he had to try. It wasn’t just the need to protect his own life that made him so determined, it was also the desire for revenge, something Iruka had never felt before. It was strong and consuming; the young boy didn’t like it, but it was something that gave him the drive he needed to attack someone he usually would have rather run away from.

Without waiting another moment, Iruka charged at his opponent. The man seemed surprised by his boldness, but he was ready to avoid the attack. Iruka lunged, but simply shot through the man as if he were made of air. He’s fast, the young shinobi thought. If I can’t hit him-

Suddenly a sharp pain shot through his right arm. Startled, he clutched it and looked around wildly for what had inflicted the new wound. He couldn’t see anyone around him, however. Something about this battle isn’t right. Iruka felt his stomach twist with sickness. He could sense something unnatural about his surroundings, yet it felt somewhat familiar. The boy flinched as he suddenly realized why he recognized it. Genjutsu.

Another invisible attack hit him before he could focus on breaking free from the illusion. It was hard to concentrate, but Iruka knew his time was limited. Quickly he closed his eyes and formed the hand seal.

“Kai,” he whispered.

Everything around him began to melt away. For a moment, Iruka felt as if he had created a new illusion himself, but soon he could see the night had returned to normal. There was still one thing that remained from the genjutsu, though, and that was the oncoming attack Iruka had to defend himself against. The enemy, angry now that his illusion had been seen through so easily, delivered a powerful blow that sent Iruka hurtling into the wall of the closest building. Iruka was stunned with pain and collapsed on the ground. Not too far away, he could see Mizuki’s body just as how it had looked in the illusion except for one thing – he was breathing. Barely breathing, but still alive. Iruka let out a small sigh of relief, but he felt himself growing weak.

He trembled slightly, glazed eyes staring unfixed in the direction of the figure standing not too far away. Is this what it’s like? To die in battle? With a shaking hand, he attempted one last move. He took a kunai from his pouch and clumsily attached an exploding tag to it. It was a weapon he was still learning how to use, but Iruka knew he had to try it. Hope this works, Okasan. As his enemy rushed towards him for the finishing blow, Iruka charged the tag with his chakra and regained enough focus to throw the weapon straight at his enemy. The man, seeing the danger in deflecting the kunai, tried to dodge it instead, but he didn’t get far enough. The tag exploded with a bang loud enough to shake the wall behind Iruka and the ground beneath him. As smoke and dirt covered the area, Iruka strained to see what had become of his enemy. He could hear shouts around him and was relieved that the explosion had been enough to finally rouse the villagers. Louder voices and thumping footsteps told him that help was on the way. As the dust settled, he could start to make out their shapes. One woman shouted at the others to follow the man who was trying to escape. Another figure was hunched down not too far from where Iruka sat slumped against the wall.

Mizuki! the young shinobi thought desperately. Will he be okay? Another shinobi was coming over to check on him. Iruka could barely keep his eyes open. It was far past the time he was used to going to sleep, and this battle hadn’t exactly helped in his exhaustion.

“Are you okay, kid?” the voice asked, concerned, “You were amazing – defending yourself against a trained shinobi.”

The boy managed a weak smile at the praise, but once a stretcher was rushed over and he was lying down and safe at last, he closed his eyes and finally gave in to the sleep that was fighting to overtake him.

There were dreams flowing through Iruka’s mind, but none clear enough to remember. Recent events and mixed memories were enough to confuse him, and the first thing Iruka wondered when he opened his eyes was where he was.

“Well, look who’s awake,” a cheerful voice said.

Iruka blinked in the bright light that poured through the wide window into his eyes. He lifted one arm wearily to block it and squinted, allowing his sight to adjust. There was someone sitting on the chair beside his bed, and under the shade of his arm, Iruka could only see the bottom half of his face. He recognized whom the gentle smile belonged to.

“Sensei!” the young academy student said happily.

“Glad to see you’re alright, Iruka-kun,” the Yellow Flash told him as he bent slightly to peek under Iruka’s arm with bright blue eyes, “You had everyone pretty worried.”

As if on cue, the door burst open and a very weary yet determined mother barged in. Her hair was a mess and she still wore her hospital attire from the room she had just escaped from. As she saw her son lying on the hospital bed, she made her way over to the side opposite of the Yellow Flash on slightly unsteady legs. Behind her trailed a highly concerned nurse.

“Umino-san! You’re still too weak to leave your bed! Please come back with me…”

But Iruka’s mother wasn’t listening to her. Instead she threw her arms around her son and held him close to her, though she was careful of his wounds.

“Iruka-kun! I’m so glad you’re okay. Though what you did last night was incredibly stupid,” she added, giving him a frown as she released him, “What were you thinking, running around Konoha in the middle of the night?”

“I’m sorry, Okasan,” Iruka murmured embarrassedly, “I never meant to get into so much trouble.”

Thinking about the trouble he had gotten into reminded him of something else.

“Mizuki!” he burst out, “What happened to him?! Is he-”

“Dead?” the nurse behind his mother mumbled, “Almost. If he had been brought in any later, it may have been too late. He’s lucky you got the adults’ attention when you did.”

“That’s right,” the Yellow Flash agreed, “I heard it was Iruka who used the exploding note to wake up the people nearby and also to fight off the enemy.”

The ten-year-old’s mother stared at the blonde man wide-eyed and then back at her son again. Obviously, she hadn’t heard the whole story.

“You fought an enemy shinobi all by yourself? It’s a miracle you’re still alive!”

In her mixture of pride and anger at her son, she attempted to fix up his hair, though her own was in far worse shape.

“My brave son,” she said more softly a moment later.

Iruka blushed a bit at being fussed over in front of Sensei and the nurse, but beside him, the Yellow Flash was still grinning.

“You did well, Iruka-kun,” he said, “And there’s someone else who’s coming to visit you. He should be here soon.”

Sure enough, not long after, there was a knock at the door, and a small shinobi pushed his way in. He was holding a basket full of fruit and seemed caught off guard by the number of people in the room.

“H-hi,” the chuunin stammered briefly before regaining the composure that was so typically Kakashi.

“Kakashi,” Iruka greeted the chuunin, sitting up slowly.

“I brought these for you,” the other boy told him, holding up the basket, and though he didn’t really show it, Iruka could tell he was a bit embarrassed, “They’re not much, but Sensei told me you were hurt, so I thought you might like these,” in a lower voice he added, “They’re better than hospital food.”

“ Thanks,” Iruka replied with a smile.

He was glad to see his friend safely back home from his mission. He could read Kakashi’s own relieved expression even through his mask. Maybe they would get that training session in once Iruka had recovered.

“I broke out of the genjutsu,” Iruka told the Yellow Flash proudly, “I realized what was happening and released myself from it the way you taught me.”

That lesson – it saved my life. Sensei beamed, and even Iruka’s mother smiled and threw the blonde man a grateful look. Kakashi looked almost stunned for a moment, but his eyes gleamed.

“Genjustu can be difficult to fight against,” the chuunin said, “You’re learning fast.”

“Next time, I’ll beat them,” Iruka said decidedly, “I won’t just let them run away.”

“The spy you fought was caught,” Sensei said, “Turned out he had stolen some information from the Hokage’s headquarters. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sandaime himself wants to give you his thanks.”

Iruka turned a bit red with embarrassment, but a grin inched its way back onto his face. For once he felt like an adult shinobi, someone who dedicated their life to protecting the village like his mother and father did. He wasn’t used to such acknowledgement, but it felt good, especially coming from the people closest to him. Maybe someday more people will look up to me, he thought. He liked the feeling of being admired; Iruka wanted to be someone people could respect, someone with a title attached to their name. He wanted to save lives. The realization clicked in Iruka’s head and he smiled as he thought to himself about what he would say to his father when he returned home from his mission.

“I want to be a sensei.”
End Notes:
A/N: I know, I know. Long overdue, right? XD Thanks for sticking around; of course you know I'd never give up on this story! I was working on this chapter on and off all during my semester studying abroad in Japan, but it kept getting shoved on the back burner. XP It was a challenge to write an Iruka-centric chapter, but I really wanted to do it since Kakashi always tends to steal the spotlight in my stories (and this is supposed to be an Iruka story too!). Really wanted to get more of his mom in, but I guess Mr. Umino is a spotlight stealer as well. XD; At least she showed up again in the end! Mizuki's character was interesting to write because while I wanted to give him a sort of bad-boy image, I also wanted him to be someone Iruka thought he could trust. Crazy, huh? Anyway, I hope you enjoyed, and please let me know what you think! Reviews equal motivation, you know. Laters

-K.I.
This story archived at http://www.narutofic.org/viewstory.php?sid=1830