The academy grounds of Konoha were swarmed with miniature shinobi as classes were finished for the day and the restless children scampered home. A pack of excited six-year-olds burst through the doors and out onto the sunny street, happy to be done with school for now. A tan boy with a light smirk on his face was among them. He walked with a group of friends, trailing slightly behind them and daydreaming about what he was going to do for the rest of the day.
“Hey, Iruka! Snap out of it! Why are you going so slow?” a boy in front of him yelled.
Iruka quickened his steps and caught up quickly. There was a reason the kids were so excited- this was their first time walking him alone without having to wait around for a parent to pick them up. Their faces lit up as they chatted happily and looked around at the places and people they passed on their way down the street. When they reached the main district, the group suddenly came to a halt. Iruka, lost in a daydream again kept on walking until one of his friends grabbed him and yanked him back. Iruka’s face twisted in puzzlement until he looked at where the group was staring. Outside a weapons shop stood a tall man with long silver hair that was tied back in a ponytail. He was wearing a jounin vest and talking to the shopkeeper while rustling the identical silver hair of a small boy standing next to him. Iruka looked the boy over- he couldn’t have been much older than himself, maybe just a year or so. He was wearing a black mask on his small face, just like the man standing next to him was. The masked boy looked up fondly at his father as the large man continued to talk with the owner of the weapons shop.
“That’s Hatake Kakashi, isn’t it?” one of the boys asked, pointing.
“Yeah,” said another, “ I heard he already graduated from the academy…two years ago.”
“What? How old is he?”
“Seven, I think. They call him a genius.”
“Yeah! Can you believe he’s already a chuunin?”
Iruka listened with interest as he watched Kakashi from a distance. He must be really good, the young shinobi thought to himself, If I could graduate right now- His thoughts were interrupted as the silver-haired boy turned his head to look in their direction. The six-year-olds flinched at being caught and rushed away immediately. Iruka took a bit longer than the rest, trying to get one last look at the glaring seven-year-old before dashing away with his group. I wonder what he really looks like under the mask?
A few days passed, and Iruka didn’t see Kakashi again. However, for some reason, he couldn’t seem to keep his mind off of him. He was fascinated. He was someone who had graduated from the academy a year before the age Iruka was now. His father was famous too. Iruka had heard stories about Hatake Sakumo. He was a legendary ninja in the village of Konoha, just as respected as the three famous sannin were. His son looked just like him, except for the shorter hair. Iruka wanted to talk to him. What’s it like having a famous father? Iruka didn’t see the silver-haired boy, though. It seemed like he had disappeared from the village altogether.
One rainy day, Iruka found himself walking home alone. His friends had lost patience with him and finally left him behind. Tears ran down the small boy’s face in hurt and anger. Some friends they are. Why did they leave me here all alone? He was so upset, he didn’t even want to go home. Instead, he wandered off the main road and followed a trail towards the open clearing. He kept on walking until he saw an area with three large posts, and not too far away from that was a large memorial stone. There was small figure crouched at the foot of the stone. Iruka walked closer to investigate.
The small shinobi crouched by the stone turned his head as he heard the other boy approach. Iruka barely saw the flash of his eyes before Kakashi turned away quickly, hugging his knees close to his chest. Iruka stared at him curiously and took a step closer. Kakashi stiffened as the water dripped from his silver strands of hair. Why won’t he look at me? Iruka wondered. The young ninja sensed something wrong with the boy crouching before him. Was this the way the son of the “White Fang” was supposed to act?
“What’s wrong?” he asked innocently.
The silver-haired boy didn’t answer. Iruka took another step closer.
“Why are you sitting out here in the rain? You should get inside. Mom says you’ll get sick if you stay out in the rain…”
“Leave me alone,” the other boy grunted finally.
Iruka was not intimidated however. Seeing Kakashi like this bothered him, and he was determined to do something about it. Slowly, he reached out and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“Don’t touch me!” Kakashi snapped, hitting the younger boy’s hand off of him, “J-just go away...”
Iruka flinched not from Kakashi’s yelling or having his hand slapped away, but from hearing the painful crack in his voice. It made him feel uncomfortable- seeing someone who was supposed to be so great and talented looking pathetic and weak. Something horrible must have happened to him…
“What’s wrong?” Iruka asked again, persistently.
All he received in response was a glare from the other boy’s tear-soaked eyes. Iruka almost couldn’t tell he was crying in the rain, but the silver-haired boy’s eyes were red and slightly puffy. Kakashi turned away quickly, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand embarrassedly. A shinobi didn’t cry. Not for anything!
“Why do you care?” he muttered after a moment, “You don’t even know me.”
Iruka just stared at him. He was right- Iruka didn’t know him, but why did that matter? The boy couldn’t pretend like he didn’t care. Even though he didn’t know what was wrong, he could still feel the older boy’s pain. You’re sad, just like me…
Iruka let his sentence trail off and instead, sat down next to Kakashi. The seven-year-old chuunin moved away from him slightly. Iruka looked at him sadly and then turned his gaze to the stone in front of them. He put his hand onto it curiously, running his small fingers over the engraved names. He couldn’t really read too well yet, but he sensed the significance behind the niches in the smooth, wet stone. He had heard about this stone before- this was where they carved in the names of ninja who had died in battle. Kakashi’s eyes never left one spot. Iruka followed his gaze and tried hard to make out the words he was staring at.
“Ha..ta..” the six-year-old sounded out.
He froze. Kakashi stiffened.
“Someone in your family died?” Iruka asked quietly.
Kakashi didn’t say anything, but Iruka saw him give a small nod. The brown-haired boy frowned and stared back at the stone unbelievingly. He couldn’t even begin to imagine what it would feel like to lose someone so close to you. He could feel his own tears coming back. He had been upset because his friends had left him, but this boy…he had lost something much more important.
Kakashi reached out and touched the wet name of his deceased family member. Iruka let his tears go, dripping down his face with the rain. He hated seeing someone so sad. Kakashi’s face twisted uncomfortably under the wetness of his mask. He pulled it down slowly, not caring that Iruka saw the part of his face he often kept hidden. He had started hiding his face more and more lately, but somehow, he still wasn’t used to it. It reminded him too much of him…
“Mom,” he choked letting his fingers fall from the name, “He should be here, next to her…He was a hero!”
Iruka looked at him curiously.
“Who?” he whispered.
Kakashi didn’t answer his question or look at him. Instead, he seemed to be talking to himself.
“I found him…He was just lying there, and they told me he-”
Kakashi couldn’t say anymore. He just hugged his legs and cried into his knees. Iruka choked slightly from the tears he was failing to hold back. He was crying just as much as Kakashi. The silver-haired chuunin didn’t really understand this. Why would someone be crying with him when he hadn’t even known the person who had died? Kakashi rested his chin on his knees and turned his head slightly to look at Iruka. The academy student was leaning against the stone, watching Kakashi through blurry eyes. Both of them shivered in the cold, their clothes soaking wet.
Suddenly, the younger boy moved forward and Kakashi’s eyes widened as he felt Iruka’s arms wrap around him. I told him not to touch me, he thought, but didn’t say anything or push him away.
“Don’t cry anymore,” Iruka pleaded.
Kakashi sniffed and leaned into Iruka slightly. People had been trying to hug him a lot lately- teachers, parents of other students, strangers he didn’t even know…He didn’t want sympathy or comfort from them. How could they possibly understand the pain he was feeling? He hated people telling him “It’s okay,” when it obviously wasn’t and never would be. Iruka didn’t lie to him, however. Somehow there was a connection between them that Kakashi didn’t have with anyone else…
“Why did he have to leave me all alone?” he choked, “He didn’t have to...He didn’t care! He didn’t even think about me!”
Iruka hugged him tighter as his tears stopped. He didn’t know who Kakashi was talking about or anything about what had happened, but he understood this feeling of loneliness and the remedy that would make it disappear.
“You can’t be alone if we’re together,” Iruka told him, “Let’s be friends…okay?”
Kakashi lifted his head and turned to look at Iruka with an expression that was unreadable despite the absence of his mask. The six-year-old curved his lips into an encouraging smile, letting go of Kakashi slowly and waiting for an answer. Finally, the genin closed his eyes and gave a small nod. He had chosen friendship. Iruka stood up and offered him his hand. Kakashi looked at it a moment before taking it and rising to his feet. The rain was slowly stopping. Kakashi wiped away the last of his tears, and taking one last look at the memorial stone, began walking with Iruka back to the village. They didn’t let go of each other’s hand.