Umino Iruka was five when he first noticed the older boy. The boy always seemed to be alone. The other kids his age would cluster together, throwing sideways looks at him, and whisper. The silvery haired boy hid his face behind a mask, but from what Iruka could see, he always looked sad and a little angry. Iruka didn't understand. The boy seemed lonely.
Months after he first noticed the boy, and had celebrated his sixth birthday, Iruka had been down near a stream, catching fireflies which he had put into a jar. He was crashing noisily through the woods, running home, when he came into a small clearing. There, seated on a large rock, was the silvery haired boy. What expression could be seen of the boy's face looked completely benign, but as usual, it seemed to Iruka that he was sad, and a little angry. Iruka ran up to the rock and looked up at him. The boy looked down impassively. Iruka smiled up at him and then carefully clambered up on to the rock, tongue poking out of his mouth with concentration, careful to neither fall, nor drop his jar of fireflies. The boy watched as Iruka took a seat next to him.
"Hi!" Iruka said brightly. "I caught fireflies! Aren't they pretty?"
The boy didn't respond immediately, he just looked at Iruka. When he did speak, he didn't answer the question, but instead asked somewhat bitterly, "Aren't you frightened of me?"
Iruka's brow furrowed in confusion, "Why would I be frightened of you?"
"Everyone is frightened of me," the boy replied.
"I'm real brave!" Iruka announced boldly. "I'm going to be a shinobi, like my parents!" He grinned at the boy, "Are you gonna?"
"Going to be a shinobi?" the boy asked.
Iruka giggled. "You're funny."
"No, really, I already am. I'm a chuunin."
"Then," Iruka replied, puffing out his chest and looking sternly at the other boy, "I'm the Hokage!"
The boy raised an eyebrow and Iruka giggled.
Iruka looked away, out over the clearing and wriggled a little. The motion caused him to remember the jar in his lap. He held the jar up and watched the fireflies as they spun and danced in the twilight. He looked back at the boy and grinned at him again. The boy looked at the jar, and then at the grinning little boy next to him, and then he slowly smiled behind his mask. Iruka could see the outline of his mouth.
Iruka wiggled his toes and looked up at the sky. "I like fireflies," he said, setting the jar back into his lap, "they are why the night doesn't come as soon in summer. In winter it gets dark real early, but the fireflies are sleeping. When they wake up they shine and help keep it bright. The days are longer in summer because they are shining and helping the sun. But they can't keep it bright all by themselves, so once the sun goes away they turn into little tiny lights that watch over us when it's dark. I always feel safe when there are fireflies around." He turned his head towards the boy and smiled happily. The boy was watching him silently.
Iruka leaned back on his hands and looked up into the sky again. "I think that fireworks got invented because of fireflies. Don'tcha think that fireworks look like a million fireflies? I'd love to lie in a field of a million fireflies." He closed his eyes and spread his arms wide, imagining. "Nothing bad could ever happen in a field of a million fireflies." He leaned back on his hands again and looked at the boy.
The boy smiled slowly again, "No, I don't think anything bad could happen in a field of a million fireflies."
Iruka looked back at the darkening sky and sighed. "The dark is winning. My parents say I have to be home when the dark gets too much for the fireflies. They worry if I don't. Although," he said emphatically, looking at the boy again, "if I have a jar of fireflies I wouldn't be afraid!" He paused, regarding the boy thoughtfully. "Don't you have to get home to your parents?"
The boy was still smiling, but his eyes looked sad. "No. They aren't there."
"Oh!" Iruka didn't know of many reasons why parents wouldn't be home, so he made what seemed to him to be a logical conclusion. "They're on a mission!"
The boy neither confirmed nor denied Iruka's assumption. Thinking about missions reminded Iruka of what the boy had said to him before and he grinned.
"I have a mission for you, chuunin," Iruka announced, adopting his stern expression again. He thrust the jar of fireflies at the other boy, "Take care of my fireflies. They're real brave, too. They'll keep you safe."
The boy took the jar with a somewhat surprised expression on his face. Iruka beamed at him and jumped off the rock. He landed awkwardly, falling on to his knees. He dusted his knees off, and looked back up at the boy. The boy was looking at him still looking a little startled. Iruka waved at him and ran out of the clearing.