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“—told you the Sandaime’s waiting for me!” Iruka’s incensed voice reached Hiruzen’s ears.

“As if?” Kakashi’s snide tone followed, muffled by his ANBU mask.

Hiruzen stopped before turning around the corner, smoke coiling up from his pipe in lazy whirls. He tilted his head toward the commotion, disguising his presence as he reached out with his senses to gather as much intel on the situation as possible. He almost smiled when he heard Iruka’s enraged splutter.

Kakashi did not often stand guard at the Hokage’s office, his talents being put to far better use out in the field rather than watching an old man stamp documents and blow smoke rings. If he did, it was usually running perimeter checks outside or standing guard by the double doors that led into the room. This explained, to some extent, why having a nondescript genin swear up and down that he was expected for tea with the Hokage seemed outlandish to the young ANBU agent. He and the boy had never crossed paths before.

However, Hiruzen knew that Kakashi was aware of the Hokage’s schedule for the day: his meeting at 2PM with one Umino Iruka had been written in ink strokes as clear as the rest of the itinerary. Not to mention that Ebisu had given Hiruzen and his guards a rundown on the day’s agenda that morning, to avoid incidents like this one, and the Hokage was certain that Kakashi had memorised it. If Kakashi had not objected to any of Hiruzen’s duties thus far, then he had no reason to do so now.

Which meant this was a test.

Hiruzen did allow himself to smile then, and he almost laughed when Iruka told the one and only Hatake Kakashi, “Listen, I’ve never seen you before, so I’ll assume you’re new and cut you some slack. Like I said before, my name’s Umino Iruka, and I always have tea with the Sandaime the first Saturday of every month. I don’t know what kind of bodyguard you are, not knowing your Hokage’s schedule for the day by heart, but maybe you should give it another read before you keep embarrassing your supposedly elite self in front of a genin.”

“Aren’t you a bit old to still be a genin?” Kakashi asked, which Hiruzen considered to be a pretty weak comeback on his part. Really, it was more of a deflection than anything. Then again, Iruka had been especially sensitive lately about not having made chūnin yet. Kakashi might have cottoned on to that somehow.

“Sorry for wanting to enjoy my childhood,” Iruka snapped.

“Unacceptable.”

Kakashi’s reply was delivered quickly, his tone flat, and Hiruzen could sense a startled stillness emanating from him. Iruka’s words had caught the young ANBU agent wrongfooted. Hiruzen raised his eyebrows, a small grin taking over his face before he schooled his expression into the soft frown he favoured when in public.

He stopped disguising his presence and turned around the corner, gaze already trained on the two teens at the end of the hallway. The other ANBU watching over the entrance to the Hokage’s office was still cloaked and doing her very best to rein in her amusement at the scene unfolding before her. She was on guard duty often and knew Iruka well. Kakashi had probably told her not to interfere.

“Iruka-kun,” Hiruzen called. “You’re early today.”

True to his exuberant nature, Iruka whipped around, almost flailing, his thunderous look dissipating somewhat when his eyes landed on the Sandaime. His headband was wrapped loosely around his neck rather than his forehead.

“Hokage-sama!” He pointed behind himself at Kakashi, his accusing finger sharper than a kunai. “This ANBU won’t let me in! I wanted to get the shōgi board ready, but he—”

“ANBU-san was doing his job, Iruka-kun,” Hiruzen said, stepping closer.

“He doesn’t even know your schedule,” Iruka fumed, throwing his hands up to show just how put off he was by the declining quality in ANBU agents. “And where’s the other guard? There’s supposed to be two, and this newbie here doesn’t know me, so I’d hoped the other one would come back and know me and let me in.”

“I’m sure the other guard is doing as ordered,” Hiruzen said, finally close enough to give Iruka a pat on the shoulder. The teen still looked ruffled, but the touch seemed to calm him somewhat. A short distance away, the invisible ANBU’s aura seemed to relax at not being forced to drop her concealment. Iruka would recognise her mask and become upset that she hadn’t stepped in during his argument with Kakashi.

On that note, Hiruzen glanced at the only visible ANBU in the hallway. Today of all days, Kakashi had decided to don his backup fox mask instead of his signature dog one. Hiruzen hadn’t given it much thought that morning, assuming that the dog mask was undergoing maintenance of some kind, but he now wondered if the change hadn’t been deliberate. He narrowed his eyes at Kakashi, but the young man only tilted his head, face hidden and chakra neutral.

“ANBU-san,” Hiruzen said, turning Iruka around to face Kakashi, “this is Umino Iruka: we play shōgi on Saturdays. Iruka-kun, this is Fox-san: he isn’t on guard duty often, but he is not new.”

Iruka shot Hiruzen a withering look. He knew that he was being told to show the agent the proper amount of respect, but he was understandably reluctant after Kakashi had treated him in such a disparaging way. He reached up to tug at his ponytail, glancing away. After a moment, he sighed in defeat and bowed from the waist.

“Nice to meet you, Fox-san. Please continue to work hard and look after Konoha.”

Hiruzen felt a wave of pride at Iruka’s flawless introduction. He had never taught the boy these things, but Iruka was an avid observer with a penchant for diplomacy. For a second, Kakashi didn’t move. Then he let his head drop forward as though someone had cut the string holding it up. Cheeky, but still a bow, and a deeper one than necessary at that.

“Nice to meet you, Umino-san.”

Iruka frowned, taken aback by the ANBU’s sudden politeness. “Er, yeah.” He gave a short bow to acknowledge Kakashi’s words, then peered at Hizuren. “Can we play shōgi now? And have tea? I’m starving, I came straight from training.”

Hiruzen hummed, then turned to the double doors. “Truly? You look much too clean to have come straight from training,” he said, hands flying through the seals to take down the wards to his office.

“I took a shower,” Iruka said, peering over Hiruzen’s shoulder. “Aw, I wanted to do that.”

Kakashi had stepped back to his post by now, clearly waiting for them to go inside before camouflaging. At Iruka’s whine, however, he turned his mask toward them in obvious curiosity. His reaction was justified: few people knew the sequence of hand symbols to gain access to the Hokage’s office, and it must seem strange to him that among them would be Iruka.

Even more perplexing was how the teen had gained such information. Most would think Hiruzen had handed him the answer or that Iruka had sneaked around until catching a glimpse of the sequence. In reality, Iruka had spent the better part of two years researching seals and barriers and chakra signatures before strutting up to the office doors one day and unlocking them with a grin.

Hiruzen’s surprise at the feat had only been surpassed by his delight: he had done nothing but feed Iruka false information whenever the boy had asked him any questions on the subject, which had only made his success all the more impressive. Morino Ibiki had wanted to wipe Iruka’s memory, but Hiruzen had let the boy keep the knowledge. He had worked hard to attain it, and he could be trusted with it.

“Next time,” Hiruzen told Iruka, raising an eyebrow at Kakashi.

Iruka glanced at Kakashi, his lips curling into a grin when he noticed the ANBU’s mask turned to him. He rested his hands on his hips, chest puffed out. “What? I did say I wanted to go into the office to set up the shōgi board, right? Obviously, I know how to lower the wards. It took me a while to figure it out, but I managed just fine.”

Kakashi’s silence was stunned.

Hiruzen chuckled. It wasn’t often that Kakashi was rendered speechless. He rested a hand between Iruka’s shoulder blades and guided him into the office. “Come along, Iruka-kun. Let’s not bother Fox-san any longer. I happen to have some onigiri in my office. You can have them with your tea.”

“Really?” Iruka beamed. “Thank you, Hokage-sama!”

When Hiruzen closed the door behind them, Kakashi had yet to stop staring.