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Festivals are always Fun

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Festivals were always fun, right?

Iruka told himself this for the third time as he stood in front of the booth that sold brightly painted animal masks. He stared listlessly as other children prattled away to their parents or friends. Iruka felt that aching emptiness that he usually covered with jokes and pranks grow that much more.

Snatching up a mask at random and pulling it on as he dropped the money for it into the hand of the vendor, Iruka took off into the crowd. All around, there was joy. There were fish to be caught, cotton candy to be eaten, vendors selling their goods, and a myriad of games. Iruka watched a little girl throw a shuriken and pop a balloon, her parents cheering her on all the while.

This was meant to be fun.  

How could he have fun without them?

When he was a small child, almost earlier than he could remember, his parents fled Kiri for Konoha. It wasn’t safe in Kiri, not with the kekkei genkai purges. He showed the first signs of inheriting his father’s echolocation jutsu when he was a boy, and after that, they couldn’t stay.

He was always particularly skilled at finding things, whether they were under or behind things, it never mattered. Not when he was playing hide and seek, or looking for a toy, or helping his mother find a misplaced item. He didn’t know what it was at that point, not until he started the academy in Konoha, but he could always be counted on to find what others couldn’t.

Iruka barely remembered their first days in Konoha, but he remembered why they were forced to flee here. He remembered the Kiri nin that snarled in his face, the kunai that was dragged across it to mark him for death, and his mother’s near-feral attack of said nin when she saw it.

In Konoha, he was almost never without one of them beside him. Maybe it would have annoyed some kids to be so watched after, but he enjoyed every bit of the attention they gave him.

Being so suddenly without them was hard enough on a regular day, but-

“Daddy, look, I caught a fish!”

“Mama, try this, it’s so sweet!”

“Can I have one, Papa?”

It was a constant reminder of what he was missing. Iruka hated it.

Ducking into an alley seemed the obvious answer. Iruka dodged a couple swinging their toddler between them and slipped between two buildings as tears welled in his eyes. He pulled off his mask, swiping the dampness from his cheeks and staring blankly at the red lines on the plastic. A snarling dog stared back at him.

It wasn’t fair. Why did he have to be the one to lose them? Why did they have to send him away? It wasn’t-

“You shouldn’t be out here.”

The voice came from just behind Iruka, and he jumped, scrambling to pull his fierce Inu mask over his face as he turned to look at the stranger.

“Why not?” he shot back as he turned, but the rest of his protest died on his tongue as he saw who was speaking.

Hound.

The one and only, the real Hound. Iruka could tell from the silver shock of hair above the sleek porcelain of the mask he wore. Hound was watching him from deeper in the alley, arms crossed over his chest and one eye seeming to glow in the light of the lanterns that filtered in from the street.

Iruka stared, dumbstruck, and slowly pushed up his own plastic mask. “ANBU-san,” he whispered, heart pounding. He remembered the warnings his parents gave him when he was just a little boy. ANBU weren’t to be interacted with. They were not to be looked at. If an ANBU showed up somewhere, he was to turn and run.

Unless they were there for him. Running would be futile, then. 

Hound was so… small, though. Iruka’s fear vanished as quickly as it came. “Why not?” he repeated stubbornly.

A soft huff came from behind Hound’s mask. “If you’re alone at the festival, you shouldn’t wander into dark alleys. There are things you don’t want to see. Go find your parents and ask them about it,” Hound dismissed, waving a gloved hand at him.

Iruka just frowned. “I can’t. They’re dead,” he muttered back, turning away and pulling his mask down. He refused to cry in front of someone like Hound, refused to be seen as weak by this small ANBU.

There was another huff, and Iruka tried to peek back over his shoulder, but the mask covered his peripherals. Hound was suddenly at his side, though. Iruka jumped, but he was once again surprised by just how small the ANBU was.

How old was he? He couldn’t be that much older than Iruka. The brunette shuffled his feet and looked back toward the festival. “Why are you back here if it isn’t safe?” he asked quietly.

Iruka would have sworn he heard a snicker, turning his head fully to squint at Hound. “Like I’m in danger,” the ANBU teased, and Iruka pushed up his mask just so he could scowl. “I’m working security, of course. You don’t think these festivals are so tame by chance, do you, kid? In a town full of shinobi?”

That was something Iruka never had thought of before. He was still frowning, but it took his mind off his parents. In a place full of shinobi -aka trained killers with short fuses- it made sense they would need to have some sort of security. And the highest level of shinobi made sense. They would have to break up fights, and- well- keep kids from going places they shouldn’t.

Okay, maybe he shouldn’t walk down this alley.

“You catch on quick,” Hound commented, and Iruka realized he was being studied. He could feel the ANBU’s eyes on him, though the dark holes of the mask showed no sign of the red glow that other kids in the academy had been warned by their parents to watch out for. “Go on, kid, head back to the festival.”

It was Iruka’s turn to huff. “My name’s Iruka,” he deflected, looking out at the lanterns and fidgeting with the hem of his shirt. He shouldn’t go down the alley, but it still somehow seemed like a better option than leaving it. “I… can’t go back to the festival.”

Mumbled as his words were, Hound heard them. He hummed. “Why not?”

Iruka’s face twisted and he ignored the aching emptiness in his chest that had been there since he found his parents among those killed by the Kyuubi. Why did it matter to Hound that he couldn’t go back? It wasn’t like he was likely to understand. “It’s not the same.”

He didn’t offer more, but apparently he didn’t need to. Hound sighed next to him. What must he be thinking of Iruka’s obvious weakness? He was almost a genin, in his last year at the academy, and here he was, red-faced and teary-eyed in the dim light of a Konoha back alley just because he missed his Mom.

One gloved hand touched his shoulder, and Iruka jumped, scrubbing the tears from his face quickly and looking at-

Hound’s mask was gone.

Before him stood a boy not much older than himself, with a sharp, one-eyed gaze and a black, cloth mask over the lower half of his face. “Let’s go,” he said casually, gesturing toward the festival.

Iruka stared, his tears drying in forgotten tracks down his face. “What-”

“Don’t worry about it, kid, I’m technically undercover security anyway. But you’re right, it’s not the same when you’re alone. So, let’s go.”

This sounded like an excuse of some sort. Was Hound- er- “I’m Iruka, remember. What’s your name, Senpai?”

The older boy huffed. “Okay, Iruka, just don’t call me senpai. It’s Kakashi.”

“Okay, Kakashi,” he teased right back, a shy smile coming to Iruka’s face. It was hard to tell with the mask, but the curve of Kakashi’s eye sure looked like he was smiling back. “Let’s go.”

Iruka didn’t hesitate to grab the ANBU’s gloved hand, pulling his own mask back into place and tugging Kakashi along with him as he exited the dark alley and entered the bustling lantern-lit festival. 

Even if it wasn’t the same without his parents, Iruka had to admit that Kakashi had the right idea. The festival was better with his new friend. It didn’t erase that ache, but it did ease it. Just enough to be bearable. Maybe in the future he would be able to enjoy a festival of its his friend without thinking about what was missing.