“Wow,” Naruto muttered in a way that was uncharacteristically tame. His eyes were glazed over as he stared at the flames erupting from the kitchen sink because he’d never actually seen a flame so bright that wasn’t jutsu-made.
Meanwhile, Iruka-sensei was scrambling to reach the faucet. Every time he tried to stick his hand out through the flames, the fire bit and he flinched back. “Shit-”
It was actually kind of funny from Naruto’s perspective. He would’ve thought at Iruka-sensei’s age, he would have learned how to cook already. Heck, even Naruto knew how to boil ramen for himself.
So, when Kakashi-sensei walked into their home and found the kitchen on fire, Iruka-sensei struggling and Naruto chuckling to himself, the Hokage almost froze too. Thankfully, he didn’t need the Sharingan to see the disaster that was about to unfold and swooped in.
“Sensei,” Kakashi-sensei scolded once the fire had been put out. “I thought we talked about this. You can’t put out a grease fire with water.”
“I forgot,” Iruka-sensei muttered, flushed and ashamed of everything that had just happened. He’d just been trying to make food for his and Anko’s movie night. They decided to do it once a week now that school was finished for the summer and tonight was that night. That’s why he’d started early, so he could fix his mistakes. He didn’t want her to always be the one to cook for friend-dates but… Well, he should have given up on his hopes of being able to cook, especially after his and Kakashi-sensei’s last anniversary.
Not to mention he was supposed to still be banned from the kitchen. That was what the sign on the fridge had said for the past six months now. Which was why Kakashi-sensei was so frustrated with him.
It was truly a sight to see Iruka-sensei being scolded for once and Naruto couldn’t hold back the chuckles, mirthfully grinning behind Kakashi-sensei. The glare he got in return from both senseis was worth it though.
On the other hand, the look Kakashi-sensei gave him was beyond unimpressed. “And you didn’t think of stopping him?”
“I did,” Naruto tried to argue but was immediately cut off.
“Because that wouldn’t be a good look for the future seventh Hokage to be involved in another grease fire this year.”
That got on Naruto’s nerves.
“Hey! At least I wasn’t the one who almost burned down the kitchen!” He snapped back and Iruka-sensei immediately went on the defensive.
“You can’t even cook!”
“Yeah! Because I know I’m bad at it!”
And the whole room went quiet. As close as they were, Naruto really knew how to cut deep. Of course, he hadn’t meant it like that but those words hit the room like a bomb.
Because it was true, Iruka knew he wasn’t great at cooking but…
With his brows furrowed in hurt and his lips pursed, Iruka-sensei took that pain and left with a quick bow of his head. “Sorry.”
“Iruka,” Kakashi-sensei tried to say but the vice-principal was already gone.
He shot Naruto a look and the new father of two winced.
Out on the midday streets of Konoha, Iruka-sensei was walking to clear his head and find something edible. Sadly, it only reinforced what Naruto had implied. Iruka was bad at cooking. He was in his thirties and he still couldn’t cook. It seemed like every time he tried to make something that was at least edible, he got worse at it.
That was why he’d married a man who could cook. That was why he surrounded himself with people he could. He’d never been able to ever since his parents had died.
And not for lack of trying either.
Ever since the takeout-spree that had landed him in the hospital at nine, he’d learned that cooking was an essential skill. With a house all to himself, he had lots of time and room to practice as a kid. All the books in the world couldn’t help him though.
No, by teenagehood, he knew he was a lost cause.
Sitting in a kitchen covered in flour, a fourteen-year-old Iruka was beyond fed up. Really? Did making ramen have to be that difficult? All he had to do was boil the store-bought noodles.
Now, the noodles were burnt and he was still hungry. This was not how he was hoping his summer would go.
His stomach gurgled violently and Iruka steeled himself. He knew what he had to do. There was only one way out of this mess.
He had to take someone else’s.
Now, he could have eaten at the orphanage. They fed parentless kids and were no strangers to him but Iruka’s pride wouldn’t let him. Heck no. Not again, not for a seventh time this week. He’d boasted to them that he’d try to make stuff at home and he wasn’t going to seem like a joke now. Especially not on a hungry stomach.
Besides, their food sucked.
Iruka couldn’t just take from anyone though. He could get caught. Then he’d be the orphan who steals food for no reason and Iruka was no thief. No, he was just someone who made opportunities for himself and he’d gotten good at it. All thanks to seals.
Not to brag but… Iruka was so good at seals now that he could trick even ANBU to leave him their food.
How? A great question. Step into Iruka’s office: the living room filled with seal papers and ink.
First step: pick how. Iruka liked to get creative. He couldn’t use the same old trick every single time. No, no. With ANBU, you couldn’t trick them often and you had to be smart about it. This time, Iruka chose water.
Second step: painstakingly draw out the required seal. Thankfully, Iruka had a few seals already made for this very occasion. He’d planned to use them in a prank he had a while ago. Sadly, he and his friends had graduated from the academy and they were all too busy on missions now for him to set this up.
The third step was go-time and Iruka hurried to the secret training grounds where he knew his targets would eventually train. They usually trained around noon to work up a sweat for a later lunch and Iruka got there about ten minutes before he knew they would show up. So, he had to act fast.
Training ground 37 was one not known to many. It was smaller than most but was hidden away about five minutes outside the village walls. Backed up against a small mountain, the training ground was very well hidden which was good for Iruka since the mountain wasn’t really grassy. Plus, it’d rained the night before so this was going to be much more believable.
He was set up and ready when the two black ops ninja showed up. In their gear and masks, Iruka couldn’t tell who they were but he knew these two were the ones he’d been hoping for. Hound and Cat usually had intense fights and that left Iruka a lot of room to sneak around unseen.
They got right to stretching at the start and Iruka made sure to hide far away from their fight. Thankfully, he just had to find where their food was and… There we go: small packs sitting at the base of a tree not far at the edge of the cleared ground. It was close so Iruka would have to be the quietest he’d ever been.
Iruka waited carefully until the fighting started. Finally, Cat started everything off with a quick fling of shuriken that Hound dodged easily. Hand-to-hand combat was in motion and Iruka waited just a bit longer. Not only because he wanted the best chance at making this believable but because it was awesome to watch. From his angle, he could watch them fight for hours with the bright sunny skies shining down on them but he had a mission: food.
So, he quietly crawled his way to the tree, keeping his chakra bundled tight. Easing the zipper down on one pack, he started to sweat as he listened for anything that sounded like combat stopping. Thankfully, they were pros and could fight forever.
Just when Iruka had the bento he’d been feeling for in hand, he set off the seals.
From the top of the mountain, he felt them go off and so did the ANBU. He saw how their heads swivelled upwards and he took that moment to hurry away quietly from the site as the mountain started to rumble. Thanks to the rain from the night before, when he unleashed the water trapped in the seals like fountains onto the muddy ground above, the entire mountainside started to shift and down came an entire mudslide that was so loud and messy. While the ANBU scrambled away, Iruka was already running back towards town.
No one came after him but he still ran the entire way back to the gate. Inside the walls, Iruka set himself down in his usual spot by the river. Adrenaline fading away, he ate the beautifully prepared food and stared out across the glimmering blue waters. Even orphaned and alone, Iruka was happy just to sit there by the water under the cloudless skies with a full stomach and a feeling of accomplishment. He wasn’t getting anywhere with food but at least he was getting better with seals and strategy.
Sitting by that same river over twenty years later, Iruka couldn’t help but miss that feeling. Sure, he could always improve with seals and other fūinjutsu but as a seals master, there wasn’t that same kind of glee in testing new seals. Not only because he didn’t have much time as a vice-principal but because he already knew they’d probably worked.
Worse, he hadn’t gotten better at cooking. In fact, he’d gotten worse and that only emphasized that feeling in his chest of missing his parents and feeling like… Well, like he wasn’t fit to be one himself.
“Well, well, looks like I found the culprit.”
Like he had twenty years ago, Iruka snapped his head around to find someone else standing right next to him. This time, he relaxed when he saw Kakashi-sensei standing right next to him. The ex-ANBU eased himself down next to Iruka and playfully nudged him. “The shinobi who tried to burn down my kitchen.”
“Who succeeded,” Iruka corrected sadly.
Kakashi-sensei huffed. “Nothing a little paint can’t fix.”
“The wall is burnt,” Iruka weakly argued back but Kakashi-sensei was shaking his head.
“Actually, the wall is just fine. The sink is a little melted but… I think the angle is actually better now.” Kakashi-sensei said it with such a straight tone that they both chuckled but Iruka still groaned after.
“I’m sorry. I really tried this time.”
“I know,” Kakashi soothed and they sat in silence together for a minute, shoulders touching as they watched the water flow by. Iruka felt a little less alone and he couldn’t help but think of the boy he’d once been, sitting by the river with delicious food. Eventually, Kakashi coaxed him to walk back with him but Iruka stood and paused.
“Kakashi,” Iruka started finally. “Would you mind cooking for us tonight?”
“You know, if you wanted me to make you food, you could’ve just asked.” Kakashi joked as they started back and Iruka elbowed him back.
Back home, Iruka watched Kakashi cook with the help of a very insistent Naruto who wanted to make him food in forgiveness. Anko even joined in on the show and they watched as the two leaders of the village argued over cooking.
The blue flames shooting out of the oven minutes later were a surprise.