Kakashi felt a pleasant sense of unreality settle over him as he walked the streets of Konoha. This was the village as he had remembered it best – after the Kyuubi's attack, but before Pain's invasion. The streets had just never seemed the same to him after the entire village had been obliterated the first time – they certainly had not been the same after Madara and Sasuke had been through.
He found his favorite bookstore and walked in, rebuying the just released novel, Icha Icha Paradise. His old favorite.
"Do you know the time?" he asked as he paid for his purchase.
The shop keeper glanced at the clock behind him. "It's half-past noon, Shinobi-san."
Kakashi thanked the man and strolled off, cracking open the new binding and flipping immediately to his favorite part.
Only two hours late this time. Not bad.
"Oh me?" Kakashi leaned back on his perch on the railing and looked over his genin team. His first impression was that they were… small. It was one thing to know that they would be children again, but quite another to be confronted with the fact that Naruto's head didn't even come to the height of his vest pockets.
"My name is Hatake Kakashi," he said. "I have no desire to tell you my likes and dislikes." They were a little young for that sort of thing, anyway. "And I have lots of hobbies. Dreams for the future? Hmm." He paused for a moment, tapping his chin, and then shrugged. Well, it couldn't hurt. "My dream is to discover and train a team of legends to be even greater than the three Sannin."
"That's us!" Naruto cried, fist pumping in the air. "Believe it!"
Ah, that was another thing Kakashi had forgotten. Naruto at this age was loud.
Naruto was also the first to introduce himself, of course, and immediately launched into a rambling description of how much he liked ramen and, oh yeah, how he was going to be the next Hokage. Watching him now, Kakashi forgave his former self – just a little – for ignoring the boy at first. There would be a day when Uzumaki Naruto would surpass the Fourth Hokage… That day was far off.
"I see," Kakashi said when Naruto had finished. "Next."
Sasuke was the next to speak, and Kakashi regarded him with wary interest. This was the boy Kakashi had seen so much of himself in, but he knew, now, with the clarity of hindsight, that he had unconsciously compared Naruto and Sasuke's rivalry with that of himself and Obito. But Naruto was not Obito, and Sasuke's world-view could not be shifted by the mere death of a teammate.
His ambition was to kill a 'certain' man? Kakashi would make sure he never had the chance.
"And lastly, the girl," he said.
This Hanuro Sakura was a very different kunoichi from Kakashi's able assistant. The Sakura of the future had been tempered into steel by death and tragedy. By blood, sweat, and hard work. Today, she was a silly little girl. And, like Naruto, Kakashi had forgotten how much she had grown.
The jounin let out a sigh. Having never been a little girl, Kakashi didn't know how their minds worked. Perhaps, he thought as Sakura cast a glance to Sasuke and squealed, it would be best if Sakura had a strong female influence in her life, earlier on.
He made a mental note to speak to Kurenai later.
Kakashi leaned back a bit on the rail, keeping his unnatural balance with a will of chakra. His sharingan eye still ached, though, a clear signal he wasn't wholly recovered from his near fatal chakra exhaustion. Well, he had not been in the past, either.
The bell test would be tomorrow.
Kakashi's plan for the next day was very simple: He needed some sort of baseline to start from, before he started making changes. He had to be sure the events of this timeline were the same as the last.
To that end, he quickly found he had no worries. The attacks from the two boys were exactly as he had remembered them, down to every overpowered jutsu from Naruto he could see coming from a mile away… with his eye shut.
It was a small comfort to know the loud-mouthed idiot would eventually learn some sense.
There was one change he did make. When Sakura, predictably, went to Sasuke's aid, he caught her again in a genjutsu.
It was easy to craft an image of Sasuke with blood pouring from his sharingan eyes. Cold and insane all at once. The Sasuke in Kakashi's illusion was not Sakura's teammate; had not been for years. And the traitor he wasted no time in trying to kill her.
Sakura's scream echoed through the forest.
Sasuke himself was at least more intelligent than both his other teammates in his attacks. Kakashi remembered being impressed about how well the genin had taken to orders to use deadly force, how willingly he was to engage a jounin of superior size and strength. Sasuke could perform the Giant Fireball Technique straight from the academy, used near perfect taijutsu techniques, would acquire the sharingan in a few short months.
He had once seen these qualities, and thought them as proof of his genius. Now, as sparred with the last Uchiha, catching Sasuke's ankle in one hand and pushing him away as the boy reached for the bells, he only felt his heart harden.
Now, when Kakashi faced the boy across the meadow – looked into his dark eyes, he thought only of the long list of names on the memorial stone. A list he had helped chisel out with his own bare hands.
If things were not changed, soon, Sasuke would become consumed by revenge. He would abandon the village. Apprentice himself to one of the darkest mind's the shinobi nations had ever known. Rise to Madara's second in command, his dark enforcer.
There was no emotion on the boy's face, not even in the height of the battle. Sasuke had already begun to shut everything away in his heart, just as he would one day shut the village away.
And Kakashi saw clearly, now, that Sasuke was already on the path of the avenger.
He wouldn't – couldn't allow him to destroy the village again.
His judgment made, the jounin stuck to his original plan and finished the encounter off the same as before; leaving Sasuke buried up his chin in hard clay. He walked away, his heart heavy.
There was no other choice. He would snap Sasuke's neck himself, the moment they were safely out of sight on their first mission outside the village.
"YAY!" Naruto shrieked, loud enough to make Kakashi long for some sort of sound-muffling jutsu. "I DID IT! WE PASSED! NINJA! NINJA! NINJA!" Had he not been tied to the pole, Naruto surely would have been dancing.
"Maa," Kakashi agreed, digging out an ear with his finger. "Team Seven will begin its duties tomorrow. Meet me in the bridge in the morning. Dismissed."
Sasuke grunted – his only reaction to the news – and, taking up his backpack, walked away. Sakura quickly hurried to follow him, but Kakashi was certain he caught her giving her dark haired teammate an unsure sidelong glance. As if to reconcile the Sasuke she was with now with the one she saw in the genjutsu.
Kakashi smiled, very slyly to himself.
"Hey! Hey!" Naruto had finally calmed down enough to realize what was happening. He kicked his legs futilely, trying to struggle free from the pole. "Where do you think you're going? Sasuke? Sakura-chan? Hey!"
Once, in what was quickly feeling just like yesterday and a lifetime ago all at once, Kakashi had left him there. A ninja needed to be able to free himself from being tied up, and besides, it wasn't a complicated knot. By the time he'd returned, a good three hours later, the boy had escaped.
Now, Kakashi only bent and cut the ropes. And then, with a quick flick of his wrist, caught Naruto by the scruff of his jacket before he could dash off. "Hold it."
"Eh?" Naruto turned and blinked up at him. "What's wrong?" Then the boy brightened. "Are you making me stay behind for some special training? Right? Yeah! Because you've acknowledged me as a great ninja!"
Kakashi stared down mildly at him, noting that his orange jacket seemed to be about three sizes too big. Considering. "One day you may be a powerful ninja. Maybe," he added, when Naruto opened his mouth again. "But there's something I want to see, first. Walk with me."
He made his way back to the village, nose stuck in his book with Naruto bouncing at his heels and chattering incessantly. Chapter four was particularly good at tuning the kid out, Kakashi found. It was the part where the heroine, Eiko, first goes undercover at the brothel…
Kakashi looked up in time to see Naruto barrel into the hapless chuunin, hugging him about the waist. "I passed! Kakashi-sensei said I'm going to be a great ninja and—"
The man had been dead for at least a day by the time they found him. He had been gutted like a fish, from stomach to sternum. And, judging by the sheer amount of the blood, and other, non-lethal marks, it had taken Umino Iruka a long, long time to die.
Then again, that had probably been the point.
Kakashi didn't need to mention that the body had been left out deliberately for them to find. He could see that Naruto knew it, too, even as he grieved; knelt down and clutching his former sensei to him.
Naruto let out a strangled sob and looked up. His eyes were red-shot, drawn into vertical slits, the whisker marks on his face darkened. "I'm going to kill him," he growled, a distorted version of his own voice. "That bastard… He's gone too far..."
It wasn't a threat. It was a vow.
"You passed? Really?... Kakashi-sensei?"
Kakashi blinked. Umino Iruka stood before him, whole and unscathed. His death had not happened yet, would not happen. Not if Kakashi had anything to do with it.
Quickly, Kakashi snapped his book shut and tucked it away, as if that had been his distraction. "It's true. Team Seven will not be returning to the academy, Sensei."
The man sagged in relief. "Oh thank goodness. When I saw—" He hastily swallowed the rest of whatever he was going to say and instead reached to ruffle Naruto's hair.
"Maa." Kakashi continued walking, but slow enough to allow the chuunin to catch up. A silent invitation. Iruka did, leaving Naruto to trot along between them. "Although, I wouldn't blame you for not wanting these students back. One of them can be quite annoying."
Naruto fairly beamed, clearly thinking Kakashi was talking about his other teammate. "Iruka-sensei! Kakashi-sensei says I'm going to be a great ninja! I'm going to get strong and beat Sasuke-bastard for sure! You watch!"
"Language, Naruto," Iruka snapped, although he shot a smile at the jounin. Odd. Kakashi couldn't remember the man ever smiling at him in the original timeline. Then again, the first time he recalling having an actual conversation with him outside the mission-desk had been during the chuunin-nominations.
Kakashi leisurely turned down a side street. "I have a good feeling about this team," he said. "And I'm hardly ever wrong."
"Is that so?"
Iruka's lips quirked again in a smile, but he was slightly distracted, taking a good look around. Smoke from the industrial district tended to float in this direction, marking the all of the windows and sidewalks with soot and the bitter smell of chemicals. The buildings in this part of the village had taken on a run-down, sleazy air. "Where are we going?"
"To train!" Naruto crowed.
"As jounin-sensei it's my job to be aware of my student's living conditions," Kakashi corrected, airily.
Naruto stopped dead in his tracks, causing the two men to walk past him.
Kakashi stopped and turned back. "Is there a problem?"
"Heh." Naruto rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "It's all right… you don't have to do that, Kakashi-sensei."
Meanwhile, Iruka was looking back and forth between them. "What do you mean?" he asked, sharply. Then, "Naruto, you don't live in this part of town?" And when the boy looked down, Iruka demanded, "Since when?"
Naruto shrugged at his sandals. "F'awhile."
"How long is awhile? Weeks? Months?"
"I dunno. A couple of years?" Naruto said, then looked up again. Any idiot could see that his smile was false, almost plastic. "I'm fine. The only people who bother me aren't ninja, or they're just drunk and… and… and I haven't cleaned in forever. You don't need to see it. Really!" He looked to the two adults imploringly.
Iruka made no reply other than to take Naruto by the shoulder and frog-march him forward. His lips were pressed into a thin line.
Kakashi watched the interaction between the two from an amused (and safe) distance. He'd once accused the other sensei of coddling his students, but now he suspected it went one step further than that – at least in Naruto's case. Iruka seemed to have genuine affection for the boy, even at this obnoxious stage. And mentally, Kakashi revised the chuunin's standing in his Plan.
In the future, Iruka's death had been used to manipulate Naruto by his enemies. So Kakashi had no real problem with manipulating him now, this time for Naruto's good.
In the fading light of the late afternoon, the apartment building looked even worse than Kakashi had remembered it. The whole complex seemed to lean a few degrees to the right, and a few shadowy figures slunk away at their approach. Kakashi glanced up, taking in the cracked walls and some sort of broken plumbing which seeped out of the side of the building, leaving a trail of filthy green slime on the way down.
Iruka made an outraged sound in his throat, sidestepping some broken bottles which littered the walkway.
"You know," Kakashi said, lightly. "This reminds me of an establishment I once visited in Rice Country. Do you know the one, sensei? It's rather infamous for its—"
"There is a child present, Kakashi-sensei." Iruka glared at him, hand still protectively on Naruto's shoulder.
Kakashi met the gaze mildly, but couldn't help needling the other man. "…Prices. The hourly rates are quite good."
"That's stupid," Naruto said. "Why would you only rent an apartment for an hour?"
A deep red flush spread up Iruka's neck and he hurriedly pushed Naruto forward again.
Naruto's own apartment was, thankfully, probably one of the best in the building. It didn't mean much, but there were no holes in the roof. The walls were thin, but the patches seemed to be holding. And if there were signs of mold along the window sills, at least they still slid open.
It also looked exactly like a twelve-year-old boy had lived there for years without any parental supervision.
Now Naruto was the one with a beet-red face. As soon as the door was open, he set about rushing around the small apartment, picking up stray underwear and stacking dirty dishes in a dry, crusty sink.
As if that were the problem.
Umino's fists were clenched at his sides as he looked around the room. "There hadn't been any change of address in his records," he said for Kakashi's ears alone, and with enough authority which implied he personally kept watch over Naruto's files.
Kakashi walked to the table to pick up a container of milk, still left out. In the past the Sandaime had brought him here as part of his strategy to convince him to take on Team Seven. Kakashi hadn't needed that tour this time around.
He threw the milk away.
Meanwhile, Iruka was examining a slab of thick wood set high upon several cinderblocks. A crudely made work-bench. Several bent shuriken sat on one side, a hammer on the other. "Naruto! What are you doing to your weapons?"
"Fixing them!" he hollered back, still desperately throwing dirty orange shirts into a pile of laundry in the corner. "Kado-san let's me pick from the broken pile! I get half off."
"At the shinobi supply center?" Iruka cut a look at Kakashi, and there was something dangerous in his brown eyes. The broken weapons bin was supposed to be recycled back to anyone who would take them and fix them. For free.
Sensing that explosion was imminent, Kakashi took a step back.
He wasn't disappointed: Somehow, Iruka was even louder than Naruto. The windows shook.
"YOU LITTLE IDIOT! WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME ANY OF THIS WAS GOING ON?" Iruka shrieked. A vein pulsed ominously in his forehead. "Didn't you listen to ANY of my lectures? These shuriken will never be field-fit! You will NOT be buying from that place again, do you hear me? I will go with you to buy new weapons—"
"And clothing," Kakashi suggested, before walking over to open up a kitchen cabinet door. A moth flew out. "And food."
The chuunin's jaw actually dropped. Then he rounded on the boy. "Get… your… things," he growled, nearly shaking in rage. "You're not staying one more night in here. I have an extra room. You can sleep there. And you WILL be eating right or so help me, I—" He paused, perhaps realizing what he'd just said. What he was offering. "Um, that is… if that's what you want?"
Naruto stood there in the middle of his crumbling mess of an apartment, frozen in shock. He gave a tiny nod, his eyes looking very big. "Iruka-sensei…"
Kakashi walked to the filmy, spotted window and looked out, pretending not to notice the drama playing itself out behind him. "Naruto, you are shinobi now. It's up to your comrades to help you if you need it. What Iruka-sensei says is correct. You need better quality weapons, to eat right and get stronger, and," he paused for emphasis, "a safe place to return to after dangerous missions."
"Y-yes, Sensei," the boy stammered.
Iruka let out a long, relieved breath, and Kakashi could practically see him count to ten to get his temper under check. He clearly wasn't angry at Naruto, but at his situation.
"Okay," Iruka said, fists unclenching. The man had a temper when he was riled up. He'd do his best to remember that. "Let's pack away your essentials first. Kakashi-sensei, would you help please?"
But Naruto still stood, paralyzed. "You really mean it?" he asked, slowly, as if he couldn't quite wrap his head around it. "I can get new clothes and weapons and I… I can live with you?"
"Yes, Naruto," Iruka said, kindly.
Naruto's grin was brilliant enough to light the room.
It took the entire evening to go through the apartment. Most of the weaponry was old or broken or both. Naruto's clothing mostly either had holes or was either too big or too small. The rest; scrolls, knickknacks and the like could be fit into three boxes which Kakashi had scrounged up from a nearby shopkeeper.
Naruto insisted on carrying the largest box – nearly as big as himself – and paraded proudly ahead, leaving the other two to walk behind.
Overall the night was a success, and Kakashi allowed himself a mental pat on the back. He had originally planned to put the kid up in the old Hatake compound, even though he himself loathed the place. Too many bad memories.
This solution was much better. Still…
"Don't let him eat you out of house and home, Sensei," Kakashi warned, once Naruto was safely ahead of them.
The smile Iruka gave him was serene… and a tiny bit evil all at once. "I have no intention of that, Kakashi-sensei. Did you know there is a village orphan fund?"
He didn't. He had lived with Minato-sensei after his father died, and the money he had inherited and earned through missions had been more than enough.
"Every orphan is given a basic allowance," Iruka continued, after Kakashi shook his head. "And seeing this… I don't think Naruto's been receiving his full share. Tomorrow I'm going to go through those files carefully." His mouth tightened. "I'll make sure he receives what he should have all along. With interest."
Kakashi barked out a laugh. The sound surprised even himself – it had been a very long time since he had laughed. "You are a devious man, Sensei."
Iruka grinned. "In fact, I don't think the Sandaime would be pleased to hear about any of this, either. He cares for Naruto."
That sobered him up. The Third knew about Naruto's predicament – he had been the one to show Kakashi the apartment in the first place. But there was a stubborn set to Iruka's face, and so Kakashi didn't feel like telling otherwise.
"Still," Iruka said, and then turned thoughtful. "I know Naruto is a special case, but I wonder how many other orphans had been short-changed. Sasuke—"
"Don't concern yourself with him," Kakashi said sharply in warning, and could have kicked himself when Iruka shot him an odd look. "Sasuke is… different from Naruto," he said, forcing his voice back into flat boredom. There was no reason to get emotional. After all, Iruka didn't know he was speaking of his once-murderer. "He requires a different sort of handling. I'll keep my eye on him. Besides," Kakashi added, looking again to Naruto who was panting with exhaustion ahead, but either too stubborn or too stupid to put his huge box down. "You'll have your hands full."
They both would.
Next time: Training pint-sized ninjas.