He who opens a school door, closes a prison.
Kakashi wondered how long it would take for the smell of burned flesh to clear from the air. With too many bodies to bury, they had been burned instead. And now, weeks later, the air still seemed thick and oily.
His knees hurt. He had been kneeling for too long, or perhaps he was getting old. He felt old. And tired.
His task was nearly complete, anyway. His hands, which had been so deft at dealing death now clutched a simple chisel and hammer. Ridiculous. His handwriting had always been awful, the bane of that one chuunin-sensei's life – what had his name been, again?
Kakashi set the chisel aside and swept his fingers up the rows of names upon the Memorial Stone; the newest of them still sharp and new.
Ah yes, Umino Iruka. He had been the one who –
Kakashi closed his eye, and with the ease of long practice banished the memory before it could take him to other, darker places.
He picked up the chisel and continued.
It was a cramp in his hand that finally forced him to stop, an hour later. Strange that he could flash through seals with perfect accuracy so fast he could not even follow his own movements, yet it was the manual labor that got to him.
There were many more names to still be added, but he was already late. No surprise there. Honestly, the council should learn to expect it by now.
Yet… Kakashi could not shake his conviction that the village could not begin to move forward again until they paid homage to the dead.
He knew he should go, but he swept his gaze upwards anyway, landing on a familiar name.
"You would be in hysterics if you saw me now, Obito," he murmured, before reaching over to pick up the large brimmed white hat he'd set aside when he began his work. Holding it on his lap with reverence he did not show in public, he sought out one final name on the stone. "But I know it should be you here, Naruto."
He could almost hear his former student's voice, shrill with displeasure, yelling at him from the stone: What was his perverted, terminally lazy sensei sitting here chiseling the names of the dead when there were asses in the council to kick?
"Maa, maybe you are right," Kakashi said. And, after replacing his hat, he made his slow way back to what remained of the Hokage's Tower.
Sakura was there to greet him at the door, clipboard tucked under an arm as if for all the world like she had been expecting him there at this minute. Perhaps she had.
Once his former student and now his assistant, she had stepped into the role as the Hokage's aid as if she were a reincarnation of Shizune.
"Hokage-sama, the council has been waiting for over an hour," she said, falling into step at his side.
"Yes, about that. I was asked to test out the new flavors of ramen at Ichiraku's," Kakashi replied. "I didn't want to offend one of our best merchants by saying no."
The corner of her mouth twitched up slightly. After Madara's final assault, and an encounter with Uchiha Sasuke's fire technique, Sakura had cut her pink hair short into a sensible bob. A red bandana covered the scarring at the top of her scalp, but nothing could be done for the ruined half of her face. She had use of only one eye and the other side of her mouth pulled downward due to a thick, red scar. She would never be a beauty again, but she still was a strong and capable kunoichi.
Kakashi still liked to see her smile. Even if it wasn't very much of one, anymore.
"Lair," she muttered, echoing old times, and looked down at her clipboard. "Two more shinobi have been declared fit for duty. Shiranui Genma, Special Jounin and Inoue Udon, Chuunin."
Kakashi gave a nod. "Good."
Madara's last stand had left them under powered and under populated, worse than the Kyubi attacks nearly two decades ago. It would take Konoha years to recover.
They reached the doors which led to the council chambers, but Sakura made a quick motion to stop before he could step inside. "One more thing," she said, and withdrew a slim scroll from her pocket before handing it over. "Yamato's reconstruction crew found this under the rubble of the Uchiha compound."
Like most of Konoha, the buildings of the once fabled clan were leveled in the attack. It was currently being rebuilt as a series of low-income civilian housing blocks. Kakashi occasionally did find justice to be fitting.
His amusement fell away upon closer inspection of the scroll. He glanced up, sharply. "Who else has seen this?"
"Yamato, myself, and Shikamaru from T&I," Sakura replied, and scanned around to make sure they were not overheard before lowering her voice. "Kakashi-sensei? What is it?"
Kakashi did not answer at first; simply slipped the scroll away in the deep folds of his Hokage robes. He gave his assistant a mild look. "I'm not sure yet, but let's keep this among ourselves, ne?"
Her shoulders tightened ever so slightly, but she was quick and nodded, "Yes sir," and in a normal voice meant to be overheard, added, "The Council will see you at once, Hokage-sama." She opened the door and Kakashi meandered inside.
The council meeting was as dull and tedious as ever, and as soon as it was adjourned Kakashi practically fled (In his liquid, unhurried way, of course. Even Hokage's had to keep up appearances) to his office, and sealed the doors and windows with the most vicious wards he knew.
Only then did he take out the scroll and re-read it.
The kanji and seals painted within made up a framework of almost bafflingly complex puzzle. Monstrous in design.
Using his sharingan, it soon became clear.
This had to be one of the great secrets of the Uchiha clan, Kakashi thought. A bead of sweat trickled down his temple. One not even Itachi or Sasuke knew about, or else…
… Or else things would have been much, much different.
It was, for all intents and purposes, the key to a time-travel justu.
According to the scroll, the user could only travel backwards within the span of his own lifetime. And even then... it took an enormous amount of energy. The further one went back, the more chakra it took.
There would be no telling how far back he could go: Yesterday, the start of the war, Sandaime's death, Sensei's death, Obito…
It hit Kakashi then that he was not just speculating. He was planning on doing this.
After all, not taking this chance meant he could never change things, never get a second chance to prevent the deaths of those close to him…
… And as he said more than once, those who abandoned their comrades were worse than trash.
He would go back as far as his chakra held out. The drain might be fatal, but he was willing to risk it. If he could change only one thing, warn someone of Sasuke and Madara's threat…
The letters on the scroll lit in blinding white as they activated. The light was so bright it looked like, just for a moment, lightening had struck the Hokage's tower.
Kakashi woke to a mouth as dry as sawdust, his sharingan eye drilling a hole backwards into his brain, and generally feeling as if he had been rolled over by an Akimichi.
He blinked open his eye and it took a few moments of concentration to focus on what was above him; a familiar woman I medic uniform and beyond her a sterile white ceiling. The hospital, then. How…?
It came back to him, then, all in a flash.
"…date…" he rasped.
The medic near him looked startled. "What was that, Hound-san?"
He swallowed past the dryness and tried again, "What… day…"
"You've been out for three days due to chakra exhaustion," she said, her grey eyes full of sympathy. "The guard found you half-dead at the gates. If you excuse me, the Hokage waned to know when you woke."
She bustled off, leaving Kakashi feeling slightly clubbed. So, it had worked. At least he was not the Hokage any longer. And he had not missed the fact that she had called him by his ANBU name.
Too late to save Obito, he thought, with a flash of honest regret. Or Minato-sensei.
But that still left a large space of time, and he could be anywhere in it. He joined ANBU in the weeks following the Kyubi attack, and still took special missions on the side for years after he'd officially retired. No one ever left ANBU completely.
So when was he? Was he too late after all?
Kakashi had not felt himself drifting off – chakra exhaustion was a bitch like that – and when he woke up next there was a visitor to his bedside.
"Ah, Kakashi," Sandaime said, leaning back to suck at the end of his pipe. He looked like he was trying not to smile. "Is this the second or third time you've exhausted yourself this year?"
"Sandaime-sama." Kakashi moved slightly, trying to sit up, but lethargy made his limbs heavy. The old man held up a hand to forestall the gesture.
"This is becoming far too frequent for my liking, Kakashi. Even the best of us need to take a break." He paused and blew out a puff of smoke. "As it happens, I have a favor to ask of you. A certain few Genins have graduated."
Kakashi's eye widened as it all fell into place. It was that day. The day Sandaime asked him to retire from ANBU and take on a Genin team.
The first time around, Kakashi had been mildly put out, convinced that his skills were more useful elsewhere. The Hokage had spent an hour wearing him down by talk, flattery, and sheer determination. Finally, he had convinced Kakashi to at least test them.
"—One is the last Uchiha in Konoha," Sandaime continued. "He is head of his class and his instructors praise him as a genius. The second is Naruto Uzumaki." A pause. "I know you're aware of him."
"I'll do it."
"The third—" Sandaime halted, startled. "You're agreeing?"
He didn't have enough energy to sit up, but Kakashi could at least curve his eye up at the man. "Maa, I think such a team is just what I've been looking for. They may keep me on my toes."
"Oh," Sandaime said, clearly startled but happy. "Yes, that they will." The Hokage rose then, showing none of the stiffness of his age. "You will make a good teacher, Kakashi-sensei."
Good? No, Kakashi thought, after the old man had left the room. He had been merely passable at best. Naruto and Sakura had both gone on to be great ninja's in their own right, but Sasuke…
Kakashi leaned back against his pillow and closed his eye. He hadn't come back as far as he would have liked, but it was a critical point all the same. Team Seven as children again. Fresh. Perhaps, moldable.
His lips twisted into a smile under his mask. This time, he would do it right.
Next time: Kakashi will meet his genin team for the first time. Again.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
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.
Note: Sadly, Iruka doesn't make an appearance in this chapter. There is Guy, though.
Kakashi meandered his way to the bridge overlooking the creek in training ground seven exactly three hours and forty-five minutes after he said he would.
"You're late!" Sakura and Naruto yelled.
The jounin paused in his step, smiling under his mask at a sudden wave of nostalgia. Ah, memories. "Late?" He looked around, guileless. "No I'm not."
"Lair!" the two yelled again. Sasuke grunted his agreement.
Completely unaffected by the three fuming genin, Kakashi ambled over to them, tucking Icha Icha Paradise safely away in his hip pocket. Sakura had her arms crossed and was giving him the exact same look disapproval her adult-self used to have as his assistant. Sasuke was feigning indifference, leaning on the railing a little apart from the other two, hands in his pockets. Naruto, meanwhile, was fairly vibrating with pent up energy.
There was a new look about the boy: Iruka must have taken Naruto clothes shopping in the early morning, because Naruto was sporting new sandals, dark trousers without any rips or tears, and a new jacket – still a blinding orange, Kakashi noted, with an internal sigh. Well, not all battles could be won in a day.
"Maa," Kakashi said. "I was just over there the whole time." He pointed over his shoulder to a stand of thick bushes just visible behind a bend in the creek.
Naruto scowled up at him. "What? But… Why were you over there?"
"Why not? It was very nice," he said, sincerely. "And quiet."
"Kakashi-sensei," Sakura began, and again Kakashi had a flash of the woman she had one time become. Especially when her eyes were narrowed with annoyance. "Your instructions were to meet us on the bridge. How were we supposed to know you would be off hiding somewhere else?"
"Well, did you even bother looking for me?"
"No, because you said you would be here."
"Ah," he said, tipping his head back to look in the middle distance. Somewhere, among the leaves of the trees, he could hear the rough voiced caw of a crow. "That's interesting."
There was a long pause as the genin traded glances with one another. Finally, Sasuke broke and asked, "What's interesting?"
He shrugged. "That you three would assume people, especially shinobi, come and go by a set pattern. That you would agree to a meeting place, and then not check your surroundings for possible ambush spots, traps, or places were you can be observed." He put particular emphasis on the last word.
Sakura's hands flew to her mouth. "You were watching us? This whole time?"
He had: Observing Naruto's boasting, Sakura trying to flirt with Sasuke, and Sasuke trying – and failing – to ignore both of them. It wasn't nearly as interesting as Sakura clearly feared it was. However, it had been informative: he was now sure that the team dynamic remained more or less the same as the timeline before. So far.
"Hey! Hey!" Naruto exclaimed. "That's not fair! You mean you were sitting over there that whole time, reading that nasty perverted book," he scowled, "when you could have been training us?"
"Oh, I don't think it's fair, either," Kakashi sighed. He sat himself on the wooden rail, resting his chin upon his hand. "I was promised a group of genin, ready and willing to be trained. Instead I got three lazy students who would rather sit at the bridge and talk for hours instead of being proactive about their training."
Sakura and Naruto both exclaimed, "Sensei!" and Sakura put her hands to her hips, sea-green eyes narrowing.
"You're saying you wanted us to find you," Sasuke said, flatly. "This was another test."
Kakashi gave a grudging nod to the Uchiha. When it came to looking underneath the underneath, he had always been the quickest on the uptake. His natural ability to observe small details had been part of his genius, and part of why he made such a deadly opponent.
"I see no reason why training should be given, instead of earned," he said, with a shrug. "Your enemies will not give you a time or a place where they will be. It's up to you, as shinobi, to discover what information you can ahead of time, and use it to arm yourselves."
The three students scowled at him, probably realizing this meant a lot of wasted time on their parts. Well, it was sure to be good practice for them. Kakashi curved up his eye into an arch. "Don't worry, I promise to at least be somewhere in the training field… for awhile."
"Tch," Sasuke grunted.
As if on cue, Naruto grinned and, bouncing on the balls of his feet, declared, "Just in the training field? And we can use traps and stuff?" he waited for Kakashi's nod, then grinned. "Yosh! That'll be easy! I'll find you first, and get trained first!" He threw a triumphant glare at Sasuke.
"If you can find me," Kakashi corrected then added, with false modesty, "I'm very good at being late."
"Hypothetically speaking," the Kakashi began, afterwards, as he led his students from the bridge and back towards the main field. "Let's say you've received a mission from your Hokage is to track and eliminate an enemy shinobi who has been hiding himself in a group of civilians. How would you identify your target?"
"Observe the movements of the group. Learn what the individuals schedules are, their favorite places, and see who stands out," Sakura said, in a nearly textbook repetition of an academy lecture.
"Set a trap for him!" Naruto exclaimed, probably thinking of the simple rope traps he had been caught in yesterday. "Then, when he falls for it, you can come in and get him! BAM!" He punched one fist into his open hand.
Sakura rounded on her teammate. "Idiot! You have to know which one is the shinobi before you can set a trap for him."
"Then you set one which only goes off on ninjas," Naruto answered, as if it was the simplest solution in the world. He grinned, wide and foxy. "Then BAM!"
"Naruto is closest to the answer," Kakashi said, forestalling Sakura as she opened her mouth to argue. "Although he's not right."
Sasuke rolled his eyes at his two teammates. "Tch. Just sense for his chakra. If he's hiding himself in a group of civilians, his developed chakra system will make him stand out."
Kakashi nodded. "Exactly."
He had taken them to level, grassy spot in the field, and, folding his legs gracefully, sat crossed legged on the ground. His students followed suit, arranging themselves in a semi-circle around him. "Most shinobi are able to shield their chakra signature to one degree or another by the time they are chuunin. However, not many are able fully pass themselves off as civilians. The stronger one is, and the more chakra reserves they have, the more difficult it can be." He hadn't been able to play 'civilian' since he was eight years old. At least, not to anyone with a great degree of sensitivity. "Now, who here can already sense the presence of other ninjas?"
Sasuke nodded his head. Sakura shook hers and Naruto just looked confused.
Kakashi's smile was acid under his mask. He suspected Sasuke already could, but that his range was more limited than he had ever let on. Why else did he need a sensor-type like Karin? The sharingan probably made up for the rest of the lack.
"It's not unusual for genin not to be able to sense others right out of the academy. As you continue to develop and control your own chakra," Kakashi continued, "you will eventually become more sensitive to the presence of it in others."
But Naruto still had not lost that look of confusion on his face. "… chakra?"
"Idiot!" Sakura snapped again, this time whapping him over the head with her fist. "How did you even graduate?"
The boy curled up rubbing his head. "Owww… Sakura-chan! How am I supposed to remember? That was forever ago, already."
"Tch. Dobe." Sasuke grunted.
Kakashi sighed. Picking up a pointy stick, he drew a quick outline of the human body in the hard soil, drawing figures in it as he spoke. "Chakra is the result of melding physical and spiritual energy." He paused, reminding himself how thick the boy was at this stage, and added blandly, "It makes your jutsus work."
Instantly, the boy's face lit up. "Oh! Yeah! Yeah! The yellow stuff. Why didn't you say so, Kakashi-sensei?"
Yellow…? Kakashi shook his head and went on. "As I said, your sensitivity will increase as you use and develop your own chakra reserves… but there are a few techniques I've learned to speed along the process."
That got the attention of his students. All three leaned forward in anticipation.
He curved up his eye at them, letting the suspense draw itself out. Then, "First, we hold hands."
Sakura immediately took one look at Sasuke and blushed so fiercely her cheeks matched her hair. Naruto looked torn between excitement at holding hands with Sakura and mounting horror that he would also have to with his teacher.
Sasuke, on Kakashi's other side, just stared at him in flat refusal. His dark eyes flicked to the side pocket where Kakashi normally stored Icha Icha Paradise. "You said you were hiding behind those bushes all morning. Were you reading that book?"
Kakashi smiled again. "My hands are clean." (As if he would do such a thing with gloves on anyway…) He grabbed hold of Sasuke's hand in a firm grip and allowed the petty part of himself which still remembered the smell of the burning village to take pleasure in how the boy flinched. Naruto, too, was hesitant, but seemed intent on not allowing Sasuke to show him up. He joined hands.
"Close your eyes," Kakashi directed, then led his students through several breathing exercises designed to quiet the mind and increase perception.
"Your body is an empty shell, a container for your physical and spiritual power," he intoned. "Visualize your own chakra within this container. Some see it as a point of light, some as an inner fire or a well spring. Focus on this image. Let it fill your mind."
He heard Sakura take a sharp breath and felt her chakra signature waver slightly in surprise. The academy curriculum taught students how to manage their chakra only through seals and control exercises.
The accessing it this way for the first time was… startling.
Kakashi also felt Sasuke's chakra grow brighter and dim again as the last Uchiha found it and experimented slightly. Only Naruto's stayed the same – his reserves gleamed like an ever-bright star to Kakashi's senses.
He allowed his team a few minutes quiet before speaking again.
"This is your own natural chakra, so you should already be familiar with the feel of it. You have your chakra visualized, but now you need to learn to sense it in others. For this exercise, you will need to gather some chakra into your hands."
Naruto's palm immediately grew hot to the touch and Kakashi squeezed it sharply in warning. "Not too much. You will burn someone that way."
Naruto gulped, but his hand immediately cooled.
Kakashi continued, "Concentrate on the feel of the chakra beside you, how it is different from your own. Everyone has a slightly different signature. Learn how your teammate's chakra feels to you and memorize it. With enough practice, you will eventually be able to tell where your teammate is from a distance, and if someone is attempting to fool you with a henge of him or her."
He cracked open his eye as he spoke. Sasuke was sitting, back ridged and blank faced. Sakura, too, had a look of focus. Naruto on the other hand was red-faced and bearing down so hard it looked as if he was trying to lay an egg.
Naruto opened his eyes, looked around wildly to see if he was doing it right. Then, finding Kakashi watching him, he quickly shut his eyes again.
"Problems?" Kakashi asked, mildly.
"No!" Naruto lied, and then squinted up his face. "Only… I don't get it. Are you talking about the white stuff? That's you, sensei?"
"Moron," Sasuke muttered. "You're just looking at his hair."
"Teme!" Naruto squawked, opening his eyes to glare at the other boy. "No you're wrong, because Sakura-chan's chakra is a pretty kind of green and she doesn't have green hair, does she?"
Sakura somehow managed to roll her eyes, even closed. "Sasuke-kun is right, Naruto. You're not doing it right."
Privately, Kakashi agreed with Sakura and was wondering if this was too much for Naruto, too fast. He was a little… dense. Yet something in the boy's rambling caught his attention. Yellow… white… green…
No… That was impossible.
"Naruto," he said, "take Sasuke's hand and tell me what you see."
Both boys shot him poisonous looks before shifting their gazes to glare at each other. They took hands with only the utmost reluctance and, Kakashi suspected, squeezing each other's hands far tighter than necessary.
"Red," Naruto announced, after a minute's concentration. Then added, "A really ugly red."
Kakashi stared at the boy. It couldn't be…. Surely, he hadn't kept this ability to himself in the first timeline? No, Naruto was the type to shout his powers from the rooftops. He held nothing back. Then again, Kakashi had not tested his students this way last time. And Naruto still had to be explained the memory transference ability of Kage Bunshin even years after using them…
"Sensei?" Sakura asked.
He let out a long breath and shook his head in bemusement. "I have a theory, but first, there is one more thing I want to try." Kakashi took several small white squares of paper from his vest. He passed them around. "This is a special type of chakra paper. By infusing your chakra into it, you will be able to find your elemental affinity."
He held up a square between two fingers and after a moment's concentration it crinkled up. "My elemental affinity is to lightening," he said, then gestured around. "Now you try it."
Sasuke's paper blackened and burned away. Naruto's split in half and Sakura's crumbled into nothing.
"Lightening is often associated with the color white," Kakashi explained, to their confused glances. "Sasuke, your affinity is to fire – red. Naruto, yours is wind – yellow. Sakura, earth, which is often paired with the color green."
One by one Sasuke and Sakura turned to look at Naruto who just looked confused again.
"No way," Sasuke said, flatly, still staring at his teammate.
"Yes," Kakashi agreed, and if he were not the consummate professional he was, he would have smacked Naruto upside his thick head. Just on principle. "Naruto has the makings of a natural chakra-sensor. He can already sense elemental affiliations."
Naruto blinked. "So… that's good, right?"
"It is. With time and practice you will be able to detect the presence of other people from great distances through their chakra. If you know natural element ahead of time, you can guess which jutsu they'll use and prepare. It will give you an advantage."
"… Really?" Naruto grinned at his sensei and laughed, pumping a fist in the air. "Yeah! This will make me stronger. I'm one step closer to becoming the next Hokage! Believe it!"
And Kakashi took note of how Sasuke's jaw tightened – almost imperceptibly. The Uchiha didn't like being shown up in any way, especially not to a dead-last. Then again, that was no surprise. A person with Sasuke's ambitions craved power and was jealous to see it in others.
He let Naruto celebrate for another few minutes before holding up his hand for silence. "We will continue training tomorrow… if we get an early enough start."
"You mean if you actually show up on time," Sasuke grumbled.
Kakashi curved his eye up at him. "That will depend on how well you apply today's lesson, won't it?" Then he dug around in his back pocket, eventually pulling out a scroll. "Afternoons will be used for completing missions. I have taken the liberty of stopping by the missions desk and picking this one out especially for you three. I think you'll find it… suitably appealing." With that, he tossed it lightly into the air.
Sasuke was quickest to snatch it, and with Naruto and Sakura crowding close, he unrolled it. His left eyebrow gave a twitch. "It says we're to help with the dinner rush at Nageto's Sukiyaki Restaurant…" he trailed off, then peered closer, almost as if he couldn't believe it."Peeling vegetables?"
"As I said," Kakashi replied, grinning behind his mask.
Let it not be said that Hatake Kakashi did not appreciate the value of a good D-rank mission. He'd certainly had his own share of them as a genin (the entire year of it), and during his first experience with Team Seven, had assigned them liberally. One never knew when you would be called upon to infiltrate, say, a high-class restaurant posing as a kitchen-worker. And Kakashi could now say, after three hours sitting on the sidelines reading his book while monitoring his team, that if push came to shove Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke could reliably pass themselves off as amateur line-cooks.
His students – glaring at him, and with Naruto still picking bits of potato-skin out of his hair – did not agree with his assessment.
Kakashi only smiled and told them to meet him at the training ground at eight o'clock in the morning, and to bring extra towels. He then teleported away.
A cool evening had fallen over Konoha, bringing with it a crisp breeze from the east. Kakashi walked the parameter of the main market square; hands shoved in his pockets and pretending to be lost in his thoughts and not notice the crowd, all the while scanning and marking out faces and comparing them to his mental list of the population.
It would do no good to draw attention to himself by accidently mentioning someone who he remember as died, when they had not yet in this particular timeline.
Kakashi froze mid-step, his visible eye widening ever so slightly.
There was blur of green – a blinding flash of teeth – and Guy stood before him, unrepentantly tacky, overenthusiastic, and whole.
Kakashi had brought a pastel colored get-well card, and a copy of a corny adventure novel he'd once read on a whim, and now thought it might suit Guy's taste. They both sat on the night-stand – the only bright spot in the bare hospital room.
"…We could arm wrestle?" Kakashi said, tentatively into the awkward silence. "Assuming your arms still work, of course."
Guy snorted through his nose. "Now I know things are bad when you start issuing challenges."
"Heh." He rubbed the back of his head, sheepishly, knowing he had been caught. The truth was, Kakashi did not allow himself to be drawn into anything he didn't want to be drawn into… as much as he had ignored the taijutsu master, the rivalry had kept him on his toes.
And now, if only to draw out Guy again – hear an echo of his booming voice – he didn't mind so much lowering himself to actually proposing a challenge.
"You lead me by two points," Kakashi said, watching his friend out of the corner of his eye for any reaction. "It eats away at a man."
"Later, perhaps, my rival." Guy turned his attention to the view of the small, well manicured courtyard; the only bit of green visible through the hospital window. The silence dragged on into long empty minutes.
"Sulking like this isn't very youthful, you know." Kakashi said at last, a tad harshly. He would much rather have Guy mad at him than this blank… nothing. "Why isn't that little clone of yours here, threatening to end his life if you don't walk again or something?"
"My adorable student would have made just that pact, but I could not allow it," Guy replied, flatly. It was odd and put up the hairs along the back of Kakashi's neck because it was… well, Guy. "He now trains a new genin team. He is… still so youthful, and I—" he cut off his speech with a shrug, swallowing, and Kakashi got the sinking feeling those weren't Manly Tears behind Guy's eyes. "I'm old, Kakashi. And broken."
"Maa, don't start that. You're making me feel old."
"The wasting jutsu hit me from behind – a most Cowardly Act," Guy said. "But it doesn't change the facts: I can't feel anything from my mid-chest down. I can no longer be a shinobi of Konoha."
And Kakashi found he had little to say to that. He didn't consider himself nice guy by nature, and knew for a fact his social skills weren't in his repertoire of genius. He had no idea how to comfort the other man, and lying and false optimism was distasteful.
So he sat and silence, and so did Guy… still staring out the window.
It was the last time Kakashi spoke to him. He had been called out on a long mission, and came back to the news that the Green Beast of Konoha had ended his life. Kakashi had not asked for the details – his father's own suicide still too painful of a memory to touch – and was almost pitifully grateful that Guy had arranged it in a way that Kakashi wasn't the one to find the body.
Might Guy's name joined the others on the memorial stone, and Kakashi made sure to talk to him, every day.
"—And I am Thrilled to hear you have at last accepted Three Adorable Students as your Protégés! We must pit Them Against My Team to see who is truly the Village's most Hip and Youthful Sensei!"
Realizing Guy was still talking – and had been for some time – Kakashi blinked and forcefully made himself lean against a nearby wall; projecting an air of casualness as if it were his lifeline. "I'm sorry, were you talking?"
"Ah!" Guy immediately jumped into nice guy pose #12, his teeth flashing brilliantly in the sun. "You are so Hip and Cool, my Rival! Fear not, for I Will Beat You in this next Challenge. You lead By Only ONE Point, and I cannot—"
"Hmm. What are the terms?"
Guy nearly staggered in shock, and Kakashi watched him, amused. He should have thought of this tactic before. Then again… well, things had been different.
"You're actually accepting a challenge? Without more persuasion?" Guy nearly gasped, but then straightened, and now his grin was so wide it was nearly blinding. "I Knew My YOUTHFUL Vigor would One Day Rub off on you!"
"Yes, yes," Kakashi said, with the same tone one would use mid-yawn. "Terms?"
"To Walk up The Top of Hokage Mountain using just their Hands. Whoever gets there first Shall be Declared The Winner!"
With a long suffering sigh, Kakashi pushed himself against the wall. And with one glance to judge the distance from the market to Hokage mountain, he nodded.
Next: Fangirl crushes are very troublesome.
Note: Just a quick explanation about my decision to have Naruto as a natural chakra-sensor. For the purposes of plot, I really wanted someone to develop this sort of talent for the team. Sasuke was the most logical choice, but I had to put him aside because Orochimaru would have surely discovered that sort of latent talent in canon, and trained him up it in. Then, he wouldn't have had to put up with Karin. Sakura was the NEXT logical choice… but really, it seems like chakra-sensoring is more or less a feminine talent in the manga and since Sakura is already a medic (another occupation traditionally assigned to females on the teams), I just couldn't bring myself to do it. So, Naruto it was. My excuse is he didn't know he was in the canon timeline, and just assumed everyone sensed different color chakra like he did. And he never tied it to different elemental affiliations because… well, he's Naruto. ;D
Thank you all for the feedback! It's great to see how worried I've made some of you over Sasuke's future. Whahaha.
Note: Thanks to Hotspur and Schwarztkd for helping me brainstorm through this chapter. :D
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Kakashi spent the next morning very pleasantly – reclining on a high branch of a tree on with his copy of Icha Icha Paradise.
Every few minutes or so he flared his chakra, using himself as a homing beacon. He was sure he felt had the presence of several ANBU a few training fields away this morning, and no doubt chakra spikes would be driving the more sensitive of them crazy, but no one could complain if it was for training. At least, officially.
He could hear his students crashing about in the underbrush below; looking for him, presumably. They were doing a poor job of it. Clearly, they could feel he was somewhere nearby, but not a one of them had bothered to look up…
Kakashi had just reached chapter six (Where the heroine, Eiko, first realizes her mysterious repeat client in the brothel is not all that he seems…) when Naruto's triumphant voice was heard at last.
The boy staggered from between two thick bushes, a leafy twig sticking from his hair. "There you are!" he yelled, pointing upwards. "I found you, Sensei! Sakura! Sasuke! I found him! He was being lazy up in a tree!"
"Finally!" A much harried looking Sakura came into view, brushing her dress free of leaves. Sasuke walked, neat and clean as always, in from the other side.
Then there was an awkward beat as all three genin looked expectantly to their teacher. Kakashi read on, uninterested, and turned the next page.
"Well?" Sasuke said at last, and Kakashi gave himself a mental pat on the back for getting the last Uchiha to initiate conversation on his own so early in the day. "You said we would start training once we found you."
"Saa," Kakashi sighed, regret heavy in his voice. "Unfortunately it has become so late I only have time to train one of you today."
Coolly ignoring his students' protest, Kakashi snapped his book shut and tucked it safely away. "Let's make it interesting. The first to climb this tree and reach me will be receiving training today." He paused, noting how both Sasuke and Naruto tensed as if readying to simply leap up to him, "But you will not be allowed to use your hands."
"What?" Naruto scrunched up his face, then stared at his hands for a moment, then up again at the tree. "How are we supposed to do that?"
Sakura's face brightened. "Wait! I've read about this in the academy textbook. Ninja with superb control can use their chakra to walk straight up buildings or trees—Sasuke-kun!"
Sasuke had launched forward before she had even finished, clearly intent on being the one to receive training for the day. His chakra glowed blue under his sandals as he leaped – but Kakashi could see it was too much, too powerful. The heel of Sasuke's sandal cracked against the trunk, splitting bark, and the entire tree shook with the impact. The boy was repelled back, but tucked in mid-air, executed a back flip and landed again in a graceful crouch.
Just as before, Kakashi thought, leaning out in exaggeration from his branch, as if surveying the damage to the tree: the trunk now sported the perfect imprint of a shoe. "Sakura had the right idea," he said. "But my, my Sasuke-kun. You used far too much chakra—"
He stopped as Naruto let out a war cry of his own and ran straight at the tree. His foot slipped and Kakashi repressed the urge to wince as the boy fell back again and hit the ground with an audible thump. "As I was about to say," Kakashi drawled, looking on as Naruto rolled around on the ground, clutching his head in pain. "The key is moderation. Too much chakra and you only break the bark. Too little and you fail to stick all together." He looked to Sakura. "Care to try?"
The girl visibly hesitated, but then brought her fingers up and a brief pose of concentration. Then she ran at the tree at full tilt. Kakashi's experienced eye caught a slight misstep as her feet stuck to the trunk and held – most likely out of surprise than anything else. She had recovered by her next stride, though, and her momentum carried her the rest of the way.
"I did it," she breathed, so quietly Kakashi wasn't even sure he was supposed to overhear it at all. Then Sakura whooped, louder, fist in the air. "I did it!"
Kakashi simply curved up his eye and moved aside to let her sit down.
"Yeah! Now that's the girl I put my faith in!" Naruto crowed. "How did you do that, Sakura-chan?"
She only grinned a reply at him, her eyes were seeking Sasuke.
The last Uchiha stood to the side of Naruto, jaw tight and fists clenched to his sides. He said nothing to Sakura and looked away from her, fuming.
Sakura practically wilted where she sat, and Kakashi let out a silent sigh. To borrow the phrase, her crush on the Uchiha was… troublesome. Well, that was partially what he had planned to tackle today. The seed of doubt he had tried to plant with yesterday's genjutsu still needed watering.
Kakashi leaned forward on his branch, curving his eye up at the two boys on the ground below. "It looks like Sakura outdid both of you." He paused for a moment, letting that particular dagger sink deeper. "She will be the one to receive training today." He reached into his pocket and flung out two kunai to land at Sasuke and Naruto's feet. "You will be able to join us… if you manage catch up."
Kakashi sent Naruto and Sasuke to walk up trees on opposite sides of the training field. During the disastrous mission to Wave, he had been under a time constraint – he'd only counted on a few days until Momochi Zabuza recovered from his near-death experience, and so had used Naruto and Sasuke's competitive nature to force themselves to improve faster.
This time… well, it would be easier in the long run for Naruto not to form that bond with his rival.
Speaking of bonds…
"Follow me," he said to Sakura, before leading her to a small swampy pond sitting in a low place in the field. Kakashi made sure not to so much as pause at the edge, but continued walking upon the water's surface until he reached the middle. He turned to find Sakura staring at him, wide-eyed from the bank.
Never underestimate the power of a cool first impression.
"This is the next level from the tree exercise," he explained. "Water walking is significantly different than tree walking."
Sakura winced as she placed her sandaled foot on the scummy water. It sunk in and she jerked back to the bank immediately. "Kakashi-sensei, can't we do this somewhere… cleaner?"
"Maa…" He scratched the back of his head and pretended to think about it. "I considered taking you to train in the bathing pools, but I'm not sure they'd let me into the woman's side. You'd have to join me in the—"
Sakura let out a sound that was half gasp, half mortified squeak. "No! Nevermind. This is – I'll be fine."
She approached the pond again – this time her sandal made a distinct squelching sound in the soft mud. Sakura bit her lip, looking over her shoulders back towards the line of trees; more specifically to where Sasuke had been left training. Her determination seemed almost to leech right out of her. "But if I fall into the water, I'll get dirty…"
"Then it's important you don't fall in, isn't it?"
"But Sasuke-kun will see me get muddy. He—"
"Is not here." Kakashi cut in, letting threads of steel creep into his voice. "He is, no doubt, training furiously with no thought of you whatsoever."
She gasped. "How can you say that?"
Because the only time Sasuke had thought of Sakura was when he had deliberately taken a pause from helping to destroy Konoha to disfigure her.
Kakashi eyed this version of his former assistant coolly. "Why do you want to be a kunoichi?"
She instinctively straightened under his gaze. "Sasuke-kun is so cool, and I—"
"Sasuke came afterwards. Why did you enroll in the academy?"
The girl's brows knit for a moment, and then she dropped her eyes. "When I was young, my mother took me shopping at the market. On our way home a man stopped us and tried to steal our groceries. He had a knife and he shoved my mother down and… and I was so scared, but then a kunoichi came and chased him off. She was only a genin, but she was already so strong…" Sakura trailed off and lifted her chin. Her eyes met Kakashi's. "When we got home I asked my parents to enroll me in the academy. I wanted to do be strong like the one who had saved us. To help people."
Kakashi let her last sentence ring out in the air between them for a long moment. Then he took a deliberate step back on the water's surface in clear invitation for her to join him. "In order to walk on water," he said, "you must provide a steady flow of chakra to your feet. This exercise is especially vital for you as you have the least stamina out of your teammates. If you do this exercise on a daily basis you will be able to build your reserves."
He wasn't imagining the new spark of interest behind Sakura's green eyes. Balling her fists to her sides, she nodded once, as if to herself, and stepped onto the water.
And promptly sank up to her knees in filthy pond water. "Eeeee! Sensei!"
It took nearly the entire afternoon for Sakura to learn the trick. By the time she was able to wobble out to the middle of the pond – arms spread for balance – she was muddy from waist down; her red dress nearly stained black from a combination of brown goop and green algae. There was another smear of mud on her forehead where she had brushed her bangs away from her face with a dirty hand, but she was grinning – panting and triumphant.
Kakashi eyed her approach over the top of his book. He had taken advantage of the warm sunny day to stand out in the water, ignoring the several large fish which had taken to nipping where his pale toes poked out from his sandals and nearly unbalancing him twice – not that an inexperienced eye would be able to tell.
"Your left leg is a half centimeter shorter than your right," he observed. "Compensate for it."
Sakura nodded and her next few steps were noticeably steadier. "It feels a little like sliding across a frozen puddle in winter." She eyed Kakashi's feet, the large fish circling under, and his casual stance with more than a little jealousy. "How do you stay so steady, Kakashi-sensei?"
He crinkled his eye at her. "Practice." And with that, he made a lazy, one-handed swipe at her with his book, intending to whap her upside the head.
Sakura gasped and fell awkwardly to the side to avoid the blow, arms pinwheeling. It was a lost cause and she would have gone under, but for some instinctual reaction which made her channel chakra to her hands. Her palms struck the surface of the water and stayed there just as if she had landed on firm soil.
Sakura blinked in surprise and levered herself back up – well out of his arm's reach, Kakashi noted, with amusement.
Once she was standing straight, she fixed the jounin with a glare. "That wasn't very fair at all, Sensei!"
"Just testing your reflexes," he replied, with a breezy wave of his hand. "You were the only one not to attack me during the bell test. I wanted to test your taijutsu skills."
"… Right here?" she asked, arms still spread for balance. It was clear she was doing everything she could just to stay up.
"Maa, you never know when a fight will be taken to the water." Or when a certain bridge builder lies about the risks in a mission…
Sakura hesitated again, throwing one last long look over her shoulder at the trees. But her eyes weren't filled with longing – she seemed to be simply checking to make sure Sasuke wasn't there to watch in case she slipped and fell into the pond. Then, just before Kakashi had about decided to force the issue by making her defend herself, she launched at him with an efficient side-kick.
Their sparring session was short: Sakura had none of Sasuke's innate talent, nor did she have any of Naruto's sloppy bad habits. Kakashi barely had to expend any energy to defend himself, of course, but noted that she had seemed to have mastered the academy basics.
Mildly impressive, considering she had no shinobi family to practice against.
But it was no more than a few minutes before Kakashi called for a halt. Sakura's chakra levels were minimal at this stage and she was nearly bent over double with her hands on her thighs, panting. The toes of her sandals had slipped under the water line and the large koi underneath seemed to be circling more hopefully.
"You did well," he granted and gestured to the muddy bank. "We will continue this tomorrow, before your next mission."
"Yes, Sensei," she gasped, and would have collapsed the moment she reached solid ground if he had not caught her elbow and guided her to sit and rest for a minute.
As it was, he felt more or less obligated to escort her home. Jounin-sensei's were mostly allowed any training regiment they thought necessary up to and including the cruel and unusual, but Kakashi knew he couldn't afford to be put under the Sandaime's watchful eye if one of his student's fainted in the street on the way home.
Sakura's family lived in a pretty little cottage in one of the new parts of the village, rebuilt after the Kyuubi attack. Mrs. Haruno answered the door and took in the sight of her pale, exhausted, mud-soaked daughter in the presence of an unfamiliar masked man and immediately set her eyes to kill.
Kakashi returned their glare with a look of complete indifference.
"Mom, Kakashi-sensei taught me how to walk on water today," Sakura said. Her voice was a wisp of its usual self, but her grin was wide enough to light her entire face.
Something very deep, hidden, and small glowed briefly in Kakashi's heart. It came and went too fast for him to identify.
"Oh? Is that so?" Sakura's mother said, then she turned to Kakashi with a much kinder expression and bowed. "Thank you, honored Shinobi-san."
He simply shrugged a reply, and it was only when he was halfway back to the training grounds did he realize that Sakura hadn't mentioned "Sasuke-kun" the entire trip back. Perhaps the tiny seed had begun to sprout, after all.
Kakashi smiled very slyly to himself, underneath his mask.
He half expected to find Naruto passed out from falling halfway up the tree and hitting his fool head too many times. But either not pitting him against Sasuke had caused him not to push himself as hard, or the ground was simply softer here than Wave country, because Naruto was still at practice, and greeted him with a happy yell.
The boy did have a bruise or two, but it was nothing that the Kyuubi wouldn't have completely healed in a few hours. Naruto's progress was slow: the cuts of the kunai reaching only just above the height of Kakashi's head.
He sent him off for the day after a, "Well done," and a reminder that training began again at eight in the morning (or whenever they managed to find him, first).
Then Kakashi ambled off in search of his third student.
He found Sasuke leaning, arms crossed, against his tree as if he were waiting for his sensei's arrival. He had managed to make it further up than Naruto – although not by very much. His highest cut was only struck halfway up the trunk.
"Good," Kakashi intoned, not particularly caring. "We'll meet at the training grounds again at eight. You're dismissed."
The last Uchiha didn't budge. He narrowed his eyes. "What were you teaching Sakura?"
"Advanced chakra control techniques," Kakashi replied.
Kakashi curved his eye. "No."
The boy grit his teeth, using shoulders to push of from the bark. "Why not?"
There were a number of reasons why not, the most pressing being that Kakashi simply didn't like wasting his time. There was much use in teaching new tricks to a soon-to-be- dead boy.
He only replied, "Because I said so," with another eye-smile.
"I can learn both exercises at the same time," Sasuke insisted. He stepped forward, every line in his body tight, hands into indignant fists at his time. "I can learn faster than the others."
"Will you?" Kakashi murmured. And then it occurred to him – in a round about way, that he didn't have a memory of Sasuke asking for additional training before. Then again, it any training that the boy wanted had been freely given – including Kakashi's own Chidori.
Well, he wouldn't be making that mistake twice.
He saw a flicker of hope in Sasuke's dark eyes – he had misread Kakashi's inner reflection as hesitation.
"I was the number one rookie in the academy," Sasuke pressed. "I'll make it worth your while to teach me. I'm strong and I need to become stronger."
Stronger and stronger, until his quest for power leads him to abandon the village. Turn his back on his village and declare war on his own comrades.
"Your needs mean nothing to me." Kakashi's heard his own voice as if from a strange distance. Cold and flat. The boy's eyes widened a fraction. He seemed unsure.
Kakashi's weapon-pouch had three dozen shuriken, fourteen razor sharp kunais, two bundles of chakra wire and one pad of chakra paper. He didn't need any of it. From this distance, he could kill Sasuke with his bare hands.
It took an effort of will for Kakashi to turn away. "We'll meet with the rest of Team Seven at eight."
And with that, Kakashi walked off into the gathering darkness, feeling the Uchiha's eyes drill into his back well until he was out of sight.
Next: Now that Naruto and Sakura have had their chapter in the spotlight, I guess it's Sasuke's turn… ;D (Will Kakashi remain cold towards him? Team Seven's first mission is coming up, and Sasuke's neck is literally on the line. Whahaha. Stay tuned!)