A Genius Like Him
Kakashi should have been around twenty by the time Itachi entered anbu, so he would have already made captain. And who else could handle stoic Itachi with such style?
It was a widely known fact that Itachi threw kunai better than most men could walk. The neat tilt of his wrist, the flash of his dark hair, the glimpse of robotic eyes his enemies would see before being speared… most considered this as close to perfection as a ten-year-old boy could possible reach. So when it came time to inaugurate the first Uchiha into Konoha's anbu force, the highly intimidated anbu captains all tossed him to the only other man who could handle his kunai almost as well.
In the anbu briefing room, ten-year-old Uchiha Itachi stood poised in front of Konoha's Copy-Nin. Otou-san had told him to make their clan proud, and he had every intent to follow his new taicho's orders to the syllable.
Kakashi, on the other hand, eyed him up and down. The boy was stiffer than a street pole in the winter. He almost had to slouch a little more to make up for the sheer levels of diligence suffocating the room.
"What's your name?" He began in his drawl.
"Uchiha Itachi, taicho." Every word was like a knife to a chopping board.
"Operative 34, to be serving under Operative Hound-taicho."
Kakashi sighed. The kid was set to become another Tenzo-kun.
(But he was secretly kind of very excited, of course, because another Tenzo-kun!)
The two of them settled quietly into anbu routine, and to all outer appearances it seemed that the young Uchiha genius had finally found his idyllic match in Konoha's Copy-Nin. He was seen frequently following his taicho around quarters, he went to him for supposed advice, and no one laid a hand on him even if he was the youngest of them all.
Not because he was good with his kunai – no, that encouraged them to see how well they would fare against him – but because they knew that Hatake Kakashi was not lenient against those who injured his teammates, and everybody was perfectly aware how well they fared against him.
For the most part, Itachi was aware of none of this. He did know, however, that being in anbu was a real pain. And this pain stemmed directly from his taicho, who poked and prodded at him and sent his sanity marching off to hell whenever he had the chance.
"Kid," Kakashi called one day, lounging on the couch of the briefing room with his legs swung up onto the armrest. "How good are you at making tea?"
Itachi promptly swelled with pride. "As heir of the Uchiha, I am skilled at making and pouring tea while keeping its flavor and consistency. I have never spilled a drop while pouring for clan ceremonies, and I am also well versed in the various foreign leaves found in the five countries. No matter which strata of society we enter, I will be able to easily infiltrate tea ceremonies." His brain then caught up with him. "Taicho, why do you ask? Will we have a mission at the daimyou's palace again? Will I be required to serve as his guard, as fifty-four did last time?"
Kakashi watched him quietly through the entire speech, absentmindedly shooting considering looks between him and the tea strainer lying on the counter at the edge of the room. He raised an eyebrow. "Can you just make… normal tea?"
"I suppose so."
"Maa, that's good," his eye crinkled into a smile, and he pointed a finger. "See those cupboards? They're filled with tealeaves. Pick whichever you like and make me a cup, I'm feeling rather distinguished." He didn't particularly want plain coffee again, and now that he had an underling an entire class-level above Tenzo, it would be wise to make use of him.
Itachi, who had heard various rumors about proving oneself to the superiors by demonstrating the subtle skill involved in such tasks, immediately set to work, and wondered when his taicho would reveal to him the secret reason behind his request.
It took him three weeks to realize that Kakashi just wanted to drink fucking tea.
"Taicho, I understand that this must be a matter of utter urgency that cannot be divulged in the stalls, and I am inclined to trust your instincts. However, it would have been nice if you had given me somewhat of a prior notice before dragging me out of the anbu shower stalls, so that I may have had time to bring my shirt with me."
"Is that so?"
"Yes. Pants would have been nice as well. Completely optional though, of course."
"Maa, you're so talkative today," Kakashi smiled happily as he dragged the boy – dressed in nothing but the towel around his waist – out onto the roof of the headquarters. No one else was in the vicinity, and it was just them, looking out over Konoha's rooftops and shivering in the evening breeze. He stopped a few feet off, turning to give Itachi a serious look.
"I've received a notice for deployment. Our team will be leaving tomorrow at five in the morning, so make your bed and leave your house nice and early."
Itachi listened and nodded with utmost sincerity, and then paused. And waited. Finally, he carefully ventured to speak. "Taicho… is that all?"
"…was it necessary to inform me of this now? I was… showering." And he had been sent on a mission with fifty-two's team that had involved a rather large amount of blood.
"Utterly necessary," Kakashi replied stoically. "It could not be done at any other time."
"May I be so forward as to ask why?..."
"No, no you may not," he replied sharply. "Now get back to your shower. I still see a few bloodstains on your side. Might want to get that treated."
"This is the blood of our enemies, taicho."
"Oh. Well, I knew that," he ran a hand through his hair in leisure, enjoying the look of complete annoyance carefully hidden behind the boy's mask. "And be mindful on your way back. The halls to the showers from here go through the female anbu quarters, and I wouldn't want anything… strange to happen..."
Itachi stiffened in complete insult. He spoke between carefully gritted teeth. "I would not do anything improper around them, taicho."
Kakashi chuckled for a good minute before calming down and giving his underling an amused look. "Improper? To them? No, kid, those are anbu girls. I'm a little more worried about your virtue." He gave the boy a pat on the shoulder before flickering away.
He could have sworn he felt a small shiver.
Over time, Itachi began to learn quite a few things about his taicho.
The first was that Kakashi regarded him as his favourite subordinate, not because of his expertise but because he was the perfect size for a minion. This distressed Itachi, who didn't understand why an anbu captain would require a minion. But the more he received orders along the lines of 'make me a cup of tea' and 'write my report and hand it in', the more he understood the subtle power dynamics of Konoha's anbu, and began to somewhat appreciate its brilliance. He appreciated it mainly because he was aware that Kakashi was preparing him to become a captain, and writing reports was good practice.
He also learned that Kakashi never took his mask off. Even when Itachi had slowly taken his own dignity apart to pieces, packed it away, and asked if he could see.
There was the other fact that he read porn in public. During missions, inside the daimyo's palace, in front of little old ladies who'd peer curiously into his books and ask what the word 'flower' referred to in that paragraph, just everywhere. While working with him, Itachi learned that touching his book even accidently would incur his humorous wrath, and that he made the offender read a selected passage aloud. This happened often to operative Tenzo, who was as clumsy as a two-year-old.
Itachi learned that the Uchiha eye Kakashi hid underneath his hitai-ite originated from his second cousin twice removed, which was kind of disturbing. After being informed of this, his taicho had started referring to everything he did with the eye as done with 'your cousin's good insight'.
And most importantly, he learned that Kakashi had a reputation within Konoha as the man who would never let his teammates die. As someone who had sacrificed teammates in the past to complete missions, this bothered Itachi more than he cared to admit, and what bothered him even more was that he didn't know why it did.
"I was a genius too, you know."
It came out suddenly, and so quietly it could have never been said.
The two of them rested in the humble space behind a tree's roots, bodies pressed up against the firm forest soil, and against each other. Kakashi's arm bled and Itachi's red eyes were sticky with tiredness and it was all they could do to keep talking while they waited for the rest of their team to find them.
They'd been discovered just as suddenly. It happened in the Iwa daimyou's palace where they'd posed as Ame traders, brown robes hiding their anbu uniforms. The mission was to get information and get out, but there had been a point when both of them had been staring into a sea of eyes concentrated on them, and far too many officials in the vicinity to even think of battle.
Itachi had wanted to stay and use genjutsu on the daimyou, risking being caught by the Iwa hunter-nin. Kakashi had grabbed the boy's arm and run out of the building.
"Taicho?" Itachi asked softly, staring into the man's face. It was inches from his, covered in a mask lined with sweat. He self-consciously burrowed a little further back against the tree roots they hid beneath.
"You probably think I'm talking because I have some queer notion that we're going to die here, and that I should make a last act of goodness before I go. Well that's not true. I'm talking because I'm half-drunk."
"…it was unwise to consume their sake," the boy pointed out softly. He gave in to his tired eyes and closed them, feeling his other senses heighten in response.
"Everyone was, and it would have been rude to refuse. Besides, I saw them dilute it. I just didn't realize it was so strong to begin with," Kakashi groaned. He rubbed a grimy hand over his face. "Sorry, kid. I should have been more careful. But don't worry, Pakkun will bring twenty-fou-I mean, Hayate."
Itachi stayed quiet at that. It was true, of course. Anbu had more sense of team than his clan ever had. They were like the glimmering chain links of oka-san's necklaces; beautiful and interlinked. They sacrificed their individuality, but that was ok because no one stayed in anbu forever, and while they were there, they could feel like they belonged.
Taicho's ragged breath was warm against his cheek, and the forest wind sung in his ears. He thought of administering some sort of aid on the gash in taicho's arm, but only medic-anbu were supposed to do those things, because someone inexperienced could only make things worse.
Nevertheless, he shifted in position enough to pull out a roll of gauze.
"Taicho, if you could move a little, I'll bandage your arm."
He opened his eyes briefly to see Kakashi's amused look. "You're not a medic-nin."
"Ah, but I have a younger brother who doesn't know how to keep his skin intact during kunai practice."
Kakashi conceded at that, and soon he was watching as Itachi slowly wrapped the bandages around his upper arm. The boy did have skill. His fingers moved like fine needles, embroidering away his pain. His face had a look of utter concentration, and though he was a horrible sight with his pale, sweaty, half-translucent skin and painfully red eyes, his hands never wavered in their task.
He moved away a minute later when he was finished. "Is that fine, taicho?"
"Yes." Kakashi looked over his arm. "It's quite good, actually. Feel free to sleep, now. You look tired. I won't put it in the mission report," he winked.
Itachi made to lie down again with his back to the tree, but he paused. Instead, he turned his blank look back to his taicho. "What did you mean, when you said that earlier?"
"Said what?" he feigned.
"'I was a genius too, you know?'"
"Your memory is too good for your own good."
"You only said it a few minutes ago," Itachi gave him a curious look. "What did you mean? You're already a genius, Kakashi-taicho. Everyone knows that. You weren't just 'once' a genius."
Kakashi took a long time to answer, and by that time there was decidedly no more danger of the Iwa hunter-nin passing through, and they moved to sit more comfortably upright.
"It's a different kind of genius," he finally answered. "You see, there's genius, and then there's… you." His voice was slightly slurred from the sake, but the meaning shone through clearly enough to blind. "And I used to be you."
From where he was sitting opposite, hands balanced obediently on his knees, Itachi raised an eyebrow. "You used to be me?"
"Yes. Exactly. A real Hatake, with not a friend to my name and lots of pride to fill the gaps."
Somehow, Itachi could sense that this was the true wisdom his taicho held, finally coming to the surface with the slight help of drunkenness. He listened intently.
"And you know what? I'll take my Icha Icha over all of that any day."
There were some brief minutes of silence. Itachi blinked a few times. "That's… all, taicho?"
Kakashi gave him a lurid grin, and the shape of it was perfectly visible under his wet mask. "Maa, you expect too much of me. Which is unfair, because I don't expect much of you at all. As long as you keep making me tea and continue to remain alive, I'll be happy."
Itachi knew he should be insulted. Otou-san and oka-san had drummed into his eleven-year-old head that high-expectations were the best expectations, and that he had to reach for the level of the damned Sage himself in order to fall among the mere ranks of Kage. Low expectations were for people who were simply pitied for their lack of ability, because one needed to satisfy those types too.
He should have been insulted that taicho expected so little of him.
Itachi wasn't sure why he felt kind of liberated instead.