Disclaimer: I own neither Kamizuki Izumo nor Hagane Kotetsu, and I'm certainly not affiliated with the creative process of the Naruto series. That said, this story is a sort-of companion piece to my story Broken, but set nine years previous and told from the other point of view. Don't expect angst or tragedy or fluff or cuteness or anything but thoughtfulness and character growth.
"You know what's expected of you," the tall man in the jounin uniform says, pinning his son with one final dark-eyed glare. He stands straight and stern by the Academy gate, his handsome face as hard as the steel plate of his forehead protector. "Don't disappoint me, Izumo."
"I won't, sir," the boy whispers. He doesn't meet his father's gaze; a short fringe of black hair falls over his eyes as he bows, shielding his face from the weight of his father's stare. When he straightens, the jounin is already gone.
Kotetsu leans against the trunk of the big tree in the Academy yard and watches with a six-year-old's cynical eyes. He watches Izumo scrub the back of his hand across his eyes and swallow hard, and he considers wandering over in that direction. Then the boy glances around the yard, mouth straight and eyes dry. Looking for his friends, Kotetsu thinks, with an odd twist beneath his sternum. He pushes away from the tree and turns, angry with himself for even thinking of bothering.
"Your parents already left?"
He glances back despite himself. The black-haired boy is there, hands stuffed in pockets, dark-lashed eyes fixed on Kotetsu's face.
Kotetsu's lip curls. "Don't have any," he says. He waits for the other boy's face to change, curiosity melting into pity and then into superiority. He's used to this by now, and he crosses his arms and sets his own face into a bored mask.
But if there's a change in Izumo's face, it's not the one Kotetsu expects. The boy tilts his head to one side, and his eyes are shaded with an emotion Kotetsu has never seen on anyone looking at him.
"You're lucky," Izumo says. He takes a step forward. "How come you're here?"
Kotetsu sneers. "That's a stupid question. I'm here to be a ninja, idiot."
Izumo shakes his head. To Kotetsu's surprise, he doesn't seem offended. "Didn't mean that," he says patiently. "I mean, why d'you wanna be a ninja?"
No one's ever asked Kotetsu that; no one's ever talked to him like this. He's not sure he knows how to deal with it, so he parries with, "Why're you here?"
"My father's a jounin," Izumo says, shrugging. "So was my mother, before she died. My father says all the Kamizuki were ninja. So I have to be, too." His gaze is oddly intent. "But you don't. So why?"
"My parents were ninja, too!" Kotetsu argues. Actually, he knows only what Hikari-san at the orphanage told him, which is that his mother was a chuunin who died when he was only a few months old, and that no one knows who his father was. But he's never had a problem with lying, either to adults or to other kids. He doesn't see why this boy should be different.
Izumo folds his arms. His mouth sets in a stubborn line. "But why d'you want to be a ninja? If you don't have a father to make you."
It's something Kotetsu has thought about before, as carefully as he thinks about everything. But he's never considered it from the other side, so he answers with another question. "Do you want to be?"
For the first time, the other boy looks away. "I dunno," he confesses in a low voice. "That's kinda why…" He looks back again, and now his eyes are fierce and hungry. "That's why I asked you. 'Cause you look like you know. 'Cause if you don't have anyone making you, you're doing it on your own."
And I need to know if I can do it too. The words hang unspoken between them, driven by the intensity in Izumo's eyes.
Kotetsu can't quite meet that gaze. No one's ever looked at him like this, either, as if he has all the answers, as if half a dozen words from his mouth can break or save the other boy. No one's ever depended on him this much, and certainly no one's ever expected so much of him. He's not sure if he can meet those expectations, or even if he wants to. He's spent his life with no one expecting anything of the spiky-haired scrawny orphan with the smart mouth and the cynic's eyes…
Just as Izumo has spent his life with his father expecting everything of him.
And Kotetsu still can't match that look in his eyes, that blind faith in someone he doesn't even know. And when he thinks of the reasons he's listed in his head, none of them can quite stand up to that appallingly direct stare.
No one's ever expected anything important or earth-shaking or life-changing out of Kotetsu. Except Izumo.
Maybe, he thinks, if the other boy cares this much—maybe it's worth it.
So he lifts his eyes to Izumo's, and he tells the honest, naked truth. "I don't know," he says. "But I bet we can find out."