Disclaimer: Property of other people. I merely play with them.
Notes: Like the other one-shot, this is sort of a companion piece to 'Butterfly in Reverse.' You don't need to read that to understand what's going on though.
For everyone who'd been kind enough to give me so much support with my writing, and this one's particularly for Tami - who made me think about whether pre- or post-mask would be more effective, I hope this didn't ruin the image! (and I'm really sorry about taking ages to update, real life's doing its thing!)
these, if it isn't clear, are Kakashi's thoughts!
Konoha was unique in its having two separate arenas for the second part of the exam – the Forest of Death for peace times, when the most you had to fear was from small cells of enemy shinobi and the poisonous evils of the natural world; and the Field of Pain, for those times of political upheaval, where the abilities sought most were to lead children against armies and come out on top. But in the years since its invention, the Cheating Skills section of the Chuunin Exam had never changed.
Konoha's Cheating Skills exam was the most effective version of this test in all the five villages. For longer than anyone could remember, it had been run by the Hidden Leaf's Torture and Interrogation Squad. Morino Ibiki's predecessor – the teacher of his own sensei – was a ruthless kunoichi by the name of Yuuhi Akana. It was rumoured that the woman was so cruel, the mere mention of her name would send her seven year old niece, Kurenai, into floods of tears. Akana was an interrogation specialist – her genjutsu were so precise, so realistic, that her victims would often suffer mental breaks after being worked on by the kunoichi, unable to tell reality from Akana's morbid fantasies.
Akana was practically unshakeable, so it was with great trepidation that her subordinates responded to her shocked gasp as she poured over the personal files of the Gennin students she was about to fail.
"Yuuhi-san?" ventured one brave Chuunin. "What is it?"
"The student of the Yellow Flash has been entered for this exam." A slow grin spread across her sharp features. "I wonder what will come of it…"
Aweek prior to the beginning of the exam, a blonde haired Jounin was biting the inside of his cheek to keep from frustratedly jumping around like a child.
"I nominate Hatake Kakashi."
In the Hokage's tower, where every Jounin-sensei gathered to hear who would be recommended for the Chuunin exams, the silence was complete as all present waited for their leader's response. Surely the Hokage wouldn't allow the boy to be entered now? Hatake was still a dirty word in Konoha village.
"What? Why not?"
"I am not allowing a seven year old child, regardless of his rank, heritage or skill, to enter the Chuunin exam."
"That's alright then, Hokage-sama." A tense pause. "Kakashi is six."
The surrounding Jounin-sensei smirked. Some snorted. Others merely watched in disbelief as the infamous Yellow Flash attempted to cajole the Hokage himself into entering a child into a potential death match.
"My answer is no."
"I assure you, Hokage-Sama, Kakashi is ready for this. He's hungry for it."
"He needs to prove himself, to move on. He needs to have this chance to prove himself in your eyes, Sandaime, in the village's eyes."
"He's capable of passing, at least the first two parts of the exam!"
"I do not doubt your student's skill."
"Then you'll enter him?" A gleeful grin
"You will not allow a capable boy a chance to gain the experience necessary to survive high class missions, because you feel he is too young?"
"That is correct."
"But you would allow a five year child to become a Gennin, because you needed expendable soldiers for the war?"
"You are out of line, shinobi." The Third Hokage's voice was rough. "There was more to his passing than that. He could have deferred graduation if he had wished."
"You are, I assume, aware of my student's home life?"
"Tell me then, how he would have got the necessary signatures to defer graduation?"
"You – who so assures me of your student's skill - are suggesting that a boy of such a high standard could not have forged a signature?"
"So you admit he's capable!" That irrepressible grin was back – bright blue eyes sparkled mischievously as the Hokage realised the mistake he'd made.
"If you can find Kakashi a three man cell, you may enter him into the Chuunin exam. That is my final decision."
The blonde shinobi bowed dejectedly before stepping back into line with the other sensei. He felt crushed, mortified for his student. The closest Gennin graduates to Kakashi's own age had been five years older than the silver-haired boy. He'd need a miracle to find the Hatake capable team-mates for this exam.
"Yes, Fushigi-Sensei?" A brown haired Jounin stepped forward to provide a small miracle.
"I'd like to nominate Yamanaka Inochi, and Akimichi Chouza for the Chuunin exam. My third student, Nara Shikaku, was promoted last year, and it had worried me that my other students wouldn't get another chance, their being only two of a three man cell…"
The Hokage's deep sigh rang through the small room. The Yellow Flash's blue eyes widened pleadingly as he silently begged the Sandaime.
"Hatake Kakashi will be teamed with Yamanaka Inochi and Akimichi Chouza of Team 4 for the duration of the first and second parts of the exam. Should they last that long."
The Hokage's dismissive wave was all it took for the gathered Jounin to immediately start gossiping about this turn of events; the blonde Jounin didn't bother to hide his smug grin as he bounded from the room, gratefully slapping Fushigi's cheeks on the way out.
Later, Kakashi couldn't quite hide his disbelief from his normally impassive face.
"You'd be the youngest Gennin ever to take part in the exams! I don't want you to get all big headed about the whole thing, but I think it would be a good experience for you."
Kakashi weighed it up. All he needed to do was maintain a good standard to stand a chance of becoming Chuunin. He didn't need to excel to be noticed, his youth and ability would speak in his favour. The six year old boy tried to deny the tantalising glimmer of his sensei's words.
"Would I have to stay with the other two for always?"
His sensei's grin softened as he answered. "Just to get you through the first parts of the exam."
"You'll do it?"
The Jounin's grin was positively child-like as he ruffled Kakashi's hair. "That's my boy!"
Kakashi was nine years younger than his new team-mates, and they regarded him with a strange mix of fear and awe. The young shinobi wasn't too bothered at their reactions, though he was more than annoyed at his sensei for not telling him who his team-mate would be until the last minute.
"We have to work together." The blonde Gennin apparently thought he was their leader. Chouza, the fat one, apparently agreed. Kakashi struggled to maintain his calm appearance. "We mustn't fail this test again."
Inochi glanced over to where Kakashi was quietly glaring at them both, dragging a kunai slowly back and forth across his sandal. It was cute, Kakashi couldn't help but think, how the fat one kept gulping when the sharp edge of the knife glinted in the waiting room's bright lights.
"We'll look after you, Kakashi-chan, don't worry!"
The teenager's beatific smile made Kakashi grit his teeth. Be nice, you little brat, don't be childish. His sensei's words rang clearly in his head and Kakashi figured that demonstrating the perfect chokehold on his vain Gennin team-mate would only hinder his chances of being re-entered for the exam any time soon.
"What's the first test like?" Kakashi's voice was low, secretive. The subtlety was missed on his team-mates.
"Really hard!" Chouza all but yelled. "They make you answer these questions, but they don't make any sense and it's soooo difficult. We've been studying all year, haven't we, Inochi?"
"So it's a written test?" Kakashi clarified, glancing at the blonde.
"It's very difficult, Kakashi-chan. We don't expect you to answer the questions, but I have a technique that will let me inhabit your body, so I can write some of the answers down for you, if you like?"
"No. That's wasteful" The devious spark in Kakashi's large, dark eyes was made all the more prominent by the mask covering his face. "How long's the test?"
"I'll get us the answers. In half an hour, use your tech-nique –" he stumbled slightly on the word "-to copy my paper, then use it on Chouza so he has the answers too."
"How will you do that?" Inochi was more than amazed at the little boy's confidence, at the strange, exaggerated scrunching of his eyes as he smiled behind that mask.
"I'm good at tracking things down."
Yuuhi Akana's speech went smoothly. The potential Chuunin were quaking in their uniform sandals, and she loved it.
Her subordinates lined the room, trying to eliminate those cheats too obvious to move on to the higher levels. The nervousness of both Yamanaka Inochi and Akimichi Chouza were noted by several examiners, but no reasons for their disqualification could be discerned.
At exactly 12 minutes into the examination, the youngest graduated Gennin left his seat.
Sniffling as pathetically as he could, Kakashi dragged his feet to Akana's side, tugging lightly on her skirt. When she whipped round to look down at him with sharp red eyes, preparing to snap at the boy for his wasting her time, Kakashi turned huge grey eyes to stare imploringly up at the woman. He pulled down his mask, exposing a quivering, pouting lip, before squeezing a hot fat tear out of this left eye.
"I can't read the wooorrdddss"
Kakashi's wail shocked the shinobi of the entire room – none more so than Akana, who found herself lifting the sobbing boy into her arms.
"There there, you can stop crying!" She patted him awkwardly on the head, panicking as she searched the room desperately for anyone who knew anything about children.
The sobbing boy turned restlessly, eyes roaming the table top, finding not a single piece of paper that would indicate the answers to the test. He didn't need to know what they meant in order to copy them down. The woman was pulling him away from the table, blocking his view with her awkward arms, so Kakashi let out a piercing squeal in an attempt to shock her into dropping him slightly.
It worked, but there was nothing worth noting on the desk. There has to be something! I won't go through this for nothing!
A young shinobi whispered something in Akana's ear, and Kakashi soon found himself being lifted gently into the man's arms, being carried out of the room. No! no, no, no this isn't happening!
Kakashi was taken back into the waiting room, automatically locating the surveillance equipment in the room, and was placed down upon a comfortable chair where the examiner knelt in front of him, rubbing his back soothingly. "There now, it's alright, you don't have to take the test just yet. You've done very well for someone so young!"
"You're kicking me out?" Kakashi's furious outburst shocked the examiner – and before he could catch the ruse the boy added a hiccough/pout combo. "But… but my sensei will be so sad!" Kakashi put on a heart wrenching sob. "I don't wanna disa – disappoint hiiimm!"
"Oh no, come on now! I'm sure he's very proud of you as it is! He probably -"
Kakashi cut the man off with another deep sob, throwing in an enormous pair of puppy eyes. "Please let me go back in? Please? I'll be very, very quiet, and I won't cry again I promise!" He dropped his r's, replacing them with a softer sound, sounding twice as young as he normally did. The examiner twitched.
"Look. I'll tell you what… I'll make a deal with you." The examiner picked him up, purposefully placing the boy's back to the surveillance camera. "I'm going to give you a couple of minutes to calm yourself down, while I convince Yuuhi-san to let you back into the exam." Kakashi allowed his puppy eyes to light up, trying to gauge the man's reaction.
"But you have to promise me you will answer 'no' to the final question, and re-take the exam in a few years time, when you're more ready. Deal?" The examiner smiled gently, wiping the tear traces from Kakashi's cheeks as the boy nodded his head emphatically, crossing his fingers meaningfully behind his back.
"While I'm gone, you can look after my notepad for me. But," - and here the man's tone changed obviously. Kakashi mentally took marks off for lack of subtlety, wondering why everyone thought he was an idiot – "you must not look at the blue paper – it has got the answers written on it!"
Kakashi all but glomped the examiner, burying his little face in the older shinobi's chest to hide his shit-eating grin. The shinobi ruffled Kakashi's hair before leaving the little boy alone in the waiting room.
Kakashi dug through the notepad, taking out the answers and quickly tracing them with a finger to memorise them fully. Eventually the examiner returned to take a re-masked Kakashi to his seat.
Sitting in the classroom above the exam room, the teachers of the Gennin teams watched on the class-room monitor as Hatake Kakashi – mid tantrum – methodically examined the table top before being carried from the room.
Wide eyed, the Yellow Flash watched as Kakashi worked the sympathetic man, adapting his initial strategy to try and get back in the room. He could almost see the way his student's frighteningly quick little cogs were turning.
When Kakashi crossed his fingers behind his back, his blonde sensei immediately knew it was for the voyeuristic Jounins' benefit. He couldn't help but laugh as Fushigi uttered: "That poor little boy!"
They didn't have to wait long for the shinobi to leave Kakashi alone, for Kakashi to begin digging through the examiner's notes, for Kakashi's crossed fingers to form a more certain gesture. Fushigi began to laugh as the Yellow Flash's six year old student threw them a distinct one fingered salute.
Yuuhi Akana stood before the trembling shinobi.
"The final question is the most important one. Before I ask it, you must choose whether or not you wish to answer it. If you decide to answer this question, and fail to answer correctly, you will be shunned from ninja society, and never allowed to retake the Chuunin exam again. If you choose not to answer, you fail this time, but may take the test next time with no shame." She paused, basking in the tense silence. "Now: Do you wish to answer my last question?"
As his entire team answered yes, the smug expression on Kakashi's face said it all.
Thanks for reading! Criticism is very, very welcome!