It was the tradition of the Hatake clan to allow its members to wear masks upon graduating the Academy. Kakashi was looking forward to this for a number of reasons. For one, his father always wore a mask, and he wanted to be more like his father. Secondly, his sense of smell was above average, and a mask might prevent him from doing stupid things like fainting when he smelled raw sewage. Third, people might start treating him differently, and not as a five-year old freak.
He didn't have much hope for the last one.
The graduation exam was today. Kakashi was sure he would pass, even if it had taken the intervention of his father and the Hokage to make sure they'd even let him take the exam. With the war, the graduation age had been lowered to ten, but that still made all of Kakashi's classmates twice his age. Kakashi's father had told him that his Academy teacher, Kuma, had vehemently opposed allowing Kakashi to take the exam. A fact which confused Kakashi, since no one knew better than his sensei just how good the five-year old was.
Kakashi frowned. Even his father didn't know, despite his support for Kakashi taking the exam. Just that night, his father had told him to make an effort to be friends with others at the Academy so that when they were on missions together, they'd be able to work better as a team. What Kakashi didn't understand was how he was supposed to become friends with anyone in the single day he would be remaining at the Academy.
Not that it made a difference anyway. His classmates may as well have been adults for all he understood them, and he had no idea how to go about this friendship business. Ninja techniques, jutsus, chakra – those he understood, but people made no sense when they weren't fighting him. He could predict where they would be attacking him by where his classmate's looked, but he didn't know what it meant when they smiled for no reason, or cried over little things like a broken nose.
It would be difficult to try to make friends today, since he was already nervous about the exam. But Kakashi wanted to please his father, and liked to treat his orders as an official mission. If Kakashi could report that he had graduated the Academy and made a friend today, maybe his father would pay more attention to him.
These thoughts occupied him until he arrived at his classroom. He was always the first one to arrive, though Kuma-sensei was also there, no matter how early Kakashi came. Kuma-sensei looked up when he came in, and he could feel the man's green eyes on him as Kakashi went to his usual seat near the front. He could hear the swish of the numerous tiny braids in his sensei's hair, so it wasn't much of a surprise to look up from setting out his books to see his sensei standing in front of him.
"You're taking the exam today, Kakashi-kun?"
"I don't think you're ready," said Kuma bluntly. He looked away when he said it. "Oh, physically you are, but-"
Kenchi and Kai, the Hamato twins, burst through the door, fighting as usual. They broke it up quickly, with Kenchi giving a cheerful greeting to his sensei and taking his seat next to Kakashi, while Kai quietly slipped to his seat at the back of the room.
Whatever, Kuma-sensei had been about to say, he had decided against it now. Kakashi leant back as the man tried to ruffle his short hair, and glared. His sensei had helped him a lot during this past year, but he wasn't about to forget that by trying to prevent him from graduating, Kuma-sensei was the enemy. He missed how his reaction seemed to strengthen the resolve in his sensei's eyes.
"Hey, chibi," said Kenchi beside him, and Kakashi transferred his glare to him. "Don't glare at me like that. You are small." They did this every morning, followed by Kakashi either ignoring the other boy, or reluctantly helping Kenchi with his homework. You would think that it would hurt a ten-year old's pride to get help from the baby of the class, but Kenchi was nothing if not an opportunist.
"What?" Kakashi said flatly.
"Ready for the exam?"
"Yes." And that was all he intended to say, until he remembered his father's mission to make friends. He struggled for a long moment to make conversation. "Are you?"
"Hmm?" Kenchi was fiddling with the bandages around his forearms.
"Are you ready for the exam?"
"Of course! I'll be a ninja before the day is out!"
Kakashi wasn't so sure. Kenchi's taijutsu was weak compared to the other boys, and you had to succeed in all the three traditional areas, taijutsu, genjutsu, and ninjutsu in order to pass. What would a friend say now? "You need to watch your taijutsu," he said finally.
"Yeah, yeah. You sound like Kai. I'll be fine." The brown-haired boy scowled, but then suddenly grinned at him. "Hey! You never speak this much. I bet you're nervous!"
Kakashi didn't even dignify that comment with a reply. His instincts warned him just in time to duck as a giant backpack was swept through the space where his head would have been.
"Sorry, Kakashi-chan. I didn't see you," said Suzame, her voice dripping with false innocence. She headed to her seat, not even bothering to hide her amused smirk. When he first came to the Academy, it had been the boys who bullied him. That had stopped quickly enough after he had fought and beaten the worst of them. Now, he was either ignored unless his skills were needed, or treated like some kind of mascot or at best, a little brother. But there was a group of girls led by Suzame who were always bothering him.
Girls, Kakashi had discovered, were a lot better at harassment than boys were. They seemed to know what to do and say instinctively to create the most embarrassment. When he challenged them to fights in order to settle the problem, they always refused on the grounds that he had an unfair advantage. Add to that that Kuma-sensei had a blind spot when it came to girls, and Kakashi was well and truly screwed.
He had consoled himself that the bullying was helping to hone his ninja skills. He became preternaturally good at avoiding being tripped, mysteriously hit by off target kunai, and collapsing chairs. He learned to always hand things in himself so they weren't tampered with. After the hair bow incident, he cut his hair short enough so that nothing could be tied in it without his knowing. Slowly, he was learning to control his reactions no matter what people said about him.
Kakashi was smart enough to notice that the more malicious attacks always occurred after he had aced another exam, or done better than everyone in a practical demonstration. Today's attack for instance, was probably trying to get him off balance before the exam, or maybe Suzame was nervous. Not for the first time, Kakashi wondered if there was some better way to deal with the girls' bullying, and was surprised at how relieved he was to realize that this was the last day he'd have to deal with them. He had spent so long convincing himself that their attacks didn't bother him, he had nearly forgotten how much they really did.
The rest of the class arrived, and Kuma-sensei took attendance before telling them their schedule.
"You'll be tested on ninjutsu and genjutsu this morning, then after lunch is taijutsu. Plan accordingly. If you've been training, you should have nothing to worry about. Any questions? No? Follow me."
They all followed him dutifully out into the hallway, quieter than normal due to nerves. Kuma-sensei led them to one of the indoor training rooms. Walking across the room, he pushed open a door on the far wall that opened into one of the lesser used training fields. It was filled with trees and bushes so it was only used for training in ninjutsu and ambushes.
"I'll be testing your trapping skills today. Each of you will be allowed three minutes to place a trap somewhere on the field. You'll be graded on placement, invisibility, difficulty, and most importantly, whether or not your trap is triggered. Traps can be triggered at any time, so the further you are down the line, the more careful you'll have to be while setting your own trap. Once all the traps have been set, the whole class will have to explore the field which will give everyone at least some chance of having their trap triggered."
"But, Sensei," complained a blue-haired girl called Inoue, "that means that the people at the end of the line have less chance of having their traps triggered, and have to be more alert."
Kuma-sensei shrugged. "You're not going to have ideal situations in the real world." His expression softened. "But just for you, Inoue-chan, we can choose the names randomly. That's as fair as I can make it." Inoue didn't look reassured, but Kuma-sensei simply ripped up their attendance list and placed all the names in a newly emptied pouch he took from his belt. It all looked casual, and no one protested when the first name was called.
It was over a half hour later, when his name still hadn't been called, that Kakashi realized there had been no reason for their sensei to be carrying the attendance list in the first place.
A/N: scratches head When I decided to write a pre-Kakashi Gaiden story, I didn't really mean to set it this early. Part of me thinks I'm writing Kakashi too old for a five-year old, but considering what he accomplished at that age, I don't think it's too unreasonable either. I'd welcome opinions either way. This story appears to be writing itself, so I should be able to update fairly quickly. It looks like it'll be 3-4 chapters at this point. I'm posting this unbetaed (mostly cause I couldn't find a friend to rope into betaing this time around) so please feel free to point out any grammar problems that are annoying you in a review if you like, and I'll get around to fixing them. Reviews and opinions are appreciated:)