Disclaimer: Naruto doesn't belong to me oddly enough.
A/N: Regarding Yondaime's name, I chose Kayaku because it's the latest fan speculation on his name and I'm all for keeping up with the trends;) I went with Uzumaki mostly because I knew if I chose another last name I'd never be able to remember it. I'm indifferent to whether or not the fourth is related to Naruto, but if it bothers you, please feel free to assume the third gave Naruto Yondaime's last name or something.
EDIT: Kayaku's name has now been changed to his canon name of Minato Namikaze. (My apologies if I missed changing it somewhere).
I can't make any promises about finishing this story. I have a lot of free time atm, so I'm writing a lot, but this could change quickly. This story is promising to be rather long, so I thought I'd warn in advance. In regards to reviewer responses, if you ask a question in a review that I don't think will be answered within the story, I'll answer it, but if not, you can assume you'll get your answer within the text:)
And finally, much thanks goes to my lovely beta, Kilerkki:)
'In a few years,' Namikaze Minato thought, 'it's going to be impossible to sneak up on him.' As it was, he enjoyed the small flinch he got from Kakashi when he appeared silently next to the six-year old. They were deeply hidden in the bushes, with a clear view to their usual meeting spot near the bridge.
"What are we doing?" he whispered.
Kakashi shot him an annoyed look. "He'll be here soon." He didn't say anything else, so Minato settled in to wait.
In many ways, Kakashi was a dream to teach. He was efficient and respectful on their missions and Minato never had to explain anything a second time while teaching him. Kakashi had taken to tree walking like he'd been doing it his whole life. Of course, Minato had his suspicions that he had. Sakumo didn't spend much time at home due to his missions, but when he was home, he was training his son. Minato had been amused by the idea of Kakashi teething on a kunai, until he had realized that the boy probably had.
The trouble with teaching a prodigy was that Kakashi was always trying to outpace himself. It was a not-so-secret fact that Kakashi wanted to beat the two strongest people in his life – his father and his teacher. He was years away from that goal, but that wasn't stopping him from running full tilt at it. Minato couldn't help but want the kid to slow down sometimes and enjoy his childhood, such as it was.
It wasn't like Kakashi was hopeless after all. He had at least one friend, Hamato Kai, though how the two managed to stay friends when they barely said two words to each other outside of missions was beyond him. Minato had hopes Kakashi would make friends his own age in a few years - once his peers learned there was more to life than fighting over who got the swings at the playground that is. Until then, Minato was content with the fact that he had gotten the small boy addicted to adventure novels.
He had presented the newly graduated genin with a novel soon after they started training. It was about a young stable hand who turned out to be the son of the king and had to fight many adversaries in order to win his father's approval. Minato had suggested Kakashi could learn more about the way the world worked from reading it, and so Kakashi had reluctantly taken the book home. The next morning, Minato had been very amused to receive a complete verbal analysis and report on the book from a very sleepy looking Kakashi.
Kakashi had eventually realized he didn't have to report reading them, but Minato knew he still did read. Reading wasn't the most social of activities, but at least he knew his student was doing something other than training.
"AHAH!" The loud yell pulled him out of his thoughts. He peered out at their meeting place to see that a pigtailed boy, about Kakashi's age, had appeared. The kid had a lime green blanket tied like a cape around his neck and the weirdest eyebrows Minato had ever seen. "Where are you my rival?" the boy yelled, looking around wildly.
Minato could feel Kakashi trying to sink into the ground with embarrassment beside him. "I assume he's looking for you?" he asked the boy.
Kakashi nodded. "He showed up last Thursday when you weren't here. I was reading a scroll, so I didn't notice him talking to me. Then he attacked, and I responded by instinct." Kakashi paused as they both watched the other boy look in and around the bridge and nearby trees. "A blow to the head can damage a person, can't it, sensei?"
"Because when he woke up he was talking about how good I was, and that I was worthy to be his rival, and that he would return next week for a rematch."
"So you decided hiding was the best response to the situation?"
"I was ass-sessing the situation." Kakashi had recently discovered big words. It was a pity he couldn't always pronounce them.
"Are you going to fight him?"
Kakashi's reply was scathing. "He doesn't know anything."
Minato peered out at the other boy, who was accurately homing in on their location. That spoke of knowing something at least. "We can't hide here all day," he reminded Kakashi. His student's look had a hint of despair in it, but he obediently crept off to the side, intent on reaching the bridge again without being seen. Minato used a jutsu instead, and was therefore the first to greet the other boy. "Hey."
The pigtailed boy jumped and turned around. "You!" he yelled while pointing then stopped. "You aren't him."
"No. What's your name?"
"Kakashi-kun, I need you to-" he had almost said 'play', "train with Gai for a little while I track down his minders." And have a word with them about watching their charges a bit better. Konoha had just negotiated a cease fire with the other ninja villages, but it still wasn't safe to let the children roam the streets unattended.
"Hah! We can fight!" yelled Gai excitedly, then jumped in shock when he saw that Kakashi was standing right next to him.
Kakashi gave his sensei a mournful look, ignoring the other boy. "He'll only get hurt again, sensei."
That was true. While Gai looked like the type of kid who came home covered in cuts and bruises that he cheerfully showed off, Kakashi was not the type to go easy on someone just because they were less experienced. "Why don't you try hide and seek?" Minato suggested. "Stay within this field." He disappeared before Kakashi could protest again.
Vague memories of the nearest playground and the sound of children's voices drew him to the right place. An older, white-haired lady was sitting on a nearby bench. She was calmly sharing a cookie with a tiny, magenta-haired girl, while two genin ran everywhere trying to keep at least twenty-five children, from toddlers to seven-year olds from destroying the playground and each other. The genin had his sympathy. When he was a genin, it seemed like his team had always been assigned to babysit the younger children of the village. He had been scolded mercilessly that one time he had tied two of the brats together and left them in a tree. Minato grinned a little at the memory. That was the price you paid for kancho-ing Namikaze Minato.
"Excuse me, Obaasan?"
"Hmm?" One of her eyes had the milky color that indicated blindness, but she still looked up at him.
"Is it possible you lost one of your charges?" he asked.
She did a rapid survey of the playground. "Gai-chan," she sighed after a moment. "You've seen him?"
"I've got my student watching him. You should be more careful. It's not safe to let a child his age wander on his own." He felt awkward scolding a woman who probably remembered watching after him at some point.
"My apologies, Namikaze-sama. I usually have more genin to help me." She somehow managed to be both polite and accusing at the same time - as if it was his fault that the chuunin exams had just finished. There was often a shortage of genins during the exams and shortly afterwards, either from promotions, training, injuries, or deaths. Kakashi had done a lot more missions as a consequence, though Minato never took any babysitting missions. The absurdity of hiring a six-year old to watch another six-year old wasn't lost on him, even if that was what Kakashi was doing right now.
"I'll return him to you," he offered. He was curious to see if Kakashi was actually playing hide and seek.
"Thank you. We'll keep a better eye on him in the future." Her tone promised that her two genin helpers would get an earful.
He left the playground and approached the bridge with his usual stealth. Once there, he was pleased to see that both boys were deeply involved in a game. Kakashi had changed the rules of hide and seek. He had four different bunshin hidden around the field, and Gai was having a lot of fun finding each one. Once he found them, he tackled them with all his might, laughing as he ran through them and they disappeared. Each time a bunshin disappeared, another reappeared hidden elsewhere in the field. It was an impressive display of control and stamina on Kakashi's part. Minato was also pleased that Gai was actually finding the bunshin.
Jumping over the bridge railing, he landed next to where the real Kakashi was hiding. "I found his babysitters. They're not far from here." Kakashi was too focused on his bunshin and Gai to look up. "We can keep training with him for awhile, if you like."
"No," said Kakashi. "He'll make me find him again." Kakashi made it sound like a fate worse than death.
Minato eyed Gai's lime green cape. "That bad?"
The last of the bunshin's disappeared. Gai was on the other side of the field, but he ran over to Minato and Kakashi once they came out of their hiding place. "I win!" He was jumping up and down, and pointing at Kakashi. "I found ten, no…" He trailed off and began counting on his fingers.
"Gai-kun." There was no response. Minato waited. "Gai-kun."
"I lost count!" the boy wailed.
Kakashi probably knew the correct number, but he didn't offer it. Minato sighed. "Does it matter? We all know you found more than Kakashi-kun."
That placated the boy. "I win!" He gave them a smile that would have been blinding if he hadn't been missing two of his front teeth. He pointed at Kakashi. "You have been defeated by me, the Great Gai!"
"Great? You're not − mmpfh"
Minato kept his hand over Kakashi's mouth until he was sure the boy was finished talking. He had a feeling that if it hadn't been for the mask, Kakashi would have bitten him.
"Well," he said with false cheer, "let's get back to the playground." They both followed him. Gai chattered happily about anything that was on his mind, while Kakashi sulked.
The white-haired Obaasan met them at the edge of the playground. Gai quieted immediately upon seeing her. She stared down at him, until he broke and bowed low in apology. "Sorry, baasan! I should never have left your loving care!"
Minato idly wondered who had taught Gai to talk so oddly.
"I'd be more convinced if you hadn't said the exact same thing last week," said the woman dryly. Gai looked crestfallen. Her tone changed abruptly. "If you leave again while I'm watching, your backside will be red until summer, got it?" Gai took a step back at her threat, and Minato wanted to join him. This woman was scary!
"Yes!" said Gai.
"Go play, and don't step a foot off this playground without my permission."
Gai nodded, and ran a few steps before coming back to Kakashi. "We will meet again, my rival!" he declared, then noticed Obaasan's glower. "But not until I'm out of the loving Obaasan's care!" He anxiously awaited her nod of approval, before running off into the throng. He headed over to the sandbox. His shout of, "Rin-chan! I will protect your castle!" was deafening.
"And you had the nerve to remind me about watching over the children," Obaasan muttered, just loud enough for him to hear while looking pointedly at Kakashi, who was staring blankly at the chaos that was the playground.
Minato bristled. Just because he wanted Kakashi to enjoy his childhood, didn't mean he wasn't certain of his student's skills as a ninja. Kakashi deserved to be where he was now. "You certainly have a way with children, Obaasan," he said, allowing a hint of menace to creep into his tone.
She gave him a sharp look with her remaining eye, then went back to her bench, muttering various imprecations about his lineage and abilities. He relaxed, having heard all those curses before. Tapping Kakashi on the shoulder, he headed off, hoping his student hadn't noticed he had almost picked a fight with a woman old enough to be his great-grandmother.
It was time for them to do some real training.
The next morning, Minato hurried to attend the mandatory jounin briefing that he had been informed of roughly five minutes before. The messenger had probably missed him when he slipped out to have a bowl of ramen for breakfast, but it was still annoying that he hadn't been informed.
The only one who noticed when he joined the crowd at the back of the meeting room was Tsunade-hime. She glared at him for being late, and he resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at her. A few years before, he might have done so, but now he gave her a brilliant smile that left her looking even more disgruntled. Reflecting that Jiraiya had really been a bad influence, he turned his attention to the meeting.
One of the senior jounin, Isamu, was reading out a concise report of the recent negotiations to extend the tentative truce the ninja villages were all operating under into a proper peace treaty. Minato could tell by looking at the faces around him that no one expected lasting peace. Shinobi tended to be realists, and a realist could see that there was too much tension in both the shinobi and civilian world for the war not to continue. It was therefore a bit of a surprise to hear that something had been agreed upon.
"…the proposal of the Raikage was taken under consideration. After much debate, it was decided that the suggestion of a joint-chuunin exam with public spectators would be beneficial to all."
"Beneficial to who?" asked an unidentified voice, which was something of a feat in a room full of jounin.
The Hokage coughed, and stood up, motioning with his pipe for Isamu to stand down. "No one can disagree that the number of missions ninja are receiving is dropping. In the outside world, many are unaware of our abilities. Some would say that this is how it should be. Our secrets keep us alive. But to the civilians, we are becoming legends and mysteries, and you don't hire mysteries to defend your palace or retrieve your lost property."
"Konoha is one of the largest ninja villages, and yet we are barely receiving enough missions to justify our existence. The other villages are in similar situations. It is likely there will be war again soon, so we must take advantage of the peace while we can. For that reason, I supported the idea of a public chuunin exam involving participants from all the villages. The final rounds will be held in a public arena where the young ninja of our new generation can demonstrate Konoha's skills to the great lords and merchants of all the countries."
"When and where will this exam be held?" asked Muzu. The hard-faced jounin had beaten the rest of them to the question.
Sandaime's expression gave nothing away, but Minato was sure he wasn't happy about something. "It will be held in two weeks time at the Hidden Rock village."
"Isn't the timing suspicious?" asked Orochimaru from the front of the room. Many nodded in agreement. Konoha has just held their own chuunin exams, after all.
"It is. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do about the matter. All the other villages held their exams months ago. I was told that Konoha was simply… unlucky to have recently completed the exams. As for the location, Hidden Rock is the only village with a proper arena at this time."
"Why do they have an arena in the first place?" complained Emi from where she was slouching against the wall.
"That's unknown," said Sandaime. "But the arena was only built in the last few years." There was no need for him to state how suspicious that was. Sandaime took a deep breath and continued in a firm tone. "Konoha must participate in this exam and have students in the finals. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity. But," he surveyed the room, his eyes meeting Minato's, "it's likely this exam will be twice as dangerous as any held here at Konoha. All jounin teachers are free to nominate their students on an individual basis, including those who recently participated in the chuunin exam. You have a few moments to decide."
There was a deep silence. Minato tuned out the curious stares of those next to him to consider what he should do. He didn't have the same problem some of the other jounin teachers were facing. They were left debating which of their students who had just failed could succeed in an exam that would be twice as hard, and where the other participants would be less likely to show the mercy that could occasionally be found from a fellow Konoha nin.
No. Minato didn't have that problem because his student hadn't participated in the exam. At the time, Minato had only briefly considered recommending Kakashi. He knew his student had the skills, and that Kakashi had wanted to take the exam, even if the boy would never ask. But he had selfishly decided against it. He knew they would be going to war again, and he had wanted to give Kakashi some more time before he had to fight on the front lines with the other chuunin. 'You've been enjoying the lower ranking missions too', he thought guiltily.
No one was going to question his decision to not recommend a six-year old for the exam after all. He had thought that no one except maybe Sakumo had any idea how far Kakashi was progressing, but that look from Sandaime proved him wrong. It was his duty as a soldier of Konoha to recommend Kakashi, just as it was Kakashi's duty to accept. A small smile of pride graced his features. He knew Kakashi would get to the final part of the exam.
The room was still silent, but there was no sense in putting it off. He took a step forward and held his hand in front of him in the traditional sign. "I, Namikaze Minato, on the honor of the Namikaze clan, recommend Hatake Kakashi for the upcoming chuunin exam."