A week later, in the early afternoon, Kayaku walked down the corridors of the academy. He hadn't set foot in the building for years and had always thought he wouldn't have to until he was at least past his twentieth birthday. Instinctively remembering the way, he let his footsteps take him to the second floor and paused in front of the door. Taking one last deep breath, he grabbed the handle, carefully slid the door open and peered inside the classroom.
It was deserted but for a young boy sitting at the front row who didn't flinch and was obviously waiting for him.
He's so small…
Kayaku opened the door wider, took a step inside and cleared his throat.
"Are you Hatake Kakashi?" he asked.
The boy crossed his arms over his chest. "Shouldn't you know that?"
Answering a question with another question. And he's only five…
"I was trying to be polite," he said with an uncomfortable smile. "It's called introducing yourself."
"Then why are you asking for my name?"
I knew I shouldn't have let Jiraiya-sensei drag me into this…
Kayaku closed his eyes very briefly. He had to stay calm; it was only one small boy over ten years his junior. Taking one more deep breath, he walked further into the room.
"My name is Uzumaki Kayaku and, as you most probably know, I'm going to be your sensei from now on."
Then again, maybe not…
The small boy eyed him in silence for a few seconds, which in truth felt more like minutes.
"Aren't you too young to be a jounin?"
Kayaku smiled, suddenly feeling his confidence grow. "Aren't you too young to be a genin?" he asked in return, raising an eyebrow.
Young Hatake Kakashi obviously found that he couldn't think of another question to follow that one and let out something akin to a slight chuckle.
"They call me a genius."
"I'm sure they've got good reasons to."
There was a pause, but it didn't last long.
"So how old were you when you graduated?"
Kayaku swallowed hard. He could feel another blow coming fast. "I was ten. I was already precocious but you're setting new standards."
"I wonder how long it will take me before I'm stronger than you. I bet I can take the chunnin exam this year."
And modest with that!
Letting out the sort of neutral sound he always made when he didn't exactly wish to reply, Kayaku tried to plan what he could talk about next. He let his eyes wander over the small boy sitting in front of him. The messy silvery hair made him look like a miniature version of Sakumo, which in itself was rather unsettling. Kayaku didn't personally know the older shinobi but they'd stood in the same room more than once and there was something about the man that commanded immediate respect. His son seemed to have inherited virtually everything from his father and the expression in his eyes wasn't that of a regular five-year old.
But then again, Kayaku had known all along that Hatake Kakashi wasn't a regular five-year old.
Perhaps the most striking thing about his appearance was the mask that covered the lower part of his face. It wasn't the first time he'd seen a shinobi wearing one—he had, for instance, never seen Sakumo's lower face—but they'd always been adults. On a child, it felt simply disturbing. And the fact that his forehead protector was clearly too big for him did nothing to help. This child was too young to be a shinobi and nothing would make Kayaku change his mind about it.
"So, what's…with the mask?" he ventured.
"None of your business," Kakashi replied icily.
Kayaku felt his last shred of determination snap with a loud bang. It couldn't have been more than a few minutes since he'd opened the door, but he really didn't see how it would ever work.
Jiraiya-sensei, Hokage-sama, I'm sorry…
"Stay here," he said, taking one step towards the door. "I'll be right back."
Without waiting to see whether Kakashi was going to reply or even react, Kayaku turned around, walked out of the room and closed the door behind him. On the way towards the entrance of the building, he came across a fellow jounin.
"Hey, do you happen to know where I can find the Third or Jiraiya-sama?" he asked him.
"The Third went back to his office, and I think your sensei's with him. But…shouldn't you be with your student?"
"I'm working on it…" Kayaku said between gritted teeth, resuming his walk down the corridor.
He'd hoped he wouldn't have to go that far since he'd told Kakashi he wouldn't be gone for long. He hated having to rush through the streets of Konoha so he made his way across the rooftops instead. Once he was close enough to the building, he got back on the ground and slowed down to a jog down the corridors.
When he burst through the doors without warning—something he'd never done before—all eyes turned to him and he felt extremely foolish. Jiraiya's eyebrows shot upwards, but the Third didn't appear to take any notice of him at first. He finished handing a mission to the shinobi facing him.
"Thank you, Hokage-sama."
Once the man had gone, the Third slowly turned his gaze towards Kayaku, cocking his head to the side ever so slightly.
Not waiting for either of them to ask what he was doing there instead of at the academy, the young man took a few steps towards the centre of the room. "Hokage-sama, Jiraiya-sensei, I'm sorry but I can't. You were wrong. I can't do it!"
"What are you talking about?" the Hokage asked slowly.
"Having a student, having that kid as a student. I'm too young and I don't have the skills required."
Jiraiya interrupted him, frowning. "Kayaku, if I think you're ready for something, you know you can trust me."
"But I can't even have a decent conversation with him! I was in there for no more than a few minutes before I knew it wouldn't work. How am I supposed to teach him anything if I can't even talk to him!"
Standing in the middle of the room, panting, arms outstretched, Kayaku was far beyond feeling foolish. He didn't care anymore.
"Kayaku," Jiraiya said, shaking his head, "you're overreacting."
The young man withheld his sensei's gaze for a short while, before letting his shoulders drop. "Sensei, Hokage-sama, this time you've overestimated me. I can't do this."
The Third frowned and cleared his throat. "So what do you expect us to do? I'm sure Jiraiya explained the situation to you. All the other jounin have their three-man teams. Are we supposed to send that boy back to the academy? How do you expect us to break the news to his father?"
"I'm sorry but I don't have the answers to your questions. All I know is that I cannot look after this boy, or any other genin for that matter. I'm too young! I know I was the youngest jounin of my generation, but it doesn't mean I'm ready for this. Most of the others are in their twenties when they're first assigned a team."
"This would be the first time I see you fail something," Jiraiya pointed out.
Kayaku and looked down. "I'm sorry, Sensei…"
The older men stared at him in silence, obviously wondering what to do, when the doors suddenly opened again.
"Please, don't!" said a small voice.
Kayaku whirled around and opened his eyes wide when he saw his student standing on the threshold.
Oh great… Now it's perfect!
"Kakashi," he said as firmly as he could, "I asked you to stay where you were!"
"You said you wouldn't be long. But I knew you'd come here. I could tell."
Kayaku sighed and sent the other two a pleading look.
"Hokage-sama," Kakashi called while bowing, after taking a few steps into the room so he was level with Kayaku, "may I speak?"
The old man smiled kindly. "Of course you can."
There was a pause, after which Kakashi's words were barely more than a whisper.
"I'm sorry I offended you…"
Kayaku rolled his eyes, crossed his arms and looked to the side. Only then did he finally register that Kakashi's apology was directed at him, and not at the Hokage.
"I wanted to…test you, see how you'd react. I didn't mean to be arrogant. I know you don't have a choice but please give me a second chance, Sensei."
Saying so, he turned towards Kayaku and dropped to his knees.
Such a change of behaviour took the young man by surprise and he was momentarily left speechless. He slowly glanced from the small boy to Jiraiya, who smiled and shrugged. Kayaku knew only too well what he meant by that.
The smile on the Third's face grew wider. "What is your decision then, Uzumaki-san?"
The young man let out a sigh. A smile stretched his lips. "I'm sorry I wasted your time, Hokage-sama," he said, bowing. Then he turned around and walked towards the door. "Come on, Kakashi, let's go."
The boy suddenly got back to his feet, eyebrows shooting upwards. He quickly looked at the two older men and, probably deeming it safer not to say anything, left the room behind his newly appointed sensei.