Letters from Naruto

Hatake Kakashi knows he's falling. Falling and failing. Twice he'd found a home among people he'd cared for, and twice he'd failed to keep his family together. Kakashi can't help but wonder if maybe he should stop trying.

Kakashi knows he'd done his best. He tried to train his genin into shinobi the village could be proud of, and if he'd sometimes ignored Sakura and Naruto in favor of Sasuke, it wasn't out of malice. He'd merely thought the two hadn't really needed him as much as Sasuke had.

So it shouldn't have hurt so much when he failed Sasuke and found that the other two honestly didn't need him. It shouldn't have hurt when he realized they'd moved on to other, better teachers. He could do nothing more for Sasuke, and Sakura and Naruto had left their incompetent teacher behind.

Hatake Kakashi knows, now, that his best wasn't good enough. He knows, if he were to do it over again, he'd have done it differently.

He'd have helped Sakura find the field she was best suited for, because he'd known from the beginning she hadn't the brute strength of her teammates.

He'd have given Naruto more attention, because that's all Naruto had really asked for.

And Sasuke…he isn't sure where he went wrong with Sasuke, but he wished he'd done it differently.

To be brutally honest, Kakashi is pathetically glad Sakura was even willing to talk to him still, though she said little, and he could practically see the accusing thoughts running through her mind. Every now and then, Kakashi toys with the idea of taking her out to lunch or dinner, or maybe just talking with her as he'd never really done when he'd been able to, but he always takes the coward's way out. He's too afraid that one day, she'll voice what she's really thinking, and he doesn't know how to answer that.

It's probably for the best that he doesn't, anyway, Kakashi thinks. That way, he won't trap Sakura in the past as he's done to himself. Better that she merely continues into the future with her new teacher, because Kakashi knows the Hokage is doing a far better job than he ever did.

Sasuke…Kakashi tries not to think about Sasuke too often. That failure hurt the most, because Kakashi had thought he'd gotten through to the boy. He had trusted Sasuke to make the right decision, to remember teamwork, and to become the shinobi Kakashi knew he had the potential to be. Instead, Kakashi is left with long nights wondering what he had done wrong, what he could have done better.

But out of all of Team Seven, Kakashi knows that Naruto is the one he's betrayed the most.

Uzumaki Naruto, who'd been shunned by the rest of the village for something he couldn't help, should have found a family with Team Seven, as Kakashi had liked to pretend he had. Naruto should have been able to come to Kakashi when he'd needed help, training, or just a person to talk to. And more than anyone else, Naruto deserved to have such a person.

Instead, he'd been ignored, pushed aside for the 'genius' Sasuke, and abandoned.

Kakashi is fiercely proud of Naruto, though he knew he had no right to be. Naruto had found a teacher that could teach what he wished to learn, he'd clung to keep his team a true team longer than anyone else, he'd kept to his dream, and most of all, he hadn't abandoned his friends—not even Sasuke or Kakashi.

Kakashi hopes that perhaps some of that can be traced back to Kakashi's efforts.

Though he knows he's failed Naruto horribly, Kakashi also knows the boy won't forget or ignore him as Sasuke and Sakura do. Kakashi has discovered that only Iruka receives more letters from Naruto, and sometimes, those letters are all that keep Kakashi going. They remind Kakashi that though he's failed, not all is lost.

Naruto's letters give Kakashi hope that maybe he can be forgiven, that maybe he didn't screw up as badly as he thinks he did. Again.

And so, if maybe Kakashi is a bit obsessive over the letters Naruto sends, if he keeps them stacked carefully in a box beneath his bed, if he reads them until he could repeat them word for word without even glancing at them, if he writes back letters five times longer and neater than his mission reports, and spends hours on each reply he sends to Naruto, copying carefully to make sure it's legible and that he's saying the right things, balancing carefully between former teacher and friend, Kakashi thinks that maybe he can be excused.

Because even though Naruto's no longer technically his student, Kakashi hopes there's still something in him that the boy can make use of. And if he can't be Kakashi's student any longer, Kakashi still harbors the faintest hope that maybe, just maybe, Naruto can forgive him enough to become, instead of a student, a friend.

And when, three years after he'd left Konoha with Jiraiya, Naruto greets Kakashi with the massive grin Kakashi remembers so well, Kakashi knows that every second spent on those letters was well worth it.

As leader of Team Seven, Hatake Kakashi learned that his best wasn't good enough, and he'd failed. As a jounin without students, Hatake Kakashi discovered that he'd betrayed his team and abandoned two of its members. When Naruto returned, Hatake Kakashi swore that from then on, he would not fail his team again.