Disclaimer: "Naruto", and all canon characters and characteristics remain the property and rights of Kishimoto Masashi. All I own is the writing itself, and any original features and / or attributes portrayed within said writing.
A/N: Because the Naruto series starts days before graduation, I don't think Iruka gets nearly enough credit for everything he's done for his students, so I hope this fic brings him some much-deserved love! xD Hope you like it!
Update 3-4-07: Received some nice feedback regarding how some peppered elements of cursing in this fic threw off the flow of the story. Fixed accordingly. Thanks, everyone!
Umino Iruka never liked graduations. Everyone used to wonder why.
Everyone knows that graduation is a time to be glad, a time to celebrate, a time to be proud that your students were finally moving on to bigger and better things. It was absurd to think a respected Konoha Sensei wouldn't want to see his students succeed. So, why in the world didn't Iruka enjoy graduations?
If you knew him well enough, you could ask him.
You could ask him why, and he would smile warmly at you, and he would tell you in a rehearsed, unbroken string of words that it was merely a matter of pride. He'd say that he was humbled by the fact that Jounin, who were stronger and more experienced than himself, were being entrusted with his students, and that these complete strangers were somehow able to take his pupils' training further than he ever could.
If you knew him well enough, though, you would know that he was lying.
For both statistical and personal harmony within the new teams, Iruka made damn sure that the Jounin would provide those students with the respect and attention he knew they deserved. Iruka wasn't one to send his students off to 'complete strangers' without first ensuring the security of their future relationships. Yet, even in the presence of a bold-faced lie anyone with half a brain could see through, no one ever dared to question his response, for they knew it wasn't a matter of whether or not he was willing to reveal his reasons; it was a matter of him not being allowed to.
As a Konoha Chuunin, Iruka was obligated to conceal any traces of personal or sentimental attachment towards his students. As a teacher, it was his responsibility to show them that emotion was nothing but a weakness, a vulnerability, a pointless regard that served only to hinder Shinobi from reaching their final goals. His students were expendable pawns of the government, and were supposed to be seen as nothing more than the sole beneficiaries of his training. They were supposed to be seen as nothing more.
Iruka disagreed with that.
If given the opportunity, he wouldn't hesitate to tell you he opposed that viewpoint with every fibre of his being. And if given the permission, he certainly wouldn't be the slightest bit ashamed to tell you exactly why he disliked graduations.
For five years, from the young ages of seven to twelve, Iruka placed all of his time and effort into training kids to the very best of his abilities. Those students were his students. Those children became his children. He was head Sensei of the Konohagakure Shinobi Academy, and no matter how many students graduated under his instruction, he wasn't ashamed to admit that he missed every single one of them.
He never liked watching them grow up. Surely, he was as proud as a father could be, watching his students evolve into mature and powerful Shinobi who would fight and do their village proud. However, he feels his heart sink instinctively whenever he hears word of one of them becoming promoted. Promoted to Chuunin. Promoted to Jounin. Promoted to more difficult, dangerous, life-threatening missions. Promoted to levels high and raised, and worthy of their challenge.
Every time Iruka sees one of his old students walk by, he knew he was the only one who still remembered. He still remembered that man as the boy who loved pulling pranks on his classmates, that woman as the girl who cried every time she messed up her Ninjutsu. It was hard to see them grow from innocent children into people with a complete disregard for human life, the disregard they say every good Shinobi should maintain. No matter how old or powerful they became, they would still be that little kid in his eyes. That little boy he once raised. That little girl he once trained. That little kid he once helped.
Still, he hid his despondency well.
He never liked having to buy a new telephone so often. Sometimes the calls were so overwhelming that the receiver slipped out of his hand and crashed to pieces upon the floor. Other times, the news angered him enough to simply throw the phone against the wall, or out the window altogether. This time, though, and for the very first time...he remembered doing nothing but hanging up. Perhaps he was used to the shock by now.
...he didn't like being used to it.
He never liked going to the Yamanaka Floral Shop every Friday. He never liked it when, upon his arrival, Ino automatically reached over for a particular group of flowers, asking if he wanted his regular bouquet. He never liked those days when he was forced to say 'plus one'. He especially didn't like the look Ino gave him whenever he said that; that pained, knowing, sorrowful expression that a person only saves for people worth pitying.
He never liked walking through the village with those flowers in his hand, or how uncomfortable it felt when everyone tried avoiding eye contact with him. He didn't like the fact that everyone who saw him knew where he was going.
He never liked being the object of empathy.
He never liked placing the garland of eleven on the ground by the Memorial Stone, each flower dedicated to every one of those little kids remembered only by him. He never liked getting that phone call to see a fresh name etched onto the monument, for it was usually a name he knew all too well.
Ryoko Megumi. Brown hair. Blue eyes. Nasty temper. Good with Genjutsu.
Her graduation picture flashed in his mind as a silent tear fell down his cheek.
No, Umino Iruka never liked graduations.
Everyone stopped asking why.