Mirror and Image
Iruka was crying.
Before anything else is said, it must be perfectly understood that Iruka had every reason to cry, was in fact bound by some kind of natural law that compelled the boy to cry, the circumstances simply demanded the salty bits of water to streak down his increasingly hot face.
You see, ten-year-old Iruka was lost.
Oh, no, not lost in a heretofore un-traveled part of the city, or lost in a building he was seeing for the first time, like when he was four and his parents had taken him to the Hokage's building. No, no, Iruka was lost, in the truest sense of the word. He had been lost for three days, unable to find any markers or landmarks that hinted that he was anywhere close to Konoha. The boy was beginning to curse any thought he ever had to running away.
But, then, that wasn't his fault either.
The other kids teased him, you see; said he would be useless as a ninja, he couldn't do anything right to say nothing of the constant ways they came up with to butcher his name. His parents had both been away on prolonged missions, and he was lonely and upset and had no one to talk to. He tried to go to the teacher, but she just smiled with that irritating look of comprehension and understanding, and only patted him on the head and said it was noting to worry about, he was doing just fine.
Really, if he was doing just fine, then why were the other kids set on throwing paper airplanes at him when her back was turned, or chasing him around the training field during recess? Teachers never understood anything!! His life was on the line, damn it, and she just said it was nothing to worry about! And so, his only resolve was to run away, get a few days of unmitigated peace before coming back to his parents and telling them how miserable his life was, and have them give their much nicer look of comprehension and understanding, have them pat him on the head and say it was nothing to worry about, that he was doing just fine. It was their job to do, not that stupid teacher's.
Upon reflection, he'd never been beyond the village gates, and it probably wasn't a good idea.
But it wasn't his fault. Nope, not at all. The world at large was simply against him.
So, he cried.
The world didn't like him any better for it, however, and in response to his tears he heard a distinctive snap of a tree branch; he only had time to identify the sound before something heavy crashed into him from behind, pitching him forward into the soft earth of the base of the tree he'd been under. He only really had time to register a mass of grey hair that was tickling his nose and the stylized leaf embossed on the metal plate of a headband.
Five years of lectures and training at the academy took over. Even at ten, Iruka understood that if a Konoha ninja was in trouble, you did your damndest to help. That this one had fallen from a tree and, in the three or four seconds since that landing, hadn't moved, it was safe to assume that something had gone wrong. Iruka crawled out from under the limp body, not completely aware of how much heat was emanating from it, and clasped his hands together into a seal. They had only just started teaching jutsu, true jutsu that real ninja used, and of the handful Iruka was only really good at one of them: henge.
The ninja disappeared into the shape of a broken tree branch, fitting considering how he had appeared to Iruka, and the boy went back to what he was doing: crying. In point of fact, the child dug deep and pulled up the wail he distinctly reserved for when his parents weren't letting him have his way. It was loud and high pitched and grated on his mother's ears in particular. He was proud of that wail, and at the same time slightly embarrassed that he was doing it now, in the middle of nowhere with a nameless ninja under a henge and only the suspicion that the ninja was here because of a chase.
The crying paid off, however, as three new ninja appeared at the base of the tree.
Iruka didn't need to pretend being startled, and for a moment the four of them simply stared at each other. The ten-year old didn't recognize the symbols on the headbands; he hadn't paid much attention to that lesson, and privately resolved to pay a little more attention to the boring parts of schooling. He did, however, recognize murderous intent. The three enemy ninja were messy, blood splashed haphazardly on their clothes; their dark eyes were hard, cold even, and one of them had a grin that was the most disturbing, because it looked at Iruka and was hungry.
"What the hell is this?" the one in the middle asked, stepping forward slightly.
Iruka started, tears still streaming down his face, but this time for a completely different reason, and he hesitantly gave the story that popped into his head when he realized he had to help the body that fell on him.
"That mean old guy fell on me," he sniffed. "He didn't even apologize." First rule of lying: mix in part of the truth. Second rule: nothing fancy. "He just ran off and didn't apologize. It was mean and rude!" Iruka hiccupped, staring at the three grown ups and hoping he was doing okay. He'd never dreamed of using the academy lessons so quickly. He was exhilarated and petrified at the same time.
"We musta finally hit him," the one on the left said.
"Took damn well long enough," the one of the right agreed, "that brat is fast."
The one in the middle, however, drew a kunai out from somewhere. "No witnesses," he said simply.
And Iruka, for the first time in his life, was truly afraid.
"Amateurs," came a small voice from behind. Iruka registered it only after the fact, as he was too busy trying the process the whirring sound that appeared and disappeared from either side of his ears as he watched shuriken magically embed themselves in the necks of two of the enemy ninja. Blood spurted out on impact before flooding down their necks. The third ninja, the one in the middle, dodged his head to the right, and only a faint red line stood testament that there had been a third shuriken. This was only a snapshot, however, because the Konoha ninja had dispelled the henge and was already leaping up, a sword in both fists as he gave a quick and vicious slash to the enemy. He dodged, but not without injury, Iruka saw him immediately grasp at his side, where red was already staining his uniform.
"Next time, Copy Ninja!!" the enemy cried out as he leapt up into the trees.
"You're not getting away," the Copy Ninja whispered, hands already flying into lightning fast seals. Before he could finish, however, the grey haired ninja swayed on his feet. Something that sounded like a slurred "Shit!" escaped his mouth before his knees buckled and he slumped to his knees.
This all took, at most, perhaps twenty seconds.
It took time for Iruka to recover his faculties. Scratch that, it took a lot of time for him to recover his faculties. Dimly, in an echo of his brain, a voice told him he'd just witnessed a real fight between shinobi, not some mock up battle used to demonstrate a lesson, a real fight. Iruka stared at the two ninj--no, the two corpses. They were still bleeding out, the red liquid oozing from their necks and pooling under their heads. Both sets of eyes were open, one of them not even registering shock. There was the rancid scent of urine for some reason, and finally Iruka realized he was looking at two dead bodies, both murdered, and he was a witness.
Iruka turned around and gagged for all he was worth.
When he finally stopped and got hold of himself, he felt silly. Stuff like this happened all the time, he would be witnessing and committing such acts once he finished the academy, it was part of the job. God, the grey haired ninja must think him an absolute baby! He'd prove he wasn't! He stood and turned and promptly did not look at the corpses, and instead delicately hopped over them to see how the ninja he'd tried to help was doing.
On closer inspection, the grey hair was actually silver, a pure even color Iruka had never seen before, and the body attached to it was much younger than he had initially thought. The supposed grey had made him think of an older man, but indeed, this ninja couldn't have been more than a few years older than him. The teen was in a growth spurt, even on his knees Iruka recognized the Copy Ninja was much taller than him, still lanky and bony. Further inspection was forestalled, however, as Iruka realized that, in however long it had taken him to empty his stomach and get a hold of himself, the Konoha Copy Ninja was still on his knees, slumped forward further onto his elbows, his head hidden in the crook of an elbow. His breathing was ragged and uneven.
"Hey, are you okay?" the ten-year-old asked, joining the teen on his knees and reaching a hand out. He only just grazed the sweaty, unbearably hot skin of the ninja's shoulder before the teen reacted. Faster than Iruka would ever be able to follow, a hand shot out and grabbed the boy's throat, squeezing even as the powerful arm attached to it shoved Iruka to the ground. The other hand had a kunai, pulled seemingly from thin air and raised quickly above the masked teen - yes, he wore a mask - before launching down into a fatal downward thrust.
Iruka only had time for a startled squeak before the teen's eye widened and he deflected the thrust, the kunai instead embedding itself into the ground all the way to the teen's fist, mere millimeters from Iruka's very vulnerable head.
When the hand released itself from Iruka's neck, he threw out a choked, "Wh-what the hell were you doing?!" before gulping in much needed air.
The teen only stared, his visible eye unfocused, his body tilting off-center, before finally mumbling a, "Sorry..."
At last, comprehension started to dawn on Iruka, as he stared up at the silver haired teen. Pulling himself back up into a sitting position, the boy, much more slowly, reached out and put a hand on the teen's forehead. Indeed, it was burning to the touch; he was ghastly pale under the flush of fever. "You're sick," Iruka stated.
"I'm fine," the teen corrected, almost automatically.
"No, you're sick. You have a fever, your body's weak, it's amazing you were even able to fight just now."
"Poor job of fighting," the teen said, his letters slightly slurred. His dark eye sharpened into focus, however, and he glared at Iruka. "What are you doing all the way out here?" his voice changing to one that was much more authoritative, much more in control and active.
And Iruka flushed as he realized just how silly the reason for his being out here would sound to someone who was just fighting for his life, indeed had saved his life. "Uh..." he started intelligently, pushing his fingers together. "I, uh... kinda got... lost?"
The teen openly stared at Iruka with his one eye. "Someone smart enough to pull up a henge and lie convincingly to three elite Jounin got lost?"
Iruka squirmed. His entire face must have turned red as an apple.
But all the silver haired teen did was sigh, albeit shakily, and say, "Fine. I'll take you home. "
Suddenly flustered, Iruka said, "I don't want to interrupt your mission. It's probably much more important than--"
But he was cut off, the teen saying, "I have to report to sensei at any rate. Come on, before that stupid bastard comes back." In one fluid, graceful motion, the teen got up, but again swayed on his feet before a hand unconsciously grabbed at a tree for support as the other held his mostly-hidden face. A faint whimper, strangely uncharacteristic to what Iruka expected of big, strong, ruthless ninja, escaped the back of his throat.
Iruka was up just as quickly, putting a reassuring hand on the burning teen. "You point the way, Hatake-sensei, and I'll help you."
The teen stiffened in Iruka's grip, swiveling his silver head to stare at the boy properly, his eye in focus again. "... 'Hatake-sensei'?"
"You don't remember?" Iruka asked, hurt but understanding at the same time. "You gave a guest lecture to my class about threat analysis using body language and physiognomy."
Iruka remembered the lecture very well. The teacher had given a very flowery introduction about how her guest was very famous, as ninja go, that he'd made chuunin at the remarkable age of six, that he was the youngest active member of ANBU on record, that it was truly an honor to be in the presence of this person, before turning and bowing and scraping to a much cleaner, much healthier looking Hatake Kakashi. The thirteen-year-old's blacks had been black, and his whites white, freshly cleaned and pressed. Three quarters of his face had still been hidden, between the Konoha headband and a mask, and he had paid absolutely no mind to the teacher as she continued to grovel to him, instead passed right by her and stood in front of her desk, looking out to the thirty odd students.
"Three of you," he had said, flicking his wrist, "would be dead for sleeping on the job." The shuriken he had thrown landed millimeters from the noses of the three students who had, indeed, been asleep at their desks. They startled and jerked upright in their seats, and several kids laughed while the ANBU teen continued, unfazed. "Six of you," he flicked his wrist again, "would be dead for not taking death seriously. Four of you would be dead for not taking me seriously, another five for underestimating me because of my age..." With each list of reasons why a student would be dead, their desk had been struck with a shuriken.
Iruka, deep in the bowels of the student body, had watched. The teen's voice was flat, monotone even, and there was nothing in his eyes, but all the same, Iruka, for some reason, had felt that the young Hatake-sensei was being very serious. That people could and had died because of the reasons he'd listed; Iruka had suddenly felt - very strongly and without any reason to - that the teen had watched people die for the reasons he'd listed. This had been followed with the unshakable knowledge that the silver haired Kakashi was trying to prevent more unnecessary deaths; that he was, in the course of this lecture, trying to save their lives.
Iruka had sat up straighter, his focus unnaturally intense for a nine year old.
Their eyes locked for a brief moment, and Hatake-sensei had smiled under his mask, looking at the sea of students, and he said, "Good. At least one of you will get something out of this. Now, how did I know what each of you were thinking and feeling?"
That had been just over a year ago. The teacher had been furious that he'd come so close to killing children. He'd laconically said, "Kids die all the time in war, sensei. I should have died a hundred times over. Did you want me to baby them?"
He'd never been called back, obviously.
Iruka watched as Hatake's eye glazed again, memory and fever mixing amongst themselves. "Stupid to think I could teach," he slurred, his body again sagging under his own weight. "Don't know what sensei was thinking... Rin would have been better... or... Obito..." His body shuddered.
Iruka caught him before the teen completely collapsed, struggling to hold up a body easily six inches taller than his own. It was ultimately in vain, and the two toppled over. His breathing was uneven again, and Iruka could feel the fever even through the teen's layers of clothing and armor. Unnerved, Iruka stuttered, "Aaah! Hatake-sensei! You have to stay conscious at least until you point me in the direction we're supposed to go! I'm still lost, remember?"
The ANBU struggled, fighting off his own sickness, willing strength to come back into his body. It was a simple thing, Iruka thought, but as he watched the silver haired teen drag himself back together, Iruka couldn't help but think this was another form of strength, a different form of courage that he'd never seen before. All he could do was watch, engrave it in his memory as an example of what he could do as a ninja (if he ever became one), even if he couldn't do jutsu or fight or throw well. He could be brave, like this teen in front of him.
Finally, Hatake hoisted himself to his knees and looked around, his visible eye only barely focused. He didn't even spare a glance at the two corpses, instead kept tilting his head up, looking at the branches of the towering trees. "That way," he said finally, nodding his head southeast.
"How can you tell?" Iruka asked, even as he stood up and offered a hand to the teen.
He did not take it, instead fought to get his feet underneath him. He still swayed, but at least he was standing. "The chakra of the trees," he answered simply, as if that explained everything. "Any Konoha ninja can find his way home because of them."
That didn't help Iruka's understanding at all, and it must have showed on his face because he caught what looked suspiciously like a smirk underneath the teen's mask. "You'll understand when you're a little older," he added, and Iruka could definitely hear the smirk.
Pouting, Iruka said nothing and instead started walking. Of all the arrogance! He was worse than the teachers because he was still a kid and he had the gall to act like a snooty adult? The nerve! "You coming?" he demanded. Hatake only shrugged his shoulders in response and stepped after Iruka.
At first, Iruka's pace was demanding, offended as he was at the teen, but the ten-year-old quickly softened as he remembered how sick the poor ANBU was. He turned to see the teen seemed to be doing just fine, but when Hatake came closer he could hear the labored breathing. Iruka was again reminded that the fact the teen could even stand with the fever he was running was miraculous.
Sighing and swallowing his pride, Iruka tugged at his pack and pulled out his canteen. "Here," he said without ceremony. When nothing happened, he pressed, "You need it more than me, Hatake-sensei."
"Don't call me that," the ANBU said, still not taking the water. His letters were slightly slurred again, his voice a mumble as compared to the confident, authoritative voice he'd had when he lectured.
"Whatever you say, Hatake-senpai," Iruka tried again, "but you need the water."
"That name's even worse..." The teen stared at Iruka, but he would not be swayed as he held out the canteen again. The boy threw up his best glare, the one he gave his father when he thought he was being unfair, and finally Hatake, just like his father, rolled his eye, and took the damn canteen.
"Small sips," Iruka instructed. "My father said when you're this sick you have to make sure you don't throw up what you drink, because liquids are what you need most."
There was a curt glare, but the ANBU followed instructions and took small, measured sips. Or at least, the canteen was lighter when he gave it back; Iruka never saw the mask lower. The ten-year-old assumed it was a ninja trick he hadn't been taught yet and shrugged it off.
"How long until we get home?" Iruka asked as they began walking again.
"We won't make it before dark," Hatake said softly.
"Ugh, another night making camp," the boy complained. "I miss my bed, I miss the hot baths my mother draws up, I miss the birds nested outside my window, I miss my father treating us to ramen, I miss--" Iruka stopped when he heard the teen chuckle, actually chuckle. "What?" he asked, indignant.
The ANBU teen shook his head slightly, his weak body swaying with the motion, before replying, "Sensei loves ramen."
"Oh, really?" Iruka asked. "Did you know there's this new stand called Ichiraku? They have the best ramen I've ever tasted, and they can do custom orders and they just got a delivery kid and they're cheap at least my mom says it is and it's always steaming when they serve you and--"
"I know," Hatake said slowly, his eye still glazing in and out of focus. "Sensei says the same thing."
"Really? Does your sensei eat there often? Maybe we've met him!"
But the teen said no more on the subject, his eye clouding again.
It was another hour before Iruka finally started insisting that they needed to stop. Fifteen minutes later, the teen's legs agreed with the boy and gave out, Hatake sinking to the ground once again. "Goddammit," he breathed, before giving in to a small cough.
Iruka allowed the teen his moment, instead focusing on pulling things out of the small pack he had brought with him.
"Not here," Hatake muttered. Iruka looked over, wondering how the Copy Ninja, as the enemy had called him, ever saw him undoing his pack.
"Here's as good as anywhere else," Iruka defended. Was the teen going to get arrogant again? He'd show him!
"No, that Jounin is following us," the ANBU said. "We need a better hiding place."
Iruka frowned. His first impulse was, of course, to retort that it was stupid for the Jounin to follow, but the seriousness Hatake was emanating spoke to that odd part of Iruka's brain, the one that had activated when he first listened to the teen lecture. "We're not far from the village, right?" he said, hoping to point out his logic instead of overtly denying the teen's claim.
"That's irrelevant," the teen explained, struggling to sit up again. Iruka had long ago learned not to offer help. "They can't afford to let me live; and failure for them would mean their deaths. They'll try to kill me even if I'm in the Hogake's office."
Iruka took a moment to gape. "Your mission was that important?!" he demanded. "And you did it sick?! What was Yondaime-sama thinking! That's mean!!"
"I wasn't sick then," Hatake said defensively, physically bristling. Iruka found the gesture made the teen seem much more his age, and Iruka found that infinitely more comfortable.
"How could you not be--" Iruka came up short, realizing just what Hatake was saying. "How long have you been gone?" he asked, instead.
"As long as necessary," Hatake said in a dull, flat voice.
It sent an unwanted shiver down Iruka's back, and he realized, perhaps for the first time, that this teen was ANBU. For a reason. The ten-year-old swallowed, hard. "What kind of place do we need?"
"Lots of cover," the teen said, holding his arms to his stomach to ward off the chills he was suffering from. "Something you can't see at first glance, room to move for a fight, places to hide traps. Hallow of a dead tree maybe, or a hidden thicket."
The sun was setting when the two boys found a partly raised root system of a tilted tree, a place that Hatake approved of - at last, because the boy was so picky! Iruka was pouting enormously by that point, but the ANBU teen paid it no mind as he went about setting traps. Iruka followed close behind, his irritation temporarily forgotten as he saw the precise motions and clever positioning of the traps; it was marvelous work, not even the best students at the academy could do work like this!
"Stop admiring and get to work."
Iruka humphed and went back to emptying his pack. If the teen wasn't so damn arrogant, he might be likable, but noo! He had to be some holier than thou piece of... Iruka growled and chewed on a few curses he'd heard from his parents. It only got worse when he heard the teen chuckle at his irritation. Jerk!
Finally, though, Iruka pulled out the blanket he kept at the bottom of his pack, under the cookware and the matches, and the extra canteens. For all that he'd never left the village before, he'd watched both his parents pack for long missions, and felt rather proud that he'd had enough forethought to pack accordingly when he'd decided to give himself a vacation.
"Good," was about all Hatake had to say, and for a teen that seemed picky about everything, Iruka decided to be generous and take it as a compliment. The teen sat down and hugged his arms to his abdomen again. Iruka unfolded the blanket and, after taking a minute to swallow his pride again, offered it to him.
"I'm fine." It was an automatic response.
Iruka shook his head. "Your fever must easily be over a hundred, you can barely walk, can't focus for jutsu--" he smirked in pride as he remembered that little tidbit of information "--and your starting to get chills. You'll have fever dreams tonight, I'll bet."
"I'm not sleeping," the teen said in his flat voice, making no motion to take the blanket.
"Hey, just what are you trying to prove here?" Iruka demanded. "We're just outside of Konoha, hidden to your standards, and with a kid who wants to help you. I'm not going to care if you decide to take help that's offered you. If anything, I'd prefer it, at least then I can feel like I did something and you won't die before you report to your sensei. You could at least be a little grateful!" Iruka threw the blanket over the teen's head to prove his point.
He glared for several minutes before Hatake finally pulled the blanket off from his head and grudgingly wrapped it around his shoulders. "... How are you with shuriken? Have they showed you how to do it?"
"Yes, they did," Iruka spat before taking a deep breath and recalling his grades. "One hundred percent accuracy at short range, eighty-five at midrange, and it drops to sixty-three percent at long range."
"And low light?"
"It drops quite a bit, then. My night vision was never great."
The teen's eye furrowed, the shadows of his mask deepening into a frown. "Taijutsu?"
"We're only the third year of that."
"And chakra? You did a henge."
"The very basics. Henge is the only one I'm good at."
There was a period of brief silence, Iruka thinking about what else he could offer as uses for the ailing Hatake. The teen was more than capable of taking care of himself, but not as sick as he was. That he was assessing what Iruka could do meant he intended to use Iruka - a fact that a not-small corner of his mind swelled at pride in; he was working with an ANBU!! Take that, stupid classmates! At any rate, that he was intending to use Iruka, an academy student was testament to how sick he really was. Iruka tried to imagine being that sick, but couldn't, because whenever he got sick his parents looked after him. He frowned. Being a ninja was more difficult than he thought. He was learning more on this furlough than he ever did in class, in some ways.
"Can you see chakra?" the teen finally asked.
"Sort of," Iruka replied, wanting to give a precise explanation. "I know it's part of everybody, but I can't see it under normal circumstances, and I can't see it in clones or henge. I can see it building though, when somebody's making the hand signs."
Hatake nodded, as if expecting that, and leaned forward, an arm outstretched. Iruka caught the offering, and openly stared when he saw the set of shuriken that the ANBU teen had given him. "Woah," he muttered.
"Stop being impressed with every little thing," the teen said in an impatient voice. "When that Jounin finds us, you'll have to throw to kill."
Iruka snapped to attention. "But I've never killed anyone before!"
"That's not the point," the teen said, his voice hard and unfeeling. "You probably won't hit anything vital, but you have to aim to kill regardless, because he'll kill you without a second thought, and I may not be able to protect you."
"You don't have to protect me, I can take care of myself!!"
Hatake snorted. "Let's not put that to the test, shall we?"
The image of the three Jounin standing over Iruka, the one in the middle with the hungry smile and saying, "No witnesses," filled Iruka's mind. He gulped, and grudgingly agreed that now was not the time to be squeamish; to save his own life he would have to be ready to kill.
He didn't like that thought at all, but it was a truth. That Hatake had to point it out to him chaffed the boy badly, and he finally gave in to childish action and stuck his tongue out at the teen, glaring at him before pulling out a protein bar and biting a chunk off of it. He tossed a second to the teen, nonplused with any of Iruka's actions, and Hatake caught it without even opening his eyes. Hmph, showoff!!
"Take small bites," Iruka said, "and wait to see if you can keep it down before taking another."
"I won't keep it down," the ANBU teen said matter-of-factly. The canteen rose to his mouth, but even watching Iruka did not see the mask lower for him to drink, though he heard the teen swallow.
Sympathy again rose up in the boy, even in the middle of being irritated, and he got up from where he was sitting. "I'll get a fire going," he said. "We need to make sure you stay warm."
The teen shook his head, his eyes still closed. "A fire would tip off the Jounin where we are, if he doesn't know already." He shuddered again as another wave of chills passed over him.
Iruka sat back down, crossing his legs. Did the teen have an answer for everything? The boy thought about it for a moment, mentally calling up one of his textbooks that dealt specifically with chase scenarios and options on how to handle them. He mentally checked off the things they had done, and scratched off the choices that didn't apply to the circumstances they were currently in. He looked up when what was left came to mind. "Why don't you send a messenger?"
Hatake twitched his head in response.
"We're near home, you need to let Yondaime-sama and your sensei know that you're back, but you can't risk being seen by that Jounin, so why don't you send a messenger?"
"There's nothing to use as a..." Hatake's eye snapped open and he lifted his head from the root he'd been leaning against, pulling himself up into a sitting position. Iruka watched as the teen whipped out a kunai and cut his finger, muttering, "I hope I have enough chakra for this," before performing a quick series of seals and slapping his palm into the ground. There was a popping sound and a puff of smoke, and as it cleared Iruka stared as a small dog appeared, brown fur in a blue cape with a dour face that looked immediately to its master.
"Kakashi, you picked a heck of a time to summon--"
Hatake, shaking, only whispered, "Pakkun," before slumping to the side and retching. Iruka was filled with the disgusting idea of throwing up onto a mask, but there was apparently nothing in the teen's stomach, and he only convulsed with dry heaves. The boy grabbed the blanket, crawling forward and putting it more securely on the teen while the dog whimpered and nuzzled the silver hair of the teen. His fever had shot up again, and Iruka was beginning to be truly worried about this ninja. For all his affect at conquering everything, Hatake was clearly at his limit. The teen collapsed when he finally finished, exhausted and sweating and shivering at the same time. He panted for air, and Iruka knew that he was officially on his own.
The dog seemed to sense this, too, and turned his dour face to the boy. "It's not like Kakashi to work with kids," he said simply.
"He's not, at least, not really," Iruka replied. Good manners took over. "Excuse me, I've never met a summon before, my name is Umino Iruka. I'm very pleased to meet you." He bowed slightly on his knees.
"Odd name for a Konoha ninja."
Iruka made a face. "You're not going to make the 'fish out of water' joke, are you?" Bad enough the kids made fun of his watery name, would a dog, too?
"Pakkun," the dog answered, bowing his head instead. "He reeks of illness. What happened?"
"I don't know," Iruka said, realizing just how little he did know of the teen's mission. "He was sick when he fell on me a few hours ago. Whatever he did on his mission was really important, there were three Jounin chasing him. He killed two of them and hurt the third, I think, but he's still chasing us."
Pakkun shook his head. "Stupid pup's always getting into trouble," he whined. "What'd he summon me for?"
"We're not far from Konoha," Iruka explained. "We don't want to get the Jounin's attention, and I don't really think Hatake-sensei can move anymore." The pup raised an eyebrow at how his master was named but said nothing. "I can stay with him, we're pretty safe here with all the traps he laid, but it would be great if his teacher knew we were here, or Yondaime-sama, if his mission is so important."
The small dog blinked. " 'Or Yondai...' " Pakkun barked out a laugh. "Kakashi sure can pick'em!" His face quickly became dour however; as he intoned his next sentence. "You'd better stay awake, kid. Kakashi'd die to protect the people around him, and I like him too much to want to see that happen. Whatever you do, don't leave here. Once the moonlight falls on you, that Jounin'll take his opportunity, and then you're both dead."
Iruka blinked, and gulped, once again realizing how serious this all was, and nodded his head. "I'll be careful," he promised.
"Good. Then I'm off." Pakkun walked over to Hatake, giving one last nuzzle, before creeping out of the maze of tree-roots they were using to hide and disappearing out into the forest.
Left alone, Iruka wasn't sure what to do with himself. He made Hatake as comfortable as possible, wrapping the blanket securely and using a spare sweater he'd brought as a makeshift pillow, but after that, there was really nothing to do. He couldn't go out and get water, he couldn't start a fire, and he didn't particularly want to make a lot of noise. The boy contented himself to look up and the roots, following them with his eyes and seeing if he couldn't find the chakra of the trees, as Hatake had said, and see why they would always lead a Konoha ninja home.
His concentration was always interrupted with a twitch or a moan from the unconscious teen. At one point, a hand reached out from the confines of the blanket, Hatake mumbling bits of phrases. Iruka crawled over to put the hand back, and he heard parts of the teen's fever dream. "Obito... please... I'm trying..." He was shivering so bad by now his teeth were chattering, no matter how tight Iruka wrapped the blanket. "Please... help me a little longer..."
Like when he'd bristled earlier, Iruka saw the ANBU for the teen, for the kid, he was. All thoughts of Hatake being arrogant faded away, replaced with the hypothesis that he was just efficient, determined to do his job to the best of his ability. Iruka wondered how on earth the teen had become a ninja, an ANBU, so early in his life. He was Chuunin at age six! How many missions had he gone on, how many people had he killed, had seen die? How close to death had he come? What experiences had he had that made him so paranoid about finding a place to sleep, so certain that the injured Jounin would follow him? What hat he done on his mission that was so dangerous to the enemy ninja?
It was a swirl of thoughts inside of Iruka, the boy feeling he was much too young to deal with these kinds of things; but then, Hatake had been dealing with this and probably far worse for much longer, and Iruka couldn't begrudge the teen even a few hours of peaceful sleep.
It was that thought that had started him awake. He blinked, looking around and wondering how much time had passed. He'd promised Pakkun that he wouldn't fall asleep, damn it! The boy looked around, trying to spy if any of the traps had gone off, or if there were signs that there was trouble. Cursing himself mightily, he crawled over to the teen to check on him. Moonlight was streaming through the small openings of the root system, giving only barely adequate illumination. Iruka hadn't been kidding when he said his night vision was poor, and he couldn't keep a curse quiet when he banged his head on a root while making his way. Stupid root!
That curse ultimately undid him, however, because not ten seconds afterward a hand erupted from the roots, wood fracturing and splintering everywhere as it thrust downward, clasping the boy by the scruff of his gi and hoisting.
Iruka felt weightless for several seconds, before something hit him solidly in his soft abdomen, expelling all the air out of his lungs and hurtling him through the air. He crashed into the trunk of a tree hard and collapsed into a heap into the earth.
Things were a little brighter above the root system, but not by much, and Iruka only had a sense of motion, as the Jounin from before thrust his hand into the roots again and this time pulled up the rag-doll body of Hatake, the blanket spilling away from his gangly body.
"Sleeping on the job, huh?" the Jounin laughed. "I'll rip you in half." Iruka perceived the man drawing back his arm before thrusting it forward, and indeed, there was a ripping sound, one Iruka was very familiar with, being from the academy. The Jounin had pulled out a body-bag, filled with a straw-dirt mix, and the burlap ripped quite nicely, spewing its contents everywhere. Hatake had used the substitution jutsu, but when? Iruka hadn't even seen the teen free himself from the Jounin's grasp; unless, he'd used a henge to disguise the thing? But his chakra was so low, how was he even doing this?
Iruka's thoughts were interrupted, that brief moment of reflection shattered as the Jounin gave a deep growl of frustration. "You can't hide forever, Copy Ninja!" he shouted.
"Who said I was going to?" Hatake's voice seemed to filter from everywhere. Iruka couldn't tell the direction, and he could tell by the body language of the enemy Jounin that he couldn't, either. The ninja lit a flare seal and swung his head around, looking for where the ANBU teen had hidden himself. There was a glint of moonlight off a sword, and Iruka watched in mute fascination as Hatake plunged it downward, using the gravity of his freefall to give it more strength. The Jounin dodged, and shoved his leg upwards into a kick. Hatake arced his body, avoiding the blow, but not the following hand, that grabbed at the teen's elbow. There was a spinning motion, and Hatake was suddenly flying through the air.
The teen angled himself and landed feet first on the trunk of a giant tree, allowing his knees to bend and absorb the impact before snapping them straight and flying back the way he had come. He flipped in midair and used the spin and gravity and his own muscles to land a powerful kick on the Jounin's shoulder, the man having tilted his head to avoid a more serious hit.
"Using taijutsu?" the enemy shinobi said. "I expected more, Copy Ninja." He thrust his powerful hand forward again, and Hatake was too slow to not be grabbed, this time by the ankle. Suspended in air as he was, he had no leverage to stop the bigger ninja from spinning him around, a series of circles that made Iruka nauseous just looking at it - he could hardly imagine what the fevered Hatake must have felt - before swinging the boy over his head and crashing him into the tree roots. The teen disappeared in a puff of smoke. The Jounin's signal seal also extinguished, plunging everything back into pitch darkness.
"Oh, come on, Copy Ninja!" the Jounin cried out. "Substitution and shadow clones? You insult me! Why not use something more challenging? At least show yourself, or are you a measly little coward?"
Iruka, still slumped against the tree he'd crashed into, realized at last just what was happening. Even in the ridiculously poor light, the canopy hiding most of the moon and leaving most everything in deep shadows, Iruka could see enough of the Jounin's body language to understand what Hatake was trying to do. The ninja lit another signal seal, and Iruka studied the bigger man's face, the deep furrow of his brow, the quick darting motions of his eyes in juxtaposition with his bared snarl of teeth. The boy took in the jerky movement of the man's head, going this way and that while he bounced on the balls of his feet, trying to be ready for everything even as a low growl rumbled deep inside his chest.
Another clone leapt out, again holding a sword, and ran up towards the Jounin before the enemy held out a fist and caught the blade, yanking it with enough force to lift the clone off its feet. Said clone swung its legs up, wrapping around he massive arm of the Jounin and letting go of the sword to arc its back and deliver a jab around the man's armpit, and then his collarbone. The Jounin's eyes bulged and he grunted, both in frustration and in pain, and his snarl deepened, his eyes got wider, and his face continued to contort. The legs released themselves, and the clone tried to land a vicious kick to the Jounin's injured side, but the enemy shinobi blocked with another massive arm before using the sword it grabbed to slice the clone in half before it disappeared.
"Where are you, you brat!"
"What makes you think you're worth my time?" Hatake's voice filtered from somewhere; again Iruka could not determine the direction. It was working, the shinobi was getting more and more angry, and soon he would be so irate he wouldn't realize he was fighting the real Hatake, and the ANBU would have his chance to strike. It was just as the teen had said in his lecture a year ago; it was written all over the ninja's face.
Iruka's only worry was all the chakra the teen was using; if he passed out from summoning a dog, did he really have enough strength keep making clones?
"Arrogant son of a bitch," the Jounin spat. If he was expectorating while he talked, it meant it was almost time for Hatake to strike. "Where the hell are you hid..." the man stopped short, his head swiveling around and glaring at Iruka.
"Oh, that is clever," the Jounin said, his stance and his face relaxing. The signal flare extinguished, plunging everything into darkness and leaving Iruka's vision to again adjust to the night. "To put yourself under a henge to make me think you were that hapless brat from earlier." He took an impressive step toward the ten-year-old. The earth seemed to tremble under the heavy feet, and Iruka's body refused to move, none of his muscles were responding to his brain, he could only tilt his head to stare up at the giant silhouette that was engulfing him. He didn't remember the Jounin ever being this big.
Oh, god. He was going to die.
The Jounin cracked his knuckles; his arms impressive even in silhouette, and thrust forward to grab the boy.
Only, Hatake was suddenly there, swinging his sword up with his comparatively thin arms. The Jounin caught the sword again, and this time tightened his grip until the blade snapped in half, a horrifying sound to the boy's ears. Iruka heard the small gasp of surprise from the teen as another arm thrust forward, grabbing Hatake by the neck and lifting him into the air, the teen's legs swinging against the motion. Iruka could hear the ragged breathing, see a small sheen of sweat in the poor light, could feel the heat radiating off the teen.
"You're sick? You're sick??" The Jounin seemed even more furious than before, shaking Hatake in his massive grip. He was spitting again. "You mean eight elite Jounin chase you for a week, you picking them off one by one, trapping and killing and avoiding us, making us look like damn academy students, and you're sick?"
"Sorry to disappoint," Hatake said, his voice hoarse. Iruka could only imagine what a strain the fight was putting on him. "But it wouldn't've been a challenge otherwise." He was clearly still baiting the man.
"You bastard!!" The hand that had snapped the sword lifted up and smashed into the teen's head, his lithe body spinning in the air before crashing into a tree trunk and limply falling to the ground. There was no puff of smoke; it wasn't a clone. Iruka could see the body twitching, the teen struggling to get up, refusing to give in and admit defeat.
"I'll kill you with my best jutsu!!"
The Jounin started making hand seals, and Iruka could see the chakra building and concentrating in the man's fists. He realized this was his chance; poor night vision or no, he could sense the chakra and the Jounin was at mid-range, the boy had a good chance of hitting him, especially now that he was completely distracted with Hatake. Pulling himself to his feet, he took a deep breath, centered himself, and focused on his target. He remembered everything he had learned at the academy, and threw four shuriken; one for his neck, one for his injured side, and one for each of his hands, since the Jounin seemed to favor using them when he fought.
The shinobi sensed the attack, however, and turned to block the shuriken. He couldn't do it completely, one, possibly two of the weapons embedding themselves into his body somewhere - with the chakra dispersed Iruka could not tell where. The big man grunted with the impact, and even in the dim light Iruka could see his eyes were still bulging.
"Do you want to die that badly, brat!!" he shouted. He was out of control now, this was what Hatake had wanted to begin with and now he was unable to finish the Jounin off. The plan had worked, only the ANBU teen was in no condition to do what he needed. Having said that, though, Hatake leapt onto the Jounin's back and thrust a kunai downward, deep into the man's shoulder, just above the collarbone at the base of the neck. There was a guttural cry of pain, and a powerful arm grabbed the teen and threw him off, Iruka only having time to register it had happened before the ANBU crashed into him. He was completely limp, and Iruka knew this was it. That had been the last bit of energy in the teen and the only chance they had. Even ninja had limits, and Hatake's body had finally refused to comply with his will.
Come on, come on, think! Think of something! Anything!
Iruka frantically tried to pull himself out from under Hatake. The teen was shaking almost violently, his body radiating the heat of his fever and the fight combined. A shaft of moonlight lit his face, and Iruka could see both the boy's eyes, one dark and the other scarred; they were spinning wildly, looking around without focus, without really seeing.
The enemy Jounin sneered at the sight as Iruka frantically spun his head around, looking for one of the traps to trigger, or a place to drag the near-unconscious teen to hide. The shinobi's stance was relaxed and confident, if not quite painless, and he walked up to the two as if he had all the time in the world. With a belabored grunt, he yanked out the kunai that had come so close to killing him. His dark face hardened in the moonlight.
"I have seven men and my personal humiliation to rip out of you," the Jounin said darkly. A bloody fist reached down and grabbed a limp Hatake by the silver hair, lifting him up into the air. "I wonder what I should rip off first. A finger? Your tongue?"
"... hard to do..." the teen's voice was barely a whisper, but even in that Iruka could hear the confidence. "... when... you're dead..."
"Flippant to the last, I see," the Jounin sneered. "If you think you can possibly kill me now you must be in a fever dream."
"... already... did..."
And, the Jounin's face slackened with surprise, pure surprise, as his body suddenly became rigid. There was an odd choking noise, and Iruka had to move quickly to catch Hatake as the enemy ninja dropped him, a jerky movement as he put a hand to the base of his neck, where the kunai had been. Iruka couldn't quite believe what was happening, he watched in unguarded shock as the Jounin's silhouette continued to jerk and spasm. A small corner of his mind was aware of the teen in his grip, and he hunched over the fevered body. It was stupid to think a kid of his size could offer any protection against whatever the hell was happening, but Iruka did it anyway.
Finally, though, the Jounin's choking body toppled over, still twitching, and Iruka began to realize what had transpired: the kunai had been poisoned.
And, thus, the fight was over. Just like that. Young Iruka didn't quite believe it.
Then, just to confuse the boy further, he felt Hatake's body completely relax.
"... late... sen... sei..."
A new voice gave a soft chuckle. "You know me," it said lightly. Another silhouette appeared, this one of a tall man, dressed in a flowing jacket of some kind, if Iruka could judge at all. He dimly wished for another signal flare; could everyone see in the dark?
"I see I'm as late as the proverbial cavalry, and that you've once again handled everything." The newcomer's head tilted, moonlight only giving the hint of pale hair, like Hatake's, and hints of a round face. "Oh, you must be Umino Iruka-kun. You've had your parents quite worried you know. They've been in my office for the last hour demanding I look for you personally."
With the teen's relaxed body as the tip off that things were safe, Iruka took the opportunity to flush harder than he ever had before, furious at himself for causing his parents so much worry and being stupid enough to think he was going to die. Hatake was ANBU, surely he should have known everything would work out! Stupid, stupid, stupid!
"Let's get the two of you to a hospital, shall we? Iruka-kun, get on my back." The boy mutely complied; completely overwhelmed. He wrapped his arms tightly around the man's neck as he gently picked up his student. "Hold on tight, now," he said brightly. "I've been told I'm pretty fast."
There was a sudden wooshing sensation, and a breathless Iruka's eyes stung with the sudden swell of real and proper light. After they'd adjusted, he saw just who he was clinging to, and he flushed again. Hatake's sensei was none other than the Yondaime!! And he was disrespectfully hanging on to the fourth Hokage like... like... the horror!
The blond man seemed to sense Iruka's growing panic and gave him a brief, winning smile of reassurance, before turning and calling out to one of the startled doctors. "Excuse me," he'd said, "but I think I have a few patients for you."
Iruka hadn't even realized he'd been injured until a doctor put a hand on his head and came away with blood. He blinked, putting his own hand to his head to confirm the injury, and for the life of him he couldn't remember ever getting it. Fortunately, it was a simple patch job, the doctor said, and after putting something on it that made it sting horribly - evil doctor! - a gauze patch was placed on it and taped to his forehead. Yondaime stayed with the boy throughout, his smile having never disappeared, and when the doctor left he walked over and put a strong hand on the boy's head.
"You were very brave today," he said brightly. He looked to the door. "Aha," he added, another grin tugging on his face, "I think there are two people here who are going to kill you." Standing, he slid open a door, and Iruka saw his two most favorite faces in the world.
It was one big jumble of hugs and kisses and happy tears after that.
"Iruka-kun," the Yondaime said gently after enough time had passed, "I think your parents would like to know what happened. I would, too, if you don't mind."
It was all the prodding Iruka needed as he launched into an excited explanation of how it all had started, the kids and the stupid teacher and his less than brilliant idea of getting away from it all until his parents came home (he was bright red when he got to that part), how something fell on him and when he realized it was a Konoha ninja that he had to help him, he explained how snooty and arrogant Hatake was - making the Yondaime grin knowingly several times - of how they found a hiding place and set up the traps, what he did to make the teen comfortable after he'd summoned a dog named Pakkun, how he'd dozed off and not realized it and how the Jounin had punched through the root system to grab them, how Hatake tried to wear down the shinobi and keep himself at a distance until Iruka had been in danger, how he'd thrown the shuriken and thought that he might have hit the Jounin, of the teen's defiant last strike and flippant remarks to the Jounin's final collapse.
"Well, well," the Yondaime said to Iruka's parents, "I should congratulate you two for raising such a level headed son. He just successfully survived his first S-ranked mission."
The entire Umino family gaped. What??
"Suffice it to say, he has a lot of potential," the blond continued. "He kept his head, he thought quickly, and acted really well, under the circumstances; oh, and he has excellent aim with shuriken, severed a ligament in the enemy's wrist. Anyway, by now I'm sure he's learned his lesson about running away, and I won't impose on you any further. Besides, I have another patient to look in on."
Up until then, childish as it sounded, Iruka had completely forgotten about the teen, surrounded as he was by this parents and the impressive presence of the fourth Hokage. And, though Iruka later couldn't explain it to his parents, the memory made him think that Yondaime's smile was strained; had been strained since they came to the hospital.
"Wh-wait!" he found himself calling out. He squirmed out of his parents' grip and ran after the tall blond. "Hatake-sensei... senpai... whatever he wants to be called. Is he okay? Will he be okay?"
The smile was forced; Iruka was convinced of it now, the physiognomy lessons Hatake had given a year ago coming again into play. Yondaime crouched down. "I'm sure he will be," he said, his voice gentle and reassuring.
"Could you..." Iruka flushed as he realized what he was asking, but he pressed forward anyway. "Could you let me know? Please?"
The surprise was genuine, spreading all the way to the man's very blue eyes, and a much more sincere and gentle smile graced the Yondaime's face. "I will," he said, patting the boy on his head before getting up from his crouch and turning to continue walking down the hall.
A week later, the kids were telling Iruka yet again that he was a liar, that there was no way that he could have survived an S-ranked mission because he was such a hack and a loser, when a certain dour-faced dog leapt down from the tree they were all sitting under and offered a folded piece of paper to Iruka. "Here you go, pup," he said, before jumping back up the tree and disappearing. Iruka unfolded the scrap of paper and looked at the scrawl, and then started grinning madly before he showed it to the other kids.
" 'Kakashi-sensei' is fine," it said, and the signature belonged to none other than Hatake Kakashi.
The kids never teased him about his ability again.
Author's Notes: It's odd how a random sentence you read while surfing can trigger entire fic ideas. There's a fic somewhere in the bowels of ff net where it has one measly little chapter about a teenage Kakashi who runs into and has a conversation with a very young Iruka. It's entirely superfulous to the story, had nothing to do with anything, but BAM, this fic knocked on my head that night. I'm not competely happy with it, the fic seems to drag during the fight (of all places, you'd think THAT at least ould be fast paced) and when Yondaime shows up, but most of it works. I tried really hard to have Iruka as a kid without training, but hints of being a decent ninja in the future, while Kakashi is, as always, near god-like in his effeciency and ability to work with near nothing and still come out on top.
Kuddos to Mirror for encouraging me to write this when it was just a silly idea in my head, and for letting me pick her brain digging for compliments and comments on how it was going. It's rare for either of us to actually "edit" something, but the last six pages or so underwent just that, so you can thank her for the much improved fight. Aneeue-sama sugoi no da!
Let us know what you think!