Authoress: I'm on a roll today, so I decided to start a whole new chapter/story…doubt I'll finish it tonight, but, hey, a girl can try, ne? Alright, for those of you who may have just thought this story sounded interesting, 'Scars Fade' is PART TWO to a story I've been working on for some time – 'Underneath the Scars' – which you would need to read in order to understand some aspects of this plotline. Since the fic was turning into a looooong story, I decided to split the story into two parts, so here I am with the second half (and hopefully, it'll be half and not the second of a trilogy or, worse, an outright saga…-.-;;) to the much-loved story of Kakashi being (as usual – in my fics, at least) an idiot and Iruka being a bit naïve…
Disclaimer: …if I owned Naruto would I need to put this disclaimer in every time? /sniffles/
Kakashi let out a sigh as he watched his charge meditate. The teen's red hair was the only thing he could see from this distance, his pale skin and equally pale clothing blending into the sand around him, but the jounin knew better than to get any closer, lest the recently-elected Kazekage detect his presence. Gaara had called Kakashi his 'babysitter' more than once and knowing that the jounin was watching over him constantly annoyed the teen quite a bit – and an angry Gaara, Kakashi quickly learned, was a frightening (and sometimes painful) thing. He bit back a chuckle, remembering the last time the teen had turned on him and caught him in a sand trap. If it hadn't been for the humanity everyone was trying to beat into his head, Gaara might have actually succeeded in killing him. Instead, however, Gaara controlled his bloodthirsty tendencies and eventually released his hold on the jounin.
Rubbing his shoulder, which still ached from that particular encounter, Kakashi studied the teen's figure. In the past few months, Gaara had lost a bit of weight, but everyone assumed it to be caused by the stress that went along with the teen's position. Only Kakashi and Gaara's siblings knew the real reason – he was trying to force himself to eat normal, human food. No longer did Gaara feed the demon inside him with helpless people or whatever animals he could find. Gaara had actually confided in him once, saying that he'd rather starve both himself and the demon he contained than kill another creature so savagely. Smiling at the noticeable change being Kazekage brought about in the redhead, Kakashi recalled his own teenage years. He knew he wouldn't have had the strength – or the willpower – Gaara had shown thus far at the boy's age. He probably would have slaughtered a few of Gaara's more annoying advisors if he had been in Gaara's place.
Sighing again as the old pang of guilt swept over him, Kakashi looked away from the teen. At times like this, Kakashi couldn't help but see himself in the young redhead. Though Gaara didn't choose to be the pariah some still viewed him as, people tended to stay away from him. Even will all the changes he was making in both the village and himself, people still mistrusted their new leader. You could see it in their lowered gaze as their Kazekage walked by, flanked by bodyguards, advisors, and other people Gaara had called 'unnecessary lumps of flesh' more than once. Kakashi knew Gaara could feel their barely contained hatred and distrust, but the boy did his best to not show the hurt he obviously felt. He never said out loud why he ran away to the desert on nights like this, but most of those visits happened whenever something happened in the village or when someone – on accident – openly showed their anger towards the boy. Not only was Gaara a demon container, and thus evil, in most minds, but he was just a child and would certainly be a puppet to his advisors. Kakashi bit back a chuckle. Anyone who knew Gaara knew that the idea of him being a figurehead was impossible. Since his inauguration, Gaara had forced his advisors to tutor him in their areas of expertise so that he would be able to make important decisions on his own. Sliding off his perch on a boulder, Kakashi slowly approached the teen who had become an adult seemingly overnight. As he made sure that his chakra wasn't cloaked at all - something that would put Gaara on edge - Kakashi walked towards the young man and, once he was close enough to make out all the teen's features, sat down in the sand, which was still warm despite the drop in temperature that came with the fall of night.
At this close of a distance, Kakashi could see the stress lines across the teen's face that had been deepening since Gaara was named Kazekage. Even with his eyes closed, Gaara seemed to be looking for something. Whatever it was, Kakashi knew it was inside the boy – most likely having something to do with the demon he was trying to control. The frightening, demonic creature that Gaara was mere months ago was gone, replaced by a calm, quiet teen who wanted nothing more than to protect his village. At the chuunin exams, Gaara looked like the pre-teen he was, but now his responsibilities were weighing on him to the point of having physical affects. If it was possible, he looked older than his two siblings by several years. Though his body was still small, his eyes revealed what Kakashi had heard people call an 'old soul.' The boy's haunting green eyes seemed to be ancient, but at the same time terribly immature, as he looked to the jounin for advice on whatever was bothering him. The first time Gaara came to him, it was to ask about 'certain feelings' that he said he would rather not discuss with his siblings. Kakashi smiled at the memory of Gaara blushing as he admitted his puppy love towards a certain Hyuuga Branch Family member that he had only seen at the chuunin exams. After that particular conversation, Gaara knew Kakashi wouldn't laugh at him (though it took every fiber of Kakashi's being not to squeal when Gaara came to him with his crush) if he needed someone to simply talk to.
After a few minutes of sitting near the boy, Kakashi coughed in order to get Gaara's attention. The teen opened one eye and focused his gaze on the jounin. "You should be sleeping, Kakashi-san," Gaara said softly as he opened his other sea-green eye. Hearing the disapproving tone in the boy's voice, Kakashi looked up at the sky and was surprised to see that the soft pinks of dawn were starting to peak out from over the horizon. It wasn't often that he sat up all night, watching the teen, but there were some nights that he couldn't sleep and watching the insomniac somehow settled his own nerves.
"Maa…you should stay in the palace where your bodyguards can protect you," Kakashi pointed out as he ran his fingers through the sand by his leg. Before coming to Suna, Kakashi always thought of sand as just bothersome in that, despite one's best efforts, it got everywhere. Now, however, he found the warm gravel soothing, whether he played with it in his hands or laid back in it to rest in the warmth of the sun.
"Kakashi-san…you've been here six months, but you've never requested a leave to return to Konoha…why?" Gaara asked as he eyed the jounin curiously. The teen had received a letter from Tsunade during the night, which was why he had come out to the desert to find a place to think. The Hokage had told him about an upcoming jounin test that she would appreciate his presence at. At first, Gaara wondered why the woman would like to have the leader of another village come watch how they chose their jounin, but it only took a few minutes of thinking to realize the reason had been watching him for the past few hours. The jounin sitting now sitting in front of him was the reason for Tsunade's invitation – she wanted Gaara to come to Konoha so Kakashi, as one of his bodyguards, would have to follow him. Gaara studied the jounin for a moment, wondering what it would be like to live away from his own village for such an extended period of time. Though, at times, he couldn't stand his siblings, he knew he would begin missing their presence after a few weeks of living in a strange place. Kakashi, too, showed that his new life in Suna was taking a toll on him. In the months that Kakashi had been in the desert, the jounin, much like the redhead, had changed. His once deathly-pale skin had been bronzed by his days of walking with Gaara through the desert and his eye no longer held that painful sadness that he had arrived with. Those changes weren't bad in Gaara's mind, but it was the other changes in Kakashi that had begun to worry him as of late. The jounin, like Gaara, was becoming thinner despite Temari's best efforts to stuff the poor jounin. Instead of losing baby fat like the Kazekage, Kakashi was losing the muscle mass that had once defined him as one of Konoha's most powerful shinobi. Gaara wasn't one to generalize things, but he couldn't think of any other way to describe Kakashi except that he was wasting away.
"I made a promise to stay until Suna was stable, Gaara-sama," Kakashi replied as he looked down at his hands. Studying the sand around him, Kakashi recalled Tsunade's request – which was more of a demand, which he was only too happy to go along with. I just had to leave…Kakashi thought to himself as he looked back up at the silent teen. The look in Gaara's eyes reminded him of a certain blonde when he had that concerned expression on his face. Few people knew Gaara could even feel concern, but Kakashi knew that the teen was, deep down, a worry-wart. Thinking about that blue-eyed idiot made Kakashi's chest ache in a way he thought he would never feel again. It had been a full six months since he had heard anything about the teen and his sannin/novelist sensei. Kakashi took a deep breath when he reminded himself it would be at least another two years before Naruto and Jiraiya even thought about returning home. Months ago, when that brat and Sasuke were still living in Konoha, he never thought he could miss the two teens, but since leaving Konoha, he had become increasingly aware of characteristics in others that reminded him of those two, along with their pink-haired teammate.
"We are more stable than we have been in years," Gaara pointed out knowingly. He had received a letter from Tsunade shortly after Kakashi had arrived, announcing his position as a diplomat. She had outlined her reasons behind sending the jounin, but had withheld some things. Gaara studied the man, trying to figure out what Kakashi could have done to the man he loved in order to destroy their relationship so much that he had to go to another whole hidden village in order to escape his own feelings. Tsunade had also written that, though Kakashi was obviously pained by what he had done, his lover had to have his mind erased of any memory of their relationship in order to cope with Kakashi's actions. Gaara knew that, at times, he could be positively evil, but he couldn't imagine harming either of his siblings or those who meant anything to him – especially as badly as Kakashi had hurt his lover. "I am leaving for Konoha in a month. I have been invited to watch the jounin exams and I think it would be a good time for you to go home and rest for a little while."
Gaara was surprised when he saw the pain (and fear?) flash through the jounin's visible eye at the mention of going to Konoha. "I-I can't…" Kakashi replied quietly. "I'll stay in Suna and make sure the council follows your orders while you are gone…"
"Oh, no…Tsunade has requested your presence back in Konoha. She said something about needing a jounin tester for the exam…" Gaara lied seamlessly, inwardly smirking when he remembered he had actually volunteered Kakashi for the job. He hadn't even been interested in going to the testing itself until he recalled the rumor that Kakashi's ex-lover was going to be in it – which was another reason he, without running his idea by Tsunade, entered Kakashi in as a proctor. He didn't have to speak it over with the Hokage to know she agreed that it was about time Kakashi started to mend things with his lover.
"I…I can't go…" Kakashi admitted as he looked up at the Kazekage. He will be in Konoha…I…I don't think I'm ready to see him yet…Kakashi thought while simultaneously berating himself for being such a coward. "There are reasons you're too young to understand…I just can't go back…"
"If you're talking about your boyfriend, I already know," Gaara stated calmly, getting a sense of satisfaction when he saw the amazement and embarrassment in Kakashi's face. "Tsunade informed me when you first came here…it is about time you two discuss things like adults…"
"You knew this whole time?" Kakashi whispered, watching as the boy nodded his head. And he still treated me like a normal person? I betrayed him and hurt him in the worst of ways…how could anyone forgive me for doing something like that? Kakashi thought to himself as he looked down at his hands – hands that had brought such pain to others. "I can't…he won't understand…"
"Do you love him, Kakashi?" Gaara asked, his voice softer than Kakashi had ever heard it before. In response, the jounin turned his head and started to get up; his body language screamed that Gaara had gone too far with his questions and crossed an invisible boundary. Before Kakashi had the chance to escape, Gaara quickly made a hand out of sand and used it to grab the jounin's arm. Kakashi tried to pull his arm away, but found himself being dragged closer to Gaara as the teen stood up to his full height, just barely reaching the jounin's chest. Kakashi was about to demand to be let go, but froze when Gaara brought a hand to touch his arm. With a strength that didn't seem possible given his small form, the Kazekage grabbed the loose-fitting uniform Kakashi had become attached to since coming to Suna and wrenched it away from the silver-haired man. Kakashi tried to grab for his robes as they began to slide off his shoulders, but discovered that Gaara had created another hand out of sand and had pinned him without the jounin even noticing. The boy had obviously learned a great deal about stealth from his daily lessons with Kakashi.
As the material fell to the ground, Gaara took a step back and studied the near-nude shinobi in front of him. He had to suck in a breath of air when he got a good look at the man. Though it was obvious Kakashi was losing weight, Gaara hadn't believed it to be so serious. Each of the jounin's ribs were visible, his collar bones jutting out more than they should on a healthy person and even his arms and legs revealed how bad his condition was becoming. Looking closely at the jounin's arms, Gaara saw something that he immediately regretted not noticing sooner. Using his sand, Gaara forced Kakashi to turn his arms outward so the teen could see the insides of his forearms. The teen traced the darker of the horizontal marks, his eyes taking in the sheer number and varying shades of the scars.
"Is this what you want, Kakashi-san?" Gaara asked quietly as he touched the sole mark that was the most noticeable of all because of its scarlet color. He gestured towards the rest of Kakashi's body as he slowly released the jounin. Kakashi immediately dropped to the ground to pick up his uniform, but hesitated to put it back on. Instead, as he stood back up, the jounin looked at the young man in front of him. "You're stronger than this…" Gaara took a step away from Kakashi, but kept his eyes trained on Kakashi's masked face. "You are released from your diplomatic duties for a month…take this time to think about things and, when you return, I expect to see you ready to return to Konoha and healthy enough to participate in the jounin exams." Gaara didn't have to clearly state that he was demanding this of Kakashi – his tone was enough for the jounin to understand his meaning.
"Hai, Kazekage-sama," Kakashi replied, catching the teen's wince at his words. He hadn't called Gaara by his title since he had arrived months ago and his return to that name was an obvious statement that Gaara had abused his power as Kakashi's boss with his command.
"Kankuro, Temari, and the rest of my bodyguards will be at your disposal to train with, if you want," Gaara said softly, having to remind himself that this was for Kakashi's own good. The jounin couldn't just come to Suna and waste away to nothing…Gaara wouldn't give up on his favorite guard that easily. "I will also be honored to try my hand against the infamous Copy Cat Nin…"
"As you wish, Kazekage-sama," Kakashi answered and took his leave with a quick bow. Gaara watched as the jounin stalked off, his posture revealing the anger the man contained. Good…he's finally showing some emotion again…Gaara thought to himself, hoping that Kakashi might return to his old self if he was pushed into returning to his old life as one of the greatest shinobi Konoha had ever produced.
Iruka found himself panting for breath as Gai let out a cry of victory. The call was a little premature, Iruka knew, since the figure Gai was currently pummeling wasn't the chuunin. He leaned back against a tree, keeping all his chakra focused on holding his doppelganger despite Gai's powerful attack. It took all the energy and concentration he could muster to just keep his double from disappearing from the punches that would have left any normal person with broken bones. If that really was me, he could have killed me…Iruka thought to himself with a chuckle. Gai had to have known he was no longer fighting the brunette if he had let loose to such an extent. Then again, as of late, Gai had become increasingly energetic when sparring with the chuunin in some kind of attempt to prove he was still youthful. When the jounin finally finished his futile attack and jumped back, he began strutting back and forth proudly as he waited for Iruka's double to get back up. When the doppelganger disappeared with a splash of water, Gai squeaked and shot back to where his enemy had just laid, searching for the chuunin in the muddy puddle that still held the shape of a body.
"Gai-sensei…over here," Iruka called out, waving at the man as soon as Gai caught sight of him. Smiling sheepishly, Gai walked over to him. For a moment, Iruka glared at him, wondering how it was Gai wasn't out of breath after that display of power. Even with all of Mizutamari Mari's help, Iruka found himself lacking enough chakra to completely control his newest, and by far most difficult, jutsu. He looked down at his hands, which were shaking with exertion. This time he had been able to hold the jutsu for several minutes, which was his longest yet. But for the jutsu to be worth even using, Iruka knew he had to be able to hold it with ease for a long period of time. The skill's entire purpose was to give him – or someone else – time enough to catch their breath or even escape and a few minutes' head start wouldn't be enough.
"Iruka…that was such a youthful switch!! When?" Gai asked as he jogged the last few steps towards the chuunin. Iruka chuckled at Gai's question while inwardly wondering if all jounin thought so little of chakra that they didn't take the time to notice even the smallest changes in it.
"Never…I didn't fight at all," Iruka admitted with a smile as he showed the elite jounin his unmarred hands, revealing that he was speaking the truth. If he had actually fought with Gai, he would have the bruised knuckles and scrapes to prove it. The jounin whistled then outright laughed at his mistake. "Was it really that unnoticeable?" he asked, curious to know how good his jutsu was from a jounin's perspective.
"I thought I was youthfully fighting a spirited person like yourself, Iruka…I don't think anyone could tell the difference…not even Kakashi," Gai said with a chuckle. Iruka blinked at the mention of the jounin who had been in Suna for half a year. Despite the great feats the man was performing over in Suna as he helped their new Kazekage rebuild the once crumbling hidden village, hardly anyone spoke of him. Shaking the feeling that everyone was doing so purposely, Iruka faked a smile, hoping that the jounin wouldn't sense the unease the chuunin was starting to feel. Why would people act like Hatake-san didn't exist? Not even his best friend talks about him anymore. He wondered, a part of him becoming acutely aware of the jounin in front of him. Gai wasn't acting unusual – well, any different than normal – but there was something in the Green Beast's eyes that caught Iruka's attention. Something in those strange-looking orbs told Iruka Gai hadn't meant to mention Kakashi and had just realized his mistake.
Iruka bit back the question he was dying to ask – was Kakashi the person Mizutamari Mari had wiped from his mind? He knew that Gai – and anyone else he asked – would lie if he was right. Iruka also knew better than to go ask the silver-haired jounin himself; if everyone thought it was better for the brunette to not know what happened between them, he should trust their decision. A part of the chuunin, however, was curious to know what someone (and that someone, if his guess was right, was Hatake Kakashi) could have done to make such secrecy necessary. Another part of the teacher couldn't stand how everyone seemed to be walking on eggshells around him. Even Anko treated him like he would break at any moment.
"Ah, Anko!" Iruka shook himself from his thoughts when he heard Gai call out the kunoichi's name. Turning to follow Gai's gaze, Iruka caught a glimpse of the woman and the blonde teenager at her side. Ino was the first to wave at her old academy teacher and Iruka, in turn, couldn't help but smile at the two females. "And Ino-chan! What a youthful surprise!!" Gai bounded over to their visitors, picking up a mortified Ino in a swinging hug.
"Iruka…how did practice go?" Anko asked as she continued walking towards the chuunin, unfazed by Ino's cries of rape. Iruka took a last glimpse at Gai as he tightened his arms around the poor blonde to the point Ino couldn't take a deep enough breath to scream. Turning to look at the kunoichi mere feet from him, Iruka unconsciously smiled.
"Good…I just need to work on conserving more chakra…" Iruka replied as he took a step towards the smirking woman and, without warning, wrapped his arms around her and, much like his mentor did to the poor teen who was now running from Gai's embrace, lifted her into the air. Anko's immediate reaction was to try wiggling free, but gave up when Iruka, with his customary cuteness, lowered her down enough to kiss her on the tip of her small nose. Wrinkling her nose, the elite jounin couldn't help but smile as Iruka brought her down even lower and brushed his lips against hers. Even as innocent as the kiss was, Iruka's actions sent a shiver of pleasure down the jounin and, for a moment, Anko forgot where they were and who was watching as she returned the gentle pressure.
"GET A ROOM!!" Ino screeched before screaming something about her eyes being burned. Gai, on the other hand, yoshed before going into a soliloquy about the passions of youth. With that short speech, both shinobi lost all interest in continuing their embrace. As he lowered Anko back to the ground, Iruka snorted at Gai's impressive display of a sunset (how the jounin accomplished such feats, no one wanted to know). To spite the teen who was still making a gagging motion, Iruka gingerly kissed Anko's forehead before releasing his grip around her midsection. "Irukaaaaa...I'm never going to be able to get that image out of my head!!"
"Oi, I've seen you smooching that rotund boyfriend of yours!!" Anko retorted, mirroring Ino's childish expression by sticking her tongue out at the teen. "And that turned my stomach!! What would your mother say if she knew you two groped each other in public!?"
Anko laughed outright as she watched the teen's face turn an interesting shade of scarlet. Taking a step back so she was leaning against Iruka's well-defined chest, she waited for the imminent screech. "WE DO NOT GROPE!!" Ino cried as she stomped a foot on the soft ground. Iruka, caught unprepared, almost lost his balance as the ground beneath him shook with the force of the teen's kick. Reminding himself that Ino also trained with Sakura, Iruka wondered how powerful the pink-haired teen had become if her rival had to become this physically strong just so they could spar. The mere thought of Sakura's strength made the chuunin shiver. "Tell her, Irukaaaa!!"
Instead of following Ino's request, Iruka wrapped his arms around the woman leaning on him and chuckled. "Did you two try killing each other during your whole training session, or do you wait until I'm around to go after each other?" he whispered into Anko's sensitive ear. He could feel her body shiver and the chuunin smirked. Just the soft puffs of air he let out as he spoke were enough to make Anko's body erupt in goose bumps.
"Aunt Anko always tries to murder me!!" Ino retorted as she pointed accusingly at the kunoichi. "Today, she made me climb the Hokage monument without any ropes!! And I have three broken fingers from last week!" To prove her story, Ino help up a heavily bandaged hand, waving it around as she cried that her aunt was a sadist.
"If I wanted to kill you, gaki, you would have died months ago!" Anko retorted, good-naturedly. Iruka shook his head at the strange affection the two kunoichi displayed as they bounced threats back and forth. He had become used to the daily torture of hearing the two women think of new and creative ways to kill each other, so he could only sit back and listen to their new ideas. Since her father's funeral, Anko made an effort to get to know her niece, which had somehow turned into training the girl at least two to three times a week. In the past few months, those training sessions had started becoming more and more dangerous, but as Iruka looked at Ino, he knew Anko was doing the right thing. The girl hadn't simply learned and perfected shinobi abilities by studying with her aunt, but she had become more emotionally stable and now, with Anko's help, she had risen to the top of the genin group. The only people who could take the girl on were those like Sakura, Neji, and others who had been going through similar grueling training in order to become stronger.
Anko, too, had begun changing because of the time spent with her family. Though she and her sister were still on uncomfortable speaking terms, Anko had gotten to know her brother-in-law and, nowadays, admitted to adoring the quirky man. She also had been excited at the opportunity of training Ino (though she would never admit it to the teen). While Ino sought to get to know her infamous aunt and to become strong enough to be able to rival her friends, Anko taught the girl because of the potential she saw in her niece. She had told Iruka more than once that, given time, Ino would become the most powerful shinobi both her family and the Yamanaka clan had ever produced. Anko couldn't wait for the day Ino surpassed even her in skill and strength. Iruka smiled at the pair, knowing better than to interrupt as they went into a list of interesting tortures that dealt with chopsticks. Anko had become more easy-going since taking Ino on as her student. Before, people would have feared her threats, but Ino and Iruka could only laugh at the ideas Anko spouted nowadays. The woman had also become more open with her emotions. Iruka thought back on when they first started dating and how Anko had always dismissed a painful subject with a joke or by just plain ignoring it. Now, she actually talked to him about things that were annoying her.
"Alright, you two…" Iruka began, but was silenced by a look from his girlfriend. Anko glared at him a moment longer before going back to thinking of a comeback for Ino's inspired use of a carton of sour milk. Coming up with a blank, she turned to Iruka for inspiration, and then smirked when she thought of the end-all torture method.
Heh…beat this…she thought as she turned back to her niece. "I'll make Iruka give you the puppy face!!" Seeing Ino's face crumble, Anko let out a squeal of victory. Iruka, on the other hand, could only sigh as he, for reasons he would never understand, was used as the ultimate torture. "Haha!"
"That's cheating!! I…I'll make Chouji eat you!" Ino retorted as her aunt started laughing. Iruka raised an eyebrow at the girl's idea of a response to Anko's use of him in their game. He didn't think Chouji of all people would go against Anko. He had the feeling that, despite the fact Anko was forced to behave at family dinners, the poor boy was scared that his girlfriend's aunt would kill him in his sleep if given the chance.
"I hope he gets indigestion!" Anko snorted, resting her head against Iruka's collarbones. She could feel the chuunin sigh in exasperation behind her and the kunoichi knew that he was probably wondering about her sanity again.
How did Anko con me into dating her? Iruka wondered as he shook his head. The past six months with her had been aggravating at times, painful at others (especially when she brought him out drinking), but Iruka knew that he didn't regret what he did. With his and her family's help, Anko was turning into a human being and, perhaps one day, that would be enough to execute her plot that had sucked Iruka into dating her in the first place.
Ibiki better thank me for all this one day…Iruka thought to himself as he rested his chin on the top of Anko's head, tightening his arms around her. The thought of, one day, having to give up Anko made the chuunin hold her even closer. She was the only person – who he could remember – that he had such an open, yet intimate relationship with. Anko knew many of his darkest secrets, but Iruka had still kept those most terrifying deeply hidden. He knew that, though she cared for him, she would look at him differently if she ever met Mizutamari Mari face-to-face. So far, the kappa had followed Iruka's request and took a human form whenever the woman was around. The demon had also hidden his chakra, so Anko had no idea what kind of creature Iruka had trained with for so many years. Taking a deep breath, Iruka wondered why he knew that his jounin friends wouldn't be able to handle knowing where his unique abilities came from. Perhaps my forgotten memories and my abilities are connected…Iruka theorized, wondering what a jounin of Kakashi's standing would do if he was to discover Iruka's source of power. He surprised himself when he realized he knew exactly what the jounin would do – he wouldn't be able to trust the brunette and there was also a good chance that the Copy Cat Nin, and other elite jounin, would see him as a threat to the village.
Iruka pulled himself from his disturbing thoughts when he felt something akin to a gentle tug. It didn't originate from any particular area of his body, but seemed to come from all over. Having felt this same sensation many times in the past few months, Iruka felt his mood rise. His son was summoning him.
Anko, feeling a sudden change in her boyfriend, turned and saw the brilliant smile on his face. "I guess the brat wants to talk to you, ne?" she asked, knowing that Iruka wouldn't take offence for the 'brat' description. Since they began dating, Anko had had the chance of following Iruka when he was summoned by the blonde, so she had gotten to know the boy. He wasn't the idiot or monster everyone made him out to be. No, in the past few months, Anko learned that he was extremely powerful and even more perceptive than she originally thought. Naruto had surprised her on multiple occasions when he asked about whatever it was that was on her mind.
"He probably wants to ask for more of a ramen allowance," Iruka joked before brushing his lips against the top of her head. Slowly releasing the woman, Iruka stepped back and waved a quick goodbye to her before closing his eyes and bringing his hands together in a series of gestures that he knew the three shinobi watching him wouldn't recognize since they were demonic in origin, though none of the other shinobi knew that particular fact. Quickly focusing on where that all-encompassing tug was coming from, Iruka sensed his body shifting, following the source of the call.
In mere seconds, Iruka felt his body's warmth disappear, being replaced with a coldness that got the chuunin to shiver. Knowing better than to open his eyes and look at his watery surroundings before surfacing, Iruka kept his eyes securely shut, kicking upwards. As soon as he felt his body break the surface of the water, Iruka let out the breath he had been holding and opened his eyes. Wiping at the droplets of water that were beginning to bead down his face, Iruka looked around and saw that, as usual, his son was training in a forest.
Iruka slowly swam towards the rocky shore, but froze when he saw a certain sannin in the same body of water as him. Trying to stop himself from wishing that nudity, in Jiraiya's case, was illegal, Iruka coughed loud enough that the man would be able to hear him over his own off-tune humming. The novelist turned to the source of the sound and let out a screech that, Iruka swore, sounded more fitting for one of the teen girls whose high-pitched voices haunted him. Watching in amusement (and slight disgust) the man as he tried to cover himself, Iruka chuckled at his son's idea of a joke. It wasn't the first time Naruto called him just in order to startle his sannin sensei.
"NARUTO, I'M GOING TO KILL YOU!!" Jiraiya roared as he stomped towards the shore, already getting over the embarrassment of his nudity as he gave up trying to hide any part of his anatomy from the chuunin. Remembering why he was going to kill the boy, Jiraiya turned and looked at the chuunin who was following him to the shore. Momentarily watching in amazement, the man wondered how someone could dry himself so quickly. If he hadn't seen Iruka swimming moments ago, Jiraiya would wonder if the man had actually been in the water at all. The teacher and all of his clothes, as he emerged from the water and walked up to the shore, were just as dry as if he hadn't even been near the water, let alone swimming. Knowing it must have been some kind of jutsu that was connected to Iruka's unique abilities, Jiraiya wondered if such an ability could be taught. Not having to take the time to dry off would give Naruto less opportunity to play tricks on him. "Are you staying long, Iruka?" Jiraiya asked calmly as he finally reached the shore and his eye twitched as he surveyed the empty tree he had hung his clothes in. I will kill him before the first year is up…Jiraiya swore, hearing a chuckle come from the impossibly dry chuunin.
"DAAAAAD!!" Iruka got only that quick, and loud, warning before being thrown to the ground by a flash of yellow and orange. Laughing, the chuunin wrapped his arms around Naruto as the teen began telling him about his training so far. Of course, because of his excitement, Naruto was speaking so quickly, Iruka could only catch a few words. Of what he understood, the boy had already been able to control a good portion of the Kyuubi's chakra.
"That's wonderful," Iruka commented as Naruto smiled proudly. Taking the teen's features in, Iruka found himself hit by a wave of nostalgia. Even though he saw Naruto almost every month, he still missed the boy's energetic presence at home. "How long until you're done with your training?"
"At least two more years," Jiraiya replied as he walked over to the pair and tore his student off the chuunin. "And you…where did you hide my clothes this time?" In response, Naruto gave him one of his cheeky grins, but remained silent. Counting to ten in every language he knew, Jiraiya had to remind himself that murdering one's own student was considered bad no matter what country he was in. How Iruka and, later, Kakashi were able to not physically harm the blonde, he could only guess.
"Do you think you'll be able to come back next month for the jounin exams?" Iruka asked, directing his question at the sannin. Looking at the nude man – and keeping his gaze firmly planted on Jiraiya's face – Iruka watched as the man took on a thoughtful expression.
"We could only stay for a few days, at most, but I think it's possible," Jiraiya finally replied, looking at his pupil. The boy had surprised him with how quickly he was learning, so the sannin thought a vacation wouldn't harm their overall schedule. If anything, seeing the jounin exams would encourage Naruto to work even harder so that, one day, he could take those same tests.
"YOSH!" Naruto jumped off Iruka, pumping a fist into the air and, for a moment, Iruka wondered if the boy had spent any time with Gai. The similarity in his actions was positively eerie. Smiling, he ignored the thought and watched as Naruto bounced around, jabbering about what he would do when he was in Konoha. Most things went along the lines of eating at Ichiraku's, but Iruka didn't mind. He hadn't eaten much of the wonderful ramen since Naruto left – Anko demanded he eat 'normal' food most nights, so Iruka found himself sneaking away from the woman's watchful eye in order to have his favorite food once every few weeks. "Wait…the test is in a few weeks!?"
Iruka and Jiraiya stared at the boy, wondering how he was able to freeze in place – mid-jump no less – and ask such a random question. "Un…I should be getting all information on the tests in the next few days so I can get ready…" Iruka replied, barely able to hide his curiosity.
"Wow…we have been gone for a while, ne?" Naruto admitted, scratching the back of his head sheepishly. "I didn't know we had been training for so long…" Iruka sighed in exasperation, hoping that, one day, Naruto would be able to keep his dates straight. If not, the chuunin knew he would either have to worry about the boy or make sure Naruto's teammates or lover would be able to do so for him. "What's the test going to be like?"
"It's very similar to the chuunin exam…a written exam, a physical part that tests your endurance and shinobi skills. The last part is what fails…or kills the most chuunin – an all out battle between a jounin candidate and several jounin selected by the council of elders. Anything and everything is allowed in the battle and lethal force is a requirement. No one is expected to defeat all the elite jounin they're pitted against, but those whose abilities impress the jounin they fight against and the Hokage are passed," Jiraiya stated, getting odd looks from both his student and the brunette. Raising an eyebrow, Jiraiya looked at the two for a moment, and then remembered that the structure of the jounin exam was supposed to be a mystery to those who hadn't taken the test at least once. The only people who were allowed in to watch the exams were those who had already gone through the grueling testing, but there were those special cases (and those who snuck in) that were below jounin level and still saw the exam. Sighing, he knew he would have to beg Tsunade to let Naruto in to see the jounin exam.
"Several jounin?! That's suicide!" Naruto eeped as he looked to Iruka in concern. He knew Iruka was powerful, but he had also seen what jounin like Anko and Kakashi could do. It was understandable he feared for his father's safety. "That's not fair!" he cried as he clung to the brunette. Naruto knew he would do anything to protect his father, especially from the kind of injury that such a battle would no doubt deal him. "You can't fight a bunch of jounin!!"
Iruka ignored the pleading tone in his son's voice, knowing that if he, even for a moment, let his will waiver; he would end up letting the overprotective blonde talk him out of taking the exams. Tightening his grip on the teen, Iruka sighed. "I'll be fine, Naruto…I have been training with Mizutamari Mari and Gai for the past few months…" He didn't have to say anything about his fears. From the understanding in his son's eyes as the blonde looked up, Naruto knew exactly why Iruka was so close to backing out of the exam. If anything happened during the exam that forced Iruka to openly use his unique abilities, the secret Iruka had been hiding for so many years would be discovered. Whatever Mizutmari Mari wiped from my memory would happen again…Iruka thought to himself, deciding that such an event must have been what everyone was trying to protect him from. If a jounin like Hatake Kakashi found out about him, it was no wonder the man was all but thrown out of the village and Iruka's memories wiped so that he wouldn't recall what kind of danger he was in. Is that what everyone is trying to hide? That a jounin I hardly know doesn't trust me and that he could reveal my abilities to everyone? Iruka wondered. The main idea of his theory felt right, but he could feel that there was something else…something far more dangerous, more painful than simple mistrust and hatred.
"Are you sure, Dad?" Naruto asked quietly, searching Iruka's doe eyes for any sign that the chuunin was worried for his own safety. Though there was a questioning look to Iruka's gaze, Naruto had the feeling that it had nothing to do with the upcoming jounin exam. Maybe Mizutamari Mari was right when he said that Iruka wouldn't give up trying to remember Kakashi…Naruto thought to himself, recalling his last late-night discussion with the scaly creature. The demon had popped in every now and again when Jiraiya was far from camp and gave Naruto a detailed report on how Iruka was doing. As of late, the kappa was hinting more and more about his concerns for Iruka's sanity. He said Iruka knows he forgot something…but how could he not remember Kakashi? Naruto wondered to himself, his heart aching with the idea of forgetting the one person he had similar feelings for. He couldn't help but mentally cry that there was no way he could ever forget Sasuke. The boy was so much a part of his life – the main reason he was training now – that Naruto couldn't imagine having a gaping hole where memories of Sasuke had once been. Not recalling how Sasuke mocked him daily or how the boy blew him off most times. Not being able to remember their first 'accidental' kiss or how he and Sasuke had finally started to train together as rivaling teammates when they were still Kakashi's students. The sound of Sasuke's deep voice, the way he called Naruto 'dobe' with familiarity and an odd sense of friendship, his distinct, smoky scent, or how his extremely rare smiles were far more radiant that even Naruto's happiest ramen-grins. No, Naruto couldn't imagine what it would be like to forget all that. There would have to be something – a place, a person, even a sound or smell that would constantly remind him he was forgetting one of the most important people in his life. Is that what it's like for Iruka? That he's constantly reminded of someone, but he can't remember who? Naruto asked himself, wondering how it was Iruka was still sane. After a few days of such torture, Naruto knew he would be a little crazier than usual, but Iruka had already dealt with this for six months.
"Don't worry, Naruto…I'll be fine," Iruka replied, knowing better than to ask the boy why his eyes were starting have a glimmering, watery look. Naruto would just screech that he wasn't crying as he wiped his face. The boy's wet eyes, Iruka knew, weren't due to the idea Iruka had a chance of dying – Naruto knew how powerful, and how protected, Iruka was – but something else. Iruka had the feeling it had something to do with who he had been thinking about – the jounin who no one mentioned around him, the man who had been all but exiled from the village, the person who Iruka couldn't remember bumping into since the beginning of the chuunin exams last year. Even though Konohagure was a massive village, Iruka had seen Hatake Kakashi quite often in the missions office…but, then all of a sudden, those visits to hand in reports or get new missions stopped. Why you, Hatake-san? Iruka wondered as he smiled reassuringly to his son. What did you do to me?
Leaning back against the cool rock behind him, Gaara momentarily looked up at the sky long enough to figure out that it was about noon before looking back down at his favorite bodyguard. Kakashi had been training without a break since sunrise two days ago. Gaara had heard that the jounin community had a level of endurance that was astounding, but this was insane. The jounin – even though he was so out of shape – was able to train with such energy that the small oasis he started out in was decimated. A few slivers of wood blew past Gaara on a welcome, cooling breeze. So far today, it had been cool – for desert temperatures – but Gaara found himself sweating as he merely sat and watched the jounin train against several dopplegangers that seemed to be out for blood. He had watched Kakashi's first day of training from a distance and Kankuro had taken his place of vigil yesterday morning when Gaara realized the jounin wasn't stopping any time soon. As soon as the several meetings he had to attend were over, Gaara had raced to take his position back from his brother and was stunned into silence when he saw Kakashi still going strong. Kankuro could only whisper that the man hadn't taken a single break the whole time he had been there. Gaara had heard awe and worship in his brother's voice, which made him smile now. At first, Kankuro had pinned Kakashi as an idiot-savant, then after a few weeks, said he was a depressing person who was nothing compared to the stories he had heard about the Copy Cat Nin. Now that Kankuro had seen Kakashi train out of shape, he fully approved of Tsunade's idea of a bodyguard for his little brother. If Gaara wasn't mistaken, his brother was slightly in love with the man. Then again, it was hard not to find Kakashi attractive. In his first day of training, Kakashi had shed his robes in favor of less cumbersome materials that were similar to the uniforms in Konoha. This material, too, was removed in yesterday's afternoon heat as Kakashi (according to Kankuro) started a new style of fighting that was unfamiliar to the Puppet Master.
Even though it was only a few days ago that Gaara had seen the man's starved, skeletal body, Gaara could already see the muscle returning underneath the sheen of sweat on dark bronze skin. If nothing else, the jounin looked healthier simply because he had lost his shocking tan lines and was now, all over, a shade that would make most Suna citizens jealous. Wondering momentarily how it was Kakashi had yet to burn like a crisp, Gaara studied the man in search of any hint of pink, but found none. The jounin looked perfectly fine – though still a little skinny – but Gaara knew that Temari was already preparing feasts back at the palace for whenever Kakashi finally decided to call it a day – or several days.
Catching a glimpse that didn't seem to fit with the rest of the jounin's fluid form, Gaara focused his full attention on the silver-haired man and saw him falter again. Even before Kakashi's knees began collapsing, Gaara was at his side, holding him up. Seeing Kakashi this close, Gaara made out something that he hadn't realized from a distance – the man's face was uncovered. He was so used to seeing the dark mask covering up his guard's lower face that he hadn't even thought to look for its absence as he watched the rest of the man move with a grace and strength he had never seen before.
"I thought you had important meetings today, Gaara-sama," Kakashi said hoarsely, his voice wavering as he took shaky breaths. Gaara sighed as he studied Kakashi's face – understanding what his brother's blush yesterday was for. He had thought it was the heat getting to the teen, but Kankuro must have been there when Kakashi took off his mask, so would have seen the jounin's face. Finding his own heart pounding slightly, Gaara had to look away from the jounin's handsome face as he thought about Kakashi's question.
"That was yesterday," Gaara replied, his lips turning up in the barest of smiles when he realized Kakashi had reverted to his friendlier title for the Kazekage. From that, Gaara guessed Kakashi wasn't so angry with him anymore. "You've been training for over two days straight, Kakashi-san."
"Really?" Kakashi asked, surprise in his cracking voice. Chuckling as he thought back at his training, Kakashi realized that he must have been in an extremely deep meditative state to lose track of time so badly – as well as to not realize the redhead was watching him. Blinking, his eyes momentarily blinded by the bright light, Kakashi looked around. Having had his eyes closed while meditating and training, he found himself unaccustomed to the bright light of the desert. Kakashi felt tears come to his sensitive eyes as he looked around the dunes of sand and scattered debris where he recalled a small oasis being when he started training.
"We should go back to the palace. You need to eat and rest, then you can continue your training," Gaara said softly, his eyes trailing over the rest of the jounin and he felt a pang of guilt when he could, now, tell Kakashi's skin wasn't merely dark from the sun, but burnt to the point it looked tanned from a distance. "And perhaps a few medic-nins can look at you…"
"Medics first…" Kakashi whispered as he looked down and caught a glimpse of his dark chest. He couldn't feel the burning or tight sensations that he knew should come with sunburns, which got him even more worried as he studied his deep bronze skin. If it had been a color achieved over months of tanning, Kakashi knew he would be proud of himself – he had never been able to tan back in Konoha…he only burned, but the sunlight here must be different, since he had tanned from his first day in Suna. Chuckling to himself, Kakashi wondered how many jounin back in Konoha would recognize their now crispy comrade. Everyone described him as being the same shade as a marshmallow, which Kakashi knew better than to dispute. Most people only saw the skin that saw light of day (and was ever so slightly tanned in comparison to his natural skin color).
"Only if you stay indoors for training from now on. You have seen enough sunlight for some time," Gaara replied with a quiet chuckle. Kakashi nodded his head as he returned the chuckle – it was the first time Gaara had ever heard him laugh so freely, so he was slightly taken aback. It wasn't simply the sound of the man's laugh, but that, when he glanced over at Kakashi, he caught a glimpse of deep indents on the man's cheeks.
As he all but carried the heavy man back to the palace, Gaara discovered it was much easier to talk to Kakashi when the man didn't have his mask on. That, and Kakashi seemed to be slightly delirious from exhaustion, hunger, thirst, or sun poisoning. Gaara had a feeling it was a mixture of all four when Kakashi let out a giggle that seemed more fitting for that girl from Konoha whose hair reminded him of bubble-gum.
Authoress: Okay, since this is only a prologue and meant to catch us up on what happened on the time jump between Underneath the Scars and the beginning of Scars Fade, I'll stop here, but you can bet your Yaoi-lovin' bottoms that future chapters will be longer!! So, anyways, I know this chapter was a bit…off…especially Gaara being so OOC, but you have to remember…the poor guy's just a kid and he's already Kazekage…he needs someone to let off some steam on (AKA Kakashi) and, much like Gaara, Kakashi will find someone to talk to in his redheaded (in future chapters (hint hint))…so, until next time, I hope everyone enjoyed the chapter and, please, please /gives cute puppy eyes/ review!! I have an idea of what will happen in future chapters, but it is you, my wonderful reviewers who give me the ideas (or the okay to put in what I want…kuku…) /smiles sheepishly/…so, again, thank you for reading both Underneath the Scars and, now, Scars Fade!! YOOOSH!!