The Fox and the Hound

Missing Moment: Age 12

Author Note: Okay last one before going to do a few tweaks to Chapter 24 and onward. In all actuality this one can kinda tie in with the last Missing Moment I just did. *evil grin* God I love these things.

P.S. What the heck is with during Sundays? Most of the time Sundays and Fridays are my days to post things and this Sunday decided nope…can't let you today. Sorry for that delay :P

Kakashi led the way through the darkened streets of Konoha, away from the training grounds and back to the familiarity of his home. Behind him a ragged looking blonde smirked wildly, hands behind his head and his eyes closed in delight. Beside the boy Ririshii loped along, an easy gait that kept him in step with his master.

All in all they had stayed out way too late but the three had been so eager to test themselves and to see just what it was Naruto had learned during his extended absence. So Kakashi let them talk him into the idea and started giving instruction as he saw fit. Really the three had gone about training themselves with him nearby. They hadn't really needed him there.

But they had wanted him there.

Kakashi glanced back at Naruto. If he hadn't been there he would have never seen the 'surprise'. He hazily remembered hearing the word in the hospital but he had just woken from a good month long coma and apparently he had let it slip by without notice. No….his notice at the time had been the name Kabuto and how he had been involved in whatever it was Jiraiya had roped Naruto into.

But late into the night Sasuke predictably began to practice the Chidori Kakashi had taught him and at the sight and sound of it Naruto had whirled around from explaining the water walking exercise to Sakura, positively beaming.

"Oy! That reminds me! There is something of use the old pervert taught me!"

Sakura and Sasuke were astonished by the jutsu; as was only fitting. It was an A-rank and rather deadly if you suppressed enough chakra into the tightly spinning ball. Sasuke and Naruto were soon demonstrating on practice targets and trees just to observe the difference between the two jutsu they both had learned in under a month.

He still was dumbfounded by the idea. He must have been staring when Naruto whipped out the Rasengan because Sakura had come over and looked up at him curiously. "Kakashi-sensei? Are you alright? You look like you saw a ghost or something."

That was an understatement. He saw a ghost and he was awestruck that Naruto had picked up the Rasengan in as little as a month when it had taken Sensei years to perfect the damn thing. Hell in Sensei's eyes it had never even been perfected. He had never found a way to add Nature Manipulation to the spiraling chakra ball.

"Hai Sakura-chan I'm fine. Just a little surprised is all. You should be honored Naruto." He found himself speaking out to the blonde. "That was the Fourth Hokage's jutsu that Jiraiya taught you."

Of course at that Sakura and Sasuke blinked up at him and Naruto merely nodded happily. Jiraiya had already told him that.

Now as they walked along the deserted evening streets Kakashi could not help but watch Naruto closely and wonder.

He learned that jutsu, that jutsu, in a month. I'm still surprised Sasuke picked up the Chidori that quickly. But the Rasengan? That's a complete different jutsu and making your chakra take a definitive shape like that is hard to learn even for Jounin. That was part of the reason I never continued the Chidori, it was too hard to force a shape on something lightning based.

"So, Sasuke and Sakura did not seem too upset about our deception." Kakashi hummed and got Naruto's attention. Blue eyes blinked a bit and looked away quickly. "If anything I think Sasuke was about to discover the truth anyway."

In reality it was a decoy question. Sure he was curious as to what the three spoke about after he left them at the hospital but it wasn't his true concern. Well not one of the more pressing ones anyway.

"I suppose so." Naruto lowered his arms and began fiddling with his coat sleeves. "I mean I get why we started lyin' but I dunno. Still seems weird for people to know about it….well other than Asuma and Kurenai and Gai-sensei."

"Yes and even they wouldn't have known if they hadn't been so nosey." Kakashi huffed and pulled out his book. It honestly was the only thing he was able to distract himself with but the rest of the questions kept popping up and finally he relented and took another glance at the blonde. "How many times did you run yourself into the ground learning the Rasengan? I'm sure it was hard by any measure to learn it so fast."

Naruto merely shrugged and appeared to be more interested in the side streets than their conversation.

Riri huffed and shook his head. "He nearly slept in the rain and was out for a while. "

Naruto glared daggers at Ririshii. "I only did it once Riri."

"Lucky the Pervy Sage was in the mood to listen for once." Riri growled a little in return. "You wouldn't listen."

"Well then Riri since you seem to be in a talkative mood. Maybe you can tell me what happened with Orochimaru and Kabuto since Naruto keeps avoiding it."

Riri's tail lowered and whined. He glanced up at Naruto who was already scowling about his dog's admission before but now that scowl was directed more towards Kakashi. "Why do you keep asking about that?"

"Because you keep avoiding it." Kakashi murmured and eyed the dog again. "Which means you're hiding something."

As the silence drew down upon them the nighttime bugs took up filling the space. Kakashi kept on walking as did the other two but Kakashi's attention was keen on either one breaking the silence. Something had happened. Sure Tsunade had given him an overview and he had been livid that Naruto had done something as reckless and stupid as to step between a Sannin and a Rogue Nin that he knew was out of his league but that was all he knew. He knew Kabuto had struck at Naruto and hurt him but that was where things got hazy…

"He nearly died."

Kakashi stopped and turned to eye Ririshii. The German Shepherd had lowered himself to the ground instantly and whimpered. Naruto had stopped as well and was glaring daggers at his poor dog.

"Kabuto hit him….just as Naruto hit Kabuto with the Rasengan." Riri kept whining and ignoring Naruto's obvious displeasure. "He…..he…stopped breathing for a moment…"

At this Naruto seemed to pale a bit and turned his eyes away from Ririshii. Kakashi cursed under his breath and rubbed at his nose. "So he actually hit his mark. Lady Tsunade only mentioned he struck at your heart, not actually hit it."

Riri whined loudly and shuddered as he hit the ground. "Tried to get between them. I tried. I failed…. If the old lady hadn't had woken up….if she hadn't finally moved…."

"Woken up?" Kakashi was confused. Lady Tsunade had been incapacitated? Was that why Naruto stepped between them? "She was asleep?"

"No, frozen. Wouldn't move." Riri shook his head and looked up at Naruto for any kind of assistance in explaining it better.

"The old lady's afraid of blood and Kabuto cut himself and flung it on her." Naruto muttered darkly and kept his gaze neatly away from Kakashi's. "Awfully stupid thing to be afraid of if you're a medic isn't it?"

"And you're trying to change the subject again." Kakashi frowned down at Naruto. "Why in the world did you step in? I would assume Jiraiya-sama said to stay out of it."

"Oh yeah and a lot of help he was." Naruto fidgeted but scowled in obvious displeasure. "Some Sannin. The old lady slipped him something and he could barely use his chakra. What was I supposed to do? Hope he got it out of his system before something bad happened? Kabuto was going to beat her just for the hell of doing it. She wasn't any threat once he bloodied her up; she just sat there."

"He obviously wasn't going to kill her though." Kakashi pointed out and tried hard to reign in the small speck of panic creeping up from his gut. "Orochimaru wanted her for some reason and to kill her would defeat the purpose."

"So I was supposed to just let him have his way with her." Naruto suddenly was focused and zeroed in solely on Kakashi. "I wasn't just going to let her get hurt for…"

"But jumping in and getting yourself hurt, almost killed," Kakashi snapped a little. "that's your answer? You need to think these things through Naruto instead of just jumping in head first. You're smarter than this and I know you are…"

"What the hell Nii-san?" Naruto snapped back. Those blue eyes flared up in an instant and now he was defending himself and his actions. "It wasn't like I didn't think about it but I thought she'd snap out of it if someone interfered. Instead she just kept sitting there like a coward! Why are you so mad about this? I'm a ninja of the village now aren't I? Isn't that what we're supposed to do? Finish the mission?"

Kakashi flinched at the words. He had a point. Naruto was, after all, a Konoha-nin. He had proven himself to be capable and he wore that headband proudly. He was a ninja. That was the objective; finish the mission….protect the village and its people…

And yet….

"Anyways I'm still standing aren't I? Naruto kept going; taking Kakashi's silence as proof the older ninja still needed convincing. "Everything turned out fine; I don't see why you're so worked up about it."

"Because suddenly you've become reckless. I would have thought as much time as you spent planning pranks you'd be a little more calculating in these matters." Kakashi meant to stop there, wanted to stop there, but the more words he spoke, the more of them kept popping up in his head.

"And maybe because you're too important to…." His brain screamed to stop but instead of obeying this simple command his mouth just kept moving. And he kept speaking. And he kept going along with the thought that was now getting away from him like a runaway train. "…me."

Damn Yoshi and her damn persistent nature. Damn her for making him voice his worries back at the hospital because now they just would not silence. As far as he was aware he had been doing well with not becoming too attached to the blonde but obviously that was a lie he had kept telling himself.

Because now, faced with the reality that Naruto had nearly gotten himself killed, all he could think about was what if Naruto had died. Kakashi found himself turning and starting to walk again. He had been curious as to what had happened but why? Why had a momentary flash of panic streak by his awareness whenever something happened to Naruto? He still remembered the first time it had happened, the night Naruto came back to the apartment with Ririshii and a nasty gash in the back of his head.

And sadly the answer kept staring him right back in the face. Was that not how Sensei acted around him whenever he decided to do something stupid? Was that not the final trump card Sensei had tried to play when he finally decided to move to the small apartment he and Naruto now shared?

"For Kami's sake, you're practically my son."

Kakashi sighed heavily and shoved his hands into his pockets. Well that was the final straw wasn't it? That was the answer. For all their outward appearances, their little independencies, and the way Naruto called him nii-san, there was just one little hitch to it. Somewhere along the way Naruto had shifted from 'brother' to 'son'. Naruto was his son. And the thought that he could have failed; that Naruto could have been gone, just like all those before him…

… it hurt far worse than any of the many other losses he had acquired over the years.

"That's why you kept me away isn't it Sensei? Why you didn't want me to get involved once the fox started attacking? I couldn't live with myself if I let something happen to him..."

A bench lit by a lone light came into view and without even thinking much about it, Kakashi steered them towards it. He sat heavily and glanced up at the blonde who had lost the angry glare, and looked at Kakashi with a slight tilt to his head. Riri sat down beside Naruto and Kakashi just stared at them both.

"Naruto…" Kakashi said the name slowly and looked away briefly, apparently some part of his ninja sense was still in play and he mentally wanted to be sure no one was within earshot because this was about to get painful. "I get it. You worked hard to get this far and I don't mean you aren't capable. You are very capable, more so than Sasuke in some areas."

"Then I don't get it…what did I do wrong?" Naruto frowned at him a little bit but then shook his head. "I mean I get I did something stupid, I do that a lot, but I don't quite get why this was something I shouldn't have done. I don't just stand there and let people get hurt…the old lady maybe annoying and not really all that great but she doesn't deserve to be kicked around and have her faced shoved in the dirt by some jerk who betrayed the village."

"I'm not saying it's stupid, what you did." Kakashi reached up and pinched briefly at his nose. "I overreacted. You did well. You obviously made an impression on Tsunade-sama doing what you did."

Naruto cocked his head to the side more, probably even more confused by Kakashi's contradiction.

"But…." Kakashi bowed his head and let his hands drop between his knees. "You have to understand something Naruto. I…. I've lost everything before. My family, my sensei, my team, they're all gone now. I'm all that's left."

Naruto came and sat on the bench as well. His blue eyes traveled out to the stone walkway, half lidded and a small frown crossing his face as Kakashi talked.

"And I should not have overreacted like I did." Kakashi took a sidelong glance at the boy then focused once more on the dog. It was easier if he didn't look at Naruto too much. "But I can't lose you too, not you."

Riri wormed his way under Kakashi's hand and he absently scratched at the dog's fur. He found himself dazed that he had even said of this to Naruto, but it had to be said. Otherwise he'd drive the boy off every time he accidently would slip and become just a tad overprotective of the boy. Kakashi knew they were small slips but they were going to happen. As much as he wanted to believe he was a hardened veteran of this profession he had lived with Minato too long and that small streak of human kindness had rubbed off on Kakashi.

And Naruto was important to him. There was no harm in admitting that was there? All three of the Genin were now. He would of course want to protect them but so far he had been good at making sure to get them up to speed, not act on that particular feeling. But Naruto, if something happened to him, Kakashi was sure that would be the end of it. This was his last chance.

"You know," Naruto finally spoke up and broke Kakashi's thought. "That's what I'm scared about too."

Kakashi raised an eyebrow but otherwise said nothing.

"Have been since I was little actually." Naruto smiled sadly for a moment then shook his head. "One day you weren't going to come back and I'd be alone again."

So they were both attached. Kakashi chuckled a little bit and ruffled the spiky blonde hair. "That is one thing you've always been better at. I highly doubt now you'd ever be alone."

Naruto eyed him a suspiciously as Kakashi stood and began the usual trek back home.

"Let's see" Kakashi continued as Naruto jumped up and came up behind him just like they had always done. "Sakura, Sasuke, Iruka, hmmm, Asuma, Kurenai, Gai, Lee, Shikamaru, Choji…."

Naruto blushed a bit at the rambling of names that he was obviously familiar with. Kakashi laughed a bit more. "For as shy as you used to be as a kid, you certainly have quite a few friends."

Naruto really blushed at that and shoved his hands in his own pockets, much like Kakashi had done earlier. Kakashi had dismissed everyone's claims that Naruto was just like him. Before he hadn't seen it because obviously they looked nothing alike, they were two different people, but just then he saw it. Naruto and he looked differently but they had the same mannerisms. They had the same sort of attitude, save Naruto was a little louder and more pronounced sometimes; he had after all adopted a clown persona to cover for himself.

Kakashi let Naruto be for a while and merely looked at the village around him. He really should not have overreacted and he really shouldn't have worried. Naruto was smart, he knew that. And Naruto really shouldn't be afraid either, Kakashi saw how many people gathered around the kid and just how subtly the village attitude was making a shift. Sure people still shunned him and gave him looks but others who normally would do the same had been looking after the boy curiously. They were giving the fox's container a second thought.

Kakashi smiled a little beneath his mask. The only thing they had to worry about was Orochimaru and that organization Jiraiya had brought up. But they could train for that. They could prepare themselves better than Kakashi's old team had. They knew what was after them and had already settled on a course of action.

These three would not repeat the mistakes Kakashi's old team had and Jiraiya's team had. Somehow or another these three would stick around for a while.

All he had to do was keep telling himself he had nothing to worry about.

Author Note x2: Yeah mushy mushy mushy. But I had to get it out of my system before returning to the next chapter :D Up next the bell test ….. well kinda the bell test ;) I've got ideas again…WOOOO!