Aces are Wild

By: Demand Truth

Summary: Kakashi and Iruka have both forgotten the first time they met, but an old memento reminds Kakashi of a meeting in the woods fifteen years before. One shot. Hints of KakaIru.

The Third Ninja World War dragged on, relentlessly, through autumns and winters, springs and summers. Five years had passed since the infiltration mission at the bridge, and three months had slipped away since the wreckage of the Nine Tails. Kakashi saw less and less of Rin since joining ANBU and losing their sensei to the fox demon. Thanks in part to Obito's final gift, Kakashi's skill was becoming something of legend. The village was weak after its near total destruction, and desperate times called for desperate measures. Kakashi pushed himself till he was nothing but a limping, bleeding mess for most of his solo missions. Kakashi Hatake had just turned fourteen.

Weak and tired, Kakashi struggled down the forest path that led to the gates of Konoha. The wind was growing colder, and it lashed at him like an angry snake. Gone were the gentle breezes of summer; now the howling winds ripped the leaves from the branches and blew them away, cleansing branches of the dead and dying. Kakashi felt like the leaves—brittle and withered by time. One heavy footfall after another, and he was almost home.

A sudden pain in his side caused him to gasp, doubling over. It was the old wound under his right arm, the one Rin had healed just before she'd been taken hostage on the mission that changed everything. When it was cold or Kakashi was particularly exhausted, the wound ached as if it were fresh. His slender body was a quilted patchwork of scar tissue, but he didn't feel any of them like he felt the one's acquired on that mission.

"Ugrh," Kakashi grunted, forced to his knees by the pain.

"Who's there?" A startled voice called. Kakashi winced and opened his good eye, peering out of his ANBU mask into the darkening forest. The stranger certainly didn't sound like a threat, but one could never be too sure. Kakashi gritted his teeth and stood, fingering a kunai that was still rusty with dried blood.

The bush off to the ride side of the path rattled loudly, and a young girl came tumbling out, dead leaves clinging to the mesh of her outfit. Kakashi noted the Leaf headband secured in her long brown hair and let out a soundless sigh of relief. He relaxed his stance, faltered, and dropped to one knee again with a hiss of pain.

"A-Anbu-san!" The girl exclaimed in alarm. Her doe-like brown eyes were impossibly wide, and her tan complexion tinged red around the apples of her cheeks. Kakashi let both eyes close, confident the weak, startled girl could do him no harm. She hesitated only a moment before closing the distance between them, and waited only a second more before gently grasping his forearms.

"Anbu-san? Are you alright?" she asked naively. Kakashi groaned in annoyance and woozily opened his good eye. He was unable to stand—of course he wasn't alright. The girl was beautiful, but she wasn't very quick on the uptake.

"Home..." Kakashi gasped, before the edges of his vision darkened and he fell forward, into the girl's strangely flat, hard chest.

Iruka Umino caught the taller boy in the circle of his arms and panicked slightly. He wished (not for the first time) that he paid more attention in class. What was the protocol for finding a half-dead ANBU in the woods? Did he leave him and go get help? Did he try to carry him somewhere?

"Ugh, why'd you have to pass out on my rounds? If I let an ANBU die, I'll never hear the end of it from Anko and Orochimaru-sensei!" It was Iruka's first year as a Genin, and though it was rare that he got any attention from his Jounin sensei, Iruka preferred it that way. When he did find himself on Orochimaru's radar (typically because of misbehavior or a prank gone horribly wrong) it never ended well for him. Though Mizuki and Anko didn't seem to think so, Iruka thought their sensei gave creepy a whole new meaning.

So, since Iruka was not accustomed to turning to adults for help, he figured he'd take the ANBU to the hospital and just hope that was what he was supposed to do in such a situation. Before he lifted the young man over his shoulder though, Iruka's penchant for trouble reared its head. He knew the identity of ANBU were top secret, but if he just took a tiny peek, he could claim it was an accident, right? Iruka couldn't suppress a mischievous grin of anticipation as he hooked his finger under the smooth lip of the porcelain mask and tilted it up, to reveal a tuft of silver hair and a wicked looking facial scar. Some distance away, a large bird took flight with a loud cawing noise, startling Iruka. He dropped the mask quickly and with no small amount of effort, Iruka hefted the thin ANBU over his shoulder. He took off at a fairly brisk pace. When he reached the hospital, an alarmed nurse quickly sized up the situation and whisked away Iruka's burden before he'd even gotten half way in the door. Iruka was left standing in the entrance way, more than a little bewildered.

Finally, an old nurse took pity on the confused youngster and stepped out of the nurse's station.

"You did good bringing him here, son. What's your name?" she asked. Tucking his hair behind his ear, Iruka answered shyly.

"Umino Iruka."

"Iruka-kun...I don't suppose you know the identity of the ANBU you just brought in, do you?"

"No mam!" Iruka replied hastily, having long ago perfected his 'innocent' look. The nurse studied him with assessing eyes before nodding.

"Alright then. Come back here tomorrow at around three, and bring a deck of cards or something."

"Huh?" Iruka asked dumbly. The head nurse crossed her arms and repeated her order, and though he was confused, Iruka nodded.

~*~

While most Genin teams had to train daily, or go on missions, Iruka's Jounin sensei was frequently out of the village, and usually found reasons to leave Iruka behind. He always took Anko along with him, but that was no mystery—Anko was the best in their class. Sometimes Mizuki got to go, though the silver-haired boy took delight in never letting Iruka in on the details of these secret missions. Iruka was somewhat of a rival with the fair-haired boy, though not much came out of it since neither of them were anything remarkable. The Third kept an eye on Iruka, though, and usually sent him along with other Genin teams as a substitute or an extra member. It was in this way that Iruka learned how to get along with just about everyone, and closely observed all the different teachers he had, since his was usually gone.

Still, this haphazard approach to going on missions meant Iruka spent a fair deal of his time in the village, doing simple tasks for the mission room, and passing many days just wandering around Konoha aimlessly. It was therefore easy for him to return to the hospital the next day, with no squad to wonder where he was, and no teacher to chastise him for missing training.

When he arrived at the hospital, the head nurse he'd spoken with the day before immediately noticed him and waved him over.

"You look like a friendly boy, so I have a special mission for you. I have a patient not much older than you that is in here quite a bit. He doesn't like staying in bed to heal as long as he should, so I'd like you to keep him company this afternoon. He's not like most boys your age—you might have to show him how to play whatever game you've brought."

Iruka brightened at the idea of meeting a new friend, and he felt sorry for the boy for being stuck in the hospital all the time. He smiled at the head nurse.

"Sure, sounds like fun," Iruka replied.

"Good. He's in room 312. Visiting hours end at 9:00," she informed crisply, already heading back to her station. Iruka nodded and looked to the signs to direct him. He headed up the stairs two at a time, and arrived on the third floor only slightly out of breath. He quickly moved down the hallway, curiously peering into each room like a little raccoon. When he reached 312, Iruka gently pushed on the half-open door and quietly walked inside.

"Hello?" he called softly.

Kakashi tensed at the young voice that rang out so clearly from his memory—it was the girl who'd found him just yesterday. The head nurse had warned him he'd have a visitor later that didn't know his ANBU identity, and at the time Kakashi had thought the message was highly cryptic. Now it all made sense. The meddling old nurse had some mistaken notion that he needed to socialize.

Kakashi intended to play it cool, and not acknowledge the girl till she grew tired of his silence and left, but this plan was foiled by his own surprise—his female rescuer was very obviously male.

"You're a boy!" Kakashi grunted, a little embarrassed he'd made such a mistake. His doe-eyed visitor looked a little puzzled, and in particular, was focusing on Kakashi's wild mane of scruffy silver hair.

"You have silver hair," he replied, as if he were putting together a puzzle.

At the same time, both of them realized how strange their statements sounded and they hastily looked away. It was the brunet who spoke first.

"Of course I'm a boy. My name's Iruka Umino. Who're you?" he asked, regaining some of his confidence. Kakashi took in the boy's long, soft brown hair (pulled back in a pony tail today) and didn't blame himself too much for the mistake. Umino was short and skinny, and it was obvious his voice hadn't changed yet. With all that silky brown hair, who wouldn't mistake him for a girl?

Kakashi remembered how he'd thought the girl was beautiful and blushed underneath his mask.

"Kakashi Hatake," Kakashi finally answered. He followed this statement up with, "If the nurse ordered you to visit me, you can leave. I'd prefer to rest in quiet."

"Oh...okay. I didn't mean to bother you," Iruka replied, subdued and just a little disappointed sounding.

"Err...I brought cards. Sure you don't want to play a game?"

"I'm sure," Kakashi replied in a monotone, going so far as to close his good eye in clear dismissal. Much to his surprise, however, the boy came closer, perching on the side of his bed. Kakashi opened his eye quickly, still too injured to scoot away. Didn't the kid know anything about personal boundaries?

"Is it because you don't know how to play? Because I'm good at teaching stuff, and I could show you," Iruka offered, complete with a bright smile that made his cute nose scrunch up. Kakashi swallowed thickly.

"No, I'd really rather not. Just leave already, kid," Kakashi insisted. Iruka's face fell, and his big, brown eyes projected his sadness so obviously that Kakashi felt guilty for saying no to him. Gruffly, he grabbed the deck of cards Iruka had pulled from his pocket. "Fine. Something simple and quick."

"Okay!" Iruka seemed happy that he was going to play with him, even if it was just for a short game. The younger boy began to deal out the cards, explaining the rules in a low, soothing voice. It had a hypnotic effect on Kakashi, and he struggled to keep his good eye open. He was still so tired...

As Iruka dealt the final card, and finished explaining the rules of the game, he realized his new ANBU friend had fallen asleep. A small pout marred his tan face, and then Iruka sighed. It made sense, he supposed. He was always alone in the village while his team was off learning new things. He was just plain old Iruka, stuck in the village with nothing to do. Why on earth would an ANBU want to be his friend?

Iruka left the room quietly, not bothering to collect his cards. He had nobody to play with anyway.

~*~

Kakashi pushed aside some old uniforms at the bottom of his closet, searching for a clean shirt, when his hand brushed over something hard. Curious, he pulled out the old pair of black pants that he assumed had once been part of his ANBU attire. From the pocket, he pulled out a worn deck of cards and the memory from so long ago flooded back to him.

"He said his name was...Iruka!" Kakashi said, clearly startled by the revelation. It had been nearly fifteen years since the visit in the hospital, but now that he remembered the first time he'd met the Chuunin school teacher, it seemed strange that he'd ever forgotten it. He thought of how he'd originally mistaken Iruka for a girl, and remembered his embarrassed shock to discover Iruka was a boy the following day. Holding the children's playing cards in his gloved hand, Kakashi was suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to find out if Iruka remembered their first meeting or not. It was a good day for reminiscing; it was Saturday so Iruka would be off work, and the village had been pretty quiet since Naruto left to train with Jiraiya.

Still amused by the memory, Kakashi pocketed the cards and found a clean shirt before strolling out of his apartment in search of Iruka.

He found the academy teacher on the schoolyard training grounds, running through a series of simple katas with surprising grace. Kakashi admired his perfect form for a few moments before clearing his throat to announce his presence. Iruka finished a few more kicks and punches, and then turned to acknowledge his admirer. If he was startled to see Kakashi, he didn't show it.

"Hello Kakashi-san. Can I help you with something?" Iruka asked, a friendly smile on his face. Kakashi grinned beneath his mask and slipped the deck of cards out of his pocket.

"Maa...I wondered if you felt up to teaching me that game of cards," Kakashi asked. For a few moments, Iruka was obviously confused. Then, he reached forward and tentatively took the small, colorful cards, flipping them over in his hands and studying them with a far-away expression. A small grin spread over his face, and he looked up to Kakashi.

"I'd forgotten all about that day. When Sarutobi told me you'd be teaching Naruto, it didn't even come to mind."

"I didn't remember either, until I found these cards in an old uniform. It was a very amusing memory. You see, when I first saw you in the woods, I thought you were a pretty girl," Kakashi said with a happy grin. Predictably, Iruka spluttered his indignation and turned a bright shade of red.

"I was not girlish!" Iruka protested, hands moving to his hips automatically, the cards clenched tightly in his fist. Kakashi merely smiled, stuffing his hands in his pockets.

"Long brown hair, a top that showed your midriff, and big brown eyes? You were girlish. Besides, your voice hadn't dropped and you sounded like Sakura-chan."

"Did you come all this way just to mock me?" Iruka asked with alarming calm. Kakashi huffed in amusement and waved in the general direction of the cards.

"Sensei, you offered to teach me to play, and I've got some free time on my hands." Iruka seemed to consider him for a moment and then shook his head in exasperation.

"Come on. We'll get some lunch at Ichiraku's and play a few rounds. Just don't be a sore loser when I beat you." Kakashi just smiled and fell into step with Iruka, happy to have a memory from his youth that brought a smile to his face.

A/N: Just a little something I felt like writing after watching the anime version of the Kakashi Gaiden. I wish so much that Kakashi and Iruka were friends back then! Poor Kakashi...