Note: Happy Easter to those who celebrate it. Happy chocolate bunny day to those who don't. :)


Kakashi had always suspected that it was his insistence to sign up Team Seven to the chunin exams that forced the other jounin sensei to do the same with their own teams. They were all elite professionals, and they hadn't gotten where they were without being incredibly competitive (sometimes even deadly competitive).

Sure enough, when the hokage asked the other team leaders one by one if they would also like to enter their teams, they declined.

All in all, it was a rather uneventful meeting.

Iruka sensei came to find Kakashi afterwards, a grim smile on his face. Kakashi remembered how angry he had been with him for nominating Naruto (the man was a mother hen). It wasn't the reason why Kakashi hadn't nominated them again. He'd do the same thing in a heart-beat if he thought it was for the best, but it was...nice to have the other man not angry with him. Iruka had a mean yell.

"Naruto will be disappointed," Iruka commented as they walked out.

Kakashi shrugged a shoulder. "If Naruto actually knows about the Chuunin exam, I would be surprised." He cast the other man a look. "I hate to be the one to tell you, but he is not the most observant student."

Iruka's smile was grim. "Some students learn in a classroom. Others out in the field."

"Or through the force of having a kunai thumped against their thick head, yes."

"He is not that bad, Kakashi-sensei."

He won't be this time around, Kakashi thought to himself. Though it came with an unexpected cold feeling. That dream he'd had last night had been... unsettling.

He glanced over at Iruka, who surely had other things to do with the Chunin exams offically but was choosing to stroll alongside Kakashi as if he didn't, and had the strangest urge to take him aside - or perhaps teleport them both somewhere more secure, the old Hatake compound for example - and tell him everything. The horrific timeline Kakashi had come from, the strides he was seeing in his students. His worries for the future, because there were so many.

Kakashi was a powerful jounin. This was fact. But he was one man, and he knew with absolute certainty that there were dark times coming for Konoha. He had three genin to protect, Orochimaru to guard against, and a pending invasion. Upon reflection it was amazing they had gotten out of it mostly alive with only Sasuke turning traitor.

One misstep at any point and it could go wrong.

Could he trust Iruka? No, that was the wrong question. Yes, he could trust the man. And there was no doubt he cared for Naruto, would defend him with his life. But he was only an academy instructor. Confiding in him may help Kakashi feel better for the short term, but there was little Iruka could help. Kakashi needed fire power.

Start small, Minato used to tell Kakashi during the height of the war and when things seemed so grim. Too much to do and too little manpower to do it. Start small and soon the smaller changes will combine to make bigger ones.

Tonight Kakashi would put a bug in an ear. More specifically Moreno Ibiki. He would be very interested to learn of any supposed invasion plans. Perhaps if Kakashi could convince him to put a closer watch on Baki, the sand-nin...

"Kakashi," Iruka said. They had been walking in companionable silence for a few blocks. Kakashi had hardly noticed, so caught up in his own thoughts. Iruka's presence was calming to him. It allowed him to think. Kakashi glanced over and saw a flush had stained Iruka's neck, visible even though his dusky complexion.

"Yes, Iruka-sensei?" Kakashi asked.

The chunin huffed a laugh and reached up to rub the back of his neck. He looked embarrassed, though Kakashi could not fathom why. Did he have an uncomfortable concern about Naruto?

"I was, ah, wondering, if you were free tonight-" Iruka started.

Off in the distance, a woman screamed.

Both shinobi froze in place, conversation forgotten. Instantly hyper-alert. Kakashi tracked the source of the noise and realized it came from the east. With a concentration of chakra, he jumped to the nearest rooftop. Iruka was on his heels, a kunai in his fist.

The training fields lay off to the east. Screaming wasn't necessarily uncommon from that direction (they were shinobi after all) but that had been a scream of real terror from a unrestrained civilian throat. Nothing feigned.

"Team 7 is over there," Kakashi said as the ground began to rumble. He'd left them to train together as he attended the meeting. What could have happened? He ignored his first instinct to rush in, and watched warily as dust rose over the tops of the distant trees.

No, it wasn't dust. It was solid. A mass of yellow and black, of sand, of-

He heard Iruka made a startled sound. "What is that?"

Kakashi knew. He'd seen it before, once, at the end of the ill-fated chunin exams. Fate it seemed had pushed things along further and faster than he could have anticipated.

Small things make big changes indeed.

"That," he said evenly as he reached up to uncover his sharingan eye, "is Shukaku." The Jinchūriki of the hidden sand, come early.


Note: I'm sure some of you are confused. The next chapter will help explain a few things, but remember that Team 7 met with Gaara and his siblings for the first time either just before the jounin meeting or while it was going on (the Manga was a little unclear).