Title: I Am Still Here
Summary: No matter how bad things get... no matter how far you are from home... no matter if you've lost hope or are imprisoned or simply can't do anything, to save yourself or another... I will always be there for you. Don't forget me. I'm still here.
I: For You
"Sensei, sensei! Wait up!"
Kakashi turned, slightly startled as Naruto ran towards him, looking determined. "Hmm? Naruto? What do you want? We're done for the day-"
"You need to help me!" Naruto cut him off, scowling at the jonin. "You need to help me get stronger! Sasuke beat me again today and it's pissing me off!"
"Maa, I dunno..." Kakashi rubbed the back of his neck, wracking his brains desperately for a way to avoid this. "Wouldn't it be better to ask Iruka-kun? His skills are closer to yours than mine, and anyway, I was going to pick up a quick solo mission..." he trailed off as Naruto set his jaw, thrust out his bottom lip, and narrowed his eyes, adopting the same stubborn expression that his mother was famous for. He could never resist it when the boy began showing traits he shared with his parents.
Kakashi heaved a sighed and resigned himself to a smaller paycheck. "Alright. Fine. I'll get you up to scratch. Just... don't tell the other two. It's kind of unfair to give you extra help."
"Well, if they asked, you'd have to help them, too, so it's not unfair, because they have to swallow their pride first," Naruto argued, but the stubborn look left him, and he skipped beside Kakashi as the jonin led the way to the public practice fields and training grounds.
"What did you want help on first?" he asked, wondering wearily if Anko would be angry if he were late in getting home tonight. Naruto stared blankly up at him.
"Um... everything." he said in a small voice, trying to smile. His nervousness made it entirely unbelievable. "I, um... I guess taijutsu first? Maybe?"
"That'd probably be best..." Kakashi agreed slowly, rubbing his chin in thought. "You can get by with pure taijutsu, but if all you've got is a bunch of fancy spells and you can't dodge a kunai, you're screwed. So. Let's start slowly, since you've got no idea. Show me what you know already."
Kakashi sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "What moves do you know? What'd you learn in the Academy? Pretend Iruka's playing drill-sergeant again and practice on that log." He pointed to one not very far away, looking plain and modest. "I'll tell you what you're doing wrong and help you clean up your style. I'm guessing that, since you're just a kid, you'll be adding stupid little flourishes to make yourself look cool."
Naruto blushed faintly. "Nuh-uh. It's hard enough just getting them right without adding stuff." he muttered, but sighed and turned to the log, rubbing his knuckles self-consciously. Kakashi leaned against another log and pretended to read Icha Icha, to let Naruto get used to his presence. Taking a deep breath, the boy began a simple combination, one that Kakashi could tell was a favorite, judging by the ease of movement. He was completely off-balance on the roundhouse kick, but at least he made it look like he was firmly planted.
This continued for a while, before Naruto began adding random moves, mouthing their names to himself and frowning in concentration. Kakashi watched blandly, not even twitching. He didn't want to distract Naruto. About when he began to get bored with all the beginner-level kicks, punches, and blocks, his eye trailing back to his book, Naruto flashed a move that definitely should not have been in his repertoire.
"Stop." Kakashi commanded sharply, his voice cracking out and causing Naruto to stumble. The boy turned to him anxiously, seeming to dread his input.
"Where did you learn that move?" Kakashi demanded, hoping he didn't actually sound as harsh as he thought he did.
"Um... in a scroll," Naruto stuttered, shifting from foot to foot. "I, er... borrowed it from Jiijii-san."
"You stole it." said Kakashi bluntly. Naruto hesitated, then nodded miserably. "...well. You actually got it mostly right." the genin looked up at him in astonishment. "Your balance is for shit, and you're too slow, but other than that, pretty good. Go through it again, slower."
Naruto obliged, looking mystified. Kakashi shook his head and strode forward to correct him.
"No. Back into starting position. This is where your feet should be." he crouched and shifted Naruto's heels, which were pointing out. "Don't balance on your toes for this move; stay solid. Pretend you're a tree, if that helps."
"It feels funny," Naruto complained, shifting his weight, but not daring to move his feet.
"That's because you've been doing it wrong. Now. Try it again. Ah- your arms should be like this." he adjusted Naruto's form, then stood and took a step back. "Go."
Naruto tried again, and his eyes widened as the fluidity of the move revealed itself to him. "Oh- is that how it's supposed to go?" He asked excitedly, looking up at Kakashi hopefully. He smiled back.
"Yup. Four more times, and we'll move on to something else. Alright?"
"'Kay!" Naruto moved back into starting position, made sure his feet were in the right place, and did it again. Kakashi lifted his left elbow a half inch. The next two tries were easier, looser, and faster, as Naruto gained confidence and memorized the feeling of completing the pass properly. The last was as perfect as Naruto could get it, though Kakashi knew it wouldn't stay that way if he didn't practice.
"Right, that was good. We'll work on that later on, too; I wanted you to get the feel of it, because it'll be easier to work on some of the other things now that you've done something more complicated." he drew a kunai and handed it to Naruto. "Attack me with that. We'll see how good you are with a blade, then shuriken, then a pole-arm."
"Pole-arm? Like a staff?" Naruto asked, surprised, as he settled into the basic ready position. "Why do I need to know that?"
"Because. A shinobi is a shinobi, but he is also a soldier, and we must be prepared for all battle situations. Now, come at me!"
"Owww," Naruto groaned, slumping on the counter of the ramen stand. "Sensei beat me up really bad today..."
"He did what?" Iruka demanded, looking furious as he fished a coupon out of his wallet. "If he's been beating on you-"
"No, not like that," Naruto protested tiredly, "I asked for extra lessons, and he kept dumping me on my butt every time I left an opening. At least he didn't hit me or anything..."
"Why punish yourself more than you have to?" Ichiraku inquired, piling their bowls with steaming chow, "I thought you were doing pretty well."
"Nope! Sasuke keeps beating me at everything; if he's better'n me, I'm not good enough. Also, I promised Haku and Inari, back in Wave." Naruto began wolfing his food, making noises of ecstasy as he ate. "Shenshei sheys ah'm getti' beddah ahweady," he got out around his mouthful. Iruka shook his head, smiling wryly.
"I can't understand a word you're saying, Naru-kun. What was that again?"
Naruto swallowed and let out the breath he'd been holding. "I said, sensei says I'm getting better already. He says I've been doing practically EVERYTHING wrong! I keep balancing wrong or something, and he gets angry when I mess up." Naruto rolled his eyes. "I mean, he doesn't yell or hit or anything, but I can tell. I can read his face, even if he is wearing that stupid, pointless mask."
"Ah... he's just a perfectionist," Iruka sighed, patting Naruto's shoulder. "If you aren't Hokage level in two years, you'll have to answer to him, because it sure as heck won't be his fault. He's pretty ruthless when he's not trying to push everything off on everyone else."
"You're telling me," Naruto grumbled, slurping up another bowl.
"Anko-baby, I'm home," Kakashi called, kicking off his zori. A familiar purple-haired head popped up over the back of the sofa, and Anko narrowed her eyes at him.
"What took you so long?" she demanded, "I was just about to use that cucumber in the fridge to get off without you."
"Maa, sorry, baby," Kakashi sighed, pulling off his vest and dropping it on the floor, "Naruto wanted extra lessons, and it went a little longer than I planned. Damn kid can't do anything right."
Anko chuckled and stretched out full-length on the couch luxuriously, arching her back and giving him a coy glance as he came around the arm of the couch and raised an eyebrow at her.
"Well, hurry up and apologize with your body," she purred, squirming sensuously. Kakashi paused a moment to wonder how the hell he had gotten involved with this terrifyingly insatiable Succubus, before obliging her passionately.
Several hours and bottles of beer and whiskey later, Anko had finally passed out in a stupor of alcohol and furious sexing. Kakashi sat on the edge of his bed and massaged his temples, trying wearily to justify their actions for the umpteenth time. As usual, he couldn't come up with any reason other than the fact that no one cared. He didn't particularly like Anko as a person; she was violent, overly-sexual, and shallow, but she was amazing in bed, and she was open to pretty much anything, as long as it wasn't related to furries or bestiality. That was good enough for him. He had a vague memory of someone mentioning the fact that she was wildly in love with him, but he didn't really care. He couldn't remember ever being "in love", and he couldn't imagine it. What was so great about having your heart constantly torn apart just because you weren't in the same room as someone?
He stood and began pacing restlessly, enjoying the feeling of complete nakedness. That mask was absolutely stifling... but he couldn't get rid of it. He just couldn't. It was his safety-net, his protection from prying eyes. Without it, without any cloth against him, he felt truly alive, truly free. He didn't know why. It had been that way since he was little. Clothes were unnecessary when there was the moonlight to feel, the breeze to wrap yourself in, the shadows to conceal. Anko thought this was "cute" of him.
Standing at the window, he stared out, over the darkened city, and wondered what the hell he was doing with his life.
Wind ruffled the leaves, tossing branches joyfully, as Sun glowed with love for Life. River chuckled around Stones, her waters gleeful and rushing. Team 7 basked in the glory of Nature for a moment as they emerged from the deep shadows of the forest.
"Did you see me catch that darn cat? Bam! Boom! Out for the count!" Naruto laughed, capering a little. The scratches on his chin, throat, and hands were already fading, fresh though they were. "Never go up against Uzumaki Naruto, future Hokage!"
"Funny, I seem to recall that "darn cat" knocking you over at least five times," Kakashi mused, petting the feline in his arms. Tiger purred at the attention, tail flicking happily. "I'd say he got the better of you this round."
Sakura laughed at the look on Naruto's face. "You know he's right, baka! You've got no excuse for failing at this mission. He's just a cat."
Tiger hissed at her, but Kakashi scratched his ears and he allowed himself to be lulled back into complacency. Naruto pouted at Sakura. "Oh, come on! At least I caught him in the end. Hey, sensei, did I get that one combo right? It felt off."
"Maa, you've gotten better, but yeah, it was off. Remember, plant your feet; you act like you're ballroom dancing, not fighting." He smiled wickedly as Naruto blushed. "If you continue trying to be a ballerina instead of a ninja, I'll have to enroll you in that new dance school that just opened."
"Shut up!" Naruto yelled, turning red as a tomato, "Just shut up! I hate you! It's not like I'm TRYING to be all fancy-prancy! I've been trying to fix it, I told you!"
"I know you've told me. I have ears, you know. But whatever you've tried isn't working."
"Well then, what SHOULD I do?"
"Maa... I don't know," Kakashi mused, leading the way back to the mission room. "One of my genin teammates had the same problem; our sensei told her to think like a rock, and she did much better."
"Think like a rock?" Sakura repeated, confusion on her face. Sasuke was staring hard at Kakashi, while Naruto had his hands behind his head and seemed to be thinking hard.
"Yes. I don't know how that would work, but apparently she got it." Kakashi fell silent, remembering. Remembering...
"...is she one of the friends on that stone, the one you said marked the heroes that died?" Naruto asked abruptly. Sakura gasped and punched him. "NARUTO! That's too far! Have some decency, will you?"
"No, she isn't."
All three looked up at their sensei, who stared off into space, absently petting Tiger. "No... she was sent out on a mission after the stone was placed. She didn't come back. She was the last casualty of the War, and the council decided not to add her name." his fingers clenched in Tiger's ruff, drawing a meow of protest. "Our sensei and I tried arguing, but they didn't listen. So, no. She's not one of the honored heroes. Our other teammate is, though. She'd be happy with that, so there's no point worrying." his grip loosened, and he began walking again. "Come on. We have another mission to grab."
Sakura bit her lip, ashamed. Naruto and Sasuke shared a single, sober look, and followed their sensei without pause. If sensei was alright with telling them, then what was the point in worrying?
Their next mission was baby-sitting sextuplets while the exhausted parents went out for dinner and a movie. Kakashi tried not to let the babies get to him, but none of the kids knew how to feed them, or change their diapers. He spent most of the evening humming under his breath to the babies, who laughed and tried to pull off his mask. The children watched in amazement as he quieted four of their charges at once by whispering something to them that caused them all to burst into hysteric baby-giggles.
"I like babies," he admitted, shrugging, when Sakura asked how he'd gotten so good at caring for them. "They're... well... I dunno. They don't judge, and they can't talk, and they're kind of cute, when they're not ugly." The eldest sextuplet began to scream at that moment, and he turned away to calm him.
At eleven, the parents returned, and praised the team for their handling of the infants. Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke all chorused "It was mostly Kakashi-sensei," to which Kakashi replied "You kids are just too creepy. You were barely a millisecond off that time." The young parents' smiles turned vague and confused, but they still handed them their fee and thanked them again. Kakashi sent the kids straight home and made his solitary way to the tower, to hand over the money and a mission report.
"I feel like a whore, with Hokage-sama as my pimp," he muttered to himself, slightly amused by the image. It actually wasn't that hard to imagine Hiruzen in a pink suit with a big fur coat and a gold-tipped cane. It was when he wondered what kind of hooker clothes he himself would wear that his brain fizzled and died. He just had too much pride and self-respect for that.
A tired-looking chunin accepted both of his contributions, and Kakashi headed home, glad to be done for the day. Or, at least almost done.
Kakashi groaned and turned. "Naruto, it's almost midnight. I would like to get a few hours of sleep, please."
Naruto scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. "No. If you don't help me now, then you might not help me tomorrow, and I need to fix that combo that I messed up earlier. Anyway, I'm not tired, and that means you shouldn't be, either."
"Oh, be quiet. It doesn't matter if you're not tired, I am, and that means I won't be able to see your mistakes. You kids are just too energetic..." he sighed, running a hand through his hair. Anko would just have to use that cucumber tonight... Naruto was making that face again, a mixture of Kushina's stubborn glare and Minato's deadpan stare. He wouldn't, couldn't, resist him.
"...Fine. Fine! Goddammit!" he threw his hands in the air and sighed heavily. "I've got no choice, I s'pose. Come on. Let's get this over with."
Naruto grinned brightly at him and skipped away, not waiting for Kakashi. The jonin ran his hand through his hair again and smiled wryly to himself. "Little idiot," he whispered fondly, before following the boy through the village to the practice grounds.
Hiruzen raised an eyebrow, watching through his crystal as Kakashi corrected Naruto's aim and the way he held his shuriken. True, this was odd behavior, for both of them (Naruto was not known for asking for help, and Kakashi was not known to give it), but that was not what intrigued him. It was the trust and respect in Naruto's face, and the way Kakashi seemed to bask in that respect, as he had never done before.
"How odd..." he murmured, rubbing his chin. "Could it be that he is projecting his sensei on the boy? Or possibly...? No, it couldn't be that. He knows better than that." the Hokage squinted as Kakashi mussed Naruto's hair as the shuriken thunked closer to the center of the target. There were smiles on both their faces, the boy's of triumph, the man's of pride. A teacher teaching, while the student learned? How very unlike both of them.
"Hokage-sama? Council member Danzou to see you."
"Hmm?" Hiruzen looked up, surprised. "Ah... well, alright. Send him in."
His aide bowed low and fetched the man. Danzou was an imposing figure, no one doubted that... but he was not a particularly threatening one. Hiruzen plopped his hat on his head and smiled serenely around his pipe. "Hello, Danzou-kun. To what do I owe the pleasure of this meeting?"
"Hokage-sama." Danzou bowed, not nearly as low as the aide. "I have a concern, regarding the Fox boy."
Hiruzen's smile faded. "Fox boy? I thought I had made it clear that you must call him by his name, at least in my presence. There is nothing wrong with calling a boy by his given name."
Danzou bowed again. "My apologies, my lord. Naruto, then. I have a concern regarding Naruto and his teacher, Hatake Kakashi. You are aware that they have been in regular, unlisted contact for many days now?"
"Yes, of course. Is this the concern of which you speak?" Hiruzen demanded, surprised. The council member inclined his head in agreement.
"Yes. I believe we all know Kakashi-kun's record; he is a fine shinobi, to be sure, but he is not particularly cut out for teaching. Not like his sensei, at least. My concern is, why is he choosing now to associate so closely with Naruto-kun?"
"I am assuming because Naruto asked him for help," Hiruzen answered coldly, already knowing where this was going. "If you are here merely to cast aspirations on the cut of Kakashi-kun's character-"
"That is not why I am here at all," Danzou interrupted smoothly, smiling emptily. His eye was now as cold as Hiruzen's tone. "I am merely concerned with the nature of their relationship, not on Kakashi-kun's end, of course. He is a grown man; he knows better. But Naruto-kun is but a boy, still naïve and unknowing. I fear he might begin to feel certain... emotions for Kakashi-kun. He might break his own heart, in short. Is this not an issue worthy of concern?"
"I trust Kakashi-kun." The Hokage replied firmly. "If he senses that Naruto is beginning to become attached to him, I trust him to distance himself in such a way that he does not hurt the boy. He is remarkably adapt at such things."
"To be sure," Danzou muttered to himself, though Hiruzen's sensitive ears caught the words quite clearly, "He is very good at avoiding breaking hearts, among other things." he straightened imperceptibly and smiled blandly. "Thank you, my lord; I believe I can trust your judgment in this matter. My fears have been laid to rest. Good night to you, Hokage-sama." he bowed and exited the room, without waiting to be dismissed.
Hiruzen glared after him, then glanced anxiously back at his crystal. Naruto had hit the center of the target perfectly, and was prancing about, laughing. Kakashi grinned and fetched the shuriken, laughingly saying something to Naruto that made the boy flush and stop dancing around. He came forward and mussed his hair, smiling as Naruto looked up at him. The trust was still there in the boy's face; the respect shone in his eyes. His smile, however, was full of pure triumph. Hiruzen pressed his lips together tightly and hovered until Naruto had made it back to his room, and Kakashi was making his way home, a bounce in his step.
The small fear that Danzou had given him grew slightly. He sighed and stood, summoning an aide by tugging the bell-pull beside his chair. Now he would never be able to see them interact without a suspicion of something deeper than friendship. Which, he was sure, was exactly what Danzou wanted.
OH MY GOD YOU GUYS.
OH. MY. GOD.
I've been so inactive. ;A; I'm so sorry. I'M SO SORRY. I haven't even given you chapter one of Apocolypse. OH GOD WHY.
This... this was written as a request... by a beautiful person on deviantART... she was very forceful... (shetouchedmeinbadplacesmommy-shot-)
Yes. There will be a next chapter. I CAN'T. LEAVE IT. ALONE.
I really love you guys, but Tumblr has been eating my brain. :3 Love you!
(*the world loves you!*)