Title: Above the Underneath
Summary: "Careful Kakashi-sensei. Look too closely underneath the underneath and you may fail to see what is right in front of you." Kakashi regarded the blond pensively for a moment, before he eye-smiled. "You have grown a lot from the hyperactive five-year-old that I babysat."
Story-type: Short story
Main characters: Naruto and Kakashi
Themes: Friendship, Comfort, Humor,
Somehow, I always thought that there had to be more to Kakashi's relation to Naruto (not in a romantic way!) seeing as he should have probably known that Naruto is his sensei's son. Made after flashes of inspiration were had started haunting me after I realised the disadvantage of the famous statement: look underneath the underneath. I tend to make the same mistake often – look too closely at details - so here is the start of a short story, which hopefully reminds everyone to remember the things close to you and their/its worth.
Above the Underneath
~Five years after the Kyuubi attack~
The check-up had gone like any other.
It was a simple routine of bringing the young Naruto the supplies that they had let Genin gather, asking him how he was feeling, and finding out if anyone had been bothering him before sending the young boy off to bed so that he could report back to Hokage-sama, after which he could go home and prepare for the next mission tomorrow.
The masked individual automatically tensed slightly as he felt something grab at the leg of his pants before he forced himself to relax, seeing as it was just the blond hyperactive blond boy that he was… keeping an eye on.
He refused to call it babysitting of all things - an ANBU like him didn't do babysitting.
Reminding himself repeatedly of this fact, the masked ANBU turned towards the young boy who was still pulling on his trousers to get his attention.
"Hai, Naruto-kun?" He inquired in his usual soft, whisper-like drawl, which allowed his voice to become slightly unrecognisable.
"Why is people so mean?"
"Why are people so mean." The ninja automatically corrected, while stalling for time to come up with a way to approach this question at the same time.
Was the boy actually asking him of all people?
"Why are people so mean?" The five year old repeated obediently as he continued to stare up at him with large sad eyes, making the ANBU feel slightly uncomfortable.
Why didn't he even pause to consider brushing the question aside, like Inu knew he could easily do?
Why did Naruto's eyes have to become so puppy-like?
Most importantly, why couldn't the brat ask Hokage-sama when he visited?
Still, seeing as the boy was currently actually asking him of all people, the ninja crouched down with a mental sigh to get on eye-level with the boy. The boy's eyes trailed over the design of his mask, obviously curious as always as to what was behind it, before they settled on the faint outline of the right eye that was mostly hidden in the shadows of his mask. The young boy wrung his hands as he constantly shifted his weight from one foot to another in a rather nervous manner.
Truthfully, Naruto was afraid of the answer.
'What if it really is my fault?' The five-year-old couldn't help but wonder, biting his lip.
Meanwhile, the ANBU was musing on how to talk to the boy without getting himself in trouble… and without upsetting the boy too much.
'Can't be that difficult...' He thought sarcastically as he fought down the urge to run his hand through his hair – which he couldn't, since it was hidden by a black bandana as he was too recognizable without it on these kinds of missions.
He really wasn't made for this kind of stuff.
Putting a hand on the boy's shoulder, the ANBU squeezed it slightly. "It's not your fault, Naruto-kun." He started, knowing very well what was going through the kid's head.
At that reassurance, the child's stance immediately looked more relaxed as Naruto felt a part of the weight drop from his shoulders. Kakashi mentally patted himself on the back as he saw the boy's reaction.
"People are strange, Naruto-kun." The ninja carefully explained the boy after some consideration. "They copy each other's behaviour. One person may be nice, but they are lost in the crowd of less nice people that surround them. Not everyone is mean. You just have to find them and show them that you are nice too."
The child's face scrunched up in confusion.
"I don't get it." He muttered and he silently wondered if Inu was willing to make him understand.
Still, Inu had always seemed the most patient of the masked people. It hadn't taken long for Naruto to feel drawn to the man even though Inu had been very distant in the beginning. The ANBU was usually introverted and he always seemed to speak with riddles, but there was something about his lazy attitude that Naruto admired.
It hadn't taken that long for Naruto to conclude that Inu was cool. He was strong and he made Naruto feel safe. The blond wanted to be just like him, but no matter what he did, the villagers always seemed to give him mean looks.
Inu grunted, but he didn't sound very surprised at Naruto's confusion. "Ma… What if I told you that I carved a smiley face into a tree somewhere in the forest and told you to look for it? Would you find it immediately?" He questioned instead, careful to let the child work it out on his own.
The child's expression turned thoughtful and the shinobi waited patiently for the child to come to a conclusion. Eventually young child pouted.
"No…" He agreed slowly, though obviously not happy with it. "So I have to search very good?"
The ninja let the mistake slip for this once. "Not necessarily. You could also just walk around patiently and keep an eye open to see if there are more trees with smiley faces around."
The young boy stared at him with wide eyes, before he grinned happily. "I will! Then I will make them like me!"
The boy faltered. "Will they like me?"
"As long as you make sure that they look underneath the underneath." Inu confirmed and smiled as he ruffled his hair.
"Huh, what do you mean?" Inu-san wasn't making any sense to the boy.
There was a wry tone to the ANBU's voice. "You will understand when you are older."
At least, he expected that the blond would.
"You always say that!" The young boy protested with a huff of annoyance.
"What? Are you going to change my mind?" He challenged the boy and smirked wryly behind his mask as he saw a familiar mischievous glint reappear in the boy's eyes.
"Hell yes!" The boy shouted, waggling his fingers at him and laughed. It was good to see him act like his usual -loud- self once more.
"Ma... Language Naruto-kun." He said as he allowed the young boy to 'tickle' him.
The boy was getting better, the ninja admitted as he tensed his muscles to avoid reacting to that tiny ticklish spot at his left side that the brat always seemed to target– his teammates would laugh at him if they would ever find out that Naruto had caught him off guard once.
After a minute or two, he cracked his knuckles, causing Naruto to tense.
"No." The boy pleaded with large eyes, edging away from him.
Inu simply smirked as he spoke up. "My turn."
Naruto had tried to run away, but he was easily pulled back as Inu grasped the collar of his shirt.
"No! No! No In-HAHAHAHA! WAI-! HAHAHAH!"
Something sparkled in the ANBU's eye as he watched the young boy struggle to get away from his wiggling fingers.
"HAHA- Believe it!"
It was moments like these that reminded him that babysit- er… these check-ups were not so boring after all.
~ Two years later ~
The happy cry gave the ANBU an extra warning of what came next. Not that the man needed it. He had already felt the boy's signature move towards him the moment he had arrived. Not to mention that Naruto was wearing that bright orange jacket of all things that made his ninja-mind flinch, which made it actually difficult for him not to notice him.
He shook his head, deciding not to get into another argument about the 'coolest colour of all time' with the boy this time.
So, being more than prepared for the orange tackle, Inu carefully caught the boy under his armpits and swirled the bundle of energy around, completely ignoring the fact that the brat had charged at him with the intention to knock him to the ground.
"I haven't seen you in like ages!" The orange-lover cried, easily forgetting his previous plan as he let himself swirl around.
"I came to check up on you about a week ago." The man answered dryly, settling the boy back on the ground.
"Still!" The boy exclaimed rather loudly, waving off the comment with his hand. "I like you better than the other ANBU. They are even more boring than you."
"They surely can't be that bad." Inu retorted in amusement. 'Wait till I tell them.'
"They are!" The boy protested.
"Ma…Ninja shouldn't be so loud Naruto. What do they teach you in the Academy?" He chided as he scanned through the cupboards in the kitchen. He sighed at the large amount of instant ramen that he spotted.
It had been a rhetorical question of course, but Naruto didn't seem to notice as he started rambling about everything he had learned up until now.
In still a higher volume than was necessary.
'Need to make sure the others don't take him too seriously when they ask what he wants.' He mused, absently listening to the rambling Naruto, as he saw that another cupboard was nearly completely filled with instant ramen.
"Then we started to talk about chakra, but he was being so boring about it that I nearly fell asleep! I still don't understand how Shikamaru manages to-"
A sweat drop rolled down the back of the ANBU's head as he closed the cupboard. Turning around, he reached over to cover the child's mouth with his hand, muffling the rapid stream of words that escaped.
"Sometimes, you should use your indoor voice… or practise whispering." He told the young boy pointedly as he removed his hand just as a glint appeared in the child's eye.
Even though he wore gloves, Naruto was not above trying to lick him – or bite him – if he kept his hand there for too long.
The boy pouted and crossed his arms over his chest. "You are no fun Inu-san."
For a moment, Inu wasn't sure whether he meant his advice or the fact that he had removed his hand before he could do anything nasty in return.
Inu wisely ignored the comment, but Naruto was sure that he was rolled his eyes behind his mask in some way. Suddenly, the blond academy student smirked and jumped towards up the ninja, whose hand automatically reached out and wrapped it around Naruto's outstretched one.
"Aw come on!" The future-ninja protested as he dangled in the air, with his feet inches away from the ground.
"ANBU wear masks for a reason brat." The ANBU pointed out, familiar with the game that Naruto was playing.
Ever since he had been six, Naruto had been fascinated about 'what he would look like underneath the mask' and had not been content anymore with the mere 'ANBU can't show their faces to anyone but the Hokage'-excuse. Oddly enough, he only tried to steal Inu's mask, but the ANBU suspected that Naruto simply felt that he get away with it when it concerned Inu, in contrast to the other ANBU.
Which was actually true.
Ignoring the pointed look he imagined Inu to be given him, Naruto protested. "I wouldn't tell anyone!"
"That doesn't matter."
"You can trust me! I wouldn't tell anyone. Believe it!" The boy cried out again and Inu paused at his rather odd statement.
There were those small moments in which the blond would take him off guard.
He still wasn't sure how he felt about that.
"I believe you." He answered the boy, causing him to still and look at him with big eyes. "But I still won't show you." He continued, causing the boy to look upset.
'That won't do.' The ANBU thought, wracking his brain for a comment to distract Naruto.
"Besides…you are already very special with having me around. Normal people don't even see us like this."
The corner of Naruto's lips twitched at that comment, unable not to laugh at the lazy arrogance that the man displayed.
"Psh, you don't seem special at all." The boy grumbled under his breath, trying to keep his poker-face intact. It cracked as the shinobi
playfully shook him, causing him to break out laughing.
The Academy student didn't have any warning, as the ANBU suddenly threw the boy ever so slightly into the air – earning a yelp from the blond in the process. He caught him easily, though this time the boy was hanging upside down as he was holding onto his foot.
"You sure know how to make someone feel special." Inu mocked back, to which the child grinned up at him, not at all fazed by his little stunt.
"Ah come on! Can't you even give me a quick peek? Or take off your bandana for a second." The boy pleaded while swaying slightly to side to side, as he glared up at his favourite somewhat-guardian-slash-protector.
Unseen to the younger boy, the lips behind the mask curled into a smirk. "My blue hair would be rather distracting to people."
Naruto's eyes widened in disbelief.
"Blue?" His lips formed into a tight-lipped smile, before he busted out laughing. "Blue! Hahaha!"
Kakashi chuckled softly as well, but it was muted by the – once again loud – laughter of the boy in front of him.
"Or was it orange?" He suddenly wondered, tapping his mask with his free hand.
The boy stopped laughing at that. "Huh?"
"Though green might also be a possibility."
Now the boy knew that he had simply been messing with him and pouted. "Aw that's not fair!" The seven-year-old told the shinobi, before playfully trying to kick his chest.
Releasing the boy, he allowed himself to be used as kick-off surface and watched as Naruto dropped quietly to the ground into a roll and ended into a low crouch. This pleased the shinobi – at least he knew how to be quiet in other areas – before he took note of the sudden hunch in the boy's shoulders. Straightening from his position, but still hunching his shoulders, the boy looked down at his feet.
"Will I ever see your face?" The boy silently asked, looking up. It was clear to the ninja that his eyes were heavier than before.
The ANBU eyed the child in front of him silently, causing the boy to look away in a rather twitchy manner.
"Maybe." He allowed, unable to lie. "As long as you look underneath the underneath." He continued before ruffling the boy's hair.
"You keep saying that!"
The ANBU hummed thoughtfully.
"Don't act like I'm not listening to you. I'm trying to do look underneath the underneath!" The boy argued, pointing to his mask.
"Not that literally, brat." The tone sounded amused.
"Keep that up and you will never see it, Gaki-kun." The man teased him.
~One year later ~
The eight-year-old frowned in his sleep and turned around. "Five more minutes." He mumbled sleepily.
"Naruto. Wake up." The tone was more urgent and commanding, causing the boy to sit up rather abruptly.
"What?" He asked, rubbing the sleep away from his eyes. They fixated on the ninja in front of him.
"I came to say goodbye."
The boy froze as he heard the last words come from his lips. "G-goodbye?" He echoed, trembling slightly.
The ANBU simply nodded and remained silent.
Instead of staying frozen, breaking down, or shouting at him, like the ANBU had expected, the child launched himself towards the shinobi. Unfortunately, the sheets twisted around his legs in the process, causing the blond to tumble out of the bed. Luckily for the boy, ANBU did not have quick reflexes for nothing though and Inu caught the boy just before he landed nose-first on the floor.
Gently righting the boy and settling him on his feet while he moved away the tangled sheets, he was all too aware of the tears that were building up in the corners of the blond's eyes. He sighed sadly, knowing that this was going to be one of those lousy moments as he removed the last of the sheets away from the boy's feet.
In the meantime, Naruto stared at the ninja in front of him silently, his mind reeling with what that one sentence meant. For a moment he was wondering if this was a dream. Just a simple nightmare, but biting on his lip, proved it to be very real.
So what did that mean? Inu was actually leaving him?
Emotions raised its ugly head in the boy's mind and he forcefully told himself to calm down. He managed to keep it stable for a while, the way Inu had always told him to calm down when he got too excited. Yet, as he watched the ANBU throw the sheets back onto the bad and look him in the eye, Naruto suddenly couldn't keep silent anymore.
"WHY?" He cried out, grasping the armour that the ninja wore and trying to draw closer than Inu was usually comfortable with.
He buried his forehead on the cold armour and gritted his teeth in anger. His knuckles went white from the force he used. Tears were slowly rolling down his face as he tried to see into the faintly visible eye behind the mask.
"Naruto." The ANBU gently drawled in his usual disfigured voice.
Naruto wasn't listening. He was too angry. Too confused. It wasn't fair! He had just recently been able to get Iruka-sensei to see the real him and then his precious person had to go?
"WHY ARE YOU LEAVING ME?" The eight-year-old demanded. Tears were dropping on the ground now, but the demon container didn't seem to care.
One of the few precious people that seemed to like him was leaving and he didn't even seem sad about it.
"DID I DO SOMETHING? WHY ARE YOU LEAVI-"
The boy's mouth closed with a soft snap at the abrupt raise of the man's voice. He never did that. Was he really that angry?
Sighing mentally, Inu could read the heavy emotional conflict in the boys' eyes. He slowly put his hands over the boy's clenched ones and proceeded to pry them calmly away from his armour. Keeping them in his hands to prevent Naruto from clutching his armour again, he crouched down. Hurt flickered through the boy's eyes, making his stomach turn.
For some reason, by simply being around him, the boy always seemed to be able to draw out all his deeply hidden emotions. Even one of his trusted colleagues had once commented on how he protective he was around the boy. Inu had to admit that he did indeed care about the boy, which caused a lot of conflicts alone.
Like the one they were having right now.
"I'm going on a mission." Inu explained, causing the boy to widen his eyes.
Confusion, understanding and fear flickered across the boy's face before it returned to a form of acceptance.
I am not leaving you because I want to.
"Oh." Naruto's mouth formed a small circle at the realisation.
A few seconds later, his cheeks heated up in embarrassment and he looked away from the man, tugging on his hands to free them. Inu allowed his hands to slip away after a soft squeeze and waited for the boy to calm down.
Naruto couldn't help but feel tremendously relieved.
"How long?" He asked, subtly trying to wipe his eyes dry with the back of his hand.
"Long." Inu confirmed.
"It's a dangerous mission?" Naruto asked, even though he didn't make it sound much like a question.
For being such a knucklehead sometimes, he sure had his bright moments. "Hai." Inu answered truthfully.
That seemed to upset the boy again, but Inu was not going to be soft on him on this matter. He deserved to know the truth. He deserved to know that there was a possibility that he wasn't coming back. Besides, being who he was, he needed to face reality sooner or later. Naruto was a future ninja, so he was not going to protect him from the aspects that were simply part of it.
Danger and death being two of many.
It would only do more harm at a later date if he did.
"Naruto?" He inquired, as the boy didn't react for a while.
Instead, the child slowly took a questioning step towards him, which caused the ANBU to tense somewhat. Naruto's silent question was heard, but the ninja was unsure on how to approach it. There were only a few moments of providing comfort that the ninja participated in during his time in ANBU. More than half of these situations had been calming down a younger and upset Naruto. Sighing softly, he forced himself to relax and spread his arms just a tiny bit, allowing the boy to come closer.
'It is difficult to do it wrong.' He reminded himself.
He didn't need to ask him silently twice, for the boy practically tackled him and wrapped his arms around him rather desperately.
Inu released a deep breath and steeled his emotions. It had been a long time since he had hugged anyone. Naruto seemed to feel the same way, as he was practically trembling in his arms, unable to control his emotions.
"Be a good ninja alright?" He encouraged the boy.
The boy nodded silently.
"Don't prank Iruka-san too much."
"A little." The boy protested, smiling through his tears.
"You can cry when you are happy but try to keep it down when you are sad." He nudged the boy with his shoulder.
"Hai." Naruto agreed, whipping his eyes quickly.
The ANBU chuckled. "If you want to become Hokage, you will have a long and difficult road ahead of you."
Slowly breaking away from the hug, the boy stood tall in front of him. "Hai. I will become even stronger than you Inu-nii-san!"
The ANBU froze at the suffix, causing Naruto to do the same. The boy let out a relieved sigh as the ninja relaxed – somewhat forcefully - and patted his spiky blond hair.
"Yes, you do that. Good luck brat." He drawled. For the first time, there had always been this need for distance before; he allowed all of his affection to the boy to leak through his voice.
With a puff of smoke, the ninja was gone and Naruto – who was suddenly feeling so incredibly lonely – slipped silently back into his bed. As he stared at the ceiling, he pointedly started replaying the affection that he had heard in the man's goodbye. Having recognised the warmth in that voice, Naruto couldn't help but feel relieved.
'He cares about me too.'
However, this comfort was not enough for the boy to sleep well that night, but that didn't deter him from working twice as hard the next morning.
Said morning, Iruka couldn't help but wonder why Naruto suddenly seemed even louder and more hyper than normal.
'Must be the little speech about becoming Hokage yesterday.' He decided with a smile, before his attention was drawn to a quiet snoring at the back of the class.
His right eye twitched, and with an accuracy that surpassed many Jounin's aim with their kunai, the Chuunin threw one of his chalks towards the lazy Nara genius in the back – which hit him spot on in the middle of his forehead.
"Oi! No sleeping in class!"
The young Nara heir groaned in protest. "So troublesome…"
~End Chapter ~
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