Thank you all for reviewing! And, to the reviewer who asked, no, Kakashi is not going to die. Meant to be a happy story, not a tragedy! So, anyway, this chapter is mostly filler/transition. Sorry, but it's necessary. Next time, Kakashi and Naruto will talk.
Naruto didn't have the slightest idea who was he going to run to for help, so it was probably a very good thing he ran face first into someone the moment he bounded out of the forest.
Shikamaru and Naruto both tumbled to the ground in a tangle of limbs, the Nara giving a loud grunt and shoving him away before he landed on his back, looking none too pleased about it. "Oi, Naruto!" he complained, glaring at him even as Naruto coughed and scrambled back to his feet, Shikamaru staying down. "What's the big idea?!"
"Guy- big, scary guy, in the woods," he panted, pointing over his shoulder and speaking so fast his words ran together. "Sick or something, I don't know- in trouble, ran into me, made me see things, oh my gosh they were so scary Shikamaru-"
Shikamaru groaned loudly at Naruto's ramblings and just rolled not to his side, gazing blandly at the clouds. "What a drag," he muttered under his breath as Naruto abruptly grabbed him by the wrist, flailing about and pointing and yelling.
"Shikamaru! Why are you just laying down there! We have to help him! Come on, get up, get up! We have to help him, Shikamaru!"
"Huh? Help who?"
Naruto gave an exaggerated groan and stomped his foot again. "Haven't you been listening?!" he wailed. "There's this guy in the forest and he needs help! He had a weird dog mask and another weird mask and he was scary and-"
Shikamaru blinked. "Wait, what? A dog mask?"
"Yes! It was some weird creepy dog mask. Anyway what does that have to do with anything he was hurt and who cares what kind of mask he was wearing and-"
Shikamaru tuned out Naruto's babble with a frown. A white animal mask? That sounded like…
"Shit! Naruto, come on. Follow me."
Shaking his head, Shikamaru grabbed Naruto by the wrist and yanked him along. It was almost too much trouble to bring him as well, but Shikamaru had a feeling that he would just bug him forever if he didn't. Shaking his head at the thought, he tried to focus on the problem at hand. The hospital was almost four miles away, and he didn't strictly know the way, as he had never been there before, so that was out of the question. He had to find a chuunin or jounin- surely, one of them would know what to do with an injured ANBU- but none were likely to be hanging out around here…
Shikamaru gave a grim smile when his eyes alighted upon the Academy and he changed course, pulling Naruto along towards it. "Let me do all the talking, will you?"
Naruto blinked before his face contorted, and he pointed at him accusingly, eyes wide with anger. "Hey! You just wanna take credit for finding the big scary ninja guy! I won't let you take credit for that; I'm the one who found him!"
Shikamaru just sighed. Now, even if he tried to talk fist, with Naruto's constant interruptions, it would take even longer. He wasn't even sure now why he had gotten himself involved…
ANBU, remember? If he's ANBU and he's hurt, things could be very serious. And if I just left Naruto to it, the guy probably would've died before any help came.
Oh, right. He did have a good reason.
Shikamaru rounded the corner and ran straight into Iruka's classroom, Naruto in tow, both panting slightly and the blond now fighting to get in front of his companion, eager to tell the story first. Shikamaru let him, mostly because he didn't care enough to stop him and knew it would be over faster if just let Naruto get what he wanted. "Oh! Iruka-sensei! I get it! You're smart, Shikamaru!"
Iruka just looked between the two of them from his desk with a wary look in his eye. "Yes, Naruto? Shikamaru? What do you ne-"
"Oh my gosh Iruka-sensei it's awful! There's this scary guy and he was hurt and he had two eyes and one was red and scary and made me see stuff then he told me to got help and ran over here and then Shikamaru came and then we-"
"Naruto, I don't have the slightest idea what you're saying."
Shikamaru just groaned. This is really all too troublesome… "Naruto ran into an ANBU in the forest. Apparently, he's hurt. Real bad. Naruto and I aren't big enough to get him back here ourselves."
Iruka's eyes widened and his lips parted in surprise. He sat there for a moment, stunned, then stood immediately and headed for the door. "An ANBU? Are you sure?"
Shikamaru shrugged and leaned back against the wall, intertwining his fingers behind his head. "Well, Naruto said he had a white dog mask"
Iruka pursed his lips. "This is bad. Naruto, show me where… hold on. You just happened to stumble upon an injured ANBU? Really… don't tell me this one of your pranks."
Naruto looked positively betrayed. "Wha? Iruka-sensei! This isn't a prank! The guy was really hurt and really scary and he had a freaky red eye and I don't know what an ANBU is but I promise it's not a prank, he was just too big for me to carry back myself and I-"
"I swear, Naruto, you will regret it if this a joke. It's not funny. Now, come on; show me where you found him."
Shikamaru merely watched as Naruto just bounded out of the classroom, Iruka on his heels.
Naruto watched numbly as Iruka deposited the now unconscious ninja onto a hospital gurney, allowing medics to swarm in around them and begin examining their newest patient. "Hatake Kakashi, ANBU," Iruka panted, pushing a strand of hair back behind his ear. "He's the one with the Sharingan. Probably poisoned. Fevered and delusional when we found him, then passed out."
Naruto's eyes widened in surprise even as one of the medics nodded and began to follow as the injured ninja was whisked away. "Thanks for the info. We got it from here, shinobi-san."
Iruka merely nodded as the medic left, leaving him and Naruto standing alone in the middle of the waiting room, Iruka's vest covered in wet, dark blood. Naruto turned to look up at his sensei in awe, even as Iruka shook his head wearily and made to leave, gesturing for Naruto follow. "Iruka-sensei?"
"It's good you found him, Naruto, and went to get help. But, next time? Alert a medic, not an old sensei like me." Iruka shook his head helplessly with an awkward smile, seeming a bit tired by the sudden excitement of saving a man's life. "Come on. Let's go."
"Wait, wait- how did you know his name? And what's a Sharingan? And I still don't know what ANBU is!"
Iruka chuckled. "Okay, okay, one question at a time. I knew his name because I recognized him. Well, his scar. Most ninja know who he is, to be honest with you, if by title and not by name."
Iruka glanced down at his stupefied expression and had to resist the urge to laugh again. "Sharingan no Kakashi," he explained. "The Sharingan is a special eye… kind of like Hinata's Byakugon. It's what he's known for. ANBU is… a really, really good ninja. Even better than jounin."
Naruto brightened at that. "Really? I'm gonna be one someday, then! I'm gonna be an ANBU!"
With another chuckle, Iruka reached down to jokingly ruffle his sunny hair and opened his mouth to give a noncommittal agreement- but someone else spoke first.
"You? In ANBU? Yeah, as if. The Hokage would never be so stupid as to endanger the village like that."
Naruto turned in the direction of the voice to find another man with a white, porcelain animal mask staring down at him, a gloved hand on his hip. He winced at the ever familiar hostility in the voice and took a small step back, but the ninja moved forward and pointed down at him. "I'm onto you, you brat. There's no way in hell you just 'found' Hound, and he'd never be so stupid as to ask the likes of you for help. You're the one who hurt him, aren't you? It was you!"
Naruto suddenly found it hard to breathe.
"Leave him alone," Iruka abruptly snapped, moving fiercely to stand in front of him. He didn't push the ninja back, but his voice was trembling with the weight of so much anger that Naruto was almost surprised the man didn't move away. "ANBU-san, I don't know who attacked Hound, but it wasn't Naruto. He's nothing but a pre-genin, right? If you think he's really just some kind of a monster, perhaps you should talk to the Hokage about it instead of spewing idle threats and accusing him of something he couldn't possibly have done."
The ANBU's expression was hidden, but Naruto was sure his eyes would've narrowed in hate by the end of Iruka's speech. His voice was low and deadly when he replied without hesitation. "You watch who you're talking to, chuunin-san."
Iruka's expression didn't waver as his hand found its way to Naruto's shoulder and rested on it protectively, though he didn't once look away from the ANBU. "I know who I'm talking to. I'm talking to an over-zealous ninja who's greatly overstepped his authority. Unless you seriously want to accuse Naruto of assaulting and incapacitating your ANBU friend, then leave him alone."
"Who do you think you are, ordering me around, Umino? You haven't been on a mission in months; all you do is bring up moronic pre-genin brats. Sorry excuse for a ninja, if you ask me."
"At least my job doesn't leave me to reading other people's files for a social life, ANBU-san," he retorted. "Now, kindly leave us. Unless you still have something to say to Naruto?"
Naruto flinched as the ANBU turned to look down at him again, and he found himself very glad for the mask, because he wasn't sure he wanted to see what the man's expression looked like. He paused for a split second, then shook his head. "Just watch yourself, kid." Then he vanished in a whirl of wind and leaves.
Naruto bit his lip and glanced up at Iruka, who was staring at the spot where ANBU had been with a peculiar look of aggravation and distress on his face. After a long moment passed in silence, he grabbed Naruto's hand with more force than necessary and tried to pull him out of the hospital. "Come on. We should go."
"Hey, wait!" Naruto exclaimed, pulling his hand back and trying to stay. "Wait- is that guy going to be okay? Uh, Kakashi?"
Iruka blinked in surprise. "…Probably. ANBU don't die easily. Why?"
Naruto bit his lip. "I just.. he was nice." Not to mention he showed me my own funeral.
"Huh? All you said on the way to find him was that he was scary."
He shrugged, flustered. "Well, yeah, but I don't think he meant to be. He apologized for being scary, anyway. His eye was really the freaky part."
Iruka watched him carefully for a moment, his eyes unreadable. Finally, his features rearranged themselves into a smile, and the Academy sensei led him forward into the waiting room. "I suppose we can stay, find out if he's okay. There's no harm in that, ne?"
Naruto nodded happily as Iruka lightly pushed him down into a chair and sat beside him. His smile quickly dropped, though, when Iruka looked down at him and warned, "Just keep away from any other ANBU you see here. Anyone with a white animal mask, okay?"
Iruka looked away, gazing off blankly into the distance as if he wasn't entirely fixated in the here and now. With a frown, he muttered, "Because they'll probably act like that other one. And I don't fancy getting in arguments with some of the deadliest ninja our village has to offer."
Naruto bit his lip again at the mention of the earlier ANBU. He hugged himself and brought his knees up to his chest, glaring sullenly at a leaf left from when the ANBU had disappeared. "Jerk. Why did he think I hurt Kakashi? I don't even know him! Why… why does everyone-"
"Naruto, it's okay. ANBU are paranoid, that's it." Iruka's reply was a bit too rushed, a bit too forced, as was his small smile. "One of them once attacked me- here, in Konoha- because he thought I was following him. Nearly killed me. So don't worry about what they think. They'd be paranoid of a rabbit if it looked at them the wrong way."
"Hmph." Naruto's lowered lip slipped into a petulant pout, and he continued to glower at the leaf. He didn't know what to believe. On one hand, that ANBU's voice had sounded just as cruel and spiteful as everyone else in the village. Just as hateful for no reason at all. But, on the other- ANBU couldn't be all bad. Kakahsi had been nice. He'd apologized, he hadn't glared at him… but the things that red eye had made him see had been painful. The sadness had been so real it hurt, and then there was the fact that he'd found himself looking at his own dead body…
It should've scared him, and it had, when he'd first seen it. But now, he found himself caught up in a morbid fascination to know more. The man had smiled at him and apologized; while Naruto wouldn't have put it past half the village to show him those nightmarish visions just for fun, he didn't think that's what the injured ANBU had been doing.
Why had the man shown him his own funeral? Did Kakashi know him? That seemed to be the only explanation, but… Naruto never remembered seeing him before in his life.
He needed to know more.