Author's Note: Takes place roughly 3 years before series start. Co-written with Ariel D.
Gai burst into the classroom with a bang of the classroom door. "Iruka! Most honorable fellow teacher! I have come to seek your advice - about children!" He boomed the last two words with an excessive amount of emphasis, coming around the corner of the bleacher-style desks and peering around. He wanted to be very clear about his area of inquiry. After all, Iruka was doubtless an expert about many things.
He didn't know Iruka personally, but he'd heard good things about the man, so it seemed natural to seek Iruka's advice.
So as soon as school was out for the day, he went in search of Iruka's classroom.
Iruka looked up from his desk, where he was sorting through quizzes for the day. "Konnichiwa, Gai!" He bowed. "I hope I can be of service. What would you like to know?" He smiled. Gai's enthusiasm was hard to ignore.
Gai grinned. He bowed in response, and pressed his palms together. Now that he knew he had Iruka's attention, he lowered his voice in respect for his surroundings. "I would like to know..." He straightened, and scratched the back of his head. "Well, the fact is, I've only been a teacher for two months. You already know this...doubtless?"
After all, his students had come from Iruka's class. A good teacher like Iruka probably always background-checked the jonin sensei who ended up with his precious students.
Iruka smiled again. "Yes, I'm aware."
Gai let out a sheepish chuckle. "So my question is probably very stupid." He looked around. Even empty, the classroom was imposing. "Would you like to get dinner with me while we discuss it? I would hate to take up your time while giving you nothing in return. Providing food in exchange for favors is traditional, and usually one brings such offerings, but I am a very bad cook." He grinned, glancing at the tiers of desks, and then admitted in a loud whisper, "And I was never very good at school so this place scares me."
He actually hadn't known when he'd become an adult ninja that he'd be expected to be a teacher. He hadn't known until Sandaime handed him a notice to report for teaching duties. 'Everyone takes a turn', Sandaime had said, laughing gently at his disbelief.
He'd said, 'If I'd known I would have to be a teacher I might never have become a ninja!'
Sandaime's only response had been eerily Kakashi-like: 'Why do you think I hide that fact from all of you children?'
Iruka stowed the quizzes. "Okay, Gai. That would be fine. I wouldn't mind having a little dinner company, actually."
"Oh, good!" Gai's grin redoubled in strength. Then he faltered. "Even such humble dinner company as me?"
Iruka nodded. He walked out from behind his desk and joined Gai, squeezing his shoulder. "Certainly."
Gai hugged him. "Okay!" He squeezed Iruka tightly, then let go. "Where shall we go to eat? Your choice!"
Iruka nearly stumbled a step. "Ahhh... Ramen is good. How's Ichiraku?"
"Excellent!" Gai grabbed Iruka's wrist and took off with him, running at full speed through the hallways. Not only to get away from this place that had made him feel stupid as quickly as possible...but mostly that.
He didn't slow down once they hit the doors leading to the outside, nor did he moderate his pace once they reached the street. "I didn't want to be a teacher, you know," Gai shouted as they ran. "I was rather thrust into it. I didn't think I would make a good teacher, you see. I was right. I need lots of help, Iruka-san."
Iruka ran along as best he could. "H-hai. I'll do my best to help you, Gai-san." He was amazed at the speed they were taking it.
They made it to the Ichiraku Ramen stand, breezing in and sitting down.
Gai grinned. "Konnichiwa, fair Ayame! Teuchi-san!"
Teuchi just nodded, used to the entrances.
"This is my friend Iruka-san! Please get him whatever he wishes to order," Gai said. "It's on my bill."
Ayame giggled. "I'm aware of who Iruka-san is." She shook her head.
"What'll it be?" Teuchi asked Iruka. "You look like you could use a drink of water."
Gai glanced at Iruka, surprised. "It seems that I have winded you! I apologize!"
Iruka caught his breath and grinned. "It's okay. A little exercise is good for the body." He smiled at Teuchi. "I'd like shrimp ramen, please."
"Shrimp ramen it is!" Teuchi called to the back where Ayame had gone. "Shrimp ramen!"
"Hai!" Ayame called in return.
In a few minutes, Iruka was presented with a steaming bowl of ramen.
Gai waited patiently. As soon as Iruka snapped his chopsticks apart, Gai started. "I'm really having a lot of problems with my teamwork, Iruka-sensei."
"Itadakimasu!" Iruka took a bite, then turned to Gai. "Oh, really? What's going wrong?"
Gai leaned in closer and whispered, "I can't seem to get them to listen to me." He straightened, solemnly wide-eyed, and nodded.
He stared into the distance. "I don't think they respect me."
Iruka frowned. "I see. Hmmm." He considered Gai's students. "Well, Gai-san, there may be a mix of different things happening here. First of all, tell me how you perceive each of your students. Personality, desires, drives, ambitions, dreams, etc."
Gai blinked, and then nodded. A test! Very well! I shall do my best. "Taru...well...Taru-kun..." Gai looked at Iruka worriedly. "His personality seems to be that of a cynical grandfather for whom one can never do anything right. He desires...um...well...he desires to not do his lessons. His drive is instead to study his books. His ambition...is to be a tokubetsu jonin like his father. His dream...appears to be to get onto a better team." Gai cringed.
"Ah...Maruko...She is very angry, and bored. She does not want to be on the same team as Taru and Washiki." He tapped his lower lip, thinking. "Her desire seems to be to complete all the missions herself, without any help. What drives her is...um...womanly things? Her ambition is to be a seduction squad kunoichi for T&I. Her dream is to...be..." He trailed off. "I do not know."
He sighed and hung his head humbly. "I am sorry, Iruka-san. Clearly the failure is with me here. I should have more faith in my students."
He hadn't even gotten to Washiki, and he'd already given up.
Iruka was nodding. "Your team has very different personalities on it, and none of them are the types of personalities that naturally fit yours. Your personality is innately . . . optimistic and joyful. Vigorous, one could even say. For a bookworm like Taru-kun and an angry girl like Maruko, you are a mystery."
Gai raised his head, confused. "Ah...so...to be a better teacher, I should..." He frowned, thinking hard. "Change my personality?"
Iruka shook his head. "No, you shouldn't change yourself. I'm just identifying part of the current problem."
"Oh." Gai tried to keep his mind free from any wandering assumptions. "Well, Washiki-kun is not so bad. He wishes to be a kenjutsu specialist like his father, and his dream is to take over his father's business once he retires from his ten years of active service. He does exactly what is required of him, however, and does not train to be any better than he is. This is frustrating."
He pouted. "Washiki-kun refuses to learn open-handed combat. I explained to him that sometimes he will not have his sword, but he said that if he does not have his sword, he will not fight. I attempted to explain that this is not always an option, but he told me...ah..." He frowned. "Not to worry."
He admitted, "This frustrates me."
Iruka chuckled faintly. "That from Washiki-kun, ne? Why am I not surprised? He was the same with me. He doesn't seem to understand that in real combat, he could end up killed that way. He barely passed the taijutsu portion of his test."
Gai smiled sheepishly and scratched his cheek. "Well, I should try not to let it frustrate me, shouldn't I? Only a bad teacher becomes frustrated when he does not get the answer he wishes to receive. I should work with them...but...ah..." He hung his head. "This is difficult when they wish I was a different sensei."
"Only a bad teacher gets frustrated?" Iruka laughed. "I get frustrated at least once a day!"
Gai grinned. "I am sure it is not that bad." It was nice of Iruka to try to make him feel better, though.
Iruka snorted. "Oh but it is."
Gai patted Iruka's shoulder. "But you are so effective. Children respect you. Everyone speaks highly of you and your teaching abilities."
"That doesn't mean things go perfectly," Iruka said.
Gai considered that. "So there is hope for me yet?"
Iruka nodded. "Hai, there is."
Gai's shoulders slumped with relief. "Oh, good. I was beginning to be afraid I was a hopeless case. You see, my team and I are deadlocked on the issue of missions. I refuse to take anything above a D-ranked mission inside of the village walls, and my team wishes for me to assign a mission C-ranked or higher that takes them outside of the village walls. But I explained that I cannot take them outside of the village in good conscience unless I am sure that their teamwork is sufficient within themselves and with me in order to ensure their complete safety in a situation that may be less than ideal as it concerns enemy ninjas and things of that nature...and they have stopped coming to practices because of this."
Gai got it out in one big breath and sighed.
Iruka took that in. Then: "Call a command meeting. Tell them it's not optional. Give them a teamwork-focused mission that they must pass to get to C-rank missions. Tell them it's also not optional. Work with Hokage-sama for the perfect mission for this situation-maybe even a D-rank outside the walls. But if they don't come to either, then they're in dereliction of duty. Have them arrested. This is a job, not a game. Whether they like it or not is tough shit."
Gai blinked. He almost fell off of his stool at the last part. "Okay." That was all he could think to say.
Iruka nodded his head once. "You think they need to like you for this to work? It would be easier if they did, but no. Do they need to respect you? Sure. But how you get the respect doesn't have to be through niceties. Sometimes you just have to crack down on them, Gai. You're the teacher. You don't take bullshit. The end."
Gai pondered that. He rubbed his chin, squinting, trying to imagine a version of himself that cracked down on people. Someone who was maybe less liked, but whose orders were obeyed. It was a tough, solid minute of visualization.
Iruka smiled and ate more ramen.