The Greatest Lesson Ever Taught

It was another one of Konoha's beautiful sunsets. In Hatake Kakashi's long life, he's seen a lot of places, hell, he'd been in at least all the nations at least once. But the fact remained that sunsets were the best in Konoha. The village was encased in golden light. The wind blew lazily. The temperature was pleasantly cool. Kakashi closed his eyes as the breeze brushed past.

He was retired now. All of forty-five, and he was out of the business. Somewhere down the line he realised he couldn't handle the feeling of killing anyone any more. The nightmares long forgotten from the time he accidentally stabbed Rin would come rushing back—so he quit. He was done, anyway. In his heart, he knew it. He'd passed his prime a long time ago.

Not that his limbs were complaining. They were glad for the rest. In his career as a ninja, he'd broken almost all of his bones at least once. His body needed a break. Now, his influence in the ninja world was limited to only the occasional guest lecture at the Ninja Academy and as a counsel to the Hokage. The Hokage that still called him 'sensei'. The Hokage that was walking up to him right now.

"What's up, Kakashi-sensei?"

Kakashi had sensed his chakra several minutes ago, so he wasn't surprised when Naruto broke his reverie.

"Just paying my respects," Kakashi answered, his voice strangely peaceful. He placed a hand on the memorial stone affectionately. As far as he was concerned, Obito died while trying to protect him from the falling rocks. This…Tobi wasn't the Uchiha boy he knew as a child. And Rin…oh, Rin.

Naruto wasn't entirely satisfied with this answer. "Do you still live with regrets?" It was a blatant question. Tact wasn't really Naruto's style, anyway.

"No. I used to. But not any more. Do I wish that Rin was alive? Every day. But she died protecting Konoha, as Obito—the Obito I knew—died protecting me. Minato died for the village as well. I miss them every day, but the guilt is starting to fade." He glanced at Naruto then. "I think you helped me with that."

"I did?" the Hokage asked, scratching his head. Kakashi smiled, warm feelings coming to the surface. Hokage or not, Naruto was still Naruto. Still the same, clueless Naruto.

"Yes. Watching you become the person you are today…It was…cleansing."

Naruto gave Kakashi a look. "You're strange, sensei."

"Why do you still call me sensei?" Kakashi asked. "Not only do you outrank me but you're far more powerful than I could ever dream of being. I'm not your teacher any more—and when I was, I barely taught you anything."

Naruto's eyes widened in utter and total shock. "What do you mean you barely taught me anything?"

Kakashi chuckled in genuine amusement. "It's true. You were taught almost all of your important jutsus by Jiraiya. And Sakura became a capable medical ninja because of Tsunade. Sasuke became powerful under Orochimaru. Face it, you guys barely needed me." He wasn't bitter or anything. Kakashi had the unique ability to see facts as facts, and the moment he'd seen Naruto use the Rasen-Shuriken for the first time, he'd known that his job as a sensei was done, whether Naruto acknowledged it or not.

"What are you talking about?!" Naruto cried, flabbergasted. "If you really believe that, you're growing senile, old man."

Kakashi rolled his eyes and let out a laugh. "Come on, it's not that big a deal. If I can live with it, surely you can too."

"No, no I can't," Naruto protested, crossing his arms in a childlike way. He really hadn't changed at all, had he? "No matter what you say, Kakashi-sensei, you'll always be one of my best teachers."

The silver-haired ninja raised an eyebrow. Though he'd never admit it, he was deeply touched. "Uh…okay, I'm happy you think so, Hokage-sama."

"Do not call me that. You cannot call me that." Naruto said it with such force that Kakashi widened his eyes a little. "To you, I am and always will be Naruto, okay? Please. I need to be Naruto, at least to someone…at least to you."

Silently, Kakashi nodded. "Alright. I'm sorry."

Naruto pouted. "And you'll always be my sensei, whether you like it or not. Okay?"

"Fine by me, Naruto. But to be a teacher, one needs to actually teach something, you know…"

"You're mad," Naruto declared. "You've lost it." He stopped for a moment at Kakashi's expression before charging forward anyway. "Don't you remember? Kakashi-sensei, you've taught me the most important lesson of all. You've taught me the one thing that's moulded me more than anything ever could."

"Oh yeah? And that is?"

"Those who break the rules are trash, but those who abandon even one friend are worse than trash."

Kakashi sighed, somewhat exasperated. "I half guessed you'd say something along those lines."

"It's the greatest lesson anyone has ever taught me, sensei. As far as I'm concerned, it's the most important lesson of all."

The ex-Copy Ninja shook his head. "Oh, Naruto…"

"Don't you dare deny it, old man."

"Stop calling me that."

"Heh, as if!"

Kakashi shook his head and grinned. "Do you feel like treating your old sensei to some ramen?"

"So you admit it, you are old!"

"If I agree, are you going to be nice to the elderly and foot the bill?"

Naruto grinned. "Sure. Then perhaps you can show me a new jutsu."

Kakashi gave him an are-you-for-real? look.

"Well, you did copy over a thousand jutsus, you know. I bet you know some really cool ones."

Kakashi rolled his eyes and sighed once more. "I feel like you're patronizing me."

"You're hurting my feelings, sensei. Thanks."

The older man smiled a little. "Fine. I'll think about it."

As they walked to Ichiraku's—now run by Ayame alone—Kakashi quietly mused on the entire conversation. It had been a long time since he'd spoken to his former student about anything except work, and it was a welcome change to just sit there eating with him, blabbering about the stupidest things possible.

"What are you thinking about, sensei?" Naruto asked when Kakashi was silent for a moment longer than usual.

The silver-haired man smiled. "Nothing much. I was just wondering what jutsu to teach you."

A/N: I felt I had to write this because I don't think Kakashi gets enough credit as a teacher. It's true, Team 7 were trained more by the Legendary Sannin than by Kakashi, but when push came to shove, it was our favourite Copy Ninja who went through hell and high water to protect his team. And practically all of Naruto's actions are based on the lesson that Kakashi taught them during the bell test: those who break the rules are scum, but those who abandon their friends are worse than scum.

The more I think about it the more I feel that Kakashi's role wasn't as a teacher, but as a protector. That, I think, is the fundamental reason why the Third assigned Kakashi to Team 7 in the first place.

Thanks for reading! Please review! :D