...I have no excuses.

Thicker Than Blood

Chapter 11

The day started well enough, with Sasuke and Naruto making sure to keep out of the students' sight. That gave them plenty of time to just observe and get used to seeing their friends again. Last time it had been too unexpected, and they had been distracted enough that the situation hadn't been given a chance to sink in until after they had left, far away from their former friends by then.

It was odd, really, to see the small differences that their absence had imparted on the class. Kiba had obviously taken over the role of class clown after Naruto, and was trying to get attention every other minute, much to Iruka's exasperated frustration.

Sakura and Ino were sitting next to each other, chatting intensely every small break, making both boys give them weird looks. Since Sasuke hadn't been here, he obviously didn't have the same fan-club he had once had, long ago, and the two girls hadn't ended their friendship in a fight over him. But still. It was weird to see.

Hinata looked to be as quiet as always, but never really looked at anyone. Naruto wondered at that; had she been that shy the first time around? Sasuke didn't seem able to find an answer to that any more than he could.

. o . o . o .

Iruka watched the two Genin through the day, and couldn't decide if they were shy, or simply so unaccustomed to children their own age they didn't know what to do with themselves. He was leaning towards the latter. He didn't really mind that they stayed hidden during his lecture; it gave them an opportunity to acclimatise, in a way.

Iruka was very much aware of the fact that his students were children. True, they were teaching them how to become shinobi, but they hadn't truly seen the reality -brutality- of the profession they had chosen. That wasn't the case for Naruto and Sasuke. They had been out in the field, had one of the village's most renowned Jounin as their sensei, and had already been bloodied on their rather famous C-rank.

With a heavy sigh, he got his class' attention and herded them outside.

"As you might've noticed, Mizuki-sensei is not here today." He began once they had gathered in a somewhat ordered group. "In his place, I have two new assistants with me today to help keep you lot in line." He gave a small, fond smile to his fidgeting students. He had their undivided attention now. "Uzumaki-san, Uchiha-san, if you could come over here?" He called over to where the two boys stood by the wall of the Academy building, silently observing the group.

"Yes, Umino-san." Naruto answered easily, walking over, followed closely by the dark-haired Uchiha.

"Hey! I remember you guys!" Kiba was quick to exclaim, pointing at them with an intense look of concentration on his face.

Naruto and Sasuke exchanged a look.

"Er-" Naruto didn't quite know how to respond to that.

"Kiba-kun." Iruka berated with an exasperated air. He was far too used to the excitable Inuzuka's behaviour to be surprised. "Uzumaki-san and Uchiha-san are both your superiors today; your teachers. You must address them with respect." He gave the boy a stern look, to enforce his words.

"Yes, sensei." Kiba fired off a cheerful grin. "So what are they doing here?"

Iruka sighed, deciding to push on with the lesson, or they'd be stuck like this for the next hour. "As I said; they're here to teach!" He had to raise his voice to be heard over the speculative, excited chatter. "If everyone takes their positions, we'll begin the warm-up by going through the basic katas." He waited until all the children had scrambled to follow his orders before he fell into his own stance and began to lead them through the exercise. All the while, he kept glancing at the two Genin, who seemed to be having a hushed discussion.

"Why aren't they doing their katas?" Kiba whined, sending the two Genin an envious look. Sure, taijutsu practise was always fun, but the katas? Not so much.

Iruka didn't know if he should tell the two Genin to join them. He was trying very hard not to treat them like his students, and had to continuously remind himself that they were already active shinobi. The glinting of their hitai-ate helped, but only so much.

"Ah, forgive us." Naruto solved his dilemma by ending his and Sasuke's discussion and falling into the same kata the class was on. "Please proceed, Umino-san. We'll join you." He offered a smile.

The contrast between the Genin and the class was staggering, both in behaviour and way of speech.

"Let us continue, then." Iruka said.

A few minutes later, Iruka paired the children up and told them to stretch before spars. He didn't know exactly how it happened -he could guess, though; something similar happened at least once a day- but he was crouching down by one of the girls, helping her with a stance she had some trouble with when he became aware of the scuffle on the other side of the group.

When he turned around, the exasperated admonishment already on his lips, Iruka had to blink. Kiba and Shino were drenched from head to toe, both help apart quite firmly by a scowling Sasuke.

"Stop fighting." The Uchiha ground out sounding irritated. "You can vent any anger in your spar."

"Or I'll drench you again." Naruto chimed in cheerfully.

"Ah, Uzumaki-san?" Iruka cleared his throat after a brief pause. "We don't generally use any jutsu on the students."

Naruto tilted his head. "Why not? It's not like it hurts. I hardly put any power in it at all." He sounded puzzled. "And it worked." He pointed at the two boys, who still seemed too shocked for words. Well, Shino never really spoke much at all, so he couldn't be sure. They certainly weren't fighting anymore, though. Iruka sighed and was about to explain, when it seemed like the rest of the class snapped out of some sort of daze.

"Wow! That was so awesome!"

"Can you teach me how you did that?"

"Can you do any other cool jutsu?"

"Can you do that again? Please!"

"Teach me!"

The blonde looked overwhelmed by the rush of questions, all asked at the same time, and Iruka soon took pity on him. "SILENCE!" He had to shout to be heard. All the kids froze and slowly turned to look up at him. Iruka scowled. "We're in the middle of a lesson!" He reminded them sharply. It was silent for a few seconds. "Has everyone warmed up properly? Good." He turned to the two drenched boys. "Since Kiba and Shino seem to be so eager to start, why don't they begin to spar."

Sasuke immediately let go of the boys, backing away until he stood next to Naruto.

"I thought it was a good idea." Naruto mumbled, still a bit confused as to why he shouldn't have used the jutsu. Sasuke just sighed.

"Kiba, stand over here." Iruka set them up in the way they usually did when they sparred during taijutsu practice. "Shino, if you stand over there? Good." He looked them over. "Ready?" They both nodded. Iruka glanced over at the Genin, making sure they were paying attention, and then started the spar.

As always, Kiba rushed recklessly towards his opponent, charging with everything he had, while Shino watched him calmly, easily dodging the violent punches and the occasional kick. Iruka supposed they clashed so often because they were so fundamentally different. The Aburame were quiet, calm, and withdrawn, while the Inuzuka were exuberant, expressive and outgoing. The two boys mixed about as well as oil and fire; it was bound to blow up.

When nothing Kiba did managed to elicit a reaction out of Shino, his temper flared and the spar devolved into something of a brawl, or fistfight. With a sigh, Iruka was about to pull them apart when Sasuke moved towards them. Curious, Iruka waited to see what he would do.

Sasuke walked up to the pair, watching them with an expressionless face. He just stood there, staring at them until Kiba noticed him and froze on the spot, looking for all the world like a puppy caught with his head in the food bag.

The Uchiha let out a small sigh and his eyebrows drew together in a faint frown. He didn't even say anything.

The silence was getting awkward quickly, so Iruka coughed softly. "Right. That'll be enough, Kiba-kun, Shino-kun." He said. The only reasons these scuffles lasted as long as they did was because Shino never really fought back all that hard. He saw no point to it, Iruka guessed, but Kiba took that as a personal insult, which fuelled his anger further. It was a never-ending cycle. "Thank you for your assistance, Uchiha-san." Iruka added. The dark haired boy gave a curt nod and then marched back to his previous spot.

Most of the kids were watching him with wide eyes, as if unsure what to make of him. Iruka saw Naruto move his hands through a series of signs, probably commenting on what had just happened. Shaking his head, he turned to back to the class. "So who wants to go next?"

. o . o . o .

And like that the day continued. Kiba tried to start another fight with Shino half an hour later, but was whisked away by Naruto before he really had a chance to start.

Iruka had asked the two Genin to move through the class and help those who looked like they needed it most, while he did the same. That didn't stop Iruka from studying them every chance he got, though. The two were complete opposites of each other, yet they worked incredibly well together and got along better than almost any other Genin Iruka had ever seen before. It was almost unnerving, especially since it contrasted so greatly between them and his students; who were the same age.

Either way, Naruto was bouncing through the class, smiling cheerfully while he gave everyone who wanted it pointers. Sasuke, on the other hand, was stalking around with a blank expression, not talking more than necessary, giving single syllables when asked a specific question that required a verbal response. His mere presence was enough to discourage any arguments or scuffles that usually always bloomed up when the kids got too excited.

"Alright, then. Let's wrap this up before it's time for lunch." Iruka said with a smile. Despite everything, his class had behaved remarkable well today. "Yes, Sakura-chan?" The girl in question had raised her hand after having recieved an encouraging nudge from Ino.

"Um, I was just wondering, Iruka-sensei." She began, somewhat timidly. "If Uzumaki-sens... -san?" She looked momentarily confused. "If Uzumaki-kun could demonstrate the jutsu he used before?" She sent Kiba's still damp clothes a quick glance.

Iruka blinked, finding himself under the combined attention of the entire class.

"I suppose we could ask Uzumaki-san if he is willing." He relented with a small smile. Perhaps it would give them some incentive to work harder? He could always hope. He turned to the blonde. "Well, Uzumaki-san? Would you consider showing the class the Suiton you used to... douse the fight?" He quirked a wry smile.

"I don't mind." Naruto said. He had actually waited for that question; he had seen the excitement on their faces and heard the curious whispers between friends. Sasuke sent his friend an almost imperceptible smirk, and then took a step back to give him some room. He didn't want to stand too close and risk getting wet.

Iruka had missed it before, and watched with some curiosity while Naruto prepared himself. He looked around and then took aim on a tree standing on the edge of the field. Taking a deep breath, Naruto flashed through hand seals at a speed that rivalled Iruka's own, and then raised a hand to his mouth to focus his chakra on, and seemingly spat a fist sized sphere of water out of nothing. It sped through the air and then splattered harmlessly against the trunk of the tree.

Iruka stared. How much did those two trains!? The speed he had used to flash through those seals could only come from hours upon hours of practise, and then to make water out of nothing but your own chakra? He knew Naruto was a Jinchuuriki, but he was still only six, and the chakra reserves he'd have to have to be able to do that? And not even break a sweat, too. It was staggering.

He was called back to the situation at hand by a question fired from Ino, who looked at the wet tree-trunk with a sceptical expression.

"That's all fancy, I guess." She began, giving the blond Genin a look. "But what good is it in a real fight?" She tossed her hair over one shoulder, looking as superior and condescending as a six year old could.

Naruto grinned. "That's about as weak as I can make it." He explained, not offended in the least. "Usually, I put more chakra into it and make it much faster. If I had wanted to, I could have cut cleanly through that tree." He shrugged, unconcerned.

Ino blinked and then grinned.

"Now, it's time for lunch, so you'll have to save your questions for later." Iruka interrupted what no doubt would have escalated into a storm of questions and requests for more demonstrations. "Eat your bento's and then prepare for target-practise." He dismissed the class and began to walk towards the Academy building, quickly joined by Naruto and Sasuke. "Once you've eaten, I'll have to ask you to run a quick errand for me." Iruka began in a lower voice.

Naruto nodded. "Jiji said you'd have us help you with your other Chuunin duties, too, not just teaching."

Iruka blinked. Jiji? "Right. I have some files that need to be taken to Intel. I'll show you the stack once you're ready."

"See you in a bit, then, Umino-san." And with that, the two Genin leapt away.

Iruka watched them retreat, their hands flowing through a rapid series of signs and he let out a tired sigh. Maybe he should get around to learn the more extensive sign language ANBU and Jounin were required to know? He was quite happy as a Chuunin and an Academy teacher, but knowing the silent language couldn't hurt. Now he just had find time for it.

Well, he could probably swing by the Jounin central on his way home and pick up a scroll on the basics.

. o . o . o .