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Kakashi suppressed a sigh. The old lady who ran his favorite weapons shop was in a chatty mood today. It was always a risk whenever he needed new weapons, a 50-50 chance of getting waylaid for hours, but the balance of Kodachi Weaponry's kunai put every other shop in Konoha to shame. It was usually worth the risk.

He'd wanted to make this a quick run, just a half dozen new kunai and a few packs of explosive tags to top off his supply before he headed out on his latest mission. Thirty minutes later, she hadn't even grabbed the tags from their shelf behind the counter. Kakashi was fairly sure she was talking about the benefits of various types of tags, but he'd tuned her out a good 15 minutes ago, opting instead to mentally recite his favorite scenes from Icha Icha to keep himself entertained.

"Don't you think so?" she asked him. He nodded and made a noise of agreement. He'd gotten pretty good at nodding at the correct moments over the years.

"I'm glad you agree!" she said, beaming at him. "Would you like one pack or two?"

"Two," he said. She must have forgotten what he'd originally asked for. Considering how long she'd been talking, he nearly had as well.

She grinned even wider, wide enough to make Kakashi's internal alarms go off as she turned around and grabbed not just the two packs of tags he'd asked for, but another two as well.

He eyed the other two packages warily. They were roughly wrapped, clearly not professionally made. Practice tags. He'd just been talked into buying two packs of practice tags. If Gai ever found out... well, Gai would probably call it Daring and Hip, but any other jounin would laugh him out of the village.

Practice tags were a waste of money. Their hit or miss nature made them worthless in combat. Even at the best of times, the hits were few and far between, while the large majority of them were very, very big misses. They frequently didn't even explode or just gave off a few pathetic sparks before smoking themselves out. He'd seen one make a low hissing sound for a full five minutes before imploding, causing absolutely no damage to the area around it. Most of them were made by aspiring tag-makers who hadn't yet mastered the trade well enough to be hired by one of the village's many weapons shops. They were usually given for free to friends or family good-natured and patient enough to try them out. He hadn't realized Kodachi's Weaponry sold the things.

Kodachi-san smiled and wished him well on his mission as she handed over the expertly made kunai and less than expertly made tags.

When he was finally out of her shop, he quickly shoved the practice tags to the bottom of his pack before anyone had the chance to see them. He'd try them out later, privately, where no one else could see his money literally going up in smoke. He didn't have high hopes for anything more than that.

He reshouldered his pack and made his way to the village gates.

~*~*~

Later turned out to be much sooner than Kakashi would have liked, and not privately either, but at this point the worst thing that could happen was his official cause of death being listed as 'attempting to use practice tags in battle.' He didn't have any other choice. He'd already exhausted his supply of good tags and weapons and was kicking himself for not buying more than two packs of professional tags.

As he leapt through the trees with a pair of missing-nin hot on his heels, he fished through his pack and pulled out one of the bundles of practice tags. He squinted at the package in the near darkness of the forest.

Double Explosion Tags, the label read.

Kakashi raised an eyebrow. So that was what the shop owner had been chattering about while he replayed Icha Icha in his head. He'd never heard of tags that exploded twice before.

The rest of the label was covered in extremely detailed instructions written in a neat hand. A neat hand, but also a tiny one. It wasn't the easiest thing to read as he dodged projectiles and tried to avoid running into trees.

Not a toy, the labeled stated.

No shit, thought Kakashi.

Read instructions carefully before using. Do not use when intoxicated. Do not use when in close proximity. Do not ingest. Keep away from small children.

Kakashi rolled his eyes and dodged a barrage of shuriken. Who would be stupid enough to need the warning Do not affix to your own body before detonating? Did the person who made these think all shinobi were children?

He scanned further down the label and finally got to the actual instructions. They were just as long as the warnings. Kakashi flipped in midair to avoid a rather large fireball.

There was a three step system, as far as Kakashi could tell. He needed to set a chakra timer on the inner tag, activate a built-in barrier seal, then set the outer tag to detonate. After the first explosion, the barrier seal was released, starting the countdown to the second explosion.

That was actually, kind of... neat. If he could force the missing-nin into a place where an explosion had just happened, they probably wouldn't be on guard for a second explosions. Of course, that assumed the tags even exploded at all. He still didn't have high hopes.

It took time to set everything up like he needed. The tags were simple enough to use once he got the hang of them, but he wished he'd had a chance to test them out in a less lethal setting first.

After that, it took a little longer to get the missing-nin where he needed them, but finally he had everything aligned. He triggered the first round of explosions, thanking the First when the tags actually did explode. The missing-nin jumped out of the way. Kakashi was right there, ready to greet them warmly, with a giant katon. They retreated back to where they had been right in time for the second wave of explosions to go off. As bits of burned flesh and splinters of wood rained down around him, Kakashi grinned.

Professional or practice, those tags had been awesome.

Back in Konoha, still covered in blood and mud, his first stop was to Kodachi's Weaponry. His mission report could wait for later, this could not. Besides, late reports just meant the cute chuunin that work evening shifts in the mission room would yell at him, and Kakashi rather liked the way he looked when he got all red and flustered.

Kakashi ignored Kodachi-san's wide grin as he bought out the remaining stock of the practice tags.

"They're quite nice, aren't they?"

He agreed wholeheartedly, but he wasn't going to tell the shopkeeper that, not after getting tricked into buying them.

"They're adequate," he said, then tried to sound as casual as possible as he asked if she'd be getting more in.

The look she gave him said he wasn't fooling anybody.

He used up the rest of the tags in two missions.

~*~*~

The next trip he made to the shop, Kodachi-san just smiled at him like she had no clue what he was talking about when he asked if she'd gotten in more tags.

"Oh, you mean the adequate ones?" she asked after 15 minutes of talking him around in circles.

"Yes. Those. I'd like more please."

"Even though they are only adequate?"

"Yes."

"Wouldn't you like something better than adequate?"

"No, they are fine. Please give me more of those."

She smiled at him benevolently. "Unfortunately, we are sold out. Other people have also thought they were... adequate."

Kakashi wanted to curse. Of course they did, he thought bitterly.

"However, we did get these in," she said. "Though you might not be interested, they probably aren't up to your standards."

The package label was excessively long, even longer than last time. Kakashi recognized the neat handwriting immediately.

He bought the whole lot without even bothering to ask what they did.

At home he took them out, feeling almost giddy at the label's declaration that they were Chain Reaction Explosive Tags with Variable Timers.

He skimmed through the ridiculous number of warnings, noticing the additions of Not to be used in place of tissues or toilet paper. Not allowed within the Hokage's office. Not meant for swampland clearing purposes, and wondered again who thought warnings like that were even necessary.

The instructions were just as overly detailed as before. It didn't matter. Kakashi couldn't wait to try them out.

~*~*~

"Where did you say you got them?" Asuma asked, after a good five minutes of Kakashi gushing about how awesome the new tags he'd bought were.

Kakashi froze, realizing his miscalculation too late. Of course any sane ninja who heard about the tags was going to want them.

"Oh," he said, trying to sound nonchalant, "unfortunately, they were just a one time only things. They won't be getting any more in."

Asuma and Kurenai eyed him suspiciously. He was going to have to be more careful in the future.

~*~*~

The next time Kakashi stopped by the shop, they were sold out again, with no additional stock to lessen the sting. He started to slump his way out of the store.

"Of course, we should be getting more in Monday morning," Kodachi-san called after him. Kakashi immediately perked up.

Kakashi might be late most of the time, but he was there first thing Monday morning, leaning casually next to the shop door. His book was out and he tried to project an aura of someone who'd just so happened to pick this wall to lean against while reading. There was no other reason for him to be there. It was just a good reading wall. He didn't want to draw attention to the fact that there was something awesome enough in the shop that it'd managed to get him of all people to wait for it.

And worth waiting for it was. Not only were there two new packs of each of the previous kinds of tags, there was a third kind as well.

Kakashi bought them all. If he continued to do so, maybe no one would know what they were missing and he could avoid any competition.

The third kind of tag wasn't lethal and came with its own unique set of warnings, owing to the fact that it wasn't fire at all. Instead the kanji for explosion had been switched out to light and sound. A flash bang tag to stun and disorientate people, but not to kill them. The new warnings included Do not look directly at the tag while it is set off. Use appropriate eye and ear protection. Repetitive usage without adequate protection may cause hearing damage, and so on.

The idea of switching out the explosion kanji was a genius one, if Kakashi did say so himself. He wondered if it'd be possible to switch it with other things as well, but he'd need to talk to the tag-maker in order to find out.

With purely professional interest, not at all having to do with a genuine curiosity about the maker, Kakashi asked Kodachi-san who was making her tags.

She immediately dropped her smile, looking at him with cold suspicion. She wasn't a friendly, elderly shopkeeper anymore, she was a shinobi with decades of active duty service under her belt. "Why do you want to know?"

Kakashi realized he wasn't going to get a name out of her. She would protect her suppliers, not wanting anyone to poach them away from her.

After some convincing, he got her to agree to pass the tag-maker a note. And so Kakashi found himself trying to write something that sounded casual, yet conveyed exactly how awesome the tags were, while still suggesting the things he'd like to see if the maker were up for it.

He didn't have to wait long for a reply. The following Monday, there were significantly fewer tags to buy, but the ones that were there included a pack of tags that exploded not with fire, but with lightning, and one very interesting bundle that promised to explode in a rain of kunai and shuriken.

There was a short note attached to the much longer warning label, thanking Kakashi for his support and expressing hope that the new tags were what he was looking for. The maker hadn't had much time to test them, so any feedback Kakashi had would be appreciated.

Kakashi went immediately to the nearest empty training field to try them out. He wasn't surprised when they were as awesome as he'd hoped.

In Kakashi's haste, he didn't read all the warnings and nearly took a kunai to his exposed eye. He hadn't stood back the full recommended distance, but he wouldn't mention that in his feedback. It'd just lead to more warnings and there was scarcely enough room on the label as it was.

~*~*~

"Did your tags just explode into lightning?" Tenzou asked as they leapt through the forest on their way back to Konoha.

"Maybe..." Kakashi hedged.

"How did you get them to do that?"

"Maa, you know," Kakashi said, tapping at his forehead protector where it covered the Sharingan, like that explained everything. Tenzou frowned at him. Kakashi knew Tenzou wasn't stupid enough to fall for that, but there was no way he was going to give anyone else a chance to get their hands on his tags, even if that person was an adorable kohai.

~*~*~

The next batch of tags Kakashi got included a set that exploded while activating a barrier jutsu that protected the person who'd detonated the tag. The warnings now included Do not use to make origami. Do not use to make paper airplanes (unless necessary in battle). Do not use as bookmarks or scrap paper. Some of the warnings the tag-maker thought up were just as creative as the tags themselves.

Kakashi had confidence in the tag-maker by now, but it was still a leap of faith to stand in the middle of an explosion and hope someone else knew their shit when it came to barrier seals. But just like all the other tags, they worked perfectly.

~*~*~

Kodachi-san still wouldn't tell him who was making her tags no matter what he bribed her with. The woman had a will of iron. She did, however, keep passing along notes to the maker and Kakashi found himself swinging by the shop nearly daily now to see if there were any new tags. There weren't. The tags only ever came on Monday mornings. But there were notes nearly every day after he'd left one of his own. The notes made up for the lack of new tags and Kakashi went to pick them up even when he knew there wouldn't be tags to go with them.

He kept trying to figure out who the tag-maker was. He was fairly sure they were male from their handwriting and phrasing, but beyond that he had frustratingly few clues to work with.

It didn't help that he had the distinct impressions that the tag-maker knew who Kakashi was, and they were teasing him in some of their notes.

Kakashi asked questions that the tag-maker never truly answered. When Kakashi tried to cajole or flirt the information out of the maker, all they did was sidestep the questions. When he asked questions straight out, they answered just as directly, but with information that was completely unhelpful.

The one time he'd flat out asked where the maker lived, they'd replied with the building number and street address of the shop. Kakashi groaned. The only person who lived in the house attached to the shop was Kodachi-san, she'd been running it for years after retiring from active duty and he'd seen her handwriting before. He knew she wasn't the one writing the labels or the notes.

They continued that way through packs of tags that exploded into earth and wind. Even through one Monday where Kakashi got hardly any new tags at all to buy, just a sheepish note apologizing for the fact that the maker had experimented with water tags that weekend and they were just as big a failure as expected. Though, if Kakashi thought he'd ever need a tag that's main function was turning into a soggy mess, the maker definitely had him covered. "You'd think I'd be better with water than this." It was an odd way to put it, but Kakashi couldn't blame the maker. They'd managed to make tags in four out of five elements, and Kakashi couldn't imagine many people being able to do that.

The following week the maker went back to the basics, except improved, with a set of tags that had adjustable explosion sizes. They were so much fun to play with, Kakashi had used nearly half the supply before he remembered he should be saving them for missions.

He went straight to the mission room, happy to see that the cute chuunin was on shift. It was a nice little bonus to an already awesome day. Kakashi went up to him and asked for a mission that had a high probability of needing something blown up.

The cute chuunin blinked at him in surprise then pressed his lips together, but not in the frowny way he always did when Kakashi handed him a mission report. This was more of a I'm-trying-very-hard-not-to-laugh-at-a-superior-officer type of pressing. It was almost enough to up him from the cute chuunin to the extremely cute chuunin in Kakashi's mind.

He handed Kakashi a B-ranked mission, below the rank Kakashi usually took, but a quick scan through the details proved that, yes, it was very likely he'd need to blow up multiple things on this mission.

The cute chuunin opened his mouth like he was about to say something, then closed it again, shaking his head slightly. There was the tiniest of blushes on his cheeks. He appeared to think for a moment, then simply said, "Be careful on your mission, Hatake-san."

Kakashi grinned at him and headed out.

~*~*~

A few weeks later, when his Monday tag purchase included a pack that claimed to be genjutsu explosion tags, Kakashi thought he might be in love. A week after that, when he got a pack that added an actual explosion that happened away from the illusion, Kakashi knew he was.

He still wasn't any further along when it came to figuring out who was making the tags, but he also wasn't against the idea of putting in extra effort to find out. It was time to stake out the shop. The tag-maker had to make frequent trips there given how quickly they responded to Kakashi's notes.

He took up a post across the street from the shop and waited.

The majority of the day was uneventful, a long string of customers that Kakashi knew couldn't be the tag-maker. Kodachi-san had just closed up for the night and Kakashi was preparing to admit defeat, when he saw the cute chuunin from the mission room walking down the street towards the shop.

But the chuunin wasn't heading for the shop itself, instead he went to the side of the building and knocked on Kodachi-san's door. She poked her head out, then immediately opened the door wide to let him in. Kakashi couldn't imagine what the two of them were talking about, but they stayed inside her house for a good hour.

The chuunin emerged and walked towards the back of the building. Out of curiosity, Kakashi followed. The chuunin climbed up a small flight of stairs, unlocked a door, and went inside. A moment later, a light came on, and for a brief moment Kakashi could see inside a small, second floor apartment before the curtains on the windows were closed.

He blinked.

There was an apartment above the shop.

He hadn't known that.

His brain whirled.

An apartment above the shop would have the same building number as the shop itself.

Could the cute chuunin that always yelled at him for turning in messy reports be the tag-maker?

He grinned at the possibility. There was only one way to find out. He needed to see the chuunin's writing and he had just the plan to do it.

~*~*~

Kakashi handed over the messiest report he'd ever written.

The cute chuunin twitched. "You need to rewrite this, Hatake-san. It's filled out incorrectly and is largely illegible."

"Ah. I would, but I seem to have forgotten how."

"How... to write a mission report?" The chuunin was staring at him in confusion.

"Yep," Kakashi said cheerfully. His plan was perfect.

"How many missions have your completed?"

"A few."

"A few hundred?"

"Possibly."

"And suddenly you have forgotten how to fill out a report?"

"Yes. Could you show me how?"

The chuunin very slowly reached under the desk for something as he stared up at Kakashi with wary disbelief.

He pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to Kakashi. "Here's a sample."

Kakashi frowned. "You didn't write this, did you?"

"Of course not, that sample has been around for years."

Kakashi turned away. Not only had his plan failed to get him a sample of the chuunin's writing, now he also had to rewrite his report.

~*~*~

His plan B was just to hang out in the mission room until the chuunin wrote something. People hung out in the mission room all the time, he told himself, it wouldn't be weird or suspicious at all. Unfortunately, his plan was dead on arrival. The chuunin was nowhere in sight. Another worker asked if they could help him. Kakashi decided to go for it.

"Is the desk worker with the scar across his nose around?"

"You mean Iruka?"

Kakashi finally had an appropriately cute name for the face. "Yeah, him."

"He works at the Academy during the day."

Kakashi nodded his thanks and headed out.

It didn't take long to find a vantage point that allowed him to peek into classrooms until he found Iruka.

The blackboard in the room was covered in a neat script that Kakashi would recognize anywhere.

He grinned behind his mask. Finally, he thought. He had a name and a face and an address.

Now he just had to figure out what to do about it.

~*~*~

The next day he stopped by the shop with a carefully worded note.

Kodachi-san eyed him suspiciously. "Been enjoying the view lately, haven't we?"

Kakashi rubbed the back of his neck. He'd always had a suspicion that she was ex-ANBU, but from the way she was pinning him down with her gaze, T&I might have been a better fit.

"What exactly are your intentions, young man?"

He actually wasn't sure what his intentions were, but getting to know Iruka would be a nice start.

She studied him for a moment, then seemed to take pity on him. "Dinner starts at 7:30. Don't be late."

Which was how Kakashi found himself sitting at Kodachi-san's dining room table, waiting for Iruka to show up.

Iruka arrived ten minutes later. His eyes widened as he saw Kakashi.

They stared at each other for a moment until Kodachi-san made a completely unconvincing startled noise.

"I've forgotten to do something in the shop. You boys start without me. Iruka knows where the plates are." She left before they could say anything.

They made awkward small talk as they placed dishes on the table and served themselves the dinner Kodachi-san had cooked.

As they were eating, Kakashi couldn't hold it in anymore. "I love your tags."

Iruka blushed nearly the same shade of red he turned when he was yelling, but this was so much nicer.

"Thank you. I learned from Kodachi-san's husband before he passed and have just recently gotten to the point where she's willing to sell them in her shop. She's great with weapons but her husband was always in charge of the tags."

Kakashi nodded. There was one thing he'd been dying to know since the first time he'd read one of Iruka's labels. "What's with all the warnings?"

Iruka groaned and shook his head. "Come observe my class the next time we work with tags. You'll understand."

"Your students do those things?!"

"And more. I worry about the future of our village, to be honest." Iruka's voice was exasperated but fond.

Kakashi was more than a little worried for the village now too. Had one of the students really tried to use a tag as toilet paper? He wasn't sure if he wanted to know.

They continued to eat, slowly getting to know each other over the meal. Kodachi-san didn't return until they were well past done. She saw them out with a smile.

"If you two end up getting married, I demand to be invited," she said right before she closed the door.

Kakashi was left outside with Iruka, both of them blinking in surprise.

"We could ask her to be our flower girl," Kakashi said after a beat.

Iruka just shook his head. "She'd sprinkle makibishi instead of flower petals."

Kakashi laughed. "Sounds perfect."

~*~*~