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Surviving is the Same Thing as Winning

Chapter Text

Kakashi met his team at the tower, anxious and trembling just the slightest even if he hid it by burying his hands in his pockets. They stumbled into the tower, barely two hours before the end of the second exam and they looked like utter hell.

“Injuries?” Kakashi barked, stress making him harsh.

“Sakura’s cheek is broken, as well as around her eye,” Naruto said desperate, “And I think her wrist is sprained. And Sasuke has to have broken ribs! He’s also got this bite!”

Sakura looked shaky, breathing wet and raspy through the blood crusted around her nose and mouth, eye blackened, and face bruised and swelling. Sasuke was breathing shallow and careful, more grace in his movement than usual as he tried not to jostle his sides. Naruto was probably fine due to his healing factor.

Their clothes were cut and ripped and dirtied to an extreme degree, Sasuke’s kimono top hanging on by scraps, Sakura’s missing, and Naruto’s haori barely orange under the mud and the blood and the gunk. All their armor had held up though despite the scrapes and mars. Judging by the blade marks on the paint job on Sakura’s leg armor, someone had tried to take multiple blades to them and they had saved her.

Sasuke looked to be in shock, with perhaps the tail end of a fever, shaking slightly. And then there was a flash of red as the Sharingan flickered out of Sasuke’s face, something like horror etched in the lines of his face, and Kakashi winced.

They’d have to have a talk about that later. Naruto looked a bit better, scraped up and marred, but his healing had saved him the worst of it. He merely looked frazzled, eyes darting between his teammates as he flittered around them like a worried bird.

Kakashi looked at his trembling, bleeding, beaten down team and nearly fell on them with relief.

Then Sakura burst into tears, cradling her beaten face, crying harder as it jostled her injuries, the snot clogging her airways. Naruto followed, sniffling before bawling. Even Sasuke took one look at their shared misery, eyes blackening, and started crying. Despite their injuries Kakashi dragged them into a gentle hug.

“It’s okay,” he whispered, “You did good. You did fantastic. I’m proud of all of you. You’re all alive and maybe you’re hurt but we can fix that,”

They sobbed, clinging to him, even Sasuke joining in, and he simply held them for a long moment. When Sakura started to choke on the blood, snot, tears, and pain he started to herd them to the medical clinic that had been set up in a spare room. The medic-nin on duty all but fell on his students, wiping and disinfecting and bandaging.

Kakashi hovered about the edges waiting until they were finally returned to his arms they looked a tad better.

“Okay, deep breaths,” Kakashi said softly, “Now we are going to go get food since we don’t have time to wash off, and then we have the next stage of the exam to do. Are you good?”

They all nodded, looking a tad better now that the blood on their faces and hands had been washed away. So Kakashi dragged them to an empty room and withdrew the meals he had sealed away. He had planned to give them to a victorious team emerged from the forest with little injury. He hadn’t been worried because he had trusted they were better than any of the other genin hopefuls if simply for the fact their teamwork was nearly flawless.

And then reports of Orochimaru had been passed along to Kakashi and he had panicked. He would have been on the team trying to hunt the man down if he didn’t have his team to think of first.

“Tell me what happened,” Kakashi urged as his students inhaled the food after three days in the Forest of Death.

Naruto started, obviously the one with the most energy, with Sakura and Sasuke only inputting when he forgot a detail.

Naruto told him of the first stage, of eyeing teams warily and staying close together despite various teams mingling. They had an easy written exam that they had managed to cheat through using Sakura’s genjutsu. She’d layered a vision of the answers she knew over the paper which they traced and that was that.

They told him of how they had been so smug at the thought of a forest survival exam, knowing that despite the ramped up danger they could do it. Kakashi learned of how smooth it had been going, of how they had got their scroll the second day in, early in the morning and set off towards the tower. Then they told him of being ambushed by the disguised Orochimaru, of a snake summon eating Naruto. Told him of how Sakura and Sasuke had attacked the man, enraged, and gotten beat down savagely.

Naruto had rejoined them and they had attempted a retreat but Orochimaru was a Sannin for a reason. He had chased them down for half a day, running them into the ground and harrying them. And then he’d done something to Naruto’s seal knocking him out of the fight and out of consciousness.

Sakura wearily took up the tale saying how they had thought the blond dead and Sasuke’s sharingan had come blooming to life. She told him how Orochimaru had then dismissed her and focused on Sasuke. They had fought desperately, but the man had been too strong. This is when he laid the seal on Sasuke’s neck. Sakura said she had tried to stop it and had managed to land a devastating hammer hit to Orochimaru’s neck, but the man had simply brushed it off as every other injury he had.

She had thought them both dead and attacked Orochimaru in a blind rage. She claimed to have gotten in one more hammer blow before he tossed her out of a tree and vanished, leaving her to land funny and break her wrist. She had escaped with the least injuries but had taken a while to gather herself as she had thought both teammates dead until she’d checked their pulses.

Sakura mumbled something about being so glad they were alive she had simply stayed there for a bit, alone and exhausted but at least alive. She told Kakashi how she had retreated to a more defendable location and hunkered down, using most of Naruto’s supplies and former teachings to lay the most deadly traps she could.

The boys had had the night to rest, but Sakura drove herself further into exhaustion by keeping watch and making sure her teammates kept breathing despite Naruto’s stillness and Sasuke’s high fever.

And then they had been attacked by an Oto-nin team. Sakura calmly told him, sounding almost detached form the story, of how they must have been high chunin smuggled in under the guise of genin. The traps had worked at keeping them at bay for a while and managed to severely injure the kunoichi’s leg. But they had not worked to fully protect the three and Sakura had been drawn into battle.

Sakura had tried her best obviously, but two on one when Sakura was injured, exhausted, and held back by having to keep on the defense, led to a losing battle for her. In the end she had managed to knock one of the other Oto-nin back, crushing his shoulder in a devastating punch with her knuckle dusters.

The last one had decided to make her death slow when she had held onto him with the last of her strength to stop him from murdering his target; Sasuke. He had apparently started beating her viciously. It explained the cracked cheekbone, the fracture eye socket, and the light concussion she had had on top of the bruises.

That was when Sasuke had awoke, the seal coming to life on his skin. The boy beating Sakura had not survived more than a minute more and Sakura said that all that was left of him now was pieces strewn about. Naruto having woken quickly into this rage had apparently been in no better a mood seeing Sakura wheezing for breath through her own blood and had viciously destroyed the other two who had stepped in, despite injury, to try and save their teammate.

All three looked sickly proud of themselves, eyes wide with glee and horror, and Kakashi made sure to give them a proud smile and ruffle their hair. While revenge was not something they liked to cultivate in their shinobi, vengeance for a teammate was understandable.

“You did well,” Kakashi said once more, heartfelt, “You’re all alive and you walked away from a Sanin and the assassination team he sent after you. I’m very proud.”

They beamed despite the mud and blood and injuries, cheeks stuffed with food as they finished their meals.

“The next round is a set of battles,” Kakashi explained despite the fact he really wasn’t supposed to, “Are you ready?”

“Bring it!” Naruto roared.

“Even with your wonky chakra?” Kakashi asked.

Naruto merely pumped a fist into the air and shoveled his last mouthful of food in.

“Despite knowing you can’t use chakra without that poisonous seal acting up?” Kakashi asked Sasuke.

Sasuke’s fists clenched and he gave a sharp nod.

“Despite the fact if they hit you in the face you’re going to go down hard?” Kakashi asked Sakura.

She nodded decisively. He beamed at the team and waved them out the door. He caught Sakura’s arm as she went last and she looked up at him. He pressed a small pill into her hand.

“A solider pill,” he murmured, “There are no rules against them but they really aren’t good for you. Especially not for growing genin. But you’ve been hit the hardest. Take it before your match.”

He gave her a serious look and she nodded, just as solemn, taking the pill. It was a cheat of course, and no genin should be using them in the exam. But genin weren’t also supposed to face Sannin and assassination teams mid-exam.

Kakashi led the group of them down to the arena to face the elimination rounds.

And if Kakashi had to regulate his breathing, had to unclench sweaty hands and calm a shake, well no one saw it besides his students and they said nothing. They had survived. He kept telling himself that even as he tried not to see Sasuke’s tremble, or hear Sakura’s wheezy breathing, or feel the sheer concern Naruto radiated when he looked at the other two.

They had survived and that was all that mattered.

Now…

Now they were going to claw their way to a win. And Kakashi would be at their back every step of the way

Chapter Text

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All the other teams who had passed the Forest of Death were already lingering on the balcony when Team Seven entered through a small inconspicuous side door. Kakashi’s eyes scanned the room as he kept his kids close and noted the attention that focused on them as they entered. Asuma’s team was the closest to their entranvce and Kakashi took in the way Asuma’s team was now staring at his kids looking a shade paler. Kakashi wondered if they had perhaps caught sight of any of their battles and been smart enough not to get involved, but cowardly enough not to help a fellow Konoha team. Kakashi supposed he couldn’t really blame some genin for not engaging a Sannin or assassination team.

Hayate called the genin down and Kakashi watched them closely as Hayate gave a speech. His kids looked calm and collected, shoulders brushing as they gave a united front, Sasuke and Naruto flanking Sakura to make up for her still slightly swollen eyes. Hayate was going over the rules of the next stage and waiting to see if anyone gave up now. Only one boy, a silver haired tall genin, did.

Kakashi’s eyes sharpened on the boy when he saw Sasuke, Naruto, and Sakura all give him suspicious glances. He had personally trained and cultivated his student’s instincts and he knew when to trust the three. That all three were in agreement of their suspicious was like a blaring sign to Kakashi. He made some subtle sharp hand signs at one of the ANBU cloaked in the corner of the room and really couldn’t tell when he vanished, but knew he would follow up.

His students trudged back up to him faces calm despite their exhaustion as they flopped down, leaning against his legs. He absently handed out head pats as the curled up at his feet. The large sign board started to flip through names and Kakashi watched carefully. Seventeen genin passing the Forest of Death meant eight match-ups and one double fight. Since three of those names were his students there were good odds they may have to fight. But…

Kakashi glanced at the Hokage who watched said board calmly. There was no way the Hokage didn’t have a way to rig the sign board. He would have to trust that the Hokage would keep his students from fighting one another, at least until the final round at the actual combat stage. That was a fight that would need spectators to fully enjoy.

“First match, Naruto vs. Yoroi!”

“Good luck,” Sakura patted Naruto on the back.

“Haha! Thanks Sakura!”

“Don’t make a fool of Team Seven,” Sasuke grumbled.

“If anyone’s going to do that, it’s you, Bastard!” Naruto laughed, obviously fond despite the name calling.

“Make sure not to show off too much,” Kakashi smiled at the blonde, “Maybe try to be discreet. You will want to keep some aces up your sleeve.”

Naruto gave him a mock salute and leapt down to the floor and Kakashi wasn’t worried. Naruto had the most energy of the three. Besides that he had read up on all the teams and he knew that this Yoroi kid had the ability to suck out chakra. Which would be useless against Naruto’s massive stores. The guy was in for a bit of a surprise. Especially since Naruto wouldn’t use chakra to fight due to whatever Orochimaru had done. Just to be safe.

“The dead last of his graduating class,” Yoroi snorted, “This will be easy.”

“Bring it on you bastard!” Naruto grinned, though there was much less friendliness in this grin.

Sasuke and Sakura and Kakashi had all worked on training him out of knee-jerk reactions of defensive yelling. They had calmed his energy a tad, smoothed his hackles, and taught him not everyone’s opinions mattered, only theirs and they knew the truth. They had taught him to focus his anger, his indignation into a sharp blade instead of loud wastes of energy.

Hayate cleared his throat and stepped between the two to give the official signal.

“Your team looks like hell, Kakashi,” Asuma greeted as he stepped up beside Kakashi, Gai sliding near as well.

“Well, that’s what happens when you face off against a Sannin and then an assassination squad,” Kakashi said chirpily, turning back to watch Naruto.

“The fuck?” Asuma muttered, obviously not up to date on the intel.

“Do you think your student will win?!” Gai boomed cheerfully, obviously knowing exactly what Kakashi was talking about.

“There is no doubt,” Kakashi nodded seriously.

And down in the ring Hayate had started the match. Naruto went barreling at the other boy, fists raised. And only a few of the sharpest eyes caught the metal bands around Naruto’s fingers. Yoroi deflected a few bows, ducking under Naruto’s wide swings. But then Naruto spun, snaking his arms in the boy’s guard and grabbed him by the shoulders when he tried to dodge.

The boy gave a startled half pained scream, startling a few viewers even as Naruto grinned, gripping tighter. Naruto engaged him in a close-range tussle, using his legs to kick and keeping a tight hold. The boy flailed at the pain and the unexpected close combat. When Naruto did let go, he leapt back to make some distance. Yoroi hissed, shakily touching the deep puncture wounds on his shoulders. Naruto grinned cheerfully and waved, the blood dripping metal on his hands now visible.

“Karute,” Asuma identified with a surprised look.

Kakashi nodded, not saying anything about how Naruto was a natural with them and as such wore some that were a tad sharper and longer, ridged more like saws. Anyone else would have risked cut palms and fingers, but Naruto was dexterous and with his healing rate a few gouges didn’t matter.

Yoroi rushed Naruto, hands glowing. Naruto dodged and Kakashi could see Yoroi growing frustrated as his signature technique seemed to do nothing to Naruto’s boundless energy. That’s what you got for being a one-trick pony against someone who was immune.

“Why isn’t it working?!” the boy demanded.

Naruto clearly hadn’t caught on to what the boy as doing and simply launched himself at the boy without answering. This time the boy dodged his grabs. But then Naruto switched techniques going for open palmed blows that Sasuke had taught him. With the karute on his hands, these were spiked smacks that caught the boy in the chest, knocking the air out of him and gouging his skin.

While the boy fell back Naruto twisted and clobbered him over the head with a sharp blow that sent him sprawling. Hayate watched a moment then declared Naruto the winner as the boy was deemed unconscious.

“You said to be discreet, was that good?” Naruto asked with a grin as he joined them, “I didn’t use any jutsu or nothin’! Just my Karute!”

“It was perfect. Good job!” Kakashi cheered, ruffling the boy’s hair.

Naruto beamed, pleased as he slipped the bloody Karute off his hands and tucked them away.

“I heard when he graduated his taijutsu was appalling,” Asuma muttered as Naruto stretched himself flat on the ground looking ready for a nap and ignoring the other jonin.

Asuma had muttered but Naruto had sharp hearing. Kakahsi was glad at times like this he had helped make sure Naruto understood other people would speak up for him and that sometimes you needed to keep words inside and think before you spoke. He could hear Asuma’s comment but he trusted Kakashi to deal with the other jonin instead of getting insulted.

“It still is!” Gai laughed, “That was a mess of styles and techniques!”

“But it worked,” Kakashi pointed out, “Naruto isn’t the type of kid to master a smooth graceful style. He’s a brawler type. We just gave him the moves he could use and he makes them work.”

Gai laughed not at all upset at the obviously messy, almost taijutsu-offending fighting Naruto was picking up.

“Next Match, Temari vs Tenten!”

“Ah, kids, perk up here,” Kakashi said nudging his students where were half drifting around his feet, “Remember I mentioned a budding weapon’s mistress?”

They perked up now, peering the bunned girl. Gai beamed near him at the recognition of his student. They watched the match avidly, wincing as they realized how terrible it was for a weapons master, especially one who favored long distance weapons, to go up against a wind user.

“Always remember, there is someone better than you and there is always something that will have an advantage over your techniques,” Kakashi said out loud despite the fact they obviously knew that.

They watched Tenten lose despite her repertoire and Kakashi gave them a quick quiz on what jutsu could have been better or what taijutsu or genjutsu would have worked. His kids gave sleepy answers but watched the match till the end where they applauded despite the harsh finish to the match.

Sometimes things just lined up terribly and it would do good for his kids to remember that.

Chapter Text

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“Next match, Kiba vs Sasuke!”

Sasuke sat up and pushed himself to his feet. Kakashi gently rested a hand on his shoulder, looking him over. Sasuke met his gaze squarely.

“Remember, if that seal spreads,” Kakashi warned, trailing off ominously.

“I have control,” Sasuke snapped, offended by the suggestion that he didn’t.

Kakashi gave him a shoulder squeeze and tried to convey by eyes alone that he believed the boy. He must have been successful because Sasuke relaxed.

“Good, go give him hell.”

And Sasuke did. Kiba was good, especially with his ninken but Sasuke was a league above him as he had been in the academy. The Inuzuka were mainly taijutsu fighters with a few ninjutsu and their ninken. While some assumed as an Uchiha Sasuke would be a ninjutsu and genjutsu user, Sasuke had not had anyone to teach him those skills in a while. So Sasuke had stuck to taijutsu, something he could practice by himself. All the strength and stamina training paired with speed exercises in the past half a year had simply made him even better. So despite the fact Sasuke couldn’t use chakra at the moment, he dominated his match.

He looked pleased with himself as he resettled beside Sakura and Naruto and promptly passed out. Kakashi chuckled fondly as Sakura pat the boy’s head gently.

“Next match, Ino vs Hinata.”

This match drew out a tad longer than the others. Ino was mediocre beyond her family jutsu but Hinata was too fast to be caught in those. Hinata was too nervous though, not wanting to hurt a fellow Konoha-nin, so her attacks were hesitant. So it went that Hinata who should have won outright in the first few minutes hesitated and it ended up being drawn out. In the end it was a draw, Hinata getting surprised by Ino’s last stubborn attack and unwilling to lash out too severely. Hinata ended up knocking Ino out just as Ino landed a hit on her head and knocked her out as well. Tie.

“Next match, Shino vs. Neji.”

While Shino was skilled with his bugs, Neji was so skilled in taijutsu and speed it was only inevitable. Shino put on a good show though, drawing it out and showing he could fight against a stronger opponent and had the wits to draw it out longer than many others would have. Neji seemed to respect Shino by the end for he ended it swiftly and easily with no brutality in his hits.

“Next Match, Kankuro vs. Lee.”

Puppets versus brute force. Kakashi winced at the sound of cracking bones as Gai’s star pupil underestimated his strength on what he thought was a puppet. Despite the broken leg the puppet-boy fought back, masterfully directing his puppet. This kid had been trained by a puppet master and not just by some mediocre ninja. He would bear keeping an eye on, especially since none of the Konoha genin would be used to fighting puppets. Kakashi watched as Lee showed off fantastic skill in Taijutsu, showed off in speed Kakashi knew no genin here could match (nor most of the chunin). Lee with his ridiculous speed could outpace the boy’s chakra strings and puppet and it was a knockout match soon enough.

“You raised a good team Gai,” Kakashi said lightly, “All very strong in their own right. We’ll have to see how they hold up against my own team in the finals.”

Gai beamed at him, giving him a thumbs up, and there was something soft in his crinkled grin that Kakashi returned.

“Next match, Gaara vs Misumi!”

It was done quick and hard, the poor boy had no warning before sand converged and crushed him. Hayate made an aborted movement forward and then seemed to sigh and declared Gaara the winner even as sand and blood dripped to the floor. Kakashi hid a wince and merely made a note to keep an eye on the red-head. Not that every other jonin and ANBU in the city wouldn’t be after that display.

“Next match, Choji vs Naruto.”

“Aw man, double match!” Naruto whined as he stood back up.

“It’ll be fine,” Kakashi pat his shoulder, “Remember you already have a pass to the next round. Think of this as extra training.”

Naruto grumbled but when down and fought the boy who watched him warily, like Naruto was a dog about to bite. Kakashi wondered how much of Team Seven’s fight in the Forest they had seen. In the end it wasn’t a hard match for Naruto. Choji had his family technique, and when Asuma called down the promise of BBQ, he had the drive. But Naruto was quicker and it only took a few spools of his last wire and an explosive tag for Naruto to knock the boy out.

“Man, none of my students are going to make it,” Asuma bemoaned.

“None of Kurenai’s did either,” Kakashi pointed out, “And only one of Gai’s.

“And all of yours did,” Asuma said meaningfully, “I guess you had a right to be confident when you nominated them.”

“Well, Sakura still has to fight as does Shikamaru, since they’re the last two,” Kakashi beamed at him.

Asuma gave him an incredulous look and then looked at the grim ready looking Sakura to the lazy looking Nara.

“I’m not putting any bets on Shikamaru,” Asuma said, “Not after seeing your other two students win so handily.”

“Mah,” Kakashi flapped a hand, “It’s good you recognize my superior teaching skills!”

Asuma went to say something but Hayate interrupted.

“Last match, Sakura vs Shikamaru.”

Shikamaru winced despite knowing it was coming and walked down the stairs like a death march, his team yelling sympathetic encouragement. Kakashi watched out of the corner of his eye as Sakura discreetly popped the solider pill he had given her into her mouth and crunched it.

“They saw my team’s fight in the Forest?” Kakashi asked Asuma lightly as Shikamaru looked grim.

Sakura lurched forward into the ring looking a tad terrifying with her blood streaked clothes and her bruises and her set expression.

“They mentioned they saw them take down an Oto team,” Asuma nodded, lighting a smoke.

Kakashi nodded, suspicions confirmed and turned to watch the match.

“He have the Nara intelligence?”

“Yup,” Asuma drawled, “But I heard Sakura had the highest academic grades in the academy.”

“Yup,” Kakashi mocked.

They watched silently as Hayate started the match. Sakura reacted by throwing an explosive note at Shikamaru, not her usual type of move, but Kakashi could see she was appropriately wary of his shadow and had decided to disorient him and hide in the resulting smoke, fleeing a distance away. He was very proud of his students, sticking to taijutsu with a few tools thrown in. They weren’t showing their hands in ninjutsu, genjutsu, or weapons. That would be good for the final round.

What followed was a rather long-distance battle as Sakura refused to get close enough for Shikamaru to use his shadow, and Shikamaru was hesitant to get closer to use said shadow due to her heavy hitting. Which resulted in a kunai shuriken battle. And it was…it was magnificent actually.

Watching two people who could do high level math on trajectory, speed, distance, and such in seconds made for very interesting throws. Sakura was throwing knives at angles to ricochet to pin him down in one place while Shikamaru was practically making Sakura dance with how often she had to move, using impossible twists to avoid such odd angles.

The two did not bother to banter, just snatched up used knives and threw them in a display of mastery over the simple weapon every ninja carried.

In the end Shikamaru was more quickly winded than Sakura, huffing and sweating as he trembled, trying to hide behind the debris of her initial explosion to give himself a breather. Sakura who had retreated to the ceiling saw her opportunity and went in quick and heavy.

Shikamaru tried to use his shadow but he was tired and slow and it only latched onto her own for a brief moment before she charged through it and hit him hard enough to make him drop like a sack of rocks.

“And that concludes the matches,” Hayate said marking something down on his clipboard, “Could the victors please come down here to draw numbers.”

All seven of the winners, including Kakashi standing in for the sleeping Sasuke, each pulled numbers out of a box, calling them out so Hayate could mark them down. Then the man held up his clipboard.

“In one months’ time we will have Stage three, the combat stage, in a tournament style. You will face an opponent and the winner will move onto the next round. This is the stage where you prove whether you truly deserve the title of chunin. You can even lose you match and still be considered so train well, not just in physical strength but in strategy. The matches for the first round are as follows; Sakura vs. Temari, Naruto vs. Neji, Sasuke vs. Lee. Gaara has a pass for the first round and will be the first fight in the second round against the winner of the Sakura vs Temari match. Dismissed.”

Temari looked particularly green around the gills, darting a glance at the redhead and Kakashi winced as well.

Kakashi looked down at the papers that had the numbers scrawled on them and his lips twitched as he caught only the faintest hint of a genjutsu on the paper. His full team had made it to the final round and while teammates fighting could be a spectacle, there was more of a political show in pitting different village’s kids against one another. There had been no chance of leaving that to a luck of the draw.

Kakashi gathered his students who by now were more than dead on their feet. Sakura was the only one to make it out the door on her own two feet, the effects of the solider pill still pushing her on. Sasuke had fallen asleep after his match and when Kakashi picked him up he merely lolled. Naruto fell asleep as he was walking, two matches as well as the worrying talk of seals having exhausted him.

Kakashi draped the dark haired boy over his shoulder mindful of his ribs, tucked the blond boy under his arm, and watched Sakura carefully as they retreated to the hospital. The medic-nin here had done a job of bandaging and patching them up but Sakura and Sasuke needed a real doctor to help with their broken bones.

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Chapter Text

Kakashi had managed to convince the nurses to put his three students in the same room in the end and thus had settled himself in a chair to keep watch as they all lay still and silent in deep sleep.

Sasuke was hooked up to an IV, the seal having done some damage to him. The fever and the resultant surge of malicious chakra not his own had ravaged his immune system apparently and he would have to be careful about not getting sick for the next few weeks. They had also taken a lot of energy out of him and he was in desperate need of nutrients. His ribs had been healed so his body didn’t have to worry about that at least.

Sakura on the other hand had had some extreme swelling of her face and wrist by the time they made it to the hospital, and it had taken the medic nearly an hour to make sure he had healed everything under the swelling. Her wrist had been healed as well and she was also hooked up to an IV because solider pills took a lot out of you after the initial rush.

Naruto was fine, just exhausted. They had told him if anyone else had had their chakra messed with to the degree the seal Orochimaru had placed, they probably would have gone into shock and their body might have started to shut down. Naruto’s status as a jinchuriki had saved him that fate but he was drained. Not empty of chakra but simply exhausted.

The Hokage had tried to summon him for a report and Kakashi had sent a reply saying he suspected Orochimaru may send another agent after Sasuke so he was playing it safe. The fact the Hokage had not sent a reply or an order said that the man trusted Kakashi to do what needed to be done.

Kakashi knew that he would have to wake the three the next day no matter how tired they were. He needed to seal Sasuke’s curse mark, needed to fix Naruto’s, and then they had to start training.

So Kakashi watched over them carefully as they all lay exhausted and vulnerable and made plans.

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Kakashi was only lightly dozing when his instincts blared to life and woke him up. He cracked his eye open, peering about the dark hospital room only lit by the faint moonlight seeping in. There was an ANBU standing over Sasuke.

Kakashi didn’t even hesitate.

He had already flared his chakra in an emergency pattern as he went for the stranger’s throat. Maybe it was a real ANBU but none would have been stupid enough to not simply wake Kakashi instead of sneaking around. So Kakashi went for the kill, kunai whipping out and spinning straight for the vulnerable jugular.

Whoever he was, he was good for simply having made it all the way in the room before Kakashi sensed him. But Kakashi was not renowned for no reason. The man barely had time to flinch back before Kakashi’s kunai had sliced his throat open to nearly the bone.

He stumbled back, hand gripping the wound as blood arched across the room. Kakashi could sense the ANBU on patrol honing in on their location, could sense his students waking behind him at the level of violence in the room despite the sedatives. But Kakashi kept his eyes on the other man, noting that despite having his throat torn wide open the man had not collapsed and in fact was still moving backwards.

“Hatake Kakashi,” the man chuckled through a destroyed throat, “I should I have known you would be here.”

Kakashi gave him no chance for banter, lashing out again. The man dodged the swing of his kunai but Kakashi had been covering the movement of his other hand drawing the tanto strapped to his lower back. He went for a beheading stroke with the old white blade.

The man ducked under this swing, but not quick enough and for his trouble got a deep slice across his mask, cracking it right in half. Kakashi took in the sight of glasses and silver hair for barely a moment as green chakra lit the boy’s hand, somehow healing his torn throat. The boy lunged to the side as Kakashi went for a double strike with both the blades in his hand.

Kakashi spun after him of course but it had been a deliberate driving swing on his part. The boy, Kabuto, if he remembered correctly, stepped back right into the blade of Kakashi’s back up. Kabuto ripped himself off the blade that was straight through his heart and lashed out at the ANBU behind him.

Kakashi had torn his throat open and this ANBU had destroyed his heart and the kid was brushing these attacks off like they were mere papercuts.

The ANBU dodged his retaliation, carefully redirecting swings that would have come too close to the kids in the hospital beds. But Kabuto wasn’t focused on them it seemed as he made a break for the window. Not focusing on the kids was a mistake because as Kabuto leapt over one bed, diving for the window, Sakura’s hand snapped out, grabbing him by the ankle.

Kakashi saw his ankle shatter as Sakura clenched her fist, bringing him down. He rolled out of her grip of course, like she hadn’t shattered his ankle, and stood, his escape cut off by the new ANBU on the window sill. He was surrounded now, looking between Kakashi and the two ANBU trying to find the weak link.

“Pin him down,” Kakashi ordered, voice dark and commanding.

The ANBU didn’t even hesitate, going for the boy. Kabuto fought well. Far too well. But even he could not fight off two ANBU in a narrow space as they went for all his vitals. Then Sakura and Sasuke joined the fray. They couldn’t rip themselves from the IVs and the beds but they threw genjutsu at the man, expertly layering the low level genjutsu in tandem. Kabuto could obviously break out of them but that took precious time and focus, because they could just keep reapplying them.

And then there were the blow darts to considered, which no one had. Naruto landed five darts to Kabuto before he had even realized what was happening. They were coated in a paralytic Sakura had made which Kakashi doubted would do anything to a man who could heal a destroyed heart. But genjutsu, paralytic, and two ANBU proved to be too much for the boy and he was faltering.

Kakashi waited for his opening, careful and considering and patient. And when it presented itself Kakashi shoved an armful of lightening through the boy’s stomach, making sure to rip it up and destroy the majority of his internal organs. For good measure his tanto followed, beheading the kid.

Silence rang through the room as Kakashi let the chidori fade away taking the noise with it.

“Keep his head separate,” Kakashi said, “Burn the body.”

“We could study it,” one of the ANBU said.

“Burn the body,” Kakashi repeated turning to face the masked man.

He made his posture tall and imposing, kept a threat in his voice and gave the ANBU such a cold glare the man bowed. Kakashi did not want to see if the boy could reattach his own head and regrow organs. Each ANBU took a part and vanished out the window. Kakashi turned to his students. Sakura was already out again, passed out from chakra use of her already depleted stores. Sasuke had followed after her. Naruto was awake still, holding his blow dart in his hand tightly.

“Good job,” Kakashi told him softly in the silence.

“I’m not tired anymore,” Naruto said staring at the blow dart.

“I’m not leaving,” Kakashi smiled, “You don’t have to stay up to guard.”

But Naruto shook his head and leaned against the headboard. Kakashi sighed and finally turned towards the door where the medic-nin was calmly sending out a chakra pulsed Morse code. Kakashi flared his own chakra in the all-clear signal. He felt all the medic nin and ninja on duty in the hospital start to move. He was glad to see they were as efficient as ever in cases of emergency lockdown.

.--.

“What do you think?’ Kakashi asked, because every moment was a learning moment.

Naruto scrunched his nose, furrowed his brow, and flipped the seal upside-down.

“Won’t work,” he finally said.

“It’s been used before,” Kakashi pointed out, “It’s helped.”

“Helped, but not worked,” Naruto shrugged, “It wears thin too quickly.”

“What would you suggest then?”

“I don’t know,” Naruto said sheepishly.

Sasuke snorted from the circle.

“Hey! Just cause I’m not a master yet doesn’t mean I’m not better than you!” Naruto howled.

“Still useless then,” Sasuke snorted.

Naruto steamed beside him but Kakashi could see there was no real heat in their words. They were just being bratty kids. Kakashi sighed and looked at the seal again. They needed to do something about Sasuke’s seal, but Naruto was right, despite his prodigious speed in learning seals, he was not a master.

Kakashi sighed. Well, they’d use what they had for now. And he had an idea of what to focus on with Naruto for the next month.

Kakashi shooed Naruto away from the circle so they could temporarily seal Sasuke’s curse mark. The ANBU watching from the shadows barely even shifted as Naruto grumbled. Kakashi gave the shadows a faint nod as Sasuke collapsed. The ANBU that would be tagging the kid for the next few days followed him as he tucked Sasuke back in his hospital bed. Sakura was still asleep from the night before and didn’t even stir as her team entered the room again. Naruto climbed back into his own bed with only one stern look from Kakashi. The boy must be tired if he gave up so little of a fight. Kakashi rewarded him by pulling out a scroll on sealing. It had some notes on the seal that had been used to cut Naruto off from his chakra that they had lifted earlier.

Today was rest day after all the sealing business. Tomorrow would be business.

.--.

Chapter Text

“So, what do you think we need to focus on for the exam?” Kakashi asked his students.

His kids were sunning themselves on the large flat rocks of Training ground seventeen, all dressed in civilian clothes. Bandages were still visible beneath the shorts and t-shirts they had all raided Naruto’s closet for. They would have to look into replacing their outfits because they would have to look presentable for the final match, but that was for later.

“I’m gonna need to do something about Neji’s poky thing,” Naruto said, eyes closed, “Sakura said it cuts off chakra. So I was thinking ninjutsu! Then I can keep him at a distance!”

“Maybe mix in some exploding seals and smoke bombs and traps,” Sakura added, looking completely relaxed with her limbs sprawled awkwardly.

“Okay, so traps and ninjutsu for Naruto,” Kakashi nodded, “And some seals. We’ll add to your repertoire. Sasuke?”

“Lee is fast,” Sasuke grunted, rolling to better get the sun on his face, “And strong. I’d counter with genjutsu.”

“Good. Lee can’t access his chakra for jutsu. He has a condition that means he can only use it passively in his body for things like water-walking but can’t retaliate with any jutsu. He can disrupt his chakra enough to throw genjutsu, so we should work on layering,” Kakashi nodded from where he was similarly sprawled on the nice warm rock. “Sakura?”

The sound of the creek to the left was a happy burble as Sakura took a moment to think of her answer. Naruto was always quick with his thoughts, blurting them out. Sasuke was a tad more thoughtful but didn’t want to look like it took too long to get an answer, so he was usually a little slower but firmer in his thoughts. Sakura however, liked to really think about it if she had the luxury and time to do so. In a fight they were much quicker, but they also recognized how down time and how time-restraints affected their reactions. Sakura liked to be thorough.

Kakashi and the boys let her have her minute as they laid in the sun, enjoying the warmth and the sprawl of their tired bodies.

“Temari is a wind user,” Sakura said finally. “So ideally, I’d use earth jutsu to go after her. If I use jutsu. I think I’d rather use taijutsu or genjutsu instead of trying to do a ninjutsu battle.”

“We’ll focus on taijutsu for you,” Kakashi agreed, “But you’ll also work on genjutsu with Sasuke. Your second match is the one that worries me the most.”

All his kids opened their eyes and exchanged uneasy looks.

“Gaara is …dangerous,” Kakashi said, “And if it comes down to it, I want you to surrender.”

Sakura nodded grimly and Kakashi was quite proud of the fact she accepted such a pride-hurting order.

“Fight him for a bit, show off your skills, but remember; winning isn’t better than surviving.”

She nodded a little more easily this time and Naruto gave her a clap on the back from where he could reach

“We believe in you Sakura! But we want you alive too!”

She smiled at him and Kakashi rolled over to hand out hair ruffles.

“Okay team. So we have a plan for each of you at least then. Sakura, I have someone I think can help you with taijutsu in the morning. Naruto, I know someone in town who can help you with some more seals after I help you ninjutsu. Sasuke, I’m decent with genjutsu but I have a friend I can rope into helping a bit as well. Let’s lay out a schedule.”

They rolled closer and Kakashi unrolled a scroll to start laying out the next month’s schedule. Sakura would go to Gai in the mornings while Kakashi worked on ninjutsu with Sasuke and Naruto, then in the afternoon Naruto would go do sealing with Jiraya if he could rope the Sage into it, while Sakura and Sasuke did some genjutsu under a friend of Kakashi’s. Then in the evening they would do some light sparing and team exercises. Kakashi had also signed Sasuke and Sakura up for some first-aid and medic training on the weekends (not that they knew that yet) and he’d arranged for Naruto to spend some time with someone who could help him work on traps.

Compared to their months in the forests and Wave it was a light, focused load. But compared to what he knew the other teams would be doing, it was a tad excessive. But Kakashi was past worrying about what they could handle. His team was going to learn and they were going to learn quick.

Because there was more than just the exam at stake here.

.--.

“Gai,” Kakashi waved.

“MY ETERNAL RIVAL!” Gai spazed, “You Are Seeking Me out!?”

Which was, admittedly, a rare occurrence when in public.

Kakashi kept a firm hold on Naruto and Sasuke’s shoulders. They were the most likely to bolt. Sakura would plan her exit much more carefully and that gave him a few moments at least.

“I want you to meet my students.”

“GREETINGS! It is an honor to meet the students of my Eternal Rival!” Gai boomed, striking a nice guy pose.

“Hello,” Sakura greeted nervously, far politer than the gaping boys.

“This is Sakura, Sasuke, and Naruto,” Kakashi beamed at them like he was showing off a prize pie at the fair, “I was wondering if you would like to see Sakura spar.”

Gai tilted his head like a giant weird bird and raised a brow at Kakashi. Kakashi raised a brow back.

“LEE!”

“Yes sensei!” Lee appeared, saluting.

His teammates followed more slow, curious at the call.

“This is my Eternal Rival! Hatake Kakashi!” Gai beamed, “And his precious students, Sakura, Naruto, and Sasuke!”

“Hello! I am Gai’s pupil Lee!” Lee beamed.

“And these are Neji and Tenten,” Gai grinned, “Do you feel up to a spar Lee?!”

“YOSH! Let us explode in youth!” Lee pumped a fist into the air, “I have long wanted to face the rookie of the year! The Genius Uchiha! Let us see which is stronger, genius or hard work!”

And then his eyes fell on Sakura and the boy lit with a blush. Kakashi had a premonition of something bad and shuddered, tightening his grip on the squirming boys.

“My Beautiful Blossom! May I have the honor of a date after the spar! I will protect you with my life!”

He blew a kiss at her. Sasuke and Naruto stopped trying to get away and stilled, focusing eerily similar looks on the boy while Sakura quelled a shudder at the same time as Kakashi.

“Um, Sorry Lee, but I’m not interested in Dating right now,” Sakura said meekly, looking up at Kakashi desperately, “And um, I’ll be sparing you, not Sasuke.”

Neji scoffed beside Gai.

“Careful of her kunai,” Neji sneered mockingly.

Sasuke and Naruto switched focus with the same silent look. Kakashi turned a flat look on Gai that said ‘control your student now, or mine will murder him’. Gai gave a half hearted shrug but shifted closer to Neji.

“Yosh! You are a youthful blossom!” Lee grinned, “Let us spar so I may show you my strength!”

Sakura twitched. Kakashi knew the boy was just trying to show off, not make it sound like he doubted her. He would pay for it anyways though.

“Taijutsu only,” Kakashi said, dragging Naruto and Sasuke back, “You may be opponents in the finals, so no need to show all the tricks.”

Gai and his other two students stepped back out of the way as well as Lee and Sakura bowed to each other respectfully.

The look of shock on Gai and Lee’s face as Sakura mirrored the boy’s pose made Kakashi grin.

“Begin!” Kakashi cheered.

Lee had spent a year under Gai’s tutelage, with no distractions in the form of ninjutsu’s or genjutsu. The fact he was dedicated meant many more hours under his belt. He also had more experience in the field.

But Sakura, little pretty pink Sakura, had spent six months in Kakashi’s personally built isolationist training. Many would have looked at his training plans, looked how he ran his kids into the ground every day of the week for months straight with every break having a mind game behind it, looked at how he dedicated a clone to each kid, every day, looked at how he let them focus on almost nothing but being a good team and good ninja; and many would have run away screaming, they would have baulked, they would have dropped out of the program. The Hokage himself had remarked the plan was brutal.

Kakashi had been more concerned with making sure his kids lived than coming out unharmed.

So Sakura and Sasuke and Naruto, all isolated from the rest of the population of Konoha, from the measuring growth of their peers, did not even consider that they were leagues above their former classmates. They had not seen their classmates in so long that there had been no measuring stick against their own growth but themselves. And when you measured yourself against an ANBU captain genius ninja, a jinchuriki with Uzumaki blood, a genius Uchiha, and a girl with the best chakra control to come out of the academy in the past decade, well…

To his cute little students, their growth had seemed normal, maybe even a slow when they looked at their teammates and saw the leaps they made. Sakura especially had struggled to keep up, never once thinking no one had ever believed she could keep up.

So his cute little student lined up against Gai’s star pupil, and proceed to beat the shit out of him.

Oh Lee gave as good as he got but still had shock flare when she countered a move perfectly, or when she spun in a perfect high kick of the Iron First style. They clashed in brutal fast hits, and though Lee had her beat in speed, Sakura to the shock of everyone watching but Kakashi, beat him in strength behind her attacks.

It only took five minutes for Lee to finally stop being shocked and return her blows with enthusiasm.

Kakashi could see, from how the boy moved, that he had to be wearing weights. And Kakashi was sure the Iron Fist was not all Gai had taught his students, but for the moment, locked in battle that was all the kid showed. Sakura similarly restrained herself to the style as well. Kakashi was not being biased when he said they were well matched, but if Sakura could have used her genjutsu of few ninjutsu or weapons, she would have edged the boy out. Maybe. If the boy didn’t take his weights off at least.

As it was they were both flagging after an intense match and Lee was proving to have slightly more stamina than Sakura (but just slightly).

Kakashi and Gai both called the match when Sakura stumbled and missed a punch, her fist hitting the ground and cratering it. Kakashi saw her stumble, saw Lee already in position to retaliate and winced, calling the match at the same moment Gai did, seeing the same thing. Lee was already in the swing though and even as he tried to stop he nailed Sakura with a spinning kick. He had cut some of the momentum, but Sakura still went flying.

Kakashi plucked her out of the air deftly, using the momentum to flip them back to the ground. He set her down carefully, watching as her legs trembled before she found her feet.

“Good job,” Kakashi murmured, patting her head.

Sakura beamed up at him through her still bruised face. Lee had been polite enough not to strike out at her former injuries at least.

“Good match,” Sakura warbled, holding out an arm.

“Good match!” Lee said grasping the hold.

The boy had stars in his eyes and Kakashi could see Sakura shaking with adrenaline and exhaustion. They would make good sparing partners.

“How would you feel about having Sakura join you in the mornings?” Kakashi asked of Gai.

Gai grinned widely at him.

.--.

Chapter Text

“This is Yugao,” Kakashi introduced.

Sasuke scrutinized her silently and she returned the favor. The quiet kunoichi would be a good teacher for his quietest student. They both had a rather quiet, watchful personality and seemed aloof to many others in their silent observations.

“She will be coming as often as she can spare to give you guys some genjutsu lessons,” Kakashi chirped.

Yugao was stuck in Konoha for the time being for the chunin exams and Kakashi had traded in a bunch of favors to get her to agree to this. Including asking the Hokage to count it as teaching hours for her, which was good for a variety of things in your file.

“Naruto, why don’t we give Sakura and Sasuke some time with Yugao,” Kakashi said, steering Naruto away.

“Good luck!” Naruto waved enthusiastically at the two.

Sakura gave him a thumbs-up while Sasuke canted his head just the slightest, eyes still focused on the stranger. Kakashi was proud to note Sasuke also had Sakura in his line of vision, watching carefully over her. His cute little students had all become a tad more protective since the Forest of Death and Kakashi was not discouraging them from that.

“Who are we going to find?” Naruto asked as they slipped out of the clearing.

“There’s a man in town that’s quite good at sealing,” Kakashi smiled, “I thought you and I could go brush up on some lessons.”

Naruto brightened and absently reached out, taking Kakashi’s hand in his own. Kakashi allowed it, letting the boy swing their arms as they leisurely ambled for the hot springs. Kakashi wandered up to the public bathhouse and then veered, tugging Naruto around the corner where they stepped lightly through the bush. Kakashi let go of Naruto’s hands and made a shushing sound as they crept up around the back of the onsen, smothering his chakra. He felt Naruto copying him; that skill had taken weeks to beat into Naruto, but now he could snuff his chakra down to a flicker, like a bird or a rabbit.

Naruto stared wide eyed at the man crouched, peeking. Kakashi stepped lightly up behind Jiraya and then reached out, clamping a hand on his shoulder. Jiraya shrieked like a banshee at the surprise and Naruto started roaring with laughter even as the women in the onsen realized they had a peeping tom.

“Jiraya-sama, what an unusual place to find you,” Kakashi smiled at the man who spun to face him.

“Kakashi!” Jiraya grinned, “It’s been a while.

“Kakashi, you have two seconds to explain.”

All three of the males swiveled to look at Kurenai glaring murder at them over the fence.

“Mah, just dealing with a Peeping Tom,” Kakashi smiled at the fellow jonin instructor, “Would you like the first couple of hits?”

Jiraya tried to yelp out his innocence but Kurenai had no patience for it and whipped a pail at his head hard and fast. The legendary sannin went down with a large mark now marring his forehead.

“Thanks!” Kakashi chirped.

“Get him out of here,” Kurenai sneered.

“Yes ma’am,” Kakashi mock saluted, “By the way, Yugao is giving my students a few pointers on genjutsu for a couple afternoons if you feel like possibly lending a hand.”

“I’ll come discuss it when I’m not in the bath,” the woman scowled at him.

“Fair,” Kakashi said, grabbing Jiraya by the back of his shirt, “Come on Naruto!”

Naruto was still giggling as Kakashi dragged Jiraya out of the area and into a training ground that contained a small river. Kakashi dropped Jiraya and glanced around as Naruto stared at the water.

“Why don’t you go for a dip,” Kakashi suggested.

Naruto grinned and shucked most of his clothes in two seconds flat, running to dive into the water. Unlike his teammates he had no more injuries or bandages to worry about getting wet either. Kakashi indulged it because it was a rather warm day and they had done some training earlier with ninjutsu. A few streaks of soot still marred Naruto’s hair and he was happy enough to take a swim. He had also picked up on Kakashi’s subtle hint to get out of hearing range.

As soon as the boy was under the water Jiraya sat up rubbing at the mark on his forehead.

“How do you always get away with being in the same place as me when I get caught?” Jiraya grumbled.

“Because I’ve never made a habit of peeping,” Kakashi smirked, “My only vice is reading badly written porn.”

“Hey!” Jiraya yelped, “That’s the finest porn in the elemental countries!”

Kakashi gave a mock-shrug and Jiraya grumbled. He did so love getting under people’s skin.

“So, Naruto,” Kakashi said.

Jiraya straightened, eyes flickering over to the blonde that was splashing off to the side.

“You want me to teach him I take it?” Jiraya grumbled, “I suppose I can take him for the month and teach him summoning-”

“No,” Kakashi cut him off quick and harsh.

Jiraya blinked, caught off guard by the rather stone-like tone Kakashi had taken. Kakahsi was not going to give an inch in this though. It was not a negotiation and he would not allow it to become one.

“We are here to request some sealing lessons, nothing more,” Kakashi said, “No summoning.”

Jiraya eyed him for a long moment but Kakashi held his gaze, face set.

“I’m going to have him sign the Toad summons one day,” Jiraya pointed out, “Why not now?”

“We are working on different skills right now. Besides, he doesn’t have the chakra control to be summoning any large helpful toads.”

“He would have enough chakra despite the lack of control if he taped the Kyuubi chakra.”

“No,” Kakashi growled.

“He’s going to have to learn at some point.”

‘No,” Kakashi repeated, “I don’t think you understand what’s happening here. Naruto is my student. Mine. And thus I decide what he learns.”

Jiraya stared at Kakashi as if he had never seen him before.

“I had already planned to take him as my apprentice,” Jiraya said, “You know this.”

And long ago Kakashi had agreed with the idea. Before he had become Naruto’s sensei, he had hoped Jiraya would take Naruto out of Konoha, would teach him same as his father. But Kakashi had had the kid for less than a year and knew he was attached. Naruto would be leaving Team Seven over his dead body.

“Plans have changed,” Kakashi said, “he’s my student now.”

“Be reasonable Kakashi,” Jiraya argued, “He will need to learn how to harness the Kyuubi eventually.”

“No,” Kakashi glared, “his father did fine without it and bijuu chakra. Kushina never touched its chakra. Naruto will be better than both of them and he won’t need to touch a drop of the corrupted thing’s chakra.”

“And what does Sarutobi think of that?” Jiraya raised a brow, a challenge in his words.

“The Hokage has given named Naruto my student,” Kakashi snapped, “He trusted me to decide how best to train him.”

Jiraya and Kakashi had a bit of a stare off and Kakashi could see the plans forming in Jiraya’s head. Jiraya would be paying a visit to the Sandaime but Kakashi knew he would not get the answer he desired. If Jiraya had been truly interested in Naruto he would have been there for the boy. He would have swept him away as soon as he graduated not waited for a jonin to train him for a year. He was only interested in Naruto for his legacy and Kakashi wasn’t going to let the man fashion a new Namikaze Minato out of him. Naruto deserved more than that. He also deserved more than to have all his skills and struggles pushed aside to be simply the Kyuubi jinchuriki.

“Sealing, eh?” Jiraya finally sighed, “Yeah, I’ll give you a few lessons at least.”

It was not surrender but an argument pushed aside. Kakashi backed down knowing this wouldn’t be the end of it.

“Naruto!” Kakashi called, “Come join us!”

Naruto flopped out of the water and then flopped down beside Kakashi still in just his shorts and dripping wet.

“Gonna show us some cool seals, Mr. pervert?” Naruto grinned.

“I’m not a pervert!” Jiraya spluttered, “I’m a super pervert!”

Kakashi rolled his eyes for Naruto’s benefit as the boy giggled. Jiraya grumbled at the laughter but sat back down and true to his word gave them a lesson on seals, eyes brightening as he realized Naruto truly had a knack for them. Soon they were deep in theory, Jiraya having summoned a toad to bring him his scrolls. Kakashi tried to keep up but fell behind half way through the first lecture, instead turning to focus on his own thing as Naruto babbled.

Kakashi also made a mental note to talk to Naruto about what Jiraya wanted from him. Jiraya would find no support in the Sandaime at this crucial time and would most likely turn to trying to cajole Naruto into lessons. Kakashi wanted Naruto to be fully informed before he made decisions.

.--.

“I don’t want to learn it,” Sasuke said.

Kakashi watched as the sharingan faded away.

“Why not?” he asked calmly.

Sasuke looked away for a long moment. Kakashi wondered if when the kid looked in a mirror and saw the sharingan he saw his brother looming over him as he murdered his parents. He wondered if Sasuke saw Itachi in himself and it scared him.

Probably.

Sasuke, for all he was stoic up front, was a sensitive boy. That came hand in hand when you witnessed trauma, unless you became unhinged that was. There would always be triggers, would always be this fear and this hate clinging to his nerves. He was too emotional to ever be truly stoic under the surface. The question was always if that would change to empathy or anger, if he would by sympathetic to others, or start to see less value in them because of his own hurt.

Kakashi was here to guide him towards empathy.

“He is too good with it. I won’t be able to catch up,” Sasuke finally said, “It will just be a handicap. I want to be good without it. You have it but you are still a genius without it.”

Kakashi felt a swell of pride, even if it was only half an excuse to avoid saying he was scared of his own eyes, and reached out to ruffle his hair.

“I’m proud of you,” Kakashi said honestly.

Sasuke peeked up as if to gauge his truthfulness, and then ducked his head. Kakashi caught the faint hint of pink on the boy’s ears and smiled again. His student, the worst at showing outwards emotion unless backed into a corner, was doing well.

“How about we focus on some more ninjutsu. I know for a fact that your brother is a fire affinity and relies mainly on fire ninjutsu and genjutsu. Let’s polish up your lightening.”

Sasuke gave a nod and peeked up at him again.

“And when you are ready, we’ll work on the sharingan because it is still a tool to be proficient in, like your bow and like your satsuma.”

He agreed carefully and Kakashi smiled, even if the expression was a tad sad. He would have to learn or it would be a double edged sword. Kakashi knew that well enough.

.--.

Chapter Text

Kakashi glanced up at the faint knock on his door and flickered his chakra very faintly in response. The door creaked open and Kakashi looked back at the scroll in front of him as Gai toed his sandals off and quietly closed the door. Kakashi smirked faintly knowing Gai was only being quiet because Kakashi’s neighbor intimidated him. His friend had been too loud too late one day and the old woman next door had given him such a tongue lashing that Gai had avoided Kakashi’s apartment for months. Gai was not use to being scolded, too bright and happy for most to take offense and too …much for people to even approach him with a scolding.

“There’s some tea on the stove if you want some,” Kakashi said idly.

Gai blinked and then grinned as he tip toed over to the stove. Kakashi slid his feet off the second chair and toed it out from the table for Gai to flop into.

“How have you been?” Kakashi asked blandly.

“Very well!” Gai boomed at a whisper, “I chanced upon passing by the Hatake Compound on my way here.”

“Ah yes, it’s only twenty minutes out of your way but you happened to chance upon it,” Kakashi said drolly.

Gai winked, entirely unashamed. But then he sobered, face going thoughtful as he eyed Kakashi. Kakashi flickered his glance at the man and then straightened, rolling the scroll shut. While a quiet Gai was not entirely unknown to his friends, it often a precursor to serious conversation,

“I am surprised you reopened the Hatake compound,” he said.

“Naruto’s apartment was atrocious,” Kakashi said automatically, “And Sasuke was living in a house full of ghosts.”

“I am not surprised you did it for them,” Gai corrected, “I am simply surprised you opened it and did not return to it yourself.

“You know it holds bad memories for me,” Kakashi said flatly.

It had been over just twenty years since his father committed suicide and Kakashi could still remember the way the blood seeped across the tatami mats and the way his father’s hair had turned pink with it.

“I would think, three young children would be able to chase that gloom away,” Gai said sipping at his tea.

Which….which was actually true. They were the only reason Kakashi could stand to be there. And to be honest, well, when he was there now-a-days, it was full of warmth and noise and Kakashi almost forgot it had ever been a shadow on him.

“Your students,” Gai said softly, “They have changed you Kakashi.”

“Have they?” Kakashi asked automatically.

“Yes. And for the better I think,” Gai smiled.

“I’ve only had them less than a year,” Kakashi argued.

“And yet I can see the change,” Gai smiled warmly at him.

Kakashi looked away. He knew…well he knew he had become more active since taking them on. He’d had to to keep up. But …was he really changed? Not that he disbelieved Gai. If anyone could see changes it would be Gai.

“I…I think I like it,” Kakashi admitted, “They…”

He paused and Gai didn’t interrupt his thoughts, just watched him with a soft smile.

“They brought back some purpose into my life,” Kakashi admitted quietly, like it was a secret.

“I’m glad,” Gai beamed, eyes crinkling happily.

Kakashi looked down at his own tea and Gai sipped his. They had; they had drawn out new purpose in his life and Kakashi was …he was very grateful actually.

“How is Sakura doing with you?” Kakashi asked to deflect the conversation.

Enough about all the soft warm feelings inside of him now.

“Very well!” Gai beamed, “She is taking to the Iron Fist style like a fish to water!”

“Sorry I didn’t ask before teaching her your family style,” Kakashi cleared his throat, “But I assumed…”

“You are free to assume!” Gai smiled, “I have often called you my brother and so it is your style as well! Besides, I am the last of the Maito family, why should a style end with me? No, it belongs to Konoha now and Sakura will carry it forward for me, just like Lee.”

Kakashi smiled at Gai and wondered how such a kind man could be such a ruthless shinobi. That was the dichotomy of the shinobi life he supposed.

“And how is she doing with…the crush Lee has?”

Gai suddenly wilted.

“I…she does not return his feelings,” Gai sighed, “And I have tried to encourage Lee to give her time but he seems to have misinterpreted that as he must keep trying for as long as it takes for her to say yes.”

“Ah,” Kakashi sighed, “Sakura is a very definitive girl; if she has said no now, it is unlikely her answer will change. If Lee keeps bothering her we may need to intervene. While I would like her to deal with her own problems, I won’t have anyone making her uncomfortable.”

“As is right,” Gai sighed as well, “If it comes to a point I will make sure Lee understands he needs to stop.”

“Thank you,” Kakashi said.

“How is the training month going?” Gai asked, changing the subject.

They drank tea late into the night, relaxing together as Kakashi explained his training routine. Gai exchanged some tip and somehow bullied Kakashi into joining him for spars and workouts early in the morning on the odd day while a clone would be sent to help the boys; just to see if he was still as ‘hip’ and ‘youthful’ as usual. Kakashi didn’t know how Gai had talked him around to agreeing but he didn’t regret that. Yet.

.--.

Kakashi side-eyed Hayate as he sat on a log, watching Yugao greet Sakura and Sasuke. Sakura was already asking Yugao a question she had thought up in the night about genjutsu while Sasuke lingered close enough to hear the answer. Kakashi would bet Sasuke was the one who had formed that question first and somehow connived Sakura into asking. Sasuke liked to keep quiet these days and his teammates helped enable that by understanding him so well he didn’t even have to say it outright. Kakashi might have to stop encouraging that.

But for now, he had Hayate to deal with. He doubted the man was here to simply watch and lounge in the sun.

“Are you okay going to meet Jiraya on your own today?” Kakashi asked Naruto, “I need to have a word with Hayate.”

“Sure,” Naruto shrugged, “We were working on this awesome sealing scroll yesterday that we’ll probably finish.”

“Mah, you’re already leagues ahead of me,” Kakashi ruffled his hair.

“Am not,” Naruto grinned, “But I’m catching up to you, old man!”

Kakashi laughed and shooed him off, meandering over to Hayate as Sakura yelled something and her and Sasuke started arguing over theory. Yugao watched with a patient eye.

“Yo, how’s it going Hayate,” Kakashi smiled as he slouched over.

“Came to see what was keeping Yugao busy in the afternoons,” Hayate coughed lightly, “I also heard some rumors that you bared your fangs recently.”

Kakashi winced and gave a sigh before tugging the tanto strapped across his lower back free. The sword had been picked up on a whim when he had started teaching the kids about weapons, because he couldn’t appear to be a hypocrite when he told them to carry their own weapons and didn’t carry one of his own. After Kabuto, well, he had realized it might be in his best interest to keep it on himself more regularly. The white blade glinted in the light and Hayate gave a low whistle.

“So you really did pick up your father’s White Fang again,” he said.

“Chakra blades are expensive,” Kakashi said simply, “Why buy a new one when I had an old one already broken in?”

“Been a while since I’ve seen you with any blades though,” Hayate smirked.

Kakashi simply smiled at him and didn’t mention it had been since he had been in ANBU.

“Spar?” Hayate grinned.

Now Kakashi really did wince. Hayate was the best swordsmen in Konoha for a reason and Kakashi had barely touched a blade in seven years.

“Spar,” he agreed with a sigh.

He might be taking a break from sealing lessons with Naruto to get his own lessons it seemed.

.--.

Chapter Text

“Stand still!” Sakura howled.

“Nyeh!” Naruto stuck out his tongue, fingers wiggling stupidly.

He yelped as Sakura changed directions suddenly and her hammer lashed out, slamming into him. With a pop the clone vanished in a cloud of smoke. Sakura used the momentum of the spin to send her straight into the next clone. Multiple Naruto’s cursed and dove away as Sakura came after them, flipping into the air and using her own body weight to slam her hammer down hard enough to leave a crater.

“Not going to join them?” Kakashi asked, deflecting Sasuke’s Satsuma with a kunai.

Sasuke sent him a look like he was crazy. Kakashi supposed that Sakura and Naruto’s deranged game of whack-a-mole might look a little too crazy. Sakura gave a shout as Naruto used his chain to grab her hammer out of the air and slam it into the ground, which consequently slammed Sakura into the ground because she had refused to let go.

“Sakura,” he chided as he dodged a stab from Sasuke, “You get broken fingers from holding onto a weapon in that situation, best let it go and retrieve it later. You’re not a samurai depending on his weapon, you are a ninja; adapt.”

“Yes, sensei,” Sakura groaned levering herself out of her crater.

Naruto was laughing at her but cut off abruptly with a shriek as a Naginata nearly took off a clone’s head.

“Mind if I join this spar?” Kotetsu grinned.

Naruto scrambled away as Izumo lashed-out out of nowhere as well. Sakura and Naruto scrambled away and started to retaliate as the chunin pair took out a score of clones.

“Best go help your teammates,” Kakashi smiled.

Sasuke had barely waited for the command and went spinning after Kotetsu as the man pulled his spear out of a post. While three near chunin with good teamwork could take out a pair of chunin with some good planning and ridiculous strength, this pair was no ordinary chunin. Kotetsu and Izumo had some of the best teamwork in Konoha and were never sent on missions without the other. They had often taken out jonin together and were a force to be reckoned with. They kept ahead of Team seven by just enough to tease them. It was a good work out for the pair but there was no denial that they would win.

Kakashi watched a long moment then gave an unholy smirk and leapt into the fray. But he didn’t join his own team. Nor the chunin. Instead he decided to take them all on and soon enough they were all screaming in surprise, trying to evade him. While his kids were good, and the other two had experience facing jonin, Kakashi was not an ordinary jonin.

By the end of the session, as the sun was setting on the horizon, the kids were tangled in a heap with the other two.

“Well, wasn’t that fun,” Kakashi said brightly from where he sat on top of them.

They all groaned.

.--.

Kakashi awoke to sharp banging on his front apartment door. He groaned and rolled out of bed already sensing the familiar chakra of his students. He really should just give up and move into the Hatake compound despite his hang-ups. The kids always invaded his apartments the few times he stayed there. And his ninken didn’t even bother coming to it anymore, spending all their time in the extra rooms and the yard of the Hatake manor.

Kakashi diverted to the kitchen to flick the switch on his tea kettle as the kids let themselves in, falling over themselves as they kicked sandals off at the door. Or well, two of them did. Kakashi saw and sensed Sakura make a beeline for Kakashi with a look of rage on her face.

Kakashi straightened at the look.

“Sakura, what’s wrong?” he asked, tone calm even as he braced his feet.

He let old habits of being battle-ready even in conversation slip in as he was prepared to be off like a shot in a moment’s notice. Not because of Sakura, but because of what ever had made her angry.

“Sensei,” Sakura said, anger bubbling in her voice.

She struggled for the words, looking angry and frustrated and helpless and Kakashi watched her face shift even as Sasuke and Naruto peeked around the kitchen doorway carefully. Sakura burst into tears.

“Hey, hey,” Kakashi tried soothingly, “It’s okay.”

“No it’s not!” Sakura shrieked.

Kakashi realized they were angry tears, born of frustrated hopelessness and Kakashi despaired at what had driven the emotional girl to it. Sakura glared at him with tears and Kakashi knew she wasn’t glaring at him.

“How about we all sit in the living room and I’ll make tea,” Kakashi said, “And then you can explain what’s wrong at…”

He glanced at the clock on the wall and winced.

“At 3am.”

Naruto leapt forward and grabbed Sakura to guide her to the couch as she made frustrated little noises and cried. Sasuke was right up in their personal space, not touching but looming over them almost protectively. Kakashi made a show of locking the front door and resetting his traps, checking windows to do the same. It made Sakura relax a bit more at least as she curled up on his couch, face buried in her knees but gripping the boys hands with a death grip.

Kakashi made tea while silently watching his team huddle together. They were…they were a team. A good one he realized abruptly. Not just as watching each other’s backs and keeping up in the field or a fight, but in everything. The way Sasuke leaned towards them when they shifted, the way Naruto had a sixth sense for when his teammates were emotionally charged. The way Sakura kept tabs on them everywhere all the time.

Kakashi smiled beneath his mask at the thought and brought four mugs of hot green tea dosed with honey to the kids. Only when they’d all taken big sips did he settle across from them on the coffee table and look at them carefully.

“Now, what’s wrong?”

The way Sasuke and Naruto looked at Sakura said they weren’t completely sure. Sakura angrily dashed the last of her tears and took a gulp of her tea.

“Naruto is not allowed to go back to the guy you have teaching him seals,” she said.

Her tone was firm and angry and booked no room for argument.

“Has he been trying to convince you to leave Team Seven again?” Kakashi sighed.

He had hoped Jiraya would back off. And that Sasuke and Sakura wouldn’t hear about the threat to their team. He should have known that Jiraya was stubborn as a rock and that Naruto told the other two everything.

“No,” Sakura growled, low and dangerous, “He’s a pervert!”

“Well, yeah,” Kakashi said slowly, “He did write Icha Icha.”

“Not that!” Sakura hissed, “He’s perving on Naruto!”

Kakashi’s eyes leapt to Naruto who shrugged. Kakashi felt something in him bare it’s teeth; that was not a ‘I have no idea what’s she’s talking about’ shrug, that was a ‘so what?’ shrug.

“Explain,” Kakashi said sharply.

Naruto shrugged again looking at his feet, confused. Sakura almost surged out of her seat, hand still grasping Naruto’s tightly.

“He’s making Naruto use that prank jutsu to look like a girl as they train!” she howled, “So that he can stare like a pervert!”

Kakashi wanted to believe better of Jiraya, to think it was all innocent, but one look at Naruto’s face said that was true. And that Naruto had no idea that that was wrong.

“Naruto,” Kakashi said, setting his mug aside, “Is that true?”

“I mean, yeah?” Naruto said, “He was gonna brush me off the other day cause I said no to being his apprentice and go spend time peeping so I used my sexy-no-jutsu cause it always works on perverts. He got a nosebleed like jiji but said he gave it two-thumbs up approval and said he would teach me a smoke tag if I did the lessons while in the henge. I kept clothes on so it wasn’t the usual smoke clouds.”

The terrible thing was Kakashi could picture Naruto henged as a girl sitting taking lessons as normal not thinking anything was totally wrong with the picture. Even if Jiraya didn’t take it any farther, didn’t even stare at Naruto as he give a lessons; he had still asked it of Naruto.

Kakashi took a deep breath.

“Finish your tea,” he said quietly.

The boys obeyed but Sakura held Kakashi’s gaze. He gave an acknowledging nod and she gave a curt nod of approval before downing her tea. Kakashi tucked his kids into his bed. It was a tight fit being a single bed for three of them, but they were all small things still, not yet hitting their growth spurts. They curled under his shuriken-printed duvet and Kakashi silently summoned the pack. They took one look at the kids nodding off and Kakashi’s stone-cold face and all curled up around the room to guard.

Only Pakkun remained at his side as Kakashi got fully dressed and slanted his headband over his eye. He locked the kids in, setting up an extra trap of two to make them feel safer and then set off across the dark city.

“Track down Jiraya for me,” Kakashi said, voice dark, “Come find me when you locate him.”

Pakkun put his nose to the ground immediately, the sage’s scent one of the ones he had long since memorized. He didn’t question Kakashi with such a dark set look on his face.

Kakashi set off in a different direction than the pug, lightly hopping from roof to roof as he headed for the center of the village. He kept his chakra carefully regulated and let none of the anger fester in it; he didn’t want to agitate anyone or raise alarm.

Kakashi landed lightly on a doorstep and gently knocked on the door. Windows were for bothering people or for friends, doors were for respect and while Kakashi rarely used the door, this time it was needed. Despite the quiet knock Kakashi heard the faint steps coming for the door. As the door swung open Kakashi held up his hand in a greeting to show that they were empty and he came in peace.

“Hatake,” Umino Iruka said flatly, “It’s almost 4am. This had better be an emergency.”

The man was wearing his yukata half-hazardously, his hair down and mussed, and Kakashi knew he had just awoken him. Reasonable at 4am.

“Can we talk,” Kakashi said, and his voice was just as flat, a dark edge hidden under politeness.

Umino’s eyes sharpened on him and he slowly stepped aside letting Kakashi into the entrance. As the door shut Kakashi didn’t bother taking his shoes off. He wouldn’t be here long.

“What’s wrong,” Umino asked, voice pitched low.

Kakashi watched a spark of chakra travel up the seals around the door. Umino’s house was well warded, with security seals embedded in the walls like the Hatake compound. That one, if Kakashi was not mistaken, made sure no listening devices would function, and that no spy equipment nor subtle jutsu would breach the walls. That was important for a man who did sensitive paperwork for the Hokage outside of the office.

“There is… an issue,” Kakashi started, “And I’m going to kick the hornets’ nest over it.”

“Of course you are,” Umino muttered, leaning against the wall and folding his arms, looking entirely unimpressed.

“And I need your support,” Kakashi said.

Umino’s nose twitched. Like he could smell trouble. Kakashi met his gaze squarely. Umino had a problem with Kakashi over his teaching methods but Kakashi had no issues with Umino. The man was a damn good shinobi and damn good at his job. Titles like chunin meant nothing in the scheme of things, only raw power levels (and any medic could tell you power was nothing, control was the point).

“It’s about Naruto,” Kakashi said, bluntly.

Umino narrowed his eyes. It was a look that said ‘I know you’re trying to manipulate me’ but it was also a look that said he didn’t care.

“I’ve been sending Naruto to Jiraya for sealing lessons,” Kakashi explained, “And just sealing lessons. I told him no lessons on harnessing the Kyuubi.”

Umino let out a hiss at the mention of the bijuu but for once looked like he approved of what Kakashi was saying.

“Jiraya threatened to go over my head to the Hokage,” Kakashi further explained.

And Umino snorted, waving a hand in a dismissive way. He was thinking the same thing Kakashi had at least. Kakashi had been given Team seven for a reason, and being one of the Hokage’s favorites gave one a lot of leeway. Even though Jiraya was one of the Sandaime’s students, Kakashi and Naruto were favored as well and the Hokage was unlikely to take sides. He was more than likely to straight up give Naruto the choice.

“I’m not worried about that,” Kakashi agreed, “But things have changed. I’m going to separate Naruto from Jiraya fully. No more sealing, no more lessons of any sort. And that’s going to make Jiraya irritated.”

Umino frowned, eyeing Kakashi. Since Naruto had been allowed sealing lessons, the Hokage was unlikely to step in, seeing as Naruto would be getting lessons from Jiraya and time with the man while still being Kakashi’s student. But not letting Jiraya near the boy at all was going to make Jiraya throw a fit and that would grab the Hokage’s attention.

“I need you to back me up,” Kakashi said pointedly.

Umino’s word would hold weight, especially if it was to agree with Kakashi. They were often on the opposite sides in their politics so Umino actually agreeing with him would hold be a shock. A shock that would make the Hokage mull it over instead of making a flash decision, in civilian terms, of split-custody.

“Why?” Umino asked carefully.

He was getting a bit twitchy. Kakashi meeting him at 4am was odd. Kakashi asking for his help was a sign of alarm to the man. Kakashi asking him to go to the Hokage with that help was a disaster. At least that must be what Umino was thinking.

“Jiraya made Naruto stay in his sexy-no-jutsu for his last few sealing lessons,” Kakashi said bluntly.

Umino gave a full body twitch, something like a snarl slipping from his lips.

“I don’t care what you think of my teaching methods,” Kakashi said, “But I care for my students. I want them to grow up into healthy adults. I want them to have what freedom and innocence they can have even as shinobi. Naruto didn’t even realize what was wrong with it. Sakura was the one who came to me in tears, worried about her teammate.”

Umino had a dark look in his eyes, but he was still listening.

“So Jiraya is done. No more time with Naruto alone. I don’t care if he didn’t mean it, if it was a joke that went too far. But he’s not going to take that laying down. Maybe he will defend himself, maybe he will simply apologize, but he’s not allowed alone with Naruto anymore.”

“Agreed,” Umino said lowly, “I have your back in this. Wait here.”

Kakashi waited in the entrance as Umino vanished back into the house. He returned a few minutes later, fully dressed and looking like he hadn’t just rolled out of bed.

“I take it you’re going to talk to Jiraya right now?”

“I was going to. I have Pakkun tracking him down.”

“Hmm. Stick with me for a bit.”

Kakashi followed the chunin out of his home, watching him seal the house behind him, and then make a beeline for the neighbors. Genma was already leaning against his doorframe, watching them with careful eyes, dressed in lounging clothes. Kakashi could see Umino’s other neighbor leaning out the window, watching carefully. Kakashi gave Tenzo a salute and the man nodded but stayed watching.

Umino was an unassuming man to any outsider or civilian, but to the shinobi of Konoha (at least the higher-ranked ones), Umino was a man of power. He had the Hokage’s favor, did much of his paperwork, and was a trusted advisor. That meant, despite his apparent ranking, Umino was a well-guarded figure of Konoha. He lived in the heart of Konoha, in the safest place, and had ANBU living on either side of him, the houses made into ANBU housing. There was never not at least one ANBU somewhere in his vicinity. He was too valuable.

“Genma,” Umino greeted, “Are you free today?”

“I am,” Genma smiled, senbon rolling across his mouth, “You need a hand?”

“Kakashi needs someone to help with his students for the day,” Umino smiled.

“I could spare the day,” Genma agreed, “When do they meet?”

“They’re at my apartment,” Kakashi said, “I’ll send a ninken along with word of your coming but if you could stay out of the apartment before they wake that would be a good idea. Sakura usually goes with Gai in the morning, but perhaps you can keep her for the day.”

Kakashi pulled out a personal exploding tag and wrote a message on the back. Naruto would recognize his handy work for the seal and not question the legitimacy of the note. Kakashi also fished out his wallet and forked over some cash that Genma took, mouth slowly opening in surprise.

“Breakfast and lunch are my treat,” Kakashi smiled, “We usually do breakfast at 8am.”

Genma sort of gaped at him. Well, Kakashi was well known for skipping out on the bill.

“They all need to do some taijutsu exercises, but I’ll leave the rest of the day up to you,” Kakashi said.

Genma nodded slowly, looking between them.

“I’ll keep an eye on them,” Genma said carefully, “Good luck with whatever you’re doing.”

Genma slipped into his house, probably to change and Kakashi waved at Umino to pause as Pakkun slipped from the shadows.

“Found him boss. He’s at the usual house. Sleeping.”

“Good,” Kakashi said leaning over to give him a scratch, “Would you find Gai, and let him know that Sakura won’t be joining him this morning; Genma’s watching my team for the day. Then if you could let the kids know Genma is coming…”

“You got it, boss,” Pakkun nodded, “You be careful okay? Just summon us if you need us.”

“No. You watch the kids,” Kakashi shook his head, “I’m not expecting any danger to them, but I want them uninvolved in all this.”

The ninken nodded and was off in a flash towards Gai’s house. Gai would be waking soon anyways. Umino was watching silently and only spoke up when the dog was gone.

“You care for them. All of them,” he noted.

“I do,” Kakashi said in a tone of voice that left no room for argument.

Umino searched his face for a long moment and then nodded sharply, something like a smile curling his mouth. Seems they were good for now.

.--.

Chapter Text

“Yo,” Kakashi smiled, appearing in a swirl of leaves.

“Kakashi-sensei!” Naruto beamed, throwing himself at him. Kakashi caught the kid, spinning with the hug and quickly found Sakura joining, grabbing him around the waist in a hug. Sasuke didn’t join the hug but hovered close enough to be touching until Kakashi reached out and ruffled his hair.

“Where were you? Genma-sensei said you were busy, so he was teaching us today! And Pakkun-sensei said he worked with the Yondaime! He taught us how the Yondaime used seals to appear in a flash! Like, halfway across the country!” Naruto babbled.

“He said I wasn’t to train with Gai-sensei this morning,” Sakura said a lot more quietly just for their ears, “And he didn’t let us out of his sight.”

“There’s also someone watching,” Sasuke said even quieter.

“I think it’s one of the masked guys,” Naruto added in a louder whisper.

“Good observations,” Kakashi smiled at all of them, “Yes, I was busy so Genma volunteered to help out. I see Gai came to you anyways despite not getting to help you this morning.”

Kakashi looked over their heads and waved at Gai who beamed at him from where he was guiding Tenten through a kata while Neji and Lee spared lightly on the river. Genma was watching from his seat on a log, spinning a senbon through his fingers and not looking at all upset by the fact his kids had ditched him the second Kakashi appeared.

“He came to train with us,” Sakura said, “We did some taijutsu sparing this morning, and then they’ve just been sharing the training ground. Naruto keeps muttering about Neji spying on him but I think Gai-sensei was worried.”

Kakashi smiled faintly and gave Gai a quick warm look.

“Did you enjoy Genma’s training?” Kakashi asked.

“Yeah!” Naruto beamed, “He knows some awesome seals!”

“He’s really good with senbon,” Sakura said, “Like as good as Haku was, probably even better.”

“…he worked with Uchiha,” Sasuke said, “He knows some of our kata.”

“Genma is a good shinobi,” Kakashi agreed.

That was an underwhelming statement when talking about Shiranui Genma. The man who had been Gai’s genin teammate and who had been in ANBU as long as Kakashi, even longer at this point it most likely, and who had worked exclusively with the Yondaime as a guard was a masterful Shinobi. The only reason his name wasn’t as widespread or as feared as Kakashi’s was because he worked in the shadows. He’d never needed to be a showy threat and instead excelled as an assassin and guard who stayed in the shadows.

“How about you three do some cooldown exercises,” Kakashi said, “Then we can go get dinner. BBQ sound good?”

They all brightened.

“Go tell Gai he and his team are invited as well,” Kakashi added.

Sakura ran off to tell them as Naruto and Sasuke dropped into stretches, lightly squabbling as Naruto kicked at Sasuke’s ankle on accident. Gai’s students joined them in some cool down exercises as Gai and Genma joined Kakashi just out of hearing range of the kids.

“Everything sorted?” Genma asked lightly.

“For now,” Kakashi sighed, “There was…a disagreement about how much training Jiraya would be giving Naruto.”

That was saying it lightly. Jiraya had predictably thrown a shit fit when Kakashi said he wasn’t to see Naruto anymore. Kakashi, Umino, Jiraya, and the Hokage had spent most of the morning and afternoon locked in his office trapped in arguments. Having Umino at his back had been a master play and the Hokage had been quite reasonable even with all his favorites squabbling like children. Kakashi was not ashamed to say he had been driven to snarling a few times, yelling even once or twice. He cared about Team Seven and he was not ashamed to show it. They would always have him at their back.

Despite the fact Kakashi wanted Jiraya far away from his kids he had not gotten it. Jiraya was too important and had too many ties to Naruto for him to just disappear. Kakashi had gotten the Hokage to agree he would not be allowed to teach Naruto alone though. Not just because of the perving, but because of how much claim Kakashi had as well. The fact that Naruto was happy where he was, was also a huge boon and if that ever changed Kakashi knew he would be under review as a sensei.

“If Naruto needs any sealing lessons,” Genma said, “I am not the level of Jiraya, but I hold my own.”

Kakashi glanced at the man and found the offer genuine.

“That would be helpful,” Kakashi nodded, “If you’re up to it. Jiraya will be helping Naruto with sealing a few days a week, but if you could join them…”

“I’d be happy too. I’ll take him the few days Jiraya doesn’t as well. He’s a quick kid,” Genma nodded, “I also have a few tips for him with that sickle and chain he likes. I can’t do every day, but the majority should be good. He said you guys have different plans on the weekend so that works as well.”

Kakashi released a breath and gave Genma a grateful nod.

“If Jiraya is agreeable, Tenten would like more lessons on sealing as well,” Gai said, at a reasonable level for once, “If you don’t mind as well Genma, Tenten could tag along.”

As another pair of eyes went unsaid.

“I’m fine with it. Even if Jiraya doesn’t want to teach her I can keep her busy,” Genma nodded.

“Wonderful! I’ll fill her in!” Gai beamed.

“Thank you,” Kakashi told his eternal rival.

Some of the tension of the day bled off of him. So many people helping out, taking his side was…it was inspiring to be honest. Kakashi hadn’t always been the best with retaining bonds with other shinobi. Most of the bonds were built on respect and the fact Kakashi was a powerful and unquestionably loyal shinobi. To see that those bonds weren’t just superficial respects paid to a higher-ranking Shinobi was gratifying.

(Unknown to Kakashi was the fact that taking a team had changed many people’s opinions of him. Despite the fact Team Seven wasn’t often out and about in the public eye many people had heard of the fact that Hatake Kakashi was dedicating his every waking moment and all his resources into this team. And equally, not favoring the last Uchiha or the Kyuubi Jinchuriki over the civilian-born girl. How people treated kids and students spoke a lot about them, and people who had thought Kakashi would be a garbage teacher were looking at him in a new light. Kakashi was proving himself over and over every day he had this team, that he was still powerful, loyal, and most of all, caring of the shinobi of this village).

“We’re done sensei!” Naruto yelled.

“Let’s go get some food then,” Kakashi smiled.

.--.

“Okay kids, serious talk time,” Kakashi said.

His students, taking that as a sign for a break, collapsed at his feet. They all rolled in the grass to peer up at him and Kakashi felt something sad in him as he realized he was giving this talk to a bunch of kids. At the same time, there was no better time to educate them.

“Now, you remember the talk we have the first week in the forest about Sex?”

All the kids blushed, looking anywhere but each other and he chuckled. His cute little students had been so red they had nearly passed out when he gave them the sex talk. He had covered more than the academy would going into dangers and diseases and problems. But he had also went into attraction and flings and how sex was OK. It was okay to want it, to seek it out, you just had to be careful. There were too many conservatives and oldies on the education board and as such the academy had only given basic safety talks, about all the technicalities of sex and the dangers of rape. His kids had never heard anyone tell them that sex was okay, that it was natural, that they just had to be Safe first and foremost.

It had embarrassed them all enough that even Sakura had stopped making eyes at Sasuke. Not that she had been doing that often from simply lack of energy seeing as he ran them into the ground. The fact that they were getting closer and closer as a team had also made Sakura realize that she wasn’t in love with Sasuke. Not yet at least. She’d had a kiddy crush on him and a smart girl like Sakura knew not to let that get in the way of teamwork or training. Maybe she still harbored that crush, maybe she didn’t, but it didn’t come up anymore.

“Please, not again,” Naruto moaned.

“I only gave you half the talk last time,” Kakashi clicked his tongue, “and now that we’re back amongst real people we need to finish it.”

“What more could there even be,” Sakura tried desperately.

“We’re going to talk about consent,” Kakashi said seriously.

They peered at him warily. Sakura looked a little more interested, darting a glance at Naruto.

“Naruto, if a girl tells you No when you ask her out on a date what do you do?”

“Um…try again later?” he said, “I mean, not that day, but maybe another day when she’s in a better mood.”

“No,” Kakashi said firmly, “You leave her alone. She gave her answer.”

The kids stared at him, all shocked in their own way.

“But my mum says you have to keep trying, to show that you really do like them,” Sakura said meekly.

“No,” Kakashi said sharply, “What you are doing after that No is called harassment. How did you feel every time you turned Naruto down and he came back?”

“Annoyed,” she said softly as she looked at the ground.

“And you Sasuke? Every time Sakura kept hanging off you even though you turned her down.”

“Annoyed,” Sasuke repeated, none of his usually sharpness in his voice.

All his kids were looking at the ground.

“As kids it’s a bit more forgivable, you don’t know how you are supposed to act,” he said, “But you are all genin now, adults in the eyes of the law. Sakura, if a stranger came up to you and asked you out and you said No very politely but he kept showing up and asking, would you feel good? Would you feel like he was just being determined, just trying to prove his love? Or would you feel afraid?”

She swallowed, looking at her feet.

“Naruto, if you had girls following you every day, fighting over who got sat next to you, trying to follow you home or drag you to a date, would you feel happy?”

Naruto considered it. Kakashi could see the way he mulled the question, saw the way his eyes darted to Sasuke and imagined the girls who had done that to him.

“No,” he said quietly.

“Sasuke, would you feel respected if a girl who said she loved you would not leave you alone? If you told her no and she just ignored you and asked again and again and again?”

“No,” Sasuke said sharply, almost angrily.

“You are allowed to ask people out, you are allowed to ask them to kiss you, to hold hands with them, hell you can even hit on them for sex as long as you are polite, but if they say No, they mean it. No means No.”

His kids all nodded, peering up at him as if to see if he was disappointed or angry.

“I want you to understand that now,” Kakashi said, “You must respect other people’s choices, and your own. Your choice and your body belong to you. No one has a right to it but you. You can sleep with whoever you like and say no to whoever you like. It is your decision and requires no defense, no explanation. I don’t care if it’s strangers, friends, teachers; you have a right to say No. Do you understand?”

His kids thought it over and he was proud of them for actually thinking about it and not immediately giving an answer he wanted to hear.

“Yeah,” Naruto said first, “No means no, and I’m allowed to say no.”

“Yes,” Sakura said in a small voice, “I-I’m sorry Sasuke.”

“…It’s okay,” Sasuke said lowly.

“I’m sorry too,” Naruto said looking miserable as he looked at Sakura’s feet.

“It’s okay,” she said with a weak smile.

“Good,” Kakashi said leaning over to ruffle hair, “You know if you have any questions you come to me. And if you have anyone disrespect your ‘No’ you come straight to me as well.”

They all nodded and Kakashi smiled warmly before he got them running laps. They were silent as they obeyed and he was glad to see they were mulling over his talk. Ninja weren’t often talked to straight about consent and there were moments in their career they would be ordered to do things they wanted to say No to but couldn’t. But he was going to make sure that outside of their missions, outside of being soldiers, they would damn well be responsible and happy.

.--.

Chapter Text

“How were the lessons?” Kakashi asked even as he didn’t take his eyes off the scroll in front of him.

It was a scroll on advanced chakra theory. He’d read it before but had thought back on it recently and went back to it. Sakura had asked him some questions about it and while he had answered well he had forgotten some of it.

Sakura and Sasuke, groaned in unison and sat at his feet, scrolls spilling from their arms.

“They fast-tracked us,” Sakura grumbled.

“Oh?” Kakashi hummed.

“Said we knew enough herb lore and first aid from your lessons we didn’t need basic training,” Sakura said giving him a narrow-eyed look over his scroll.

He hid his smirk, well aware this was most likely to happen. While Sakura was more interested in herbs and poisons, Sasuke had kept a half ear on the lessons as well. As well as the fact Sakura liked to talk about what she learned, mimicking Kakashi in that every moment was a learning moment. Naruto liked gardening as a hobby but couldn’t keep up with the two and shrugged the babble off to focus on his own thing. Which is why he was off doing other stuff while they did first-aid lessons. They would all overlap in certain areas, sharing lessons, and in others they’d diverge to fill gaps in their collective knowledge. Well-rounded, is what Kakashi called it.

“So fast tracked up to more intense first-aid?” Kakashi asked.

“Into medical jutsu,” Sakura corrected.

“Oh ho?” Kakashi said, finally lowering his scroll.

“But it takes so much reading and exercise before we can even use it on people,” Sakura groaned.

“If they think you have the control though, that’s a high compliment,” Kakashi said, “Are you interested in specializing in medic jutsu?”

Sakura shook her head immediately.

“I mean,” she explained, “I could probably be good at it, but I just want enough for field injuries. I want to focus on taijutsu and my hammer.”

Sasuke stayed silent though and Kakashi turned to him.

“How about you Sasuke?”

“I…” the boy hesitated.

“You don’t have to decide right away,” Kakashi said, “But it’s an option if you’re interested.”

“They said Sakura had better control,” Sasuke said.

“That just means you have to put more practice in, not that you can’t do it, idiot,” Sakura huffed, “Kakashi-sensei, he was more interested in the lesson then I was.”

“Mah, well, let me know if you want to continue after this course,” Kakashi smiled.

Medic jutsu would be a good direction for Sasuke. He was a good ninja all around and could go into any specialization, but maybe for his health and psych being a medic would be good for him. Kakashi would keep an eye on that.

“Where’s Naruto by the way?” Sakura asked.

At just that moment an explosion of purples smoke burst out of the trees to the left.

“He’s working on his traps and sabotage,” Kakashi smiled.

Sakura and Sasuke looked into the trees interested but turned to their scrolls as nothing else went off. The three of them had a peaceful hour of reading before Naruto came stumbling into the clearing trailing smoke and ash, his clothes torn and splattered with ink and paint. He had a wide beaming grin on his face despite the disaster though.

“That was awesome! Iruka-sensei, why didn’t you tell me you were so good with traps!”

Umino followed the boy from the trees, only a faint smudge of orange paint on his vest.

“You never asked,” he teased Naruto.

It had barely taken a few words past Naruto’s name to get Umino to give up half a day on the weekend to teach Naruto some finer points of sabotage and traps.

“Iruka-sensei!” Sakura perked up waving.

Even Sasuke offered him a nod.

“Hello,” Umino smiled, eyes crinkling warmly, “How are you two? I heard you both enrolled in a first-aid program at the hospital.”

“Yeah,” Sakura grinned, “They even bumped us up a level!”

When telling Kakashi she had sounded a tad disgruntled, but proud. With Umino she sounded a tad proud, but unsure. Kakashi reached out and ruffled her hair and she beamed at him. He was glad they understood he was proud of them, always.

“Good job!” Umino praised.

He took a seat next to Naruto on the ground beside the other two and Kakashi dragged the bag of drinks forward. Naruto eagerly lunged for a juice box while Umino dipped his head in thanks, grabbing a water bottle. With the summer heat approaching and all the training they were doing, Kakashi was keeping their snack and drink bag well stocked. Sometimes he felt like a parent keeping his children well fed for a sports meeting.

“What are the plans for the rest of the day?” Umino asked off-handedly.

“Reading,” Naruto groaned.

“We do scroll work on Saturday nights, which I think is fun” Sakura stuck her tongue out at Naruto.

“Oh?” Umino said casually.

“We do research,” Sakura explained, “On things we had questions on, or on anything Kakashi thinks might be useful. After the Wave mission we did some research into Wave and Kiri politics. Before the chunin exam we did research into the ranking system and exams or every country. Which should have told us what was coming.”

She shot Kakashi a look and he gave her a sly grin.

“This week we’re doing chakra theory,” Sakura perked up, “And how nature chakra and ying and yang chakra interact.”

“Training the mind, not just the body,” Umino smiled approvingly, “And what about tomorrow?”

“Sunday is rest day,” Naruto grinned, “Cause you have to let your muscles recover Sakura says! We get to sleep in!”

“We also do non-shinobi stuff,” Sakura grinned, “I’m getting more shamisen lessons!”

“We do gotta clean the house though,” Naruto grumbled.

“I heard you moved out of your apartment,” Umino said, like he wasn’t digging for information, “Is it the place the Hokage and I visited last week?”

Kakashi was aware all of his students were very aware of what Umino was doing even if he was obvious about it and he was proud.

“Yeah, we all like at Kakashi’s house!” Naruto grinned, “It always has hot water! And a yard! Sasuke even brought Koi.”

“That was nice of you Sasuke,” Umino smiled at the broody boy who gave him an oddly shy look.

But over the kid’s head he sent Kakashi a narrow-eyed glare. Kakashi held his hands up in mock surrender.

“The Hatake compound was sitting empty,” Kakashi explained casually, “And the kids like the extra space. I personally like the cozy shinobi apartments, where I still live, but they like the manor.”

Umino sighed and relaxed as he realized he had had the wrong idea and he really had done it out of kindness. Kakashi could see Umino wasn’t truly suspicious of him either, he’d just been digging. Since the night a few days ago, it was like a switch had been thrown and Umino was giving him less narrow-eyed disapproving looks. Seems he’d finally won the man to his side, or at least to neutral territory.

“You should join us for dinner tomorrow,” Kakashi decided abruptly.

“Yeah!” Naruto agreed enthusiastically, “Come for dinner Iruka-sensei!”

“I don’t want to impose on your day off,” Umino smiled, ruffling Naruto’s hair.

The blond flushed happily at the touch and Kakashi was reminded that Umino was one of his precious people. One he hadn’t seen much since joining Team Seven.

“It’s no problem,” Kakashi said, “Naruto’s cooking tomorrow so it might be Ramen though.”

Umino laughed, bright and loud and started to tease Naruto who puffed up and claimed he had asked Teuichi the ramen chef for a recipe and he was going to master it. Kakashi let the two chit-chat, letting Naruto get away with not doing some reading right away, and turned as Sakura tugged on his sleeve, a scroll in her hand.

.--.

Kakashi breathed once deeply as he came out of meditation, holding the breath in his lungs until it burned and releasing it. Across from him, Sasuke did the same. The water beneath them rippled with the curious koi but neither of them twitched.

“How is the mark feeling?” Kakashi asked.

Sasuke frowned and absently shifted the shoulder with the curse mark.

“When I use too much chakra, or use it too suddenly it…jolts,” Sasuke said quietly, “But I ignore it.”

“Good,” Kakashi smiled, “And what do you think of the lessons this past week?”

Sasuke was silent for a moment. In the silence they could hear Naruto humming as he banged around the house, wandering room to room to water the plants that had started popping up everywhere, half his own house plants and half Sakura’s herbs and medicinal plants. Even Sasuke had snuck a few in the house. Sakura was off having lunch with her parents.

“I…the genjutsu lessons have been…useful. Yugao-sensei is skilled,” Sasuke finally said, “I think Sakura grasps them quicker.”

“And why is that?”

“…Yugao-sensei said she is more creative,” Sasuke grumbled.

“I’m sure you’re just as good,” Kakashi smiled, “But probably more offensively orientated. Sakura is probably better at the details, right?”

Sasuke blinked, nodding.

“When you fight and train Sasuke, you are very focused. You’ve seen a lot of death. You’ve seen a lot of consequences of not being strong enough,” Kakashi said calmly, “And so you are prepared for it, you anticipate it and fight it. You get focused on that and so I suspect you genjutsu mirror that and are much more to the point and offensive. Sakura is a calmer kid, she probably likes to focus on details, on surprises in her genjutsu and subtle things. She probably likes to make people doubt they were even fighting while you constantly remind whoever is caught in your genjutsu that they are indeed in a battle.”

Sasuke stared at him but did not refute it and Kakashi gave him a smile.

“You are just as good Sasuke, you just have different styles.”

Tension slipped out of his shoulders. For a boy who was top of his year and who had long been praised as a genius, he doubted himself when other seemed to do just as well or better than him. Sometimes he just needed reassurance that he was doing fine.

“It’s like ninjutsu,” Kakashi said, “Take the Water Bullet jutsu, Naruto makes stronger and larger ones than you, but you master them more quickly and are more versatile in their use. Differences in style.”

Sasuke looked at him as if to see if he was truthful and then finally gave a small nod, mouth relaxing into something close to a smile.

“Now, I think we need some groceries. Should we go get Naruto and go do the shopping?”

Sasuke nodded and stood, the water barely rippling under his feet as they stepped off the pond.

“Groceries?” Naruto asked seeing them enter the house.

“Yeah. Go grab the bags,” Kakashi said, “And maybe brush your hair so it doesn’t look like a rat’s nest.”

Naruto squawked a defense of his hair but obeyed. Sasuke wandered off to find his wallet and Kakashi debated grabbing his vest. In the end they wandered out of the manor in casual wear, Sasuke and Naruto in shorts and plain t-shirts and Kakashi in plain blue slacks and shirt. They still had yet to replace their uniforms and well, with the heat and casual training they had stuck to the civilian clothes, uncaring of their durability. Plus, it seemed to make them feel more like kids, Naruto kicking at rocks in his flip flops. Most shinobi felt naked without their armor and uniform after a while, but Kakashi wanted his kids to be able to blend in with any populace, even their own and not feel uncomfortable. They weren’t just ninja but kids and they needed to feel normal every once in a while.

So they wandered off to the market, Kakashi following behind and shooting down only the ridiculous ideas, like Naruto buying the biggest tub of ice-cream they had, which wouldn’t fit in the freezer.

They wandered past the Haruno house-hold after a bit and Sakura came out to meet them in a yellow sundress. She took Naruto’s hand when he offered it and the kids set off chit chatting as they gathered groceries and supplies. They paid a visit to the quartermaster to stock up on kunai and shuriken while Kakashi put an order in for Naruto for more ninja wire and sabotage tools, as well as sealing supplies.

Sasuke was the one to mention the ninken and they headed to the butcher for bones under Kakashi’s beaming smile. Finally they stopped at the convenience store on the corner for drinks and ice-cream. Kakashi carried the bulk of the bags as Naruto challenge the other two to a race. He merely laughed at them when they all nearly hit a wall dodging some civilians leading a cart down the side road.

Kakashi could get used to these lazy days watching them act like kids as they hollered and tussled and ran.

“Kakashi!”

Kakashi glanced up to find Kurenai and Asuma stepping out of a tea shop, Asuma waving at him. Up ahead he heard Naruto yelp as Sasuke tripped him.

“Yo,” Kakashi smiled, hands full of bags.

“Shopping?” Asuma asked as he tugged a cigarette free of a pocket.

Kakashi watched in amusement as Kurenai yanked the cigarette out of his mouth without even looking at the man.

“Just helping the kids stock up on groceries,” Kakashi nodded.

“Speaking of the kids,” Asuma said, “I was hoping you guys had an afternoon free coming up. We could do some team exercises.”

Kakashi raised a brow at the two.

“Since neither of our teams made it to the final we thought there would be no pressure of revealing any tricks,” Asuma said, “And it would be good to have this generation interact more.”

Asuma gave him a pointed look and Kakashi remembered the grim and wary looks Team Ten had given Team Seven after the Forest of Death. Perhaps it would be good for them to do some team exercises.

“We should have an afternoon free,” Kakashi agreed, “Will your team be joining in Kurenai?”

She scrutinized him a long moment and then gave a nod.

“It will be good for them. They’re all too used to sparing with their families or each other. It didn’t help them in the exams.”

“Fair,” Kakashi agreed knowing that problem, “How about Friday? A bit of a ways out but that’s the only day we don’t have anyone else joining our training.”

“Ah yeah, I heard you’ve been getting some other jonin to come give them some lessons,” Asuma said, “And getting others to not help.”

Kakashi raised a brow at him knowing everyone Jonin and above at least must have heard about the argument with Jiraya. Maybe not all the details, but the fact that Jiraya suddenly wasn’t teaching Naruto privately had been juicy gossip.

“Circumstances and all that,” Kakashi shrugged.

Kurenai gave him another look, as if trying to read him. She was a rather new jonin and he hadn’t interacted with her much outside of Asuma but she seemed to respect him well enough.

“Yugao told me your student Sakura is doing well in genjutsu,” Kurenai said, “Is she specializing?”

“Yet to be seen,” Kakashi smiled, “The kids are all still deciding what they like best.”

The two raised brows at him. He had said ‘like’ best, not ‘were good at’. That was a bit of bragging on Kakashi’s part considering he was declaring them good at pretty much everything, but whatever.

“Kakashi-sensei! The ice-cream is melting!” Naruto yelled as the kids rounded the corner looking a tad more dusty from their race.

“Coming,” Kakashi smiled, “See you Friday then, Asuma, Kurenai.”

They nodded and Kakashi slipped off after his students.

“What’s happening Friday?” Sakura asked.

“You’ll see,” Kakashi sang.

She pouted at him but didn’t pry and was distracted as Naruto tripped Sasuke right in her way. Kakashi silently laughed as they started to squabble, Naruto and Sasuke glaring at each other. It was good to see some things, like rivalry, didn’t change.

.--.

Chapter Text

Kakashi slipped his blade back in the sheath strapped to his back and rolled his shoulders, feeling the sweat beading against his spine.

“You’ve gotten quicker,” Hayate coughed lightly, chest heaving with both exertion and his illness.

“In a week?” Kakashi raised a brow.

“No, since you took your team. You haven’t been slouching off,” Hayate grinned.

Kakashi gave him an eye-smile and didn’t bother to answer that. Of course he hadn’t been slacking off. In fact, he had been working harder than he had in the past few years. Training kids took a lot of energy, mental, emotional, and physical. He was not only training them but keeping up with all three of them and staying one step ahead. He had been using clones in the forests and wave constantly, stretching his chakra to give each kid the one-on-one time they had desperately needed.

Kakashi had been exercising muscle and jutsu he hadn’t used since ANBU. He had stretched his awareness further out, encasing the kids, and making sure he was aware of them at all times. On top of making lessons plans for physical and mental activities that they had been doing every day. Plus all the emotional baggage that came with three little shinobi-in-training.

Kakashi was in better shape than he had been in years, right up there with his peak in ANBU. Of course he seemed faster to Hayate who rarely worked with him and had only seen him after his ANBU years.

“The kids look like they’re almost done,” Hayate coughed, glancing to his girlfriend who was hiding up a tree.

Kakashi sought out Sakura and Sasuke and found them both walking in circles, eyes glazed and smirked. When the genjutsu whispered across his own mind he let the illusion take but remained aware that it was indeed and illusion. Dark loamy earth rose around him, like maze walls, thick greenery growing everywhere across the dirt and up over the ridges. The air felt considerably more damp and in the distance there was the growl and cry of some wild animal. The sky was dark as pitch, a large moon the only light.

A sense of dread slipped into Kakashi.

He dismissed the illusion on himself easily, quick as breathing as his sharingan spun even beneath his headband.

Another followed, slipping into his veins and he didn’t even let it reach his senses before he dismissed it. Again, layering itself like a blanket over him. He didn’t bother tilting his headband just cut through it by disturbing his chakra. Yugao glanced at him from the tree, her illusion on the kids unwavering even as she threw genjutsu at him was easy as breathing. This was why Yugao was in ANBU. She pared her genjutsu with kenjutsu to be a terrifying force. She wasn’t quite as skilled as Kurenai at genjutsu, but the fact she made them so effortlessly was what made her so strong with them.

She tried one last time, twisting layers of genjutsu around him and the world went fuzzy for a long moment, his mind slipping, and then he cut through them. Yugao let the genjutsu slip away from his students at the same time and Sakura and Sasuke both blinked against the sudden change.

Sakura gave a shout of frustration and kicked at the ground as Yugao slipped from the tree.

“I still didn’t feel it!” she said, “I couldn’t tell when you layered it!”

“…I knew something was wrong,” Sasuke muttered, “But I didn’t gain enough of my senses to know it was an illusion.”

That was the trap of genjutsu of course. If done properly, if layered right, people wouldn’t realize they had been caught in a genjutsu even if it was radically different than reality. Simple, but strong genjutsu would merge with reality and make it seem like things had changed just enough to throw you off (like showing you images of your immediate death or of showing everything a foot to the right); these could be harder to notice immediately but most people could break them.

Professional, complicated and strong, genjutsu made you question your own mind. They warped reality but made it seem so normal you didn’t question it, just yourself. Kurenai’s signature move was merging with trees, almost seeming inhuman as she changed into trees that strangled and choked. Despite changing into a tree, a person wouldn’t immediately understand they were under her genjutsu, instead they would simply be driven to fear, would accept the non-reality and react.

“Genjustu is a tricky area,” Yugao said calmly at their frustration, “In that it tricks not only your senses but your mind. You must become aware of yourself. Before you can master genjutsu you must know yourself and your reality intimately, with no doubt.”

Kakashi could see his students mulling over it, each looking at their own reasons why that was hard.

“I suggest more meditations,” Yugao said in the silence, “Since I cannot join you for lessons tomorrow, take the time to think on what I said.”

The kids nodded and Yugao slipped quietly over to Hayate’s side. They all watched the two wander off out of the training ground.

“Are they dating?” Sakura asked, glancing after the two.

“Yup,” Kakashi smiled, “Though there are some bets on when they’re getting married. I personally have money down that they are already married, from some old mission where they eloped.”

Sakura grinned at him, something like romance in her eyes at the thought. Sakura was a practical girl but she also had dreams and fantasies of how the world should be. Kakashi let her keep her dreams.

“I’m back!”

They turned to find Naruto tromping through the bush to fall into the training ground, Bisuke quick on his heels.

The dog gave Kakashi a nod and vanished in a plume of smoke, having completed his job of keeping an eye on Naruto. Tenten followed Naruto a moment later, picking her steps more carefully since she had a large scroll tied to her back.

“How were the lessons?” Kakashi smiled.

“Awesome!” Naruto pumped his hands in the air, “Genma-sensei showed me how to make exploding tags while Jiraya and Tenten argued!”

“Argued?” Kakashi raised a brow at the bunned girl.

“He was trying to tell me my sealing scroll is less efficient then the standard one,” she huffed, “But he’s using classic-Konoha style sealing while I fashion mine after the Uzumaki style. There’s overlap of course, seeing how much the Uzumaki intermingled with Konoha, but still!”

Jiraya was good at seals of course, almost a master, but he was nothing compared to the Uzumaki of old. Much had been lost with Ushiogakure. Jiraya had learned along-side Tsunade though, some from Uzumaki Mito and some from other refugees. Sarutobi had gotten him the best masters when he realized his students had a knack for it. All the sannin were seal masters, in their own right. Tsunade had helped bring even more seals into healing while Orochimaru had went the experimental seal route and Jiraya had stuck to classic sealing arts.

Truth be told, Naruto would do better with Tenten and Genma, both trained in the Uzumaki style. Which was to say, the create-your-own style and not the classic repeating that Jiraya followed. Jiraya followed sealing rules religiously, as many did, and didn’t care for experimenting or creation. Where-as the Uzumaki had been famous for their seals, for personal seal creation and using seals in battle.

On that note, Kakashi made a mental note to find some of Kushina’s old scrolls for Naruto. He’d hinted as much to the Hokage but the man had brushed him off and recommended Jiraya which meant he didn’t want Naruto learning anything of his heritage yet. Kakashi didn’t’ know why, but he also knew the Hokage would not be happy with Kakashi already having given away details about Kushina to Naruto.

“Who won the argument?” Kakashi asked, snapping back to attention as Tenten handed Naruto a scroll.

“Neither!” Naruto answered, laughing, “They ran out of time!”

“We agreed to disagree,” Tenten said, “Anyways, make sure to study that tonight Naruto, I’ll see you next week since Gai wants us to do some stuff tomorrow as a team.”

“See ya Tenten!” Naruto waved enthusiastically as Tenten gave Kakashi a sloppy salute and disappeared into the bush again.

“So you like your lessons with Genma and Tenten?” Kakashi double checked with the blonde.

“Yeah!” Naruto cheered, “Genma-sensei is awesome and Tenten is…”

He danced in spot a moment, energy making him vibrate.

“Tenten is super cool!” Naruto exploded, “Sensei! She has a giant scroll of weapons and she knows how to use them! And she likes seals that go boom! We made some explosive seals before she started arguing with Jiraya and she’s so good at it! And she has this super cool spin move when using seals!”

Naruto made an approximate show of a spin and Kakashi laughed as he twirled. He was glad Naruto liked this arrangement. While Naruto might not still understand the Jiraya thing, he was being a kid and just loving life. And if he came out of it idolizing Gai’s student and making a new friend there, well Kakashi was happy.

And if Jiraya stepped one toe out of line again, Naruto had some friends close by that would make sure Jiraya was straightened out. Before Kakashi got to him. And then he would be in no way straightened out, he’d be a lump in the hospital if he was still breathing.

.--.

“Hey, psst! Kakashi-sensei!”

“Naruto,” Kakashi sighed, rolling over, “It’s 5am. Please tell me there are no more perverts for me deal with.”

“No,” Naruto said pulling himself through Kakashi’s open window.

Kakashi sighed and sat up as Naruto rolled onto the floor and then flopped into a sitting pose and frowned at the ground. Kakashi yawned and waited for Naruto and his odd thoughtful expression to speak.

“Kakashi-sensei,” Naruto finally started, “Was the whole Jiraya thing my fault?”

“What?” Kakashi asked, sharper than he had meant to.

“I mean,” Naruto looked to the ground, “I was thinkin’ of it and stuff and how you and Sakura freaked out. Like, how none of that happened till I was in girl form. Is it my fault, cause I used my jutsu?”

“Naruto,” Kakashi said slowly, “How did you get the impression any of that was your fault.

“Well I mean it’s my perverted jutsu,” Naruto muttered.

“And how does making yourself into a girl make you perverted?” Kakashi asked, trying to follow Naruto’s train of thought.

“Well, Jiraya was good until I used it, so isn’t it my fault? I mean he never did nothing when I was a guy, but when I was girl he said stuff and the only thing that changed was me.”

“Naruto,” Kakashi said gently. “if you think that, then doesn’t it stand to reason that any perverted stuff happens because there are girls? Like if Jiraya did that to Sakura it would be her fault because she’s a girl.”

“What!? No!” Naruto said aghast.

“Then how does you being a girl make it your fault?”

“Well, I mean, cause I’m really a boy,” Naruto said, “Cause I’m tricking them.”

Kakashi took a deep breath and tried to parse Naruto’s logic.

“Naruto, can I ask you a question.”

“Yeah?”

“Do you like being a girl?”

“Huh? Like do I like being in my jutsu?” Naruto asked, “Well, I dunno, I guess I don’t really care to be honest.”

Naruto gave a shrug.

“So you don’t mind if people think you’re a girl?” Kakashi asked.

“No?” Naruto said like it was a trick question, “I mean, girls and boys are pretty much the same, they just have different, you know, parts. Nuthin wrong with being a girl.”

Kakashi leaned over and ruffled his hair.

“Naruto,” Kakashi said softly, “You will be Naruto no matter if you use a jutsu to look like a girl. So it’s not a trick because you are still you. Do you understand? If people treat you different because you use a jutsu to look like a girl, they’re idiots.”

Naruto scrunched his brow and looked at the floor in a thoughtful silence.

“Okay,” Naruto finally nodded decidedly, “I’m Naruto. Even if I use a jutsu to give myself boobs it’s not my fault because people should still know it’s me and it ain’t a trick.”

“Good,” Kakashi smiled, “Now, I want you to remember as well that Jiraya is an adult and he made bad choices, none of which are your fault. You are not responsible for other people, only yourself.”

Naruto gave a solemn nod.

“Now, stop over thinking it and go sleep for another couple hours,” Kakashi said.

Naruto beamed and scurried for the window. Then he paused and lunged for Kakashi, wrapping him tightly in a hug that Kakashi returned.

“Thanks, Kakashi-sensei,” he murmured into Kakashi’s shirt, “You’re super smart and you always know what to say.”

“You’ll be like that when you’re older too,” Kakashi laughed, “As long as you keep studying!”

Naruto beamed and then vanished out the window leaving Kakashi to his last few hours of sleep. Kakashi rolled over and smiled. Naruto wasn’t his brightest student but he was getting there. And he trusted Kakashi enough to come to him. Kakashi would never betray that trust.

.--.

Chapter Text

“Breath deeper,” Kakashi said, “Get the chakra circulating completely through your lungs.”

Sasuke released two quick sharp breaths and then inhaled deeply, chest puffing with the effort.

“Now release it slowly, focusing on the spark as it leaves your throat.”

Sasuke hissed out his breath and what followed was a thin sheet of flame, so light it was almost white. Suddenly the flame stuttered and died out much to Sasuke’s frustration.

“Almost there,” Kakashi smiled, “Do you feel the difference in temperature?”

“More control, the hotter the flame,” Sasuke scowled.

“Or cooler,” Kakashi said, “A basic fire jutsu will be an unrefined burst of flame; any controlled jutsu is much more flexible. You should be able to control the temperature and the spread of the flame.”

“But I can’t hold it.”

“You will. Just keep practicing,” Kakashi patted his head.

Sasuke nodded, brow furrowed as he absorbed the lessons Kakashi had already repeated before.

“Practice with that for a bit,” Kakashi said.

Kakashi stood, leaving the boy crouched over the river to continue practicing, to go join Naruto on the bank. Sasuke was over the water because his flame kept flaring or guttering in a dangerous way and the water was an escape if he needed it.

“How is your wind manipulation going?” Kakashi asked.

“Good!” Naruto cheered, “Watch!”

As he did so Naruto used his hands, not for hand signs but for some spinning gesture, and a whirlwind rose between them. A small twister of air that sent all the twigs, pebbles, and leaves spinning off.

“And what’s the purpose of that?” Kakashi asked, curious.

“I’m gonna master it so I can make a giant one!” Naruto threw his hands up

Kakashi nodded and watched as Naruto formed another small whirlwind. He watched carefully as Naruto automatically used his wind-natured chakra to manipulate the currents. Whereas Sasuke had needed instruction, careful technical words with a good dose of instinct, Naruto was all instinct. He was using way too much chakra but it was making up for his lack of fine control. They had beaten some control into him but Naruto would always be better at using more chakra than controlling a fine thread of it.

“Good, good,” Kakashi smiled, “Now where did Sakura slip off to?”

Naruto glanced around and then leaned close. Kakashi leaned in closer to let the boy cup a hand around his ear.

“I think she’s sulking,” Naruto whispered, looking around as if she would appear out of nowhere and hiss at him.

Kakashi looked into the trees concerned and nodded at Naruto. A clone peeled off of him, watching over both Sasuke and Naruto as Kakashi himself slipped into the trees. Sakura was…well she was trying to hide it seemed. She’d smothered her chakra, used all the tricks he’d taught them on how to erase their scent, and just generally hid herself well. What she hadn’t counted on though was his ninken. Shiba slipped out of the undergrowth and led Kakashi right to her.

His ninken had been helping supervise the kids training for weeks now unbeknownst to his kids. Sometimes if they were particularly sharp they’d catch one or two and call them out and it had become a game to his ninken to stay completely hidden from them, stalking them. It was just back-up incase anything escaped Kakashi’s eyes. Especially with Orochimaru targeting Sasuke and the whole throw down with Jiraya. Maybe he was paranoid but Kakashi preferred paranoid over dead.

So Shiba led him straight to Sakura who was hidden away in the thick roots of a tall tree, tucked completely out of sight and curled into a ball.

“Hey, What’s up?” Kakashi asked as he leaned over the small hidey hole.

“I can’t get it,” Sakura sniffled, “I just can’t get the stupid nature chakra manipulation.”

“Hey,” Kakashi said, “I know it’s hard. It’s probably extra hard for you. Sasuke has some old family training in the fire arts to fall back onto and Naruto has such a strong wind affinity he’s going to get this pretty easy. But your nature affinity is pretty weak. I told you we would have to work twice as hard on yours.”

“Yeah, but I can’t even move the ground! And Sasuke is making flame with half hand-signs and Naruto is making whirlwinds with none! And I-I all I can do is sense the chakra! I can only make the ground in front of me shake a tiny little bit!

She burst into tears, curling into a tighter ball and Kakashi made soothing noises and gently rubbed her back.

“Hey now Sakura,” he smiled softly, “It’s only the second day of this sort of training. Besides, you know what? Even if you never master your affinity you will still be a good shinobi.”

She sobbed on but he could see how she was listening closely.

“Sakura, we already talked about how you will never be a ninjutsu powerhouse, but that’s only one of many arts. You’re already amazing with herb and poison lore, you are mastering taijutsu faster than Naruto, your strength is better than either of the boys, and your genjutsu is on its way to flawless. And that’s not even touching on things like your hammer or your teamwork.”

She sniffled and snuffled into her knees and then slowly peeked up at him, eyes red and puffy, snot dripping from her nose. Like this, curled up and sobbing, she looked so much younger than twelve, almost thirteen. He never forgot that these three were kids, but sometimes he forgot how young of kids they were. They were all just children and despite how mature and strong they were, they were still growing and learning. They were still kids at heart and they had a right to be; so Sakura was allowed to get frustrated to tears.

“You know Sakura, that strength isn’t everything,” he said gently, “Do you know how proud I am of you?”

She looked up at him fully and he smiled, reaching up to brush her hair out of her face and gently wipe at her cheeks.

“Sakura, you have survived everything I threw at you, no matter how hard or scary. You have kept up with two boys who had leaps of a head start on you in a variety of ways. You have started to find what you are best at, what you like to do. And through it all you have been watching over everyone. I see the way you make sure Naruto and Sasuke eat well and keep the place tidy. I see the way you always watch their backs, are always aware of them on and off the field. Sakura, you came to my place at 3am because you were so concerned for Naruto. I am so very proud of you.”

Sakura burst into noisy tears again, but this time instead of curling into a ball, trying to block everything out, she threw herself at him and he carefully hugged the lapful of crying child back. He let her have her cry, humming faintly as he rubbed soothing circles in her back. When she slowly let the tears fade away and the sobs get swallowed up, she still held onto him tightly.

“Can I tell you two secrets,” Kakashi smiled after a few minutes, “that the boys don’t know.”

Sakura peeked up at him, and puffy face and all she looked curious.

“First, Sasuke’s nature affinity isn’t fire, it’s lightening,” he grinned.

She blinked in surprise, mouth opening in a little ‘o’.

“So you’re making him work twice as hard,” Sakura spluttered.

“Yup!” Kakashi smiled, “He just assumed it was fire and went with it. It’s a lesson on assumptions and I’ll make sure you can see his face the day I tell him his real nature affinity is lightening.”

She bit her lip, looking outraged and amused all in one and he grinned at her.

“The second secret is that using Nature Chakra like I’m training you three to do,” Kakashi said, “Is a high chunin-level skill. Often taught to those hoping to become Jonin.”

She blinked, trying to fully understand what he was saying.

“A-are,” she stuttered, “Are you teaching us Jonin exam skills!?”

“Mah, and you’re doing so well!” Kakashi chirped.

“Y-You,” she spluttered, “That’s why this is so hard!”

“And yet you’re getting it,” Kakashi cheered.

She glared up at him, fuming at his tricks but he simply beamed back at her until she grumbled her annoyance away.

“You really think we can do this?” Sakura asked.

“Of course I do,” Kakashi said instantly.

She peered up at him as if to gauge his honesty and slowly a shy smile crept across her face.

“Okay,” she nodded.

“Okay?” he smiled.

She gave another sharp nod and pushed herself to her feet.

“Tell me what I’m doing wrong,” she said, her face set and stubborn.

Kakashi smiled widely, bursting with pride.

.--.

“We need haircuts,” Sakura declared one afternoon, “All of us.”

She sent Kakashi a pointed look and he tugged a lock of hair down to eye it. His hair really was getting long and unruly. He’d been trimming it himself for years with a kunai, but one look at Sakura’s face told him the pinkette wouldn’t allow that. Her hair, chopped off during training, now reached her shoulders in a straight bob while Naruto and Sasuke’s spilled over their headbands.

“Mah, I suppose we could stop on the way home,” he allowed.

Sakura nodded in agreement and then went back to squabbling with Naruto about the placement of a trap on their map.

That night, on the way home they stopped in a barbers and Naruto and Sasuke hoped into the chairs with no hesitation, shrugging when asked what they wanted. The barber shrugged too and ended up giving Naruto pretty short hair that wouldn’t be such a rat’s nest. Sasuke stopped the man to keep his hair a little longer and it was pretty close to what he had left the academy with, back spiking up and bangs laying heavy. Kakashi let the man hack a lot of his off too but kept enough that it still looked mussed as it stood up.

Then Sakura got in the chair and told him to chop most of it off.

“Eh!” Naruto voiced for them.

“It’s annoying,” Sakura told him matter-of-fact.

“But-but I thought you were growing it out again,” Naruto pouted.

She snorted at him and told the barber to keep cutting. The Sakura that stepped out of the chair, hair brushed and cape taken off, had a short boy cut, hair just covering the tips of her ears but shaved below that and at the back of her neck. It suited her quite well Kakashi noted, if made her look much younger. She seemed happy with it if her flounce was any indication.

Kakashi ruffled it just to make her squawk. Mah, his kids were growing up so fast.

.--.

“Good job Naruto!” Sakura cheered as even Sasuke gave Naruto a nod of approval.

Naruto gave a wide grin, rubbing the back of his head in embracement at the praise. Behind him lay three sliced logs.

“Very flashy,” Kakashi nodded, “And good cuts. But not very practical hmm?”

The logs had been sliced neatly with his scythe, the manipulating of the chain allowing him to hit three targets one after the other despite not being anywhere near close in a row.

“It wouldn’t work on people,” Naruto nodded, “Not enough force behind the swing enough to cut deep enough, but it could knock away weapons or cut through exploding tags if they were holding them up.

“So it’s for disarming,” Kakashi smiled.

“Yeah!” Naruto said, “And I mean if I hit their hands at the same time it would really be disarming!”

He laughed at his own joke even as the rest of them groaned.

“Okay Sasuke, you’re up,” Kakashi nodded at the boy.

Naruto helpfully made a row of clones and Sasuke pulled his Satsuma free of his back, spinning it rather show-offish. Kakashi watched with pride and amusement at the show his students made. They liked to be flashy, but underneath that was practicality and skill so he allowed it. He already knew that in battle they would never try to be this showy; they knew better.

Sasuke expertly pinned his opponent after knocking the other’s away smoothly, with an underlying hint of violence.

“Sakura,” Kakashi nodded.

Sakura was still mastering her Hammer, but she had a better grasp on it than before. While Sasuke used his Satsuma when needed, it was not his go to think. When Naruto used his chain and scythe it was often for long-ranged attack, but also not his preferred strategy. On the other hand, Sakura was far quicker to use her weapon, pairing it with her main tactic of taijutsu in every battle it could be used in. The fact that she was good at broad destruction with her hammer and that she could incorporate it in her straight forward ‘smash em’ approach was helpful. She was getting better at wielding it as well, learning to use her whole body behind it while also allowing herself to go with the swing and pull of such a heavy weapon.

Kakashi watched as she left craters in her wake as she smashed the clones in front of her. He’d have to remember to get her working on Tsunade’s technique if she kept up such strength building and such good chakra control.

.--.

Chapter Text

.--.

Kakashi glanced up as Asuma and Kurenai entered the clearing, slipping out of the bush. Kakashi lifted a hand in a lazy greeting from where he was sitting cross-legged and slouched against a boulder, Icha Icha in hand for once.

“Morning,” Asuma greeted.

“Afternoon,” Kurenai corrected raising a brow at the midday sun.

“Close enough,” Asuma yawned, scratching the back of his head.

“Your kids coming?” Kakashi raised a brow at them.

“Told them to meet us here,” Kurenai smiled, “We thought we could show up a bit early and make plans.”

“Sure, sure. How do you want to play this?” Kakashi asked as he looked around the field.

It was one of the more distance training grounds just on the outskirts of Konoha and was popular for the reason it was a varied field. Many of the training yards around Konoha were simple and of the same terrain, either all bush or cleared grass or river. This one had a nice cropping of large boulders beside a small cliff face and a waterfall that fell into a deep creek, but also some thorn bushes and scrub before a tree line. It was also a tad large than many of the closer training grounds.

“Ino has been complaining non-stop about how she lost her match while Sakura won hers,” Asuma sighed, “And complaining how she didn’t get to face Sakura so I was hoping for some sparing. Plus, I think my kids got spooked by the exam and could use some interaction with some of the teams to ease them.”

“Kiba is the same,” Kurenai laughed, “And the exam didn’t quite scare them so much as it made them realize they needed to step up their training.”

“Well we could do some sparring,” Kakashi said, “But I was hoping to do some team exercises.”

“Team exercises?’ Kurenai asked.

“My team vs. yours,” Kakashi smiled.

“Then mine after?” Asuma nodded.

“No, both of yours at the same time,” Kakashi smiled wider.

The pair was silent for a moment.

“You think they could take both our teams?” Kurenai asked with narrowed eyed.

He could see the annoyance, see how she was not happy he was dismissing her kids. But, well, Kakashi knew how this was going to go.

“Yeah,” Kakashi said, “In fact, I’d like to start with that.”

“I’m up for it,” Asuma said, eyes glinting.

Asuma had known Kakashi far longer, could see the glee in his face and wanted to see what he thought was going to happen.

“Where are your students by the way,” Kurenai asked abruptly.

As if summoned there was a shout and all three jonin looked up in time to see Naruto do a wild flail and then belly flop straight into the deep water right near the waterfall. Sakura and Sasuke peeked over the waterfall after the blonde who hit the water with a sharp smack. Sakura was roaring with laughter and Kakashi could even see Sasuke’s faint smirk. And then they were throwing themselves after him, laughing as they tumbled much more gracefully into the water. Kakashi smiled as they breeched the surface, still gasping with laughter while Naruto whined. They pulled themselves from the water squabbling, after a couple splashes, and bee-lined for Kakashi who held up a towel from the bag beside him.

Sakura snatched the towel first and shimmied the water off herself while Naruto shook like a dog and Sasuke shoved his wet hair back. They were still arguing about who had pushed Naruto as they finished drying off and tugged some clothes on over their bathing suits. Kakashi let Sakura dig some granola bars out of the bag as his kids quieted down and glanced at the two new adults.

“Yo, this is Asuma and Kurenai,” Kakashi introduced the jonin.

“Hello,” Sakura greeted for them., “Its nice to meet you.”

“Hello,” Kurenai said smiling, “Having a swim?”

“We were practicing water walking in the current while we sparred. Naruto needs all the practice he can get for it,” Sakura smiled, “But then Sasuke pushed Naruto and it started a water fight.

“You pushed him first,” Sasuke grunted.

“Did not,” Sakura shot back immediately.

They were interrupted by the sound of approaching people and they all turned to watch Team Eight and Team Ten spill into the clearing.

“Sensei!” the Inuzuka boy shouted happily, “We found Team Ten on our way here!”

“You mean ran into,” Yamanaka Ino snapped, “Sensei why is dog-boy here?”

“That’s because we told both of you to meet here,” Asuma smirked.

“You!” Yamanaka yelped, suddenly spotting Sakura.

Kakashi chuckled quietly as his student responded with a taunting smirk and a cheery little wave.

“This is going to be so troublesome,” the Nara scowled, eyes darting between the teams as he came up with his own conclusion.

“W-what are we d-doing sensei?” Hyuuga Hinata asked nervously.

“We’re going to do some friendly team training!” Kakashi answered for Kurenai with a cheerful chirp.

The other kids all leaned away from Kakashi’s grin looking a little freaked out but Team Seven just rolled their eyes, used to his off-putting nature when he was having fun torturing them. They knew that this time he wasn’t going to be torturing them but the other kids. Kakashi eyed his own students and their confidence and turned a warmer grin on them. They had come so far.

“So here’s the rules,” Kakashi smiled, “Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke will each carry a bell. Whichever team retrieves the most wins.”

Naruto and Sakura grinned, wide and sharp, while Sasuke smirked between them, each holding up a small silver bell before tying it to their waist. None of them looked very intimidating all decked out in civvies; shorts and t-shirts. Naruto’s even had a silly doodle on it and Sakura had a large sunflower printed on hers. The only thing remotely ninja about them were the sandals strapped tight and the one kunai pouch each.

“You can use anything you want, weapons, taijutsu, ninjutsu, genjutsus, whatever. You have one hour and have to stay in this training ground limits. It’s a team effort remember. Got it?” Kakashi asked lightly.

All the kids seemed slightly caught off guard by the sudden game announced, shifting and exchanging quick looks with their smiling sensei. But they rallied quick enough. The Ino-Cho-Shika team exchanged sharp nods, signs passing between them silently. Team Eight barely looked at one another as they, each in their own way, tagged Team Seven.

“Well then, good-luck,” Kakashi eye-smiled, “Us sensei will be keeping an eye on things so just ignore us if you see us. Now, ready, set…”

They all tensed.

“Go,” Kakashi said flicking the timer.

Sakura, Sasuke and Naruto moved instantly and as one, their movements quick but graceful as Naruto went high, Sasuke went low, and Sakura went dead forwards. Naruto let out a loud cackling howl and Sakura gave a war cry even as Sasuke vanished from everyone’s senses. It was a tactic to unnerve; and unnerve it did, jolting half the kids out of formation as they started.

Naruto fell on Team Ten with all the force of a hurricane, clones blossoming around him like weeds as he forced them to scatter, cutting off the team praised for teamwork. Sakura meanwhile slammed into Team Eight, scattering them as they all tried to dodge her wild throws. Sasuke it seemed, had vanished but the kids didn’t have time to worry about that as they tried to fend off the other two. But as quickly as it had happened, everything slowed. Because Sakura and Naruto popped like bubbles, revealing that they had switched with clones.

The field settled with silence for a long moment as the other two teams blinked in shock.

“Well,” Kakashi raised a brow, “They’re somewhere in this training ground and you have bells to get.”

They flinched into motion, ducking into the surrounding bush. Kakashi turned a smile on Kurenai and Asuma and they both shook their heads fondly before ducking after their teams to observe. Kakashi pulled his Icha Icha out again. No point in wasting his very limited reading time.

.--.

Kakashi watched as Sasuke shrieked with glee, her hammer a glint in the sun as she slammed it where Team Ten had stood. They let out shrieks as well, but they were not of glee as Sakura became a whirlwind armed with a heavy hammer. She was a force of nature as she whirled and twirled and spun, the clang of her hammer against the earth particularly loud with her enthusiasm.

“Hold still!” Sakura laughed like a maniac.

“Fuck that!” the blonde girl, shrieked back even as the Akimichi enlarged his hand and tried to swat Sakura out of the air.

The boy’s hand grazed her hammer and Sakura let it go before it was ripped out of her hands, using her momentum to throw herself over the large hand. The Nara was crouched, hands clasped in a sign as he shadow stretched for where Sakura would land. But when Sakura actually hit the ground she shattered into a spray of cherry blossoms.

“What?” the kids gaped as the petals floated to the ground leaving no one in sight.

Kakashi raised a brow from his hidden vantage point in the tree. That had been a well combined genjutsu along with an earth style jutsus that had helped Sakura slip into the earth like it was water.

Kakashi watched idly as the kids whispered furiously trying to regroup. Only a bit of a ways off Sakura crawled out of the earth behind a tree and slapped her hand to Naruto’s, tagging him in. Kakashi left them too it and sought out Sasuke as a sphere of fire bloomed in the air closer to the creek.

.--.

“Your kids are hellions,” Asuma hissed.

Kakashi chuckled lowly beside him, both keeping track of the kids running about below them. He saw Kurenai and Asuma shifting, saw the calculation rent on their faces, how they watched his kids with shadowed eyes. The chunin exams had been one thing, but his kids had been beat to hell and back on their last bit of energy. Here, healthy and energetic, they were taking the other two teams apart, bit by bit and enjoying it.

Sure it was a sort of childish fun, a small thrilled smile here, laughter there, but the fact was they were dominating and they knew it; and they were taking joy in it.

Sasuke smirked openly as he set an exploding tag off. Watching the panic bloom across the Aburame’s face before smoke erupted with a loud bang. They Hyuuga was squeaking, yelling out Sasuke’s location even through the lavender scented smoke, while Inuzuka cursed up a storm. Sakura was hovering near the teachers, hanging from a branch as she tracked the people in the smoke. She was keeping an eye on Sasuke but not actively helping him. Naruto meanwhile was just around the corner setting up a web of wires to catch anyone who was led that way.

Not a single one of the other kids had touched a bell.

Asuma and Kurenai exchanged a look and Kakashi flipped a page in his Icha Icha. Below them Sasuke tagged Sakura in and she went spinning away, chasing the teams into Naruto’s webs.

 

.--.

“Well, wasn’t that fun?” Kakashi chirped.

All the kids groaned at him, even his own team was panting and sweaty. Kakashi sent his kids a narrowed-eyed look. They stared back at him for a long moment, confusion evident. He saw them think about why he could possibly be disappointed when they had won. It was surprisingly Naruto who realized first, eyes flying wide and knocking his elbows ino the other two and whispering quickly, hands flapping. Sakura and Sasuke blinked then looked to Kakashi with wide eyes. They all looked at their feet sheepishly.

He had not been impressed with their team-work today. Oh they had worked as a team for sure, but not actively. They had simply worked independently while being together. They’d all gotten a tad too caught up in rivalries and having fun. Kakashi had said it was a team exercise and he hadn’t just meant for the other two teams.

“You’re monsters,” the Inuzuka boy groaned.

Naruto gave a minute instinctive flinch at the word and Sakura and Sasuke sent sharp glares at the boy.

“You just suck, dog boy,” Yamanaka groaned.

“You all suck,” Sasuke spoke aloud to the surprise of most.

A couple of the kids blinked at the full sentence that had just come out of Sasuke but then the realized the insult and made protests.

“Yeah!” Naruto laughed, “Ya didn’t get any bells!”

The Nara heir was watching Team Seven with sharp eyes, hair in a disarray and sweat coating his brow, but looking completely focused.

“Guess we need to step up our training hey?” Asuma laughed at his kids.

The Yamanaka started to squabble with him as the Aburame told Kurenai they needed more training as well. Kakashi watched as the Nara sidled up beside him discreetly.

“What training have you given them?” the Nara asked.

“Hmm? Oh you know, some of this, some of that,” Kakashi hummed.

The Nara narrowed his eyes again and Kakashi met his gaze with a slight tilt of his head. He could practically see the kid thinking a mile a minute.

“You were ANBU,” the kid finally stated.

Kakashi raised a brow. That wasn’t really a secret these days, but definitely wasn’t well known either. He wondered if the boy had overheard his father talking about it. Or if he had figured it out on his own.

“Sure,” Kakashi eye smiled, neither confirming or denying.

“…Are you training them for ANBU?” the kid narrowed his eyes.

“Nope,” Kakashi smiled, a tad more sharply.

If Kakashi had his way, no one under the age of twenty would ever be an ANBU. ANBU wasn’t about strength, wasn’t a mark of power; it was where the killers went. Not those who could kill in the line of duty, but those who were particularly good at it. Kakashi was making his students powerhouses, but he was not making them merciless killers. And if ANBU tried to approach them while he was still their teacher, they would remember why Kakashi had been an ANBU commander, the king of the killers.

“…You’ve had no other students than ANBU though,” the boy remarked with narrowed eyes, “So you only know how to train ANBU.”

People came to ANBU because they were good killers, not because they were always good at other things. Kakashi had been responsible for making sure they got good enough to survive ANBU. You didn’t always enter ANBU powerful or extremely skilled, but you left it so.

Kakashi met the Nara’s eyes squarely but gave no response.

“Hmph,” Nara huffed, “We had no chance.”

“No,” he agreed blandly.

“They’ve been under your tutelage for seven months and most of that was out of Konoha,” the boy mulled, “You’ve been training them hard.”

“Very.”

They eyed one another, Kakashi appreciative of the kid’s genius and Nara eyeing him like he was a feral dog. Well, that’s how all the Nara eyed people too enthusiastic about work.

“Hmph,” the boy finally rolled his shoulders into a slouch, “Troublesome. We should play shogi one day.”

“One genius against another,” Kakashi agreed.

The boy gave him a tight grim smile and wandered back to his sensei.

.--.

Chapter Text

“I don’t think sensei is happy with us,” Naruto whispered softly.

Kakashi perked up at the sound of his title and silently rolled closer to the edge of the roof. There was a rotation of ANBU and night patrol that made sure to do hourly patrols past the Hatake compound because of the threat of Orochimaru still hanging in the air, but Kakashi sometimes got that little buzzing paranoia that made him sit on the roof himself.

He hadn’t told the kids either of those facts though. Maybe they were smart enough to keep an eye out, or maybe they were allowed to be kids and not have to worry every hour of the day; either way Kakashi sometimes silently sat here. Wasn’t his fault the kids kept the windows open during the night for the breeze.

“Yeah,” Sakura sighed in answer to Naruto.

Both voices were pitched moderately and would never make it far, but for someone with his hearing and sitting right above them he could hear them well.

“We didn’t really use a lotta teamwork did we,” Naruto mumbled.

“No,” Sasuke snorted, “We did tag out though.”

“We coordinated well,” Sakura agreed, “But I think he wanted us to show the other teams that we have some good teamwork, not just strength.”

“We could have crushed them as a team,” Naruto whined, “I thought it was just some sparing.”

“Everything’s a test with sensei,” Sakura scolded him, “I think we were supposed to work together and beat them just enough to show them what teamwork could do.”

“They got some good teamwork though,” Naruto protested, “Why do we have to show them?”

“Their teamwork comes from association,” Sasuke grunted.

“Association?” Naruto groaned, “What does that even mean?”

“Association means they know each other and have worked together before. So it’s not new to them. Ino, Choji, and Shikamaru have grown up together and knew they would be put on the same team so they have former knowledge of each other to work well,” Sakura explained, “Kiba, Shino, and Hinata also have known each other for years due to clan stuff and being the children of clan heads. They would have had play dates and Kiba and Shino’s family especially push teamwork.”

“Then why do we have to show them teamwork??’ Naruto asked plainly.

“Because they’re lazy about it,” Sasuke snorted.

“Sasuke’s right,” Sakura agreed, “They work well and think because they can work together and know each other, they don’t need to work on their teamwork as much as individual skill. We’re the opposite. Remember when sensei kept dropping us in the forest?”

“Don’t remind me,” Naruto groaned as if pained.

“That was all teamwork building. We had to work together. He didn’t really start giving us formal training for over a month because of that. He showed us straight off the bat that our teamwork was even more important than our individual skills, that even with minimal training we can do stuff as long as we work together and help each other,” Sakura said, “The other teams are taught to be individuals first, taught clan stuff, and then told to mesh whereas we were thrown together and then started to be taught only after we learned how to fit together.”

Kakashi smiled on the roof, so proud they had read the message and taken it to heart.

“But we still beat them by ourselves,” Naruto pointed out.

“Yes because we have been doing a ridiculous amount of training,” Sakura huffed, “You said it at the beginning, we beat them by ourselves but as a team we would have demolished them. Kakashi wanted to show the other kids that while we could whoop them individually, the real strength is teamwork.”

Sasuke grunted a verbal agreement and Naruto mumbled something along those lines as well.

“Well, we’ll just have to do it again next week then,” Naruto declared.

Sakura laughed but didn’t disagree. Kakashi rolled back onto his side and gazed up at the stars, a smile lingering on his lips. They were such good kids.

.--.

“What is it you wanted from here?” Kakashi asked, tone carefully made to be at ease.

“My father had a lot of fire jutsu scrolls,” Sasuke said, sliding the door open, obviously still upset he was having trouble with his fire manipulation.

Kakashi stepped into the silent dusty house and carefully stayed half a step behind Sasuke. Kakashi glanced around as they walked; taking in the layer of dust on everything. Sasuke had kept the place tidy while living here, but Kakashi could see signs that Sasuke had barely touched anything at the same time. He had probably kept to his own things, not disturbing his mother’s bowls in the cupboard or his father’s study.

Kakashi frowned and hunched straightened enough he was looming over Sasuke, like a protective shadow. Sasuke seemed to take no note of it and walked steadily, eyes focused on his feet. Kakashi tried not to wonder what living in this tomb had done to Sasuke over the years. He could only console himself by reassuring himself they had gotten Sasuke out in the end.

The sound of their footsteps was loud in the silence and Kakashi could hear how carefully Sasuke was regulating his breathing.

“Where are they?” Kakashi asked.

“Sealed in my father’s study,” Sasuke answered stopping before a sliding paper door.

Everything in the Uchiha compound had been swept over and sealed. They said it was because they were looking for evidence of Itachi’s crimes, but sometimes Kakashi had the feeling it was for other evidence and reasons. Like a good shinobi he had said nothing. Now, after having walked the emptied district and watched as Sasuke got quieter and quieter, he wished he could go get answers. Instead he pushed past Sasuke and opened the former study.

Stacks upon stacks of large official sealing scrolls lined the walls. These were the official seals that Konoha handed to the family on the death of a shinobi. The first line held the urn and ashes of the deceased, the rest held all their belongings. All they had been in one scroll.

Kakashi could see the broken seals, see how Sasuke had gone through every single one and removed the ashes to be buried in the Uchiha plot. Everything else had remained sealed.

This had at one time been the Uchiha Clan Head’s study, and under all the scrolls Kakashi could see it was also untouched. Bookshelves were organized and neat, blood-locked scrolls still sitting on them.

“Point me to them,” Kakashi said.

Sasuke stood in the doorway, not a single hair of his in the room and pointed wordlessly at the far right shelf. Kakashi loaded his arms without regard to gentleness and then stepped out of the room, shutting the door with a decisive click. Sasuke took some of the scrolls and followed Kakashi out of the house and out of the compound. He sealed the gates under Kakashi’s careful eye and then finally looked away from his feet up at his sensei.

“You are not to go back there alone,” Kakashi ordered him.

Sasuke got a mulish look on his face, one the sullen boy gave when he was ordered about. But underneath that, Kakashi could see a spark of relief deep in his eyes. With a firm order like that, Sasuke would have an excuse not to enter again. Otherwise duty might have guided his feet.

“Let’s go home,” Kakashi said more gently.

Sasuke followed without a single look back. And when Naruto and Sakura greeted them back at the Hatake manor with wide beaming smiles and a full plate of tomato sandwiches, Sasuke smiled.

.--.

Kakashi looked down at his empty cup and didn’t allow himself to frown. He looked back up at the couple that was watching him closely. Haruno Kizashi and Haruno Mebuki were an average couple; they held normal shop jobs, had a tidy small house, and were content with life. Kizashi had been a genin many years ago, but had not passed his jonin sensei’s test and never officially became a true genin. Mebuki was the daughter of an influential merchant. While Kizashi was a first generation Konoha citizen, his wife was not. They were both involved in their community and up to date on all the fire country politics.

They were also only slightly aware of what being a shinobi entailed.

The key part was they understood it was dangerous, lots of hard work, and always a tad odd. They had accepted the fact that Sakura had to dedicate many hours and nights to her training, had even approved of her diligence. That she only saw them partially on Sundays was accepted, albeit sadly.

“Thank you for the tea,” he said.

“Any time, sensei,” they bowed, “Please consider our request.”

“I will,” Kakashi bowed back before making his escape.

The Haruno family had put forth a simple request; more time with their daughter. And Kakashi had been reluctant to agree. Now he was wondering why. Maybe he was too used to independence, too used to being alone, too used to being an orphan. Sometimes he forgot that Sakura still had family that loved and cared for her. And he felt bad keeping her from that, but he knew the work he did with her was making sure she would survive to be loved by her family for years to come.

Kakashi entered the Hatake Manor with light steps but heavy thoughts.

“Hey Sakura,” Kakashi called.

“Yeah?” Sakura asked, poking her head out the kitchen door.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

Sakura blushed and mumbled something.

“Are you doing their dishes?” Kakashi asked sternly.

“I don’t mind doing dishes,” she protested, “Besides, I got Naruto to agree to do trash for the week instead.”

Kids and chores, Kakashi sighed.

“Well, leave it be. We’ve got a mission,” he declared.

“A mission?” she blinked, “Aren’t we off active duty?”

“It’s a very important mission,” he said as if he hadn’t heard her, “full of peril and danger, exhaustive and frightening.”

She scrunched up her nose and gave him that skeptical look she gave him when she thought he was joking. She really was getting better at picking out his teasing.

“We have to…” he paused dramatically, “Go shopping!”

She rolled her eyes so hard he was surprised she didn’t roll them back into her skull but she also giggled so he counted it as a win.

“Should I go get the boys?” she asked.

“Do you want them to come?” he asked.

She considered it.

“Can we get anmitsu after?”

“Sure,” he shrugged.

“Then let’s go without them,” she brightened, “Neither of them like shopping nor anmitsu.”

Kakashi nodded and let her finish up the dishes. They made their way out of the Hatake compound with Pakkun on their heels and set off. First they grabbed a few essentials, grabbing some groceries and going through a general goods store. Then Kakashi took Sakura to the armory and helped her fill in paper work for their kunai, shuriken, and ninja wire. They got the standard kits, cashing in their month’s allowance for said kit, and then took extra forms with them when they left for Naruto; said blond would need to apply for more supplies under trap specialization. That would give him more supplies for smoke bombs, wire, and anything else he might need as long as he could prove he was actually making progress with that specialization. Kakashi supposed all Naruto would really need to do was get Umino’s signature on the papers.

Kakashi led the way after that, and they went to the same shinobi clothes store as last time. It took a bit of asking before the clerk found a box in the back that had similar kimono tops that they had been wearing before.

“Generally, these places carry more than just one of the same outfit. Shinobi are pretty rough on clothes, even clothes built to withstand more damage,” Kakashi told Sakura as she flipped through the colored kimono tops.

There weren’t any identical to their old ones, but they found a few orange ones with various prints including red spider lilies that Naruto would love. Sasuke would be getting some dark grey and blue ones with various mountain and bird prints. And for Sakura they found a variety of purple and light pink tops that had flower patterns blooming across them. Kakashi was actually quite glad with the choice of Kimono top because they all came in child or adult size, no in between. You wrapped it tighter of tied up the sleeves if they didn’t fit and that was that for his growing student.

Kakashi didn’t let Sakura pay by claiming it as training expenses and smacking her wallet out of her hand. By the time she’d picked the wallet up he had already paid and the clerk had bagged the outfits with a wink.

Then they had anmitsu, and Sakura’s ire faded away to a happy smile as she ate her treat beneath the evening sun and Kakashi relaxed.

“Are you okay with all the training Sakura?” he asked under the sun.

She eyes him oddly.

“Yes…” she said slowly, “Is this a trick question?”

“No,” he waved a hand, “Just wondering if you want more time off to see your family.”

Sakura shrugged, shoveling anmitsu into her mouth.

“I see them enough. I mean, I still see them once a week,” she said, “Besides, this is important.”

“You could be at home right now instead of doing chores around the Hatake Manor,” he pointed out.

She gave him a weird look again.

“I am home, sensei,” she said as if she was talking about the sky being blue, “I wasn’t going to live with my parents for ever you know.”

He wondered if he should mention most people didn’t move out of their parent’s home at twelve. But he kept his mouth shut seeing her turn back to her dessert. Maybe he should be more proactive and tell her to go see her parents more often, but to be honest, he thought that was up to her. She knew she was allowed and knew she only had to ask for the time. If she was happy here with them then he would leave it alone.

After all, he just wished for them to be happy.

.--.

“Look Sensei!” Naruto said holding up the plate.

“Ah, those look good Naruto,” Kakashi smiled.

Naruto beamed, plate still held up like an offering. Kakashi tugged his mask down and reached out, popping the lopsided gyoza into his mouth. When Iruka came around the corner half were gone and his mask back up while Naruto did a happy little jig.

“Teaching him to make Gyoza, sensei?” Kakashi smiled.

“He said he wanted to learn how too cook more,” Iruka smiled simply, “We went over some studying while we did so too. He studies better when he can do something with his hands.”

Naruto nodded agreement and then went careening back to the kitchen yelling about packing some for Sasuke and Sakura.

“Thank you for spending the evening with him,” Kakashi bowed his head.

He’d been asked by Yugao to give her a hand with another Jonin. She’d cashed in on one of the many favors he owed her and helped her chunin friend learn how to do a fire jutsu. He didn’t know why she’d requested his help for that but it had been an easy request. He’d sent Sakura off to Gai for some extra evening training and taken Sasuke with him because the boy was obsessing over fire jutsu right now and it did him good to work with others outside the team. Naruto he’d sent off to Iruka’s with a few scrolls to study. Iruka hadn’t sent him back so Kakashi had gone to fetch him as the hour grew late.

“It was a pleasure,” Iruka tilted his head.

“Let’s go!” Naruto cheered sliding his sandals on, “We gotta get these to them before they get cold!”

“Train Hard Naruto,” Iruka smiled.

Naruto simply lunged for a hug, face still beaming. Then they were off into the streets, Naruto babbling about the work they had done and how Iruka was the best gyoza maker ever.

“Mah, I’m glad you had fun,” Kakashi said, ruffling his hair as Naruto bounced beside him.

“Iruka is the best,” Naruto grinned, “He always makes things make sense.”

“Good,” Kakashi nodded.

Naruto held his free hand out, a bento box full of gyoza tucked in the other. Kakashi took his hand and let Naruto swing their arms happily as he led the way back to the Hatake manor.

“I’m home!” Naruto bellowed as they entered the door, “And I brought Gyoza!”

Sakura and Sasuke called out greeting and Kakashi couldn’t help the smile that rooted on his face as he shut the door behind him.

.--.

Chapter Text

.--.

Kakashi narrowed his eyes. Across from him Genma whistled cheerfully as he looked over a bunch of seals Naruto had spread across the grass. Naruto was sitting, hands on his knees, face serious for once as he awaited the judgement. Kakashi narrowed his eyes at both of them again.

“Okay,” he finally said, “Why are you here Genma?”

“Can’t I teach Naruto some seals?” Genma asked, not even glancing up at him.

“You are teaching him some seals. During the afternoons. Why are you here at 8am interrupting our ninjutsu and taijutsu practice?”

“I just had some seals I needed to teach him that couldn’t wait,” Genma lied blatantly.

Kakashi glanced around suspiciously. He had dropped Sakura off with Gai and spent some time watching her progress as Sasuke and Naruto did their own morning taijutsu exercise. Or so he’d thought they had been doing. Instead, he had returned to their main training ground to find Naruto sitting watching Genma go over his seals. And Sasuke was nowhere to be seen. Kakashi knew one of his ninken would be keeping an eye on the boy, as well as an ANBU most likely, but that still didn’t make him any less suspicious.

And then there was Genma smirking even as he refused to acknowledge Kakashi over Naruto’s seals. But the biggest thing was…

“How did you get Naruto to sit so quietly,” he eyed his blonde student and his odd solemn face.

“Maybe he just respects me more as a teacher,” Genma drawled.

Kakashi peered at both of them.

“He’s a clone,” Kakashi finally said.

“Argh,” Naruto groaned relaxing, “How did you guess!?”

Which, on a good day would be hard to do considering Shadow Clones contained so much chakra. But really, Naruto sitting still and quiet was so weird he had to be a clone or ….

“No, not a clone,” Kakashi realized, “A henge.”

“Wah! He got it so quickly!” Aoba laughed, dismissing the henge.

“I told you Naruto is much more energetic than that,” Genma sighed.

“Even when you’re judging his work?” Aoba asked surprised.

Kakashi watched the byplay with sharp narrowed eyes.

“You’re distracting me,” he said slowly.

Aoba gave him a peace sign and then they both shunshin’d away as Kakashi made a move towards them. Kakashi was left in the training field alone, eyes narrowed and mind going a hundred miles an hour. Sasuke and Naruto were up to something and they had roped some Genma and his friends into it. Which meant Gai was probably in on it from that end, and Sakura would know what was up with Naruto and Sasuke. He glanced behind him at the training ground Team Gai favored but knew if he went there, there would be no one there.

With a quick hand sign he summoned Pakkun. The pug gave Kakashi a doggy smile and wagged his tail.

“You’re in on it too!” Kakashi accused at the uncharacteristically happy greeting.

“No idea what you’re talking about,” Pakkun lied through his sharp teeth.

Then the pug vanished, dismissing himself. Kakashi leapt for the path out of the fields and took off back towards town. Something was up and it was obviously aimed at him. It was a conspiracy.

Kakashi almost made it to the village proper when he was ambushed. Only his instincts had him ducking out of the way, spinning off the path to grab a tree branch and haul himself up. A smoke bomb exploded where he had stood, all orange and purple and obviously Naruto’s. But when Kakashi looked up for his wayward student he found Umino Iruka standing at the end of the path, grinning widely and fingers full of small paper wrapped bombs.

“It really is a conspiracy,” Kakashi declared.

Umino merely grinned, eyes sparkling as if this was all he had wanted in life. Then he was spinning at Kakashi, throwing smoke bombs full of colored smoke and powder at him. The glint of wire in a tree saved him from setting off a tripwire in his hasty retreat and then Kakashi bailed out of the trees, suddenly aware they were riddled with traps.

Umino Iruka had been renowned for his pranks in his youth, which had helped him become renowned around Konoha for his traps later on. There was a reason Kakashi had asked him to help Naruto become a budding trap master. But the thing about traps wasn’t just how good the trap itself was, but how good the trap master was at driving an opponent into them. And Umino was good, very good.

Kakashi twisted and dived and switched places with a few innocent logs as he avoided flying knives and wire and seals and explosives and what the hell, water balloons filled with paint? And he almost made it past Umino, almost made it out of this death trap, when suddenly there was a pair of feet aimed to take his head off. He dropped like a stone and got a glance up at Tenzo’s grinning face as the man swung around his branch and came back at him. Kakashi dodged a blow, deflected another and then had to dodge a smoke bomb again., Umino fell in line behind Tenzo and dammit they must have set this up together because Tenzo knew where every trap was.

Kakashi was thrown on the defensive and was now only evading things by a hair’s width. Literally. The tips of his hair were pink at the top now from coming too close.

“Okay,” Kakashi declared, cracking his knuckles, “No more defense. Time to move onto the offence.”

Tenzo had the decency to look worried at that declaration, but Umino just laughed.

.--.

Kakashi slipped out of the alley carefully, a henge settling over him like an old coat. Just to be an ass he pulled out a copy of icha-icha. That would be a red flag to anyone in Konoha who he was, to everyone except his students at least. He had kicked the habit with them simply because he no longer had time in his day to wander around reading it, nor the energy to fake it when he was so focused on the three. Plus, well, kids and porn should not be together in the same area and Kakashi had tried really hard to kick the habit, bringing it out only when he knew there was no chance they would lean over his shoulder and accidentally read any.

So Kakashi in disguise (only for his students) wandered down the center of town. He could spot, out of the corner of his eyes, someone tailing him. As he turned a corner he let a clone peel away from him, continuing on under disguise while Kakashi himself hovered in the eaves. He covered himself in a small camouflage genjutsu to mask his scent and presence. Two seconds later Team eight came tripping around the corner.

“He’s real easy ta smell,” Inuzuka Kiba grinned.

“That is true. Why? Because Iruka-sensei’s smoke bombs are very distinctive,” Aburame Shino said.

“Ah,” Hyuuga Hinata nodded.

They all crept after his clone rather stealthily for genin to be honest.

“Lesson one; genjutsu,” he murmured.

A few more hand signs and he watched their eyes glaze over. The clone led them around a block. And then around the same block, again and again and again. None of them noticed. Kakashi chuckled and started in the opposite direction.

.--.

“Dynamic entry!”

Kakashi ducked easily, throwing out a palm to deflect the attack and idly looking towards Gai’s students as they surrounded him.

“Hmmm,” he said, “You should consider your next moves very carefully.”

“Gai-sensei warned us of your hip attitude!” Lee beamed, “And Sakura warned us you like to tease! So we will not consider our next move but forge on ahead!”

Kakashi slowly turned to look at the other two who had the decency to look a tad embarrassed and a tad caught.

“Why would you be attacking me in the street, hmmm,” he said, “Especially the street leading to my apartment.”

“No reason!” Lee laughed nervously.

Tenten and Neji seemed to come to the conclusion they needed to distract him so they lunged forward. Kakashi let another clone peel away from him.

“Second lesson,” he smiled, “taijutsu.”

The real Kakashi wandered off again listening to the rising sound of yelps behind him.

.--.

Kakashi eye smiled at the kids and while Yamanaka Ino looked unafraid and stubborn, Nara Shikamaru had the decency to look worried, lazy slouch absent. Akimichi Choji took his cue from Shikamaru and carefully braced himself.

“Well, what ever will I do?” Kakashi said dramatically, “I seem to have run into some students in need of teaching.”

“We don’t need any teaching from you,” Ino wrinkled her nose with a toss of her hair.

“I don’t see Asuma about and I can’t leave three poor genin with nothing to learn on this fine day,” Kakashi said, “Lets do Lesson number three; ninjutsu.”

“Oh fuck,” Shikamaru whispered, “Choji, take point!”

While Ino had been talking Kakashi had let the young Nara subtly catch his shadow. Now Shikamaru was making a hand sign, sweat on his forehead as he tried to hold Kakashi still while Choji advanced, fist growing in size.

Shikamaru was probably already aware that Kakashi had trained with various Nara’s and their shadows both during the war and ANBU. So Kakashi didn’t bother playing and simply took a step forward, his shadow writhing as Shikamaru tried to hold onto it.

“Hold him Shikamaru!” Ino snapped hands going up.

“I’m trying,” Shikamaru hissed, hands shaking.

Choji lunged for a hit and Kakashi knocked him aside effortlessly.

“Let’s start with water jutsu,” Kakashi chirped, raising his hands.

Shikamaru saw his hand signs and blanched.

“Retreat!” He roared.

Smart kid, if a bit twitchy. The water dragon that rose from the nearby rain barrel was smaller than his combat one, and much less dense. The three kids tried to retreat but Kakashi didn’t let them. The dragon knocked them all flat on their asses, drenching them.

“Water down, now, lightening,” Kakashi said, hands sparking.

They fled and Kakashi let the sparks die down.

Well. Where to go now? All the kids had been keeping him away from his apartment block, but Kakashi knew that was a diversion in itself. They wouldn’t be so blatant about where they didn’t want him.

So Kakashi turned on his heel.

.--.

 

Kakashi approached the front door of the Hatake manor and even from outside he could hear and sense people inside, including his missing students. He silently opened the front sliding door, stepping into the dark entrance.

“Surprise!”

Kakashi blinked, taken aback as the confetti settled in his hair and on his clothes. Sakura, Naruto, and Sasuke all beamed at him. Well, Sakura and Naruto beamed, Sasuke just gave a small smile. They were dressed in civvies again and beaming at him, hands still extended from tossing the confetti on him.

“Surprise indeed,” he said narrowing his eyes at them, “Considering I’ve been trying to find you all day.”

They didn’t even look guilty, just grinned even wider at him.

“Come on, come on,” Naruto said grabbing at his sleeve to tug him inside.

Sakura grabbed his other sleeve and also gave a yank. Kakashi would never admit her yank nearly pulled him right off his feet. Sasuke smirked at him, having seen it and Kakashi gave the kid a look that said ‘you had better keep your mouth shut’. The two dragged him into the hall and Sasuke followed as if to make sure Kakahsi wouldn’t escape. The hall was well lit, and Kakashi heard noise as they drew closer to the living room and dining area.

They burst into the room and Kakashi had to blink at the number of people crammed inside of the decently sized room. In the center was a table laden in food and drinks and all around the room people waved at him. Gai was talking with Genma in a corner while his students milled. Kuernai and Asuma were tucked in their own corner and Yugao and Hayate had claimed the couch. Tenzo was sitting in the doorway leading to the courtyard, paper doors opened wide to let a breeze in. The sound of various students outside was faily loud. Umino was currently setting down a bowl of food on the table, chunin vest absent but no trace of color on him.

“And the man of the hour arrives,” Genma laughed, breaking away from conversation with Gai.

“My Eternal rival!” Gai boomed.

“Is that my couch,” Kakashi cut them off, narrowing his eyes.

Kakashi’s students grinned at him, all looking mischievous and Kakashi groaned as he realized that was his indeed couch, and his coffee table. And he spotted some of his dishes on the table.

“If I go upstairs, am I going to find one of the rooms set up as my bedroom?” Kakashi asked.

“Me’n’Sasuke are gonna share a room,” Naruto grinned, eyes crinkling shut, “So we got you in Sasuke’s old room.”

“Bout time you moved back to this place,” Genma clapped Kakashi on the shoulder.

“These three probably shouldn’t be living without adult supervision,” Umino teased.

“Hey!” Naruto and Sakura protested.

“I helped clean your old apartment and filed the paperwork to end your rental agreement!” Gai boomed, “And the Youthful Iruka made sure it was fast-tracked! No going back now!”

He laughed at the joke and Kakashi groaned knowing if Gai had done it, it was done. Especially if Umino had helped.

“Heard you gave our kids some lessons today,” Asuma laughed when Kakashi flopped onto the couch.

“They’re pissed,” Kurenai said plainly.

“That’s because we went in circles for hours!” Kiba howled, his sharp hearing have caught the conversation.

He glared in the doors at Kakashi.

“Mah, I thought Kurenai’s students would be better at genjutsu,” he shrugged tauntingly.

“They should be,” Kurenai said flatly, “Looks like we need more training.”

“Noooo,” Kiba whimpered.

“He got my hair soaked!” Ino threw in her two cents.

“You should have seen when we were water walking,” Sakura said, “He kept pushing me in the water on purpose. The gross scummy water.”

Ino turned a curious gaze on her and soon the girls were sitting telling stories of training horrors. As everyone chatted and visited, snacking as they went, Kakashi spied Ino tentatively running his hand through Sakura’s boy-cut while Sakura laughed. Good. Sakura needed more friendships outside of Team Sveven. All the kids did. Kaakshi peeked out the door to find Naruto and Kiba wrestling in laughter while all the ninken watched and howled with them. Sasuke and Shikamaru played a folded out game of Go, Choji watching and sharing chips with Hinata and Shino. Lee was talking with Genma of all people, showing his sensei’s teammate something. Tenten, having sensed weapon users, cornered Kotetsu and Izuma and all three were waving arms in arguments over the best weapon. Neji was sitting with Umino for some reason, drinking tea and holding a quiet conversation.

“What do you think?”

Kakashi turned and smiled at Gai who was grinning but standing rather quietly, eyes searching the room.

“Hmm?” he asked, “What I think? Well, I think I’m home.”

Tears immediately welled up in his friend’s eyes and before Kakashi could move Gai embraced him in a bone-crushing hug.

“I am so happy for you my friend!” he cried.

“Thank you for all your help,” Kakashi said earnestly over the tears.

He knew how much Gai had been there for him over the years even when Kakashi had been at his lowest. He’d rarely received thanks for it as well.

“Thank you,” Kakashi repeated surrounding by friends and students and finally home.

.--.

Chapter Text

Kakashi held the flowers out carefully. Yugao looked at them, stone faced, for a long moment and Kakashi finally sighed and moved to the bedside table himself. He set them in the jar he’d brought and fluffed them silently, looking at the bouquet Sakura had picked out for him. It apparently meant ‘get well’.

Yugao was still stone faced but she’d turned back to Hayate.

“He will live,” Yugao announced lowly, “But they are not sure of his career.”

“At least he’s alive,” Kakashi said.

He looked at the amount of wires and tubes Hayate was hooked up too. If the patrols last night had been a little less on edge, a little more lax, he would have died alone on a roof. If Hayate had been a hair less quick, a hair less skilled, the wind blade that had cut him open from groin to throat would have been too deep to heal.

Luck.

It came down to luck and paranoia.

Kakashi picked up the clipboard on the end of his bed, forgoing patient confidentiality to look at the results.

“Thank you,” Yugao said in the silence.

“Hmm?” Kakashi asked, eyes on Hayate’s pale face.

“Hayate is skilled and he has not lost his edge, but training with you and watching your team made him more careful. He’s been more watchful lately, of himself and others. It’s been a while since he had a student.”

While Kakashi wasn’t a true student of his, more an impromptu sparing partner who he yelled helpful hints at, Kakashi understood where she was coming from. Even when he wasn’t teaching his kids, just being involved made him far more aware at home, let alone in the field.

“Hayate will be fine,” Kakashi said slowly, “And it will be thanks to his own skill, and to you. I just gave him some exercise.”

She nodded slowly, eyes still on her boyfriend.

“He will be okay,” Kakashi repeated.

Yugao nodded again but slowly her face crumbled. Kakashi reached out to hold her as he sensed his team moving in the distance.

.--.

“Sensei!” Naruto shouted.

Kakashi looked up. One step out of the hospital and they were already honed in on him, his ducklings running up to him.

“Will Haya…I mean will sensei be okay?” Sakura asked immediately.

Kakashi raised a brow at her as she fidgeted. They were trying to keep the fact one of their best kenjutsu masters was in the hospital, attacked in his own village with very little clues to who. Keep it secret for security purposes but also because who ever had tried might still be in the village and think the deed done; they might come to finish it.

“He will live,” Kakashi said simply.

He saw some tension drain from their shoulders and did not say he might not wake up or that he may never be a sword master again. Kids didn’t need that sort of heavy thoughts weighing them down.

“Hatake,” a man called out.

Kakashi looked up.

“Jonin meeting,” the man announced casually.

Kakashi nodded briskly knowing what that would be about. One of their own had almost been killed while on patrol last night and they didn’t know who had done it. This would be a security meeting.

“Go get lunch,” he told his kids, “I’ll find you afterwards.”

They gave him identical curt nods and he turned to follow the messenger.

.--.

“Ibiki,” Kakashi said with a respectful tilt of his head.

“Hatake,” Ibiki said, face like stone, “They’re in room 3.”

Kakashi nodded and set off down the hall. No one got in his way and Kakashi found the room easily. He pushed open the large steel door, disengaging the security seals and stepped into the room that was bare of anything at all except three hunched genin. Kakashi knew for as fact there used to be a table and set of chairs in here, but maybe they had taken his cute kid’s ability to innovate into consideration.

Kakashi tilted his head and looked at his team. Sakura, Sasuke and Naruto were in a pile, hands tangled up and set looks in their eyes. Kakashi sat across from them and their solemn attitude.

“I only left you alone for two hours for a meeting, what did you do?” he raised a brow.

“Nuthin,” Naruto said rebelliously.

“Nothing doesn’t get you picked up by a patrol squad and stuffed in TI waiting for a guardian to pick you up,” Kakashi said, barely containing his snort.

“It was self-defense,” Sasuke grumbled.

Kakashi raised a brow.

“They said you put a man through two walls,” he said, “A civilian man.”

“He deserved it,” Sakura said fiercely.

“See, that’s the problem, because you haven’t told anyone why,” Kakashi told them, “The reason you’re in here is no one has said what happened. We just have a man in the hospital.”

They looked at the ground with identical scowls.

“I’m not blaming you,” Kakashi said gently, “I just need to know what happened. I know you wouldn’t do something like this without just cause. I need a report to get you out of here.”

They mulled it over.

“Sakura and Sasuke did nuthin, it was my fault,” Naruto broke first.

“No, it’s not,” Sasuke said sharply.

“Definitely not,” Sakura growled.

They started to squabble, voices tangling up and Kakashi waited them out, noting how Sasuke and Sakura squeezed Naruto’s hands and refused to let go.

“He called Naruto a monster!” Sakura finally shouted over all of them.

“Called him a fox-demon,” Sasuke growled, low and dangerous.

“I knew he didn’t like me, I should’ve said we need to eat somewhere else,” Naruto said, looking at Kakashi.

Kakashi looked at his cute little students, Sakura and Sasuke shooting him death glares as if trying to convey how much they disagreed with Naruto’s words.

“Have you done something to him in the past,” Kakashi asked lightly.

Naruto scrunched his nose up.

“No. Never pranked him or nuthin.”

“Then just because he doesn’t like you Naruto, doesn’t mean he has the right to deny you service or verbally abuse you,” Kakashi said, “He also was not allowed to break the law like that.”

“Yeah,” Sakura agreed, perking up, “So it wasn’t just self-defense, he was breaking the law.”

“…do you know what law I’m talking about?” Kakashi asked curiously, raising a brow.

Naruto gave him a sheepish look, but under it was something worried. Sakura and Sasuke got stubborn mulish looks, crowding even closer to Naruto.

“Yeah,” Sakura said, jutting her chin in a way that said ‘fight-me’.

“We’re a team,” Sasuke said shortly.

“You told them then?” Kakashi raised a brow at Naruto.

Naruto hunched his shoulders up to his ears and Sakura and Sasuke shot Kakashi a cute set of glares.

“Yeah. They deserved to know. Teammates don’t keep big secrets like that.”

“That’s true,” Kakashi smiled, breaking some of the tension immediately with his words, “And you do know that the law doesn’t apply to you, riught Naruto?”

He blinked at Kakashi, startled.

“It doesn’t?”

“Nope!”

He saw all their shoulder relax and watched them carefully. He wondered when Naruto had told them about the Kyuubi. When he’d pulled them aside and whispered one of Konoha’s biggest secrets in their ears. Kakashi hadn’t caught any subtle tensions or fears or confusions in the past few months. Which meant either he’d told them really early or they’d never even reacted to the news beyond a cursory ‘oh’.

Kakashi smiled; his students were just the cutest.

“Well, that explains everything,” Kakashi clapped his hands, “Lets go, we’re already behind on training for the day.”

His students scrambled to their feet behind him and Kakashi held the door open for them. Sakura’s latched onto his hand as they exited and Kakahsi smield at the little trailing of ducklings they looked like, all connected by clasped hands. The TI crew must have thought it just as cute as him as they watched them all wander off.

“Kakashi,” Ibiki growled, eyeing his ducklings.

“All settled,” Kakashi said cheerfully.

“That’s not…” Ibiki sighed, a subtle sign of defeat, “Fine, I’ll need an incident report by tonight.”

“This will be the perfect chance to teach you guys how to fill one of those out,” Kakashi told his kids, accepting the papers, “You will need to know how to do that I’m thinking.”

Ibiki made a pained face at that thought while his kids nodded obediently.

.--.

“Okay,” Kakashi said looking down at his kids, “One week left until the final stage of the chunin exams.”

Naruto pumped his fist into the air in excitement.

“You will need a few rest days until then. Kurenai and Asuma have requested another sparing day with their students so we’ll move that from the Friday to the Wednesday. Since the exam is on Saturday you will have all of Friday for a rest day; light exercise only. Thursday will be prep day, we’ll go over your strategies. We went to the armory last week and you have your armor all in order so we should be good. That leaves us with tomorrow, Monday, and Tuesday. Usually Sunday would be rest day but would you prefer to do some training?”

“Yes!” they chorused without hesitation.

“Mah, so cute. Well, what shall we focus on for the next few days?”

“I’d like to do more earth-nature chakra practice,” Sakura piped up, “And maybe some genjutsu.”

“Same,” Sasuke said, “I’d like to do some more ninjutsu in there.”

“Yeah! Lets lay of taijutsu for a bit,” Naruto said, “Can we learn some cool jutsu!?”

“Well,” Kakashi drawled, “I suppose you have earned a cool jutsu. We’ll do ninjutsu tomorrow then and focus on your nature chakra for the next few days. We’ll keep some light exercise in their too, no point in letting your taijutsu slip.”

“It won’t slip in a few days,” Naruto whined.

“I’d like to keep training with Gai-sensei and the team in the mornings,” Sakura said, “If that’s okay?”

“That’s no problem. We don’t have to completely deviate from our schedule, I just wanted to make sure you are getting the training you think you need,” Kakashi said.

“Thank you!” Sakura chirped.

The rice cooker in the kitchen beeped and Naruto went off to check on dinner as Kakashi penciled a few things into the scroll in front of him.

“Let’s do some seal practice tonight,” he decided, “Dinner, report for Ibiki, and then seal work.”

“Okay!” Sakura nodded, “Naruto, want a hand?”

She went into the kitchen after the blond and Sasuke followed after a minute to get dishes ready. Kakashi smiled after all of them and set about setting up a lesson plan for the seals tonight. Naruto was leagues above the other two but he still had a few things to teach the boy.

.--.

Chapter Text

.--.

Sunday bloomed beautiful and sunny and it was nice and quiet as Kakashi carefully went over their ninjutsu repertoire. A genin found him early with a message that made Kakashi sigh. Their training that morning was kept very light and easy so he didn’t wear his students out.

As the morning faded into the afternoon that they moved to a pretty little open training ground on the west side of the village.

“What’s going on?” Sakura asked, eyes narrowed suspiciously at the sidelines of the field.

The Hokage gave a cheerful wave, pipe tucked in his teeth and hat shading him from the sun as he sat on a rock. Umino stood beside him, attentive but friendly with a suspicious clipboard in hand.

“Mah, they are just on a break,” Kakashi smiled, “Hokage-sama said this was such a nice sunny spot to relax for a few minutes. He promised not to get in our way.”

Naruto who was waving enthusiastically back at the two offered Kakashi a wide grin.

“That’s bullshit,” the blond beamed, “Iruka-sensei has his clipboard.”

“THE clipboard?” Sasuke asked, peering across the distance.

“Yes,” Sakura said solemnly.

“Oh? Is there something special about his clipboard?” Kakashi asked, curious.

“It means he’s gonna be all judgey,” Naruto said.

“It’s his real marks clipboard,” Sakura further explained, “He only used it for activities he said we weren’t getting graded on, but we all knew they were really important.”

“It has the little sticker,” Sasuke grumbled, “It’s how you tell.”

Kakashi squinted at them, but from this distance he could only make out a blob of color on the back of the clipboard. It could have been a sticker he guessed.

“Well,” Kakashi said, “I guess that means our practice has to be extra intense.”

They all groaned subtlety.

“Now, what shall we do?” Kakashi tapped his chin as if thoughtful, “Maybe some genjutsu matches? No that’s too boring for the audience. Some trap displays? Hmm, no that usually ends up covering the whole field in smoke. How about…sparring!”

They looked at him like he was a wild animal, huddling closer together during his little drama act. When he beamed cheerfully at them they shuddered.

“Let’s do some team sparring,” Kakashi nodded, “You three against me.”

“We do that all the time,” Naruto said suspiciously, like there was a trap too it.

“Well, lets make it interesting then. No limits,” Kakashi declared with a sly smile, “Genjutsu, taijutsus, ninjutsu, traps, anything you want.”

They looked at one another in surprise, then their eyes darted to Umino and the Hokage. But especially to the clipboard. Such smart little students.

“What’s the goal?” Sasuke grunted, feet subtly bracing.

“Take down,” Kakashi smiled. “Fight until either I, or all of you, are incapacitated.”

They winced again, knowing how many bruises that was going to mean. But there was glitter in their eyes, something like excitement.

“Do we get time to plan?” Sakura asked.

Sometimes if he was feeling generous he gave them a moment to strategize.

“Nope! Begin!”

They blinked in bewilderment but were far too used to him. They scattered, a bloom of clones rising to distract him as they retreated to a more strategic point. Kakashi smiled after them. Near the edge of the field three clones peeled off of Umino and set off to tale the students. They would sense it but he was sure they would be smart enough to ignore clones that definitely weren’t Kakashi’s.

.--.

Sakura looked like...well she looked like Sakura, all short pink hair and fiery green eyes. Her knuckles dusters gleamed in the light and she had that set look on her face he knew meant he would have to put her down hard to keep her down.

“Mah, you look so fierce,” Kakashi smiled.

Her nose twitched and her eyes narrowed as she slid more firmly into the opening stance of the Iron Fist Style.

“Do you even need the knuckle dusters anymore?” he smiled as he slid his feet apart.

She didn’t answer, merely threw herself at him. He dodged the throw by a hair’s width, with minimal movement, efficiently moving just out of the way. Sakura came at him immediately again, already recovering from the miss and throwing her heel up at his stomach.

And so their dance began: Kakashi dodging by a hair’s width every time and Sakura keeping her moves tightly controlled so she didn’t over extend with each miss. They stuck close, up and personal and Kakashi had to use his open palm to deflect a few elbow throws. Her hits, which were hard could not be caught safety anymore. And she’d gotten better at her efficiency, even her openings were more dangerous to go after in fear of retaliation. Kakashi knew he could easily end up with broken bones here.

“Aim for the vitals,” Kakashi reminded, “And where it hurts.”

“I am,” Sakura growled.

“That blow would have glanced off my ribs, maybe inconvenient but no real harm,” Kakashi corrected.

“It would have broke them,” Sakura said with a hint of teeth.

Just to check he deflected one of her blows towards the ground and watched the stone crater beneath her.

“Good,” Kakashi said, “You’re getting better at that.”

Sakura had amazing chakra control, just luck of her birth, and it had taken her a while to realize she was unconsciously using it in her hits let alone could do that purposefully. The technicalities of Tsunade’s super strength wasn’t really a secret inside of Konoha for the fact that no one else had had the control or will to master it. Most shinobi used chakra to augment their muscles but no one had the control necessary to release it from those muscles in a split second with focus. But Sakura, well, Kakashi thought Sakura had a good chance.

Sakura came at his face with a vicious uppercut that clipped his jaw just the slightest. He felt the bruise blooming immediately as he lunged back.

Kakashi ducked, barely clearing Naruto’s leg, and then rolled out of the way of the scythe point that followed him. Naruto was a whirlwind of color and attacks and noise as he gave little war cries. If not for how scary unpredictable he was, Kakashi would have tutted him for so much noise and color, but that was a part of the unpredictable Uzumaki Naruto style. He got up in his opponents face and there was no escaping him in any way, senses or otherwise.

A clone spun in, wind spinning with him to kick up dust and half blind Kakashi. Kakashi lunged out of the way, blinking dust away and dodged a punch from Sakura. The chain that came for his throat behind the bunch drove him straight into a wall of fire. If not for a quick substitute he would have burned like the log now in his place. As it was his flak jacket smoked faintly.

Sakura and Naruto came at him again, perfectly in tandem, not getting tripped up in either one’s movement. Sasuke used Sakura as a spring board mid fight and came at Kakashi from above.

Kakashi nearly decapitated himself by dodging straight into a wall of ninja wire. It was only his own quick wits and flexibility that got him through Naruto’s masterful web of ninja wire. Well, mostly through, he winced at the beading of blood on his now exposed arm, sleeve chopped straight off.

When he said spider web he meant spider web. The wire was not just meant to cut but to capture and one loop had gotten about his arm and started tightening before he’d gotten out. Wire that sharp could take off a limb if not careful.

Kakashi looked for his students and found them vanished. He twitched his nose, stretched his senses and…aw, there.

He dodged Naruto by a hair’s width as the boy and his clones came upon him like a whirlwind. Kakashi stumbled. Once, twice, dismissed the genjutsu and regained his balance to throw two clones straight into their own wire trap. But…oh! Sasuke lit the while wire contraption on fire, fire chakra racing down the lines. Kakashi realized he was a half a step into the web and retreated. Or tried to.

Hands of earth rose up and clamped on his legs, as hard and unyielding as stone Sakura followed her jutsus, hammer slipping out of the earth like it was water and a mad grin on her face.

Fire coming around him, earth holding him still, a hammer coming for his face from below, and ah, a wind clone coming at him from above with a scythe. Oh and look there, Sasuke coming in from an angle with his satsuma.

Kakashi charged his whole body with lightening. The earth fragmented and shattered. He reached up and grasped the clone, spinning them to switch places and hurling said clone at the hammer blow coming for his face, as he threw himself into the air, clear of the fire and Sasuke’s attack.

He admitted to being impressed as Sakura redirected her blow mid swing and let the clone grab the hammer instead of smashing onto it. She twirled and the clone took all the momentum from the hammer before being thrown straight back up. Sasuke used the clone as a spring board to come hurtling up at the retreating Kakashi. Sakura then dove back into the earth like it was a pool and not solid ground as the fire consumed the space they had been standing.

Kakashi kicked Sasuke off into a tree as he was falling back to safe ground started to really strategize. The kids had kept him on his toes long enough to stop him from really considering a plan of action.

And, ah, there on the ground he was aiming at was a spike trap. Lovely.

.--.

The medic asked no questions as she patched his team up. Naruto whined under her hands but she said nothing, merely snapped his dislocated shoulder back into place and healed his broken collar bone. The array of bruises and cuts on his body were already healing. Sasuke, suffering harsh lightening burns up both arms and his chest and a twisted ankle didn’t make any noise, but his pained face said enough for him. Sakura, with two broken wrists, a couple broken ribs, and a concussion, laughed at them and called them pansies from where she lay in the cracked earth.

When the medic got to Kakashi himself he smiled a faint hello and watched the way she handled his broken femur. He was quite sure she’d survived in ANBU with him many, many years ago. He said nothing of this too her and she didn’t acknowledge him as she healed an injury that should have still required a cast even with chakra-healing, within twenty minutes. Kakashi was impressed, not just for her skill, but that the Hokage had asked them to be fully patched up. Well, not that surprised he supposed. He’d asked for an all-out battle and had to be responsible for what happened during it.

“Sakura is the frontline fighter, the heavy hitter,” Umnio muttered looking at his clipboard as if he couldn’t understand it.

“She broke my femur with one hit,” Kakashi grinned at the man, “Hardest bone in the body and snap.”

“I pegged her as a genjutsu specialist or medic,” Umino said faintly, “Back in the academy.”

Kakashi heard the unspoken ‘I’m barely wrong’. Which was true. Umino was a fantastic profiler, especially for the academy students. He was the one who organized the teams every year, making sure those who truly would succeed were paired with students of like motivation and skill. There was a reason little civilian raised Haruno Sakura was on a team with the last Uchiha and the Kyuubi Jinchuriki.

“Skill wise I would have thought the same,” Kakashi said, “At first. But her personality is too strong for a supporting role. She’s got a temper and a viciousness to her that matches her brute strength.

“I still hadn’t had her pegged a taijutsu master,” Umino chuckled, “Oh well, I have to be wrong sometimes I suppose. I’m glad you figured out her skill set.”

Kakashi nodded watching as Naruto chatted with the Hokage excitedly, Sakura at his side, sunbathing. Sasuke had slipped off a few minutes’ prior after a few words from the Hokage and Kakashi only faintly wondered where he was off too.

“And Naruto,” Umino smiled, smile bright and happy, “He’s done so well with his clones. And the way he’s using his wind nature…”

“He’s a force of nature,” Kakashi agreed, “Thanks to you too, sensei. His traps have gained an edge they never had before.”

“I’m proud of him,” Umino smiled, “Of all of them. But can you tell me if there is a reason Sasuke keeps using fire instead of his lightening nature chakra?”

Kakashi gave him a sly grin.

“He hasn’t realized his nature isn’t fire but lightening yet.

“And a certain sensei hasn’t seen fit to correct him?” Umino raised a brow, lips twitching into a grin.

“Mah, I have to let the kids learn some things on their own,” he beamed.

Umino laughed loud enough to make the kids look over at him. And oh, there was Sasuke carrying a large stack of bentos.

“Kakashi-sensei! Iruka-sensei! Jiji got us lunch!” Naruto hollered.

Naruto was already opening the bento’s by the time Umino and him wandered over. The Hokage smiled at him as the kids started to squabble over something.

“That was a good showing,” the Hokage smiled at him, “I’d say it was almost a draw.”

“Mah, I was the last man standing,” Kakashi said lightly.

“With a broken femur and more than a few minor injuries,” the Hokage remarked, “For a team of genin to challenge someone like yourself and manage so well…”

Kakashi heard what went unsaid. Yes, some of it could be contributed to familiarity with his fighting, but that was a double-edged sword. They knew his fighting style, but he had taught them theirs and they had still used it well against him. And Kakashi knew, despite his title as jonin, he was not the average jonin. He’d been an ANBU commander and retired due to politics and mental well-being, not lack of skill or injury. Kakashi was listed as an S-rank ninja in the bingo book and he’d earned that rank. He wondered idly, as he got offered a bento from Sakura, what this team could do against a regular jonin.

They could probably bring one down easily if they worked together. He smiled, vicious and proud.

.--.

“Gai, it’s six am,” Kakashi groaned.

This was becoming a disturbing pattern; getting woken up early by others.

Gai grinned at him from the edge of the bed where he had seated himself.

“I have Lee waking Naruto and Sasuke! Sakura was already in the kitchen making tea so Tenten and Neji have joined her. You will be the last to wake, rival!”

Kakashi groaned and half fell out of the bed. He was feeling the strain of their spar yesterday and it did make him smile. Gai held out his shirt and Kakashi took it, dragging it over his head.

“A nice array of bruises,” Gai said, a tad quieter, eyeing Kakashi carefully, “A fight?”

“Sparred with the kids all out yesterday,” Kakashi smiled at him, “They did good.”

Gai brightened and clasped his shoulder before disappearing down the hall as Kakashi dug socks out from under his bed. Kakashi dragged himself into the kitchen to find Naruto making breakfast with his eyes closed, looking to be asleep even as he held a frying pan. Sasuke was beside him looking quite grumpy. Sakura meanwhile was sitting at the table with Tenten looking fresh and happy. Kakashi hated morning people; how did they have the energy?

“Why are we awake so early, Kakashi-sensei,” Naruto groaned, without opening his eyes.

“Its only an hour earlier than we usually wake,” Sakura pointed out.

Sasuke gave a grunt that could have been a ‘fuck you’.

“But I’m sore,” Naruto groaned, “I thought sensei would be super nice and let us sleep in after yesterday.”

“No rest for my cute little students,” Kakashi said, “Not with the exam so close.”

They all groaned as Team Gai watched them with looks of mild confusion. Sakura and Naruto had food laid out promptly, squeezing in extra sets for the other team and everyone dug in with enthusiasm. Kakashi took his food to the veranda with Gai as the kids took up the whole table.

“I’m stealing your students for the morning, my rival!” Gai announced around mouthfuls of rice, “I heard about your spars with the younger teams last week and my team could use similar experience!”

“Sounds good,” Kakashi said.

After breakfast Sasuke and Lee cleaned up, Lee cheerfully, and Sasuke with accepted sullenness at being forced to endure the other boy’s cheerfulness at full volume so early.

“Have fun!” Kakashi waved off the kids as they all piled out the door.

Sakura gave him an enthusiastic wave already hoping foot to foot while Naruto and Sasuke sent him identical death glares. He’d owe them that cool jutsu this afternoon for putting up with Team Gai. Then Gai was dragging them off shouting about youth.

“Now, what did you rope Gai into distracting my kids for?” Kakashi asked the garden, “If you wanted to get me alone all you had to do was ask, Genma.”

Genma rolled his eyes as he slipped out of the shadows.

“I did ask. I asked Gai.”

Kakashi laughed and invited him in silently. Genma followed him into the house, toeing his sandals off and following Kakashi to the dining room. Kakashi fetched the tea Sakura had helpfully left for him and poured the man a cup.

“What do you need help with?” Kakashi asked.

“Who says I need help?”

Kakashi raised a brow at him and Genma sighed pulling out a scroll. He unrolled it across the table and Kakashi leaned over to see a seal layout.

“The barrier seals?” Kakashi asked, tilting his head.

“We’re trying to buffer them up, make them stronger. Standard maintenance, of course.”

“Of course,” Kakashi echoed, “I take it you went to Jiraya already.”

“Yeah. Asked the kids to look over them yesterday too just for study at least. We’re just covering all bases and I know you’re better at offensive sealing.”

Kakashi nodded faintly. Kushina hadn’t had time to teach him a lot but she had taught him some, and Minato had also given him lessons, and both had used seals for offence more often than defense. But you know what they say, the best defense is a good offence.

Kakashi also idly thought of Hayate injured and alone, bleeding out on their own soil.

“Let’s take a look.”

.--.

Chapter Text

.--.

“So how was playing with Gai’s team this morning?” Kakashi asked.

Sasuke and Naruto gave twin groans of pain while Sakura hopped around them with excitement, babbling how she and Lee had had one of their best spars yet. She sparred against an invisible opponent and told him all about how she’d finally gotten the Lotus Blooms Again down. Kakashi was quite glad that Lee and Sakura were getting along well. The first few days of their training had required close eyes and Gai pulling Lee aside to talk about professionalism and leaving girls who said ‘no thanks’ alone. Luckily Lee really was a good kid at heart and he had accepted the dressing down and promptly and wholeheartedly apologized to Sakura. They were apparently Eternal Rivals now, emulating their sensei. And some part of Kakashi was genuinely touched.

“Sorry I sent you off with him after we said ninjutsu focus,” Kakashi laughed at the boys, “I promise you all an awesome jutsu that aligns with your nature chakra for being such good sports.”

Naruto at least cheered up visibly at that, dragging himself upright. Sasuke followed him and Sakura stopped her story telling to focus.

“Ninjutsu and nature manipulation focus for the next few days then,” Kakashi clapped his hands as his students gathered around him, “First off, Sasuke, I have so good news and some bad news for you.”

Sasuke stared at him, twitching slightly as if worried but also suspicious.

“The good news is you are doing amazing with your fire-chakra manipulation.”

The hint of a blush on his cheeks told Kakashi how happy the boy was with his praise.

“The bad news,” Kakashi said, reaching out to place a comforting hand on his shoulder, “Is that your natural affinity isn’t fire, it’s lightening.”

There was a moment of stillness as Sasuke’s brain seemed to try and comprehend this information, and then reboot. Sakura and Naruto watched from the side, eyes darting between them like this was an intense match. Kakashi tried to keep his face poker straight but felt a smile already curling his eye.

“What.” Sasuke said flatly.

“Your affinity is lightening, which is why you’ve been having a hard time with fire. In fact I would have said you wouldn’t have been able to grasp manipulation of a secondary nature this early if not for your background and constant use of fire chakra already. But you’ve been fighting an uphill battle. You would have been much better to double check your infinity.”

Kakashi held out a square of paper to prove it and as Sasuke took it slowly, pumping chakra, watching it crumple. Sasuke’s eye started twitching.

“WHAT!?!?!?!”

Naruto was still a heap of giggles ten minute later as Kakashi showed Sasuke how to focus his lightening natured chakra. Kakashi showed him the signs for a simple sparking jutsu and Sasuke watched him with a deep glower, pointedly ignoring the puddle that was a giggling Naruto and the way Sakura was physically holding her hands over her mouth to stop her own giggles.

When the lightening sparked to life instantly, Sasuke’s eye finally stopped twitching and his sulk fell into a thoughtful expression. He looked at the arcs of electricity dancing across his hand and when he looked up at Kakashi’s encouraging look, he gave the hint of a smile.

.--.

“Your students are terrifying,” Genma muttered.

“Mah, thanks for the compliment,” Kakashi smiled.

“I’m not sure he meant that nicely,” Umino remarked.

In the distance, standing in the center of the field, Sasuke’s whole body sparked with blue lightening. It was one of the first steps to the chidori but Sasuke was focusing more on how to manipulate the flow than concentrate it into an attack. Didn’t mean it wasn’t dangerous though. Naruto yelped and then burst into smoke after getting to close, the clone vanishing.

Kakashi eyed the clipboard in Umino’s hands. There was a flower sticker on the back, a blooming sunflower that was worn and scratched. He was taking copious notes looking serious as he did so.

But his eyes weren’t on Team seven, instead they were on Kakashi.

“Watch it,” Genma told him.

Kakashi looked down at the weeping brush and moved it before it ruined the seal. They were pretty much just mass producing a bunch of connector seals to help strengthen the barriers on the wall. Not hard if you knew what you were doing, but tedious for the amount needed.

“I need more paper, Genma-sensei!” Tenten called.

They’d roped Tenten, Naruto, and some chunin kid Genma was apparently teaching on the side to help as well. The kids sat in a neat circle chit chatting as they did the connector seals while the adults hovered off to the side.

Genma stood to give the kids more supplies as Naruto absently made a handful of more clones to go train with Sasuke and Sakura. They could have had a bunch of clones making seals but they didn’t have the chakra focus to be doing grunt work like that. Clones were handy but not perfect and often were more absent minded (getting distracted more easily if given boring tasks) than the original and less able to focus their chakra which led to chakra waste.

Umino, used to using seals in his work as well, had been roped into helping. Or maybe he’d volunteered. Every once in a while he put down the sealing brush to make notes with only a few scrutinizing glances up at Kakashi.

“How did you get them so focused?” Genma asked as he returned, “I can barely get my one kid to focus on the tasks I assign.”

Kakashi looked between him and Umino feeling like this was less friendly conversation and more like he was navigating a mine field.

“You have to treat them like puppies. Make sure to be stern but also be ready to give out treats,” Kakashi remarked carefully.

More notes on the clipboard.

“I brought snacks!”

Kakashi looked up to find an eager Naruto clone holding a couple bags from the corner store.

“You’re the best!” Tenten cheered.

Kakashi smiled fondly as Naruto started distributing snacks to everyone. When he dropped a bottle of tea off with Kakashi he carefully slipped Kakashi’s wallet back into his pocket. Kakashi looked up to find Umino watching with a smirk.

“Getting soft?” he teased.

“Mah,” Kakashi rubbed the back of his head sheepishly, “Got to keep them fed, just like with puppies.”

“I got you your favorite!” Naruto declared to Kakashi, holding out two rice balls.

“Thank you, I’ll eat them in a bit,” Kakashi told him.

“You haven’t eaten since breakfast!” Naruto protested, cheeks puffing out, “You gotta eat to stay strong!”

“Give it up kid,” Genma laughed, “If you’re trying to see under his mask, almost every jonin in the village has tried offering him food to do so.”

“What?” Naruto peered at Genma with confusion, “Why would I give him food to take his mask off?”

“You’re not even a little curious?” Genma teased.

Naruto stared at him, bewildered, then darted a glance at Kakashi who’s smile was turning into a smirk.

“Curious about what?” Naruto asked, scratching his head.

“About what your sensei’s face looks like,” Genma said, starting to look as confused as Naruto.

“But I already know what sensei’s face looks like,” Naruto scrunched up his nose.

There was a long, long moment of silence.

“What.” Genma said flatly.

“Sakura, Sasuke,” Umino called, voice just as flat, “Do you know what your sensei’s face looks like?”

The two who had broke off their sparring to eat their own snacks looked up, faces scrunched in almost the same way Naruto’s had.

“Uh, yeah,” Sakura said, as if saying ‘duh’, “We eat together every day, you can’t eat with a mask on.”

“Not like he wears it all the time,” Sasuke added with a snort.

The two turned back to their snacks and Naruto looked between the adults before shrugging and dropping beside Tenten to get back to seals. Kakashi grinned at the two men giving him the deadliest glares he’d seen on them.

“They’ve seen you face,” Genma flatly.

“As Sasuke said, I don’t wear my mask all the time,” Kakashi chirped.

“I have worked with you for nearly seventeen years,” Genma said, voice rising, “And not once have I seen it!”

“Naruto,” Umino said sweetly, “Can you tell me what your sensei’s face looks like?”

“Huh? It looks like Kakashi,” Naruto said looking at Umino as if to ask if he was okay.

Kakashi nearly cackled as he saw Umino visibly deflate at the answer.

“Hey Sakura!” Genma waved, “What does this bastard’s face look like?”

Sakura looked between Kakashi’s grin and Genma’s twitching eye and clammed up.

“None of your business,” she sniffed, turning her back to him.

Kakashi really did cackle as Genma gave a noise like a balloon losing air.

.--.

“Yo,” Kakashi greeted, “How are feeling?”

“Like I lost a fight with a wind blade,” Hayate smiled, a tad strained.

“I wouldn’t call it lost,” Kakashi said as he took a seat beside the hospital bed, “You’re still alive after all.”

Hayate gave a coughing raspy laugh.

“My students send their regards,” Kakashi said holding out a bouquet of flowers that had a little signed car with well wishes in various hands.

“Tell them thank you,” Hayate said, smiling faintly as he took the lowers, thumbing the card.

Kakashi gave him a moment and helped him arrange the flowers at his bedside.

“Can you tell me who it was?” Kakashi asked, tone harmless and idle.

Hayate looked at him.

“Or is it classified?” Kakashi asked easily, holding up his hands to show he would accept that information.

Hayate watched him, eyes sharp for all he looked exhausted and wounded.

“I can tell you,” Hayate finally said, “It was a sand jonin. He was trying to reassure another sand-nin about the…you-know-what. The second guy looked like he was a nervous wreck and was babbling more than he should have in the open and I overheard. Just my luck that the Sand Jonin had good senses. He came after me and I didn’t realize he was even wielding a wind blade until it got me. The nervous wreck came to check if I was dead but the idiot actually tried to find my pulse instead of double tapping me. And then he fucked up and didn’t actually find my pulse; so when I held my breath he declared me dead and they both fled. I’m lucky the jonin wasn’t the one to check.”

Hayate coughed lightly, a raspy laugh behind it.

“Luck,” he said ruefully, “Is what kept me alive.”

“Don’t discount luck,” Kakashi said lightly as he parsed the information, “I’ll be thankful to luck as long as it brings my comrades home alive.”

The door opened carefully and Yuugao slipped in looking freshly showered, if still exhausted.

“Mah, you should have taken time to eat as well,” Kakashi scolded her lightly, “I promised I’d keep an eye on him.”

She paused but shook her head holding up a bento he knew was from the cafeteria, which ew, and then took Kakashi’s place in the chair. Her hand immediately found Hayate’s and Kakashi smiled fondly as they both looked at each other softly. He closed the door quietly behind him as he set off to find his team. He’d left them shadowing an annoyed nurse and he could only hope the nurse hadn’t snapped and left them locked in a closet somewhere.

.--.

Kakashi watched as Sakura made rapid hand signs, her lips pressed tight together. When she slammed her hands into the ground he was impressed by the thickness of the wall that leapt over her in a partial protective dome.

“Ugh!” Sakura complained, “I can’t get it to go completely over me.”

“You’ll get it,” he assured her, saying nothing of how advanced it already was for a silent jutsu.

While jutsus didn’t truly require the technique to be shouted out loud, just like it didn’t truly need all the hand signs and you could cut it down to half signs, it was all about focus. Shouting the technique helped center a ninja and their attention which helped focus their chakra. It was a little psychological trick that was needed before you had mastered the jutsu. But Sakura was starting nearly completely without words. She had the focus and control all ready and didn’t see the need to shout out her jutsu names. Which was good, but was also highly unusual for such a young shinobi who didn’t have a lot of ninjutsu experience. She really was very good.

Naruto on the other hand…

There was a shout, and then a water dragon completely obliterated a rock.

Well, Naruto would never have the pinpoint control Sakura did but he was doing very well for how much chakra he had in his body. Most jonin would struggle for control to water-walk if they had that much heavy chakra weighing them down, but Naruto didn’t even have to focus to walk across water now and that was amazing. Kakashi remembered how it had only taken him a few days to master water-walking as well. He’d learned it nearly as quick as Sasuke and Sasuke had a thimble of chakra compared to the ocean of Naruto and the Kyuubi.

Naruto’s problem was the focus not the control. If he wanted to he could narrow all his senses down to one task, but he just didn’t often care too. Naruto liked to know everything happening around him and often let himself be distracted by things around him. Which was good for awareness and a trap master, but a little less good when trying to narrowly master one jutsu.

“Kakashi did you see my water dragon! It was a s big as my fire one!”

“Good job,” Kakashi said with a smile, “Now try to do it without screaming out the technique name.”

Naruto grinned and went back to practicing. Kakashi watched him a long moment. Naruto had liked the fire jutsu he’d taught them because he liked explosions, but also because he could tag team with Sasuke with them. But as soon as Sasuke had started mastering lightening, suddenly Naruto was interested in water. A water dragon to drench his enemies before Sasuke came in sparking. Sasuke had been the same, mastering fire jutsus that worked well with wind as soon as Naruto got a grasp on his nature chakra.

Ha. His kids were just such good kids. Working together to help strengthen their teammates with no words exchanged.

.--.

Chapter Text

“Watch me,” Kakashi commanded.

Sasuke peered closer.

“With the sharingan,” Kakashi said.

Sasuke narrowed his eyes at him for a long moment and then mulishly activated the sharingan, eyes burning scarlet. Kakashi nodded once and then carefully found his center and started to charge his body with electricity.

“The reason Chidori can’t be copied,” Kakashi said, “Is because it’s not strictly a jutsu. It’s pure nature manipulation.”

Kakashi slowly focused his lightening chakra to focus just on his palm until he was holding a wild chirping ball of blue lightening just waiting to be used. The air around them charged with it, hair rising with the force and focus of it. What killed people wasn’t just the attack going through them, though punching a hole through people didn’t help, it was the electricity that killed them, hundreds of volts discharging through their body.

“Now you try, but be careful, you already know you risk electrical burns and you need to stay in top shape for the finals.”

Sasuke nodded seriously and slowly started to form his own nature chakra. He’d already learned how to charge his whole body which was prodigious considering they’d been working on this less than a month. Under Kakashi’s careful watch Sasuke a blue condensed ball of lightening started to waver in his hand.

“Stop,” Kakashi demanded when his control fluctuated.

Sasuke carefully discharged the electricity and slumped, panting.

“Lightening takes careful, focused handing and a healthy dose of caution,” Kakashi told him, “But it’s also a wild thing, it can’t be smoothed. Chidori is condensing it but letting it keep its edge. If you try to smooth it over like you did it’s more likely to backfire. Don’t try to make a sphere of it, just let it condense and take whatever shape it wants.”

Sasuke nodded and tried again.

A clearing away a clone was watching just as carefully as he helped Naruto try and focus wind chakra on the end of his scythe. He was getting it scary fast but having difficulty releasing it into a thrown blade instead of just coating edges to make them sharper. A way away from that a Kakashi clone sat meditating with Sakura as he watched her stretch her awareness and chakra deep into the earth. She’d mastered swimming through the earth like it was water, and making the earth form in small spaces, such as to use like hands, but she was having difficulty making anything larger than small walls.

The real Kakashi, sitting next to Sasuke and the far more volatile lightening nature manipulation smiled to himself.

Genius’ all of them. Sasuke had been recognized as thus back in the academy but no one had considered Naruto anything more than a fool despite contrary evidence in his traps and endurance. And Sakura had similarly been ignored for her book knowledge, disregarding how hard she had hit in taijutsu practice and how quickly she picked everything up despite lacking training outside of school.

Well. Their loss and Kakashi’s gain. He quite liked his three smart little students.

.--.

“So we meet again,” Kakashi smiled at the kids before him.

Most gave him a sort of stubborn mulish look, baby-fat cheeks puffing out and eyes squinting in glares. Kakashi looked up at Kurenai and Asuma and judging by their grins they found it just as cute and amusing to see their students glowering at him.

“Have you been training hard?’ he asked innocently, “Have you worked on some strategies?”

“We’re going kick their asses,” Ino declared, shooting a look at Team Seven who grinned back.

This time his cute little students had forwent the civilian clothes and were at least wearing dark clothing, their weapons visible on their backs. The other teams had also been aware of the challenge for a week now and Kakashi had been nice enough to announce the same training field so they could plan around that. He hoped they showed some good use out of all the forewarning.

“It’s good to see such enthusiasm,” Umino smiled at all of them from where he hovered at Kakashi’s shoulder.

All the kids eyed his clipboard with the same wariness you would eye a rabid dog.

“Does he have to watch us?” Inuzuka whined, “I feel like I’m back in the academy.”

Umino continued smiling like he hadn’t heard.

“Well, lets get this started,” Kakashi clapped his hands, “Same rules as last time, each of my kids has a bell, you have to get it from them, blah, blah, blah. Ready?”

Team Ten and Team eight all exchanged glances, faces set with stubborn determination and then nodded. Kakashi glanced back at his own kids who gave him their best innocent smiles (well Sasuke’s was less a smile and more a politely uninterested look but it was pretty much the same thing).

“Well, ready set go then,” Kakashi said without any sort of dramatic flare.

He neatly ducked Yamanaka’s charge and merely smiled at him when she stuck her tongue out at him on her way past. He ignored how she kicked her heel back at him as if to get in a parting hit and tucked himself out of the way as the teams devolved into a brawl. At least this time there was coordination and teamwork. They even got a decent amount of hits in on Kakashi’s kids.

Team seven burst into a cloud of smoke revealing they had been clones.

“Argh!” the Inuzuka howled.

“You had a whole week to prepare,” Kakashi yelled to the kids, “But so did my team!”

As if waiting for that signal the yard exploded in purple smoke amidst the curses. Kakashi landed neatly on a high branch along side Umino who was still jotting down notes even as his feet touched down.

“Do I want to know why you’ve been following my team around with that for a week?” Kakashi asked blandly, eyes tracking his kids through the bush, “Don’t you have something more important to be doing?”

“Ah, not as much,” Umino smiled like a polite shark, “This is important work. And you aren’t allowed to know.”

“I’m not allowed?” Kakashi raised a brow.

Someone telling him he wasn’t allowed to do something? Someone other than the Hokage? Now that was just a challenge. Umino’s smirk said he knew exactly how Kakashi had just taken then but he wasn’t going to give an inch.

Well. It would have to wait until after the chunin exam. Then Kakashi would show him just how persistent, and dare he say annoying, he could be. Kakashi turned back to watch Team ten fall straight into a pit trap

.--.

Team Ten and Eight suffered a beat down just as hard as last time, but this time they’d been ready enough to give as good as they got. Mostly. At the end Team Seven was roughed and scuffed but still standing with grins while the other two were collapsed in groaning heaps.

“Mah, meet us back at our place, we’ll handle dinner,” Kakashi smiled at the kids.

“Food,” Choji moaned deliriously.

Asuma and Kurenai snuck him a handful of bills and Kakashi gave them a smile before they went to scoop up their kids. Team Seven bound up to him and Kakashi counted out the cash the other two had given him while also adding some of his own. He found an extra wad in his pocket and narrowed his eyes at Umino who smiled innocently back. Had he actually slipped one past Kakashi? Kakashi really was getting tired of all of Umino’s surprises.

“You know what to get,” Kakashi said, dividing the cash to his kids.

“Yes sir!” the mock saluted before dashing off.

Kakashi made sure Team Eight and Ten were truly okay under the sensei’s check-up and then headed off on his own. Well, mostly his own, he thought as Umino fell into step with him.

“If they’re getting dinner what are you getting?” Umino asked cheerfully as they stepped back into town.

“Beer,” Kakashi said, “For after the kids fall asleep of course.”

Umino didn’t give him the stink eye he’d expected and laughed instead.

“That’s fair. Those kids would drive me to drink if I had to keep them in line all the time still.”

And so they found a small corner store and Kakashi loaded up on beer while Umino found the good wine section. They both raided the juice section for the kids and they entered the Hatake manor with arms full to find everyone else but Team Seven there. Kakashi’s hounds had obviously let the other teams in and they were in the process of cleaning up, the kids in the washrooms wiping dirt off their hands and faces while Asuma had commandeered his kitchen to get a jug of water and Kurenai was shoving the veranda doors open so the entire living space was open to the courtyard.

“Beer,” Asuma said reverently helping Kakashi shove it in the fridge, “One right now can’t hurt right?”

“Umino let me buy it but I doubt he will let you drink it in front of the kids,” Kakashi said pointedly, “But it’s your funeral if you want to try.”

Asuma winced and declined to do so. When the kids finished washing up they joined them, Asuma pouring glasses of water and juice to the still exhausted kids. Team Seven arrived not to much later, arms absolutely loaded down with food to the cheer of the others. Umino and Naruto commandeered the food, laying it out so the table was absolutely loaded before handing plates out.

The adults watched their cute little vicious ninja kids squabble over food and get full plates before they grabbed their own.

Only when they had eaten their fill did Naruto announce he’d brought ice cream as well. While a few of the kids went to raid the freezer Shikamaru approached Kakashi.

“I brought Shogi,” Shikamaru told him with narrowed determined eyes.

“Well,” Kakashi hummed, “I guess we could have a game.”

Shikamaru set it up on the veranda with a grim set to his lips as if he was already imaging defeat; his or Kakashi’s was unknown.

“I’m so full,” Ino moaned, rolling to bump into Sakura, “Were do you put it all?”

“I’m a taijutsu specialist, pig,” Sakura mocked biting into her ice cream bar, “I can eat anything I want and not gain anything more than muscle!”

Ino pouted but didn’t roll away, staying curled half around Sakura as she ate another dumpling.

Sasuke, who was a shy boy, had already retreated to the veranda just a ways away from Shikamaru, the over-socializing reaching his tolerance point. Kakashi was surprised the boy didn’t break out in hives when surrounded by so many friendly people who wanted to visit. Naruto dragged him his koto a minute later and Sasuke plucked at it absently, some tension leaving his shoulders.

“Oh, are we doing as song?” Sakura perked up at the strums.

And that was how Kakashi ended up facing Shikamaru in Shogi as Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura played a beautiful little piece, all the kids listening with wide eyes. The adults watched fondly, tucked back in their own conversation as they socialized.

It was as close to peace as Kakashi had ever known.

(He won the game by the way, smiling as Shikamaru gnashed his teeth and demanded another thorough trouncing)

.--.

Chapter Text

“We’re going to get ice-cream!” Naruto yelled as he slid past them.

“That’s nice,” Kakashi said idly.

“Do you want anything?” Sasuke asked walking past much more calmly than Naruto.

“Mint,” Sakura said from where she was laying in a sunbeam, eyes closed and close to a doze.

“Anything will do,” Kakashi smiled.

“He will want vanilla,” Sakura said.

Kakashi crinkled his eye in a smile as Sasuke nodded solemnly.

“Sasuke! Let’s go!”

“Take bull with you,” Kakashi said, leaning further into the wall.

Bull lumbered to his feet at his name, tongue lolling as he happily trotted past Sasuke to the front door.

“Okie dokie!” Naruto agreed even as Sasuke narrowed his eyes at Kakashi.

Kakashi smiled back at the boy who finally grunted acknowledgement. Kakashi knew the ANBU that had been trailing his team was not doing so right now. Things were drawing to a head and everyone had their jobs. The convenience store was only two blocks away, close enough Kakashi would hear Bull howl if there was trouble.

“What flavor do you like, Bull?” Naruto asked as he held the front door open for the massive hound.

Kakashi didn’t hear the answer as Sasuke shut the door behind them.

“Sensei, I want tea,” Sakura said.

“We’re getting ice-cream in a few minutes,” Kakashi said amused.

“And I want tea with it.”

“Then go make some.”

Sakura peeled an eye open and gave him her best sad look.

“But I’m so comfy.”

“Brat,” Kakashi said fondly and stood up.

He put the kettle on and drew out the tea set.

“Sensei! Look who we found!” Naruto shouted before they were even in the front gate.

Kakashi, from where he was putting some cups and the fresh pot of tea on the shaded part of the veranda looked up and bowed his head in greeting.

“Hokage-sama,” he said, “On a break?”

The Hokage gave him a smile, a slight sly edge to it and Kakashi knew there was a clone sitting behind his desk off in the tower and no ANBU nearby.

“Just a moment’s break,” he said, “Naruto invited me back for ice-cream.”

“We have tea too if you would like some, Hokage-sama,” Sakura offered, finally sitting up from her slump.

Kakashi neglected to tell her she had a floorboard pattern pressed into her cheek. Kakashi offered the Kage a cushion and watched as the old man sat down carefully. Naruto handed out ice-cream, putting a vanilla one in his hands before handing the Hokage a mint one. Bull had wandered back to the pack that was lounging under the shaded veranda carrying a bag of sausage that Kakashi gave Sasuke a smile for.

“Thank you, Naruto,” the Hokage smiled.

“No problem jiji!”

Naruto plopped down right next to the Hokage, leaning into him happily as he unwrapped his own treat. Kakashi noted the absolutely fond look the Hokage levelled at the blond. Over ten years ago Kakashi had held Naruto as an infant, had begged the Hokage on his hands and knees to be allowed to watch after Minato-sensei’s son. The Hokage had taken Naruto out of his arms and told him no despite Kakashi’s tears and pleading. The Hokage had looked Kakashi right in the face and denied him completely, ordered him to stay away from Naruto, to never tell the boy who he was to him.

And Kakashi was a loyally ninja of Konoha. He’d obeyed. But somewhere deep in his heart he’d always held a thread of resentment for that.

Kakashi, sitting in the sun with his precious students and watching the Hokage look at Naruto with such a soft expression, let go of that small thread of resentment. It was not forgotten, but in that moment, it was forgiven.

No point in what-ifs and thoughts of futures that would never be. Instead Kakashi took happiness in the present, the past was of no consequence.

.--.

Kakashi woke the morning of the final exam to the soft sound of one of the kids rustling in the kitchen. The sun was peeking above the horizon and there were birds in the courtyard. He could hear his hounds eating breakfast out in the yard and he could hear Naruto moaning about wanting ramen for breakfast as he made his way downstairs.

Kakashi laid in bed and wished he didn’t have to get out of it. There was a pit in the bottom of his stomach that some might call dread, weighing him down and pinning him in place.

The kids had spent a month preparing for this part of the exam and Konoha had spent a month getting ready for everything this exam entailed. Everything was ready, his kids were as prepared as he could make them, and the day was beautiful.

Kakashi pulled himself out of bed and couldn’t brush away dread.

He found his kids in the kitchen, setting the table with breakfast. Sakura was completely ready to go, armor on, kimono over top, hair brushed back, By the door he spied her ninja sandals and all her weapon pouches ready to be strapped on. Sasuke was close to ready, his armor on but his top missing and his hair unbrushed. Naruto on the other hand was only in pants and still had his eyes closed as he scooped rice into bowls.

Sakura had made breakfast this morning it seemed and had even been nice enough to make eggplant miso. Any other day Kakashi would have smiled over it. But his mouth refused to smile. His kids caught onto the solemn attitude nearly instantly and it wasn’t like they had been very peppy either; anxiety was clear in all their posture.

Breakfast was eaten in silence and then Sakura shooed Kakashi onto the veranda with tea before she started to browbeat the other two into getting fully ready.

By the time the kids were ready the sun had risen fully and they joined him on the veranda, kneeling next to one another seriously as they looked at him. Kakashi considered them all carefully and they met his gaze calmly.

“You’re going to pass,” Kakashi said with no trace of doubt, voice steady, “But do you remember what I said before the exam?”

“Winning isn’t everything,” Sakura responded immediately.

“Survival is,” Sasuke said with feeling.

“Yes. So I want you all to promise me that no matter what happens today, you will survive.”

“We promise!”

“Good. Good,” Kakashi took a moment to breath, “I have something else to ask of you as well and you will not like it. But I want you all to take it easy in your matches. I don’t want you to use even half of your stamina or chakra. Do you understand?”

They paused caught by this weird request.

“You mean in our first matches?” Sakura asked, “Like save energy for the final rounds?”

“No,” Kakashi said heavily, “I want you to surrender before you use up more than half of your strength today.”

They stared at him. Kakashi knew how difficult what he asked of them was. They’d been training all month to give a great showing, to be promoted, and here Kakashi was telling them to throw their matches and not even go half strength.

“Why?” Naruto asked plainly, sounding confused.

“I can’t tell you,” Kakashi said.

They stared at him.

“ANBU have been following me all month,” Sasuke said finally, tone low.

“And your ninken have been following all of us,” Sakura added with narrowed eyes.

“And you had me do so many protective seals my hands hurt,” Naruto said.

“And all the Jonin pulling you aside,” Sakura murmured thoughtful.

“Hayate-sensei,” Sasuke said flatly as if that was an entire conversation.

“A sannin coming back to town,” Naruto said with a deepening frown.

“Jonin with so few missions out of village they help us multiple times a week,” Sakura said.

“And of course that stupid snake face in the forest,” Naruto said.

“And the guy who attacked us in the hospital,” Sakura scowled.

“Iruka-sensei,” Sasuke said, “Grading us.”

Kakashi stared at them and they stared back. Of course they were right, but he couldn’t say that.

“Less than half strength,” Kakashi simply repeated, “Save the rest for later.”

“Yes sir!” they chorused.

“And promise me to survive,” he said voice catching.

“As long as you do the same,” Sakura told him solemnly.

“Yeah,” he said with a strained smile.

“Then none of us are going to die today,” Naruto said, eyes glinting.

“Team Seven,” Sasuke nodded sharply, “Until the end.”

He was so very very proud of them.

.--.

Kakashi stood like a statue, watching his cute little students stride in to the arena like they were heading to war. Their faces were set and grim, their uniforms spotless, their weapons bared. Out of all the kids going down there his kids looked the most ready but not the most grim.

“Ready for the matches?” Gai asked him and his tone was low for once.

Kakashi slanted a gaze at his long-time friend. Took in the usual spandex, the usual vest, the usual leg warmers. Took in the way Gai was weighed down with extra knives but no training weights, looked at the way Gai rolled his shoulders like he was limbering up.

“Ready as we’ll ever be,” Kakashi gave him an eye-smile, “How are your students?”

“Ready,” Gai said a grin slowly stretching.

“And you?” Kakashi asked offhandedly.

Gai reached out and clasped Kakashi’s hand. Kakashi tried to take strength from the reassurance. Gai gave him no words but he gave Kakashi a look that said ‘I have your back’. Kakashi squeezed back.

“First match,” Genma called down in the arena, “Is Sakura vs. Temari. The rest of the participants, please return to the seating area.”

Sasuke and Naruto both clasped Sakura’s shoulders as they passed, and she gave a short nod.

The Chunin Exam final round was beginning.

.--.