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Kakashi scowls into his bowl of ramen. He’s tired, he’s bored, and now his sensei is leaving for a mission without him? It’s been an awful day. He bites back the urge to ask ‘why’, it’s not like he doesn’t understand that Shikamaru is an elite ninja whose skills are needed by the village. 

 

He just doesn’t understand why he can’t go with him. 

 

His dad tells him that if he’d been born even ten years earlier he would’ve gone through the academy much faster and would probably already be a jounin with responsibilities. Kakashi is fairly sure his dad means it as a warning, or to try to tell him to be grateful for his childhood, but it just makes Kakashi resent that he wasn’t born ten years earlier. 

 

And not just because then he’d be higher ranked but also because he’d be older if that was the case and — 

 

“Behave for Sakura, okay kid?” his sensei says, reaching over and ruffling his hair, and the annoyance at not being able to go on the mission with him evaporates quicker than anything. 

 

“I’m not a kid,” he protests, slapping at Shikamaru-sensei’s hands and then pulling his mask up a little higher because he can feel the heat on his cheeks and he doesn’t want to deal with the teasing. 

 

His sensei smirks at him around a drooping cigarette and then looks past him and his smile goes softer and Kakashi’s spine straightens. “Hey Sakura, thanks for doing this.” 

 

“It’s no problem, Shika-kun!” she chirps back as she slips onto the stool next to Kakashi and bumps him with her shoulder and smiles. “How’s my favorite little ninja?” 

 

“M’not a little kid,” Kakashi finds himself saying, relieved that the scowl chases the blush from his cheeks. 

 

But then she’s laughing and he’s blushing again. “My bad, sorry Hatake-san!” 

 

He knows his mask isn’t going to be able to hide his blush so he ducks his head and is rewarded with her hand ruffling his hair and he doesn’t like when Shikamaru does it, but it’s okay when she does. 

 

***

 

He knows he’s too young for her, is the thing. At least for now. But when he gets older that ten year age gap is gonna seem smaller and then — then he might have a chance. But to have a chance he has to be good enough for her — not that really anyone is, he thinks — and so he needs to keep working hard and prove himself. 

 

Shikamaru-sensei tried to have a talk with him about crushes the other day, and it was just about the worst thing he’d ever had to go through, worse even then having to train with Lee-sensei who keeps trying to put him in orange leg warmers for some reason. 

 

But no one else is good enough for her either. So if he has scare off civilians who try to ask her out with killing intent, well, he’s just making sure she has someone good enough for her. 

 

***

 

“I see you have the duckling today, ugly,” Sai says as she and Kakashi make their way towards one of the training grounds. 

 

She fights back a grin, long used to the poor behavior of her teammates, and then fast as she can lunges forward and gets him in a headlock by upsetting the earth right before he could flash step. “I do have my favorite student with me, thank you for noticing, Sai-kun,” she says back, sickly sweet, as Sai goes limp in her grasp. 

 

Sakura doesn’t need to look to know that Kakashi is scowling — poor thing is reaching that overly sensitive age where he cares a lot about being a grownup. She doesn’t know how to tell him that being an adult is just about the worst thing ever. 

 

For all that she knows he’s well familiar with how to kill someone in a thousand different ways, he didn’t have to grow up fast in a battlefield and she wants to protect as much of his innocence as she possibly can. 

 

Right now he’s got a crush on her, too, which is about the cutest thing ever — even if it did make Ino screech to high heaven when she realized she wasn’t the first crush of her teammate’s single student. 

 

Now that they cannot win bets on who will kill the most enemies on the field, or save the most teammates, they have to compete for other things, apparently, and Kakashi’s crush has moved Sakura into the lead for their bets this past month and it’s left Ino in a foul mood. 

 

Worth it.

 

Besides, it’s not like anything will ever come of it and she’s sure Kakashi will have a crush on someone his own age before too long. And until then he really is the cutest little genin ever. 

 

***

 

“Troublesome,” Shikamaru mumbles to himself as he stretches his back and looks up at the clouds. They’re walking slow because they’ve got a whole pack of genin with them. 

 

Kakashi-kun is still giving him the petulant silent treatment, which is annoying because it’s been over a month since he got told he couldn’t take the chunin exams by himself. Or maybe he’s mad that Shikamaru hasn’t been around, which really isn’t his fault. The team he’d joined had lost one of their genin to chunin advancement and it made more sense to have Kakashi work with them and their teacher rather than make the two other genin learn from him. 

 

Also, unfortunately, he had more duties to see to than the other jounin. But now that the exam was upon them he was the one who was in charge of the kids. Which was just…so troublesome. 

 

“I heard Sakura-sama was coming too! Do you think we’ll get to see her? Oh she’s the best medic ever and I want to be like her when I grow up.” Rin — the single female on the team is still talking and has been almost since they stepped out the gates. 

 

Shikamaru doesn’t mind that so much, he’s used to ignoring loud teammates, but he could really do without the painful attempts at flirting. So it’s kind of a relief that she’s started spewing facts both about the Konoha group and everyone else she expects to see at the trials. 

 

Her ramble about Neji had Shikamaru almost in stitches, and the one she’s clearly amping up for about Sakura should be fun as well — or it would be if it wasn’t almost guaranteed that the woman in question is going to show up sometime to chat. 

 

And if Ino finds out that another one of the genin is more impressed with Sakura than with her, well, Shikamaru does not want to deal with that fall out again. 

 

“Did you know that she rescued the Kazekage from Sasori of the Red Sands? I heard he proposed to her but she wasn’t willing to turn her back on Konoha and —“ Shikamaru grabs Kakashi by the back of his shirt before he can lunge at his teammate, as his teammate carries on blissfully ignorant of the killing intent being aimed at her back. 

 

“Oh man, that’s old news. What you really want to be wondering about is how red your teacher is gonna turn when he’s faced with Temari, that’s Gaara’s sister if you don’t know. And he’s got a crush,” Sakura’s voice cuts through the gossip like nothing else has managed to. 

 

“Troublesome,” Shikamaru says again and lets go of Kakashi, well aware that the little brat is going to behave impeccably for the next however long Sakura keeps pace with them. 

 

“Oi, who’re you?” Obito asks, friendly if poorly spoken, clearly aware something is going on but not sure what.

 

“Sakura-sama,” Rin breathes at the same time, hands under her chin and stars in her eyes. 

 

“Hi guys,” Sakura says, smile so wide that Shikamaru immediately knows something is wrong and he sends out shadows to check. Because they’re near the end of the train, and Sakura had been up near the front so if she’s been sent back for something other than being friendly…

 

“How’s my favorite genin?” she asks, peering down at Kakashi as she keeps pace with them, then throws a wink towards the other two, “and his teammates!” 

 

“I’m not going to be a genin for much longer,” Kakashi says, spine straight and eyes straight ahead and yup, that’s a blush. So he’s still got his crush. Shikamaru wasn’t sure. Poor kid. 

 

“Course not!” Sakura says, and ruffles his hair. He half heartedly bats at her hands while Rin’s eyes get bigger. But before anyone can say anything else there’s a crack of a branch off to the side and Sakura’s head comes up and she snaps, “Genin to the middle. Guard them Shika, I’ve got this.” And with a flash of pink she’s gone. 

 

Shikamaru gets a grip on Kakashi’s jacket before he can follow her as everyone else bursts into activity. 

 

Just once, Shikamaru thinks, he’d like to have an eventless chunin exam. 

 

***

 

“We’re meeting up with the other team at oh nine-hundred,” Kakashi tells his squad, looking around the clearing at the relaxed faces. It’s rare that they get given a mission out of ceramic, and even though it’s not one any of them aren’t going to take seriously there’s still something oddly relaxing about it. “Rendezvous point is thirty minutes south-southwest. Rest now. Watch rotation A.” 

 

They all nod back at him and set up a quick camp as he takes the chance to wash his face. He’s pretty sure this is the same section of woods she’d taught him meditation techniques in, during the first C-rank he’d taken with her. 

 

Which was also the first time he’d seen her fight, when they’d be set upon by bandits and — 

 

He hadn’t been able to do much, then, for all that he’d graduated from the academy early and thought he knew it all he really didn’t. She’d showed him that when she’d punched through a ribcage to protect him and then crouched down to heal his scrapes and bruises, all without even being out of breath.

 

He’s come a long way from that kid though, and he’s determined to show her that. 

 

You only get once chance at a second impression, after all, and she’s been away on a mission since shortly after he passed his chunin exams and — 

 

He dumps more water over his head and shakes it off before finding a place to settle down. He knows he’s not going to be able to sleep, but at least he can meditate before his squad meets up with her. 

 

***

 

Sakura stretches her hands above her head and grins. It’ll be good to be back home. She’s been able to keep in touch with almost everyone, and a few have even been able to visit her as she did her peace keeping thing and went from hidden village to hidden village to help set up better hospital systems (and occasionally destroy things), but there’s nothing like having the chance to have a bowl of ramen at Ichiraku while listening to her village bustle around her. 

 

And now it is time to go home! And she can't wait. Well, she has to, because her Suna escorts are taking her to meet up with a Konoha squad who will take her home. Which is kind of silly, because it isn't like she hasn't been traveling by herself between the villages up until this point more often than not. But apparently it would ‘look bad’ for her to just waltz back home on her own. 

 

She rolls her eyes and stretches again. 

 

“You keep moving like that an’ you’re going to give the newbie a nosebleed,” Temari remarks from her side and Sakura’s stretch stops as she curls over to laugh. 

 

“Shut up,” Sakura reaches out and punches her in the shoulder. 

 

Temari grins at her and makes a lascivious gesture with her tongue that has Sakura laughing even louder. The group around them, the newest of which has been a jounin for over four years, ignore it. But being only minutes from their meeting place it is, apparently, enough to notify her fellow Konoha nins, because suddenly there’s a squad right in front of them. 

 

Sakura snickers some more and is about to turn to say goodbye to Temari while the Suna nin and Konoha nin verify each other’s identity, when she recognizes one of the members. 

 

“Kakashi-kun?” she asks in disbelief. The last time she’d seen him he’d almost been as tall as her and now looking up at him is going to hurt her neck. 

 

“Hey Sakura-chan,” he says, voice several octaves lower, with a look in his eyes that makes her heart start to beat a little faster. 

 

Okay, so returning home might not be the peaceful experience she was expecting. 

 

Shit.