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Stalking Is Not Love (But It's the Closest I Get)

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“Oro,” Tsunade said slowly, her face firmly buried in her hands. “I've brought you in today because apparently we need to have a ‘stalking is not how you show affection’ conversation.”

Orochimaru frowned faintly and tipped his head to the side. “What?”

Tsunade looked up from her hands, her face a mask of suffering and regret. “You can't stalk your student all the time.”

“I'm not stalking him all the time,” Orochimaru corrected as if that made it better. 

“Oro,” Tsunade snarled, resignation giving way to annoyance and anger at Orochimaru’s stubbornness. “You shouldn’t be stalking anyone ever! Didn’t you get the bad touch seminar?”

“There's a bad touch seminar?”

Tsunade remembered that all three of them—the Legendary Sannin—had graduated early and Orochimaru had been orphaned early. “Oh god that explains so much about you,” she groaned, repeatedly hitting her head on the table. With her forehead firmly planted on the table, she continued, “you can't stalk the people you care about.”

“Kakashi thinks stalking is an acceptable form of showing affection,” Orochimaru protested. “He really doesn’t mind.” There was a pause where Tsunade tried to send her thoughts directly into Orochimaru’s skull with the force of her glare. “Besides, how else would you keep track of them?” 

Tsunade took a slow breath and thought longingly of the sake she had hidden before sighing and calling in her assistant. “Could you please bring Kakashi in to my office? Apparently I need to have this speech twice.” The chuunin gave her a strange look but nodded and exited, closing the door softly behind him. 

Kakashi walked into the room clearly confused. “You called Tsunade-sama?” he asked cautiously. He saw Orochimaru in the room and narrowed his eyes. “It wasn't my fault,” he said immediately and not at all suspiciously.

“Wow,” Tsunade said slowly, “I'm not even going to start unpacking that.” Taking a long fortifying breath, Tsunade asked gently, “Do you think stalking is an acceptable way of showing affection?”

Kakashi narrowed his gaze and stared from Tsunade to Orochimaru and back again. “Nooooo,” he dragged out, frowning. 

Tsunade thumped her forehead on the table a couple more times. “Goodness Tsunade, that's no good for you,” Orochimaru protested, attempting to shove some paperwork under her forehead to soften the impacts.

Tsunade laid her forehead on a budgeting form for rebuilding of training field 35 which had been decimated because Kakashi had been working on some unknown jutsu and barely not blown himself up. Orochimaru and Kakashi had presented themselves to Tsunade covered in burns and grinning maniacally. “You’re not good for me,” she grumbled under her breath, quietly enough that only she would hear. Sighing, she lifted her head, “You can't stalk people,” Tsunade said slowly.

“But if they're aware and they're shinobi it's practically permission,” Kakashi protested, scowling. Orochimaru nodded emphatically in agreement.

Tsunade broke. Reaching into the false bottom of her drawer, she fished out a bottle of sake and began to chug it. This was going to be a long conversation. Three hours, several bottles of sake, a viciously civil tantrum, and a broken desk later, Tsunade faced Kakashi and Orochimaru with a so-tight-it-might-break smile on her features. “So,” she gritted out between clenched teeth, “stalking is bad because...?”

“It undermines the consent of the individual,” Orochimaru and Kakashi droned, parroting the words she had been screaming at them back to her. Orochimaru was distinctly rolling his eyes; Kakashi had settled for an annoyed scowl on his little face. 

“So when we worry about people we don’t...” She glared significantly at her former teammate.

Orochimaru scowled. “Okay, I haven’t kidnap anyone for their own safety since I was like, ten,” he snapped, rather petulantly. Kakashi blinked slowly between Orochimaru, who was sulking like a child, and Tsunade, who was grinning maliciously triumphant at Orochimaru. “And it was definitely necessary,” Orochimaru added, a little quieter, avoiding Tsunade’s angry eyes. 

“You kidnapped someone?” Kakashi asked, wondering how on earth Sarutobi had watched Orochimaru grow up and then still entrusted him with students. 

Orochimaru waved a hand dismissively, “I was preventing the idiot from getting himself killed in a mission that wouldn’t have benefited with his presence anyway,” Orochimaru said coolly. 

Kakashi considered it then shrugged in agreement. Tsunade groaned when she saw the little pipsqueak, who had clearly been spending too much time with Orochimaru, agree. “Okay, you know what,” she said throwing her hands up in the air and giving up on life. “I’m gonna put down super simple rules for you, okay?” The two looked at her warily, exchanged glances, then agreed. “Oro, stop making Namikaze cry, okay? You keep sending him killing intent and he keeps coming to me or Kushina to cry about it and I’m busy.” Orochimaru grumbled, but agreed. “Kakashi—” she stopped, staring at the kid. “Who the hell are you stalking?” she asked, abruptly realizing she was missing important information. 

“No one!” Kakashi said, voice squeaking an entire three octaves higher than it normally was. 

Tsunade stared at Kakashi who was scowling and kicking the ground, the bits of his cheek she could see rather red. “It’s the kid that keeps running laps around the village and screaming at like five am,” Orochimaru grumbled, brushing several locks of hair back from his face.  Kakashi squawked in outrage, kicking Orochimaru’s ankles. 

“Oh my god,” Tsunade said slowly, watching the two actual children dodging each others’ attacks in front of her. “OH MY GOD YOU LIKE MAITO’S KID!” she shouted, as exuberantly discreet as always. 

Kakashi let out a despairing groan as Tsunade broke out into delighted, cackling laughter. Orochimaru also began to chuckle, rather pleased that Tsunade was distracted. “Orochimaru blew up his lab and didn’t tell you about the burns he had on his arm!” Kakashi shouted, pointing accusatory at his no longer official sensei. Abruptly, all laughter ceased. 

“Kakashi...” Orochimaru snarled, glancing at Tsunade who was slowly starting to glow from gathered chakra. 

“Oro....” Tsunade snarled, one delicate hand curled into a deceptively small fist. 

Kakashi broke into a sprint, dodging Orochimaru’s hand, and jumped out the window, unwilling to stay for the fallout. 

Suffice to say, Kakashi never got the Bad Touch Seminar and contractors had to be called in to fix the Hokage Tower’s window and ascertain if the foundation was still stable after two of the members of the Sannin had their knockout-dragdown fight. 

(On a not very separate note, Orochimaru found himself thrown at the feet of several doctors, smarting from bruises and reluctantly acquiescing to a complete checkup as Tsunade stood like some vengeful angel over the poor medic’s shoulder glaring down at his bruised and slightly burned—but mostly healed!—form.)

-x-

A few weeks later, Kakashi found himself settling comfortably into a tree branch of a tree located on training grounds 23 which coincidentally was Gai’s favored training ground to recuperate. All these actions were happenstance and coincidental and had nothing to do with how pale Gai had been when his team had been taken to the hospital, the edge of a bone jutting out of Gai’s arm. Kakashi was just going to take a nap—his actions had nothing to do with the lifetime of memory that said Gai would be frustrated and twitchy and overwork himself when he should be healing. Kakashi also squashed the little voice that pointed out that his arguments sounded an awful lot like what Gai used to say to him when he got injured. 

Soon enough, Gai’s very recognizably green clad form was ambling toward the training ground, his arm firmly encased in a cast that was— “Where’s your sling.” Kakashi’s voice was flat and uncompromising as he jumped down from the tree and advanced on Gai, scowling.

“Kakashi!” Gai yelped, throwing both his hands up defensively, realizing his lack of a sling, then attempting to hide his bright green cast behind his back as if that made the lack of a sling less apparent. “Eternal Rival! You’re spirited this morning!” he said cheerfully, giving him a thumbs up with the wrong side. 

“You’re supposed to be resting,” Kakashi growled, continue to advance on his stupid, stubborn, took-terrible-care-of-himself friend. He ignored the shrieking, cackling laughter that screams hypocrisy and sounds vaguely like Tsunade. “I distinctly heard the medic say you’re supposed to be resting .”

Gai frowned slightly. There had been no one in the room except himself, his father, and the medic when those words were spoken. He shrugged off the words; his Eternal Rival was probably speaking in hyperbole like that smart cool guy he was. “I can still do kicks!” he said cheerfully, unwilling to subside in face of Kakashi’s rather black anger. 

“Genma also mentioned a twisted knee.”

Gai silently cursed Genma as a traitor. Then immediately apologized to his teammate for having such disloyal thoughts. “Genma must have exaggerated! My knees are fine!” Gai exclaimed cheerfully, giving two clean kicks, one for each leg, then smiling at Kakashi brightly. 

Kakashi’s expression grew darker. “Gai—” he began, a snarl in his throat. 

“OIIIII BAKASHI!” The two slowly turned to see Obito, covered in some strange gelatinous substance that was a violent shade of green that even Gai thought was a little strange, waving enthusiastically at the two of them. 

Letting out a small sigh and a quick glare to let Gai know that this wasn’t over, Kakashi addressed Obito. “Yo.”

“We have a mission today! You coming?” Obito asked, going to slap Kakashi on the back and quickly being avoided. 

“It looks like you tried to attempt a D Rank and instead took a shower in jello,” Kakashi said slowly, sweeping his gaze from Obito’s shock of hair with electric green gunk to his shinobi sandals, squelching as he shifted his weight. 

“Ah well, I got lost,” Obito admitted with a laugh and a shrug. He shifted from one foot to the other uneasily, rubbing the back of his head and causing green gloop to plop to the ground. “There was a grandma who was looking for—”

“Obito,” Kakashi swiftly cut him off before one of his many strange reason-stories for how he was late to something could continue. “You said we had a mission.”

“Oh yeah!” Obito said cheerfully, laughing ruefully as more of the jello—it looked like jello at least—dripped off him. “It’s a C Rank! Minato-sensei told us to meet at the Village Entrance!”

“Did Minato-sensei ask you to look for me?” Kakashi asked slowly, confused. Gai looked at the two of them and resigned himself to never understanding their friendship. 

“No! Who would look for you Bakashi!” Obito snapped, flushing.

Gai suddenly understood as Kakashi’s expression became blank with annoyance. “Uh, Obito,” Gai said gently, “we’re at training ground 23.”

“So?”

“Training ground 23 is almost on the other side of the village to the entrance, stupid,” Kakashi said, blunt and taciturn as always. 

Obito let out a little despondent sigh and kicked the dirt. “Really?” he asked, looking at Gai who looked far more sympathetic than the person that had once had to wait for three hours because Obito got lost and somehow ended up in the red light district. Gai nodded sympathetically, keeping a wary eye on Kakashi whose eye was twitching. “I really thought I was getting better,” Obito mumbled, kicking the dirt a little harder. 

Gai gave Kakashi a firm nudge and a significantly raised eyebrow. “I’m sure you’re getting better,” Kakashi gritted out when Gai gave a firmer nudge (causing him to rock slightly) and a hint of watery eyes. 

“Ah well,” Obito grinned and rubbed the back of his head ruefully. “Guess we better get to sensei, either way.” Kakashi nodded curtly in agreement and after giving Gai a rather fearsome glare, began walking toward the village entrance. 

“Are you sure this is the right way?” Obito asked, skipping alongside Kakashi as they made their way to the village entrance. 

Kakashi swiftly tamped down the urge to strangle Obito and settled for giving him a rather incredulous stare. “I really don’t want to hear that from you,” he said flatly. Obito flushed dully and settled, scowling slightly. 

“Obito! Kakashi!” Rin shouted, waving her arm enthusiastically as if the two of them would be unable to see the only two people milling about the village entrance. “Oh my god, Obito, I thought you had just decided to wear a lot of green not bathe in it,” Rin said, wrinkling her nose. 

“I took a bath but then I got lost!” Obito protested, fruitlessly trying to dodge her attempts to clean him up with a large towel that she had somehow fished out from her pack. “Rin, stop it!” Obito whined, batting at her arm. 

“God did you get into a fight with the jello monster?” Rin scolded, briskly wiping off his hair and easily dodging Obito’s attempts to stop her. “Ugh, I wish I knew Sensei’s water dragon suiton so I could just throw you in a fake river,” she grumbled. 

That’s the only reason you want to know my suiton?” Minato asked dryly, watching his two students battle over personal space and the third student watching them impassively. “Kakashi, where’s Orochimaru-sama?” he asked, frowning as he felt no killing intent sweeping through the air.

“Tsunade-sama said he’s not allowed to make you cry anymore,” Kakashi grumbled, crossing his arms and tried to keep his dignity intact as shinobi and civilian alike gawked at the green covered boy being attacked with a towel by a girl half his size. 

Minato blustered, mumbling something about “secret” and “Tsunade-sama is a bully,” which Kakashi couldn’t help but agree. “Do you have a pack?” Minato asked, once his under-his-breath whining had subsided. 

Kakashi fished out a thin scroll from his weapons pouch and unfurled it, revealing a small storage seal within. “Orochimaru-sensei said people should always be ready,” he explained  with a little shrug as he summoned his ready set pack from the scroll. (To be exact, Orochimaru had kidnapped Kakashi for overnight out-of-the-village training sessions while a bemused Sakumo waved goodbye until Kakashi had learned to keep a veritable arsenal of sealed necessities on his person at almost all times.) Minato hummed, a considering frown pinching his brows together. “It’s not weird,” he added a little defensively. He realized this happened weirdly frequently with Minato making considering noises to things that he had been taught by Orochimaru. 

“No, no, it’s a good thing,” Minato agreed, holding up his hands defensively. “I was just thinking you’re surprisingly capable with sealing and summoning,” Minato said scratching the back of his head. 

“And?” he asked a little defensively, tucking his scroll possessively back in the pouch. (He decidedly didn't mention that he had learned basic sealing and summoning because Gai and he had a challenge in which they carried as much as they could around the village. Gai with his lanky form and preternatural balance had rather soundly defeated Kakashi while pointing with well meant horrified concern that perhaps one day Kakashi would not be carrying necessary supplies for a mission's worst case scenario. Gai had then cheerfully offered to carry anything Kakashi couldn't. After angrily denying the need for Gai's help, Kakashi spent the next two weeks harassing Orochimaru into teaching him proper sealing and then mastering the technique.)

Minato only let out a little cryptic hum before clapping his hands together to get the attention of the two squabblers. “Everyone is prepared to leave?” he asked cheerfully. Rin grinned and patted her pouch, the stained towel cheerfully and guilelessly thrown into Obito’s face for storage. Obito patted his pack to make sure he hadn’t somehow lost it on his way here or while fighting Rin and gave sensei a thumbs up. Kakashi wordlessly shouldered his pack and stared balefully at his sensei. “We’re off—”

“Minato!” Everyone paused and Minato turned an interesting shade of tomato red as Kushina ran after the three waving her arm enthusiastically in the air. “You forgot something, pretty boy!” she yelled, despite the fact that she was rather close now. 

“Kushina,” Minato greeted, half hiding his face behind his hands. “I didn’t forget anything?” he asked, opening his pack and voice pitching up in a skeptical question. 

“A kiss from me doesn’t count as forgetting something?” Kushina asked a little wickedly. Minato sputtered, face turning redder as Obito and Kakashi let out identical sounds of disgust. Rin stared at Kushina, rapt adoration on her face. “Kidding, pretty boy, kidding.” She grinned at the three of them, her hands firmly placed on her hips before fishing out a scroll and handing it over. “You might want something to entertain yourself,” she said cheerfully. “Some research notes for the road.”

Minato’s expression melted into one of embarrassing fondness as he accepted the scroll with a sickeningly adoring smile on his face. 

“Gross,” Obito grumbled, screwing up his face in disgust. 

“Your face looking at Rin isn’t much better, idiot,” Kakashi hissed back, watching his supposedly genius sensei tripping over his words like a child at the face of Kushina’s cheerful smile. Obito sputtered, flailing and attempting to defend himself as Rin finally tore her eyes off of Kushina to ask if he was okay. 

“You treat him nice now,” Kushina said cheerfully, dropping heavy hands on Kakashi and Obito’s head with a vaguely threatening smile. They both grumbled an agreement as Minato half heartedly protested that he could take care of himself just fine.  She firmly ruffled their hair despite their squawking and flailing and took a big step back. “Travel safe!” she said cheerfully. 

Kakashi eyed her scheming smile a little suspiciously and took a healthy step away from Minato because his thirty year old instincts weren’t dead and he remembered the Red Hot Habanero and how proudly she held that name. 

“Thanks Kushina. I’ll—” Minato’s voice ended in a croak as Kushina darted in, dropped a kiss on his cheek, then sprinted away, cackling. Minato opened his mouth but nothing escaped. His flush which had started to fade returned full force and he buried his face in his hands. 

“I want to be her when I grow up,” Rin said adoringly, staring with glowing eyes after the laughing woman. 

“She’s crazy,” Obito and Kakashi said at the same time. They shared a rare comraderie filled glance as they remembered the antics she got up to sometimes. 

“Anyway,” Minato squeaked before clearing his throat and continuing at his normal pitch. “Anyway, we should get going.”

“Where are we going?” Kakashi asked, having heard absolutely nothing about this mission except that it existed and he was going on it. The four of them settled on a nice easy walk out of the village, ambling on a road that was known to have frequent Konoha patrols.

“Just a small delivery,” Minato said cheerfully, having retrieved his dignity from somewhere and answering Kakashi’s questions easily. “Tsunade-sama asked us to deliver a message to the Kazekage.”

“Ugh,” Kakashi grunted, having a sudden flashback to running down a dune bouncing along Gai’s back with sand creeping into all sorts of places it really shouldn’t be. “Sand,” he grumbled noncommittally. Rin let out a similar noise of distaste but they all said nothing further as all four of them broke into a sprint then jumped into the trees. 

“Gotta appreciate the trees while they’re still there,” Rin said with a sigh. She ducked a branch as she spun to dodge Obito’s flailing arms. “Obito, honestly ,” she began, her brows drawing together into a sharp V. 

“Sorry, sorry,” he yelped, quickly finding his balance again with a few stumbles and a hard bounce off a redwood trunk. Kakashi snorted in amusement but said nothing further. It was always amusing how Obito could perform entire katas with flawless grace and then knock down an entire library shelf while walking—it defied reason and physics really. 

“Has anyone been to Sunagakure?” Minato asked, staring at his two sand haters in mild amusement. 

Kakashi began say that he had then closed his mouth firmly with a click. He hadn’t yet, actually, now that he thought about it. He had been... before? in the future? But this timeline Kakashi had not yet visited those acres of sand or heard stories of Sand Rot and bodies being stripped to the bone from the sandstorms in less than thirty minutes. “Father tracks sands for days,” he finally settled on, grimacing slightly at the weak excuse. He remembered one mission that had ended with tracking sand that he in his childish misdirected anger had never cleaned up. In the end, the sand had soaked up his father's spilled blood. He wiped the memory aside before his muscles would freeze, just barely stumbling on a branch at the memory. Thankfully, no one seemed to have noticed. 

“I went with Mama, once,” Rin said cheerfully but then her nose wrinkled. “It was hot.”

“I like the heat,” Obito said cheerfully. Rin immediately began grumbling something about Uchihas and heat and fire nonsense, gesturing with her hands emphatically and a little murderously. Minato let out a little chuckle at everyone’s antics but allowed their noise since they all remained in the protective shade of the redwoods so far. 

After another day and a half, the four were no longer under redwood protection and were reluctantly sprinting through sand. The only people maintaining their energy was Obito and Minato, Rin and Kakashi becoming progressively crankier as the sand crept into their protectively layers and sweat dripped down their face. “It’s actually not that bad,” Obito said cheerfully, leaning back against a rock they had crept under for shade during the hottest part of the day. He quickly quailed back at the rather animalistic snarl Rin let out, turning sharp eyes on her friend. 

“Once the sun is down a little further, I’ll go scout ahead a little bit,”Minato announced, quickly stopping Obito’s water from capsizing and saving the previous resource from falling into the sands. “You should all rest for a little while, keep a circulating watch,” he added. Kakashi nodded seriously, abruptly remembering Kankuro’s rather gleeful horror stories of the monsters that made the sands their home. (Temari had swiftly whacked her brother, quickly reassuring the rather green genins that the sand insects would never get this close to Sunagakure and even if they could Gaara would coffin them to smithereens. She had then hastily attempted to take that statement back as one of the genins began to have a rather trembling lower lip as Shikamaru laughed, unabashed.)

After a couple hours away from the sun, not too long after Minato had gone out for some scouting. Obito realized that he desperately needed to go to the bathroom. “Literally we have been conserving water. How do you have to pee right now?” Kakashi demanded, burying his face in his hands. Rin coughed uncomfortably but continued to stare at all of them in a semi-demanding semi-chastising manner. 

“I don’t know,” Obito grumbled, shifting from one foot to the next. “But I really have to pee,” he whined, grimacing at Kakashi before glancing at Rin and turning bright red. 

“We’ll keep watch,” Rin said with a small sigh, sitting back in the shade. “Scream if you need anything.”

Obito scrambled out of the overhang and stood outside for a moment. He was about to simply walk a couple steps away and then go when he realized that with the stupid level planes of sand, Kakashi-and more importantly Rin - could definitely see him. Grumbling and bright red, he sprinted a little while away, determined to not accidentally flash— He cut off the thought. As he found a rocky outcropping where he thought would be appropriate, he stumbled over a kunai, tripped, then fell down the dune until he landed at a stop in front of an unknown man with dark blue hair. 

“What.” The flat demand came from two people and Obito scrambled to his feet, unable to help the high pitched shriek as he whipped around and saw a strange red haired man frowning at him disconcertingly. 

“Obito!” Kakashi skidded to a stop, having slid gracefully down the dune with Rin right on his tail. “Oh shit,” he added, eyes flashing from the dark blue haired man to the red haired man. “Obito!” he snarled, definitely more annoyed as he flickered forward, grabbed Obito’s collar, then ran back so the three of them had the outcropping to their back. 

“You have the worst luck I swear to God ,” Rin snarled, looking between the two men and the mess of weapons, blood, and various unknowns scattered between them. She steadied herself shoulder-to-shoulder with her teammates, hands quickly finding a kunai and holding it in front of herself. “Oh my god Sensei is going to kill us.”

“If they don’t first,” Kakashi grumbled. He definitely recognized the red haired man. He was looking at the exact same form that Sasori’s puppet had took and he had a sudden, vivid flashback of Sakura battered and scratched up but with a triumphant gleam in her eyes as she presented Sasori’s ‘corpse’ for the bounty payout. The second man looked vaguely familiar but he wasn’t sure why or how. 

“I won’t involve children in this fight,” the blue haired man said seriously, black sand slowly gathering around him. 

Kakashi choked on his next breath and Obito let out another high pitched squeak, “What the heck is that?” he asked, hands scrambling for a weapon. 

“Iron,” Kakashi said slowly, regretting most of his life decisions. “That’s iron sand.” He paused heavily and looked back and forth from Sasori to the second man, “And that’s the Sandaime Kazekage.”

There was a pause, then, “Sensei is definitely going to kill us,” Obito said seriously, Rin sighing in agreement. 

-x-

Minato flashed back to his students in time to firmly rip off an arm—with an attached knife—and the head of a puppet—with gleaming overly sharp teeth—before Obito ended up with his head literally bit off. Grabbing Obito’s collar he physically threw the boy behind the outcropping of rocks before flashing to Rin—right as she somehow managed to gut a puppet like a fish a vicious snarl curling her lips—then flashed to Kakashi as he somehow managed a raiton he had never seen before and took out the puppet. 

Nonetheless he grabbed the two of them and flashed all of them behind the outcropping. “This is not the rock outcropping I left you at,” Minati said slowly a note of tired resignation in his voice. “Not all rocks are the same despite Suna being Suna,” he added, sighing. 

“It's Obito’s fault!” Rin and Kakashi snarled, their chakras still spiking with adrenaline and a rather annoyed scowl on their faces. “I can't believe you almost killed me because you had to pee,” Rin added hands firmly placed on her hips and a glare being driven into Obito’s skull. 

“Speaking of,” Obito squeaked then scrambled away for a moment. There was the sound of running water then Obito stumbled back blushing scarlet at the incredulous look on everyone's face. “What?” he whined. 

“I'm disowning him,” Kakashi said seriously. Rin nodded slowly in agreement face buried in her hands. 

“Konoha.”

Minato whipped around shoving the three kids behind him and gathering the chakra for a quick Hiraishin if needed. The blue haired man walked out from behind the rocks, a passive expression on his face despite the squirming red haired man bound with slithering hissing black sand. 

Minato blinked. “Kazekage-sama...?” he said a little hesitant, brain abruptly gone blank. 

“I told you so,” Kakashi hissed elbowing Obito. Obito grumbled something in agreement gesturing rudely with his hands; Rin dodged his movements with a noise of disgust. 

“I hope my students weren't...” he trailed off. He couldn't be sure because he had been focused on his students not dying but he was pretty sure the red haired man covered in hissing black—iron he realized abruptly—sand had been trying to kill the Kazekage. And the red haired man was definitely wearing a Suna hitai-ate. 

“Well they prevented me from dying,” the Kazekage said, a note of wry amusement on his face. “But what are Konoha shinobi doing in Suna?”

“Hokage-sama wanted me to bring a message,” he replied still a little blank. His students had thankfully fallen silent and he felt a small foot nudge his ankle. Right. He reached into his weapons pouch—cautiously he could still taste the adrenaline and hypersharp focus in the air—and withdrew the scroll that Tsunade had given him.

“Perhaps this can wait?” the Kazekage said with a raised eyebrow. “We aren't even in my office yet,” he added the amusement creeping back into his voice. 

“Uh yeah. Of course Kazekage-sama.” Minato firmly shoved one of his students back behind him as he felt them sticking their heads out. “Do you require any... assistance?” he added a little wary but mostly polite. 

“I have things well in hand.” The sand hissed a little more vigorously and Minato could have sworn it sounded almost smug. “Follow me.” Abruptly the Kazekage was off and Minato also broke into a run, checking over his shoulder and reassured when he saw his students keeping up. 

“Sensei...?” came the sudden interruption as they sprinted through the sands. Minato stopped and turned around, a ready response on his tongue when he saw all of them, Obito half supported by Rin and Rin, who both were gaining a distinctly greenish gray cast to their skin. “I don’t feel so good,” Obito mumbled, before his eyes rolled back and he fell to the ground, followed seconds later by Kakashi’s still form. Rin opened her mouth ready to say something—probably something scolding with hints of concern—when abruptly her eyes rolled back and she collapsed.

Under the overwhelming sense of panic and speed as he utilized Hiraishin to its fullest extent after leaving the students with (gently threatened) Suna healers, Minato had the distinct sense that Orochimaru was going to kill him. 

-x-

Kakashi slowly came to with a distinctly familiar voice snarling quietly over his head, “If I stalked him, none of this would have happened.” He moaned, feeling the familiar mix of chakra exhaustion and general exhaustion and the gross dead taste in his mouth which spoke of long days laying in bed unconscious. “I just want the record to reflect that I was right,” the familiar voice added. 

“Sensei,” Kakashi croaked, trying to lift both his arms and giving up on his left when he felt the prick of an IV, “too loud.”

“Kakashi?” whispered a softer, more high pitched voice. Kakashi rubbed his eyes with his right hand and cracked his eyes open, meeting Shizune’s wide gaze. He gave her a weak smile as she flashed him a bright, barely tremulous, grin. “You’re awake,” she said, gently patting his hand. 

“I’m embarrassed for you,” Orochimaru declared, his pale face swimming into view. His eyes were tired but there was a stern downturn to his lips as he looked down at his student. There was a pause, then, “I’m glad you’re well,” Orochimaru said rather firmly before he swept out of the room. 

Kakashi turned a confused stare on Shizune as she giggled. “Don’t feel hurt. He really was very worried for you,” she consoled, gently patting his hand. Kakashi made a noise of disagreement and tried to gesture for the water. Shizune carefully picked up the glass and tipped some of the lukewarm water into his mouth; it felt like ambrosia on his dry throat. “He actually beat out your dad to get here.” She paused as she placed the water back down and a slight frown drew her brows together, “Okay, no. He poisoned your dad so that he could get here while your dad worked off the poison but I’m sure he’s fine,” she added, noticing Kakashi’s wide eyes. 

“My team?” he asked after a careful clearing of his throat. 

Shizune beamed. “They’re all fine. I think Rin beat you by three days and Obito by one but well...” she trailed off and gave him a rueful smile. “You’re a little bit.... smaller.” Kakashi scowled. “Anyway,” she said quickly with an entirely unsubtle clearing of her throat, “Minato-sensei was laid out from trying to Hiraishin from Suna to Konoha but he’s all better now.” She gave him two reassuring pats on the head, the second a firmer one that shoved him back into his pillows. “Now you just need to rest up.”

“Kazekage-sama?” he asked, suddenly remembering the blur of a fight that had probably led to all of them getting poisoned. From what he remembered of what Sakura had said, Sasori had been rather fond of poison. 

Shizune waved her hand in a distinctly Orochimaru-like manner. “He went all ‘rawr’ on the puppeteer and I got access to all his poisons so it was a lot fun,” she concluded with an easy shrug, smiling. Kakashi abruptly remembered when he had accidentally walked in on a teaching moment between Shizune and Tsunade where Tsunade had stood by, hand glowing in preparation, just in case, as Shizune rapidly worked her way through poisons, grinning maniacally. Apparently young Shizune wasn’t all that different from adult Shizune of the past-future. 

“I’m glad it was fun,” he finally said. He was gently patted on the head for his troubles, a fond, faintly patronizing smile on Shizune’s young face. “When can we go back?” he asked, shifting to check on the mobility of his muscles; he found them to be mostly immobile as his arms and legs flopped uselessly.

“Once you can actually walk,” Shizune said sweetly, nodding at the way his legs merely twitched. Kakashi scowled, sinking back into the bed in a morose sulk.

Patting his head again, Shizune smiled brightly. “There, there.”

-x-

Kakashi, once the whole team returned to Konoha, took to attempting to disappear into the village with the almost oppressive affection/protectiveness that he was subjected to. Orochimaru, breaking his promise with Tsunade because Tsunade had clearly lied to him he had looked away from his student for three whole days and suddenly his student was dying Tsunade this is all your fault , took up stalking Kakashi again and made Namikaze cry three more times, much to Kushina’s amusement; Sakumo took to attacking his son with octopus hugs while squinting at Orochimaru suspiciously. Kakashi, because he was sane and understood that being a shinobi meant risks sometimes, acted like an adult and hid in various training grounds to avoid the affection. 

This continued for about two weeks and then his near death experience was firmly put to the wayside when Jiraiya returned. 

“Sarutobi-sensei!” Jiraya announced, slamming open the door to the Hokage Office. Tsunade, hungover and tired from listening to Namikaze cry, slowly looked up from her paperwork, already scowling. Orochimaru stood beside her, idly looking through her paperwork and “helping” to organize the piles by matter of importance. (Or to be exact, he had been assigned the D Rank mission of helping her with paperwork because dammit Oro it’s not that hard to refrain from making people cry if I suffer through this stupid hat you do too and was taking the opportunity to place all the paperwork relevant to him at the top of the pile. Tsunade was taking the minimal effort to check if anything was necessary for Orochimaru and firmly, with a smug snarl, putting it at the bottom of the pile.) “You’re not sensei,” Jiraiya finally managed, staring at his two former teammates who he had last seen in the middle of a battlefield before abandoning them over an acute sense of guilt to take care of three orphans. 

“As always, Jiraiya,” Orochimaru said crisply, carefully placing the documents back on the table. “Your intelligence and attention to detail is astounding .”

“Where’s sensei?” Jiraiya asked because he was oblivious to atmosphere. He looked around the room as if he had simply missed Sarutobi not sitting in the chair and not wearing the hat which was hanging from Tsunade’s chair along with the stupid coat. 

Tsunade’s jaw locked, a tick developing on her face. “Shall I do the honors or will you?” Tsunade asked benignly, calmly rolling up her sleeves with a strange smile on her face. She carefully took a step away from her desk and casually walked around the table. 

“Oh no, ladies first,” Orochimaru said with a little ironic bow. He carefully edged away from the straightest path between the doorway and the window, an idly amused expression on his face. 

“Oh good,” Tsunade said cheerfully. 

“Where’s the Hokage?” Jiraiya asked, staring at his two former teammates rather confused. 

“Right here,” Tsunade snarled before reaching forward faster than Jiraiya could react and grabbing his collar. She yanked him closer until they were face to face, a vicious smile on her face and wisps of chakra leaking from her skin. 

Jiraiya’s eyes darted from Orochimaru, who stood smug with his arms crossed, and Tsunade, whose arm muscles were flexing. “Now Tsunade-hime don’t be hasty-!” Jiraiya yelped finally understanding the danger. 

Letting out a roar of victory and annoyance, Tsunade reared back, tightened her grip, and threw Jiraiya clear through the Hokage Office’s window and into the street. She let out a slow breath, jaw still locked. “Very nice,” Orochimaru said calmly, watching the arc of his former teammate sail through the air. 

Tsunade let out an inarticulate snarl before slowly rolling her neck and calming herself. “Ladies first,” she said, a wicked smile on her face as she gestured Orochimaru to the window. 

“Don’t mind if I do,” Orochimaru said smugly, carefully flicking his hair off his shoulder. They shared a distinctly bloodthirsty smile before they jumped out of the window, sprinting through the rooftops after Jiraiya’s still shrieking form. 

-x-

A couple hours later, Tsunade and Orochimaru and a significantly worse for wear Jiraiya were sitting in front of an irate Shizune and Kakashi. “You can’t start a fistfight in the middle of Konoha Tsunade-sama!” Shizune lectured, hands firmly on her hips and a scowl on her face. “You’re the Hokage!

“Yeah Tsunade, you’re the Hokage ,” Orochimaru mocked smirking.

“You’re the Hokage?” Jiraiya choked, staring at Tsunade with clear shock on his face. “Did Sensei—”

“I don’t know what you’re so proud of Orochimaru-sensei, you’re in trouble too,” Kakashi snapped, scowling at his former sensei. Orochimaru cleared his throat uncomfortably and subsided as Tsunade fixed him with a rather victorious smirk. 

“Could someone please tell me what’s going on?” Jiraiya whined, staring rather frantically between the two tiny children that were staring down two of the Legendary Sannin. “And also if Sensei is alive?”

“Why would Sensei be dead?” Tsunade demanded scowling at Jiraiya. Orochimaru echoed her sentiment with a rather vicious glare. 

“I don’t know,” Jiraiya whined.

“Maybe you would know if you hadn’t abandoned Konoha during wartime hmm?” Orochimaru said silkily, a cruel smile on his face. Jiraiya stared between Orochimaru and Tsunade, both who looked angry in their own ways, and turned back to the children. 

“I missed something haven’t I?” Jiraiya said slowly staring at the between the office, his two former teammates, and the two children of vaguely recognizable but unconfirmed origin. “I missed a lot haven’t I?”

After a very forcibly civil discussion of everything Jiraiya had missed and three poisoning (from Shizune when Orochimaru and Tsunade had attempted to punch their teammate again and then again because she had clearly heard stories about Jiraiya), the Sannin were now ready to talk instead of sprinting through the streets of Konoha shouting after each other’s blood. “And you’ll be helping everyone with cleaning up the street after your tantrum,” Shizune added severely, expression quite old for someone that was only five-and-three-quarters. 

“Why do I have to help?” Jiraiya asked, righteous indignation in his voice. “All I did was get ganged up on—”

“Maybe you should have trained harder while you were holed up in Ame then,” Kakashi contributed rather frostily, raising one judgemental eyebrow at Jiraiya. Jiraiya hastily subsided at the impressively chilling expression on the child’s face and ignored the smug expressions his former teammates were sporting.

“Uh, anyway,” Jiraiya said hastily, feeling quite rightly guilty at this point. “Should we,” he paused and tried to figure out something to finish his sentence with. 

“The three of you,” Shizune said sharply, “will be going to the marketplace and apologizing for the mess you made and helping everyone cleanup.” She scowled impressively down at the cowed adults, “All the repairs will be coming out of your pockets not the village fund.”

All three grimaced and Kakashi had a sudden reminder of his Shizune, the past-future Shizune, scowling across at a drunk Tsunade, her expression dangerous and forbidding as she carefully rolled up her sleeves in preparation of a fight. (Two weeks into Tsunade’s Hokage-ship, the two had come to an agreement if by agreement one meant Shizune bullied Tsunade and calmly and viciously set fire to Tsunade’s entire alcohol stash and also cut access to her funds. Tsunade had been “persuaded” to do her duty meticulously or suffer Shizune’s surprisingly dangerous wrath.) 

“Well?” Shizune added, still scowling, “Hop to it!” Still grumbling the three grumbled their way out of the Hokage Tower and into the marketplace that Jiraiya had finally landed and been descended upon like a particularly juicy carcass by scavengers (also known as gleefully smiling Tsunade and Orochimaru). “Honestly!” she added, once the three had left. “Am I supposed to be the adult here?” she demanded, turning on Kakashi.

“Better you than me,” Kakashi said a little ruefully, shrugging uneasily. Shizune huffed in agreement before also stalking out of the office, probably chasing down the Legendary Sannin to ensure they actually did as she instructed. 

-x-

“You’re putting us forward for the Chuunin Exams?” Kakashi blurted, staring at Minato rather incredulously. He did remember being “encouraged” by the Elders at the age of six for his team to be put forward for the exams but he also distinctly remembered Tsunade smiling at the Elders sweetly while delicately grinding concrete into powder with her bare hands while she pushed for legislation forbidding early graduation in whatever circumstances. “Did you tell the Hokage?” he added a little cautiously because he didn’t feel like standing between Tsunade and Minato if the two fought

“Are you crazy of course I did,” Minato blurted before quickly clearing his throat, cheeks flushing. “She agreed that the Chuunin Exams were permissible for you guys—”

“I’m six ,” Kakashi blurted again, rather rudely. When Minato fixed him with a rather disappointed look , he flushed but persisted. “Tsunade-sama patted my head and called me an actual infant yesterday. She physically punched Orochimaru’s shadow clone because he had been teaching summoning before she thought my chakra coils were ready. She said okay?”

“Yes Kakashi,” Minato said a little testily. “She did.” He glanced between his very young prodigy student who was still frowning at Minato, looking a little concerned, to his older other two students who were currently holding hands and dancing delightedly at the news. “I asked the Hokage and the Hokage said yes.”

“She wasn’t drunk right?” Kakashi asked, still confused. “Was Shizune with her? She could prevent Tsunade-sama from getting drunk.”

Minato winced. “You really shouldn’t say that about our Hokage, Kakashi,” he said slowly, frowning slightly. He winced again when he remembered the time that he and the team had gone in to report and found Tsunade clearly hungover and a tiny Shizune scowling down at her, completely buried under the armful of scrolls she was carefully balancing. 

“I was just checking,” Kakashi said a little sulkily. “It’s you she would be coming after, after all.” 

Shuddering at the thought, Minato gave Kakashi a rather stern look. “Tsunade-sama allowed our team to go through the Chuunin Exams.” He remained silent that Tsunade had added that if there was any further harm to Kakashi’s chakra coils he would find his head displayed on a platter in Orochimaru’s lab; Orochimaru had simply smiled unsettlingly pleasantly from over her shoulder. Unfortunately, while they would usually be persuasive, he was also quite certain that Kakashi was stagnating where he currently was at and needed either the reality check or the stimulus boost that these exams would provide. “Do you not want to go?” he added, a little hesitant and a little startled. 

“No it’s fine,” Kakashi said slowly, glancing at how enthusiastic his two teammates were and remembering that three man teams were required. “I just need to...” he trailed off and remembered Orochimaru’s oppressive protectiveness and his father’s oppressive affection, “talk to people.”

Minato remembered the threatening smile on Orochimaru’s face and the pensive frown on Sakumo’s and winced. “Good luck,” he offered a little hopelessly. Scowling, Kakashi jumped off the tree trunk he had been seated on and wandered off.

-x-

“I can’t believe we’re going!” Gai cheered, gathering an unsuspecting and unwary Kakashi in a rib-crushing hug. “I can’t believe we’re all going to the Chuunin Exams!”

“I hate you,” Kakashi wheezed, frantically trying to claw his way out of his rival’s grip. “Let go, let go—

“Dial it back a bit, Gai,” Genma warned, a laugh in his voice as he carefully drew his teammate away from a gasping Kakashi who immediately cautiously checked his ribs. “We’re all excited, you know,” he drawled. 

Letting out a little squeal, Gai flew into a quick flurry of kicks, punches, and flips before finally settling down with a little excited wiggle. “The Chuunin Exams!” he sighed amorously, his eyes shining with, undoubtedly, the Power of Youth. “Can you believe it, Kakashi?”

“No,” Kakashi admitted. He had actually marched his way into the Hokage Office to interrogate Tsunade and check if she was under the influence of anything when she had permitted his admittance to the exams; he had rather assumed after her (overreacting- it’s really not overreacting brat you’re seriously burnt out ) tirade over his health and graduation that he was going to be stuck with D Ranks and genin status until he had gray hair. Oh wait

“Aren’t you excited! ” Gai cheered, fairly vibrating with glee. “Think of all the exciting challenges and fights! The challenges to be defeated by the Power of Youth!” he cheered, pumping his fist in the air. 

“Oh shit ,” Kakashi suddenly hissed, abruptly remembering how his Chuunin Exams had gone. 

“What is it, Eternal Rival?” Gai asked, suddenly concerned and finally still. 

“Oh nothing,” Kakashi squeaked, slowly retreating back and avoiding Genma’s suddenly inquisitive and penetrative gaze. “I just remembered I had to change the stove,” he blurted before blinking at the confusion on their faces, “I meant turn off the laundry,” he blurted again before swiftly turning around and sprinting away. 

“Your eternal rival is very strange, Gai,” Genma commented, idly chewing on a senbon as he watched the normally graceful and apparent prodigy Kakashi scramble away from them in a clumsy, almost Obito-esque fashion. 

“Kakashi is very hip and cool!” Gai said loyally, giving his teammate a thumbs up. 

Genma looked from his spandex clad friend to Kakashi who had just missed a rooftop and almost fallen on someone’s laundry line. “Right.”

-x-

Kakashi was curled up in a tight ball as Pakkun periodically patted his head, bemused. “I can’t do it,” he whispered to Pakkun, his brain distantly realizing that he may or may not be panicking. “I can’t fight him seriously.”

“Alright Boss,” Pakkun agreed benignly, having not received any semblance of an explanation since he got yanked out through a summoning by a panicked Kakashi. “You don’t have to fight him seriously,” he parrotted back, distantly wondering if everyone’s summoner was this much of a mess.

“But I can’t disappoint my team,” he whispered, clearly ignoring Pakkun. “That’s not—” he cut himself off to stick his head between his thighs and let out a couple wheezing breaths, “That’s not okay either.”

“Right Boss,” Pakkun agreed. Kakashi had recently developed a bit of a thing about abandoning things—mostly teammates and people. Pakkun thought that it was mostly adorable except for when he refused to retreat because one of the dog pack was preoccupied. They couldn’t retreat until he retreated and he wouldn’t retreat unless they did and most of the time Pakkun took to making Kakashi get grabbed by whoever was closest and dragged out of the fray despite protests. It was easier to ask forgiveness rather than permission after all.

“I’m gonna do it,” Kakashi said firmly, half rising from his fetal position.

“Great Boss,” Pakkun said dryly. This was approximately the seventh time that Kakashi had said this to himself. As expected, Pakkun watched Kakashi curl back up and start to question his decision again. With a sigh, he laid down and rested his head on his paws; it was going to be a long night. 

-x-

“I can’t believe you’re letting Kakashi leave the village!” Orochimaru snarled, glaring at Tsunade over the desk. 

Tsunade warily looked from her ominously creaking desk and resigned herself to facing the cackling chuunins when she had to request a new desk when this one was only a week old. She should have known not to bet that this desk would last her over a week; she should have known. “Kakashi is ready for the exams and he’s stagnating at this current position,” Tsunade parroted, remembering what Namikaze had demanded.

“Did that idiot Namikaze put you up to this?” Orochimaru asked, leaning back and crossing his arms, a dangerous gleam coming to his eyes. 

“No,” she sulked, crossing her own arms.

“Are you sulking? ” Orochimaru asked incredulously, his brows slowly rising.

“No,” she snapped, sulking harder. She scowled abruptly remembering that she was the Hokage and technically Orochimaru’s boss. “Look he's mostly ready and honestly at this point he needs something to reach for.”

Orochimaru scowled and crossed his arms but Tsunade could tell he agreed from the almost imperceptible pout on his lips. “Fine,” he agreed sullenly, “but I get to..... speak with Namikaze.”

“As long as he cries at Kushina,” Tsunade agreed cheerfully, waving him out of her room and thinking optimistically that her table might actually last this week. As she rested her elbows on the table to finish signing some paperwork, the desk let out a low ominous groan before cracking neatly down the middle and almost sending her sprawling to the floor. “OH COME ON!” she complained, kicking the ruins of her desk and just barely hearing the stifled giggles from outside her office. 

-x-

“What are you doing here?” Kakashi demanded incredulously, staring at Orochimaru who was wearing a proper uniform instead of the loose robes he tended to prefer. Sakumo let out a low despairing groan where he was standing just off Orochimaru’s shoulder, slapping a hand to his forehead. 

“I’m representing the Hokage at this Chuunin Exams,” Orochimaru said smugly, taking slow stock of Kakashi’s appearance before nodding, satisfied. 

“How did you pry that out of Tsunade-sama’s cold dead hands?” he blurted, remembering how Tsunade griped about being bored and her whining about how only other people were allowed to do fun things. “Did you poison her?” he asked suspiciously, eyes sliding to his father then carefully sliding away again. 

There was a pause. “No,” Orochimaru said a little uncomfortably, carefully fixing how his vest was sitting on his shoulders. “Technically we just made a bet.”

“Tsunade-sama only wins bets when the world is about to end or something dies,” Kakashi pointed out with a frown. Sakumo let out another groan, burying his face in both his hands this time. It wasn’t like Orochimaru technically needed the White Fang for anything other than looking impressive with a guard; he could stand to ignore what was happening in front of him. 

“Well,” Orochimaru said cheerfully, or as close as he got to cheerful when it didn’t involve successful research results and/or grant funding, “that says good things about this Chuunin Exams, right?”

Kakashi continued to stare at Orochimaru suspiciously but reluctantly scooted away when Rin and Obito appeared next to him and dragged him away, almost vibrating with excitement. “The Chuunin Exams!” Rin shrieked directly into his ear, shaking his arm with excitement. “I’m so excited I think I’m gonna hurl!”

“Gross,” Kakashi said dryly, staring at his female teammate as she began bouncing in place. “I’m surprised you actually didn’t get lost,” he added, turning to Obito.

Obito blushed bright red. “Rin picked me up this morning and kept a hold of my hand the whole way,” he admitted reluctantly, scuffing the ground with a slightly sullen twist to his mouth. “I’m not a child ,” he added softly to himself, voice rife with complaint. 

“Uh, sure,” Rin and Kakashi both agreed, about equal levels of disbelief in their tone. “Not a child,” they both agreed having entire conversations around Obito using just their eyebrows. 

“I saw that,” Obito warned, pouting at Rin and sending Kakashi a rather dangerous glare. Rin hummed and nodded sympathetically as Kakashi conferred his disbelief through an eyebrow wiggle. He smoothed his face when Obito turned to glare at him, catching Rin's grimaced eyebrow raise from the corner of his eyes. 

“Alright, diamond formation!” Orochimaru called before springing to the front of the group and jumping into the trees. 

Rin let out another high pitched squeal, grabbed the hands of both of her boys and jumped into the trees, staying in the center with the rest of the chuunin-hopefuls. Sakumo briefly ruffled his son’s hair before jumping to the back of the diamond formation as Orochimaru took point. 

“Move out!” Orochimaru demanded before leaping forward into the trees. The shout of his orders and various check ins echoed through the trees as the Konoha delegation headed to Iwa. 

-x-

Having dragged Obito back into formation and dragged a feral Rin off of the poor idiot that had said something maligning Konoha nin, Kakashi straightened to attention as a scarred Iwa nin walked into the room. “Genins! To your seats!” he boomed, glaring out at the crowd. All the genin scattered, quickly finding the seat corresponding with their name and number. “The first part of this exam will be written.”

“Oh no,” Rin whispered, just loud enough for Kakashi to catch. Both of them turned to Obito who had turned a worryingly pale shade—pale even for an Uchiha. They glanced at each and shrugged helplessly. 

Hopefully he would be able to work the questions out on his own. Kakashi also snuck a glance at Gai who looked focused and determined, as per usual. For all of Gai’s idiocy, Kakashi had to admit to himself, he was actually quite a competent nin. If not, he thought, turning back to the Iwa nin, perhaps there would be something similar to the trick that Ibiki liked to pull in the Konoha Chuunin Exams. 

“Any cheating,” the jounin continued, eyes narrowing on the genin, “will be dealt with by me.” He paused and smiled, stretching his scar almost grotesquely on his face, “ Personally .” Kakashi personally rated him better than Ibiki but weaker than Anko in performance. “Ready....Begin!”

Kakashi looked down at the paper and let out a quiet groan. God, he hadn’t reviewed such things since before his first meeting with Team Seven. This was going to be quite annoying. 

For about three hours, he worked his way steadily through the page, scowling and frowning whenever a question concerning outdated—by his standards—chakra theory would appear on the page. He reluctantly put what was known to be true rather than the actual truth, mumbling curses to himself as he dimly remembered Tsunade and Sakura’s maniacal cackle when they made theoretical breakthroughs. 

“Pencils down!” the Iwa jounin barked, firing a senbon at someone who hadn’t dropped their pencils fast enough by his opinion. “Now. There’s one last question for all of you,” he said menacingly, baring too many teeth for the expression to be called a smile. (Kakashi sincerely hoped that it wasn’t going to be Ibiki’s trick question. While it was a classic, it was rather uninspired.) “If you fail this question, you may be made to exit the exam entirely. Is there anyone who wishes to leave first?” 

Kakashi snuck a glance at Rin and Obito who were doing the same. Smiling pleasantly, Rin ducked down slightly in her seat, stared at the two of them significantly, then slowly drew her finger across her neck with a menacing glare. Obito swallowed loudly and quickly turned his gaze forward. 

“No one?” the jounin called, meeting each genin’s gaze. Most didn’t hold his eyes; Kakashi offered him an indolent eyebrow raise. “Write down what is the best thing to have by your side in a fight. Ten seconds!” 

As people scrambled for their pencils to write their answer, Kakashi vividly remembered all the battles he had entered and survived. He remembered the way the Sharingan burned his chakra coils and the reassuring thumps of Pakkun’s heartbeat. Also, he remembered the way his back pressed against another’s and the reassuring whistle of spinning metal. Carefully, he penned down his answer. 

(“Why are you reading the answers?” an Iwa chuunin asked, rolling his eyes. He gave his partner a strange look as he continued staring at the last page of some genin’s exam. “The answers don’t really matter anyway.”

“Although some of them are hilarious,” the girl chimed in, laughing. “This kid wrote that the best thing was a dog.”

“Odds they’re a Inuzuka?” snorted another chuunin, kicking his feet up on the desk and tossing the exam papers into the air to use as target practice. Another round of laughter echoed around the room at his retort. 

“So, man? What is it?” the first guy demanded, trying to peek over his friend’s shoulder.

“What the hell is a gai?” the boy asked, complete bewilderment in his voice as he continued staring at his paper.

“Could be weirder,” the girl offered with an easy shrug, “I got a scarecrow for one of mine.”)

-x-

“The next challenge,” a new proctor called out once the not-as-scary-as-Anko proctor left, “is a survival challenge.”

Obito and Rin huddled almost protectively over Kakashi who is decidedly smaller and shorter than anyone else in the room. When one of the non-Konoha nin sends a sneer their way at the mention of survival and crack their knuckles threateningly, Obito scowled back quite impressively while Rin made a threatening and vulgar gesture that Kakashi is positive he has seen Kushina do before. Kakashi tried not to feel too bemused at the fact that apparently Obito and Rin are attempting to protect him when he is mostly likely the most dangerous one there. Well, possibly other than some jounins that are surely hiding and watching. 

The whispers which had come to an all new volume at the proctor’s announcement finally died down. “You have a scroll with a secret written inside,” the proctors continued expression implacable despite the eager genins. “You must be able to recite the secret and present a scroll to the proctors at the end of the line within the time frame.”

Rin’s expression pinched in worry as Gai let out a quiet noise of despair at the mention of a secret. Obito shifted uncomfortably then firmed his jaw in a rather mutinous expression. Oh great, Kakashi thought faintly, that’s his do-or-die face which was always a precursor to good things. 

“You may retrieve your scroll from the box assigned to your team. The clock,” with a soft puff of smoke, a countdown clock appeared next to his indicating hand, “will tell you when you are to enter the designated area. You have,” with a soft click, the clock showed ten minutes, “ten minutes to plan with your teammates. On your marks!”

Everyone tensed, eyes tight to the clock and huddling closer to their teammates. With another muted click, the clock began rapidly counting down. 

“Okay, okay we can do this!” Obito enthusiastically hissed, leaning close and pumping his fist. 

“That’s not a plan,” Rin pointed out rather tartly to his injured whine of a response. “One scroll with one secret. We can’t let anyone take the scroll from us and all of us should know the secret just in case one of us doesn't make it,” she added, fixing the two of them with a fearsome glare. 

Tactics, Kakashi could do tactics. “The plan is going to have to be speed and stealth,” he added quickly, shooting quick assessing glances through all the other groups. He would rather not have to fight any Konoha groups but he knew that with him being the smallest, their team looked like easy prey. “Since we’re one of the smallest and youngest, the older teams will probably try to take us out before we get to the end of the line. Or take our scrolls,” he added, thinking in a whole different plan with a soft hum of consideration.

“So?” Obito hissed, leaning in. “So we defend the scroll!”

“Do you want to become a chuunin or do you want to end up tangled in extraneous fights that drain your energy?” Kakashi asked dryly, sneaking a glance to Rin to see where she fell in that equation. 

Rin let out a considering noise, cutting off what was probably going to be a too loud retort by Obito. “I’m going to become a chuunin,” she said, a bloodthirsty smile spreading across her features. “We’re going with speed and stealth, Obito,” she added, turning to their third teammate. “You’re going to follow the plan if I have to knock you unconscious and drag you over the finish line.”

“I didn’t say no,” Obito whined, crossing his arms tightly across his chest. He shot Kakashi a rather vicious glare and Kakashi ignored it as he had been for the past entire time they’d been a team. “Speed and stealth. I can do speed and stealth.”

Rin and Kakashi both had sudden flashbacks to all the missions they’d taken together and exchanged rather horrified glances. “Okay, new plan,” Kakashi said quickly, even as Rin nodded at him frantically. “We are going to maximum explosions and speed. Going straight to the finish line and we can destroy whoever is in the way. Deal?”

“Perfect,” Rin said cheerfully even as Obito blinked in confusion. “It’ll give you a chance to really go nuts with the fire jutsu like you’ve been wanting to Obito,” she wheedled, an angelic smile on her face. “I mean, nothing burns here anyway,” she added, brows wrinkling as they both remembered the one incident of Obito losing control of his jutsu and nearly setting a chunk of the redwoods on fire until Minato-sensei had finally appeared and brought it all down with his water dragon. “It’ll be fun!” She turned a sweet smile on Obito and he blinked and nodded dumbly, looking rather smitten. “Great!”

“Genins! To your stations to retrieve the scrolls!” With a quiet click, the doors open and the genin groups filed out, keeping a wary eye on each other. Kakashi, Rin, and Obito mad their way over to the box labeled with the Konoha leaf and a seven. Peering into the box, Rin snatched up the scroll and eyed it before making a grand gesture of pocketing it while sliding up to Obito. While Obito and Rin’s hands flash together, Kakashi unobtrusively pickpocketed Rin and added the scroll to the various other scrolls sitting in his weapon’s pouch. 

“You got it?” Rin whispered to Obito, almost subtly. He nodded fiercely before stilling and looking sheepish. The three of them exchanged quick winks before turning to the gated entrance to the “designated area.”

“BEGIN!” shouted out the proctor and everyone blurred away. 

-x-

“I’m so annoyed,” Rin whined, carefully picking at her hair which is covered in a mysterious and suspicious gloop which is probably visceral considering the fact that ten minutes ago she had viciously cut her way out of an overly large desert lizard that had eaten her. “This is going to take forever to get out of my hair. I can just tell,” she continued, leaving shiny streaks behind her steps. Even Obito in his lovelorn glory was giving her a decent berth. 

“It could have been worse,” Kakashi offered with a shrug, remembering the various chuunin exams he had watched over where teams had been killed off permanently or, uh, eviscerated. Rin threw him an impatient glare but ignored him. Rolling his shoulders gently, Kakashi fished out the proper scroll and handed it over to the waiting Iwa chuunin as Rin rattled off the secret (which had ended up being a section of a poem, go figure) to the other chuunin standing by. 

“I think it was kind of fun,” Obito said meekly, quailing at the vicious glare Rin threw him in between attempting to wiping down her uniform. Obito would have thought it was fun considering that both Rin and Kakashi had told him he could, no holds barred, fight anyone that attempted to steal the scroll from him. Thank god all of Iwa was rock because apparently Obito really had been working on his fire jutsu because at one point some of the rocks had actually melted. Even now, the left side of Obito’s hair and sleeve was singed. 

“I will hug you both, I swear,” Rin snarled, throwing the two additional glares. Kakashi took a hasty step back and Obito wavered, expression clearly torn. On one hand he could get a hug from his longtime crush; on the other hand -slime . He was stalled from having to make the difficult choice by another arrival. 

“Well done!” Minato called, reaching them with a yellow flash and a wide smile. “Rin you were very,” he paused and considered her surly and slimy form, “spirited,” he finally said meekly. She managed to give him a weird mix of an eager smile and a pained grimace. “If you ask one of the Iwa nin maybe they’ll point you to a hose?” he offered with a weak smile. 

“I’d take a river even,” Rin said with a heartfelt sigh, flinging the slime off her with a sharp gesture and almost hitting a different genin team who let out noises of disgust as they dodged. 

“Well other than the-” Minato winced, something pained crossing his features, “ eaten debacle,” he said delicately, “you guys did rather well. I’m very proud of you.” He beamed at them all, his expression almost shining with joy, “Yes,” he repeated, almost wiggling with eager joy, “I’m very proud of all of you.” Obito threw Minato a furtive look under his bangs before settling with a pleased sort of smile. “Oh, and Kakashi,” Minato added with a grimace, “Orochimaru-sama wanted me to tell you that your,” his expression became truly displeased, “footwork needed work.”

Kakashi shrugged. If Orochimaru-sensei was only complaining about the footwork, he had done pretty damn well by Orochimaru-sensei’s standards. He never thought anyone’s footwork was good enough; he had once attempted to correct Tsunade-sama’s and ended up finding a mission to sneak away for three weeks until her ire faded.

“But I think you did wonderful!” Minato added, voice louder as he threw an admonishing glare into the raised dais where the various village representatives sat. “And I think that should be acknowledged.”

Kakashi gave Minato a weird look but shrugged it off. “Thanks, Sensei,” he finally said, still staring at him suspiciously. “That’s,” he tried to gather an adjective that would convey his sentiments, “nice of you.” Minato-sensei gave him a bit of a strange look but said nothing further, turning to Obito and Rin to congratulate them on various strategies and actions they had committed in the ring. 

Kakashi looked up at the crowded stands and peered around until he saw a form that was taller and skinnier than basically everyone else. Raising a hand, he gave a quiet wave to the figure that was undoubtedly Orochimaru. There was a pause then the hat-wearing figure tipped his head slightly then turned away from the arena. Well, he thought dryly, at least Orochimaru didn’t gush the way Minato tended to. 

The three of them (Minato had been chased away by jounins once they noticed that he had somehow gotten down from the dais. No explanations were given even as he offered profuse apologies and left to go back into the stands. Kakashi watched one of the chuunins prodded the gates with a bemused expression on her face.) milled about as other teams slowly made it to the exit or were carried through with medic nins hovering over their prone forms. “Could be worse,” Kakashi offered to Rin who had finally changed into clothes she had stored away after Kakashi had used several of his water summoning scrolls on her. He pointed vaguely at the direction of a genin who was covered in burns. Rin elbowed him viciously in the side but offered him a soft, fond smile. 

When the teams had finally trickled in (Konoha had lost two of their teams but Gai had, expectedly, made it through) the teams were herded away to their rooms to shower and wait for the next day. “I heard it’s melee style,” whispered one Iwa nin, crossing his thickly muscled arms with a smug look on his face. “A complete free for all.” A couple of the Konoha genin looked pensive at that, shooting furtive and worried glances to each other. 

“I heard it’s one on one fights,” a Suna genin said, giving everyone a dangerous smile. “Fight to the death.” A couple of the genin teams flinched back at that and Kakashi quickly made note of the more hesitant ones. 

“If they kill off the genins every year then there wouldn’t be enough nin to run any of the villages,” Kakashi cut in, giving the Suna genin a bland stare. Rin furtively squeezed his and Obito’s arm, a pinched look of worry on her face. 

“Yeah, so shut up!” Obito added, scowling and gesturing angrily with his fist. 

“Subtle, Obito,” Rin sighed, smacking her palm into her forehead. 

“What?” Obito grumbled, crossing his arms. Kakashi narrowed his eyes at the assessment of various genin teams on the three of them, ignoring the urge to hide behind something. He didn’t like the attention but bringing attention to that would be a clear weakness. 

“Hey! Lights out was ten minutes ago!” shouted an Iwa chuunin, bursting into the common room with a scowl. 

Everyone scattered back to their rooms, quickly dodging the chuunin sneaking around corners to get to their rooms. 

After the three of them had laid out the futons and gotten comfortable, Kakashi continued to lay silently, staring out into the darkness. “We’re going to be fine,” he faintly heard from Rin over Obito’s snores. “We’re going to be fine.”

Kakashi rolled over and stared at the opposite wall. From what he remembered, they were going to survive was about the most positive thing he could say. 

-x-

“The final assessment is one on one battles,” called the once again not-as-scary-as-Anko proctor, scowling out into the crowd of sleepy genins. “The names will be chosen by lottery and you will be expected to perform to a chuunin level.” His gaze sharpened on some of the genins who were shifting with too much eagerness, “This does not ,” he snarled, “mean a brawl.”

Kakashi had a sudden flashback of Naruto’s first chuunin exam and unsuccessfully suppressed a snort, drawing a couple glances his way. 

“You will wait in the stands until your name is called. Get!” The crowd scattered into the stands, some of the teams rejoining what looked like teammates that had not made it through previous rounds. 

Kakashi settled uncomfortably on the stand, trying to ignore Rin’s mumbled litany and Obito’s incessantly bouncing leg. “It’ll be fine,” he finally hissed, squeezing down on Obito’s leg with a strained scowl and probably too much force. “The two of you are wasting energy being this nervous.”

“Okay, okay,” Obito agreed, his pallor going beyond Uchiha-pale. “Yeah, it’s fine. Whatever, totally chill.” Rin and he exchanged glances as Obito’s voice squeaked through several octaves. “Fine.” He took in a slow breath and let it out, “fine,” he agreed, a little calmer now. 

Rin quietly patted her weapons pouch and hair, staring out into the beginning fights. “Make sure you pay attention,” she warned the two boys. “You want to have an assessment of the fighters in case you have to fight them later.” Kakashi raised an impressed eyebrow. He couldn’t remember Rin being this analytical but admittedly he didn’t remember much of his team other than, you know, Obito’s insanity and Rin having his arm shoved through her chest. 

“Is it bad if I want to cheer on other Konoha genin?” Obito whispered after they had been watching the fights and the name choosing with frozen anticipation. 

“Well no,” Rin said thoughtfully. “But you might have to fight them too, you know.” Obito blanched, losing whatever color he had regained. “But I’ll always cheer for you first!” she added hastily, slapping him on the back with an encouraging smile. Obito’s expression became vaguely dazed then he flushed bright red. 

Having made it through the preliminary fights, the three of them stayed huddled together as they watched the fights continue. “I think this is actually bracket style,” Kakashi finally said, trying to squint down at whispering proctors. “The first round is random and then they’re going to keep going until there’s only one man standing.”

“That makes sense,” Rin agreed, eyes darting from one corner of the arena to another. “Taking forever though,” she added with a little huff. Rin had defeated her first opponent with little fanfare and even less time. Apparently it had been good for her to shake off her trepidation though. 

“How many fights are there to the end?” Obito hissed, still shifting endlessly. Obito had defeated his first opponent with a rather spectacular fire jutsu and also almost face-planted into the wall when he had tripped at one unlucky point. His fingers were still twitching with adrenaline. 

“A lot,” Kakashi said dryly, wondering why the one team member with a doujutsu was asking the other two people with not-spectacular eyes such a question. Rin patted Obito’s back reassuringly, eyes never leaving the various fighters in the arena. 

The fights continued on, Obito winning with explosions and sheer tenacity and Rin finally getting knocked out of the ring after a rather rousing fight involving intricate traps and an opponent with an affinity for showy water jutsus. “It’s always slimy,” she had bemoaned with a cheerful grin as the medics carted her away, her teeth shining out from all the mud and grime she was covered in. “Go kick butt for me! And visit me when you guys are done!”

Right after Kakashi had defeated his opponent with kenjutsu that had flowed through him with muscle memory despite his lackluster commitment to practice, Obito was called to fight Gai. Kakashi winced pre-emptively as Gai offered Obito a cheerful thumbs-up, a promise of Youthful fight, then ripped open the first gate of Renge. 

“In your defense,” he offered to Obito who was developing a large bruise that was almost artwork, “I once saw Gai walk off third degree burns.” Obito shrugged then winced at the movement before giving him a weird finger twitch. Minato hoovered around the medics, fretting and twisting his fingers as he demanded explanations from the medics and offered gratuitous reassurances for Obito. 

Finally, finally , came the call that he had been dreading all the days leading up to the chuunin exams. 

“Hatake Kakashi v. Maito Gai,” called out the proctor and Kakashi felt a chill run down his spine even as his feet automatically took him down to the flattened earth. Gai being Gai backflipped out of his seat and into the ring to the gasps and applause of the audience. With his enthusiasm and showy attacks, he had quickly become a crowd favorite 

Kakashi faced off against Gai who had a cheerful twinkle in his young eyes. He looked at Gai who had been his friend and rival and sanity for an entire lifetime. He looked at the bright eyes which he had watched gather smile lines and then watched turn white and fade out of his life forever. He looked at the boy who turned into the man that he never quite got the courage to honestly tell how important he was to him all his life. He hoped Gai still knew. As he faced off against his longtime friend and rival who he had actually shared a friendly spar with several weeks ago, he felt his muscles lock up. 

“Ready!” the proctor called, voice echoing through the ring as the crowd’s cheers escalated.

Kakashi knew. He knew that he fought Gai and won. He knew that they spent a lifetime fighting and joking and being the protector of each other’s back. He knewwhat sort of warrior that Gai becme. 

He also knewthat if he tried to raise his hand against Gai in anything resembling semi serious combat-as this fight would very much require-he was going to have a panic attack and throw up all over his shoes

“Begin!” the proctors called out, hand slicing through the air. 

Kakashi made his choice. There was never really any choice to make.