Part Three
Then (the same 'Then' we left with . . .)

"How's your mission going?" Tsunade asked, pausing as Iruka locked up the mission office door.

Iruka hesitated. "Well, I'm not sure. He's a bit . . . odd."

Tsunade just laughed. "He's a Jounin."

Iruka nodded. Worse than a child, sometimes. It was easier to teach summer school. He slung his bag over his shoulder and headed out; Tsunade had already left.

Ramen tonight with Kakashi. Then--well, he wasn't sure. He was eating a lot of ramen lately, though. At this rate, he was going to go broke.

Maybe he could convince Kakashi to do something else. He hadn't heard anything about the Jounin joining any of the games--not even the mock-training games--that the other Chuunin and Jounin sometimes arranged, so that was probably a bust.

Or maybe no one had asked. He'd ask. That was a good idea.

It didn't take long to get to the ramen shop. Kakashi wasn't there, but that was no surprise. Iruka sat, ordered tea, and started on some paperwork.

Thirty minutes later, Kakashi arrived. Iruka glanced up, finished what he was doing, and put his things away. "Get lost?" he asked dryly.

Kakashi smiled. "I did." He swung onto a chair, making the motion prettier than it should have been. Really, Iruka thought, someone swinging onto a chair shouldn't be pretty. It should be masculine, only somehow, Kakashi wasn't.

Not that he wasn't masculine, because of course he was, but in that movement--oh, hell. Iruka just stopped thinking. They ordered their food, then ate in silence for several moments.

"There's a game going on tomorrow night," Iruka said at last. "I thought you might want to come."

"Ah . . . no." Kakashi smiled.

Iruka scowled. "Why not? I don't think I've seen you at any of the games. Ever."

Kakashi's expression turned serious, even with the mask. "When I was a child, a friend of mine was hurt in a game. I don't play them anymore."

"Oh," Iruka said, mentally berating himself. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

Kakashi grinned again, eye crinkling. "That's all right. No reason you should have."


Iruka rubbed his eyes and sat back in his chair, staring absently at the nearly empty mission office. "Genma-san, don't," he said without looking.

Genma appeared beside him, dropping a paper airplane on the desk. "I'm bored."

"You're a Special Jounin, find something to do," Iruka muttered.

Instead, Genma flopped into the seat beside him and stared.

Iruka glanced over. "What?"

"You're grumpy today."

Iruka tapped his pencil on the desk, flipping it around and tapping the other end as well. "I'm trying to make friends with Kakashi," he said finally, "but I'm running out of ideas."

Genma waited.

"I asked him if he wanted to join the game Asuma arranged for tonight, but he says he doesn't play games. That his friend was hurt."

There was a suspicious silence. Iruka glanced over.

Genma was staring at him, chewing on his toothpick. The Jounin looked away, then back up. "Iruka, look, there's something you should know about Kakashi."

Iruka waited.

"He's a liar."

"We all know that," Iruka said, frowning. Kakashi certainly didn't get lost in his own village on a daily basis. Nor did he meet naked Amazonians on every mission. Iruka still wasn't sure about whether or not Kakashi had seen Asuma and Kurenai making out while on a mission, but he was sure the Jounin hadn't seen them in an orgy.

"Right. We all know Kakashi will lie right to our faces about ridiculous things. He also lies about pretty much everything else. He didn't have a friend get hurt in a game. He hasn't ever played a game, and the closest thing he has to a friend is Gai. Just wait, the next thing he'll tell you is that his mother is dead."

Iruka stared at the Jounin. "Why would he lie?"

Genma shrugged. "Ask Kakashi."


Kakashi opened the door on the third knock, and looked in surprise at an obviously angry Iruka standing on his doorstep.

"You lied to me," Iruka snapped.

Kakashi blinked. "I did?"

"You said you had a friend get hurt, and that was why you didn't join in the games."

Oh, right, he had said that. "Well, you see--"

"You lied to me, Kakashi. You don't lie to your friends."

Maybe other people didn't lie to their friends . . . besides, who said he and Iruka were friends?

"Why would you do that? If you don't want to play, just say so."

Kakashi took a deep breath. That never worked. But if Iruka wanted to try it . . . "I don't want to play."

"Why not?"

Never worked. "I just don't."

"There has to be a reason."

"This is why I lie," Kakashi muttered. "People don't question you."

Iruka frowned even more at him, and glanced around. "Can I come in?"

Kakashi looked at his tiny apartment. "I'll come out."

Iruka was still glaring at him when he stepped outside. "I would like to talk to you, in private. So choose. We can go back into your apartment, or we can go to mine."

Kakashi froze. "But apartments are personal," he said finally.

Iruka glared even harder. At this rate, his eyes were going to burn out.

"Your apartment," Kakashi said.

It didn't take them long to get there, and the whole way Kakashi kept wondering why he didn't just tell Iruka to go away. Here he was, following a man who undoubtedly was going to tell him about how angry he was, and how Kakashi had done something wrong, and probably how evil and terrible Kakashi was. And yet he couldn’t seem to stop.

Iruka opened the door and stepped back so Kakashi could enter.

He did, carefully, slipping off his shoes and doing his best not to touch anything.

There were dozens of pictures on the walls. Children--students, Kakashi realized--and friends, and even a picture of a very young Iruka with his parents. Even then, he had the scar, though it was red and angry instead of the faded line it was now.

"Now, why don't you want to play the games?"

Kakashi turned slowly. The best thing to do would be to lie. He opened his mouth.

"And don't lie to me."

He closed his mouth. He could lie, and Iruka would never know. Except Iruka had figured the last lie out, somehow. But the truth would be awful. It was embarrassing. He watched Iruka and debated.

"Kakashi . . ." Iruka said warningly.

Kakashi took a deep breath and smiled, settling for a partial truth. "It seems a little silly for grown ninja to be playing games."

Iruka frowned. Harder. "Kakashi, it's a stress-release. A way to relax and a reason to see people, to laugh and have some fun."

"It still seems silly," Kakashi said.

"It's fun. If you need a better reason, you can read Asuma-san's paper about why ninja need to have friends and some sort of stress-release to stay healthy. We play the games because they're funny, they make us socialize, and we hone skills rather than wasting time."

This tack obviously wasn't working. Kakashi wavered. Damn it. He was going to have to tell the whole truth. He smiled, covering his embarrassment. "I don't know the rules."

Iruka stared at him. "We can teach you the rules," he said finally. "It's a lot like playing Ninja Mission when you were little."

Kakashi kept his smile in place by force of will alone. "I never played that."

"You never--? Kakashi, everyone's played that."

He smiled even wider, making his eye narrow. "Nope."

Iruka sighed.

Kakashi tried to push his embarrassment to the back corner of his mind.

"All right. I'll teach it to you."


"Teach it to you. I am a teacher."

Kakashi shook his head. Nice of Iruka to offer, really, but-- "No, that's all right, I--"

"Please. It's fun, and you'll learn it quick. Stop arguing, because you're coming with me tonight, and you'd better know it by then or you'll never hear the end of it. Now, sit."

Stunned, Kakashi sat. He closed his mouth and smiled again, but really smiled this time. "Yes, Sensei."

Even before 'Then'

"You going to go play?" his father asked, smiling down.

Kakashi glanced over at the other children, screaming and shouting and throwing water at each other. "No."

A hand landed on his head, ruffling his hair. "Why not?"

He ducked away. "They don't like me."

"Of course they do. They just don't know you. Go play." His father gave him a push. Kakashi stopped as soon as he was out of reach. "Go play," his father said again. "You're too serious, Kakashi."

Too serious. Too smart. Too spoiled. Too fast.

Tomorrow he tested for Chuunin. These kids had only just started at the academy.

Slowly, because his father was watching, Kakashi dragged himself toward the group of kids. He glanced back over his shoulder when he got there. His father was still watching.

"Can I play?" he asked obediently.

"No," the nearest kid yelled back.

There. Done. He'd asked, he'd been refused. Just like he knew would happen. Just like always happened, so what was the point in asking any more? Kakashi turned back across the street, trotting up to his father.

His father stopped picking through fruit and looked down. "You're not playing?"

"They said I couldn't." He was relieved. Playing with the other kids always made him feel bad. They didn't like him.

"What?" his father snapped. Then he took Kakashi's hand and marched them back over to the park.

Kakashi dragged behind. This would be bad. He didn’t want to play. It was really all right. A ninja didn't need friends anyway.

"Kakashi would like to play," his father said sternly, to what was obviously the ringleader.

The boy--a few years older--looked at Kakashi. Then looked at the White Fang. Then he shrugged. "Sure."

His father smiled down and winked. "Have fun."

Kakashi stood there while his father walked back across the street toward the market.

"You can guard the fort," the boy said, pointing imperiously.

Kakashi glanced over at the fort. It was empty. "I want to throw water balloons," he protested.

"Well, we don't want you to throw water balloons. You guard the fort."

Kakashi looked at the fort again. It stood alone and dark under the trees. He looked at the field. Kids were screaming and running and soaking wet, water shining in the sunlight. "But I want to throw water balloons."

"Yeah, well, we don't want to play with you. Your dad wrecked things for my dad, and I don't get to go to the academy until next year, so I don't want to even look at you. You're stupid and you're going to wreck things and mess up everything in the village just like your dad did. You go guard the fort."

Kakashi thought about arguing. He turned, looking at his father, walking through fruit and vegetable stands. There was a clear space around the man, as people near him edged away.

"I'm not going to wreck things," he muttered.

"Yeah, right. Hatake's are just stupid. I heard about what happened to your mom. You're gonna wreck everything, and make everyone unhappy, just like your dad."

"He didn't mean to make everyone unhappy," Kakashi defended. "And I'm not going to."

The boy just glared at him. "I don't want to look at you, so if you want to play, you go guard the fort."

Kakashi turned and walked back across the street. He stood beside his father silently, thinking.

"You're not going to play?"

Kakashi looked up. His father had hurt the village. He knew that. Now no one liked his father, though the man tried hard to pretend like everything was all right. Kakashi wouldn’t be like that. He wouldn't--

"No. I'm going to go home."

"Are you okay?" his father asked.

Kakashi just nodded. "I'm fine. But I'm going to go home."

"All right."

Kakashi turned and started down the road, kicking at pebbles as he walked.

The other kids hated him. And he couldn't blame them. He hated that the village had been hurt, and that people suffered because of it. Some people wouldn’t even talk to his father anymore. Some even crossed to the other side of the street when they saw a Hatake coming, and not all of the children were allowed to play with him.

None of them wanted to.

Kakashi kicked another pebble.

He couldn't blame them.

He was ashamed of his father, and he didn't want to be. But he was. No one liked him. "I don't even want to look at you," the boy had said. It wasn't the first time. Things were only getting worse.

He opened the door to his empty house and stepped inside.

The mirror at the end of the hall echoed him. His father's face, his father's hair. He hated it. The other kids hated him. He hated himself. He wished he'd been born into any other family, and he hated that, too, but it was true.

Kakashi slipped off his shoes and walked further inside. He didn't need the other kids. He'd be a great ninja, and they'd all look up to him, and everyone would want to know him.

But right now, he still hated his father. His mother. His entire family, including himself, because their shame was his.

He stopped at his bedroom. There were mirrors in his bedroom, and he didn't want to look at himself right then. "I don’t even want to look at you," the boy had said, and Kakashi agreed.

There were mirrors throughout the house. His mother had said it made things look bigger.

He glanced down the hall, into the open door of his father's training room. On the wall hung ANBU masks.

That would be perfect. He would be ANBU, and then he would never have to look at his face again, and no one else would have to look at him, either. They would forget that he was part of the shamed family, and then people would like him.

If they didn't see him, maybe the other kids would let him play.

Once more back to 'Then'

Playing Ninja Mission as a kid was probably exhausting (Kakashi didn't know from experience, though he could guess), but playing Ninja Mission as an adult, with other Chuunin and Jounin, was utterly painful.

Kakashi had lost. He blamed the fact that he hadn't been allowed to use any Genjutsu or Ninjutsu, and his team consisted only of himself, Iruka, and Raidou, whereas the other teams all had six people each.

They said since he was one of the strongest ninja that had shown up, he got handicapped. Asuma had, too, so Kakashi supposed it was fair.

Still, they'd only lost by a very small margin.

He lay in bed and thought about the game, laughing occasionally. The rules were just ridiculous enough to keep it from getting serious, or being too much like a real mission.

Kakashi smiled, stretched out in bed, and wondered what Iruka was doing later.

Wait. No. They weren't friends. Not at all. He didn't need more nightmares.

Maybe there was another game soon.


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