It would have been a flagrant lie to claim he’d never expected to get a call from the police about Naruto. Given the circumstances however, Kakashi felt justified in his surprise.

He had been losing a war of the wills to Pakkun when the phone had started ringing—five minutes later, Kakashi was out the door, tugging a coat over his sopping wet t-shirt and damp jeans, smelling like angry dog and shampoo and driving far too fast. The young officer on the phone had apologized for calling so late, but said that it was really very important Kakashi come as quickly as possible—Umino-san was already on his way to the hospital and there needed to be an adult to claim poor Uzumaki-san, audibly panicking in the background.

But rushing into the police station to see Naruto red-eyed and bruised, an officer trying to comfort him, was still like a punch in the gut.

“Uzumaki,” Kakashi said, rushing over.

Naruto stared, frozen for a moment before he leapt to his feet, grabbing Kakashi’s jacket and saying, “We’ve got to go to the hospital! Hatake-sensei, we’ve got to go to the hospital now.” He glanced over his shoulder at an officer and asked, “Can I leave yet? He’s here—you’ve taken my statement!”

Kakashi put a hand on Naruto’s shoulder, and couldn’t help but inspect his student, to take in the school blazer and loosened tie—the white shirt missing a few buttons now, the dried blood on his knee, down the shin of his khaki pants.

“I thought you said he wasn’t hurt,” Kakashi barked, glaring at the same officer suffering Naruto’s pleading look.

Looking sober, the young man shook his head. “He’s not—aside from a few bruises.” Wincing, he added, “That’s, ah, Umino-san’s.”

Kakashi’s mouth tightened. “We’ll leave right now,” he said to Naruto, looking down at his distraught expression. He turned back to the officer. “Is there anything I need to sign?”

*

There had been rumors, of course, but Kakashi had dismissed them as exaggerated, ridiculous, that it was just everybody trying to scare the new guy. But then he’d found himself looking at an ocean of broken furniture at the end of his first day at Konoha.

“So,” he said cheerfully, crossing his arms over his chest and surveying the overturned desks and utter chaos in the room, “could either of you explain how you managed to destroy my classroom, again, in the—” he checked the wall clock “—five minutes I stepped out to make a phone call?”

The dark one made an aggressively disinterested noise, hands stuck into his pockets.

The blonde one paled, dark blue eyes rounding in absolute horror, “Ah, Hatake-sensei—you didn’t, did you?”

“Didn’t what?” Kakashi asked, raising his brows. “Call your guardians?”

“I’m dead,” the Uzumaki kid wailed, clutching at his hair, already sticking straight up at odd angles.

Uchiha, finally proving he was actually capable of speech, said, “Good.”

“WHAT DID YOU SAY?” Naruto shouted, balling up his fists and leaping to his feet, and Kakashi was reaching over to the chalkboard for an eraser to throw when the door to the classroom burst open and somebody shouted:

“NARUTO, I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU. IT’S YOUR FIRST DAY.”

That first time, Kakashi had been so busy being bowled over by the extreme loudness and fearfulness of the many and sundry threats being cast in Naruto’s general direction that he’d hardly had time to study the person shouting them. And then, in a whirl of suddenly-polite apologies, he’d been abandoned in his classroom, honor-bound to clean up after all. The second time, he’d been prepared, and the raving, furious man who’d stormed in turned out to be dark-haired and olive-skinned, dressed in a pair of jeans and a neat black sweater—and best of all, when he’d dragged Naruto and Sasuke out of the classroom, both of the punks had looked terrified for their lives.

The third time, Kakashi took some time out of the dressing-down the man was giving them to introduce himself.

“Hatake Kakashi,” he said, bowing slightly. “I’m the new teacher.”

Suddenly embarrassed, the other man had blushed, saying, “Oh! I’m Umino Iruka. I’m sorry for all of the trouble.”

“Oh, no,” Kakashi purred, looking at the delicate skin over Iruka’s halfway-exposed collarbone, “it’s no trouble at all.”

And while Naruto and Sasuke don’t get particularly better, they don’t get particularly worse, either. They learned to limit their standoffs and shouting matches to out-of-class time, which has both benefits and drawbacks. For one, Kakashi has many fewer parent-teacher conferences; on the other hand, Kakashi has many fewer parent-teacher conferences.

But it turned out Iruka was only three buildings away, in the elementary division of Konoha Academy, where he had a small herd of 6-year-olds constantly proposing marriage. Kakashi didn’t exactly blame them, since in the months and manufactured meetings afterward, he’d been tempted to do the same on more than one occasion.

*

Kakashi’s knuckles were white on the steering wheel, and at the first red light after leaving the police station, he glanced over to see Naruto rubbing a fist at his eyes, the other clutched tightly at his knee.

“What happened?” Kakashi asked. He had his suspicions—and they lay with the oil slick Naruto complained of nonstop during detentions, snarling about Mizuki this, Mizuki that, how Mizuki wasn’t good enough, but Iruka-nii-san wouldn’t listen.

Naruto tried to draw his knees up on the seat—but he’d gone through a growth spurt and all his limbs were too long to fold up any longer, so he settled hanging his head.

“It’s my fault,” he muttered.

Kakashi frowned. “Not what the police officers told me.”

Naruto looked up to stare out the windshield, eyes going glassy. “I started the fight,” he persisted, voice dull. “He pushed me first—but I pushed him back.”

Another traffic light, and Kakashi huffed in irritation, worry creeping underneath his skin like spiderwebbing vines, curling tight around his throat. “Why did he push you, then?”

“I saw him—” Naruto’s mouth turned downward in an angry frown, and he fisted his hands on his knees “—I saw him kissing someone else. On my way home from the arcade.”

Kakashi thought he should feel an explosion of rage or righteous fury, but mostly he felt unsurprised. Naruto was many things but he was above all loyal, and nobody ever managed to spend much time with the boy without hearing extensively about his Iruka-nii-san—about how Naruto would kill anybody who messed with him, or at least try very hard.

“Ah,” Kakashi said, turning into the hospital’s parking deck.

Naruto stared out the car windows, at the halogen glow of the hospital and the ambulances, high-pitched and red and blue and flashing on the street, the huddles of EMS workers and doctors on the emergency ramps. Swallowing hard, he said, “Anyway, Iruka-nii-san—he walked in on us while we were fighting and tried to break it up.”

Kakashi jackknifed into the nearest parking spot, hearing his tires protest with a shriek. “And that’s how he got shoved through the glass balcony door.”

“Yeah,” Naruto ground out, hoarse, “that’s how he got shoved through the door.”

The nurses were just as weak to Naruto’s tear-stained face as Kakashi felt, and they were ushered through the hallways at great speed and given a small mountain of forms before they finally located Iruka’s doctor.

“Ah, well,” the man said. He was white-haired and reliable looking, and Kakashi smelled only the faintest traces of cigarette smoke in the air around the man, his lab coat impeccable. “He was very lucky—it could have been much worse.”

Kakashi watched Naruto’s face grow even paler and wished they could move past the admonitions and warnings and straight to seeing Iruka—if only so Naruto would stop looking like he was about to start crying again.

“He’ll need to spend a week here, just for monitoring and to make sure there’re no infections—but then he can go home for the rest of recovery,” the doctor went on, and gave a mild, benevolent smile to Naruto, saying, “You’ll need to take good care of him, now.”

Naruto nodded so hard Kakashi feared his head would simply fly off from the effort.

The hospital room was dark and quiet, and Iruka was small on the hospital bed, his dark hair unbound and pushed to the side—bandages wrapped tightly across his back and side. He was sleeping on his stomach, eyes closed and breathing heavily, hooked up to two different IVs—blissfully unaware of Naruto as he stood there, scrubbing angrily at his face and muttering, “Sorry—I’m sorry.”

*

It took nearly an hour of coaxing and the promise of ramen before Naruto could be persuaded to go, and Kakashi watched the boy eat despondently, stuffing noodles into his mouth mechanically and without any enjoyment.

“You know,” Kakashi said finally, “I’m sure Umino-sensei will tell you the same thing when he wakes up tomorrow—but it wasn’t your fault.”

Naruto froze mid-slurp and stared at his chopsticks for a long time before he said, “If it wasn’t for me, they wouldn’t be fighting anyway.”

There was probably a long story behind that, Kakashi thought. He could imagine Iruka, equally fierce in his fury and protectiveness, and how that might turn into long fights with somebody who didn’t love Naruto enough to see past the obvious personality disorders.

“That’s not any excuse for that guy to be cheating,” Kakashi said reasonably. “And he shouldn’t have pushed you—which I bet Umino-sensei will tell you, too, when he wakes up.”

Kakashi tried not to feel guilty about all the times he’d seriously considered flinging Naruto and Sasuke off of the school roof during detentions—the campus would be mostly deserted, and nobody would really blame him. But as elaborate and detailed as his plans might have become, he never would have actually carried it out—and he wasn’t even getting sex out of the deal.

Naruto just shoved his bowl away and put his head down on the counter silently.

Frowning, Kakashi said, “Hey! Snap out of it! Do you want your Iruka-nii-san to see you like this? You’ll probably just upset him more!”

Sniffling pitifully, Naruto picked up his head to give Kakashi a rheumy but irritated look.

“What do you know!” Naruto snapped, adding in a mutter, “Stupid teacher.”

Well, Kakashi told himself, cuffing Naruto upside the head, insubordinate and mouthy was better than wallowing in self-pity anyway.

*

Kakashi wasn’t particularly surprised Naruto wasn’t in class the next day, but by the time day three rolled around and Naruto still hadn’t put in an appearance, Kakashi figured he was probably honor bound to go do something about it.

Uchiha, who was reaching near-dangerous levels of emo that had driven away all but the most persistent of his fan club, was starting to look a little frayed around the edges, and Kakashi gave his theory of retarded adolescent homosexual love yet another check mark as he headed out of the classroom and toward his car.

“By the way, Uchiha-kun,” he said, sugar-sweet, catching Sasuke’s attention as he stormed out of the school courtyard, “I’m going to visit Umino-sensei and Uzumaki-kun—if you wanted to tag along.”

Sasuke did something that looked suspiciously like blushing before he sniffed imperiously, smoothing his hair back and causing a group of first-years to swoon nearby. His moment of transparent longing over, Sasuke stalked toward the school gates, throwing over his shoulder a disgusted, “Please.”

Kakashi laughed all the way to the grocery store and then all the way to the book store—and managed to compose himself to a mild smirk by the time he reached the hospital: goody basket and stack of reading materials in hand.

He was at the nurse’s station, about to ask if Iruka was seeing any visitors when he heard Iruka’s voice boom out, “NARUTO I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU SKIPPED SCHOOL AGAIN!” and Naruto shout back, “OH COME ON. LIKE I CAN LEAVE YOU HERE BY YOURSELF!”

“Ah,” Kakashi laughed, seeing the long-suffering eye-roll of the on-call nurse, “I see he’s awake.”

The nurse gave him a pleading look.

Iruka’s hospital room was an ocean of flowers and fruit baskets and ugly, construction paper get well cards covered in awkward handwriting—signs of a well-loved teacher, for sure. And Naruto, perched on a plastic chair at Iruka’s bedside, was scowling as he argued, “I can go to school any day! You need me here!”

Iruka—looking much better if still flat on his stomach—put his face in a pillow before he glared back at his charge, snapping, “You should be going to school every day! They have nurses who take care of me! Nurses can’t do your homework.”

Unrepentant, Naruto crowed, “Hah! If I don’t go to get my homework, it’s not like it can come to me!”

Note to self, Kakashi thought, have Sasuke deliver Naruto’s homework from now on.

Clearing his throat, he said, “Sorry to interrupt.”

Naruto practically flung himself out of his seat, and catching himself just before he lost vertical integrity, Naruto said, round-eyed and gasping, “Hatake-sensei!”

“Yo,” Kakashi agreed, smiling, and turned to a fiercely-blushing Iruka. “Umino-sensei.”

“Hatake-sensei,” Iruka finally said, gathering his dignity—which Kakashi imagined was somewhat challenging when lying prostrate on your stomach. Glaring at Naruto, Iruka continued, “Sorry to force you to come all the way out here to bring Naruto his homework.”

Naruto winced.

“Oh, no, no trouble,” Kakashi laughed. “Besides, I’m planning to have Uchiha-kun deliver Naruto’s homework if he end up missing any more classes.” At Naruto’s gap-jawed, horrified expression, Kakashi smiled serenely. “It’s only fair—you are, after all, tending for Umino-san and your classmates should be sensitive to your needs.”

“I’LL GO TO CLASS,” Naruto declared, suddenly beet-red and huffing. “TOMORROW.”

Feigning surprise, Kakashi said, wide-eyed, “Are you sure? Of course, I understand—”

“IT’S FINE,” Naruto interrupted. “DON’T SEND SASUKE.”

From the corner of his eye, Kakashi saw Iruka burying his face in a pillow, shoulders shaking with laughter. It took some effort not to let his gaze trail down the opened back of the gown—to follow the line of Iruka’s spine, still covered with white gauze bandages, until the hospital sheets hid it all. Kakashi wondered what the small of Iruka’s back would taste like against his mouth, and if Iruka’s skin would be as sweet as his smiles, but shook himself out of it just in time to see Naruto’s eyes narrowing in rising suspicion.

Naruto reached over, tugging the covers up higher along Iruka’s back, and Kakashi allowed that perhaps Naruto wasn’t quite as oblivious as Kakashi had thought before.

“Well,” Kakashi said, holding up his shopping bags, “in any case: I brought gifts!”

Iruka flushed, red blooming out across his cheeks. “Ah, Hatake-sensei, there’s no need for—”

Shaking his head, Kakashi set his shopping bags down on a nearby table. “Now, now, Umino-sensei, this room is filled with flowers and cards and things—don’t tell me you’re only going to turn down my gifts.”

Iruka snapped his mouth shut.

Grinning, Kakashi unloaded green tea Pocky and cans of milk tea, rice crackers and candy, immediately passing a cup of ramen over to Naruto, who looked momentarily torn between staying to monitor Iruka’s chastity and ramen. “I’ll be RIGHT BACK,” he emphasized, glaring at Kakashi before bolting down the hall.

“Energetic, isn’t he,” Kakashi said, tone mild.

Iruka rolled his eyes. “That’s one way to put it, yes,” he answered, voice try enough to catch forest fires. He nodded at the second bag. “Is that more ramen to soothe the beast?”

“Actually,” Kakashi said, setting the bag near Iruka’s reach, “it’s books, magazines, some manga—I figured you might be bored out of your mind laying here.”

Iruka stared at him, eyes wide, and stared long enough to make Kakashi look away, clearing his throat as he added, “I didn’t know what you liked, so I got a little of everything.”

There was a long pause before Iruka said, his voice soft, “Thank you, Hatake-sensei.”

“You can pay me back by breaking Uzumaki-kun’s legs,” Kakashi said.

“Don’t encourage me,” Iruka laughed, and pushed himself up onto his elbows, wincing a bit. “Actually, Hatake-sensei—I meant for everything: for getting Naruto from the police station—and for talking to him afterward.”

Iruka looked sincere and sincerely embarrassed and all kinds of sincerely grateful, and that was what killed Kakashi every time, defeated him at their every meeting.

“It’s fine,” Kakashi said at last, looking away. “I was glad to help.”

*

Kakashi always subscribed to a theory of benign neglect insofar as his students went—it wasn’t that he was a bad teacher, or that they were particularly bad students, they just weren’t worth the trouble either way. Kakashi believed in free will. Those who would pass would pass and go on to take college entrance exams or enter into technical schools; those who didn’t wouldn’t. And those who were prone to living in Shinjuku prostituting young boys would end up living in Shinjuku prostituting young boys—either way, beyond their grades in math, it really wasn’t any of his concern.

But it was difficult to ignore Naruto, who tried harder than almost anybody else in the class and still ranked mostly at the very bottom of their grade. He was also the biggest troublemaker Kakashi had ever had the misfortune to encounter, and Kakashi had come to realize over time that his coworkers’ sympathies for his plight were genuine, if unnecessary.

Naruto was interesting; not that many people were. Shortcomings aside, the boy was sunny and unhindered by worry, and most intriguingly, Naruto had the affections of one Umino Iruka, whose name inspired fond smiles from all and sundry and high-pitched shrieks of adulation from the kindergarten and pre-K sector.

Office gossip at the high school of Konoha Academy said that Umino Iruka had started off teaching in the middle school level, and been transferred around until a sudden opening in a kindergarten class had landed him there by surprise—even more surprising, he’d chosen to stay.

“Iruka-sensei?” Kurenai had said once, when Kakashi had asked. “The only thing he hates more than grading is seeing how much students are pressured in the system—it’s no surprise at all he stayed teaching at kindergarten!”

“I see,” Kakashi had said, and tried not to feel any reasonless jealousy, knowing that almost everybody else at Konoha called Iruka by his first name—it was pointless and foolish. What was Kakashi going to do, pick fights with school nurses and five-year-olds?

*

TBC

2 Responses to “[naruto] pass/fail”


  1. 1 FireGuardian October 8, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Pretty sweet, and i like how you turned the naruto series to a modern style fic.
    It deserves a clap on the back and a double thumbs up! ;]

  2. 2 naruto cursor February 26, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    Great post! thanks for updating your website. Very entertaining.


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East Coast Gazette has a terrible editorial focus and tends to use a lot of ALL CAPS but TOTALLY NOT BECAUSE OF HARRY POTTER. Stories in progress as well as snapshots will be listed in the "box full of snapshots" below, website archive for stories and assorted tomfoolery is glitterati.

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