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Sunday, July 6, 2008

It's a Promise

Standard disclaimers apply.

I dedicate this fic to Nefas, who named it. smashes champagne against pc monitor watches it fizzle Ugh... you mean we can't name fics like we name ships? Damn...

It's a Promise
Author: XD



"YEAH!" Naruto screeched. Well, almost. He heaved a righteous right fist into the air and glowered. "He's NEVER on time for anything! How can I ever become Hokage at this rate? I probably won't even complete enough missions for my dinner tonight! ... AH!!" The boy screeched again, this time with a tinge of revelation in his voice. He turned his pleading eyes to his former teacher and pleaded, "Naa, Iruka-sensei! Why don't you buy me ramen tonight at Ichiraku for me being a good boy for a loooong time since my graduation now?"

"What," Iruka bapped the boy aside with his record file, "has ramen got to do with that?" Off at the side lines, Sakura giggled and Sasuke muttered a muffled 'baka' under his breath.

Naruto took to nursing the large lump gradually swelling on his head where the file hit him and made a face. He then swivelled around and crossed his arms in front of his chest, back-facing Iruka. The Chuunin scratched the back of his head sheepishly, walking closer to where Naruto sat in a huff.

It was one of those days at the Konoha Gakure. The sun was fine. The breeze was fair, and the people were loitering about, minding their own businesses. The seventh team, freshly graduated from the academy, were poised at the Konoha red entrance bridge, waiting for something to happen.

And yes, Kakashi was late. Again.

To say that Iruka was surprised would be a fib. As much as the Jounin was feared outside the village due to his notorious reputation and impeccable track record, here inside the village he was feared just as much - just on an entirely different level of 'reputation' and 'track record'. The Academy teacher sighed and ruffled Naruto's hair playfully, earning him a questioning look from his subject of ruffling. He then stood, helping the golden-haired boy to his feet.

"Well, you ninjas," Iruka grinned and jerked a thumb in the direction of the academy, "you'd probably need the patience you get from this sometime in the future, so just keep on bearing up with it!" Taking a brief look at the height of the sun in the skies, the older person shrugged and turned, "I have to run along now. Not /everybody/ in this village enjoys being late, you see. Take care, the three of you!"

"Bye bye, Iruka-sensei!" Sakura politely waved and smiled. Naruto still had a blank look on his face from since he got pulled up from the ground and Sasuke merely afforded the Chuunin a long, hard look. But of course, Iruka knew the better to expect anything more from the morose pre-teen. He smiled to himself.

The roads of the village were as he had remembered. Occasionally he would stop to say a few words to a few parents he met on the street who were concerned about their children's progress in the academy. But otherwise, it was a peaceful journey back to the school he taught in, the only hesitation being the slight pause in step he had afforded himself when he strode past the windows of the very Jounin he would love to throttle right now, if said Jounin was sleeping at home instead of heading down to meet his team. After hesitating for a moment, however, he decided to let the issue drop. If he hadn't, then /he/ would have been late for his submission to the reception, and that just would not do!

It was late morning by the time he settled whatever it was he had needed to at the reception. As he had no lessons in the academy that day, and no further missions, he trudged his way along back home, meaning to finish tidying up his room and getting down to doing some of the housework he had not had time to do. Retracing his footsteps from the journey to the ninja school, he passed by The Window again, and couldn't help but stop to look up at it.

Yes. Kakashi's habitual lateness was legendary. Even /if/ approximately 3 hours had passed since he met up with the languishing Team 7.

From the viewpoint of an ant, Iruka's feet were two gigantic pillars of flesh, one upright and the other tapping impatiently on the soft, sandy ground, like they were trying to come to a decision about something. It took a while, but the feet moved as if to walk away, but came to a firm stop just two steps down the road. They shifted and were once again made to face the slightly opened window. And then in a small puff of smoke and upturned sand, they were gone.

Iruka knew it was probably, and most fundamentally wrong to be doing what he was doing now - spying on a fellow workmate in suspicion of said workmate's working behaviour. He did not want to know what would happen to him if he got found out - although in all retrospect, he had no intention of letting that happen. Slowly slinking nearer to the ajar window, he camouflagued both his aura and being, confident that his skills were enough for his current action. Preparing himself, he slowly edged nearer to the window and stole a quick peek inside.

The room was unexpectedly forlorn-looking. The filmsy sheet of curtain flapped about in the soft breeze creeping through the window, and the insides of the place was surprisingly well-kept. Clean, well-pressed linen decked the bed, which had been neatly made and showed no signs of a late-comer's hasty awakening. Slightly miffed at that - since Kakashi /had/ been late even before Iruka made his way to the academy - the Chuunin now thought himself fully justified in stepping into the room barren of any sign of life.

His senses began to tingle when he took his first step into the room. This was, after all, a Jounin's apartment, and booby-traps were not entirely out of the question. For some reason, though, that did not daunt him. It was the same, nagging impulse that had propelled him to even step into the room in the first place, which spurred him to further his apparently pointless mission.

With both feet in the room, Iruka took a sweeping gaze around him.

/So this is what his room looks like.../ Was Iruka's first thoughts before the utter tidiness of the space began to bowl him over. /... Well, damn, you could have fooled me./ He started walking, reveling in the sound his sandals made against the wooden flooring. It was oddly comforting to hear something in the seeming dead of the room. "Kakashi-san?" He called out impetuously. Although he was confident nobody was in, it was nevertheless not an absolute confirmation. These people weren't called Jounins for nothing.

Of course, he also failed to consider the consequences he had to face if Kakashi was indeed /in/ and found him trespassing in his personal territory. But when Iruka had righteous indignation on hand, especially when it had something to do with Naruto, however slight, there was no telling what kind of consequences he was willing to overlook.

The room remained unresponsive. "Kakashi-san?" The Chuunin raised his voice slightly, taking a slow walk around the room, still on the look-out for traps. There was only one other compartment, better known as the toilet, in the small room, and after checking that out Iruka turned around to survey the room again from just in front of the proper door to the apartment.

It was empty. As empty as any other room devoid of life would be. The photographs placed on the shelf at the front of the bed instantly caught his attention. He hadn't realized he was moving until he stood just in front of the bed, looking down on the photographs.

Iruka knew distinctly that the first one had been taken when Kakashi was still working in a Genin group of three. And it was no secret that the Fourth himself oversaw the team. He hesitated slightly when he looked at the other faces in the same shot, unable to instantly recognise them. But soon, understanding flashed across his face. /These people were.../ He stopped short of completing his own thoughts. Staring a little longer at the old photograph, he noticed that this particular photo-frame looked like it had been through more handling, was moved around more often than the other.

The faces on that old photograph continued to keep his attention. Finally, with a slight frown, he looked away from it, letting his gaze settle on the photograph beside it instead. Almost instantly a warm smile stretched across his countenance. Naruto seemed happy enough in the shot.

After a few more seconds of looking at the group shot of Team 7, Iruka decided that he had disturbed the tranquility of the room enough. Carefully measuring his steps and checking for anything that would hint at his presence when Kakashi returned, he then slid out of the window quietly, vanishing in the same way he had arrived.


The route back home was as pleasant as any other day. The Leaf was a quiet and peaceful town now, although it had its own share of ancient problems. But Iruka was feeling anything but pleasant. The glance he had taken of the photographs in Kakashi's home, momentary as it was, brought back many unhappy memories of his own. And as it was with Iruka, it had to do with Naruto - and the other one within. So deep he was in his thoughts, he almost missed the similar blotch of sunshine blond hair across the road he was about to cross, on the bridge.

A look a disbelief overwhelmed him for a moment, before he settled for a quick-transport seal and appeared in a puff of smoke before the three impatient Genins.

"KAKASHI-SEN--!!" Naruto and Sakura paused when the smoke cleared and they had a better view of who it was.

"Iruka-sensei?" The blond boy blinked.

"Naruto," Iruka acknowledged the boy, turning around to look at the other two ninjas as well, "Well... as much as I would like to ask..."

Sasuke waved his hand, "He's not here yet," and answered the unspoken question.

"Ah, that explains a lot," their ex-teacher smiled, absolutely insincere. "Three hours? I really must commend your patience," he nodded, also absolutely insincere. "Tell me he's not always this late."

All three Genins reared at Iruka, and gave him a Look.

"Iruka-sensei, I demand a ramen treat tonight for all the abuse that pervert is putting us through every morning!" Naruto relentlessly renewed his demand, righteous anger blowing smoke through his ears.

"Don't listen to the idiot, sensei," Sasuke butt in when Iruka found himself at a loss for words, ignoring Naruto's screeches of protest in the background, "it's not like Kakashi's never been this late before, anyway."

"That's right, Iruka-sensei," Sakura beamed and agreed. "Were you rushing off somewhere? Don't let us hold you up!"

The amiable Chuunin smiled warmly at the young girl, silently thanking her for her thoughtfulness. "You're right, Sakura. It seems like I might have somewhere to go to rather urgently at the moment. Take care until your sensei arrives! You too, Sasuke. And you, Naruto!" He roughly caught Naruto's head in a single bash. "Behave yourself! Ramen at Ichiraku is only for those who finish their missions successfully before 8 o'clock tonight!" He gave the boy's head one final ruffle before performing a vanishing hand-seal, effectively disappearing from the trio's sight.

It could have been his imagination, but he knew he heard Naruto's hoots of joy just before the wind swept all other traces of sound behind him.


Coming to this place had not been on his morning agenda at all, decided Iruka morosely while sweeping a fallen piece of leaf away from his hair. The gentle breeze, coupled with the lovely aurora rays failed to properly highlight the somberness of the location. He stared tentatively at the long, beaten road of washed-out gray tiles, still sturdily paving a curving path upwards the gentle slope, marked on both sides by tree canopies which rustled softly in the wind, occasionally letting a slightly stronger ray of the sun slip through it's protection.

The Chuunin held his arms akimbo and breathed. In the distance, birds began to chirp a happy tune. /No matter when/ Iruka thought wistfully to himself, /the Konoha graveyards never give off the feeling a place of death rightly should./

Aimlessly walking about a bit, he paid silent homage to the multitude of tombstones beyond the trees, on either sides of the road. His ultimate destination, however was the clearing at the end of the stone path. The clearing slowly tapered off into the natural forests surrounding the Leaf, and had bushes bordering it. Three logs stood upright near the entrance of this particular resting place. Iruka side-stepped slowly around the logs and looked into the distance.

Kakashi stood there, his hands in his pockets, just as Iruka had expected him to be.

With his back to Iruka, the Chuunin could not read the silver-haired ninja at all. Not that he would have done better had he been staring at the Jounin in the face, actually. Kakashi was just one of the enigmas of Konoha that mere observation could not tackle. Iruka suspected that the Jounin had been there for longer than it seemed, but politely kept his niggling questions to himself. He did, however, walk closer.

The academy teacher had no doubt that Kakashi knew of his presence, but he did not pry. It just didn't seem appropriate to interrupt someone who could be in the midst of paying his regards.

Perhaps it was the melancholy. Perhaps it was the tranquility. Whatever it was, Iruka nearly jumped out of his skin when his unlikely companion spoke out.

"Every morning," Kakashi intoned, voice thicker than usual, still with his back against Iruka, "without fail. I come. I stand. I remember." He paused. "And I don't know what else I can do."

There was a long silence after that particular sentence, Iruka slowly digested the information just heard. He maintained his silence, hoping it would incite Kakashi to more words. And it did.

"It was just a promise," the Jounin mumbled, bringing his palms up to gaze at them. "People break promises all the time, don't they? Yet here I stand, time and again, trying to live up to that promise, and wondering which part of my promise have I not yet fulfilled... or could have done better-"

"It is enough," Iruka's firm and solemn voice disengaged Kakashi's random ramblings. The story of the Fourth's team was not well known, per se, among the adults, but with a little research and asking around, it was not that well hidden either. "You commemorate their existence, acknowledge their remembrance. Even if you're just standing here, every morning, staring at their memorial..." For a quick moment, Iruka's eyes turned downcast as he fought with his own conflicting feelings about the matter, "... at least. At least there's still someone who carry on life for them. At least they're still living in the heart of someone who remembers." He looked up and smiled, although Kakashi couldn't have seen it with his back against the Chuunin. Nevertheless he continued, "If that's not enough, then nothing in this world will be enough anymore."

Slowly, Kakashi turned around, his hands still in his pocket, his face still masked, and his single Sharingan eye still hidden by his headband from the world. "You're just saying all these so that I can go meet Team 7 on the bridge earlier, aren't you?"

There was silence at first.

Then Iruka burst into laughter. "Can't fool Hatake Kakashi, can I?" He simmered slightly, and although he still had a smile on his face, his tone was serious. "Kakashi-san, the children have been waiting for you for three hours. If you linger around some more, Naruto will eat you up when you eventually do get there."

"Ooh, that's a scary thought," Kakashi thumbed his chin thoughtfully. "If it's Naruto, I have no doubt that it would be an instant death. I bet he even digests bones." Glancing at Iruka, he saw that the Chuunin had a "so-you're-going?" look on his face. He smiled under his mask, but did not move. Instead, he turned around and got back to staring at the memorial tombstone. "But since nobody's going to remember me anyway even if Naruto eats me up, I might as well stay here a little longer."

"Kakashi-san, you must be really unpopular," Iruka's words were like a javelin aimed at his heart. The Jounin laughed, almost nervously.

"Ah! That's the drawback about being powerful and cool, you see. And-" He turned around, hand on his head.

His attempt to explain himself was suddenly cut short by the Chuunin, who smiled back and said, "But don't worry, because even if you think otherwise, I will remember Kakashi-san," his smile pulled into a grin, "if Naruto ever eats him up."

There was no seeming reaction from the older ninja, but as Iruka looked on, he could see that Kakashi's smile reached his single, revealed eye. "That's a relief." The Jounin said simply, then turned to walk away from the clearing.

"It's not a relief," Iruka said to his receding form.

"It's a promise."

The End

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