Introductions and Isolation
Sasuke couldn't stand children.
Day in and day out, he was forced to suffer, surrounded by fools who didn't know what life as a ninja entailed. He derided (envied) their innocence, their careless enthusiasm to succeed at something where achievement only meant death.
They didn't know pain.
They didn't have the will to become strong. The children would amount to nothing until they faced death. Like he had. Sasuke had motivation. He had an ambition.
And that was all that mattered.
So when the Academy sensei offhandedly asked Sasuke if he would take the early graduation exam, the answer seemed obvious. (Sure, he had admittedly struggled for a few moments. Ita—he had graduated early, and Sasuke would never be like him. Ever. But common sense had won over needless emotion in the end.) The earlier he graduated, the stronger he'd become. The sooner he'd get away from these kids.
So Sasuke had started the early graduation process, and after filling out a lengthy application, he took the exam.
And unlike that idiot Naruto, Sasuke had actually passed.
As he sat among kids one year his senior, the last Uchiha allowed himself to feel a brief swell of satisfaction. He had done it. He was finally a shinobi. Headband snugly secured on his forehead, Sasuke proudly sat in the back of the classroom, feeling that he was one step closer to avenging his clan.
He watched as the students departed, mildly glad that his sensei wasn't the obnoxious green one or the twitchy short one. Then the number of people dwindled away to just two, and he was a bit concerned. But when even the Academy chuunin looked at him apologetically and left, Sasuke—for the first time in ages—began to feel doubts.
Three hours. Three hours and his sensei still hadn't arrived. Gradually, anger replaced Sasuke's apprehension. Where the hell was his teacher?
His questioned was answered when the door creaked open and a strange-looking shinobi walked in. Sasuke eyed the covered face dubiously, barely pushing down the surge of irritation at his (assumed) sensei's late appearance.
"Yo!" The man waved. "Sorry I'm late. I was rescuing a cat from a tree."
Sasuke could do nothing but stare.
"You know how it is," continued the man. "Being a responsible citizen of Konoha, I just had to help the poor girl's kitten. Don't worry! I got the cat down safely. The rescue was entirely successful."
"What." The single word was said with absolutely no inflection, somehow conveying more disdain than should be possible.
"Aah…" The shinobi (if he could even be called that) smiled at the genin, visible eye crinkling. "So, who are you?"
Sasuke blinked in disbelief. He had to be joking. This person was his teacher? The boy scowled, disgust and anger warring for supremacy. "It's polite to introduce yourself first."
The man leaned back, hands in his pocket. "Huh. Well, you're right."
The Uchiha waited. The man said nothing. They stood in silence for a few minutes, the stranger with casual nonchalance, Sasuke with stiff irritation.
After gritting his teeth, the younger one spoke first. "My name is Uchiha Sasuke."
"Likes? Dislikes? Hobbies and dreams?" prompted the still-unnamed stranger.
"None of your business," Sasuke snapped back.
"Manners, Sasuke-kun." The man sighed, as if pained. "But without an example, I suppose I shouldn't expect too much. I'll show you how it's done." The man paused dramatically. "I'm Hatake Kakashi, your potential jonin-sensei." The newly-dubbed Kakashi smiled at his student and said nothing more.
"That's it?" asked Sasuke dubiously.
"Yup!" Faster than the genin could follow, Kakashi grabbed the boy's collar and flickered out of the room.
The world spun around him for one terrifying second before suddenly stabilizing, and Sasuke stumbled as they materialized in the open training grounds. Disoriented from the sudden change in scenery, he slammed into a tree. Growling, Sasuke whirled around once he regained his balance and fell into an attack position.
"What the hell was that?" he spat.
"Maa, Sasuke-kun, don't be so prickly!" Kakashi reached out to pat the boy's entertainingly spiky hair, but Sasuke jumped back, eyes narrowed. Sighing again, the jonin pocketed his hands. "Now now, my little maybe-apprentice. You're not my student yet."
What? Sasuke's scowl grew deeper. He'd passed the exam. What more was there to do?
As if reading his mind, Kakashi's smile grew larger. "First, you need to pass a test of my own."
Of course, Kakashi was lying. Though he'd been given free rein to fail the previous genin teams, the Hokage had flat-out ordered him to take Uchiha Sasuke as an apprentice—tests be damned. The unwilling jonin had protested, but the Sandaime hadn't budged.
Kakashi still thought it was a terrible idea. Him? Teaching a traumatized kid? Emotionally-stunted assassins didn't make the best nurturers. The kid needed someone like Minato, and Kakashi was not Minato.
But orders were orders, so Sasuke would become his apprentice. Regardless, Kakashi planned to make the boy take the test anyway.
He couldn't very well use the bell test for one person, so the traditional method was out. Lips pursed behind his mask, Kakashi fixed Sasuke with his lone eye, holding him with a steady gaze.
The leaves rustled in the breeze, and the jonin was reminded of a similar scene that happened more than a decade ago—of a sullen child and watchful teacher.
A hint of bright laughter. A sudden flash of yellow. "I got you, Kakashi-kun! It's your turn!"
"Tag," said Kakashi.
The boy blinked.
"You're it!" The older shinobi leaped over the kid, tapping him on the head before taking to the trees. The branches shuddered under his weight as Kakashi created an obvious trail through the canopy.
The jonin deliberately went at a slower pace than normal, letting Sasuke catch a glimpse of him before suddenly disappearing. Kakashi clamped down on his presence while releasing only a wisp of chakra that the Uchiha would barely be able to detect.
With practiced ease, he substituted with a shadow clone, sending Sasuke on the merry chase while the real Kakashi followed behind the boy. The jonin scattered traps throughout the treeline; none of them were lethal, but all were certainly inconvenient.
Satisfied, Kakashi perched silently in a tree, book in hand. He observed Sasuke's valiant attempts to catch the doppelganger with something resembling amusement, unable to hold back the occasional grin.
Several times, the clone allowed the genin to come close—but not too close. Finally, clone-Kakashi slowed down significantly, and Sasuke attempted to grab the fake. The clone simply dispelled, causing the boy to stumble right into a trap.
Kakashi chuckled, Icha Icha momentarily forgotten. After letting Sasuke struggle for a while, the jonin made his way to the scowling genin.
"Well, Sasuke-kun," drawled Kakashi, "I expected you to do much better."
The boy simply glared.
Sasuke mentally berated himself, furious at his lapse in attention. How could he have been so stupid? He'd been chasing a clone the entire time. Had he really fallen for something so simple? Sasuke growled in frustration. He could not fail. Not now, not ever.
Maybe if he escaped fast enough, he could catch up with the jonin. Buoyed by the thought, Sasuke shifted, trying to reach the shuriken in his pouch. Sadly, his hands were also tightly bound by the net. Grimacing, he tried again, becoming distracted by the almost painful wire digging into his leg and the blood rushing to his head. He felt the constraints slide the slightest bit.
Sasuke immediately ceased his efforts when he heard the jonin speak and stiffened as the older ninja approached. The Uchiha refused to respond to Kakashi's words, preferring to let his glower do the talking for him. He would not let this man fail him.
"However," continued the jonin, unaffected by the lack of an answer, "I suppose I could give you one more chance."
Sasuke hid his surprise and relief, determination quickly replacing his earlier concerns. He'd prove himself this time.
Efficiently, Kakashi disabled the trap, and Sasuke dropped to the ground with barely-managed grace. The masked shinobi's eye crinkled as he reached out and tapped Sasuke on the shoulder. "Oh look. You caught me. That means I'm it, right?" A strange gleam appeared in the other man's eye, belying the flat tone of his voice.
Instantly, Sasuke felt apprehensive.
"So, what are you waiting for?" Kakashi's expression grew maniacal.
The Uchiha immediately took off, running through the trees at a steady pace. He risked a glance behind him and nearly panicked when he realized that the jonin was barely two feet behind him. Fueled by adrenaline, Sasuke put on a burst of speed. When he glanced back again, Sasuke was shocked to see Kakashi still two feet away. He immediately threw half a dozen shuriken at the other shinobi. Kakashi didn't even bother to dodge, casually deflecting the throwing stars with his kunai.
Sasuke's eyes narrowed. Fatigue was beginning to wash over him, the earlier chase having sapped most of his energy. He continued to pump chakra to his feet in a bid to keep running, relying on adrenaline to keep from falling.
"You can do it, Sasuke-kun!" said Kakashi in a sing-song voice. "Keep it up!"
Sasuke simply gritted his teeth and continued running.
The sky blazed red, casting a crimson hue over the open field. The setting sun dipped even further, and a steady, cool wind caused the grass to sway. A young shinobi appeared in the middle of the training grounds, falling over once his feet touched the dirt.
Kakashi landed lightly beside the crumpled form of Sasuke.
"Don't bother with standing." The jonin smiled, looking as fresh as a daisy—a stark contrast to the sweaty and exhausted genin. The Uchiha ignored him and tried to get up.
"Sasuke-kun, didn't you hear me?"
"I did," he growled.
The jonin's dark eye peered at him. "Then why aren't you giving up?'
"Because I have an ambition." A surge of determination propelled Sasuke to his feet. "I will not lose here."
Slowly, Kakashi pulled out a kunai. The already chilly air grew even colder, and the shadows seemed to grow. Sighing with manufactured regret, he shifted slightly, straightening from his lazy slouch. Sasuke immediately tensed.
"Maa…" The kunai disappeared. "You pass, I suppose." The jonin instantly became cheery and beamed at the stupefied boy. "Good job!"
"Why?" blurted out Sasuke. His eyes narrowed with suspicion and confusion. Kakashi's eye flashed with something resembling amusement.
"Well, you didn't die." Kakashi's eye curved up in a crescent shape. "That's good enough for me." He patted Sasuke's head. The weary genin tried to dodge but didn't have the energy to move.
"Be here tomorrow at six, bright and early. Don't be late!" Without another word, Kakashi disappeared in a swirl of leaves.
The memorial stone loomed, steadfast and silent. Carefully, the masked shinobi ran his fingers across the carved names.
"Hello, sensei." A pause. "It's been a while. Sorry for not visiting. My mission made me later than I expected." He chuckled softly. "Believe it or not, I'm a jonin-sensei now. You always joked about giving me a team of my own, just so I could feel your pain. Well, it finally happened. I was assigned an apprentice by the Sandaime today."
A small frown marred the formerly placid expression. "His name is Sasuke. Yes, Uchiha Sasuke, the last of his clan. Sounds a bit familiar, doesn't it?"
Sighing, Kakashi ran his hands through his hair. "To be honest, I don't know what Sarutobi-sama was thinking. The kid… he's like me. Like how I used to be. You remember that, don't you? Arrogant, talented, and obsessed with restoring his clan. He's at high-risk for breaking—even more than I was. I had already graduated when… father died. Sasuke, on the other hand, was barely a child when his brother murdered his entire clan. The files say he's very unstable, more than many adult ninja."
He paused again, unsure how to continue. "At the same time… Sasuke's much more innocent than I was. He hasn't even had his first kill yet." Another sigh. "Peacetime really is different. These kids are so naïve—though Sasuke less so than the others." A quick smile. "However, he is a bit prickly. You should have seen his face when I told him to play tag. He looked like I'd personally offended him."
Kakashi suddenly stilled, and he clenched his fists tightly. "Sensei… I don't think I can do this. I don't know how. With my luck, I'll probably end up losing him too." He stared at the stone in silence, and time passed unheeded.
Abruptly, his eyes moved to a different name.
"I'll try not to fail your baby cousin, Obito. I won't make any promises." His eyes flickered to another name carved into the black surface. "But I will do my best to protect him. After all, people who abandon their teammates are worse than trash, right?"
As always, the stone had no answer.