“Oh, and Kaisuki, could I speak with you for a moment before you go?” The Hokage requested just as they were walking out the door. Kaisuki turned and stared at him for a moment, relatively sure she knew what he wanted. The mission report Kakashi-sensei had just given him hadn’t left out any details – especially not any important details. She had been expecting him to want to speak to her, so she nodded silently.
“I’ll see you later, Kaisuki,” Naruto called to her from the door. She turned back to him, smiling and waving, before Kakashi-sensei closed the door behind Sasuke. He’d been distressingly quiet again since their last fight. Not necessarily refusing to speak to anyone, but seemingly never having anything to say. It worried her a little, but she didn’t let herself dwell on it too much. He was probably just still mad at her and therefore brooding a lot.
“What did you want to speak to me about, Hokage-sama?” Kaisuki asked politely, her hands clasped behind her back. He took a puff from his pipe, smiling knowingly. She knew exactly what he wanted without having to ask, but it was polite to not make assumptions.
“I’m glad to see that you and Saeka seem to have come to some kind of accord.” He said, eyes twinkling. “Tell me, how did that come about?”
“I have no idea,” Kaisuki confessed without a thought. “She came around on her own.”
“Really?” The Hokage raised his gray eyebrows, looking genuinely surprised. “I wonder why?”
She shrugged offhandedly, “I suppose I’ll find out eventually.”
The girl had been fairly quiet since Kaisuki had fought with Sasuke in Nami no Kuni. Saeka hadn’t gone completely silent, but her humorous quips had quietened, and Kaisuki had been feeling a rather generalized bad mood coming from her since then. Occasionally, she’d mutter something nasty about the Uchiha, and Kaisuki constantly felt like the girl wanted to eviscerate him. She didn’t quite understand why. The timing almost made it seem like a protective reaction to his awfulness, but she didn’t feel like Saeka and her had gotten quite that close. But she supposed it wasn’t like she knew the girl well enough to understand how she reacted to friendliness and what her boundaries were with relationships. For all she knew, she had become Saeka’s best friend simply by being nice to her.
“And there’s another one, now, correct? Naruto told you her name was Miyamoto Izumi?” He inquired, and Kaisuki nodded silently. “And she’s an irou-nin?”
“From Tsukigakure, yea.” She replied, and the Hokage’s eyes widened a little. “Is that not in the report? I must’ve forgot to tell Kakashi-sensei because I didn’t really think it was important.”
“It’s not important,” he said in agreement. “But it is interesting. I’ve never met anyone from Tsukigakure, even as long as I’ve been alive. Perhaps I’ll be able to talk to her sometime.”
“Maybe,” Kaisuki nodded, offering a slight smile. Izumi didn’t talk much, and when she did it was usually to offer medical advice. She didn’t seem interested in making friends, or engaging in conversation outside of the necessary. Kaisuki had managed to get exactly one prolonged conversation out of her, and it had been while she was trying to sleep. Izumi seemed to feel best when the moon was out, ironically enough, but it only showed by the feeling of her mood and vibe.
“She doesn’t really talk much,” Kaisuki explained. “Saeka was talking more for a little while, but since the last time me and Sasuke fought-…”
“You and Sasuke fought?” The Hokage repeated, cutting her off. He blinked, speaking again, “I apologize, I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”
“It’s fine,” she replied with a shrug. “Yea, me and Sasuke had a fight last weekend. Saeka got mad at him when he said something really mean, and she’s been cranky ever since. I think she hates him again. She had gotten over it, but now we’re back to square one.”
The wizened old man nodded, humming thoughtfully. “Did you ever figure out why she hated him before?”
Kaisuki nodded, “She said his chakra reminds her of someone she hates. I don’t know who she was talking about though.”
Another nod, another hum. “Well, I suppose we’ll find out eventually, if she’s willing to talk about it with you.”
“I hope so,” she returned. There was a pause as he sucked on his pipe a few more times and leaned back in his chair. Kaisuki lowered her gaze to her knees, frowning again. She didn’t know how much Saeka would care about her divulging those kinds of things to people. She probably ought to ask the girl about it sometime. Probably after they’d gotten back on equal footing. Saeka seemed to loathe Sasuke now, and while Kaisuki wasn’t exactly fond of him either, she didn’t want the girl to have such strong, negative feelings towards him. It could prove catastrophic for all involved parties.
“Kaisuki, do you know what the Chuunin Exams are?” The Hokage asked, and Kaisuki looked up at him, blinking.
“Yea, of course.” She frowned at him. She had a bad feeling about the future of this conversation.
He nodded, “They are to be held this year. In three months. If Kakashi nominates his team to compete, you’ll be sort of drafted into it as well.” He explained, tugging gently at the white hair of his beard. “Would you have a problem with that? The Chuunin Exams are very dangerous. Probably more dangerous than your trip to Nami no Kuni.”
Kaisuki stared at him. The Chuunin Exams? Her? She was surprised he was even asking. She didn’t think that she’d have been allowed to compete in the Exams because of her status as a Yurei. She would’ve thought that the other team instructors might’ve had a problem with it.
Would she want to compete with the rest of her team? If she was honest with herself, the answer was both yes and no. She didn’t want to have to risk unleashing a very angry Saeka upon the masses, though the girl had come so far in such a short amount of time, so she didn’t know if she really needed to worry about that. She wanted to become a kunoichi, so attending the Chuunin Exams was a stepping stone to her goal anyway, but she wasn’t sure if she was ready to take that step yet.
“I don’t know if I could make that decision right now,” Kaisuki finally conceded. “I suppose I’ll compete if Kakashi-sensei wants us to, but if we don’t, I won’t be upset.”
The Hokage smiled, nodding, “I was hoping you’d say that. Kaisuki, you’ve made some great progress over the past five months, especially within the last three weeks. With your help, Naruto has also made some astonishing progress that just hadn’t been coming along without you. Sasuke’s abilities have improved, though evidently his social skills could still use some work.” She smiled a little at the Hokage’s quip. “And Sakura has proven to both herself and her team that she can be as brave as she needs to be to become a kunoichi. I think all four of you could make it through the Chuunin Exams, and I think Kakashi will definitely nominate you this weekend.”
Kaisuki grinned at him, wondering where all her determination and will to move forward was coming from. Five months ago, she wouldn’t have been talking to the Hokage about attending the Chuunin Exams. She wouldn’t have been talking about how she had fought with Sasuke, because she wouldn’t have been talking to him. She wouldn’t have been talking about how Saeka seemed to have calmed herself down, because Kaisuki wouldn’t have been able to trust it. She wouldn’t have been able to just be glad that her team had been safe after she blacked out and chased Zabuza away. She wouldn’t have trusted Izumi not to be as unstable and unpredictable as Saeka had once been.
She really had come a long way. “Thank you, Hokage-sama,” she said sincerely. The old man smiled warmly at her. “Was there anything else you wanted to discuss with me?”
He shook his head, “No, I think that’s everything, Kaisuki. I’m glad you’ve found your place in the team, and I’m glad you’ve made such progress towards your goal.”
Kaisuki nodded, smiling wider, though the expression was entirely fake. The Hokage didn’t know what her goal was. No one did. No one needed to know. The Tsubaki leaned forward in a slight bow, her eyes on the floor. It was something that was important to her. It wasn’t really anyone else’s business, and no one would want to know about it anyway.
“Then I’ll excuse myself, Hokage-sama. Thank you.” She replied as she straightened up. He nodded at her, and she turned away from him and left the room. She had a long way to go, but the Chuunin Exams would only bring her closer to where she wanted to be. She sincerely hoped that Kakashi-sensei would enroll Team 7 in the Chuunin Exams.
“Hinata has shown considerable growth in her self-confidence and use of jyuuken. I think she’ll do well in the exams, I believe that she will be able to grow as a person if she competes alongside her team.” Kurenai concluded as she rolled up the scroll she had been referring to. It held the notes she had written up regarding her team, and by the sounds of it, they had come pretty far. He vaguely recalled meeting Hinata once when she’d been much, much younger. The girl was painfully shy, though that was the only detail he’d ever really recalled about her.
Iruka, who had been looking at the four jounin instructors with an incredibly disapproving look from the beginning, switched his intense gaze from Kurenai to Kakashi. He had purposely stood at the end of the line opposite from where he knew the Hokage would begin so he could go last. He didn’t like it when Iruka looked at him like that.
“It sounds to me like you’ve made a lot of progress, especially with Hinata,” Sarutobi commented, raising his pipe to his lips. “I hope to see great things from all three of them in the exams. Kakashi?”
He resisted the urge to sigh as Iruka’s gaze darkened tenfold. Almost as soon as he’d walked in the door, Iruka had started yelling at him for showing up. The younger man didn’t want him to enroll Team 7 in the Chuunin Exams because, as he’d said, ‘I was their teacher for much longer than you’ve been, there’s no way they’re ready for this yet!’
To which Kakashi had replied, ‘don’t worry about it.’
He knew the other three instructors enrolling their teams – Kurenai, Asuma, and Gai – were going to question his decision to send his team to the Chuunin Exams no matter what he said about them. Kaisuki had been labeled “extremely dangerous” and considered a liability to the village adults since the incident with Saeka when she was five. His fellow jounin didn’t know about Saeka’s sudden turnaround, so they were going to assume that she was still that dangerous. And then there was highly emotionally volatile Naruto, who happened to have the strongest of the nine tailed beasts sealed inside of him. Finally, there was Sasuke who, according to some, “shouldn’t be allowed to pursue becoming a shinobi because his trauma had damaged him in ways that made him a liability to the village,” or something absurd like that.
Sakura was the only member of his team who was “normal,” with two loving parents, a crush on the cool guy from school, and a mild obsession with her appearance. At the same time, though, she was the most likely to get either seriously injured or killed in the exams. Kakashi knew Naruto and Kaisuki – at the very, very least – would look out for her, and he was sure that Sakura would grow much stronger if she was tested against her rival, Yamanaka Ino, but he did worry a little.
Honestly, after all he’d taught them, if they did die during the exam, he would mourn the loss, but he wouldn’t take the blame for it. After all, they’d taken on the Demon Swordsman of the Mist and his “tool.” They had been prepared for the kind of level they would be encountering significantly more than their peers.
He didn’t have a scroll to refer to. He didn’t have a pre-written speech. He wasn’t exactly the type to plot out what he would say before he said it. At least, not on paper, way ahead of time. He felt that he would be more honest if he had to come up with his speeches on the spot.
“Tsubaki Kaisuki, Uzumaki Naruto, Haruno Sakura, and Uchiha Sasuke have made excellent progress on their paths to becoming shinobi,” Kakashi stated rather blandly. “I think that they’ll do fine in the Chuunin Exams, and all four of them want to attend, so I figured I might as well humor them. It’s in my best interests to avoid telling them that they aren’t good enough for something. If they die, that’ll be their own fault.” He stated disinterestedly.
The Hokage didn’t seem at all surprised to hear what he was saying, and while he knew that they ought to have been expecting much the same from him, he was sure his fellow jounin were staring at him in disbelief. He had a tendency of garnering that kind of reaction from people.
“End report.” He concluded. There was a pause, and he patiently waited for the barrage of clarifying questions that was sure to come. The Hokage watched him carefully for a long moment, before closing his eyes and nodding in agreement. Then, as Kakashi had been expecting, the questions came.
“Are you sure that Sasuke is ready for that level of bloodshed? He’s been through so much, are you sure this won’t affect him negatively?”
Kakashi was a little astounded that the first question was about Sasuke. He had been expecting them to start with Naruto or Kaisuki. Mostly Kaisuki. The question was a viable one, he supposed, but his fellow jounin didn’t know the Uchiha very well. He was extremely resilient, considering all that had transpired in his short life.
He turned to look at Kurenai, who had spoken, and replied with only a hint of coolness to his voice, “You haven’t seen the report from our latest mission, have you?” He asked, and there was a slightly stifling silence that filled the room. “It was supposed to be a D-rank mission, but it turned out to be an A-rank. Out of all of our teams, mine is probably the most well-prepared for the quality of danger they’re going to be facing.”
“An A-rank?!” Iruka exclaimed out of nowhere, his eyes wide and his face drained of color, “Kakashi, why didn’t you abandon the mission?”
“They didn’t want to.” Was his calm reply. Iruka’s mouth opened and closed several times, but he seemed to be at a loss for words. That was a relief. Kakashi was sure he would be further yelled at later, but for now, it was nice to have the other man quietened down.
“And I take it Kaisuki and Naruto are of no concern to you?” Asuma asked, sounding much less confrontational than the other two had. He seemed to be willing to accept that Kakashi knew what he was talking about, which was greatly appreciated.
Kakashi nodded slightly, “No concern at all.”
“How could Saeka not be a concern anymore?” Kurenai wanted to know, and Kakashi, though they were all friends, wanted very badly to smack her upside the head.
He chose to sigh irritably instead. “Saeka isn’t a threat anymore,” he told them. “Apparently, she’s developed a sense of humor and some self-restraint.”
“A sense of humor?” Gai repeated, sounding a surprised. He had been the one who saved Kakashi from certain death the one time Saeka had tried (and almost succeeded) to kill him. He’d still been hospitalized for a week, but he hadn’t been dead. His self-proclaimed rival had been wary of Saeka ever since, possibly more so than Kakashi.
“Yep,” he replied. “She’s actually pretty fun.”
Sarutobi chuckled lightly, tapping out the ash from his pipe onto an ash tray. “I have no issue with Kakashi’s decision to enroll his team in the exams.” He stated decisively. “Team 7 will compete in the Chuunin Exams, as their jounin instructor has requested.”
“But, Hokage-sama-…!” Iruka started to speak, but Sarutobi held up a hand to silence him.
“That’s enough, Iruka.” He chided sternly, “You are no longer their teacher. You don’t get to make the decisions on their behalf anymore.”
Iruka looked fairly devastated to hear that. Kakashi didn’t blame him – he’d been in charge of those kids for their entire academic career. He had quite a bit emotionally invested in them, especially Naruto. But, as the Hokage had said, they weren’t his charges anymore. He didn’t get to make those decisions anymore, and he wasn’t even really supposed to be a part of this meeting.
“The announcement will take place tomorrow,” Sarutobi told them. “Don’t be late, Kakashi.”
The corner of his mouth tilted down a little, “Of course not, Hokage-sama.” He said, knowing full and well that such a thing was probably impossible. He knew that Sarutobi didn’t really expect him to not be late. He was probably the only person who knew what Kakashi spent his mornings doing. He knew Gai didn’t know. He didn’t think Kurenai knew. He knew that Asuma didn’t know. If anyone else knew, it’d have to have been Iruka. He’d been drunk around that man too many times for him to not know.
“You’re dismissed.” The Hokage said, waving them off. The four of them bowed slightly, turning and leaving the room, Iruka hanging back. He was probably going to try to change Sarutobi’s mind. Apparently he hadn’t figured out just how stubborn the man was yet.
“Are you sure it’s a good idea, Kakashi?” Gai asked from beside him, and he looked over at the other man. He looked serious about his question, and Kakashi wanted desperately to reply with something smart and scathing, but he knew that his friend was just trying to look out for him.
“I’m sure, Gai.” Was his only reply to the question as they stepped outside. His fellow jounin just didn’t know his team the way he had come to know them. They didn’t know what kind of progress his team had made. They didn’t know how his team had changed. Kakashi couldn’t expect them to be anything but worried. He just sort of wished they’d just trust his judgment on the matter.
Well, he thought tiredly, pulling his book out of his kunai pouch. At least they’re willing to give me some benefit of the doubt.