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Chapter 19 – Team Training Line
Luckily, Sasuke’s lateness was not a repeat occurrence. The same could not be said for Kakashi however.
With nothing to do but to wait for their jonin sensei to show up, Sasuke proposed that they spend that time sparring.
“We didn’t get to go up against each other much at the Academy,” Sasuke said to Sakura. “I want to see how much you’ve improved. Don’t hold back.”
The pink haired girl shook her head with trepidation, but it wasn’t for the reason that one might guess. “If I go all out, I might seriously hurt you. Um, that is not to say that I think that you’re weak!” She squeaked. “I mean Sasuke-kun placed the highest in taijutsu class, and I-”
“Yes?” She squeaked and then blushed.
“I’m training in medical ninjutsu, and at the risk of sounding cocky, I am confident that I can heal any injury caused by a friendly spar. At the very least I can stabilize an injury until professional help comes.”
“If it worries you so much, why don’t you fight against Naruto’s clones first? That way you won’t hurt one of us and we can assess your skills.”
Sakura nodded. “That sounds like a good idea.”
“Though personally, I think it would be more exciting to fight against you without knowing your full skill set.” Sasuke’s lips quirked up in what might be a smirk. “Right now, you are quite the wild card on the team.”
Sakura blushed and played with the skirt of her qipao. “It’s not like I know everything about you two either.”
Naruto and Sasuke looked at each other. A silent exchange passed between them. “And we will remedy that soon enough,” Sasuke said. “But if you don’t mind, I’m eager to see what you can do.”
“Yeah, Sakura-chan, show us your stuff!” Naruto cheered.
“All right.” Sakura nodded with faint amusement and determination. She would not hold anything back. She was going to wow her teammates and let them know that she could stand on equal ground with them.
Some time later, Sakura was panting heavily on the field, and her two teammates were picking their jaws up from the ground.
“Sakura,” Sasuke said as he approached her and laid a hand on her shoulder.
His hand lit up with green chakra and Sakura felt a dose of soothing healing chakra enter her system. She sighed.
“You’re right, I could’ve gotten badly injured if you were serious.”
He recalled the shadow clones that Sakura cleaved in half with her battle-axes. She wielded two of those massive weapons. Her balance was better with two axes, making her much deadlier than if she were to only wield one. The disadvantage was that it wasn’t a good weapon for close quarters and as her control still needed improvement it was best avoided when fighting alongside comrades, least she injured a teammate by accident. However, there was a definite element of surprise to see a petit girl like Sakura pull out giant battle axes, and if Sakura were to fight one-on-one or one-on-many, as she had done with the shadow clones, in an open field, then she and her axes made for a deadly combination. She wouldn’t be much of a match against a jonin like Kakashi, but for a genin she was advanced.
“Perhaps it’s better to stick to taijutsu for now,” Sasuke concluded.
Naruto twitched and muttered, “I don’t think that’s much better. She reminds me of Fuzzy Eyebrows, except with less speed and strength but more viciousness and creativity.”
“Why don’t you take a break now and observe how Naruto and I fight?”
Sakura nodded and took a seat on the grass as Naruto and Sasuke got into position. They made the hand sign for a friendly spar and slid into their stances. A sudden gust was their starting gong, and then the two leapt into a whirlwind dance.
By the time Kakashi arrived in the training area, his team was sweaty and out of breath.
Kakashi was surprised and impressed by his team’s self-motivation. He had expected to find the children sitting around, bored out of their minds. It looked like he would have to revise their training schedule.
“All right, then. Since it looks like you guys have worked out a morning schedule, I will get you started on chakra training exercises when I arrive. After that we will have lunch and take a short break. In the afternoon, we will do some team exercises and then pick up a mission afterwards. Any objections?”
He wasn’t expecting any and he didn’t get any.
Sakura and Naruto got to their feet and stood at attention as they waited for instructions. Sasuke was still lying on the grass with an arm thrown across his eyes. He was a little more tired than his teammates, having used medical ninjutsu to heal some of the nastier bruises they got.
“Come on, Sasuke. Up you go.” Kakashi offered a hand, which Sasuke took with a recalcitrant look. Kakashi pulled the brunette up and waited for Sasuke to steady himself before letting go. Sasuke sniffed at Kakashi’s scent. His features relaxed and he took a step back to fall into formation with his teammates.
Kakashi walked over to a tree, and then with his hands in his pockets he walked straight up the tree. “This is the tree walking exercise. It is said that if you can master this then you can master any ninjutsu.” He continued walking until he was hanging upside down from a branch. “The point is to regulate your chakra flow to your feet. Too little chakra and you won’t be able to stick to the tree. Too much chakra will blow you away from the tree.” He threw down three kunai to his team. “Use those to mark your progress. A running start might be helpful.”
And so their chakra training began.
After lunch and another team exercise, Team Seven ambled towards the Hokage Tower for their second, technically, third, mission.
Along the way, Naruto was chatting up a storm as usual. Sakura listened without much interest, but paid just enough attention to not be rude. Despite her growing fondness for the loudmouthed blond, Sakura still did not have much patience for his endless chatter. Only the thought that it made Sasuke happy to see them get along kept Sakura from knocking the blond upside the head to get him to quiet down. A voice in the back of her mind was growing increasingly agitated with Naruto’s story about ramen and the Hokage’s grandson.
Sakura snuck a glance at Sasuke from the corner of her eye. She cocked her head to the side in thought. “Isn’t Sasuke-kun walking exceptionally close to Kakashi-sensei?” She noted out loud.
This caught both Naruto and Sasuke’s attention. Kakashi was already aware of the brunette in their group slowly inching closer to him as they walked, but it seemed that Sasuke himself was not aware of his actions.
“You smell like wet dog,” Sasuke muttered with his head bowed to hide a growing blush.
Kakashi’s brow rose under his headband.
“Huh? Isn’t that kind of gross?” Naruto asked.
Kakashi twitched. “Now, now, Naruto, if my cute little genin wants to walk next to me then I certainly won’t complain.” To further annoy the blond, Kakashi slung an arm around Sasuke’s shoulders to pull him in close as they walked. He did not miss the flinch or the sudden tensing of Sasuke’s shoulders. Kakashi did not comment on this nor did he remove his arm. After a moment Sasuke took a deep breath of Kakashi’s scent and relaxed into his hold.
“You hentai-sensei!” Naruto accused with a finger in Kakashi’s face. The jonin batted the offending hand away. Naruto continued on his tirade, while Sakura look uncertain of how to respond. By the light flush on her cheeks, she probably found the scene cute.
Their mission that day was to walk the Inuzuka’s dogs and bathe them afterwards. Sasuke’s face lit up when he saw the furry animals. Kakashi smiled under his mask. It’s good to know that the Last Loyal Uchiha was not as iced over as popular opinion believed. There was no doubt that there were underlying issues and trauma that Kakashi would have to work out with Sasuke someday, but looking at Sasuke’s pleased face as a rather giant breed of dog lapped at his cheek, it didn’t feel like such a hopeless task as what he thought it would be when he was first assigned the Uchiha to his team.
Team Seven’s days continued on in this matter, with training in the morning and D-rank missions in the afternoon. The team would always eat lunch together, mostly it was pre-packaged lunch, and on the occasion when Team Seven managed to complete three D-rank missions in one evening, Kakashi would treat the team to dinner.
They progressed to the point where they could complete a team exercise in less than ten minutes, but that’s only when Kakashi decided not to include himself as one of the obstacles. They advanced to water walking. To no one’s surprise, Sakura was again the first to master water walking, with Sasuke and Naruto close behind.
Despite the bone weary training sessions and mind numbing string of D-rank missions, it was all rather idyllic until Naruto couldn’t stand it anymore and blew up at the Hokage one day.
“No! No more D-rank missions! I’m sick and tired of weeding gardens and cleaning out the river. I want a C-rank mission. Give us a C-rank, jiji!”
Iruka tried to talk Naruto out of it, but Kakashi decided to back his team up on this one. His genin were dedicated and self-motivated ninjas. They were more than ready for a C-rank mission.
The Hokage relented and introduced them to their client.
A side door opened to reveal an elderly man wobbling unsteadily on his feet with a sake bottle dangling from his fingers.
“What’s this? They’re all just a bunch of kids,” was the client’s first comment upon seeing Team Seven.
The client took a long drink from his bottle. Sasuke scowled at the alcoholic drink in the old man’s hand, but the client was too out of it to notice the hostile glare.
“Hey, is the shrimp with an idiotic face really a ninja?” The client slurred.
Sasuke gritted his teeth in annoyance. It was Sakura that stepped forward to defend Naruto, “I can assure you client-san that we are all capable ninjas.” She spoke sternly, a voice that brokered no arguments.
The old man grumbled. “I am the bridge building expert, Tazuna. Once I have returned to my country, I will have all of you protect my life with yours while I complete the bridge.”
“That would be a given.” Sasuke said. “Is there any need to reiterate such an obvious thing?”
“Hmph.” Tazuna turned is nose up and took another swing from his bottle.
Sasuke’s hands curled into fists.
Kakashi laughed nervously. “Team.” His genin turned their attention to him. “Gather a mission bag. Pack lightly for an extended mission and don’t forget provisions and sleeping equipment. We meet at the front gate in two hours.”
Sasuke was the first one out the door. Naruto narrowed his eyes at the drunken bridge builder and then followed Sasuke out with Sakura close behind.
Two hours later, Team Seven and Tazuna met at the village’s front gates. Tazuna still had a drink in hand, and Sasuke’s glower had not lessened one bit.
“Sasuke,” Kakashi said in a gentle and low voice as he laid a hand on Sasuke’s shoulder. Sasuke held himself rigid to contain the instinctual flinch, but he soon relaxed into Kakashi’s side at the familiar scent. “Will this,” he wave vaguely at the space between Sasuke and Tazuna, “be a problem for the mission?”
Sasuke glared at Tazuna as the man took another long drink from his bottle. Team Seven had never witnessed Sasuke so openly hostile before. Sasuke bit his lip and turned away from the sight of their inebriated client. “I am well aware of my duties as a Konoha genin.”
Kakashi hummed noncommittally at the answer. He heard the answer underneath the underneath and knew that Sasuke was not committing to a yes or no answer, but he decided to trust in Sasuke’s restraint. After all, Sasauke was a member of his team, and he wanted to believe in his teammates.
“Sasuke-kun,” Sakura hedged carefully, “Why do you seem to dislike Tazuna-san so much? I mean, I know he doubted our abilities and insulted Naruto, but…”
“Only people with something to hide or people with something to run away from cower behind the veneer of spirits and inebriation,” he said this loud enough for Tazuna to hear. The old man twitched at his words. “I do not trust such people. They are the first to abuse your kindness and betray your trust.”
Kakashi thought back to Sasuke’s self-introduction. “I dislike alcoholics, and I hate people who betray my trust and people who abuse my kindness.” What happened in Sasuke’s past to invoke that statement? Was it something that happened in the Uchiha clan or was it something that happened when he was kidnapped by missing-nin? Or was it something else?
“Look here, kid,” Tazuna jabbed a finger at Sasuke’s face.
Sasuke scrunched up his nose and grabbed the old man around the wrist. Then he forced the hand back down, careful to keep his hold gentle yet firm so as to not hurt the client. Tazuna grunted as he tried to resist Sasuke’s strength, but it was useless.
“Do you have anymore complaints about our qualifications as ninja?”
Tazuna was red in the face, but it was hard to tell if it was the flush of alcohol or embarrassment. He grumbled and turned around to head out the gates. Sasuke stopped him with the grip around his wrist.
“Not so hasty now. We wouldn’t want our client to walk unguarded would we?” Sasuke sneered.
Tazuna gulped and Sasuke took point, both to stay upwind from Tazuna and to keep the man out of his sight. The rest of Team Seven fell into formation and they headed away from Konoha. Sasuke barely hesitated when he stepped pass the gate’s threshold. His shoulders slumped as if releasing a pent up breath and then he held his head high and continued forward.
Throughout it all, Naruto was quiet as he observed the on goings of his team. Even his elation at leaving the village for the first time was tempered by the gloomy atmosphere. This trip was nothing like what he had imagined. If he knew that taking this mission was going to put such a pained look on Sasuke’s face then he would’ve held off on demanding a C-rank mission.
Sasuke looked over his shoulder and caught Naruto’s eye. Naruto was guarding the right flank with Sakura on the left and their sensei taking up the rear. The brunette smiled imperceptibly at Naruto and turned back to the front. It made Naruto’s heart clench to know that his teammate was still thinking of him in spite of whatever internal turmoil he must have been battling with.
In reply, Naruto threw his fists up into the air and shouted, “All right! Let’s get this show on the road!”
Sasuke turned to the left and gave a small nod to Sakura. The pink haired girl couldn’t help being worried, but she nodded and slapped on a more focused expression.
“Don’t get too carried away, Naruto. This is still a mission,” she said.
“I know, I know.”
Kakashi shook his head at his team’s antics, but couldn’t help smiling under his mask.
This was his team’s first C-rank mission. How would they fair?
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