Chapter 18 – The Team Line
A knock sounded on Kakashi’s door just as he was getting out of the shower. He swore his hair still smelled like tomato juice despite the shampoo he used.
Kakashi deactivated his traps and opened the door to see Gai, his self-proclaimed eternal rival, standing there in his trademark nice guy pose: thumb up, grin sparkling, and sunset shimmering behind him. Except that it wasn’t sunset yet.
Kakashi sighed, “What is it Gai?”
“What a nonchalant and hip greeting!”
“Come in, I don’t want people to see that I’m associated with you.”
When Gai entered the apartment, he was greeted by Kakashi’s ninken. Recognizing Gai’s scent, they went back to doing whatever they were doing before he arrived, which was mostly napping.
Gai’s face dropped its brilliant grin as soon as the door closed. Kakashi had a feeling this was coming, which was why he invited Gai in. At other times he would just kicked Gai over the railing for disturbing him.
“So I heard you passed Team Seven. Congratulations on getting a team, my eternal rival! Now our youthful teams may compete against each other and motivate each other to new heights.”
“Mm-hmm. Get to the point Gai.”
Gai sobered up. “As you are probably aware, I am familiar with two of your students already.”
“I don’t want to know how it happened.”
“I want to talk to you about Sasuke.”
“Just be careful with him.”
“Yeah, I’ll say,” Kakashi said, remembering the ambush on the Academy roof.
“No. I mean… be gentle with him.”
Kakashi’s brow rose. This doesn’t sound like the youthful Gai at all, who always shouted about hard work, sweat, and manly tears.
“I presume you know about his kidnapping. It happened not too long after the massacre. I can’t imagine the horrors that child faced at such a young age, but it has… aged him.”
“With age comes experience and maturity.”
“Age also makes one fragile and brittle.” Gai patted Kakashi on the shoulder. “You will understand what I mean when you interact with him.” Gai stepped back, ready to take his leave.
“I take care of all my teammates. I won’t let any one of them die before me.” Kakashi stated.
“Take care of not just the body, but also the heart.” With those words, Gai saw himself out the door.
Gai’s words bothered Kakashi enough that he was only an hour late to meet his new team.
“You’re late!” Naruto fumed.
Even Sakura looked annoyed. They probably thought he was going to be on time from now on after that little fiasco yesterday, but old habits were hard to break.
“Maa… I saw a little lost kitten up in a tree, so I rescued it and returned it to the owner.”
His students looked like they didn’t know whether to believe him or not, but since they didn’t know him well yet, they gave him the benefit of doubt. Kakashi cackled inwardly. He’d rile them up soon enough.
“By the way, where’s Sasuke?” Kakashi inquired.
“Late, like you.”
Right on cue, Sasuke ran up to them, his long ponytail streaming like a black ribbon behind him. “Sorry, I’m late,” he apologized.
Sasuke’s cheeks were a little flushed from exertion. Sakura blushed as she took him in. She still hadn’t gotten over his wardrobe change yet. The white made him look angelic, but black gave him an air of mystery, and with his hair tied up in a high ponytail instead, he looked so different.
Naruto’s cheeks flushed as he remembered their conversation from last night, but he tempered it down quickly before the others could notice and covered it up with a boisterous demand. “Why were you late?” Naruto jabbed his finger at Sasuke. Sakura looked curious, too. Sasuke was always on time.
“I saw a lost cat stuck up in a tree, so I rescued her and returned her to the owner.”
Silence descended on the field. Even Kakashi sweatdropped. Overhead, a crow cawed its way across the sky.
“That’s the same excuse that Kakashi-sensei gave! Dattebayo!”
“You were late, too, sensei?” Sasuke asked without inflection. In truth, he had expected Kakashi to be much later as a punishment for the eraser and itching powder prank. Yes, he thought of Kakashi as a petty person. Kakashi read all that in Sasuke’s innocent question and decided that he would be extra late tomorrow just to spite the boy.
“My, my, late on the first day. I’m afraid that will warrant some punishment later.”
“You were late, too,” Naruto protested.
Kakashi ignore him. “But first, let’s go around and do introductions. We skipped over that yesterday.”
“What should we talk about?” Sakura asked.
“What are your likes, dislikes, hobbies and dreams. Things like that.”
Naruto raised his hand eagerly, “Then I’ll go first. I like ramen, especially if it’s the ramen that Iruka-sensei buys for me at Ichiraku. I also like Iruka-sensei, the Uchiha family, especially Sasuke, Sakura-chan of course, and sometimes the old man Hokage. I dislike the three minutes it takes for cup ramen to boil, and I don’t like people who hurt my friends. My hobbies are eating different types of ramen and training with Sasuke. My dream… is to be the greatest Hokage of all time and make people acknowledge me! Dattebayo!”
Naruto certainly grew up interestingly. Kakashi studied the other two children on the team, two of the people that Naruto said he liked. He wondered if this might be one of the reasons that solidified their team formation. He had heard that Iruka-sensei had a soft spot for Naruto. Kakashi nodded. “Next.”
Sakura spoke up, “I like learning and seeing myself get stronger. I like umeboshi and sweet foods. I also like,” her eyes lingered on Sasuke and then glanced at Naruto briefly, “kind people. I dislike people who look down on my civilian background, and I don’t care much for spicy foods. My hobbies are reading and playing trivia games. My dream is to become the best kunoichi I can be and to make my parents proud of me.”
Most girls her age were preoccupied with love affairs, but Sakura seemed to be more down to earth. That would make it easier to work with her. Kakashi nodded. Sasuke looked over at Sakura in what might have been surprise or approval. Kakashi cleared his throat and motioned for Sasuke to introduce himself.
“I like… peaceful mornings, animals, and watching the sunrise. My favorite foods are shellfish and…” Sasuke’s eyes flickered up to Kakashi’s hair, “tomatoes.” Kakashi didn’t even twitch. He only eye smiled and waited for Sasuke to continue. “I dislike alcoholics, and I hate people who betray my trust and people who abuse my kindness. My hobbies are spending time with my family and friends and experimenting with new recipes. My dream?” Sasuke said the word like he hadn’t thought of it in a long time and there was a faraway look in his eyes. “I simply want to live without regrets.”
Despite Gai’s insistence, Kakashi wasn’t quite expecting this version of Sasuke. He was ready to deal with a moody preteen hell bent on revenge, and perhaps a little touched in the head from his rough childhood. What he got was someone much more mild and mellow. He didn’t miss the edge in Sasuke’s voice when he talked about his dislikes though. He wondered what bought about this change in the Uchiha. Was it his new family? Was it Naruto?
“You all have unique personalities. I like that.” Kakashi clapped his hands. “Now for today’s agenda.”
“Hatake-sensei,” the Uchiha spoke up.
“Kakashi is fine.”
“…Kakashi-sensei, what about your introduction. We’re a team now, it’s only right that we all learn about each other.”
“Hmmm…” Kakashi pondered on this. He supposed this fledgling team had earned a bone at least. “My likes are too adult for you to know about.” Kakashi delighted in the disturbed grimaces on their faces. “I dislike people who don’t follow the rules, but I dislike people who abandon their comrades even more. My hobby is reading. My dreams for the future are to continue protecting my village and to see my cute genin team all grow up into fine people.” He grinned at them.
Sasuke looked gobsmacked. Kakashi pouted. Did that boy think so little of him? Hmm, yeah, he probably did, but it’s not like Kakashi cared what others thought of him. He read porn openly in public. Enough said.
“Now, we are going to go through some team exercises. Then we’ll break for lunch and complete a mission in the afternoon.”
“A mission? Alright!” Naruto cheered.
Kakashi grinned under his mask. He couldn’t wait to see the look on his team’s faces when they receive their first D-rank. He specially reserved the Tora mission for them. Kakashi’s shoulders shook with repressed laughter.
“Don’t let it get to your head, Naruto.” Sasuke said.
“Yeah, as genin, our first missions won’t be all that exciting,” Sakura added.
Spoilsports, Kakashi thought.
Team Seven was looking a little battered and worse for wear by the time lunch rolled around. They were so tired that they didn’t even have the energy to glare at Kakashi or give him lip anymore. He glanced over at Sasuke whose face and clothes were caked with mud, whilst the other two were only covered in dirt. Yeah, Kakashi was being a little vindictive and it was entertaining as heck. Sasuke noticed right away, but didn’t comment because he knew that doing so would only make the pay back worse. Smart boy.
It wasn’t all for laughs, though. Kakashi did try to drill the mechanics of teamwork into them. His team might understand the importance of working together, but they’ve never really practiced working together as a group, so these exercises were to help them develop a team style.
They still had a ways to go.
The kids had no problem when it came to helping each other out of tough spots. Sasuke was especially good at this, often times identifying and pre-empting a problem before one of his teammates could be caught up in the trap. What they each had trouble with was asking for help. They were trying so hard to prove themselves that they forgot the other equation of teamwork. This was especially obvious with Sakura. It was like she had pegged herself as the weakest link in the group and refused to bow.
Asking for help was a little easier for Naruto, but he would only ask for Sasuke’s help. Since Naruto and Sasuke trained together, the blond had less compunction about asking his sparring partner for help. By not asking Sakura for help, Naruto was in his own way “looking out for” her, but to Sakura, it felt like she was being babied, which in turn alienated her, and pushed her to drive herself even harder. If someone didn’t crack soon, then Kakashi was going to have to pound it into their heads.
Reliance was not always a sign of weakness.
It’s only the first official day of training. They would learn soon enough.
Kakashi pulled out the pre-packaged bento boxes he bought for his team. They sat in the field and ate lunch together.
After finishing up the food, they headed to the Hokage Tower for their first mission as Team Seven.
Kakashi made a beeline for the chunin he talked to that morning to reserve the Tora mission.
“My apologies, Kakashi-san, but that mission has already been completed.”
The chunin sweatdropped at the ominous nature of Kakashi’s tone and hastened to explain, “You see, a genin came in this morning with the cat. Since it would be inefficient to turn him away, we wrote up the mission under his team. In fact…” the chunin pointed at Sasuke, “that would be the genin I spoke of.”
All of Team Seven turned to stare at Sasuke in surprise.
“The payment will be routed to your accounts soon,” the chunin continued.
Sasuke blinked innocently at his team.
“You mean you weren’t lying about the cat this morning?” Naruto exclaimed.
“Sasuke-kun, you already completed our team’s first mission by yourself?”
The boy in question shrugged, “I like animals.” He sounded almost defensive.
With a lazy blink, Kakashi turned back to the chunin on duty. Well, this was an unexpected turn of events, but there’s no use lingering over it now. “Do you have any babysitting missions?” Those were the second least favorite among genin.
“Babysitting?” Naruto squawked.
Kakashi’s visible eye crinkled in amusement. “Babysitting.”
Half an hour later found Team Seven at the Suzuki resident saddled with a four children between the ages of one and seven.
“Have fun, my cute genin.” Kakashi said and disappeared somewhere, presumably to read Icha Icha. At least he had the decency not to read that smut in front of their client’s children.
He returned four hours later to taunt – that is, to check on – his students. What he found was Naruto and Sakura completely pooped out in the kitchen, surrounded by baby formula and half eaten mush. In the bedroom, Sasuke was just tucking the last child into bed for naptime.
Sasuke then came into the kitchen to join the rest of his team. He didn’t look much worse for wear since Kakashi had left them. In fact, he had even found time to clean off some of the dried mud on his person. In contrast, Naruto and Sakura looked more rumpled and there were bits of food stuck in their hair. Sasuke nodded at Kakashi and began clearing off the kitchen table.
Sakura jumped up. “Let me help.”
“My, my, you’re just full of surprises today, Sasuke-kun.” Kakashi teased.
Sasuke gave Kakashi a wry smile. “It’s not that hard to babysit if you can get into the mindset of a child. I used to have-” Sasuke suddenly broke off. The faint smile he had on his face disappeared. He wiped off a spill on the table and turned his back to them as he wrung out the towel in the sink. His shoulders slumped. With his back still turned, Sasuke continued, “I used to have… dreams of having younger siblings.”
The teasing twinkle disappeared from Kakashi’s eye.
“Sasuke.” Naruto studied his friend’s back.
“Sasuke-kun.” Sakura touched her hand hesitantly to the brunette’s elbow.
“Nee-chan?” A sleepy voice called from the threshold.
To Kakashi’s surprise, instead of Sakura, Sasuke was the one to turn.
“Yes?” The Uchiha smiled, all traces of melancholy gone.
“I need to go pee-pee,” the child said.
“All right, let’s go.” Sasuke ushered the child out of the kitchen.
“Nee-chan?” Kakashi inquired and the mood in the room lightened.
“Just don’t ask.”