Author: Case13 PM
The difference between Love and True Love isn't much... except for that 'Even Unto Death' part. Naruto, caught between love, death and his team, can't decide which is the most vexing. Not yaoi.Rated: Fiction M - English - Supernatural/Adventure - Naruto U. - Chapters: 6 - Words: 47,609 - Reviews: 404 - Favs: 840 - Follows: 780 - Updated: 04-16-08 - Published: 02-12-08 - id: 4069428
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Edited by Skelethin and Ceyx0991
Step to the side. Move.
Just a little. Let the blade do the talking.
The white blaze let loose as Sakura blocked Kakashi's swing.
"Good, but it is better to avoid, Sakura." The jounin said calmly. "Less jagged movement, more precision. Again."
The pink haired girl's world was turned into that. Again. Faster. Again. Faster.
Like a mantra, running on and on and on.
A day, a week, a month... Who knew? She was lost in that. One swing after another, one punch after another, one exercise after another. Kakashi was true to his word - no mercy. If she had deluded herself that the 'proper' training would involve technique alone, she had stopped after the first day of it wasn't even done.
Kakashi pushed them to learn, to acclimate themselves to the things he taught... and then pushed again. The very moment they thought they HAD it, the grey haired scarecrow introduced another level. Then another. Moving, breathing, proper handling of more than one kunai at the time. Blocking versus dodging, why and when not to. How to move to conserve energy in the middle of combat. How to fight when the enemy was faster, how to fight when enemy was stronger, or had more jutsu, or used illusions, or weapons...
"Between two ninja, the battles can grow truly bizarre. I have been on missions where I fought with a single opponent for hours. Not constantly, no. But that's what it takes. Nin in ninja is for enduring, Sakura."
Hell yeah, she endured.
They all did.
She could hear the whine of Katon as Sasuke recklessly let go some of his painfully conserved chakra to char one of the Yotsuba Kage Bunshin. He still did that sometimes and Sakura knew they would be dragging the Uchiha to the Ichiraku tonight.
'...Sasuke-kun... I think I'll let you fall into that bowl after you doze off this time.'
She wasn't a fan of ramen. Well, next to Naruto no one was good enough to be called a 'fan', but she liked it well enough. How nice. It was the only place close enough to their training ground to actually EAT something hot. So there were carbohydrates, calories and... stuff.
Well, not something she needed to worry about.
Diet? Screw diet. She was fucking hungry.
A sharp spike of hot feeling - too tame to be called pain, too uncomfortable to be called anything else welled in Sakura's elbow, traveling down to her wrist.
Sweat didn't so much as manage to cool and her shirt was soaked with her sweat now.
She didn't care what mom thought - next time, she'd go with that tight tank top, come hell or high water!
Up and down. Side and...
That... kind of didn't hurt.
Or maybe he was to numb too feel it? Sasuke didn't exactly know anymore. It was all about... movement. No, wait. That was a lie.
It was about moving as little as possible. For example, not moving from that nice, soft patch of grass he was-
Sasuke grunted, rolling from a lazy stomp.
"Now now, Sasuke. Using that Goukkyaku was most unwise," said a smiling Kakashi Kage Bunshin. Sasuke knew it (he?) was smiling. After all those weeks he could probably compile a dictionary of smug tones of Hatake Kakashi. Had he the time, that is.
At first, it seemed simple enough. Hit the clone, disperse the clone. Master the exercise, maybe even copy a jutsu or two clones were using.
Kakashi, owner of the sharingan himself, knew every trick, every little aid, every odd quirk. Knew and ruthlessly used them against Sasuke. So Sasuke did what he thought he'd never do - he mustered some patience and hit the books. There HAD to be something that goddamn pervert didn't KNOW.
As it was, there were such things. Kakashi even thanked him for them. And then moved his training notch up. A small advice here, a jutsu there - not much. A handful. His sharingan would have copied them in an instant. But Kakashi was adamant. Scrolls - scrolls and practice. Jutsu, step by step, like some no-talent commoner and clones watching for even a glimmer of sharingan outside of Yotsuba exercise. He tried it, once. Kakashi said nothing - Yotsuba clones stopped holding back.
So Sasuke, like he did in the academy, hit the books again. Or scrolls, as it was. Only now it wasn't the laughably simple Kawarimi or some no-brainer bunshin. C-class, even some B-class. All not exactly big but... complicated. Layered. Control, refinement... And Kakashi pushed. Pushed until Sasuke couldn't continue... and then he got him to read. To memorize, to engrave in his mind, burn it into his muscles, beat into his instincts until he didn't' need to think and just did.
Not solo, no. They all trained, they had thir routines, but they were to be a team. So Kakashi treated them like one. Three hours, every day, on the training field. Running, sitting, reading, listening - together.
"Shared strength, Sasuke - that's what team is all about."
And then, Kakashi was there. Calm. Precise. So. Fucking. Annoyingly. Skilled.
It was like bells, all over again. Only this time, there were no bells. Just Kakashi and a 'mission'.
Again. And again. And again.
It was then that Sasuke really had grown to appreciate Naruto's inhuman stamina. The blond was just impossible to put down. Not as skilled as Sasuke, not as smart as Sakura - but his sheer ability to withstand punishment and remain standing - fatigue or not, was nothing short of miraculous. Some of the jutsu Naruto learned, Sasuke did as well - those lightning ones weren't exactly his cup of tea, but jutsu was a jutsu, after all. He was already dead tired, what did he have to lose, right?
They weren't big - like his, it was all C-class, with a precious one B-class jutsu that was just plain useless in Sasuke's opinion, since keeping the electric current up for long enough to be useful was a bitch of a drain on chakra. Too much of a price to pay for a pure melee jutsu. Pure melee... unless someone had enough chakra and combat wire, as well as some skill.
It was an eye opener to see Naruto frying a tree into crisp with a jutsu that Sasuke deemed 'useless' and then snapping back the wires and doing it again. Just. Like. That.
Sure, he always knew the dead last was hard to put down but this was just.. ridiculous. Where did he get so much power, how did he become so strong... He didn't know. But if that dead-last moron thought he was better than him, he was dead wrong.
Sasuke didn't even grit his teeth as he relaxed into a slight slouch, eying the clones warily.
"Not rushing into that, hmm?"
The Uchiha scowled, letting a kunai fly at the patch of earth between them. The explosive tag sizzled as the ground exploded, the tell-tale smoke of Kage Bunshin exploding from the small hole.
"Ah. Yes, Shinju Zanshu can be useful." The bunshin nodded. "Though you just dispelled a clone without hitting it in the right way. Now, I believe a penalty is in order."
Sasuke didn't even bother to curse as as several clones, previously dormant and waiting their turn circled him, seemingly out of nowhere.
The twin coma of sharingan wheels spun faster as Sasuke drew another kunai.
Wires could sing.
Naruto found that out easily enough. They moved through the air, they cut it and howled. But they sung as well. He could hear it. A song, he would swear it. Every damn note, he could hear it all.
Snap the hand back, the tone's pitch heightens. Move the wrist, another change. Lower and higher and lower again. Like one of those soft melodies hummed by Haku every morning. She did it once - Naruto doubted she even knew she did it. She didn't, when he asked her. It was his one request, after that. To keep those songs. They weren't familiar in the least, but they were soothing.
So Haku smiled. Haku allowed herself to smile and hum the wordless song.
But wires... wires weren't soft.
His hand swept to the side as he slid down the rock, twisting and giving the precious momentum to his next jump.
Wasteful, Kakashi-sensei called him. Hell, Iruka-sensei said the same. He could kinda see it - not that he'd admit it, of course. So Kakashi-sensei looked on, gave the jutsu, made him practice. And when he didn't practice those...
He was running.
Or rather jumping, sliding, twisting...
Wires sang as they wrapped around the target.
The small log whined in protest as the metal squeezed before bluish spark charred it.
Running. Running and practicing.
"You have plenty of power, Naruto. But all the power in the world won't save you if you can't use it right. You have power - use it. Overwhelm. Wires are good for that, they allow a great ability to strike from every angle with surprising speed. That is good - but you lack the speed itself."
So he was moving.
The blond felt like laughing out loud, before the rock under him exploded and the genin had to use every bit of his hard-won speed to escape the calamity.
If that tell-tale hiss of an explosive tag didn't warn him...
Sure, they were low yield, but explosive tags were explosive tags.
The blond grinned as wires coiled around the rock and he swung, twisting in the air just enough to snatch another log as the ends of the wires gouged two long scars into it.
Only two, but enough.
"The right tool for the job, Naruto. For shinobi, being able to do complicated things is good, but often simple and less flashy is best."
The lighting spiked and Naruto grinned.
So okay, maybe he wasn't very good with that 'less flashy' thing.
Ramen was tasty. It wasn't exactly food of the elite, but it wasn't bad. It was warm, filling and, overall, cheap.
"One deluxe large pork, with double onion."
"Shrimp again?" Teuchi raised an eyebrow. "My, aren't you a faithful regular."
Sasuke didn't even bother to shrug. It wasn't that he liked shrimp so much more - though he did like it quite a bit. The secret was, shrimp didn't need half as much chewing while being more filling than the 'full vegetarian' one.
"So, the usual line up, I see." The older man said to his best customer.
"Yeah. Training's a tiresome job, old man!"
Sasuke grunted, not beothering to say anything as he tore into his ramen.
"I don't see Haku with you, Naruto. Something happened?" Teuchi looked at the blond.
"Nah. Haku's at the Tower. Old Man asked her for something, dunno what."
"Ah." The cook nodded with understanding. He was already filled in on the situation by Naruto. Amazingly, this time it was something he had to actually pry from the blond. But then, seeing odd looks Umino Iruka threw the well mannered, beautiful girl that followed Naruto around, Teuchi just couldn't let it go. Not when Iruka looked as wary as he did. "So, I guess you didn't have lunch today either, eh?"
Naruto's growling stomach was only answer and the cook chuckled as Ayame smiled, serving the bowls to the trio who tore into them with abandon.
For one looking from the side, it might look like Team 7 was a bunch of ramen-obsessed fanatics. In fact, it had one zealot, and two mere devotees. Ramen was quick. Ramen was cheap. Ichiraku ramen stand was the closest place Team 7 could grab a bite to eat, all day long and a nice bit of the night.
The fact that Team 7 had nothing against ramen in general, and that there were plenty of varieties overall meant that three genin were regulars by now. A hearty eating group of regulars. For that, Teuchi could overlook some of the more... colorful episodes.
"Oi, bastard. Don't waste good ramen this time, eh?"
Sasuke grunted, throwing the blond a baleful stare but saying nothing.
Honestly, he fell asleep on that bowl one time and Naruto just wouldn't let it go. The dead last gave him a fucking half hour, impassioned lecture on the sin of wasting ramen, for kami's sake!
'Goddamn ramen zealot...'
Though he had to admit, by the second bowl, the world looked mellow, his body felt sluggish and warm from the hot meal as he cooled down from training. He didn't know if it was ramen, training or both, but it was the first time he had a week sleeping like a log. No nightmares, no waking up in a middle of the night with that goddamn Mangekyo...
If that's what it took, he'd eat Ramen every day. Hell, he could afford it.
"Oi, bastard. Ramen's getting cold." The blond scowled.
Sasuke grunted, getting back to eating. Trust Naruto to be observant when it came to ramen.
Though he was right - it was getting cold.
Banishing anything else for his mind, Uchiha Sasuke concentrated to laying waste to the bowl of ramen.
"I must say, Zabuza trained you well." Sarutobi muttered thoughtfully, leafing through the papers slowly. "You have certain holes in your skill set, but it is to be expected. Your skills would probably manage to earn you tokubetsu jounin rating... well, barely." The old man sighed. "But considering your... predicament, this is impossible, as you well know."
Haku, eyes and face calm if politely expressionless, nodded from her chair.
"As such, within reach of probationary status, you will be given rank of chuunin, dependant on your future behavior, a possibility of advancement in rank might be possible.
"Thank you, Hokage-sama."
"Don't thank me yet, young lady." Sarutobi waved his hand. "That is merely a half of the matter. "
The girl blinked.
"Excuse me?" She asked with puzzlement.
"Haku-san, you were an accomplice of a nukenin that a major village wanted dead and buried by any means necessary. You are not a nukenin, lacking any real station as far as Kiri military is concerned, but you are, technically, an outlaw considering your bloodlimit status." The old man said calmly. "Adding to the fact you were Momochi Zabuza's student and accomplice, Mist would not simply tolerate your presence."
Haku paled slightly as the old shinobi made his point clear.
"They will hunt me..." She whispered, eyes widening in alarm "Naruto-sama, he will-!"
"Don't worry." Sarutobi raised his hand placatingly, trying to avoid the brief satisfaction as he heard the girl's words. He wasn't exactly comfortable using her like that but... He owed too much to Naruto to let an untested danger near the boy. "This matter had been taking care of."
"I don't think I understand." She admitted.
"You are aware, of course, that Konoha covets blood limits?"
"It adds to Konohagakure's military power considerably. Zabuza-sama told me that." She murmured.
"Yes. Though not exactly." Sarutobi admitted. "Konoha had been founded partially with blood limit clans already in place, as such there are certain privileges, deals and customs for the them, tightly interwoven with the existence of this village." He leaned back with a sigh. "Which brings us to a little snag in your situation."
"A 'snag'?" Haku said with puzzlement.
Hokage chuckled mirthlessly.
"Young lady, you are a scion of an extinct clan with a powerful blood limit. A scion who is now a Konoha citizen. A member of this village, however recent." Hokage looked at the young woman seriously.
"I just follow Naruto-sama... I was not even born here. How does that concern me?"
"Oh plenty, let me assure you." The old man sighed tiredly. "Part of the... deal made upon Konoha's founding was privileges for the clans - partial autonomy in regards to clan politics, protected status of family techniques... Many things. In return, however, the Clans are bound to Konoha, bound to see it prosper, to support it in any way they can. However they can, adding their strength to Konoha's strength, be it military, political... or any other." He looked at the teenaged beauty pointedly and Haku blinked.
"But... I am just... I have not-"
"You are, technically, a refugee, Haku-san." Sarutobi leaned forward, steepling his hands in front of his mouth. "A refugee with a... questionable past, but a refugee with a bloodlimit, who became a part of Konoha willingly. Moreover, a refugee who is willing and able to add her strength to Konoha." He smiled pleasantly. "You might say that your kind of situation fits the customs of Konoha quite well in certain respects."
"The Clan laws..." The young woman breathed.
"Yes. Indeed. You might say that in some ways, you fall under the 'umbrella' of those." Sarutobi nodded. "Not completely, of course, but more than enough. Which is both a boon... and a problem." The old man looked at the kunoichi. "You said you... follow young Naruto, correct?"
"I am Naruto-sama's weapon, Hokage-sama." The young woman stated simply, without hesitation or doubt. "I will follow him to the day I die."
"So you say." The aged shinobi nodded slowly. "However... that is far more complicated than you... or my young genin realize." He looked at her for a long moment. "Did he tell you of his burden?"
Haku cocked her eyebrow quizzically and Sarutobi frowned.
"He didn't, then." The old man murmured. "You must remember this is an S-class secret, one that should NOT be talked about in this village."
Haku frowned thoughtfully. Her new master was like an open book... Well a very... odd book, to say the least, but still, he wasn't a person she'd picture having any major secrets. What could the old shinobi mean by that?"
"Are you aware of Kyuubi attack on Konoha?"
The kunoichi nodded.
"Yes, Yondaime Hokage defeated the beast thirteen years... ago..." She trailed of, a sudden sinking feeling welling in her chest.
"Yes. Indeed, he did." Sarutobi said wearily. "And in doing that, he left a burden to be carried... a heavy burden on the shoulders of a young boy."
"Oh." Haku said finally.
Hokage barked a mirthless chuckle.
"Oh indeed." He rubbed his temple. "Naruto, I am sad to say, instead of being treated as a hero he is and that Yondaime wished him to be, is a pariah. I am sure you noticed that by now."
"Yes." Haku's eyes darkend as her hand clenched. "I have been puzzled by it but now it makes... sense." Her posture stiffened, eyes becoming detached and cold. 'Treating Naruto-sama this way for... for that...?! It is... vile.' She thought, feeling a rapid, acidic spike of anger welling within her. 'But then.. I can understand him... now. No wonder he... he knew.' The anger simmered still, but Haku felt an odd feeling of warmth in her chest. 'He... Naruto-sama he... knows...' She thought numbly.
"Anyway, considering the... manner you came to this village, and your status, the situation is complicated." The old man leaned back. "You pledged yourself to Naruto. Not merely an oath but such a pledge..." He shook his head with exasperation. "However, this might work to our advantage here."
Haku looked at Sarutobi quizzically and the old ninja looked back ,a glint in his eyes.
"Haku-san... I have a proposition for you, if you were inclined to listen. "The old man smirked. "A proposition that just might benefit both you and Naruto."
"WHAT?! You can't do this!"
"Kid, this is my building, I sure as hell can." The gray haired, stout woman snorted.
"But I had it paid for-"
"No, actually you didn't. You've been lagging with rent for three months, brat. That payment? It paid for the last two."
"So I will pay, geez!" Naruto scowled. It wasn't like him to lag with rent but he had to buy new equipment, and the new explosive tags weren't cheap. Nor were new kunai, shuriken and even holsters. Kakashi took one look at his meager 'arsenal' and told him to buy new one at once. Naruto didn't exactly, know why - sure, they were a little... well, okay, a lot beat up but the jounin told him to replace everything. And he had still that extra pair of gloves Kakashi demanded him to buy. He remembered what he paid for his last pair - he got paid a lot for last mission but with Haku there, the costs were twice what he was used to. And now this?"
"Hey, hey... lady, that's way more than the normal price!" The blond protested. "It wasn't that freaking high before!"
"Because before you didn't have some floozy living with you." The landlady scowled, pointing at Haku who was standing by, her cold eyes on the civilian. "The deal is for one person. If there are two, it gets double, you little idiot."
"But this is THREE TIMES higher!" Naruto snapped at the woman. "Three times! And then some!"
"Yeah. 'Cause that's the penalty for breaking the contract." The woman shrugged. "Should have read the deal right, kid."
"But I can't pay that much! Clothes, food... Damn it, I still need to buy a lot of things!"
"Not my problem." The woman shrugged again.
"I said, not my problem." She snapped. "Pay, or you're out by Friday."
The air cooled and the woman stiffened as a faint killing intent hit her.
"This is despicable." Haku's eyes were bright and cold. "Your behavior is inexcusable you-"
"K...K-eep away you whore...!" The landlady stammered, taking a shaky step back. "Keep away or I'll swear I.. I'll call the ANBU, I will!"
"Call them." The kunoichi said coolly, her hands clenching. "Please, do. I-" She halted as Naruto's warm hand clasped hers. She looked to the side, only to see Naruto shake his head.
"Naruto-sama..." The kunoichi looked at him
"No. Just... no." The genin said softly.
"...As you wish." The young woman let her killer intent recede as she forced her body to relax, before throwing one last look at the shaking owner of the building who took her cue and all but ran away, the door closing swiftly behind her.
"Naruto-sama... Why?" Haku asked softly. "It is obvious what she is doing and yet you-"
"It won't... change anything." The blond said with resignation. "If you did anything... she would have gone and started making trouble and..."
"But if you told the Hokage-!"
"It wouldn't change the damn thing." Naruto said bitterly.
"But he could have-"
"He won't." Naruto closed his eyes, sitting on the nearest chair heavily. "He won't. Because she'll tell I threatened her, all will agree and I'll have ANBU taking us both away."
"You... Speak as if you-"
"It happened. Twice." The genin let out a short, mirthless chuckle. "I pranked a guy once, he kind of slipped. Next thing I know, I have Keimu Butai booking me in a cell. The guy told them I tried to kill him. Then he told them I threatened him."
"But... this is ridiculous. Your Hokage should have-" Haku halted, her eyes widening in understanding.
Hokage couldn't. Because he couldn't show any favoritism, even if charges were ridiculous. Laws could be bent only so much.
"Did he... help you, then?"
"After I got out, sure. Some guy got demoted and stuff." The blond's smile was bittersweet. "And you know what? That guy, the one who got demoted? He came up to me, and said it was 'worth it'. I didn't understand then but..."
"After you... knew about the Kyuubi..."
"Yeah." Naruto winced. "Sorry I didn't tell you but... It kinda slipped my mind."
And damn, but he was happy she didn't treat him differently after that.
'I owe you one, old man.'
"Naruto-sama..." Haku bowed. " It is my fault. I am sorr-"
"Hey, hey!" Two surprisingly strong hands grabbed her. "Don't be, eh? She was lookin' for an excuse for years. It had to happen sooner or later." He grinned. "We'll just look for something else. Maybe even bigger. It is a little small for two, don't ya think?"
The kunoichi gave him a faltering smile at the false cheer.
"Yes, Naruto-sama. We will."
"Good. But don't concentrate on one pattern." Kakashi let the Fang pass him by as he turned, lightly tugging at the wire.
Sakura's eyes widened and she let go of the weapon, jumping up.
The jounin didn't waste any time, snagging his hand to punch the girl, only to backpedal as the chakra blade almost nicked him.
His eyes widened as, almost as if by magic, it snapped back to Sakura's hand.
Sakura grinned, lunging and Kakashi chuckled as he noticed a faint glimmer of a wire around her wrist.
"Following Naruto's example, Sakura?" He said lightly, blocking with his own blade.
"It is... useful!" Sakura stabbed, rapidly letting go of the blade and letting the lunge sail her through as she kicked some dirt.
"My, such dirty-" Kakashi's eyes widened as he heard the tel-tale hiss of an explosive note.
A quick Kawarimi later, the explosion shredded the log.
"You are getting better, Sakura." The jounin praised her cheerfully. "Nicely executed. It just might have worked." His eye made the familiar upturned smile.
The pink haired girl panted, sweat and dirt marring her face, the short long discarded, leaving the tight tank top and the cut up, loose training pants.
"And who..." She panted. "Said it didn't?" Her smirk widened.
'What is she-'
It was just a minute spike, barely enough for any normal nin. Though Kakashi as far from normal.
As such the angry Katon charred only some grass and a Kawarimi log.
The copycat came out of Kawarimi, looking at the blaze with surprise.
'That was from behind, but I was fighting her. Was it Kage Bunshin...? But she-'
Kakashi strafed as five thin gouges appeared on the tree he was standing by. Air was suddenly filled with smell of ozone as Raiton crackled to life.
He didn't need to look to know Naruto was letting his wires loose again. Almost without thinking, Kakashi sent several kunai at the blond's estimate position, kicking his speed up a notch, just in time to avoid a Housenka from above.
'How in the-' He suddenly realized that the feedback from clones was absent. 'But-' His chakra blade moved on pure instinct, blocking the Fang, so dimmed it barely glowed.
"Dammit!" Sakura scowled. "And I dimmed it too!"
"Age and experience always win." He said lightly, pressing the sword down. "I have both mass and strength, Sakura. Attacking from such angle is..." he blinked as Sakura rapidly... slid away?"...unwise?"
He spared a second, only to see Naruto running back as Sakura twisted nimbly using the Fang, of all things, as leverage.
The blond snapped his hands rapidly back, Sakura back on her legs. But Naruto didn't stop, breaking into a run again, this time right back at him... and Sakura jumped up.
Kakashi's eyes widened as he realized he suddenly had a very fast, rapidly approaching pink projectile with a chakra blade blazing inbound on him.
'Are they crazy?!' He thought with panic. 'She will-!' He hastily pointed his blade down, moving to jump away only for the ground to explode. Kakashi strafed back, barely avoiding several Kage Bunshin jumping up from a rather messy Shinju Zanshu and charging at the jounin.
Kakashi's hands sent out a volley of kunai almost without thought as he looked back to the rapidly... descending...?
The Copycat blinked, looking up.
'But she should be on my by now. Why is she...?
The smoke of the destroyed Kage Bunshin enveloped the battlefield and Kakashi's eyes widened as she saw the girl smirk.
"Gothcha...!" The kunoichi breathed, her palms opening, the lit explosive notes falling down like rain.
The copycat blinked owlishly as a sudden Katon hit the notes, cutting off any chance to escape.
"Oh." He said eloquently as the blaze consumed him.
"Got you!" Sakura crowed, grinning like a loon as she pushed the sweat-matted bangs from her face.
Naruto whistled appreciatively, eying the smoking field. Sure, those were low-yield tags, but several of them and that huge-ass Katon Sasuke used...
"Boom!" He chuckled. "Man, that was AWESOME!"
"Heh." Sasuke smirked.
Team 7 blinked, looking to the left.
"Really nice." A slim, violet haired woman in a nondescript, if fairly tight fatigues, so generic it might have come from anywhere in Konoha frowned, kneeling by the ground, peering at the damage. "For a genin team, very well done."
'She... was watching?' He thought with surprise. 'I didn't even feel her presence!'
"I'm sorry but... Who are you?" Sakura asked the woman unsurely.
"Uzuki Yuugao." The woman dusted off her hands, standing up. "Jounin. I know your teacher." She nodded with approval. "I can see he didn't waste time. Little too elaborate and clumsy, but otherwise, very nicely done. Way above genin usual dreg. You'd be sure to take out any chuunin, or even an unaware jounin with a bit of luck. Commendable."
"I'd say." Kakashi nodded sagely. "I don't think that poor Kage Bunshin will threaten anyone ever again."
Naruto groaned, palming his face and Sasuke scowled.
"...Dammit, sensei..." Sakura sighed. "You've got more lives than a cat."
"Well, considering my cute students feel like killing me, their hard working, under appreciated teacher..." Kakashi smiled cheerfully. "But I must commend you for the plan. It was very good." He frowned. "Though those explosive notes were a bit much."
"It was just low-yield." Sasuke snorted. "More flash than anything."
"Those are still dangerous, you know." Kakashi pointed out.
"Eh, at most you'd lose some hair." Naruto said cheerfully. "No big deal."
Kakashi cocked an eyebrow.
"What?" The blond said innocently.
"Well, aren't you the brimming exuberance." The jounin said dryly, before blinking. "Hmm. Here is the thought. I think I'll let you loose on Gai next time. He'd be... delighted at an example of youthful exuberance such as you three."
"Nothing, nothing." The Copycat waved his hand, before turning to Sakura. "I wondered why you were fighting so intensely... Distracting me from the feedback so Naruto could help Sasuke with the clones, I'd guess."
Naruto chuckled sheepishly, while Sasuke looked away, huffing.
"Still, I am interested what brought that on." The copycat looked at the trio.
"Well... I just..." Sakura muttered, avoiding Kakashi's eyes. "You always say we are a team and... well..."
"'Team of three genin can take out a jounin'" Sasuke said bluntly. " Isn't that what you said during the bell test? We wanted to test that. What is the point of just honing our individual combat abilities?"
"Yeah!" Naruto scowled. "We ARE a team, right?"
Kakashi looked at the three genin for a long moment.
"Yes." He said softly. "Yes, you are a team." He patted Sakura's head. You did good. all of you. I am proud." He smiled at them. "Take a break, okay?"
The trio looked at each other, Sakura and Naruto grinning, laughing and cheering as they walked away. Sasuke tried to smirk but failed, a wide grin on his face. Even when Naruto punched his arm the glare was half hearted at best, not diminishing the grin on the Uchiha's face.
"You have good students, sempai." Yuugao said softly, observing the three genin as they walked to what had become their 'rest spot' during the weeks spent on the training ground. "Their teamwork is strong, they are a good team."
"Of course they are." Kakashi said simply, looking on, his tone oddly wistful yet proud at the same time. "They are Team Seven, after all."
"Sakura, Sasuke, Naruto - meet Uzuki Yuugao, my former subordinate, mid-range jutsu expert and one of the best sword specialists in the village."
The woman nodded.
"Sakura, Yuugao-san is also one of the best chakra weapon experts Konoha has. As a specialist and regular chakra blade user, she will be able to show you how to utilise the Fang better."
"So you won't-"
"Oh no, I will train you more." Kakashi smiled. "It is just, I am not really an expert on chakra weapons - Yuugao here is. She can teach you things I'd never be able to."
"Oh." The younger kunoichi looked at the older woman. "I hope I won't be a burden then, Yuugao-san. Thank you for taking me."
"I had some free time." Yuugao smiled almost unnoticeably. "Besides, after I teach you, you might actually cut down that giant ego down a bit for a change."
"Women." Kakashi sighed, before reaching into his pack and withdrawing two medium-sized scrolls, giving one to Naruto and Sasuke.
"Hokage-sama gave me a brief, high level mission." Kakashi explained. "I will be away for a few days. In that time, I expect you to learn all that is in those scrolls. There are a few interesting jutsu here, as well as some other things. Not much but it should be more than enough. Yuugao-san here agreed to supervise that part of your training."
"I will be already teaching the girl." The violet haired woman shrugged. "I can make time to give you a pointer or two."
"Other than that, I expect you to keep up daily routine, save for the combat exercises." The copycat smiled. "Think of it as a break."
"...Some break." Sasuke muttered, peering into the scroll. It was filled to the brim with various small exercises, pointers, a handful of jutsu and some theory. Not much, as Kakashi said, but not something he'd call a 'break' either. Though if he could ask that Yuugao woman to show him-"
"And Sasuke...? No sharingan." Kakashi wagged his finer. "Believe me, I have many ways to check, so don't even think about it."
The Uchiha heir glared at his teacher. He knew what Kakashi meant - the last time Sasuke tried to pull something like that, the jounin simply asked him to disassemble the technique to the barest components. Which, considering he copied it whole, he simply couldn't do. The resulting 'sparring' session wasn't pretty. Sasuke still felt the bruises. And less said about the humiliation in front of his teammates the better.
"Glad we have an understanding, Sasuke." The copycat said cheerfully, before turning to the blond. "Naruto, I want you to use that time to finish resupplying your arsenal. And remember - secondary pair of gloves, as well as some spare wires to mount on them. There is no telling when a weapon like that can get damaged." He warned.
Naruto winced, nodding.
That would cost him, but Kakashi was right. Considering what kind of abuse he put the wires through...
"Also... It wouldn't be bad if you learned how to repair them yourself." Kakashi said thoughtfully. "On a long term mission, you often must rely on yourself and your supplies." He frowned, before grabbing a piece of paper and writing a few lines, before giving it to Naruto. "Go to this shop. The woman there is one of the best blacksmiths I have ever met and she should cut you a fair deal. Tell her I sent you and she'll even teach you how to care for those gloves of yours for a small fee. Just no slacking or she'll throw you out on your face, Naruto."
"Don't worry, Kakashi-sensei. I'll make sure he doesn't blunder too badly." Sakura gave Naruto a stern look that left the blond smiling sheepishly. "And Haku-san will be there as well." she smiled at the dark haired kunoichi who tentatively smiled back. "So don't worry. Between us two, I'm sure he will be at his best behavior, if he knows what's good for him, Won't you, Naruto-kun?" She asked sweetly, and the blond blanched at the honeyed menace. He knew that tone, oh he knew it very well. When Sakura talked like that, one of her infamous punches followed. Girl or not, Sakura could hit like no one else when she was mad enough.
"Whipped." Sasuke muttered with a smirk.
"Sasuke-kun, you will help too, won't you?" Sakura's smile was even sweeter than before, but Sasuke was no fool.
The Uchiha scion grunted, looking away.
"Heh heh. Who's whipped now, bastard?" Naruto said lowly.
"Shut up, idiot." Sasuke responded in the same tone.
Sakura was a polite, almost sickeningly sweet girl. 'Girly girl' as Naruto put it and Sasuke - not that he'd ever admit it - had to agree. However, dealing with a tired, annoyed Sakura was a whole another matter. Over their training, Sasuke made a startling discovery - Sakura and Naruto were amazingly similar. Only Naruto wasn't vindictive. Sakura, as he had found, was.
He still had no idea how she managed to dye all of his shorts and shirts save the ones he fell asleep in (and was wearing currently - adding daily washing of those to his half-asleep chores, to his chargrin) pink, but he knew for a fact it wasn't Naruto. The idiot would dye them orange, after all. No, it was Sakura, he was sure of it. Especially since she didn't waste any time squealing how cute he looked. Right in the middle of a village.
It wasn't HIS fault he was half asleep and just threw whatever he had laying around on himself walking out for training, goddamit!
Kakashi didn't let him change out of those blasted things either, and it wasn't like he had time to go and buy something else. The shops were closed when he woke up, and they were long closed when he dragged himself back home. Or were dragged, but less thinking about the better. He needed to thank Naruto for that - it was at his insistence that he did it, instead of leaving Sasuke to Sakura's... tender mercies.
The first time it happened, the girl started to blush and giggle madly, uncomfortably alike to the giggle they now knew by heart - the 'Icha Icha' giggle. Sasuke really, REALLY didn't want to think about it. The girl was becoming a valued teammate and far cry from the useless hanger on she was before, he would be the first to admit that, but there were some things he'd not dare to contemplate.
'I really need to do something for the dobe for that.' Sasuke shuddered.
Of course, simply thanking Naruto for it didn't even pass through his mind.
"Well now, it seems that the teamwork idea came at a very good time." Kakashi said. "Yuugao-san...?"
The woman nodded, pulling out a scroll and unsealing it, leaving three pairs of metal bracers.
"Naruto, could you come here please?" Kakashi knelt by the bracers, drawing a quick seal around all six. "Channel as much chakra as you possible can into those."
The blond scratched his head, but put his palms on the seal concentrating.
For a few moments nothing happened, but then, the seal sparked, before flashing once.
"That's enough." Kakashi picked up two and gave them to Naruto. "Put them on. The rest of you, come here and put them on as well."
Sakura and Sasuke looked at each other, puzzled before following the example of their teammate.
"Good." Kakashi nodded. "Now the bracers you put on are simple, yet ingenious devises called chakra manacles, they are usually used by ANBU to restrain dangerous prisoners. They are set to deliver quite painful shock if they detect any focused channeling of chakra. Or were, anyway. Those are... modified a little." The copycat smiled cheerfully. "Now they are set to react to each other, and the distance between each pair. Simply put, if you walk too far away..." The trio yelped. "This happens." Kakashi smiled.
"...What the HELL?!" Naruto growled. "What's that supposed to be?!"
"An exercise in coordination, strategy, tactics and - most importantly - teamwork."
"Kakashi-sensei... this is not funny!" Sakura grabbed her bracer, trying to get it off, only to yelp as she was stung again.
"Oh. So that's why you wanted them to be altered." She said curiously, before looking at Kakashi. "Isn't that a bit of an overkill, sempai?"
"Hmm..." Kakashi rubbed his chin thoughtfully, before smiling. "Considering my cute students pulled such a splendid performance of teamwork and tactics... Not in the least!"
"So.. what, we have to keep together now? All the time?" Sasuke growled. "This is insane!"
"Not all the time. Just while training." Kakashi said cheerfully.
"What training?" The Uchiha snorted. "We can't train like that!" He pointed at Sakura and Naruto, who were careful not to walk too far away for each other and Sasuke.
"Sure you can." Kakashi's eye 'smiled'. "I'd say you can even fight." He paused, tapping his chin. "Well, for your sake, you better be."
Sakura blanched, a sinking feeling welling in her chest.
"Team 7... As of now we are expanding..." Kakashi drew a kunai. "to close quarters team combat."
Naruto and Sasuke blinked owlishly.
"This guy... is insane." The blond muttered, wide eyed.
Sasuke just nodded numbly, before they both hit the ground as kunai sailed over their heads.
"Less talking, more training." Kakashi advised them, twirling another kunai. "Also, you should know that-"
The trio yelped as another shock went through them.
"-the shock gets stronger the more distance is between you."
Sakura winced at the twin glares from her teammates and she moved closer to them.
"Sorry." She said sheepishly.
"Okay, this is... something else." Muttered Yuugao, staring at the trio, before looking at Kakashi. "Aren't they a little bit tired after that latest stunt?"
"Of course they are." Kakashi shrugged. "But ninja don't always fight in optimal conditions."
"Ah." The ANBU nodded thoughtfully. "Point." She cocked her head. "Kakashi... were they fighting against only you during the spars?"
The copycat blinked, before looking at Yuugao.
"Good thinking." He said, before looking at the cursing genin. "Small change of plans. To prepare you for a variety of opponents and fighting styles, Yuugao-san will now take over. This is a valuable experience for you - she is one of the top Konoha sword users and ANBU officer. Have fun, kids." He said cheerfully, sitting on a nearby stone and pulling out an Icha Icha volume.
"You will now learn to acclimate to a variety of opponents of higher level, rookies." Yuugao's voice was smooth and even, but the glint in her eye was just plain disturbing. "Lesson number one. Taijutsu."
Yuugao smirked, cracking her knuckles as the trio blanched.