There were two jounin left after every other team had been assigned their sensei, and only one team left. Team Seven. No one wanted to take Team Seven. Some might have thought that was because the team had Naruto Uzumaki, the container of the Kyuubi, on it. Some might have thought that the team was unwanted because of Sakura Haruno, a near-useless fangirl who had only claimed the 'top kunnoichi' position through getting the best scores on the paper tests and doing passably well at the Academy-level gen- and ninjutsu. A rare few might have even thought it was because of Sasuke Uchiha, who had become quite the little emo-with-an-ego since his clan had all been slaughtered.
In truth, it wasn't because of any one of these students. It was because it was all three of them thrown together, and it was also a little bit because of who the last two jounin were.
One of these jounin was the infamous Kakashi Hatake, student of the fourth, son of the White Fang, a prodigy in his childhood and famously known as 'the copycat' as an adult for his ability to copy any jutsu he saw, as it was being performed. There was a very large bounty on his head in the Bingo Book.
The other jounin was not so famous. In fact, most of the other jounin in the room had never even heard of him. To get to jounin and be unheard of though... that was something that made people sit up and take notice when they found out about it. It meant that this shinobi had been doing his job so damn well that he was practically a ghost.
In all honesty, the Hokage didn't really want to give either of them a team of genin. They were both too valuable to essentially chain to the village until the team was ready for C-ranks. Still, he had to pick one of them. Team Seven needed a sensei, and Konoha needed more skilled shinobi in its ranks.
Hiruzen Sarutobi, the Sandaime Hokage, sighed as he made his decision.
"Kakashi Hatake, due to your record of having failed the previous five genin teams who were assigned to you, you will not be given a sixth," he said.
"Thank you, Hokage-sama," Hatake answered solemnly, and bowed deeply.
The other jounin sighed quietly. "I guess that means I've got a genin team, provided they pass," he said, his voice low and soft. It wouldn't be the first time he'd had genin, but it had been many years since the last team he'd led. Those genin were all jounin now.
The Hokage nodded silently.
"Team Seven, you are to follow me," the jounin said, expression grim as he collected them from the classroom at the Academy where all the new genin were waiting. Really all. He was the first jounin-sensei to arrive.
In fact, he was there early. He'd had to wait by the door until the chuunin Academy sensei had read out who was to be on Team Seven.
"Go on," the chuunin urged the trio when they all blinked in shock. "Team Eight will be -" he continued as the three rose from their seats and moved to the door where the jounin was waiting for them.
He lead them out to the training grounds attached to the Academy and eyed them when he finally stopped in front of the taijutsu training area and settled against the fence there.
"Alright," he said as he surveyed the trio he'd been landed with. "This is what is going to happen. In one month, if you haven't proven to me that you have what it takes to be a Konoha ninja, then you will all be sent back to the Academy for the next cycle."
"What?!" the girl yelped, indignant. "But we passed the Academy tests! We're genin now!"
The jounin raised an eyebrow at her. "Be grateful," he said flatly. "I'm giving you a month. Some jounin don't even give their genin twenty-four hours to prove themselves. You almost had one such jounin for your sensei. He's sent five teams back to the Academy already."
The genin all had appropriately horrified expressions on their faces at this bit of information.
The jounin nodded. "Alright. I want you each to name yourselves, and then I will ask each of you a question that I want you to answer honestly."
The jounin nodded, accepting that and making sure he could attach each name to the faces properly for later reference. "Uchiha-chan, who is your hero and why?" he asked.
The Uchiha boy looked shocked at the question, and his jaw fell open slightly before working silently. "I don't have a hero," he finally answered, a dark expression falling over his face.
"Work on that," the jounin instructed. "Our heroes are those we want to be like, so I want you to do some research when we break up, and I want you to find a hero, one outside of your family for preference, and tomorrow I want you to tell me why they're your hero."
The Uchiha nodded slowly, accepting the order for all that he didn't totally comprehend why he had been given it.
The jounin turned to the girl. "Haruno-chan, why did first you decide that you wanted to be a ninja?" he asked the girl.
Sakura had been all ready to answer "Sasuke-kun is my hero!" because she'd expected the jounin to ask them all the same question. That wouldn't answer the question she had been asked though, so she had to think back, remember the reasoning of her much younger self, because she had first decided that she wanted to be a ninja before she'd fallen in love with Sasuke.
"I saw my parents sparring in the backyard," Sakura said, her voice soft with recollection. "Mama was so strong, and threw Papa into the ground. I wanted to be strong like Mama."
The jounin nodded in approval. Maybe, just maybe, reminding the girl of why she'd wanted to be a ninja in the first place would motivate her to do better than she had been. Finally, he turned to the Uzumaki. "How the hell did you do that paint job on the Hokage Monument and then evade a team of six jounin for three hours in that bright orange monstrosity, without any chakra techniques to aid you?" he asked with a gesture to Naruto's outfit.
Naruto smirked a little proudly, rather than grinning brightly. "By learning how the hard way," he answered, a small measure of pride in his voice. "And actually, orange blends in a lot better in and around Konoha than you might think."
The jounin chuckled in appreciation of the answer, and nodded in a small show of respect for the boy. "Alright, I guess it's my turn then. I am Cloud Strife. You will call me Strife-sensei, Sensei or Taicho, for as long as you are under my care and command. Make no mistake, I am your commander as well as your sensei, and I expect my orders to be followed or you will face the consequences. I have five heroes. One was a mistress of seals and died of old age, one was a passionate woman who died protecting her husband and son," he said, and gave a glance to Naruto when he said 'son'. "One was a priestess who died for her beliefs, and two were skilled warriors. One was a good friend and my sensei, and he died saving my life. The other inspired me to want to be like him, he was the whole reason I got into this profession, but then he was driven to insanity through unspeakable torture, and I had to kill him."
"You killed your own hero Strife-sensei?" Sakura asked, eyes wide. "The man who inspired you to become a shinobi?"
Sasuke and Naruto's expressions mirrored hers.
Cloud nodded. "I did," he answered solemnly. "It was the right thing to do, however much it hurt me to do it. Now," he said, and uncrossed his arms and legs, standing up straight where before he had been leaning on the fence. "I don't give a damn what the Academy reports say about you. Each of you need to prove to me that you're capable, and you can start right now. You will each face me in a one-on-one match. There are two rules to these matches. Rule one: you will not use chakra. Not to enhance your body in any way, not for jutsu of any kind, and I will know if you do. Rule two: when I say the match is over, then it is over," he explained. "Is that clear?" he demanded dangerously.
"Hai, Strife-sensei!" the three answered sharply.
Cloud nodded. "Good. Uchiha-chan, you're up first."
Five seconds in, and Cloud called the fight to a halt.
"I said that you were not to use chakra," he reminded the Uchiha sternly as he held him upside-down by his ankle. "You disobeyed a direct order from your superior by using chakra to enhance your speed. You will do five hundred squats as punishment," he instructed, and created a single clone. "My clone will count, and make sure you are doing them properly. Go," he ordered, and pointed the boy to the other end of the fenced-in area. "Haruno-chan, you're next."
Again, the fight didn't last beyond five seconds. Or rather, it took Cloud five seconds to defeat the girl before he withdrew and ordered her to her feet to try again. This was repeated several times before he scowled at the girl and ordered her to start doing push-ups under the supervision of another clone.
"Alright Uzumaki-chan," Cloud said. "Let's see how you do."
Naruto lasted longer. He was well-practised at getting away from higher-ranked shinobi, though a bit more used to having to deal with groups than an individual. He also used everything he could. He had ninja wire in his pouch, he tried to use it to tie Strife up where he stood. It didn't work for long, but it was a good effort. He attacked with kunai and shuriken, none of which hit their marks as the target was a moving one and capable of catching the projectiles.
"Not bad," Strife declared when he'd finally pinned Naruto to the ground, a slightly pleased smirk on his face.
Naruto's eyes went wide at the short but sincere praise from his new sensei. "Thank you, Strife-sensei," he answered softly.
Cloud nodded and let the boy up. "Sit-ups, five hundred," he instructed with a smirk.
Naruto took a moment to flop where he was still lying on the ground, but then arranged himself to begin the assigned task, and started counting.
"Not like that," Strife-sensei said after the first one. "I want you to do them like this," he said, and sat down beside Naruto, then demonstrated. He had his hands locked at the base of his skull behind his neck, and when he sat up, he twisted so that the elbow of his left arm touched his right knee, then twisted back the other way so that his right elbow touched his left knee, then he returned to the rest position and repeated twice more before he stood and gestured for Naruto to begin again.
It was a long first day for the genin of Team Seven, because as soon as they finished doing one of the tasks Cloud assigned them, they were instructed to begin the task that had been assigned to one of the others. They weren't let go for the day until all three of them had done five hundred each of squats, push-ups and sit-ups – and Sasuke had had another attempt to fight Strife-sensei, this time without using his chakra at all.
"Not bad," had been Strife-sensei's verdict when he pinned the Uchiha to the ground a minute after the fight had begun.
The Uchiha had managed to come up with a hero. He'd chosen Danzo Shimura, a shinobi who was both a historical figure and a present power in Konoha – someone who had done a lot of impressive things and still lived. Cloud had made no comment on the boy's choice, had only nodded in silent acceptance and decided to judiciously keep his own opinions on Danzo to himself.
For the first week after that, Cloud did nothing but train the genin into the ground. That wasn't hard with the Haruno, whereas it took a lot of work to get the Uzumaki into the same state. He had them doing squats, push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups. He had them swimming in lakes and rivers around the village, as well as running laps around the inside of the village wall. The entire wall. And he had them doing chakra control exercises.
Sakura surprised everybody by getting every chakra control exercise straight away. Cloud had her doing them over and over again though, right along-side the boys who were slower with it, so that she would build up her chakra reserves. Naruto was doing them over and over again (even when he could do it) to make his control as instinctive as Sakura's was good. Sasuke was made to continue doing it because, frankly, Cloud refused to give the brat special treatment and let him do something else when he'd benefit just as much from exactly the same lessons as the other two.
There were no fancy ninjutsu imparted to the genin, no genjutsu either. In fact, apart from the lessons on how to walk on pretty much anything, Cloud's lessons didn't involve chakra at all, and use of chakra outside of the exercises was actually punished.
The second week, Cloud added weapon sessions to their training regimen. Kunai, shuriken and senbon, all ninja standards, and all treated as pretty much exclusively throwing weapons. With the exception of the kunai, that's what they were, and the kunai was far from the best melee weapon there was. Of course, they didn't just learn how to properly throw all of these weapons. Under Cloud's instruction, they also learned how to dodge them, as well as how to catch them safely so that they could return fire upon the enemy with their own weapon.
For melee combat, which got added in the third week, Cloud gave them knives.
Two out of three of the kids weren't exactly impressed.
"It's a razor," Sasuke said frankly as he held the item in his palm, the blade folded into the handle.
"A man's razor," Sakura added, holding hers between a forefinger and thumb like it was diseased – or perhaps had the hairs of someone's shaving with it hidden inside with the blade.
Naruto, on the other hand, had been basking in the attention and training he had been getting from their sensei, and now a gift? He was over the moon and couldn't wait to learn how Strife-sensei would teach him how to use such an every-day item as a weapon.
"Are you questioning your sensei's decision?" Cloud asked the two, an eyebrow raised slightly.
"No Strife-sensei!" the two answered quickly. They had quickly learned the consequences of questioning him (as opposed to asking him questions, Cloud was more than happy to answer questions), and neither of them wanted to be sent on a ten-lap run around the village wall with a clone of their sensei easily jogging behind them, refusing to let them stop.
"Glad to hear it. Yes, it's a razor. It has one blade and it's very much a close range weapon. The shorter your blade in melee combat, the faster you have to be with it. But you won't even be using these for the first few days. Before that, you've got to learn how to properly escape being struck by such a weapon yourselves," Cloud said, and produced his own six-inch cut-throat razor. "All of you will put those in your weapons pouch and leave them there until I say otherwise. Uchiha-chan, you're first."
It was always the Uchiha first. Cloud's reason for this was that it got the stuck-up little emo done first, like ripping off a band-aid, and then he could send the kid to work on whatever the punishment of the day was while he moved on to the other two. And the kid always did something to incur the daily punishment, though he was getting less stuck-up and emo, and it was getting to be more unintentional mistakes he got 'punished' for now. Cloud also had the Uchiha go first to give the other two a chance to watch what the kid did right or wrong. The girl was slowly learning that her precious Sasuke-kun wasn't perfect, and the Uzumaki always watched intently and did his best to learn from observation – or he had, once he'd asked why he always went last and Cloud had explained it to him.
"No chakra, Strife-sensei?" Sasuke asked with resignation.
"No chakra is right," Cloud answered with a nod. And then the training in weapon-avoidance began.
The previous week spent dodging flying projectiles had done a little for this, but not enough, and the boy was very soon covered in red lines. Cloud wasn't quite trying to kill the boy, but he'd certainly have a new collection of scars from this training.
"Enough," Cloud said when he laid the blade against Sasuke's throat, the boy freezing up at the light pressure. He shook his head and stepped back. "When there's a blade at your throat, you don't go still. You get away from it. Five hundred jumping-jacks, and then you may treat your injuries," he assigned, and created a clone to count and make sure the activity was done correctly. "Haruno-chan," he called over.
"Hai, Strife-sensei," she answered hesitantly, but still obeyed.
She wasn't as fast as Sasuke, but that didn't matter. Cloud kept her dodging his blade for just as long as he'd kept the Uchiha, and it ended the same way – with her freezing at the feel of cold steel on her neck.
"Five hundred somersaults," Cloud assigned after repeating that you move when there's a blade at your neck, you don'tfreeze, and had summoned another clone to watch the girl. "Uzumaki-chan."
"Hai Strife-sensei!" the blonde answered happily, and stepped up.
Again, Cloud determinedly kept Naruto dodging his strikes for as long as he'd kept the other two, and then he brought his blade up to Naruto's neck.
Naruto rolled away from it, spinning even. The action exposed his back, which Cloud took advantage of by slicing clean through the back of the jumpsuit from shoulder to hip, but he was the first to have not frozen at the feel of a sharp edge against his jugular.
"Good," Cloud praised another five minutes on, a smirk on his face as he lowered his blade. "You still need work, but that's to be expected this early. Five hundred cartwheels."
The fourth, and final, week of the probationary month, Cloud had them working on stealth and escapology. Again, without the use of chakra to aid them. He had them trying to catch him some days, while avoiding capture themselves, since he wasn't going to just sit there passively, and some days it was purely a hunt on his part.
On the very last day, he took them to the Mission Office.
"Iruka-sensei?" Sakura asked, surprised to see the person sitting at the mission desk. "What are you doing here?"
"I don't just teach at the Academy, Sakura-chan," Iruka answered, a definitely resigned smile on his face. "Your first mission?" he asked as he reached for a pile of scrolls.
"Yeah," Naruto answered with a grin. "Make it a cool one Iruka-sensei? Please?"
Iruka chuckled and picked a scroll off the top of the pile. He unrolled it, scanned it, rolled it up again and handed it over to Strife.
Cloud didn't unroll the scroll, but simply nodded in silent thanks as he accepted it and then, just as silently, urged his trio of genin out of the building again.
"That was rude, Strife-sensei," Sakura scolded. "You didn't even say 'thank you' to Iruka-sensei for giving you the mission!"
"The chuunin in the mission office are used to it from me," Cloud answered flatly, "as well as pretty much every professional shinobi in the village. Missions are given and received silently. You take what you're given and don't raise a fuss about it because they are your orders."
"Sumimasen, Strife-sensei," the girl said, looking down at her feet.
Cloud nodded in acceptance and unrolled the scroll. "Our mission is to track down, subdue and capture a threat within the village," he informed them as his blue eyes skimmed over the scroll contents.
"A threat to the village?" Sakura asked, eyes wide. "But... it's our first mission!"
Sasuke smirked and his dark eyes gleamed in anticipation.
"What sort of threat, Strife-sensei?" Naruto asked.
"A cat," Cloud answered.
"A cat?" Sasuke repeated with a sneer, the excited gleam leaving his eye faster than the kid could blink.
"A particularly unpleasant beast that belongs to the Daimyo's wife. It is called Tora, and despite the lack of stripes anywhere but its face, it lives up to its name. Because it is a cat, it is naturally as sneaky as some of the best ninja in the world," Cloud explained to the children. "This is a D-rank mission, and D-rank missions are for the purpose of teaching genin how to succeed at higher ranked missions within the relatively safe environment of Konoha. Some day you might have another mission where you have to track down, subdue and capture a target, and then you will need all the skills you gained while learning to track down this cat, likely more."
"So, do they make the grade?" the Hokage asked softly.
"They do now, Hokage-sama," Cloud answered. "They probably wouldn't have on day one, but they worked well and worked together on their mission today."
"And how is your own training coming along?" The old man enquired. "I know you spent a lot of time adjusting when you first came to Konoha."
Cloud chuckled. "And you also know that was a long time ago," he replied with a wry smile. "I think I've finally mastered medical techniques at last."
"Your materia are better than any medical jutsu," Sarutobi pointed out. "Why bother learning at all?"
"For the purpose of teaching the techniques to my genin," Cloud explained. "I'm the only person in the Elemental Nations who can use materia. What good would it do my students to see me do something they'll never be able to do?" he pointed out. "I'll give them enough difficult goals as it is. They don't need impossible ones as well."
Hiruzen nodded. "True," he allowed. "What about your Fuuinjutsu though? That is what you were focusing on when I last spoke to you like this."
"Then we don't talk often enough," Cloud said with a chuckle. " You see how I'm not wearing the old harness for my swords any more? I've still got it, but I mostly keep them in seals these days. I'm not a genius like Minato was, but I've had the benefit of Uzumaki teachers and a long time to practice. Gaki," he said, and tapped the silver wolf-head that shone on his single, black, shoulder-guard. Or it would have shone, if it weren't covered in seals and dulling agent so that no one would notice something shining where it shouldn't.
The aged Hokage chuckled. "Yes, that you have Sempai. You still haven't told me how old you really are, even after all this time."
"And I'm not going to," Cloud answered, then gave a derisive chuckle. "I barely remember how old I am myself. When I haven't aged since the day I wound up in this world, why should I bother?"
The old man nodded. "Orochimaru's search for immortality is fulfilled in you, and he has never known it," he commented. "For which I'm just as glad."
Cloud snorted derisively. "I'd have died of old age long ago, if I'd had my way," he said. "If I'd had my way, I'd have died in the cataclysm that instead brought me here. Don't get me wrong Gaki, I like it here, and I'm not suicidal, but I'd just as soon have been reunited with my loved ones."
Hiruzen sighed, and dragged their conversation back to Team Seven. "How bad was the Uchiha?"
"Bad," Cloud answered shortly. "He's getting better, slowly, but it's still revenge that motivates him more than anything else."
"Her parents sent me a gift basket when she returned home after the first day, cut her hair off, and asked her mother to spar with her," Cloud answered with a pleased smirk. "She's still very much a girly-girl, but she's slowly turning into a kunnoichi."
"A true pleasure to teach," Cloud answered. "Give him a little bit of positive attention and he stops yelling for it and starts doing his best to actually earn more."