Lessons of Experience
Chapter 12: Nose to the Grindstone
Disclaimer: Naruto is not mine. That's why Sasuke, post-Time Skip, is still an unrepentant jackass.
All the training and preparation had finally paid off, thought Uchiha Sasuke, as he withdrew his sword from his older brother's back with deliberate slowness.
The youngest Uchiha did this in as roughly a manner as possible to slide his blade harshly on Itachi's ribs. The scrape of steel against bone was music to Sasuke's ears as if Itachi were a violin and his sword a bow.
For Sasuke, Itachi's suffering was a musical note he wanted to prolong indefinitely. It colored the air and made the world seem rosy. He wanted to bask in it if he could.
As with all things, it could not last forever.
With his sword finally free and with a single motion, he decapitated Itachi, letting the traitor's head fell to the ground with his body slumping soon after.
Sasuke sank to his knees in exhaustion, breathing heavily. He had avenged his clan, and pitted his Mangekyo Sharingan against his brother's ultimately emerging victorious.
A foreign feeling of elation welled inside Sasuke.
Now he could rebuild his clan, and make the Uchiha, once again, into a force to be reckoned with.
The sound of mocking laughter disturbed Sasuke's rare moment of peace.
Despite being separated from the majority of his body, Itachi's red eyes snapped open.
"Did you think it would be that easy, little brother?"
Sasuke awoke on a training ground tasting dirt and blood.
Sitting up, he tenderly probed his mouth with his tongue, finding some teeth barely set in bloodied gums.
If he was this badly thrashed, what happened to the other guy?
Oh yeah… He was in pristine condition.
He found his sparring partner, the one who had mashed him into bean paste, and his teacher running through some taijutsu exercises.
Sasuke sighed, much like the last gasp of air from a deflating balloon.
How did he ever get into this mess?
-One Week Ago-
Due to a lifetime of pursuing the art of sword mastery despite his poor health, Gekkou Hayate had been forced to learn patience and watchfulness.
As a result, he was a jounin who was very rarely ever caught off guard, but when Hatake Kakashi dropped from his ceiling in dark blue skirmish armor just as he was enjoying a cup of morning coffee, he squealed like a little girl.
Hayate immediately tried to play it off by coughing immediately afterwards.
If the silver-haired jounin was amused, he made no mention of it.
"What the hell, Kakashi? Are we under attack?" questioned Hayate looking side to side, trying to keep his voice level to avoid straining himself.
Kakashi shook his head.
"I wanted to ask for your help. I need a few pointers with this."
The armored jounin then withdrew the weapon sheathed at his back, not bothering to activate it.
Hayate was a kenjutsu expert and all-around sword geek. He had long since worn out his first copy of "Famous Swords of the Shinobi World" as a child. Even if he had never seen it up close before, there was no mistaking the reforged White Chakra Sabre that had once belonged to Hatake Sakumo the White Fang.
"Sweet, shivering fuck,"
Hayate's eyes grew wide.
"Is that what I think it is?"
Kakashi nodded, handing the weapon to Hayate.
The swordsman ignored the urge to cradle the weapon to his chest like a mother reunited with her long lost child. With the blade in his hands, he was starting to salivate. A dark part of himself wanted him to take the sword and run away cackling. After taking a few deep breaths, he swallowed his spit and instead questioned this odd turn of events.
"Um…why do need help with this anyway? Did you finally challenge Gai to a deathmatch or what?"
Hayate pointed to Kakashi's outfit
"That would explain the body armor."
The masked man shook his head.
"It's worse than that…"
The sickly man snapped his fingers in realization.
"I've got it! One of those swordsmen of the mist is ransoming your porn, right?"
Kakashi groaned and resisted the urge to slap Hayate.
"Words fail to describe just how entirely off the mark you are."
Hayate shrugged in response.
Kakashi mumbled something under his breath, and his facemask made it damn near impossible for Hayate to read his lips.
"I'm sorry, but I didn't catch that," apologized the swordmaster
"I've got a genin team," stated Kakashi quietly.
Peripherally, Hayate had been given vague impressions of Kakashi's past over the years. They were not particularly close, and the silver-haired man was notoriously close-mouthed when it came to his past. Even in Konohagakure where everyone and their grandmother had a tragic past, Hatake Kakashi's past was still an ugly clusterfuck of lost parents and teammates.
Because of this, no one begrudged Hatake Kakashi his little orange books or his maddeningly difficult genin tests. Veteran shinobi were notorious for having various quirks to keep themselves sane.
"So is this what this overkill is for? How did they manage to pass?"
Kakashi choked off the beginning of a sigh, knowing that this was something that would be hard to live down.
"It was my fight to lose. In my arrogance, I was blindsided by the most devious prankster to ever graduate from the academy and a bunch of explosive tags."
The word "prankster" seemed to resonate with Hayate.
"Wait… the Uzumaki kid? I didn't know he had it in him."
Hayate let out a low whistle.
His only personal experience with the blonde boy stemmed from a number of chases involving the Uzumaki child needing to be apprehended after a prank. The word chase, for the sickly shinobi, was a relative term. Because of his frail constitution, Hayate disliked long-distance sprinting. He could strut with the best of them, but he didn't run from danger. His talent was in being able to cut any obstacles in half. Needless to say, his short pursuits of the Uzumaki prankster were not entirely successful.
Hayate's train of thought was derailed as the silver-haired nin continued.
"Apparently, he got himself apprenticed to an old-timer, an elite who goes by the name 'The Executioner,' "
Kakashi mentioned this in an off-hand manner, almost too relaxed to be natural.
The sickly jounin's complexion seemed to get even paler. He didn't recognize the codename, but the words "elite" and "old-timer" did not get bandied around Konoha lightly, and especially not by someone of Kakashi's caliber.
"Haruno Sakura. Uzumaki Naruto. Uchiha Sasuke. My genin have more potential than I know what to do with right now, and I need to knock the rust off if I want to do my job right."
Gekko Hayate nodded at Kakashi's assessment and handed the chakra blade to its proper owner.
"Okay then. Let's see what you've got."
Haruno Sakura was beginning to hate Kakashi-sensei.
Maybe more so than Ino-pig, and probably coming a close second to her childhood bully Ami.
She had been lulled into a false sense of security when Team 7 reconvened. Kakashi-sensei actually apologized for underestimating them and promised them his best behavior.
Sasuke almost snorted in disbelief, Naruto's fingers twitched towards his sheathed knives, and Sakura breathed a sigh of relief.
Maybe that suicide capsule talk was a fluke, Sakura had hoped. He looked professional and alert, very much like a textbook example of a proper shinobi.
The lightly armored man offered them all a rematch, along with a masked grin. No bells this time, just sparring.
Sasuke was the first to take him up on his offer, wanting to test his limits.
Kakashi released a wave of killing intent that seemed to weigh down the air.
He intercepted the Uchiha's charge, and simultaneously pulled out a kunai. The masked man blurred, staking Sasuke's arms to a tree with his one blade through both of the genin's wrists.
It was all too fast for her to make out, and she cried out helpless. Trying to move through the jounin's killing intent was like trying to move through quicksand. The psychic pressure was making it hard for her to breathe.
The jounin stopped with a fresh kunai at Sasuke's throat. The helpless genin was pinned like a butterfly in an entomologist's display.
"Watch and learn…" said the jounin pleasantly.
In contrast to the swiftness of his previous action, Kakashi drew his knife with exquisite slowness.
Sasuke wanted to clutch his desperate hands to his opened throat, but could not.
Sakura was bawling, feeling useless and afraid.
The air shifted again and Sakura could now move.
Where was Sasuke? She had to help him!
The Uchiha was buried up to his neck in dirt, with Kakashi-sensei crouched beside him, his outfit free from bloodstains,
Naruto was beside her, looking quite pale, stealing glances at her through the corner of his eyes with relief.
What had he seen?
The blond had ruthlessly shoved one of his knives though the palm of his left hand to dispel the jounin's genjutsu.
While Naruto was recovering from whatever visions of hell he had witnessed, Haruno Sakura was still hyperventilating, her heart racing.
She collapsed to her knees.
This was just the start of their team training.
The pink-haired girl had idly hoped before that her future jounin-sensei would be able to make her into a respectable shinobi.
This was not how she envisioned things.
In the upcoming days, Kakashi had zeroed in on her shortcomings, specifically her lack of physical stamina.
He started to wake her up for leisurely morning jogs. Apparently for Kakashi-sensei, "leisurely morning jog" meant using a sharp jab between he shoulder blades with a pointed stick as an incentive to not be lazy.
Worse yet, the masked jounin had creatively used a number of "incentives" to inspire Sakura such as being chased by nin-dogs, an unsharpened stick covered in droppings from aforementioned nin-dogs that he used to threaten her lustrous hair, and even cattle prod crackling with electricity.
"Yeowch!! You motherfucker!"
While these morning jogs were helping tremendously with her stamina, they did nothing to treat Sakura's developing case of potty mouth.
Kakashi smirked at her growing bloodlust. Sometimes, his genin were so adorable.
"Sakura, if you've got energy to complain, you have enough energy to jog faster."
During their infrequent breaks, Sakura would look over the various pamphlets, manuals, and tomes her sensei would lend her. She was in the midst of Psychological Warfare and You by Morino Ibiki, and still had P is for Poisoning the Fuck Out of Your Enemies untouched.
Kakashi encouraged her to train her mind whenever she was not training her body.
One morning post-jog, Haruno Sakura had the misfortune to run into Yamanaka Ino who was, as usual, looking fabulous.
Sakura heard a grinding sound. When she realized it was her teeth, she stopped.
Ino greeted her with her usual lack of tact.
"Hi Forehead. You look like shit."
The blonde girl's nose twitched in distaste.
"You kind of smell like it, too…"
For Sakura, the grinding sound returned accompanied by the clenching of the pink-haired girls fists.
Ino looked immaculate because her fucking jounin-sensei didn't prod her along on a death march with a stick covered in dog poop.
Sakura did something neither girl expected.
She simply followed Ino's old advice of "putting her forehead to good use" by sending it on a trajectory coinciding with the blonde's jaw. Yes, Sakura floored Ino with a head butt in a manner that would have made the most hardened professional soccer player wince. She then followed it up a kick to a downed Ino's head that, if televised, would have prompted an announcer to scream "Gooooooooaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllll!!!" at the top of his lungs.
Haruno Sakura took a deep breath to calm herself.
Maybe her training was paying off after all.
Damn it! Was it so difficult to blow yourself up with chakra?
Uzumaki Naruto cursed his slow progress with the Sandaime's forbidden technique as he stiffly made his way to team training, smelling and feeling like he had fallen into a deep fryer.
Sasuke gave him a curious glance that Naruto pre-empted by stating, "Don't ask. Honestly, you'd rather not know."
The Uchiha frowned, either as a semi-concerned teammate or petulant child. At this point in time, Naruto didn't particularly which one it was.
Naruto's training session with the Sandaime had started off well with the Hokage showing him the basics of the actual suicide technique. He needed to learn how to fatally direct all his chakra to his heart, isolating and condensing it there, until everything burst before he could have a reinforced clone do it.
The problem was isolating and maintaining chakra in a specific area. The heart was the center of the chakra circulatory system so, if you pushed chakra in, chakra would naturally flow out into other areas of the body.
It was much easier to die of chakra exhaustion or cause cardiac arrest instead because you burnt out tenketsu in your chest.
It sounded simple. Overload the death gate-thing, then boom.
It kinda sucked to learn, because, if he did it for real, he would die and if he messed up he'd get the same result sans explosion.
He contented himself by closing his eyes and getting a feel for the chakra flowing through his chest, occasionally giving himself heartburn as if he ate one too many bowls at Ichiraku's.
He tentatively explored using greater amounts of chakra.
When a child popped of nowhere to interrupt the Sandaime's instructions with a thrown blunted kunai, Naruto's delicate control flew out the window, especially since the inexpertly thrown kunai smacked the blond in the face. The pain caused his chakra to surge before releasing, leaving him slightly scorched with a few burnt out tenketsu.
"Son of a-"
The Hokage sighed, feeling his age.
"Konohamaru, I told you to—"
The 3rd Hokage's forthcoming lecture was interrupted by Naruto, who dashed over to the younger boy and captured him in a headlock. The genin then applied a fierce noogie, rubbing his knuckles back and forth over the top of the brown-haired boy's head.
The Hokage sighed, watching the antics of those who would one day inherit the stewardship of Konohagakure.
Good lord, was that smoke from friction coming from his grandson's head?
That really wasn't one of his proudest moments, reflected Uzumaki Naruto.
-2 Days Ago-
Uchiha Sasuke had made up his mind. He would calmly, even humbly, ask for instruction from Naruto's teacher.
He had days to think about it, and this was what he wanted.
Now if he could only locate Naruto. The whiskered boy had proven to be surprisingly adept at shaking off pursuers, and Sasuke's search was growing tiresome.
After some time, he had finally found the pair at some food stall, calmly enjoying their meals. Naruto eyed him warily, and the old man did so suspiciously.
Sasuke damn near prostrated himself, and made his request.
The old man regarded him for a second, and laughed hard.
It was deep belly laughter than ran roughshod over the remains of his Uchiha pride, and dragged it facedown through a field of rusty barbed wire.
The old man stated, "No, no, and never."
Sasuke felt the faintly glowing embers of his old anger rekindling.
"You wanna know why, boy?"
The Uchiha nodded, not trusting himself to speak clearly.
"That anger in your heart leaves very little room for Konoha. If you want power you can get it somewhere else, but not from me. There are plenty of others around if you keep your eyes open."
Not wanting to admit it but knowing the old man to be right, Sasuke walked away.
The last Uchiha in the village walked along various training grounds to clear his head.
That's where he found them, much like he did Naruto and his teacher.
They were inhuman blurs, striking fiercely and passionately. It was unlike anything he had ever seen.
Master and student paused to regard him in their strange garb.
"Yosh! Uchiha-san, would you like to train?"
Sasuke shrugged. It was not as if he had anything better to do.
Sasuke dropped to the ground gracelessly in a desperate effort to avoid another Konoha Whirlwind from Rock Lee.
He failed to dodge the vicious follow-up roundhouse to his face.
The Uchiha groaned as he bounced and slid along the ground.
What the hell? Was he ever going to win?
Maito Gai's voice rang out as loud and clear as a temple bell.
"Sasuke, do not get discouraged! If you can pull yourself up time after time, you'll never be truly defeated."
It felt like a trite saying, but their enthusiasm was infectious.
The Uchiha fought against cracking a grin, but, despite his goofy ass haircut, maybe Gai-sensei was right.
Maybe all he needed was a lot of hard work.
End Chapter 12