As Naruto had feared, by the time team 7 got to the Hokage's office the only D-rank mission available had been to capture Tora, and it was no coincidence that the mission had been passed over by all the other genin teams. Most jonin sensei from previous years, whose teams were still genin anyway, had put their teams through that mission many times and so, felt they had done their due. Meanwhile, Kurenai and Asuma had both decided to let that mission wait awhile, as they both felt that it was too early in their young charges ninja carriers to face the monster known as Tora. Gai had almost taken it for his team, saying it was the most challenging and that his 'youthful' team was more than up for another round with Tora, but Tenten had quickly hit him over the head and accepted another mission on behalf of her team. Not even Lee objected.
So, arriving last, team7 had no other options to choose from and the hunt for Tora had begun.
Several hours later, a dirty, tired, and heavily scratched up team 7 returned with a still struggling Tora in Sakura's arms. They'd each carried the little monster for a bit, even Kakashi as he'd felt bad his team had had to face Tora so soon. To make it up to his team he treated them to a late lunch and, while Naruto would have preferred ramen, all agreed that the sushi bar he'd taken them to made excellent food.
After the meal the three young genin thought they'd be dismissed and were each planning to continue training on their own, but Kakashi surprised them.
"I noticed that each of you had been training yourselves before I arrived this morning and I'm curious what you were doing."
Naruto blinked a bit, wondering where the interest in his students had come from, since when has Kakashi shown an interest in his student like this Kyuu-chan?
I don't know Kit, but maybe you've already changed something and it has affected your lazy teacher, Kyuubi responded, sounding just as shocked as Naruto had.
Meanwhile, Sasuke said that he'd been working on his chakra control and Sakura said how she'd been working to up her chakra reserves, and now all three were staring at Naruto as he hadn't spoken yet. Kakashi cleared his throat to get the blondes attention.
Naruto snapped out of his private musings with Kyuubi and rubbed the back of his head and said, "Sorry about that. Anyway, I've been trying to work on my taijutsu from a scroll on the basics that Sakura got me from the library, and also on my chakra control."
Kakashi was quite pleased hearing their answers as the reports he'd read had basically said those were their biggest weaknesses and they were already working on fixing them. He was especially pleased with Naruto's answer as those same reports had numerous accounts of how he refused to acknowledge those same faults. And, smiling his unique eye smile at them, Kakashi said, "Well I'd like to see how far you've progressed, and where I need to help you, so lets' get back to the training ground where I can properly test you."
A short walk later he said, "Ladies first," and handed her a single leaf. "Now, I want you to balance this above your dominant hand with chakra and hold it firmly in place as high as you can for as long as you can." Once she'd nodded and proceeded as instructed he turned to Sasuke and said, "I need you to stand on the bottom side of the tree branch above us while balancing a leaf above your head, and try to keep it absolutely still."
He turned to Naruto and asked, "Have you figured out water walking yet?" Naruto nodded and Kakashi said, "Good, then I want you to do that for me. Also, if you can, balance a leaf over your head like I told Sasuke to do."
They all did as they were told and Sasuke was surprised as Naruto stood upon the water, but instead of getting angry or jealous, he determined to get Sakura to tell them how to do that later. He still couldn't ask the 'dobe' for advice, but he saw himself getting better from the tree climbing exercise and determined that anything Naruto could teach him would get him one step closer to killing Itachi. The thought that Naruto might know things he didn't was bothering him a little, but then he recalled how Naruto had always been called the #1 surprise ninja. Also, he thought about some of the pranks Naruto had pulled over the years and how afterword he routinely led chunin, jonin, and even ANBU over hours long chases through the village.
Sakura was similarly impressed that Naruto seemed to know something else that neither Sasuke or she knew, but she just smiled slightly, and focused on her task.
A few minutes later Sakura was panting, but still holding the leaf in place and Kakashi said, "That's enough," and when his students gathered back around him he smiled at them. "Well, it's clear how much each of you have improved already, and that's quite surprising since you only just became genin."
As the three smiled at the praise…well, Sasuke scowled, but it was as close to a real smile as he'd had for some time so it counted, Kakashi was thinking whether or not they were ready, and, making up his mind, held out three squares of paper to them. Of the three, only Naruto knew what it was, but he quickly concealed that knowledge so as not to draw attention to himself.
Sakura asked, "What are these for sensei?" as she took one.
Giving his classic smile, Kakashi responded, "Those are special pieces of paper called chakra paper, and they're used to determine your elemental affinity, that is, the type of elemental jutsu that will come most naturally to you. All you have to do is focus your chakra into it and it will react in different ways, I'll explain after you've done it so just go ahead," and he waved his hand lazily at them.
Each nodded and, to Naruto's surprise, his paper did more than simply cut the one time as he'd been expecting. It did that of course, but it then cut several more times until he had half a dozen equal sized strips of paper and he hesitantly asked, Kyuu-chan?
After a moments' thought Kyuubi responded, I guess you kept some of the wind chakra you built up in the future, and, because you weren't aware of it, it went a little out of control there. Hmm, so you didn't lose everything from before, Kyuubi mused.
Naruto accepted that and turned to see that Sasuke's paper had first crumpled and then the outer edges fell away in ash. He turned to Sakura to see…nothing had happened.
Sakura was confused and asked, "What does this mean Kakashi-sensei?"
He put his hand on her shoulder and smiled and said, "Don't worry about it Sakura, just try again, and if there still aren't any results it means you don't have any natural affinities. Then you have the choice of either developing one or simply working on learning non-elemental specialties like genjutsu or medical jutsu." He posed in a thinking mode for a moment, meaning hand on chin while looked up slightly, and said, "I could probably trade you lessons in genjutsu from Kurenai in exchange for ninjutsu lessons for one or more of her students, hmm."
Naruto, who was confused by something Kakashi had said, asked, "You can develop affinities? How?!"
The eagerness was clear in his voice and Kakashi wrote him a quick note to take to Hokage tower where an ANBU could easily be found, and it instructed any ANBU to give Naruto a scroll on developing nature affinities. He turned to Sasuke and asked, "Would you like to develop other affinities as well? It's not necessary for using techniques and it's a lot of work, but, if you manage, any jutsu you learn in that type will be a bit stronger and easier to master. Also, you already have some level of affinity for both lightning and fire, but that still leaves wind, water, and earth. Wind can be used to increase the efficiency with hand-to-hand and armed combat. Water and earth tend to favor defense."
Sasuke thought about it, but shook his head no. He figured that if he needed it later he'd get it then, and while he was willing to work harder now than he had in years that didn't mean he was eager to add even more to his workload.
During this time Sakura had pushed more and more chakra into the piece of paper, hoping for some result, but eventually Kakashi stopped her and said, "That's enough Sakura, but don't worry about it. For now just keep working on your chakra reserves and I'll get you some basics to start on genjutsu or medical jutsu if you want."
"But what about developing an affinity?"
He smiled sadly and said, "Right now you don't have enough chakra to really work on it, but don't worry, you can still learn ninjutsu, besides you're in good company as many famous ninja are born without an inborn nature affinity. Even Tsunade of the Sannin started her ninja carrier with that handicap, it's why she became the most famous medic-nin in history, because she didn't want to bother developing an affinity."
This cheered Sakura up immensely and she asked, "Could you get me started learning both fields Kakashi-sensei?"
He looked confused a moment and said, "I can, of course, but why would you want to study both fields. Going that route would mean you'll either have to work twice as hard, or you'll never be very good at either."
"I know, and I'm willing to work hard, but Naruto pointed out how it's never a good idea to specialize too much in any one field. Also, I figured that if Sasuke, Naruto, or even you ever got hurt on a mission it would be good to have someone with medical training, and other that that genjutsu provides good cover for close combat and ninjutsu specialists like both Sasuke and Naruto want to be."
"Well...that's very well thought out Sakura. Like I said before, I can probably get team 8's jonin sensei to help you with genjutsu, and she's easily the best in that field in the village, but for medical training, I'm afraid that all I can really get you are the basics. To go beyond that you'll have to ask around the hospital to find if any of the doctors can spare some time to teach you. Okay?"
She nodded and Kakashi finally turned to Naruto and said, "Now your response from the chakra paper was the most surprising, as it means you're more developed in wind chakra than a usual beginner would be. Usually the paper would only have cut once, but yours' cut multiple times, which indicates that you've passed the initial barrier to mastering your first element. Asuma should be able to give you hints, plus that scroll the note should get you, and some jutsu I can show you, all together you should have full mastery of the wind element."
Naruto was happy to hear it, and he already knew how to work on wind manipulation, but he'd have to be careful not to show too much progress too fast. "So, what should I do for now Kakashi-sensei?"
"Hmm," Kakashi thought a minute before saying, "Well, your chakra control is about as good as it gets with your reserves and the basic three control lessons. You won't notice any improvement from the leaf balancing alone and tree climbing alone isn't much better if you can water walk, but combining them or using multiple leaves should give some improvement. The next stage of the control lessons are usually considered jonin level and the first of those is kunai balancing. Unlike tree climbing and water walking, kunai balancing doesn't have a lot of practical use aside from upping your control."
"Wait a minute, Kakashi-sensei are you saying that I shouldn't bother with the basic three control exercises?"
"Not at all Naruto, just because you can't get MUCH help doesn't mean they won't help you at all, but, as you've obviously already discovered, combining leaf balancing and either of the other two exercises is of markedly greater help. Sasuke, from where you are, you should also be combining the exercises and both of you should add multiple leaves from as many locations on your body as you can. Once you can balance leaves from your head, hands, shoulders, elbows, chest (2 or 3), knees, and feet, all at the same time while tree climbing and then while water walking, then I'll get you started on kunai balancing."
That was how the first month went. Naruto quietly trained his chakra control until he was able to do as Kakashi required them to do, but didn't reveal his skill in order to avoid drawing any more attention than he already had. Thus, he spent more time working on his taijutsu, but Kakashi expected him to train his control up so he sent a few clones out of his apartment and to various locations. No more than one to any location so that, hopefully, no one would realize he knew the secret of Kage Bunshin.
He also got a little help on his taijutsu from Gai and Lee, and while they were helping him they also helped Sakura and a reluctant Sasuke, who had it painfully proven to him that he was far from the best. They also all got talked into wearing weights, though not even Naruto wanted to wear as much as Lee and Gai wear. All of this in exchange for Kakashi giving Tenten some help developing her twin affinities of earth and fire, though he had to convince her that it would be wise to avoid being so specialized. He did this by a mock duel with Naruto where he was only allowed to blow her weapons off course. They continued this until she ran out of weapons and, while everyone was impressed by the sheer volume and variety of weapons, it was clear that Naruto could have kept it up for hours. Tenten was suitably humbled and agreed to learn from Kakashi.
Kakashi also helped Neji strengthen his chakra control so he could fight longer, but he refused to learn any ninjutsu.
Also during this time Sakura got some basic first aid lessons and genjutsu lessons from Kurenai. It turned out that Kurenai was good at both, though she had heavily focused on genjutsu so she could only give Sakura a beginners course on first aid. Sakura also learned water walking and her reserves were slowly growing and she took a few lessons with Gai and Lee as well, but only a few as they freaked her out.
Sasuke learned from Lee and Gai and his chakra control was steadily improving, but it was nowhere near where Kakashi said he wanted it. He could do up to 5 leaves at various points and tree walk for a limited time, but he'd hit a wall and wasn't getting better. He could also water walk, but even trying to balance 2 leaves would cause him to lose his balance. Altogether he was still happy with his improvement, especially with Kakashi teaching him some low level lightning jutsu.
He had been upset that Kakashi would only teach him up to C-rank lightning jutsu, but Kakashi had explained that he needed to master the small stuff before he could move on to the big stuff. He was content…for now.
At the end of that first month everyone on team 7 was stronger than they had been, they'd done a few missions a week and spent the rest of the time training, and Naruto showed Kakashi he was ready for kunai balancing.
"Okay Naruto, you've convinced me. Now the kunai balancing is a three part process, first you need to work with a kunai like you would with a leaf. The idea is to be able to balance the kunai on the palm of your hand using chakra. Once you can get the RAZOR SHARP kunai to balance without pricking your hand you move on to the next stage. Here you embed kunai into a tree and try to focus your chakra to attach yourself at the point and pull your full weight from the ground. Then, once you can do that, you put the kunai in the ground and try to walk from one to the next, but you WILL give your word that you won't be attempting the third phase without me being there to observe. Make no mistake, ninja have ended their careers by attempting the third phase too soon," and he looked closely at Naruto.
Naruto nodded and said, "I promise," and so, he began this next stage of chakra control.
The day finally arrived, and when team 7 went to get a mission the Hokage was prepared to hand them another D-rank when Naruto said, "Oh come on Ojii-san! We've done enough D-rank, so give us a C-rank already!"
Iruka, who was assisting the Hokage that day said, "Naruto! Show respect for the Hokage!"
Sarutobi just chuckled and said, "I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to protest Naruto. Kakashi said your team was ready a week ago."
Naruto smirked, but the rest of team 7 just gaped and Sakura and Sasuke both had the same thought: you mean all we had to do is whine and we could have avoided that last capture Tora mission. Once that thought fully formed they glared at Kakashi.
Kakashi looked up from his book and said, "What? It's important that you think yourselves ready so you either speak up or do 50 D-rank."
As Sasuke and Sakura both realized that whining really did get them their first C-rank the Hokage just chuckled at the various expressions that crossed their faces. Eventually he pulled one of the C-rank from the stack of scrolls and said to Iruka, "Please call in Tazuna."
Nodding, Iruka said, "Hai Hokage-sama," and he left thinking that whining never helped him when he'd been a genin.
While Iruka was gone Sarutobi explained the mission and handed the scroll off to Kakashi who, in turn, handed it to Naruto who had somehow ended up the leader of the genin.
A few minutes later a large man came in drinking from a jug and smelling strongly of booze. He belched and looked around before saying, "What? Is this all I get for protection for all the money I paid Hokage-sama? A slip of a girl, two boys, and a one eyed man?"
There was chuckling, but it wasn't coming from the Hokage, instead it was coming from Naruto who was holding Tazuna's jug. No one had been paying too much attention, so only Sarutobi and Kakashi had seen him move…actually, Sasuke and Sakura saw him move as well, but they had been signaled beforehand by Naruto. So, really, it was just Iruka and Tazuna who were gaping at what Naruto had done.
Naruto sniffed at the jug but quickly pulled away, saying, "Wow! That's some low grade junk! Sasuke, could you dispose of this for me please?"
Sasuke smirked and, as Naruto threw the jug out the window, he formed a tiger seal and blew out a long, thin stream of fire that ignited the alcohol in a small explosion.
Naruto whistled and said, "And you've been drinking that swill?"
Tazuna just continued to gape, but eventually the Hokage explained that Kakashi was a jonin and those two 'boys' as Tazuna had called them were more than capable of dealing with a C-class mission. At this Tazuna squirmed a bit, but no one seemed to see it…except Naruto who had been looking for it.
Kakashi said, "Okay, we move out in 2 hours. Meet at the east gate and prepare for at least a month long mission."
"Hai sensei," they all said together before nodding to each other and heading off.
Kakashi just grabbed Tazuna and said, "Come on, there's time to get you a good drink to replace the one my students objected to." Nodding to the Hokage and Iruka he heads off with a somewhat dumbfounded Tazuna.
AN: And that gets a little more training in and then the next chapter will start the Wave arc.