Title: Iruka Sensei – Chapter 6
Author: Wicked Raygun
Summary: After a tragic accident, it is left up to Umino Iruka to become the Jounin-sensei of Team 7.
Disclaimer: Based on characters owned by… You get the idea. I don't own this. I'm certainly not making any money. And suing me is a waste of time. I'm glad we had this little chat.
Spoilers: Takes place at the very beginning of the Naruto series. I'm more familiar with the anime than the manga – yeah, yeah, I know. Blasphemy! I should also mention that I have little regard for continuity if it doesn't suit my purposes. So this will likely end up being AU for more than one reason. And I don't do thinly-veiled bash-fics, so if that's what you want you're going to be disappointed.
Distribution: Ask and you shall receive. I'm pretty easy-going with this type of stuff, so if you'd like to put up the story I'll almost certainly let you. My only caveat is that you ask first and credit me appropriately. So just email me and I'll get back to you as quickly as I can.
At least once a year, some hotshot Jounin thought that they could produce the next Legendary Three. This led to students sometimes being passed into the rank of Genin even when they didn't really deserve it. Thankfully, there were enough safeguards in place to nip this idiocy in the bud, so it rarely happened, and when it did, it was corrected quickly. But something that usually couldn't be curtailed as easily was rushed training.
The tree-climbing exercise was practically a rite of passage for leaf ninja. It was an exercise meant to hone chakra control, and build up reserves at the same time. It was a stepping stone to other techniques, in particular, water-walking and tree-hopping, a rapid form of travel developed by Konoha and eventually copied by all other nations – even those who had little chance to actually use it in their own homelands.
It was also an extremely dangerous thing to teach to brats with little self-restraint and something to prove.
The technique wasn't particularly demanding in and of itself. But students would often overpower the technique, wasting chakra, and then have to cushion their descent wasting even more. Now under the watchful eye of a sensei this wasn't too worrying. Any decent Chuunin could spot the tell-tale signs of chakra exhaustion long before it became a real issue and have the Genin take a break or call it a day altogether.
The real problems arose because – well, kids are morons. And tree-climbing was a technique that could be practiced anywhere in Konoha. They weren't the "village hidden in the leaves" for nothing. And, sooner or later, some ambitious little twit would try it out on their own and have less than spectacular results. The sad truth was more than a few Genin had died from broken necks, or simply running low on chakra with no one around to get them to a hospital.
But that wasn't their fault. That was their sensei's fault. You didn't teach a ninja a technique unless you knew they would use it responsibly. Not unless you were a maniac, or an overly ambitious idiot yourself.
Both students and their masters needed discipline and restraint.
Umino Iruka was not overly ambitious, nor was he a maniac. A bit unhinged, perhaps, but you didn't become a successful ninja without at least being a little crazy. Still, he wasn't about to teach a technique to students who weren't ready.
"Get out of my way, bastard!"
"Stop being clumsy, dead last."
"And don't insult Sasuke!"
And sweet, merciful Kami, were these brats unready.
"THAT IS ENOUGH!"
The chakra amplified sound of Iruka's voice left a pall of silence and discomfort in its wake. The three genin looked stricken when they saw their master's face.
"It amazes me that the three of you can't even get along well enough to paint a single fence," he said sternly. "You know what? Go home. You three have failed this mission, forfeiting any right to payment."
The genin immediately protested.
"Was I unclear?" he said, releasing some of his anger through his chakra into the air.
The three dejected looks the genin gave him as they walked away was almost enough to make him call them back – almost. Instead he picked up a paint roller and finished painting the fence, while mumbling under his breath about supposed "promotions."
Iruka returned to his apartment that day dejected. He was failing his squad. Their shortcomings were his, and he was feeling them deeply. They argued constantly, and not in a teasing, respectful way. No this was full-blown, teenaged angst and drama unfolding before his very eyes, and it was killing any sense of camaraderie.
Iruka sighed. As if things weren't stacked against them enough already?
It was bad enough that none of them had the support of a clan – well, technically, Sasuke did. But in Iruka's opinion a single person did not a clan make. But the bottom line was that without guidance from a clan, it meant that it fell to him to be their primary instructor in every aspect of their education.
Generally, genin who belonged to clans received additional instruction on clan techniques adjunct with their training under their Jounin-sensei. This meant that the Jounin sensei could focus instead on team-building and tactics.
Actual one-on-one instruction from a Jounin-sensei was actually kind of rare, but with his team, he essentially had to do it three times over. Iruka loved teaching, so it wasn't the work that he was going to have to put in that bothered him. It was that, no matter how hard he tried to mitigate it, his team had a big handicap built into their dynamic from the word go.
But that was manageable. Or, at least, it would be if they weren't at each others' throats constantly. Iruka remembered thinking that the three of them together would produce a feedback loop that fed on their hostility and negative actions – he really wished he had been wrong about that. If anything he had severely underestimated the intrinsic chaos.
It took some time, but eventually Iruka came to a decision. Sleep did not come easily after that.
Iruka had arrived at the training grounds significantly early. He wanted to spy on his Genin for a bit. This might seem a bit underhanded to a civilian, but he could care less about appearances at this point. He was a man on a mission.
Sakura arrived first, followed by Sasuke a few minutes later. Usually Sakura tried to strike up a conversation, but she seemed subdued, perhaps from being yelled at yesterday. Sasuke himself looked fidgety. He still managed to mostly look indifferent, but the signs were there to see.
Naruto arrived shortly thereafter, which alone was pretty telling. Naruto was never late, but he was never significantly early for anything either.
"Hey," he greeted them. The other two gave half-hearted greetings as well.
Iruka waited a few more minutes for – something. He wasn't sure what, but he was hoping that they would resolve their own conflicts somehow, maybe apologize, but nothing happened. And after a while, Iruka gave up the ghost and appeared.
He was greeted with winces and a half-hearted, "Good morning, Sensei," from the three of them. Part of him wanted to apologize for losing his temper, but he knew not too. He was their leader. It was his job to drop the hammer on them when they messed up, even if it made him squirm with guilt afterwards.
Everything was a lesson.
"Walk with me," he ordered them quietly. They followed in silence.
A short walk later they arrived at a nondescript, squat monument.
"This is the Memorial Stone," he said somberly. "It commemorates ninja who have given their lives in service of Konoha, our home. The names of our greatest ninja are here."
"My parents names are here." The three genin stiffened, suddenly realizing the importance of this site.
"We have graves, of course, shrines, statues, things of that nature. Civilians remember the dead there. But this place – this stone. This is a place for ninja. Here, we remember our comrades – our friends. This is a small stone in a quiet, secluded place, hidden among training fields. You won't find it on any map, or advertised in some pamphlet. Most civilians aren't aware of its existence at all. And the few that do, know not to talk about it. This is a private place where we can openly express our grief and remember the fallen.
"It is said that to give your life in service to your country is 'the final act of devotion'. It's a romantic idea, but largely inaccurate. Ninja don't die for our countries – we die for each other. That is the true, 'final act of devotion'."
Iruka spent a moment observing the somber expressions on his team.
"I can make you a team, but I can't make you into friends. You have to do that. The time will come very soon when you'll need to rely on each other to survive, when you'll need to put aside petty differences, work together and accomplish your missions. The day may come when one of you must sacrifice themselves for one another."
Iruka took a deep breath before continuing. "I hope it never happens, but one day one of your names may be on this stone. And if not yours, it will be someone you know, someone you care about – maybe even someone you love. Life is short. A ninja's shorter still. My father once told me that ninja are shooting stars blazing across the night sky. I didn't know it at that point, but he was trying to tell me not to live my life in regret because at any moment, it could be taken away – just like he was."
Iruka started to walk away, but he spoke over his shoulder.
"Take a few minutes and think about what I've said. I'll be at our training grounds. Meet me there when you're ready."
A long uncomfortable silence descended on Team 7. But eventually Naruto decided to approach the monument. He got down on his knees so he could peer at the names. Darkly, he wondered how many the Kyuubi had killed.
Soon he felt a shift off to his side. The flash of pink at the corner of his eye told him it was Sakura. Naruto kept reading the names. A few moments later and Sasuke was by his side as well. Together, they quietly contemplated the names on the stone.
Naruto started to think about his teammates and what they meant to him. Sakura might not like him much, and Sasuke was a bastard, but they were still his team. And the thought of looking down on this stone one day to see one of their names made him want to throw up.
His fist tightened, and his eyes narrowed. Determination burned in his belly like a wild bonfire. Sakura and Sasuke's names would never be on this stone as long as he lived.
That was a promise.
Iruka dodged a flurry of kunai. He couldn't see who had thrown it, but his intuition said it was probably Sasuke since he had the best aim. Another flurry followed soon after. But the lack of sound told him it was a Genjutsu. He dodged it anyway, just in case a hidden kunai was in the illusion. Sakura was already learning how to mix illusions with real attacks, something Naruto, the prankster extraordinaire, had suggested to her. But just as expected his dodge led him to another Naruto clone. His students were anticipating his movements, and setting up traps.
He took out the clone with a single swipe of his quarterstaff. He then spun the weapon in a wide arc around him. Sure enough he clipped something solid. The yelp from the blow told him it was the real Naruto. A frenzy of clones set upon him, intent on either a solid blow or just a distraction so their master could get away.
Iruka's quarterstaff moved at blinding speeds, striking, defending and misdirecting. Five shadow clones. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Too many, far too many at once. The chakra smoke being released from the popping clones might as well have been a smoke bomb.
Naruto was improvising again.
Iruka produced four simple clones and used them as a distraction, taking off in different directions. Eventually, he had his clones regroup with him. They weren't solid, but they still allowed him a small element of surprise. He began to defend only, and directed his clones to do the same, giving the impression that he was being overwhelmed, but he made a point not to attack any of the shadow clones, that rushed him from all sides. But despite that, they got in each other's way and popped themselves at a rate that was almost as fast as if had been attacking them.
Finally, he noticed two clones who weren't yelling madly like the others. One, then two. He struck them both with light taps on the upper arms. The transformations released revealing Sakura and Sasuke among the tumult, rubbing their arms. Iruka then executed a substitution. And a throng of Narutos crashed into a log, leaving only one cradling his fist and screaming obscenities.
Iruka smiled at the three students on the ground, and called for a halt. He then began going over the spar with his students, discussing their strategies, what they did well, and what needed improving. And all the while he was positively beaming at them.
His student has accomplished a ridiculous amount of growth in a very short amount of time, and he could not be happier. To think that merely a week ago, he had scolded them for a lack of teamwork, sending them home with a failed mission. And now he was struggling to keep up with them during spars.
He had concluded his analysis and allowed the genin to have their own input about the spar – which was less for technical evaluation then it was an excuse for Naruto and Sasuke to one-up each other in what was developing into a friendly rivalry. As opposed to a week ago when they had been at each other's throats, instead of being biting or scathing, it was genuinely light-hearted and amusing. Even Sakura was struggling not to smile at their antics.
Eventually he calmed the boys down and started to assess his team. Sakura had looked a bit winded just after the spar, but was breathing easily now. Her stamina had improved quite a bit since the academy. As per usual Naruto and Sasuke could have taken on armies single-handedly they were full of so much energy. He didn't see any of the typical signs of chakra exhaustion either.
He came to a decision.
"We still have some time, so I'm going to show you all something special."
Naruto shot up to his feet like a rocket.
"Ooh, ooh! Are you going to show us a new technique, Iruka-sensei?! Huh?!"
Sakura rolled her eyes and gave Naruto a look that was somewhere between annoyance and amusement. Still she looked excited as well. Sasuke, on the other hand, was trying to project a stoic expression that failed in light of the hungry look in his eyes that mirrored Naruto's.
"Technique," Iruka said, scoffing. "What I'm going to teach you is way better than any technique. I'm going to show you how to climb trees."
Almost immediately the excitement faded from Naruto's eyes. He sat down again and crossed his arms, a grumpy expression on his face.
"Oh, man. I thought you were going to teach us something cool, Sensei. I mean, anyone can climb trees."
Iruka laughed openly.
"Actually, Naruto, you're wrong. Not just anyone can climb trees."
He then proceeded to walk towards a tree. When he reached it, he simply walked up it as if gravity suddenly forgot itself. He hadn't even bothered to remove his hands from his pocket, or change his amused posture one bit. When he had gone up about twenty feet, he turned around and faced his students from up high. The three stared back at him with jaws open in amazement.
"First, you have to be ready," he said with a smug grin.
End of Chapter 6