Here's a new story. I haven't really seen this premise done much before, so tell me what you guys think.

Chapter 1

As Team 7 walked on their way back to Konoha – Kakashi had decided to forgo tree hopping so that he could have time to think – Kakashi's head was buried in his little orange book like usual. Unusual however was the fact that Kakashi wasn't focused on his book at all. He was looking back on his team's first C-rank mission. And he was disappointed. Disappointed in himself.

They weren't ready for this mission, and in hindsight, they were all lucky that they survived. Even I got a little lucky. Zabuza was listed as an A-rank ninja in the Bingo Book. Back when Kakashi was an ANBU captain, he had been listed as an S-rank himself. He shouldn't have had any trouble taking out an A-rank. The rate at which an A-rank is better than a B-rank is better than a C-rank and so on is linear. Thus, a low A-rank could have a tough fight against a high B-rank.

The gap between A-rank and S-rank was enormous. There is a reason why S-rank nukenin are pretty much left to their own devices. A high S-rank can wipe the floor with an ANBU black ops squad with little to no injury.

There were stories of the Third Great Shinobi War about S-rank ninja being sent on their own to take out an enemy position. Jaraiya had been posted temporarily with a platoon returning to Konoha from the border of Tsuchi and Kusa which had been ambushed by a Squadron of Iwa ninja. Having heard that Jaraiya was traveling with the platoon, Iwa had sent 3 teams of A-rank jounin. As the Iwa ninja caught up to the group, Jaraiya urged them onwards and turned to fight them. No one is sure exactly how he fought that battle, but when the Konoha ninja were forced to make camp, Jaraiya wandered in with a couple cuts and bruises and part of his hair singed. Thinking that the Iwa ninja had been simply held off and were regrouping, the platoon Commander was about to call out the order to pack up when Jaraiya simply stepped past him and said, "Don't worry about them. We're good."

Being an ANBU captain that was considered a top prospect for the position of ANBU Commander, Kakashi himself had been sent frequently to assassinate elite, enemy ninja. He had never been caught in any of those missions. He frowned. While his specialty was assassination, he would have had no problem wiping the floor with Zabuza in a straight fight as well. It was obvious now that he had really let himself get rusty these last few years.

His frown grew when he looked at his team walking a few steps ahead of him. What kind of teacher was he to let them go on a C-rank having taught them little more than teamwork exercises? They deserve better from me. It was time to take their training seriously when they got back to Konoha. Kakashi spent the rest of the trip planning their new training regiment. They would hate him for a while, but he didn't mind. They wouldn't die on a mission any time soon if he had anything to say about it.

After they had handed in their mission report to the Hokage, Kakashi had flashed him a message using standard ANBU hand signals: me, question, imperative. The Hokage smiled at them as if he hadn't gotten any of that. "Off you go! Kakashi, stay." The kids walked out the door, bickering as usual. As soon as they had left, the secretary outside had closed the door, knowing that the Hokage wanted privacy. Hiruzen loaded up his pipe and took a puff before saying, "Well? What is it?"

Kakashi put his book away – the Hokage immediately leaned forward. Everyone knew that Kakashi was dead serious when he did that. "They should have died on that mission." The Hokage opened his mouth to reply, but Kakashi cut him off. "I should have died."

"Explain."

That one word answer was full of subtext. "They lived up to everything I taught them. Which isn't much, admittedly. I've been lazy and I've overlooked my duty. It's my fault they had to even fight for their lives. As soon as they started having difficulty, I should be stepping in."

The hokage nodded at this. "Indeed. If I remember, you are listed in the Book as an S-rank, yet you were barely able to defeat the Demon of the Mist." The accusation in his voice was obvious.

"Yet another reason why all of us would have died without the extraordinary luck we had. When I was a Captain, that fight would have been over in minutes." They both knew that wasn't a boast; just a statement of fact. "If Naruto hadn't used the Kyuubi's chakra, Zabuza's accomplice would have killed all three of them."

The Hokage stood and turned to the window. Puffs of smoke curled around his head for a few minutes before he turned around. "Do you know the reason the council and I agreed on the gennin placed on your team?" The very fact that the Hokage and council agreed on this made Kakashi's eyes widen – the Hokage frequently had to override the council's recommendation. "You have the two most important gennin in this village on your team and you are supposed to be one of the best ninja in this village." The casual use of supposed to made Kakashi visibly flinch. "Your sensei would be ashamed of you." Kakashi lowered his head in shame. "When Kakashi lifted his eyes, the Hokage stared into them. This wasn't the kindhearted Hokage that most of the village knew. This was the Hokage that had led the village through war. Kakashi shivered. "Convince me not to strip you of command and put you on probation."

There was a gasp from one of the ANBU standing camouflaged in the corner – the camouflage really wasn't necessary as everyone in the room knew they were there. Kakashi took a moment to decide which way to proceed. The Hokage sat back down behind his desk, patiently waiting for his response. Kakashi met his eyes and poured every ounce of his shame and determination to make things right and said softly, "Give me a month and they'll be the best gennin team this village has."

The Hokage stared him in the eyes for what seemed like an hour and Kakashi used every ounce of his will to maintain that gaze. "Hmmm." He tapped his pipe out in the ashtray sitting on his desk. "You may have until the Chuunin exams." Kakashi sighed and was about to say his thanks but the Hokage wasn't finished yet. "All of them will reach the finals. And one of them will win." Kakashi's eyes widened and this time both ANBU guards gasped.

With no hesitation, Kakashi responded. "I guarantee it."

The Hokage's pride was evident. " After 3 weeks your team will take another C-rank. We will discuss your progress then."

The next morning, Naruto and his team were stunned that their sensei was actually there on time. In fact he was early. He didn't even that orange book out. Kakashi looked more serious than Naruto had ever seen him. From the looks on Sasuke and Sakura's faces, they obviously were thinking similar thoughts. He looked at each of them and said, "Morning kids. We're gonna be doing things differently from now on."

Sakura blurted out, "Apparently so."

Kakashi smiled at them. They had learned that he was smiling when his eye made an upside down "U". Kakashi gestured for them to take a seat while he did the same. "To start, we all need to talk." He looked each of them in the eye and said, "We all got lucky on that mission. Every one of us should have died." They all started to protest. "Quiet." He didn't yell. He didn't even raise his voice. But they literally swallowed whatever words they were going to say. "First off, do any of you know how the ninja ranking system works?"

This was something that Sakura knew and she eagerly answered. " It goes from D to C to B to A to S."

Kakashi smiled and replied, "correct but it's more complicated than that. The path from D to A is what we call a linear progression." He wasn't at all surprised when none of them quite understood. "What that means is that a C-rank ninja on average is twice as strong as a D-rank and a B-rank is, on average, twice as strong as a C-rank and so on and so forth up to A-rank."

Kakashi paused here and let that sink in for a moment, waiting for the inevitable question. He was surprised when it was Naruto who asked, "You said up to A-rank. What about S-rank?"

Kakashi smiled at him and said, "Good question, Naruto." He noted in the back of his mind how Naruto seemed to lift himself up a bit in pride. He would remember that for the future. "The gap from A-rank to S-rank is exponential, meaning that S-rank is twice as strong as the combined sum of the ranks below it." He wasn't surprised when all three furrowed their brows in confusion. It was rather adorable in his opinion. "For example, we'll use a system here. Say a D-rank ninja has a power level of 1. A C-rank is twice as strong as a D-rank so their power level is 2. A B-rank is two times stronger than that so they would be a 4, making an A-rank's power level 8." They all seemed to be following along so far. Kakashi was slightly surprised that Naruto was actually keeping up. He had expected constant questions from him. "So what's the sum of all these power levels?"

They were all quiet for a moment before Naruto was the one to respond. "15." Every eye turned to him in shock. He chuckled in embarrassment and scratched the back of his neck.

After a moment, Kakashi kept going. "very good!" Again, Naruto seemed to puff up in pride. "Now remember that the gap between A-rank and S-rank is twice that sum. It took each of them a moment to get that through their head before their eyes bugged out. "That's right. An S-rank ninja's power level is about 30. And that's on average. Some are higher." Their eyes widened even further. Kakashi pulled out his Bingo Book and flipped to the page he was looking for. "This is a Bingo Book. Every so often, each village makes an updated list of the ninja that each village feels are a high enough rank to gain entry. Then a neutral party compiles all the vilages' entries into one international Bingo Book."

Sakura tilted her head. "But why would we give out information like that to give to enemy villages?"

"That's a good question. We do that as somewhat of a deterrent." He noticed Naruto's look of confusion and was surprised to see that Sasuke also seemed confused. "A deterrent acts as a way to basically intimidate other nations into being too scared to act against Konoha. It's common that for diplomatic missions to other nations, we send a ninja that is infamous as being someone not to cross. But we're getting off topic." He handed the Bingo Book to Sakura and said, "Read off the first two lines of that page."

Sakura swallowed. "Momochi Zabuza, A-rank nukenin, former affiliation – Kirigakure, also known as the Demon in the Mist."

Kakashi took the book back and flipped to another page. "Now do the same for that page." sakura looked at the page and then at Kakashi in confusion. "Just do it."

Sakura took a deep breath. "Hatake Kakashi, S-rank, affiliation – Konohagakure, also known as Sharingan Kakashi, Konoha's Copy-nin."

Kakashi nodded and took the book back. "Let's compare those. Knowing what we do now about how the power ranking system works, what do you see?"

They all sat for a moment in thought to digest the information. It was Sakura who replied, "you're an S-rank and he was an A-rank."

Kakashi nodded. "Now let's apply that too this past mission."

They thought for another moment before it was Sasuke said quietly, "You should have beat him easily."

Naruto continued this thought in a louder voice. "You should have kicked his ass! What's wrong with you?"

Kakashi chuckled when Sakura bopped him in the head. "Don't be rude to Kakashi-sensei!"

"He's right." Kakashi said. "As you may or may not be aware, before I was a jounin, I was an ANBU captain." They all knew what that meant, even Naruto. To get the point home to Sasuke, he pointedly said to him, "I trained your brother." Sasuke's head snapped up to him in shock. "If Zabuza had challenged me back in my prime, he would have been dead in minutes, and his accomplice would have been dead in another. I've gotten lazy. I don't remember the last time I really trained." He took a deep breath. "but that's not all I wanted to say to you. Not only have I been lazy with my own training, I've been lazy with yours."

Naruto narrowed his eyes and grumbled, "Damn right you have." Kakashi was surprised when Sakura did not make an attempt to hit him and Sasuke nodded his head – they almost never agreed.

Kakashi continued, "If I had taken my role as your sensei as seriously as I should have, any one of you could have wiped the floor with his accomplice. And together, you would have been able to have a decent chance to force Zabuza to retreat at the very least. I'm not one of the best shinobi in the village for nothing."

Sasuke said, "So what now?"

Even with his mask on, they could tell Kakashi was grinning evilly. "Now we're going to make up on lost time. I'm going to train you into the ground. And when I'm done, you're going to be the best gennin team in Konoha." Naruto and Sasuke nodded with determination, Sasuke adding his customary smirk. Kakashi glanced over at Sakura and saw the apprehension in her eyes. It's about time to snap her out of this infatuation she has. He stood up and his team stood with him. "We're gonna start each day with some calisthenics. So start stretching. "Sakura come over here for a moment." He walked a ways until he was sure that the others couldn't hear them. "We need to talk about this thing you have going for Sasuke." She opened her mouth to respond. "You're going about it all wrong." That was obviously not what she was expecting him to say. No one who knew Kakashi would deny that he was a crafty bastard. "To have any chance at his affection, you need him to respect you. And the only people he'll respect are those strong enough to stand out to him."

She took a deep breath and nodded at him. "I understand, Sensei."

They both knew that she had just made a life-changing decision.

Kakashi took sick pleasure as he saw how exhausted they were when they were done for the day. It was only about 3 in the afternoon. Kakashi knew he would be even more amused in the future when they were told this was an off day so to speak. After they were done with their calisthenics, they had spent the rest of the day doing more chakra control exercises. He watched them catch their breath for a moment before saying, "You guys can have the day off tomorrow, but we're gonna meet up here at 7 the day after. You guys will have homework however." They all groaned, even Sakura. "You will all write an essay outlining in great detail everything you did wrong on the mission and every way you can think of that you could have done better. We will be doing this after every mission from here on. I will be grading these and if I am not satisfied in your essay, you will be doing extra exercises after we're done for that day. Dismissed." With that he flickered away in a puff of smoke.

The next week was hell for Team 7. None of them could think of a single week that had been more exhausting in their lives. Every morning they did calisthenics and every day the number of each exercise was raised. Every other day they focused on some sort of mental or academic aspect of being a shinobi, usually focusing on tactical analyses. Each morning after these days, Kakashi would quiz them on every thing they discussed the day before with extra exercises for incorrect answers.

Kakashi told them that these were days off. At first they scoffed at these being days off. After their first day of physical workouts, they agreed with him. After morning calisthenics on these days, they would be worn to the bone. Most of the time, they would do some sort of survival exercise in the forests around the training ground for the first few hours, the task being to find Kakashi. They had yet to do so. The forest was laden with many traps, some of which could have caused a lot of injury had they not been avoided. When lunch time came around, Kakashi would appear behind them and tell them they had an hour break.

As soon as that hour was done, they engaged in sparring for two hours, sometimes with each other and sometimes all of them against Kakashi. They learned to loathe those days. After that was over, Kakashi would make 3 shadow clones that would take each of them aside for the rest of the evening to work on individual skills.

One clone was working with Sakura on raising her chakra levels and on genjutsu. Another clone focused on training Sasuke in how to use his Sharingan. The third was with Naruto, training him in how to actually use the three jutsu he could perform effectively – kage bunshin, henge and kawarimi. Kakashi decided to refrain from teaching him the shadow clone shortcut as he didn't want the jutsu to become a crutch for him. He was shocked to find that Naruto's henge, when overloaded with chakra, actually became a physical transformation, not just an illusion. Kakashi had immediately assigned him the task of writing an essay detailing all the ways he could think of to take advantage of this. After six straight days of this routine, they were finally told that they could have a real day off, with another essay due the morning after of course.

It was three weeks after Sarutobi Hiruzen, Sandaime Hokage, had given Kakashi his ultimatum and he was eager to see what differences the team might show unconsciously when they reported for their mission. The first difference he noticed was the underlying comraderie between the three. It was no shock to him that the focus of their glares were no longer directed at each other but at their sensei.

The second thing he noticed was the quiet air of confidence they all had. Instead of the arrogance and overconfidence they had displayed before the Wave mission, they stood unconsciously showing that they knew what they're were good at because they had worked to the bone for that knowledge.

The third thing he noticed was their physical appearance. Sakura was no longer thin and wiry. Sasuke was no longer lean and gangly. Naruto was no longer slightly chubby. Sakura's body was quickly developing into that of a proper kunoichi, soft muscles hidden under soft skin. After weeks of "Hide and Seek" with Kakashi, she no longer wore the red dress she had before. Instead she wore tight blue leggings ending with dark green leg warmers and blue shinobi sandals below that. Over that she wore a long green shirt with the sleeves hanging down past her wrists and slightly obscuring her hands. She had cut her hair shorter so that it went down to her shoulders and she used her headband to hold it back from getting into her face.

Sasuke's attire was largely unchanged, but his shorts and arm warmers had changed from white to a dark green that was almost black

The most obvious change was Naruto. His orange jumpsuit was gone, but his love for the color remained. He had an orange muscle shirt on his torso covered by a short sleeved, dark green hooded sweatshirt that was left unzipped. Underneath the sweatshirt, he wore a bandolier with what seemed to be rolls of paper placed all the way down the front. His arms were left bare and the muscles on his arms were clearly evident. He wore dark blue, baggy pants that ended in dark green leg warmers with blue sandals.

Each of them wore a kunai holster on each leg and had a multitude of equipment packs on their belt. Belatedly, he realized that Naruto had yet to have an outburst, something that only Kakashi seemed unsurprised about. As he tossed the mission scroll to Kakashi, he raised an eyebrow. In response, Kakashi smirked and nodded his head slightly.

"What's the mission, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto had been getting much better at controlling his energy lately but he was still bouncing lightly in excitement. Kakashi couldn't blame him. This five day mission would probably be a vacation of sorts for them.

"Simple retrieval mission. We gotta run to a town about ten miles from Konoha, pick up a scroll and run back. The only reason it's a C-rank is the possibility of bandits being in the area."

They all heaved a sigh of relief. Sasuke said what was on the mind of all of them, "Thank Kami. Something not exciting."

Kakashi chuckled. Definitely looking at it as a vacation. Sakura seemed to agree with Sasuke. "Time off of training will be great."

Kakashi chuckled again. "Alright boys and girl, I assume you all have supplies for a few days on you?" They all mumbled, "Of course." Kakashi smiled in pride. "Excellent! Let's go then!" As soon as they passed the village gates, they leaped into the trees and took off. The two gate guards looked at each other in surprise.

Team 7 finished the mission in three days. They got back to Konoha in the late afternoon on the third day and immediately went to the mission office to give their report and get paid. They entered the room and bowed to the Hokage – One of the things Kakashi drilled into them on their academic days was proper protocol. The Hokage smiled at them in greeting and turned questioningly to Kakashi. He smiled at the Hokage and reported, "Team 7 reporting in. Mission successful." He casually tossed the scroll to the chuunin sitting next to the Hokage.

The Hokage smiled at them in pride. "You guys are two days earlier than expected." The gennin turned and glared at the sensei, who ignored them. "He told you guys it was a 3 day mission?" They all nodded in resignation. He gestured for the chuunin next to him and he handed each of them an envelope with their pay inside. "Dismissed."

They each bowed to the Hokage and headed out of the room. Once they were in the hall, Hiruzen heard Kakashi say, "Don't forget kids, training bright and early!" They all groaned in unison. Hiruzen laughed.

It had been two months and three weeks since Team 7 had returned from Wave country and anyone who had known them before that would be shocked at how different they had become. Partly because with their training routine, any off time they had was primarily used to relax at home. They were too tired to seek out friends. Finally they had time off however. Kakashi had given them a week to relax and get ready for the Chuunin exams coming up in a week. None of the three had been surprised when he had said he nominated them.

After he had said they had the week off, they had just stood around looking at each other. Naruto was the first to say something. "So we have an entire week off."

Sasuke grunted in affirmation. Sakura and Naruto had become quite adept at understanding what each grunt meant. Sasuke had a surprising variety. Sakura nodded and said, "So. What do we do?"

It seemed like an odd question, but having spent the last 11 weeks with little to no free time, they didn't really know what to do with their time. They each furrowed their brows in contemplation. Sasuke finally said, "Lunch?"

Sakura shrugged and Naruto replied, "Sure. Ichiraku's?" It was a simple question, but the hopeful undertone was apparent.

Sasuke sighed and nodded. Sakura sniffed and said, "Fine. But I get to pick tomorrow."

Naruto nodded and Sasuke grunted again in affirmation. None of them even considered that they had all assumed they would meet up the next day. It was just natural to them at this point.

A few days later the three had run into Konohamaru after lunch that day. Konohamaru ran up to Naruto and yelled out, "Hey, Boss! Where've you been?" Without even waiting for a response, he continued, "I bet you were out getting super strong huh?" He looked over at Sakura. "Is she your girlfriend?" Before anybody could say anything, he continued again, "She has a big forehead."

Naruto's eyes widened comically and Sasuke grunted in amusement as Sakura cracked her knuckles. "You wanna repeat that, you little shit?" Konohamaru turned and ran, Sakura fast on his heels. Naruto ran after her to defuse the situation and Sasuke went with him to watch the show.

Sasuke and Naruto turned down the alley Sakura and Konohamaru ran down and immediately assessed the situation. Konohamaru was being held up by the collar by a Suna ninja – evident from a quick glance at his forehead. Sakura was about 5 feet in front of him, close enough to step in if something happened, but far enough to not be immediately seen as threatening. A second Sand ninja, this one a girl, was standing behind the first with a worried expression on her face. They both came to the conclusion that the two were teammates. Right after that, they noticed that a third person was not with them. They both narrowed their eyes in suspicion and without saying a word, Sasuke leaped into a tree and Naruto continued forward.

As he got closer, Naruto heard Sakura say, "You should let him go." There was an undertone of command in her voice that made the guy pause for a moment.

His bravado was back soon after. "Oh yeah? Why should I? The little brat ran into me!"

Naruto took that moment to chime in. "For starters, holding up a kid by his collar makes you look like a bitch. You do know that kid's still in the academy right? What kind of gennin gets his rocks off from picking on academy students?" The boy narrowed his eyes at Naruto while his female teammate raised an eyebrow. "Second of all, since he's not a gennin yet and still technically a civilian, it could be considered an act of war to physically assault a Konoha citizen." The girl's eyes widened and she began tugging on his sleeve. The boy yanked his sleeve back and scoffed at Naruto. "Then there's the fact that this kid is the Hokage's grandson."

The girl glared at the boy and opened her mouth to most likely berate him when they all started as they heard a voice from a tree next to them, "Kankurou. You're embarrassing me." The boy attached to the voice appeared next to them in a swirl of sand. Sakura narrowed her eyes at that. These were most likely gennin and the average gennin is not typically able of performing a shunshin. As if that wasn't enough, it was a personalized shunshin, which is even harder still.

Kankurou finally released Konohamaru when a large pebble hit him in the hand, "You should listen to your teammate. Naruto and Sakura were the only ones that didn't jump in surprise when Sasuke's voice carried down from the same tree. He casually dropped down between his two teammates as Konohamaru scurried back behind Naruto. The first boy sneered at them before turning to follow his two teammates out of the alley.

The teammates looked at each other before they also exited the alley and went their separate ways, waving at each other in farewell.

This chapter is more of a bridge chapter. The real action starts next chapter with the Chuunin exams. Again, tell me what you think.