Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Masashi Kishimoto.
Warning: This story contains graphic violence. If your stomach gets queasy just thinking about it, you're probably better off with another piece of literature. If not, then I hope you'll enjoy my somewhat darker approach.
Team 7's Ascension
Chapter I - Plant the Seed
Even though they were only three people, the bench Naruto shared with Sakura and Sasuke felt crowded. He slid his thumb over the metal plate woven into his headband and sighed. As Genin they were the same now. Well, in theory, at least. Unlike them, he hadn't earned his headband, though. Not really. Naruto lowered his head to the colored leaves between his feet that had drifted over from the large maple tree on the academy's roof.
His strength hadn't been enough.
And Jiji still gave him the headband, despite everything that had happened last night. The blue cloth crumpled as Naruto's hands clenched into fists. This wasn't how he wanted it, damn.
But Jiji had also told him that no student got more than three chances, and had he denied the headband, his dream of becoming a shinobi, the Hokage, would have been over.
So, he accepted even though it stung his pride. Accepted, and swore to become more than he was, more than everyone saw him as. It was another setback, but nothing would make him back down. That was his only rule. The one thing he'd never fail in. Not having learned anything from the Forbidden Scroll hadn't broken his will, and neither had Mizuki's betrayal.
Those things hurt, but they didn't make him give up. He wouldn't let them.
As a gust of wind blew the leaves between Naruto's feet away, his head snapped up. Their new sensei, a tall man with silver hair standing up like the jagged ends of a saw, leaned against the railing as if he'd never been anywhere else, his arms crossed over his chest.
He fixed his stare on each of them in turn, letting it linger a second longer on Naruto. "My name is Hatake Kakashi. I am your new instructor."
Naruto's pulse quickened. Kakashi knew about the Kyuubi, he was sure. And about last night, too. Blood pounded in Naruto's ears and he grinned weakly.
Kakashi cleared his throat. "Haruno Sakura—above average intelligence; praised by the faculty; miles ahead of your female peers."
"Thank you," Sakura said, playing with the hems of her dress. Her shoulders sagged slightly, as if an invisible weight had been lifted.
"No need to thank me." Kakashi's eye gleamed. "Two weeks ago, Hokage-sama informed me that I was to become your teacher once you graduated. Can you guess what I did after he told me?"
Naruto's insides clenched. Two weeks? That meant Jiji had always meant to give him the headband, no matter if he succeeded or failed. Naruto swallowed hard, focusing his attention back on Kakashi.
"I had a pair of Chūnin follow you."
Kakashi pushed himself away from the railing and crouched in front of Sakura. She tried to look away, but he put his finger under her chin and forced her to look at him. "I wonder, did you bribe your teachers? But that would be too easy. Perhaps your father wrote some recommendations? I heard he's become quite wealthy these days..." He straightened up. "Maybe the instructors are incompetent. But that'd be worrying, wouldn't it? They're responsible for our future, after all."
Chuckling, he continued, "Miles ahead of your peers? You'd lose in a fistfight against a civilian."
Too far. Way too far. Naruto bit his lip hard enough to draw blood. He jumped forward, his fist cocked back. When Kakashi glanced at him, though, a sudden vertigo surged through him. Naruto stopped in his tracks, gripping the bench to keep himself from falling over.
The surreal sensation stopped. Kakashi now focused on Sasuke, who wore the expression of a cornered lion. "Uchiha Sasuke—the prodigy. I expected more, much more. Your credible skills are shadowed by your arrogance, the potential hidden behind foolish pride. In truth, I am disappointed to see nothing more than a little boy."
Sasuke lunged at Kakashi. Something cracked, a moan followed. It had been a blur, nothing more. Sasuke sat on the ground, his hands hovering over his nose as rivulets of blood leaked out of his nostrils, coloring the white tiles red.
"That's exactly what I meant," Kakashi said. "Reign in your temper, or you'll be regarded as a faulty exploding tag—a risk to yourself, your team, your village."
Kakashi quelled Sakura's outburst with a glare, then said, "Uzumaki Naruto—a fool, unfit for duty. I didn't want to believe these reports, didn't want to even consider that a shinobi from Konoha could be this weak."
Naruto bristled. He stayed on the bench, though. The man was strong, too strong. And last night had proven Kakashi to be right.
"You can be proud of yourself," Kakashi said. "The academy reports were wrong...You're even worse."
He pointed at Sakura and Sasuke. "These two aren't much better, I give you that. But at least they tried to apply themselves. You? You did nothing. Silly games, childish pranks—do you think this life is easy? That it's carefree?"
Naruto blinked as he was grabbed by the scruff of his jumpsuit. Kakashi pulled him over to the puddle of blood, and the smell of iron stung as his face was held inches away from the red liquid.
"This is reality," Kakashi said, his face near Naruto's. "We deal in blood—either ours, or our enemies'."
Yanking Naruto away from the blood, Kakashi tossed him toward Sasuke who was still cradling his nose beside a frantic Sakura. Naruto tumbled into them, and they fell to the ground in a jumbled mess. Kakashi closed in on them with measured steps until he loomed over them like the Hokage Monument over Konoha at night.
"Your attitudes aren't just dangerous to yourself, they're deadly to those you swore to protect when you accepted your headband," he said. "How you act is an insult to Konoha and everyone within her walls." Kakashi reached into his flak jacket, pulled out a roll of bandages, and chucked it at them. The roll bounced off the ground and landed in Sakura's hand. "We have a lot of work to do. Tomorrow morning at seven—Training Ground Thirteen."
Kakashi sat on a chair in front of the Hokage's desk, his spine rigid. The usual warmth had left the office the moment he had entered it. Across the table, the Hokage observed him through chips of gray, sharper than a fistful of senbon, and lips flattening into a thin line, stretching the liver spot above them.
"I gave you a lot of leeway in the past," the Hokage said. "Tell me, what madness took hold of you?"
"Nothing I told them was wrong."
"Wrong?" The wizened man rose with a slow, deliberate motion. "You assaulted the last Uchiha, reduced Haruno's daughter to a sobbing mess." He flicked his hand and Kakashi sensed the ANBU guards leave. "Not what you told them disturbs me, but how you did it."
"Then there is Naruto. You should know that I see this boy as my kin."
"Would they have learned otherwise?" Kakashi asked. "The reports were clear about one trait all three share—they're stubborn to a fault. I had to get my message across. Delusions will only get them killed." He shook his head. "It had to be done. Without a direct confrontation of their weaknesses, not one word would've stuck."
The Hokage blinked. It had been a bold statement, Kakashi knew. Not many were willing to challenge the Kami no Shinobi openly. But he still stood by his words—the method had been brutal, but necessary.
Then the man sighed, his shoulders sagging slightly. "I fear my feelings for young Naruto have clouded my judgment." He retook his seat and begun stuffing his pipe, before igniting the tobacco inside with a small flame from his thumb. "I tire, I truly do," he said. "You are one of the few people I trust explicitly. Please, don't make me a fool for putting my faith in you."
Smoke wafted through the air. "I can feel a storm coming, Kakashi. It's been brewing for a while now."
Kakashi's brow knitted into a frown. "War?"
"Perhaps," the Hokage said, his voice tired, weary. "Whatever it is, soon the Tree will need all of us to protect it."
"Why the reprimand, then? Isn't tough love what we need should it come to another conflict?"
"I have grown soft from peace. We all have." The Hokage shook his head. "But enough of my premonitions. What have you planned for your team?"
"I only said that their current talents are meaningless—even more so if combined with their attitudes. The potential…well, it's not measurable, but there's enough of it to tell that they could become very powerful," Kakashi explained. "As they are now, however, throwing them together won't work." He hesitated for a moment. "I need your approval for my plan."
"If it has merit, I will see it done."
"I need time," Kakashi said bluntly.
The Hokage stilled, his hand tightening around the chamber of his pipe. "How much?"
Kakashi cringed inwardly. He knew exactly what thoughts his request had sparked in the mind of his leader. Time was a commodity, a valuable good shinobi desperately wanted but rarely got. Less shinobi on active duty equaled a lower quota of successful missions and with that the loss of money.
Not much at first, but enough for it to matter if more than one team at a time took too much time off. Even worse, a decline in successful missions also served as an indicator for a decline of Konoha's reputation. In the most favorable scenario that would only cost them some clients. In the worst case, though, it could spark a war with another powerful village who might think them weak as a result.
"Six months," Kakashi answered. "Then I'll have them trained up enough to be ready for every C and B-ranked mission you can throw at us."
"If you go through with this, you place a heavy burden on them and yourself."
Kakashi nodded. "I accept that responsibility."
"In our world, accepting and fulfilling one's responsibilities aren't the same. You know that." The Hokage fixed him with a stare as he took out the paperwork and stamped it with his personal seal. "I will approve your request. Take it as the desperate gamble of an old man…"
"Thank you, Hokage-sama."
"Six months. Not a single day longer."
Kakashi took the forms, then bowed to his leader. He had already crossed the doorsill, when the Hokage spoke again, "Make sure they become legends, Kakashi. Or there will be consequences."
When Naruto met Sakura and Sasuke the next morning, he tried to look confident and collected but failed spectacularly. He watched his new teammates with apprehension. They appeared to be calm on the outside, but he quickly noticed the nervous glances both stole at the sun, checking just how long they had before Kakashi-sensei would arrive.
Beside some random noises that came from the forest nearby, and some odd chirps from a few birds, no sound really reached his ears. His teammates weren't in the mood for talking either. Not that he could fault them, really. Their new sensei had made very clear what he thought of them. Naruto's stomach churned as he thought about it. He was sure Sakura and Sasuke felt the same. They, too, had been targeted after all, and he knew from personal experience that words could hurt more than a sharp kunai.
An explosion of whirling leaves startled him out of his thoughts and he gulped. Kakashi had arrived, and Naruto quickly realized that the attitude from the day before hadn't been the consequence of a bad bowl of Ramen. Kakashi plopped himself down on the ground, and rested his chin on his palm. The Jōnin stared at them. It looked like the man considered just how much each of them was worth.
"You're here," Kakashi said. "That's something, I suppose."
Sasuke grunted in response. Then, his head suddenly snapped back. The indention of a small pebble became visible in the middle of his forehead protector. Kakashi spoke again, "You're Team Seven, and I too am part of the team for now. Compared to you, however, I know its history."
He looked skyward with a pondering expression. "The first time a group of shinobi carried the banner of Team Seven was under the leadership of the Nidaime. You should know who was taught by him."
Naruto, the foremost expert on the Hokage, cried out, "The old man, and the two crones that help him!" His head, too, snapped backward.
"Lower your voice," commanded Kakashi. "In essence you're right though. The next Team Seven consisted of people equally as famous—the Sannin. Sakura, tell me about the team led by Jiraiya-sama."
"Jiraiya-sama taught the Yondaime, Hyūga Hiashi, and Uchiha Fugaku," she answered.
"Correct, which brings us to the next cycle—the Yondaime's team, my team. And now I've got you…" Kakashi sighed and got up, then beckoned them to follow him. "In any case, let's get to it."
They walked for quite some time, half an hour at least; then they passed through Konoha's main gate and followed a beaten path into the woods. Once they reached a wide, fenced area that none of them recognized, Kakashi stopped and opened a small scroll. A billowing cloud of smoke later, three identical backpacks flew toward Naruto and his teammates. They easily snatched them out of the air.
"Coming back to the history of Team Seven...As amusing as it sounds—you're the next cycle," Kakashi said.
"Huh? So, we're some kind of super legendary team?" Naruto was quickly silenced by Sakura, who had slapped her hand over his mouth.
"In a sense you are. Not right now, obviously," Kakashi answered dryly. "But that is as much a curse as it is a blessing. You will be sent on missions far out of the range of what other shinobi undertake, and not only are you expected to succeed, you're also expected to survive. That, my minions, isn't guaranteed in our line of business."
"Kakashi-sensei, where are we?" Sakura asked.
Naruto looked at his crush. She sounded terrified. As he searched for the reason, his eyes got stuck on a large, wooden sign—Ground 44: The Forest of Death.
"Doesn't matter." Kakashi chuckled. "Important is why you are here."
Naruto watched as his sensei formed a weird cross-shaped hand seal that he hadn't seen before. Two identical copies of his teacher appeared next to them. Curiously, he reached out and touched one of the copies, but instead of wavering like a normal illusion was supposed to, the copy was solid.
"Sweet! Can you teach me? That's awesome!"
"In a few decades…maybe. Sakura, Sasuke, each of you will follow a shadow clone.
While his teammates vanished in swirls of leaves, accompanied by one Kakashi each, Naruto inspected the backpack he had received. It contained a pouch of shuriken, two kunai, and two small scrolls; all in all, nothing too out of the ordinary for a shinobi. He took the scrolls out of the bag, but before he could open them a hand swatted the back of his head.
"Not now, Naruto. There are two techniques in these scrolls, and you'll learn them in the next two months," Kakashi said.
"What? Two months for—"
He didn't manage to finish his sentence, as Kakashi had grabbed him by his jumpsuit and lifted him into the air until they could look each other in the eyes—well, from one eye in two eyes, really.
Naruto gulped. "Sensei?"
"Enjoy!" Naruto's teacher uttered a terrifying laugh. Then, in one strong motion, Kakashi threw Naruto over the fence and far into the forest.
AN: Chapter I - FIN. I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading and if you have any questions, I check my pms once a week.