Chapter 1: Trinity
“And finally, the young lady…”
“Ah!” The young girl, sitting at the far end of the little triangle his students had formed on the steps of the rooftop, finally turned her attention to him. Until now, she had barely seemed to be paying attention to the proceedings. In fact, if facial expression was anything to go by, Kakashi would guess she was bored.
Unlike Naruto and Sasuke – who had turned out to defy and fulfil his expectations, respectively – Kakashi knew very little about this girl. Aside from her perfect scores on every theory class in her academy records, there was almost nothing he could use as a clue to determine what sort of ninja she would turn out to be.
Not that he was expecting much.
“My name is Haruno Sakura,” she said, her expression growing suddenly cheerful. He had to admit she had the capacity to flip on the cute. Her wide green eyes, shiny pink hair and effervescent grin struck the perfect image of a cheerful young girl. “My favourite thing is playing games with the voices in my head. My dream…” She surged to her feet and grabbed her bicep with one hand, holding her fist heavenward. “My dream is to defeat the evil moon rabbit!” She snapped her hands to her hips and her grin turned vicious. “The thing I hate the most is idiots who are too blinded by the desire for power to see how dangerous that power is.” Nodding to herself as if she’d said something profound, she closed her eyes with a pleased expression. She sat down delicately and gracefully, settling her long red cloak around her body like a poncho. “My hobbies include the occult, psychic phenomena, sufficiently advanced technology and point maximization.” She gave him a thumbs up to indicate she was finished.
Kakashi was not ashamed to admit he stared. He was not alone. Both Naruto and Sasuke were looking at the pink-haired girl in open astonishment. The moment of silence didn’t last long, and of course it was Naruto who broke it.
“Oh man, I can’t believe I missed a chance to prank him with my answer like that!” he shouted. “Way to go, Sakura! You really are cool!” Naruto rubbed at his spiky blonde hair, his eyes squeezed almost shut and his idiot grin entirely sincere.
“Hmph,” Sasuke grunted dismissively, recovering himself and going back to brooding as he stared at his interlaced fingers.
Kakashi resisted the urge to rub his forehead or sigh dramatically. Most kunoichi Sakura’s age were more interested in boys than training or jutsu. It was just his luck that the one he got bucked that trend by being a complete airhead. He rested his chin on one hand and allowed a bit of his disgruntlement to leak into his posture and visible eye.
“Enough. I think we all know where we stand now.” He waved one hand in front of his face. “Tomorrow we’re going on our first official mission as a team.”
“Yeah!” Naruto leaned forward in anticipation, his entire body practically vibrating. “Our first awesome ninja mission! Saving a princess or fighting an evil bandit king or learning super powerful jutsu!” His smile stretched his whisker-scarred cheeks. “Come on, I can barely stand it! Tell us our secret mission, sensei!”
Sasuke was paying more attention to him now. He had barely moved since Kakashi had arrived: elbows on knees, face resting on his interlaced fingers. His eyes were focused intensely on Kakashi, and his mouth now had the merest hint of a smile.
Sakura was… staring off into the distance. Like she had been since she had joined them on the roof. Like she had been, Kakashi recalled, when he had first seen her in the classroom below. Naruto had been crowing about his prank, laughing as the cloud of chalk dust settled on Kakashi’s shoulder. Sasuke had been giving Kakashi a startled and contemptuous look. But Sakura had simply stood between her partners, head turned in a show of watching the commotion while her eyes remained distant and unfocused.
“Sensei!” Naruto slapped his thigh. “Tell us already!”
“This mission will just be for Team 7, your three-man cell.” He held up three fingers pressed together. “Your mission is… survival training.”
“What? Survival training?” Naruto rocked back as if struck. Sasuke was still staring at him, his brow furrowed slightly in consternation. Sakura reacted as if he was reading a laundry list.
“Yes, but this is very special training and will be nothing like the exercises you did at the academy.” He leaned forward and allowed a sliver of threat to seep out of him. The reaction from both Sasuke and Naruto was satisfying. He began to laugh to himself.
“Wh- what’s so funny!?” Naruto challenged.
“Oh, it’s nothing.” He stood up, stretching and letting the threat dissipate. “It’s just… if you knew, you’d be too scared.”
“I ain’t scared of nothing!” Naruto shouted. Sasuke grunted, as if he didn’t want to dignify the insult with a response. Sakura continued to ignore him.
“There were twenty-seven members of your graduating class at the academy,” Kakashi informed them. “But of all of them… only nine young ninja will actually have what it takes to become true genin. So we have to test you to see if you have what it takes.”
“Another test!?” Naruto was on his feet now, gesturing wildly with his fists. “That’s a joke! I already proved myself! I’m a ninja!” Sasuke was frowning, his expression now hostile.
“Face it, Naruto,” Kakashi said. “There are only so many high-level jonin that the village can spare to teach young ninja, so we have to test you. Don’t get cocky just because you passed some simple tests or proved you could do basic jutsu.” He held up three fingers again. “Do the math. Only nine out of twenty-seven. That means there is a guaranteed failure rate of sixty-six percent.” He watched with amusement as Naruto began to shake. “See? You’re already getting scared.”
“I’m not scared!” Naruto retorted. “If there is a one in a million chance of passing, I’ll do it!” He smacked his fist into his palm. “Don’t mess with me! I went through hell! No test is going to hold me back!”
“Well…” Kakashi chuckled. “I guess you have heart, at least. Tomorrow morning we meet at the practice field so I can evaluate you. Bring all your ninja tools and weapons. Oh, and don’t bother eating breakfast unless you feel like throwing up.” He gestured flippantly. “Dismissed.”
“Yes, sensei,” everyone chorused, even Sakura. He used the body flicker to leave the roof, but deposited himself on another nearby to watch them for one final moment. Naruto spent the next five minutes ranting and kicking dust up. Sasuke just rose to his feet with a snort and stalked to the stairwell, his shoulders hunched. Sakura stood up, stretching languidly and adjusting her long cloak.
Then her eyes turned and stared across the gap between buildings right at him. Kakashi froze for a moment, impressed despite himself. He wasn’t exactly going out of his way to conceal his presence, but then again he also wasn’t suppressing his instincts. Years of ninja life had drilled into him the habits of concealment and stealth. Sakura waggled her fingers at him and stuck her tongue out.
She then leapt over the edge of the roof, running her hands and feet along the wall to slow her descent as she slipped down into the crowds below.
Huh. Maybe not such an airhead after all. He stroked his chin thoughtfully. Well, tomorrow would see the worth of all three of the children tested.
Kakashi wasn’t certain who he was more disappointed in. He stood before his team, hands stuffed in his pockets and shoulders slouched. Naruto was struggling against his bonds; a coil of rope was wrapped multiple times around his torso and arms, trussing him helplessly against one of the three targeting logs staked into the clearing near the Memorial Stone. Sasuke sat to his right, his body slumped on the ground. His blue short-sleeved shirt and white shorts were torn and covered in dirt, and his skin had small abrasions wherever it was exposed. He was doing his best to hide the fact he was exhausted. Sakura was standing to Naruto’s left. Unlike the boys, she wasn’t so much as bruised.
He spent a few moments gathering his thoughts. He kept his face even, because the test wasn’t technically over yet. Even so, he didn’t expect them to pass. It tore him up inside. He felt like he was betraying them all over again. The legacy of his teacher. The last survivor of his dearest friend’s bloodline. Both were so focused on their own ambition that they had never even thought to help each other.
As impressive as Naruto’s use of the Kage Bushin jutsu was, everything else about him had been entirely trivial to deal with. He obviously had inherited none of his father’s unpredictable genius or his mother’s insane power. Instead, it was only the father’s disdain for traditional ninja tactics and his mother’s insane bravado.
He flicked an eye towards Sasuke. Although the boy’s performance had been the best of the three potential genin, Kakashi had seen more impressive skills displayed by even younger ninja, himself included. Their meteoric rise had been driven by a world of war, a pressure cooker that Sasuke’s generation had never had to survive.
For a generation that lived in peace, the Uchiha boy was admittedly exceptional among his peers. He had some talent and discipline. But his attitude was one of pure, unwarranted ego.
He reminded Kakashi so painfully of himself when he was a kid.
Finally he switched his attention to the only girl present. After so promising a surprise yesterday, her performance had been quite underwhelming. Like Sasuke, she had vanished the moment he began his exercise. It was a simple premise: two bells and three students. He told them whoever didn’t have a bell by noon didn’t get a boxed lunch, like the one now sitting between the three of them. Create every incentive to betray and compete. See if they rose above it.
None of the would-be ninjas assigned to him had yet done so. But then, neither had Kakashi himself. It was a boy that Kakashi had held in nothing but contempt that had really carried him through his sensei’s test, though he had not quite understood it at the time. He hadn’t understood the lesson until it was too late…
Ah. He was doing it again. Getting lost in the past.
Forcing his mind back to the present, he considered Sakura’s performance in the test. Or her lack thereof. Like Sasuke, she had hidden herself well. Unlike Sasuke, she hadn’t even attempted to take the bells currently tied to his right hip. He had found her in the underbrush, staring off into space, absently pulling out blades of grass and twining them around her fingers. To snap her out of it, he’d dropped a small genjutsu on her.
The Hell Viewing Technique showed the subject the worst image their own mind could conjure up. As an illusion technique, it was really quite rudimentary. Nothing so horrible could be real. The trained ninja mind would know to disbelieve and how to defeat it.
For the briefest moment, he thought she had. Genjutsu was an intimate art. It required the user to infiltrate their own chakra into the victim’s. He had felt his chakra enter the girl’s body and seek out her mind. He had almost lost his grip. It was like there was… an entire world inside her. Then the chakra had latched onto something, and her eyes had widened theatrically before she foamed at the mouth and fainted.
So was he more disappointed in the son of his sensei, for failing to be the heroic icon his father had hoped he would be seen as? Or maybe the last survivor of the clan of his dead best friend, who despite being a better ninja did not measure up to his ideals? Or the girl who had intrigued with one step and failed spectacularly with the other?
Or himself, because he was rapidly coming to believe he was going to have to fail them all?
They wouldn’t be the first. He had flunked dozens of young ninja hopefuls in past years. At first reluctantly, then eagerly, and finally with stoic indifference. He had hoped this team, so obviously put together by Lord Hokage to tug at his specific heartstrings, would finally see through the test to the real one.
A loud growl jarred him from his thoughts. Right, enough of the preliminaries.
“My, listen to those stomachs grumble.” He waved a hand dismissively. “All that effort, and none of you ended up with a bell.” He gestured to his right hip, though both Naruto and Sasuke gave him queer looks before glancing to his left. “Well, I have an announcement about today’s exercise. The good news is that none of you have to worry about being sent back to the academy.”
Naruto’s frown turned into a hopeful grin. “All right, I knew it! Nothing can keep me from being a real ninja! I’m gonna be-“
“A failure,” Kakashi interrupted harshly. “All of you are. None of you has what it takes to be a ninja. You should all give up right now.”
“What? No way!” Naruto struggled futilely at his bonds. “Give up? Just because I didn’t grab a stupid bell? Like hell! Why should we give up?”
Kakashi gave them a level stare. “Because none of you are capable of becoming a ninja.”
Sasuke made a disgusted sound and sprung to his feet. He sprinted at Kakashi. The confrontation was short and decisive. Kakashi leaned into his hold, pressing Sasuke against the ground. He glared at the other students. “This is pathetic. Did none of you even understand the purpose of this exercise?”
Naruto dithered and Sakura just stared at him. Her expression was focused but unconcerned. Sasuke shifted slightly in his grip but made no effort to escape.
“It was teamwork,” he said. “The whole reason we put you in squads is because three ninja together are stronger than one ninja alone. But only if they act as a team. None of you even tried to work together to get the bells.”
For a moment, there was an uncomfortable silence. Then Sakura’s face suddenly twitched. “Ah, that’s right. This is the part where I ask why you only had two bells. You told us that if we didn’t get a bell we wouldn’t eat.”
Kakashi focused his glare on her. “Of course the scenario was designed to foster dissension among you.” He briefly considered a provocative demonstration, but he wasn’t convinced Sakura would care if he threatened Sasuke’s life. “In the field, a ninja squad may be forced into a dangerous situation, and only if they are willing to sacrifice for each other can they accomplish their mission. They may even need to make the ultimate sacrifice for each other.”
Sensing the fight had left Sasuke, Kakashi released him and turned his back. He walked towards the squat stone obelisk that had hovered in the background of the entire conversation. “Did any of you ever see this stone before?” He placed his hand on the top. It was barely large enough to reach above his waist. The front of the stone was covered with tightly-packed engravings of kanji.
“This stone is for heroes of this village. Real ninja, who knew more about teamwork than you three ever have.”
“Heroes!” Naruto tried to jerk upright proudly, still held by the log. “Yeah, one day I’m gonna have my name on that stone! Then everyone will know who I am!”
Sakura slapped an exasperated palm to her face. “You hear the stories about him, but you don’t really believe them.” She lowered her hand and gave Naruto a glare. It was the most expressive Kakashi had seen her yet. “That’s the Memorial Stone. On its face are the names of ninja who have died in service of the village. I don’t care if you are an idiot, but have respect for the dead, if no one else.”
Kakashi gave Sakura a fractional nod, which she acknowledged by tilting her chin up slightly. “Sakura is right. This is where those who have shown what sacrifice really means are honoured.” He ran his finger across the stone and stepped away. “All of my best friends have their names on this stone.
“Think about what that means, and then compare it with your own performance. Naruto…” Kakashi gestured sharply at the trussed-up boy. “You were so interested in showing off and proving yourself better than Sasuke that you never even thought to ask for help.
“Sasuke. You were able to see how much trouble Naruto was in, and when I had him caught your first thought was to attack me rather than to help him. You were so focused on winning that you didn’t care what happened to any of your teammates.
“Sakura…” He dropped his hands. “You didn’t even try.”
Sakura crossed her arms over her chest. “Hey now, I don’t think you should be that harsh, sensei. I mean, hypothetically…” She popped the p, smiling absently. “…if a pretty young girl collapsed under a harsh genjutsu in the middle of sensei’s test, then it’s only natural for the gruff-acting-but-secretly-a-softy-sensei to come and check on the seemingly helpless girl to make certain she was okay. That would put sensei within arm’s reach of me… I mean, the girl.” She winked. “Hypothetically.”
Kakashi gave her a long look. He stepped forward. Feeling a pang of uncertainty, he was reassured by the soft jingle of both bells. Except… they were coming from his left hip. He could have sworn he’d tied them to his right. Slipping in his old age.
“Hypotheticals or not, you still didn’t even attempt to help your teammates.”
Sakura shrugged. “I had faith.”
He shook his head as he walked towards them. “Faith? Interesting choice of words. Okay. I’ll give you a demonstration of faith, then.” He pointed at the two box lunches. “After lunch we’re going to try this exercise again. Sakura, you and Sasuke can both have one of the lunches. But!” He held up one hand, his fingers curled into an aggressive hand sign. “Naruto tried to steal them both earlier, and that was clearly undermining both the letter and the spirit of the exercise. As such, he will be forced to watch you two eat.
“If either of you let him eat so much as a single mouthful, I really will have no choice but to fail you all back to the academy.” He put some good old-fashioned bloodlust into his next words. “Do. Not. Disappoint. Me. Again.”
With that he body-flickered away, leaving nothing but a cloud of smoke and leaves in his wake. He arrived in a large tree some distance away, an excellent vantage point. This far away, not even trained chunin-level ninja should have been able to see him. He would normally have stayed closer, but Sakura’s little taunt yesterday made him think better of it.
His hands flicked through a series of hand signs before he released a pulse of chakra. The Eavesdropping Technique was not flashy, but it was effective. He could hear the sound of one of the boxed lunches being torn open and the snap of the chopsticks being split. There was a few moments of chewing.
Kakashi slumped against the tree. It looked like there wasn’t going to be a pass this year after all.
The chewing slowed and then stopped. “Why aren’t you eating?” Sasuke’s voice had a tinge of accusation in it.
“I’m not really hungry.” Sakura sounded faintly amused. “I wasn’t all that interested in getting my hands on a boxed lunch. That’s why I didn’t try to take a bell for myself.”
“Ugh!” Naruto’s stomach growled. “Don’t talk about food too loud.”
“You have to eat,” Sasuke insisted. “You’ll need your strength if we’re going to beat Kakashi at this exercise.”
“I don’t need to eat, Sasuke.”
For a long moment, there was silence. Then finally Sasuke spoke with obvious disgust. “Fine, if you won’t eat… Here. You take it.”
“Wh- what? Sasuke?” Naruto gasped.
“I know you need to eat. They can probably hear your stomach all the way back at the academy.”
“Woah! What about Kakashi?” Naruto sounded shocked more than anything.
“He’s miles away by now,” Sasuke said calmly. “We need your strength.”
“He’s right, Naruto. There’s enough here for both of you.”
“Oh, are you suddenly concerned about the rules?” Sasuke was taunting now.
“No… I… uh… can’t use my hands. Someone will have to feed me.”
“And that’s where I play my part.” There was a snap as Sakura separated her chopsticks. “Don’t think I’m going to make a habit of this, Naruto. Now open your mouth.”
Kakashi smiled. He waited for the sound of Naruto biting down to echo through his jutsu, then body flickered back to them and conjured a giant cloud of chakra smoke as he appeared. “YOU!” he shouted, just to put a shiver of terror into the students.
“Pass,” he finished calmly, waving jauntily as the smoke cleared. A moment of stunned silence followed.
“We… we did it!” Naruto wiggled in his bonds. “Ah yeah, the next step on my path to becoming Hokage is complete! Suck it! I never doubted it for a moment!”
Sasuke was smirking to himself. Even Sakura looked pleased.
“But wait…” Naruto calmed down after a couple of minutes. “Didn’t you tell us that if they let me eat, we’d all be failed?”
“Correct!” Kakashi patted him condescendingly. “But to be a ninja is to see underneath the underneath. By showing they were willing to risk losing everything to help you, your teammates demonstrated the true quality of a ninja.
“It is said among ninja that those who fail to fulfil their mission are trash. However…” He turned to face the memorial stone. “Those who fail to protect their teammates are worse than trash. All three of you have shown what it takes to be a true ninja. And you’re all full of surprises. Just maybe, you can begin to grow on me.”
“Alright! This is awesome!” Naruto grinned. Then his grin dimmed slightly. “Uh… can someone untie me?”
“Let me,” Sakura said and slashed him free with one of her kunai.
“Right. I want you all to go home and get a good night’s sleep and get plenty to eat. Tomorrow, we go on our first mission together as Team 7.”
Naruto barely paused to rub the circulation back into his arms before running out of the clearing, whooping and cheering. Sasuke left more sedately, hands stuffed into his pockets, but his self-satisfied smirk said all that needed to be said.
“A moment, if you will, Sakura.”
The girl paused and waited until both boys were well out of earshot before turning to him. “Yes, sensei?”
He gave her a long considering look. “Sakura Haruno. Parents, two career chunin. No particular clan association. Second generation ninja on your father’s side, fourth on your mother’s. Your class marks were at the top in every academic and theoretical course at the ninja academy.” He paused. “No, that would be understating the case. Your marks were literally perfect in every category. Ciphers, languages, intelligence analysis, geography, chakra theory, history and the ninja code of conduct.
“Despite that, your performance in practical exams has been suboptimal. Your technical skills were praised by all your teachers as being well above your peers… but your mastery of chakra was almost nonexistent. Formal testing showed your chakra was at the very bottom percentile of all students ever tested. Medical evaluations discovered no obvious genetic or physiological issues.
“It is noted that you suffered a great deal in early childhood. In infancy, you displayed symptoms of dozens of different ailments and illnesses, many of them either invariably lethal or crippling for life. Despite this, you recovered from all of these symptoms by the time you were three years old.”
“You did your homework,” Sakura said. She rocked on her heels.
“Since yesterday, yes. So, let me ask… when did you take the bells from me?”
She grinned. She held up her hands in the Kai sign for negating chakra. Kakashi looked down to his hip as the bells there dissolved into a cloud of phosphorescent particles and ash before vanishing. “When did you figure it out?” she asked.
“I double-checked them when I went away to spy on your decision regarding Naruto’s lunch,” he replied, ignoring for the moment her cheeky answering of his question with another question. “I have to admit, I’m impressed.” He crossed his arms. “You do deserve the title of genius if you can get past me with so little chakra. What was it, a genjutsu?”
“I cheated,” Sakura said with a shrug.
“Was it when you collapsed?” he asked. She only grinned. He hummed thoughtfully. “So… why did you not declare victory when you took the bells, and where are they?”
“One is in Naruto’s pouch. The other is in Sasuke’s.” He raised his one visible eyebrow. She shifted and looked down at her feet.
“You gave them away?”
She considered her response. “I wasn’t lying at the stumps. I wasn’t interested in eating.” Looking up, she grinned again. “And I did have faith in Naruto and Sasuke. And also in you. I knew you’d give them a fair chance and they would be up to the challenge. So I wanted them to win based on their own talents and determination.” She laced her hands behind her neck and her smile grew wider. “But it’s possible for things to go different than I expect, sometimes. Did you ever hear the story of the butterfly flapping its wings in Water Country causing a hurricane in Cloud? It’s kind of like that. So I thought I should be prepared, just in case they, or you, didn’t turn out the way I believed you could.
“But you did, and I didn’t have to do anything. Which is great, because I have a lot riding on things turning out the way I believe they can. I’ve waited twelve years for my chance to fulfil my dream, and I didn’t want to screw it up now.”
She glanced up at him slyly, a sparkle of mirth in her green eyes. “And to tell the real truth, I did it for the ultimate reason every human does anything: to see if I could get away with it.”
Kakashi chuckled. “Well, I’m glad you opened up to me. Welcome to Team 7, Sakura. I hope your faith isn’t misplaced.”