Waking up was quite unpleasant. Jun was hurt all over. The left side of his face was throbbing in pain. When he sat up with a grunt, he saw that his teammates weren’t better off. Susumu had a palm mark on his left cheek. Natsumi looked a bit groggy. Shiba was sitting on his usual tree trunk.
“Is it over?” Susumu asked.
Their sensei was amused by the question.
Susumu let himself fall back into the grass, relieved. Natsumi, holding her head, looked at the jonin warily.
“Did we pass?”
Shiba remained silent a moment, probably to prolong the suspense. And it worked. Jun stiffened, Natsumi looked like she was regretting her question, and even Susumu who had relaxed a bit became tenser.
They all let out a loud sigh of relief simultaneously. The sensei pretended to ignore them and continued.
“Have you discovered the objective of the test?”
Natsumi narrowed her eyes, suspecting it may be a trick question.
“You told us that it was to see our level.”
“There are easier ways to check that.”
Jun opened his mouth, but Susumu was faster.
“You wanted to see our ability to work as a team.”
“Correct. That’s the true purpose of the test. A shinobi’s greatest strength is in his ability to cooperate with others. As genins, you will typically face enemies stronger than you individually. The key to defeating them or escaping lies in your number and how well you work as a unit.”
They nodded in agreement.
“Each of you put your strengths at the service of the team to compensate for your individual weaknesses. Without Susumu’s Genjutsus, you would have a harder time creating openings. You probably wouldn’t have realized where I was leading you. You couldn’t have defended against my Ninjutsu without Jun, and the exercise would have ended a lot sooner. Natsumi’s traps kept me a bay and made your escape easier. She also contributed to shielding the team against my Taijutsu. Your team has solid foundations. You can be proud of yourself. I can tell how hard you trained to get to where you are now. I will see you tomorrow morning at the admin center to receive our first mission.” Shiba said before getting up.
Susumu let out a delighted shout before the jonin disappeared. Jun smiled; their sensei’s compliments made him happy. The mission would most likely be a D-rank one, nothing to be excited about.
Their first mission was to find a lost pet, a dog. They accomplished it without any excitement. Over the next few days, they got to know one another better. They weren’t close enough to call each other friends. But they learned about the others’ habits the more time they spent together. They talked more and even joked among themselves. Shiba made them train together once a week at the very least. It was nothing too intense, just enough to keep them in shape.
The newly formed teams were extremely busy the first few months. They needed to get used to their new routine. Jun understood more things about his sensei and teammates. Shiba mostly maintained a stern face and utilized impeccable language. Everything about his appearance and demeanor suggested he was cold and stuck up. But that was an incorrect assumption. He was patient, pedagogical, and attentive. He didn’t joke much and never smile in the presence of strangers, but he softened up in front of his genins. He enjoyed their banter and gladly played along when they included him in their friendly bickering.
Jun had initially thought Susumu was hard to approach with his scarf. He learned that his teammate only pulled the cloth over his nose when he was uncomfortable. He had thought he was reserved. But Susumu had quite the character. He could be abrupt or even authoritarian. He didn’t hesitate to bark orders at his comrades when they were fooling around too much. He also possessed a very extensive vocabulary when it came to swearing or cursing.
He was a serious person but not rigid. He never hesitated to join a conversation and defend his ideas. He was also nice and liked to help people. He did volunteer work at the hospital where he learned medical ninjutsu. Susumu didn’t talk much about his family, but he had no issues with them. He told Jun his mother was from the Yamanaka clan. His dream of joining the Intelligence Section made more sense.
The young Uchiha initially thought Natsumi was a hot-headed person who never listened to others. Spending time in her company proved him wrong. She was a bit impulsive but was also the most empathetic person in the group. It wasn’t Susumu who had the supporting role, it was her. She was attentive and versatile. She had a talent for knowing what others needed without them expressing it and would easily slip into the role that was expected of her. She was also frank and always spoke her mind. Moreover, Natsumi was the most selfless and sweetest person on their team.
Time passed. Jun continued to see and hang out with Iruka and Yugao but never for too long. Yugao was planning on taking part in the next chunin exam, held in Suna. She was thrilled about it. It was the only thing she talked about. Jun and Iruka knew she had graduated a year before them, but they couldn’t help to be a little jealous. Iruka’s team didn’t function as well as Jun’s. They were arguing all the time, and their teamwork suffered.
Shisui went on a mission for a few weeks, to Jun’s regret. However, he continued training on their usual spot. Itachi joined him sometimes. He didn’t talk much as usual but was a lot more relaxed. He would even ask about Izumi on some rare occasions. Jun made conversation with him. He wanted to learn more Katon techniques, so he asked the young Uchiha. In return, he would show him some Suiton jutsus. Itachi didn’t know any.
Jun lent him some of his books on chakra manipulation. Itachi learned at an astonishing speed. Jun didn’t forget the child’s future. But for now, it was still a child. He hadn’t done anything yet. He could see Itachi was changing a bit. He made more efforts to be social.
A few weeks later, Team 14 went on their first C-rank mission. Though it was a low-danger level mission, their sensei advised them to take it seriously and always expect the unexpected.
The mission was simple. It was about escorting a merchant who was returning to the Land of Waves after conducting some business in Konoha. The mission was familiar to Jun as he recalled that Naruto and his team had a similar one.
The merchant was a decent individual. He was a little nervous in front of Shiba’s stern face but was a kind person. His name was Kosui. They conversed with him during their trip while maintaining their alertness.
Kosui provided them with a lot of information about the Land of Waves. The main resources primarily came from fishing. It wasn’t a wealthy land but a prosperous one. They traded with the neighboring countries for goods, especially the Land of Fire and Water. The journey went without a hitch. They accompanied Kosui to his house, and everyone was relieved to complete the mission.
However, they ran into bandits on their back to Konoha.
“A group is waiting ahead to ambush us on the main road. They must be targeting passing merchants. We’ll take a detour to avoid them. There may be a ninja or two in their group.” Shiba informed them as they bounced from branch to branch along the road.
They tried taking a detour but were probably too close to the group to completely avoid them. Shiba wasn’t the best with sensory abilities. Jun’s potential for sensing chakra was probably greater than his. Their sensei suddenly stiffened. Jun, who had been infusing chakra since the jonin’s warning, also felt it. A dozen chakra signatures were converging in their direction. The majority of them were weak, but there were three worth noticing. Those chakras could only belong to trained ninjas.
“Why are they coming to us? They know we’re ninjas.” Jun asked.
“They also know we’ve made them. They can’t afford to let us warn merchants who may be coming their way.” Susumu explained.
A fight was inevitable. Without slowing down, Shiba drew his sword. The confrontation was imminent. Jun squinted, counting the incoming opponents and estimating their position. Two were coming from the right, and the remaining would meet them from the front in a few seconds. Jun started waving hand seals. The Konoha shinobis leaped out of the branches just as seven men appeared out of the shadows. Jun found himself right before one of the men wielding a sword.
“Katon, Great Fireball.”
The man didn’t have time to dodge at such close range. The fireball engulfed his head, barely giving him time to let out a cry as his skin began melting. Another enemy furiously lunged at him. They exchanged blows. Shiba had already knocked down three enemies while Jun got rid of his opponent by knocking him out.
The two bandits he had sensed earlier coming from the right burst onto the battlefield, and pause in shock at the carnage. Susumu was struggling against a guy with an ax. Natsumi threw some shurikens at the two newcomers. One fell to the ground, but the other managed to dodge the projectiles. He didn’t get to celebrate for long. Jun and Natsumi charged at him simultaneously. Their combined Taijutsu made quick work of the guy. He ended up against a tree, out cold.
Silence fell on the battlefield. Shiba wiped his sword and sheathed it. Four men were lying on the ground around him. One was injured and was moaning. The others seemed dead. Susumu’s opponent was out of it. He was sleeping on the ground, trapped in a Genjutsu. The guy who was hit by Jun’s Katon was dead. His body was dreadfully burned. Jun looked away. He didn’t adjust his strength. He was used to fighting seriously against Shisui, Itachi, and Shiba-sensei… Thinking about his opponent’s strength, he could have easily rendered him unconscious. He felt terrible about it.
“Is anyone hurt?” Their sensei asked.
The genins shook their heads.
“Good. You all did well. Natsumi, Susumu, gather the ones still alive. We’ll stop at the next village to see if they have a bounty on their heads. Jun, walk with me.”
The jonin told him he didn’t do anything wrong. He had protected his life and the team as well. Jun didn’t feel any better. He had taken a life. A life he didn’t need to claim. What frightened him the most was how easy it was. His instincts had taken over. In this world, death is something almost trivial. Children were trained to kill and be fine with it without their mental state being affected. Jun was struggling with the values from his past life and the values held in this world. It was something he needed to sort out on his own.
They carried the dead men into the woods and buried them. When they reached the next village, they learned that four of the bandits had a bounty on their heads. They shared the reward among themselves.
Jun was silent on the way home, mulling over his thoughts. His two teammates were giving him slightly worried looks, but neither broke the silence. Natsumi had also eliminated one of the bandits, and she received the same speech from their sensei. Jun wondered how the kunoichi was feeling. Was she as conflicting as him? Or was she already over it?
When they arrived home, Jun threw himself into training with more intensity than ever. His teammates didn’t ask him the reason for his new behavior. He was glad because it would have been hard for him to explain himself. Killing a man had changed something in him. He hadn’t talked to anyone about it; even his close friends were clueless.
Iruka was still innocent. His hands were still clean. Jun knew Yugao had already stained her hands. She hadn’t shared it then, and Jun understood now. It wasn’t an easy thing to talk about. However, he opened himself up to the last person he would have picked. He told the little Itachi about it. The latter had noticed how much he had been training lately and inquired about it. Jun had replied without thinking. He told him about the mission and his first kill. The young Uchiha just nodded gravely. The teenager didn't know what to make of his reaction. Itachi did not comment on what he divulged to him. Jun wasn’t sure if the young Uchiha understood his emotions.