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Teamwork in a New Guise

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Kakashi crossed his legs and lowered his book. “Maa, so today, as we have not focused much on using our shifted forms as a team-”

“Try at all.” Sasuke muttered.

Kakashi eyed him but didn’t pause. “-we will all shift forms and work on familiarising ourselves with each other. As part of our ongoing training I will work with each of you on how your form may best be used in combat and various mission aspects.”

Sasuke snorted, Naruto looked wary for a single moment before bravado took over - Kakashi wasn’t surprised at that; he knew both Naruto’s soul form and the kind of reaction it likely garnered from most of the village - and Sakura . . . also looked nervous. She was winding her fingers together and fidgeting, sneaking glances at Sasuke, but more sidelong and careful than usual - and she was also carefully darting looks at Naruto and Kakashi himself, to his surprise. Whatever had her on edge, it was not her usually helpless indulgence of her crush around Sasuke.

Something about her soul’s form - or showing it to her team - made her anxious, most likely, then, whatever it was. That information had not been in their files from the Academy, as the Academy didn’t train ninja in the use of their shifted forms. Kakashi sighed, tucking his book away as he hopped off the fence.

“Sasuke, shift for us.” Kakashi instructed, and for once was not required to then shoot a quelling look at Naruto, as this time he made no protest that he should go first.

Sasuke huffed and stuck out his chin, then gained a quick look of focus and blurred, falling into his soul’s form in a gracefully smooth shift. Kakashi concealed a smile at the tiny creature now standing on the grass near his feet. A sable. His brother had been a marten, and though forms or types didn’t necessarily run in families Kakashi found himself not too surprised by this one.

Kakashi glanced up at his other two students. Sakura was biting her lip, a light flush on her cheeks, and she darted a look up at Kakashi, then ducked her head, smiling slightly. Naruto was eyeing his rival with a curious look on his face.

“Sasuke is a bit big for a real sable,” Kakashi informed them, judging the boy; his form was still tiny, but probably at least four or five times that of a juvenile sable, “but his size and the dexterity of martens are quite useful when properly applied on missions.” He gestured at Sasuke. “You can shift back.”

Until he had a feel for all of them, he didn’t want to have more than one of his brats shifting at once. Probably there would be no issue, but. . . Kakashi shook his head.

“Naruto, you next.” Kakashi ordered as Sasuke huffed and flicked a bit of leaf off his shirt. Naruto flinched minutely, but stepped forwards, took a breath, and then seamlessly blurred through a shift. In a moment there was a large, brilliantly red-orange fox sitting before them, his fluffy tail bushed out and raised a bit behind him.

Sasuke arched a brow and sniffed a bit.

“Oh, you’re a fox!” Sakura said, and Naruto’s ears folded back warily. “Sensei, he’s a bit bigger than a regular fox too, isn’t he?” she asked. There was no sign of wariness or distaste in her expression, and Kakashi felt a faint impulse to thank her for it as Naruto began to relax, bit by bit, his tail settling along the grass and his ears rising.

“Yes, he is.” Kakashi confirmed, examining Naruto a little more closely. “Foxes are not as dexterous as martens but they’re quick and good at squeezing their way through tight spots.” He nodded approvingly and Naruto’s tail twitched. “Back again.”

Naruto complied, though he remained sitting on the ground.

“Is it usual for soul forms to be . . . larger than the regular animals?” Sakura asked curiously, tugging a bit at the side of her skirt.

Kakashi glanced at her but didn’t react. “It is not unusual.” he said evenly, a ripple of amusement running through him. “Nor is it particularly unusual for them to be the same size. It depends on the person, and has little to do with their soul, unlike the animal.”

Sasuke’s slightly amused look faded instantly and he glared at Kakashi. He ignored the brat as he settled back on the fence. The boys were much more likely to have picked at each other over their soul forms; neither of them were likely to focus that on Sakura.

“What are you, then?” Sasuke asked suddenly, surprising Kakashi almost as much as it clearly did Sakura. “Smaller than a mortal animal?”

She fidgeted, but Kakashi nodded at her. “Your turn.” he said as a gentle nudge.

Sakura took a deep breath, dropping her hands to her sides, and then bounced on her heels before calling up the shift. Kakashi’s eye widened and his brows rose a bit as a small, sleek tiger stretched her legs and flexed her paws before him, tail curling lazily and long claws digging into the grass.

Oh my- Sakura-chan?” Naruto yelped, eyes wide and back stiff.

Sakura’s ears flicked and her tail curled slowly from side to side as she turned her head towards him. Naruto rallied quickly and grinned at her, and the tail slowed further, relaxing a bit until it nearly brushed the ground. She raised her head a little more.

Sasuke was stiff and his eyes narrowed as he stared at Sakura, then looked away.

Kakashi suppressed a sigh at the sulking, but didn’t address it.

Sakura was, in fact, smaller than the average juvenile tiger, but she was still much larger than either of the boys, oversized or not - and she might just be small because the girl was small in her human shape as well.

“While larger forms lack many of the applied uses of small, particularly flexible and dexterous ones,” Kakashi informed them with a regretful shrug - Sakura turned her head towards him, ears perked and tail rising a little, “there are still many ways to apply your shifted form to use with your other skills.” He paused and smirked slightly. “If nothing else, if pushed to a fall your landings will be much less damaging to yourself - if you can learn to shift in the air.”

Sakura nodded her head, absently raised a paw and licked her fur down neatly, and then shifted her weight back a bit before smoothly resuming her human shape, already back on her feet and unmussed. Kakashi nodded approvingly at her control and precision.

Sakura smoothed her dress out and sneakily cast a look through the fall of her hair at Sasuke, who was ignoring her with a rather more petulant air than his usual aloof manner. Kakashi rolled his eyes.

He clapped his hands. “Well, now we have a basis to work from, and are all familiar with- Yes, Naruto?” he asked, eyeing the boy as he fidgeted.

“What are you, sensei?” Naruto asked with innocent curiosity, examining Kakashi thoroughly as though he could tell from that. It was refreshing and amusing - it had been a very long time since Kakashi had last seen someone wonder what his soul’s form was, at least when he was not under a henge or hiding his identity in some way.

“We should be familiar with your form, too, right sensei?” Sakura asked in precise tones, and, well, she wasn’t incorrect.

“Something big?” Sasuke suggested almost at the same time, with a bit of a resentful tone.

Kakashi snorted, lips quirking beneath his mask, and then leapt off the fence again, falling into his soul’s form as he did. Demonstrating a small version of what he would need to teach Sakura about shifting in mid fall - or leap. He landed in a crouch with all four paws on the grass and raised his head, then straightened, giving Sasuke a grin as his muzzle rose higher and higher above his tiny genin.

Most of Konoha had forgotten the legacy of the Hatake Clan. In many of their minds Kakashi had become the Dog Ninja - not an Inuzuka, but nevertheless similar, less rough than they tended to be - and they had forgotten the wilder beginnings of his family. Kakashi’s soul form was still a dog, not a wolf, as his father had been, but . . . he dwarfed even the largest of his own ninken - or any among the packs of Inuzuka ninken, for that matter.

All three of his brats gaped at him, though to different degrees, and Sakura made a tiny strangled sound. Kakashi tipped his head and eyed her worriedly, flicking an ear. His soul form had alarmed - or terrified - a fair number of people over the years, even when he’d been a pup, but he didn’t wish his students to be among that number.

“Kaka-sensei?” Naruto gaped a little more, inching closer.

Kakashi woofed softly, lowering his head a bit. The body language would be threatening to another canine, but the children all looked reassured. He was still himself, he wouldn’t cause them any harm, as they should know if they weren’t too startled to remember.

Sakura dragged her hands down from her face and Kakashi’s ears folded back with confusion at the look on her face. “You’re so fluffy!” Sakura cried, all but flinging herself at him. Kakashi stiffened just before her small hands dug into the fur over his shoulder, her body pressing against his left foreleg. He craned his neck, surprised.

“Oh, wow, sensei.” Sakura said, her voice muffled into his thick, shaggy fur, and snuggled a little.

Kakashi huffed, reassured that at least she wasn’t frightened, even if he hadn’t been prepared for that response. He dipped his muzzle and nosed her hair gently, nudging her shoulder and pressing her closer against himself for a moment. “You’re so soft. . .” she mumbled into his fur, and Kakashi snorted, amused and a little thrown at the reaction.

Then he turned his attention back to the boys. Naruto was crowing something that made him snort a laugh, tail twitching, but Sasuke - while evidently undaunted - looked even sulkier. Kakashi shook himself lightly, and Sakura stepped back, looking up at him with a small, sheepish smile.

Well, Sasuke would just have to learn to deal with it - as all of them would need to learn to accept and work together in their soul forms. Kakashi barked sharply, and received a couple of confused looks before Sasuke and Sakura got matching expressions of realisation and shifted forms again, Naruto only a few beats behind them.

Sasuke was painfully small from this vantage, and even Naruto was in the range of ‘easily, accidentally crushed’, but Kakashi had been watching his paws around other nin for decades. He lowered his head to inspect each of them, slightly less careful with Sakura, who was at least large enough to hold her ground under his muzzle.

She growled at him when his nose brushed over her shoulders, tail lashing, but ducked and made an apologetic sound an instant later. Kakashi nudged her lightly and rumbled back, soft and unbothered.