Posted in Fanfiction

Tightrope 20

This chapter is dedicated to Slytherin Wife, who somehow managed to find me here without me advertising it. Lol. I know it took me forever to get this chapter out, and even now I cannot promise fast updates for this story. Fanfiction is a way for me to decompress, so I don’t ever want to have to force myself to write it. I hope you can understand. Nevertheless, thank you very much for reading and liking my story.


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Chapter 20 – Past Lines Still Bind

Sasuke remembered this road well. He remembered walking along it like it was just last week, in the opposite direction, towards Konoha instead of away from it. He remembered walking along this road in a tight-knit group with Ranmaru, Kimimaro, Karin, and Juugo, being escorted by Konoha ANBU.

As they walked, memories threatened to swallow him. Not for the first time Sasuke was glad that he had taken point. He hoped Kakashi wouldn’t be able to read too much in the tense lines of his back. Then he heard Tazuna burp and the irritation he felt for the man warred with the creeping memories, keeping them at bay.

Eventually their path took a different turn than the one in Sasuke’s memories and he was able to push his memories away and bring his full focus back.

He chided himself in his head. On paper, this was a C-rank mission, but Sasuke knew that things were about to get a lot more complicated. He had to keep his wits about him, because he couldn’t be sure of when the enemy might strike.

Luckily, the first day drew to an end without any untoward activity. They scouted out a spot to set up camp and Kakashi delegated the bulk of the work to his genin while he hung around their client with that perverted orange book in hand.

After dinner, Kakashi set up a rotating night watch. He taught them tips and tricks of signs to look out for, and ways to keep themselves entertained so that they didn’t end up dozing off. Then Naruto took first watch. Sakura would take second watch and Sasuke the third, with Kakashi taking the final watch.

Sasuke set his sleeping bag apart from the others. He released his ponytail. Sakura was mesmerized by the way the dying embers reflected off of the sheen of Sasuke’s curtain of hair. He caught her looking and gave her a wry smile that had her blushing and ducking into her sleeping bag.

Kakashi’s chuckle was part melancholy, part amusement. He couldn’t help being reminded of Rin sometimes when he looked at Sakura. The way that Sakura obviously crushed on Sasuke, but had the presence of mind to keep her affections in check and to also treat Naruto cordially. It helped, though, to see that Sasuke was the one with hands glowing green after a rough training session. As for Naruto, the blond was throwing discreet glances at Sasuke, as the brunette hunkered down into his sleeping bag. Ah, the joys of puberty.

No. This team was not like Team Minato. This team would not end up like his team. He would make sure of that. Team Seven was special and unique. And it was quickly becoming dear to Kakashi’s heart. He would keep his team safe no matter what. This he vowed before Gai, and this he vowed to himself again.

Sasuke shook out his hair from the tight ponytail it’s been in all day. The dark locks fell around his neck and down his chest. He slid into his sleeping bag and turned his back to the group. From the inside of the sleeping bag he peeled off the seal that he had Karin specially prepare for him. As an Uzumaki she had a natural gift for fuuinjutsu, a talent that Sasuke encouraged. He pasted the seal across his throat. With that secured, he closed his eyes and let the darkness take him.

He dreamt.

It was a dream that he did not have often. Most nights he dreamed of the times he dimmed the light of another’s life. Sometimes he’d dreamed of his new family and friends dying before him, and him helpless to stop it. Rare were the times he would not dream and wake up to a peaceful morning, but they happened and he savored those moments. Rarer still was for him to dream of the day he died.

When he first woke up as Uchiha Sasuke, confused and disorientated, he had often dreamed of his death. Night after night, the recording of his death haunted his dreams and worked his vocal cords raw. Then one day, dreams of his dying ceased. In his dreams, the one screaming was no longer him, but the man writhing under his merciless hands. Sasuke would watch as the man’s eyes bulged, froth forming at his mouth, and nostrils flaring for air that Sasuke held at bay with a string of ninja wire. That was just the first. The one that followed bore a bloodier dream.

Perhaps it was the change in environment, perhaps it was the sight of Tazuna, perhaps it was stress at the unofficial A-rank mission, or perhaps it was the thought of coming change that triggered it, but now he dreamt once again of that day.

His limbs were unbound and there were no hands holding him down. It was unnecessary. The world swam before his vision in a kaleidoscope of colors, the effects of a cocktail of drugs. His sight and coordination was compromise, but he could still feel. Gods. He could still feel. He felt the bite of metal sliding across his skin. Sometimes it slid across smooth and easy; sometimes he felt it as each serrated edge dug into his flesh. He felt his body give under both sharp and blunt torture. Felt his body being opened and torn apart. He felt hands, smooth palms, calloused fingers, as they wrapped around his neck and squeezed, lovingly and slowly. It was a mockery of a lover’s embrace.

He writhed and kicked his legs uselessly. His limbs would not obey. There was something holding him down. With an anguished cry he lunged forward.

“Sasuke!”

Someone brushed the hair away from his neck and ripped the seal from his throat. Suddenly the night air was filled with his scream. With a jolt, he woke up, but his eyes were unfocused, still caught by demons of the past.

“Sasuke. Sasuke. Sasuke.”

Focus, he thought. He listened to the voice calling… calling his name. Sasuke.

He focused and saw his team gathered around him. Naruto, Sakura, Kakashi, they were all there. A vague part of him was glad that Tazuna was still passed out.

“Sasuke.”

The one that called him back was Naruto. Naruto with his blue eyes blown wide and fear in his pupils. Fear that he might’ve lost his first friend to some unknown shadow of the past.

“Sasuke.”

“…Na… ruto.”

“What… what happened?” Sakura whispered. She was folded in on herself. Uncertain, small, and terrified.

“Nightmare?” Naruto prompted.

Sasuke could only nod.

Naruto’s mouth was set in a thin line. He looked so serious. In that moment Sasuke wondered when and how had Naruto matured so quickly. He was so much more composed than what Sasuke had expected.

“Kimimaro warned me of this.” Naruto confessed. “I’ve always suspected… from the way your family and Karin speaks about y… of the past. I didn’t think it would be this bad.” He rubbed a thumb across Sasuke’s chin and came away with blood.

Sasuke finally registered the throbbing of his tongue. “Kimimaro… How?” They only had two hours prior to leaving the village, and the only one home for him to tell about the mission was Ranmaru.

“A week after team announcements. He… He told me to look out for you.”

Sasuke scrubbed the blood from his chin and looked down at his hands to avoid the look in Naruto’s eyes. He didn’t want to check to see the expressions on Sakura and Kakashi’s faces, too.

It bothered him, to see the worry in their eyes. The worry that he was fragile. That he might break. Shit. He wanted to punch something. He didn’t need this worry. It would only hinder the team.

Kakashi laid a hand on Sakura and Naruto’s shoulders. “I think we’ve had enough excitement for one night,” he said lowly, gently. “Naruto, Sakura, go back to sleep. It’s Sasuke’s watch now.”

“But…”

There was some silent eye communication that went on. Sasuke did not bother to look.

Sakura touched his elbow lightly and retreated. Naruto gripped him firmly on the shoulder and then pulled back. Kakashi motioned for Sasuke to walk away from the group. Out of hearing range.

Sasuke wondered if his team would get any sleep tonight. If they did, it would probably be fitful. He hated himself for that. He didn’t want this to happen. He didn’t want to be a liability to his team. To anyone.

He entertained thoughts of becoming a jonin soon so that he could take solo missions instead.

Once they were a fair distance away, but still within sight of the camp, Kakashi stopped walking. Sasuke bumped into him.

Kakashi held out the silencing seal that Karin made, pinched between his middle and forefinger. Sasuke reached to take it but Kakashi held it out of reach.

“Don’t look at me with those eyes.”

What eyes? Sasuke was not aware that he had been glaring.

Kakashi sighed. “Those wounded doe eyes.”

Sasuke’s eyes widened and he looked even more vulnerable if possible. With his curtain of hair wrapped around his shoulder and his eyes expressive and blown wide, Sasuke looked like a child spun from fragile glass. At that moment Sasuke was open and raw, and so, so vulnerable, but Kakashi had to ask.

“Where did you get this seal?” When it looked like Sasuke would not be forthcoming, Kakashi elaborated, “This is a type of seal that T&I might have use of. Why is it in your possession?”

Sasuke huffed. “Did you think I stole it?”

Kakashi said nothing.

“I had Karin create it for me.” Sasuke wrapped his arms around himself and looked away from Kakashi’s scrutinizing gaze. “I didn’t want to disturb anyone, so…” He shrugged helplessly.

“Sakura saw you convulsing in your sleeping bag and not making a sound. She had no idea what was wrong with you. Do you know how frightened she was?”

Sasuke covered his ears and hunched further into himself. “I hadn’t intended on her finding out. I didn’t want any of you to know.”

“Sasuke.”

Kakashi, very slowly, and very deliberately, brought his hands into Sasuke’s field of vision before gently clasping the boy on the shoulders. “We are a team. You can depend on us. You can trust us.”

“I do. I trust you with my life.”

Kakashi held back a sigh as Gai’s words rang in his head. Take care of not just the body, but also of the heart. Sasuke was saying he trusted his team with the safety of his person, but he was deliberately avoiding the topic of his heart. Kakashi wondered how much he could push.

“What did you dream about?”

Kakashi felt Sasuke’s body stiffen under his hands.

“…I don’t remember.”

Kakashi sighed. Sasuke flinched.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

Kakashi leveled Sasuke with a long look.

Sasuke let his hands drop to his sides and then he loosened the muscles in his shoulders. “I am strong,” he said. There was no arrogance in his voice. He said it as if to reassure himself. It was a statement to reaffirm his independence. “I can handle it.”

“Sasuke…”

“Sensei,” Sasuke spoke cutting Kakashi off. It was rude, something that Sasuke was often not, and that was how Kakashi could tell that whatever this was, it bothered Sasuke greatly. “Please get some rest. I will wake you when it is your watch.” He met the jonin’s eyes with a steady stare.

Kakashi’s entire body seemed to droop with a silent exhale. To push beyond this point would be counterproductive. They were still in the middle of a mission. If this had happened within the safety of Konoha’s walls, then Kakashi could have been more insistent, but now would be a terrible time for the team to crumble.

If Sasuke said he would not break, then Kakashi would have to trust in his judgment. Of his three genin, Sasuke had always come across as the most mature one. Kakashi could only hope that Sasuke dealt with himself with the same leniency and patience that he dealt with others.

From the way that Sasuke prepared himself for sleep – using a silencing seal and his hair to hide the seal – it looked like these nightmares were a common occurrence. It was not a good sign by any means, but at the very least, it meant that Sasuke was used to dealing with them.

He patted Sasuke on the head and walked back to their camp.

No one in Team Seven slept well after that.

Tazuna snored away, oblivious to it all.

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Posted in Fanfiction

Tightrope 18

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Chapter 18 – The Team Line

A knock sounded on Kakashi’s door just as he was getting out of the shower. He swore his hair still smelled like tomato juice despite the shampoo he used.

Kakashi deactivated his traps and opened the door to see Gai, his self-proclaimed eternal rival, standing there in his trademark nice guy pose: thumb up, grin sparkling, and sunset shimmering behind him. Except that it wasn’t sunset yet.

Kakashi sighed, “What is it Gai?”

“What a nonchalant and hip greeting!”

“Come in, I don’t want people to see that I’m associated with you.”

When Gai entered the apartment, he was greeted by Kakashi’s ninken. Recognizing Gai’s scent, they went back to doing whatever they were doing before he arrived, which was mostly napping.

Gai’s face dropped its brilliant grin as soon as the door closed. Kakashi had a feeling this was coming, which was why he invited Gai in. At other times he would just kicked Gai over the railing for disturbing him.

“So I heard you passed Team Seven. Congratulations on getting a team, my eternal rival! Now our youthful teams may compete against each other and motivate each other to new heights.”

“Mm-hmm. Get to the point Gai.”

Gai sobered up. “As you are probably aware, I am familiar with two of your students already.”

“I don’t want to know how it happened.”

“I want to talk to you about Sasuke.”

“The Uchiha?”

“Just be careful with him.”

“Yeah, I’ll say,” Kakashi said, remembering the ambush on the Academy roof.

“No. I mean… be gentle with him.”

Kakashi’s brow rose. This doesn’t sound like the youthful Gai at all, who always shouted about hard work, sweat, and manly tears.

“I presume you know about his kidnapping. It happened not too long after the massacre. I can’t imagine the horrors that child faced at such a young age, but it has… aged him.”

“With age comes experience and maturity.”

“Age also makes one fragile and brittle.” Gai patted Kakashi on the shoulder. “You will understand what I mean when you interact with him.” Gai stepped back, ready to take his leave.

“I take care of all my teammates. I won’t let any one of them die before me.” Kakashi stated.

“Take care of not just the body, but also the heart.” With those words, Gai saw himself out the door.

xxx

Gai’s words bothered Kakashi enough that he was only an hour late to meet his new team.

“You’re late!” Naruto fumed.

Even Sakura looked annoyed. They probably thought he was going to be on time from now on after that little fiasco yesterday, but old habits were hard to break.

“Maa… I saw a little lost kitten up in a tree, so I rescued it and returned it to the owner.”

His students looked like they didn’t know whether to believe him or not, but since they didn’t know him well yet, they gave him the benefit of doubt. Kakashi cackled inwardly. He’d rile them up soon enough.

“By the way, where’s Sasuke?” Kakashi inquired.

“Late, like you.”

Right on cue, Sasuke ran up to them, his long ponytail streaming like a black ribbon behind him. “Sorry, I’m late,” he apologized.

Sasuke’s cheeks were a little flushed from exertion. Sakura blushed as she took him in. She still hadn’t gotten over his wardrobe change yet. The white made him look angelic, but black gave him an air of mystery, and with his hair tied up in a high ponytail instead, he looked so different.

Naruto’s cheeks flushed as he remembered their conversation from last night, but he tempered it down quickly before the others could notice and covered it up with a boisterous demand. “Why were you late?” Naruto jabbed his finger at Sasuke. Sakura looked curious, too. Sasuke was always on time.

“I saw a lost cat stuck up in a tree, so I rescued her and returned her to the owner.”

Silence descended on the field. Even Kakashi sweatdropped. Overhead, a crow cawed its way across the sky.

“That’s the same excuse that Kakashi-sensei gave! Dattebayo!”

“You were late, too, sensei?” Sasuke asked without inflection. In truth, he had expected Kakashi to be much later as a punishment for the eraser and itching powder prank. Yes, he thought of Kakashi as a petty person. Kakashi read all that in Sasuke’s innocent question and decided that he would be extra late tomorrow just to spite the boy.

“My, my, late on the first day. I’m afraid that will warrant some punishment later.”

“You were late, too,” Naruto protested.

Kakashi ignore him. “But first, let’s go around and do introductions. We skipped over that yesterday.”

“What should we talk about?” Sakura asked.

“What are your likes, dislikes, hobbies and dreams. Things like that.”

Naruto raised his hand eagerly, “Then I’ll go first. I like ramen, especially if it’s the ramen that Iruka-sensei buys for me at Ichiraku. I also like Iruka-sensei, the Uchiha family, especially Sasuke, Sakura-chan of course, and sometimes the old man Hokage. I dislike the three minutes it takes for cup ramen to boil, and I don’t like people who hurt my friends. My hobbies are eating different types of ramen and training with Sasuke. My dream… is to be the greatest Hokage of all time and make people acknowledge me! Dattebayo!”

Naruto certainly grew up interestingly. Kakashi studied the other two children on the team, two of the people that Naruto said he liked. He wondered if this might be one of the reasons that solidified their team formation. He had heard that Iruka-sensei had a soft spot for Naruto. Kakashi nodded. “Next.”

Sakura spoke up, “I like learning and seeing myself get stronger. I like umeboshi and sweet foods. I also like,” her eyes lingered on Sasuke and then glanced at Naruto briefly, “kind people. I dislike people who look down on my civilian background, and I don’t care much for spicy foods. My hobbies are reading and playing trivia games. My dream is to become the best kunoichi I can be and to make my parents proud of me.”

Most girls her age were preoccupied with love affairs, but Sakura seemed to be more down to earth. That would make it easier to work with her. Kakashi nodded. Sasuke looked over at Sakura in what might have been surprise or approval. Kakashi cleared his throat and motioned for Sasuke to introduce himself.

“I like… peaceful mornings, animals, and watching the sunrise. My favorite foods are shellfish and…” Sasuke’s eyes flickered up to Kakashi’s hair, “tomatoes.” Kakashi didn’t even twitch. He only eye smiled and waited for Sasuke to continue. “I dislike alcoholics, and I hate people who betray my trust and people who abuse my kindness. My hobbies are spending time with my family and friends and experimenting with new recipes. My dream?” Sasuke said the word like he hadn’t thought of it in a long time and there was a faraway look in his eyes. “I simply want to live without regrets.”

Despite Gai’s insistence, Kakashi wasn’t quite expecting this version of Sasuke. He was ready to deal with a moody preteen hell bent on revenge, and perhaps a little touched in the head from his rough childhood. What he got was someone much more mild and mellow. He didn’t miss the edge in Sasuke’s voice when he talked about his dislikes though. He wondered what bought about this change in the Uchiha. Was it his new family? Was it Naruto?

“You all have unique personalities. I like that.” Kakashi clapped his hands. “Now for today’s agenda.”

“Hatake-sensei,” the Uchiha spoke up.

“Kakashi is fine.”

“…Kakashi-sensei, what about your introduction. We’re a team now, it’s only right that we all learn about each other.”

“Hmmm…” Kakashi pondered on this. He supposed this fledgling team had earned a bone at least. “My likes are too adult for you to know about.” Kakashi delighted in the disturbed grimaces on their faces. “I dislike people who don’t follow the rules, but I dislike people who abandon their comrades even more. My hobby is reading. My dreams for the future are to continue protecting my village and to see my cute genin team all grow up into fine people.” He grinned at them.

Sasuke looked gobsmacked. Kakashi pouted. Did that boy think so little of him? Hmm, yeah, he probably did, but it’s not like Kakashi cared what others thought of him. He read porn openly in public. Enough said.

“Now, we are going to go through some team exercises. Then we’ll break for lunch and complete a mission in the afternoon.”

“A mission? Alright!” Naruto cheered.

Kakashi grinned under his mask. He couldn’t wait to see the look on his team’s faces when they receive their first D-rank. He specially reserved the Tora mission for them. Kakashi’s shoulders shook with repressed laughter.

“Don’t let it get to your head, Naruto.” Sasuke said.

“Yeah, as genin, our first missions won’t be all that exciting,” Sakura added.

Spoilsports, Kakashi thought.

xxx

Team Seven was looking a little battered and worse for wear by the time lunch rolled around. They were so tired that they didn’t even have the energy to glare at Kakashi or give him lip anymore. He glanced over at Sasuke whose face and clothes were caked with mud, whilst the other two were only covered in dirt. Yeah, Kakashi was being a little vindictive and it was entertaining as heck. Sasuke noticed right away, but didn’t comment because he knew that doing so would only make the pay back worse. Smart boy.

It wasn’t all for laughs, though. Kakashi did try to drill the mechanics of teamwork into them. His team might understand the importance of working together, but they’ve never really practiced working together as a group, so these exercises were to help them develop a team style.

They still had a ways to go.

The kids had no problem when it came to helping each other out of tough spots. Sasuke was especially good at this, often times identifying and pre-empting a problem before one of his teammates could be caught up in the trap. What they each had trouble with was asking for help. They were trying so hard to prove themselves that they forgot the other equation of teamwork. This was especially obvious with Sakura. It was like she had pegged herself as the weakest link in the group and refused to bow.

Asking for help was a little easier for Naruto, but he would only ask for Sasuke’s help. Since Naruto and Sasuke trained together, the blond had less compunction about asking his sparring partner for help. By not asking Sakura for help, Naruto was in his own way “looking out for” her, but to Sakura, it felt like she was being babied, which in turn alienated her, and pushed her to drive herself even harder. If someone didn’t crack soon, then Kakashi was going to have to pound it into their heads.

Reliance was not always a sign of weakness.

It’s only the first official day of training. They would learn soon enough.

Kakashi pulled out the pre-packaged bento boxes he bought for his team. They sat in the field and ate lunch together.

After finishing up the food, they headed to the Hokage Tower for their first mission as Team Seven.

Kakashi made a beeline for the chunin he talked to that morning to reserve the Tora mission.

“My apologies, Kakashi-san, but that mission has already been completed.”

“Oh?”

The chunin sweatdropped at the ominous nature of Kakashi’s tone and hastened to explain, “You see, a genin came in this morning with the cat. Since it would be inefficient to turn him away, we wrote up the mission under his team. In fact…” the chunin pointed at Sasuke, “that would be the genin I spoke of.”

All of Team Seven turned to stare at Sasuke in surprise.

“The payment will be routed to your accounts soon,” the chunin continued.

Sasuke blinked innocently at his team.

“You mean you weren’t lying about the cat this morning?” Naruto exclaimed.

“Sasuke-kun, you already completed our team’s first mission by yourself?”

The boy in question shrugged, “I like animals.” He sounded almost defensive.

With a lazy blink, Kakashi turned back to the chunin on duty. Well, this was an unexpected turn of events, but there’s no use lingering over it now. “Do you have any babysitting missions?” Those were the second least favorite among genin.

“Babysitting?” Naruto squawked.

Kakashi’s visible eye crinkled in amusement. “Babysitting.”

Half an hour later found Team Seven at the Suzuki resident saddled with a four children between the ages of one and seven.

“Have fun, my cute genin.” Kakashi said and disappeared somewhere, presumably to read Icha Icha. At least he had the decency not to read that smut in front of their client’s children.

He returned four hours later to taunt – that is, to check on – his students. What he found was Naruto and Sakura completely pooped out in the kitchen, surrounded by baby formula and half eaten mush. In the bedroom, Sasuke was just tucking the last child into bed for naptime.

Sasuke then came into the kitchen to join the rest of his team. He didn’t look much worse for wear since Kakashi had left them. In fact, he had even found time to clean off some of the dried mud on his person. In contrast, Naruto and Sakura looked more rumpled and there were bits of food stuck in their hair. Sasuke nodded at Kakashi and began clearing off the kitchen table.

Sakura jumped up. “Let me help.”

“My, my, you’re just full of surprises today, Sasuke-kun.” Kakashi teased.

Sasuke gave Kakashi a wry smile. “It’s not that hard to babysit if you can get into the mindset of a child. I used to have-” Sasuke suddenly broke off. The faint smile he had on his face disappeared. He wiped off a spill on the table and turned his back to them as he wrung out the towel in the sink. His shoulders slumped. With his back still turned, Sasuke continued, “I used to have… dreams of having younger siblings.”

The teasing twinkle disappeared from Kakashi’s eye.

“Sasuke.” Naruto studied his friend’s back.

“Sasuke-kun.” Sakura touched her hand hesitantly to the brunette’s elbow.

“Nee-chan?” A sleepy voice called from the threshold.

To Kakashi’s surprise, instead of Sakura, Sasuke was the one to turn.

“Yes?” The Uchiha smiled, all traces of melancholy gone.

“I need to go pee-pee,” the child said.

“All right, let’s go.” Sasuke ushered the child out of the kitchen.

“Nee-chan?” Kakashi inquired and the mood in the room lightened.

“Just don’t ask.”

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Posted in Fanfiction

Tightrope 17

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Chapter 17 – Across the Line

Sasuke turned to Naruto first. “Naruto, you said you learned the Shadow Clone Technique right?” At Naruto’s nod, he continued, “How many can you make?”

“I don’t know. Five hundred? Eight hundred? Probably more.”

Sakura’s eyes widened at the information.

Sasuke nodded. “Make a few clones and transform them to look like someone else. Send two to find Gai-sensei and Misao-sensei. They’re both jonin and should be able to handle themselves against an enemy ninja. Send the third one to find a chunin instructor, someone that can identify whether this ninja is our jonin-sensei or not. The other clones should look for any other source of help that can be trusted. Don’t send too many clones out of the Academy at once. That might rouse his suspicion.”

Naruto nodded and made the clones. With a puff of smoke they transformed into nondescript looking Academy workers and left the room. Sakura’s brows were knotted with worry, but she kept her composure.

“If that ninja is strong enough to take down a jonin then he must be pretty strong. Our goal is not to defeat him, only to keep him here until reinforcements arrive. If possible, we’ll try to detain him. Go in with the intent to kill, and don’t let yourselves be killed. If the situation goes south, pull back, understood?”

Sakura and Naruto nodded. Twin looks of grim determination on their faces.

“Naruto, I want you to climb to the roof from the outside,” Sasuke pointed at the window. “I will go to the room across the hall and climb up from that side. Naruto, use your clones to overwhelm him. I’ll look for a chance to restrain him. Sakura, take the stairs and stay hidden until you see an opening and then attack, or jump in if it looks like one of us is in trouble.”

They nodded.

“Go,” Sasuke commanded and left the room to do his part. Sakura followed him out the room and then turned down the hallway to get into position.

Sasuke had yet to learn tree climbing with chakra, but he was ingenious with ninja wire and made use of that to scale the building. He knew that Naruto would find a way up with all of his prankster tricks under his belt.

His head popped up to the roof in time to see a horde of Naruto clones ganging up on the lazy jonin. The jonin was reading a book and scratching absently at his head when Naruto attacked. From his vantage point, Sasuke couldn’t tell if Kakashi was surprised or not, but Kakashi immediately sprung into action, taking down the clones with ease. That damnable orange book was still held open with one hand.

“Maa, maa. So energetic.”

“Who are you?” Naruto demanded.

“I’m your jonin-sensei.”

“Yeah, right. Like I would believe that so easily.”

Sasuke crept closer. The real Naruto went in to exchange blows with Kakashi. While Kakashi was preoccupied with Naruto’s aerial assault, Sasuke swept in to take out Kakashi’s footing with a sweeping kick. Kakashi leapt upward nimbly and avoided his leg, but Sasuke was prepared for that. As he pulled away, he gripped his ninja wire and pulled. A second attempt at Kakashi’s legs. Kakashi jumped away from the general area to avoid the ninja wire and a kick to the head courtesy of Naruto.

It really was quite impressive to see all that orange moving in a mass.

Sasuke followed Kakashi with a Great Fireball Technique that had Kakashi tucking his beloved book away. Sasuke couldn’t be sure if it was because Kakashi had deemed them worthy of his attention or if he was just hiding his book away for safekeeping. Sasuke pursued with a barrage of shuriken.

Kakashi dodged backwards into a trio of Naruto clones waiting to pummel him. Kakashi kicked one in the stomach, poked another in the eyeballs, and headbutted the third one in the face with enough force to dispel all of them.

As the third clone poofed out of existence, Sasuke slid under Kakashi’s guard and unleashed a fury of upward kicks and punches. Kakashi retaliated. He easily deflected Sasuke’s attacks and spun him around in the air, but Sasuke thrived in the air. He turned the spin into a twirling air kick that was too quick to dodge. Kakashi raised his arm to block.

Sasuke smirked when his kick collided. He had put a lot of momentum into that kick and he was also wearing weights. The kick actually forced Kakashi back and Sasuke celebrated the small victory.

Kakashi made an abortive, distracted movement towards his head, and that was when Sakura came out brandishing a giant battle-ax. Even Sasuke paused at the sight. Sakura swung the ax with strength that belied her petit body. She would have cleaved Kakashi in half if he hadn’t used the Substitution Technique. A log of wood clattered to the floor in two pieces. The cut was clean and precise.

“Naruto. Up!” Sasuke commanded.

The blond understood immediately, and with a clone, he made a step with their joined hands and threw Sasuke up to where Kakashi landed. Sasuke spun in the air and weaved his ninja wire around Kakashi to restrain the jonin, but the jonin escaped and the wire tightened around a sandbag instead.

Sakura deftly changed the direction of her giant battle-ax and swung diagonally up to attack Kakashi. The jonin dodged, and Sasuke swung the sandbag at him. Sakura abandoned her ax as Kakashi dodged in her direction and she engaged him in a taijutsu battle.

Sasuke was impressed by Sakura’s fluid display. He knew she was training in taijutsu, and her rankings in class had gone up, but he didn’t know she had gotten this good already. She must have held back in taijutsu class. Still, she was no match for a jonin. When Kakashi knocked her backwards, Sasuke slid in to catch her, and Naruto charged in with his clones.

“Dynamic Entry!”

A green blur descended on the roof, and rocketed towards Kakashi. Naruto jumped back as Gai made contact with the concrete roof, denting the surface.

“Who dares to attack the youthful students of Konoha?” Gai slid fluidly into a taijutsu stance and then he faltered.

“Kakashi-san?” Misao exclaimed with surprise as she landed before Sasuke and Sakura with three kunai in each hand.

At the same time, Gai shouted, “Kakashi!”

“You two know this guy?” Naruto asked.

“Yes,” Misao answered. “He is Hatake Kakashi, a fellow Konoha jonin.”

“Oh.” Naruto dispelled his clones. “Hey guys,” he waved to Sakura and Sasuke who was getting back onto their feet. “He’s not an enemy ninja!”

“So we’ve heard,” Sasuke said, keeping his voice dry and neutral. They approached Kakashi tentatively.

Sakura bowed. “We apologize for attacking you. But our jonin-sensei was three hours late, so we were afraid that something might have happened to him, and that you might be an enemy ninja posing as him.”

Misao sighed, “This is what you get for being late all the time, Kakashi-san.”

Gai laughed boisterously. “I always said your tardiness would come back to bite you in the butt someday.”

“Thank you for your help, jonin-san.” Sakura bowed to Gai and Misao.

“We are sorry to have troubled you over this,” Sasuke bowed, too.

“It was no trouble at all!” Gai boomed.

“Better safe than sorry,” Misao added and smiled reassuringly.

“But to think that Sasuke and Naruto would be on my eternal rival’s team. Ha ha ha!”

“What’s so funny?” Naruto asked.

“Don’t mind them, grown men have weird hobbies,” Misao said.

At that point three other ninja arrived on the Academy roof. After clearing up the misunderstanding and confirming that, yes, Kakashi is Team Seven’s jonin sensei, the other ninja dispersed, leaving Team Seven on the roof top.

Sakura retrieved her battle-ax and stored it back into a storage scroll.

“When did you learn fuuinjustu?” Sasuke asked.

“I didn’t. A friend of a friend helped me with this,” she indicated the scroll as she tucked it away.

“You were so cool, Sakura-chan! I didn’t know you were that strong,” Naruto enthused.

“Gee, thanks, Naruto.”

“Naruto, don’t be mean to Sakura,” Sasuke chided.

“What? No- I wasn’t- I didn’t mean-”

Sasuke cut through Naruto’s blathering and assured Sakura, “He meant it as a compliment.” Sakura nodded and ignored the stammering blond.

As one they turned to their jonin sensei. He was observing them quietly the entire time.

“Maa maa, you guys certainly stirred up quite a bit of ruckus.” Kakashi said. They stayed silent. He sighed. “Why did I get saddled with such an uncute team?” No one answered him. “Well, I was originally going to test you on your team work, but since you’ve proven to me that you can work together as a team… You passed! Welcome to Team Seven.”

“Wait, pass? Pass what?” Naruto asked.

Kakashi then explained the secret test that all genin teams had to pass in order to become actual genin. Naruto was suitably pissed by the idea until Sakura pointed out that they had already passed.

Kakashi scratched at his head. “Well, meet me at training ground seven tomorrow at eight a.m. sharp.”

“Hatake-sensei,” Sasuke spoke up before Kakashi could flitter off. “Use tomato juice to wash out your hair.”

“Ahh, your doing I see.”

It was a rhetorical statement so Sasuke did not respond. Then Kakashi left.

“What was that powder?” Sakura asked.

“Itching powder.” Sasuke smirked in amusement. “It has a delayed effect of five minutes but gets increasingly itchier as time passes.” It was Sasuke’s own concoction, and of course he was immune to it.

Naruto cracked up. “That was brilliant.”

“Why don’t we eat out for dinner? To celebrate our passing?” Sasuke suggested. Sakura nodded enthusiastically. “No ramen.”

Naruto’s face fell and Sakura giggled.

After dinner that evening and after Sakura had left for her course home, Naruto turned to Sasuke. The blond was blushing and fidgeting uncharacteristically.

“Is something wrong Naruto?”

“Ah, well, today, in the classroom… you said… you said you already had your first kiss.”

Sasuke cocked his head to the side in amusement. “Yes?”

“Was it… was it…”

“Was it what, Naruto?” Sasuke prompted.

“Was it Karin?” The blond blurted.

Sasuke blinked, taken aback. That was a logical assumption, he supposed, what with the way Karin being so blatant about her affections. Karin can be rather extreme with her displays of love, but Sasuke didn’t find her off-putting, he just found her antics a bit over the top and embarrassing. He quite liked her though. The redhead was loyal, tight-lipped, proactive, and a dependable friend and comrade in arms.

“It wasn’t Karin.” Sasuke said.

Naruto brightened up at the news, but then his shoulders slumped. “Do you mind telling me who it was?”

Sasuke scratched the side of his cheek. He can’t very well tell Naruto that he had his first kiss years ago, in his previous life. So he decided to answer as Uchiha Sasuke and not as the dual being that he currently was, “It was you.” And it was the truth as far as Sasuke’s body was concerned.

Naruto’s eyes widened and he stared at Sasuke as he tried to wrap his mind around the answer. “But I thought you meant-”

“I had to say something to get the girls to back off. And it was the truth. At that time I had just had my first kiss with you.”

Naruto studied the sincerity in Sasuke’s eyes, and once the truth dawned on him, the effect was immediate. Color spread from his cheeks to the tips of his ears.

Sasuke chuckled. The blond looked so adorable when he was embarrassed. Naruto normally didn’t do embarrassed. He bulldozed over social conventions and overturned traditions. To see him like this was a rare sight. Taking pity on the boy, Sasuke decided to put an end to his embarrassment.

“Don’t worry about it. It was just an accident. I didn’t mind.” Naruto’s face got even redder and Sasuke backtracked. “Oh, that must have been your first kiss. Sorry. Having a guy as your first kiss probably wasn’t what you had in mind.”

Naruto looked down at his sandals and wouldn’t meet Sasuke’s eyes. Ah, hormones, how they love to wreck havoc on the teenage body.

“Look, just forget about it,” Sasuke said, bumping his fist against Naruto’s shoulder in what he hoped was a brotherly manner. “If it makes you feel better we can pretend it never happened.”

Naruto looked up, his eyes wide. He opened his mouth to speak when Karin blitzed in and kicked her cousin into a tree. Neji and Lee soon came into view. From their disheveled state, Sasuke guessed they had just came back from a mission or an intense training session with Gai.

“What a coincidence that we met up here.” Karin gushed.

She did not latch onto Sasuke like she normally would, probably because she was afraid of smelling bad after strenuous activities. Not that Sasuke would’ve mind, since she cuddled him even when he was sweaty and gross, but he decided not to give her any ideas. She was clingy enough as is.

“But Karin-san, you said you sensed Sasuke-sensei and then you-” Lee never got to finish that statement, because Karin punched his face into the ground. She turned to Sasuke with an innocent smile and tittered behind her hand. Sasuke sweatdropped. The redhead was scary. In more ways than one.

“What was that for –ttebayo!” Naruto screamed, having recover from his face plant into the tree.

Karin took Sasuke by the hand and started dragging him along. “Let’s go home, Sasuke. It’s getting late and I want to have a hot bath as soon as possible.”

“Hey, don’t ignore me when I’m talking to you!” Naruto shook his fist at Karin’s back.

Sasuke barely managed to say his good-byes before Karin hauled him out of sight.

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Posted in Fanfiction

Tightrope 16

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Chapter 16 – Genin Starting Line

Sasuke shifted in bed. The blankets were tangled around his legs from the tossing and turning he did during the night. Haunting images ran through his dreamscape and he fought to wake up. His breathing hastened and then with a sharp intake of air his eyes flew open. They were red. In each eye, three tomoe spun around like a pinwheel caught in a storm gale.

He lay there panting on his bed. Cold sweat coated his face, neck, and back. Outside the birds have yet to wake and blue light shone in through the window, illuminating his room in a cold light. He pushed himself into a sitting position and cradled his head as he tried to regain his bearings. Knowing there would not be any strenuous activity planned for the day, Sasuke had taken a new dose of poison the day before. The active nightmare was probably a side effect of the poison.

Sasuke scrubbed a hand down his face. His eyes bleeding back to black. He probably sweated out most of the poison overnight. That was good. Grabbing a towel, he trudged into the bathroom to go through his morning ablutions.

After a long, hot shower, Sasuke got dressed in his new clothes. To mark his passage from a student to a ninja he had gotten a new wardrobe of clothes. Gone were the whites of childhood and the traditional high collars of the Uchiha clan. In its place was a short sleeved black tunic trimmed in white. The tunic wrapped around his front like a yukata and was belted at the waist with a length of deep red silk. Through the v-neckline of the tunic, a hint of the mesh undershirt he wore could be seen. For bottoms he wore simple black shorts. He switched out the blue cloth of the forehead protector for a black one and also bought black ninja sandals to match everything. Finally he wrapped his arms and legs with bandages for stability and it also helped to hide the weights he wore.

Sasuke looked at himself in the mirror. The sun was just beginning to rise and cast his room in a warmer glow, but the boy before the mirror was a somber image. Sasuke combed his hair quickly and pulled his long black locks up into a high ponytail instead of his usual low tail. His bangs came forward to frame his face. His hair was now just long enough to cover the Uchiha emblem sewed onto the back of his clothing. He knew long hair could become a liability for a ninja, but it was like a memento from his past life. He had long black hair then too. If the time came when he must cut his hair then he would do so without hesitation, but for now he wanted to keep the blanket of comfort.

Sunlight continued to seep in, highlighting his face in the mirror, and for a moment his skin and facial scar was awash in the same color, camouflaging the scar.

If Sasuke tilted his head forward then his bangs would be able to hide his scar, but there really was no need to hide away the scar. It was both a mark of pride and a reminder to him. Sasuke was proud of it because it was a scar he got protecting someone important to him, but it was also a reminder that he only got it in the first place because he wasn’t strong enough to fight off the missing-nin and had to use his body as a meat shield instead. Everyday, looking into the mirror and seeing that scar was a reminder that he had to get stronger to protect everyone dear to him.

Today was the day of the team assignments. Naruto had failed despite Sasuke’s tutoring. Naruto probably failed less horribly than he would have in the original storyline. Sasuke would never know, but he liked to think that his tutelage made a positive difference. He had heard the alarm bells go off last night and could only pray that it was Naruto who stole the Scroll of Forbidden Techniques and not Mizuki. Butterflies fluttered in his stomach and he knew they would not settle until he saw Naruto in the classroom, sporting a forehead protector.

When Sasuke entered the classroom, Naruto was not present yet. With his stomach still in knots, Sasuke found his seat by the window and waited. As he walked pass, nosebleeds erupted and a few fangirls fainted from his image change. He supposed he should have anticipated that, but even after all these years he still wasn’t used to having fangirls. Mostly, he pretended they didn’t exist.

“Sasuke-kun, good morning.”

“Ah, Sakura. Morning.”

“May I sit here?”

He nodded. Sakura took the seat beside him. She had changed out the blue cloth of her forehead protector for a green one and switched her old sandals for a new pair of green ones. Asides from that she still wore the same red qipao dress and green leggings. Sasuke thought the green looked nice on her. It brought out her eyes and made them more emerald than olive. He told her so, and she flushed a brilliant shade of red that had Sasuke chuckling and Sakura going even redder.

Finally, Naruto burst into the room with a rowdy greeting, flashing his shiny new forehead protector for all to see. Sasuke breathed a sigh of relief.

“Sasuke!” Naruto bounded up the steps to Sasuke and clambered onto the desk to present his forehead protector to Sasuke.

“Naruto.”

“I passed, dattebayo!”

Sasuke smiled. “So I see, congratulations.”

“What happened? I thought you failed the exam yesterday, Naruto.” Sakura said.

“Heh heh, I took down a rogue ninja and got a field promotion!”

“How did that happen?”

Before Naruto could answer her, the boy behind Naruto elbowed the blond in the butt as he shifted backwards and then Naruto was flailing his arms as he tipped forward.

Sasuke’s eyes widened in disbelief and didn’t react quickly enough to dodge the lips that plastered onto his. He had completely forgotten about this moment in the original timeline and only just now remembered it. Honestly, what were the chances of it happening? The fates must be laughing.

They didn’t immediately jump away from each other. Probably because they didn’t hate each other’s guts so the kiss wasn’t as offensive as it could’ve been. Naruto regained his balance and rocked back onto his hunches.

“Sorry, sorry,” the kid apologized for pushing Naruto accidentally.

“Sasuke?” Naruto’s face was beet red. Sakura was speechless with shock, her mouth hanging open.

“Naruto!” The girls screeched. “How dare you steal Sasuke-kun’s precious first kiss like that?!” They advanced menacingly.

“Hieee!” Naruto jumped off the table and started backing away.

“It’s okay,” Sasuke said, unperturbed. “I’ve already had my first kiss.”

The fangirls froze at this.

“Wh- what?!” Naruto was the first to stammer out, followed by screeches from the fangirls.

Sasuke raised an eyebrow. “Is there a problem?”

“Who was it?” The fangirls demanded.

“I have no obligation to broadcast my personal life.”

This shut the girls up, although they didn’t look happy about it.

Naruto looked conflicted, but before Sasuke could ask him what was wrong, Iruka came into the room to announce the teams.

Sasuke breathed another sigh of relief when Team Seven was announced. It stayed the same. He snuck a glance at his new teammates who were conveniently sitting in the same row as him. Both Sakura and Naruto’s rankings have gone up. Sakura was not only the top kunoichi in academics – closely followed by Hinata and Ino – but also her taijutsu ranking was above average. Sasuke had an inkling about why that may be. Not that he was complaining. But he was concerned that the change in scores might affect the team placements.

In retrospect, scores wasn’t the only thing that determined team placements. Individual temperament and other factors also mattered. When Sasuke thought about it a little more, it was probably a given that he and Naruto would end up on Kakashi’s team. Kakashi was the only ninja left in Konoha with a Sharingan, so logically he was the only one that could teach Sasuke how to utilize the dojutsu. As for Naruto, he was Minato’s son and carrier of the kyuubi. Kakashi had close ties with Minato, and he was competent enough to handle the situation should anything go awry with the kyuubi. It was Sakura’s placement that he was uncertain about.

Despite all this reasoning, Sasuke still wasn’t assured until the teams were announced, but now that they were he could rest a little easier. Upon realizing his relief at the situation, Sasuke had to wonder again, why was he so desperate to have Naruto and Sakura on his team? He had grown closer to them both during his time in the Academy, but Sasuke was confident in his ability to work with a wide range of people. After all, he had the patience and experience of someone beyond his years.

There was a lecture on genin protocols and then the class broke for lunch. In the afternoon they would meet with their jonin sensei.

As per usual, Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura left the classroom to find a spot to eat together. After the first time they had lunch together, Sakura had been looking for another opportunity to get close to Sasuke, and Naruto presented the perfect opportunity by inviting her to eat with them the next day, and the next, and the next, and then it just became routine. It also helped that Sakura always brought a little extra to fed Naruto’s cavernous stomach.

Sasuke had tolerated Sakura’s company because he thought that Naruto was crushing on the pink-haired girl and she was polite enough to the blond, but when she proved to be less fanatical towards him than canon portrayed her to be, he relaxed and gradually accepted her addition into the group. The fact that she seemed to be taking her ninja training more seriously did nothing but add to her appeal and Sasuke found his respect for her growing. Eventually he started to call her by her given name and at Naruto’s prompting had dropped all honorifics, much to Sakura’s joy.

Sasuke wasn’t sure what caused the change in Sakura, since he did not actively do anything to help her change, but he sure wasn’t going to look the gift horse in the mouth.

After lunch, the genin reassembled in the classroom to meet their jonin sensei. Soon Team Seven was the only one left. Half an hour passed and their sensei still did not arrive.

“Iruka-sensei, you should go home and rest now. We can wait for our new sensei by ourselves,” Naruto said.

Iruka looked unsure, but at Naruto’s prompting he relented with a relieved sigh. Sasuke studied Iruka as he left the room. It was hard to tell, but from the way that Iruka moved, Sasuke deduced that Iruka was injured and it looked like a pretty serious injury, too. It was impressive the way Iruka was able to withstand the pain to be present for team assignments today. Of course, the medic-nin should have healed him, but his injury was still new and he should’ve been relegated to at least a day of bed rest.

Sasuke’s eyes widened and then narrowed into a glare, but the one he was angry at was himself. He can’t believe he had forgotten about Iruka getting hurt by Mizuki. It was one of those details that you didn’t quite forget, but it also didn’t linger at the forefront of your mind, so it needed some trigger to stimulate the memory.

Another hour passed with no jonin showing up. During lunch Naruto had regaled Sasuke and Sakura with the story of his field promotion, smoothly editing out the bit about the kyuubi, and now there was nothing left to talk about. They were on good terms with each other at this point so they didn’t need to break the ice either. All that was left to do was to wait.

Finally, Naruto got so fed up that he took up a chalkboard eraser.

“Naruto, wait.”

“But Sasuke,” Naruto whined.

Sasuke motioned for the eraser and Naruto handed it over with a pout. Sasuke couldn’t help himself. Being around Naruto had made him a bit of a prankster, too. He sprinkled a bit of white powder onto the eraser and then handed it back to Naruto. “Careful with that,” he warned.

Sakura watched the duo with fascinated horror.

Naruto gave him a foxy grin and went to prop the eraser up between the door and doorframe. Half an hour later, Kakashi walked into the room and the trap fell right on top of him. Sasuke wondered if he was humoring them to get them to let down their guard. Well it certainly seemed to work on Naruto, who was busting a gut laughing, and Sakura, who was flabbergasted with disbelief that their jonin sensei had fallen for such an elementary trick. Sasuke couldn’t help the smile on his face, but he hid it behind interlaced fingers. No doubt the jonin would make Naruto and Sasuke regret that little prank tomorrow. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why Kakashi had poked Naruto in the butthole in the original timeline. Sasuke wondered if he would have to guard his butt, too. But for today, it was worth the fun.

“Hmm… my first impression of you all is that I hate you,” Kakashi said, managing to sound both deadpanned and cheerful at the same time. That was an art form in and of itself. “Meet me on the roof in five minutes.” Then Kakashi disappeared with a poof.

Sasuke wasn’t sure what made him do what he did next. He was probably riding high on the successful eraser prank or maybe it was paranoia caused by the poison talking. It was a spur of the moment decision and in hindsight, a completely logical course of action for someone who wasn’t supposed to know what their jonin-sensei looked like.

“Naruto, Sakura, wait.”

His teammates paused on their way to the door.

“We don’t know who that strange ninja is,” Sasuke spoke in a low and urgent voice that immediately had Naruto and Sakura on alert.

“Isn’t he our jonin-sensei?” Sakura asked; her voice pitched to match Sasuke’s low tone.

“That’s a logical leap of deduction, but we can’t be too sure. Our jonin-sensei was supposed to show up three hours ago. Perhaps he or she was attacked by an enemy ninja and that enemy ninja is now posing as our jonin-sensei.”

“What?” Sakura exclaimed in a harsh whisper, disturbed by the idea.

“It’s hard, but it’s happened before, enemy ninja slipping into our village and making off with unsuspecting ninja children.”

Naruto’s face was unusually solemn. He had heard the tale of Sasuke’s kidnapping from the adopted Uchihas. He never got the full story, because Sasuke refused to divulge his full version of the events, but Naruto was able to put enough facts together to figure out the picture.

“Sasuke’s right. We should be careful,” Naruto said.

“What should we do?” Sakura questioned.

Sasuke looked between the two of them, a haphazard plan forming in his mind.

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Author’s Note: OC!Sasuke doesn’t know this, but in my mind, Naruto actually racked up enough points to pass the genin exam this time around. But Mizuki failed him anyways based on a bias technicality, or maybe he messed with the scores of the written exam, and then he approached Naruto afterwards with the “secret test.” Since there’s no way to work this tidbit of information smoothly into the story I thought I’d add it here as a fun fyi.

Posted in Fanfiction

Tightrope 15

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Chapter 15 – The Unwitting Life Line

“Naruto. Your left side is too open.” Sasuke observed.

“Huh? How?” Naruto dropped his arms from the guard position he brought up when Sasuke went in for an ax kick.

“When you block like that, you- never mind. You learn better by doing don’t you? So let me show you instead,” Sasuke said, and with that he took a stance and resumed their taijutsu training.

Somehow Naruto had progressed from being just a classmate to becoming Sasuke’s friend. It was one of those relationships that grew inconspicuously and by the time you realized it, it had already sprouted all over you like a fungi, and was still multiplying by the minute.

It began with a rather rambunctious prank in class. Iruka-sensei was covering history; something that Sasuke tried hard to pay attention to since he wasn’t a great Naruto fanatic before and so did not retain much future knowledge to help him along. It probably didn’t matter considering the changes already wrought, but every advantage helped. And Naruto was being disruptive in class because according to him history was boring and had no use in the present. Fed up with Naruto’s antics, Sasuke shouted for him to stop, which he surprisingly complied with.

Then Sasuke found out the real reason that Naruto had stopped was because in Sasuke’s irritation he had dropped honorifics with Naruto’s name, and the blond would not let that go. Sasuke tried to revert back to honorifics, but the damage was already done. So it was with some trepidation that Sasuke finally acknowledged that he and Naruto were friends; and probably had been friends for a while now.

Once coming to the conclusion that they were friends, Sasuke simply could not ignore the hot mess of a student that Naruto was. Naruto often skipped class to pull pranks or to laze around with Shikamaru, Chouji and Kiba. If he was in class then he was sleeping, pulling pranks, or simply zoning out. His taijutsu was horrible and his ninjutsu was laughable. Watching Naruto was like watching a train wreak.

Finally, Sasuke had pulled Naruto aside after school to tutor him from time to time. They started with academics, Naruto’s dreaded enemy.

“Naruto. How do you expect to become Hokage if you don’t pay attention to academics?” Sasuke scolded. Naruto opened his mouth, but Sasuke stopped him, “No, you can’t just beat everyone up on your way to the top. You have to be subtle sometimes and learn tactics.”

Naruto pouted and dropped his forehead onto his workbooks.

Sasuke massaged his nose bridge. “Naruto, do you know what the Sandaime’s nickname is?”

“Ero-jiji?”

Sasuke held back a snort. “Try the other one.”

“It’s Professor, you idiot.” Karin interjected. She was sitting in the living room with them, reading through a medical scroll. More scrolls on human anatomy and fuuinjutsu were piled next to her.

“Professor?” Naruto repeated.

“Yes, and why do you think that is?”

“Um, ‘cause he’s smart?”

“Yes.”

“Really? That perverted old man is smart?”

“Yes, and if you want to be Hokage then you should at least make an effort.”

“Not that he has much going on in that department,” Karin jibed.

Naruto growled. “I’ll show you,” he pointed his pencil at Karin, “I’ll pass the next exam, dattebayo!”

“Only pass it?” There was a challenge written in the quirk of her eyebrow.

“I- I’ll score a hundred on it!”

“Not likely,” Karin scoffed.

Steam leaked from Naruto’s ears. “Sasuke! Explain this section to me.”

Sasuke chuckled. “Okay, okay. Now pay attention.”

Turns out, with patient one-on-one teaching and a bit of ribbing from Karin, Naruto was a very motivated student. He still had a short attention span, but for the periods he did focus, he was actually a pretty good student.

The next area that Sasuke worked on with Naruto was taijutsu. Naruto had such a big pool of chakra that conventional teachings just wasn’t the best fit for him, but Sasuke couldn’t help holding on to a secret hope that Naruto would fail the exam so that he would then learn his signature move, and not to mention learn about the responsibility he carried within him.

Thus, it was with those conflicting thoughts that Sasuke and Naruto were working on their taijutsu after school. As expected, Naruto learned best by doing. Sasuke repeatedly aimed for Naruto’s weak spots, and after getting hit in the same areas again and again, Naruto was learning to watch out for those openings.

Naruto wasn’t the only one to benefit from their training sessions. The blond was not known as the most surprising ninja for nothing. His fighting style was even more unorthodox and creative than Sasuke and Karin. Fighting against Naruto taught Sasuke to think outside of the box. In some ways it was exhilarating to fight against Naruto, and Sasuke always looked forward to what new tricks and traps Naruto might use.

Sasuke considered it a victory as a teacher when Naruto managed to force him back and knock him into the pond. Of course Karin threw a fit and then proceeded to kick Naruto into a tree.

It was just another day at the Uchiha residence.

xxx

“Sasuke-sensei! As always your advice is spot on. At first my beautiful lotus blossom kept rejecting my offers to go to a teahouse, but today she finally agreed! This ohagi is a souvenir from the teahouse. Please accept it with my compliments.”

“Lee-san…” Sasuke sweatdropped at the parcel of sweets being pushed into his face. Then he brightened with an idea. “I would love to share this with Naruto… But I’m a little held up at the moment. Will you help me deliver this ohagi to Naruto? Let him know that you bought it and that it’s from the heart. If you don’t deliver it within five minutes then upon delivery you must immediately go and run five laps around Konoha.”

“Yes! I will do as you say, Sasuke-sensei!” With that Lee ran off in search of Naruto, leaving Sasuke coughing in the dust he left behind.

“That was very mischievous of you,” Ranmaru grinned up at him.

Sasuke smiled and patted Ranmaru on the head. “Just having a little fun.”

Ranmaru giggled and followed Sasuke inside.

xxx

“Sasuke! Sasuke!”

“Please stop banging on my front door like that. You’ll knock it down,” Sasuke chided.

“It happened again.”

“What happened?”

“Fuzzy Eyebrows!”

Sasuke studied Naruto’s eyebrow with a critical eye. “They look the same as usual to me.”

“No, I mean Fuzzy Eyebrows, he gave me ohagi this time and said they were from the heart, dattebayo! How am I supposed to handle this? You’re the love expert right?”

“I keep telling you people I’m not some love guru.” Sasuke heaved an exaggerated sigh. “And?”

“And? I need help, dattebayo!”

“I mean did you accept it? The ohagi that is.”

“Well, yeah. It’s free food. And Fuzzy Eyebrows ran off so even if I wanted to I couldn’t give them back.”

“Then, did you eat them?”

“Free food, Sasuke.”

“Right,” Sasuke’s smile was indulgent and amused. “By accepting the gift and then consuming it, you are essentially accepting the giver’s feelings for you.”

“What?!”

“I’m sorry Naruto, but it’s too late to turn back now.” Sasuke patted Naruto’s shoulder in commiseration. “You’re going to have to accept responsibility for what you’ve done.”

“Noooo!” Naruto wailed grabbing onto his sunshine locks. “Say it isn’t so Sasuke!”

“You’re the one who led him on.” Sasuke shook his head. “You shouldn’t be playing around with Lee-san’s feelings like that. Lee-san is a very pure and straightforward individual.”

“Not even Sasuke is on my side anymore?!”

“Shame on you, Naruto-nii-san. Lee-nii-san is going to be very hurt by this,” Ranmaru piped up. He had followed Sasuke to the front door when he heard Naruto shouting.

“Even Ranmaru is saying this…” Naruto deflated. A cloud of doom hung over his head.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to be upfront and honest about your feelings towards Lee-san. Don’t lead him on anymore than this, Naruto.” Sasuke said sternly.

Naruto straightened up. “You’re right. I have to clear up this misunderstanding.” Without so much as a by your leave, Naruto was running off in search of Lee.

As soon as the hyperactive blond was out of sight, Ranmaru and Sasuke looked at each other. Then they broke down into peals of laughter, right there, standing at the front door.

From the training field behind the house, Kimimaro and Juugo startled at the sound. They stopped their training and peered into the hallway to see Sasuke and Ranmaru doubled over with laughter. For a rare moment, Sasuke looked like the eleven-year-old child that he was supposed to be, instead of the clan head that he tried to be.

From a second story window of the house next door, Karin pouted after Naruto’s retreating form with envy. Sasuke had never laughed so freely before Naruto’s arrival.

xxx

“I’ve been wondering what’s gotten Naruto and my student so worked up lately,” Gai said sipping at the tea that Sasuke served. He looked at Sasuke from the corner of his eyes. “So you were the culprit.”

“Just having a little fun,” Ranmaru chirped as he bit into a senbei. Then he laughed at something only his eyes could see, “By the way, they’re still blushing when they touch each other anywhere that’s not on the arm or the leg.”

“Are you going to tell?” Sasuke teased as he placed down cups of tea for Lee and Naruto.

The two had gotten over their misunderstanding after much blushing, stammering, and youthful declarations, and were now sparring each other in the training field behind the house. Sasuke wished he were there to see it when it happened, but then they would’ve cottoned on to his little prank if he had burst out into laughter at their unfortunate misunderstanding. As of now the two still had no idea that Sasuke had set them up.

“I am glad to see that you are enjoying your youth!” Gai said with a firm nod.

Sasuke just gave the Green Beast a vague smile and munched on a senbei himself.

“Those are some weights you have on.” Gai noted.

Sasuke paused. “As expected from a taijutsu expert,” he remarked and sipped on his tea. Sasuke have been training with weights for some time now. He had upped the weights on his arms and legs just yesterday and was still getting used to the new weight. Gai must’ve noticed the jerkiness in his movements.

“Are you following a regime with your weights? If you’re not careful you can end up causing damage to yourself.”

“I am using reasonable amounts under the consultant of a medic-nin,” Sasuke assured.

Gai nodded in approval and then raised an eyebrow at the almost imperceptible shiver that racked Sasuke’s body. “Sasuke, are you feeling unwell?”

“I’m fine.”

“You’re-”

“Side effects.” Sasuke gritted out and sipped his tea more forcefully.

“From what?”

“…Mithridatism.”

“What?!” Gai exclaimed.

“It’s fine,” Sasuke reiterated. “I’m working with an expert poison master and I’m monitoring my dosage.”

“That’s a very dangerous practice! You could-”

“I know.” Sasuke sighed. “But I’ve been drugged before,” a hand unconsciously comes up to rub at his neck, “and I don’t want it to happen so easily again, so I’ve been building up my resistance. I’m actually frustrated that my progress in this area is going so slowly, but I have to be careful not to take too much or else I won’t have the strength and focus to work on other areas of training.”

“This is not something you can rush.”

“I know.”

“…Who was it? The one that drugged you?” Gai heard about the kidnapping of Uchiha Sasuke and suspected that Sasuke might be talking about that time period, but he couldn’t help asking, couldn’t help prodding at the boy with too heavy shoulders to open up a little.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Sasuke stood up abruptly. “Ranmaru, please look after our guests. I’m retiring for the day.”

“Okay…” Ranmaru murmured into his tea. He peeked up at Sasuke uncertainly through his eyelashes.

Sasuke ruffled his hair and left the room, presumably to go sleep off whatever poison he introduced into his system.

“Why is your brother pushing himself so hard?” Gai directed the question to Ranmaru.

“It’s because of us.”

“Us?”

Ranmaru nodded. “Me, Kimimaro-nii-san, Juugo-nii-san, and even Karin-nee-san. The Elders didn’t like us at first, having a bunch of outsiders running around with the Uchiha name. If an outsider marries into the clan and stays in the clan then that is still acceptable, but as you can see, that doesn’t work out with our situation.”

Gai couldn’t help noticing how eloquent and perceptive the young purple-haired boy was. It was like he experienced too much, saw too much, and heard too much for his age.

“In order to keep us with him, onii-sama is working hard to prove himself as the future clan head. And since they won’t bestow the title of clan head to him until he makes jonin, he feels like there is extra pressure on him to maintain the clan as he is now, with no official title and no way of obtaining minor emancipation until he becomes a genin.

“And to be honest, when I first met onii-sama and the others, excluding myself, onii-sama was the weakest one in the group. He was dexterous and fast, but anyone in the group could’ve taken him down if they were serious about it and had chosen to do so. I suspect he suffers from low self-esteem and still does till this day. He believes that in order to be clan head, he has to be the strongest one in the Compound. I wish he would rely on us more. Like he used to when we were traveling together. It’s as if ever since onii-sama entered the gates of Konoha he picked up a weight that he refuses to share…”

Gai detected a note of resentment against Konoha in Ranmaru’s voice, but did not comment on it. It was understandable considering the child’s concern for his older brother. Politics had never been Gai’s cup of tea, and his eccentric behavior helped to buffer some of the village’s political influence from him. It was like the Elders decided he was too much of a headache to deal with. They also underestimated him a lot, thinking him more dull-witted than he was, but he didn’t earn his jonin vest by being stupid and brash.

When Ranmaru looked up at him with those discerning eyes, Gai knew that the child could see through his exuberant personality to the keen mind underneath.

“Thank you for sharing this with me,” Gai said unusually solemn. “I will do what I can to look out for your brother.”

Ranmaru nodded and smiled in thanks.

A shout came from the training field as Naruto was dunked into the pond. Ranmaru laughed a little.

“I’m thankful for Naruto-nii-san. Onii-sama won’t admit it, but ever since Naruto-nii-san joined the family, onii-sama has been much happier.”

“That boy really is something.” Gai agreed. “Straightforward and honest, like a ray of sunshine that penetrates all darkness.”

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A/N: This chapter is meant to highlight the fact that OC!Sasuke is not a mastermind pulling the strings of canon events from the shadows. This is not that type of story. The OC was thrown into Sasuke’s body without so much as a by your leave and is just trying to make the best out of his given circumstances. He may try to hold himself back from forming certain bonds in a misguided attempt to “preserve canon,” but those relationships can still creep up on him unexpectedly.

Posted in Fanfiction

Tightrope 14

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Chapter 14 – Dinner Lineup, Take 2

“You again?” Sakura deadpanned. “Don’t you ever get tired?”

“Never! The springtime of youth burns brightly within me.”

“Ugh. Come another foot closer and I’ll punch you into the Hokage Mountain.”

“Ahh, such youthful declarations so early in the morning.”

Sakura twitched. This creep was seriously getting on her nerves.

“Allow me to train with you!”

“Huh?”

“You aspire to be a ninja, do you not? I am a genin. I can help you train.”

“Why would I want to-”

An explosion of smoke went off next to Lee and an older copy of Lee emerged from the smoke. “What a splendid idea, my pupil. Training with an Academy student will teach you restraint.”

“Yes, Gai-sensei!”

Sakura twitched. Adult creeper was the sensei of mini-creeper?

“Fine!” Sakura snapped. She cracked her knuckles. “I’ll show you restraint.” She was peeved. How dare they underestimate her? Was it because she wasn’t a ninja yet? Was it because she was a girl? Was it because she was a civilian? She’s been working her butt off. There’s no way she’ll go down that easily.

Or so Sakura thought.

She got her butt handed to her soundly. In three- no, not even, two point twenty-five seconds flat.

She stared up at the lightening sky in disbelief. Then she pushed herself up with a growl. “Again.”

Three seconds later she was admiring the clouds again.

She sat up slower this time.

Lee worried his bottom lip. Did he overdo it? He already held back a lot. Sasuke told him if the girl he liked was as determined as she sounded then he should take her down quickly to attack her pride. Doing so will light a fire of competition in her. But if the girl was just playing at ninja or had low self-esteem, then doing so will destroy her spirit and subsequently any chances he had with her. Lee was certain that the girl of his dreams was of the former variety. But…

She looked up at him and glared.

There was fire in her eyes.

“My name is Haruno Sakura. Someday I will become the strongest kunoichi in Konoha!”

“Sakura-san!” Lee blushed. She looked like a livid tiger. Absolutely lethal and absolutely beautiful.

“Just you watch. I will hand your butt to you on a silver platter one of these days.”

“I look forward to that day!”

And that’s how Haruno Sakura came to train under Rock Lee, and by extension, Maito Gai. But that’s a whole other world of freaky.

xxx

“What is this for?” Sasuke was afraid to ask. As soon as he opened the front door he was met with a face full of lotus flowers.

“It worked, Sasuke-sensei!” Lee enthused.

“What? Oh. I’m glad,” Sasuke said offhandedly, if not a bit surprised at the unexpected results.

He didn’t really think his advice would work out for Lee, especially not when it came to prepubescent girls. He had only been trying to offer a word of comfort to appease the then hysterical boy and his overdramatic sensei. Mostly, he was trying not to end the team dinner on an explosive note.

“This is for you to thank you for your love advice!”

“Lee-san…”

“Yes, sensei!”

“You’re not supposed to give flowers to me, you’re supposed to give them to the girl you like.”

“Oh, you’re right. Very well, I shall take these to her right now!”

“Hold it.” Sasuke snagged Lee by the collar. “Remember I said to take it slow. You only just became training partners with her. If you give her flowers all of a sudden you’ll just scare her off again.”

Lee blushed.

“Don’t tell me, you already gave her flowers.”

Lee nodded. “A dozen red roses to celebrate our one week anniversary of meeting.”

“So before she agreed to train with you then.” Sasuke sighed. “Then this might still be salvageable. Listen, no flowers or other gifts unless there’s an occasion, like her birthday or something. Instead, um, why don’t you take her to a teahouse, treat her to food after your training sessions. That would be a reasonable approach.”

Lee’s eyes sparkled. “Such wise advice. As expected of my sensei in love.”

“I’m really not-” Sasuke sighed, giving up the argument as a lost cause. He clapped a hand onto Lee’s shoulder. “Lee-san.”

“Yes, sensei?”

Sasuke held back a twitch at the form of address and went on, “Just, um, don’t be too disheartened if things don’t work out in the end, okay? Interest is not something you can force upon another.”

“Sensei…” Lee’s enthusiasm dropped a few notches as he pondered Sasuke’s words, but Sasuke had a feeling that the genin wasn’t really processing the full meaning yet.

Ranmaru chose that moment to join in. “Good morning, Lee-san.” Ranmaru greeted as he pattered up to the entryway.

Lee perked up again. “Good morning, Ranmaru-kun!”

Ranmaru pointedly looked at Sasuke’s hand on Lee’s shoulder. “Are those flowers for onii-sama?”

Sasuke sweatdropped and quickly retracted his hand. Lee stuttered. They were, but since Sasuke said they weren’t appropriate, he didn’t know what to do now.

Ranmaru, you little rascal, Sasuke thought fondly.

“The rice should be done now, why don’t you go check on it.”

“Okay, onii-sama.”

Sasuke turned to Lee once Ranmaru was out of sight, but Sasuke knew Ranmaru would still be able to hear what was being said due to his Kekkei Genkai, and he would probably have a laugh with this. Sasuke fought to keep his face straight as he said, “Lee-san.”

“Yes.”

“Do you like Naruto-san? I mean as a friend.”

“Of course! Naruto-kun is a most youth-”

“Okay, that’s good. Why don’t you give these flowers to Naruto-san and tell him they’re for him because you like him?”

“Ahh, to strengthen the bonds of friendship. I understand, Sasuke-sensei. I shall deliver these flowers to Naruto in ten minutes, if I don’t do so in the allotted time then I shall run five laps around Konoha.”

“You go do that, Lee-san.”

xxx

“Sasuke! Heeeeelp me!”

“Naruto-san. Why are you panicking so much?”

“Fuzzy Eyebrows gave me flowers this morning and said that he liked me! I thought he already had a crush on some girl, why is he saying he likes me?”

Sasuke blinked at Naruto innocently. “I’m not sure, Naruto-san. Maybe Lee-san is bisexual. The girl he likes is the one he trains with, and maybe the boy he likes is you.”

“What? What?! That’s impossible! How can you like two people at once? Aren’t you supposed to dedicate yourself solely to one person?”

“My, my, Naruto-san. I never pegged you for a romantic.”

“Sasuke,” Naruto whined.

“Well, you’re correct, the majority of the population is monogamous, but there are people who believe in polyamory too.”

“Poly-what?”

“Look it up, Naruto-san.”

“It doesn’t make sense!” Naruto said, pulling at his hair. “I mean- I mean, if Lee has to like a guy then why can’t it be Neji? Neji is kind of on the pretty side, and they’re on the same team!”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Heck, you’re ten times prettier than Neji. If Lee is going to fall for a guy then it should be you! Not to mention you’re much nicer than Neji. That guy has a stick up his ass the size of the Hokage Tower! Erm, not that I want Lee to like you, because I li- I mean, not that you’re not likeable, just that-”

“All right. I get it. I think… Honestly, I don’t know what to do with you sometimes.”

“Huh?”

“Do you want to come over for dinner this weekend?”

“Free food?”

Sasuke chuckled. “Yes, free food.”

“All right. I’m totally coming –ttebayo!”

“Good. I’m counting on you.”

“Counting on me?”

xxx

After the little debacle with Team Gai, Sasuke really was not looking forward to Juugo and Kimimaro’s team, but they had already secured a free day for their entire team to come over for dinner so it was too late to cancel.

Having Naruto over for dinner last time turned out to be surprisingly helpful, so he invited Naruto again. Karin decided to go out for dinner so that she wouldn’t have to deal with the crazy of Kimimaro and Juugo’s team. After some prompting, Karin agreed to eat dinner with her team at a restaurant. Whether she’ll uphold that promise or not was another matter.

Right on time, the door opened. “We’re home.”

Ranmaru bounded to the front door. “Welcome home!”

Sasuke followed at a more sedate pace. Naruto was in the dining room setting the table. “Welcome home.” He smiled at Kimimaro and Juugo. They both smiled back as they said their greetings.

“Aww, isn’t this the cutest thing ever. They’re actually smiling.”

Sasuke turned to the woman who made that comment. She looked to be in her mid-twenties with teal eyes and long dark hair woven into a thin braid down her back. She wore a more form-fitting version of the jonin uniform, and in place of the usual flank jacket was a sleeveless indigo tunic tied together with a bolt of pink fabric.

“Welcome. You must be their jonin-sensei.”

“Makimachi Misao at your service. This is Tenten.”

As Sasuke caught sight of the third teammate, his lips twitched, as if in amusement.

“Uchiha Sasuke. This is my adopted brother, Ranmaru. Thank you for always looking after my kinsmen, Juugo and Kimimaro.”

“So you’re the famous Uchiha Sasuke, huh? Kimimaro and Juugo are absolutely fanatic about you, though they try not to let it show.” Misao smirked and leaned into Sasuke’s personal space. She studied him, nodded, and grinned. “You’re cute.”

Pink bloomed on Sasuke’s cheeks and he turned away. “Please come inside.”

Tenten giggled behind her hand. She was inclined to agree with her sensei. Not only was Sasuke pleasant to look at, but also his mannerism was polite and cute.

“Please excuse us for intruding,” Tenten said as she changed into house slippers and entered.

Team Misao was led to the dining room where the table was already set and plated with steaming hot food. Naruto sat with his legs swinging impatiently for dinner to start.

“Yo, my name is Uzumaki Naruto! I’m Sasuke’s friend.” He said by way of introduction.

“I’m Tenten.”

Misao paused in the doorway and blinked at Naruto.

“Is something the matter?” Sasuke asked. The blush was gone and there was a steel of challenge in his eyes.

Misao got the feeling that she was just beginning to scrap the surface of the enigma known as Sasuke. She thought she might be starting to understand Juugo and Kimimaro’s devotion to the Last Uchiha.

She smiled. “Everything is perfectly fine.” Misao stepped into the dining room. “I’m Makimachi Misao, sensei to these emo-brats and this delightful young kunoichi.” She went to ruffle Kimimaro and Juugo’s hair as she said this. Juugo endured it with a blush, but Kimimaro slipped away from Misao and took a seat. Tenten giggled like it was a common occurrence.

Soon they were all seated and making small talk as they ate. Thankfully Team Misao was a lot calmer than Team Gai. As Sasuke observed the interactions between his adopted family and their team he began to see the underlying dynamics.

Misao was cheerful, and in comparison to her team, loud. She was like Naruto in some ways. Just like how Kimimaro and Juugo did not know how to handle Naruto’s exuberance, they did not know how to communicate with their sensei. Defensively, they drew up a wall between them and Misao. Misao noticed this and did her best to rectify the situation, but her method was by forcefully dragging Juugo and Kimimaro into the fun. It certainly wasn’t the best way to approach them. The two adopted Uchiha preferred more subtlety and restrain.

Tenten, in contrast, was more opened to adventure and more likely to go along with whatever Misao cooked up, thus making it appear as if they were closer to each other. The way Tenten interacted with Juugo and Kimimaro was the way a newcomer might act when trying to fit into an already formed group. She pushed as much as she dared, but backed up often to give the boys breathing room, in case she chased them off.

Kimimaro and Juugo were making an effort to connect with their team after Sasuke’s little pep talk, but their discomfort was so evident that it was hilarious.

All in all, Sasuke deduced that he didn’t have to worry too much about Team Misao. He didn’t know about Misao’s skills, but she had to have made jonin for a reason. Tenten was a serious and competent kunoichi. In terms of capability, Sasuke had no compunctions about this team and he had a feeling that their team dynamics would level out somehow.

It was Team Gai that he was worried about. Originally, Tenten served as a buffer and mediator in Team Gai, but now she has been switched over to Team Misao. Karin worked with the rest of Team Gai as well as oil did with fire. Which was to say her personality fitted in perfectly with all the crazy to explosive results, and that probably wasn’t a healthy outcome. At least every member of Team Gai was a skilled ninja so he wouldn’t have to worry about Karin’s safety.

After dinner, Naruto stayed behind to help with the dishes.

“That worked out well,” Naruto laughed.

“Yeah,” Sasuke huffed with relief.

Now he just had to worry about his future team. He honestly had no idea how he was going to handle the misfits of Team Seven or even if his new team would parallel the original. Anything was possible after seeing Team Gai and Team Misao.

In all honesty, Sasuke hadn’t wanted to get involve in any of this ninja fiasco. He was just running through some cathartic exercises, a memory from his old life, when those damn missing-nin had saw fit to try and kidnap a Uchiha for experimenting. News of the Uchiha Massacre had yet to spread then, so the missing-nin had no idea that they had gotten the Last Uchiha.

Perhaps if Sasuke had stayed within the Compound or had gone to the Academy like the original Sasuke probably had, then he wouldn’t be in this mess right now.

Sometimes, jerking awake after a particularly gruesome nightmare, Sasuke would wonder what his life would’ve been like if he had ran away from Konoha and became a farmer instead. Then he’d remember the bloody eyes he inherited and knew he would not be safe on his own for long. The last thing he wanted was to be caught and experimented on. Even dying a second death was preferable to that.

He sighed. No use pondering on what-ifs anymore. The ripples began when he saw a little blond boy being chased away from a store with a broomstick, or perhaps it was even before that. Either way it was too late to take back that pebble.

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A/N: To the reviewer who was concerned with the wording of Sasuke’s advice from the previous chapter… I am in agreement that just because you’re nice to somebody it doesn’t mean that person is obligated to like you back, which is why near the end of the last chapter I had Sasuke add, “There is no guarantee…” but perhaps that didn’t convey my intentions clear enough, so I added a bit more dialogue to this chapter. Hopefully that’ll soothe your concerns somewhat. Thank you for reading and leaving a review. You took the time to write a review because it matters to you and I appreciate it.

To all readers, the characters’ thoughts and actions are not a reflection of the writer’s personal opinion. Characters can do the most heroic or despicable things. That’s what makes them interesting and complex, and adds to the drama of a story. Feel free to discuss and dissect the characters’ actions. I encourage positive and critical discourse.

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Tightrope 13

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Chapter 13 – Dinner Lineup

Sakura had taken to waking up before the sun rises to train her stamina, endurance, and hand-to-hand combat. Doing so ensured that her bullies wouldn’t be awake to bother her, and there were lesser people to laugh at her if she messed up.

It was during one of her morning practices when she ran into Konoha’s Green Beast. The junior version. Literally.

It was a head on collision when they both turned from different sides of the same corner during their morning run. Rock Lee saw stars when he looked up to see the most beautiful vision he had bumped into.

The girl had the most unique pink hair and green eyes. She was dressed in forest green training sweats that brought out her eyes, and sweating like a pig with her hair messy and plastered to her face. Dirt from the fall smudged her clothing. She stood up and brushed herself off. The sun was just beginning to rise, casting an orange backdrop behind her.

“You all right?” She extended a hand to him.

He got onto his knees and clasped her hand with both of his. “My name is Rock Lee! Please go out with me! I’ll protect you until the day I die!”

The mildly concerned look on her face fell and she gave him a dead-eyed stare. “No.” She pulled her hand back and continued on her run.

Lee cried manly tears of heartbreak.

The next morning, he ran all over Konoha until he bumped into her again. Not as literally this time. He then professed his undying love for her youthful spirit and beauty only to have her shoot him down again. The third time he did it, she punched him into a tree.

xxx

“Ugh, my teammate is such a freak. It’s even worse now that he apparently found the love of his life. All he ever does during training is gush about her, and our sensei just encourages him. It’s sickening.” Karin complained at the dinner table.

Even though Karin and Juugo lived in different houses, they barely used their kitchens. They always came over to Sasuke’s house for dinner and the five inhabitants of the Uchiha Compound would take turns cooking dinner. Even Ranmaru cooked from time to time. Due to his size he wasn’t as adept in the kitchen as the others, but his curry dish was quite good. Sometimes Naruto would come over for dinner, too. But after his first attempt at cooking for them, all the Uchiha plus Karin banned him from the stove until he learned better.

“You always complain about them, but we’ve never actually learned anything about your team from your rants. Are you even trying to get along with them?” Sasuke quipped with a wry smile.

“I don’t want to get along with freaks like them. They creep me out. Ugh, just talking about them gives me goosebumps. These past two months have been a nightmare with them.” Karin jabbed her chopsticks against the table to emphasis her point.

“How about you two? Juugo. Kimimaro. How are you getting along with your team?” Sasuke asked.

Kimimaro and Juugo exchanged looks. “We complete our missions without problems,” Kimimaro said.

Sasuke raised an eyebrow.

“Our sensei seems to favor our other teammate,” Juugo supplied.

“It’s fine, though. Juugo and I work well together.”

Sasuke frowned. He mulled on what his friends had told him as he ate his dinner. “Unlike Karin, the two of you don’t openly complain about your team, but from your previous comments it sounds like you are dissatisfied with the way your sensei singles out your third teammate. Have you considered the fact that because the two of you are so compatible, that you may have unconsciously segregated your last teammate? Your sensei might be trying to rectify the situation by paying more attention to her.”

“I did not say as such.”

“No, but I can read between the lines.”

Kimimaro blinked. He really wasn’t jealous of their third teammate, as Sasuke seemed to be implying. The only one he respected with all his heart and cared to follow to the death was Sasuke. It didn’t matter if their new sensei wasn’t someone worth following.

He was merely concerned with the competence of their sensei to be team leader if she played favoritism so blatantly. But it’s also true that in his “objective” statements about his new sensei and teammate that there was an underlying dissatisfaction at the way they conducted themselves.

“I think I’d like to meet your teams,” Sasuke said.

“What?! I can’t expose my precious Sasuke to that filth!” Karin protested.

“That would not be necessary, Sasuke-sama,” Kimimaro hastened to reassure Sasuke.

Sasuke’s smile was half amused, half worried. “I am your clan head,” he said to Juugo and Kimimaro. “And as a friend,” this he said to Karin, “it is only right that I keep your best interests in mind. Based on your… comments, I worry whether your current teams are dependable or not and would like to meet them in person to ascertain their capabilities with my own eyes.”

“But-”

“Please bring them over for dinner. I also think it would be beneficial to you to bond with your teams outside of training.”

“But, but, but!”

“Please coordinate with your teammates and see when they are all free.”

“…Understood.” Kimimaro nodded.

“But…! Aw, fine!” Karin huffed.

Juugo just nodded in acknowledgement to the request. When Sasuke pulled rank on them it was hard to refuse him. Sasuke would only pull that card if he truly thought that what he was doing was for their best interest, and Juugo could never begrudge Sasuke for caring. In fact, his cheeks warmed slightly at the sentiment.

xxx

For the sake of everyone’s sanity, Sasuke decided it was better to work with one team at a time. Karin’s team was the first to come over for dinner. Naruto had wanted to come for dinner again, and after some deliberation Sasuke relented. It might be helpful to have Naruto as a mood maker and to divert some of the tension. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking.

Sasuke could not for the life of him understand what went wrong between Karin and Naruto. He thought the two Uzumaki members would be thrilled to meet each other, and they seemed to be on the road to becoming friends when they first met, but when Naruto came back to the Uchiha Compound the second time, which was two weeks after the first time, Karin was spitting fire as soon as she laid eyes on the blond.

Naruto was understandably nervous around Karin. He wasn’t hostile to Karin like the redhead was to him, but he also didn’t make as much of an effort as Sasuke thought he would in patching up their relationship. Naruto was always thickheaded and resilient. If someone didn’t want to be his friend, he would pester that person until he or she gave in. If someone were mean to him, he’d give as good as he got. But to Karin, it was like he had metaphorically rolled over and accepted that she just wasn’t going to like him and he wasn’t going to retaliate or do anything about it. Sasuke had tried to question him on it, but Naruto just stammered and blushed, and then he ran away. It was very uncharacteristic of the loud blond.

Nevertheless, Naruto was there on the day that Karin’s team was scheduled to arrive. As Naruto bounced around the house, excited to meet an actual genin team, Sasuke, not for the first time, wondered if it was a good idea that he let slip about the team dinner and then actually allowed Naruto to come.

Kimimaro and Juugo were away with their team on their first C-rank. It was so convenient that Sasuke thought the fates must have planned it.

“I’m home.” Karin announced listlessly.

“You live next door.” Naruto corrected her.

“You!” She hissed. “What are you doing here?”

“I invited him,” Sasuke stepped in before a hissing match could break out. “Welcome.” He smiled apologetically at Karin and she caved.

She sighed and stepped off to one side so that her team can enter. “This is Creepy, Freaky, and Shitty.”

“Are those really their names?” Naruto wondered.

Karin wanted to hit him.

Sasuke’s eyes widened at the sight of her team. She gave him a look that said: “I told you so. They’re freaks.” Then he composed himself and bowed, “Welcome.” He gave her team a dazzling smile that had her melting in her boots. “My name is Uchiha Sasuke. Thank you for always looking after my friend, Karin.”

“Thank you for inviting us into your home, most youthful friend of my student!” Karin was amazed by Sasuke’s composure. He kept a pleasant look on his face and didn’t even twitch. “My name is Maito Gai. These are my students, Rock Lee and Hyuuga Neji.” Gai placed a hand on each boy’s shoulder as he introduced him.

“Osu!” Rock Lee greeted.

Neji nodded his head in greeting.

“So you are the famed Uchiha Sasuke-kun,” Lee said. “I have heard much about you.”

Sasuke glanced at Karin out of the corner of his eye. She did not even have the decency to look embarrassed.

“You took on the burdens of a clan head at such a young age. All for the sake of your friends! I am deeply moved by your story!” Lee enthused.

“The Council won’t officially recognize him as clan head until he’s at least jonin rank,” Neji said.

“Ah, but for all intents and purposes, Sasuke is now the Uchiha Head. We should pay him due respect,” Gai said.

“Don’t stand on formalities. Please come in.” Sasuke gestured for them to go in. Neji and Lee toed off their sandals and changed into slippers.

“Ha ha ha.” Gai boomed with laughter. “Such a delightfully polite Uchiha.” He reached forward a hand to clap Sasuke on the shoulder. Sasuke flinched away, a momentary look of horror on his face. Gai took note. So as to not draw attention to the Uchiha’s flinch, he continued reaching forward, a little slower, and patted Sasuke quickly on the shoulder.

At the same time Naruto bellowed his introduction, drawing Team Gai’s attention onto him.

Sasuke held himself still. It wasn’t disgust that made the Uchiha flinch. Having received constant weird out and disgusted looks for his eccentricities, Gai could read the look of disgust even with his back turned. He filed the information away.

Once his team was done changing footwear and moved into the house, Gai quickly changed shoes and followed.

In the dining room, a young boy of seven years was setting the table. Sasuke introduced the boy as his adopted brother, Ranmaru. The boy was polite. He bobbed his head cutely and made his introductions.

“Naruto-san, will you help me bring out the dishes?” Sasuke requested of the blond.

Gai, his team, and Ranmaru took seats at the table as Sasuke and Naruto went into the kitchen to get the food.

Once they were out of earshot, Naruto whispered to Sasuke, “Hey, Sasuke. Did you know Big Fuzzy Eyebrows from before or something?”

“Fuzzy…” Sasuke shook his head and abandoned that line of thought. “No, I don’t.”

“But you-”

“Let’s hurry up, Naruto-san. The food will get cold.”

Naruto understood a dismissal when he heard one, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. He pouted and quickly brought the food to the dining room.

After a round of “itadakimasu” everyone dug in.

“This food is scrumptious. Did Karin-san prepare it?” Lee asked.

“As if I would ever cook anything for you, Freak!”

“Ah ha ha ha, Karin-san is as youthful as ever, right Gai-sensei?”

“You’re absolutely right, Lee!”

“Gai-sensei!”

“Lee!”

“Gai-”

A vein popped in Karin’s temple.

“Onii-sama made everything,” Ranmaru chimed in.

“Ooh?” Gai sounded delighted at the prospect. Sasuke sweat dropped.

“If you have the time to perfect your cooking skills, then you should be training.” Neji said.

Karin blew a fuse, “Unlike you haughty Hyuuga, we don’t have servants scuttling around to do the menial chores for us. You should be honored to be eating food made by Sasuke-kun!”

The chopsticks in Neji’s hand snapped.

“Naruto!” Sasuke shouted.

Everyone else quieted as Naruto jumped in his seat. “What!” He didn’t even do anything. Yet.

“Could you get a new pair of chopsticks for Neji-san, please?”

“I’ll get it,” Ranmaru volunteered.

Awkward silence descended in the room. Sasuke held back a sigh and refrained from massaging his nose bridge. He was beginning to wonder if this was such a good idea after all.

Ranmaru returned with the chopsticks and Sasuke petted him on the head. Ranmaru smiled and leaned into his touch.

“Sasuke-kun,” Lee spoke up. “I heard that you were popular with the ladies, perhaps you can give me some advice. I fell in love with a girl, but she keeps rejecting me, I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”

“Huh?” Sasuke was completely blindsided by the change in topic. “Ah, well, I’m not- uh…” he sighed. At least this was a fairly safe and normal topic. “Why don’t you tell us how you two met and we’ll go from there?”

So Lee regaled them with the story of how he met his fated angel. Karin and Neji had heard the story so many times that they were sick of it. Gai was beaming at his student and going on and on about the springtime of youth.

When Lee finished his story, Naruto was the one to point out, “So you don’t even know her name yet?”

“She refuses to tell me.”

“Well, if she won’t even tell you her name, how do you expect her to agree to go out with you?” Naruto asked. Karin was surprised by his insight. Of course she would never admit as such.

“Then how should I find out her name?”

“Hmm…” Naruto rubbed his chin. “Maybe you can follow her around and wait for someone to say her name.”

“That’s a fabulous idea, Naruto-kun.”

Karin sighed at their stupidity. Forget insightful, Naruto was complete and utter nonsense.

“No.” Sasuke opposed the suggestion. “That is nothing but stalking. Your relationship will not be pure if you do something like that.” Sasuke almost cringed at his own words, but it was the best way to get through to someone as straightforward, youthful, and ingenuous as Lee.

Gai nodded.

Lee cried rivers of tears. “Then what should I dooooo?”

Sasuke twitched. “Please stop crying, Lee-san.”

Naruto handed Lee a napkin. Lee blew his nose.

“To begin with, I think you’re approaching her too forcefully. You have to admit, Lee-san, you’re a bit… eccentric, and this may be off putting to some, well, most girls. You need to slow down and establish a friendship with her first.”

“I see, I see.” Lee nodded. Then his shoulders slumped. “But how do I go about being her friend if she pushes me away every time she sees me?”

“If she’s a year younger than you, trains in the morning, and doesn’t wear a forehead protector, then she’s probably a student at the Academy aiming to become a ninja. She sounds pretty dedicated. Perhaps you could offer to train her. Be her sparring partner.”

“You’re so smart, Sasuke-kun.” Karin cooed as she latched onto Sasuke’s left arm and nuzzled into his neck. From across the table Naruto shifted uncomfortably as he watched the contact between Sasuke and Karin.

Sasuke was just about to put down his chopsticks and push Karin off him when Lee stood up, startling everyone except Gai. “Such a youthful idea!” He bowed. “Thank you for your advice, Sasuke-sensei!”

“Huh?”

“You are my sensei in love,” Lee declared.

Sasuke opened his mouth to protest. Ranmaru giggled. Due to Ranmaru’s Kekkei Genkai he could read people’s chakra, and in a way, read their thoughts and moods. Straightforward people like Naruto and now Lee seemed to be Ranmaru’s favorite type to read, because the candidness was soothing and at times like this, entertaining.

Sasuke sighed in defeat. He had a premonition that Lee might become a stable in the Uchiha household if this keeps up. At least Ranmaru would be pleased. “Just don’t come to me over every little problem, and I’ll try to give you what advice I can.”

“Thank you, Sasuke-sensei.”

Sasuke twitched. “I’m seriously not a love expert. There is no guarantee that she’ll agree to train with you.”

“But it’s worth a shot.”

“I suppose.”

After that, dinner went a little smoother.

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Posted in Fanfiction

Tightrope 12

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Chapter 12 – Budding Lines

The next morning, Sakura woke up well before the start of classes. She ate a healthy, balanced breakfast and then whipped up two bento lunches. Due to a rumor she heard, she packed extra tomatoes in one of the boxes. Then she went for a morning jog to train her stamina before heading off to the Academy.

All throughout morning classes, Sakura was nervous and distracted. She was also a little lethargic because she wasn’t used to working out in the mornings. She was thankful for her breakfast; otherwise she definitely would’ve dozed off due to lack of energy.

She managed to pay enough attention so that Iruka-sensei wouldn’t catch her blindsided. Just because she was the reigning top kunoichi in academic marks didn’t mean that she could afford to slack off. One slip and Ino would overtake her.

Finally lunchtime rolled around. She took a deep breath and gave herself a pep talk inside her head. An encouraging voice echoed her sentiments back at her, and with that little push, she pulled out the lunches that she prepared and approached Sasuke.

The new student in their class, Uzumaki Naruto, was sitting next to Sasuke and talking a mile a minute. Sakura felt a twinge of envy as she watched Sasuke nodding indulgently, although it looked like he only heard about one-fourth of the one-sided conversation. She wondered how they became friends so quickly. Naruto only joined their class two days ago. What did he do to capture Sasuke’s attention? Or did they know each other before hand and just never had any classes together?

As it became evident that Sakura was making a beeline towards Sasuke, hostile glares turned towards her. A shiver ran down her spine but she forged on.

“Sa- Sasuke-kun.”

He looked up at her as she placed a packed lunch before him. Naruto stopped chattering to look at her too. Her face was burning hot.

“Um, urm, this- this is for you. Mina-sensei told me you carried me to the hospital when I fainted yesterday, so, um, thank you!”

Sasuke muttered under his breath. It sounded like, “I told her not to tell.” Then he sighed and smiled haltingly at her. Her heart fluttered like a hummingbird. “It is only natural to help a fellow classmate in need. There is no need for thanks.”

“Oh…” Sakura said, disheartened.

“But you’re welcome anyways. And thank you for the thought, but I already brought a lunch.” He took out his bento as proof.

Her shoulders sagged even more.

“Hey, hey. It’s free food!” Naruto protested. “How can you turn away free food?”

Sasuke flinched as if just realizing something. A contrite look flashed across his features briefly. Huh? What was that about? she wondered.

“Ah, Haruno-san,” he started, but paused as he looked above her shoulder. The feeling of daggers stabbing at her back disappeared for a second. “Do you mind if I share your bento with Naruto-san? He forgot his lunch today.”

“Heh? Is that really okay? But it’s for you!” Naruto protested. Then he turned to her with pleading eyes, “Is it really okay?”

Sakura was speechless for a moment. She did not plan for this outcome. She had anticipated Sasuke to reject her bento, but to have to give it away to a stranger was a bit much. To be fair, she probably couldn’t finish both lunches, but she made the lunch with Sasuke in mind, to give it to someone else was…

“Would you like to sit with us for lunch today?” Sasuke’s voice cut through the gloominess of her thoughts.

Sakura brightened. “Yes, please!”

She retrieved her lunch and joined Sasuke and Naruto. The daggers that the girls in class sent her way rebuffed off of her shield of happiness. She hummed as she unpacked her lunch and began to eat.

“I’m Uzumaki Naruto!” Naruto introduced himself. Sakura already knew that from roll call but she humored him anyways.

“Haruno Sakura.”

“I’m going to become the Hokage! Dattebayo!”

Sakura blinked at the rather sudden and bold proclamation. Her first instincts was: “Ha ha, you? No way. If anyone were going to make a good Hokage then it would have to be Sasuke-kun.” But she held her tongue because she had a feeling that Sasuke-kun would not appreciate her ridiculing Naruto.

“That’s nice…” She smiled obligingly.

Sasuke snorted. Sakura blushed. Was that no good?

Naruto laughed. “That’s what Sasuke said too.”

“Oh,” Sakura perked up at this. Gaining confidence she plowed on with the most generic yet nice answer she could come up with, “Well, I’m sure you’ll have a shot if you work hard for it.”

Naruto beamed at her and she was momentarily blinded by his smile. “Oh my god, you think so, too? Yeah! I’m totally gonna work hard and become the Hokage. Just you watch. Dattebayo!” He then dug into Sakura’s homemade lunch. “This is delicious! You’re really good at cooking, Sakura-chan.” Naruto praised her.

“Oh, well…” She blushed. “It’s only rice balls. Anyone can make rice balls.”

“You’re being too modest, Sakura-chan!” Rice flew everywhere as Naruto talked with his mouth full.

Sakura laughed politely and discreetly flicked the rice off her face. From afar she didn’t realize how boisterous Naruto was. In contrast, Sasuke was calm and collected. How did Sasuke stand being around all that… energy? Sakura peeked at Sasuke from under her lashes. He didn’t seem to be annoyed by Naruto’s motor mouth and boundless energy. If Sakura were in his place she would’ve been worn down within the first five minutes. That, or she’d get annoyed and just punch Naruto to next Sunday to shut him up. A voice in the back of her mind agreed. But Naruto seemed to be Sasuke’s friend, so she’d put up with him for now.

Sakura smiled when she saw Sasuke pick out a cherry tomato from the lunch she packed for him.

“Hey, that was supposed to be mine!” Naruto whined.

Sasuke flicked Naruto on the nose and deliberately popped the tomato into his mouth.

“I heard you like tomatoes, Sasuke-kun.” She blushed when he looked at her.

“I like them now,” he admitted. “I also have a fondness for clams.”

“Clams?!” Naruto exclaimed and choked on a rice ball.

“Honestly, Naruto-san. Chew your food and don’t speak with your mouth full,” Sasuke reprimanded.

“Clams?” Sakura wondered.

“Well, I’ve always liked shellfish. More so now that it’s rare to find in Konoha.” Sasuke plucked a tomato right out of Naruto’s fingers, much to the blond’s annoyance.

Sasuke’s throat bobbed as he swallowed the tomato. Naruto gulped in mimicry of the action and looked away, his face ruddy and presumably annoyed.

Sakura ran the words through her head. Something about Sasuke’s statement sounded off. What did he mean by he like shellfish more now if he had always liked them?

“Haruno-san?”

“Huh?”

“You were spacing out –ttebayo.”

“Oh, sorry. Just thinking.” She did the laughing politely thing that she always saw her mother do and returned to her lunch. Sasuke and Naruto just looked at her with curious expressions. Maybe that was the wrong response, but too late for that now. A sigh echoed in the back of her mind and she continued to eat her food.

xxx

“Hey! Forehead!”

Sakura gripped her hands into fists. She knew this would happen. If it were Ino who had approached Sasuke with lunch, the girls might glare a little bit with envy, but they wouldn’t give the Yamanaka heir any sass about it, and they definitely would not corner her after school like this.

Ino had offered to walk her home today, but Sakura had declined. Ino’s dad had came to pick her up, and Sakura knew that putting off this confrontation wouldn’t do any good.

“What do you guys want?” Sakura gritted out as she turned around to face four girls from her class.

“Just what do you think you are? Ugly.”

“Forehead.”

“Fatty.”

“Civilian.”

Sakura twitched. Out of all the insults, the last one stung the most. Tears pricked at her eyes as she stared down her nose at the bullies. Yeah, she knew she came from a civilian background. She knew these people all had parents or relatives who were ninjas. She knew she was born at a disadvantage, that her chakra pool was smaller, that she entered the Academy clueless about their world. She knew all that. But she never stopped trying. She didn’t drop out when three-fourths of the civilian children who enrolled at the same time as her did.

She stayed.

That had to mean something. Sakura had to convince herself of that; otherwise she wouldn’t be able to keep pushing on.

“And you’re all a bunch of shallow cowards!” She spat at them.

“What did you say?!”

“You heard me. You’re all too afraid of approaching Sasuke-kun so you take it out on me when I had the courage to. And none of you even like Sasuke-kun. You all think he’s so cool because of his tragic past, and because he’s a loner, but none of you understand him at all.”

“Oh, and you think that you understand him?”

“…No, I don’t. But I’m definitely closer to understanding him than you pigs are!”

“Why you!”

“I think it’s time we teach this little loud mouth a lesson.”

“Ino-chan is not here you know.”

“Can’t hide behind her back now, can you? Forehead.”

Civilian.” Ooh, that one was more perceptive. She saw that the noun bothered Sakura more than any degrading adjective could.

Before they could gang up and dog pile her, Sakura threw the first punch, right into the nose of the one who called her “civilian.” There was a satisfying crack and Sakura started to smile, but then a fist sailed into her jaw, unsettling her.

Despite Sakura’s resolve to get stronger in taijutsu, she hadn’t practice enough to make much of a difference. Soon the difference in numbers saw her at a disadvantage and she was on the ground curled up in a ball. She gritted her teeth. Even if she lost this fight, she would never let them see her cry or hear her scream.

“What are you guys doing? Stop that!”

Sakura recognized Naruto’s voice. The kicks didn’t stop.

Naruto leaped into the fray and started pulling and tearing the girls off her. “I said stop –ttebayo!”

Two of the girls turned their fists on Naruto, who luckily had no aversion to fighting against girls.

Sakura lashed out. She grabbed onto a leg and bit into the ankle. The girl screamed and started stepping on her. Sakura pulled on the leg and the girl dropped to her butt. She rolled out of the range of the other girl and got back up on her feet. Then she lunged, a fist raised to hit the girl in the face. The girl raised her arms to block and Sakura kicked her in the gut instead. She doubled over and Sakura elbowed her bowed back, letting gravity add to her attack. The other girl was still crying over her ankle, which was bleeding.

Naruto was scratched and bitten and tufts of his hair was pulled, but he managed to come out on top of the other two bullies.

“We’ll remember this.” The group spat at them and limped away.

“And don’t you forget it!” Naruto shouted after them. One of them flipped him the bird and he blew a raspberry at them. “Sakura-chan! Are you okay?”

Sakura spit out a glob of blood and saliva. “I’m fine.”

Naruto fretted a bit more but was unsure about touching her, so he just flittered around her with his hands in his hair.

She chuckled and then grimaced, “I’m really fine.” She straightened up as best as she could. “Actually, better than fine! I won. I mean, we won.” She was in disbelief.

“Yeah, you were so cool, Sakura-chan. You totally whooped their butts.”

“Well, you helped, so thanks.”

“No problem. That’s what friends do, right?”

“Um, yeah, I guess.”

Naruto grinned, and Sakura realized that he took it to mean that they were friends when she only meant it as an agreement to the statement. She was about to correct him but his eyes were shining. She snapped her mouth shut. Aw, what the hell. At least he’s friendly with Sasuke. That had to count for something.

“I can’t go home looking beat up like this. I’m going to visit the hospital. Do you need to go, too?”

“No!” Naruto blushed, “I mean, no, I’m fine. I don’t visit the hospital any- urm, that is, I heal fast. Like really fast. Like super fast. So I’m totally fine, dattebayo!”

Sakura gave him a wry smile. “If you say so. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“Do you need me to walk you?”

That was actually kind of sweet. Too bad he wasn’t Sasuke. “No, I’m good.”

“Oh, okay.” Naruto scratched the back of his head. “See you tomorrow.” He grinned.

She smiled back.

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Posted in Fanfiction

Tightrope 11

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Chapter 11 – Walking the Line to You

After school, Naruto and Sasuke walked home together again.

“Hey, Naruto-san. You don’t look too good today. Did you have a late night?”

“Um, yeah, something like that.”

“I apologize about yesterday.”

“Yesterday?” Naruto squeaked. “What yesterday?”

Sasuke looked at Naruto bemused. He was surprised by Naruto’s reaction. “I was not a very good host. I can’t believe I fell asleep after dinner. I hope the others didn’t give you a hard time.”

“Fell asleep? You mean you don’t remember?”

“Why? Did something interesting happen yesterday? I was not informed of such.”

“You were-” Naruto waved his arms around, flustered, “You were like drunk or something.”

Sasuke frowned, offended. “I do not approve of spirits, Naruto-san, and I would never keep such things in my house, let alone consume it myself.”

“Oh… Hey, are you sulking?” Naruto asked. Sasuke continued walking. “You are sulking.”

Sasuke pinned Naruto with a look. Something flashed in Sasuke’s eyes and Naruto stopped pushing the topic. They fell into an awkward silence as they walked. Suddenly two thoughts occurred to Naruto. Sasuke did not know that he specifically could get drunk on a special combination of spices and clams, and Sasuke was a forgetful drunk. Naruto doubted anyone in the Uchiha household informed Sasuke of those tidbits, and Karin would definitely keep something like that a secret to take advantage of the situation.

Naruto wondered if he should be the one to tell Sasuke. It seemed that Sasuke closed himself off to the topic of liquor. It wouldn’t be surprising if no one in his family dared to bring up the subject upon seeing the wounded gazelle look in Sasuke’s eyes. Even Naruto shut up at the look.

“Hey! Ichiraku’s. Let’s go. I promised to treat you.” Naruto took Sasuke by the hand and dragged him towards the main streets.

“Ah, wait, Naruto-san.”

“Teuchi-oji-san and Ayame-nee-chan are like the nicest people ever. You’ll like them. Um, feathers of a flock and all that.”

“You mean birds of a feather?”

“Yeah, that!” Naruto said glibly and grinned.

Sasuke took the peace offering for what it was and allowed himself to be pulled along. It’s hard to stay angry with Naruto for long when the blond was so earnest.

xxx

Sakura kicked the wooden training post. She hit it with a palm strike and then followed up with a left hook. Sweat poured down her forehead and plastered her clothing to her skin, but she kept going. She knew she was one of the weaker girls in taijutsu class. Part of it had to do with her having nobody to train her outside of class and part of it had to do with her lack of diligence in the area.

She hadn’t wanted to bulk up too much. That would look really unattractive for a girl. At least that’s what her mother always said. But if she wanted to beat Ino and be the top kunoichi in class then she would have to work on her taijutsu. She punched the pole again. Her knuckles stung. Her stomach rumbled but she ignored it. She was on a diet, so she didn’t eat much before throwing herself into training. She’s been at it for nearly two hours now.

She went in for a straight jab, misjudged the position of the pole and stumbled forward. Huh? Did the pole just move? The world was getting hazy and black spots danced at the corner of her eyes. She felt dizzy and unbalanced. Her head hit the pole and she slumped to the ground.

Her stomach grumbled again. She grimaced. Her head felt fuzzy and her body ached from the training. She wanted everything to stop. She pressed her face onto the cool dirt floor and knew no more.

When she startled awake next it was to find herself in a hospital bed.

“What? How?”

“Ah, glad to see you’re awake, Haruno-chan.”

Sakura turned to look at the medic-nin by her bedside. The medic-nin was adjusting a saline drip.

“What happened?” Sakura croaked.

“Here, have some water first.” The medic-nin helped Sakura to a cup of water. “My name is Mina.” Sakura gulped the water hastily. “You fainted due to hunger and fatigue.”

“Oh.” Sakura blushed. She could hear the reprimand in the medic-nin’s voice. A ninja in training who didn’t know how to judge the condition of her own body was pretty embarrassing.

“You’re a student in the Ninja Academy aren’t you?” Mina asked.

Sakura nodded.

“If you’re training to be a ninja then you need to be more conscious of your health.” Mina sighed. “Dieting isn’t good for a ninja.”

“But…”

“I know. I’ve been there. I was once a young girl in love too, you know?”

Sakura blushed. “You’re still young…”

Mina grinned. “Why thank you. Anyways, there really is no need for you to worry about getting fat. As a ninja you will always burn more calories than a civilian. What you need is a balanced and nutritious diet to aid in your growth and development as a ninja.”

Sakura nodded.

“Here, eat this for now.” Mina handed her an apple. “Fruits and vegetables digest easier, so you should start with those if you’re really hungry. I’ll give you a packet on nutrition when you discharge. It’ll also teach you how to monitor the amount of calories you’ll need based on age, body size, and how vigorous your training regime is.”

Sakura nibbled on the apple. “I want to get stronger, but I don’t want to bulk up too much,” she admitted.

Mina hummed. “That’s a bit contradictory isn’t it? If you train, you will definitely gain muscles, and that’s what makes you stronger.” Mina gave her a thoughtful look, “Is the guy you like a civilian?”

Sakura shook her head. “He’s in the Academy like me.”

Mina held back a snort. “Then is he the type that insists his girl has to be weaker than him? If so, he’s either sexist or has some self-esteem issues, and he doesn’t deserve your attention.”

“Sasuke-kun is not like that!” Sakura protested.

“Sasuke-kun?”

Sakura blushed and nibbled on the apple more vigorously. Mina laughed. Sakura’s jaw dropped. Was the medic-nin making fun of her crush?

“Sasuke-kun, huh? I should’ve guessed. Lots of girls like him.” Sakura flushed. She wanted to protest that she wasn’t like the other girls who like him, but Mina continued, “If it’s Sasuke-kun then you don’t have to worry about bulking up. He’s not that concerned with appearances. In fact, he would probably prefer to have a strong partner.”

“You speak as if you know him.”

“I do. I was his designated nurse when… when he first visited the hospital. He still visits me regularly along with his redheaded friend. Always pestering me to teach them medical ninjutsu.”

“Sasuke-kun and medical ninjutsu?!”

Mina laughed again. “You learn something new everyday. Get some rest now. I’ll have some more food delivered to you. You can be discharged once you’re steady on your feet.”

“Mi- Mina-sensei.”

“Hmm?”

“I like Sasuke-kun.”

“Yeah, good luck with that kid.” Mina patted her on the shoulder.

No. I like Sasuke-kun,” Sakura repeated, looking into Mina’s eyes.

Mina gives her a considering look. Then her eyes softened. “If that’s the case then good luck. Not many people see Sasuke-kun. All they see is a pretty boy with a tragic past. To be fair, that was I once, too. But Sasuke-kun is a good kid.”

“I know. He’s a kind person.”

“Well, I have other patients to check on now.” Mina tapped Sakura on the nose with a finger. “Work hard, little ninja.”

“Um, Mina-sensei, just one more thing. How did I get to the hospital?”

Mina gave her a Cheshire grin. “Why, it was Sasuke-kun.”

“Sa- Sa- Sasuke-kun?!”

“He found you unconscious on the training field and brought you in.”

“So- so, he carried me?” Sakura blushed redder than her qipao dress.

Mina laughed and gave her a little finger wave as she left. Sakura’s heart would not still for a long time afterwards.

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Posted in Fanfiction

Tightrope 10

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Chapter 10 – Toeing the Line

“My name is Uzumaki Naruto!”

“I know. Iruka-sensei said your name during roll call.” Sasuke said, not once pausing on his way home.

“Oh. Well, get this; I’m going to become the Hokage! Dattebayo!”

“Hmm… That’s nice.”

“Huh? You think that’s nice? You really, really think so?”

“I don’t mean nice in that-” Sasuke cut himself off and massaged his nose bridge. He cast around for the right words to explain, “I just meant that it’s a nice ambition to have.”

“So you think I can become Hokage?”

“Certainly not now, but nothing’s impossible with hard work.”

Naruto’s eyes sparkled at that answer, and Sasuke got the feeling that he would never be able to shake off the blond now, but he hadn’t wanted to be rude just to avoid the protagonist until graduation. It just wasn’t in his nature to be mean.

“Right? Right? I’m going to work hard and become the Hokage. Dattebayo!” Naruto grinned, beaming sunshine and rainbows. “Hey, hey! Where do you live? I went to the Uchiha Compound to find you but you weren’t there. Do you live somewhere else? Outside the Compound? In an apartment?” Naruto was running his mouth a mile a minute as he dogged Sasuke home after school.

They were walking through a rather scenic trail, with white cobblestone pavement, soft dappled lighting, and cherry blossom petals fluttering everywhere.

Sasuke paused and turned to Naruto with a raised eyebrow. He didn’t look annoyed, just bemused. “What is it that you want Uzumaki-san?”

“Eh? Don’t be so foreign, call me Naruto! And I’ll call you Sasuke. We’re friends right?”

“Since when?”

“Since you gave me presents! I still haven’t returned the favor,” Naruto said, then he thumped a fist into his palm, “Oh, I know, I’ll treat you to ramen. It’s the best food in the entire world.”

“You’ve never been out of the village,” there was a definite undertone of amusement in the voice and Naruto took that as a positive sign.

Naruto grinned, “I don’t have to. I know it’s the best thing ever because Teuchi-san makes ramen from the heart!”

Sasuke smiled, amused. A soft pink petal drifted onto his hair. Naruto reached up and casually brushed the petal off Sasuke’s dark locks.

“You know…” Naruto leaned forward slightly with his hand still settled on Sasuke’s hair in a light caress, “You’re very beautiful.” A soft flush spread across Sasuke’s cheeks at that candid proclamation. Naruto couldn’t help thinking how cute he looked.

Sasuke pushed Naruto’s face away. His expression was part amusement, part exasperation. “You’re a smooth talker, aren’t you?”

Naruto grinned, unabashed. “You’re so pretty I thought you might be a girl when we first met.”

“Hn.” Sasuke continued down the path and Naruto trotted next to him, a content smile on his face. Sasuke didn’t say anything else, but he didn’t shoo Naruto away either, so Naruto followed him all the way home.

“You do live here!” Naruto pointed an accusing finger at Sasuke, who arched an eyebrow.

“I never said I didn’t.”

“What? But- but-”

“Are you coming or not?”

“Of course! Dattebayo!”

Naruto still had vague memories of combing through the Compound when it was empty and eerie. With Sasuke walking beside him, the Compound didn’t seem so bad.

As soon as Sasuke opened the door to his house a blur barreled towards him. “Welcome home, onii-sama!”

Sasuke hugged the little boy. “I’m home, Ranmaru.” The boy nuzzled his face into Sasuke chest.

Naruto watched the display. “Who’s this kid?” He smiled at Ranmaru.

“This is my adopted brother, Ranmaru. Ranmaru, this is Uzumaki Naruto-san, my classmate.”

Naruto’s smile drooped a little at that. Classmate, not friend…

“Uzumaki?” Ranmaru queried.

“Yes. I assume Karin is still out with her team?”

“Yeah, another D-rank,” Ranmaru giggled.

“Well they only graduated three weeks ago. No matter how skilled they are, I doubt their jonin-sensei would just throw them on a C-rank mission,” Sasuke reasoned.

“Who’s this Karin?”

Both Sasuke and Ranmaru smiled eerily at Naruto. “You’ll meet her soon.”

Naruto wasn’t sure he wanted to.

Yeah, Naruto knew for sure he didn’t want to meet this Karin, but he met her anyways. He was surprised to learn that she was an Uzumaki too. For a while it looked like they were going to hit it off well. Naruto complimented her hair. Karin told him stories of Uzushiogakure. Then things got weird when Naruto invited himself to dinner.

It was Karin’s turn to cook. The entire time she was in the kitchen she was muttering and cackling to herself. Naruto feared for the safety of his stomach lining. While Karin cooked, Naruto got to know the other members of Sasuke’s family, Juugo and Kimimaro. They were nice enough, but Kimimaro was always there when Naruto tried to get closer to Sasuke to talk. Juugo seemed shy and didn’t want to interact much, so Naruto let him be for now. There was plenty of time to get to know each other later. For now, Naruto focused his attentions on Sasuke and Ranmaru whom were the most receptive and indulgent to his motor mouth.

When Karin dished out the food, Naruto immediately smelled something different about Sasuke’s portion, but it wasn’t poison. If anything it smelled like Karin put extra spices into Sasuke’s portion, which was odd since Naruto was sure she was cooking everyone’s share at once.

They dug in. The food was nothing like Ichiraku’s but it was good and he told her so. She thanked him for his compliment – “It’s a recipe from Uzushiogakure!” – and they were still getting along well, making conversation about the Uzumaki clan while they ate.

After dinner, Ranmaru did the dishes. Juugo excused himself for the night. Sasuke stumbled, pink-faced, into the living room area, and the other three followed suit.

“Sasuke, what’s wrong?” Naruto asked.

Sasuke collapsed on the couch, looking boneless and limp, his head lolled back on the backrest. “Hmm?” Sasuke looked at Naruto through half lidded eyes.

Naruto’s heart fluttered. “Guys, what’s happening?” He asked the other two.

“Witch,” Kimimaro sniped at Karin.

“He ate it willingly,” Karin snapped back.

“It’s fine,” Sasuke murmured. “I feel relaxed.”

“That’s right,” Karin smirked at Kimimaro and went around to the back of the couch. “Just relax, Sasuke. You’re always working so hard.” She started to give Sasuke a massage.

“Feels good,” Sasuke said, his eyes fluttering close.

“It’s the clams,” Kimimaro said.

“Clams?” Naruto asked.

“Clams,” Karin confirmed, her hands working at the knots in Sasuke’s shoulders. “Imported from the shores of Uzushio. Expensive products you know. This is only the third time I got to make it,” she purred.

“I don’t get it.” Naruto said, watching as Sasuke melted into boneless putty under Karin’s skillful hands.

“When I first started experimenting to see if I could recreate the taste of home, I had to substitute some spices, because imported products are expensive you see.” Karin explained. “In one of my experiments I found out that if I mix certain spices native to Konoha with the clams from Uzushio, it produces an interesting effect in Sasuke.”

“So Sasuke is… drunk? On clams?” Naruto blanched.

“Not drunk. Relaxed.”

“Tipsy,” Kimimaro said.

“No one asked for your input,” Karin snapped at him.

“And Sasuke just goes along with it?” Naruto asked.

“He trusts Karin too much,” Kimimaro frowned.

“Of course, I’m very dependable,” Karin crooned.

“You said you wouldn’t overdose him again.”

“I didn’t. This is the perfect amount. By the way, you should go take a bath, Kimimaro. You stink. I’ve got it covered here.”

“I’m not leaving you alone with Sasuke-sama.”

Karin glared daggers at Kimimaro even as her hands kneaded Sasuke gently. Naruto heard a ripping sound and then there was a bone-white blade in Kimimaro’s hands.

“Whoa!” Naruto jumped in. “C’mon guys, Sasuke wouldn’t want you two to fight. Kimimaro, why don’t you go relax with a hot bath, I’ll keep watch over here.” Karin stopped glaring and looked away. “Okay?” Naruto prompted Kimimaro.

After an eternity, Kimimaro left the room.

“Finally. I thought he’d never leave. That spoilsport,” Karin complained. Her hands never once stopped moving against Sasuke, who was half asleep by now. He looked so relaxed. Naruto kind of enjoyed seeing it.

“Hey Naruto, can you go to my house across the street and fetch some massage oils for me?”

“What? Me?”

“Who else, dummy? Does it look like it’s a good idea for me to stop now?”

“I guess not…”

“It’s just across the street. The oils are all in a basket. Hurry back.”

“Okay…” Naruto rushed to the house across the street. He sneezed as soon as he got in. The house was covered in dust and didn’t look like it had been lived in for some time now. Maybe Karin was just really lazy about cleaning. Naruto wasn’t too keen on cleaning either. It had to be an Uzumaki thing.

He searched the house. He had suspected it from the beginning, but he didn’t want to doubt a fellow Uzumaki. Now Naruto knew for certain that he was duped. He went back to Sasuke’s house only to find Karin and Sasuke gone. He kept his panic under control. If Kimimaro found out there would be hell to pay.

“Which house does Karin live in?” Naruto asked Ranmaru.

“Just next door.”

Naruto found the two people he was looking for in Karin’s living room. Sasuke was shirtless and lying sprawled on his stomach on the couch. Karin straddled his waist and was rubbing unscented massage oils into Sasuke’s bare skin. Sasuke was moaning softly, completely oblivious, as Karin worked the kinks out of his body.

Something down south twitched at the scene and Naruto tried very hard not to think about it.

When Karin’s fingers trailed Sasuke’s spine a little too low, Naruto felt a surging panic. He threw her off Sasuke and picked up the dark haired boy to carry him back to his house, where Kimimaro could watch over him. Due to the way Naruto held Sasuke, his soft golden locks brushed against Sasuke’s neck as he moved. The uninhibited Sasuke moaned into Naruto’s ear, and Naruto groaned himself as a shudder ran down his body. Karin’s sharp eyes did not overlook his reaction.

After delivering Sasuke into Kimimaro’s arms, Naruto hightailed it out of the Compound as if actual ghosts were chasing after him.

Naruto’s dreams that night were… confusing.

Confusing, because he wouldn’t describe them as disturbing, and he would never admit that they were stimulating.

He woke up with morning wood the next day and stumbled into class late on his second day.

It was going to be a long school year.

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