Team placements were nothing short of a panic-inducing, stress-filled hassle that Umino Iruka dreaded every single year. It wasn't the actual job of placing the team members, Iruka had no issue with that whatsoever. He knew his students, inside and out—and that in and of itself was the problem. There was something of a tradition when it came to team placements, and every single year Iruka was filled with the overwhelming feeling that tradition got in the way of team compatibility.
For example, Team Ten. Iruka didn't have many reservations putting Yamanaka Ino, Nara Shikamaru, and Akimichi Chouji together on a team. It was one of the very few times that tradition worked out, but that was solely because of the fact the three family were already so close together, they had practically been raised as siblings. Siblings fought, but they (usually) had each others' backs. More so, Ino's type-A personality was good for getting Shikamaru moving, and Chouji's laid back persona was good for balancing the team mechanics. All in all, they meshed well.
And then there was Team Seven. Traditionally, it was the top shinobi and kunoichi of the year with the dead last of the class. Iruka wasn't even entirely sure where this tradition was started, although he had his suspicions that it began with the Legendary Sannin (and look at how well that went), but it was nothing short of hell for the compatibility of the teammates.
Iruka dragged a hand through brown hair that was already mussed from repeated pulling and rubbing and general motions of overthinking things. He had stayed late at the Academy for this and the night was far past being young—coffee only did so much for his energy level and he was seriously considering those backup soldier pills he kept on hand, just in case.
Rifling through the papers, he considered his students that would be chosen for the Team Seven slots.
Haruno Sakura wasn't bad at heart, he knew she had the potential to be an outstanding kunoichi. That didn't distract from the fact that she was, at the moment, a regular civilian girl with a regular civilian girl's priorities. She did so well in her classes half to snub Yamanaka Ino, half to gain the appreciation of Uchiha Sasuke, and he really doubted she had any serious determination to become a kunoichi at the moment. With the right motivation—maybe.
Uchiha Sasuke was most of the problems at the moment, and that was purely due to the fact he simply did not work well in a team. Iruka cared for all of his students and wanted to see them succeed, including Sasuke, but it would take an extraordinary amount of patience and the pinpoint subtlety of a brain surgeon to get him to function in a team. There was also the fact he seemed to know exactly what to say and how to say it, to irritate just about anyone. It was a talent the final member of their "team" wasn't immune to.
Iruka was fond of him, similar to that of a younger brother or maybe even a son, but there was no escaping the irrefutable fact that Naruto had absolutely no patience. He was very loud—Iruka knew that habit originated from the fact he would be ignored any other way, but still, high decibel levels for an extended period of time would give anyone a headache—and brash, quick to anger. There was no saying what was hiding under all his smiles and grins and laughs, because Iruka was no fool. He knew the difference between laughing for the sake of laughing and real amusement.
All in all, Team Seven was made a girl who had zero tolerance for one member and blind admiration for the other—a boy who was scarred, traumatized and hiding it behind a mask of aloofness and ambivalence—and another boy who was hurting just as much, only hiding it behind smiles and pranks that were closer to revenge than lighthearted fun.
It was a recipe for disaster.
Iruka groaned, massaging his forehead. The moon was fading as the sky lightened at the horizon. He had been agonizing over the team placements for hours and he was no closer to deciding what to do. In the end, the Hokage would accept or deny his choices, but Iruka had to at least try. He owed it to his students.
He couldn't separate Sasuke and Naruto—their sensei was obligated to teach the former how to use his Sharingan, when the time the arose, and it seemed only right he taught Naruto as well. That would leave the third member to be someone capable of reigning the other two in, while being nice about it.
Another student file caught his eyes and Iruka paused over it, considering. The boy was a little strange—scratch that, he was very strange but Iruka was too kind to think that about one of his students—and didn't mingle with the other students much. However, the few times Iruka had seen him interact with the students, he had been levelheaded and patient enough.
Even if Iruka had never seen a human being ingest so much food in his life.
He wavered over the decision for a couple seconds, before letting out a sharp exhale.
"To hell with it," he snapped under his breath.
Team Seven: Uzumaki Naruto, Uchiha Sasuke, and Sephiroth.
"And so, that concludes the team listings."
With that said, Iruka sped his way out of the room, leaving Uzumaki Naruto seething and resisting the urge to reach over and strangle his teammate.
Teammate. With Uchiha Sasuke.
It felt like a universe-sized joke, considering everyone knew they sort of hated each other, but no—here they were, on a team. Together.
Maybe Naruto wouldn't have been so unhappy with being on a team with Sasuke if he was less inclined to be uppity and stuck-up. Except he was uppity and stuck-up, so Naruto's favorite pass-time was going out of his way to annoy Sasuke and get any reaction he could. And if there was a part of him seeking Sasuke's attention because he was the only person his age who would actually stop and look at him—not as just an annoyance, but as an annoyance and Uzumaki Naruto, if that made any sense (it probably didn't)—it wasn't as though anyone could read his mind.
The students half-ran, half-slouched, out of the class to enjoy their lunches before the jonin-sensei showed up. Naruto didn't have a lunch on hand, but that was mostly because he hadn't spent the money on a lunch this week at all. He saved his money so he could afford the restaurants around the village, and maybe buy a lunch with Sakura, if he was lucky enough to be a team with her.
He wasn't lucky and he certainly wasn't on a team with Sakura. There wasn't even a girl on his team, which was a downright bummer. Although the other guy on their team was really just a few body parts shy of a female, so Naruto guessed he counted—sort of. Not really.
Still, they were teammates now and he supposed he should at least try to extend a hand of friendship. It wasn't that he expected it work, so much as it was a gesture that people usually did. He was already preparing sharp retorts and planning revenge pranks for the inevitable rejection. He had starved for three days to save up enough money for a lunch with Sakura, so he wasn't feeling very merciful at the moment.
"Hey!" Naruto called when he saw the silver hair of his new teammate, pulled up into a high ponytail and swishing back and forth as he walked. It was a little distracting. "Hey—you!"
Naruto couldn't remember the guy's name. He just knew it was long and weird.
The boy seemed to know who Naruto was calling at, though, because he turned. A pair of large, almond-shaped green eyes fixed on him, silently questioning.
"I thought we should get some lunch together," he said, baring his teeth in a wide grin. "Since we're teammates now, you know?"
Sorry, no—go away Naruto, you're annoying.
"Food?" said the boy, and that was interest in his tone. "Yeah, sounds good."
"Well, I didn't want to—" Naruto choked himself off. "I mean. Um."
He hadn't planned anything to say if the boy wanted to eat lunch with him. It hadn't even been on the list of possible responses.
"Do you have a place picked out already?" said the boy, either unaware of Naruto's inner turmoil or choosing to ignore it. "We should find Sasuke first. He's part of the team, too. . . . I wonder what kind of food he likes."
"Ramen," said Naruto on impulse.
"He likes ramen?" asked the boy, looking surprised. "Huh."
"No—I mean I like ramen," said Naruto hastily. "I don't know what that bastard—I mean Sasuke—likes."
It slipped out without his meaning to say it. Really, he hardly ever mentally, or even verbally, called Sasuke by his name. Naruto had many, many creative nicknames for Sasuke that were so much better than his own name. Bastard was one of them.
"Oh, well then ramen's fine," said the boy. "I like all food, really."
Naruto was forcibly reminded of Chouji. He sourly wondered why the boy wasn't put onto a team with Chouji instead of himself.
"Where is Sasuke?" asked the boy, glancing around from head to head of the students milling about. "He took off."
"Big surprise there," mumbled Naruto.
"Come on, let's go look for him," said the boy. He grabbed Naruto's wrist and started dragging him off—pulling away proved to be futile, because holy shit that guy was strong. "I think I saw him heading away from the Academy."
"Why do we need Sasuke?" Naruto whined, making himself as heavy as possible. "That guy's just a spoil sport. I don't think he even likes ramen. He'll wanna get something else. Actually, he'll probably just blow us off. This is stupid."
The other boy didn't reply until Naruto had stopped his stream of complains, angling Naruto with a serious look that took him aback.
"Sasuke's still our teammate," he said. "You said it was a team-bonding thing, right? That includes Sasuke."
His expression turned contemplative.
"Unless you were just using that as an excuse for a date?"
Naruto threw a hissy-fit of epic proportions.
"What the hell? No, that's just—no, why would you say that?"
"I was joking," said the other boy. "Sorry about that."
Naruto scowled at him, crossing his arms now that his wrist was free.
"You suck at jokes," he said.
"Yeah, I guess I do," said the boy with a faintly apologetic smile.
They walked in silence for a couple minutes, searching for the familiar dark head of Sasuke, before Naruto grew uncomfortable. He wasn't fond of long periods of quiet. There was plenty of that waiting for him back at his apartment every night. Even if the other boy was downright weird, Naruto would rather strike up any kind of conversation than endure the oppressive silence.
"So, um . . ." he cast the boy a sideways look. "Don't take this the wrong way, but—what's your name again?"
"Sephiroth," came the quick response. "It's okay, people forget all the time."
Naruto felt extremely awkward and a little guilty now. That wasn't even slightly okay.
"Now hurry up, I don't want to miss lunch because Sasuke is hiding."
Unfortunately, time wasn't on their side and they didn't find Sasuke until the bell rang for them to return to the school. They ended up tying Sasuke up—literally, they hog-tied him and pulled him behind them—and quickly buying some protein heavy snacks that Sephiroth recommended, before rushing back to the Academy. Sasuke was absolutely furious and refused to even look at them, while Sephiroth reminded Sasuke to eat and enjoyed his own food.
Naruto stuck to the admission that Sephiroth was just plain weird. He was mostly quiet, but when Naruto started a conversation, he was easy enough to talk to, even if his main passion seemed to be food. In any case, it was something Naruto could relate with, and they spent a good fifteen minutes discussing the different flavors of ramen and the taste of cup noodles compared to the bowls and packaged noodles.
Sitting in the row in front of them, Sasuke looked as though he was in the grips of despair. Naruto had no idea why—it was true, Sephiroth was no Sakura, but he wasn't half-bad to talk to. And he didn't seem to hold any reservations toward Naruto, like the other students. Even the ones who cared less about what their parents said, such as Inuzuka Kiba, wavered between friend and occasional partner-in-crime. Shikamaru was too lazy to pick his forehead off his desk on the best of days, so Naruto didn't talk to him very often.
And, well, Sakura did tend to lose her temper at Naruto all the time. Even if he really, really liked her—she was nice on the inside, he was sure of it—it was a surprising sort of relief to be able to simply talk to someone without getting punched.
"He's late," he said, throwing a narrow look at the door.
"Do you suppose he forgot about us?" said Sephiroth.
Naruto was almost certain Sephiroth wasn't joking. He threw Sephiroth a questioning look anyway, because one could never be too sure.
"You never know," said Sephiroth, avoiding Naruto's eyes.
"He's a jonin," said Sasuke, speaking for the first time since they entered the classroom. "He's not going to forget anything."
"But if he does forget—"
"He's not gonna," snapped Naruto. He let out a short sound of amusement, hopping over his desk to cross the classroom. "I'm leaving him a present for making us wait, though."
Sasuke was instantly annoyed, while Sephiroth looked on in curiosity.
"What kind of present?"
Naruto held up an erasure.
"The prank-y kind," he said.
"Not a word," mumbled Sasuke.
"It is now!"
"I don't think you can decide what is or isn't a word," said Sephiroth blankly.
Naruto threw him a squinted glare.
"You're supposed to go with it, ya know," he said. He turned before he saw Sephiroth's expression, but he could imagine it was full of bafflement. The strangest things seemed to confuse Sephiroth.
After fixing the erasure in the door, Naruto snickered under his breath, quickly returning to his seat. His shoulders shook with poorly contained mirth for a couple minutes, before the boredom returned and he was left waiting yet again.
Eventually, Naruto gave up on waiting and laid his head down, yawning broadly. He turned his head into a more comfortable position—and saw Sephiroth folding a slip of paper on the desk, pressing corners and creasing. Naruto left where the paper came from as a mystery, in favor of quickly sliding over to see what Sephiroth was folding.
"Origami?" said Naruto, a little bemused. "What're you making?"
"Just a glider," said Sephiroth, "nothing fancy."
"Oh, can it fly?" asked Naruto.
He watched as Sephiroth's fingers deftly folded the paper over and over, so used to the motions he probably didn't really need to look at the paper.
"It can glide, but I wouldn't call it flying," he responded.
"How far can it glide?" Naruto pressed.
Sephiroth held up the finished glider, eyeing it speculatively.
"I'm not sure," he admitted. "I've never tested how far it can go."
"Do it!" said Naruto eagerly, and he never thought he would get so excited over paper of all things. But the glider design looked pretty cool, and he really wanted to see how far it would go. "Throw it to . . . um . . ."
He needed a good target.
"Oh, Sasuke's head!"
Sasuke's knee-jerk reaction to insult Naruto was interrupted by Sephiroth, who verbally trampled over both of them.
"How about the clock?" Then he added, "And I'm not throwing things at Sasuke."
Naruto wasn't pouting, he was brooding, but that was what Sasuke did all the time—so he supposed would rather sulk. He crossed his arms and muttered, "Yeah, sure. The clock's fine."
Sephiroth once again either ignored Naruto's turmoil or didn't notice. He angled his wrist back and flicked the glider through the air—it soared with enough force to shatter the clock and leave broken pieces of glass on the ground. The tip of the origami wasn't bent or torn at all.
"What the—" Naruto jumped up, eyes widened. "How'd you do that?"
Sasuke, who had been looking out of the corner of his eyes the entire time (although he would never admit it—Naruto still noticed), twisted around in his seat to give Sephiroth his full attention. That was saying something, considering he hardly gave anyone the time of day usually.
"I just used some chakra to reinforce the tip," said Sephiroth, looking vaguely embarrassed. His face flushed slightly pink as he went to retrieve the glider. "I must've used too much chakra."
Naruto tried not to think of how the blushing was nothing short of cute. He filled his mind with images of Sakura to make up for it. And maybe those girls on the magazines, even if he didn't quite understand the appeal. Adults seemed to appreciate them, but whatever.
"You mean you channeled chakra into the paper?" said Sasuke, reevaluating his teammate.
"It's easy," said Sephiroth. "Just push your chakra into the paper. Or whatever you're using. It's good for weapons, too."
"That doesn't sound easy," said Naruto flatly.
"It is," Sephiroth insisted. He held up a hand, holding onto the glider—and there was a brief glow of white chakra. "See? Like that."
"It's never been that easy," he said. There was definitely annoyance and a level of danger in his tone. "How do you do it?"
"I use my chakra," said Sephiroth slowly, as if speaking to a toddler.
Even though Naruto wasn't getting it any more than Sasuke, he couldn't help but snicker at the expression on his face. Sasuke looked even more furious at Naruto's laughter and a full-scale war probably would have broken out, if not for the timely opening of the classroom door.
They all turned in unison as a man with bushy silver hair walked in, one eye covered by his slanted hitai-ate, while the other was a dark gray. White powder floated around his head from where the erasure, which Naruto had almost forgotten about, plopped straight onto his head. He stared at them lazily, his eye passing from face to face, before giving a nearly unperceptive sigh.
"So you didn't forget!" said Sephiroth, eyes wide.
Naruto was bewildered.
"What's your deal with forgetting things?"
The man who was probably their jonin-sensei looked even more despairing.
"You're all a pain," he said in a deadpan. "Meet me on the roof in ten minutes."
He disappeared in a flurry of leaves and wind, leaving the classroom in dead silence. For a whole minute, no one moved. Then Sephiroth returned to his seat and started fidgeting with his paper glider. Naruto and Sasuke threw him looks of shock and confusion, Naruto spluttering and pointing at the door, while the latter stared wordlessly.
"What?" said Sephiroth.
"He said to meet on the roof," said Naruto.
"In ten minutes," said Sephiroth, blinking. "It's only been three minutes."
He looked at the door in contemplation.
"Although I guess it wouldn't hurt to wait on the roof."
With that, Sephiroth stood and walked out of the classroom, leaving Naruto and Sasuke staring after him, utterly nonplussed. A few moments later, Sephiroth backtracked and poked his head through the door, waving at them to follow.
"Let's go, we'd might as well wait together."
He disappeared into the hallway again.
"He is so weird," said Naruto, eyes wide and owlish. "So—weird."
"He's strong," said Sasuke, as if he didn't hear what Naruto just said.
Naruto thought he was taking away the wrong details. Considering Naruto was the dead-last of the class (something that burned him, even if he did manage to graduate), he would have been put on a team that balanced out his own (so-called) lacking abilities. Going off that alone meant Sephiroth was bound to be powerful enough to make up for the weakest link. It other words, it was an obvious fact that Sasuke didn't need to repeat aloud, unlike Sephiroth's more subtle oddness.
The idea of being the weakest link put a nasty taste in Naruto's mouth. For all his yelling and bluster, he wasn't a moron, nor was he even the beginnings of naive. He knew perfectly well that he scored absolutely last on all of his tests, that he made it as a genin by pure luck, and by all means Naruto should be thanking Mizuki—if it weren't for that traitor, he would have fallen into crippling malaise. There was no telling what he might have done afterward.
Reaching the roof happened a little too fast for Naruto to sort out of his thoughts, arriving the door at about the same time as Sasuke and putting on an extra burst of speed to run through before him. Sasuke darted to outrun Naruto, proving that he cared a bit more for competition than he let on, and they arrived at the roof at the same time.
"I win!" Naruto yelled on principle, inwardly laughing at the way Sasuke's face twitched. "Suck on that, Sasuke."
Sasuke looked as though he wanted to strangle Naruto right then and there, but Sephiroth cut across their scuffle before it even began.
"I never asked," he said, rifling through a pack that had come from—nowhere, as far as Naruto was concerned. Naruto hadn't seen him with a pack in the classroom. "But what are you two studying outside of the standard Academy education?"
"What?" said Naruto.
"Clan jutsu," said Sasuke shortly. "Fire style."
"Naruto, you have a lot of chakra," said Sephiroth, pulling out several rolls of parchment and a couple books, "but you know little to nothing on chakra theory. You should read up—you've already got an advantage in chakra, but it's pointless if you know nothing about it."
Naruto might have protested, but he actually made a valid point and it was nice to hear he was ahead in something instead of dead last for once. He took a seat on the roof next to Sephiroth, realizing dazedly that today was full of those things he always wanted to hear, but never did. A compliment, an acknowledgment, a simple and normal conversation. Little things that Naruto cherished, which others took for granted.
"I know people all have different chakra affinities," said Sephiroth absently, eyes flicking up and down a roll of parchment. "I don't know mine, though."
"I don't, either," said Sasuke.
Naruto squirmed, not quite filling to be the single person to not know anything about chakra affinities, or what it entailed.
Sasuke noticed his confusion, though. He rolled his eyes.
"Idiot—" because not a single talk with Naruto could start with an amicable note, apparently "—chakra affinities are the elements we're natural at. Fire-affinities are common in Fire Country. I'm fairly sure I have a fire affinity."
"Aside from the part about Naruto being an idiot," said Sephiroth, "all of that is true. I don't know about the Uchiha clan's usual affinity, though. We'll have to find some chakra-sensor papers."
"Some what?" said Naruto, his mind pulling in three different ways. His teammate was nice. Legitimately nice, as in he didn't want to insult Naruto and wouldn't put up with people insulting Naruto. He wanted to ask, What sorcery is this? but the conversation was about chakra.
Sephiroth waved the question away.
"They're just papers that show your elemental affinity," he said. "We need to find some."
"That does seem like a good plan," came a vaguely uninterested voice from directly behind them. "That is, if you become genin at all."
Naruto whirled around with the others, eyes widened, a shout already half out of his mouth and choking in his throat at the same time. There was no need to be incredibly loud and uncivilized to gain attention—the knowledge was still warring with years of habitual attention-seeking.
Perched on the edge of the rooftop railing was their sensei, whose name Naruto couldn't (be bothered to) remember. He didn't look any more impressed than he was in the classroom, his head lazily propped against his fist.
"Sadly, the chances of any of you becoming a genin are pathetically low," said their sensei bluntly. He sounded as if he would rather not be with them at the moment. "You're better off saving the plans until after you're sure you'll even become a shinobi."
"What are you talking about?" Naruto finally spluttered out, pointing at him furiously. "We did pass! We're all ninja now!"
"Are you?" said the man, and his voice seemed to drop several levels in pure danger.
Naruto felt sweat bead on his forehead.
Then the man's visible eye curved as he presumably smiled under his mask.
"I wouldn't be so sure," he said, lightly teasing. It was nothing like the burst of deadliness Naruto felt seconds ago. "The truth is that the Academy exam is just a weeding process. If you passed, then it means you have the potential to be a genin."
He let out a chuckle that sounded as far from amused as it could be, and Naruto straightened. It was slightly nerve-wracking when their jonin-sensei started randomly laughing.
"What is it?" asked Naruto.
"You're not going to like hearing this," said their sensei in warning. "The genin exam has a sixty-percent fail rate—meaning that out of all the students who just passed, only nine will become genin. The rest will be sent back to the Academy, or dropped from the program completely."
"Are you serious?!" Naruto bellowed, jumping to his feet in outrage. He hadn't graduated on the sacrifice of betrayal and one hard-earned jutsu, only to be sent back because apparently the Academy exam was only a prerequisite. "Then what was the exam for?!"
"It's as he said," Sephiroth explained, looking down at his folded hands. "The exams we already took only serve to find those who'll cut it as a ninja."
"Exactly!" said their sensei brightly, clapping his hands together. "At least one of you know how to pay attention!"
"He's trying to get a reaction, Naruto," said Sephiroth, tugging his sleeve imploringly.
"And he's gonna get one," said Naruto, shaking his fists at their sensei as Sephiroth held him back by one arm.
Except their sensei only seemed even more amused, clapping his hands together to bring their focus back onto the original subject.
"Now that we've got that out of the way," he said, "why don't we start with introductions? Likes, dislikes, hobbies, dreams for the future—the works. Sasuke, you're up first."
Sasuke looked startled.
"What's that supposed to mean?" said Naruto, squinting his eyes and crossing his arms irritably. If he couldn't charge their sensei, then he would make his aggravation known in other ways—such as turning his back to Sephiroth.
The drawback was that Sephiroth was so dejected by the move that Naruto was reminded of a kicked puppy. It inflicted him with feelings of guilt and remorse, and Naruto ended up turning back and reluctantly forcing his voice to sound less brash.
"Why don't you go first?" said Naruto to their sensei, refusing to acknowledge his teammate. Sephiroth had cheered up almost instantly.
"Me?" said their sensei, falsely surprised.
"Yeah, you," snapped Naruto. It was hard staying polite for longer than thirty seconds. "Why don'tcha give us an example?"
"An example?" came the reply, one eye widened.
Naruto twitched from the urge to punch him.
Their sensei hummed thoughtfully, a finger held to his chin in a mock-thoughtful position. Naruto glanced over at his teammates, certain that he wasn't the only one filled with incredible annoyance at the moment. Sure enough, Sasuke's face had darkened and Sephiroth was frowning slightly. Other people agreed with him for once. (That wasn't something to be happy with, considering the moment, but Naruto couldn't quite help feeling a little warmer inside).
"Let's see," said their sensei, after a long period of contemplative silence (contemplative for all them—Naruto was thinking of the pranks he wanted to pull on the man). "My name is Hatake Kakashi. There's a lot of a things I like. As for what I don't like . . . there's plenty of those, too. My hobbies are a little intense for kiddies like you."
He smiled at them and Naruto immediately thought, Porn.
"Competitive shogi?" said Sephiroth, wide-eyed innocence.
Naruto stared at him in disbelief. There was no way a human being could be so naive, and yet—that wasn't a joking expression.
"No," said Naruto, snickering mentally at the face Sephiroth was about to make, "it's something a little grittier. It's called—"
"It's nothing," spat Sasuke, glaring at Naruto.
"Are you done talking?" asked Hatake Kakashi. He didn't seem insulted that they had trampled over his introduction. "It's quite rude to interrupt. As I was saying, my hobbies are a bit much for kids. My dreams for the future are mine to worry about. Your turn, Mr. Silent over there!"
Naruto's eye twitched. He hadn't said anything about himself other than a hobby of reading porn. Their sensei had turned up late, and then admitted to being a porn-addict. He didn't have much hope for their future under his tutelage.
"My name is Uchiha Sasuke. I hate everything and I don't like anything," said Sasuke—Naruto rolled his eyes, because this was classic Sasuke, while Sephiroth looked dismayed—with his hands clasped at eye level. "What I have is not a dream, because I will make it reality. I have a man to kill, and a clan to restore."
Naruto eyed him warily, scooting away as casually as he could manage. He wondered if Sasuke would notice if he hid behind Sephiroth. Naruto had pegged Sasuke as several things, including—but not limited to—a jerk, an emotionally constipated prick, a know-it-all asshole, and a show-off. However, in none of those assumptions was homicidal maniac.
"Huh," said Kakashi, all too unconcerned for Naruto's liking. He nodded at Naruto. "You're next."
Naruto stood up, because at heart he was dramatic and always would be, grinning with every bit of confidence felt, and even more that he didn't. He had always been good at smiling when he didn't particularly feel happy.
"I'm Uzumaki Naruto!" he said, as all good introductions started with a name, "and what I like is ramen, especially the kind Iruka-sensei buys me at Ichiraku's. I dislike the three minutes I have to wait for the ramen to cook—"
There was no way Naruto was going to say that he hated the cold, empty eyes of the villagers. He wouldn't—couldn't, maybe—say those kinds of things out loud. It had always been buried deep in his heart and smoldered under a thick layer of anger that bordered on hatred. It was smothered under nearly desperate hope and his determined clinging to the pieces of love and compassion that people like the Sandaime and Iruka-sensei showed him.
Naruto's dislikes were a fine line between insanity and pure fury, and there was absolutely no way he could say them. Not when people already thought (knew) he was a monster. He wouldn't give them proof to their claims, or make Mizuki's words make sense in any way. Uzumaki Naruto was a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky boy without a care in the world. Uzumaki Naruto was foolish and didn't see the distrust of those around him. Uzumaki Naruto wouldn't think because it hurt to think.
"—and my dream is to be the greatest Hokage!" said Naruto. He thought his smile might be real this time, a spark of life in his eyes. He always hoped others would see that fire the Sandaime talked about, and maybe they would see him differently. He allowed himself, just for a second, to hope that being on a team would change everything. "That way everyone will stop looking down at me, and see me as someone important!"
See me, look at me, look into my eyes and see Uzumaki Naruto.
"That's a wonderful dream," said Sephiroth from by Naruto's elbow. He must have recognized how startled Naruto was, because he smiled. "You'll be a great Hokage, of that I have no doubts."
Sasuke wasn't looking at them, but he wasn't saying anything against it, either. That was something, at the very least.
Naruto could hardly draw in a breath, overwhelmed by the knowledge that someone believed in him. He had no way of counting how many times he demanded, shouted, screamed at the world to believe him, to acknowledge him—and here it was, what he was looking for. He had the Sandaime, Iruka-sensei, and now there was Sephiroth. Complete and unwavering faith was in his eyes, and Naruto couldn't help but wonder when that faith had started.
That faith might have even been there a long time, too. Naruto, for a half-second, tried to wrap his mind around everything he could have missed. He had never really noticed Sephiroth before today. Had he believed in Naruto all this time?
"You're serious?" said Naruto.
Sephiroth was almost shy and—that was a blush. Naruto's brain did a little short-circuit. He never saw Sakura blush like that, even when she was looking at Sasuke, and it was—he strangled his thoughts off there. He wasn't going there, not today and not ever. (But in all honesty, Sephiroth had blushed and it was dangerously close to adorable).
"You have a way of getting people to believe in you," said Sephiroth. "I don't think even you know it."
Naruto wanted to know when this started and if anyone else believe in him. This felt strangely cataclysmic.
"Speak for yourself," said Sasuke, successfully breaking the moment into thousands of broken shards.
One day, Naruto was going to beat the ever-loving pride out of Sasuke and he was going to enjoy it immensely.
"Well," said Kakashi, drawing their attention to him again. Something had shifted in his eye, filled with an unreadable sort of calculation. "Last one, silver, make it count."
Naruto added hypocrite to his list of nicknames for their sensei.
"I'm Sephiroth, no clan name," said Sephiroth. His hands at tightened into fists at his sides. "I like food. I don't like . . . apathy. My hobbies are cooking, kenjutsu, and origami. My dream for the future . . . I haven't given it much thought."
Any other day, Naruto might have been fooled, but he refused to believe Sephiroth didn't have a dream or ambition of any kind. It wasn't exactly the same, but there was familiarity in Sephiroth's eyes when he spoke, something Naruto could relate with, meaning it was something he wanted to know. They were teammates, so that allowed for some prying. At least, that's how Naruto justified it.
"That's totally lame!" said Naruto, standing directly over Sephiroth and demanding for the truth with his eyes. "I don't believe it. A guy like you, with no dreams at all? No way—"
"Drop it, Naruto," said Sasuke sharply. "It's none of your business."
"What?!" Naruto exclaimed, scowling at him full-force. "The hell do you mean, it's none of my business? We're a team, so it's all of our business—"
"I think that's good enough for today!" said Kakashi, sounding far cheerier than the situation mandated. "We'll meet at Training Ground Seven tomorrow, at five o'clock in the morning."
He held up a hand in a seal, the same he used to disappear last time, but paused to add in, "Oh, and if I were you—I wouldn't eat breakfast. You might throw up."
With that ominous warning, Kakashi was gone.
Naruto turned to Sephiroth without prompting, fully intending to pester Sephiroth for answers until he gave in, but stopped short. Five seconds after their new sensei disappeared, Sephiroth turned to them with a deadly serious look. "So Naruto likes ramen and Sasuke, you hate everything. That's not good for a diet. Any meal plans? I don't function well on an empty stomach."
It was an obvious ploy to distract Naruto, and he was a little ashamed to admit it worked spectacularly.
"He said not to eat anything," said Naruto blankly. "We'll throw up."
"And if I don't eat anything, I'll be low on chakra and physically weak," said Sephiroth. "Chakra is replenished by nutrients that the body absorbs, through the air and through food. And I have a high metabolism, so I eat a lot."
"So, we're going to ignore his orders?" said Sasuke, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes," said Sephiroth without hesitation. "Ordering us not to eat is stupid. He's probably testing our common sense or something."
"How much of this is because you like food?" said Sasuke, throwing Sephiroth a look that clearly stated he knew better.
Naruto was at a bit of a loss. Going off their conversation, it sounded as if they already knew each other. He had never seen Sasuke socializing with anyone in the past, least of all Sephiroth.
"That's besides the point," said Sephiroth, blowing off the question. He had procured a notebook from—somewhere. "Is there anything in particular you'd like?"
"Don't bother," said Sasuke.
"I'll pick randomly then," mumbled Sephiroth.
"Wait—" Sasuke sounded alarmed. He glanced away, avoiding their gazes. "Anything with tomatoes is fine."
Sephiroth nodded, a smile curving his lips. He turned to Naruto.
"Anything you'd like to request?"
Naruto blinked, nonplussed.
"Um . . ." After a couple moments of blank silence, he shook himself out of his daze. "Ramen, maybe . . .?"
Sephiroth gave him a deadpan expression.
"Ramen has very little nutritional value," he said. "Pick something else."
Naruto spluttered—because ramen—but tried to wrack his brain for something else. Ramen was one of those quick and easy things to fix. It wasn't as though he could burn water, although there was that one time he left the noodles in the pot with too little water and the noodles burned on the bottom. Definitely not his proudest moment.
"Do you like any meats?" asked Sephiroth patiently.
"Pork, I guess," said Naruto, sitting next to him. He leaned over Sephiroth's shoulder to get a look at the list. There were a lot of things he didn't recognize, carrots, beef, tomatoes, and more food-types Naruto had no mental picture to.
"Pork is fine," murmured Sephiroth, half to himself. He scratched it down with a pen—Naruto had stopped caring where Sephiroth got these things from.
"That's a lot of chocolate," said Sasuke flatly, having very casually moved closer to them. "How is that remotely healthy? Mitarashi dango is saturated in carbs."
"I like dango," said Sephiroth defensively, holding the notebook to his chest. "And I'm the one fixing the food, so no complaining."
"As long as it's not sweet."
"You can bring me anything, I'll eat it!" said Naruto, sticking his tongue out at Sasuke in a move not fitting of a mature ninja. At the moment, Naruto didn't care.
"Very good," said Sephiroth with a nod. He picked up the chakra theory book that he gave Naruto earlier and shoved it into his hands. "Now read this. We have some time until Kakashi tests us tomorrow, so we should make the most of it."
"Wait, we're not heading home?" said Naruto, confused.
Sephiroth looked up from his notebook, just as baffled.
"No, why would we? Kakashi's told us where we'll be training—we ought to check it out. You should try to get a grasp on chakra control and theory; and Sasuke . . ." Sephiroth looked at Sasuke. "You should study up some traps."
"Traps?" said Naruto.
"Why would I do what you say?" asked Sasuke.
"Yes, traps—and it's not as if you've got anything better to do," said Sephiroth to Sasuke. "Why aren't you reading that, Naruto?"
"Aw, give me a break," said Naruto plaintively. "This thing is huge!"
"It's only two-hundred pages—"
Arguing proved to be futile, and Naruto spent the next half hour trying his best to understand the words scrawled over the pages. It didn't go well, considering he had misread ten words already and completely taken a whole page out of context. The only parts of the book that made any kind of sense were the actual formulas for seals, but those were rarely in the book and only used for chakra theory references.
He didn't even notice Sephiroth until he had already pulled the book down, looking somewhat apologetic.
"I'm going down to the market," he said. "Do you want to come? You might see something that looks appetizing—besides ramen."
Naruto didn't need any other prompting to snap the book shut. He tucked it under his arm, complicated or not he planned on understanding it eventually, and shot to his feet with a grin.
"Sounds like a plan!"
"Sasuke?" Sephiroth turned to face the last member of their team.
"I'll pass," said Sasuke, hardly sparing them a parting glance as he left.
Sephiroth didn't try to call him back, watching him retreat into the Academy, before sighing. He collected the books and paper, stuffing them into the pack he got from places, and slung it over his shoulder.
"Not gonna try to get him to come?" said Naruto. He had expected Sephiroth to call after Sasuke when he left, but Sephiroth let him go without protest.
"I know a lost cause when I see one," said Sephiroth with a sheepish smile. "I think he used up his social minutes for the day."
"Or he's just an antisocial asshole," said Naruto flatly.
That startled a brief laugh from Sephiroth, shaking his head as he descended the steps into the Academy. Naruto followed him, keeping pace and watching his every move. There was no end to the things one could learn from simple observation, and people watching was another of those hobbies Naruto would never tell anyone about, mostly because people might find it creepy. Naruto could entertain himself for hours watching people and their daily habits, from the way they walked to how they stood.
He could pinpoint the difference between a shinobi and a civilian by the way they stood over how they walked. Shinobi had all but perfected the art of walking casually and silently, but standing motionlessly was different. It was hard not to get twitchy when standing in the same spot for too long, especially with the newer shinobi. The ones who had seen combat, but weren't veterans enough to have nerves of iron and an unbreakable poise.
Civilians, on the other hand, were all over the place. They were unreserved with their movements and stealth was simply a word in the dictionary. It even carried to the students at the Academy, to a lesser degree. The clan-born children all inherently held themselves differently, readier for an anything should they be attacked, while civilians gained that after a couple months.
Sephiroth didn't carry himself like any of those. His movements were far too refined and polished to be a civilian, but he held none of the jumpiness that the clan-born children mistook for readiness. It was as if he walked knowing there was no way anyone would attack him, and that even if they did, he could take care of them without a doubt. He was utterly confident in his abilities.
"So," said Naruto, breaking the silence, giving Sephiroth a sideways look. "Do you train a lot?"
"Occasionally," came the response, and if Sephiroth was bothered by Naruto's obvious prodding for information, he didn't show it. "Kenjutsu, mostly. My genjutsu is good, my taijutsu's passable. My ninjutsu could do with some working on."
"Oh," said Naruto, taken aback by Sephiroth's willingness to tell him everything. "Um. Well, I'm kind of . . ."
Subpar with everything, would have been the honest answer. Naruto didn't really want to say that, though.
"I feel like you'll be very good with ninjutsu," said Sephiroth idly, nearly making Naruto trip over his own feet and take a header on the ground. "You've got the chakra levels for it, if you can just get a grasp on chakra control. You could use your chakra to boost your taijutsu, if needed. What about your genjutsu?"
"Eh, I can do some low-level stuff," he said, thinking of the Oiroke no Jutsu that had knocked the Hokage clean out. "My sexy jutsu's pretty awesome!"
Sephiroth gave him a look that was nothing short of gobsmacked.
"Your what jutsu?"
"Heh, it's nothing," said Naruto, grinning widely.
And this time, that smile wasn't as fake as all the ones before it. Walking side-by-side his teammate, who was willing to help him without looking annoyed or patronizing or anything like that—Naruto could get used to it.
Well, here's our most recent fic. It'll be secondary to a Naruto fanfiction we have planned, but it's still something to work on. Tora's probably (definitely) pumped for both.
Just a warning: Pairings are undecided (on if there will be any at all). As in, there will probably be none. Do not ask for specific pairings. I hate to sound draconian, but DO NOT. (That was a Yamato reference).
Fun fact: Most of this was written under the influence of a high fever.
If most of you couldn't already tell.
Until next time-