A/N: This fic is total CRACK. It just…I don't even know. I was up late. Team Gai was running around my head. I…Gai. That's all I can say really. Well, I hope this will get a laugh or two. And I hope everyone is enjoying their summer! (If you're having summer right now.)
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. Although a real-life Kakashi would be pretty nice.
A golden sky hung over Konoha like a comfortable blanket of rich thread, patterned only with a few light purple clouds. The sun would begin its descent soon, and the clouds would be replaced with billions of stars that at least one person in the village would watch for a couple of hours. Right now, in a less crowded, more open piece of the town, everything was quiet—
"NEJI! TENTEN! We must hurry or risk the night falling before we have time to finish this task given to us!"
Or at least, everything had been quiet before Rock Lee arrived there.
The most boisterous member of the team assigned to Maito Gai was jogging in a way that could only be described as jovial, while behind him lagged his teammates. Though Lee was not always capable of producing frustration, he looked back over his green spandex-clad shoulder with an expression that demonstrated utter urgency.
"We really must go quickly!" he insisted.
Hyuuga Neji crossed his arms and frowned, but continued walking. "Some task," he muttered.
Tenten, the only kunoichi on their team, was more vocal and less antagonistic. "Don't worry, Lee," she comforted the crestfallen shinobi with a weak smile. "We've got plenty of time."
Spirited once more, Lee jabbed a hand into the air. "Right! Have you ever seen the orchards in the middle of the summer? Are they not beautiful! Don't they just make your YOUTHFUL ENERGY BURN?"
"Uh…sure, Lee," acknowledged Tenten, glancing over at Neji. She could tell right away that this was not Neji's idea of a good time and that he was entirely rejecting every aspect of this…"mission."
As for Tenten, she agreed that there was nothing at all mission-like about this. They were growing up, and unless this was Gai-sensei's idea of trying to keep them "youthful" (something he was always trying to do), being in these local orchards was almost a waste of time.
But Lee was right. The many, great trees were nice to see just before sundown, and she never had been here during the summer. The many types of fruits, cherries and apples and oranges, told her that Konoha had been blessed with a very good farming season and that the village would thrive from it. That at least brought some peace to her mind. And peace was always a very hard thing to attain with Lee around.
Neji's train of thought was rather different from Tenten's. He had never been to the orchards at all and couldn't give a care as to what fruits were there. It wouldn't have mattered if a coconut, banana, or kumquat fell on his head; the Hyuuga "genius" had absolutely no interest. He also thought Gai was as insane as ever for sending them on a stupid mission, like picking cherries from the bountiful trees around them. Well, Gai-sensei wasn't here, so he had that going for him at least.
"OHO! My wonderful students! SHOW ME YOUR FONTS OF YOUTHFUL ENTHUSIASM, FOR I AM HERE!"
Crap, Neji thought, his white eyes shutting as he silently counted to ten. He had jinxed himself!
"Gai-sensei!" cried Lee exuberantly. As he looked with glowing eyes upon his mentor and role model, it almost seemed like his black bowl-cut gleamed more brightly.
Maito Gai's teeth winked at them as he approached. "Lee! Tenten! Neji! I have found the perfect target of our mission!"
Tenten could already feel the exasperated sweat on its way.
"We shall pick," the tall, muscular ninja said, raising a pointing finger high in the air, "from that cherry tree!" His upheld arm fell sharply as he pointed to a particularly thick-trunked tree.
"Excellent choice!" shouted Lee in pure delight.
Neji shoved his hands in his pockets in refusal even as he said, "Whatever."
Tenten bit her lip, worried about Neji's moodiness and wondering if Lee's and Gai's enthusiasm might end up somehow causing the tree's destruction. She couldn't put it past him.
"Ready, my illustrious students!" demanded Gai. When no (outward) protests were forthcoming, he grinned. "Good! Nooooow…begi—!"
All of Team Gai, including the Gai himself, looked over to the left to see Haruno Sakura waving excitedly. Near her stood the rest of Team 7 and Hatake Kakashi, looking at them with curious expressions.
Tenten waved back as she called to her. "Hi, Sakura-chan! What are you guys doing here?"
"We volunteered to help Ikemura-san with his cherry harvest." Sakura's smiling face tilted as she asked, "That's why you all are here too, right?"
Ikemura was the owner of most of the Konoha orchards, especially the one the two teams currently stood in. Tenten froze. Casting a quick look over her shoulder, she set her brown eyes on Neji with even more worry than before.
If Team 7 had volunteered, that meant that Ikemura had not applied for help from ninja specifically. This most likely meant that Gai had volunteered them, and that this outing was not really a mission at all. And that meant that none of them were getting paid.
Tenten could already see a small vein start of protrude from the side of Neji's forehead. Oh, Gai was so dead if she didn't do something.
"Um, that's right!" Tenten answered Sakura hurriedly. She could do that math easily enough. Gai-sensei had found out that Kakashi would be here and immediately thought CHALLENGE in bright, neon letters. Some things never changed.
Hastening over to Neji, she said to him softly: "Don't be angry. Even if it is a little silly."
Neji gave her a sideways look, and it was from much practice that the little tremor of response didn't send a blush straight to her cheeks. She could never take it when Neji looked at her quite that way.
The Hyuuga did nothing for a few moments, and then shrugged. "Fine."
Tenten nearly sighed. Crisis resolved.
"KAKASHI! How perfect that you are here!" Gai bounded over to the masked shinobi and grinned broadly. "Right here and now, for it is indeed a marvelous choice of location, I CHALLENGE YOU TO—"
"You win," replied Kakashi quietly. Without so much as a simple glance at Gai, he pulled out a paperback book from his vest and opened it to a dog-eared page.
Naruto spoke up at once. "Hey, hey!" he shouted, jumping up and down for attention. "How could you not say yes, Kakashi-sensei?"
Ignoring him, Gai performed a full-body response of depression, bending over with his head hung for only a second, and then he was springing up again, pointing at Kakashi accusingly. "Kakashi, you are as cool as ever, and being such a man I admit that fairly! BUT I WILL BEAT YOU SOMEDAY!"
"Yes, yes." Kakashi waved a hand through the air, dismissing the subject.
"He doesn't even take a challenge like that," Naruto began, but Sakura pounded him on top of his head, which would keep him quiet for a minute or two.
"Hrmph!" Annoyed, Gai took a wide stance, his thick eyebrows lowering in concentration. "Since you do not wish to fight today, Kakashi, (and I understand why, since you obviously want more time to train and grow stronger before you face me) I propose that we let our students face each other in contest in our stead!"
At this, Kakashi actually looked up, but it was with a somewhat befuddled look – well, as befuddled a look as one can achieve with the use of only one unconcealed eye. "Huh?"
"I believe I am correct in assuming that you are having your students pick cherries because they are the smallest and the hardest to ascertain the quality of, correct?" inquired Gai.
Kakashi raised his one visible eyebrow. "Uh…why not?"
"HA! We can turn this mission into training—"
It's not even a mission, Neji and Sasuke thought irritably.
"—by pitting them against each other in fierce competition!"
"Yes!" cried Naruto.
"AND," Gai exclaimed, spreading his arms wide, "their FLAMES OF YOUTH will BLAZE WITH THE GLORY of HEALTHY CONTEST!"
Lee's hand came up in a determined fist, illusionary embers leaping inside his irises.
Swiveling, Gai pinned his favorite student with a twinkling smile. "What do you think, Lee!"
It was decided without any further debate. The excitement of the two Green Beasts of Konoha and Naruto was too powerful to overcome, and the rest of the young ninja and the Copy Ninja were inevitably dragged down into their voids of madness.
"Fine," Tenten said at last, briefly pinching the bridge of her nose while she accepted this new turn of events. "How are we going to do this?"
Gai immediately stepped in with, "HAHA—"
And was cut off by Kakashi. "The team who pick the most, best cherries before the sun is completely down wins."
Sasuke shrugged. Neji's hands dug further down into his pockets.
Placing a foot against the bottom of their tree trunk, she smiled. "This won't be hard, will it, sensei?"
This time, Neji did actually speak up. "No chakra," he called out. He managed to sound insistent without seeming interested at all.
"AH, NEJI!" beamed Gai. "You are putting your FIERY YOUTH to good use!"
Kakashi set his attention on his book again. "That sounds fair."
Sakura deflated. Everyone knew that her advanced control of chakra was usually the only thing she really had going for her.
"But Neji," Tenten said quietly to her partner, "you've also limited yourself with that condition."
"Do you think I need Byakugan for cherry picking?" he asked, arrogance in his voice.
Tenten threw up her hands, exasperated. "Apparently not!"
"Are you ready?" came Kakashi's voice. "Remember – no chakra."
"YEAH YEAH YEAH!" shouted Naruto, practically trembling with childish excitement.
"Of course!" Lee added.
"Theeeeen," announced Gai, "BEGIN!"
Naruto and Lee were first, grabbing baskets that Ikamura had left out for them and bounding up the trees like monkeys, going as high as they could without chakra sealing them to the bark. Lee had an easier time of it then Naruto.
Sasuke, Sakura, Neji, and Tenten did nothing at first and instead stood with ponderous expressions aimed at their respective trees.
"So…" drawled Kakashi, "are you guys gonna go?"
"Do you not see, Kakashi!" Tears ran openly down Gai's face. "Whilst my precious Lee and your odd Naruto are so youthfully impatient to begin, our other delightful students are using their intellect to decide what to do!"
Kakashi blinked, unconvinced. "Oh."
Before anyone said anything else, Sasuke had grabbed Sakura firmly by the arm and with one tug, had her well seated on his shoulders.
Pink as bright as her hair burst on Sakura's cheeks. "Sasuke-kun? What—"
"We can't use chakra," he explained in a monotone. "You can reach higher this way." At his words, Sakura adapted easily enough and quickly began to pick the best cherries she could find.
With a somewhat nervous smile, Tenten turned to Neji. "Well, what do you think?"
"It's plausible," was all Neji said, promptly kneeling down to allow Tenten to jump on his shoulders. He had figured that since his Byakugan was not useable in this case, Tenten would be better than him at finding decent cherries, since she had never had a special blood line trick to rely on.
The stars were already starting to materialize through the golden sunset. The Genins estimated that they had about five to ten minutes to gather as many quality cherries as possible.
Sakura was faster at picking cherries than Tenten, but Sasuke could tell that the ones Tenten was locating were riper and more suitable for eating. He had no idea about Naruto, but who ever had any idea about him, really? Besides, he was busy convincing himself that he was not distracted by Sakura being on his shoulders. It was for the sake of the challenge, he told himself.
Neji could look at Sasuke and see him as openly as he might see himself, no matter how guarded they both were. Tenten's close proximity didn't bother him the way Sakura's bothered Sasuke. He was used to working this closely with Tenten, but Uchiha Sasuke was always so careful to distance himself – even from his team members – that it was painfully obvious how maladjusted he was. If it went on long enough, Neji estimated he might even catch the faint spread of a blush of Sasuke's cheeks.
He inwardly smirked. Though he would not laugh aloud at him, such an occurrence would be damn near hilarious.
Higher up in the trees, Lee and Naruto were ferociously scrambling for their loot. Naruto was having a bit of trouble staying on the branches since chakra use was against the rules. Lee, on the other hand, was perfectly comfortable. His Taijutsu training gave him near to perfect equilibrium, and while he did not taunt Naruto – Rock Lee would always be infallibly polite – there was a trace of self-satisfaction on his ridiculous features that Naruto could not currently claim.
"Hey hey hey!" Uzumaki called down to the grown-ups below. "What's the trick here, Kakashi-sensei! How am I supposed to pick cherries and NOT have to catch myself from falling?"
Kakashi arched back with his hands on his hips. "Huh? Well…" He scratched his head as though the question were a very difficult one. "I suppose you'll need luck. You aren't better at balancing than Lee, after all."
This jab had Naruto growling in indignation and shouting the usual ejaculations: "How can you say that, Kakashi-sensei" and "When I'm Hokage, no one will ever…!"
"THREE MINUTES!" boomed Gai, which had Naruto shutting up with a cry of alarm and hunting ever more fervently.
"It's getting too dark," Tenten murmured, reaching nearly aimlessly now and picking the little red dots without any particular choosiness.
Sakura answered with a smile, "It's just a game." Sasuke wordlessly jolted her then, as though to say that this was a competition and needed to be taken seriously. She only laughed at him.
"One minute," Kakashi said, much more calmly than Gai. Gai grumbled about him being cool.
Both teams grabbed a few last-minute handfuls. Tenten and Sakura had jumped down from their respective teammates' shoulders even before Gai had ecstatically called "TIME!" Lee and Naruto leapt to the ground with a final armload of cherries. They added them to the piles the two teams had made for themselves.
Team 7's cherry pile was up to Kakashi's chest. Thanks to Lee, Team Gai's was as high as Kakashi's head.
"Well," Kakashi murmured lazily. "Your team certainly has more…"
"OF COURSE!" Gai exclaimed, making a triumphant fist. "I'm sure you expected such a MAGNIFICENT SHOW of the FIRES OF YOUTH—"
"But it's too dark to tell how good they are," Neji intoned emotionlessly. The orchards weren't lit up for nighttime the way the inner part of the village was. "There could be worms."
Gai shot the Hyuuga a betrayed look, but Kakashi only smiled. "That's right," he said warmly. "It is too dark. And since Naruto couldn't balance on tree limbs without chakra to save his life," he ignored Naruto's enraged cries and turned to Gai, "you win."
"Augh! KAKASHI!" Gai pointed an offended finger at his longtime rival. "Once again you are right to admit defeat! But this is not a TRUE show of our individual strength, for it was only our cute students doing the work! But MARK MY WORDS, Kakashi, I will beat you one day!"
Kakashi sighed. "On that note, shall we go home?" he asked Team 7. I think Ikamura-san has enough cherries picked now for his harvest."
Sasuke and Sakura agreed readily to this, and they started away with Naruto dragging his feet behind them, still dejected from his sensei's words.
Tenten waved goodbye and set her hands on her hips with a sigh. "This was just a weird evening," she commented to no one in particular.
"AHA," exclaimed Gai, "but was it not exhilarating?"
"Yes, sensei!" Lee shouted.
"What do you think, Neji! Did not your FIRES OF YOUTHFUL ENERGY simply ROAR while you were pitted against Uchiha Sasuke!"
Neji folded his arms and looked away. "It was weird," he agreed with Tenten.
"While you are wrong, Neji, HOW WONDERFUL IT IS that you've your own OPINION! That's what young people should always have! INDIVIDUALITY!"
Before Gai could carry one with a new speech about uniqueness, Tenten and Neji hurried ahead of their sensei and extroverted team member.
"Spare me," sighed Tenten.
Neji only nodded.
After a few moments of silence (well, relative silence; Gai was still a ways behind them exclaiming over something with Lee), Tenten smiled at the white-eyed boy and asked:
"Do you want to come back tomorrow and help pit the cherries?" Neji gave her the sideways glance that always affected her strangely, and Tenten promised hastily, "Gai-sensei and Lee won't know about it."
After a few minutes of contemplation, Neji said, "After morning training then?"
Instead of answering with the obvious of course that he apparently expected, Tenten grinned.
"Are you saying you didn't get enough training with all the cherry picking?"
A/N: I know. I'm totally on something. XD