Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, Masashi Kishimoto does. This story is not written for profit, tax-deductible or otherwise.
Author's Note: Yep, I know you guys love these little talks/rants, especially the one at the very beginning of the story. I'll try to keep this to the point, and as painless as possible. If you haven't read the summary yet, I'll let you in on a little secret: this is a NarutoxSakura (and at times SakuraxNaruto) fanfiction, one which could be classified as AU. Other pairings may pop up as I go, who knows? I'll be trying to keep the characters in... Well, character, as much as possible. There will be times when I stray from the well-trodden path, but for those of you who are afraid of stories so out-of-character that you can compare their failure to 'keeping it real' to a small child throwing blocks at a dog, then fear not, my brethren. Although, remember that since just about all romance beyond blushing is an unknown event in the manga/anime, I will have to bend the square to a circle to make the round peg fit. I first came up with the idea for this story from the 1st Naturo 'graphic novel'. I was re-reading the few that I have, and decided to start from the beginning. So, I grabbed the first one and cracked it open. Then, page 107 hit me. I won't go into it here, since I'll be writing about the event in this first chapter, among others. But, needless to say, it got me thinking. And pondering. And scheming. I know I can make a story out of it, and I'm hoping it'll be good. So, I know, you're all itching to get on with it. Go! Read on, and maybe leave a comment when you're finished, be it praise or slander. I will read them all, and perhaps answer any inquiries you may have in the next chapter. Until we next speak again, Constant Reader.
PS: Oh! Adding this as an after-thought, as to not confuse you poor readers. Italic text (like this) is usually meant to convey the thoughts of characters, or just used on random words to give them a little more feel, if you know what I mean. Italic text in quotation marks ("Like this") is meant to convey speech that someone said in the past (yes, I know, it should make sense, but I've seen some people really not know these things). Text that is bold AND in Italics (Like this) is only seen here with quotation marks ("Heh") and is meant to convey Sakura's Inner Self (Inner Sakura, if you must). I'm using it mostly for comic relief in this chapter. That, and to perhaps show a second side of Sakura, one that doesn't completely play by the rules, whatever they may be. Oh, and if you're having trouble comprehending who said what, I'm just going to say that you should pay attention. I won't be adding a '-insert name here- said' bit after every single line of dialog that appears. It gets repetitious and boring to read, in my opinion. Well, without further ado, here's the story!
Chapter One: The Plan
Sakura managed to make it back to the bench she had been previously occupying, before Sasuke-kun came strolling back after their little 'encounter' earlier, and dropped onto the seat with a soft plop. After making sure her skirt was covering everything it was supposed to be, the young kunoichi finally leaned back and closed her eyes, her mind already replaying the conversation that just concluded.
"Kids without families always grow up selfish!"
"... That, and lonely."
"Being scolded by your parents doesn't even compare to that feeling."
"S-sasuke-kun... What's g-gotten into you all of a sudden?"
"People like you... Make me sick."
I... Do I really make him sick? She could hear the self-doubt creeping into her thoughts, and softly sighed. It had taken her nearly two years to build up enough confidence to start flirting with her crush, Sasuke, and now she knew exactly how he felt about her. And, looking back, she hadn't been exactly friendly to her other team member, either. They probably both hated her by now. With another small sigh Sakura pulled herself off the bench and slowly made her way in the direction Sasuke had headed, back towards the Academy the class had officially graduated from yesterday. After a few yards she stopped, though, as another memory of the conversation crept up on her.
"You have such a noble brow... So charming, I could kiss it. At least, that's what Naruto would probably say."
Why would Naruto think my brow was noble? Or charming? Without even realizing it, Sakura had come to a full stop, and was simply standing in the middle of the path, deep in thought. He's the class clown, not some romantic. That, and he's always getting in between me and... She winced, already feeling the hole the cute Uchiha had left in her heart. A moment later she began to walk again, determined not to be late the afternoon their new sensei was supposed to be arriving. First impression was always the best one, after all, and she knew from Naruto's antics that being late wasn't always the best way to break the ice.
There had been countless times when that idiot had shown up late for class and got Iruka-sensei yelling at him, often breaking Sakura out of her daydreams about a certain raven-haired soon-to-be shinobi. No matter what lame excuse Naruto gave, she could tell he just wanted attention, wanted to be the class clown. Shaking her head, the pink locks of hair partially covering the vast expanse of her huge forehead, Sakura let out a soft groan. He'll probably show up late today, just to get a rise out of our new sensei. The kunoichi could feel her hands tightening into fists already. "When he gets there, I'll clobber him myself! That baka!" Inner Sakura threw in her own opinion, and she couldn't help but agree. With that boy, it was nothing but joke this, and prank that. It was enough to drive anyone to the brink of insanity.
But... S-sasuke said that being an only child was lonely... Sakura slowed her walk to a shuffle, too far occupied by her thoughts than her being late to class. He's always alone, but he has plenty of fan-girls like me. What does Naruto have? When he was first introduced to the class, the Third had been with him, but she knew that sometimes Hokage-sama came to visit the schools, and check up on the pupils. And besides, why would the leader of the Hidden Leaf Village associate with someone as annoying as Naruto? Didn't he have better things to do, like protecting their lives and such?
The more Sakura thought about it, the less she found. For the most of the school day she ignored the orange-clad loudmouth, choosing instead to worship Sasuke-kun, alongside nearly the rest of the girls in the class. Lunch time was no different, although she had noticed a couple of other kids her age talking with Naruto. Kiba and him seemed to get along, and Shikamaru probably liked talking to someone just as lazy as he was. Shino... Sakura had no idea what was on his mind, nor did she want to. According to her mother, the Aburame Clan dealt with bugs a lot, and that was just disgusting. However, she had seen them talking near Sasuke before, and Shino talking was a rare event in itself.
Sakura unconsciously quickened her pace, pushing her speed back up to a quick walk. It would do her well to get inside as soon as possible, in case any of the Aburame's 'family' was near. As she made it to the sidewalk leading to the Academy, though, she halted once again. Something had crossed her mind, an idea that seemed so out-of-place it had to be analyzed immediately.
What if... What if all he needs is someone to notice him in a good way? Naruto already had a lot of negative attention: most of the students his age seemed to dislike him, and the adults were the same way. Sakura's mother had never spoken ill of the boy, but whenever she brought up his antics in class, or how he was getting in the way of her and Sasuke's 'relationship', she couldn't help but notice the way that the older woman's eyes grew distant. Besides Iruka-sensei, none of their teachers had shown anything but barely-concealed malice towards him.
"Maybe... I could be a little... nicer?" Sakura felt her cheeks heat up as she thought about what Sasuke had said earlier, regarding her brow. Could Naruto actually think that? As she opened the door to the school, she knew there was only one way to find out: By seeing his reactions herself.
"What. The. Hell. Is. Going. On. Here?!" Sakura managed to mutter, upon walking into the classroom. The sight in front of her seemed fit for a nightmare, not the Academy. She took a step forward, wondering what exactly she was seeing.
There were orange-bearing Naruto's all over. Three were standing up at the front of the room near the chalkboard, scribbling random things in chalk and talking animatedly amongst themselves. Two more had taken up posts next to the windows facing the street, and appeared to be keeping watch. A sixth was sorting through chalkboard erasers, his hands ghost-white from all the residue. And the final one...
The last Naruto she laid eyes on was sitting across from Sasuke, twiddling his thumbs. As Sakura stood there in shock, Naruto finally stopped circling his thumbs, and promptly leaped out of his seat. "S-sakura-chan! You're back! Why didn't you two tell me?!" The boy spun on the spot, and pointed an angry finger at the two other Narutos at the window. "I told you to keep a lookout!"
The Naruto on the left yawned while the one on the right addressed the standing Naruto. "We're you, so didn't you fail too?"
"T-that... That's beside the point!"
"Hmph. That is the point. Oh, and I'd watch out if I were you. Or, since I am you, I should be watching out. Wasn't I already?"
"Huh?! What for? Is it sensei? Did he just walk down the path?!" Naruto bounced on his heels, the energy practically oozing out of his body.
The Naruto on the left finally spoke up. "No, I'd look out for the person who just entered, myself. Or yourself. I think..."
Standing Naruto nodded, then spun around... Just to come face-to-face with Sakura, who had slowly walked into the room, all the while confused by the seemingly multi-sided discussion between the same person. "Oh... Hehehe, sorry about that. They can get a little annoying at times."
Sakura nodded, although what she was agreeing to, she had no idea. "Naruto..."
The boy in question cringed, and pulled back a few inches. He knew that tone of voice: it was the calm before the storm of pain that would swiftly follow. "Y-y-yes, Sakura-chan?"
"Tell me..." Sakura motioned towards the front of the classroom, where the three had stopped drawing on the board in order to hear what the kunoichi had to say. "What's going on here?" Turning towards the two standing by the window, she cocked an eyebrow. "And you two. Why were you arguing with... Yourself?"
"Because I'm a baka! Or... He is... That makes me..." The Naruto on the left squinted in concentration, while the right burst into laughter. Sakura turned back to Naruto, and cocked the other eyebrow.
"W-well, they're like me, but they're not. It's a lit-"
"They're Clones" Sasuke cut Naruto off in mid-explanation. "Although, these ones are different. I threw one against a wall earlier, and it got back up and starting yelling at me."
"You said he tripped!"
Naruto turned back towards Sakura, already anticipating a scolding for annoying her Sasuke-kun. However, that was the furthest thing from her mind at the moment.
The Clone Technique was one of the first they were taught in the Academy. It was used to create illusions of oneself, which were meant to distract opponents. From what she remembered, Sakura knew that the average clone couldn't even handle subtle contact, let alone a body blow, such as forcefully coming into contact with a wall. And talking clones? Unheard of. "Naruto..."
"They're Shadow Clones! Hehehe..." Naruto stretched a hand behind his head, nervously rubbing the short hairs at the nape of his neck. "I can only make a few of them, but they're pretty handy." He snickered, remembering how he had over-taken Sasuke earlier. Handy indeed!
"Shadow Clones?" Sakura wracked her brain, and came up with nothing. "What are you talking about? We never learned anything like that in the Academy. When did you learn that?" "And why wasn't I there to learn it too?!"
"Uhh..." Naruto squinted, remembering what the Hokage had told him this morning. No one must know about the technique you learned, not even your closest friends. But, he knew that lying to Sakura-chan usually ended in pain, so he had to tell her part of the truth, at least. "I learned it from a scroll I found!"
"Oh." Something's fishy. Naruto never reads, even when he's in class. "Well, how does it work?"
"Hehe... Like this!" Naruto drew hands hands up before him and extended his fingers, crossing them at a perpendicular angle. "Shadow Clone!" A moment later, another identical Naruto poofed into existance next to the first. He waved at Sakura, then ran off to join the two at the window, who were pointing at something in the courtyard. "The scroll said something about it splitting my chakra up, and giving it to the clones... I couldn't really understand it, but I got the jutsu, anyways."
Sakura sweat-dropped: only someone as idiotic as Naruto would dare use a jutsu they didn't fully understand. Shaking her head, she had to admit one thing... It was a pretty cool jutsu. Maybe later, she could ask hi-
"Boss! Sensei! ETA of one minute and counting!"
Suddenly, all of the Narutos around her sprung into action. While they had been talking, the three Narutos in the front had managed to cover the entire chalkboard with doodles: the Naruto sorting through the erasers tossed one of them up to the trio, who started cleaning off the board with it. The three Narutos next to the window stood up and jogged over to the sliding door Sakura herself had entered not too long ago: as she watched, all three of them got down on their hands and knees, side by side. Two of the chalkboard group joined them and proceeded to climb on top of their backs, making a sort of miniature pyramid made of Narutos, missing the final top member.
The Naruto with the eraser finished his duty of cleaning off the chalk from the board, and raced over to the other five. Naruto (the real one that Sakura was talking to) threw him a kunai. As he climbed up the pyramid, Sakura watched on in disbelief. When he said they weren't normal Clones, Sasuke wasn't kidding. Her thoughts snapped back to the present though, as the top Naruto stuck the kunai into the wall above the door, then precariously placed the eraser, now covered in fresh chalk, on top of the small blade. Sakura immediately knew what he was up to: another prank.
"Hell yeah! I love this stuff!" Sakura sighed, then smiled. Just like nearly every other prank that she had been witness to: what seemed like a small insignificant joke was actually a well thought-out event for Naruto. This one seemed the same way: The eraser would fall at the slightest vibration, which would occur as their new sensei was opening the door. It wasn't stuck in the door (she had seen that variation pulled on Iruka-sensei before; even thinking about the scolding he had given Naruto hurt her ears) but rather above it, as to not give away any signs of the eraser. However, she couldn't just stand by and watch. "Naruto! I don't know what you're thinking, so it won't happen. Our sensei is a Jonin, an elite ninja! He'd never fall for this!"
The boy in question waved at his Clones, who promptly dissolved into a small cloud of smoke and vanished into the air. "But, he deserves it! All the other classes left: my sentries saw them leave with their sensei's! Ours is late, so he gets what he deserves. Hehehe..."
"But..." Sakura trailed off, her argument forgotten as the sound of footsteps down the hallway reached her ears. Naruto and Sasuke heard them as well, and as the three stood there silently, the sound grew louder, until they could have sworn the last one had come from right outside the door. The seconds dragged on, and Sakura found herself holding her breath, waiting to see if the planning was all for naught. Sneaking a glance at her two companions, she could tell they felt the same: Naruto was practically bouncing on his feet again, while Sasuke sported a small grin. A moment later, the door started to slide open.
The eraser caught Kakashi Hatake squarely on the head, sending a small cloud of white dust on impact. The fine powder immediately tickled his nasal cavities, and he found himself sneezing once, twice, three times. His one visible eye was practically watering from the efforts of sneezing so many times, not to mention the amount of chalk dust it must have received.
Naruto was literally rolling on the floor, his hands covering his sides as he continued to laugh at the top of his lungs. Although Sasuke showed no signs of amusement beyond the grin he still held, Sakura could have sworn she heard him chuckle once or twice. The young kunoichi was torn between hilarity and humility at doing such a thing to a teacher. let alone on their first day with him. "Set em' up and knock em' down!"
"W-well..." Kakashi managed to get out, after wiping his eye clear of excess dust. "What can I say? My first impression of you three is that..."
Please let it be something good! Please!
Haha, that was AWESOME! He took it straight to the head!
He's supposed to be an 'elite nanja'? Hmph.
"... I hate you all."
Naruto promptly stopped rolling around.
Minutes later, and the trio found themselves on the roof of the Academy, sitting on a bench in front of their new sensei. After sending them up, Kakashi had managed to remove most of the dust, and cleaned out his visible eye.
"Well, now that the fun's over, let's get to know ourselves a little better, shall we?" Kakashi gathered his thoughts for a moment, then nodded to himself. "Your name, likes, dislikes, hobbies and dream for the future should do nicely."
Sakura raised her hand, and he waved her on. "But, Sensei... Shouldn't you go first? You're our teacher, and we don't even know your name!"
The man sighed, then shrugged. "I suppose. Let me see... My name is Hatake Kakashi. I'm not the type to like or dislikes things, really. And my hobbies? None of your business. Dreams... I'm a pretty light sleeper. Now it's your turn, funny guy."
All I really got out of that was his name...
"Hai! My name is Uzumaki Naruto! I like ramen, fresh or from a cup, and I REALLY like the ramen Iruka-sensei buys for me at the shop near my apartment! I dislike the three minutes it takes the water to boil, and how I have to wait until I get home to eat ramen. My hobbies are training and taking care of plants. And my dream is... To one day become the Hokage! And earn the respect of all the villagers! So that way, they'll acknowledge me instead of hating me!"
Kakashi's eyebrow shot up at the last sentence Naruto had spoken. Ah, so this is the one Sarutobi-sama mentioned. This is going to be... Interesting.
Sakura, meanwhile, kept trying to steal glances at Naruto. She didn't know which surprised her the most: his second hobby, or what he had said about the villagers. She knew that a few people didn't like him, but always put that off on his pranks. But, the way he made it sound, the only way he could got them to recognize them was by becoming Hokage. Hah! I have a better chance at dating Sasuke than Naruto has of becoming Hokage.
"Alright, fair enough. What about our raven-haired friend here?"
Sasuke didn't even bother looking forward to answer the man before him. "My name... Is Uchiha Sasuke. I don't like anything, and I dislike almost everything. I don't have any hobbies. And a dream... Well, it's not a dream. More of a certainty." As he looked towards Kakashi, the older man wasn't surprised to see the hate practically radiating from his expression. "I must kill a certain person."
It was Naruto's turn to steal glances at someone. I hope he doesn't mean me... I really didn't mean to tie him up earlier!
"Well, that's lovely. And what about you, with the pink hair?"
"Huh?" Sakura was caught off-guard, her mind still occupied with thoughts of Naruto's dream. "Oh! Me! Well... My name is Haruno Sakura, and I like gardening and studying. I dislike obnoxious people and bugs. My hobbies..." Sakura thought about mentioning stalking, then dropped the idea. She was sickening enough already, no need to bring it up even more. "My hobbies are flower arranging and, well, studying. And my dream is to one day become a great kunoichi, like the legendary Sannin Tsunade." Nodding to herself, Sakura went back to thinking about what Naruto had said earlier.
Interesting indeed. Kakashi's original suspicions were put to shame: he had pegged her as another Sasuke fan-girl, like most of the others he had watched leave earlier. This one, though... She's got potential. They all do. That's probably why Sarutobi... "Well, that was fun, wasn't it?" their teacher smiled, then shrugged. "But, all fun things must come to an end, as this one is about to."
Two of the students in from him winced, while the third just stared ahead, emotionless. "Tomorrow, we'll be doing a little test. If you pass, you'll officially become Team 7, and I will become your sensei. If you fail..." Sakura and Naruto were hanging by his every word now, while the Uchiha's brow had furrowed. "Then you will be sent back to the Academy for another year."
"What the hell?!" Naruto was the first to speak up after Kakashi had finished speaking. "We just graduated from the Academy, why the hell would you send us back!?" It had taken him everything to graduate: a second time would be even more hard.
"S-sensei, we already took the t-test to graduate, didn't w-we?" Sakura stammed, already feeling a sense of hopelessness settle over her. First Sasuke, and now this: it wasn't possible for the day to get any worse.
"You two didn't let me finish" Kakashi dead-panned, staring ahead with a cold gaze. "The test is a simple one, in concept."
"Oh?! Really, really, really?! What is it! Tell us!"
The man raised a hand, asking for silence, then continued on. "This test is... A survival exercise. With a sixtey-six percent chance of failure." As Sakura and Naruto opened their mouths to protest, Kakashi raised his hand once more, demanding silence. Once he was sure he had their full attention, he spoke once more. "Meet me tomorrow at ten or so, at Training Ground 2. Oh, and if I were you..." He stood up, and fixed them all with a serious stare. "I wouldn't eat breakfast. You'll probably throw up. Class dismissed!"
Sakura was in a world of hell.
She trudged along, slowly passing various houses as she made her way towards the training grounds. A moment later she stumbled, and barely managed to catch herself before tasting a dirt sandwich. Although, as hungry as she was, it probably wouldn't taste half that bad.
Last night's supper could barely pass as a meal. Sakura's mother, who was a devout Vegen, had decided to whip up a huge bowl of salad, comeplete with freshly-picked sweet peas, lush lettuce, diced green peppers, sliced black olives, with minced chive leaves. Sakura had no idea what the sauce was, since her mother usually hand-made it anyways. Whatever it was, it tasted like heaven.
The food was good, yes. But it lacked filling. In between eating nothing but light greens for dinner, and skipping the small breakfast she usually had, Sakura was running on empty. Her only hope was that whatever exercise they were about to take part in, it wasn't anything too physical.
Another straw on the camel's back was how much sleep she had gotten last night. Most nights, she could slip into her nightgown and be snoring before her head even hit the pillow. It wasn't the case last night. She had tossed and turned until nearly midnight, according to her alarm clock. The last time she remembered staying up that late was the day before her first year at the Academy. Although this time, it was thoughts of a person more than nerves that had kept her up.
Ironically, for once it wasn't Sasuke that was on her mind.
She had mentally reviewed the day several times during the night, each time asking herself the same question. Does Naruto really have it that bad? Sakura had previously blamed all his bad behavior on having no supervision as a child, but after her talk with Sasuke, that idea lost sense. If what he said was right, it was lonely being an only child, and she could never imagine acting like Naruto did while being lonely. As for all the villagers hating him... He was constantly pulling pranks on them, so they had every right to dislike him... Right?
Maybe all he needs is a little good attention.
Sakura picked up her pace, pushing her nutrient/sleep-deprived body just a little faster.
Two hours had gone by, and still no sign of their teacher.
Naruto was beyond annoyed.
Sakura-chan had shown up an hour earlier, and promptly fell asleep on the bench next to a strange memorial that had been there to greet him when he arrived. He could barely make out the words on it though, with how faded the text was from weather erosion. Naruto had spent the first hour chatting with Sasuke, discussing various issues. Then, once Sakura had arrived, he'd spent his time pacing, constantly glancing towards the path the three of them had taken to get here.
What worried Naruto the most, though, wasn't the time. It was Sakura-chan.
He had immediately noticed the way she stumbled as she walked, not to mention the dark crescents underneath her eyes, and presumed she hadn't slept well last night. It was impossible to know why, since now that she was asleep, waking her was out of the question. He could tell, though, with the way that her stomach was growling, she had probably skipped breakfast. In the end, Naruto himself had had a cup of ramen and some fresh milk after waking up. Nothing had made him throw up before, and he knew how bad it was to skip meals from his first Academy year, when he rarely had time to eat before classes started.
Sasuke had agreed with him, and admitted to grabbing a fresh bagel and some soup before heading off. If this was a true survival exercise, at least the time they spent waiting would allow his body time to digest the proteins it needed to operate properly.
And wait they did.
Concluding Notes: Well, that's the first chapter for you. I decided to end it there, even though I had written another 3k words: I went so save it, then found out my login had expired, then I couldn't return back to the page I had been on, so I lost it all. But, at least you'll have Chapter Two sooner than expected... /wrists But really, at least I found a suitable spot to conclude it (non-action cliffhangers for the win!) Anyways... Leave your comments, and I'll check up on them in the morning, and get working on the second chapter (it'll mostly be the 'survival exercise', and perhaps a little fluff afterwards). So, no leaving comments about hurrying to get the second chapter up! . I know I should hurry, and I know a few rare people might like my writing and want more, so there's no need to rub it in, sheese. Anyways, happy Labor Day!