Naruto Fanfic – "Unparalleled Teamwork"

Written January 2008 by Astra M.

Disclaimer: Naruto copyright Masashi Kishimoto/SHUEISHA Inc. This is a derivative work based on the Naruto series created purely for entertainment value; no profit is being made from its dissemination.

General Background Note: Events of this story are based on the manga during the first Naruto arc, during that mysterious gray period running up to the first Chuunin exam, so be warned that there will be discrepancies from the anime (hopefully nothing too controversial). Also, please note that although I am a notorious ShikaIno shipper, this is still a Team Ten story all the way. And lastly, don't forget that they're 12-13 years old at this time and will be acting like it... a lot.

Author's Side Note to Seasoned Readers: Folks, welcome to my third major Naruto fanfic, which technically was my very first one. I had actually written a significant chunk when the Shippuden Team Ten arc began and basically blew a crater through the plot. So I abandoned it and wrote "Butt Out!" instead. Go figure. In any case, I planned on returning to it once "Bittersweet Sixteen" was completed, but now other personal events have persuaded me that it might be wiser to release what I can now. I'm fairly certain that this will be my last Naruto fanfic, because finding the time to do this is at a premium these days. But until then... I'll keep on plugging away!

Just so you know, this is going to be a multi-chapter fanfic, so if you like the story, by all means put it on "story alerts" because updates will slo-o-ow - the individual chapters are just too long!

Prologue - The Birthday Party

"Where is that lazy bum?"

Yamanaka Ino crossed her arms angrily as she glared down the empty aisle towards the entrance of the Yakiniki-Q. Next to her, Akimichi Choji was casting eager glances over his menu at the large cake sitting under the watchful eye of their sensei, Suratobi Asuma.

"He said he'd come," answered Choji with a gleeful smirk. "But if he doesn't make it, that means more for me!"

"That's not the point!" snapped Ino crossly. "He's supposed to be here! I can't believe he'd actually miss out on his own birthday party!"

"It's your birthday, too," reminded Asuma calmly as he lit up a fresh cigarette.

"I know! That's why I'm so annoyed - he knows I hate to be kept waiting!"

Asuma merely inhaled as Ino fell back into her seat, huffing angrily. They had only been seated for about five minutes, and Ino had arrived much earlier than the appointed hour. Technically no one was late yet, but there was little to gain by informing her of that fact. Asuma sighed, considering his agitated female student. It was difficult to calm Ino down once she got upset, and there was really only one thing that would appease her now...

Fortunately it appeared just then in the shape of Nara Shikamaru, ambling up the aisle towards the rest of Team Ten.

"What a pain," he said by way of greeting. An angry female cluck instantly responded.

"It's about time you showed up!"

"Ino was worried," explained Choji to his best friend, prompting Shikamaru to raise a brow as he slid into his customary spot beside Asuma. Ino swiftly crossed her arms.

"I was not. I know how Shikamaru is," she said to Choji before turning back towards Shikamaru. "I just thought you had decided to go slack off somewhere else instead of coming out with us. You can do that any other day of the year but not for something like this!"

"Yeah, yeah," shrugged Shikamaru indifferently. "Well, here I am now... happy, Birthday Girl?"

Though his voice sounded bored as usual, a slight smirk played about Shikamaru's face, and Ino immediately perked up, her smile washing away her agitation. Asuma grinned. Sure, he knew that part of the reason behind Ino's renewed cheerfulness was that she loved being the center of attention... but another part was that she just wanted her teammates with her during these special occasions.

Or rather, her friends.

He watched amusedly as Ino began to bossily order Choji away from the the cake again, prompting Shikamaru to make a sarcastic comment, and they fell into their familiar routine of minor squabbling. They're growing up so fast, thought Asuma as he looked around the table at his team, a sense of fatherly pride rising up within him. They were slowly turning into fine Leaf ninjas right before his eyes, and they'd come so far from their initial rocky start. Asuma wondered how long the ride would last, until the day came when he'd finally see them off on their own. He had a feeling that it wouldn't be long now.

How time flies.

Asuma blew out a long trail of smoke as he recalled the very first day he'd been handed the reigns of this team. It seemed like only yesterday...

AN: Lots more to come!