Ninja Art: Improv

Disclaimer: Guess what? I don't own Naruto.

Takes place in shippuden. No spoilers to speak of unless you're not aware of the new members of Team 7...


Naruto stared at himself in the mirror, jaw dropping.

"Wow! That's freaky!" He turned his head, noticing the way the white face paint extended even down his neck stopping just a little below the collarbone where the elaborate hakama and kimono folded. The jagged blue lines over the white made a stark contrast.

Tatsuki, the pretty girl who was in charge of his makeup, smiled. "Very striking, Naruto-san."

"Naruto, are you ready?" Sakura stuck her head around the door to his dressing room. She looked as bizarre as he did; her pink hair hidden by a wig of bright red. Her face was painted white as well, with swirls of red and a bold black sweep across her eyelids.

"Yeah, did you see him?" Naruto tried not to reach up to adjust the stylized black wig covering his bright blond hair, it itched a little.

"Yes," Sakura said, then paused, glaring at Naruto's makeup artist, hovering over her set up of paints and oils.

"You can leave, Tatsuki-san," Naruto said and the girl bowed and left. Sakura glared at her as she left, glancing back at Naruto.

"She was pretty," she said in an accusing tone of voice.

Naruto scratched at the edge of his wig. "Um, yeah she was," he said, not quite sure what the right response was. It appeared to be the wrong one because Sakura scowled and closed the dressing room door a little harder than was necessary.

"I saw our target in the audience," she continued, still frowning, as she pushed up the sleeve of her elaborate kimono, revealing a hidden kunai holster. She checked the slender strap holding the weapon in place, and slid the sleeve back down. "Sai is in position if he decides to leave early."

Naruto nodded. "According to Tsunade-baachan, this guy is a big fan of kabuki, so he should be here the whole time." He scowled and picked again at his forehead where the itchy wig rested. "I don't see why. This stuff is weird."

Sakura chuckled and slapped his hand away from the wig. "Stop that, you're going to mess up your makeup. Here, stand up so I can make sure you didn't mess up your hakama with all that wiggling. I know we're only background characters, but we should look our best, ne?"

Naruto stood, his many layers of clothing rustling, and submitted to Sakura smoothing down the rumpled folds at the front of his costume.

"Tch," she clucked at him. "Your obi's out of place from sitting in that chair. Let me retie it." Without a word, she pulled the length of fabric from his waist, shook it out, and then reached all the way around him, so that the stiff part of the fabric that went at the small of his back was in the right position. Naruto felt an odd sensation as her arms went around him, and his mind suddenly forgot the only line he had for the play.

"There, all done," she said, stepping back to admire her handiwork. "Now, let's go over our plan."

"Huh?"

"Baka! If you weren't already in make up, I'd pummel you!"

Naruto cringed. "S-sorry, Sakura-chan. I remember now, I promise!"


From their respective positions on the back of the stage, Naruto had a good vantage point to observe the target. Tsunade had warned them explicitly not to engage the man until they found out what he'd done with the scroll he had stolen. Their mission was observation and intelligence only—the confrontation, if it came, would be later. Tsunade thought he might be there at the kabuki performance to pass the scroll off to an associate, but the floor was too crowded for them to see clearly, hence the quickly improvised roles in the play. The height of the stage provided a perfect observation platform. If they got a glimpse of the associate they were to memorize his or her features as well—Tsunade wanted to get this guy and any that he might be working for.

Sai was somewhere in the audience, one of the upper-level boxes where he could watch the target from behind. Naruto shifted on his knees from his position at stage left. Their task would have been much simpler with a byakugan, but none of the Hyuugas were available for this mission.

Sweat trickled down from beneath the wig, and Naruto resisted the urge to scratch. It was stifling up on stage with all the layers of the costume and the ridiculous wig to contend with. Not to mention the pressing heat of so many bodies jammed into one place.

From the sides, a musician played a few tinkling bells, and Naruto straightened. That was Sakura's cue to come on stage. She did so with small steps, head down behind the actress playing the daimyo princess—Sakura played one of the princess' attendants. She would be standing behind the princess for most of this scene.

Naruto, as he watched, couldn't help but get more involved in the story. The princess—a lovely young woman who somewhat reminded him of Princess Koyuki of the Snow Country—was being pressured from her father to marry an old, cruel lord from a neighboring country for political reasons. Unbeknownst to her domineering father, the princess had a secret lover, a lowly shinobi guard in her father's palace. The princess's maid—Sakura—acted as a messenger for her lady and her lover, but of course, what the couple didn't realize was that her father suspected something and was slowly drawing his noose around the couple… starting with the maid.

"…be off and let me not see you again!" snarled the daimyo lord. Naruto stood, heart pounding, this was it. His moment. Hand on the hilt of his prop sword, he stepped forward into the stage light.

"Dear lady," he said in a booming voice as Sakura approached, "your beauty leaves me speechless! Let me escort you from these cruel words."

"You are too kind, sir," she said through clenched teeth, glaring at him.

"Not at all," he said gallantly. It technically wasn't his line, but Naruto thought the action warranted his creativity. He twisted his face into a mask of righteous anger and pointed at the daimyo. "And as for you, Ishida-sama, you ought to think more of your daughter than of your treaties! Who's going to protect her from that pervy lord? Eh?"

"Naruto, what are you doing!" hissed Sakura, pulling at his arm.

The daimyo and the princess stared at him.

"A-and just who… who do you think you are to meddle in my affairs?" the daimyo said, voice halting over the improvised lines.

"I am… uh…" Naruto paused. His character didn't actually have a name, and he couldn't very well shout out "Uzumaki Naruto," so he said the first thing that came to mind: "I am Hatake Kakashi and I—" His words were cut off at that point because Sakura had grabbed the front of the intricate costume and silenced him by the simple method of crashing her mouth into his.

Naruto didn't really realize it was happening until it was over. Somehow, with the force of her kiss, and Naruto's strangely weak legs, they managed to get backstage—though they did sort of get tangled in the curtain along the way. As soon as they were out of the wings and away from the audience's line of sight, Sakura reached up, tossed aside his wig, and grabbed a handful of Naruto's spiky yellow hair, yanking him out the stage door. He managed to not holler out in pain as she dragged him away from the performance, which was apparently in a state of recovery. Fading in the distance, Naruto heard the princess shakily informing her father of her maid's secret affair with one of his guards and awkwardly making a statement about the nobility of true love.

Sakura dragged Naruto down a flight of stairs into a labyrinth of dressing rooms through gaggles of shocked-looking extras. They had heard the debacle on stage, of course—it had been put on speakers in the green room so characters wouldn't miss their cues. One spunky-looking chorus member flashed Naruto a grin and two thumbs up in a good imitation of Gai-sensei. Naruto would have returned the gesture if it hadn't been for Sakura's icy glare and the fistful of hair he was still in danger of losing.

"He- hey, Sakura-chan, that... where are you taking me?"

But she didn't let up. The halls they passed through were getting more deserted. Sakura didn't answer; she just grabbed the handle of the nearest door and wrenched Naruto inside, closing the door after them. Only then did she let go—well, she really tossed him more than anything else. Naruto landed in a musty-smelling rack of faded kimonos. They had inadvertently found a prop closet. Naruto counted himself lucky that he had missed the rack of prop swords that were next to him.

Sakura was still breathing hard, and her makeup was a little smudged. Naruto braced himself for a lashing—either verbal or physical, but she didn't say anything. She crossed her arms across her chest and glared at him, though the expression was harder to read with the mask-like paint on her face. Naruto could see a touch of blue in the corner of Sakura's mouth, but her makeup hadn't been blue, his was…. What had just happened on stage crashed around in his consciousness like a drunken elephant. He scratched the back of his head, unsure of how to proceed.

"Ano, Sakura-chan--" he began but was cut off, because Sakura started talking too.

"Naruto, what the hell--?" Sakura stopped mid-sentence, and narrowed her eyes, pausing for a beat. "What on earth was that all about?"

"I was about to ask you the..." Wait. Naruto thought maybe she wasn't referring to the same "that" he was thinking of. He changed tactics—best to be defensive in this circumstance. "I was... improvising."

"Improvising?"

"Yeah, I just... it seemed to fit the character better, so I just... I'm sorry?" This last came out as a question. Naruto could see Sakura's left eyebrow twitching dangerously.

"Naruto, just because it's what you would do in the situation doesn't mean it's what the character would do." Her words were slow and dangerously patient.

"Well, I couldn't remember my line! It was better than saying nothing!"

"You upstaged the main actors! We were supposed to be undercover, and you completely drew attention to yourself! You even used Kakashi-sensei's name--" She was building up steam now.

"What do you mean I drew attention to myself? You're the one who..." He couldn't seem to get the words out, they were stuck in his gut, dancing around with the jittery butterflies that had been present as Sakura had... removed him from the stage. He heaved out a deep breath and pointed an accusing finger at her. "You kissed me!"

He thought he saw a faint blush under the caked layers of white makeup on Sakura's face, then was sure he must have imagined it. "I was just... improvising too!"

"Not as easy as it looks, is it?" He folded his arms. Victory was his!

"Baka!" She glared at him, but her heart didn't really seem to be in the familiar insult. Sakura pursed her lips and stared at the floor, shaking her head slightly. She raised one delicate hand (how can such a pretty little hand inflict so much pain? was Naruto's fleeting thought) to her mouth and paused for a moment. Suddenly, an odd little cough escaped her, and her scowl began to twitch. She looked up at Naruto, and he could see that she was wearing a rueful smile. "I don't see you complaining about my form of ad-libbing, Naruto. Bet you'll remember that for a while."

Naruto let his arms drop and eyed her, wary. She was almost laughing. Did that mean he was safe?

"Well, to be honest," he began cautiously, "it sorta surprised me, so I wasn't really paying attention." Yes! Ignorance was the best protection!

Instead, Sakura scowled again, her silent chuckles stopping abruptly. "What do you mean you weren't paying attention?"

Thoroughly unsure of what to say next, Naruto took a step back into the costume rack. "Well, I wasn't really expecting you to... you know."

"Naruto, you've asked for a kiss tons of times: the least you could do is pay attention when you actually get one!"

"I'm sorry! I promise I'll pay more attention next time—I mean—wait..." Naruto clapped a hand to his mouth and put the other forward in a guarding gesture from taijutsu. "I didn't mean that there will be a next time, Sakura-chan, unless, of course, you were to need to—you know, improvise again—or something." He eyed her, but that damn makeup made her face completely blank—except for the smudge of blue in the corner of her mouth.

She took a step forward, and Naruto backed further into the kimonos, on his guard. He glanced around for escape routes, but the stage weapons on one side and a number of enormous plywood clouds on the other side blocked all access points. She was very close now, and her hands were in fists. This did not look good. She knocked his guarding hand out of the way, seized him by the ears, and Naruto braced himself for a vicious head butt—or maybe she was just going to yank his ears clean off. He cringed and squeezed his eyes shut.

But instead of pain, he felt something soft and terribly tender touch his mouth. His eyes shot open and there was Sakura's face right in front of his. The heavy black eye makeup she wore was out of focus, and he couldn't see her nose, but he could see wisps of pink hair escaping from under the red wig, and he detected the vague scent of strawberries under the reek of greasepaint and sweaty costumes. He squeezed his eyes shut again and tried to concentrate on his lips: should he move them? Should he try to put his arms around her? Should... it was very hard to concentrate. The kiss was warm, and a little wet, and her hands on his ears weren't grabbing, they were... playing. Fiddling.

Without pulling away, Sakura moved one hand to the side of his neck, her fingers still gentle. With the other hand she found his right hand and moved it firmly to the small of her back, locking it in place by gripping his upper arm. With a last coherent thought of I may as well... drifting across his head, Naruto moved his left hand to her back as well and began to kiss her back, enthusiastically.

Shortly thereafter, she pulled away—rather abruptly. Naruto wasn't thinking straight, having abandoned his brain several minutes ago. He noted that Sakura's makeup was very smudged indeed now. Blue was everywhere, and her wig was askew. She had a glorious look of surprise in her eyes as she stared at him. She began to pat herself down, as if checking to make sure he hadn't stolen anything while they had been kissing. She pulled a handkerchief out of her wide sleeve and handed it to him.

"You'd better clean up before going outside. I'll make sure Sai didn't lose our mark."

Naruto was on the verge of suggesting that she use the handkerchief herself, but his lips, having gotten used to one activity, were suddenly unable to accomplish speech. She moved toward the door, adjusting her wig.

"Sa-Sakura-chan," he blurted, just as she was reaching for the doorknob, "wha-what was that?"

She grinned, there was blue paint on her teeth too, but it wasn't funny, it was gorgeous. "Heh, I don't know, I was improvising." Naruto felt a nervy giggle escape his lips, and Sakura gave a little giggle of her own. "Well, do you think you'll remember that one better?"

He nodded mutely. She shot him another blue grin, turned the knob, and left him in the prop closet. He thought maybe he could still smell strawberries.

(end)


Singeivoire is responsible for the last half of this story. I fail, she wins. w00t! Yay collabs!

Minor trivia: This actually began existence as the third piece for my "Paint Job" drabbles, but I couldn't quite get paint involved somehow in this one. I think I like it by itself better anyway.

Yes, I did reference the first Naruto movie. So sue me. It was what got me into Naruto in the first place, so I have a soft spot for it.