"I agree." Sasuke stated with a wide smirk and then motioned Naruto and Sakura over. "Let's devise a plan."
'I'll give you your damned teamwork, Kakashi…' Konoha's last Uchiha thought, arms crossed with a mulish resolve.
The decision was made and agreed upon. Naruto seemed to glow with a sinister intelligence and Sakura looked determined. The Genin put their heads together and plotted their assault. Hatake Kakashi would never even know what had hit him. No matter what, Uchiha Sasuke was leaving with a bell.
Chapter Three: Survival
Disclaimer: Naruto still isn't mine. Still not getting paid to write this, so on…
Naruto cocked his head and smiled over at Kakashi as Sasuke and Sakura both vanished into the trees. The Jounin cocked a brow in response, and both shinobi then began to reach towards their pockets. Kakashi halted the motion upon seeing the grinning blond mirror it and the Genin let his own hand come to a rest upon his coat.
"You're an odd one," Kakashi muttered, inclining his head towards the trees as though indicating Naruto to seek cover as the other two had.
Naruto tilted his head backwards laughed, knowing that Sasuke was cursing him in his hiding spot at that same moment. Team Seven had laid such meticulous plans and now Naruto was ignoring the whole scheme on a whim, except that it wasn't quite so.
He knew that Kakashi had been eavesdropping on their entire planning session, but hadn't bothered to share that detail with his teammates. Their 'strategies' were thus rendered useless, since their opponent knew all about them. Naruto could have spoiled his game and told, but it amused him to be the one person who knew all the cards.
"I don't like to be pretentious, that's all." The Jinchuuriki hurried to reach into his coat pocket as though it were some competition to be quicker than Kakashi in doing so.
He thought it was a good enough excuse. It wasn't as though Kakashi didn't know where Sasuke and Sakura were hiding. The masked Jounin gave him a bored look, but his interest rose upon seeing the book in Naruto's hand.
"That's…" Kakashi breathed out.
"Not even released to the public," Naruto chirped and opened up Icha Icha Armageddon, making a grand show about thumbing through the porn novel's pristine pages. "The Hokage gets to pre-read all the new books. He let me borrow it." The demon vessel leered at an explicit illustration near the novel's beginning. "Guess he doesn't wanna lecture me about the birds and the bees on his own or something."
Kakashi whimpered, looking at the paperback book in his student's hand with something like pure want. "It's not right," he whined.
Naruto rubbed his thumb over the illustrated girl's bare, naked chest and then tossed the novel over his teacher. "Here, take a look."
Kakashi opened his hand to catch it, but instead batted the book right back at the blond. Naruto cursed and leapt to the side as the Henge'd explosive note concealed inside the imitation novel detonated in midair. He landed in a crouch and pulled a kunai.
"You'll have to do a little better than that, Naruto-kun." Kakashi taunted, smiling through his mask as he reached back towards his vest pocket.
The Jinchuuriki spat and charged with a speed that seemed to surprise the older shinobi. Kakashi abandoned the dream that he could peruse his precious Icha Icha during this particular battle and assumed a lackadaisical guard stance. Naruto halted his attack and moved to his right instead, making to throw the kunai in his hand.
Kakashi swung his arm backwards and blasted the incoming second Naruto with a hard punch, dispersing the clone that attacked through the smoke that the earlier explosion had made. The Kage Bunshin likewise exploded into smoke, obscuring the masked man's position. Naruto made two more clones and sent them in to attack, probing his opponent.
Even Uzumaki Naruto could be cautious on those rare occasions when it suited him.
'Good as expected.' The blond Genin placed his kunai back into his pouch and grabbed a hollowed senbon canister.
Naruto loaded the bamboo container into the mechanism on his arm and took aim at Kakashi within the churning smoke, careless that his two shadow clones were still there. Poisoned needles shot out in a line like hard gatling as the Jinchuuriki pumped chakra into the device, screaming through the air and into the smoke.
He kept up the barrage until the container hissed and dissolved in blue chakra, and waited. Kakashi was nowhere to be seen when the smoke dispersed. Naruto glowered with irritation and glanced around the area.
"That's quite an interesting contraption." Kakashi's voice spoke out next to Naruto, the masked man's tone nonchalant.
Naruto didn't wait to give him time to elaborate, as he pivoted on his heel at once and leveled a roundhouse kick at the Jounin's head. Kakashi made no move to escape it, and instead leaned back just enough so that the kick missed touching him. Nor did the man move to counterattack or otherwise exploit the huge opening that the missed kick created.
That almost got under Naruto's skin, until he remembered that he was dealing with a living legend, and also that he wasn't going all-out either.
"You were doing so well with Kage Bunshin a minute ago," Kakashi drawled. "Perhaps it might be better to stick with that."
Naruto instead redrew his kunai and lunged at the Jounin in an attempt to carve out the man's throat. Kakashi almost looked disappointed as he sidestepped the strike and let the impulsive Genin's momentum take him past the silver-haired shinobi. Kakashi brought his hands together in a seal and moved towards Naruto's exposed back, taking direct aim at his...
"The Hell with that," Naruto growled.
Now he was mad. He leapt straight up into the air and Kakashi's ridiculous ass poke hit nothing but air, with the surprised Jounin passing beneath the airborne Genin. The incensed blond came down with a vicious double stomp onto his sensei's head, crushing Kakashi's skull into the hard earth like a tin can. Rather than the 'expected' brain matter, however, cloth and straw splattered across the ground.
Naruto's victorious grin curdled like soured milk on the spot and the blond kicked the now headless scarecrow into the trees, which were even now starting to change color and rot where the poisoned needles had struck them earlier. He didn't bother to attack when he saw his sensei materialize in swirling leaves next to him, as much as he wanted to.
"You seem to be missing the point to this exercise." Kakashi chided in a light voice.
Naruto opened his mouth to retort, but didn't have time to speak as shuriken and kunai plowed into Kakashi. The Jounin dissolved into smoke, giving the blond a little 'win' in knowing that the man had at least been serious enough to use a clone to combat him rather than risking his own hide. Naruto reached back to scratch behind his head when Kakashi's sudden attacker landed in the grass next to him.
"Nice weather." Naruto laughed as he repeating the previous morning's greeting.
The Uchiha was not at all amused. "Idiot, this wasn't what we had planned!" Sasuke hissed, clenching his teeth in rage.
The demon vessel sent him a contemptuous look but said nothing on the matter. The top rookie ought to have known that plans changed due to circumstances.
Sakura's anguished scream cut the argument short regardless. Naruto and Sasuke both looked over towards the spot deep within the trees where the sound had originated.
"Guess she busted a nail or somethin'." Naruto looked down and checked his own nails as he spoke.
The Uchiha sent his blond teammate a somewhat disturbed look, as though Sasuke had a real problem with the realization that Naruto didn't seem to give a shit that Kakashi might have killed or maimed their kunoichi teammate. The raven-haired Genin took a moment longer to mull the situation over and arrived at the decision that their Jounin mentor wouldn't have done such a thing.
"Hn." Sasuke crossed his arms, his cool and arrogant demeanor sliding back into place.
Naruto didn't bait the other Genin about his short lapse in composure, but he would remember the incident later. The blond had learned that Uchiha Sasuke possessed much more human compassion than the genius would ever care or dare to acknowledge.
How interesting that was. Naruto wouldn't have given a shit either, except that it might have hurt his chances to pass.
Kakashi chose that moment to reappear, stepping out through the trees with Icha Icha Paradise in hand and opened to its steamiest chapter. The elite shinobi approached his male students at a casual pace.
"That's one brat down." Kakashi closed his book and looked at Sasuke, smiling beneath his mask. "Here's a surprise. I thought zombies couldn't stand the sunlight."
Sasuke's lip curled but he otherwise ignored the good-natured dig. "Uzumaki," the other Genin demanded.
"Roger that." He laughed. "Call me Naruto-chan, sweetheart." The blond then rolled his right shoulder and a kunai appeared in his hand.
Easier to let Sasuke think he was in charge.
"Hn." Naruto was moving as his stoic teammate grunted. The Jinchuuriki closed in on Kakashi and slashed with his kunai at the Jounin, who pulled out his own weapon and parried the strike.
Sasuke came leaping in with a kick on Kakashi's opposite side. The older shinobi reached over and caught the Uchiha's ankle. The Genin then twisted about and maneuvered to grab at the bells. Naruto plied chakra into his arm and pushed against Kakashi's kunai to move him aside and allow Sasuke a little extra space.
"I don't think so." Kakashi moved his hips to place the bells inches outside Sasuke's reach and then drilled Naruto in the gut with a straight kick, sending him staggering back. "Here, Naruto, catch."
Kakashi swung Sasuke around and threw the Uchiha at Naruto, who made a Kage Bunshin and let the clone catch him. The blond dismissed the shadow clone as soon as it had served it purpose and Sasuke landed in a standing position.
"Shit." The Uchiha spat onto the ground. "I almost had them."
Naruto tilted his head in bewilderment, and then realized that he was talking about the little bells (and not talking to him regardless). Despite what he'd said during his explanation, in truth the blond didn't give a rat's ass about them and hadn't even thought about grabbing one. He had his own plans.
He'd give Kakashi the 'teamwork' the Jounin was so damned interested in seeing, but he intended (or at least hoped) to get a little something in exchange.
Now that Sasuke had gotten his ass in gear, all that Naruto needed to do was to wait until his opening appeared.
"Right," said Naruto as he made a clone and gave it certain mental orders, waiting until it moved to execute its task. "Let's set him up next time, like we planned."
The blond charged without waiting to hear an answer and made another shadow clone as he neared the waiting Kakashi. The clone went low and attempted to sweep the Jounin's legs, but Kakashi sidestepped and turned to counter the real Naruto, who instead ran right past him and leapt onto the nearest tree branch. The elite tried to concentrate on him but had to move to dodge Sasuke's shuriken barrage. The missiles instead slammed into Naruto's clone, which dispersed at once.
The real Naruto descended with an elevated heel drop at that same instant. Kakashi retreated to avoid it, and the earth cracked and split where the chakra-empowered kick impacted. He picked up Sasuke's discarded shuriken and threw them at the airborne Kakashi, and reached down to grab another needle canister.
Team Seven's Jounin instructor used the steel plating on his combat gloves to bat the incoming shuriken aside, and then caught the last one and threw it back at Naruto to interrupt the hand seal that would have activated the bamboo tube that bounced towards him moment later. Kakashi ran through his own seals, and his right hand became encased in lightning as a high-pitched chirping sound resonated in the air.
'Now that doesn't look good,' Naruto thought, not daring to approach such a Jutsu.
The lightning arced out and incinerated the canister, and the electric charge caused the needles inside to clump together. Kakashi then cancelled the technique, right in time to have Sasuke's Grand Fireball plow into his side. The man's silhouette soon disappeared inside the raging blaze.
Naruto watched the ongoing attack with surprise, the intense heat stinging his corneas a little. He didn't think that a 'regular' Genin would be able to execute an elemental Ninjutsu like that, shinobi genius or no. Sasuke was indeed slumped over and breathing hard, exhaling black smoke in slow intervals.
Human chakra limitations were something the Jinchuuriki thought would have to be a huge pain in the ass to have to live with. He was so glad that he didn't.
Sasuke stopped the attack, leaving behind a charred area with a burning scarecrow sitting in its center.
"I wonder whether he gets those wholesale." Naruto grinned through pointed teeth and nudged the blackened doll with his sandal, making a resolution to hunt down whatever place in the village sold those grotesque stick creatures and vandalize it.
Sasuke had no interest in making conversation. "Don't distract me." The Uchiha genius looked up into the air and then around the smoldering clearing in an attempt to locate Kakashi, his expression burning with ire towards the man who had escaped his signature move.
His irritation continued to increase as his search turned up nothing. Naruto could have let him know that Kakashi was hiding underground, but chose not to. The Jounin was using more than adequate stealth given his 'opposition,' except that he didn't reckon upon Naruto's quasi-superhuman senses.
He might as well have been wearing a siren on his head.
Naruto waited until Kakashi began to move under the earth, and then escaped at the last moment with a Shunshin as his instructor emerged between the two Genin. Sasuke meanwhile let out an indignant squawk when Kakashi's right hand wrapped around his pale ankle. The top rookie resisted the Jounin's attempt to pull him under the earth, molding chakra along his sandal bottom in order to 'stick' to level ground. Sasuke reached down and grabbed onto Kakashi's armored vest, craning his neck down so that he met the older man's stare head-on.
Uchiha Sasuke bared his pearl white teeth in a pointed, demonic grin.
That was all the warning Kakashi got. A kunai tore through the Uchiha's chest at an impossible speed and continued right on towards his skull. The Jounin twisted his silver head to dodge the sneak attack as 'Sasuke' exploded into smoke. Hatake Kakashi managed to evade the kunai.
…But not the wind chakra wreathed around it. The invisible edge sliced a clean line into his cheek, and the kunai continued on its path until it struck the training pole that Kakashi had threatened to bind whoever was unable to get a bell onto. The wooden pole exploded into little splinters that whistled through the air with enough speed to break skin. Kakashi hit the proverbial deck to avoid getting skewered.
"Fuck," Naruto barked in the distance next to Sasuke, who was sitting in an unbecoming heap where his blond teammate's shadow clone had used a Substitution Jutsu to swap places with him at same moment Kakashi had advanced. "I can't believe that didn't nail his ass," he added to no-one in particular.
Naruto raked a hand through his blond hair to accent his irritation. He extended that same hand to his teammate, who was staring up at him with an incredulous expression. Sasuke pulled a scowl and smacked the hand aside, standing up and looking towards the rising Kakashi. "Uzumaki," he started, now glaring at the dead-last Genin who had managed to make Konoha's strongest Jounin bleed, even as little as it was.
"That was the last trick I had," Naruto interrupted him to admit.
Not quite the truth, but it was the last one he was willing to show. No decent magician revealed his entire repertoire in the opening night act.
It was also nowhere near enough to satiate the Jinchuuriki.
"Hn." Sasuke brushed his pants clean and spoke in a smooth voice. "Then I suppose we'll have to resort to Plan B." He then glanced over to see that said plan's last component was in place, nodding when he noted that it was.
Naruto laughed and clapped his hands. "Excellent," the blond chirped. "I like Plan B!"
He had come up with Plan B. Sasuke gave a signal to something in the distance.
Naruto knew that Kakashi might guess what Plan B entailed, but that detail wouldn't matter so long as he and Sasuke could keep the man occupied.
"You would," the Uchiha retorted in a dark voice, as though this development didn't please him at all.
Naruto saw the blow coming, but chose not to move when Kakashi closed in and drilled him with a backhanded punch that sent him sprawling to the ground. His vision swam but he still was able to glimpse Sasuke launch a kick at the Jounin, and a moment later the Uchiha was knocked into the air and collided with Naruto as the blond tried to rise. The pair knocked heads and landed in a tangled pile near the trees.
Naruto let out a groan, rolling the semi-conscious Sasuke over to the side and using the rotting tree nearest him as a brace. "New plan," said the Jinchuuriki, shaking his aching head as he stood once more.
Kakashi watched his two Genin with blood trickling down his cut cheek.
He was no longer smiling.
"I agree." Sasuke didn't spurn the helping hand this time, and Naruto considered letting him go and watching him drop on his ass. He would have done it, except that he still needed the other Genin and still needed to give Kakashi a show. "Let's kick his ass."
There was all that needed to be said, and Kakashi hadn't spoken a word in a while now.
The two Genin attacked together, coordinating their moves with a precision that brand new teammates shouldn't have been able to coordinate. Now on his mettle somewhat, Kakashi intercepted and countered them, and so Naruto and Sasuke both earned several new scrapes and bruises as the spar continued.
Naruto kept right on smiling, his pointed teeth bloodied due to a cut upper lip.
"Time's running out, kiddies!" Kakashi taunted in a singsong voice as he sidestepped an incoming combination attack and smacked his two opponents' heads together.
The blond was having such a grand time that he hadn't even noticed the noon hour time limit approaching.
Sasuke's response was to hurl a kunai at the alarm clock sitting on a stump across the grounds. The Uchiha's aim was dead on and the hands stopped when the metal blade pierced clean through the contraption, sending it tumbling down onto the ground.
"I think that clock might be broken, sensei." Naruto shot back. "Better go check it."
"Cute," Kakashi muttered, moving to counter Sasuke's latest attack.
Naruto used Sasuke's back as a cover and reached down to his waist to grab a scroll, and loaded it into his arm launcher. The blond dropped to a knee and took aim at the same moment his teammate somersaulted into the air. Kakashi raised both arms into a crossing position to block Sasuke's axe kick and used his knee to prevent another grab at the bells.
The Jinchuuriki licked his bleeding lips and activated the device. Napalm shot out in a high-pressure stream. The gelled gasoline rushed in a clean, destructive arc towards Kakashi, igniting as it departed the weapon on Naruto's wrist. The Jounin's expression narrowed in consternation and he hurled Sasuke in the opposite direction to make sure the raven-haired Genin wouldn't somehow get burned alive, at the same time skidding back in order to escape the gelatinous death that was about to consume him whole.
Moving his hands to protect Sasuke was his mistake.
'Now!' Uzumaki Naruto crowed with glee in his mind, noting Kakashi's too-vulnerable position.
He pushed chakra into his legs and advanced. The silver-haired warrior had escaped to a reasonable enough distance and had more than enough time to react to Naruto's sudden rush.
Kakashi would have, at least, had the blond maintained his earlier pace. Naruto increased his output to its maximum in mid-charge and closed on Kakashi at breakneck speed. His right arm pulsed with chakra and his instructor had little chance to do more than recognize his predicament, having almost no time at all to respond to it. Realizing that he couldn't dodge and that his hands were in no position to execute a Kawarimi, Kakashi lunged backwards at an angle in an attempt to minimize what he knew was coming.
The movement was much too little, and a little too late.
Naruto's dashing killer punch struck home and scored a direct hit onto the Jounin's ribcage through his armored shinobi vest. The sickening crunch and Kakashi's strangled pant were the sweetest music to his ears as bone caved inward beneath his power.
Kakashi was sent soaring backwards due to the chakra-powered strike, landing with a loud crash meters in the distance, where his momentum kept him rolling to the small pond that marked the clearing's center. Naruto could smell the blood on the older man's mask as the Jounin spat up, even at that considerable distance. Sasuke landed in a crouch next to him, hands running through the seals to execute another Grand Fireball.
"Er, Sasuke…" The Jinchuuriki tried to warn the Uchiha to mind his limited chakra reserves, but the top rookie's chest was swelling even then. 'Too late.'
Naruto shrugged and made his own hand signs, determined to make the Ninjutsu count now that Sasuke was committed to it. The demon container's wind blast came out a moment behind the Grand Fireball, powering the Katon technique to much greater heights. The mixture resulted in a towering blast that enveloped the entire broad area near Kakashi's position, and the explosion spread outward to consume even Sasuke and Naruto. The Uchiha mastered his exhaustion and rushed to take cover while Naruto threw his arms out wide and let the blast swallow him, cackling like a madman.
The minor burns he received healed within seconds.
The smoke, on the other hand, took several minutes to clear, and revealed a hellish landscape once it was done. Naruto and Sasuke's combination Ninjutsu had set the whole ground ablaze. Steam was rising on the pond and the trees were ablaze. Fish began to appear on the water, boiled alive in the intense heat. Napalm 'spots' dotted the landscape, as the earlier concentrated glob had been scattered about due to the intense wind.
Kakashi stood on the pond's mud bank. The Jounin dripped with hot water and his skin held a pinkish tinge. He had one hand on his headband as the other clutched at his broken ribs. Despite all this, the man seemed to have no trouble standing and Naruto quashed his instinctive urge to run like Hell, now quite aware that he had poked a sleeping dragon.
Sasuke had collapsed onto his hands and knees and was sucking wind; having taxed his reserves a bit too much.
"You two are something else," Kakashi wheezed, his voice hoarse with pain. "I guess I'll have to get serious…" He began to pull on his protector to reveal his Sharingan.
'Ruh roh. Looks like he's mad now.' Naruto exhaled a breath and steeled his nerves, well aware that he was about to get his ass kicked.
"Fine." Sasuke struggled to stand, and Naruto knew better than to even extend a helping hand this time. "Because we're also done screwing around."
"Damned straight." Naruto laughed, having nothing better to add.
He was ignored.
The spent Uchiha then motioned with his head towards Kakashi's precious stone monument. The elite spared a look but also kept the two hellions well within his sight.
The Heroes Monument, which had escaped the earlier blast, was now surrounded with kunai. Each blade was stuck deep into the ground and rigged with an explosive tag. Haruno Sakura stood next to a tree near it. The kunoichi looked horror stricken at the massive damage that Naruto and Sasuke had caused, both to the landscape and to Kakashi.
"Throw the bells to Sasuke-kun right now," Sakura managed in a timid voice. "Or else…" She hesitated a second but soon continued. "Or else I'll blow this monument to Hell!"
That was Plan B.
Kakashi stared. The girl almost quailed underneath her teacher's gaze and even took a hesitant step back into the trees, but held her ground otherwise. Kakashi let out a sigh and reached into his (somewhat scorched) vest pocket and pulled out the bells. The living legend then began to laugh aloud, grabbing at his pained midsection all the while.
"That's too much." Kakashi said, and Naruto wondered whether he'd cracked. He motioned to Sasuke with the bells, causing them to tinkle. "Here. Team Seven passes."
Naruto pouted. He'd wanted to see whether Sakura had the moxie to make good on it.
Sasuke regarded his sensei with suspicion but extended his hand. Kakashi let out a morbid chuckle as he started to underhand the bells.
That was when the ANBU started to arrive. Masked sentinels appeared all across the ruptured training grounds to encircle a surprised Team Seven, landing in combat positions with their hands on semi-sheathed shinobi blades. Naruto bit out a silent curse. He should have known that a blast like that would have drawn attention back in Konoha proper. The masked shinobi were almost all looking straight at him, and he knew that he'd be held to blame in this whole mess.
…Nevermind that he had caused the most damage. Sakura ran over and cowered next to her idol Sasuke.
Naruto let out a hollow laugh underneath the entire Black Ops contingent's scrutinizing looks and waved at Neko-chan, whom he spied standing near an embarrassed Kakashi. His instructor was no doubt agonizing over how he was going to explain his condition to his peers.
Neko-chan gave Naruto 'the look' beneath her mask. He could tell.
"Fuck man, look at all this mess. Use a little more restraint next time, Sasuke." Naruto motioned around the 'war zone' without turning to regard the Uchiha.
His pathetic and not all that sincere attempt to divert the attention and blame onto Sasuke humored no-one. Sakura screeched at Naruto and was ignored, whilst the assembled Black Ops ghouls continued to stare at the Jinchuuriki.
He was starting to get a little worried about leaving without having his brains eaten.
"False alarm." Kakashi broke the awkward stalemate, sounding rather demoralized and no doubt wishing that he could sink into the ground. "Our survival exercise got a little heated. There's nothing more to see here."
"Kakashi-san," one ANBU spoke in a deep voice, indicating to the Jounin's damaged ribcage and his torn, bloodied mask.
The Jounin outright declined to discuss the issue. "I'll submit a personal report to the Hokage later," said Kakashi. "Now please let me wrap things up here."
The masked leader nodded and motioned to the others, and the ANBU dispersed with as much eerie stealth as the large contingent had arrived with. Naruto was so sad when Neko-chan didn't even spare him a last glance, but at least the spooks were gone now.
Kakashi was kinda cool though, Naruto thought. The Jounin hadn't had to cover his ass.
He almost regretted that he'd tried so hard to murder Kakashi a couple minutes ago. He'd needed to make his point, still. He decided that he ought to at least try to make good, and made several quick hand seals. Naruto's Jounin sensei and two Genin teammates watched him with some apprehension.
"I can heal that, Kaka-sensei." Naruto held up his hand, which was now glowing with light green medical chakra.
"Tempting, but I'll pass." Kakashi sounded somewhat nauseous. "Though I will need to head on down to the hospital and get patched up," he added in a lower voice, exhaling a pained breath. "Tomorrow we'll start our duties. Meet me at noon on the bridge leading into the commercial district. Lunch is behind the pole. You'll have to share."
Team Seven's sensei threw the bells to Sasuke and vanished in swirling leaves.
'Sheesh, man acts like we tried to kill him or something,' Naruto almost said.
"I suppose no-one's getting tied to the pole now," Sasuke soon muttered to no-one in particular, too exhausted be bothered with being brooding and antisocial. "I'm starving."
"Me too," Sakura added and her stomach let agreed with a quiet grumble, causing the pink-haired kunoichi's cheeks redden with embarrassment.
For once, Naruto chose not to comment. He had eaten this morning, unlike the others. He maintained a brisker pace as he headed towards their destination and stepped onto Kakashi's broken alarm clock as he passed, completing its destruction.
"Naruto…" Sasuke called, and the blond heard a tinkling sound.
The demon container reached back and caught the bell in his hand without looking over his shoulder. "I thought I said to call me 'Uzumaki.'"
Naruto then dispersed into smoke. The small bell clattered onto the scorched grass.
"So weird," Sakura echoed her earlier sentiment regarding her teammate as she reached down to claim the bell that said Genin had abandoned. "But…he doesn't seem like a bad person either."
Uchiha Sasuke answered with nothing save a neutral 'hn,' as though he were still reserving his opinion. He reached the damaged wooden poles and there he discovered a most startling coincidence indeed.
Uzumaki Naruto had vanished, and so had the bento boxes.
Haruno Sakura's indignant scream echoed through the smoldering grounds and a rich, mocking laugher almost seemed to answer her.
Later that evening, Hatake Kakashi was nursing his drink inside a quiet tavern. Rain poured down outside and thunder boomed in the air. The terrible weather suited his present mood quite well.
'At least it's keeping the usual crowds at home tonight.' Kakashi didn't want to deal with people in general right now, but he needed to drink and he wasn't about to do so alone at his apartment.
That would be a little too pathetic.
The elite shinobi's head and both arms were wrapped with medicated bandages due to the mild burns he'd gotten when Naruto and Sasuke had boiled him with that combination Ninjutsu.
Thank the Gods he'd managed to reposition so that Naruto's kill shot had sent him to the pond's edge, or else he'd have gotten roasted alive.
Kakashi sipped his drink through his mask, and the resulting warmth helped a little to mitigate the agonizing phantom pain that ran through his abdomen as he thought about Naruto and that damnable gut punch. He let out a low shudder, quite aware that he could have gotten killed there. That punch could have turned his insides into paste, and would have had Kakashi not been wearing light armor and had he not reacted in time to get that miniscule separation right at the end.
He, Sharingan Hatake Kakashi, had gotten pushed that close to the line against a Genin.
He had to give the kid due credit, though. Naruto had suckered him like a pro. He'd manipulated that entire exercise so that he could ramp things up at that exact point and launch that one attack, and it had worked. He'd known that Kakashi would underestimate him and had taken complete advantage.
He'd underestimated a Jinchuuriki, one who also happened to be the Yellow Flash's son no less. One who was working in tandem with an authentic Uchiha genius.
The thought made him want to beat his head against the countertop.
Nor could he resent the Genin. Kakashi had ordered Team Seven to come at him with intent to kill. He hadn't reckoned that he would be dealing with someone who could kill him, even under such ideal circumstances where the Jounin was working at a reduced pace and not doing much more than the bare minimum to attack in his own right.
Even worse than the severe pain and the more severe damage to his ego, was the incontestable realization that he'd somehow managed to get that damned complacent and muddle-headed since leaving the Ops.
Despite being so absorbed in these inner admonishments, Kakashi detected the newcomer's approach. "You look like Hell warmed over, sempai."
He recognized the voice. He'd rather be alone, but he supposed that he could do a whole lot worse as drinking partners went. Kakashi wasn't a social creature. Few people knew his unusual haunts, but this person did.
"Kid hits like a bulldozer." He didn't share the root issue with Uzuki Yugao as she took her seat at the bar next to him and ordered a drink.
His pride had taken a large enough beating, thanks.
Kakashi at last looked over at his companion. She was dressed in regular civilian attire rather than her Black Ops gear. The male patrons sent appreciative looks in her direction.
"I assume he used that dashing gut punch," Yugao replied in a deadpan voice, palming her sake bottle as it arrived. "I understand that he's named it the 'Entrails Smasher.'"
Kakashi thought the name quite appropriate, and not a little bit sickening. More interesting, however, was that his old ANBU subordinate seemed to know who had nailed him during the exercise and how. More intriguing than even that was that she had hunted him down to chat about it over a drink, or so it seemed.
Uzuki Yugao wasn't an outgoing person either. ANBU operatives almost never were.
"You know him." The Jounin recalled that Naruto had even waved at her earlier, and had looked rather put out when she'd more or less ignored him.
So, his cute Jinchuuriki had a crush on an older kunoichi. Kakashi smiled beneath his mask, which he'd replaced upon leaving the hospital. This was something he'd have to make sure to remember and badger the blond about later. He would have vengeance.
Kakashi giggled, almost choking on the liquor sliding down his throat.
The woman next to him sent him a strange look when he tittered out loud. "No, not on a personal level," Yugao elaborated and sipped her drink. "I've observed his training on Hokage-sama's orders on several occasions." She then tossed her dark purple hair over her shoulder and looked up at the ceiling, "Though I'm not quite certain 'training' is the proper term to describe what he does out there."
The man listened to her, and wondered whether he'd ever sounded that robotic. He hoped not. Still, she'd piqued his interest. For good or bad, Sasuke and Sakura were both what he had expected them to be. Sasuke was brilliant and also dangerous, and perhaps even more so than Kakashi might have guessed on both accounts, but he had anticipated as much. Sakura had book smarts but her practical skills were limited at best, also expected.
Naruto was the one that didn't make sense. The blond knew things that he shouldn't, and Kakashi had reason enough to believe that Sasuke was nurturing the same suspicions. Perhaps Yugao could shed some light on a situation that needed illumination.
"Tell me more about our mutual menace." Kakashi wheedled. "There are things about him that don't seem to add up. Help me out here."
Perhaps he ought to have picked Sandaime's brain during team assignments, but he hadn't seen a need to at that time and now the old man was being tight-lipped about Naruto despite Kakashi's inquiries, as though his dilemma amused Sarutobi somehow.
"That's a restricted topic, sempai," Yugao chided in a light voice. "Treat me to another round and I might consider it," she continued, sliding her bottle down the bar.
Kakashi didn't hesitate to oblige her. He decided not to replenish his own, though, now more interested in the conversation than in drinking. He remembered the straight-laced recruit he'd taken under his wing what seemed like ages ago in ANBU. That girl would never have even considered sharing something that the higher-ups had deemed restricted.
Kakashi took great pleasure in noting the change. Dedication to one's orders and to the mission was all well and good, but there were much more important things.
"I suppose the most accurate answer would be," Yugao started, pouring another drink into her ceramic cup. "He is what he is, as well as all that entails."
The answer was the 'smart' one, albeit one that did little to answer Kakashi's questions. Naruto's Jinchuuriki status was taboo according to Sandaime's special decree. The masked man had a good idea as to what his old subordinate meant. Demon vessels were hated and ostracized within their villages, and sometimes turned into crazed sociopaths.
Fear was a dangerous thing.
"Yugao…" Kakashi showed minor irritation.
"I was kidding." The Black Ops kunoichi looked over to make sure that the barkeep was preoccupied and grabbed a paper napkin, and then reached into her pants pocket to retrieve an ink pen. "Here." Yugao handed over the napkin when she was done writing.
'Site 41' was written on the paper. Kakashi crammed the napkin into his vest.
He supposed that it shouldn't come as a surprise. Even the hardiest Konoha-nin never passed near Orochimaru's old grounds unless circumstances required. For an outcast like Naruto, Site 41 would be an ideal place to lurk. For a Jinchuuriki, the 'cursed grounds' made all too much sense.
Kakashi appreciated Yugao's caution. People didn't need to know that Naruto used that place. He too thought that it was a bad sign, and he was on the kid's side. The blond had more than enough ill will and bad rumors spread around the village as things stood.
"Suppose I'll have to go down and see what that's all about," the Jounin drawled, not relishing the prospect in the least.
Even the most outrageous superstitions had some practical basis, though he was also curious to observe what she meant about 'training.'
"Do mind the traps and the giant snakes then, Kakashi-sempai." Yugao replied with a listless smile. "Not to mention the gut-punching sentinels."
Kakashi couldn't decide whether to be irritated or proud. He'd suspected that she'd get her little dig in at some point. Perhaps he'd taught her a little too well.
"You're not helping," he said in a saccharine voice. Sharingan Kakashi smiled through his mask as an evil thought came to mind. "You could volunteer to come along and guide me. I'm sure he'd love that too."
That shut the damned succubus right up. Good thing, too, since Kakashi was going to resort to the old 'sitting in a tree' song next. The Jounin relaxed on his stool, savoring his newest conquest. He was still the master and she was still the student.
Yugao decided to make a strategic withdrawal while she was still somewhat ahead. "I need to get back to patrol. Have a good night."
He almost pouted as his diabolical scheme to leave her holding the tab was ruined.
"Don't melt in the rain now." Kakashi couldn't resist the parting shot.
Yugao looked back but said nothing to answer her old commander's taunt. Kakashi chuckled as her appearance indeed melted when she stepped back out into the night to reveal that she was garbed in ANBU recon gear beneath the Henge, complete with a hooded black raincoat. The silver-haired Jounin couldn't help but wonder whether the Hokage had nudged his trusted agent into seeking Kakashi out this evening with the previous dialogue in mind. The old codger liked to meddle without being seen to meddle.
Kakashi hadn't missed that last pointed look that the plum-haired swordswoman had sent him, though, nor did he require a verbal explanation
He never abandoned his comrades, no matter what the cost.
His problem was that he had two students wobbling on that dangerous precipice. Naruto had the villagers' irrational hatred and, Kakashi suspected, the Nine-Tails' malicious presence straining his mental state. Sasuke had his single-minded obsession with revenging his lost clan and surpassing and killing his brother Itachi. Mixing the volatile pair together created a danger much greater than its individual parts.
Kakashi likened the situation to having two people walking along parallel tightropes, but having their ankles chained together at the same time. Sooner or later one was going to have to take the inevitable plunge, and the other was going to get pulled right down with him.
The Jounin wondered who in the Hell had decided that Naruto and Sasuke would make a productive combination, and whose cereal he'd pissed in to be tasked with managing this massive disaster in waiting.
Despite all that, Kakashi didn't dread the task to come. Those Hell-raising brats had the potential to achieve greatness. Their instinctive teamwork was almost unbelievable, as he'd had the bad luck to learn earlier. He even wanted to set them on the right path and mold them.
First, though, he would have to set his own house in order. No more going through the motions and resting on his laurels. Kakashi knew that he would have to work hard to recover the edge he'd lost in the time since leaving ANBU, or else his adorable little monsters would soon leave him eating dust (and burn a nation or two down in the process).
He would, at least, get to share that pain with his new comrades. He'd promised to make his kiddies throw up and he still intended to make good on it. He would devise a training regimen that would have even a chakra beast like Uzumaki Naruto puking his intestines into the grass. Kakashi rubbed his hands together in anticipation.
Revenge was going to be sweet.
Naruto let out a sneeze, marking the seventh or so time in the last hour he'd coughed hard.
"Fucking weather," he grumbled into the damp concrete bunker he was now sitting in.
Thunder boomed in the air outside, as though heckling him back. Even though the hole he was stranded in didn't have windows, he could hear the rain pounding above him.
The blond Jinchuuriki was now sitting in a metal chair inside a submerged structure located in the abandoned training grounds that he called home. He'd rather have been passing his time outdoors rather that sitting around in this stinking underground den, but not in that deluge. Naruto's hideout had at one time been someone else's workshop and lab, but its equipment had long since been ransacked save some basic items.
The place had power and running water still, at least, though the water was stale and rancid due to rusted pipes and the lighting sucked ass. He had a small cot in the corner to rest on when the elements wouldn't allow him to sleep outside.
Naruto reached over to where he was keeping his stolen bento box warm on an electric hot plate and grabbed the last rice ball. The blond Genin crammed the entire ball into his mouth and returned to his work, chewing with his mouth open. He soon wished that he hadn't, as another sneeze racked him, resulting in Naruto coughing chewed rice all over his desk and ruining the paper he had been working on.
The demon vessel stared down at the mess and contemplated climbing up the ladder that led outside and screaming abuse at the weather.
He instead scooped up the spit-up rice and crammed it back into his mouth, swallowing it in a rush so that he wouldn't cough it up again. Three second rule applied.
Naruto then sighed as he crumpled the soiled paper into a little ball and chucked it over his shoulder, making no attempt to salvage what he deemed to be useless gibberish. Genjutsu wasn't his thing at all, as the dozen or so discarded papers littering the ground indicated. He was better with 'hands-on' disciplines. Yet, there seemed to be no other route to get to where he wanted to go.
He was now working on a method to control the Nine-Tails' power. The Jinchuuriki recalled Sandaime's order not to open that door and almost laughed. Like Hell he would leave a power like that untouched. The Hokage might as well have told a bear not to hibernate in the winter.
Naruto's previous, short-lived experience with his demonic powers was enough to teach him that rage was the trigger to harnessing it. The problem with that was that he couldn't induce such an enraged state at will, which in turn meant that the whole thing was useless.
Drugs and medicines had never worked quite right on him, so using those to alter his mind state wasn't an option (never mind that he had no immediate access to the ingredients he's need to make the option work even without that little added hurdle). Naruto could remember several occasions when he'd inhaled toxic gases and whatnot on accident when mucking about with his chemicals and poisons, all without getting the least bit sick.
That in turn made his current sneezing problem a whole lot stranger. 'Strange, indeed…'
But, he thought, back to the matter at hand…Genjutsu.
Genjutsu, in addition to being the 'basic three' branch in which Naruto had the least natural aptitude, was also the least intuitive discipline. His command and theoretical knowledge with the illusion arts weren't good enough to allow him to create his own personal Genjutsu. Too bad that he couldn't ask Kakashi to help him, as the Jounin would no doubt guess what he was angling towards and attempt to put a stop to the experiment.
Not that the man could stop him, but it'd be a massive pain in the ass to have another person meddling in his business. Sandaime was bad enough. Naruto almost wanted to laugh at how retarded the situation was. Now that he at last had a sensei thatappearedto like him somewhat, he was likewise stuck with a problem that he couldn't solicit Kakashi's help with. The world was such a wretched place sometimes.
But there was still another option. Naruto knew one person who might have what he needed. He expected there to be a price involved, but he'd cross that bridge when he made it there.
He hoped that ghosts and specters hated bad weather as much as he did.
"No time like the present." Naruto clapped his hands and clambered up the old ladder that led to the exit with a laugh.
Right as he reached the manhole and pushed it open, another violent sneeze racked him. This time, however, he was prepared and used chakra to adhere to the ladder. Naruto rushed out into the rain and shot the double bird up into the thundering clouds, running into the storming night and towards Konoha.
The storm raging outside matched Uchiha Sasuke's mood as he battered the mannequin in his home's practice room with a practiced Taijutsu barrage, his blows impacting with loud thuds and making small dents in the worn leather. The shirtless Genin's slim muscles ached and he was pouring with damp sweat.
He send the training doll swinging on its rope with a hard straight kick and then took a rapid leap backwards, and dashed back in and slammed a hard punch into the mannequin's midsection upon landing. Rather than the shattering blow that Naruto had managed on Kakashi, Sasuke's reward was to almost shatter his own wrist and knuckles instead. The Uchiha sucked in a harsh breath through his teeth and grabbed his arm.
'You'll have to do better than that, sweetheart!'
Sasuke could hear Uzumaki Naruto's crowing laughter as the mannequin lilted about in its place, mixed in with Itachi's impassive admonishments. 'Foolish little brother…' the murderous bastard's bland voice chided. Sasuke could taste noxious bile rising deep in his throat, but a pleasant scent snapped him back into awareness.
He let out a low breath and relaxed as his maid placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and pushed him to lie down on a hot towel she had put down on the sweat-soaked ground next to him as she neared. The older girl then hummed and draped a second towel over his back and shoulders.
The heat seeped deep into his sore muscles, and he almost succumbed to sleep on the spot.
"Let me up, Kinume." Sasuke lodged the token gripe as the girl dipped his shredded knuckles into a bowl containing a potent medicinal salve. "I'm not done training." She ignored his weak, uninspired attempts to stand back up, keeping a strong grip on his arm.
"You've been at it since this morning," his live-in maid replied in a clipped voice.
Resigned to the inevitable, the orphaned Uchiha stopped complaining and relaxed. He bit his lip and glanced down Kinume's loose kimono while she leaned over to doctor his hand, knowing that the older girl was quite well aware that her 'master' was ogling her.
Sasuke decided that he wasn't all too bothered with the unsolicited mothering.
The raven-haired Genin's heart leapt into his throat at the voice behind him. Sasuke rushed into action, springing upright and snapping a high roundhouse in the unknown intruder's direction. The kick hit nothing but a blurring image as the grinning Uzumaki Naruto moved to the side with a Shunshin, while Sasuke slipped on his own sweat during his pivot. The orphaned shinobi prince had to sprawl to avoid taking a tumble onto his highborn ass, while his towel careened through the air.
Naruto caught the steaming towel with a poisonous cackle. "Your Kung-Fu could use a little work there, Sasuke-sama." The blond reached out to hand it back to its owner.
Sasuke, meanwhile, was seething with rage that his teammate had shown the gall to break into his home and intrude upon a private moment; not even considering that he'd thought nothing about doing Naruto the same disservice that morning. He was even angrier that he hadn't detected the other Genin's presence at all and had no clue how long he'd been in the room.
The Uchiha chomped down harder on his lip in the vain hope that his unwanted houseguest was an illusion. No such luck.
"Uzumaki…" Sasuke struggled to get the words out.
The intruder took no heed. "Remember, I said to call me…"
Naruto stopped his teasing and somehow produced a kunai, which he used to block Kinume's naginata strike with a quick motion. Sasuke blinked with surprise, as he hadn't even noticed the girl moving towards the weapons rack due to his preoccupation with his impetuous teammate. She then lunged and twisted the polearm. The blade scraped past Naruto's kunai and continued towards his chest.
The earlier surprise turned to horror when Naruto blurred again and evaded the stab. Her naginata instead skewered through the towel. Rather than materializing inside the lunging Kinume's guard and hacking the well-meaning but overmatched girl down, however, Naruto maneuvered behind Sasuke and watched her with a shit-eating grin. The Uchiha let out an exasperated sigh, his head beginning to throb with stress.
"Put the weapons down," he commanded as though lecturing two small children, raking a hand through his hair in a gesture that he thought he'd seen his aggravation's main source make one or twice.
The girl struggled with her master's order, but did at last replace the steel naginata on its rack. "I'll alert the authorities." Kinume sent Naruto another stern look as she started to move into the hall.
"No, bring tea." The order sounded ridiculous even to Sasuke, but he knew that Naruto might well decide to resist arrest should the law be brought to bear.
The Uchiha District had seen too much bloodshed the last time a crazed genius had roamed its streets and its present caretaker had no desire to provoke a repeat. One look at Naruto made clear that he'd made the right decision, as he was still grinning with maniacal bloodlust, twirling his kunai around his thumb. Kinume pursed her lips but said nothing, nodding and leaving the room.
"This does explain a lot." Naruto's stare was glued upon the retreating maid's backside. Sasuke glared with rage at the other Genin, who had disrupted his center a little too much. Naruto laughed aloud. "I sure as Hell wouldn't be interested in brats like Sakura or Loudmouth either when I had that waiting at home."
The Uchiha wasn't about to grace such vulgar insinuation with a response. "Get to the point, Uzumaki," he demanded in a tired voice, knowing quite well that a restless lunatic like Naruto would have better things to do with his time than making house calls during a nighttime deluge. There had to be some point to this home invasion.
For once, the blond obliged without making additional trouble. "I need to borrow some Genjutsu manuals. I know the Uchiha Clan must've had something I can use."
Sasuke wasn't quite certain about what he should have been expecting, but that wasn't it.
His mind whirred with possibilities, as he at once thought it peculiar that his teammate had gone through this much trouble to come with a basic request that Kakashi could have handled. Something smelled putrid about this business but the Uchiha knew that he could name his price, however steep, and that Naruto was prepared to accept that. Even so, all he wanted at that particular moment was to have the blond gone.
"Fine," Sasuke replied and motioned towards the open door. "Follow me."
Naruto's expression soured as his suspicions rose. Sasuke took a pleasure in knowing that he'd managed to beat this grinning nutcase at his own perverse game this time, and that knowledge was much sweeter than whatever he could have exacted otherwise.
Sasuke headed into the hall without looking back, but could head Naruto stalking along right behind him. He'd had the good manners to remove his wet sandals prior to breaking into the house at least. The Uchiha led his 'guest' into the reading lounge and motioned Naruto to have a seat while he picked through his scrolls and books.
He didn't need much time to locate the desired materials, and he soon turned to see Naruto looking over the photographs on the wall. Sasuke expected some comment about his mother given what he knew about the blond, but Naruto paid little attention to Uchiha Mikoto's picture. No, he was instead staring at another.
"So that's him," Naruto said, indicating towards Itachi's picture. Sasuke had kept the photograph depicting his brother in his Chuunin apparel intact and on his wall despite Itachi's crimes, both to serve as a constant reminder and because he believed that their mother would have wished it. "That's the great clan killer. He doesn't look all that intimidating to me." The blond laced his hands behind his head and considered the portrait a moment longer.
Sasuke shook his head and held out a medium-sized book and two scrolls, deciding that Naruto was about the last person on Earth he was willing to discuss Itachi with. Naruto paused to consider the items, and then reached out and snatched them as though Sasuke might come up with some hidden catch were he to hesitate a moment longer.
"I expect those back in pristine condition." He was itching to demand to know what Naruto intended to do with the knowledge, but thought better than to ask. In addition to ruining his little game, Sasuke thought it wiser to be able to claim innocence in whatever his insane teammate was scheming.
"Right-o," Naruto agreed with a slow drawl, tucking the manuals into his clothing. His rigid posture revealed that the blond-haired Genin's overall demeanor didn't at all match his casual tone. "…I'll be leaving now."
Sasuke made no attempt to stop him. Naruto almost bumped into Kinume as he hurried to leave, the latter returning with tea as requested. He reached over and stole a glass as he made his escape and downed it in one uncouth swallow.
"Delicious." Naruto licked his lips and placed the cup back down on the tea dish, darting out into the darkened hall.
The Uchiha let out a deep breath once Naruto was long gone. He supposed it might be too much to hope that the blond bastard would get hit with a lightning bolt out there.
"You're looking quite smug about something," Sasuke noted as his maid poured his tea into another glass and handed it to him.
"Oh, pardon me," Kinume replied with a warm smile. "I couldn't help imagining what his expression might be once the laxatives I slipped into his drink kick in."
The raven-haired genius almost coughed into his glass, making a mental note to be on the lookout during training the next morning, as he didn't doubt that Naruto would seek some revenge despite the good turn Sasuke had done him tonight with the Genjutsu materials.
The more he pondered the situation, the more pleased he was with the outcome. He could have used the scrolls to coerce Naruto into answering his questions, but it was better to have the blond in his debt, and more rewarding too. Naruto's abrupt change in attitude made it quite clear that he didn't like owing someone else and Sasuke decided to make his teammate stew over the issue a while longer, to his advantage.
'You didn't inherit all the genius around here.' Sasuke glared up at his older brother's picture on the wall.
Itachi's portrait could give no answer, but its inscrutable smile seemed to mock him nonetheless.
End Chapter Three