A/N: Twin1: Recently, we've noticed that we have a lot of much loved, multi-chapter stories just sitting on our computers, being ignored because we didn't know how they'd be received. So, we've decided to put up a pilot chapter, just to test the waters and judge if the stories are worth putting up in their entireties. Your feedback will help us decide the most important question –
Twin2: To update or not to update. To write or not to write. To flog brother with a barbed whip for stealing notebook or not to flog brother with a-
Twin1: Yes, thank you, sister. Hush. So, the deal is, you tell us if you like this, we respond as you ask. This only works if you review, but whatev. If you don't, we'll just take your vote as a 'don't like it'.
Sakura was worried about her team mates. It was as simple as that. Ever since they'd come back from Wave, they'd been acting as though they were worst enemies – worse than worst enemies; as if the very existence of one offended the other.
It was very worrying.
Sakura had hoped that their adventure with Zabuza might cure them of a bit of their animosity, but if anything it seemed to have made it worse.
She waited hesitantly on the red bridge, ready for another day of cajoling the boys to try and get them to work together. Sasuke had arrived a few moments ago, and was leaning against the rail off to her left.
Naruto showed up after a couple more minutes. Sakura frowned at him. There was something… different.
Orange. That was it. His outfit had changed. He was wearing a black jacket with orange strips, rather than that neon orange jumpsuit that was his norm. Weird…
"Hey, Sakura," he said a little too casually. Sakura frowned at the chuckle in his tone. Surely he wasn't laughing at her, right? His blue eyes slid past her to Sasuke, and she tensed, praying that there wouldn't be a fight.
"Hello, Bastard," Naruto said cheerfully.
"Hello, Dipshit," Sasuke returned instantly. "What took you so long?"
"Hey! I can be late if I want to!" Naruto retorted, slipping past Sakura and leaning against the rail next to Sasuke. "I'm just a kid, remember?"
"Sure, cheater," Sasuke grumbled. Naruto grinned.
"Your insults are rather lacking today. Is someone hung over?"
"Oh, that is such a fucking bad joke," grumbled Sasuke, glaring daggers at Naruto. Sakura was personally amazed that the Uzumaki didn't wither and die under the force of such a glare.
Naruto seemed unaffected. He just grinned wider. "Really? I'm sorry. I'll try to be serious. Perhaps you are tired from training? Sore from various bruises or wounds that have yet to heal? Suffering from chakra exhaustion?"
"Okay, shut up now." Sasuke's voice held a deadly warning. Naruto chuckled, but was stopped from further prodding (Sakura wasn't sure what he'd said to annoy her crush, but whatever) by the arrival of Kakashi.
"Yo," the jounin said, materializing on the arch above them.
"You're late!" Sakura shouted at him.
"Hey, Sensei!" Naruto shouted, overly happy for some reason. Sasuke 'hn'ed.
"Hey, Kakashi," he said lightly, his expression not… not friendly exactly, but it was definitely not a scowl.
Kakashi frowned at the odd greeting. "Are you two feeling alright?" he asked. The boys both nodded pleasantly.
"Yeah, we're fine," Naruto answered for both of them, unusually serene. "Better than we've been in a long time."
There was a long, confused pause. Sasuke rolled his eyes and banged Naruto upside the head.
"Idiot," he said conversationally. Naruto gave a gurgling cry of protest and put his hands up to rub at his golden head.
"No fair, Sasuke-teme!" he shouted. "Ow!"
"Suck it up, dobe. You call yourself an AN – ninja?"
Naruto suddenly grinned, amused for some reason, and stuck out his tongue cheekily. He looked around at the little circle, rocking happily on this toes as he did so.
Sakura felt a moment of irrational nervousness when his gaze locked on her and sharpened.
"Sakura!" he said, musing. "You know, I'd forgotten… you really are a cute kid, you know?"
Goodbye, nervousness. Hello, extreme irritation.
"Dammit, Naruto! I'm not going out with you!" Sakura shouted. She was totally unprepared for the look of disgust that passed over the blonde's face.
"Ich. Sorry, 'Kura. I don't date twelve-year-olds." He degenerated into muttering, and Sasuke rolled his eyes again.
Kakashi chose this moment to jump down beside the genin. He subtly swept his arm out and pressed his wrist against the closest boy's (Naruto's) forehead. He didn't seem to have a fever…
"Kakashi, don't baby him," Sasuke said sternly. "He's a capable ninja in his own right. You don't have to treat him like he's three. Are you going to give us our mission or not?"
"Um…" Kakashi was baffled by the change in behaviour. Yes, he'd hoped that the boys would start working together, but this was a bit much. Ninja paranoia tugged at the back of his mind. Were these even the same boys? Were they imposters? That could be very bad.
Sweeping aside the possibility of completing the mission he'd been planning today, Kakashi shook his head and smiled, closing his eye so that the smile would be conveyed despite the fact that the was wearing a mask.
"Nope!" he said happily.
There was a very long pause.
"What," Sakura said in a very dangerous voice. Sasuke chuckled, and for once she turned on him. "What are you laughing at?" she demanded. Then she realized what she'd done, and paled. "Oh Sasuke-kun! I'm so sorry! I-"
"You can't do killer intent yet," he interrupted. "But you're trying so hard. It's almost… cute."
And thus Sakura was rendered useless for the next eight hours, having just heard Sasuke-kun call her cute! Or, call her killer intent cute, but that counted!
Kakashi sighed as he watched Sakura blush tomato-red and go about as wobbly as cooked spaghetti. Well, she was a lost cause.
Stupid teenage hormones.
"You have a free day," he said dully, watching Naruto help Sakura to the ground as her knees gave out. Sasuke was smirking, looking overly pleased with himself.
Since when was he so sadistic?
"YES!" Naruto shouted, pumping his fists into the air. "Day off! Let's get drunk!"
"No, dobe," Sasuke said instantly. "You're twelve, remember?"
Naruto blinked big blue eyes at him for a moment, and then shook his head. "Shit."
They trotted off side-by-side, Kakashi and Sakura looking after them incredulously.
Sasuke raised an eyebrow, stepping over a pile of dirty washing and empty ramen cups. "Your apartment is filthy."
"Hey, I'm only twelve, gimme a break!" Naruto snapped, then tripped over an upturned basket. "Although I didn't actually think it was this bad…"
"Is that a dead rat?" Sasuke stared at the kitchen counter from the doorway with a look of disgust firmly in place. "And what the heck is that?"
"Eh heh heh…" Naruto rubbed his head sheepishly. "I kind of try not to go into the kitchen… the food's over here, and I use a kettle from there…"
"You avoid the kitchen?"
"The meatloaf's been trying to kill me for years!" the blonde complained. "And let's just not get started about the peanut butter. Are vegetables supposed to be sentient?"
Sasuke blinked, but was somehow unsurprised. "…Okay. Leave a couple dozen clones, and then we'll go get some weaponry. I feel paranoid without a sword."
"You're always paranoid," Naruto informed him as about twenty shadow clones puffed into existence. "Okay, guys, it's your job to clean up this mess!"
"Aw, what?" a single voice complained.
"Alright, you're dead." Naruto snapped his fingers, and the clone vanished. "Any other complaints?"
"Good. Now get to work!"
The clones all scattered, and Naruto turned to his friend with a grin. "Okay! Let's go!"
"You know, you grow up to be surprisingly sadistic," Sasuke commented as they left the apartment building.
"And you grew up to be a fucking lunatic, you bastard," Naruto returned sharply.
The two of them left Naruto's tumble-down apartment, heading across town for the Uchiha complex.
"Sasuke, why are we coming here?" asked Naruto as they arrived. "I hate this creepy ghost town."
"Hn. The armoury. We need some good-quality shit. All your kunai are crap."
"Harsh, Sasuke. Not all of us can afford the best stuff. Hell, I could hardly afford to eat, let alone stock up on kunai that actually worked. Plus, no-one would sell me anything even remotely dangerous."
"Oh, cry me a river," Sasuke grumbled, leading the way directly to the Uchiha armoury and applying his blood to the seal holding the door closed. It opened to admit them, and the boys strode inside.
Suddenly, Naruto swore. "OW! Shit…"
"What?" asked Sasuke curiously. Naruto scowled.
"The meatloaf just bit me! It dispelled the clone!"
"Okay, for future reference, dobe," Sasuke said, blowing dust off a set of shuriken and examining them, "When food begins to mutate and attack you, it's too old. Throw it out."
"I know that now, Sasuke-teme!" Naruto whined, opening a case of kunai. "Ooh, shiny. Can I have?"
"Hn. Take 'em," Sasuke said, now examining a sword. Naruto grinned and pocketed the kunai. He moved on to a sheaf of exploding tags and scoffed.
"I could make better tags than this," he commented. Sasuke glanced at him, in the middle of searching for a specific type of blade.
"But will you?" he asked. Naruto scowled, but suddenly slapped his hand over his throat and gurgled.
"Ugh… well, the celery just finished off the last of my clones. Just a sec." He rapidly made some more, and sent them off to renew efforts of cleaning his neglected apartment. Sasuke shook his head.
"Add 'shop for groceries' onto our 'to do' list," he said. Naruto wrinkled his nose but nodded anyway.
"Yeah. And…" He sighed heavily. "Some ink and paper. I'll draw up some seals."
Sasuke shook his head. "I've never understood your aversion to seals, dobe. You're really good at them."
Naruto wrinkled his nose. "Yeah, but they're boring. Where's the excitement? I'm more in favour of the fast-paced, exciting ninjutsu-type stuff. Flash-bang-snap-boom! Ka-plosion!"
Sasuke rolled his dark eyes. "You are such an idiot."
Naruto nodded seriously, his happy expression dimming. "I only learnt sealing because it seemed so important to Ero-sannin, anyway. And then because…" He trailed off, but Sasuke didn't press. There was silence for a moment before Sasuke shook his head and strode to a new dusty shelf.
"Come on, dobe. The sooner we start, the sooner we finish."
Kakashi was going to 'check' on his students. He was very concerned. They were in no way acting like themselves, and he was accordingly coming up with all sorts of paranoid explanations. He arrived at Naruto's apartment in time to hear some kind of ruckus inside.
He pushed inside, not bothering to knock, and was confronted with the odd sight of about a dozen Narutos fending off… was that a cabbage?
Deciding not to ask, Kakashi threw a kunai at the vegetable, the tag he'd attached exploding and splattering them all with rotten green sludge. Well, how else do you kill a vegetable, other than explode it?
The dozen-odd clones all turned to the doorway and spotted the teacher standing there at roughly the same time. They all rushed forwards, and for a second Kakashi thought he was going to be swarmed, but instead they just fell to their knees before him, each clasping their hands before them identically.
"Please dispel us!" they chorused together. "We can't take this! Please! Please dispel us, please!"
Kakashi cocked an eyebrow, looking at all the desperate faces. Then he shrugged.
"Whatever," he said lightly.
Naruto balked and faltered, dropping the bag of rice he was holding.
With ninja reflexes, Sasuke caught it before it hit the ground and looked down at Naruto – it was weird seeing him so short.
"Problems, dobe?" he asked.
"Kaka-sensei just dispelled all my clones, teme!" the blonde whined. Sasuke's mouth formed something suspiciously like a grin.
"Why would he do that?"
"'Cause he's a bastard," Naruto said amiably, forming a seal. A dozen dejected-looking clones poofed into existence. "Welcome back," Naruto said sarcastically. "Get back to work!"
The clones trooped off miserably, and Sasuke rolled his eyes. They were in the grocery store, collecting much-needed supplies. Once they were done, Naruto turned to Sasuke and said, "What now?"
"We have the rest of the day off," Sasuke commented. "I think we should train."
"You always wanna train, teme!" whined Naruto. "I'm sick of training. Let's do something fun. Hm. We're underage, so we can't drink in the bars. The clones haven't finished my apartment yet, so we can't go and drink ourselves stupid there. So that means… let's visit Iruka-sensei!"
Sasuke sighed. "You are such a fucking moron. Is that really the only two things you can think to do with your time?"
Naruto shrugged. "Well, we could always go find the nearest brothel for a quick fu-"
"Go find Iruka," Sasuke interrupted. His companion laughed.
"I thought so," he chortled. He hoisted the paper bag of their purchases higher onto his hip and added, "You wanna come?"
"I have better things to do with my time," Sasuke said stiffly. "Go see your teacher. Get reacquainted."
Naruto's twelve-year-old face lit up and he instantly raced away, heading towards the Academy. Sasuke shook his head.
"What a dobe," he muttered, heading towards the training grounds.
Thirteen minutes later, Naruto poked his head into Iruka's classroom. He smiled upon seeing the chuunin sitting at his desk and bounced inside, ignoring the class that was in progress in favour of glomping his former teacher enthusiastically.
"Naruto!" yelped Iruka, making most of the Academy students look up from their workbooks curiously. "What's wrong?"
"I'm just really, really glad to see you," Naruto said seriously, not letting him go. Iruka frowned, a confused smile still playing about his lips.
"Um, but you saw me just a week or so ago, when you came back from Wave," he pointed out, patting the child's back awkwardly.
"Did I?" Naruto's voice was almost nostalgic. "It seems like so much longer." He finally released his teacher and sank into a chair next to Iruka's. "Can I hang out here for a bit?"
Iruka didn't miss the sad tone, and his face softened considerably. "Sure," he said. Naruto grinned at him.
"Cool. Hey, I'll help you teach, huh? I know what to do – just watch. GET BACK TO WORK!" he hollered at the top of his lungs, glaring at the gawking students. He snatched up a piece of chalk and threw it with ninja accuracy at the nearest one. It hit him right in the middle of the forehead. "STOP FOOLING AROUND!" he added, slamming his fist down on the table. Then he grinned up at Iruka.
"Pretty good, huh, Sensei?" he chuckled. "I did pay attention to you sometimes, huh?"
Iruka couldn't help it. He laughed.
It was good to have Naruto back in town.
For several hours, the class was calm and reasonably quiet. Then, ten minutes before Iruka would release the children for the day, the door to the classroom crashed open with an echoing bang. "Naruto, I'm pregnant!" Sasuke shouted hysterically, barging into the room.
Iruka paled and sat down rapidly. A couple of the girls looked heartbroken; a few kids looked confused; and most of the class looked faintly sick.
Naruto, however, was unmoved. "So?" he said, ticking off the answers on the paper he was grading and flipping it over. "Go tell your boyfriend, then."
Sasuke paused, tapping his chin, before nodding. "Good comeback," he commented, and then walked out again without another word.
Naruto waited until he was out of earshot before cracking up.
Iruka put one shaking hand to his head. "N-Naruto, what was that about?"
The blonde snorted, not trying to stifle his laughter. "He was joking."
"He jokes?" Iruka sounded incredulous – who wouldn't? The Sasuke Uchiha, playing a practical joke? Especially one like that?
"He does now." Naruto flipped another paper, then froze, a look of horror coming over his face. "Wait, you don't actually think me an' Sasuke-teme were – oh, gross! Ew! No! Eeeeww!" He paused for breath, looking disgusted and shocked.
Iruka sighed in relief. "Thank goodness."
Naruto and Sasuke stood in the doorway of Naruto's now-sparkling apartment. Naruto backtracked to check the number on the door and make sure he had the right unit.
It seemed that there was no mistake, so he came back inside and looked around his living room again, mouth falling open in wonder.
It wasn't a large apartment or a particularly well-furnished one, with a living room, bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, laundry and not much else. However, Naruto had never seen the place without a good foot and a half of crap over every surface, so it seemed huge to him.
Sasuke smirked. "Much better," he grunted, making to move further into the house, but Naruto grabbed him and pointed.
"Teme, what's that doing there?" he said. Sasuke arched an eyebrow.
"That's a rug."
"I know that, but what's it doing on my living room floor?" Naruto sounded dumbfounded. Sasuke just scoffed and moved further inside, exploring.
Naruto strayed to the kitchen door and stopped short, giving a surprised cry that brought Sasuke to his side in an instant.
"Teme! What the hell is that thing?" Naruto screeched, pointing. Sasuke followed the finger… and actually chuckled.
"Now that I can imagine you not knowing about," he commented. "That, dobe, is a new invention called a dishwasher."
"I have a dishwasher? No shit?" Naruto was shocked. "I didn't know that. What's it do?"
"What do you think it does?" Sasuke asked, placing the groceries he was still carrying on the counter. Naruto flushed and put down his own bag.
"Shut the fuck up, you!" he growled. "I'm gonna go check the clones' wards."
Sasuke grunted as Naruto left, and exactly eighteen seconds later sighed as Naruto shouted in surprise.
"Let me guess; you found the ironing board," he shouted, leaning out of the kitchen. There was a pause, and then an embarrassed-sounding Naruto shouted back, "No, but I found a room I didn't know existed. This can be your room, Sasuke-bastard."
"Deal," Sasuke called, not questioning the fact that Naruto could be unaware of a whole room of the apartment he lived in. He was a dobe, after all…
Sasuke began to put the groceries away, a soft smile playing about his lips.
It was good to be back.