Iruka hadn't assigned a journal in a few weeks, so it had been unofficial but widely believed that the next one would be a doozy, long and philosophical.
They had been half right, as they had found one Monday. It had been after another argument between Naruto and Sasuke, where Naruto had unwittingly insinuated that he and Sasuke were very alike. Sasuke had responded by flatly saying that Naruto knew next to nothing about him and that Naruto should not assume he knew anything about Sasuke's experiences.
It would seem that Naruto and Sasuke's tentative listening and confiding bond had been fragile, weak at best, and had been broken.
Iruka had turned to the board and started to write, barely picking up the sound of Naruto whispering dejectedly, "I would know if you just told me." Before Sasuke could respond, Iruka had made the chalk squeak on purpose, effectively drawing in the attention of the class.
"This is the prompt for this week, but it need not be long." There went half of the expectations. "But they will hopefully be deep and meaningful." See—half right. "Finish this statement. 'If you really knew me, you would know that…' Bring in slips of paper with your statement on Friday. No one but you will ever read them, but the slips are necessary for our in-class activity on Friday. You will be joined by your upperclassmen." The bell rang. "Class dismissed."
Today is Friday. The students from the two classes all come to school clutching slips of paper. They are quickly directed to the fields behind the Academy, where a bonfire is crackling cheerfully and being controlled carefully. Iruka claps loudly, gaining the attention of his two oldest classes—one class will be graduating this year, the other next year.
"I want everyone to open their slips of paper and read them to themselves once more." A crinkling of papers and the instructions are followed. "Now everyone, on the count of three, throw your paper into the fire and watch it burn." The students all do so. "No one will ever read them now. But I do want everyone to get into a group of three or four and share what was written on their paper. And before you complain, no, it's not mandatory, but it's very beneficial and relieving to do so. Group up!"
Immediately, the kids split up into their little clubs and cliques. Iruka shakes his head disapprovingly and shuffles people around into groups with people they don't know well. Finally, the other teachers (truthfully Iruka clones in henge—Iruka can be sneaky when necessary), circulate around, stationing themselves discreetly by a group.
And now, they listen.
Naruto, unsurprisingly, is one of the first to share, but what is surprising is how uncharacteristically serious he is. His group also contains Ino, Shino, and Sasuke.
"If you really knew me you would know that not all smiles are real smiles," he intones in monotone, with nearly no emotion. Then he smiles. "Deep, huh?" Only Iruka, and by the grimace on his face, Sasuke, can tell that that smile is one of the fake ones.
Ino goes next, speaking very quietly. "If you really knew me, you would know that while I'm not unhappy with my weight," she fidgets uncomfortably and makes a face as though she has an upset stomach, "I'm still unhappy with the way I look because the one person I want to notice me doesn't," she finishes. She doesn't look up and stares at her fingers instead of looking dreamily at the obvious object of her unrequited affections as she is expected to.
Shino speaks up, admitting his own statement. "If you really knew me, then you would know that I am often doubtful of whether or not anyone would notice if something was going wrong with me." He stays nearly still, mouth hidden behind his collar, eyes shielded, whole face masked.
Ino slowly, deliberately, puts her small pale hand onto Shino's bigger one, in a move of comfort. Shino looks up in slight shock, but Ino has turned to Naruto, giving him a small smile. Naruto returns it with another, a real one this time. Sasuke is reluctant to share and seems to feel he has lost his chance.
At the next group, Ten-ten volunteers herself to go first as the other three seem to be having a hard time finding their words. "If you really knew me, you would know that I can't stand people-pleasers and hypocrites. If you really knew me, you'd know that other peoples' opinions are important to me and that I'm a hypocrite."
Lee talks next, having found his voice, and he is serious as he shares a secret that seems out of character for him. "If you really knew me, you would know that I sometimes feel like screaming and cursing and breaking things."
Hinata smiles in understanding, whispering her statement, managing not to stutter at the lower volume and in the somehow comfortable feel in this small group of older kids. "If you really knew me, you would know that sometimes, I just wish I could take a break from reality for a while."
Neji, the final member of the group and for once not condescending towards Hinata, speaks up. "If you really knew me, you'd know that I blame others and other things because I am afraid to take responsibility for my own actions."
The members of the group do not move, but they somehow seem much closer-knit than before, and very comfortable in their own little world as Hinata gives Neji a look that very simply reads, 'I understand now.'
Sasuke opens his mouth to share, but closes it after finding he cannot make the words come out.
On to a third group, Kiba begins. "If you really knew me, you'd know that I sometime wish I was a four-year-old again so I wouldn't have so much to worry about."
Sakura confesses next, bravely. "If you really knew me, you would know that I just learned that an old friend of mine—" she stops and swallows as she fights tears, "—i-is addicted to something harmful-l and that I s-somehow feel respons-sible."
Chouji nods in understanding and puts a very serious, a very determined expression on. "If you really knew me, you would know that I would gladly give up any and all of the things I love to do—" he even puts aside his chip bag to emphasize his point, "—if it meant a certain person I know would stop a certain very self-destructive and self-endangering habit." Sakura nods back in comprehension.
"If you really knew me," Shikamaru says, actually paying attention and participating wholeheartedly, "you would know that I often feel like I have to take responsibility for other peoples' actions so that they won't get hurt or in trouble because I never know what other people are going through and I never know what might be the breaking point for someone else." He breathes in deeply to calm his frayed nerves and calms down now that the load of the secret has been taken off his shoulders.
It registers briefly in Iruka's mind that the two most motivated students said the least and the least motivated student may have said the most.
This group of four is joined in pairs of mutual understanding.
Sasuke still has not shared, and school is dismissed for the day.
Kiba and Shikamaru leave together, discussing responsibility and worrying.
Sakura and Chouji walk away, planning how to help this mutual friend of theirs.
Ten-ten and Lee join Hinata and Neji in their walk to the Hyūga compounds, all four of them simply enjoying the atmosphere that, for once, and most likely only for this one time, is comfortable and relaxed, lacking the tension that is so usually present.
Ino leaves, walking with Shino, surprisingly not disappointed about Sasuke's lack of speech and lack of reactions.
In truth, though, Sasuke has had reactions. They are just reactions that only Naruto really seems capable of noticing and defining.
But as Iruka is about to leave, having dispelled the two clones and not garnering even the slightest reaction from either of the boys, he nearly misses Sasuke's whispered words to Naruto.
"If—If you really knew me, then—then you would know that…" Sasuke, finding it hard to get the right words, stops and takes a deep breath to calm himself. "If you really knew me then you would know that… that I am a—a human being, and though I may shove it away, I—I do need someone to shove back affection, care, contact, f—friendship and a sense of belonging and being w-wanted."
Not even caring that Sasuke has, most likely for the first time, hesitated and stuttered while speaking, Naruto merely stands up. Then he offers a hand to Sasuke. Then he pulls him up into a hug.
When Sasuke looks at him questioningly, Naruto remarks, humorously, "How's this for affection and contact, bastard?"
And while Iruka should reprimand Naruto for cursing on school grounds, he leaves quietly, so as to not disturb the friendly, companionable atmosphere that has been patched up between the two boys who are now learning just how alike they really are.
Iruka is satisfied that his lesson has been successful and that he can confidently award each student with an 'A+'.
Two years later, on a Monday, those twelve former students shuffle in and shyly, for everyone barring Naruto and Lee, who are ever excited, and Sasuke, who pastes on a disinterested, bored face despite what ever he may be feeling on the inside, present him with a new poster to hang in his room in thanks for showing them new perspectives in life.
Iruka accepts it automatically, but doesn't actually get around to reading it until much later that day, after school is let out.
And when he does read it, he is deeply moved and immediately hangs it up with pride in a spot of honor.
Do you really know us?
If you really knew us, you would know that though we may injure, maim, harm, torture, and kill others, we are still kids. We are still impressionable. We are still people. We still have emotions. We still have our own problems. We are still young. We still have our whole lives ahead of us.
And if you really knew us, you'd know that not everyone has hope for their future.
Fortunately, thanks to you, we do.
A/N: You like? This is the second installation, and it pretty much sets the scene for 'Classroom Reminiscing'. Check it out! Thanks for reading, and hope you enjoyed it!