When Uchiha Sasuke lands before his three new pledges, dressed in an inconspicuous dark cloak and an ANBU's bloodied bone-white armor, only two of them startle.
The team is made up mostly of boys; there are two of them, each an opposite of the other, like a single entity of yin and yang that had once been split down an equal seam.
The first is named Matano Yoshiro, and he stands a full head above Sasuke, each line of his body drawn in chalky white, and hints of what reads as too little food, and a scarcity of sunlight. He has long, black hair, each strand of it swept meticulously into a low ponytail. He wears a gruff expression—no light in his eyes at all. Yet surprisingly, it is not he who remains passive.
Yoshiro's other half is called Kyohei Jin, and he is thick and hulking, and made up almost exclusively of bone and muscle. He has an angular face—each piece of it appearing sharp enough to cut—which is framed by stray tendrils of his unkempt silvery hair, and a set of piercing blue eyes.
In contrast to Yoshiro, Jin wears a dopey grin of false bravado; he has a coward's stare. But for a boy of his size (and temperament, Sasuke thinks), he might've been strong enough not to flinch. …Or stupid enough; he cannot tell which.
It takes years of training not to balk at the remaining, and only, girl. She plasters on a sickening smile, scrunches her eyes, and actually curtseys before him, with a laugh of "How silly," which she directs at the boys.
Sasuke's eyes fly to her immediately. She is small for her age, with garish red hair long enough to be dangerous in their chosen path, and little chicken legs, complete with a set of arms that look too small to lift even dust. Her body appears to be free of weapons—unless you count her disarmingly sweet personality, he sighs.
She will not last. And for some reason, he almost wants her to.
His mind recalls an image of his childhood genin squad, each person sprawled out on a threadbare blanket. Naruto and Kakashi are fast asleep, and Sakura's smile is the only source of light.
He squashes it before it can take hold of him. Because those loved ones, his friends, his would-be family, are dead. At least to him.
He squashes it, because this is not Konoha, and these are not children; not really. Because Orochimaru has snatched them up, killed their parents, and burned their villages. Because they have prisoner tattoos, drawn in three-inch tall script along their forearms. But mostly…because this is not Team Seven.
This is Team Thirteen, a mocking nickname delivered straight from the snake's lips. It is a ghost of his past, and future—and he does not know which is worse.