Author's note: Been a long time, huh? Looks like years, if my profile isn't lying to me. Well, to all of you who read and subscribed, I'm back! As for why I haven't continued my other stories... well, canonical issues aside, I feel like they've run their course. That said, I hope you won't mind me starting a new story, with all sorts of fresh ideas for me to eventually abandon.
Just kidding, hopefully.
Without further ado, I give you Ripples.
Disclaimer: Myeh myeh myeh don't own it.
Time is a fluid construct. We tend to perceive it as a river; it ebbs and flows, sometimes dwindling to a steady trickle while other times, it courses with fervent zeal, sweeping away all within its purview, which includes, of course, everything. We are at its mercy: all we can do is make the best of the current.
That is a falsehood.
If we must liken to time to a body of water – and of course, we must – then it is more akin to a vast lake. The waters undulate with nearly imperceptible rhyme or reason. Most would consider it purely chaotic.
This too is a falsehood.
Causality dictates that all movement must emerge from other movement, leading back to one original cause – a single event that set those still waters moving into perpetual disorder. Even a pebble thrown carelessly into the center of the lake sets off countless ripples, which themselves generate further more ripples, on and on until there is no trace of the original state.
But what if it landed off-center? What if, during this flight, a sudden gust of wind brushed the pebble, forever altering its course and sending entirely different ripples throughout the body of water?
Let us turn now our eyes to the village of Konoha, some twelve years after the attack of the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox. Tune our senses to the brain waves of one Hatake Kakashi on a pivotal night and cross reference by the sound of a gust of wind...
Chapter 1: Flutter
Inside a modestly small, lightly furnished, altogether nondescript apartment sat Hatake Kakashi at his desk. It had been another mostly sleepless night, same as the last. He had woken up at three in the morning after only three hours of sleep. Truth be told, Kakashi had not enjoyed a good night's rest in thirteen years. He did not lament this fact, however. Subsisting on little sleep was an advantageous trait for a shinobi and it let him spend his time more efficiently. Tonight, quite a bit of work sat before him. He really shouldn't have procrastinated, he knew, but how could he resist the allure of reading Icha Icha Paradise?
A tad warm in here, he thought, pulling at the collar of his shirt. Eying the window to his left, he rose from his seat, lifted the window, and leisurely returned to his seat.
Enough stalling. This evaluation is due at daybreak. He turned his attention towards the papers in front of him. Three of them, separate from the large stack on the right end of the desk, bore a name each: Uzumaki Naruto, Haruno Sakura, and Uchiha Sasuke. Starting today, they were to be his team. He didn't contemplate the matter too hard. The Third Hokage was wise and invested enough in this generation of genin that Kakashi trusted his judgment implicitly. The Third thought that these three would be well suited to Kakashi and Kakashi did not disagree. He would train them to the best of his abilities.
Provided, of course, that they passed.
While he didn't like to pass judgment without evidence, Kakashi reasoned that statistically speaking, they had very little chance of success. Some jounin – Asuma – called him a bit harsh for this, but Kakashi had a different perspective: why should anyone who cannot grasp his one requirement be allowed to wield the power that comes with being a shinobi? It would be like giving a knife to a child: no one would blame the child; they would blame the idiot who gave them a deadly weapon.
But maybe these children were different. Sasuke was (with one notable exception) the last survivor of the Uchiha Massacre and Kakashi had learned in an emergency meeting a few nights ago that Naruto, who had seemed hopeless despite excellent genetics, had managed to learn a B-rank ninjutsu and utterly flatten a chuunin instructor. Both came from tragic circumstances and both had the potential for greatness. As for the third teammate...
Kakashi's eye caught a sudden movement in the documents on his desk and immediately held down the two profiles he'd been inspecting. Wind passed through the opened window. The third paper fluttered through the air, landing face down on the desk, while the topmost papers from the stack at the edge of the desk were scattered on the floor.
I suppose this is why people use paperweights. Kakashi sighed, bending down to pick up the documents, but stopped as he examined the nearest one. After a moment, he took a knife from a nearby pouch, drew a minor slit across his finger, and began forming hand seals.
"Kuchiyose no Jutsu, (Summoning Technique)"he muttered, planting his palm on the floor. Accompanied by a puff of smoke, eight dogs materialized in front of him.
"Yo!" greeted Pakkun from atop Bull's head.
"Hello, Pakkun," replied Kakashi. "Would you please wake the other jounin and alert the Hokage? Tell them to meet me in the main jounin lounge in five." Pakkun nodded and the hounds dispersed, rapidly bounding out of the window.
The papers fluttered idly.
"For a second there, I thought you'd be late to your own meeting," Asuma remarked, grinning as he entered the lounge.
Kakashi waved at his friend. "Well, this is a bit important. I don't think we'd have time to get sidetracked."
"It better be," said Kurenai, plodding groggily towards them. She rubbed at her eye with one hand, accenting the bags under them. Kurenai, who had only been recently promoted to Jounin, was still not quite used to Kakashi's sleep schedule. "Good morning," she added with a yawn.
"Kurenai-san." Kakashi nodded in a welcome.
"Hey, Kurenai!" said Asuma, waving in a wide arc.
"Hello, Asuma," she replied, a smile encroaching upon her lips. It retreated as she returned her attention to Kakashi. "Why did you have Bull wake me? He has the loudest bark. I thought we were being invaded."
"Bull likes ladies," Kakashi explained as if it were obvious.
"Come now, Kurenai-san, that's no way to act!" said Guy, startling Kurenai as he appeared behind her. "You're a lovely young rose! You're in the springtime of your youth! This is the time to take life by the reins and ride as fast as you can!" he finished with a booming laugh.
"Guy-san," Kurenai uttered, turning around, "Why are you here? Isn't this meeting for the jounin who are leading new genin teams?"
"There are extenuating circumstances," Kakashi explained. "It'll all be explained momentarily."
"I would hope that you have a good reason for waking us at this hour," came the soft rasp of the Third Hokage as he entered, smiling and looking completely rested. "What concerns you, Kakashi?"
Kakashi nodded. "I was reviewing the team I had been assigned as per your command, Hokage-sama, when I came across this." He held up a folder with the words "New Genin Roster."
Asuma raised an eyebrow, idly pulling out a cigarette from his flak jacket's pouch.. "We all got one, Kakashi. Do you procrastinate so much that you didn't notice until tonight or is there something more?"
Kakashi pushed on. "I believe that the rosters need to be restructured."
Kurenai and Asuma puffed up in anticipation of their respective frustrated sigh, but Hiruzen raised a hand and they were still. "Kakashi," he said gently, "I reviewed those rosters myself. Do you believe I have misplaced my judgment?"
Kakashi gave a light shake of his head. "No sir. I normally acquiesce to your wisdom, but I believe that I have a perspective that you may not have examined."
"You often seem to think you do," returned the Third jocularly, putting his pipe to his mouth. He gestured, beckoning Kakashi to continue.
"Don't worry. This won't require any major shifting. It only requires one substitution, as a matter of fact. I propose that my team consist of Uzumaki Naruto, Uchiha Sasuke, and Hyuuga Hinata."
A brief silence. Kurenai looked first to Guy as she realized why he had been called, then to the Hokage, who remained silent, before speaking up. "But Hinata has been assigned to my team."
Asuma's gaze jumped from his friend to the woman he'd been spending some time with lately. Though they were placid, Asuma recognized the looks in both their eyes quite well. First the invitation, then the return fire. This'll be a messy one.
"Yes, I know," said Kakashi. "But I believe she should be on mine."
Kurenai's brow furrowed by the smallest amount. "Why? My team is composed of trackers. Yours is composed of-"
"The best in the class, the worst in the class, and the book-smart one," Kakashi interrupted. "I understand the rationale very well. We use it all the time when selecting genin. But consider this." He pulled Hinata's transcript from the folder. "Hinata is of the prestigious Hyuuga clan. She has great potential, especially for taijutsu, but is - according to Iruka-san's reports - very shy and unsure of herself." He exchanged the paper in his hand for the file on Sasuke. "We all know the story behind Sasuke. He's very talented and has great room to grow. If his Sharingan develops, he will have access to incredible genjutsu ability, in addition to all of the Sharingan's other gifts." Kakashi drew Naruto's file. "And of course, there is Naruto. Naruto has a great power within him."
"And no indication that he can use it," Kurenai cut in.
"Did he not flatten Mizuki?" Kakashi returned, silencing her. "But Naruto is not why I am here. I believe that Hinata would provide a good balance to Team 7. The current third member of Team 7 is to be Haruno Sakura, but I believe that she would do best in your care, Kurenai-san. She has the ability to become a fantastic sensor ninja and would do well in your tracking squad."
"But she also displays powerful chakra molding potential, especially as regards genjutsu," Kurenai responded, then immediately regretted it as she predicted the next words from Kakashi's mouth. Asuma tensed, having seen her error as well.
Kakashi flashed his trademark one-eyed smile. "Well, Kurenai-san," he said slowly and she hated how it seemed like he was savoring it. "Shouldn't you, our resident genjutsu specialist, be her teacher, in that case?" Before she could make it apparent that she did not have a retort, Kakashi continued, "Or are you afraid of having both of Konoha's powerful eyes under my command?" For a split second, Kurenai looked outraged, but Kakashi chuckled. "I'm joking, of course. Guy has Hinata's cousin on his team. Guy, what do you think?"
Guy looked confused for a split second, apparently having forgotten he was called here personally, then returned to reality. "Er, I'm sure that any cousin of my adorable Neji will do fine in any team!" he said, composing himself, "But if I had to guess, Kakashi's team would be best for her."
"He's just saying that so he can have another game for him and his 'rival' to compete in!" Kurenai barked, "And it's all moot anyway! Kakashi has never even passed a team; why should he get his way?"
"Every team has potential, Kurenai," Hiruzen spoke softly, giving her a sidelong glance. She froze, then bowed her head. "I have considered both your arguments and have come to a decision." He took a puff from his pipe that seemed to last forever. "Henceforth, I am reassigning Hyuuga Hinata to Team 7 and Haruno Sakura to Team 8. I will send word to Iruka before the announcement of the rosters."
Kakashi bowed and said, "Thank you, Hokage-sama." After a moment, Kuernai followed suit. Unnoticed, Asuma breathed a sigh of relief.
"How about we all get some sleep? You'll be taking command of new teams, after all," said the Third, strolling out of the lounge.
"Not me! I'm going to run a hundred laps around Konoha!" declared Guy, striking a pose. "Care to join me, Kakashi?"
"I've still got some things to do," Kakashi said, waving him off.
"Your loss! This just means I'll be better prepared for our next bout!" Guy raced off, laughing to himself.
Kakashi chuckled as he began to leave. Of course, the "things" he had to do included only reading Icha Icha Paradise and maybe making some miso soup with eggplant, but he didn't feel like racing around the village at this hour. He gave a small glance back to Kurenai, who had been approached by Asuma. I hope this was worth it, he mused, and continued his exit.
Asuma casually flicked the butt of his cigarette out the window. "So, want to grab a late night snack, or something? You don't seem to be up to sleeping at the moment," he said. When her sour expression didn't fade, he put a hand on her shoulder. "Look, don't beat yourself up about it. Kakashi is a legendary wordsmith. I'm sure Sakura will be fine on your team."
Kurenai's lips curved upwards. "Yeah, probably." She caught Asuma's eye. "What was that you were saying about a late night snack?"
Asuma grinned. A breeze blew in from the window.
Uzumaki Naruto sat in the main academy classroom, a miserable expression adorning his bruised face. It had all started out so well: he had put on his forehead protector for the first time as a true genin, he was about to receive his team assignment, and his crush Haruno Sakura had been looking like she wanted to sit with him. Fast forward a few minutes and now he had been humiliated, embarrassed by an unintentional kiss – the thought of it made him retch – with the biggest jerk in the class, Uchiha Sasuke, and to top it all off Sakura had pummeled him for his mistake.
Can't get any worse, at least, he thought idly.
Hyuuga Hinata sat a few rows back bearing a similar expression, but tinged with sympathy instead of wounded pride. She had seen the whole incident and was helpless to stop it. Poor Naruto-kun... she mused. I wish I could go comfort him, but I can't, I... Her thoughts lit her cheeks up with a light blush.
Uchiha Sasuke sat stoic as ever despite the disgust he had just experienced. Iruka-sensei had just revealed that the recent graduates would be sorted into different teams and was announcing the rosters. Feh. Needless distraction. All Sasuke wanted was to get his jounin commander, be taught powerful jutsu, and be done with everything else. Whatever "teammates" he would be given would only get in his way. He simply did not have time for this.
"Okay, next is Team 7," Iruka announced. "Hyuuga Hinata!"
Hinata perked up at her name, shifting her gaze to her teacher. I wonder who'll be paired with me... I hope they're nice.
"Next, Uzumaki Naruto!"
Huh? Naruto snapped to attention. Damn it! I wanted to be with Sakura-chan! He fumed, chastising himself for his earlier taunt at fate. Now I'm stuck with this weird, dark girl. Well, now it really can't get any worse.
Meanwhile, Hinata, unnoticed, blossomed into a bright tomato red. Sweat trailed down her face.. I... her thoughts were disjointed; panicked. I'm with Naruto-kun? Me? And him? Oh my, oh goodness, oh dear...
"Lastly, Uchiha Sasuke!"
"What?" Naruto blurted, practically leaping out of his seat. "Iruka-sensei, what the hell is this? How can you put me, an amazing shinobi on such a lame team with-" he thrust a finger at Sasuke, "With this jerk?"
"Don't call Sasuke-kun a jerk!" Sakura interjected. "You should be honored to be on a team with Sasuke-kun!"
"Believe me, I'd love to trade!" Naruto returned.
Wait, who did Iruka-sensei say? Hinata had only just returned to reality.
Iruka raised an eyebrow. "Out of all 27 students, Sasuke's grades were not only the top of the class; they were perfect."
Oh, it's Sasuke, thought Hinata.
"Yours, meanwhile, were dead last." Iruka leaned towards Naruto, a hint of condescension in his voice as he said, "You understand that we need to balance the teams, right?"
"Tch," said Sasuke, still facing forwards. "Just don't get in my way, dead last."
"What did you call me?" Naruto barked, shaking with rage.
"Give it a rest, Naruto!" Sakura yelled, pounding Naruto with her fists. Hinata merely looked on, worried.
Let's hope this'll work out, thought Iruka, also worried. "Alright, this afternoon we'll introduce your jounin sensei, so just take a break until then."
"This is the worst!" Naruto fumed out loud as he stomped around town. "Stuck with that jerk Sasuke and the weirdest girl in the class!" He sighed. "Whatever. I'll just have to do better than both of them and show our sensei that I'm amazing. They'll make me Hokage in no time!"
Hinata, meanwhile, sat at a park bench, enjoying the sights of nature. The birds cheeped and fluttered cheerfully around her. The tranquility made her smile. She drew in a deep breath. Okay. I am on a team with Naruto-kun. This is happening. She exhaled. I can do this. No, I have to do this. I can't drag him down. I have to do my best! "I can do this," she said to herself.
"Do what?" said Naruto, arriving at the bench.
Hinata squeaked in surprise, the blush returning in full force. "Eh? I-I was just saying that... I can be a good genin!" What kind of stupid answer is that? She mentally kicked herself.
"Oh," said Naruto, apparently accepting it. "What're you doing here, anyway?"
"J-just r-relaxing," Hinata answered quietly, clearly not relaxed at all. Naruto did not seem to take notice. "Um, if I m-may ask, what are you doing here, N-Naruto-kun?"
Naruto knew enough that it would be mean to tell her that he was venting about being forced onto a team with her and Sasuke. "Just walking around. What's it to you, anyway?"
"Just wondering..." she muttered, looking at the ground.
"Whatever," said Naruto, sitting by her, oblivious to the red on her face.
An awkward minute passed. "S-so..." Hinata began, trying to break the silence.
"What do you think of Sasuke?" Naruto asked suddenly.
"Huh? Sasuke-kun?" She thought for a moment. "W-well, I don't kn-know him very well, but he seems very smart and, um, talented and... determined..." she trailed off.
Naruto scowled. Great, another one who's in love with him. He crossed his arms.
Hinata noticed his displeasure. "But Naruto-kun, I..." The words wouldn't come.
"What?" asked Naruto.
"I think..." Hinata tried desperately to gather courage.
"You think what? Spit it out!" Naruto urged.
Finally, she blurted, "I think the same of y-"
"Ugh!" Naruto suddenly doubled over, clutching his stomach.
"Naruto-kun, what's wrong?" Hinata asked, leaning towards him.
"H-hold that thought!" He sprang off the bench, racing away at top speed. Nature calls! he thought urgently.
"Naruto-kun..." Hinata reached an arm out, but he was already long gone. She bowed her head in shame. I screwed up again... he probably hates me now.
A few moments later, Sasuke walked by, pausing as he reached the bench. "Hm? Hinata?"
"Sasuke-kun?" Hinata looked surprised. "Are you looking for Naruto-kun? He was just here..."
"No. Why would I be?" Sasuke asked, taking a seat.
Hinata shrugged. Another awkward minute intruded upon their company. "I feel bad for Naruto-kun..." Hinata mused.
"Why's that?" Sasuke asked, only half-interested.
"He just seems... so lonely."
"What do you mean?"
"He has no family. Everyone makes fun of him. I think he acts out because he's looking for someone to acknowledge him." Hinata's expression had become sorrowful. She breathed deep, not knowing why she was divulging so much of her thoughts to a guy with whom she'd barely even shared an academy classroom. "My parents and I don't always have a perfect relationship, but I still love and cherish them. To be that alone in the world... I can't even imagine how terrible it would be. I know that I couldn't take it like he does." Hinata forced a smile onto her face. "I'm sorry, I must be boring you. I don't mean to ramble this much..."
Expressionless, Sasuke contemplated her words. After a moment, he replied, "You're right."
"Huh?" Hinata's eyes opened in surprise. She hadn't thought that Sasuke was even listening to her babble.
"That sort of loneliness is unbearable. It is the worst feeling in the entire world," Sasuke said quietly. Leaves swirled around them from a sudden gust. After it passed, Sasuke stood and turned to look at Hinata. "You have good eyes, Hinata."
"Oh, th-thank you," Hinata said quietly, hands balled on her thighs.
"I'm going," said Sasuke, starting to walk.
"S-see you this afternoon," Hinata called after him.
"Sure," said Sasuke with a small wave.
After he was out of sight, Hinata craned her neck towards the sky, watching the birds fly by. Her expression had changed: it now had the smallest hint of determination. "I can do this," she declared.
She waited for Naruto to return, but after an hour or so, she gave up and headed back to the academy.
Naruto poked his head into the hallway of the academy, irately scanning the hall.
"N-Naruto-kun, maybe you should just sit down..." Hinata offered.
"Why is our Team 7 sensei so damn late?" he griped. "All of the other teams have gone off with their sensei and Iruka-sensei even left..." A mischievous grin worked its way onto Naruto's face. Eagerly, he grabbed an eraser from the blackboard.
"Wh-what are you doing?" Hinata asked nervously as she watched Naruto climb a table to place the eraser atop the door.
"That's what you get for being late!" Naruto exclaimed gleefully, leaping down.
We could get in trouble for this, thought Hinata, brows furrowed.
"Pfft, like any jounin would fall for such a stupid booby-trap," Sasuke scoffed.
As if on cue, a hand reached in and pulled the door, triggering the eraser's fall onto Kakashi's head. He blinked in surprise as chalk dust settled around him.
Naruto laughed at his sensei's misfortune. "You fell for it, you fell for it!" he cheered.
Oh, we're going to be yelled at... Hinata faced the floor, twiddling her thumbs.
Sasuke raised an inquisitive eyebrow. Is this really a jounin? He doesn't seem like much.
His hand contemplatively under his chin, Kakashi gave a bright, one-eyed smile. "Hmm," he said jovially, "How should I put this... my first impression is that I don't like any of you." All three genin's faces fell. Maybe this wasn't worth it, Kakashi thought. "Come on." he waved, turning to leave, "Follow me." They did so and Kakashi led them to a small garden on the roof. Planting himself on the railing at the edge while his students sat a few feet in front of him, he began, "So, why don't you three introduce yourselves to me?"
A pause. "What would you l-like to know?" Hinata asked meekly.
Kakashi shrugged. "How about your likes, dislikes, dreams of the future? Things like that."
"Hey, hey, why don't you introduce yourself first?" Naruto returned. Hinata nodded.
"Oh... me?" Kakashi thought for a moment. "Well, my name is Hatake Kakashi. I don't really feel like telling you my likes and dislikes... As for dreams for the future, I've never really thought of it. I've got plenty of hobbies..." He trailed off, unresponsive to the beckoning looks of his students. The three turned to look at each other, silently noting that the only information divulged had been his name. "Right then. Your turn." He gestured to Naruto.
"Alright! My name is Uzumaki Naruto!" he declared, grasping the forehead protector.
Hinata listened as her teammates introduced themselves. She found herself blushing when Naruto declared he'd be Hokage and worried when Sasuke explained his desire to kill someone. Throughout it at all, she contemplated how her own introduction should go.
"And last, the girl." Kakashi motioned to her.
"Eh? Me?" she squeaked, caught off-guard.
"You," Kakashi reiterated.
"W-well..." she shifted nervously. "I'm Hyuuga Hinata. What I like is..." Say "a certain somebody," she urged herself. Just say it. No one will figure out who it is. "What I like is p-pressing flowers and eating cinnamon rolls. I dislike..." How my father treats me. It's the truth. Say it. "... crabs and shrimp." Wow. "My dreams for the future are," she breathed deep, "are to become kind, like my mother, and strong, like my father." She smiled inwardly at her small display of bravery.
Not what I expected, Kakashi admitted to himself. "Right, then. That's it for the introductions. Tomorrow, we'll start our duties as shinobi."
"Yeah! What kind of duties?" Naruto asked, saluting excitedly.
"First, we're going to do something, just the four of us."
"What is it?"
"Survival training," said Kakashi flatly.
I think that's a good place to stop. A bit shorter than I thought, though. Ah well.
So, this is my first try at an alternate universe/timeline story. Some things are gonna be pretty out there, some things closer to home. I'll do my best to gloss over the parts that you've already seen in the series so that you aren't bored to death.
As always, tell me whatcha think and I'll keep on writing!