Naruto frowned down at his test. This was the graduation exam, and no matter how much he studied—and though he refused to admit it, Sasuke actually tried to help a lot—he still couldn't remember the written work.

His taijutsu was better than passable; with Zoro's training, he was in fourth place, only behind Kiba (who had claws and fangs and Akamaru on his side), Hinata (who had some sort of weird style where her eyes went all funny and she barely had to tap people), and Sasuke (who was always the best. Obviously. D*** it).

Unfortunately, while his henge was fine—better than fine if Oiroke was anything to go by—his Bunshin was—

Terrible, Sasuke thought, putting his head down on his crossed arms to avoid watching his—grudgingly admitted—best friend friend's face fall as he was told that he'd failed the test.

H***, who made the Bunshin so important anyway? It was almost useless in actual combat, and it was clear that the dobe—whether he deserved that title anymore or not—was failing because he had a near-ridiculous amount of chakra that he had to control.

Several hours later, Sasuke was angrily walking off to the clearing with the octopus tree. Alone.

When Naruto was angry… when Naruto was angry, he lashed out. He'd given Sasuke a glare that felt like it could melt kunai it was so angry, and spoke in a tone that was actually low, maybe even on this side of snide.

Sasuke couldn't really blame him, per se, but it still stung a little, to see Naruto lash out at him like that because of his own inability to perform Bunshin costing him a hitai-ate.

He walked into the meadow, glanced around, and realized that he was alone. He slammed a fist into a tree, and watched in a kind of horrified, disturbed, and suspiciously emotionless fascination as a single drop of blood oozed from one of his now-scraped knuckles.

He would probably get in trouble—in more ways than one, if he had both his Jounin-sensei and his fangirls to worry about—if he actually injured himself too much. A single scrape could be brushed away as an accident, but if he punched the tree again…

He would bleed. It would make him feel better, strange and revulsive as it was.

He would call himself insane. Hurting himself to feel better wasn't normal, and he would know that.

He would be pestered about it by teachers and fans. It would be, to borrow a word from the Nara in his class, troublesome.

…He punched the tree again.

Again, he looked at his knuckles, looked at where the skin had gotten scraped off, looked at where the blood had started to run just the slightest bit more freely, looked at where he could literally see his physical pain.

He wrapped his knuckles in protective bandages, and continued to punch the tree as if it was a normal day's training.

o.o.o.o.o

Zoro yawned as he 'woke' into the strange world that he spent his sleeping hours in. The first thing he noticed was Sasuke, alone, punching a tree repeatedly.

Over and over and over again, to the point where those bandages would likely soon be useless. There was a grimace on his face as he slammed his fist home again and again, and angry scowl at times and a disturbed sneer at others.

There was a sheen of metal on his forehead.

There was no Naruto in the vicinity.

Zoro may have been a bit dim as far as book smarts go, but he was far from stupid. And if the scene in front of him was any indication of what had occurred during the day, then he knew exactly what had happened.

o.o.o.o.o

Zoro frowned at the night sky, long after Sasuke had left, utterly spent of his frustration.

There were noises, people in the area, probably shinobi. This wasn't normal, wasn't right. He'd been sleeping in this world for so long, on and off and on again, and he knew the patterns of the night. This was not one of them.

He tensed as he heard people pass him by, urging himself to shrink, to become invisible. If a shinobi found him, there would be at least one other aiding them, and he doubted he would be able to catch all of them before more were alerted. Then it would just be one large, escalating fight until someone strong enough to take him down came out, or several people that could take him out if they only worked together well enough.

Just remember, he told himself, you can always fight off the first wave and then just wake up.

The plan was unneeded, and he waited for Sasuke and Naruto the next day.

o.o.o.o.o

The Kyuubi. The f***ing Kyuubi. Of all the things that could have happened to it, it got sealed into Naruto.

Sasuke ground his teeth, and his hand, unbeknownst to him, was ripping grass out from the ground at an alarming rate.

Naruto's face was unnaturally blank, and Zoro…

"So, that's it?"

…was unimpressed.

"Whaddaya mean, 'So that's it?'!" Naruto shouted, his mask breaking as he rounded on Zoro.

Zoro raised an eyebrow. "Remember the people on my crew? Remember their parentage, former jobs, current jobs, powers? Okay, you're a twelve-year-old brat with a demon in his gut. Get over it."

Sasuke didn't want to think this way, he really didn't, but that probably helped more than anything else could. Zoro was harsh, gruff, and even a little mean sometimes. But when it was important, that lack of tact was exactly what made him know the right thing to say to get someone up off the ground and back on their feet.

After all, he'd already helped Sasuke.

He no longer actively sought revenge, right?

(Though if the opportunity were to present itself…)

(No! Bad Sasuke!)

Well, at least Naruto seemed to be happier with that out of the way.

o.o.o.o.o

A/N: This story is… surprisingly popular. I'm not even all that sure why, but… okay.

By the way, the last line of chapter 3 was meant as a joke. I mean, the idea seems popular enough that I'll probably arrange a meeting at some point, but I never actually planned for Gai and Zoro to meet.

Ja ne,

Phoenix.