“Kiotsuke,” Hyuga called from
behind and he successfully brought an end to the idle chatter. “Onegaishimasu,” the long haired boy’s
voice, dull as everyone else’s, remained on the same pitch after the third syllable. Naruto winced. How...robot-ish...he
thought. Occasionally, he would try something to make the traditional greetings more interesting, but few agreed with his
ideas of ‘proper.’ Iruka was particularly strict when it came to manners, much to Naruto’s regret. He looked
to the side, wondered how Asuma would react to foolishness, and tried to hold his breath. Laughing isn’t a good idea
here...he stifled the chortle growing in his throat and hastily returned to his book.
When he looked up again, Asuma was drawing on
the board again, labeling a messy circle with things like π/3 and whatnot alongside simple
problems. Bored, he turned away, only to catch Sasuke staring at him. Guh. Sasuke...looking at me...If I don’t do
something soon, he’ll think I’m nervous. Naruto fiddled with his pencil, and stared at the board intently.
He copied down the homework for the evening, glanced back at the problem, and punched a few things in his calculator. Then
he looked back at Sasuke. He’s not paying attention...good. He glanced at Shikamaru, sound asleep to his right.
Maybe I’ll take a nap. He yawned, put his head down and closed his eyes.
Red. It was a harsh color, a deep crimson
darkened with secrets untold. A turning wheel in the center separated to three pinpoints, and the red pulled together to form
an eye. Red on white.
Naruto shuddered, and pursed his lips. What
was Sasuke doing with that creep, anyway?
“Nara...Uzumaki. Wake up. I’m talking to you two as
well.” Asuma interrupted, and motioned with his hand, cross as ever, towards the wall. “Stand up if you can’t
keep your eyes open. We’re having class here, and I’m assigning partners.” Shikamaru opened one sleepy eye,
looked at Naruto, and the two of them shrugged.
“...this is way too much energy for math
class...” Shikamaru mumbled, pushed his chair out, stretched, and moved to lean against the wall. “Keh.”
He glared at the floor moodily, and Naruto snickered.
“You aren’t getting up, idiot?”
Sasuke asked quietly, a smirk complimenting his laughing eyes. In response, Naruto stuck his tongue out and stubbornly sat
up straighter. A quiet chuckle. Naruto’s eyes twitched.
Asuma looked from one student to the next, sighed,
and looked back to his paper on the podium. He picked it up, and paced in front of the blackboard as the students fidgeted
in front of him. “So, first group, I want Yamanaka Ino, Nara Shikamaru, and Akimichi Chouji, second group…”
he continued to name the rest of the third years as he walked the length of the platform. Naruto glanced at Sakura, and hoped.
I think I’d stay awake if Sakura-chan was in my group...he daydreamed and imagined the pink haired girl sternly
lecturing him over the boring unit circle. In another daydream, she complimented him on an equally worthless seventy-percent
test-score. Maybe she’d come to tutor him on the weekend, or work on homework together after school. He sighed happily,
and buried his head in his arms. Sakura-chan...yep. I’d stay awake then. Visions of her smile, of her laughing
with him during lunch filled his head. Blissful, Naruto blocked out all other sounds of the classroom.
There was a slight thump at the head of the classroom.
Footsteps echoed vaguely in Naruto’s head. “Uzumaki.” Maybe I can give her some flowers. Wonder if- she
likes cherry blossoms? “Uzumaki Naruto.” Nah. Maybe roses would be better. “UZUMAKI!!”
Naruto opened his eyes slightly. Asuma fumed before him. “Uh...ano...Asuma-sen...sei...” he trailed off.
The class snickered, and stage whispers filled
the air. “That guy’s always in trouble,” or, “Glad I’m not him!” drifted back to Naruto.
“You’re with Haruno Sakura, and—”
Naruto’s eyes widened, and a wide grin spread across his face. He giggled quietly, and closed his eyes. In front of
him, Sakura’s shoulders slumped, and a low moan could be heard across the room. Naruto didn’t notice. Lucky
after all...now, anybody else is fine, just not—“Uchiha Sasuke.” Naruto’s jaw dropped open. Wh...wha?
He clenched his fists, and imagined punching Sasuke across the room, but Sakura’s elated scream brought Naruto back
to the real world. I hate my luck.
Naruto stole a glance at Sasuke, but the other
boy remained as still as ever, with his eyes partially covered by his falling hair, and mouth obscured by his hands. Typical
Uchiha behavior. Naruto’s eyes narrowed. “I am not working with him!! It’s stupid, he’s stupid,
and I. Won’t. Do. It.” Asuma turned away, and started to return to the front
of the class, as if he’d expected some such reaction from the blond haired boy. “Asuma sensei!!!”
the remainder of the class snickered quietly. “I can’t believe this,” Naruto moaned.
He looked up at their teacher, waited for instructions,
and looked bored. “Starting tomorrow morning, I’d like you all to sit in the order I called groups by. You’re
to check the podium if you forget, and for now, rearrange yourselves so you can work together. Then start on the sixth problem.”
The sounds of rearranged furniture and partners wandering filled the air. Naruto sighed, dragged his chair and notebook over
to Sasuke’s desk, and hoped that that this sharing session wouldn’t end in pain.
“Hello stupid Sasuke.” He greeted,
and fiddled with his pencil. “Don’t get in my way.” He met Sasuke’s gaze, and his blue eyes narrowed.
Sasuke put his hands on the desk, and tapped
the book with his pencil. “Stole the words from my mouth,” he noted coolly. They glared. Not a moment had passed,
and the air between them was heavy with unspoken irritation.
“Gu...good morning, Sasuke,” a quiet
voice interrupted. Naruto’s eyes flickered to his side, and he smiled easily when he noted the pink haired Sakura. Her
charming, cute smile twitched when she noted Naruto, and her expression tightened. “Naruto,”
“G’morning!” Naruto chirped,
and his smile widened as his eyes closed with pleasure. She noticed me! The more he thought about it, even being paired
with evil Sasuke wasn’t bad, compared to being paired with Sakura-chan. “H-hey, don’t ya think that
this is kinda fun? Getting to work with someone else in class, I mean, I’m so bad at Math it’s a nice relief...”
he babbled, a happy, na´ve expression overcoming his aggravation with the Uchiha. He opened his eyes to catch a glimpse of
Sakura had focused her attention completely on
Sasuke, and apparently hadn’t heard a word Naruto uttered. “—and the homework—”
“Sakura-chan?” Naruto began, a pleading
expression dominating his face, sans eyes.
The pink haired girl was seriously annoyed now,
and the false smile dropped completely when she turned to regard the blond boy. “What, Naruto?” she snapped,
and to Naruto her lovely green eyes might as well have been white.
Naruto chuckled nervously, and glanced at the
clock. Crap. Most of the class period left...wait. Is that bad? “You’re really, really cute, ya know,”
more of that dry laughter, “And I was thinking,”
“NO~!” Sakura screamed. The remainder
of the class shifted their eyes from notebooks to the group farthest back. Many exchanged glances, and smirked at Naruto.
Everyone seemed to guess the same thing; Naruto was flirting with Sakura.
Naruto’s smile twitched, and threatened
to collapse. “No? But I didn’t—” he protested weakly, as if he implored she be gentle.
“I’m not going out with you. Now
or ever!” Sakura hissed, and furiously tapped her notebook. “We’re working on math.” With that,
and a small, insufferable smile from Sasuke, she turned away.
Naruto stared, disappointed. For the next few
minutes, he watched Sakura explain the math to slow Sasuke, and daydreamed. What’d it be like if I were him...?
He wondered, and imagined himself as the object of everyone’s attention. I sure as hell wouldn’t be so prissy,
he decided, and grinned. “Ya know,” he interrupted, and pointed at Sakura’s paper. “That one’s
negative.” Sakura looked vaguely surprised, and a tinge of pink touched her cheeks. She glared at Naruto. “And
I could use some help, too, Sakura.” Once again, her eyes narrowed. “But you can help Sasuke now, ‘since
he’s in your class and all, and can get help any ol’ time, but can you help
me during lunch? I mean, we’re teammates! We should eat lunch together. It’ll be—”
“I SAID NO!” this time her cry didn’t
quite surprise their classmates, but it sure as hell hurt Naruto’s ears. He touched them gingerly, and opened his eyes
a bit. They’d shut automatically at the assault on his senses, and he wasn’t certain it was safe to open them.
Screw it. Naruto grumbled, and turned away from his group. She’ll be a lot happier to hear from me if Sasuke weren’t
around. It’s just...I mean, she has a reputation or...screw it. His thoughts just annoyed him more, so Naruto tried
to stop thinking. Like most times he tried to do this, it didn’t work. Thoughts are kinda...automatic.
“Fine.” Naruto grumbled. “I’m
not helping you,” he warned, and turned away as he glared into the distance. Neither Sakura nor Sasuke responded. Naruto’s
angry expression caved into a small frown, and he stifled a sigh. Who gives a care? Stupid...teenagers...
“Uzumaki!! Get back to work!!” Asuma
called, loud enough to startle Naruto out of his thoughts. “None of your monkeyshines,” he warned. Naruto winced.
Hm, and turned around. He glanced at the math book, watched as Sakura explained more problems, and let his thoughts
The remainder of the class period passed in relative
peace with only mild comments from Naruto, and quiet responses from his favorite pink haired classmate. Sasuke ignored him
altogether, and acted as if neither Naruto nor his comments were of any consequence.
Finally, the bell rang, and Neji called, “Kiritsu,”
the class stood, and as they bowed, said, “Arigatou gozaimashita.” Naruto grabbed his notebook, and flew
out the door at a trot to catch up to the teacher.
“Y’know, sensei, partnerships
work better than groups,” he called, but Asuma, like everyone else, didn’t hear him.
Naruto stopped, mouth set in a fine line. His
eyes closed momentarily, and he swallowed once. His hands clenched into small fists, and slowly, he began to turn back.
“Oi,” a voice called. “Naruto.”
Shikamaru, rarely one to talk at all, raised his voice to carry the length of the hallway. Naruto’s expression was muddled
with confusion, surprise, and a little bit of...something...showing clearly towards the dark haired boy. Shikamaru stuffed
his hands in his pant pockets, barely obscured by the untucked shirt. It occurred to Naruto that his friend’s shirt
was unbuttoned, and left partially open at the top. His lips twitched. Maybe Shikamaru was too lazy to button them all, or
maybe, he mused, he cares about appearances after all.
“What?” Naruto grumbled, but his
smile had already returned.
Shikamaru’s scowl was enough of an answer,
but the other boy seemed inclined to speak. “Hey, you wanna eat lunch?” The understood “together”
rang clearly between them, and Naruto’s smile widened into a grin. He nodded without a trace of hesitation, and Shikamaru’s
mouth lifted slightly. It was not quite a smile, but definitely not a smirk. That, Naruto decided, is close
enough. They exchanged glances briefly, and parted ways.
The next three classes were blurs in Naruto’s
mind, as they consisted of studies Naruto had neglected. He struggled to stay awake from the minute he sat down and sat up
straight in effort to fool his mind into believing it was not naptime.
The break for lunch began, and Naruto swiftly
pulled his obento from its hideaway. He slid the door open, stepped into the hall, and crossed to the fire escape closest
to his class. Shikamaru, predictably, lay on the cold metal as if he enjoyed it, and upon reflection, Naruto deemed it quite
nice in the heat. He sat down, wordlessly pulled out his chopsticks, and offered an umeboshi to his friend.
Shikamaru’s lips twitched, but he declined.
“I don’t need anything like that,” he grumbled, and his eyes remained on the sky. While Naruto ate his food,
Shikamaru stared at the clouds, and to Naruto, it seemed he’d found some peace. High above the rest of us...he
reflected. Shikamaru broke the comfortable silence after Naruto had finished. “Naruto,” he began, and the boy
ignored the urge to roll his eyes. Guh. I know my name already...he thought. “Sakura’s just a girl.”
Naruto snorted. “I meant,” he glared, “she’s young and stupid. Don’t pay attention to her, all
“Yeah, yeah...” Naruto almost laughed,
but his heart was too heavy. However, his eyes brightened. Shikamaru had given him advice on girls. Shikamaru.
“And Sasuke’s just a...” he
struggled for words. Intrigued, Naruto peered silently at his friend. “Prick.” Now Naruto did laugh. His friend
scowled, and added, “A fucked up prick.”
“Try tellin’ me something I don’t
know,” he grinned, but Shikamaru didn’t reply. Instead, they sat in silence, and watched the clouds drift in the
clear blue sky. Naruto sighed. Yep...there’s definitely something to clouds.
his feet. Bored. The foods that needed to be put out had been up for hours now; he’d swept the floor twice, and
even cleaned behind the counter. All that remained to be done was straightening. This basically meant that he needed to move
misplaced sandwiches to the right spot and make certain all the magazines were in place. If I get really bored,
I could wash the windows. Anything, but scavenging the store for misplaced items. Guh...I hate that part...too
at the basket to the left of his register, and sighed. Each of his homemade nigiri had been placed in the basket with utmost
care, but nobody noticed them. Who’d want something I made when they can have prepackaged, guaranteed-fresh salmon
or tuna-mayo? “Ch.” Naruto scoffed.
have no imagination and that kind of person has no right to eat my super-original, great-for-your-taste-buds,
Naruto-made nigiri. Naruto’s expression slid into a frown. “My poor nigiri...” he crooned, and scooped
all three rice balls into his arms. “If nobody else will eat you, pah on them! What kinda boring guy wouldn’t
want peanut-butter-tuna?” With a sigh, Naruto sank to floor, and his chin thunked quietly on the countertop.
Bored. He thought again. Bored, bored, bored...
Ten thirty at
night, and nothing to do. “Aaar...mph.” Naruto swallowed the vocal exercise—not
a scream of boredom—and stretched. He glanced at the windows critically. They probably don’t need cleaning,
he decided, yawned, and stifled another sigh. I wonder what would happen if...my teacher eats my test—or me—and
tells me to do it again? Or become undigested?
How would I
be undigested? Would I hafta be born again?
The door opened,
and Naruto glanced to his left. “Irashaimase,” he greeted halfheartedly, and smiled a little in that direction.
But as soon as his head turned, Naruto’s nose wrinkled and his hand flew to his mouth. Ug, that guy smells like cheap
beer...or really, really bad sake...the stench was so powerful Naruto’s eyes twitched. He wanted to close them,
but stiffly he bowed, and tried not to back away.
The man seemed
oblivious to Naruto’s turmoil. “Oh? Hey, wha’ yu wan’ pretty lady?” Naruto’s eyes twitched
closed, then open. The old man, I know he’s over fifty, was dressed in an old fashioned robe similar to those
his principal wore sometimes. White hair was long and easily reached the man’s waist. The red coat over gray hakuma
made for an interesting outfit—especially with the tall geta—one could say, but Naruto didn’t concentrate
on that. He was too busy trying to understand the old man’s comment.
he asked dumbly, mouth slightly open. “Are you talking to me?”
The geezer leered
at Naruto. “Oh, tha’s ri-h doll,” he stumbled to the left, and nodded towards the back of the store. “Wai
don’ we go tha’ way, an’ I’ll wa-it for you...” the old man spun around suddenly, and
his lecherous expression was aimed once again in Naruto’s direction. He seemed particularly interested in Naruto’s
chest, the boy was startled to find. “Don’ worra baybee,” the man smirked, “the’ll grow big
his polite expression fall. “You,” he pointed at the man, “guy, are in my shop.” The man stared
stupidly, still concentrating on Naruto’s underdeveloped chest. “And shut the hell up! I’m a dude,
not a girl, ya perv!” the gentleman laughed uproariously, and Naruto was surprised to find the man’s
laughter was as high and giddy as a kid’s.
funny.” He laughed again, and started towards the bathroom, with one hand on his over-robe. Naruto watched suspiciously
and remained of half a mind to throw the pervert out. Before he could do such a thing, however, the unthinkable began. Naruto’s
eye began to twitch.
horror, the hand slipped through a sleeve. The coat started dropping, and Naruto’s mouth fell with it. Wha the...hell...is
going on here? The man took a few steps towards the bathroom, and clothing was dropped along the wobbling path the old
man chose. “I’ma wai’n fo ya, swee...” the man slurred, and within minutes, the old man was lost behind
the bathroom door.
eyes couldn’t get any bigger.
Naruto was dazed, and finally he looked back at the clock.
his gaze returned to the clothes, and he looked from the floor to the bathroom. Slowly, Naruto picked up the phone, and started
dialing the number for home.
The phone picked
up, and Kakashi’s voice filled Naruto’s ears. “’lo. This is Hatake. I’m not in, as I’m
helping my son” Naruto beamed at the title. He was certain no one but Kakashi would call him that willingly, “get
groceries to the little old lady’s house—” Naruto’s face fell into an irritated scowl. Little old
lady? Uh-huh “—down the street, and her cat got stuck on a roof. I’ll get back to you
as soon as possible.” The machine beeped.
Great, Naruto thought, and left what had to be the strangest message of his life. “Hey. Um. I’m at work, and there’s
this guy who just walked in here...I think he’s drunk, and he, uh, started undressing and stuff and...” he trailed
off, and laughter bubbled in his voice, “er, he’s in the bathroom. What should I do? Call me when you get the
And that was
that for several minutes.
around the store and decided cleaning wasn’t so bad after all.
* * * * *
The pale moon shone dismally on the road before him, and Naruto dragged his feet forward. He
was intent on getting home before Kakashi got any more worried. After Naruto’s strange conversation with the
answering machine, Naruto was left alone for a few minutes. Soon after, his adopted-father returned the call, amusingly no
less confused than the barely-informed bystander he was. Naruto always assumed Kakashi knew everything there was to
know, so his confusion was a rare treat. However, as soon as the situation was clarified, Naruto was ordered to call the police,
bag the clothes, and avoid the Naked Man at all costs.
at the memory.
The police toted
the pervert out gently, as Naruto was disappointed to find out, and lectured the man—now in a drunken stupor—lengthily
on manners. He supposed the old geezer was escorted home, and hopefully fined heavily. Naruto kicked a lonely rock on the
path, and sighed into his shirt. Too much to hope for him being arrested, I guess...he sighed again, and looked up
at the deep purple sky.
A smile on his
lips, Naruto’s gaze fell to the empty road. And he wondered. His eyes roamed across the blackness, and he let the smile
fade a little. He allowed his eyes to droop with sleep. Slowly, his feet carried him to the center of the road, and like a
child, he wandered down the black—gray concrete, really—and stopped. A double line marked the lanes; one was for
traffic coming towards him, the other line for traffic going away. There were only two lines, and almost instinctively Naruto’s
hand went to his face to touch his cheek. Not two for me...three. Just three.
Other than those
three birthmarks, his face could be symmetrical—or almost, anyway—and Naruto was well aware
of that. Almost. But not quite...that’s me.
his thoughts, Naruto looked down the street, and walked forward with his eyes trained on the ground. He listened for cars
from either direction, and waited for something to happen. In the chill air, Naruto shivered. He tried to convince himself
it was from the cold.
Naruto shifted uneasily in his steps, and fought the urge to twitch. With a look forward and then behind, Naruto made
a diagonal to the sidewalk. No one would want to be in the middle of the road on such a night. He, a high school kid shivering
in the dark, stood. In the houses that loomed above him, only a few lights shone. So he was. Alone. Naruto was completely
by the thought, Naruto’s eyes widened, but soon his pupils shrunk to pinpricks. He looked forward desperately, and he
took a few hesitant steps down the sidewalk before his gaze was pulled to the one source of light—a lamp across the
street—and blinked. Underneath the hazy cloud of illumination stood a heavily silhouetted man.
and scanned the unmoving man’s face as he walked down the path. Naruto’s shoes clicked and scuffed loudly
to his own ears, but the man was silent to Naruto. Immobile even then, he was a mystery...like the night.
ground, and slowly the features pulled into definition. Naruto’s heart skipped. White, white skin...slender arms
and hair smooth and black; hair that was pulled back loosely. Narrow eyes, emotionless gaze, and gently frowning mouth—so
But no...not Sasuke. Naruto thought, and looked away, back towards the way he’d come. Hesitantly, he raised a hand
in greeting to the taller man, and turned his gaze back towards the lamp. When his eyes returned to the place the man had
been, Naruto’s heart skipped again.
The light shone
still on the gray concrete, but no one was there to create a shadow. Naruto stood again in the darkness on the empty street.