Amused laughter met the students’ ears.
“You will see these more than you’d like,” Asuma noted, and a few students groaned quietly. “The unit
circle will haunt you for the next year or two if you don’t learn it, and longer than that if you pursue science or
math related fields. So you’d better have this memorized by the test...” Asuma went on, and Naruto toned the teacher’s
words out as he buried his head in his hands.
thought. Head. Hurts. Absentmindedly, Naruto twirled his pencil and tapped his eraser on the desk. An image formed
in his mind, and Naruto pulled out his notebook. Opened it to a blank page, and started to doodle. In his picture, Asuma stood
at the front of the classroom; he was looking out at the students. Naruto enjoyed drawing as if he stood at the front—not
Asuma—and in his elation, Naruto’s peers were transformed into fanciful animals.
Hehehe...Shikamaru’s definitely a...er,
well. He tapped his eraser again. The idea soon came to him. A cat. A lazy, sleeping
cat. Once again, Naruto busily scratched on the paper. Heh. Now...what can I do for dear ol’ Sasuke...?
An image of Sasuke standing just outside a streetlight’s
glow filled Naruto’s head. The boy’s skin glowed faintly as features blended and blurred into a single shade of
white. Black eyes turned slowly red, and Naruto shuddered. Creepy, creepy...
“Uzumaki,” Asuma growled, and Naruto
blinked as his head fell and knocked against the desk. “When’s that manga of yours going to be published again?”
Naruto shook his head dully. “Wha?”
“Your manga. Didn’t you say you’d
have it published by, oh, next week?” the edge behind those words made Naruto stare sullenly at his pencil.
“Manga?” Naruto asked dully. “Yeah...by
next Thursday, actually.” He heard the students laugh quietly in front of him; his hands clenched into fists, and his
“So,” Asuma drawled, and started
down the row Naruto sat in. “On Monday, when I see you next, you’ll be wide awake and ready to go, right?”
More laughter from the students, and Asuma’s wry smile widened.
Bastard, Naruto grumbled silently, but pulled himself to a sitting position. “Yep,” he replied, and Asuma’s
eyes twitched. Not expecting that, were you? Ha!
“—good to go.” Naruto began.
Asuma’s smile failed, and he stopped to regard Naruto. “Next Monday.” Naruto continued and his smile mirrored
Asuma’s; it was edgy, probing, and indisputably mean.
Asuma frowned as Naruto met his gaze. He seemed
troubled, but not disturbed, and the teacher quickly found an opening to break contact. He peered at Naruto’s drawing.
“Nothing—” Naruto began, and
made to snap the notebook shut.
“Oh, really?” Asuma’s eyes
gleamed. He put one hand on Naruto’s notebook, and forced Naruto to meet his gaze. “So, you don’t mind me
looking at your math notes then, do you?”
“...” Naruto’s gaze fell with
Asuma opened the book, flipped through the doodles
and sketches, and stopped at the latest page. “More drawings for your manga, eh?” he smiled again, but gone was
the heartlessness. Now he was just...Asuma. A teacher, doing his job. He put one hand on the page, and absently glanced opposite
it to check for further notes, of which there were none. His hands paused, and as he looked at Naruto, Asuma neatly pulled
the sheets of drawings from the book. He turned away, and started towards the front.
“...next Monday.” Naruto echoed.
He looked back at the emptied book, and for a moment his hair covered his eyes. Hidden. His mouth tightened, not to frown,
not to cry, but his muscles twitched with effort. “...next Monday...” a thought now, an idea. Now his mouth
twitched upwards, and he lifted blue eyes to the front. He stretched slowly, and let his smirk return. “...but not today.” And with that, Naruto put his head back on the desk.
Completely silent now. Blue eyes closed, he daydreamed, and wondered what animal Sasuke would be. Or, more importantly, whaddabout me?
As he pondered these important ideas, Naruto
watched the sun in the window. Bright, yellow-orange, the golden disk was like a coin in the pale blue sky, obscured only
occasionally by white clouds. Don’t think anyone’s ever gotten it right...Naruto observed. It’s
not really a yellow flower, and it definitely isn’t a red dot. He looked back at the chalkboard, and then
to Sakura. Wonder what Sakura thinks...?
“All right class...Nara.
Uzumaki.” Both boys looked up at their names. “Get in your groups; the next ten minutes is for homework.”
He looked sternly from Shikamaru to Naruto. “And I expect you to work on Math, children.” Naruto rolled his eyes
as the rest of the class giggled.
“Oi, oi,” Naruto chided.
“I’m not always off task, ya know, teach.” In the commotion of group-making, however, students moved—like a heard of elephants to water—the desks together, and Naruto’s sullen
comment was left unheard. “Keh.”
Sasuke looked up at him, while Sakura chatted
amiably with her preferred classmate.
The three sat together grudgingly, but they managed
to put their grievances aside and pull out their notebooks. As they flipped to the assigned pages,
to the clock roamed Sasuke’s
Naruto’s lips twitched with apprehension,
but he focused his gaze on Sakura as she posed a question. He barely heard her words, but Sasuke apparently did. So we’re
good. And I can just sit back and—
“Even an idiot like you should understand
this one, eh, Naruto?” Ino had turned about in her chair, a delighted smirk on her face. Everyone in the class had noticed
the tension between the blonde haired boy and Sasuke, and several of the latter’s would-be-lovers had used this unspoken
rivalry to her advantage. Already.
“...so that means you’re done with
it, right?” Shikamaru lazily grumbled as he jabbed a pencil at Ino’s arm. “So let’s go. The sooner
we’re done with this, the sooner I get back to sleep.”
“Well, give me a sec, Shikamaru. A girl
needs her time—”
Shikamaru’s head dropped momentarily into
his notebook. “So quit bugging them, idiot, and get back to work.”
Ino didn’t seem to have much to say to
Someone else, however, did. “Well said!”
a courageous voice boomed through the classroom. Both groups turned to observe the shimmering eyes of one Rock Lee. The tall,
lanky boy had removed himself from his assigned group. “I, for one, have worked studiously on these beautiful, difficult
problems, and have completed the next three days of assignments!” the bowl-haired boy seemed to glow with pleasure.
Sakura sank into her seat with an expression of distaste.
A quiet “suck up,” was heard
from Sakura as she tried to keep from scowling too terribly. He’s so much worse than Sasuke it’s not
even funny...that hair...those eyes...what is he, Chinese? Ha! Sakura thought.
Sasuke scoffed, none-too-quietly. Only his eyes
were visible as he studied the textbook; his head rested on steepled hands. “Doing the work doesn’t mean you understand
it,” he noted, and the two girls around him swooned with loud exclamations of undying-love. Sasuke’s icy gaze
Lee’s smile faded, and a light disappeared
from bright eyes. “You believe I don’t understand,” he noted coolly. Clenched into fists, previously
lax hands moved tautly to his sides. “I should like to know why...when I study more than all, work harder than any of
From book to the challenging gaze, cool eyes
strayed. “I know,” the Uchiha began, still quietly, “you,” he was quite direct in his assault,
“don’t understand,” a pause as eyes flickered from eyes to text, “because of...” Lee’s
hands, warm and taut, shook, “your eyes.”
“I, Rock Lee,” the boy began, and
his voice grew with each word. Unperturbed, Sasuke met his gaze and held it. Across the room, Asuma glanced at the blooming
furor. “may be no genius,” his mouth spat the word, and Naruto flinched
at the rebuke, not for me, he thought, “such as you,” another wound,
for a moment,
then flickered Naruto’s
“but I will show you. I can beat your birthright”
now Sasuke’s eyes flickered with anger, with morose pain. “with determination.” Lee crowed. “In the
classroom, or outside of it—”
Without looking up, Sasuke’s shoulders
rose as his legs uncurled, followed soon by long, graceful arms.
White, white hands fell to the desk, and
Lee’s defiant words fell off numbed lips. He didn’t look up, and his shoulders rose as his legs uncurled, followed
soon by long, graceful arms. Like a marionette, his head lifted last, and even then his eyes were unfocused, cold and definately...
“Are you,” always direct—Naruto
thought, “challenging me?” the quiet voice held an edge not even Asuma possessed.
Lee pulled himself up to full length. “For
the attention of a lovely young woman,” his eyes briefly flickered to Sakura, “I would do most anything!”
for an instant, his determination was heightened by the “fire of youth’s love,” Naruto mused, and
Lee’s tiny eyes gleamed with such an inner flame. Naruto would have hooted, if not for the glowering Uchiha. “I
will protect you from this foul beast for the rest of my life, dearest Sakura-san,” now Naruto’s eyes narrowed,
“and save you from his heartlessness, sweetest chipmunk!”
Sasuke’s eyes flickered. Narrowed.
Sakura jumped up in an instant, and her hand
moved swiftly through the charged air. Crack! The sound of a palm on cheek echoed across the room, and almost unanimously
black haired students cringed into books.
Sakura, Naruto noted with glee, was livid. His
eyes jumped to Lee’s slightly slumped form. Lee, Naruto soon saw with irritation, was ecstatic—if dazed from the
Naruto made a face.
Eyes...flick. Sasuke stared dumbly at
the madly-giggling third-year boy. He sat down in one fluid motion, and the air of power faded. On the edge of his
seat, Naruto glanced at Asuma, and waited for his reaction. Like Sasuke, he seemed taken aback for an instant.
And then, “Phf.” The teacher’s
remarkable clamor of laughter roared from one end of the room to the other. The windows shook with it, and students turned
amazed eyes to the normally stoic math teacher. This continued for several moments.
“Ah, Sasuke,” the teacher finally
began, and Sasuke’s glazed eyes met a sparkling gaze. “You might want to watch out,” he chuckled a moment,
and glanced with interest to a furiously blushing Sakura, “for young flowers,” Sasuke’s dumb stare continued,
“And determined saplings.” More chuckles. “Your trio is hereby dismissed. I want Sakura paired with Tenten,”
he went on to further distribute groups, and Naruto hoped briefly to be paired with his friend. “—Ino with Shikamaru,”
Naruto scowled at the smiling teacher, and grumbled. “And Sasuke with Naruto.”
“What?” Naruto screeched. Heads turned, and giggles emerged again.
“You heard me,” Asuma drawled, and
Naruto’s mouth found itself pursed against complaints. “Protect Uchiha from your classmates.”
flew the thought—eyes. “Uzumaki,” Sasuke repeated dryly, and a smirk tugged at his lips. Naruto’s
pout deepened, and his eyes narrowed to tiny, thin indents.
Asuma nodded. “Now, back to work, students.
This isn’t free time, much as it may seem,” the tall man chortled.
Returned to the text, Sasuke’s eyes narrowed
“I’m stuck with you, of all
people...” Naruto’s complaints fell on deaf ears as Sasuke continued to stare at the problem. “So what the
hell is the deal with this problem, anyway?” Sasuke declined comment as Naruto fiddled with a pencil. Crud. No more
talking to Sakura...Naruto’s head slid onto the desk with a quiet thump.
A slight pause, and eyes fl...
The pencil on paper scratched mechanically as
Sasuke wrote an answer, and then a pause. A slight scuffle, and the sounds of erasing filled Naruto’s ears. More writing.
Naruto sighed with exasperation, and lifted up his eyes.
The bell chimed its cheerful tune, and at Hyuga’s
dull, “Kiotsuke,” the students rose from their seats, Naruto among them. “Rei,” they
bowed as one, and murmed, as one, “Arigatogozaimasu,” and then they shoved their desks back into rows as
Asuma made his escape. Naruto shoved his notebook and pencil to his side, and turned away from Sasuke. The black haired boy
Naruto’s head turned, and he caught Sakura’s
eye with windmilling arms. “Sakura,” he called, voice atwitter with amusement. “You’ve got
some arm, ya know that?” Sakura blushed, and made her way towards the door. “An’ ya know what? I like
that. I won’t ever have to worry about you, will I?” Quick footsteps, stifled giggles from friends, “so,
whaddaya say? Why don’t we eat lunch together, ‘kay?”
Sakura’s face flamed as pink as her namesake,
and Naruto beamed at the array of color. “You’re worse than Lee,” Sakura hissed, and for a moment, Naruto
was stalled. He blinked in confusion, and Sakura’s pink face flamed red. “No! I don’t want anything
to do with you!” her voice so quiet, it was hoarse with the tension.
Tension between us, too. Naruto’s thoughts fell back, as always, to the enigmatic, infuriating boy called Uchiha.
“...okay, maybe today’s not a good day,” Naruto murmured, and Sakura bustled out of the classroom. Naruto’s
eyes—bleak and hurting—followed. Slowly, Naruto gathered his thoughts, and he shakily placed one foot forward.
once black, trailed his back.
Bleak and foreboding
* * * * **
The bell chimed ominously in Naruto’s ears
as he ran down the hall. Ten minutes seemed as a moment, and there he was, late to the class taught by Iruka, of all people.
Naruto certainly didn’t want to be in trouble with the teacher again, so he practically flew from one end of
the school to the next. As soon as Naruto reached the classroom, however, the door closed in his face, despite nonverbal protests.
Iruka walked, damn quick, Naruto noted, and his so-called comrades shut the door—in my face?! What’s
up with that?? With one toe, Naruto tried to slide the door over, but something was caught on the tracks. He pursed his
lips, and hoped it was just someone’s forgotten shoulder bag. I don’t need this, he whined silently, and
he silently looked daggers at his classmate. Oh-so-innocent, these friendly foes of mine...Behind him, Naruto
heard Iruka sigh. Naruto knew what the teacher was thinking.
He almost kicked the door. His eyebrows knit
in irritation, and his aggravation turned swiftly to out-right anger. Iruka passed him in the hallway; the man headed for
the teacher’s entrance on the opposite end. He didn’t comment on the door being stuck even when Naruto turned
a pleading look in the teacher’s direction. Why? Naruto groaned aloud, and dropped his books. Yosh! He
thought, and pulled at the sliding door with as much force as he could muster—
—only to collide, headfirst with the nearest
finished lamely, and ni-no-gokumi bowed in unison. Naruto could have sworn he heard snickers mixed among the traditional
reply, and just barely managed to mumble along with the others, “Onegaishimasu…” as he ducked back
out the door to grab his books while Iruka rustled papers. Thanks, teach...Naruto thought, he’s gotta be ready
to go already. He smiled to himself, and moved quietly to his seat. So he’s waiting for me, Naruto sat down,
and pulled a pencil out of his uniform pocket.
As Naruto dug through his papers, a quiet voice
floated to the front of the class. “—said they knew...” —papers crunched and slid loudly as
rough hands grappled with them— “of ‘is hair! I mean what kinda...” the voices faded under the noise
Naruto consciously made, “Salary...?” the words were lost again “Yeah...!” and again. Their smothered
chuckles couldn’t be ignored. Naruto’s eyes focused on the board ahead, and he smiled as widely as he dared.
“My parents are so right...”
Iruka cleared his throat, and smiled down at
the class from his podium. Deaf? Or dead to their words? “So, ah, now that we’re all ready to go...”
his eyes closed as his smile grew, and the students felt they knew his plans. All the jokes were forgotten. He’s
going to tell us something we don’t wanna hear...Naruto’s head fell, and bumped heavily on the desk. “Today
we’re going to be taking some notes,” the students groaned, but Iruka ignored their complaints, “...and
we’re going to be discussing the critical essay by Betsuyaku, The Sloth Complex,”
Naruto suddenly felt rather sloth-like himself.
How about we go to sleep...? he suggested—safe in the depths of his mind. Iruka, naturally, ignored the silent
comment—I wonder if that really counts as ignoring, per se—and turned his back on the fussing students.
Naruto sighed, and flipped his book open to page fourteen as he stared blankly at the steadily fattening pad for notes. A~rgmmmfghr.
Iruka had already moved to the chalkboard by the time Naruto paid attention again, and the cheerful teacher opened his
painstakingly marked book to the proper page. The chalk was poised elegantly in his slender hand. Naruto sighed, and wished.
Why can’t teachers not be so...eager...to copy entire
chapters of books...? He fumed silently. And not mark up every other line with complex explanations?
So, for the next five minutes, the students copied
the words diligently in multi-colored pens while Naruto highlighted his text and scribbled notes in the margin. While the
others wrote hastily, Naruto observed his fellow students. The studious—Yamanaka, and Hinata—wrote neatly,
and the lazy—Kiba, me—underlined the text. Everyone watched Iruka. Naruto smiled, and let his eyes roam
over their tensed faces.
Iruka turned to address the class, and lectured
for a few minutes while Naruto lazily penned key words in his notebook—and hoped...to understand this later...Iruka
turned around again, moved down the chalkboard and continued the analysis. This
time around, students seemed less explicit in their notes, and Naruto soon found he wasn’t the only one watching peers.
He smirked as a brave soul met his gaze, and stuck his tongue out at the smirking Kiba. Said dog-man rolled his eyes, and
His gaze wandered towards the back while Iruka
scribbled furiously at the front. Chouji, he noted with amusement, seemed to find the time for notes convenient. As Iruka
faced the board—away from the ever attentive students—Chouji would stuff his face with one or two spoonfuls
of...something...and then he hastily scribbled to keep up with the rest of the class.
Naruto, amused, kept his gaze on the unusually
big student. As soon as Iruka turned around, out went the spoon, and turn went Naruto. He grinned sheepishly
up at the frowning teacher. Iruka, Naruto noted, didn’t seem to notice the smell of...hmm. Yogurt?
Iruka turned back to the board, and away from
Chouji didn’t seem to notice, and the round
boy continued to hastily write kanji pronunciations, definitions, and who-knew what else. Naruto sighed, disappointed. Iruka
turned about, and Naruto glanced up at the board again. His hand twitched. Hmm...can’t decide which I like better...Iruka
writing, and me watching, or Iruka talking and glowering at me. Naruto chewed on his pencil. Maybe the question’s
which I like worse.
When’s this gonna end...? Naruto whined silently. Naruto turned around to watch his peers, but Chouji was still writing. Behind
the blond boy—or in front of me? –Iruka coughed, but Naruto remained as he was with a startled laugh. Chouji
gripped the pencil with one hand, and with the other, he clutched the spoon still half swallowed by an enormous mouth. Chouji
sucked soundlessly on the yogurt.
Iruka coughed meaningfully, and Chouji’s
The spoon dropped.
Naruto cackled, and Chouji blushed—red
as umeboshi—and Naruto’s rich voice echoed from wall to wall as other students eyed Naruto grimly.
A few of them probably assumed Naruto was responsible for Chouji’s misfortune.
Iruka frowned. “Naruto,” he warned.
Naruto rolled his eyes, and waited for lunch.
The remainder of the period passed without amusing
distractions, and Iruka did a remarkable job at watching students with teacher-eyes. Naruto, annoyed, actually started taking
notes, and nearly did fall asleep during the discussion. Iruka lectured him again.
The bell rang, and this time the tones seemed
almost cheerful. Naruto rustled his bag hopefully, and gave his best smile to the flustered teacher. Iruka’s eyes strayed
to Naruto for a moment, but the dark haired man simply held the boy’s gaze firmly. Naruto looked away first....he’s
still mad at me...Naruto fidgeted uncomfortably in the relative silence.
“In the phrase...” Yamanaka-pig—wonder
where that came from? –began, and half the class groaned. Iruka listened patiently to the girl’s opinion,
and thoughtfully formulated a reply that no one—pro’lly not even Ino—understood. Or cares
Naruto’s stomach growled.
Startled, Iruka laughed quietly and his smile
returned as he gazed fondly—or so he thinks...nottin’ butta gushy...sentimental...teacher...a
slew of other adjectives flew into Naruto’s head—at the class. Yamanaka graciously flew through the ceremonial
Restlessly, the students clamored from their
seats to cluster around friends, and Naruto headed for the door with his obento in hand. For once, he’d packed
extra nigiri, and he whole-heartedly planned on sharing the ingenious experiment with Sakura. As he whistled quietly,
Naruto walked with a spring to his step as he tried to keep from skipping up one hallway, two classrooms and a stairwell.
When he reached his destination, the door opened
noisily, and Naruto grinned at the students who turned to face him. “Sa~kura-chan!” he chirped. “You
wanna eat lunch with me?” every day since Asuma had split the trio up, he asked her this, and every day without fail,
the lovely pink-haired girl refused. Sometimes, however, she did it nicely.
Naruto’s foxish grin widened hopefully.
Sakura threw a grape at Naruto’s head.
Naruto’s expression faltered for an instant.
“...you busy?” He asked cautiously, only to be shoved aside from behind.
“Even forehead-girl doesn’t want
to be seen with you, Naruto,” Ino noted loftily.
Naruto scowled, and ran a hand through his hair.
I hope I don’t have grape guts all over me...“Yeah, well, whada you know?” he snapped back.
A few students snickered, and Naruto felt all the more like a child.
The lighter skinned girl—once again, Naruto
thought of a few different ways to describe her—had probably come to visit Sasuke. He was another student
in Sakura’s class, after all.
Ino’s presence, however, was hailed with
sweet greetings, not grapes. Ino’s family had lived in Konoha for years. Ino’s grandparents, students said, were
missionaries after the war. They’d fallen in love with Japan
and her culture, so they’d decided against returning to their home country. Delighted by her foreign missionaries, Konoha
embraced the Yamanaka family when the family took pains to change even their legal name. So Ino’s golden locks were
seen as “gorgeous,” while Naruto’s unruly spikes remained laughable to anyone—everyone.
Naruto knew this. But I don’t have to
like it. Part of it had to do with their histories; Ino’s family had long traditions of Art and Culture to
lean upon—Ino’s bilingual parents loved the old script more than any other, and so Ino grew up with tales Naruto’d
never heard of. That and they were social butterflies—all missionaries love to talk...they still try to convince
people to screw Buddha and love Jesus. And the Japanese loved the family for it.
Naruto was an orphan. Many of his peers’
families had fostered him as a child—or had known someone who did—and anyone could attest to his poor reading
ability or lack of common knowledge.
Naruto stifled a sigh.
He slowly turned away and started towards homeroom.
“Yo,” a voice called from the doorway. Naruto turned slowly, confused. A smile split his tanned face, and Naruto’s
mood brightened when he recognized Shikamaru’s topknot. “You wanna eat lunch with me ‘n Chouji?”
Naruto’s smile faltered. Chouji...“Um,”
Shikamaru looked at Naruto sideways. Naruto fidgeted,
and thought about yogurt.
“Well, ye~s...” Naruto listened to
the elongated vowel for a second before he let himself trail off.
Shikamaru rolled his eyes. “But?”
“...Sakura-chan might wanna...”
Shikamaru sighed. “You really ought to
just leave her alone, Naruto. Hopeless love affairs—” Naruto snorted at his friend’s choice in words, “—rarely
Naruto stuck his tongue out, and turned away.
What kinda friend says stuff like that?
Shikamaru sighed. “You,” he called,
“Me?” Naruto squeaked, startled and
a bit hurt.
“Yes,” Shikamaru sounded exasperated,
“you.” Naruto stared dumbly, and practically felt Shikamaru’s irritation. “You’re a brat.”
Naruto’s eyes narrowed, but he still faced away from the other boy. Shikamaru rarely stooped to blatant name-calling
and so Naruto didn’t want to see the other boy’s face. “And
you don’t realize that people aren’t going to change.”
Naruto puffed his chest up, and prepared to lecture
his well-meaning friend. “So you’re saying it’s my fate to—”
“No,” Shikamaru cut in, ruthless.
“I’m saying that people won’t change their nature.” Naruto turned around again, baffled. What’re
you saying Shikamaru?
“People hate, Naruto.” Shikamaru
nodded pointedly. “And they’re consumed by their hatred.” Naruto looked at Shikamaru sideways; he was a
mirror image of the Shikamaru from moments before. “If they hate something, they’re not going to fall in love
with it just ‘cause you want them to. They’ll never fall in love with anyone that they don’t
already consider perfect.”
Naruto’s expression remained as static
as before. “Wha...?” Shikamaru glowered at the floundering boy. “I don’t get it,” Naruto complained.
Shikamaru frowned, irritated. Likely, he was
hurt by Naruto’s inclination to eat alone, Naruto figured. So, the conversation they held was partially to get back
at Naruto. “If you don’t understand that,” Shikamaru turned away pointedly, and again their roles
were reversed. “You’ll never understand love.”
And with that, Naruto was left in the hallway
as he clutched at the obento. And he stood, alone, as Shikamaru returned minutes later with Chouji in tow. Neither
said a word as they passed him.
Naruto shut his eyes.
School had been over for several hours before
Naruto forgot his discomfort. Something about this customer, a middle-aged woman, and her polite conversation brought Naruto
back to his normal state of being. While he talked to her, his shoulders sagged with relief. The conversation ended soon,
despite Naruto’s attempts to prolong it.
“—and thank you very much for your
purchase. I hope you’ll come again.” Naruto flashed a small smile. The door chimed, and Naruto heard someone walk
through the doors, but paid no mind. “Irashai,” he called absently, but he was more concerned with the
woman before him. He looked briefly behind the quietly waiting customer. No one
stood there, and so he turned his simply-pleasant expression back to the woman. She nodded without noise as she took her bags
and smoothly turned away. With one hand to prop up his head, Naruto watched the isles for a few moments longer. For eight
thirty at night, 7-11 was dead. Usually, Naruto mused, we have wives who forgot to make their husbands’ dinners...or
mothers who want to congratulate sons on studying. Naruto drummed his fingers on the counter, and glared at the clock.
He sighed, and vaguely wondered about Kakashi
as he picked up his bottle of green tea. That lazy man always says he’ll be home by now...Naruto’s
eyes flickered to the clock again, and he took a sip of the luke-warm liquid. I can’t even remember the last
time he got home before ten. The thought spurned another, and Naruto considered his guardian. At least once a night Kakashi
tried to make a phone call to his adopted son, especially after the Naked Man incident. Naruto quietly rolled his eyes. Annoying
old pervert, slid through his head before he realized the white-haired, red-vested man had once again interrupted his
thoughts. Ah, man...at least he’s not really here, he scowled at the innocent nigiri on
the counter. Why do I keep remembering that man’s—he hastily focused on the isles of food. No one moved,
and Naruto sighed with relief.
Well, guess there’s nothin’ ta
do but run maint’nance. He smiled to himself, and wondered if cleaning up could
really be considered repairs. Slowly, Naruto moved from his register and mechanically flipped the makeshift-counter-barrier
up. His hand dropped with it slowly as he stepped away, and in a tired daze Naruto heard it clink back into place. Expressionless,
he glanced up and down the corridor as his eyes scanned for misplaced products.
Of course, there were the ever-loveable, last-minute-decision
products people decided not to buy. And then there was the occasional toy a child would pick up and carry about—hoping
Mama’d let him buy it after all, Naruto thought—only to be discarded amidst bubble gum or nigiri. He
went for the refrigerated items first, as his manager had chided him on more than one occasion about quality and
freshness—my ass. He just wants to keep me busy. Naruto
privately rolled his eyes, and thought about the meats and mayo in boxed lunches. Those were things often left out of the
refrigerator for hours on end, and no one complained about freshness. But an order remains an order whether or not
the person doing the job agrees. Naruto grumbled silently in his head.
The door opened and the machine chimed as musically
as it was able—the new mimics the old, flashed through Naruto’s head. He looked up as he smiled mechanically.
“Irashaimase—” he called cheerfully, but his voice died more quickly than he intended. Surprise had
choked his voice before the last lilting note was realized.
Once again, the dark haired Uchiha stood across
the way. This time, Sasuke was half illuminated by the store’s fluorescent lights. But his shadow could hardly be distinguished
from the night of which Sasuke had come. How quickly, the thoughts flew, unbidden, he falls into darkness...
Naruto gaped in astonishment at his peer, but
Sasuke’s gaze coolly swept over the blonde boy’s uniform in an instant, and—with barely a moment’s
pause and no call of recognition—Sasuke turned. The pale boy headed for the school supplies, and loitered for a moment
as blue eyes stayed—fixed, almost—on Sasuke’s back. What...Naruto thought. Sasuke didn’t move.
In a daze, Naruto looked from Sasuke to the store’s
array of “necessary items” for studying. Couldn’t that wait till morning? Surely a rich-ass kid
like him would have an extra—
“Sui—”a slow, deep voice began.
Naruto started again. His unfocused eyes roamed up a brown jacket and met with glazed eyes. Under his glasses, the older man’s
eyes seemed pale...but not transparent. Just...washed in water. Naruto stiffened a little at the thought, and tried
to make out what the man said. “—sen.” Naruto blinked, and waited. “I—I need...” the older
man fumbled as he clutched a small box with both hands.
Naruto stared dumbly at the man, and fidgeted
uncomfortably. “You...” he prompted, but the man only stuttered. Naruto glanced at the man’s middle-aged
features, and judged him to be nearing his forties. But...he’s not...something’s not normal. His
thoughts drifted, and finally returned to the question, still unasked. “What?!” he finally snapped, exasperated,
and waited for the man to clarify. Again.
The man stared, and thrust his box at Naruto,
head bowed. Naruto stepped back as the man lifted his head, and looked at him pleadingly. What a weird...face...Naruto
fidgeted again, awkward, and bit his lip. The man moaned a little in the back of his throat, and continued to look at
“He wants you to check him out,”
a cold voice said from behind. Naruto jumped.
“What the—” he whirled about,
eyes wide. Recognition kicked in, and Naruto’s blue eyes narrowed. “Sasuke-yo, what—”
“The register, idiot.” Sasuke clearly
wasn’t in the mood for a lengthy conversation. “He wants. To go home.” With an arrogant wave of his hand,
Sasuke gestured to the make-shift counter. “Do your job,” the unheard idiot echoed clearly between
With an awkward glance to the worried man, Naruto
slid underneath the counter; he didn’t bother to unlatch it. He pushed his drink out of the way, and in a moment, his
fingers were poised on the number-pad with a wary smile plastered on his face. Sasuke nodded at the older man, who looked
slowly between the boys.
“You go...” the man suggested, almost
scared, almost pleasant, and Naruto rolled his eyes. Fine, take your damn time...
Sasuke murmured a quiet declination with a small
smile. Naruto’s jaw dropped. Wait. Sasuke smiles? “No,” the black-haired boy gestured to the
man’s single item, “you have fewer things,” and with a happy grin, the man moved forward. This time, he
did thrust the box at Naruto, who once again only stared. Sasuke made a noise that was somewhere between a grunt of
irritation and a cough. Naruto looked helplessly at his classmate.
“Your job, Naruto.” The boy
muttered, and slowly, reluctantly, Naruto put his hand on the box. His smile had since gone.
Without the usual banter Naruto engaged customers
in, he pressed keys, and bagged the small item. Naruto extended one hand briefly, as if to touch the man, but retracted it
quickly as the man stared. Rolls reversed...he was trying to give—
“Money,” Naruto mumbled, and bit
Flushed now, the man fiddled with a large coat—too
hot for summer—and retrieved a well-worn, red wallet. Naruto noted the small fish that decorated the thing with
surprise. It was more of a child’s toy than a grown man’s possession. Slowly, the man pulled change from
the wallet; he counted ten-yen coins first, and then the hundred-yen ones. The older man’s hand strayed a moment on
the golden five-hundred-yen coin, but he quickly passed it up in favor for the smaller pieces. It took several minutes for
the man to assemble the right amount. Finally, with great pride, the man pulled all the pieces into a fist that could easily
encompass Naruto’s small, slender hands. He thrust the coins toward Naruto, who opened both hands to receive the payment.
Clink. Clatter, plp...the ringing of metal on metal seemed louder than even the door’s mechanical noise. The coins,
Naruto found with discomfort, were wet from perspiration. He felt his features turn down with displeasure, and looked pleadingly
at the register while he wondered. How do I hold this crap and type the amount at the same time? Irritated, he slammed
the change on the counter. A few hundred-yen coins clattered noisily, and the ten-yen fell to the floor by Naruto’s
foot. Agitated still, Naruto didn’t bother to pick it up; instead, he furiously typed the correct amount in. The drawer
opened, and Naruto first wiped his hands before he touched the coins again.
“Thanks...” Naruto mumbled, finally,
as he again wiped his now-dry palms on his pants again. The man’s smile had not wavered. Instead, he reached over the
small barrier between customer and employee, and grabbed the open bottle of tea. “Hey—!”
A pale hand stalled the man’s movements.
Both man and blonde boy turned to stare. Sasuke gently shook his head. Lips formed a gently firm line for a moment,
and then Sasuke opened his mouth. “No, that’s not yours. If you want,
though,” he nodded toward the drink section, “you can get Naruto to ring up a bottle,” He smiled softly,
and Naruto felt color rise to his cheeks. His heart pounded, and a feeling of dread filled him. “But,” the black-haired
boy pushed the drink away, somehow he was closer than before, “this one’s not yours. Okay?” he tilted his
head as if in question. The man smiled seriously, and accepted the bag Sasuke had taken under Naruto’s inattentive gaze.
“Good night,” he bid, and the man wandered to the refreshment area.
Naruto tried to say something—anything,
damn it- but words failed him. Sasuke scoffed, and his previously tender expression transformed to one of contempt.
“Just,” Sasuke flung a few objects
on the counter, “typical.” Naruto glared at the notebooks eraser and pencil lead. Sasuke snarled. “You’re
just like everyone else.”
Sasuke...Naruto thought, confused. Wha...? Just...only.
No. I’m not like them.
Naruto’s hand closed around the lead. It
was encompassed with his long fingers, and struck out on the ends—barely visible...“I didn’t now,”
he mumbled, but the words were harsh on his tongue, and courser still to his classmate’s ears.
“Didn’t know?” the Uchiha
echoed, and an incredulous gaze pinned Naruto’s gaze. “Whatever,” the pale boy grumbled, and in an instant
all the anger and all the injustice fled from Sasuke’s voice. “Just talk to them, idiot. They’re
not children.” He turned away, and dropped a thousand-yen note on the counter. Like he doesn’t want to touch
my hands...Naruto squirmed as he typed, and left the note momentarily on the counter while he counted change aloud. He
held a handful of coins towards Sasuke, but the boy didn’t bother to meet his gaze. Once again, Naruto dropped the coins
on the counter, and a hundred-yen coin rolled to the floor. Sasuke’s gaze remained level, and he didn’t move to
pick it up. “You owe me one-hundred yen,” he noted, and waited. Naruto opened his drawer slowly, and retrieved
another silver disk. He placed it with the rest, and watched Sasuke brush the coins into a slender hand. His eyes flickered
to Naruto’s, and a wry smile twisted those lips. “Wet,” he noted, and shoved the hand, coins and all, into
a pocket. Jng, thmp. Chhh. The hand withdrew. Sasuke took his bag, and walked to the door. Just as it opened, he stopped,
and called into the night, “Take care,”
With that, his small form was enveloped in shadow,
and Naruto’s eyes could no longer follow.
The street lamps...he squinted. The outside lights were barely visible. He sighed, and waited for the older man to return.
When the man bought his tea—identical to
Naruto’s—the blonde boy smiled uncertainly, and attempted to chat. The man, however, didn’t seem to hear,
and left the golden five-hundred piece yen on the counter. He didn’t extend a hand to receive the change, and like Sasuke,
pushed all coins into his fist. The older man, on the contrary, was content to cradle those small things between large fingers.
And so, he left.
Naruto bit his lip, and watched the doors. Not
a sound was heard. He glanced at the floor, and briefly searched for the bronze ten-yen, to no avail. The lifted the counter
and reached blindly for the silver hundred as well, but it, too, alluded him. Naruto sighed, and found his school bag. His
wallet—a childhood friend—stared up at him mournfully. Naruto opened the green frog, and withdrew the remaining
two coins, both silver. One-hundred and fifty.
He dropped them both in the drawer, and stooped.
He slid slowly to the floor, and rested his head against the wall.
In his mind, the coins jingled.
Sasuke, you brat. How do you always know more than me?