“Didn’t you say you took care of Uzumaki Naruto?” Deidara hissed beneath his breath as they watched the blond making a jackass of himself by meeting up with other teams and shaking their hands profusely with enthusiasm.
Kisame, who was still stewing over Sasuke’s blatant insult, bristled at Deidara’s accusatory tone. “Of course I did. You saw how he reacted afterwards. It was supposed to have spread…”
“Well it didn’t work,” Konan interrupted coldly. “No matter. It’s a good thing he’s fine now. They would have reported us and we wouldn’t be here today. We can’t afford to let our guard down or make any more foolish mistakes.”
“Let’s go,” Sasori said quietly, leading the way to the elevators. “We’re on the fifth floor…”
“Hellooooo, Akat-su-ki-chan!” came the sudden loud greeting that had the members of said team shivering as everyone in the lobby now seemed to be gawking at them. Damn that blond loudmouth!
Naruto looked like he was smiling as he approached, followed by an amused Suigetsu who wouldn’t have missed an opportunity to rag on an ‘enemy’ when given the chance. However, on closer inspection, Naruto’s smile was tight and one could tell he was putting up a great act of cheerfulness. His eyes, which had been closed with the intensity of his supposed joy at seeing the team, opened to reveal a gaze that was cold yet furious – the latter emotion was intensified as he looked at Kisame.
“Well, who knew we’d be in the same hotel,” Naruto began in a conversational tone.
“All teams stay in the same hotel, you buffoon,” Deidara retorted, his knuckles white as he tightened his grip on his overnight bag. “Don’t you know anything?”
“Oh, I know something all right,” Naruto continued, his voice now quiet and low as he took a step closer to the group. “I know that you jerk offs tried to get me out of this tournament with that stunt you pulled, Kisame. It’s a pity I feel great…no…better than ever, and I’m going to make you pay if it’s the last thing I do.”
“Wonderful,” Konan replied with a small smile, while stepping between the two boys before the situation escalated. “Reserve your anger until the tournament begins, Naruto. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to show them a thing or two, eh? Come on, boys. Let’s go.”
Naruto grit his teeth as he watched them walk away, but not before ‘guy-with-no-face’ (Pein actually) looked over his shoulder with a small smile as if apologizing on their behalf.
“What the hell did Kisame do to you?” Suigetsu asked, glancing at Naruto’s irritated countenance. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” Naruto muttered, not really wanted to share the details with anyone else. “Let’s go…whoa! He’s here!”
Naruto had shoved Suigetsu out of the way as he dashed towards the new group of fighters entering the lobby. At the forefront was a dark-skinned boy with blond spiky hair and a lollipop stuck within his mouth. He seemed to be arguing with a girl that looked like his sister, but stopped long enough as something flew towards him with a speed he was barely able to control. The impending collision sent them crashing to the floor in a heap.
“What the fuck…?!” he began with an angry growl, only to blink at the grinning face above him. His scowl turned into a matching grin as he yelled in pleasure. “BROTHER!”
“BROTHER!” Naruto screamed as well, and before long, both boys were engaged in what could only be described as a weird exhibition of mock wrestling/hugging.
“I didn’t know Naruto had a brother,” Karin mused as she walked up to Suigetsu.
“That’s Team Cloud,” Suigetsu explained. “Remember when Naruto said he knew one of them? Probably the guy he’s dry humping at the moment.”
Sasuke, who was in the process of signing in the team at the front desk, glanced over his shoulder at the commotion. He really needed to have a talk with Naruto about behaving himself and curbing his overzealous enthusiasm. It was embarrassing.
“Naruto has a brother?” Kakashi asked in bemusement.
“Brothers from different parents,” Sasuke mumbled, finally done with the protocol and accepting the keys from the lady behind the counter. “All right everyone, let’s…”
“Hey, hey!” Naruto interrupted as he walked up to his teammates, an arm around Omoi’s shoulders. “Hey guys, this is Omoi – the one I was telling you about. I knew him when we were kids.”
“He’s my brother from another mother,” Omoi replied with a grin. “Pity I’m going to have to kick your ass the first time I get to see you after so long.”
Naruto laughed. “You wish you could beat me. When was the last time you even put a scratch on me, eh?” He began to nudge the other boy playfully, when the cold and loud voice interrupted their antics.
“Stop fucking around, Omoi. We’ve got to sign in.”
All eyes turned to the tall blonde female who seemed to be the leader of the group. With arms folded across her chest, and wearing their school’s uniform, which consisted of a short red plaid pleated skirt, white dress shirt and a red necktie, she looked formidable.
“Who’s the chick?” Naruto whispered into Omoi’s ear.
“Yugito the beeeeyotch,” Omoi replied in a sing-song voice, pouting as he was forced to leave his friend’s presence. “Dude, we have got to catch up. What’s your room number? I’ll stop by later.”
“Uumm…hold on a sec,” Naruto turned to Sasuke. “What’s our room number, Sasuke?”
Sasuke, who didn’t want to share their room number with anyone, pretended to read through the paper with a thoroughness that had Naruto huffing with impatience. “Never mind.” He turned back to Omoi. “Just give me your cell phone number and I’ll call you back…”
“Where’s Kirabi?” Juugo asked quietly, noticing the boisterous fighter was nowhere in sight.
Karui, the dark-haired girl from Team Cloud, shrugged and dragged her carryall across the floor. “He ain’t coming.”
“Why not?” Sai asked. He had been quiet all this time, choosing to spend his time observing his surroundings for a series of sketches he planned to work on later.
“The idiot is too busy working on his CD and says he has to promote his style or whatever the shit he blabbed about the other night,” Samui replied. Dressed in the school uniform as well, which barely held in her well-endowed bosom, she was as tall as Yugito and for some reason, Naruto had the feeling that she and Yugito might be partners…in every sense of the word. They just screamed dyke mates to him.
“Wow…so only you four, eh?” Naruto said aloud.
“We four are more than enough,” Omoi bragged, thumbing his nose in confidence. “These teams don’t look that strong. We’ll take ‘em out in no time.”
“That’s fantastic,” Sasuke grumbled, getting impatient with all the chumminess while dealing with his pangs of hunger. “There’s plenty of time to catch up, but for the meantime, we have to go to our rooms.” Hardly waiting for anyone else to follow, he began to lead the way to the elevators.
“What’s his problem?” Omoi asked with a raised brow.
Naruto pursed his lips in thought as he looked after his striding team captain, not willing to assume that Sasuke was still upset over what had almost happened last night. His decision to wake up today, acting as if nothing that intense had taken place, was only his way of trying to deal with the conflicting emotions that raced within him. Besides, thinking about love and relationships should be the least of their worries now. They had fights coming up with potential strong opponents and no time to focus on their personal struggles.
“He’s just hungry,” Naruto finally replied with a smile. “If he doesn’t eat after a while, he gets grouchy.”
“Reminds me of someone,” Omoi said laughing and faltering as Yugito spared him another icy look of warning. “Gah! Gotta run, brother. I’ll see you later, okay?”
Naruto waved and dashed after his disappearing team. He barely made it into the elevator before the doors closed, noticing Sasuke leaning against the wood panels at the back, and shoving his way through the packed space to get to him.
“Nice reunion,” Sasuke mumbled as the elevator began its journey up, not sparing Naruto a glance, even though his traitorous body tingled with awareness as the blond was pressed tightly against him.
“Yeah, it was actually,” Naruto admitted, eyeing the group of people stuck in the elevator with them besides his teammate. Juugo was crushed at his side, and before him stood Sai and Karin with Suigetsu ahead of them. Kakashi was buried within a book Jiraiya had written, much to Naruto’s perplexities, and the rest seemed to be made up of five other students and their teacher, wearing uniforms he did not recognize…
“Ouch,” he hissed, eyeing Sasuke who was still pretending as if he didn’t exist. “Did you just pinch my butt?” came the harsh whisper even though his face had turned a bright beet red.
“What are you talking about?” Sasuke drawled, trying to hide his amusement.
Naruto caught his lower lip between his teeth and tried to glare, only to gasp as this time, it was a gentle caress and then another hard squeeze of his derriere. “Sasuke!”
The dull ping of the elevator was heard and it opened to allow the other school team out on the third floor. Just when they thought they’d have more room to breathe, another set of people squeezed themselves into the tiny space, forcing Naruto to be pressed even tighter between Sasuke and Juugo.
“Jesus! I’m going to die here,” he wheezed. “What’s our floor, Sasuke?”
Breathe. Just breathe. Just ignore the fact that Sasuke is still doing what he’s doing and I’m getting a boner and I swear if Karin presses any closer to me…I don’t want harassment charges on my head and…oh, shit.
His lashes fluttered closed as Sasuke grew bolder with his caresses. Naruto’s breathing was getting shallow and he sincerely hoped that no one would notice how hot he felt or the tiny beads of sweat breaking out on his brow as he struggled to control himself. However, it was the sudden sensation of Sasuke’s teeth against his earlobe and the warm breath that caressed his flesh, which had Naruto yelping in response before he could control himself.
“What’s wrong?” Juugo asked, as the others turned (as much as they could) towards the blushing blond.
“No…nothing,” Naruto replied breathlessly, while stomping Sasuke’s foot gently in warning. Hearing the dark-haired boy’s hiss of pain was enough for him. That would teach Sasuke to mindfuck him like this.
“Sixth floor! Finally,” Suigetsu yelled as the doors opened to let them out. “Christ. I could barely breathe in there.”
They tumbled out with their luggage into the plush corridor lined with extravagant bouquets of breathtaking flowers and gold-trimmed doors with numbers written on them.
“Room assignments,” Kakashi announced with a flourish. “Lucky Karin, you get a room all by yourself. Room 2350.”
The girl squealed in delight. “Awesome!”
“Hey, what gives?!” Suigetsu argued. “How come…?”
“Because that’s just the way things are. You, Sasuke and Naruto are in Room 2351.”
“How come I get to share a room with those two? God knows they’ll keep me up at night with their moans and…”
“Shut the fuck up, Suigetsu,” Sasuke muttered while giving the boy a painful nudge on his ribs.
“As well as personal injuries,” Suigetsu wheezed, holding his aching side.
“Deal with it,” came his unrepentant teacher’s comments. “The rest of us are in Room 2352. You have the rest of the afternoon to settle in…walk around the hotel or whatever. Eight o’clock is team meeting in my room. We have to discuss the format of the fights and any other information that needs to be known. Don’t be late, and whatever you do, please don’t start up an argument with any other team…”
“Oy, why are you looking at me?” Naruto huffed.
“Because I need you to keep your hot head together. Same goes for you Suigetsu.”
The blue-haired boy gave a grin full of wicked intent, but saluted smartly all the same. “I’ll be a good boy, sensei.”
Their room was large, with three twin beds lined in a row against the soft pastel wallpaper décor. An expensive-looking watercolor, of wheat fields in summer, hung above the beds. In between were small nightstands with lamps that looked like something plucked out of the halls of Buckingham Palace. The cream-colored carpet felt plush beneath their bare feet, and as Sasuke pushed aside the thick maroon curtains, it revealed sliding doors which led to a patio with even more beautiful bouquets and a great view of the city below. There was a leather couch and a comfy-looking armchair, a large plasma T.V and a fridge with snacks stacked to the fullest for the hungry boys. Before long, they were lounging in the ‘living-room’ area and browsing through channels for something to watch. All too soon, empty packets of candy, cookies and plastic bottles littered their surroundings, and as Suigetsu gave a satisfied belch, he lay flat on his back on the floor and patted his full stomach.
“Mmm…we should order pizza for dinner.”
“Maybe the cafeteria will have some,” Naruto replied, guzzling down another can of soda. He was lying on the couch, while Sasuke was curled up on the armchair with his eyes closed as if fast asleep.
“I wonder if we can order room service…”
“The bill is gonna cost us…the school…” Sasuke mumbled.
“The school can afford it,” Suigetsu argued. “Small price to pay for the bodily injuries ahead.”
Naruto chuckled and tossed the empty can towards the small trash can in the corner. “Score,” he whispered as it fell in neatly. “Say, Suigetsu…”
“Hmm?” came the lazy response. The boy was beginning to feel sleepy.
“How come I never hear about your family? No brothers or sisters or…?”
Suigetsu made a sound that was between exasperation and a snort. “Dude, I live on my own. I don’t have any parents or brothers or sisters or whatever.”
Naruto turned his head a little to look at the other boy still lying on the floor with his eyes now closed. “Really? How…?”
“I dunno how they died or even if they did die,” Suigetsu replied. “I grew up in the foster system. Moving from family to family until I turned sixteen and could live on my own. Been saving up money from doing odd jobs here and there , so I can survive. I got a scholarship to the school, if you’re going to ask how I can afford the fees. Any other questions?”
“You’re pretty strong,” Naruto said quietly, as he placed his hands behind his head and closed his eyes. “And I don’t mean the fighting part. I won’t ask if you’ve even bothered wanting to know about your parents…hell, I’d be dying to know if they actually died or…” His voice trailed off, but Suigetsu finished for him.
“Abandoned me? That wouldn’t be a surprise. I wasn’t a great kid growing up.” The boy laughed. “I gave everyone hell, so maybe my parents knew I’d be a handful and didn’t want me around. Who the fuck knows? Anyway, that’s old news. I’m getting me some shut eye.” He gave an exaggerated yawn and bounded to his feet. His companions didn’t move from their positions, but could hear him flopping onto the bed like a log.
Sasuke, who was still pretending to be asleep, had actually been listening all this time. He lifted his lashes slowly, noticing that Suigetsu who was supposed to be sleeping, had only covered his head with a pillow. He met Naruto’s eyes as the barely audible choked sob was heard, neither saying anything as they realized that for the first time, Suigetsu had finally revealed a part of a dark life, he would have rather kept secret. It was a side to their brash teammate they had never seen before, and both knew that what had been shared, was never to leave the four walls of their room.
It was the loud pounding on the door that roused the boys from their sleep.
“Hurry up,” Karin snapped as she went around shaking them awake. “Geez. Look at the mess you guys have already made! And stop sleeping for God’s sake! Meeting time!”
“Shit…already?” Sasuke stumbled to his feet, rubbing his eyes as he stretched and staggered out of the room with Naruto flopping on him like a rag doll. “I’m not carrying you, Naruto,” he grumbled. “Walk by your…urgh.” He barely caught his teammate, who would have fallen flat on his face, and settled for dragging the blond into the room where the others were sitting on the floor before Kakashi.
“Someone pour some water on him,” Suigetsu suggested, but Naruto sat up at the painful cuff on his head from Karin. Grumbling as he settled between Sasuke and the couch.
“All right,” Kakashi began as he unfolded a sheet of paper. “Just returned from the meeting with the tournament officials and here’s the way things are gonna go. Tomorrow, we have preliminary rounds – all schools will fight to decide who the final eight will be for the semi-finals on Saturday. There will be three matches each – two match wins decides who goes to the next round. Third match is the tie-breaker…if it comes to that. For the preliminaries, we have only five minutes per match. More details about the rules will be given tomorrow when you get to the arena. Sasuke…open that carryall bag in the corner and bring out your uniforms.”
Sasuke did as he was told. Even he hadn’t seen the new gi they would wear. Previous tournament uniforms had been a simple white gi with the Konoha symbol on the back, but this time…
“Whoa, nice!” Naruto gushed as Sasuke returned with the clear plastic bags which had their names written on it. He accepted the two sets from their captain, all but ripping it open to reveal the black gi. The Konoha symbol was etched in gold trimming on the back, accented by a ring of orange (it looked red if you turned it in one direction) fire.
“Headbands too?” Karin blinked at the extra accessory. “Cool!”
“I feel like a ninja or something,” Naruto said, laughing as he tied the ends of the black headband – again accented with the Konoha emblem on a steel-like plate that covered/protected his forehead – at the nape of his neck.”
“Isn’t it against the rules?” Sai asked quietly.
“No,” came the simple reply. “It’s part of our uniform and you can bet other schools will have something extra fancy with them too. Now, we can make use of the gym downstairs to train or do warm ups, but we risk other schools crowding the place. So…” He eyed the hotel room and gave a small nod. “I think this is large enough…just as long as you guys don’t break anything. We’ll push aside the furniture and make room. We’ll repeat practice first thing tomorrow morning – nothing too strenuous…I don’t need you getting tired before the tournament begins. Festivities begin at ten in the morning. We’re to be in Arena II by nine-thirty. Any questions?”
“Who are we fighting first?” Juugo asked.
“That will be decided when you get there. You…or rather I get to pick from a box of numbers and whatever number we are given and who we match up with…is who we fight against. I have no control over how things turn out. As for the fighters…it’s likely we’ll pair up Karin with whatever female fighter the other school has, the rest I’ll decide based on our opponents. Now, let’s grab some food and get some work done tonight, okay?”
And more than eager to get started, the teens yelled in unison. “OKAY!”
Sasuke lifted his lashes, fighting the fatigue that still pleaded with him to remain in bed. However, he knew that today was the big day, and he’d have to get ready for their early morning practice even if it killed him. He stretched and flopped onto his back, staring blindly at the ceiling for a minute. He could hear Suigetsu snoring on his left, chuckling as he noticed the boy slept in the most weird way. The blanket and bed sheets were tousled with Suigetsu’s feet on the pillows and his head at the other end.
Still smiling, Sasuke turned to his right to see if Naruto was still asleep, hoping he could indulge a fantasy of his even though they weren’t exactly sharing the same bed. After their grueling practice last night, the trio had stumbled to their room in exhaustion, passing out before they could even think of changing. So much for that plan of teasing Naruto into submission once Suigetsu was asleep.
However, he did a double take as he noticed the bed was empty. It looked slept in, but its occupant was nowhere in sight. Assuming he was in the bathroom, Sasuke closed his eyes and waited, but frowned lightly as he heard nothing from that direction. Five more minutes went by, and now getting worried, Sasuke crept out of bed and padded towards the front door, only for a movement in his peripheral vision to grab his attention. Looking over his shoulder, he noticed the patio door had been left open a little. Walking silently towards it, he peeked out carefully, not sure of what to expect. His first random thought was that someone had sneaked into their room; however, noticing that it was only his elusive teammate, he relaxed a little and stepped out and into the cold morning air to join him.
“Did I wake you?” Naruto asked with an apologetic smile. He was leaning upon the railing, dressed in only a pair of gray sweatpants which hung low on his lean hips. Sasuke swallowed at the tantalizing tease of hidden promises and turned his gaze away, walking up to stand beside the blond.
“I woke up on my own…thought I’d get a head start before practice. Couldn’t sleep?”
Naruto shrugged, eyeing the millions of lights that lit up Osaka at pre-dawn. It really was a beautiful sight. “I’m too excited I guess. This is my first time doing something like this and I don’t know what to expect. How are you feeling?”
Sasuke gave a small smile as he stared at the city before him. “Excited too. I’ve been to a few other tournaments, but this is the biggest. I’d be a fool not to admit that I’m nervous too. Who knows what might happen.”
He suffered a playful nudge from Naruto. “What’s this? The great Uchiha Sasuke nervous?”
“Shut up,” came the quiet rebuttal with no venom in it. “Unlike you, I’ve got something to prove to my father…and brother.”
Naruto slid a glance at the other boy who had a thoughtful frown on his handsome features. He remembered how much Sasuke longed to escape his brother’s looming shadow and his performance here would prove to his father that he wasn’t always going to remain second fiddle.
“Are they coming?” Naruto asked softly.
“I don’t know. My mother says she wants to come…my dad said he might show up if work allows him.”
Sasuke seemed to stiffen. “I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him in forever, Naruto. Why the fuck would he come?”
“Don’t bite my head off. I’m just asking.”
An uncomfortable silence fell for a minute, before Sasuke said quietly but firmly. “When we get to any round where we have to face Akatsuki, I want you to leave Kisame to me.”
Naruto blinked. “Hell no, he’s mine. After what he did to me, I’m not letting him go that easily.”
“I’m the only one that can deal with his kind of fighting style, Naruto,” Sasuke said calmly, his voice leaving no room for argument. He stared into the blazing blue eyes, hoping his desperation wouldn’t be too evident. “If he fights you, he’s likely to go for your heart again. You might have survived the first time, but I doubt you’ll be so lucky the second time around. I can’t risk that.”
Naruto opened his mouth to argue, but was silenced as Sasuke moved to seize his lips in a hard kiss. He gasped as he was released all too soon, mind spinning, lips tingling and body thrumming with heat as Sasuke leaned his forehead against his to whisper thickly.
“I can’t lose you, Naruto. Do you hear me? I won’t let anyone hurt you again…ever.”
“I can take care of myself,” Naruto muttered, cheeks flaming at the intensity in the dark eyes before him. “I don’t need…”
“Yes, you do,” Sasuke interrupted with a small smile. “You keep acting so tough and I know that deep down, you need someone to really give a shit about you. Let me be that person, Naruto.” He brushed the parted lips gently. “Please…”
The ache seemed to spread within and around his heart as Sasuke’s earnest plea had him closing his eyes, trying desperately not to give in to the tears that threatened to break free. Why would Sasuke act so selfless for him? And why…why did it feel like he could see himself with Sasuke for a while…no…a long time as someone more than just a friend? Why was this feeling so goddamn intense? So frightening that he couldn’t…didn’t want to deal with it just now?
Because you are falling for him…or have already fallen, you big dolt. This must be what love is really all about after all.
“What are you mumbling to yourself about?”
Naruto smiled and came to a sudden decision. He took a deep breath and stared into the bemused eyes before him. “Sasuke.”
“Now what?” came the wary response.
“When this tournament is over…and we win…or don’t win…”
“Okay, after we win…I’ll…I’ll tell you how I really feel. Deal?”
Sasuke tried to ignore the skip of his heartbeat at the look on the other boy’s face and tried to keep his cool. “Why can’t you tell me now?”
Naruto wrapped his arms around his captain, burying his face against the strong neck. “Because I want to do it my own way, Sasuke.” He placed a tender kiss on the pulsing flesh and took a step back, grinning at the look of irritation on the other boy’s face.
“You better hurry! We don’t have much time!” He dashed into the room before the other boy could say anything else, and for the first time in as long as he could remember, Naruto felt light on his feet … happier than he could ever remember…like he could take on the motherfucking world…
…or at least the room filled with what seemed like a gazillion fighters all dressed in their respective uniforms and looking even more daunting as they waited in the holding area before they were presented to the waiting audience/spectators.
“Damn,” Suigetsu mused aloud as he took in a few of the other teams. “Maybe even the preliminaries are going to be a pain the ass. And is just me or are there more than twenty schools here?”
“There’s thirty-two,” Kakashi replied, causing the boy to gawk in surprise.
“Thirty-two? I thought there were only twenty!” He eyed Sai as he said this, but the artist looked unapologetic. His investigations had told him twenty, so…
“Twelve other schools were allowed to make it even,” Kakashi explained patiently.
Naruto tried to do the math in his head. Thirty-two teams meant having to fight at least twice today…and then twice tomorrow to decide the two teams for the finals on Sunday. That wasn’t too bad, all things considered. His gaze wandered around the bustling arena, taking note of some familiar faces and not so familiar ones.
Akatsuki were huddled in a group…well not really. Kisame was leaning against the wall with his eyes closed. Deidara was chatting at a mile a minute to a weary-looking Sasori, while Konan was sitting in a meditative position with Pein by her side. Their gi was black, not surprising, with a red patch that looked like a cloud, etched on the back. Team Sand, dressed in khaki-colored gi, sat in a circle not speaking to each other. While Team Cloud, dressed in white gi with two crossed swords etched on its back, were engaged in a lively argument – something about who had stolen the last bean cake from Karui’s bag…even though she seemed to be solely blaming a flustered Omoi.
Naruto would have gone over to help his friend, but a sudden announcement had all the fighters looking towards the well-dressed man with the bullhorn who had just walked up to a makeshift stage.
“If I may have your attention please,” he said, waving his hands about. “Congratulations, fighters! You elite few have made it to the 85th Annual Martial Arts tournament!” A smattering of applause broke out, and the man cleared his throat to continue. “Eh…so this is how things will go. You’ll be called out by school and you’re to walk into the main auditorium and stay in position…where the pretty ladies will be holding a placard with your school name on it. The grandmasters will give a little speech and then you’ll all walk out and back into this room, and then you’ll be ushered through those doors to Arena III where preliminary matches are to take place. There are five rings – so we can work through the fights quickly, you see. Eh…team leaders or captains will pick a number from a box by the door. When your numbers are called, you’ll be assigned a ring and will battle the school you’re up against. First school to two wins per match automatically advances until only 8 schools are left for the semi-final rounds tomorrow.”
He took a deep breath and wiped his brow, before pausing as another important-looking man whispered something in his ear.
“Oh, right, before I forget. There are no weapons allowed in this tournament, neither can you kill your opponent. If any of these are noticed, you’ll be disqualified. Any fighter that falls out of the ring, is also disqualified and the opponent automatically wins. In the case of a tie, even after a third and decisive match, judges will award the win based on points. All right, fighters, are you ready?!”
“YEAH!” came the resounding cries from the excited participants.
Naruto wiped his sweaty palms on his pants legs and bounced up and down lightly to ease the nerves that were beginning to fill his stomach. He cracked his knuckles and took a deep breath as the match into the main auditorium began. School after school was called until the loud boom of ‘KONOHA HIGH – TEAM TAKA!’ was heard.
“That’s us!” Suigetsu said with a wide grin as he lined up behind Sasuke. He was followed by Karin, then Naruto, Sai and Juugo with Kakashi bringing up the rear.
Naruto had thought the pep rally was a loud affair, but he almost went tone deaf as he stepped into the massive auditorium, the lights blinding as they shone over and around them as if at a discotheque. He had never seen so many people in one place in his life, and as Konoha took their position, he squinted into the crowd, hoping to see a familiar face or two.
“Tsunade-sama is here,” Karin whispered, and Naruto looked towards the stage where the grandmasters and, he would guess, other principals from representing schools sat like overlords. Sure enough, the familiar blonde locks of their school’s leader was proof that she was in the building. A few other teachers they knew had come as well.
“Looks like your uncle’s here too,” Suigetsu murmured, and Naruto’s eyes widened as he looked into the crowd again. He felt something akin to pleasure and happiness well in his chest as he finally noticed that shock of white hair and the woman sitting beside him. He was even more stunned to see his three best friends as well as Amaru, Miho and Miyabi, all waving and cheering for him. None of them (well besides Amaru) had mentioned they’d be flying down here to watch him in person, and it meant the world to him to have such support.
He glanced towards their silent captain just as the grandmaster began to launch into some speech about the spirit of the tournament etc. etc. Naruto could almost feel the tension that seemed to ooze out of the other boy, noticing that his gaze flitted between the speaker and the crowd. Naruto looked carefully and smiled to himself as he noticed the Uchiha family somewhere close to the front row. Fugaku looked impassive, his stern features giving nothing away. Mikoto, however, seemed more relaxed with a warm smile on her pretty features. Naruto would have turned away, only to notice the person sitting beside her. For a moment, he thought his eyes were deceiving him, but there could be no denying the presence of the young man sitting beside his mother. Besides the dark lines that seemed etched into his cheeks, Itachi could pass as a clone for his younger brother. Naruto had seen pictures of the older sibling during his few visits to the Uchiha household, but actually seeing him in the flesh was a whole other matter altogether. Itachi wasn’t smiling, but he didn’t look pissed off either. Like his father, there was a look of casual indifference, as if they were about to watch an everyday occurrence.
Naruto glanced towards Sasuke again, wondering what the other boy was thinking. He got his answer after they had been ushered out of the auditorium and back to the waiting arena where they were to be assigned numbers. Sasuke was quick to excuse himself, saying he had to go to the restroom. Naruto, feeling concerned at the brusque request, followed and was rewarded with the sounds of someone throwing up in one of the stalls as he dashed in moments later.
After a few minutes, Sasuke stumbled out, looking pale as he wiped his mouth with a hand that trembled. He stiffened as he noticed Naruto watching him, eyes narrowing for a moment as if annoyed that the blond had showed up. He eventually turned away and moved to the sink to clean up himself.
“So much for being the tough guy,” Sasuke said, after a minute or two of tense silence, trying to sound as flippant as he could. However, his shaking voice betrayed his real emotional state and it was all it took for Naruto to realize that he was the one needed this time around. Without thinking twice about what he was doing, he wrapped his arms around the other boy’s waist from behind, holding on tightly as if hoping to give Sasuke all the strength he needed from the simple act.
Sasuke sucked in a harsh breath, at the unexpected gesture, his vision shimmering as he lowered his gaze. “Naruto…”
“It’s okay, Sasuke,” came the soft whisper of reassurance. “It’s going to be okay. I promise.”