Naruto lifted heavy lashes slowly, experiencing mingled sensations of residual weariness, a dull soreness, dried stickiness, the urgent need to pee, the solid feel of a body pressed against his back, the light tickle of fingers against his stomach…warm (and not altogether unpleasant) breathing against the nape of his neck, and the musky scent that he was all too familiar with. For a moment, his mind refused to register what memory was slowly forcing him to, but as the body behind him pressed even closer, Naruto’s face flamed with uncontrollable heat. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to will his pounding heart to stop beating so fast.
Was Sasuke awake?
Oh, shit…I can’t look at him. I won’t be able to without remembering…
…every single detail of what had transpired last night. His body was beginning to tingle as flashbacks of Sasuke’s sweet torture replayed in his mind. The boy had taken him to heights of pleasure he never thought he could ever experience, and Naruto was embarrassed to admit that he had loved every single minute of it…pain included. He caught his lower lip between his teeth to prevent himself from moaning at the obvious bulge that was pressed against his ass and lower back. The overwhelming urge to want to do it again threatened to consume him, but realizing that it wouldn’t exactly be conducive, and not to forget he was still feeling a bit sore…
It’s gonna be a bitch to fight today.
…Naruto knew he’d have to curb his overzealous libido and force himself out of this tempting situation to regain control of his thoughts again.
The problem now was maneuvering his way out of Sasuke’s embrace without rousing the other boy from his sleep. Naruto eyed the arm draped around his waist, thankful that Sasuke wasn’t really clutching him too tight or that would have made things more difficult. Sucking in a deep breath, Naruto placed his hands upon the arm and began to push it aside slowly….carefully…
He froze as Sasuke murmured something unintelligible and relaxed as the boy soon fell silent again. Feeling more confident, Naruto pushed the arm a bit higher and gingerly slid further away from the warmth that seemed to beckon him to return. So engrossed was he in sliding backwards, he forgot to gauge the distance to the edge of the bed and ended up falling on his ass with a painful thump. He stiffened again as Sasuke twisted and turned on the bed, before rising to his hands and knees to peek over the top to see what his captain was doing. Sasuke was now lying flat on his back, an arm over his stomach and the other reaching for the pillow that had once held Naruto’s head.
For a long minute, Naruto stared at the relaxed features, noticing the way Sasuke’s hair lay tousled and uneven across his forehead and cheeks. He had never really noticed that the boy’s lashes were that long, neither had he noticed the slight (barely visible actually) crook of his nose – results from all his fights no doubt. And then there were those lips…those delicious, tasty, and sinful lips that could send Naruto melting into a pile of mush whether he was being kissed or spoken to in that husky fuck-me voice. His gaze traveled down to the strong jaw and neck, the pulse within the hollow beating in time with the steady rise and fall of his chest. Without realizing he was licking his lips, Naruto panned down the flat torso and to the light tuft of hair leading to Sasuke’s very well endowed…
“All right, that’s it. Go now before you do something you’ll regret, Uzumaki Naruto,” he hissed to himself, stumbling to his feet and darting into the bathroom with the frantic hope that he could make his escape in time.
Sasuke awakened to a loud clatter and a muffled curse. He opened his eyes albeit blearily to see what the commotion was about. Turning to his left, he noticed Suigetsu trying to fix back the lamp he had knocked to the floor…and he wasn’t doing a particularly good job as the shade kept falling off in an askew manner.
“Goddamn cheap lamps,” Suigetsu muttered, only to feel the gaze on him. He looked up and into the visage of his captain, managing to look both sheepish and frustrated at the same time. “Sorry, Sasuke. Didn’t mean to wake you up.”
The dark-haired boy gave a small nod and sat up carefully, not needing to know that he was alone and that Naruto’s bed was empty. He felt a heavy sensation in the pit of his stomach – a deep worry and concern that Naruto had awakened this morning with regret and disgust at what had happened after all. Wasn’t there a saying that things always looked so much more different after a night’s sleep? How naïve had he been to assume another fantasy of his would have happened…that he’d wake up to Naruto hugging him so tight and never wanting to let go, or Naruto whispering ‘good morning, Sasuke’ and allowing him to have a quickie before they began their day.
Dream on, Uchiha Sasuke. It’s a new day and it’s time to face reality.
He struggled to control his overwhelming disappointment and turned to Suigetsu. “What time is it?”
“Six forty-five,” Suigetsu replied as he dug through his bag to find his towel and toiletries. “Where’s Naruto? Didn’t he come back last night?”
Oh, he came back all right.
“I…I think he did. I don’t know. I fell asleep early.”
“And what about you? Where were you last night?” As if he needed to ask. Suigetsu’s blush was a dead giveaway as he began to strip out of his clothes, hardly caring if Sasuke saw him naked or not.
“Karin was lonely.”
Sasuke would have laughed if it wasn’t for dull pang of awareness that filled his heart.
He was definitely no stranger to that emotion, and he realized that it was something that had been a constant from the moment Itachi was old enough to leave the house. He might have been surrounded by his family and friends, but he had always been a loner, becoming more reserved with his emotions and unwilling to let anyone get too close to him. Was that why he had sought Naruto? Had he hoped to find someone just like him…someone who knew what it meant to be alone and who could fill the dark void that had threatened to consume him? Beneath the anger and uncouth mannerisms, Sasuke had seen the lonely boy who seemed to be crying for attention - a boy who sought to be loved and needed again. Naruto’s presence in his life had completed that void, and after last night’s intimacy…Sasuke never felt more connected with anyone in his life. The ache in his heart worsened as he dreaded losing Naruto now. If the blond dared to suggest that things were over between them…
He looked up and into Suigetsu’s bewildered countenance. “Wha…what?”
“You okay? Might be my imagination, but it looked like you were about to cry or something.”
A blush of embarrassment flooded the boy’s face and he forced himself to look impassive. “I’m fine. Just…thinking of a nightmare I had.” Boy, are the lies flying out fast and furious this morning. “Hurry up and use the bathroom already. I need to get dressed too.”
“Yeah, yeah, keep your pants on…although it looks like you don’t sleep in them.” Suigetsu’s chuckle was muffled as he shut the bathroom door behind him, leaving Sasuke to flop back on the bed with an arm over his eyes.
He groaned as Naruto’s scent overwhelmed his senses, and cradling the pillow to his chest, he closed his eyes and tried to cling on to the memory of last night.
Where are you, Naruto? Just where the fuck are you?
Tossing the empty box of orange juice into the nearby trashcan, Naruto belched and leaned back on the wrought iron bench, closing his eyes as he allowed himself to enjoy the cool early morning breeze. Dawn came in beautiful purples and muted orange, showering his refuge (the hotel’s courtyard/garden) with its presence. Only a few other patrons were awake, including the hotel staff that ran around like bees trying to get things ready for another long and hectic day.
Combined feelings of nerves and the impending matches as well as last night’s events, had him rubbing his stomach gently to ease the gnawing tension steadily building. Jumping to his feet, he paced around restlessly, did a few stretches…and paced around again like a caged beast. He couldn’t stand still…didn’t want to stand still for fear that even allowing himself to think too much about Sasuke would result in him losing control, his focus and most importantly, his goddamn mind. After his quick shower, he had found himself staring at the sleeping boy as if mesmerized, hungry eyes eating up every inch of Sasuke as if hoping he wouldn’t vanish before his eyes. It was a weird mix of possessiveness and obsession. It really was a scary feeling.
“Oh, God.” He groaned and plopped back onto another bench, burying his heated features within his hands as another random memory of the way Sasuke had trailed kisses down his stomach and to his cock where he had proceeded to…
“Argh! Stop thinking about it!”
“Stop thinking about what?”
Naruto lowered his hands and looked up and into the smiling visage of…
“Haku? What are you doing here?”
The boy blushed faintly. “I’m an early riser as well. Do you mind if I join you?”
Naruto shifted to make room on the bench, idly noticing that Haku looked even more girly without the ponytail. Even if he was dressed in casual clothes of jeans and a simple t-shirt, it didn’t make him any more masculine….and he smelled kinda sweet too.
Oh, man. Now I’m drifting way into homo territory, Naruto thought with mild panic. At this rate, I’ll soon start checking out guys butts and wondering just how big their packages are…
“You look troubled,” Haku observed softly. “Are you worried about the fights today?”
If only you knew. “Not really,” Naruto replied with a smile. “I’m sure we’ll do well. So no problems there.”
Haku gave a soft giggle. “I have no doubt. Your school is quite strong and we’re yet to even see the main attraction. Mr. Uchiha Sasuke.”
Naruto’s heart skipped a beat. His name alone…Jesus! His name alone makes me feel so…so…
“What is it, Haku?”
Haku leaned even closer to him. “Are you okay?”
No…no I’m not. Because I…
“I love him,” he whispered, more to himself than to the boy beside him. His hands were clasped tightly to control his trembling, gaze trained on the grass beneath their feet as it hit him all at once. When he had told Sasuke that he’d be willing to let him know about his real emotions once the tournament was over, he was still on the fence, still unwilling to admit that he could ever find himself giving his heart to a fellow boy like himself. However, he had felt something last night…something much deeper than Sasuke’s cock penetrating him (as crude as that was). It sounded corny and cheesy…almost way too cliché, but damn it…Sasuke had made him feel again and that emotion was so freakin’ intense, it made him want to cry. Sasuke had changed him in more ways than one – had tapped into a part of him that he never thought he could show.
“I love him, Haku…” Why he was confessing this to the other boy, he had no idea, but there was something warm and reassuring about the Iwata student. Naruto felt as if he could pour out his soul to him and he’d understand.
“Of course you do,” came the quiet response. “I could tell when you two were together yesterday.”
Naruto slid a glance at his companion. “Why? Did we send off gay vibes or something?”
Haku chuckled. “Don’t be silly. You don’t have to send off ‘gay’ vibes for one to know you care about someone else. It was in the little things you did yesterday, that I’m sure you didn’t even realize you were doing.”
Naruto’s look must have been a puzzled one, for Haku smiled and continued. “You two would look at each other when you thought the other wasn’t paying attention…and there was warmth in your eyes, Naruto. I must confess…I felt …jealous.”
“Not you per se…but of being able to feel this way for someone else and have it reciprocated. I want to have someone like that in my life…but…with what has happened now…I think he’ll hate me for the rest of his life.” Haku lowered his gaze, his long hair blocking his face from view.
Naruto…who never thought he’d end up having to be a love doctor or advisor or anything - considering his track record for relationships- found himself curious all the same. “Have you told him how you feel?”
Haku shook his head, refusing to look up. “It will be impossible anyway.”
“What? He’s out of town…the country? You don’t have his cell number or email or…”
Haku looked up, his cheeks ruddy as he confessed quietly. “It’s Sai.”
The blond blinked. “Sai? Our Sai? From Konoha…but you just met him yesterday!”
Haku shook his head. “No…I actually met him about a year ago during the summer break. But there was a slight problem…”
“He thought I was a girl.”
“Well who wouldn’t with the way you look…no offense.”
“None taken.” Haku twiddled his thumbs like a kid caught stealing from a cookie jar. “I don’t want you to assume I’m a transvestite or anything, but I do like to wear kimonos that look…that might look feminine…it’s comfortable for me,” he added quickly as if defending himself and hoping Naruto wouldn’t laugh.
“Hey, what you choose to do in the privacy of your bedroom or life is your business,” Naruto said, raising his hands as if in surrender. “I’m just the listener here.”
Haku looked as if he wanted to laugh or cry or both, but settled for sighing instead. “Anyway, Sai thought I was a girl and treated me as such. I couldn’t tell him I was a guy. He was so nice and kind to me…teaching me how to draw a few things or make sculpture from the sands on the beach or…” His voice drifted away as memories of the time spent with the other fighter filled his mind. “…but I wanted more,” he finally continued. “I was falling for him, Naruto, and one night while strolling down the beach, I couldn’t control myself and…and…”
“You forced him to make out with you?”
“Not really…I kissed him…and was happy he began to respond…and we were really getting into it until he…well…discovered I wasn’t really a girl.”
“So what?” Naruto asked bemused. “Sai likes guys. You’d think he’d be ripping your clothes off and fucking your brains out…sorry…I mean…eh…have sex with you.”
Haku flushed. “I think it was the knowledge that I had been lying to him that really turned him off. Oh, I don’t know…” He shook his head slowly. “I just remember how shocked he was even as I tried to apologize and explain and tell him how I felt, but he wouldn’t listen. He walked away and never looked back.”
“And you just had to fight him in the first round, didn’t you? That sucks.”
“Don’t you think I’m aware of the irony? I wanted him to win…but you saw my coach…”
Naruto scoffed. “That guy should be shot. Sorry. I know he’s your coach and all but geez…what a bastard.”
“Zabuza can be intense,” Haku agreed with a weak smile. “He just expects the best out of us, that’s all.”
“Whatever.” Naruto leaned back on the bench and stared into the heavens, Haku’s story swirling in his mind as he tried to make sense of how complicated and painful love could really be. Sai must have never gotten over that betrayal and latched onto Sasuke who ended up not really reciprocating his feelings. It was like a train wreck, having one’s emotions toyed around so much. Naruto was sure if he was in Sai’s shoes, he’d never get over the losses and disappointments that seemed to surround him.
“Sai’s gonna be in a wheelchair for a while…”
The other boy winced and opened his mouth to say something, however his words caught in his throat as he noticed the warm smile directed at him.
“Our coach can’t push him around all the time…and I’m sure Sai will want to watch some matches so…he’s gonna need someone to move him about.”
“What…what are you suggesting?”
“You know what I’m suggesting. Don’t make me spell it out.”
Haku gave a blush that made him look shy and beautiful, and Naruto found himself fighting the urge to reach out to caress that pale cheek or worse place a kiss on those lips that looked so soft.
“But…he hates me…”
“Sure he does. I hated Sasuke too and look how we both turned out.”
Haku smiled and seemed to straighten up, taking a deep breath as if drawing strength from somewhere unseen. “You really think I should do it?”
“Hey, what’s the worse that can happen? He’ll hit you with his crutches or tell you to fuck off, but you just keep coming back and pestering him until he lets up.” Like someone I know.
Haku’s smile widened and before he knew what was happening, Naruto was engulfed in a bear hug, which had him laughing softly.
“Thank you, Naruto,” came the heartfelt whisper. Haku pulled back a little and this time placed a quick but tender kiss on the blond’s lips. “I’ll definitely give it a try and hope it works out.”
He rose to his feet and stretched his arms over his head. “I do hope things work out between you and Sasuke too. Does he know you feel that way about him?”
Naruto smiled and tried to control the flutter of butterflies in his stomach. “Not yet…soon though.”
“Well hurry up then,” the other boy said with a giggle. “He won’t be waiting for you forever, you know. Good luck with your matches today. I’ll be rooting for you.”
He waved and disappeared into the hotel, leaving Naruto to watch after him with amusement. He wondered how he was always able to act like the good guy for someone else when his life was still pretty much fucked up…at least in getting his emotions in check.
Tell him as soon as you can…he won’t be waiting forever, eh?
He took a deep breath and tried to psych himself up. “Just…call him aside…and then…and then tell him straight up, that’s all. It can’t be too hard, can it? I mean…just say …’hey, Sasuke, I’ve decided to tell you how I feel now because who knows? One of us might be killed in this tournament and I won’t get the chance to tell you how I really feel before it’s too late and then…’ Urgh! Who the fuck am I kidding? Just cut to the chase and …”
“Naruto!” Karin’s bellow echoed across the garden as she waved for him to get into the building. “Hurry up! Practice!”
Simply put – practice was torture.
This was not in reference to any actual pain from their light sparring, but from the knowledge that something had definitely changed between them. Last night had been the final stage in the ‘courtship’ and the aftermath was proving to be even more nerve wracking than once imagined. The problem all started with Naruto bounding into the room with eagerness and anticipation, only for him to catch those now all too familiar dark eyes that stripped him down to the core in one fell swoop.
Talk about getting the wind knocked out of your sails.
Karin had asked if he was getting the flu as he looked kinda ‘hot and bothered’, while Suigetsu – ever the wiseass tactician – had laughed saying ‘those two definitely did each other last night’ which earned him a swift kick on the shin from Sasuke that sent him toppling to the floor.
They barely spoke to each other during the hour warm-up session, and struggled not to get too close together for fear one of them would go up in flames or something…at least Naruto hoped he wouldn’t. Sure he had sounded confident with Haku’s encouragement, but being in front of Sasuke was a whole other matter. The three words seemed lodged in his throat and he couldn’t get over the fact that he could end up botching things or saying it in such a weird way, it would make the situation laughable.
A sudden clap of Kakashi’s hands broke his troubling thoughts. “All right, Team Taka. Let’s head out.”
“I’ll push Sai,” Karin offered as she moved towards their teammate, who had been watching them while sketching at the same time. If he still felt bitter about the way things had gone, he was doing a fine job of keeping it all to himself. One could only imagine how his emotions were being stretched at his inability to be a part of an event he had trained so hard for.
“Thanks, Karin,” he began quietly, only to stiffen as he noticed the person standing and waiting for them in the corridor.
“Hey, Haku,” Naruto greeted cheerfully, giving a quick wink as the other boy looked incredibly nervous and worried. “What are you doing here? Come to see us off?”
“I…I….” Words seemed to fail him, and he bowed again, keeping his gaze trained on the floor as he spoke in a rush. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be a bother but…but I was hoping that you’d allow me to be Sai’s guide to…today. I mean to pu…push his wheelchair…if he wants me to…”
“Let’s go, sensei,” Sai cut in rudely. “We’re going to be late.”
“But he wants to help out,” Naruto said. “And besides, he gave you that herb thingy that you drank this morning, so why won’t you let him…?”
“Get out of my way, Naruto,” came the low threat. “I’ll push myself.” True to his word, Sai began to maneuver the wheelchair with his hands, trying to get past the members of his team who were watching the events unfold with interest.
“Geez, Sai, why are you being such a…!”
“It’s okay, Naruto,” Haku interrupted quietly. He tried to smile but there was a noticeable strain on his features…the tears welling up in his eyes again. “I knew it would be…be like this and…and…at least I gave it a shot…right?”
“Sorry I wasted everyone’s time…I’ll be going now…”
He turned to leave, but Kakashi’s voice stopped him. “I will need someone to take care of him when the fights begin. You still haven’t mastered how to use the chair yet, Sai. So…Haku…I don’t mind you joining us…”
“Sensei!” Sai gasped with indignation. “I don’t need him…!”
“Sai.” It was a firm command even though the older man was smiling. “Allow him.”
“Then I’m not coming.”
“That’s your choice, Sai. I’ll still have Haku stay with you, so you might as well get used to him being around. Everyone else, ready?”
They spun around to leave, but not before Naruto looked over his shoulder to notice Sai glaring at Haku, who was smiling despite the anger directed at him.
Amazing. He’s still happy despite the fact that Sai will most likely kill him at the end of the day.
He could vaguely hear Sai’s threat of ‘touch me and I’ll run you over’, when Sasuke’s low voice halted his thoughts and sent his heartbeat into overdrive.
“You ran away, Naruto.”
Blushing to the roots of his hair, he shook his head quickly. “No…no I didn’t….I just…”
Sasuke, who hadn’t been looking at him per se, now slid him a glance that seemed to be a mixture of annoyance and sadness. He said nothing else as he stepped into the elevator and moved as far away from Naruto as possible. The blond would have made his way towards him, but Haku had pushed Sai into the elevator, successfully separating the two of them.
Any other real chance at a private conversation was thwarted as the frenzy of getting ready for the semi-finals took precedence. There was the short drive to the auditorium…the sign-ins…the meeting of excited family and friends who all wanted to take a gazillion pictures (Naruto’s side unfortunately as Ms. Fuyutsuki seemed determined to make a scrapbook of this special occasion). Karin introduced the team to her grandmother – who really didn’t look like a grandma at all, but quite young for her supposed age - while Juugo’s girl had showed up to wish him luck. Sai’s older brother was in the building as well – having come all the way from Brazil (he was involved in an archeological expedition apparently) just to see his kid brother kick ass. However, seeing Sai in the wheelchair was a shocker to the older boy, who acted way too dramatic and emotional much to his kid brother’s irritation and embarrassment. For Sasuke, only Mikoto showed up to cheer him on. According to her, Fugaku and Itachi were still on their way to the venue.
“ATTENTION PLEASE. ALL TEAMS IN THE SEMI-FINALS SHOULD MAKE THEIR WAY TO ARENA II. I REPEAT, ALL TEAMS IN THE SEMI-FINALS SHOULD BE IN ARENA II. FAMILIES AND FRIENDS, PLEASE HEAD TO YOUR SEATS IN THE MAIN AUDITORIUM. THANK YOU.”
Tons of ‘good lucks’ came their way. Kisses and hugs were exchanged and soon enough, the fighters found themselves in the familiar waiting room/arena. Unlike yesterday when it had been filled with students of all shapes and sizes, the remaining eight schools now made it seem sparse and almost empty.
“By tomorrow, only two will remain,” Suigetsu said, rubbing his hands together in glee. “Where are our opponents?”
“If you mean that team in blue glaring at us, then I guess they’re the Iwaki students,” Karin replied, shivering at the group of ugly-looking boys (there was no girl on the team) eyeing them.
Naruto’s gaze drifted over the rest of the fighters, noticing that Team Cloud was in a surprisingly quiet mood today. He had waved at Omoi earlier, but the boy was either too lethargic or hadn’t even noticed. Team Sand was again in a circle, neither members speaking to each other as Gaara seemed to be dozing off with his eyes closed and arms folded across his chest. Akatsuki …nothing new there either besides the fact that Pein was nowhere to be seen. He must have been staring hard enough for Konan, who looked like she was meditating, lifted her gaze to meet his.
Unsmiling, she rose to her feet and turned away, causing Naruto to bristle at the obvious brush off.
“If I may have your attention please!” It was the bullhorn announcer again. “First off, congratulations for being the final eight!” Another smattering of applause and some ‘whoo hoos!’ broke out. “As you can well imagine, everyone is excited to see your matches, so let’s put on a good show, eh? All right, first we have the protocol…you match out there when you’re introduced and etc. etc. You’ll return back to this room when the speeches are done. The first teams will then be announced and both schools are to make their way to the auditorium again. Unlike the last two rounds, there is no time limit and you’re free to fight until your opponent is either thrown out of the ring, knocked unconscious - no killing please if you can help it - or surrenders. Two wins decides the winner…third match is required if there is a tie…and if there’s still a tie after that…as in if after a while no fighters seem to be letting up, judges will stop the fight and award the winner based on skill and points accumulated. Understood?”
Murmurs of ‘yes’ broke out and this seemed to satisfy the speaker. “So without further ado…let’s get this started and good luck fighters!”
They were in the second block, which meant they’d have to wait for the first four schools to finish their fights. Although they weren’t allowed in the auditorium, a large screen had been set up in the arena for fighters interested in watching the goings on.
The first match was between Team Cloud and Team Hebi, and for the first time, Naruto got to watch his friend in action. Omoi was first on the stage, and Naruto couldn’t help smiling as he noticed his friend hadn’t changed that crouching stance of his over the years. Lightning fast moves, punches and kicks thrown at breakneck speed defined the match. Team Hebi was no slouch, but Cloud was even better prepared. They seemed to have a technique that involved using their hands as ‘knives’ or ‘swords’. They would slash through the air or at their opponents with ki-induced blows, which could be deadly if not controlled properly.
He cheered as Cloud won with just two matches – Omoi and Karui’s. Both seemed like a good pair. However it was the next teams set to fight that had everyone in the arena (and main auditorium) perking up with attention. Naruto could feel his insides tightening with nerves as Akatsuki and Shinsengumi were announced. As if pulled by an invisible cord, his gaze met Sasuke’s and held for a long moment. They both knew this was a match they were going to pay close attention to…everything else that hung like a cloud between them would have to be dealt with later.
“Good fight, brother,” Naruto saluted as he gave Omoi a hug of congratulations.
The dark-skinned boy laughed and shrugged. “No problem, brother. However, I’ve got to watch the next fight. One of them could be my next opponent.”
Naruto nodded in understanding and both boys stood side-by-side to watch the events unfold on the screen.
Shinsengumi looked impressive with their light purple gi and darker-colored headbands, but there was no denying the awe-inspiring aura that seemed to engulf their opponents in black. First up to the ring was Deidara and a long-haired boy from the opposing side. After the sound of the gong to begin the match, the Shinsengumi fighter dashed towards him with a loud yell, much to Deidara’s amusement apparently. The blond dodged effectively each time, almost toying with the other boy who was getting more and more frustrated with each missed punch or kick.
“I should end this quick,” Deidara finally said, grinning as he saw the opening he sought. “I want to see Konoha fight and don’t have the time for this.”
In a swift move, Deidara reached out and seemed to slap his hand over his opponent’s face. Those in the arena – or better yet – those with more fighting experience, were able to see the dull glow of ki being transferred directly into Deidara’s hand. The Shinsengumi fighter gave a loud howl of anguish, and his hands, which had formed fists initially, suddenly became slack and lifeless. Not quite done yet, Deidara licked his lips and with a lift of his knee, sent it hard into the other boy’s stomach – so hard that he barely blinked at the spatter of blood that splashed on his face from the boy’s mouth. Unceremoniously, he dumped the comatose fighter to the floor and stepped back, licking his lips again to taste the blood there.
“Mmm…yummy. Hey! I’m all done here,” he announced to the umpire who looked sick at what had just transpired.
“That bastard,” Naruto growled. “That sick, twisted piece of shit!”
“Let me at him,” Suigetsu responded with a look of excitement on his features. “I want a piece of that blond dickhead.”
“Not if I get him first,” Omoi bragged, although there was a pensive look on his features. “He’s good but we’re better.”
Naruto wasn’t buying it. He was worried as hell. “He’s not to be taken lightly, Omoi. You’ll have to be…”
“Shut up everyone,” Sasuke interrupted quietly, hardly betraying the knots forming in his stomach. “It’s not over yet.”
They turned to the screen as Konan and a pretty girl from the opposing side stepped into the ring.
After the gong went off, both girls didn’t move for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually, the Shinsengumi fighter performed a neat back flip, her intention to probably kick Konan with those long legs of hers, but the Akatsuki member was ready. She clamped both hands around the flipping girl’s ankles and with a light grunt, sent her flying across the ring…but not completely out of it.
The girl was trying to get up from the sudden journey she had just taken, when she screamed in pain as she felt the bone crushing blow on her back. Konan wrapped an arm around her neck and squeezed tightly, whispering into her ear.
“Give up now or I’ll snap it like a twig.”
The girl seemed to want to fight, but another tight squeeze threatened to block her airflow passage, and she was finally forced to lift a trembling hand in surrender, tears of frustration escaping her eyes as she was released.
“Winners….Akatsuki!” The umpire bellowed.
“Shit.” Naruto paced away from the screen, noticing that Yugito, Samui and Karui had been watching with interest as well.
“Well looks like we get them next,” Yugito finally said as she nodded towards her team mates. “Let’s head off to practice a little more, okay?”
“Don’t go too far,” the announcer guy stated as he walked into the room. “We don’t want to start searching for you all when the time comes.”
Akatsuki walked into the room first, with Deidara looking smug and quite pleased with himself as he eyed the room of fighters who watched them warily. “What? What’s with all the pissed off faces? Too awed by our fighting skills to say anything? You should be shaking in your boots. You should be…”
“Akatsuki scum!” came the sudden yell from a Shinsengumi fighter who hadn’t gotten his chance to fight. He ran towards Deidara with a fist formed to punch him, when Sasori suddenly appeared between them in a flash to block the attack.
“It’s over,” Sasori said quietly, even though his eyes spoke volumes with a warning. “Let it go.”
“You don’t scare me!” the other boy huffed and with a growl, thrust out both hands to shove Sasori away from him. A wave of energy must have been sent because the redhead was thrown a good distance away. His normally ‘innocent’ features darkened with fury and he made a dash for the Shinsengumi fighter only to find his arms caught and held above his head by a much faster newcomer.
“Like you said…it’s over. Let it go.” Kakashi smiled at the scowl he received, and waiting until he was sure Sasori wouldn’t go berserk, he released the Akatsuki fighter. Sasori brushed off himself as if wanting to get rid of the teacher’s touch and without saying another word, he walked towards Kisame, who had been watching the events from his position against the wall.
“You should have let them fight, sensei,” Suigetsu said with a sneer. “Let that Shinsengumi fighter wear him out.”
“Good plan,” Kakashi admitted, “but…we should be paying attention to the next match. We could be fighting either one of them.”
Sure enough, Team Sand and Team Kyo were making their way into the ring. The Konoha fighters were glued to the screen, eager to see a technique or two they could combat against when the time came.
Temari was up first – her opponent, a rather lanky boy from the opposing team, who called himself Kitsune. After the gong was heard, Temari was quick to launch an attack. She seemed to spin around with dizzying speed and no one saw her extend a leg to send Kitsune flying across the ring. A collective ‘ooh’ of appreciation filled the auditorium, and the girl would have smiled at the adulation, if it wasn’t for the sudden sharp hot pain that raced up her raised leg. Her eyes widened and she buckled to her knees, wincing as she noticed Kitsune chuckling from his crouched position.
“I knew you were going to do that,” he said. “So I hit your ki channels with my finger.” He raised his skinny hand and for a second, Temari’s wavering gaze could have sworn they looked like needles.
“I’m not done yet, you freak,” she panted and staggered to her feet. She had noticed Shikamaru in the crowd and there was no way she was going to lose in front of him. Swallowing the pain, she leapt into the air and prepared to deliver a hammer kick with her good leg. However, she fooled Kitsune into thinking she was coming directly for him and twisted in the air to deliver the crushing blow to his unprotected ribcage. His grunt of pain was music to her ears. She fell to the floor and would have moved again, when the pain wracked through her body again.
Not good. I can’t move my right leg anymore. Shit!
Kitsune, who was nursing his aching side, glared at the girl with venom in his eyes. He rose to his feet and dashed towards her to finish off the fight, but was stunned as she slid out of the way, and with every ounce of strength left in her, she thrust her left leg upwards, catching him off guard and subsequently sending him tumbling out of the ring.
In the waiting room, Naruto applauded. “Yeah, Temari! That was awesome!” However, his enthusiasm wavered as a close up shot of the girl, obviously in pain and motioning for help, had him frowning in concern. Medics were quick to rush up to the ring to lift her out in a stretcher as the auditorium burst into thunderous applause at the brave girl’s battle and win.
“Geez, what are they so happy about?” Deidara mused aloud in disgust. “What a wimpy way to win.”
Naruto opened his mouth to give the blond a piece of his mind but Kakashi silenced him with a shake of his head. No need to start another argument when the match was yet to be completed.
Up next was Yashamaru, who honestly looked as if he couldn’t hurt a fly. However, if his quick disposal of his opponent was any indication, the smiling fighter from Sand was not to be toyed with. His opponent had to be carried out in a stretcher as well.
“Damn…they’re good,” Karin muttered. “And we didn’t even get to see the other three, especially Goth boy.”
“Either way, we’re up next!” Suigetsu enthused as he cracked his knuckles and rotated his neck.
Naruto was so excited, he was literally trembling with adrenaline. He caught Sasuke’s eyes and smiled as he noticed that their captain looked just as eager to get started. When their school was called, they walked into an auditorium buzzing with excitement. Naruto could clearly hear the Konoha cheering section as their names were called out. Resisting the urge to wave back or do something stupid, he obediently followed the matching umpires, bowed to the grandmasters and waited to see if he’d be chosen to fight for this round. Secretly, he hoped not, as the effects of last night were still evident even though he had managed not to give away his discomfort so far.
Kakashi tapped his notebook and pursed his lips in thought. Finally, “Sasuke?”
“Feel like getting a quick warm up?”
The dark-haired boy gave a small smirk at the knowing look in his teacher’s eyes. He shrugged and then nodded. “Sure. I’ll go first.”
“Good. Next up…Juugo…and if needed…Karin.”
“What?” Suigetsu hissed. “How come I sit this out?”
“Because I said so.”
“Fighters for the first match please step into the ring!”
Sasuke took a deep breath and closed his eyes. His parents and Itachi were in the auditorium – the first thing he had looked out for when he walked in. Although he knew he was good, and really had nothing to prove to his father or brother, he still had to put on a good show. Lifting his lashes, he eyed his opponent who didn’t look like he would pose much of a problem despite his bulky build and bigger musculature. All the same…
“Kick his ass, Sasuke,” came the warm cheer from Naruto who was smiling at him in a way that made his cheeks darken with color.
Keeping smiling that way for me, Naruto and I’ll kick everyone and anyone’s ass you want me to.
“I don’t need you to tell me that,” he managed to mutter, ignoring the other good luck wishes that came his way, as he allowed only Naruto’s words and smile to propel him towards the other fighter.
“You’re dead meat, pretty boy,” came the first growl from the Neanderthal . “Prepare to eat my fist.”
How fast do I do this? Sasuke thought with an inner sigh. If he won too easily, it wouldn’t seem fair to the people that came to watch, but still…the guy was really beginning to grate on his nerves and he smelled like rotten eggs too.
“Raaaaarrr!!” The bigger boy charged for him, and with a light grunt, Sasuke leapt into the air to dodge the impending attack. He must have apparently moved so fast that the fighter couldn’t control his speed and would have fallen out of the ring, if it wasn’t for Sasuke moving again to force him back in with a solid kick to the boy’s stomach.
“Geez. This isn’t even worth a warm up,” he grumbled as the other boy wheezed and tried to catch his breath. “Are you going to stand up or not?” he asked irritably.
“Shu…shut up, faggot!” came the panted insult, which was all it took for Sasuke to have enough.
With a smirk, he scoffed aloud. “Faggot, eh? You wish you could tap this ass.”
And with a kick laced with ki, Sasuke sent his opponent flying out of the ring and into the first few rows of seats occupied by some important looking dignitaries. He lowered his leg and clasped his hands together to bow before the grandmasters. He was done with this farce.
“Oh my God, you were so cooooool!” Karin squealed in delight as Sasuke jumped off the stage to join his teammates. The auditorium had broken into raucous applause, and a quick glance at his parents’ section showed that they too approved. He could be imagining things, but Sasuke was sure his father had a small smile on his face even though he hadn’t clapped like Mikoto or Itachi.
“Good job, Sasuke. What was he saying to you up there anyhow?” Suigetsu asked.
Sasuke shook his head as he met Naruto’s excited blue eyes. “Nothing. Just rambling shit about…stuff. How did I do, Naruto?”
“Heh. You were too slow, dipshit.”
“Fuck you too,” Sasuke said with a chuckle, ignoring the butterflies in his stomach as the teasing insult seemed to take on a whole new meaning. Naruto must have known it too because he suddenly found Juugo interesting enough to cheer for him overzealously.
They needn’t have worried much as Juugo won his match fairly easily. He did get a scratch from his opponent, but nothing too life-threatening.
“Whooo! We did it!” Naruto yelled in delight as the umpires converged with the grandmasters from some reason or another.
Finally, the head umpire walked out to the middle of the ring and raised his hand to get their attention.
“How was that, ladies and gentlemen? Did we get a fantastic display of fighting techniques or what?!”
The yells and applause from the audience was deafening.
“And now, I am going to present to you our final four teams for the second half of our semi-finals. First up to the ring…TEAM CLOUD FROM HIRO HIGH SCHOOL!”
Naruto joined in the applause, whistling and cheering for his childhood friend as the four teammates ran out of the waiting room to position themselves in the middle of the ring.
“All right, next up we have AKATSUKI FROM SEIHOU GAKUEN!”
The applause was there, but one could sense that it was more reserved and not as enthusiastic as the others had been. Not that the team seemed to care…especially Deidara who was yucking up the moment with glee as they walked to the ring.
“And next up we have TEAM SAND FROM SEIWA GAKUEN!”
The enthusiasm picked up especially as Temari wasn’t there to share in the limelight with her teammates. The applause was also respectful of her absence.
“And last but not least, let’s hear it for TEAM TAKA FROM KONOHA HIGH!”
The auditorium seemed to erupt as the five fighters jumped onto the stage to bow in respect to their supporters and fans. Naruto, hardly knowing he was even doing this, had reached out for Sasuke’s hand as he waved with enthusiasm at the audience. Sasuke, who was more than aware of this intimate gesture in so public a place, held in his joy and tightened his fingers around Naruto’s to return the gentle pressure in understanding and gratitude.
“So there you have it, folks! Your four semi-finalists! Our first match will be TEAM CLOUD VERSUS AKATSUKI and the second match will be TEAM SAND VERSUS TEAM TAKA! The matches will begin in an hour, ladies and gentlemen, so don’t go very far or you just might miss the battles of your lives!”