Karin adjusted her glasses on the bridge of her nose as she slurped noisily on her milkshake. She wondered if she could kick Suigetsu, beneath the table, for how obnoxious he was acting with his new handheld video game. Juugo, as usual, seemed to be spacing out as he stared out the diner window, his gentle features lost in thought. Karin wondered if he was still worried about breaking up with that chick from 3-2.
“He’s late,” she finally grumbled as she glanced at the door of the establishment and then at her watch. Twirling a strand of her long red hair, she slumped even more gracelessly on the seat. “What’s taking him so long?”
“Who knows?” came the absent-minded reply from the blue-haired boy sitting across her. However, a loud of whoop of excitement as he cleared the next level earned him a frustrated kick on his shin. “The hell, you bitch!” he bellowed, ignoring the irritated looks from the other customers. “What did you do that…?”
“Here he is,” Karin interrupted with a breathless sigh as she watched Sasuke walk into the diner. It wasn’t a surprise to see most of the female heads, and a few guys, turn in appreciation. Karin gloated inwardly at the knowledge that she was a part of his tight-knit posse, even though there were times she was sure Sasuke could give a shit if anyone was in his posse or not. It didn’t bother her though. She was resilient and oblivious like that.
“How did it go?” she asked, pouting a little as he sat beside Suigetsu, who was still engrossed in his dumb game. He could at least acknowledge their team captain’s presence. “Is he joining us?”
“No,” came the snapped reply. Sasuke motioned for the waitress to come over and ordered a burger and fries for himself. God, he was still irritated with the way the whole thing had gone down. If only he had a few more minutes and Shikamaru hadn’t shown his ugly mug of a face, Sasuke was sure he would have at least managed to steal a kiss or two. Or even gotten to second base.
“Ah man,” Suigetsu finally managed to say as he dragged himself into the conversation. “You sure you asked him properly?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sasuke asked with a raised brow, wondering again why he had chosen Suigetsu as a part of the team. Oh yeah, he was a damn good fighter. Shit. Goodness knows, he could do without him.
“Yeah, Suigetsu, what do you mean?” Karin chirped in with a look of righteous anger on behalf of Sasuke. “Are you saying that he can’t woo anyone to join us?”
“So far, not so good,” came the sneer from the gamer. “We need one more player to complete the team and Naruto’s the strongest fighter in the school…at least from what Sasuke says and he hasn’t managed to snag him yet. Major fail…ouch! Goddamnit!” He held his aching ribs as Sasuke had jabbed him there with an elbow. “Anyone kick or punch me again and I’m quitting.”
“Fine,” came the mumbled reply from their team captain. “Quit. See if I give a fuck.”
“I’m not quitting,” Karin announced needlessly, smiling and hoping Sasuke would dish out a compliment at her loyalty. “I’m with you all the way.”
“You and every other air head…” Suigetsu began, but quickly ducked as the salt shaker came flying towards him. Juugo, who had been quiet throughout the whole thing, caught the object deftly and set it back on the table with a wan smile. He looked pale and Sasuke wondered if he wasn’t taking this break-up thing a bit too hard. He needed Juugo to be at his best for the first matches in the upcoming tournament and didn’t need the big guy to be this morose.
“You okay, Juu?” he asked, promptly tightening his lips as he spied the duo walking past the diner. And as if things couldn’t get worse…
“Isn’t that Naruto?” Karin asked, pointing towards the blond and his dark-haired companion. There was still a look of annoyance on Naruto’s features and Sasuke sighed inwardly, knowing he was the cause of that. Great. If Naruto had always hated him, there was no doubt he wanted to kill Sasuke now.
And I had to give him an ultimatum. Way to go, Sasuke.
However, what other choice did he have? He has known Naruto since their first year as freshman, even though they weren’t in the same class. Who could ignore the handsome blond loud-mouth anyway? Naruto has always fascinated him, as much as he had not gone out of his way to be ‘friendly’. It wasn’t as if Naruto had signed up for any sports team while Sasuke had wormed his way through basketball and baseball in his first and second years and now his current position as team captain of the Martial Arts Club. They weren’t rivals in that sense. If anything, Sasuke assumed that Naruto was always upset with him over his popularity with the female population, something Sasuke couldn’t control … as much as he wanted to. He hadn’t made his sexual preferences any secret, neither did he go about flaunting it to the world. Many of the girls assumed he was bisexual anyway – something that seemed to turn them on even more.
But then again…girls were strange creatures. Look at Karin for example.
“…fucking team Cloud bugging us again…”
At the mention of their rival team from Hiro High School, Sasuke could feel his appetite waning. Okay, so he had blown his chance to get Naruto to have sex with him, but damn it! They did need him if they were to beat the toughest two teams in the country – Akatsuki and Cloud. Forget the fact that Cloud had three women on their team, they were the coldest bitches this side of Tokyo.
“Do you want me to ask him?” Juugo asked, his voice causing his teammates to blink at him in surprise. He rarely spoke and when he did…well, they listened.
“Think he’ll listen to you?” Suigetsu replied, rolling his eyes as he eyed his game again. “No one else takes you seriously in school, remember? They just think you’re some dumb moron who hulks around and stayed back for a couple a-years. In fact…sonofabitch!” This time he was rubbing his aching head and glaring at a huffing Karin, who had risen from her seat.
“You apologize to him this instant, Suigetsu, you bastard! Juugo’s the nicest guy you’d ever meet and you know it!”
“It’s okay, Karin,” Juugo cut in with a small smile as he waved his hands to calm the infuriated female. “I’m used to it.”
“You shouldn’t be though,” Karin mumbled, still frowning at the blue-haired unapologetic teammate. “He’s always mean to you. You should just clobber him one time and that will get him to shut up…don’t you think, Sasuke?” she added sweetly, sitting down again as she blushed at the looks that had come her way from aggravated customers. The owner of the diner was not looking very pleased as he hovered by the counter with arms folded across his broad chest.
“Where is Sai?” was all their team captain said as he downed his drink quickly.
Karin scowled and refused to answer. Suigetsu was back to his game and it was Juugo left to respond. “He had an art club thing to attend to.”
“Call him,” Sasuke commanded as he rose to his feet. “I need to see him tonight at my place.”
“Again?” Karin muttered beneath her breath. Sasuke ignored the comment and eyed his motley crew…save a certain blond that he hoped would join them soon enough.
“Stop fucking around and practice as long as you can this evening,” he advised with a frown. “We have the dojo all afternoon tomorrow, so let’s make the best of it.”
They watched him leave, and Suigetsu, for the first time, lowered his game to the table and bit his lower lip. “Something’s on his mind,” he finally said.
“Well, you finally noticed, Captain Obvious,” came the sarcasm-laced retort from Karin. “If he doesn’t get his shit together by tournament time, we are fucked. You too, Juu.” She managed a small smile towards their silent friend. “I’m sure you’ll get over ….whatever her name was. There are many other girls who would die to be your girlfriend.” Who was she kidding? Suigetsu was right in one thing, although it was a wrong assumption. Due to his height and sometimes slow reaction to most ordinary things, Juugo was teased a lot by others. He wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed and couldn’t read for shit when called on in class to do something. However, only Sasuke had seen the hidden power in the gentle giant and had recruited him into the club when no one else gave him a chance.
It was one of the many reasons Karin loved their brooding captain. Sasuke could always see what others couldn’t. It was just a great pity he couldn’t recognize her feelings for him….yet.
“Come on,” she finally said as she rose to her feet and stretched. “Let’s get moving. You heard the boss. Practice…my place?”
“Yup!” came the enthusiastic reply from Suigetsu. “Hopefully you have food in your house this time around.”
“Ouch! I swear Karin if you hit me one more time I’ll…!”
Juugo smiled at their antics, knowing full well the hidden emotions that simmered beneath their aggressive attitudes. However, he planned on meeting with the elusive blond soon. Hopefully, he would succeed where his captain had failed.
It wasn’t hard to find Takeshi, a high school dropout, who hung out in a congested and slightly claustrophobic electronics shop in the heart of Shinjuku. His telltale dreadlocks were dyed a shocking shade of red and pink today and he picked his nose as he listened to the tirade from the angry blond and his wary companion.
“Are you listening to me?” Naruto screamed, with a pound of his fist on the dingy counter. “I want my money back!”
Takeshi yawned and stabbed a sign behind him with a stubby finger. ‘NO REFUNDS’ was written with red marker on a cardboard paper that dangled precariously on its perch. Stuck beneath pictures of naked women and motorbikes, Naruto had the feeling the sign hadn’t been there when he bought the tickets a week ago. He tried to even his breathing, tried to make himself see less red and…
“You fucker!” he roared and dove over the counter, grabbing a hold of Takeshi’s dashiki (jeez, did the guy think he was African?) to shake him roughly. “Where’s my money, you lying sack of shit?!”
“Let him go, Naruto,” Shikamaru implored, trying to wedge himself between the struggling couple. “Hey! Enough, man!”
“Ma….man….manhandling me like that,” Takeshi wheezed and straightened out the wig on his head. Figures, thought Shikamaru absently. “You know how hard it was to get those tickets?” He pointed a finger into Naruto’s face. “You should be thanking me, blondie.”
“Oh yeah?” Naruto sneered. “The tickets you printed in your basement, huh? Damn it! I want my….!”
“Here!” Takeshi interrupted, whipping out a set of tickets and spreading them out with a flourish. “Primo tics, man. Floor seats…exhibition game between the American basketball team and our…”
“I don’t want to watch basketball, Takeshi,” Naruto emphasized coldly. “I want my money or REAL motherfucking tickets to the swim meet.”
“What makes you think those tickets are fake anyway?” Takeshi finally asked with a huff. “They’re as real as they come!”
“Come to think of it,” Shikamaru asked thoughtfully, “ They do look real enough, we could get in easy and no one would think twice about it. What’s the big deal, Naruto? We’ve snuck into bars with illegal shit before.”
“It’s not the same,” Naruto mumbled, feeling his cheeks heat up at the memory of Sasuke’s threat. He knew he shouldn’t let it bother him. He could still walk up to Kusanagi’s gates and present the tickets, but if Sasuke held his end of the bargain and made sure the guards didn’t let them in…urgh!
And let’s not forget you blew your shot with Amaru…
But you have three more days to say ‘yes’ and all this would be blown away…
“Oh God,” he groaned and leaned his head on the counter, feeling a headache fast approaching. Goddamn Sasuke and his fucked up ultimatum. I mean, what the hell?!
“You okay, man?” Takeshi asked, poking Naruto’s cheek with a pen, only to have it slapped away impatiently.
“Naruto…” Shikamaru began, now genuinely worried about Naruto’s behavior. Since their departure from school, Naruto hadn’t spoken much, especially about the random sighting of that Uchiha kid or what their conversation had been about. Whatever it was though, it was clearly messing with Naruto’s mind.
“You sure you don’t want the tix to floor seats?” Takeshi offered again, as he warily watched Naruto look up. “Okay, okay, how about this…” He dove behind the counter and for a moment all the students could hear were rummaging boxes and things crashing to the ground. Finally, the older boy stood up with a set of DVDs in his hands.
“Whoo!” Shikamaru all but shoved Naruto to the side as he noticed the scantily-clad women on the cover. “Suki Yamada…Anko Ai…my favorite women in the world,” he ended with a sigh. “And the latest ones too!”
Takeshi looked smug. “You said it, pal. And I’ll give it to you boys for free. See how nice I am? No one else would give you these babies without at least 10,000 yen as a down payment.”
Naruto eyed the DVDs. Normally he would have been all over this, but Sasuke’s threat hung like a cloud over him. Nothing seemed to give him joy now. The idea of giving himself to that bastard just to save his hide (as well as Shika, Kiba and Chouji’s) was too much. The idea of getting even a suspension was not exactly what he wanted to deal with. His uncle, who was sponsoring this whole damn thing (education and living expenses that is), was not exactly lenient with his delinquent acts and if it wasn’t for his travels around the world as a famous author - keeping him away from home most of the time - Naruto was sure Jiraiya would use him as a punching bag for getting in that much trouble.
“Let’s go, Shika,” he finally said, as he dragged himself away from Takeshi’s presence and stepped into the city evening. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, opening them again as he waited for Shikamaru to load up the DVDs into his backpack.
They rode on Naruto’s DN-01 in silence, stopping only to buy some takoyaki and Shika’s new pair of baseball cleats. Coach Yamato wasn’t going to lend him his anymore. The stingy bastard – Shika’s assessment.
“So…wanna tell me what happened on the roof with Uchiha?” Shikamaru asked as they approached the quieter sections of the city. The houses here were much bigger as Naruto’s uncle was loaded and could afford the extravagant homes. Shika found himself envying his friend in a way, although he knew that Naruto had lost his parents as a young kid in an accident and had no option but to live with his eccentric uncle. Naruto wasn’t given allowances that easily, and if his uncle had known his nephew wanted 50,000 yen to spend on swim tickets…he was sure Naruto wouldn’t be leaving the house all weekend. Hence Naruto’s secret working hours at the road job to earn the money. Naruto had every right to be bummed about losing that much over fake tickets.
“Is that all he told you? That the tickets were fake? Did you show it to him?”
“He knew already, I guess,” Naruto replied as he pulled up to Shikamaru’s house. Shika’s dad was a diplomat and worked at the embassy. Naruto had to wonder how his son ended up being such a lazy bastard. His mom on the other hand…
“You sure you’re okay?” Shika asked, eyeing the pale countenance exposed as Naruto lifted the visor of the helmet. “You know if you want to talk or anything…”
“What are you? My shrink? Anyway, I’m not giving up on the tickets. We’re going to get into Kusanagi or my name isn’t Uzumaki Naruto.”
His eyes narrowed in thought and determination for a moment. He opened his mouth as if to say something else, but decided not to, and with a flick of the visor, he gave a two fingered salute before peeling out of the driveway and down the narrow street. Shikamaru watched the bike round the corner (at a rather dangerous angle) before sighing with a shake of his head. Whatever was bugging Naruto, he sure as hell hoped it would be fixed soon. Dealing with the morose kid was definitely not something he wanted on his plate.
As he pulled up to his uncle’s house, Naruto had to do a double take as he noticed the dark figure leaning against one of the lamp posts that lined the boulevard. He came to a stop, recognizing that hulking figure anywhere. He doubted he had ever spoken to the bigger kid before, but here he was in the flesh, waiting for him obviously.
“What do you want? And how do you know where I live?” Naruto asked rudely as he eyed Juugo, who pushed himself away from the post and walked towards the blond.
Naruto sighed and took off the helmet, running fingers through his hair before taking a deep breath. “Yes. It’s me, Juugo. What the fuck do you want?”
“I’m Juu…” the other boy began, then blushed as he realized he was about to say something stupid. Naruto already knew his name. He backtracked and tried again. “Will you not reconsider?”
Naruto blinked in confusion. “What?”
“Joining us…the team,” Juugo explained with a shy smile. “You are one of the best fighters in the school. You will make our team stronger….against Akatsuki and Cloud.”
“Oh God, not you too,” Naruto groaned and prepared to start up the engine again. “Look. I’m not into that sports slash tournament stuff. I’m more of a street fighter. I don’t do well with rules and shit. Go find someone else.”
Juugo remained silent, only staring at Naruto who was beginning to get flustered at the intense scrutiny as well as Juugo’s looming height. “Listen! I’m flattered you guys want me for the team, but seriously I can’t…”
“You fight me,” Juugo repeated quietly. “If you beat me here, I will not bother you anymore.”
“Yeah, and then if not you, that fucker, Sai will do it. Get away from the gate, Juugo. I’m tired as hell and want to take a shower and just get some rest, okay?”
“You will not fight me?”
“Hell no, I don’t want to fight you!” Naruto yelled in irritation. “I’m tired! I’ve had a shitty day no thanks to that team captain of yours and now…the hell!”
He ducked at the blow that had come from nowhere, staggering and almost losing his footing as Juugo’s fist smashed into the rear view mirror, taking it out with one hit. Naruto gasped at the damage in disbelief. His baby. His precious baby had been destroyed by this…
“You son-of-a-bitch!” he roared, as he flung himself at Juugo with a head butt into the bigger boy’s torso. Listening to Juugo’s grunt of pain was not satisfactory as Naruto formed a fist and drove it into Juugo’s stomach. This time, the bigger boy doubled over in agony…only to spring up with an agility that betrayed his height and build. He came for Naruto again, this time connecting with the surprised boy’s left cheek. Naruto’s world exploded in pain, his eyes watering as blood filled his mouth at the assault. However, this only did more to fuel his anger and he raised a leg to deliver a round house kick that was so fast, Juugo barely had the time to dodge it. He hit the solid brick wall that surrounded the Jiraiya compound, wincing as his head struck it with a low thud. Naruto grabbed a fistful of Juugo’s shirt and slammed his fist into the boy’s face, sneering as a small spray of blood escaped the boy’s now swollen lips. Something white glistened beneath the lamp light and Naruto knew he had a done some damage and gotten a loose tooth for a souvenir.
“Had enough,” he panted harshly. “Or want some more, you sick fuck. That bike was expensive, shithead!” He released Juugo and half-crawled towards his mode of transportation with thoughts of how to salvage the damage, pay for it or kill Juugo…whichever came first.
Juugo scrambled up into sitting position, chuckling softly as he wiped his bloody lips. His cheek would swell to the size of a football by tomorrow and his stomach and chest would be aching for a few more days. Now, he knew why Sasuke wanted him on the team. Naruto’s blows were lethal and Juugo had the feeling he hadn’t even been using his full strength.
“My bike,” Naruto moaned as he cradled the broken piece of his ride. “Uncle is gonna kill me.”
“I’ll pay for it, Uzumaki Naruto,” Juugo replied as he rose to his feet. “I apologize, but I only wanted you to see how serious I was.”
“My bike…” was the only mournful response he received.
“I ask again, even though I know I promised I wouldn’t…please consider joining our team. Sasuke needs you to make us complete.”
Sasuke needs you.
/It’s you I want./
Naruto could feel the wheels spinning in his mind. If Sasuke needed him that badly for his team, then he could promise to join the morons if Sasuke took back his threat to report about the fake tickets and whatever other transgressions in Naruto’s past. He could use this to bargain his way into Kusanagi Girls and into Amaru’s arms. Yes!
He smirked and then rose to his feet. “Say, Juugo. Maybe I’ll think about it. This fighting thing might not be so bad after all. You convinced me, buddy.”
Juugo’s eyes widened. He couldn’t believe it. “Rea…really? You will join us?”
“Well on one condition…several actually, but yeah…I’ll have a talk with your team captain, eh? I’m sure he’s bound to see things my way…if he wants me that badly.”
“Thank you, Uzumaki Naruto,” Juugo replied, reaching out to pump Naruto’s hands in a firm handshake. “You have no idea how much this means to us.”
Naruto almost felt like a heel at the genuine look of delight and relief on Juugo’s features. The guy might be dumb, but he seemed like a nice enough person. But what the hell? It was his ass on the line….literally. No way was he going to allow Sasuke to touch it as long as he lived, and if this was the only way to save himself, then so be it.