Friday morning arrived with Konoha High buzzing in excitement … at least most of the male population, who had the ‘golden’ tickets, were the ones responsible for creating the buzz. Chouji was currently placing delicate kisses on his ticket, muttering names of the girls he hoped to meet once they got to Kusanagi. His high-powered camera was at the ready, for he hoped to take as many pictures as possible. It was a plan he and Naruto had hatched out once the meet was announced months ago. They’d make a killing with the sales! Speaking of which…
“Where is he anyway?” Chouji asked as he eyed his silent companion. Shikamaru was lying on the ground (they were on the rooftop), gazing at the skies as a cigarette dangled from the corner of his mouth. It was a ritual for the quartet - as they usually spent some mornings hanging out here before classes began – a way to unwind and prepare for a day of the same old boring classes and mindless protocol.
As he prepared to mumble out an ‘I don’t know’, Kiba’s hasty footsteps were heard just as the bell chimed for the morning assembly.
“He didn’t come,” he panted, a frown on his face as his friends looked on with bemusement. “I’ve been standing at the goddamn gate all this time and unless there’s some back way to get into the school for students, he didn’t show up. His cell phone is off too.”
“I know,” Shikamaru replied as he sat up and crushed out the cigarette. “I tried to call him yesterday, but he wouldn’t pick up. Sent him a few texts and no response either. I even thought of waiting for him after practice, but the dojo was empty. The fight must have been over pretty quickly.”
“Think he lost?” Kiba asked, unable to believe that Naruto would have been defeated anyway. He had seen his friend in action before and Kiba was smart enough to know that he wouldn’t want to piss off Naruto at any given time.
“What fight? What are you guys talking about?” Chouji asked as he looked from one pensive face to the other. “Hey, you guys are holding out on me.”
Shikamaru placed a friendly arm on the bigger boy’s shoulder. “It’s cool, Chou. Just some petty fight Naruto had with that Uchiha kid. In fact…is he here?”
“Who?” Kiba asked as they began to make their way into the school – the last thing they needed was to be bitched at by one of the teachers or the student council officers.
“Sasuke,” Shikamaru explained. “Did you see him?”
Kiba shrugged. “Wasn’t really on the look out for him, but no, I didn’t see him either. Maybe he’ll be at the assembly.”
However, Sasuke wasn’t at the assembly, as Shikamaru was quick to notice while standing in line with the other students. He was almost always standing with Juugo and Suigetsu, but today, the trio was missing one of its members. Once the assembly was over, Shikamaru caught up to Suigetsu by tapping him on the shoulder to get his attention.
“What do you want?” came the rude response once Suigetsu noticed who was bothering him.
Shikamaru held back his irritation, realizing he’d have to play nice if he hoped to get any decent answer from the other student. “Is Sasuke coming to school today?”
“What’s it to you?” came the sneer as Suigetsu cocked his head and eyed the dark-haired boy. “What about your buddy, Naruto? Where is he?”
“He didn’t come to school either,” Shikamaru replied.
“Hah, knew Sasuke had done some damage after all,” Suigetsu said with a smug look of satisfaction on his features.
“Was the fight that bad?” Shikamaru asked, noticing that Juugo, Sai and Karin were watching the exchange from a distance. He barely acknowledged Kiba and Chouji now flanking his sides.
Suigetsu seemed to weigh the decision to exaggerate things a bit or to tell them the blunt truth. “It was an okay fight,” he finally answered with a shrug and a look of boredom on his features.
“An ‘okay’ fight?” Kiba hissed as he took a step forward. “How ‘okay’ was it that it would keep Sasuke out of school, huh? What the fuck happened?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Suigetsu taunted, stepping up to Kiba as if daring the other boy to do something in retaliation. “What are you gonna do if I said Naruto got creamed?”
“I’d call you a fucking liar, you fucked up…!”
“All right, let’s all calm the hell down,” Shikamaru interrupted as he stepped between the two boys who seemed to be growling at each other. Karin was already making her way towards the group and she tapped Suigetsu’s shoulder firmly, a look of disapproval on her features.
“Let’s go, Suigetsu. We’ve got Geography first period with that Nazi, Ibiki, remember? Hurry up. We don’t have time for this.”
Kiba wanted to gouge her eyes out for the obvious jab, but Karin spun around to face the three boys for a moment. “If you must know, the fight was amazing…however, both sustained injuries and Sasuke has to heal properly. I don’t know the extent of Naruto’s wounds, but you might want to visit him when you can. Sasuke’s blows can be quite…lethal as well.” And with a wan smile, she walked away, leaving the boys gaping after her in shock.
“We have to see him,” Kiba finally croaked when he could find his voice again. “Let’s ditch school and go to his house.”
“Yeah!” Chouji chimed in – as all thoughts of the awesome time they’d have at Kusanagi seemed to be flying out the window. “Let’s do it, Shika.”
They waited for the boy’s approval, somehow relegating him the leadership position with Naruto not around. After a moment of thought, Shikamaru shook his head lightly. “Not now…too soon and we’ll arouse the teachers’ suspicions. Let’s wait till lunch time and then we’ll go, okay? Meet me by the fence next to the science building, got it?”
They nodded in agreement and made their way to class. However one collective thought rang through their minds – just how strong was Uchiha Sasuke to have caused such bodily harm to the seemingly invincible Naruto? If that was the case, then Sasuke was definitely not a guy to be taken lightly.
They found him watering the lawn – an odd sight considering how fast they had left the school to get here, filled with vivid images of him lying in bed wrapped in bandages and bruised up to the point of non-recognition. The only sign that he had been roughed up was the flesh-toned band-aid stuck to his forehead like a badge of honor. Juugo’s bruises were already fading –and it was something Naruto’s friends had noticed and become used to over the years. The boy had a remarkable ability to heal fast from a beating.
“What’s up, guys?” came the cheerful greeting as they gawked at him in disbelief. Chouji was still trying to catch his breath as they had used regular bicycles to get here, and he was the first to wheeze out in an accusing tone.
“What the fuck, man? What the hell are you doing?!”
Naruto eyed the green watering can in his hand and had the grace to look sheepish. “I’m just helping Ms. Fuyutsuki water the flowers. She said she’d pay me extra if I helped out today.”
Kiba blinked, still struggling to wrap his mind around what reality was presenting and what his fantasies had been feeding him all day. “You…you missed school for….this?”
Naruto shrugged and attended to the row of petunias. “School was gonna be boring anyway. I’m just killing time.”
“Killing…? Why you…!” Kiba wrapped an arm around Naruto’s neck in an attempt to give him a chokehold. “You had us worried, man! We thought you were…you were…”
“Sasuke didn’t come to school,” Shikamaru said quietly, watching with interest at the flash of an emotion he could have sworn was guilt in the blond’s eyes before it was quickly masked as he lowered his lashes.
“How’s that my concern?” Naruto mumbled and tried to escape Kiba’s clutches. Chouji joined in with the good-natured ribbing, as they laughed at the seemingly stupid situation they were finding themselves in.
“But really now,” Kiba said as he finally released Naruto to stare intently into his features. “Karin told us the fight was hella awesome. You really roughed up Sasuke, I heard. So bad he couldn’t even come to school today.”
“Probably sitting home and licking his wounds,” Chouji deduced with a loud laugh. Naruto tried to smile even though a part of him wanted to scream that he was still in pain himself. He congratulated himself for doing a good job in not showing it. His throat still felt raw and even now, suffering Chouji’s light punches affected his torso. It was all he could do not to grimace.
“He’s a good fighter though,” Naruto commented with a light shrug, as if merely giving Sasuke the obligatory compliment. But who was he kidding? Sasuke was more than just a ‘good’ fighter. He was sure Sasuke hadn’t gone all out on him and had simply been taunting Naruto throughout the fight. If only he hadn’t gone berserk…
“Huh. Either way, he got his ass handed to him and that’s the most important thing,” Kiba announced loudly. “Next time, he’ll think twice before pissing you off.”
“I do hope you haven’t forgotten what today is,” Chouji said with a look of glee on his features. “The day we’ve all been waiting for!”
“How could I possibly forget?” Naruto replied with a laugh. “Dude, I’ve been dreaming of this for so long, I could barely sleep last night. Come on in…hold on, let me just finish this…”
The trio watched in dumbstruck silence as the usually rough-mannered/awkward teen, slipped into a pair of garden gloves to tend to a few flowers that were still to be planted. With a gentleness they would not have expected from him (neither did any of them know Naruto was even into gardening for that matter), he set up a row of budding white roses and once satisfied with his handiwork, he rose to his feet with a sigh of satisfaction.
“What do you think?” he asked.
For a long minute, nothing was said until Chouji finally broke the silence. “Who are you? And where did you keep Uzumaki Naruto?” which in turn caused the blond to blush to the roots of his hair.
“Sasuke must have hit his head with more force than I thought,” Kiba mumbled as he began to walk towards the house. “Planting flowers? What’s next? He’ll start offering to knit us sweaters. Brr.”
As Chouji followed with a cry of ‘I’m starving’, Shikamaru was left to help Naruto clean up the gardening tools he had been using. There was so much he wanted to ask, but he was sure Naruto would tell him whatever he wanted in due time.
“You guys staying with me until it’s time? Or we can leave now so we get good seats,” Naruto said as they stepped out of the shed.
“Let’s eat first,” Shikamaru decided with a light yawn. “I skipped breakfast.”
They walked towards the house in companionable silence, but Shikamaru was bursting at the seams with the need to know just what had happened. However, it didn’t take long for him to have an inkling as he was suddenly stopped by the quiet question from his friend.
“What do you think of me?...really? I mean…if we weren’t friends or anything and you met me for the first time in school…what kind of a guy would you think I am? And don’t worry about hurting my feelings. I can take it.”
Shikamaru looked into the pale visage and realized that his friend really needed to know the truth to this. Trying to joke and make light of the situation was definitely something Naruto could do without at this time.
“In all honesty,” Shikamaru began as he turned his gaze to the ornate marble water fountain, which stood in the middle of the garden. “I wouldn’t exactly call you the nicest guy in the world, Naruto.”
He missed the flinch from his friend, or if he did, he pretended not to notice as he continued quietly. “I mean, don’t get me wrong. We…Kiba, Chouji and I know you’re a great guy, but you don’t really show that personality in school, Naruto. You don’t allow folks to get too close to you and your brash and rude behavior is usually seen as a turn off.”
“To most of the student body, Uzumaki Naruto is a loudmouth with bad grades, a pervert and a kid who likes to get in trouble. Many believe that you would have been expelled by now if it wasn’t for your uncle pulling the strings behind the scene. I know it’s not true, but the rumors are swirling about. They sometimes laugh at you behind your back, Naruto…I hear the conversations some of the girls and guys have and I swear I want to kick their asses for you, but…that’s the Naruto they know and see. They don’t know any better…you don’t give anyone a reason to see the good side of you…the gardener for instance,” he finished with a warm smile as he finally looked into Naruto’s face. “There is a gentle and kind and sweet Naruto…and don’t gag, but he’s in there.” He reached out to touch the blond’s chest gently. “You just have to let him out a bit more, eh?”
Naruto took a deep breath to suppress the ridiculous urge to break down in tears. Never had he heard such honesty about himself before and he knew…deep down inside… that Shikamaru was right. A sudden memory filled his mind – something he hadn’t remembered in so long. He could see himself sitting before his parents’ grave. How old was he then? Five? Six? Had he been crying? He wasn’t sure. All he remembered was the heavy downpour and how cold it was. He stared at the marble stones etched with their names, feeling a dull rage begin to flicker within him at how unfair it was for God to take away his mom and dad so soon. A looming shadow had fallen over him and he looked up and into the smiling visage of the huge man with long white hair – a man he had never seen before. Who was he and what did he want?
“You’re a fiery one, aren’t you, Naruto?” his so-called uncle had said as he leaned down to rub the blond hair gently. “Why don’t you come with me and let’s see if I can tame you a bit, eh?”
“I wasn’t always this angry,” Naruto whispered, causing Shikamaru to raise a brow in question.
“What was that?”
Naruto shook his head and shrugged lightly, just as the smell of pizza wafted from the kitchen and into his nostrils. “Nothing, Shika. It’s nothing at all. Anyway….thanks…for…you know…everything.”
“What are friends for, eh?” came the response, and before he could stop himself, he wrapped his arms around Naruto in a brief, but somewhat awkward hug, feeling his cheeks burn with heat at the gasp of surprise it elicited from the blond. He pulled away quickly and scratched his head, shrugging as if there was nothing to it. “Just don’t look so down around me,” Shikamaru mumbled as he turned away to hide his embarrassment. “I only want to see you happy, Naruto.”
“HEY! WHAT’S KEEPING US?!” Kiba bellowed as he held up a slice of pizza to tantalize his friends. “Let’s chow!”
Naruto swallowed the hard lump that formed in his throat as he listened and watched his best friends. He really was an awful person and yet…these three had stuck with him through it all. He tried to ignore the tiny voice that screamed that Sasuke also wanted a piece of him, but Naruto assumed that it was all just a physical need on the other boy’s end. Sasuke would never know the real Naruto – all he was interested in was sleeping with him and for some reason, Naruto felt a righteous anger at how … cheap it all seemed.
And taking pictures of half-naked girls, isn’t cheap? Wanting to hang out with Amaru just because she’s a hot catch, doesn’t make you a creep, eh, Naruto? Talk about a double standard, dipshit.
“Naruto!” someone wailed for him again, and shaking his head rapidly to clear his muddled thoughts, Naruto ran into the kitchen, eager to feel a sense of belonging with the ones he cared for.
By the time they arrived at the revered all girls’ high school, the line leading up to the gates seemed a mile long. It wasn’t much of a surprise to see that a majority of them were young men (and the occasional old geezer) all positively salivating at what awaited them inside the hallowed grounds.
“I can smell their perfume already,” Chouji sighed with a lovesick look on his face. “Can you smell it? Can you?”
“I can smell your B.O.,” Kiba offered as he mockingly tried to push Chouji away from him. His eyes were twinkling with excitement, and Akamaru, who was tucked into his jacket, gave a small yip to match his master’s enthusiasm.
“Now remember the plan,” Naruto said in a harsh whisper as they were fast approaching the gates. “Just hold out the tickets and don’t look into their faces. Give the illusion of being in a hurry, so they don’t start suspecting anything.” There were only two guards and with the crush of eager spectators, it seemed like they had their hands full. A group of thug-looking high schoolers (supposedly) were making trouble at the gate – those still in line began to whine and bitch about the situation, and before long, chaos reigned as more guards came running out from the building to shove the crush of people trying to force their way in.
In the madness, Naruto ducked and weaved his way between people’s legs, Kiba, Shikamaru and Chouji (who had a more difficult time of it thanks to his build), in tow. They finally managed to get to the front of the line and Naruto thrust the set of tickets before the flustered guard’s face.
“Thank you!” he cried out before the man could say anything else, and with a dash, he shoved his friends through the gate and went in last, giving a huge inward sigh of relief as he looked back to see that the guards had finally managed to shut the gate and control the crowd a bit.
“What a mess,” Shikamaru observed dryly. “Now you know they’re going to be extra careful with ticket holders now. Good thinking, Naruto.”
The blond smirked and straightened out his designer t-shirt and jeans. They were all dressed alike – not in the very same outfits – but in the same casual wear of jeans and shirt, more than glad to be out of their stuffy school uniforms.
“We should be rooting for our school, shouldn’t we?” Shikamaru asked as they walked into the cool confines of the building, only to lose his speaking ability at the row of girls (ushers apparently) waiting for them in the main hall.
“Holy Mother of…”
“Guuuuuh…..” was all Chouji could manage as a girl walked up to him to place a Hawaiian lei around his neck.
“Welcome to Kusanagi Girls’ High School,” she said sweetly, her voice sounding like a million nightingales in flight. She was gorgeous with breathtaking blue eyes and a shy smile that sent the plump boy’s heart fluttering. Their school uniform which consisted of a short-sleeved white dress shirt and pleated black skirt that was way above the knee, had their teenage hormones raging and firing on all cylinders. The effect was not just felt on Naruto and his friends, but on every other male (even men who were married! For chrissakes) who walked in.
“I’m in heaven,” Kiba moaned as another beautiful girl walked up to him to. “Someone just kill me…”
“Kibaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!” came the sudden squeal that ricocheted around the hall and caused more than a few people to cover their ears at the shrill sound. Kiba, who was still in a bit of daze, was snapped out of it quickly as a bundle of energy flung itself at him, sending them crashing to the floor.
“Kiba sweetie and Akamaru!” the girl, for that was the ‘bundle-of-energy’ was, straddled his waist with a wide grin on her pretty features. “Don’t you remember me? Miho from summer camp!”
Kiba looked flummoxed. “Miho? What are you doing here?! I thought you were in China?”
“China?” The girl cocked her head to the side in confusion. “No, silly!” She slapped his arm gently. “I’m in this school now. I transferred a few months ago. What do you think?” She stood up and twirled around for him, revealing her long legs encased in the knee-high white socks and shiny black loafers. “I’m cute, aren’t I?”
Kiba’s eyes gleamed with approval. He couldn’t really remember her that well, but what the hell, she was cute and obviously available. “You look like a million bucks, babe. Wanna be my date this evening?” He held out his arm and she took it with a giggle, leading him towards the swimming pool area, now chattering at a mile-a-minute.
“Look at how quickly he ditched us,” Naruto tried to grumble even though he was finding it hard to keep a straight face with what was happening. With Kiba gone, Chouji trying to chat up the blue-eyed babe and Shika…
“Oh, not you too,” came the groan as Shikamaru turned around with a sheepish look on his face. Draped on his arm was a girl with blonde hair done in two ponytails and green eyes that seemed to flash with hidden promises. She looked like a tough chick, and obviously had her eyes set on the handsome Konoha student.
“See you around,” Shikamaru mouthed as he was led away, leaving Naruto to stand on his own …at least it seemed that way for a girl was approaching him with a warm smile and a lei. He tried to gather himself…to act cool enough, when a voice from behind had him doing a double take.
“Uzumaki Naruto, right?”
He spun around quickly and almost fell on his ass as he found himself staring into the teal-colored eyes of the girl he had only seen in pictures and in his dreams. Her red hair was done in a tight ponytail – in preparation for the competition, Naruto was sure, but she was still dressed in her school uniform. She smiled warmly at him, causing his already racing heart beat to speed up even more.
“Amaru Azusa,” she said needlessly, giggling as he stammered something incoherent. “You’ll cheer for me, won’t you, Naruto?”
“Ah…yea….yeah…sure!” he finally managed to say, kicking himself inwardly for sounding like such a moron.
“I have to go to the locker rooms, or I would have shown you to a seat,” she said with a light pout, causing Naruto’s gaze to drift to those damn kissable lips. “But…make sure you sit where I can see you, okay?”
“Oka…” Anything else he would have said was erased from his vocabulary as she leaned up to place a light kiss on his cheek. She waved shyly and skipped away, leaving the boy gawking after her in disbelief at what had just taken place.
Okay, breathe, Naruto…just…breathe. What just happened was not a figment of your imagination, was it? You’re actually standing in the main hall of Kusanagi High School. You just met the babelicious Amaru Azusa, who knew your name and even what you looked like and even went as far as giving you a K-I-S-S and asking you to cheer for her….someone PINCH ME!
He got a cuff on the head instead as Shikamaru had returned to snap him out of his daze. “Stop standing around, Naruto. It’s about to start.”
Naruto, too happy to be bothered by the blow, gushed to Shikamaru like a love struck puppy. “You won’t believe who just spoke to me now, Shika.”
“Amaru Azusa. THE Amaru Azusa!”
“Shut the fuck up, man! You serious?!” came the cry of disbelief as they entered the boisterous and rather impressive swimming pool/stadium. It had an Olympic –sized pool which was adorned with colorful bows and rows of waterproof origami. The crowd was cheering wildly as different schools waved their banners and blew their horns to cheer for their teams. Naruto was torn between sitting in the Konoha section and parking himself between the bevy of beauties in the Kusanagi area. However, seeing Kiba and Chouji somewhere in the midpoint (and they had managed to snag good seats too), Naruto and Shikamaru made their way there.
“This is Temari by the way,” Shikamaru announced, motioning towards the blonde girl next to him as they sat down. She gave a small smile in greeting. “She says she’s in Amaru’s class.”
“Really?” Naruto perked up at the news, wondering if he could pester Temari with questions about the girl. However, those thoughts would have to be put on hold as the competition began in earnest. The parade of swimmers from each school brought loud cheers from the crowd, none more so than the appearance of the star of the show – the petite and uber-talented swimmer, Amaru Azusa. Naruto must have screamed until his throat protested the action, and he ignored the few glares he received from his school mates as they considered him a traitor for jumping ship. He wasn’t the only one though, as most of the boys from all the other schools seemed to cheer more for the Kusanagi girls.
An hour and a half later, it was all over. Not surprisingly, Kusanagi came in first with 6 gold medals, with Konoha in second taking home 5 gold. The boys, for protocol’s sake, stayed to cheer their swim team which also consisted of Ino and Sakura.
Ino glared at Shikamaru as they approached, Temari still latched onto his arm. “Well, look who decided to show up.”
“Good swim, Ino,” Shikamaru praised, ignoring the daggers slung at him with the blonde’s gaze. “Congratulations on your gold medal.”
“Yeah, whatever,” she huffed and walked away, causing Shikamaru to sigh in confusion.
“What did I do to her now? She’s always acting like I have the plague or something.”
Kiba, who was now sharing an ice cream with his new gal, looked up long enough to notice who was approaching. “Holy shit, isn’t that triple gold medal winner, Amaru Azusa, coming this way?”
Naruto, who had been itching for a smoke to ease off some of the tension from the evening, tucked the packet into his pocket hastily as he fixed a smile on his face at the mention of the girl’s name. Sure enough, Azusa – now dressed in her uniform again - was walking towards them, ignoring all the admiring looks from fans and a few extra photographers still snapping shots of her.
“Hi everyone,” she waved politely and beamed at the blushing Naruto. “Hi, Naruto.”
“Hi…hi…” came the squeak and then knowing nudges from Kiba and Chouji (who was red faced with envy) at their friend’s good fortune.
“I wanna leave this place,” Amaru was saying as she laced her arm around Naruto’s. “Let’s go to that new creamery in town…Oshi’s? Huh? How about it, boys?”
“Yeah!” came the cries from Miho, Temari and Miyabi (Chouji’s girl). Apparently, it was a hot spot for the girls and they were determined to take their new boyfriends to the place for the night.
“What kind of a ride do you have, Naruto?” Amaru asked as she pressed herself against him. Naruto tried not to trip over his feet, blushing hard at the feel of her breasts against his arm.
“A DN-01,” he replied, feeling his heart soar at her ‘ooh’ of delight.
“I love that bike,” Azusa gushed, and all but flung herself on the sleek, black machine when they reached the parking lot. “It’s so…sexy,” she crooned and laughed aloud at Naruto’s shocked countenance. “What? Thought I was so sweet and nice, eh? Come on, you bad boy. Sasuke’s said so much about you..now why don’t you show me what you’ve got.”
To his chagrin, Naruto found his heart rate increasing for a completely different reason now. Just one mention of the other boy’s name and the evening seemed to have taken a turn in a different direction.
Deep down, he knew he had Sasuke to thank for this meeting. He knew if it wasn’t for that phone call, none of this would have happened.
/You owe me./
I joined the club, didn’t I?
/You owe me./
I’ve paid my dues. I don’t owe him anything now. We came to an agreement and…and…
Amaru’s light laughter jarred his thoughts and his grip on the handlebars of the motorbike tightened as he sped down the highway, relishing in the way her thighs brushed against his jeans and her chest pressed against his back. Only in his dreams had he imagined this and it had finally come true all thanks to one person.
He groaned inwardly as he realized he’d have to be the bigger man about this. He’d have to thank Sasuke properly, even if it meant having to ask for forgiveness for allowing the fight to get out of hand.
Fine, fine, goddamnit! He finally roared at his screaming conscience. I’ll go to his place tonight and give him my thanks. End of story.