Chapter 1: Enter! Naoki Uchiha
[Fanart of this chapter made by: LadyMid0ri (https://www.deviantart.com/ladymid0ri) on DeviantArt.]
It was early in the morning when two identical looking dark haired boys could be spotted jumping from roof to roof, above the busy streets of Konohagakure, competitively racing towards their common destination. The air between them was heavy and silent as usual, but surprisingly enough, the playfulness and quirkiness of their childish competition was still there. Because no matter in which state their relationship was in, there was one thing that remained unchanged. And that was the blood running through their veins that had tied them together since birth; their brotherhood.
The truth was that, despite their differences, the bond of brotherhood was so strong between the two of them, that neither could truly despise the other, no matter how much they wished to do so. After all, their goals seemed so similar, yet so different. And they were both centered around a single person.
A person they both used to know.
“Hey, Naoki...” the older of the two boys called out to his brother, without turning to look at him or remove his eyes from the goal at all. “You sure have gotten slow.”
“Eh, what is this? It’s very rare for you to be initiating a conversation lately, Sasuke.” the boy named Naoki replied with an ambiguous yet innocent-looking smile. “Then again, even when you do, you only say things like that.” he then sighed. “And to respond to your statement, it is your fault I am being slow. You dragged me out of bed way before the sun even rises and had me help you with breakfast when I was still sleepy. Why do we even have to leave home so early anyway? Class will not start until one hour later.”
“Quit your whining.” Sasuke fired back. “That's because you let them follow you around and squeal in our ears first thing in the morning every single day...those girls.”
“Don’t be mean. I think they only want to be our friends.” the younger boy reasoned. “But if you hate it so much, then why do you insist on going to the Academy together? You could have just left alone earlier and I’d show up later with the girls. Besides, I wanted to see if she was there this time-”
“As if you are reliable enough to be left alone.” the other boy barked, cutting his brother off. “You can’t even do the chores properly or cook edible food whatsoever, so what would actually happen if I left you alone every morning?” he added with a playful smirk. “You cannot survive without me.”
“Ah, that’s true.” Naoki sulked. “Okay, I get it...I admit defeat.” he added before wearing a smile of his own. “But definitely not on this current race!”
“Tch.” Sasuke spat as he watched his younger, by one year, brother getting ahead of him in the spur of a moment. Determined not to let him have his way, he made a higher jump to the next rooftop, effectively catching up with the other boy, who simply scowled in response.
It was then that he noticed a long sheathed katana strapped on his younger brother’s waist, one he had seen him carry since their early childhood. Yet, every time his gaze landed on it, a horde of dark and painful memories was echoing within his mind like a broken record. And they were memories he wished he could just erase already.
“That katana-” he muttered. “You’re still carrying it with you after all these years, even when you are not training with it.”
“Of course.” Naoki then smiled in a nostalgic manner. “How could I not? It is a part of me, after all.”
“You always say that.” Sasuke responded impassively, before letting his eyes turn fierce in an instant. “Is it because he gave it to you as a birthday gift?”
“That is a reason too, but it runs a bit deeper than that.” the boy admitted with a depressing look momentarily passing through his dark eyes. “Up until now, it’s been...a secret between me and him. It is not something I can go around and say freely. You understand, don’t you?”
“I do understand, actually.” the older one of the two muttered in disgust. “It is yet another of the many secrets you two were so eager to hide from me. Like the fact that he was training with you in secret, while I had to beg for just an ounce of his attention.” he then spat. “You were always his favourite and the one he pampered the most, and yet look at how it turned out for you too.” he mocked. “The fact that you still love and support him so passionately is simply pathetic and laughable, if you ask me.”
“Training in secret, huh?” Naoki reminisced with a smile, choosing to ignore his brother’s harsh words. “Thinking about it now, that katana was the sole reason why I ever got that chance.”
“...Huh?” Sasuke blinked in confusion. “What are you talking about all of a sudden?”
“Hm, what indeed-” the younger sibling mumbled. “I think it is about time I told you about this katana. It might as well make things more interesting, don’t you think?”
“How should I know?” the other one closed his eyes and replied with a sigh. “You are the one who started to bring up random topics from the past out of nowhere.”
Naoki only chuckled cryptically, before clapping his hands as if having come up with an idea, and turned to his older brother as they both landed on the ground.
“Well then, how about a small story?” he proposed. “I have a feeling you will find it to be a very interesting one.”
Upon receiving a glare as a reply from Sasuke, the boy could only sigh in defeat as he went forward, but he went ahead to tell the story anyway. And he did so with more than just a nostalgic expression on his face.
“It all happened 6 years ago.”
A 5-year-old Naoki had just finished the lunch his mother had made him and with impatience, he had ran towards his small room in order to retrieve the wooden sword he used for training. He then walked up to his mother who was cleaning the kitchen and spoke up in an eager tone.
“Mama! Have you seen Itachi-nii-san?! He promised he would be here to celebrate my birthday with me today!”
The woman smiled tenderly at her youngest son’s energy and patted his head apologetically.
“I’m sorry, Naoki. Itachi is currently on a mission they assigned him in the very last moment, and probably won’t be back until tomorrow morning. Why don’t you go play with Sasuke instead? Maybe you can celebrate your birthday together in your brother’s place.”
“I don’t want to. Sasuke is always mean to me and always tries to keep me away from Itachi-nii-san! So, tell me, where did he go for his mission? Please tell me!” the young child whined making his mother sigh in defeat.
“He went to the east forest in order to take care of a group of bad people and retrieve a stolen treasure. However, there are some skilled shinobi among them so this mission is dangerous. Please don’t be reckless and-” the woman began saying but was instantly cut off by the young boy running off the house in a hurry.
“Thank you, Mama! I’ll be going now!”
“Naoki, wait!” she began to say once again but this time was interrupted by an older man who spoke up as he watched his youngest son run away with a serious expression.
“Let him be, Mikoto. As he is now, he is the weakest link of the Uchiha Clan. He is matching up to the skills Itachi had on his age, but being afraid to use them because he doesn’t want to harm people is inexcusable for someone who is to be a shinobi carrying the name of the Uchiha. And what is even more inexcusable when it comes to this child, is not being able to master the Great Fireball Technique; our clan’s pride and joy when it comes to jutsu. Gaining experience will perhaps make him into a stronger individual. Our prodigious eldest son is the one who can guide him there.”
“But, Fugaku...he’s only five!” the woman countered, but wasn’t convincing enough to change her husband’s beliefs.
“No, he is already five. If he keeps being weak like this, he will eventually be more of a disgrace to the clan’s name. Let him rough himself up and learn from his experiences. That is what a person with advanced blood running through his veins should do.”
The Uchiha housewife eventually gave up the fight and simply watched her son running towards the woods alongside her husband with a small smile on her delicate lips.
“The day will come when you will prove them all wrong, my son…”
Meanwhile, the little Naoki was already deep into the forest while desperately searching to find a clue as to which direction his older brother must have taken. He was aware that it was impossible for a normal shinobi, let alone him, to trace his brother, but he did not give up nonetheless. And so, he began searching for other clues that would help him with his mission, such as possible footprints, torn clothing or signs of fighting. He, of course, found none of the above and continued wandering aimlessly for a few hours, until he realized he was lost deep inside the forest. Scared to walk through the forest deep into the night, he desperately searched for a way back home, until the sound of loud voices reached his ears. Using his natural speed, he climbed up to a tree and jumped from branch to branch in order to get closer to the source of the sound. Once the landscape became clearer, Naoki remained on a high tree branch as he examined the area with his jet black eyes, before the sound of the voices caught his attention again. He couldn’t make out what they were saying but from the way their camp was set and the clothes they were wearing, he could tell they were people coming from the mountains.
‘Could they be the bad people Itachi-nii-san is looking for? If that’s the case then some among them might definitely be shinobi. I wonder from which village they come from.’ he thought to himself while trying to be as silent as possible.
However, his cover didn’t last for long and the young child’s eyes widened in fear as he felt an ominous presence behind him. He slowly turned around to face the man, only to witness him wearing a forehead protector with what seemed to be two stones on it.
‘That sign...I’ve seen it on books before. Iwagakure? So he is one of the shinobi!’
“It looks like we have an uninvited guest here.” the man spoke as he grabbed the young child by the hair and jumped down of the tree as he dragged him towards the rest of his men.
Naoki cried in pain as he felt his ebony black hair being pulled harshly while trying his best to resist the tight grip the shinobi had on him, but his resistance was proven futile since it only hurt him more rather than helping him break free. Still, as the Iwa shinobi let him down and the rest of the men circled around him, Naoki tried his best to calm himself down and think of an escape route as fast as possible before he was beaten to death by the men who were glancing at him as if he was prey. In order to give himself some more time to think, he made an effort of speaking with them in order to find out more about his brother’s mission.
“Wh-Who are you guys? You are from another village, right? What do you want?”
The Iwa shinobi laughed mockingly at the boy’s question and kicked his side harshly. The young Uchiha groaned in pain, but tried to suppress it and glance straight into the smirking man in front of him who spoke up.
“Hehe, to think Konoha has stooped so low as to send children who can’t fight to spy on us. Just what is that Hokage thinking? I suppose I can answer your questions though since you are going to die soon.” the man bragged. “I am a former Iwa shinobi and my goal is this very katana.” the man said as he pointed to a certain item.
At his words, Naoki turned his attention to where he was pointing, to see an elegant looking katana in a monochrome sheath that had two traditional dragons engraved on it. Strangely enough, the boy found himself captivated by the sight and he couldn’t avert his eyes from it even if he wanted to. It was as if an invisible force was dragging him towards it and he was about to raise a hand and reach for it before the severity of his situation downed on him and he shook his head to get rid of the weird feeling before speaking up.
“This katana...is it special? Just now, it felt...strange.”
The man’s eyes widened at the question, surprised that the child could feel the katana’s soul so easily, but instantly regained his composure and explained the situation.
“Yes...you are surprisingly right. Its name is Ryū no Tsume and it is an international treasure for the shinobi world. Us treasure hunters hold it in great regard. It is said that the souls of everyone who were killed by it rest inside it and due to that, it contains immeasurable power. Reports claim that it was originally created by one of the Water Dragon’s claws, who resides in the Suijin underwater caves, and hence the name Ryū no Tsume. However, there's one more thing that makes it special. Wanna hear it before you die, kid?”
Naoki disregarded the threat and nodded vigorously, too engrossed in the story to even be afraid or realize his situation anymore.
“Yes, please tell me what it is.” the boy insisted, not removing his gaze from the prestigious katana displayed in front of him.
The man ‘hmphed’ at Naoki’s lack of fear realizing how drawn he was by the treasure and continued to speak in an effort to dishearten the boy.
“You see, this katana is special because it can’t be wielded by just anyone.”
That seemed to get Naoki’s attention who removed his gaze from the weapon and set it on the man.
“...Why is that?”
“That’s because this katana chooses the wielder on its own. The Water Dragon’s chakra that is stored inside it is the one who decides who is worthy enough of wielding it. And yet, I heard there is a ritual one can perform to make the katana choose them. For that, I will need to sacrifice a living being. Consider yourself honored, kid. You are going to become a sacrificial lamb for the katana you liked so much! Men, keep him in place!”
Naoki’s eyes were filled with fear after those words and he watched in dread as the Iwa shinobi pulled the katana out of the sheath and pointed the tip of the blade on the boy’s neck. His whole body was trembling and at the moment his mind had went blank, not being able to think of any scenario where his life was saved anymore.
However, it didn’t seem like he had been fully abandoned just yet.
Just when he was about to give up, the boy’s ears perked up to a mysterious chant which he only kept on hearing clearer and clearer...louder and louder, until he noticed it was coming from the very same weapon that was pointed at him. And glancing around him out of curiosity, he was surprised to see that the rest of the men present seemed to not be able to hear the sound. Thinking it would give him a fragment of a chance to escape the situation, however, little Naoki took a deep breath before memorizing the mantra coming from the katana and began chanting it with a low voice, not even considering the consequences it might bring anymore.
“By the claw of a dragon...than the hand of a friend…”
The men around him blinked at the boy’s strange chant and simply glared at him before the Iwa shinobi widened his eyes in surprise. The hand he was holding the katana with began to feel heavy and was trembling out of the sheer power emanating from the weapon. Panicked, he glanced at Naoki who was equally surprised as he continued his chant.
“Guide the one predestined…guide him to the world’s end...”
“Wh-What are you looking at?! Stop the kid!” the man commanded his underlings, but it was too late as Naoki was finishing his chant with a much louder voice.
“Bathe in their blood...Ryū no Tsume!”
At those last few words, the katana glowed a bright gold and its weight became even more unbearable to the shinobi’s hand, resulting to him being forced to drop it down to the ground and the men momentarily letting Naoki out of their grasp in order to check on their boss.
The child used this opportunity to slip away from them and unconsciously snatched away the weapon that had fallen on the ground. When his hands held it for the first time, a surge of power rushed within the boy, the impact of it making him lose his balance and fall flat on his back. However, this was proven to be a grave mistake since it gave the opportunity to the Iwa shinobi to catch up to him. The man jumped forward and stomped to the boy’s right leg angrily, managing to break his bone in the process. Naoki cried in pain as he gripped the katana in his hands tightly before the man spoke up.
“You lousy brat, you did something, didn’t you? How is Ryū no Tsume light for a kid like you but heavy for someone like me? You must have used some kind of jutsu, right? Speak now!” he said as he raised his foot to stomp on the boy once again.
However, before he could do that, Naoki felt the hand he was holding the katana surprisingly light, and out of instinct, he raised it in a quick motion, managing to surprise the man. And before he could regain his composure, the boy slashed with the light weapon once more, this time managing to scratch the man’s left eye.
That caused the man to groan in pain and hold his bloodied eye with one hand while taking out a kunai with the other and moving towards him. The boy was horrified at the murderous look the man held and with trembling hands, he raised his katana to guard himself, but knew it was to no avail since he didn’t even know how to use it properly. Taking a deep breath and preparing for what was about to come, the boy closed his eyes in anticipation of the impact which never came. Instead, he heard a piercing scream coming from the man in front of him and instantly opened his eyes in order to see what was going on.
Out of nowhere, two kunai were thrown and struck on each of the man’s hands, making him drop his own kunai and preventing him from attacking the child any further. Naoki’s eyes widened at the scene, but took advantage of it regardless, by using the chance to drag himself away, despite the pain of his broken leg. Both him and the Iwa shinobi glanced around in order to find the source of the attack, but all of their questions were answered when Naoki felt someone land beside him and place a hand on his head. The boy looked up to the mysterious person only to gasp in surprise and grip the katana tighter.
Said man glanced down at his younger brother with tender eyes before they sharpened to a glare as he set them on the other shinobi.
“...What am I even going to do with you?” he muttered almost too silently.
“Wh-What is the meaning of this?!” the man exclaimed in surprise. “Men, seize them!”
Not getting a response, however, made him turn around only to see all of his men lying dead on the ground. Panic rose to his head in an instant, after seeing an image such as this, and he started backing away in a desperate attempt to get away, but he knew of his fate by now.
It was all futile.
“And now, it is your turn.” the older Uchiha said as he pointed a finger towards the man.
At this instant, he began screaming in agony and shake like a leaf, the physical pain too unbearable for him. Eventually, he fell on the floor unconscious making Itachi sigh before he turned to his little brother and sat on the ground beside him. He expected the boy to cry or feel terrified, but all he saw was the wonder that was shining inside his matching jet black eyes.
“...Aren’t you scared?”
Naoki, however, instead of nodding or crying, replied with something that rendered the older Uchiha speechless.
“I was terrified at the beginning and I thought I was going to die, but from the moment Itachi-nii-san appeared, I wasn’t afraid anymore.”
Itachi patted his younger sibling’s head once again and let a small smile grace his lips before beginning his interrogation.
“Should I even ask why were you here in the first place?”
Naoki lowered his head in regret, feeling that his brother was about to scold him and replied in a low voice.
“I...was upset that I couldn’t celebrate my birthday with you, so I asked Mama and she told me where you had gone.” little Naoki admitted bashfully. “Besides, I wanted to watch you fight. That’s why I always follow you around in missions and try to learn things from you. For example, that genjutsu you cast upon that shinobi was awesome too. He didn’t even need to look inside your eyes to fall victim to it!”
“I’ve told you many times, Naoki. Shinobi missions are not a place for me to train you. And yet...I believe it was a good thing that you were here today.” Itachi stated making the child glance at him with curious eyes.
“What do you mean?”
His question was instantly answered when Itachi’s gaze fell on the katana on the child’s hand. Upon realization, the boy became flustered and clumsily handed the weapon to his brother while muttering apologies.
“I-I’m very sorry! I got in the way of your mission and stained the object you had to retrieve with blood. But-”
Itachi took the katana from the boy’s hands and held it on his own, his eyes widening upon feeling its weight. He then nodded to himself as he finally confirmed his suspicions and handed it back to Naoki who glanced at him in surprise.
“It is quite alright. I won’t be needing it anymore, and by the looks of it, nobody else will either.”
“...I don’t understand.” Naoki trailed off as he held the now light as feather katana in his hands.
“I didn’t want to admit this, but I have been here for a much longer time. I apologize for not coming to save you right away, but I needed to confirm a few things about this weapon. As far as I knew, there were no records of how it looked like on the Hokage’s office, so this could have even been a replica of the actual katana and those shinobi would have kept the real one they stole somewhere else. Yet, upon witnessing it react to you and especially after you chanted that mantra and awakened it, I was plenty sure it was the real deal. The thing is, Naoki...this katana has chosen you.”
The boy blinked in surprise at the statement and he glanced down at the still glowing gold weapon and back at his brother before speaking up.
“H-How is that possible? I heard from that shinobi before that this katana is choosing its wielder on its own, but...why me?”
“That’s something I’d like to know as well. But it shouldn’t be concerning you at this point.” the teenage boy revealed, before proceeding to reveal some more. “Now, listen to me closely. Everything about its backstory that man told you was true, except for one thing. There is no ritual to make the katana choose you. It selects you on its own for one major purpose that you will find out at some point in your life. Once it picks you, the only one who will be able to wield that katana is you. I confirmed that after you let me hold it and it felt too heavy to even grip. But to you, it probably feels like a feather in the wind, doesn’t it?”
“Y-Yeah...” Naoki replied timidly.
“Then from this time forward, this katana will not be able to change hands. It will be under your command until you die. If that happens, your soul will reside inside it, like all of its previous wielders.” Itachi explained with a nod.
The boy was taken aback by the information as the situation finally began to make sense to him and he asked once more for confirmation.
“I thought only the souls of the people it has killed can reside on it. So it is the wielders too...” Naoki trailed off. “Then, this treasure can change owner only if I die?”
“Yes, that is exactly right.” his brother confirmed making Naoki glance at the katana again.
“But...you have to return it, right? It was your mission after all. What do we do now?”
“You don’t need to worry about that.” Itachi assured the boy by patting his head, but Naoki’s eyes silently told him he needed an explanation.
“That’s simple.” the older Uchiha began. “The exact orders I received were to take care of the bandits and retrieve the stolen treasure in case I found it with them. Since nobody up there knows how it looks like, I will report that I didn’t find it on their hands and you will be able to keep it. Besides-”
The long pause the older brother made, caused Naoki to glance at him with curious eyes before the man sighed and spoke up.
“If people knew Ryū no Tsume chose a new master, and a child at that, many people would come for your life in order to get their hands on this treasure. In order to protect you, I will have to keep this a secret from Konoha no matter what. Promise me you will keep this a secret too.”
“Okay.” the young child muttered. “If that’s the case then...please train me Itachi-nii-san! I want to be worthy of this and be able to use it since it chose me among all people.”
“I...can’t do that, Naoki. Not just because I am busy, but also because there are some answers you will need to find on your own.”
However, the boy refused to back down this time and gripped his katana tightly in his hands. Without him realizing, tears began falling uncontrollably from his eyes and his hands were shaking along with the weapon as he dropped his gaze to the ground and finally confessed the feelings he had been bottling up inside for so long.
“You...You don’t understand, do you? The reason I am always asking you is not because I just want to be strong or because of that katana. It is because I am tired of being called weak and a disgrace! Compared to you, and even Sasuke, I mean nothing to father! The reason why I truly ask for your guidance is because I want to be someone worthy of the name Uchiha too! I...want to be cool ninja and an awesome man like you when I grow up! Is it that hard for you to understand?!”
To say Itachi was taken aback by his little brother’s breakdown would be an understatement. His eyes widened at the child’s words and he found himself speechless in front of the boy’s resolve. After thinking it over one more time, he eventually sighed and lifted the hurt Naoki from the ground while supporting him in his embrace. Naoki was surprised by the gesture and stopped crying for a second only to witness his brother’s smiling face.
“Alright then. I will train you to achieve your goal of becoming worthy of the Uchiha name. It is a promise.”
With those words, Itachi lifted his right hand while supporting Naoki in his embrace with the left and poked the child’s forehead in a tender manner. Naoki’s breath was caught in his throat due to both the gesture and the surprise he felt over his brother’s words.
“Y-You mean that?”
“I do.” Itachi replied, causing a content look to appear on the young child’s face. “But you also have to promise me you will keep this a secret from Sasuke and our parents.”
“...Why?” the boy asked in confusion.
“Father is the Chief of the Police Force and mother is a distinguished jounin, and have a big influence on our village, so them knowing such a secret could be troublesome for you. As for Sasuke...I have other plans for him. Regardless, make sure to keep that promise. It is for your own good.”
“Yes, Itachi-nii-san.” Naoki trailed off making his brother to look at him. “Thank you. I love you so much!”
The man smiled at his younger brother’s words and patted his head once again.
“...I don’t particularly hate you either. Happy birthday, Naoki.”
End of Flashback
By the end of the narration, Sasuke’s eyes were narrowed in thought as he tried to process the information he was just given. Once he managed to compose himself, however, he glanced at his younger brother with a much calmer demeanor and spoke up.
“Then that katana-” he trained off. “No, more importantly...why are you telling me all these now?”
“Because I don’t want you to forget.” Naoki began as he fixed his forehead protector that was wrapped around his bare arm. “Today we will be assigned on teams and a jōnin sensei will be in charge of us from tomorrow. That means our shinobi life will begin soon, and so will the pursuit of our dreams and goals.” he emphasized, before his voice softened yet again. “So, I don’t want you to forget what kind of man our brother is and has always been. I’m aware that you and I have had more than just our fair share of arguments about it ever since...that night, but I don’t plan on giving up. I will keep on searching for the truth and I will keep on pointing out things and situations for which you have wrongfully accused our brother of; even the unimportant ones, like the fact that I had to train with him and keep it a secret from you. Now you know the reason for it.”
“I do, but it doesn’t change anything.” Sasuke declared making Naoki adapt a more serious expression. “You can reside amongst those fake memories all you want, if that comforts you and helps you escape reality, but my aim and my resolve both remain unshakeable. I will still kill that man and avenge our clan, even if I have to cross roads with you.”
“What a coincidence; our resolve is similar. I will still stop you and anyone else from harming him and prove to you that what he did had a certain purpose and a hidden truth we do not yet know. I will definitely prove to you he is still the hero you and I have admired for so long, so beware. Truth will prevail.”
“We’ll see about that. Everything begins today.” the older boy declared as he stood in front of the Academy gates.
“Yes, indeed.” Naoki added as he took a step forward. "Let the best man win then."
Entering the Academy grounds, the two brothers had one single common thought in mind.
‘I will prove you wrong…’
Chapter 2: Formation of Team 7
[Art by LadyMid0ri (https://www.deviantart.com/ladymid0ri)]
***At the Academy***
The two siblings had eventually entered the class, now sitting on each corner of the room, as far away from each other as possible. Naoki had occupied himself by reading a book he had borrowed from the village’s library, along with the girls that had surrounded him, whilst Sasuke was simply staring into space, annoyed by the squealing of the girls that were all over him and his younger brother. And as if that wasn’t enough for the grumpy boy, the arrival of a certain energetic blonde only made his headaches worse. Naoki, however, let a small smile appear on his lips once he saw him and he let his book down in order to greet him.
“Good morning, Naruto. I see you have finally acquired a forehead protector.”
The blonde boy’s ears perked up at the sound of Naoki’s voice and he turned to look at him with a bright grin.
“Yo, Naoki! Good morning to you too, ‘ttebayo! I-”
Before Naruto could continue speaking to the younger Uchiha though, some of his classmates came closer to him and glanced at the boy curiously.
“Huh...Naruto what the hell are you doing here?”
“Yeah, only those who pass are supposed to be here today!”
“Hehe…” Naruto grinned pointing a finger at his headband. “Can’t you see this forehead protector, ‘ttebayo? I look like a real ninja now, don’t you think guys?”
“Yes you do, Naruto.” Naoki replied with a small chuckle.
“More like a real idiot…” Sasuke muttered from beside the blonde managing to enrage him in seconds.
However, the incoming fight was soon interrupted by a female voice speaking up and breaking the tension.
“Hey, will you let me through?”
Naoki’s eyes soon rested to the newcomer who he recognized as one of his brother’s most dedicated fangirls, going by the name Sakura. Seeing how she was heading straight for Sasuke, however, he did not bother greeting her and returned to chatting with some of the other girls around him, disinterested for the rest of the ordeal. However, that didn’t seem to be the case for Naruto who seemed to be infatuated by the very same girl. It was only when he began muttering something that Naoki’s attention focused on him once again.
“What’s so good about him? I don’t get it, ‘ttebayo.”
After these words, the blonde boy swiftly climbed on the desk and stood right in front of Sasuke’s face while giving him a ferocious glare. Sasuke returned it tenfold, but the blonde didn’t seem to move from his spot despite the girl’s warnings to keep his distance. The rest of the class who felt the tension was encouraging the older Uchiha to teach Naruto a lesson, but it all fell on deaf ears as the two boys continued their glaring contest. Suddenly, a person from the front bumped into Naruto, causing him to fall forward, connect his lips and accidentally kiss the boy he was previously having a glaring contest with. The whole class fell silent after that, before both Naruto and Sasuke came to realization and began to uncontrollably spit out of disgust. Naoki, on the other hand, could be seen covering half of his face with his book while his shoulders were shaking, but he was soon unable to contain his laughter for much longer and eventually burst into giggles, with some of the girls around him doing the same, despite having mixed feelings about Sasuke’s first kiss being stolen just like that. Upon seeing his reaction, both Sasuke and Naruto growled in disgust and both proceeded to glare at him at the same time.
“Hey, that ain’t funny man! How come you never laugh with any of my amazing jokes, but you laugh at this, ‘ttebayo?!” Naruto whined followed by Sasuke who held a more ominous tone in his voice.
“Naoki, you bastard…”
Naoki didn’t answer, but instead hid his whole face behind his book while continuing to laugh for a while, until he returned back to his usual poker face, but not without giving his brother Sasuke a small mocking smirk. Sasuke growled at this and was prepared to say something, until a furious aura made him turn his attention towards a certain pink haired girl who was walking threateningly towards Naruto.
“Naruto, you are...annoying!” she said as she raised her fist in order to hit him.
However, her fist never connected with the blonde’s face. The pink haired girl suddenly felt her hand being held back by another and she blinked once before widening her eyes in surprise upon seeing Naoki in front of her, holding her clenched hand on his. The whole class who was watching the scene fell silent before whispering amongst themselves about what they had just witnessed.
‘How did he move so fast from the other side of the room…?’
Naoki ignored all the whispers and cupped the girl’s clenched fist with both of his hands while facing her with a soft expression.
“Oh, it’s true after all. You girls have such soft hands...” he blatantly commented, not aware of the effect it had on the girl. “ That’s why, I think it would be a shame if you stained them with Naruto’s blood now, wouldn’t it?”
The girl’s cheeks turned bright red at the comment and the hand that was on his grasp was shaking like a leaf. The pinkette then, dared to take a look at up at the boy, only to instantly freak out and speak to her inner self.
‘Oh my god...I have never been so close to him before. He is always surrounded by the others, so it is very hard to get to him most of the time, but seeing him this close...he is extraordinarily handsome; much like Sasuke-kun. No wonder they are related!’
The pink haired girl seemed to relax from her panic attack once the younger Uchiha let her hands go and she instantly collapsed into her seat as Naoki quietly returned to his. The boy then turned towards Naruto, who was still glaring Sasuke and called out to him.
“Naruto, if you wish to avoid anymore accidents you can always sit here with me.”
The blond didn’t need to be told a second time and he instantly stood up and hurried over to where Naoki was, still glaring at Sasuke in the process.
“Thanks Naoki. I can’t stand that guy one bit! You’re way cooler, ‘ttebayo!”
“Haha, I don’t think that’s true.” the boy replied bashfully. “But if you say so, then I guess it might be true.”
Their conversation went on for a while like this, raging from Naruto's pranks, to his crush on Sakura and his self proclaimed rivalry with Sasuke, both of them waiting for the class to begin while immersed in a conversation in which Naruto was the one to speak the most. All the while, more and more girls could be seen forming a circle around their desk, after seeing that Sasuke wasn't as open and welcoming of their company as Naoki was, attention which Naruto welcomed the most, since it made him feel popular, but the same couldn't be said for Naoki. It was not like he didn't enjoy being surrounded by people, but one could say he was even upset by the fact that he wasn't seeing the person he wanted to see the most among them. And so, he simply masked that disappointment with a smile and occupied himself by talking to Naruto and the other girls, not even having noticed that the gaze he longed to meet was observing him from afar, hidden behind the door's case.
After that, Iruka-sensei had finally walked into class and began by giving a small lecture to his students before getting to announcing the teams.
“Starting today, you are all shinobi. However, you are still merely rookie genin, so the hard part has only just started. Now, you will soon be assigned duties by the village called missions and live the life of a real shinobi. For that reason, today we will be creating three man teams, and one four man team, since our number is not odd, and each team will have a jōnin sensei. You will follow that sensei’s instructions as you complete the assigned duties. As for the teams themselves, we tried to balance each team’s strength.”
With that explanation, the man began listing the teams along with their members, until he reached number seven.
“Now, Team 7 will be our four man team. This is the group we balanced the most since we included four of our most unique students on it. The members are...Haruno Sakura, Uzumaki Naruto, Uchiha Sasuke and Uchiha Naoki. Any complaints?”
“Me!” Naruto said as he raised his hand instantly. “Iruka-sensei! Why does an outstanding ninja like me have to be on the same team as that bum? I mean, I am totally okay with Naoki and Sakura-chan, but not him!”
‘Truth is, I didn’t want to be on the same team as my brother either...’ Naoki thought but didn’t voice it as he awaited for Iruka’s response.
“Sasuke’s grades were first among all 28 graduates. You, Naruto, were dead last. We have to do this to balance the teams, understand?”
Naruto seemed even more enraged by this and Sasuke’s next words only managed to fuel him even more.
“Just don’t get in my way...dead last.”
Naoki scowled at his brother’s comment, but didn’t say anything else as Iruka introduced the rest of the teams and announced that they’d be meeting their jōnin senseis later in the afternoon. And to say he wasn't anxious imagining just what kind of person that sensei was would be an understatement. After all, having Sasuke in the same team was no easy feat for him when it came down to their communication and sharing of opinions, but he thought that if they at least had a reliable sensei that could put them in their place, maybe teamwork between them would not be something unachievable. Or at least that was what he hoped for.
***At lunch break***
After that, lunchtime followed and Naoki was the first to leave the class while picking up the bento his brother had prepared for him. He went out on a quiet corner and sat down on a bench while remaining alone with his thoughts. It wasn’t like he had not been enjoying the company the girls offered him so far, or Naruto's energetic way of talking, but there were times like these where he just wanted his own peace of mind. At least, when it came to this, him and Sasuke were very much alike.
‘I should have expected that I’d be placed on the same team as my brother. Perhaps people don’t want to separate us here too. But in all honesty, I don;t know whether achieving my goal will be far easier if he is with me at all times or not. I can have him search clues about Itachi-nii-san with me on far away missions and we might eventually stumble onto something interesting that will uncover the truth and change the false way he is thinking, but he might also get in my way if we discover something unpleasant. Regardless, that truth, whatever it is, is somewhere out there...I can feel it.’
His train of thought was interrupted by a familiar figure running towards him while panting and with an angry look at his usually impassive face. His sweaty and beaten up look worried Naoki instantly and made him glance at him with confusion written all over his face before speaking up.
“...What happened to you, Sasuke?”
“It was that bastard, Naruto. He attacked me, tied me up and then transformed into me using a transformation jutsu. But that’s not the point; I’m free now anyway. I came here to get you because we need to go meet our sensei. Let’s go get Naruto and that Sakura girl too.” the older Uchiha said making Naoki nod.
“Okay...” the younger boy stated unimpressed. “I wonder if Naruto is okay though. You didn’t do anything bad to him, did you?”
“It doesn’t even matter now. Let’s just go...”
'...I can only imagine what went down with those two.'
With that, the two siblings headed towards the more open space of the yard where most of the students were having their lunch. They glanced around it for any signs of their teammates, until Naoki’s eyes fell on the pink haired girl who was sitting on a bench alone. Pointing the location to Sasuke, the two nodded and began heading towards her, who squealed upon seeing the older Uchiha.
“Oh, Sasuke-kun...you’re so shy! Are you ready now? I sure am!” she chirped. “Oh, Naoki-kun is here too...!”
‘...What is she talking about in such a suggestive tone?’ Naoki thought, but focused to the task at hand as Sasuke spoke up once again.
“It’s time to go. Where is Naruto?” the boy said, clearly dismissing Sakura’s previous comment.
“Hehe, don’t change the subject! Who cares about Naruto?” Naoki instantly directed his gaze to Sakura after her remark and the girl didn’t even notice the slight glare forming in his eyes as she continued speaking. “I mean, all he does is get in fights with you Sasuke-kun and he always causes trouble for you, Naoki-kun. You’re always trying your best to be friends with all of us girls, so it must be bothersome to have someone like him hang out with you all the time and ruin the mood! Well, I can’t blame him though. He hasn’t had a normal childhood after all. I mean, he doesn’t have any parents and he can do whatever he wants! If I acted like him, my parents would be so mad at me! He’s so lucky; all alone and parents never getting on his case. That’s why he misbehaves so much!”
By the end of the girl’s monologue, Naoki didn’t even need to look at Sasuke to know he was also glaring at the pink haired girl with all his might. However, it was the younger Uchiha’s glare that shook Sakura the most. Unlike Sasuke, for whom glaring was a usual thing to do, the girl wasn’t used to see Naoki’s usually friendly and serene features distort that way. Unlike the sweet note his eyes held when he was smiling, his glare now was coming off cold and unforgiving, so much that Sakura felt as if she was under the eye of a ferocious dragon.
“Sakura-chan...” Naoki began as he took one step forward, making the girl instinctively take one step back. “Is the fact that he doesn’t have a family...something to laugh about? Is that how you think he really feels? I have met many people in my life who are ignorant about what not having a parent to yell at you entails, but nobody would say such things with a smile, as if it was something that was supposed to be mocked. If you truly think that way then...quite frankly, you truly don’t deserve Naruto’s affections for you...or anyone else’s for the matter.”
The pink haired girl’s feet were frozen to the ground by the time his accusation was over and she couldn’t find herself to escape the fear his harsh glare instilled, until Sasuke spoke up.
“Naoki is right.” the older Uchiha exclaimed with an irritated look, surprisingly taking his brother’s side. “The sadness of having a parent yell at you is nowhere near what he feels.”
“Wh-What’s this all of a sudden..?” Sakura managed to say through her surprise.
"You tell me." Naoki spat in disgust. "What is this all of a sudden? Were you always that kind of girl?"
“You’re annoying. That’s what it is.” Sasuke added, saying what Naoki was too polite to say, even now that he was angry.
And yet, his anger was not something that lasted long; and Sasuke knew that. So, he didn't even need to look at him to know that it had turned to bitterness and disappointment instead. The younger boy had finally freed Sakura from his intense stare and had now dropped his gaze on the ground with a scowl decorating his handsome features. His harsh attitude from before didn’t show it, but the things that girl had said about family had stricken a very sensitive part inside Naoki’s heart. Memories of his family’s happy days would occasionally pass through his mind and he’d mentally sigh ever so slightly once a dear memory would resurface. Sasuke though instantly understood upon glancing at his brother and didn’t try to bother him as he turned to Sakura.
“I’m going to find Naruto. You stay here with Naoki and make sure he doesn’t leave this spot. It will be a pain to look for him again.”
The girl wordlessly nodded and shot a worried glance at the younger Uchiha, feeling a sense of regret for being the one to make him upset like this. She thought about the conversation that had just occurred and Naruto’s circumstances, coming to the conclusion that she had to be nicer to him; mostly for Naoki's and Sasuke's sakes. Yet, to do that, she first had to do something about the person in front of her. So, putting her hands together in front of her and glancing away awkwardly, she eventually glanced up at the boy and mustered up enough courage to talk to him.
“Naoki-kun...I’m sorry about before. I truly didn’t mean to make you upset.”
Her sincere tone caught Naoki’s attention and he gazed up to her, only to see small tears forming in the corner of her eyes. Feeling uncomfortable by the sight of the girl who was on the edge of tears, the boy approached her and gently wiped the tears off her eyes, surprising her with his gesture.
“No, I was rude to you as well. Family is a very sensitive subject for me and I generally never tolerate insults like that. I will forgive you only if you promise to take back everything you said about Naruto.” he declared making the girl nod vigorously.
“Yes, I will...I will!” she exclaimed with enthusiasm.
“Then we are good, Sakura-chan. As you know, I can get along with all kinds of people, but quite frankly, the self centered and ignorant ones are those who actually annoy me enough to just cut them off from my life. I hope this is not the case with you from now on.”
“I...I will try my best!”
Naoki let a small yet sad smile grace his handsome features at her words, and he glanced away from her to the other side of the yard where his brother and Naruto were heading towards them, returning from wherever they were. After looking between Sakura and the boys for a while, he nodded to himself while replaying a single thought in his mind.
‘This is going to be quite the journey for all of us...’
And it was going to be quite the journey for all of them, indeed. But little did the four of them know at that time, just how much of an impact they’d make in the shinobi world, starting from that day.
The afternoon of that day came and the four members of Team 7 were now gathered in the designated meeting place where they were supposed to meet with their jōnin sensei for the first time. Despite their calm exterior, all of them were burning in anticipation and curiosity about what kind of person would be responsible for training them from now on, yet Naruto seemed the most impatient out of all.
“Naruto, stay still!” Sakura commented watching the hyperactive Naruto walking pointlessly around the room and occasionally glancing outside of the door in order to check if their sensei had arrived yet.
“Why is our sensei so damn late?!” the blond boy complained. “All of the other teams have gone off with theirs and Iruka-sensei also left, ‘ttebayo!”
“Perhaps he had other important errands to run first, and maybe-” Naoki began explaining but stopped once he noticed the mischievous look on the boy’s face as he placed a sponge full of chalk dust on top of the door. “Uh...what are you doing, Naruto?”
“Hehe...watch this, Naoki!” the blond exclaimed excitedly. “That’s what he gets for being late, ‘ttebayo!”
“Moron...” Sasuke mumbled. “Like a jōnin level ninja is going to fall for such a simple idiotic trap.”
“Yeah, I’m not involved with this...” Sakura declared, despite her eyes saying that she was enjoying the situation.
The three, now intrigued by Naruto’s prank attempt, awaited for their sensei’s arrival patiently alongside the energetic blond and stared at the door expectantly.
And it was then that said door opened and a masked man with light silver hair walked in. The sponge that was resting on the door instantly fell on his head, causing the four to have the same kind of surprised reaction.
‘What the...he totally fell for it!’
As of cue, Naruto began laughing hysterically whilst Sakura explained herself and Sasuke simply looked down on the man, instantly deeming him as unreliable. Naoki on the other hand remained silent, not missing the slight narrow of the sensei’s eyes as he glanced at the group of four.
“Hm, how can I say this...” the masked man began with a closed eyed smile. “My first impression is...I don’t like you guys. Now, why don’t you follow me outside to begin with the introductions?”
‘...I expected a lecture to say the least, but this man looks quite apathetic about everything that is going on around him and definitely looks not even half as fit as Iruka-sensei and the rest of the jōnins are for their job. He said he doesn’t like us too, but I can’t say I like him either. Someone like that will neither be able to deal with the burden me and Sasuke carry with us, nor the quarrels that will occur between us because of it.’ Naoki thought as he left the desk he was sitting on and followed after the rest of his team.
Eventually, the four genin followed the man outside to an open balcony and sat on the ground with their sensei placing himself on the opposite side of them. Naoki couldn’t help but scan the mysterious man from head to toe, intrigued by both his appearance and the unique personality he had displayed thus far. He always knew shinobi of higher ranks as people that would stick strictly to their job and disregard anything else. And yet that man...he was the embodiment of the exact opposite. Yes, he seemed mysterious enough since he had revealed nothing about himself, even back at the waiting room, but he looked too aloof to actually be someone strict or unapproachable. At least that’s what Naoki thought at first.
“Now, let’s begin the introductions, shall we?” the masked man exclaimed.
“What do you want to know, sensei?” Naoki asked earning nods from his teammates.
“Hm, good question.” he replied apathetically. “How about...your likes and dislikes, dreams for the future, hobbies; you know, stuff like that.”
Naoki’s other three teammates glanced at the man suspiciously after his explanation and Naruto was the first to speak up, voicing what was in everyone’s minds.
“Hey, why don’t we introduce yourself to us first, ‘ttebayo?”
“Yeah, you look suspicious...” Sakura added.
The man glanced at them with an impassive look in his face and began his introduction with an equally indifferent voice.
“Oh, me? My name is Hatake Kakashi. I have no desire to tell you guys about my likes and dislikes. Dreams for the future? Hmm, I wonder. And I have lots of hobbies...”
The four children deadpanned at the man’s introduction and glanced at each other before Sakura spoke up.
“So, all we learned...is his name?”
“Perhaps we shouldn’t have expected anything more. He doesn’t look like he even wants to be here in the first place.” Naoki added glancing at the man whose name he found out was Hatake Kakashi.
“Now it’s your turn.” Kakashi then spoke, ignoring the previous comments.
Naruto smiled at his comment and raised his hand excitedly in an attempt to introduce himself. After getting permission from Kakashi, his smile turned into a huge grin as he pointed at himself before starting to speak.
“My name is Uzumaki Naruto and I like cup ramen, ‘ttebayo! What I like even more though is the ramen Iruka-sensei buys me! What I dislike is waiting 3 minutes for the cup ramen to cook. As for my dream...” the boy trailed off before fixing his headband with pride. “My dream is to surpass the Hokage and then have all of the people of this village acknowledge my existence! As for hobbies...pranks, I guess.”
“I see...” Kakashi muttered.
“Well, good luck, Naruto. You can do it.” Naoki smiled at his friend, making the blonde widen his eyes in surprise before offering him a huge grin.
“What! I thought you were going to make fun of me, but you actually think so, ‘ttebayo?”
“Yes.” the younger Uchiha replied nonchalantly.
“Woah...so cool, ‘ttebayo! That’s why you are better than Sasuke!” Naruto exclaimed in joy before he was interrupted by Kakashi.
“Save the praises for after we are done with the introductions.” Kakashi sighed. “Now, who is next?”
“I will go.” Sasuke said as he began to introduce himself. “My name is Uchiha Sasuke. There are a ton of things I dislike, but I don’t really like anything. And...I don’t want to use the word ‘dream’, but I have an ambition. The resurrection of my clan and...to kill a certain man.”
Words couldn’t describe Naoki’s glare as his older brother finished his sentence, something that didn’t go unnoticeable by Kakashi and the rest of the team. As soon as he was aware of it, Sasuke returned it instantly with the same ferocity. However, Naoki broke it soon under the expectant and curious glance of his sensei and proceeded to introduce himself.
“I apologize for this, sensei. I’ll go next.” the boy spoke with a forced smile. “My name is Uchiha Naoki and I am Sasuke’s younger brother by one year. The things I cherish more than anything is family and friends. As for what I dislike...that would be arrogance and mostly ignorance, among all things.” he added as he slightly glared at his brother, something that didn’t go unnoticed by him and the rest yet again. “Now, for my dream...I’d rather not call it a dream either. To use my brother’s words, my ambition is the resurrection of my clan as well and furthermore...proving Sasuke wrong and uncovering truths that need to come to light. As for my hobbies...I will have to say reading books. That’s all.”
By the time Naoki finished his introduction speech, the atmosphere between the two Uchihas could only be described as hostile. The air felt like it had thickened considerably, and the glares they exchanged were only proof of how much they desired to prove each other wrong. Watching the tension unfold, Sakura and Naruto could only remain silent and confused while Kakashi was deep in thought as he analyzed the two boys.
‘Like I thought, Sasuke definitely desires revenge for the massacre. However, what I didn’t expect was for Naoki to oppose him. From what I know, that boy was always a follower and too dependent on people he admired, but it seems like the murder of his family completely changed him. Is there a possibility he knows something more about that night and that man that we don’t? I was surprised to see him defending him as much as declaring that his life goal is to not only prevent Sasuke from killing him, but uncovering truths. Just what truths is he talking about? At any rate, those opposing ideals might prove to be an obstacle for this team’s teamwork. Then again, maybe not? Well, I suppose only time will tell...’
Once he finished with his thought process, Kakashi decided to break the tension between the two by pointing at Sakura and speaking up.
“Okay, and lastly...the girl.”
The pinkette instantly blushed at the sound of her name and began introducing herself.
“I’m Haruno Sakura. The thing I like is...well...the person I like is...” she trailed off as she glanced between Sasuke and Naoki who were now sitting at a good distance from each other. “Gah, I can’t choose! Um...should I say my dream for the future? Ugh, anyway! The thing I dislike is Naruto! My hobby is-”
“Alright, alright...that’s enough.” Kakashi intervened with a sweatdrop.
‘Girls of this age are more interested in love than ninjutsu. What’s more, she seems to be interested in both of those boys...’ he thought before speaking up again.
“We will start our duties tomorrow.”
Naruto’s ears perked up at this and he saluted excited, with a grin forming in his fox-like features.
“Duties, yay! What kind of duties?”
“Well first, we’re gonna have to do something just the four of us.” the man explained.
“What is it?” Naoki inquired, making Kakashi explain further.
This caused looks of confusion to appear on the team’s faces, while chatting amongst themselves before they turned to Kakashi.
“...Why is our duty training?” Naoki asked calmly.
“Yeah, we did lots of training back at the Academy.” Sakura added.
Kakashi sighed inaudibly at his students barrage of questions and simply glanced at them for a short while, thinking about the ordeal he had planned for them the next day. Curious to see how they’d react in a difficult situation, he explained the situation more thoroughly without actually revealing what tomorrow’s task will be.
“When I tell you this, you guys are actually going to flip.” he warned. “Listen...out of all 28 graduates, only 10 will be chosen as genin. The rest will be sent back to the Academy. This training is a super difficult exam with a failure rate of over 66%.”
As of cue, the four different reactions that emerged from Team 7 were all Kakashi needed to chuckle. Naruto’s face held a mixed expression of surprise and fear, Sakura looked like she was deadpanning at the blonde’s expression but terror could easily be seen in her eyes while Sasuke was simply staring at the man with a drop of sweat running down the side of his head. As for Naoki, he let a small sigh escape his lips and ran a hand through his ebony black hair before speaking up.
“...I suppose it can’t be helped. We will have to do our best.”
However, Naruto didn’t seem to share the same calm demeanor with the younger Uchiha and looked at him like he was coming from another world.
“What the hell, Naoki?! No, I should be saying...what the hell Kakashi-sensei?! We worked so hard! What was the point of graduating then, ‘ttebayo?!”
“Oh, that?” Kakashi replied impassively. “That’s just to select those that have the chance to become genin. Anyway, tomorrow you will be graded on the training field so bring all your shinobi tools. Oh, and skip breakfast or else you’ll throw up.”
“Understood. See you tomorrow, sensei.” Naoki replied and got up from his seat beginning to walk away before turning around and smiling slightly at his friends. “Naruto, Sakura-chan. I will see you both tomorrow as well.”
The kids exchanged greetings with themselves and Kakashi before each went their separate way. Sasuke soon followed after Naoki as he made his way back to their home. The air between them was thick with tension once again and the two were silent, feeling like if they said something to each other, that tension would be released and they’d have to fight once again. It was, however, a fact that both siblings did not like this situation. Both were the only family each other had left and with everything they had been through together, they’d rather stand by each other’s side than on the opposite side. And yet, both were so dead set on their respective dreams that they had decided to forcefully push aside the fact that they were family and work for their separate goals regardless of what their shinobi life demanded from them.
And that was something none of them would step down from.
Finally arriving at their house, Sasuke absentmindedly followed his routine and instantly found himself inside the kitchen in order to prepare dinner, whilst Naoki sat back and watched him silently, occasionally glaring at his direction before sighing in defeat and proceeding to stand next to him. He then grabbed a kitchen knife and began peeling the potatoes his brother had brought out in silence, not even bothering to spare him a glance, but keeping on helping him regardless. The action didn’t go unnoticed by Sasuke, who glanced at his little brother’s direction with a raised eyebrow and spoke up first.
“Oh? Thought you’d hold it against me or something." he teased. "Then again, you were always a softie when it came to family. Even if I provoke you and express my desire to kill Itachi, you always forgive me in the end and pretend it never happened. You should know I will not give up on my ambition just because of you.”
The younger Uchiha stopped his peeling for a second before resuming it instantly and answered his brother without looking away from the task at hand.
“Right back at you. This is something I absolutely have to do for both myself and you to finally find the salvation we seek. I will not stop or hesitate for a second because of you. We might be on the same team and have our goals as shinobi being aligned, but our goals as men are different. Please remember that.”
“With that...I agree.” Sasuke spoke earning a sigh from Naoki.
“Well, for now, I think I’ll find true salvation if I eat something. I am done peeling all of the potatoes and you’re still on the third on your bowl. Can’t you go faster? I’m hungry.” the younger Uchiha complained.
Sasuke simply blinked at him before letting a chuckle escape his lips, feeling all of the previous tension between them instantly go away.
“Pfft...what the hell! We were having a serious conversation and you turned it into a complaint in a matter of seconds. But...” the boy trailed off as he raised his head to glance at his brother. “...now we can eat with peace, I guess.”
His words made Naoki raise his head and glance at his brother for the first time after their fight before offering him a smile.
“It’s...just like you said. I might actually be a softie when it comes to family after all. Weirdly enough, I feel like I will cherish you no matter what happens in the future.”
“...Same” Sasuke muttered in a low voice. “Whatever happens in the future, my first priority will always be you, Naoki.”
“I’m glad we at least think alike about that.” he exclaimed before taking a seat at the table. “Putting that aside, I hope we pass tomorrow trial.”
“We will.” Sasuke declared with determination shining in his jet black eyes. “And we'll do it together.”
Chapter 3: The Bell Test
The next day, the four members of Team 7 had gathered to the agreed spot early in the morning with their designated shinobi equipment, eagerly awaiting for Kakashi’s arrival. However, lots of time had soon passed and the man was nowhere to be found. Seeing the frustration on his teammates’ eyes, Naoki decided to speak up in an attempt to brighten their mood.
“Uh...Kakashi-sensei sure is late.”
“...You don’t say?” Sasuke replied sarcastically as he took a seat next to his brother.
“How long does he plan on making us wait?! He did that yesterday too!” Naruto complained instantly after that. “I haven’t even eaten breakfast and now I’m starving, ‘ttebayo!”
“Me either...” Sakura added. “I am on a diet so I didn’t eat last night too.”
“Yeah, I didn’t eat too. We brought bentos at least.” Sasuke exclaimed as he checked his bento next to Naruto’s and Sakura’s. “Speaking about bentos...where is yours, Naoki?”
“Huh?” the boy inquired before realizing the question and replied nonchalantly. “Oh, I guess I forgot about it.”
That kind of situation didn't sound new to Naruto and Sakura, who were aware of their teammate's forgetfulness and of the fact that he had never been a morning person, but they still proceeded to scold the younger boy out of consideration.
“Dude, what are you going to do once the survival training ends? You are going to be both exhausted and hungry! Don't be so forgetful, ‘ttebayo!”
“Naoki-kun...you usually never skip a meal. Are you going to be okay?”
The boy smiled softly at their nagging and Sasuke’s side glare before replying honestly.
“You don't have to mind me that much. Me and Sasuke made some beef stew for a change last night, so I had a satisfying dinner.” he revealed, remembering the heartwarming talk he had with his brother the night before. "I think I am going to be fine, even without a bento."
Their talk was interrupted by the sudden rustling of the leaves that could be heard somewhere close to them, and most of the children flinched when the taller figure of Kakashi emerged from the trees and casually landed in front of them. With an intimidating look, he glanced at the whole team and let his hard gaze roam on each of his students.
“I hope nobody disobeyed my orders and actually had breakfast this morning. Did you?”
“Aren’t we going to talk about how late you are again, ‘ttebayo?!” Naruto said but was blatantly ignored by the man.
Naoki, on the other hand, sighed at the accusation but accepted it nonetheless.
“Don't worry, sensei, we didn't." he stated. "But even if we did, would it really be an issue? Because I don’t think this was an order. You only said ‘don’t eat breakfast or you will throw up’ yesterday, right? It sounded as more of a suggestion than an order to me.”
A small chuckle instantly escaped Kakashi’s lips, making Naoki tilt his head in confusion, before the man dismissed him and proceeded to explain the trial.
“Is that so? Well, in any case, let’s get to the point.” he said and pulled out two bells from his pocket, swinging them casually in front of his students. “Your task is to take these from me before noon. Those who cannot get one bell by noon will get no lunch. I will not only tie you to one of those stumps, but I will eat in front of you too.” he threatened. “Each of you will only need to get one bell. There is four of you, so one or two will definitely be tied to a stump. And lastly...the person who doesn’t get a bell fails. So, at least two of you will be sent back at the Academy. You can even use your shuriken or any other tools you might have. Just know you won’t succeed unless you come at me with the intent to kill.”
“But...you’ll be in danger!” Sakura protested.
“Yeah, you’re so slow you can’t even dodge a blackboard eraser! We’ll kill you, ‘ttebayo!” Naruto mocked, but he didn’t manage to shake Kakashi’s impassive face.
“In the real world, those with no talent often bark the loudest. Ignore Mr. Dead Last and start when I say.”
However, those words seemed to be the final straw for Naruto, who didn’t even give Kakashi the chance to give the signal, before he pulled out a kunai and went straight at the jōnin in full force. His three teammates prepared to warn him, but didn’t get the chance to do so. Everything happened in the fragment of a second and their eyes were opened wide at the sight of Naruto being instantly countered with his own kunai aiming at the back of his head and his limbs immobilized by none other than their seemingly skilled sensei.
‘I might have misjudged that sensei. In fact, he’s way stronger than he looks. That’s why he appears so mysterious and unreadable at first glance. He certainly looks like a guy who has a lot to hide.’ Naoki thought glancing at his teammates, knowing they were thinking of something similar.
“Slow down...” Kakashi suddenly spoke. “I haven’t said anything yet.”
“Ah, sorry sensei...” Naoki spoke on behalf of his team. “I suppose we got a little impatient there. Naruto won’t do it again.”
“Don’t apologize for the sake of someone else, Naoki. Naruto could apologize for himself, if he wanted to.” Kakashi claimed, despite secretly evaluating the boy about his team spirit. “Regardless, it seems like you are all ready to come at me with the intent to kill. You’ve finally acknowledged me, huh? Hehe, I’m beginning to like you guys. Now, let’s get going. Ready...START!”
With those words, Kakashi’s four students instantly jumped away from him and each other, preparing to find their own hiding spots. The silver haired man glanced around the forest in order to search for his students, but adapted a troubled face once he noticed something.
‘The basics of a ninja are to hide yourself well. It’s a good thing Sasuke and Sakura have managed to conceal themselves well. Sasuke is up on that tree and Sakura is on the bush a few feet away. Naoki is not far as well, but hidden properly regardless. However-’
His train of thought stopped when he glanced at Naruto who had not found a hiding spot and instead chose to sit out in the open and challenge him with a grin plastered on his face.
“Come and fight me, ‘ttebayo!” the blonde declared making his teammates almost facepalm.
“Uh, you’re a bit off...” Kakashi commented.
“The only thing off is your haircut, ‘ttebayo!” Naruto yelled and prepared to charge at the man.
“Ninja fighting lesson #1; taijutsu. I’ll teach you about it.”
With those words, Kakashi glanced at the boy impassively and put his hand inside his ninja toolkit, making Naruto stop in his tracks. Naoki, who was watching this from his spot up on a tree narrowed his eyes as he tried to read his sensei’s next movements.
‘The only thing that could fit this small bag is a kunai or shuriken. But...he said he was going to teach him taijutsu. What does he need the weapon for?’
Just then, the man pulled out a small book, startling Naruto and the rest of his teammates who were watching silently from their hiding spot.
“What’s wrong? Hurry and come at me.” the man said to the confused Naruto.
“But...why do you have a book, ‘ttebayo?”
“Why? Well because I have to read what happens next. Don’t worry about it though, it won’t make any difference against you guys.”
That seemed to infuriate Naruto even more so than before and he raised his sleeves, as if preparing for a fist fight, while heading towards Kakashi and attacking him with taijutsu techniques. However, the man was able to repel his attacks with little effort, all without interrupting his reading of the Icha Icha Paradise book. Not only that, but he also managed to get behind Naruto effortlessly, while putting his hands together to form a seal. That move seemed to shake the other three who were examining the situation carefully.
“A ninja isn’t supposed to get caught from behind, idiot.” Kakashi said as he got in place to perform his jutsu.
Naoki’s eyes narrowed from his hiding spot as he watched the scene, thinking of possible actions he could take.
‘That’s...the Tiger Seal, isn't it? The one used for very strong fire release ninjutsu, like my clan's Great Fireball Technique. Is he going to use something like that on Naruto from such close distance?! Looks like I will have to do something fast. If Kakashi-sensei is going to get serious then we have to be too.’
With that thought, the boy jumped down from tree branch to tree branch, edging closer and closer to the scene, and when he was at a convenient distance close from the spot he wanted to jump in, he glanced at the katana strapped on his back and got ready to unsheathe it. His hand, however, froze midway and after fearing to use the one thing his elder brother had told him to keep a secret no matter what, he instead took a kunai on each hand while heading towards Kakashi from above.
The man smirked under his mask as soon as he felt Naoki’s presence and he resumed his attack.
“Naruto, hurry up and dodge this dangerous jutsu!” the younger Uchiha yelled as he fell from the sky towards him and Kakashi.
However, before he could land at him, the man got ready and performed the jutsu he planned on the blond.
“Konohagakure Ancient Taijutsu Supreme Technique: One Thousand Years of Pain!”
And with that, he poked Naruto from behind, sending him flying to the river nearby, before catching the incoming Naoki by the foot and slamming him down on the ground. The boy groaned in pain, but instantly stood up as he threw his kunai towards the man as a distraction, before performing a barrage of taijutsu attacks which Kakashi was able to block or evade easily. Despite failing again and again, Naoki didn’t let his frustration get the best of him and used some of the taijutsu combinations Sasuke had taught him in some of their training sessions. Eventually, Kakashi found an opening to the boy’s attacks and he grabbed his left arm, twisting it behind his back and making him lose his balance and fall face first down on the ground.
“Evaluation time. Taijutsu 3 out of 5 and strength 2 out of 5.” Kakashi revealed. “Tell me, Naoki...why don’t you use that katana of yours? Is it because you are not taking this seriously? You’ll regret it if you don’t, you know.”
Sasuke, who was watching from his hiding spot sighed at this and remembered the story Naoki had told him the other day.
‘It’s not like he doesn’t want to use it. More like, he can’t use it because that katana is a strictly confidential case. Kakashi can’t know that this weapon is Ryū no Tsume, a stolen treasure that was supposed to be handed to Konoha if found. Then again, could he not use it as a normal katana? Only the higher ups knew about it, according to that story, but there must be another reason why he won’t use it. I must ask him more details about it...’
“It’s not that I don’t take this seriously, sensei.” Naoki then said, earning Sasuke’s attention. “I just...don’t want to fight you with it. I’m scared of using this.”
“Scared, huh? Alright then.” Kakashi said, not pressuring the subject even more. “Try to escape this any other way you want then.”
Naoki struggled under his sensei’s strong grip while trying to remain calm on the inside and think of a way to escape.
‘Ah, I could use the body replacement technique, but he will be able to predict where I appear next. It is not something that will save me from the trouble, but it can save me some time to think of a strategy or find Sasuke and have him help. I don't know if that is even allowed, but if this was a real life situation, I would have no other choice but to take the risk.’
Just then, with moves quick enough to miss the eye, Naoki brought his free hand together with the trapped one and performed the replacement jutsu, feeling himself being transported to another location, much to his relief. However the relief didn’t last for long as he soon witnessed Naruto attacking Kakashi once again. The boy hid in the bushes for a bit, but much to his surprise, he noticed several of what seemed to be Naruto’s shadow clones to emerge from the water beside him. Surprisingly, a clone suddenly grabbed Kakashi's back and all the other clones grabbed his legs to hold him still while the real Naruto attacked the man from the front. Kakashi managed to evade Naruto's attack with the same replacement technique Naoki had used before, leaving the blond to fight his own clones, thinking Kakashi had transformed into one of them.
Meanwhile the younger Uchiha had found a new hiding spot, closer to the fight, and watched as Naruto and his clones fought about who was transformed as Kakashi with a chuckle.
‘Ah, he didn’t transform into one of the clones, Naruto! He used the body replacement technique that I used before to change places with one of them. But, the question is, what are we going to do now?’
Just then, Naruto spotted a bell left on the ground and his eyes widened in surprise as he began approaching it. Naoki, seeing this, felt the urge to sigh or even warn Naruto for the mistake he was about to make, but it’d be a huge error from his part if he revealed his position twice. Instead, he watched as Naruto fell for the trap and was hung upside down on the tree.
“Don’t fall for such obvious traps, idiot.” Kakashi said as he picked up the bell from the ground. “A ninja must read what’s underneath the underneath.”
“I know that stuff!” Naruto complained.
“I’m telling you because you don’t.”
Suddenly, the young boy noticed familiar shuriken flying out from a direction close to him and he soon saw his brother emerging from his hiding spot and preparing himself to fight. The shuriken seemed to hit Kakashi and injure him badly, but it soon turned out to be another replacement technique. Knowing that the man had located him, Sasuke instantly changed spots and landed on the tree Naoki was hiding into, surprising his brother.
“What are you doing here, Sasuke? He’ll find us if we are both on the same spot!” Naoki warned his brother.
“That bastard leaves us no openings to attack.” the older Uchiha growled, ignoring his brother’s protests. “Now, listen well, Naoki. That guy said only two of us will pass, so get serious already. Instead of rushing to Naruto’s rescue like a fool, cooperate with me and let’s take him down. I don’t feel like having someone else pass along with me instead and leave you behind at the Academy.”
Naoki’s heart warmed at his brother’s rare display of concern, but didn’t show it and instead nodded impassively, before glancing down at the tree where Naruto was trapped.
“I believe we must find a way for all of us to pass. It looks impossible since there are only two bells, yet...there has to be a way. I can’t leave Naruto and Sakura-chan behind.”
“Who cares...” Sasuke began to say until he noticed his brother wasn’t next to him anymore.
Instead, Naoki was hoping from branch to branch and eventually reached the spot where Naruto was while taking a kunai off his bag and cutting the rope along with it. Naruto fell to the ground with a thump and glanced up the tree where the younger Uchiha was seated with a thankful grin.
“Oh, thanks dude!”
However, as soon as he said that, he took one step to the front and was instantly caught in a second trap, making his friend chuckle at his clumsiness. Naoki used his kunai to cut the rope once again, until a piercing female scream was heard from further away, alarming him instantly. His head turned to the direction where the sound came from, the pink haired girl’s smiling face being the first thing coming to his mind.
Just then, Kakashi’s voice was heard from behind Sasuke’s hiding spot and Naoki glanced towards it, only to reveal the man leaning against a tree while reading his book and giving a lecture.
“Shinobi Fighting Lesson #2: Genjutsu. Sakura easily fell for it.”
‘So that’s why she was screaming earlier. I hope Kakashi-sensei didn’t make her see something too terrible.’ Naoki thought as his brows furrowed with worry.
However, his attention was soon shifted back to Kakashi and his brother, when the latter began talking.
“Genjutsu is a form of hallucinatory hypnotism. Sakura would fall for that, but...I’m not the same as them.”
“Say that after you get the bell, Sasuke-kun.” Kakashi challenged from behind the boy. “The strength of the one who is considered the village’s #1, the Uchiha Clan...I wanted to see that before, but Naoki is not one to fight in his full strength. How about you entertain me instead?”
Hearing those words, Sasuke wordlessly attacked with shuriken which served as a distraction to activate a trap. Kakashi managed to dodge, but got into a position close enough for Sasuke to engage in close combat. After a barrage of taijutsu attacks, Sasuke found an opportunity to stand across from the man and make the tiger hand seal, something that caught Naoki’s attention instantly.
‘Hold on. Is he really going to use the Great Fireball Technique? It uses up too much chakra. How does he plan on fighting if that fails?’
The boy’s suspicions soon came true when his brother released fire from his mouth in the form of a flamethrower, only to find out Kakashi had disappeared. Naoki blinked in surprise when he noticed Kakashi’s hand emerging from the ground and dragging Sasuke down with him.
“Earth Release: Inner Decapitation Skill!”
Naoki watched in mild amusement as his brother was buried on the ground with only his head exposed while Kakashi leisurely walked away from him while mocking him once again.
“Ninja Fighting Lesson #3: Ninjutsu. Well, you’re already heads above the others in that area. Your brother is somewhat close, but not all that much. But they do say an exposed nail should be hammered. And...I did just that.”
He then walked away completely and headed towards another place, possibly to find someone else. Naoki, on the other hand, glanced around to see if anyone of his teammates needed help and soon found Sakura’s unconscious body behind a bush. Alarmed by her state, he quickly made his way there before Kakashi could get to her first and slowly picked her up before taking her to a more open area in order to get fresh air. The boy then placed his hand on her head and transferred some of his chakra, remembering that his elder brother once taught him how you could set someone free from genjutsu if you transferred some of your chakra to them.
And confirmation of those words was that, eventually, the girl fluttered her eyes open to the sight of a worried Naoki watching over her. Completely flustered by the close proximity and the boy’s blank stare, she blushed bright red and stood up from her position eyeing Naoki up and down before letting out a sigh of relief.
“Th-Thank goodness you’re okay! Before, I-I saw you and Sasuke-kun hurt! Where is he? Is he okay?”
‘Hehe, probably the genjutsu...’ Naoki thought before patting the already blushing girl’s head.
“Don’t worry, Sasuke is fine. I checked on him before.”
“Are you talking about me?” another voice was soon heard and Sakura squealed in joy upon seeing the older Uchiha approach them.
“I would be coming to free you soon, but I see you managed to get free on your own.” Naoki commented.
“Yeah, it wasn’t too hard. Anyway, there’s not much time until lunch. I’m going to get the bell. Are you coming, Naoki?” Sasuke asked.
However, before the other boy could reply, Sakura glanced at the two bewildered and spoke up.
“What? You two are still going after the bell?”
“Yeah, I touched it before so I’ll get it next time. If Naoki is with me and provides a good distraction then I will get one for him too.” Sasuke replied in a serious tone, causing Naoki to scowl at his choice of words.
“Don’t look down on me...” he muttered, mostly to himself. “I am more than capable to get my own bell.”
“I’m not, I just proposed a plan. We can do it any way you like.” the older brother then fired back. “I’ll be able to pull it off regardless.”
“Yeah, as I thought...” Naoki sighed.
“Um, you two...” Sakura began earning Naoki’s and Sasuke’s attention. “You know, there isn’t much time left, so...we don’t have to push ourselves too hard. There’s always next time.”
The girl’s words, however, were soon drowned in her throat when the older Uchiha gave her a harsh glare and then glanced at Naoki once before sighing.
“There’s a man that only I can kill.” he said making his brother’s eyes narrow instantly.
“What...do you mean?” Sakura asked next to a silent Naoki, who tried his best to keep his cool and not get into another fight with his brother.
“I am an avenger.” Sasuke declared. “I have to become stronger than that man. So, I can’t just stay around here...”
“Well...” Naoki trailed off. “The one thing I can agree on is that I have to get stronger as well. If we are that easy to give up, then we will never reach our goals and realize our ambitions. I’ll come with you, Sasuke.”
The two brothers were surprised to see that they were actually able to hold a normal discussion on that topic, and with renewed determination, they began to head towards Kakashi for a second attempt. They froze in their tracks when the sound of the timer ringing caught their ears, however, and frowned in realization.
“Damn it, wasted too much time...” Sasuke muttered as he continued walking towards Kakashi’s direction with Naoki and Sakura following after him.
The younger Uchiha was reflecting on his and his team’s failure as he walked alongside the pinkette, also thinking about where Naruto could be and what Kakashi would say.
‘Sasuke looked almost devastated, and I cannot say I am pleased with this result either. I was so afraid of using Ryū no Tsume that I held everyone back and all I could do was run to save them after everything was said and done. But just being a good sport and showing off your teamwork doesn’t get you anywhere. I just hope sensei doesn’t scold us too much.’
***10 Minutes Later***
The four children were now gathered in front of the stumps, in one of which Naruto was tied up because he tried to eat the food while the training was still on. Kakashi sighed as he looked at each and every one of them before speaking up.
“You guys sure look hungry.” he trailed off before speaking up. “Now, something about the training; there is no need for you guys to go back to the Academy.”
As of cue, Sakura and Naruto began celebrating while the Uchiha siblings simply shared a glance and acknowledged each other with a nod. However, that cheer was short lived as Kakashi continued speaking.
“Yeah, the three of you...should quit being ninjas altogether.”
Panic instantly took over the four and especially Naruto who began protesting instantly before Sakura spoke up.
“Uhm, sensei...you said the three of us, but we are four. What happens to the other person?”
“Oh yeah, I almost forgot about it in my desire to scold you.” Kakashi said before turning to the younger Uchiha. “Naoki, has passed my test. The rest of you failed.”
This time, Naoki joined in on Naruto’s and Sakura’s panicked talk and turned to his sensei to reason with him.
“Please wait a second.” the boy claimed. “I was too scared to fight you the way I am used to, I didn’t get a bell, and to be exact I didn’t even touch it like Sasuke did. Frankly, all I’ve been doing is helping Sakura-chan and Naruto instead of completing my mission, which was to fight you and get a bell. Also-”
“Exactly.” Kakashi cut off before beginning to explain. “Like I said once before, you guys are underestimating ninjas. Why did you think you were divided into teams and do this training?”
“Huh? What does that mean?” Sakura asked.
“Basically, you guys are not understanding the answer to this test." the man replied. "I get a feeling that Naoki didn’t understand it either, but acted on it repulsively.”
“You are right, sensei, I didn’t understand. What kind of answer are you talking about?” Naoki inquired making the man sigh.
“I had a feeling that was the case. Well, to appease your curiosity, the answer is...teamwork.” he said before glancing at the four. “If you all worked together you might have gotten the bells.”
“What teamwork?!” Sakura protested. “There are only two bells! Even if we cooperated to take them, two of us would still fail! That would just make us fight each other!”
“Of course!” Kakashi exclaimed nonchalantly. “This test is purposely set up to make you fight amongst yourselves. The purpose is to see whether you can forget about your own interests and successfully work together under the designed circumstances. Yet most of you guys did the opposite. Sakura, instead of Naruto who was next to you...you were only thinking about Sasuke and Naoki who were far away. You, Naruto, were just running around by yourself. And Sasuke, you just assumed that the others would get in the way and decided to do everything alone or with Naoki, who you felt like you needed to protect, even though he didn’t need it. In contrast to that, Naoki was careful with his approaches and only acted when one of you was in danger. I was close to him many times, but instead of attacking me, he prioritized to either free Naruto from the traps he fell and carry Sakura to a safer place when she was unconscious, releasing the genjutsu I had cast on her. In short, he took good care of his teammates and never hesitated to rush in and help them, especially when he thought I would use a fire release jutsu on Naruto. The only fault I’d find on his approach is that he didn’t use his full abilities on this. When you’re good at ninjutsu, you use it in battle. Same goes for genjutsu, taijutsu and of course bukijutsu. Aside from that though, do you see the differences? That’s why I let Naoki pass the exam and not you three.”
“Sensei...I understand now, but telling them they should quit being ninjas altogether is quite the exaggeration.” Naoki muttered making Kakashi glance at him with narrowed eyes. “All of them worked hard to get here in their respective ways, so in my opinion, they have earned the right to be here.”
“Do you really think so? Or is it that you’re afraid of the future? Now that you passed and they didn’t, I will have to either have you stay with me until I get two or three more members or send you in a different genin team altogether. But that scares you, doesn’t it? I noticed it when you were fighting me, but what is the problem really? Did you expect Sasuke to be with you so you could be at ease? Are you that dependent on others?”
“No!” Naoki firmly declared, despite knowing fully well that Kakashi was spot on. “Of course I don’t like the idea of being separated with my brother, but Naruto and Sakura-chan are a part of this team too. Besides, everybody was simply following the rules you set. Where is the fault in that?”
“Naoki.” Kakashi replied with an equally firm tone. “Shinobi duties are done by the team. Of course individual talent is important to a ninja, but what matters even more is teamwork. Individual play that disrupts the team can put your comrades in danger and even get you killed. For example, I could easily tell Sakura here to kill Naruto or Sasuke would die. It is shocking right? If a hostage is taken, you will have to make tough choices and even die in the end. You will be risking your lives in these missions.”
With that, he walked over to a certain stone monument earning their attention before speaking up again.
“Look at the numerous names carved in this stone. These are ninjas who are recognized as heroes from the village.”
“Hey hey hey! Then I will get my name carved at that stone too!” Naruto exclaimed excitedly only for Kakashi to adapt a sorrowful and faraway look in his eyes.
“They aren’t just normal heroes. They are all heroes who died on duty. This is a memorial, you see. My best friend’s name is also carved here.” he said before turning around to glance at them. “Now, you three...I’ll give you one more chance. But after lunch, I’ll make it even tougher to get the bells. Naoki will not be allowed to help you in any way of course. Those who still wish to challenge can eat lunch, but you cannot give any to Naruto.”
“Huh?!” Naruto complained.
“It’s punishment for trying to eat by yourself. If anyone gives him food, they will fail immediately. I am the rules here, got it?”
After that, the man vanished into thin air and the four sat there in silence, contemplating on what to do. Naoki's eyes then roamed around the area in search for their sensei, thinking that they might be able to give Naruto a single bite of food if the man was not around to see them breaking his rule. But what he saw instead was a single lunchbox that was different from the others, under the shade of a tree a few feet away from them; something that sparked his curiosity instantly. Leaving his team alone for a while, he headed towards the spot where the bento was placed and picked it up, noticing a note attached to it. However, he didn't even need to read it to know who was the person who made that lunch. After all, this wasn't the first time this happened.
There were many other girls who would offer him their lunches during his time in the Academy, due to the fact that he had always been way more approachable and pleasant than Sasuke, but it was just one of them he had never had before. It was only one of those girls he wasn't seeing as often as the others, most likely because she wasn't one to be a part of a mob and was to shy to casually sit next to him or squeal out of excitement every time she saw him. And those were qualities Naoki had found rather redeeming when it came to that certain girl. And so, having drawn his interest, he was the one to make the first move and help her open up to him by asking to try some of her lunch in exchange for some of his. Ever since, he still did not get to see her among the mob of other girls, but whenever he forgot his lunch or was tired after practice in the Academy, a bento wrapped with lilac purple cloth would always lie around somewhere close to where he was training, as if she was watching over him and knew exactly what he needed and when.
Smiling nostalgically at the memory and thinking that he was looked after once more, he headed back towards his teammates, glancing around at the same time to see if he could spot her hiding behind a tree or a bush, but upon seeing nothing, he simply shrugged his shoulders and eventually sat down next to Sasuke, placing the lunchbox in front of him.
"Eh?" Sakura blinked in confusion. "Naoki-kun, I thought you forgot your bento."
"Well, that's not mine, but apparently it is made for me." the younger Uchiha replied, waving the small note with his name written on it in front of the girl. "I know who it is from, but she left before I could thank her for it. In fact, I didn't even see her at all."
"...Didn't you now?" Sasuke muttered, letting his eyes travel right behind his brother, having already spotted the girl in question for a while now, who, upon realizing that Sasuke had noticed her, flinched in shock and run away as fast as she could, making sure to make as less noise as possible. "Well, it doesn't matter. She is already gone."
"But, how do you even know who it is from?" Sakura questioned. "This note just says 'for Naoki-kun', but it is not signed by any name."
"That's an easy question." Naoki chuckled as he waved the cloth the lunchbox was wrapped with in front of his female teammate. "It's because lilac is her favorite color. But aside from that, she is also the only one who never offers me a bento or any other present she wants to offer in person. Still, I am thankful for her thoughtfulness."
"Her favorite color?" the pinkette pressed. "Who are we talking about anyway?"
"At least you have something to eat now." Sasuke said impassively, ignoring Sakura's persistence and changing the subject. "Not that you need it anyway. You passed after all."
"Don't misunderstand, Sasuke. I had no intention to eat it from the beginning." the younger Uchiha revealed as he opened the bento, grabbed the chopsticks and picked up some of the food, which he brought in front of his blond friend. "Come on, Naruto, open up."
“Hehe, thanks but I don’t need any food, Naoki.” he said despite being seemingly starved. " I’m fine, ‘ttebayo!"
At that moment, Sasuke sighed and offered Naruto his own lunchbox as well, something that surprised both Naoki and Sakura, with the latter beginning to complain.
“Sasuke-kun! Sensei just said-”
“It’s okay, I don’t sense him nearby. After lunch, we will work together and get the bells to pass together with Naoki. Without food he will just be on the way and it will only hurt us.”
“And then I’m the softie...” Naoki muttered with a chuckle, only to earn a glare from his older brother.
That action caused Sakura to offer her food as well, making a small smile appear on Naruto's lips.
“Gah, you guys!” the blond replied cheerfully. “Thanks for the lunch, ‘ttebayo!”
However, as soon as Naruto began to get fed by Sakura, Kakashi dramatically appeared before them causing terrified expressions to appear on their faces. As the man glanced over them harshly and apparently prepared to punish them all, Sakura rushed to explain that they gave Naruto food because he's a member of their team, her claim supported by Naoki and Sasuke. That gesture made Kakashi smile behind his mask and pat his students’ heads.
“Eh...pass?! But why?” Sakura asked bewildered and the man began to explain.
“You guys are the first to disobey me that much. Everyone else would just do whatever I told them and be complete morons." the man leisurely explained. "A ninja must see underneath the underneath. You see, those who break the rules and codes of the shinobi world are called trash, but those who don’t take care of their comrades are even lower than trash. And with that advice, the training ends and all of you pass! Starting tomorrow, Team 7 will begin their missions!”
Sakura and Naruto found themselves sighing in relief when Sasuke let a small yet content smile grace his lips. Naoki, on the other hand, was watching everyone’s expressions with a small smile of his own and admired the looks of joy on their faces. Since when did someone other than Sasuke become so important to him? What was it about Naruto's and Sakura's smiles that warmed up his heart so much? What was it about the mystery surrounding Kakashi that he found so interesting, and even nostalgic? At the moment, he didn't have an exact answer to any of those questions, but there was one thing he was certain about when he was looking at them; and it was the one thing he was thinking right now.
‘Yeah, this is definitely going to be quite the journey. I’m glad I get to experience it together with all of them.’