Teamwork 3

Many, many thanks to all the wonderful people on my livejournal friendslist who betaread for me and offered advice and plotbunnies when mine faltered. I would have stayed stuck forever without you. :3 (as for the beta it's much better than it was, but I don't know if it's perfect, so don't hesitate to point out any grammar mistakes left. Thanks!)

Chapter 2: (Sakura)

It was only when she saw Sasuke's body, crumpled and still at the end of the trail, back and neck twisted at impossible angles, that she realized it was supposed to be blood. Just overhead, faintly twitching hand all but brushing her face, dangled Naruto, with his eyes open sightlessly and a jutting spear of stone protruding from his mangled body.

She had to admit, their genjutsu specialist was good. She let the green glow dissipate, joined her hands. "Kai."

When she gathered chakra again, she was unsurprised to find the bodies and the blood trail had disappeared. Note to self : if she ever made such an ambush, find a way to add the cloying scent of warm blood to the tableau -- adding scent to genjutsu was horribly difficult, but there was no rule that said they couldn't hide a freshly sacrificed rabbit around the scene.

She wound the useless grappling wire around her hand, craning her neck to take a better look at the slide through which she'd fallen. Of course, now there was a slab of stone blocking the way, high enough that she wouldn't get any good leverage to move or break it, and so awkwardly angled explosive tags on a kunai would bounce right off and deflect the strength of the blast back down the shaft.

"I guess we're expected to just keep going and leave our teammates behind, hm," she mused -- out loud, to hear her own voice and break the oppressive, sterile stillness of the cave. She started down the tunnel, a hand on the wall, the other hand still haloed in green. "This has Mist nin written all over it..."

Okay, so Sasuke had been on her right during the fall, Naruto on her left, she hadn't twisted around all that much... Presumably, they all had to emerge at the same place at the end of the test...

Right on cue, the wall on her left started shaking. She flattened a hand against it; the vibrations were sharp, short. She'd broken lots of rocks during her training with the Hokage. She hoped it meant what she thought it meant -- that the wall was thin -- cocked her fist, and shoved her whole body into the punch.

The timing of her release of chakra was slightly off; her knuckles screamed in pain. Just a contusion and split skin, thankfully -- no break, no crushed ruin of cartilage and bone slivers. Gritting her teeth, she kicked at the hole in the wall of the cave until it was wide enough to squirm through.

She didn't need her green chakra to see; the tunnel was awash in red-orange firelight.


He was still at the bottom of the slide, standing there with his eyes scrunched closed, flickering tongues of red chakra licking up his legs and arms. He mumbled endlessly under his breath -- "Not true, not true, I know it's not true--" but his hands wouldn't complete the release seal. She ran to him, caught his wrist and his shoulder firmly. "Kai!"

The next second, it was dark again, and she was being enveloped in a bear hug that might have broken a few bones if she'd had the misfortune of being a civilian.

"You're alright!"

Sakura hugged back, hard, closing her eyes. He must have been so scared. "Yes."

"--I knew it. From the start! Heh."

"Of course."

"... I'm fine, too," he assured her, voice breaking briefly.



Sakura still didn't let go. He needed to feel her right now.

Naruto sighed in her ear. "I know better, too. It smelled all wrong and stuff, but even when I raised my chakra I couldn't shake it off. And all I could think about was how the guy said there was no rule about no killing off people in the exam now..."

She nodded, trying to seem casual. The last thing she needed was him feeling down right now, which would happen if she made a big deal out of his failure. "To keep a genjutsu like that on three people at the same time, the caster is probably very good."

"Heh. ... I suck. Even with Kakashi's training against genjutsu, I keep falling for it."

Sakura tried not to remember in too many details the last time Naruto had fallen for a serious genjutsu. He'd been taken in hook, line and sinker, yes -- and then the pain and despair from believing the illusion had made him go feral on the caster. They'd had to identify the man by his toe prints. It was a good thing he hadn't quite bought into this one.

"Hey, none of that. You have a natural weakness -- just like I have a natural advantage. It happens; you did a good job compensating for it. You would have shaken off a more normal-level genjutsu. That guy was good, really. Besides, with Sasuke and I breaking it, he had more power to throw into yours."

Naruto gave a little unconvinced laugh, and slowly relaxed his hold. "Uh huh. Just gonna go with 'Kakashi's training is lame', I think."

"That works, too," she allowed sheepishly.

Naruto straightened up. "Hey, where's Sasuke?"

"The third tunnel, I guess. We should go get him." She just hoped he was still waiting; he might have decided to take the situation in his own hands by now.

Sakura and Naruto disentangled, a little awkwardly, and she went to kick more chips of stone off the hole she'd made. Even then, Naruto barely managed to wriggle through, and left a few scraps of skin and orange cloth behind.


"Oh, don't whine." She started knocking against the other side, trying to find a place where the rock was thin enough, and he put his ear against the wall to listen for a reply.

"I hear him! He's knocking too. 'O... K... question mark?' Yeah!"

Naruto knocked back a yes.

"Huh. 'S... O... S... L... O... W' -- Hey, fuck you. F, U... Sakura, how'd you make a K again?"

Sakura showed him. On his skull.


"Like we have time to waste with that!" she huffed, exasperated. "Move aside."

She gathered her chakra. Her hand was healed by now; she tried not to tense in anticipation of the same kind of pain. Tsunade-shishou would get annoyed with her if Sakura let something so silly make her hesitate. She tapped the wall with her fist, lightly, to judge the distance, and then took a step back, and swung forward, targeting what she hoped was the weakest point.

This time, the timing was perfect; the whole tunnel shook, dust and gravel raining down on them. Sasuke was standing in the rubble a second later, and running down the middle tunnel the next second, leaving them befuddled behind.

"Ceiling! Run!"

Oh, crap. Naruto and Sakura rushed after him, deafened by the echo of what seemed like a hundred rocks crashing in the passage behind them.

"Shit," Naruto laughed, panting. "I think we just ruined the test for everyone that was left."

Sasuke rolled his eyes, still Sharingan-red, and strange-looking in the light of the torch in his hand. "They've got Stone jutsu users. How do you think the trap appeared, and the ride down was so smooth? They'll fix it."

"Huh, maybe." Naruto peered at a tunnel branching off the main one, then dismissed it with a sniff that said there was nothing there but stale air and decay. "Still, if the test was whether we'd be able to keep going and leave our teammates behind, then I'm gonna kick some asses."

Sasuke shook his head and checked another side-tunnel. "I doubt it, the Hokage wouldn't encourage that kind of mindset."

"Snuff out the torch! I think I see..." Sakura squinted past the glow of the flames. At first she couldn't catch whatever it was that had attracted her attention, but then Sasuke moved the torch behind him to dampen the light, and there it was, up and through a crack, the light of the outside world. They had to contort themselves to get through. Afterwards, there was another tunnel, but a smooth, clearly man-made one, and one they didn't need the torch to see.


Sakura shook her head, amused, as the two boys started to race to the end of the tunnel. "Slow down! It would be just like them to put traps just before the exit."

There was only one trap, but it was a doozy -- a huge boulder fell off a hole in the ceiling and started rolling toward them, attempting to herd them at the pressure plates on the walls.

Naruto didn't even slow down, just popped out a clone and kept rushing to meet it, Rasengan in hand.

Sasuke didn't slow down either, because with the sharingan he could tell it was an illusion.

Naruto burst out of the cave ready to fight; Sasuke followed more sedately, but from the way she saw him dodge to the side and keep his back to the cliff, he wasn't ready to stand down just yet. She was outside with them a couple of seconds later, squinting in the daylight. They were in another, smaller canyon, with a trio of chuunins in face masks and Mist getups waiting around. One of them was sitting at the edge of a seal pattern, and glared at them briefly as they passed him by to join the main examiner, who was crooking his finger at them.

"The message?"

Sakura recited it, quietly enough to keep from being overheard, clearly enough to make it obvious that she remembered it to the comma. The man grunted, made a note on his clipboard. "Go left."

Exchanging long looks, and wondering when the other shoe would drop, Sasuke, Naruto and Sakura went left. The canyon veered sharply; beyond the bend, a few dozen jounin-teachers waited for their pupils. It wasn't until she saw Kakashi-sensei waiting there with his eye scrunched up in a smile that she breathed out and accepted that they had passed the first test.

"Good job, good job. I'd treat you, but we might miss the curfew."

Sakura eyed the white, cloudy sky. It wasn't even noon yet. "Liar."

Kakashi continued blithely, undisturbed. "Besides, you might want to use the free time to train more. Tomorrow the risks will be a lot more real."

"A lot more?" Naruto gave Kakashi an outraged look. "They were real enough today! Did you hear what that guy said? It doesn't matter if some of us get killed--"

"It's always been that way for the second stage, Naruto. The only change is that now you can still advance to the tournament even if you leave your teammates behind." Kakashi's voice was bland, casually uninterested. But then, they already knew what he thought about people who abandoned their comrades. "The first test has always been for weeding out people who aren't suitable yet -- or at all -- and shouldn't even think of taking the risk."

Sakura stared at her teacher, mystified. "But the examiner said... Oh!"

Sasuke made a face. "I see. He said people who lose their team members can still go from stage two to stage three. He never said it was the same for stage one."

"... What an asshole."

Sakura winced, and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "Well... It's part of the test, I guess."

"Still an asshole." Naruto would probably have kept muttering, but the sound of his stomach groaning its hunger distracted him. "And I still think you should treat us, sensei."

He slanted a suspicious glare at Kakashi, who grinned, unconcerned. "Ah, it would be my pleasure! Sadly, I don't have any Water Country money."

"Liar!" Sakura and Naruto yelled at the same time, by reflex.

"He's not lying," Sasuke countered, hands in his pockets; and when they blinked at him, he reminded them, "Water Country money doesn't exist. It's the same currency we use back home."

When Sakura whirled around to yell at Kakashi some more, of course, he had disappeared.




Naruto dragged his sandals on the rocky path in what he hoped was a sufficiently pathetic manner. Sasuke and Sakura ignored him utterly, Sasuke focused on keeping watch in case some other Genin team ambushed them for no good reason and Sakura was paying too much attention to silly little flowers that grew in clumps along the edge of the trail.

The sight was gorgeous -- hundreds of tiny purple and white flowers cascading down the rocky slope on one side, a breathtaking view of the sea on the other side. Naruto didn't give a damn. He couldn't eat any of it.


Sasuke threw him an unfriendly glare over his shoulder. "Complain to Kakashi."

"Oh, I'm gonna, as soon as he comes back." Naruto was still annoyed about being tricked. Their teacher was an uncaring, black-hearted asshole. "But you bet your ass he's only gonna pop back up after we've eaten, so we can't land him with the bill."

"What did you do with your money? You should have enough left to get some food." Sakura sighed.

Naruto grimaced. "Oh, I got enough left, but it's still not fair Kakashi won't ever treat us. We're his precious students! That cheap bastard."

"You're one to talk about being cheap," Sasuke muttered under his breath. Naruto stiffened and glared at him, but Sakura was in the middle and the path was narrow enough without jostling past her.

"... Besides, I'm hungry now," Naruto grumbled insincerely.

Sakura leaned down to tear a root out of the ground and handed it to him. "Here. Chew on that and shut up."

Naruto eyed the dirt-covered root doubtfully. "Uh, Sakura-chan? Are you sure it's even edible?"

"Reasonably sure. Or maybe it will kill you. But either way, you'll stop whining."

She cracked her knuckles meaningfully. Naruto shrank back. "Fine, fine!"

Sighing, he fell back, stuffing his hands in his pockets as he followed after his teammates. There was some mist hanging around the islets and reefs in the water, and a few clouds filtered the sunlight, but after their time in the cave, the day seemed perfectly beautiful. Naruto still felt cold, though.

He watched Sakura's green skirt and pink hair dance with her steps, Sasuke's fingers as he tugged his blue arm-warmers down to cover his hands to the first knuckles, and tried not to remember them coated in red, crushed and pierced through. Sasuke with gaping holes where he should have had eyes, a gurgling mess of intestines and open womb instead of Sakura's belly... He knew it was just a stupid genjutsu, but the caster's attention to detail did more than border on sadistic, it had bought lands there and built its own little mansion.

"... Are we there yet?"

Sakura growled his name as she half-turned around. But before she could slap him over the head, Sasuke answered. "You're in luck. There's the village."


The path widened as it wound down a slope; Naruto took it as incentive to slip his hands under his teammates' arms and drag them in a mad race toward the bottom. Sakura shrieked, and Sasuke threw a "Hey!"; Naruto just laughed and went faster. They stampeded down to the first buildings together; by the time they managed to brake enough to control their momentum, even Sasuke had a smile on his face. Sakura was giggling and trying to berate him at the same time. It didn't work too well. He wasn't feeling very chastised.


"Who wins?" Sasuke pointed out. "We all got there at the same time."

Naruto secured his hold on their arms and marched down the street. "So we all win."

"Or we all lose."

Naruto sent him a horrible grimace. "Fine, then, I got there first."

The village hid in a hollow that didn't deserve to be called a valley. It wasn't even the real Mist village, Naruto knew, just a sort of tourist area for visiting traders and dignitaries; seeing the number of brand-new buildings at the edges, it probably had never had to house quite so many people before the Chuunin exam. At this hour, though, a good half of the genin teams would still be waiting to pass the first test; the streets looked quite empty.

Naruto marched on resolutely, with a teammate on each arm. Dusty and tired, and did he care? No! He was going to get fed right now.

It was only easy to stomp through the streets when they were empty; when their street landed them in the middle of a group of people, it was harder to keep going side by side, and he had to let go of his teammates. "Damn it, stop blocking the street," he grouched, glaring at the gathered ninjas. "Seriously, what's the -- oh, hey, Gaara!"

The redhead was at the head of the gathering, along with a couple of old Mist ninjas with weird hats. He turned as he heard his name and stared unblinkingly at Naruto. Naruto grinned back. Hah, Gaara was such a freak sometimes, but he didn't care.

"Hey there!" Man, it was easier to get through the crowd when they weren't walking. Some of them were ogling him weird, but he didn't care, opening the way for his teammates.

Gaara tilted his head a little. "Naruto."

"We were about to get lunch, you wanna come with?"

Gaara blinked slowly, and his lips quirked up faintly. Well, Naruto thought his lips had quirked up. "I already ate."

"Oh. Next time maybe. Say, you wouldn't have noticed a ramen stand around here?"

"I don't think there are any."

"What?" Naruto's shoulders slumped. "Well, crap." He patted Gaara's shoulder. "Alright, see you!"

They crossed the crowd, and were almost all the way through the next street when Naruto realized that his teammates hadn't said a word since. He glanced over his shoulder; Sakura was walking with her eyes scrunched closed, and Sasuke favored him with a blank, disbelieving stare.

He came to a stop in the street and turned to face them. "... Guys?"

"Do you even realize," Sasuke said in a measured tone, "that this was an official visit?"

Naruto blinked.

"And now they probably all think you're the most brazen secret agent they've ever seen, and they're going to spend the next three months trying to decode the secret message you just couldn't wait to give to the Kazekage?"


Sasuke shook his head. "Oh, he says."

Naruto winced, shifting his weight from feet to feet nervously. Sasuke arched his eyebrows in a way that utterly failed to be surprised, and gave Sakura a look heavy with meaning; Sakura glanced back at him, eyes heavy-lidded and an odd quirk to her lips; and just as Naruto was about to start dancing nervously and protest that he hadn't meant it, they both started laughing.

Naruto stared at them in bafflement, as Sasuke shook his head, eyes closed, lips quirked up in rueful amusement, and as Sakura slowly bent double, shoulders shaking with uncontrollable giggles.

"... Hey, um."

Sasuke made a muffled sound that had definitely intended to be a snicker, before he'd remembered Uchihas were too cool to have fun.


Tears of mirth gathered in Sakura's eyes, and her giggles grew louder.

"Sakura-chan!" he whined, and then started chuckling with them, a little chagrined. Alright, so it was pretty funny. And he bet Gaara was laughing his ass off, too. Well, on the inside.

"Let's go get you some food," Sakura said, still chuckling, and since his stomach was about ready to start gnawing through his spine by now, he was all too glad to agree.

They reached the big building they were staying at without having seen any fast-food place. There was a restaurant of sorts, but they didn't have the money. Naruto whined.

"Oh, shut up, we have a rice cooker, don't we?" Sasuke snapped after Naruto's third time wondering shakily if perhaps they had hidden the ramen stand in some other corner of the island as a sneaky kind of psychological warfare. "It doesn't even take a half-hour to make rice balls. You'll live."

"No I won't," Naruto replied pitifully as he dragged his feet down the corridor to their team's dorm room.

"Yes you will," Sakura replied with determination as she unlocked the door and walked in.

Naruto flopped against the doorjamb. "I'll have digested myself by then."

The small room was untouched, traps still in place, Kakashi, Sakura and Sasuke's bunk beds more or less made, Naruto's in disarray, a stack of empty noodle bowls abandoned on the tiny sink in the far corner. Naruto stared dreamily as Sasuke dug the rice cooker out of a cupboard, imagining how good it would be if it were full of warm rice right now, and so it came as a total surprise when Sakura stuffed something fluffy and sweet in his mouth. She had her big traveling backpack in hand, and her eyes were narrowed in clear threat.

"Here are my marshmallows. Eat them. Shut up. Oh, and since the rice will take a while to cook, how about you go and take a shower? You're covered in dirt."

Naruto grumbled -- like she could talk! -- but if he retorted anything, he could probably say goodbye to the delicious sugary confection she was dangling under his nose. "Yes ma'am."

Sasuke stood at the sink, washing his hands before he handled the rice. "Good idea. We'll have about twenty minutes while the rice cooks. Get going, I'll join you."

Naruto inhaled the marshmallows at a record-breaking pace, and went to get clean clothes, soap and towel from his backpack. "I'm still hungry," he informed Sakura sadly as he followed her outside of their room.

"I could make you eat my fist," she said with an evil glint in her eyes.

Naruto made sad puppy eyes at her all along the way down the bedroom area of the dormitories and to the wing that housed the communal showers, but she only hmphed and stalked inside the girls' locker rooms. Sighing, Naruto trudged in the boys' side and dumped his things on the bench. He undressed right there in the middle of the locker room; it didn't matter much, the place was utterly empty. He could hear one lone shower somewhere in the row of stalls, but that was it. He stuffed his belongings in a locker, wrapped his towel around his hips, and went to get himself a stall.

The water was warm, though there was no way to turn it all the way up to as hot as he liked it. Naruto closed his eyes and washed the dirt out of his hair and off his skin. He had to admit he'd been pretty much caked in the stuff. But then, rolling around underground and running from a cave-in would do that to you.

The dust had gotten absolutely everywhere. He soaped himself up as thoroughly as possible, working up a thick lather. He was fully ready to do the work himself, but when he heard the other person leaving and Sasuke walking in, he couldn't help but grin evilly.

"Hey, bastard, is that you? My rice better be cooking."

Sasuke grunted. "As if. I'm only cooking mine. You can eat yours raw."

He chose a stall and opened the door; Naruto didn't let him close it. In a second, he had his own door open, and was dragging Sasuke inside with him.

"What the hell --" Sasuke stopped in his tracks when Naruto had to brush against him to close the door. Naruto tried not to smirk too widely. "I got dirt on my back, mind giving me a hand?"

When he turned around to face the shower, he more or less expected Sasuke to insult him and storm out. Instead he got a lot of silence. Naruto bit his lip hard to keep from laughing his ass off, and bowed his head casually to rub soapy foam out of his wet hair.

"So, are you going to help me or not?"

Sasuke took in a deep, hissing breath -- and then there was a hand pulling on Naruto's hair and a hand shoving him against the wall and the water faucet.

"Ow! So rough." Naruto laughed, even though he wanted to turn around and try to force Sasuke against the wall right back. Fighting right now would have meant losing. Because Sasuke was the one losing control, so that meant Naruto won.

He wasn't sure if it still counted as a win if Sasuke lost enough control to give him some surprise bumsex right there. And when Sasuke's hands landed on his shoulders and started rubbing downward, he couldn't help tensing up a little. Shit, but that felt nice. But, er. Soap as lube was probably a bad idea, and -- gack.

"Um. Er...?"

"You were the one who wanted your back washed," Sasuke growled in his ear.

Naruto's breathing sped up a little, expecting a quick nip, a kiss maybe -- though Sasuke's kisses tended to be bites by default -- but he only got more vigorous back rubbing, all the way down to the small of his back and then back up. Sasuke gave the back of his head a tap to make him bow it, and let the water sluice off his shoulder blades for a few seconds. Naruto closed his eyes briefly, wondering if Sasuke was watching him.

"... Like what you see?" He couldn't help but laugh a little, because it was better than sounding too serious; that earned him some sudden hair-washing that was closer to an annoyed noogie. "Oww oww oww! Damn it, Sasuke!"

"Stop yelling. Do you want everyone who comes in wondering what's going on in here?"

"Like they're not gonna wonder when they see two pairs of feet under the door."

Sasuke snorted and pushed Naruto's head down under the spray to rinse off the soap. "There are suspicious situations, and then there are sadomasochist situations."

Eyes scrunched closed against the water, Naruto laughed. "I'm telling everyone at home you have a sense of humor."

"Hah. They'll never believe you," Sasuke said, in the same way he would have answered an enemy's attempt at blackmail.

Naruto was still chuckling as he straightened up and turned around. "Okay, thanks. Your turn now."

He couldn't help a fast glance down Sasuke's body, but Sasuke was quick to take his place under the shower, and Naruto couldn't actually judge how much the bastard had been affected.

The blond tried to think icy, blizzardly thoughts as he soaped up Sasuke's back. He never looked very bulky, but that was because his muscles were compact, sculpted tight on a lean frame. And seeing him like that, with white foam drifting down wet planes and hollows, being allowed to run his hands all over him... Gnh.

"You know what we should do?" Naruto commented lightly as he rinsed the soap off Sasuke's back.

Sasuke grunted, prompting him to continue.

"We should go ask Sakura if she's got enough shampoo to spare. Because your hair deserves the best."

Sasuke kicked back, making Naruto yelp as it connected with his knee. He had to grab at the walls of the stall to keep from slipping on the wet tiles.

"Naruto..." Sasuke growled, starting to turn around.

Naruto cheated; he stepped closer to him and kissed his shoulder, knowing it would make Sasuke feel weird enough that he'd stop in his tracks.

"I really like washing your back. I wanna wash her back too. Then I'll feel less guilty if sadomasochistic things do happen." There was a little curl of soap, on the upper part of Sasuke's chest; Naruto rubbed it away with his palm, and it just so happened that his fingers brushed a bronze-colored nipple on the way down. "Because I feel really sadomasochistic right now," he added, whispering against Sasuke's wet skin.

Sasuke took in a sharp breath. Naruto grinned, and threw the door of the stall open. Holding Sasuke by the wrist, he stalked out of the showers and into the men's locker room. Sasuke scrambled after him, swearing and fighting with the towel he'd just had enough time to snatch off the hook on the door.

"Put that on!" Sasuke hissed, whapping him over the head with another towel.

Naruto peeked around the corner, throwing a quick glance down the corridor that lead toward the women's locker room. "What for? If they see us, it's gonna be bad with or without towel."

"... Just do it."

Smirking, Naruto complied, wrapping it snugly around his hips. He couldn't help but wriggle them a bit when he caught Sasuke glancing down.

"Hahaha. Oh yeah, you want me."

Sasuke growled and reached for him; Naruto dodged into the corridor of feminine mysteries. If there were any girls getting changed, it was going to end badly. So far he hadn't seen anyone on this island that went anywhere without weapons.

Sasuke followed, making faces that Naruto knew meant 'what the hell am I doing here again?' Naruto grinned until his cheeks hurt, making an effort not to laugh out loud. Uchiha Sasuke, sneaking around a women's shower room! Oh, he was going to hold this over Sasuke's head forever.

The noise of feet on wet tiles made Naruto dodge behind a row of lockers; Sasuke darted after him, utterly silent, and they stopped breathing as a locker just on the other side was opened and cloth ruffled. Then there were sandal-on-tiles noises -- quickly, they sneaked down toward the showers. Naruto threw himself down on all fours and looked quickly at the stalls. No one, no one -- ah, feet! -- but not Sakura, no one, no -- hohoho, there she was, at the very end of the row. He pointed toward the other occupied stall at Sasuke, made a shushing motion, and ghosted down the corridor toward Sakura's stall. Rolling his eyes and holding his towel firmly at his waist, Sasuke followed.

Naruto was about to climb over the door when Sasuke stopped him. 'Idiot,' he mouthed, even as he scratched a quick 'friend, quiet' rhythm on the door. Oh right, maybe Sakura wouldn't kill them on sight.

Bah, living dangerously was so much more fun, Naruto thought as he jumped up, caught the top of the door and climbed over. Sakura was pushing wet hair away from her face, frowning, and her eyes got huge when she saw Naruto appear. When Sasuke landed at his side, her jaw dropped a little, too. Naruto grinned widely and waved.

'Wash your back?'

Sakura's cheeks went a very fetching crimson, but then it might have had less to do with the offer and more to do with the fact that he'd forgotten to hold up his towel. Oops.

She tried to cover herself with her hands and mouthed something back that was probably "You're crazy" or the like. Naruto chuckled quietly and picked up the shampoo bottle from the corner of the stall where Sakura had stashed it. His ass brushed against Sasuke and his head against Sakura's arm. The stall really was barely big enough for one person, much less three. He straightened up and winked at Sakura, trying to be encouraging. It was hard to hit on her properly when he wasn't supposed to be heard.

Behind him, Sasuke watched, arms crossed over his bare chest. The corner of his towel was tucked neatly in; it gave off the impression that he could dance with it and it wouldn't even wrinkle. Annoyed, Naruto grabbed a corner and yanked it off. Sasuke stiffened and glared at him, but a quick nod toward the other occupied stall had him simmer down.

Naruto uncapped the shampoo bottle and took a sniff. It didn't have much of a scent; he knew they couldn't afford it out in the field. There was still a hint of flowers in there, common enough that they'd pass unnoticed just about anywhere. He arched an eyebrow at Sasuke and pointed at his hair, then looked at Sakura. Who did what to who?

Sakura shrugged back helplessly, frowning like she didn't fully get what he was trying to communicate. Naruto gestured more.

Sasuke snorted softly and plucked the bottle of shampoo out of his hand. Scowling at first, Naruto watched him closely as he poured some in his hand. The scowl disappeared when Sasuke brushed against him to stand in front of Sakura and reached for her hair.

Sakura looked up at Sasuke as he slowly rubbed the shampoo in her wet hair, her eyes still a little wide, a little shocked. Naruto watched them for a few seconds, eyes softening. As much of a sharp-tongued, pitiless bastard as he was, it always surprised Naruto how gentle Sasuke could be with Sakura when the mood took him.

Sakura wasn't moving, standing with her arms curled up in front of her chest, staring into Sasuke's eyes in wonder. It hurt a little in Naruto's chest that she never looked at him like that. It hurt a little more that even now she was so hesitant to reach back, even when Sasuke reached first. So Naruto reached for her wrist, fingers circling it, and gently pulled her arm away from her body, and placed her hand flat on Sasuke's chest. When she looked at him in confusion, he produced a bar of soap, and winked again.

Sasuke's amused half-smirk was enough encouragement. He glanced at Naruto, his hands buried in wet pink strands. "Going to keep watching long?" he whispered.

Naruto chuckled soundlessly. 'Nice to look at?'

Sakura looked at him, too, her hands still flat on Sasuke's chest.

God but they were gorgeous together -- Sasuke's trim body, Sakura's slender waist; his corded muscles, the flare of her hips. With their hair wet and hanging in their faces, it occurred to Naruto that they had about the same hairdo; Sasuke's hair was just more stubborn in its fight against gravity.

He stepped closer, slipped his arms around their waists, pulling them closer. His. His Sasuke-bastard and his Sakura-chan, all naked and wet and soapy and his.

Sakura sighed softly and leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder for a few second. Naruto kissed her forehead, a soft smile on his lips. Without a word, Sasuke poured some shampoo in his hands and started to wash Naruto's hair, startling him. Sasuke looked thoughtful, concentrated on his task, not mocking or annoyed, and so Naruto let his eyes close in pleasure and sighed. They were all touching each other, and all that slick, wet skin in his arms and against his body, it was marvelous.

"You're crazy," Sakura whispered very quietly against Naruto's neck.

Naruto grinned. "Nah, we'll be fine."

She glared half-heartedly, but Sasuke was starting to wash her chest; Naruto forgave her for getting distracted. Also, it answered one of his big existential questions -- Sasuke did like breasts. At least Sakura's breasts. He cupped them and rubbed them in small little circles; Naruto couldn't look away. Sakura was breathing fast.

He listened as the other woman left the shower room, and grinned widely. "And it looks like we're alone now..."

Sakura made a face, half-annoyed, half-flustered. "The rice will burn--"

"There's a timer," Sasuke countered, and leaned down to kiss her.

Naruto's hands slid down two spines, following very different curves, and his mouth found Sasuke's shoulder again. Sasuke shivered against him and slipped a hand behind his head to tangle his fingers in short blond locks. He was still kissing Sakura, his thumb rubbing against a pink, puffy nipple.

Of course, Naruto had been so busy listening to the panting and caressing the two bottoms he had in hand that he only realized they weren't alone anymore when Sakura's moaning prompted a sudden pause in noises he hadn't even consciously registered.

A pause mid-step. Some shuffling... And then there were muffled giggles. Sakura's eyes opened wide in shock. The voices sounded young, maybe fourteen.

Sasuke's eyes narrowed warily and he climbed up, his feet pressed to one side and his back to the other side to keep his leg from being visible under the partition. Naruto grimaced. Quick thinking. He was right, three people in one stall would look pretty bad no matter how you swung it.

Now the girls were talking more loudly, pretending they didn't have a clue what was going on there, while making silly double-entendres and drifting closer to Sakura's stall. Sakura looked mortified and well on her way to getting furious.

Naruto didn't see a hundred solutions. Sasuke was already up in the corner, ready to dart out at the first opening -- but someone still needed to give him said opening. Naruto picked up his towel and reached for the stall door. Sakura flailed silently, not sure if she should hold him back or shove him out.

Naruto grinned at her over his shoulder, and shaped a quick hand seal.


"Hey, girls," smiled Naruko as she wrapped her too-short towel around her generous curves. She tossed long, wet golden hair over her shoulder, and winked at the ringleader of the teenagers, a blue-haired girl with intricate tattoos in interesting places. The girl blushed; Naruko smiled a pouty little smile and waved at her -- for the sole purpose of distracting the pack as Sasuke made his escape, honest -- before strutting out of the shower room, and then out of the locker rooms entirely.

He was still dripping wet and wearing only a towel, but seeing as the giggling girls had to have teammates, who were probably invading the men's side right now, Naruto was sure his clothes could wait in his locker a little while longer. Smiling vapidly, hips swaying, Naruko made her way down the corridors and back to her room, leaving behind her a trail of incriminating droplets and dumbstruck male stares.

All in one, apart from the case of blue balls he would get when he turned back, they'd gotten out of trouble in a rather slick way. Sasuke just had to look unconcerned and mingle with the guys in the locker room to get his clothes back without questions, and...

... Sure, Sakura was going to pass for a lesbian, when she got around to crawling out of the stall. But there were worse things for one's rep than to have their rug munched by his gorgeous girl-self. Right? Yeah.

... Shit, he was going to die.

Maybe he ought to eat before his teammates got there, so he could die with a little food in his stomach. Naruto hurried to the door and pushed it open --

Kakashi was sitting at the table, the rice cooker open, chomping contentedly on a rice ball scooped directly out of what had been intended as Naruto's meal. Well, Naruto and Sasuke and Sakura's.

The nerve of that guy! "Kakashi-sensei!" he spluttered angrily, flailing his arms in shock.

The towel was really tiny, and Naruto had never been good at making knots that lasted. And his boobs wanted to be free.

Flop, made the towel as it slipped down long girl legs and landed around his feet.

"Nice outfit," Kakashi commented casually, and picked up another rice ball. "Maybe you should step in and close the door, hmm?"

"NAAARUTOOOOO," came a snarl from the corridor.

Kakashi casually leaned back in his chair and turned a page of his book. "And then again, maybe not."


The next day (Still Naruto)

The ferry going to the Survival Test's peninsula was full enough that Naruto kind of wondered how it didn't tip over. The first test had cut out a lot of the participants, but there were still more than enough teams on the boat to make it feel a little crowded. And here Sakura and Shikamaru had been so sure there wouldn't be many people this time around.

The second test would still happen on the same island as the first; but from Kakashi's quick explanatory map, Naruto had gathered that the island was roughly eight-shaped, and there was some kind of wall at the most narrow part, preventing people from crossing. It was alright by him; it meant they couldn't just walk there, and that meant a boat trip. The semi-permanent mist was gone, and the combination of the sunlight and the spray from the waves made the trip really quite pleasant. Naruto's jacket was tied to his waist, leaving him in his fishnet top; he could see that he wasn't the only one who'd had the idea to shed a few layers of clothes -- that, or Grass and Sand's sense of fashion really needed to spread to Leaf.

He would have felt guiltier if he hadn't caught Sakura sneaking glances at a loincloth-wearing pretty boy from Stone. As it was, though... Well, it was her own fault for being too cross at him to give him even one little kiss -- just because some girls from Rain now thought she was a lesbian, why did it matter, lesbians were awesome. She'd gone trailing after Sasuke when the guy decided to go check out god-knew-what in the shadowy depths of the ship. Naruto was content to stay in the sun and do some, um, sightseeing.

And what a sight the deck's crowd was.

'... I'd hit that. Oh yeah, and that one too. This one... Hmm, maybe.'

/She'd only be good as a toothpick./


'What the hell are you paying attention for?!'

Kyuubi shared a ripple of feeling like a lazy yawn. /Bored. Look again./

Mildly disturbed, Naruto complied. Being aware that the fox was there with him, looking through his eyes, made it a little harder to enjoy. It wasn't like Kyuubi could get out, though, even if he tried -- and he wasn't trying. Kyuubi didn't even feel particularly restless, which was kind of strange to Naruto; the fox was rarely noticeable when he had no anger to vent and no potential sex or violence to watch unfold.

But if Naruto asked again, Kyuubi would only reply /bored/ a second time and that would be it. Like the fox ever bothered explaining himself! Naruto didn't especially feel it was worth the headache he'd get if he tried to force the answer out of him.

There weren't a lot of girls, comparatively speaking; it was kind of sad that most guys still left him cold, because they tended to be less shy about undressing a bit.

-- Oh man, hot.

'Wow. Niice,' he thought as a busty girl with a neckline so plunging it unveiled her bellybutton sauntered past. He'd definitely do her. Well, if he wasn't shacked up. And if she were available. And interested. And her teammates weren't lugging around clubs the size of two Narutos. Details, details.

/Looks fleshy./

'Hee, yeah, fleshy, that's a good word for it -- uh.' Naruto's goofy daydreams faltered, darkened by a horrible suspicion. '...Kyuubi?'

/Could feed for a whole week on that much meat./

A heavyset guy tapped Naruto's shoulder. "You okay, man? You look a little green. Try to aim over the guardrail, 'kay?"

Naruto gave him an awkward smile and hurried off, getting the vague feeling that he'd gotten himself marked as a target by anyone close enough to notice his bout of seasickness. 'You asshole! You killed my hard-on. I was trying to get a nice fantasy going there, and you -- urgh.'

/Now this one I would fuck./

Naruto forgot to berate Kyuubi in his hurry to pinpoint who had caught the fox's attention.

A long mane of fawn-colored hair that made like a living pelt -- like a tail, almost, swishing with every quick, decisive movement its owner made; and an easy, practiced grasp on a strange handheld weapon that curved around the hand and protruded over the knuckles like a set of serrated claws. Okay, he could see the appeal. If you were a psycho, violence-loving, undiscerning canine. '... That's a guy.'

/So what? Not trying to breed./

'He's got a beard! Urgh. You've got no taste. How 'bout this one? She's kinda wild looking, too, isn't she -- and she's actually pretty. Great legs!'

/Diseased. She spread them too often. Dip your dick in that at your own risk./

'How the hell can you tell anyway -- wait, don't tell me, not sure I wanna know.' Naruto redirected his attention on a slender girl with long black hair in a tail, a katana in hand; she gave him a dismissive look from underneath her wide-brimmed hat and then ignored him superbly. 'This one's kinda pretty... Kinda squinty-eyed, but nice lips.' Kyuubi didn't even deign to reply; vaguely peeved, Naruto insisted. 'Come on, she's got a nasty glare and pointy weapons, you should be all over that.'

/Bah. Good chase, but barely snack-sized./

Naruto seethed. 'Stop talking about eating people already, asshole.'

Kyuubi smirked in the dark. /I meant her packmate's cat./

'... That's it, I'm not talking to you anymore. Go back to your hole and be bored, I don't care.' Naruto stomped ahead, like he could actually leave the fox behind. Argh! He needed to find someone to chat with, so he could stop futilely trying to do the guy bonding thing with a goddamn fox demon.

When he caught a glimpse of a leaf symbol on a headband, he was over there in a flash. He would have welcomed even that little brat Hanabi.

It wasn't her team; it was one of the two others they'd never gotten to meet during the first test.

"Oh, hey, I didn't know they made teams with three girls."

The trio of sixteen-year-old Konoha genin sitting on the guardrail gave Naruto a long glare he could only describe as annoyed and weary. What had he said now? He scratched his head, confused.

"Uh, sorry," he apologized, just in case, and tightened his grip on the guardrail when the ferry lurched in the waves. "Everyone says the same thing all the time, don't they?"

The one with the sleek, smoke-gray hair down to her ass glared at him, and the curvy blonde rolled her heavily made-up eyes, a smirk on her pouty lips. "Juuust a tiny little bit. It was only hilarious the first twenty-seven times."

"Okay, my bad -- hilarious?"

The tall, Amazonian brunette grunted, and shifted her spear from one solid shoulder to the next. "Mostly it's the fact that there's only two girls on this team."

"--Oh." Naruto stared at the trio, caught by surprise. They were all dressed kinda girly to him. A pink skirt for the blonde, an embroidered and flowing top for the gray-haired one, and the brunette had on very short shorts. Blondie had cleavage, and gray-hair's face was way too delicate, even with that heavy scowl. Naruto stared up at the brunette and gave her -- him! Him! -- a disarming smile. "Sorry?"

The blonde one snickered. "... I lied, it's still hilarious."

"Oh, fuck you," the grey-haired one snapped.

In Naruto's head, Kyuubi laughed. The rest of his response was graphic, hinting strongly that he had no problem taking up grey-hair on the offer; Naruto reddened as he finally understood.

"Wait -- you're a guy?" He gaped at Gray-hair, and turned to Brunette, already wincing. "And you're -- oh man, I should have known, you've got too much hips to be a guy and -- argh, wait, I'm not saying that you're fat, I --"

The guy with the long, sleek gray hair was watching him with narrowed eyes, the kind of look that heralded imminent, painful revenge. The tall girl with the spear had no expression at all, which seemed almost worse in a way. Naruto grinned painfully wide and took a cautious step back.

"...You're both very pretty either way?"

The brunette arched an eyebrow, and then she chuckled, more patiently amused than offended.. "Thanks. It's fine, I tell myself it's not that I look like a guy, it's that it's hard to look girlier than he does."

"Beni, one of these days I'm going to hurt you." Grey-hair-prettyguy turned to look at Naruto, looking like he'd found something stinky stuck to his shoe. "Just for the record, I'm straight."

Naruto flailed his arms. "I'm straight too!"

Kyuubi was still laughing at him. /Does the ice-bitch know?/

"Uh -- wait, I'm -- I mean, I like hot girls and you only look like a hot girl and -- argh! That came out all wrong."

The curvy blonde, who'd been watching the last bout, chuckled and waggled her eyebrows at him. "Yes, coming out in the middle of a chuunin exam has got to be pretty wrong, as far as appropriate places go."

"I didn't -- hnn."

Naruto whined; pitying him, she patted his head. "Aw, poor guy. Jin-kun, leave him alone already, it's not his fault he's got good taste." She turned to Naruto, and grinned. "My name's Kigane," she said; Naruto blurted out his name in answer. "Don't listen to Jin, he secretly likes to flaunt it."

Naruto would have believed it, what with all the bangles on the guy's arms and the flowing scarves. He wore lavender tops, for god's sake, how could he not mean it?

"I damn well don't," Jin snapped anyway.

"He's just stressed because of the exams, is all." Kigane patted Naruto's shoulder. "You don't look very stressed at all; are you that strong?"

"Eh. Eheh. Yeah, I guess. We went through the survival test just fine the last time we passed it. Just got unlucky and couldn't finish the tournament. It was the year Sound attacked, so..."

Kigane's eyes -- a very pretty blue-green, he noticed -- widened in shock, and her lips parted slightly. Naruto couldn't help but glance at them, somewhat guiltily.

"Wow. That's cool. Did you fight during the invasion? We would have, but we were still at the academy, and -- well. We didn't see any action." Kigane pouted, tugging on a golden curl peevishly.

A few steps away, even Beni-the-brunette and Jin seemed to be paying attention, and Kigane's enthusiastic curiosity and obvious admiration made Naruto straighten up a bit. "We did. Went personally after the team of infiltrated Sand genins who'd been in the exams, as a matter of fact."


/What a ten colors bitch./

Naruto blinked, cut off just before throwing himself in a grand retelling of his exploits, cautiously edited of anything demon-related. Usually, Kyuubi's interruptions made more sense than that. 'What?'

/Blonde bitch has a litter of ten different colors./

'--Kigane? She's about sixteen, she doesn't have any kids yet -- especially not ten of them!'

Naruto could feel Kyuubi snorting in contempt. /Kitsune saying. Kind of vixen whose litters turn out to be from ten different fathers, but canny enough to get them all hunting to feed her anyway./

"Naruto-kun?" Kigane tilted her head and peered at him curiously, before waving her tiny hand in front of his eyes. "Helloo. Anyone home?"

"--Ahh, sorry." Naruto grinned, and secretly berated Kyuubi for being an asshole. So she was a bit of a flirt, so what? He didn't mind that. It was so rare when a pretty girl wanted to flirt with him! It wasn't like he'd ever cheat on Sakura and Sasuke. The attention was nice, that was all. "Uh, What was I saying again?"

Kigane giggled, teasing him, but not cruelly. "You were going to tell us about the time you fought those Sand nins." She poked his shoulder. "So? I want to hear the story!"

"You'll hear it another day."

Naruto started. He hadn't heard Sasuke coming; but there he was, standing at Naruto's shoulder and looking displeased. The way he scowled at Naruto, Naruto knew who he was most displeased at. Sakura was standing behind them, and smiled politely at the group, but it was the polished, "I am a civilized being, really" smile; not any kind of sincere one.

"Hello! We're Naruto's teammates. Sorry, we'll have to take him back now. We have to go and say hello to the last Konoha team before the ferry lands..."

Jin shrugged. "Don't bother, they're assholes."

Beni-the-brunette gave him a heavy-lidded mocking look. "You're just sore because they hit on you."

"You're sore because they didn't hit on you. No one ever does."

/Can say he's not female as much as he wants, he's as catty as any bitch. Too many females, got to his brain./

Sakura still smiled politely, though now it looked a bit like a wince. "We should still at least say hello. It can't hurt. Well, it was nice to meet you!"

She waved, and turned around to leave. Naruto was still hesitating when Sasuke's hand clamped down on his shoulder to push him along.

"Ow!" he protested, as soon as they were out of earshot. "What's gotten into you?"

Sasuke gave him a quick, exasperated look. "I know what you would have gotten into."

Naruto blinked. Had Sasuke really just implied -- did he really think -- what? "Fuck you. I thought Jin was a catty bitch for a guy, but you're even worse."

Sasuke's eyelid twitched.

"Guys -- we're being watched, remember?" Sakura smiled, not in a friendly way. "The first one who throws a punch, I will throw overboard."

Naruto would have been alright with her warning, if she had glanced at Sasuke even for an instant before she stared at him meaningfully. But no, just him, of course. He huffed, cheeks puffed up as he gave Sakura a sulky look. "Why are you two so twitchy? I was just chatting." Now he was starting to feel mildly guilty. "It wasn't -- I mean it was really just chatting."

Sakura's expression darkened, suddenly a lot more displeased. "I assumed it was just chatting. Are you telling us it really wasn't?"

"What? No! I'm saying the other way around! Why are you hearing wrong?"

"I'm hearing that you're protesting a little too much," she retorted, glaring.

Naruto stopped walking and stared at the deck guiltily. "Okay, so maybe she was flirting a little and I let her. It wasn't so bad, was it? It wasn't anything solid, she didn't say 'let's hook up' or anything."

He glanced at Sasuke for support, but Sasuke glared at him, too.

"She wasn't going to, idiot."

"Hey, don't call me idiot! You didn't even talk with her, anyway, so what do you know?"

"Naruto," Sasuke replied with fake patience, "I don't need to. They're a team comprised of a pretty boy from a strictly spying-oriented bloodline, a girl with no calluses and a lot of cleavage, and a weapons specialist flashing too much thigh. It should be obvious."

Naruto growled in frustration and threw up his arms. "What should be obvious?"

"They're an espionage and infiltration team. They're not ninja, they're goddamn kunoichi."

Naruto blinked. "Uh -- what? What's the difference?"

"The difference is their training isn't geared toward frontal assault, but toward backstabbing, poisoning, and leading people to their doom by the balls." Sasuke gave him an irritated glare. "Looks like she had a good hold on yours, too."

Naruto's cheeks burned. "What the fuck is your problem, are you jealous or something?"

Sasuke visibly bristled, taking a threatening step forward; Naruto stood his ground. Sakura winced and quickly insinuated herself between them, her hands on their shoulders to keep them apart. "Guys, please -- guys, Kakashi-sensei told me to thump you if I needed to. Remember? We can't afford it right now. So don't make me -- please -- Sasuke-kun, I swear I will."

Sasuke huffed and turned away, arms crossed defensively. Naruto's figurative hackles slowly came down. At least this time he wasn't the only one being treated like a misbehaving kid.

Trying to look good for the competition, Sakura gave a little wincing smile, which did a horrible job of hiding the way her eyelid twitched in anger. Naruto scowled at the deck, and tried to make his lower lip stop jutting out. He wasn't going to be pouting over it.

"...Sasuke-kun, Naruto was just making friends, he had no way to guess."

Sasuke snorted in dismissive contempt; Sakura gave a tired sigh but apparently decided not to push it with him.

"Naruto... It's okay, just remember next time." Sakura gave him a tired smile. "That type of team is at a disadvantage in all-out fighting, so they'll usually try to gain an edge before the fighting starts -- they're gathering intelligence to find people's weaknesses. It's -- no one's going to fall for a classical 'poor girl who twisted her ankle, please protect me, you handsome stranger' attempt, right? It might work in a real-life situation, but not in an exam -- we all know everyone is a ninja."

Naruto gave her a sour look. Now he felt positively stupid. They'd been nice, and they were from Konoha too, and he'd just--

/Eh, who cares what they wanted. Got the bitches fawning over you, who cares if they didn't mean it. You're strong enough to make them put their cunt where their mouth is./

Naruto did a full-body twitch. 'Nrgh -- mental picture --my brain -- really, really hate you.'

Somewhere deep in his mind, Kyuubi smirked at him again.

'Not a rapist, damn it. Also, I'm pretty sure that's not how the saying goes.'

/That's how it goes for me./ And that was all the fox-demon cared about. Kyuubi in a nutshell, really.

Naruto sighed heavily and slumped against the guardrail, staring dispiritedly at the sea below. Being so pitiful that Kyuubi, the nine-tailed fox-demon himself, offered what could be construed as support -- in a very twisted, bastardly way, of course -- only made him feel even worse.

"... Naruto?" Sakura sighed, and patted his shoulder. "It's okay, you're not the only one it ever happens to, I mean, it's only their job!"

"Yeah?" Naruto muttered, unconvinced. "When's the last time you fell for something like that?"

Sakura twirled a lock of hair around her finger nervously. "Um. Er. I guess... Kabuto?"

Naruto flailed his arms in a brief explosion of frustration. "That doesn't count! Everyone trusted him."

"I didn't."

Naruto glared at Sasuke, who now leaned nonchalantly on his elbows facing the sea.

"That's because you're a paranoid bastard! I don't want to always think that everyone who smiles at me is thinking of the best way to stick a knife in my back. It's not a way to live."

"It isn't?" Sasuke countered coldly. "I find it's a great way to not get killed."

Naruto growled at him, an animal threat rolling out from deep in his throat. At his side, Sakura froze.

"Naruto..." she whispered.

Naruto didn't want to be distracted, not when he was still deciding where to bite the asshole. Sasuke was really asking for it -- a good, hard, painful bite that would remind him to watch his mouth for the next days...

"Naruto, your eyes," she mumbled worriedly. "I don't know why it's -- just stop, okay?"

"What?" Naruto flinched as he understood. "-- Oh, shit." He turned to face the sea again and scrunched his eyes closed. Strange, Kyuubi wasn't even angry alongside him, so why was he so -- he didn't know. Kyuubi didn't even feel all that interested in fighting Sasuke, just... Watchful, sort of, but his attention wandering away from the trio. And if the fox-demon wasn't angry, why did Naruto want, not to punch Sasuke, but to bite him?

/Bitch still needs to be taught his place/ the fox commented absently.

That cinched it. 'Kyuubi, what's going on?' Naruto still wanted to flatten ears he didn't have and snap his fangs at Sasuke's nose, and while it wasn't strong enough to worry him he'd be taken over, it was still alien and strange, and he couldn't remember having felt that need independently of Kyuubi before -- or at least never so strongly.


"Not now," he grumbled, flashing teeth at Sakura without thinking. 'Kyuubi--'

/I really want to eat that goddamn cat./


Naruto flipped around. A trio of wide-brimmed-hat-wearing ninjas were walking by -- that sneering, narrow-eyed swordswoman he'd checked out earlier, all thin limbs and haughtiness; a dark-skinned guy with short, pale greenish hair and a cocky, lazy smirk; and a watchful, huge tank of a staff-wielding man. None of them spared a glance for Team Seven, except from the gray housecat draped on the big man's shoulder, which stared at Naruto unblinkingly until the trio was gone from view.

'... That was it? You want to chase a cat? What do you think you are, a poodle?'

There was no answer; Kyuubi sank back from the forefront of his consciousness, only leaving behind that strange watchfulness, that perked-ears feeling. Try as he may, Naruto couldn't get anything else out of him, and then Sakura's fist came down on his head, and Sasuke started wondering insultingly loud what was going on in his stupid head. The rest of the trip went by fast with all the bickering.

[Chapter 1] [Chapter 3]