Sasuke had always found a majority of his classmates annoying, particularly the two girls most prone to squabbling over his attention. So when they were put on a team without him- together, instead, with that annoying dog boy to finish the set- he let out a sigh of relief.
Still. It was a little weird, the sudden silence. His teammate Naruto certainly helped make up for it with insults and general excitement, but the sight of the boy getting chased around by Hinata, their third, was too weirdly familiar-but-new to not remind him of his former fanclub.
So, eventually, he discreetly seeks them out.
Sakura cracks her knuckles, spits on the ground, and shoots Ino a fierce grin.
“Bring it on, airhead!” She called out, and Sasuke’s eyes tracked the trickle of blood from her split lip. Ino cackled, and it sounded far more honest than any of the soft giggles she’d directed at him in class.
“Whatever you say, numbskull.” She shouted back, left hip showing off a bruise that must’ve come from a direct kick, and wouldn’t fade for at least a week. The two girls charged, and Sasuke felt a tap on his shoulder.
“Kakashi hasn’t sunken to trying to spy on competitors, has he?” Tenten asks, a stern look on her face begging no cover stories.
“No, I just wanted to...check up. On my old classmates. Whatever.” Sasuke mumbled, fumbling to excuse behavior he didn’t fully understand himself.
Sakura had Ino in a headlock, the two girls bickering as Ino tried to swipe out her opponent’s feet and Sakura took the repeated hits to her legs like it was nothing. It was...weird. Not what he was used to, even if he’d seen them fiercely competing every day at the academy, he’d never considered what it would be like to see them apply that same fortitude to the battlefield. Sakura was the one to break away first, a total change of pace from the matches Sasuke was used to- you fight until your sensei pulls you apart, and not a second before- and offered Ino a handshake that the other girl took willingly.
Tenten saw his blush and teasingly said, “She’s a natural born leader, you know.”
“Whatever.” Sasuke muttered again, huffing crossly and quickly making his escape.
“Feel free to stop by for another lesson, loverboy! I’m sure the girls could use a new sparring partner!”
As Sasuke beat a hasty retreat that turned into a full-on sprint at her words, Tenten allowed herself a smile. If she knew anything about stuffy boys- and considering she’d been on a genin team with Neji, she was an expert- then he wouldn’t be back to mess up her training for a while.
It’s not his fault he keeps dreaming about getting to spar with her. It dogs him, in an unfortunate, inescapable way, and he can’t even be mad about it because it’s a great replacement for the nightmares that once held that place.
He hates to admit it, and it was easy to ignore when she was trying so hard to prove she was, but now when he sees her around the village- she’s messy. Her hair is tangled or braided and slipping out, her clothes are covered in dirt and mud and tree sap, her hands are wrapped in sweaty bandages. Half the time she’s got a stack of books in her arms or new weights strapped to them, and she’s always so exhausted by training or so focused on her assigned mission that she doesn’t even spot him. It’s infuriating, because he always notices her.
He never valued the ability to work with others as a skill before- Itachi had always been too powerful to have someone else as an equal, after all, so Sasuke saw no reason to try it himself. But when he sees her giving small tips to her growing group of academy fangirls, or giving subtle directions to Ino with just enough authority to have them followed without feeling insulted- She even managed to guide Kiba, firm hand and strong voice and lots of praise, and doesn’t that send something boiling in his stomach that he refuses to address, but the fact is- he’s impressed. By Sakura. Pink-haired civvie kid with a shrill voice and a split personality, and here he is thinking about how she can manage something effortlessly that he never even thought about trying.
Naruto still has a crush on the girl, and it’s starting to get irritating for all sorts of new reasons that Sasuke doesn’t want to consider. Still, he has to be careful when his teammate starts waxing poetics or else he’ll reveal his embarrassing secret, and he does his best to start throwing his teammates together so that Naruto will shut up already about Sakura. (Maybe, a little bit, also for the sake of Hinata. She grows on you, okay, and he would hope being with her crush would make her a little more confident.)
It doesn’t work, and Sasuke finally snaps when Naruto uses his ridiculous jutsu to transform into a Sakura with a bigger chest size and far less clothes. It takes a moment, because for a second it only registers as dumb Naruto being dumb, and then Sasuke considers that his teammate has probably done this before, maybe on his own, maybe-
It’s an invasion of privacy, is all Sasuke is saying. It’s definitely not a way to show a girl you like her. He might be an asshole, but at least he didn’t spend enough time trying to consider what her breasts look like to duplicate them in a jutsu.
By the time Kakashi arrives, Naruto has two black eyes and a broken arm, and he’s in a state of furious confusion over Sasuke’s reaction. Naruto won’t figure it out ever, of course, slow as he is- but Hinata clearly has, from the way she keeps hiding a small smile when she looks at him, and Kakashi’s single look when Naruto explain what happens is enough proof that Sasuke knows his secret is out.
He can only assume that’s why, when Tenten goes out of the village for a week, Kakashi accepts her request for him to ‘babysit’ her team. It’s not like the man has ever shown an interest in taking care of genin before. He’s surrounded by meddling assholes, is all Sasuke is saying.
Ino and Sakura both look happy to see him- a relief he didn’t even realize he needed- but he has no idea how he’s supposed to act in return. Kiba keeps shooting him pleased, taunting expressions, and Sasuke loathes the Inuzuka nose more and more with every passing second.
“Maa, kids, I think now is a good time to practice partner exercises… Capture the flag is still taught at the academy, right?”
Naruto visibly brightened, practically leaping to Sakura’s side, before Kakashi can cut in, “Of course, I’ll be assigning the teams.”
“Ah, sensei, come on, that’s no fair!” Naruto wailed. Sakura hit him over the head once and muttered at him to shut up, before smiling far too sweetly at the sensei she’s obviously trying to make a good impression on.
“Ino, Naruto, you’re guarding the woods. Hinata, Kiba, you have the training spot. Sakura, Sasuke- you have the bridge.”
Great. Exactly what he needed.
“I’m so excited to work with you, Sasuke-kun!” Sakura said, clinging close but at least not grabbing onto him like she used to. Or maybe not at least. He’s not really sure at this point, what he wants. He keeps his chin tucked into his shirt’s collar and his eyes glued to the ground, desperate to hide any signs that Sasuke Uchiha is capable of emotions beyond disapproval and anger.
“I’ve been thinking about it, and with your fire based jutsu, I really think we could win. I’m a water type, which means the bridge is pretty advantageous… You’ve obviously got the best offensive skills, so I could play defense while you head out to get the flags without me slowing you down!” Sakura offered animatedly, hands gesturing about as if she’s giving a lecture on her favorite topic. Actually, since she’s talking about Sasuke, that might be exactly what she’s doing.
“No!” Sasuke spits out, irrationally upset at the idea Sakura might want to send him away. She startles at the reaction and he hastily covers by adding, “It’s a team challenge. We probably have to work together or something dumb like that.”
She nodded happily, cooing, “You’re so smart, Sasuke-kun! If that’s true, we definitely have to look out for Ino and Naruto… I hate to say it, but she’s really powerful and Naruto is so good at traps…”
He doesn’t care that she complimented Naruto. He doesn’t. He tucks his head deeper into his collar.
“I mean, Kiba is super talented, but he needs a lot of direction right now, and Hinata doesn’t seem- I mean, no offense! I know she’s your teammate so she has to be really talented and all, but like, she doesn’t seem really….uh….forward?”
“You could say that.” He says, and Sakura smiles at the fact he actually responded.
“Right! So, what should we do?” Sakura asks, and she’s leaning in towards him for just a moment and the back of his neck heats up, and then she turns around to study the bridge and check for any weak spots. It’s very professional of her. His blush doesn’t go away.
Her hands are clasped behind her back and she’s leaning forward to inspect the depth of the water, when he finally suggests,
“We go after Ino and Naruto first...before they have time to sync up.”
“Oh, what a good idea! What’re Naruto’s weak points, because for Ino it’s her arms and vanity, she won’t risk getting her hair ruined or anything for just a training game…” Sakura suggests, a finger tapping at her chin, and Sasuke can tell that she’s holding back on the more effective types of weaknesses the girl might have, but he supposes that’s fair. He might not care so much about protecting his teammate, but he isn’t working with his childhood best friend. (Or maybe he is, technically, which is horrifying to consider since it’s Naruto).
“He doesn’t like when I ignore him.” Sasuke suggests, and then adds, “And he goes easy on girls.”
Sakura shoots him a victorious grin at the words, a sly thing turned excited, and he can feel himself returning it. “Oh, we can definitely win this.” She tells him, and he doesn’t try to hide how pleased he is at the words. Uchiha are allowed to be enthusiastic about victory in battle, after all.
As soon as Kakashi signals they can start, Sasuke and Sakura dart off towards the woods- Sasuke in the tree branches, Sakura on the ground. It doesn’t take long to find their competition, considering the squabbling going on as Naruto demands to be offense and Ino vehemently refuses, and Sasuke drops down first.
“Sasuke-kun!” Ino says, looking delighted at his arrival, before unceremoniously dropping Naruto from a headlock and shifting into a proper defensive position. “I promise I won’t bruise your face!” She tells him, completely sincere, and Sasuke doesn’t exactly know how to react to that so instead he just nods.
Naruto scrambles off the grass and tries to leap at Sasuke, and instead of his usual method of handling the idiot- beating him up, essentially- he simply dodges and keeps his focus on Ino.
“Hey, Bastard, pay attention to me!” Naruto complains, and Sasuke tilts his head but refuses to look, dodging another charge.
“I’ve got a better opponent.” He finally says, and the way Ino lights up at the words reminds him vaguely of that green man who chases Kakashi around, but that’s a problem for another day. Besides, it’s technically true- the girl has a clan technique similar enough to his own that it would be good practice to fight her, and he’s a little surprised he’d never considered that before.
Naruto lets out a noise of pure discontent, before being distracted by an effortless, brutal tackle by Sakura. It’s not particularly nuanced, but it doesn’t have to be, because as soon as she has the boy on the ground it’s a contest of strengths and apparently, in the past few months Sakura has managed to get a lot of strength training in.
Sasuke takes a tap to his chin, barely dodging it in time to avoid a bruise, for watching.
“Thought you said you were going to avoid the face?” He asks, even as he aims for a gut punch and misses.
“That’s before you took me seriously.” Ino says, rolling out of the way of a flurry of kicks and springing back on her feet. “ And before I caught you staring at my captain, creepazoid.”
Sasuke stumbles back at her words, and Ino takes the opportunity to use her family jutsu, trapping him in place. The serious nature of their confrontation- which Sasuke had found himself oddly enjoying despite himself- is immediately lost as she prods at his face with his own hands, marveling at the experience.
“Oh my god, I’m totally taller than you!” Ino says, and Sasuke internally flinches at how high she makes his voice go. “Itty bitty Sasuke and his itty bitty hands, you’re so cute .”
Naruto is laughing, and Sasuke vows to deal with the idiot as soon as he’s got control over his limbs again- and right after he’s pummeled Ino for making him essentially insult himself.
She struts for a few seconds, happy to mock the way he slouches- “how does your back not hurt all the time, good posture is important for ninja, Sasuke-kun!” before making her- his?- way over to Sakura and bowing.
“Oh, Sakura-chan, my most beloved-”
She doesn’t get to finish, because Sakura hits Sasuke in the face and sends him flailing backwards. “I- oh, shit!” Sakura stutters, realizing a moment too late what she’s done. “I’m sorry Sasuke-kun! I wasn’t thinking- Ino, you asshole!”
The hit was hard enough to unlock Ino from his head and give him a broken nose. Ino is a laughing, crumpled mess, back in her own body, too delighted at this turn of events to even consider the repercussions of what she’s done. Sasuke can’t even being to think of payback because he’s still reeling from the punch, and Sakura’s stuttering, so without thinking about it he mutters, “Shut up, Sakura, it’s just a punch!”
Sakura shuts up, and Sasuke does not like the way Naruto’s lip is twitching at the exchange, and they all freeze as they hear the Ding! Of the bell indicating the exercise is over.
Slowly, they turn behind them to see a cautious, nervous Hinata, clutching Ino’s team flag.
“Uh… all’s fair?” She whispers, and both opposing teams let out a groan.
As they shuffle back to meet with their sensei and presumably get told off for their numerous, endless mistakes, Sasuke allows Sakura to fret over his bruising face and broken nose.
“No, no, no, you can’t tilt your head backwards, that sends the blood towards your brain, you have to let it drip down, Sasuke-kun!” She scolds, tilting his head for him and shoving a torn bandage underneath his nose the catch the blood for him. Ino and Naruto are nudging each other as they walk behind the pair, getting along far too well compared to they had before the confrontation, and Sasuke can only hope it’s a matter of budding teamwork or idiotic romance and not mutual assholes bonding over an opportunity to tease. He can’t bring himself to believe that particular hope, unfortunately.
When they break for lunch, it’s in their respective normal teams, and Naruto takes the chance to taunt his teammate with relish.
“You like her.” Naruto sings, in between huge bites of a past-due looking sandwich.
“I don’t hate her.” Sasuke amends, and Naruto nods like he just confirmed every theory he’d ever had.
“I knew it!”
It’s not a very pleasant lunch, to say the least- except for Hinata, who manages to sneak a third of Sasuke’s food out of his bento box without him noticing, and gets to watch Naruto smile for a full half hour.
When they return to receive final orders from Kakashi-Sensei, Sakura approaches Sasuke more shyly than she’d done all day.
“Would you want to train with me ‘n Ino and Kiba later, Sasuke-kun?” She asks.
“He’d love to!” Naruto cuts in, just as Hinata mumbles, “of course he would”, and Ino announces, “As if he’d refuse.”
Sakura turns bright pink, scrambling to yank at Ino’s hair and cursing “ Airhead you ass!” under her breath.
Unfortunately for Sasuke, the answer is still yes, because he’s finally found something better than being aloof and always right: being flustered, horrified, and happy .
Besides, he’s starting to think the best way to take down his brother would be to make it a team effort, and he knows a very talented general.