It starts with a scream.
Or, perhaps more accurately, it starts with Sakura screaming as she comes upon Sasuke’s bodiless head sticking out of the ground.
Fresh out of Kakashi’s genjutsu, her mind automatically fills in the blood and viscera she knows has to be there, twisting his face from annoyance to pain-filled terror and painting the brown earth red.
Natsu’s first thought, as he wearily blinks himself into consciousness isn’t something he’ll ever admit, to anyone.
Gray’s hair looks stupider than normal… stripper-pervert…
“...useless flower-head fangirl fainting from a stupid headhunter jutsu…”
Blinking a couple times, Natsu watches Gray’s mouth as he grumbles and complains.
Flower-head? ARE YOU MAKING FUN OF MY HAIR YOU BASTARD?!
Hissing sharply, Natsu rolls over, pushing himself to his feet. He stumbles sharply, hands moving up to cradle a suddenly present headache of epic proportions.
Groaning under his breath, he stumbles backwards until he’s leaning against a tree, fingers massaging his head as the pain recedes into tolerable levels.
That voice… sounds nothing like Gray’s.
And the last thing he remembers…
A dragon. An actual dragon! But…
Violent disinterest. It… he… refused to speak to them in words humans could understand, saw them as less than ants, minor annoyances to be crushed.
That attack… what happened? We all joined together, but… was it enough?
Natsu jerks his head out of his hands, looking back to the person who definitely isn’t Gray, buried up to his neck in the ground and looking downright furious. And not Gray’s one-more-word-and-we-fight furious, or Erza’s someone-is-getting-punished furious, but… the sort of genuine fury you see from enemies, from people who want to hurt you. And the boy is glaring at him.
What did I do? I don’t even know how I got here!
“Stop daydreaming and get me out of here before we run out of time on the test!” not-Gray all but hisses, looking rather like he’d be setting things on fire right now if he could move.
Definitely not Gray. Stupid ice-brained moron. Wouldn’t know how to light a fire if it killed him! Aaaah what kind of test is he even talking about? He’s got some weird mark I’ve never seen before on his headband, so it can’t be some weird Mirajane-illusion for the S-class exam.
What other test is there?! And why am I in it?
“Gaaah!” Natsu scratches his hands through his hair, only for his fingers to snag on something that feels rather similar to not-Gray’s headband.
Not-Gray looks very unimpressed with him.
Okay, so… weird headband. Check. Longer hair. Why? Don’t know. Uh. He acts like we’re in the test together… why do I have a jerk like this as my partner anyway?! Phe. Doesn’t matter, gotta get him out, can figure everything else out later…
Natsu walks over, crouching down in front of not-Gray, looking at the dirt. Not-Gray opens his mouth, half-snarling, and Natsu speaks quickly, cutting him off.
“You know any way to get you out of here that doesn’t involve slowly digging you out inch by inch? Cause that’s not productive to time limits, and you look impatient enough already!” Natsu leans back slightly, smiling, and not-Gray gives him a very weird look.
He takes a deep breath, and when he speaks it’s almost civil. “Kakashi-sensei isn’t taking us seriously, so it’s kinda roomy under the surface… could possibly wiggle my way out but I’d rather not risk straining something if you’re awake and capable of helping out.”
The stress he puts on capable is so condescending, Natsu nearly gets up and leaves. Biting back a snarl, he nods.
“Gonna walk behind you. Less likely to get the dirt in your mouth that way.” he mutters, standing up and walking around the simmering kid. Standing behind not-Gray, Natsu takes a second to look at the dirt, crouches down, and digs. Takes only a minute or so to break through to the empty area not-Gray mentioned, and widen it enough for him to leverage himself out of the hole.
“Thanks,” not-Gray grumbles, as he brushes off the dirt, looking as though he’s only saying it for sake of manners.
Natsu curls his lip, baring his teeth, but shakes it off. “Don’t mention it. We gonna go beat this test or what?” Natsu bounces forward, til he’s standing next to not-Gray, and directly in place to see the scathing glare his comment receives.
“You’d only hold me back.” not-Gray stomps off, Natsu frozen behind him.
Wh… WHAT DID YOU SAY YOU BASTARD?!?
Natsu leaps forward, tackling the kid from behind and shoving his face into the ground. “EAT DIRT YOU BASTARD I’LL SHOW YOU USELESS!”
Not-Gray tries to twist and throw him off, but dammit Natsu is a potential S-Rank wizard and he will NOT BE THROWN OFF BY SOME KID!
Distantly, he notices that his arm is thinner than before, but doesn’t quite process it as he gets a proper pin on the kid beneath him, one hand still determined to keep his face in the dirt. Not-Gray stops struggling eventually, and Natsu waits for a moment, staring down at him suspiciously. When not-Gray doesn’t suddenly explode to throw him off by surprise, Natsu nods, and stands up, moving to crouch in front of the kid as he pushes himself up.
Not-Gray looks wide-eyed and ridiculously surprised, staring at Natsu like he’d never seen him before.
They stare at each other endlessly, before not-Gray sighs.
“Let’s just go. We’re still on a timer.”
Natsu nearly snaps at him, because dammit that is not an apology! But he takes a deep breath, stands up, and very deliberately walks beside not-Gray, refusing to fall even an inch behind the kid.
Throwing his hands behind his head and linking his fingers, he turns to look at his… partner. Eugh. “We got a plan, or are we just gonna run in there and blow shit up?”
Not-Gray has a sour look on his face for a moment, but takes a breath and answers. “I was so close to getting the bells from Kakashi-sensei on my own,” his lips twist back into a snarl, before he continues, “so, I suppose, if you think you can keep him occupied for longer than a second, we might have a chance.”
Longer than a- IS THAT JERK STILL LOOKING DOWN ON ME?! Wait- is this some sorta fetch-test? Gotta steal something from a superior opponent? Like that time Erza…
Shuddering, Natsu very deliberately stops thinking, and nods. “Fine! You want me to keep him busy, I’ll keep him busy. But you’d better hold up your end or I’ll shove those bells down your throat got it!?”
Not-Gray gives him a very weirded-out look, but meh, Natsu’s seen worse, so he just keeps walking, following the sounds of someone moving around up ahead. Not-Gray doesn’t say anything else, just moves in tandem. They get to the edge of the clearing, and in the middle Natsu sees another kid moving forward to grab… a bento?
Not-Gray goes wide-eyed beside him, then hisses in fury. “Naruto….” he snarls, but before he can move a silver-haired man appears from nowhere behind… Naruto, bells tinkling on his hip, startling the blond boy.
Natsu shoulder-checks not-Gray, to get him moving, and charges forward, moving in for a punch. The silver-haired man -Kakashi-sensei, did that jerk say?- slides away at the last minute, so fast and smooth Natsu stumbles in shock, turns it into a pivot and tries to kick-
Only to miss by a considerable distance, and realize that his legs are shorter.
Thinner arms, shorter legs, some weird headband with a weirder symbol… WHAT THE HELL DID THAT DRAGON DO TO ME?! AGHHHHH!!!
The sensei offers a wide-eyed blink, just before not-Gray darts in from the side, hands lunging for the bells and-
The silver-haired man catches not-Gray deftly as a shrill ringing goes off behind them.
“Eh? Wait, was that the timer?” Natsu complains, dropping cross-legged to the ground. The blond-haired kid, Naruto, looks up at him and scootches a little closer, smiling.
“Man, you were awesome Sakura-chan! Hehe you totally came to save me huh?” he laughs brightly, one hand scratching at the back of his head, and Natsu gives him a weird look.
Second person to call me Sakura… ARE THEY MAKING FUN OF MY HAIR? GRRRRRR!
“Save you?” not-Gray scoffs, stepping away from the sensei. “We had a plan to get the bells. Since he was distracted with you, it was the perfect time to get in and grab them. Idiot.”
“Ahaha, guess we ran out of time though.” Natsu complains cheerily, leaning back on his hands. Both not-Gray and Naruto give him weirdly offended looks, and Natsu blinks in confusion. Before he can ask what he said, the sensei speaks.
“Maa, Sasuke-kun, Sakura-chan. Were you two planning to work together then?”
Not-Gray--or Sasuke? By process of elimination? Opens his mouth, but Natsu nods. “Yeah, Sasuke was saying something about how he got pretty close one-on-one with you, so we figured if he had someone to help distract you then we’d definitely get them! Mighta worked too, if the alarm hadn’t rung…”
“Really? I intercepted Sasuke-kun’s lunge rather handily.”
Natsu tilted his head, looking at the sensei, confused. “Yeah, but that’s cause the time ran out, so you stopped holding back. For stuff like this, aren’t you supposed to limit yourself a bit so we have a chance?”
The sensei looked taken aback, shifting his weight slightly as he studied Natsu.
“Maa, so you noticed? Did you have any ideas for how to incorporate Naruto-kun as well then?”
Naruto? I didn’t even know there was another kid! Stupid not-Gr--Sasuke, not even mentioning it. Probably another ‘weakling who’d only hold him back’ or some bullshit… grrrr!!
Sasuke shrugs before Natsu even comes up with an answer. “We were running out of time. There was no use in wasting any to look for him. If he wanted to jump in and help..." Sasuke glances sideways at the blond with a disdainful expression, "Well, it hardly matters now...”
The sensei makes a weird face, looking between them.
Natsu shrugs. “Don’t look at me. I didn’t even realize we had a third person here.”
Naruto looks absolutely devastated, so much so that Natsu nearly apologizes. He could practically smell the pain that comment caused, and winces, opening his mouth to say… something, when the sensei speaks.
“Sakura-chan, what do you mean by that?”
Natsu looks back at him reluctantly, and notices something like worry on the silver-haired man’s face.
“Uh… I mean… I woke up and saw… Sasuke? With his head sticking out of the ground, but I don’t remember how I got here…Sasuke said there was a test, so I just sorta followed him to help, but he never said there was anyone else, and I don’t really know where I am… My head still hurts a lot, so maybe I just hit it on something and forgot…”
The sensei looks downright horrified, immediately rushing over and pressing a glowing hand to Natsu’s head.
“The genjutsu I used on you should not have been powerful enough to do that. Sakura-chan, I need you to tell me honestly, do you remember anything from before you woke up?”
Natsu grimaces. “My name is Natsu, dammit! Are you sure you guys didn’t forget anything? Just cause my hair’s pink doesn’t mean you can keep calling me after a stupid flower!”
The hand on his head freezes. The sensei then explodes into action, scooping Natsu up before he has a chance to even register the movement.
“Naruto, Sasuke, I need to get her to a hospital immediately. The results of this test will be postponed. Dismissed!”
There’s a sound like a cloud of smoke, and a flurry of motion so fast Natsu can’t even process it, and suddenly they’re… somewhere else.
Immediately nauseous, Natsu hunches in on himself, other peoples’ hands quickly finding his arms, head, chest, as the sensei speaks rapidly above him.
The words don’t make sense though, his headache all but exploding in his brain, and he throws himself into unconsciousness.
Maybe everything will make sense when I wake up…
WAIT A SECOND DID THAT BASTARD CALL ME ‘HER’? I’M NOT A GIRL DAMMIT!