It starts out small, which is exactly why Sasuke doesn’t see it coming. Little things, things that don’t mean anything right up until they do.
A book forgotten on the table.
An extra pack of shuriken on the shelf.
His spare kunai stashed beneath the bed.
Then a spare set of clothes in the closet.
His towel in the bathroom.
His best tanto by the door.
Then a whole duffle of supplies by the dresser.
His favorite oolong in the pantry.
His favorite foods in the fridge.
His goddamn toothbrush .
It hits him one night when he and Naruto are going over their training regimen for the week– he still remembers how surprised he’s been when Naruto had put his usual training routine down on paper for Sasuke to look at, for the given definition of routine. Some of the training Naruto had been doing were in things he hadn’t even considered, things like breathing and balance and fine motor control, and almost no two types of exercises were the same. Naruto has been training every part of himself, not just the parts that would be useful to battle or being a ninja, and Sasuke adopts the idea wholeheartedly. Any strength is better than no strength at all, and never before has training made him feel quite so strong before, sore in muscles he’s never used, drawing power from parts of himself he didn’t know were there.
He misses what Naruto is saying, something about flexibility and chakra control training, chopsticks halfway to his mouth. They’re eating a late night dinner of Ichiraku to replenish the calories they lost during training today, like they do almost every night. Sasuke is fairly convinced that Takeuchi says open this late just for them, specifically, just for Naruto.
It’s routine. Normal.
Sasuke has a chair at the tiny dining table. It’s his chair. He sits here every day. Naruto hasn’t bothered putting his futon away in the morning for longer than Sasuke can remember now. They take turns buying groceries every few days. It’s Sasuke’s turn to pay.
He hasn’t even seen his house in weeks.
Because he lives here.
“Oi, asshole. Are you even listening to me?”
And even that insult out of Naruto’s mouth sounds more endearing and exasperated than any curse word has a right to be. The blond tilts his head and blinks, confused. He knows Sasuke isn’t usually one for zoning.
“You have carrot in your teeth.” Sasuke says, to cover his momentary lapse in brain function. “We’re doing flexibility on Thursday?” he continues quickly as Naruto runs his tongue reflexively over his incisors, glaring when he realizes said carrot is nonexistent.
“Wednesday.” He corrects. “That way we can put it between endurance and strength training and not die, maybe.” he says dryly.
He’s been spending too much time with Shikamaru. Sasuke decides. This time next year his sense of humor is going to be dryer than Wind Country.
“Fine.” He agrees. “How is Sakura’s line up, though? Is she caught up yet?”
“Almost.” Naruto mumbles around a mouthful of pork belly. “She still needs work on her chakra reserves, but her control is already way better than either of ours. Plus, she’s been trying to harass Ryouta-san at the hospital into giving her anatomy lessons.”
That thought is terrifying. While Sasuke is glad that Sakura seems to have shaken herself out of the worst of her fangirl phase after actual prolonged contact with him, he’s not entirely sure what kind of monster they’ve created by introducing her to the idea of medical-ninjutsu.
She needs to hurry and catch them up so that they can start training in a group formation. She has specific talents that both he and Naruto lack and bringing her into regular training will give them some experience as a unit before the actual selections at the end of the school year.
Sasuke has plans for that too, and has spent the last few weeks trying to manipulate events in his favor. If everything goes to plan, they won’t be separated anytime soon.
He wasn’t exactly planning on telling Sakura what he was up to, but it becomes necessary Friday morning, when she starts balling up a piece of paper to throw at Naruto’s napping head two rows back. Sasuke catches her wrist, stopping her arm mid swing.
“Don’t.” He growls. “Let him sleep.” Sakura glares at him from her now permanent residence in the seat to his left, much to Ino’s continued confusion and indignation. Sakura preens under her frustrated attention most days, which Sasuke has discovered is very like her.
She pulls her wrist out of his hand but drops the projectile, looking put out. “But he’s done nothing but sleep during class lately!” She hisses. “Even if he knows the stuff in theory, he’ll fail the test if he doesn’t know at least some of the technical jargon!”
“That's what I’m counting on.” Sasuke mutters, and she stares at him like he’s grown a second head.
She glances back at Iruka-sensei for a minute to make sure he’s still turned away from her. “What the hell is that supposed to mean? You want him to fail?”
She’s pissed now, which is bad news for Sasuke and his perfect record if it gets out of hand, so he sighs. “Look, you’re top Kunoichi right now, right?”
She straightens a little, pride evident in the little smirk that pulls across her face. “Ya, so?”
“And I’m currently top Shinobi, right?”
Her eyes narrow at that, confused now. “Obviously. But what’s that got to do with anything?”
Sasuke goes silent as Iruka walks their way, feigning indifference to the conversation until the Chunin sensei paces back down to the other end of the classroom.
“It’s an unspoken rule that the top Kunoichi and top Shinobi from each graduating class is placed in a team with the lowest scoring student in order to even out the distribution of talent.”
Sakura’s eyes widen a little as understanding dawns. “And Naruto is the current underdog.” She finishes for him, shooting a glance at the snoring blond behind them before leveling her emerald gaze back on Sasuke.
Sasuke nods minutely, tucking his mouth behind his steepled fingers to hide his determined smirk. “I’m going to make sure he stays that way.”
Sakura makes no effort to conceal her grin, leaning in conspiratorially. “I’m in. What can I do to help?”
“You can tutor Kiba for starters.” Sasuke mutters. “Dog-breath is cutting it close.”
“You do realize this is considered stalking don’t you?”
“It’s reconnaissance, jerk.”
“No one asked you, Shika.”
“Then why the hell are we here?”
“I need a scapegoat.”
“Great. Thanks for that. Troublesome… and you're a traitor.”
Choji shrugs his shoulders, uncaring. “She gave me dango.”
“Oh, did she now? She just dragged me here by my ankles.”
“There’s no point in trying to bribe you.” Ino says with some venom. “And shut up, I’m trying to concentrate.”
Shikamaru rolls his eyes so hard Ino can practically hear it from where she’s crouched in the bushes, eyes trained on the hospital’s front door. Shikamaru lounges with his usual lazy grace against the tree behind her, nestled so fully in the shadows of the branches that Ino has to concentrate to see him all the way. Choji is settled on the ground at his feet, absently rolling the empty dango skewer between his teeth.
Ino knows that Sakura has been coming to the hospital lately, right after school in some cases, but what she doesn’t know is why . She’s is more than a little miffed that billboard-brow has somehow managed to worm her way into Sasuke’s good graces, but more irritating than that is the fact that afterwards she seemed to drop all the fawning, all the worship, and now she and Sasuke whisper to each other in class like they’re the best of freaking friends and Ino has no idea how it happened.
There has to be a trick to it. She’d decided. She has to know something I don’t.
When she’d asked Shikamaru for advice about it, he’d told her to ask Naruto of all people, and when she’d expressed her confusion about why the hell she would ask the class clown about Sasuke Uchiha , he’d given her the weirdest look.
“You really don’t know, do you? I thought you were supposed to be head of his fan club or something.”
Shikamaru won’t tell her what the hell he’d meant by that, so in retribution, Ino had hauled him into her stakeout. She’d grabbed Choji too, mostly because he didn’t whine about her odd behavior so long as she bought him snacks.
She hisses for the boys to hush when she sees a flash of pink rounding the far corner of the building, even though they hadn’t really been speaking in the first place.
Sakura has her hair pulled up from it’s normal straight flow into a high tail bound with leather cord. She looks tired and flushed, like she just came from sparring practice, but there’s also a triumphant semi-permanent smile on her face that Ino has never seen before, something self satisfied and proud. It makes Ino’s blood boil.
Sakura waves to a medic-nin taking a break to the side of the entrance and the older woman waves back, even going so far as to swing open the door for the young Kunoichi and offer her a reserved smile as she leaps by.
“The hell?” Ino mumbles to herself. The Konoha Shinobi Hospital staff are a notoriously stone-faced and unimpressed bunch of both current and ex-ninja.
“She comes here almost every day. Of course the staff knows her.” Shikamaru pipes up in response to a question she never actually asked.
“What the hell for though?”
“Rumor has it she’s been trying to bug Ikari-sensei into giving her lessons about being a field medic.” Choji says easily, rummaging around in his pack for one of his ever-present bags of crisps.
Ino blinks and straightens out of her hiding spot without thinking. “Ikari Ryouta? ” She squeals. “Is she insane ?”
“Possibly.” Shikamaru comments blithely. “But if he hasn’t scared her off yet, I doubt he ever will.”
At the head of the Konoha ninja hospital is Ikari Ryouta, top surgeon, ex-jounin, chief of staff, and possibly one of the angriest and most unapproachable human beings Ino has ever had the displeasure of meeting face to face.
She’d seen him exactly once four years ago, when her father had come back from a mission dangling from Choza’s arms, his leg severed from the knee down and the missing limb swathed in Shikaku’s protective shadows to preserve as much tissue function as possible. Inoichi had spent the next six and a half hours in surgery, Ino curled crying in her mother’s lap as they waited.
When Ikari had emerged at last, sweaty and obviously chakra exhausted with a scowl on his face, he had ignored Ino and her mother entirely. He’d turned straight to Shikaku, eyes hard and teeth grit. “He’s off missions for one month, pending regular healing sessions. No exceptions. If I see his name on a duty roster before that, I’ll chop his goddamn leg back off myself.” he’d growled, and then stalked off without another word, not even a glance in their direction.
Ino blinks at Shikamaru when he suddenly stiffens minutely, an eyebrow raised, staring over her shoulder.
“You guys aren’t talking about little old me, are you?”
Sakura’s voice comes from disturbingly close to her ear, and Ino can’t help it– she leaps and screeches, jumping forward so fast that she almost trips over Choji.
And Choji Akimichi is perfect, no one will ever tell her otherwise, because as she’s about to stumble and fall over herself in a ridiculously embarrassing fashion, Choji loops an arm around her legs to straighten her out, and doesn’t even complain when she uses his head to right herself, he just continues munching on his crisps.
Sakura stands up straight, her hands in the pockets of her sweats, completely unladylike and completely uncaring about it, a smug sparkle in her eye. Ino flushes to the roots of her hair in embarrassment.
“N-not everything has to do with you, billboard-brow.” Ino stutters, trying to steady herself both mentally and physically.
Sakura doesn’t rise to the bait. Instead she just smiles, knowing and carefree, and Ino is floored by it.
Who the hell are you? Ino’s brain asks, because this isn’t the Sakura she knows, the little girl crying on benches when people poked fun at her forehead or her hair color. This Sakura has her hair pulled all the way back from her face, fringe braided back into her ponytail to keep it securely out of her eyes. She’s wearing simple grey sweatpants and a dark blue tank top, no dress, no skirt, nothing eye-catching about her ensemble at all. But Ino finds herself staring anyway, because all the sudden Sakura looks freaking intimidating, confident and self-sure and what the hell .
Ino feels a deep green monster come to life in her gut, envy surging bitter at the back of her throat.
“Okay.” Sakura says easily, like Ino didn’t just insult her, and points across to the boys. “Can I borrow Shikamaru for a second?”
Shikamaru blinks, confused, and answers when Ino’s tongue fails to articulate an effective response.
“Need something, Haruno?”
“Coffee advice. Have you started drinking it yet?”
Shikamaru tilts his head, considering. “Ya, a little. But this is for Ikari-sensei, right?”
Sakura nods. “He’s being stubborn. One of the secretaries said he has a weakness for special blends.”
“You’re gonna wanna talk to my old man, then.” Shikamaru advises. “If anyone knows what’ll butter up old salt-of-the-earth, it’ll be him. You can come over after school tomorrow if you want, he’ll be back from Suna by then.”
Sakura grins and gives him a wink and a grin. “You’re the best. You’re coming over for curry this week, right? I get to pick the flavorings this time!”
Shikamaru makes a pained face. “Can you promise it won’t turn my mouth to ash?”
Sakura snorts and sticks her tongue out at him. “Baby. But since you helped me out, I’ll tone it down just for you.”
“Curry?” Choji pipes up, suddenly interested.
Shikamaru looks down at him with a fond quirk of his mouth. “I’ll bring you some when I get the chance, big guy.”
Sakura’s smile gets softer at the gesture. “We’ll make extra so you can take some back with you.” She offers. She looks up then, clocking the sun’s position in the sky. “Got to go. See you tomorrow Shika! See you later Ino! Bye Choji!” she yells behind her as she runs off down the path again, and Ino just stares, and stares, and stares.
Kakashi turns around the corner of his apartment building and almost gets mowed down by an academy student, a young Kunoichi with hair the color of cherry bubble gum that clips his shoulder at high speed, barely stopping to shout an apology before she’s tearing off towards the training grounds, throwing off energy like some kind of overcharged battery.
What does Iruka feed those kids? He wonders absently as he Body Flickers towards Genma’s apartment. He only half expects to actually find the Tokujo there– it’s a crapshoot as to where Genma will be on an off day, but he hadn’t been at the standby station, which leaves only a handful of places the Shinobi would go for a post-mission cool down.
Kakashi knows Genma isn’t in his apartment the second he lands on the balcony– Genma's chakra signature there is so faint it’s unlikely he ever went home in the first place. That leaves two options; either Genma has gone to Iruka’s flat for food and R&R, or he’s at Raidou’s loft.
Kakashi has no intention of checking Raidou’s loft.
Thankfully, Genma does end up being at Iruka’s, through Iruka himself is oddly absent.
“Yo.” Kakashi calls from the living room window, eyeing the Tokujo as he lounges on Iruka’s couch.
“Yo.” Genma returns tiredly, without moving the arm he has thrown over his eyes.
“That bad, huh?” Kakashi says softly, rolling to his feet and making his way over. He leans against the wall next to the Tokujo’s head, out of his line of sight, and runs his eyes down Genma’s form. Almost the entirety of the man’s chest is swathed in bandages, and his right hand is secured in a chakra-mesh cast to keep it immobile. By Kakashi’s estimation he should still be in the hospital, but saying as much would make him a hypocrite, so he keeps his mouth shut.
“Two casualties.” Genma says slowly, tongue darting out around his senbon to wet chapped lips, his only nervous habit. “Chunin. Newbies. Ambush. Could have been worse, really.”
“Could have been better, too.” Kakashi says honestly. He’s never been one for false words or comfort in moments like this. That would also make him a hypocrite. “I would have thought you’d be with your partner.”
“Too banged up.” Genma growls, finally removing his hand from his eyes to pull his fingers restlessly through his hair. “Plus, Rai is still with the Sandaime. He doesn’t know.” He cranes his head around to look at Kakashi, amber eyes narrowed. “If you were hoping to go rounds, I’m afraid you’re SOL.”
Kakashi shakes his head. His demons have been quiet lately; he hadn’t come here looking for a fight. “Where’s Iruka?”
Genma shrugs, wincing when the movement pulls at whatever wounds he has hidden under the bandages. “Not exactly sure, I remember him shouting about how he was out of bandages, but he’s been gone too long for a supply run. I’d bet real ryo that he’s giving the old man an earful.”
“Sucker bet.” Kakashi drawls, slipping his hands into his pockets. “My name’s in the draw pool for Jounin-sensei again.” He says randomly, which draws a snort from Genma.
“You’d think they’d learn. How many brat packs have you failed now? Four?”
“Ha! When’s graduation?”
“Poor kids.” Genma chuckles. “Asuma’s in the pool now too. I can’t wait to see how he deals with genin .”
Before Kakashi can answer that the door bursts open and Iruka comes through the door with Raidou on his heels. The man stops in the living room entryway eyes locked on Genma’s bandaged chest, and his scarred face pulls into a grimace, the worry in his eyes all but undetectable to someone who didn’t know him.
“God dammit Shiranui.”
Genma lets out a nervous chuckle and Iruka rolls his eyes. “He’s your idiot now, Namiashi.” Iruka says mildly, dropping a bag of med supplies on the countertop. “Get him off my couch.”
Raidou does as instructed, ignoring Genma’s indignant squawks as he loops his partner’s good arm around his shoulders. “Thanks Umino.”
“Don’t forget to change his bandages.” Is Iruka’s only comment, barely heard over Genma’s growl of “I’m right here you assholes!”
Raidou only nods as he drags a grumbling Genma out the door, leaving Kakashi alone with Iruka. Only then does the teacher acknowledge his presence, turning to him and rolling the sleeves of his uniform shirt up to his elbows.
“Kakashi. Is something wrong?”
Kakashi smiles, letting it reach his eyes. “Just the fact that I no longer have someone to whine to about being picked for Jounin instructor again this year.”
“You can’t honestly be surprised.” Iruka comments, tugging the tie out of his loosening ponytail so he can pull it up more firmly. “You’re one of the strongest Jounin in the village, maybe even the strongest. Your number was up for sensei the second you pulled your name from the Anbu roster.”
Kakashi glares at him. “Me? In charge of kids? ”
Iruka chuckles. “I didn’t say it was a good idea. Just a logical one.” He leans back against the wall opposite, posture easy and loose, and Kakashi wonders for a moment how the hell he stays so calm all the time. Kakashi has spent almost all his life with Anbu, and the only person he’s ever met cooler under pressure than Iruka is possibly Shikaku, and the man is Jounin commander for a reason.
“You going to fail this group too?” Iruka says, disapproving.
“Probably.” Kakashi says lightly.
Iruka sighs heavily, casting his gaze out the window, and doesn’t speak for a long moment. Then a fond smile unfurls across Iruka’s mouth. “It looks like Naruto is going to pass this year.”
Kakashi ticks his gaze back up from where it had drifted in the general direction of the kitchen floor. “Really?”
Iruka nods. “It might be close– he’s still failing the occasional test, but his physical training scores are high enough that it might not matter.” the small smile grows bolder. “And all test scores aside, I know he’s going to be a fantastic ninja.”
Kakashi takes a heavy breath, forcing down old memories that don’t belong in this moment. “I hope you’re right.”
The night before the selection, Naruto hardly sleeps. Sakura had been over until late and they’d stayed up talking about jutsu and how Sakura had started goading Ino into spars outside of class and how Kiba and Sasuke no longer wanted to kill each other regularly. No one had mentioned the selections and Naruto hadn’t wanted to bring it up, all too happy to talk and squabble and wrestle playfully around the apartment until they either got tired or something broke.
Now it’s the middle of the night, and the selections are all he can think about.
“What if I end up with people who hate me?” He ask Kurama when it’s apparent he’s not going to get to sleep. “What if they get their assignments and they don’t want to hang around me anymore?”
~You’re an idiot,~ Kurama rumbles, ~If you think that little Uchiha and the Genesis are leaving your life anytime soon. You’re an idiot for even suggesting it. Actually, you know what, get down here.~
Naruto doesn’t even think twice about it, he just closes his eyes and steps back, alighting easily in the water of the seal space, his legs crossed.
It’s been more than a year since his frenzied trip to Uzushio to save the life of his bijuu, and Kurama looks healthier than ever. The golden tint to his crimson fur has become permanent, and his eyes have warmed from the colour of blood to a richer amber. The Kyuubi sets his muzzle immediately in Naruto’s lap, sending the water around them rippling softly as Naruto scratches above his nose.
“But seriously though.” Naruto mutters. “What’s going to happen when we get our assignments? How can you be so sure we won’t just…drift apart?”
Kurama snorts, moving back a little so he can tap Naruto’s forehead with a claw. ~First of all, you are way to stubborn to let go of anything you love. Friends especially. You remember what you did for me, don’t you?~
Naruto makes a pained face. “That was different.”
~Was not, and you know it.~ Kurama fires back. ~ And second of all, I think you’re vastly underestimating the deviousness of Uchiha. And while I may not like it, this one seems stuck to you for good.~
Naruto’s face scrunches in confusion. “What the hell does Sasuke have to do with it?”
~You’re kidding right? That brat has been plotting something for weeks now. And the Genesis is in on it. I’m pretty sure they want to hold onto you just as much as you want to hold onto them.~
Kurama smiles at him then, all sure, toothy grin, and Naruto believes him. “Thanks, you grumpy old demon.”
They get assigned to the same team. All three of them. They are team seven.
Sasuke doesn’t even bother trying to look surprised. The only emotion he’s radiating is smugness.
“You planned this, you asshole.” Naruto growls as he sets an eraser trap above the door. Their new sensei is late. By an hour . He’s lucky it’s not a bucket of paint.
“How could I have planned this? Everyone knows the assignments are random.” Sasuke says with false casualty, but Naruto can feel the excitement building under his skin from here. Sakura is giggling, swinging her feet on the desk, a full body tenketsu map open over her legs. She’s ecstatic about finally bribing the head surgeon at the hospital into giving her basic medic lessons, which she managed with some kind of River Country coffee blend that when brewed looked like rich hot tar. He knows because he's helped her brew the stuff at five-thirty in the freaking morning.
“Bull.” Naruto snaps, leaping back down to ground level. “You could have just told me.”
“It was more believable when you didn’t know.” Sakura explains, eyes still on her tenketsu map.
Naruto stares at her hard for a moment before throwing his hands in the air. “Never mind, I don’t want to know.”
The sound of the eraser falling alerts them to the door being opened, and they all turn at once to see a man standing in the doorway, staring, bemused, at the eraser on the floor. Naruto feels Sasuke freeze next to him, but can’t fathom why his friend is suddenly so nervous. Naruto has never seen this Jounin before in his life.
He’s tall and lean, a lazy hunch to his shoulders, and a black mask pulled up over most of his face. His hitai-ate is pulled crooked to cover his left eye, and he reaches up to brush chalk dust from strange silver hair.
“You ?” Sasuke says harshly, obviously caught off guard.
The Jounin just gives them a counterfeit smile with his eyes. “Me.” He agrees. He straightens a little, addressing all of them instead of just Sasuke. “My name is Hatake Kakashi.” The man says mildly. “And I will be your Jounin instructor.”