After a night of celebration and Naruto getting wasted on an overload of ramen noodles later, it was time to get down to business. The newly formed Team Thirteen, featuring Mae, Leda and myself, the recent graduate, trained persistently with Gachero-Sensei. Day in and day out, we worked to improve our fighting and formations. Kakashi and Gachero-Sensei thought it was also a good idea to incorporate both teams into training, team vs. team. Our bond grew stronger and it was final; the Team Seven and Team Thirteen rookies were not to be messed with.
When the day finally came— the Chunin exams, Team Seven and Team Thirteen thought it was only appropriate to head into the examinations together.
“I’m going to wipe the floor with this exam. Believe it!” Naruto jumped with much enthusiasm.
“Cool it, Naruto,” Sasuke complained. “The exams didn’t even start yet.”
“Yeah, cool it.” Sakura gave Naruto a good smack to the back of the head. “Listen to Sasuke.”
“Hmph,” Naruto huffed. “You’re just jealous that I’m going to wipe the floor with you too, Sasuke,” the blonde smirked.
An argument appropriately broke out. I would usually say something to break up the trio of misfits, but there were too many emotions swirling around my claustrophobic mind. It would be naïve of me not to feel nervous. Team Thirteen was a new team. Sure, we trained each day as if it was our last, but being the rookies made me cautious.
Leda and Mae were besides me as Team Seven bickered up front. Leda walked like the cocky son-of-a-gun she was born to be. Her dragon scaled were a force field— worry bounced off with ease. Mae was more guarded as she took her steps methodically. She always appeared to be a step ahead of everyone.
Leda and Mae were the strength and brains, respectfully. The Third said I was the glue that will hold and solidify the group. Could I uphold his expectations?
Leda glanced at myself and Mae with at first anticipation, but soon gave her teammates a thumbs up. Mae smiled back, her eyes ready for whatever we will have to face. I couldn’t help but smile as well.
“We should have a code name!” Naruto erupted. “You know, a name for the six of us.”
Sakura, for once, was excited by something Naruto said. “Yeah! We should totally have a name.”
Mae, Leda and Sasuke weren’t opposing to the proposal.
“How about the Six Serpents?” Naruto suggested. “Oh, or the Six Ramen Eaters!?” He jumped at the thought.
“Those are terrible, Naruto!” The agreeing streak for Sakura ended as she expressed her hate. “How about the Sexy Six? What do you think, Sasuke?”
Sasuke ignored the previous options. “The Six Avengers,” he muttered. I eye rolled.
“I like the Silent Six,” Mae said. “Or maybe the Stealthy Six.”
“The Sexy Stealthy Six!” Sakura squealed with joy.
“Oh, for fuck’s sakes,” Leda snorted. “We want a team name, not a tongue twister, and a lame one at that.”
“What do you want it to be then?” I asked.
Leda had a menacing twinkle in her eye. “The Six Skull Crushers, obviously,” cracking her knuckles for emphasis.
Soon enough, after much argument and an undecided name, we reached the Academy. Mae and Leda said they would run ahead and get the registration forms. Team Seven and I headed towards the designated room.
“Sakura, the Lustful Lemons doesn’t even make any sense,” Naruto complained.
“You guys are a bunch of idiots,” Sasuke sighed.
Sakura opened her mouth to rebut, but she was cut off.
“Hey you, with the attitude,” came a voice from the floor above that overlooked the voluminous room. “That’s no way to talk to Sakura.”
Sakura gasped as her hair stood on end. Naruto freaked out as well. I recognized the boy as it was hard to forget. He was Rock Lee, the boy with the bowl haircut and bushy brows who gave Kiba and me a spine breaking hug because he wanted to “spread the youth”.
“What do you want?” Sasuke was unfazed.
“I want to fight you, Sasuke. Right here, right now,” Lee wasn’t hesitant on his request.
“You want to fight me, huh?”
“Yes,” he hopped off the balcony onto the floor below. His tone muscles stretched in the green jumpsuit, proving his hard training. “I challenge you. Everyone is always talking about the Uchiha clan and how great they are. I want to see if it’s true myself. I figure you would be a good test for me. And…” he paused, staring at our pink-haired shinobi. Deep shades of rose spread over his cheeks, a school boy’s crush.
Sakura felt the intensity of his wordless affection. Needless to say she did not feel the same way.
“Oh, Sakura. I love you! You are an angel sent from heaven!”
Sakura screamed, like Lee wiped a booger on her arm. “You keep your creepy Valentine’s to yourself!”
You would think she would appreciate the affection from another, I thought. Sasuke wasn’t going to return the feelings anytime soon.
“You don’t have to be so negative, Sakura.” Lee said matter-of-factly. He surprisingly didn’t sound as hurt as one would expect.
Naruto was growling, not at the Green Beast, but instead at the Uchiha. “He wants to fight Sasuke. It’s always Sasuke.”
“Huh, guys?” I spoke.
Sasuke stared Lee down, itching for a fight despite scolding Naruto for feeling the same way moments before. Sakura shivered by the possible thought that a boy with such bushy eyebrows could have any feelings for her. Naruto was yelling at no one in particular, angered that no one wanted to pick a fight with him.
“Guys—” I said again, but trailed off when I saw Leda in the corner of my eye, walking out of the Academy. I left Team Seven to fend for themselves, since arguing would be futile, and caught up with Leda.
The balcony was where I found Leda. She seemed fidgety as she rolled her unlit cigarette between her fingers.
“Hey, you okay?” I asked, leaning on the railing besides her.
“Fine,” she replied, monotone.
“You sure?” I pushed on. “You look tense.”
“I’m fine!” She bit back followed by an immediate look of regret.
“Cut the bullcrap.” I knew she was lying. “Who pissed you off this time? Was it the person who controls registration or was it the janitor again?” One time, the girl cursed out the cafeteria lady because her carrots were too cold.
That gave Leda a slight smirk. “No, the janitor was the other day. Bastard should learn how to mop.”
Laughing lightly, “Then what’s eating you?”
“It’s nothing,” Leda said in defeat. She stared down at the necklace around her neck that was usually tucked away under her shirt. This time. It shined a mesmerizing blue.
I had a good guess what was wrong because I have been feeling it too. “Is it the Chunin exams?”
Leda didn’t reply as she continued to roll her cigarette. Her fingertips squeezing hard enough for the smooth rounded paper to become wrinkled, misshapen. Tobacco slowly tickled out of the paper tube. “If you were to die tomorrow, would you be satisfied with your last conversation?”
There goes Leda being all philosophical again. “Leda…”
“I’m tripping balls, okay? I’m fucking terrified. There are shinobi here with years of experience. We just graduated. They’re going to chew us up or worse—”
“No one is going to chew us up,” I interrupted. I placed a hand on her shoulder. “Look, I get it. This is nuts, it’s fucking nuts. I have a team and became something I never thought I could be.” Leda looked at me in the eye, absorbing the flames I was exerting. “Now, I am competing against hundreds of shinobi from across the land. It’s going to be tough, but I couldn’t have a better team or better friends. We can do it— together.”
It soon became apparent that it didn’t matter if we were the newbies. The point was to work together and try to become a chunin and if we don’t and we fail horribly—that’s fine, too.
“Besides, I didn’t watch you guys graduate for you to quit now,” I smiled.
“You went?” Leda couldn’t hide her shock.
“Of course I did,” I laughed. “How could I miss it? You’re my friends.”
Leda stared deeply at me. Thoughts crowded her mind. Her unlit cigarette held tight in her hand. Why wasn’t she lighting it?
“But, did you have to double flip off the whole crowd as you walked off with your diploma? I think an elderly woman fainted and another started to pray.” We laughed at Leda’s behavior, knowing she would do it again in a heartbeat.
“Bitches aren’t ready for us,” Leda certified.
“We just have more to prove since were the rookies,” I agreed.
The loud, boisterous girl quieted. Leda pressed the cigarette into a flat dent. She rolled it so when she flicked it off the balcony, the aerodynamics would sail the cigarette farther.
She studied me with a critical eye. Leda then did something that was very out of character. I stiffened as she gave me a warm embrace. My shock wore off as I returned the hug. Her skinny arms wrapped around my waist as her face nestled in the nape of my neck. She could easily do that with the height difference. Quickly, she jolted back and fixed her character with a punch to the shoulder.
“Come on,” Leda smirked. “Let’s go fuck shit up.”
Leda and I returned to find the situation not mending. For one, Naruto was sprawled out, seeing stars. Sasuke was in a brawl with Rock Lee, Sharingan activated.
“Go, Sasuke!” Sakura cheered. “See through his ninjutsu or genjutsu. There’s no way you can be defeated.”
Sasuke ran with defiance towards his opponent. Lee used his powerful leg to kick the Uchiha, who saw the move prior and attempted to dodge. But, it didn’t work. Lee managed to kick Sasuke square in the jaw, sending him flying.
Leda and I gave each other a look. We both were thinking the same thing. With Sasuke’s Sharingan, he has the ability to depict Lee’s movements before they even happen.
How did Lee get around Sasuke’s Sharingan?
The two genin continued to brawl. Sasuke managed to slip out of reach from Lee’s powerful kicks, but Lee was too fast as he palmed Sasuke in the chest, knocking the breath out of him. I never seen Sasuke struggle so much in a battle before.
“How?” Sasuke winced, holding his chest. “How do you get around my Sharingan? What’s your trick?”
“Don’t you get it?” Lee said. “I am using taijutsu that means there are no tricks. It’s straight martial arts, nothing more— Sasuke.”
“Why you!” Sasuke went for a punch but hit air. Lee side-stepped out of the way with ease.
“I know the Sharingan and its ability to read your opponent’s chakra and decipher their hands signs and movements, but that won’t work on me.”
“What’s your point?”
“The point is that I don’t need to hide my abilities. You are no match for me. You are too slow. What good does it do you if your eyes can keep up but your body can’t?”
Sasuke grunted with frustration. He never had an opponent as strong as Lee and has never been talked down by one either.
“Your Sharingan is the worst match for my taijutsu.” Lee said, kicking Sasuke straight into the air. Lee followed, hovering directly below him.
Sasuke’s Sharingan knew what he was up to. “Dancing Leaf Shadow.”
“Good eye. Now I will prove my point.” The bandages on his arms began to unravel. Long strings of fabric surrounded him and Sasuke. He was a mummy becoming undone.
I couldn’t watch anymore. This had gone on far enough. The test hasn’t even officially started! Yet, they were willing to tear each other apart. Plus, a nagging feeling told me this needed to end anyway—for Sasuke’s sake.
I ran out to the middle of the room. “That’s enough you tw—”
My words of plea were cut off by the sound of rushing wind grazing my ear. A shuriken whizzed by, only inches away, and pinned Lee’s bandages to the wall. I froze mid-step as if hovering over a land mine.
“That’s enough, Lee,” called a voice.
Without hesitation, Lee undid his jutsu and settled to the floor.
Sasuke shouted in pain as he flew to the ground. Sakura was quick enough to catch him as they skidded to a halt.
“Are you okay, Sasuke?!” Sakura yelled, clearly concerned. Without a reply, he winced as he stared past myself to Lee and the new guest. That bore a deeper concern from Sakura’s face. We both knew he was shaken. He didn’t even take the fall right.
“You were watching us the whole time?” Lee asked.
The boy was talking to the most frightening man I have ever seen. It was as if Lee was an add water play sponge which resulted in a bigger version of himself.
“Holy shit! There’s another one?!” Naruto went ballistic, clearly awake now. His pointer finger shook with disbelief. “He’s got the biggest eyebrows yet!”
“It’s like Big-me and Mini-me,” I concluded. Jitters shook through me.
Sasuke and Sakura slowly stood up, clearly effected by the ordeal as well.
“Man, that’s some creepy father-son thing going on,” Leda said, standing defiantly.
‘Big-me’ answered Lee. “Of course I was. That last technique was forbidden, you know that.” He made weird fluent arm movements.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—”
“A shinobi never reveals his techniques unless it’s absolutely necessary!” Big-me scolded, his seriousness dampened when he twirled.
“I can see where Lee gets his looks from,” Naruto snickered. “Same soup bowl haircut and even bushier eyebrows!”
“Those things can eat you alive,” Leda snickered.
Lee overheard Naruto and Leda’s snarky remarks. “Hey! Do not insult Gai-Sensei! He is one of the greatest man in the entire world!”
“Well excuse me for not noticing his greatness! I was too busy watching his hair and eyebrows go to war,” Naruto argued back.
“Stop being so defensive about your creepy father,” Leda added.
“He is not my father and he is not creepy!”
“My creep radar says otherwise,” Leda snorted.
“Why you –”
“Lee, that’s enough. Give it a rest,” Gai-Sensei interrupted.
Like an obedient dog, Lee quickly let it go. “Yes, sir.”
“Good. Now for your punishment.” Without warning, Gai- Sensei performed a baseball pitch punch and knocked Lee right off his feet. We screamed in disbelief.
Lee laid on the ground; the wind knocked out of him. Gai walked towards his injured pupil and kneeled in front of him. His angered look soon turned to mush, like ice cream melting in the sun.
“I’m sorry, Lee,” he choked. “It’s for your own good.”
“Sensei,” Lee was in tears. “Oh, Sensei. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry!” He fell into his Sensei’s arms. “It was very un-youthful of me!”
Gai-Sensei was crying as well. A river of tears thicker than even his eyebrows. “It’s okay. You don’t need to say anymore.” They proceeded to sob into each other’s arms as though they were a long-lost couple.
The five of us each wore a different expression, unsure how to act in such a bizarre situation.
“It’s actually kind of sweet the way they are all huggy and stuff,” Naruto commented.
“You got to be kidding!” Sakura rebutted. “They’re both totally crazy!”
Lee and his sensei broke from their emotional embrace. “You’re just caught in between,” Gai-Sensei said, putting a loving hand on his student’s shoulder. “You’re too old to be called a boy and not yet quiet a man.”
“You’re so good to me, sensei,” Lee cried. “The youth is so strong in you.”
Still an emotional wreck, Gai points to the outside. “Now take off. I want a hundred laps around the practice field. Show me what you got!”
“Yes, sir! No problem, sir!”
“Run into the setting sun. Run and suffer… but don’t mess up your hair.” They gleamed at each other as if all was forgiven. The hours of manual labor will erase Lee’s criminal record and his youthful meter would be replenished.
“Hey, wait a minute. We’re not finished here. You guys can’t just take off!” Naruto accused.
“And what about the Chunin exams?” Sakura added.
“Oh, right. I forgot about that,” Gai said, rubbing the back of his helmet hair guilty. “Lee you not only disobeyed the rules against fighting, but you disrupted the Chunin exams. I think that wards a slightly more severe punishment, don’t you think?”
“Yes, sir!” Lee saluted.
“Let’s say 200 laps,” Gai said, placing a hand on his hips and the other soared in the air, flicking it.
“How about 300 laps!”
“Even better. What about 400, sensei?”
“Yes! Yes! More! More laps!”
“They’re insane,” Sakura said.
“Probably,” I concluded, rubbing my face with both discomfort and utter fascination.
“It’s like watching two boars mating in the wild,” Leda said. “It’s gross but you can’t help but stare.”
“I don’t know how many boars you’ve seen… but I see your point… in a fucked up kind of way,” I said, dragging my hand down my cheek for emphasis.
“600! 600!” Lee yelled, like he was at an auction. All he needed to do was wave the card and the bid was made.
Mae ran up to the five of us, waving the registration papers. “Hey guys! I got our forms. Sorry it took so long. I stopped to talk to Kiba and—” She skidded to a halt and fixated on the duo green jumpsuits’ chatter. “What’s going on here?”
“Incest,” Leda replied.
“Leda,” I scolded, elbowing her.
“Just saying,” she shrugged.
“Lee fought Sasuke with a forbidden jutsu and now he’s debating with his sensei what the appropriate punishment should be,” I explained.
Mae eyed the two closely, staring them up and down. “I see.” It was obvious the same thoughts were rattling through her mind.
“800! And on my hands!” Lee upped the ante.
“I like the way you think, Lee,” Gai praised. “But I think we can do better than that.”
“And backwards. Yes! Backwards. I’ll go 800 laps on my hands, backwards!”
“Yes! That’s perfect, Lee!” Gai-Sensei’s smile wobbled, the emotional tide was upon us once again.
“Oh, Sensei.” They cried into another emotional embrace.
“How could I lose to someone that lame?” Sasuke complained.
“Yeah, how about that? The Uchihas aren’t as good as they say they are,” Naruto gestured.
“Shut up, Naruto,” Sakura snapped.
“Next time, I’ll drive him to his knees,” Sasuke gritted his teeth.
“Yeah, right,” Naruto shot down. “Coming from the guy who just had his butt kicked.”
“Stop it. What are you saying? Just cut it out, Naruto,” Sakura scolded.
“All I’m saying is, I bet Old Bushy Brow has been training until he drops— day in and day out. He trains harder than you,” Naruto explained.
Sasuke was angered by the Knucklehead’s comment, but remained silent. He glared at the ground with his fists clenched. The weight of Naruto’s words carried a heavy burden on his already heavy shoulders. He recently told me he didn’t feel strong enough, that he wasn’t progressing far enough even though he activated his sharingan. The pressure of being popular and an Uchiha was like dragging an anchor across land. People expected a lot out of him, but he expected even more out of himself.
“Come on,” I said. “It’s almost three. We should be there by now.”
Everyone, one way or another agreed. Sakura, however stood stiff, like she saw a ghost. “He’s staring at us.”
I was about to ask who when I heard it, or rather, didn’t hear. Lee and Gai-Sensei were quiet as they approached us.
“You are Kakashi’s students, right?” He stared at Team Seven. “Tell me, how is Kakashi-Sensei?”
“Do you know him?” Sasuke asked.
“Do I know Kakashi?” Gai chuckled. “People say we are arch rivals for all eternity.”
“There’s just no way!” Sakura and Naruto yelled, simultaneously.
Gai- Sensei disappeared. “My reckon it’s 50 wins and 49 loses, which is one better than him by the way,” he said, reappearing behind us. Team Seven gaped. We were all shocked by his speed.
“What? How could he beat Kakashi?” Naruto exclaimed.
“The fact is, I’m stronger than Kakashi and faster,” Gai winked.
He’s definitely faster than Kakashi. Could he be stronger, too?
Gai glanced between Mae, Leda and I. “And, who is your sensei?”
“Gachero-Sensei, sir,” Mae replied politely, fumbling with the registration papers.
Gai-Sensei wore a look that wasn’t as easily distinguishable as his other more obvious ones. “Hm, Gachero-Sensei. You don’t say?”
“Do you know him?” I asked.
“Have some kind of rival with our sensei, too?” Leda asked, almost offended.
“Can’t say I do since I never met the guy,” Gai rubbed his chin in ponder. “But I have heard plenty.”
“Like?” I asked.
“He’s quiet the overachiever. Graduated the Academy at the age of five and became jonin at age seven. He’s been part of the elite group, AMBU, where he was a leader of his platoon—until now. He decided to become a sensei. He actually volunteered to coach your team.” Referring to us. “Which is strange.”
“Strange?” Mae asked. “Why do you say that?”
Gai stood rigid, the opposite of his flexible character. “A sensei is assigned a team, usually. You could request a type of team, possibly, but that isn’t commonly done. But Gachero apparently was adamant about this particular team— your team. Which is why his name has been going around us sensei as of late.”
He stared at me like he was trying to read a cryptic code off my face. His look intimated me and forced me to stare at my feet. Gai’s demeanor reverted back as soon as it came. “Well look at the time! You all must be going. Good luck every-body! Lee!”
“Yes, Gai-Sensei!” with that they disappeared.
“That was weird,” Mae said.
“And creepy,” Leda added.
“What did Gai-Sensei mean about Gachero-Sensei?” Sakura asked.
“Yeah, he sounds sketchy,” Naruto added.
Was Gachero-Sensei being sketchy? Who would go from the top of the ranks in an elite group— and give it all up to mentor a group of challenging girls? Gachero had been helping this chaotic team have some stability. Leda, Mae and I have learned from our sensei’s military life and have benefited greatly. In all honesty, I didn’t know what to make of it— or who to trust.
“I don’t know,” I replied, trying not to worry my teammates. “But never mind that. Let’s get out of here.”
We all agreed and walked towards our destination. Sasuke straggled behind.
“Sasuke?” I asked, concerned he was still shaken from the ordeal.
Sasuke, however, gave a sinister smile. “Things are starting to get interesting.”