sirona_fics: (love from Naruto)
[personal profile] sirona_fics
Author: [livejournal.com profile] sirona_gs
Title: Advantage: Us
Rating: PG-13 for swearing and boys kissing.
Word Count: ~9,700 this part, just over 30K overall.
Summary: When your parents are world-renowned tennis players, it is natural that you would want to follow in their footsteps, Naruto reasons when he asks to be sent to tennis summer camp. What happens after that is all that bastard Sasuke’s fault. A tennis AU where both boys’ parents are still alive.
Warnings: none, apart from kids swearing
Disclaimer: Not mine. I'll put them back after I'm done playing with them, I promise.
A/N: In Part One.

Part One



Part Two

Healing takes a long friggin’ time. Naruto spends the next two weeks before school starts almost locked up inside the house – all his friends from school are still away somewhere nice by the seaside, and they’re not likely to be back before the beginning of September.

He fills his time with Google. He starts off with searches on the other guys from camp, just for the fun of it. There’s not much about Lee, but Naruto bets that won’t last long. Shikamaru is only mentioned once or twice, because of this father, Shikaku Nara, being the coach to Britain’s Davis Cup team.

Most of the info he finds on his friends from camp is, unsurprisingly, on Hinata and Neji Hyuuga. Hinata’s father, Hiashi Hyuuga, is the World Tennis Association President, and a holder of many competitive titles himself. Neji’s father holds a place on the WTA Board of Directors, but in a purely administrative capacity. Naruto can see why that would piss Neji off, but he can’t see history repeating – the Hyuuga family is very well-off these days, so there is no reason to suppose that Neji might have to give up the sport in favour of his cousin. Naruto makes up his mind to speak up to Neji next year – there’s no need for this artificially created antagonism between the two cousins.

Once he has exhausted this line of enquiry, his curiosity gets the better of him. He doesn’t know Kakashi’s surname, but the name is unusual enough that, when combined with ‘tennis’ as a search term, it yields immediate results.

Naruto reads on, mouth agape, to Kakashi Hatake’s myriad achievements. Holder of first place on the rank list since he had been 13, gone pro at sixteen, takes the Grand Slam at age nineteen, well on his way to achieve the Super Grand Slam before a horrific fall from a second-floor window breaks both his legs in five places and shatters his right hip. Foul play is suspected, involving one Orochimaru Sannin, but never proved. Kakashi had been told that he might never walk again, let alone play; they hadn’t reckoned on Kakashi’s sheer pigheaded stubbornness or the unfailing support of his tennis buddy, Minato Namikaze.

Two years later, after seven surgeries, a year of rigorous and gruelling physical therapy, and two trips to the Oxford University psych ward, Kakashi had been back on his feet and had started training again. Unfortunately, the one thing the doctors had been right about was his performance on court – the shattered hip had just been too damaged to withstand the punishment of a four-hour, five-set match. Kakashi had retired and, at his buddy’s urging had gone, albeit grudgingly, into teaching.

Naruto is reluctantly impressed. It seemed that while Kakashi had taken on many students before, none of them had lasted more than a week under his obsessively demanding tutoring. He and Sasuke had lasted a whole three and a half weeks; and it seemed that Kakashi had coached Sasuke more than just this one time.

After this revelation, there is no helping it. A month after school has started, and two weeks before his cast comes off, Naruto watches his fingers type in ‘Sasuke Uchiha’ into Google as if they are no longer connected to his body. Seconds later the search spews out thousands of hits.

Naruto closes his eyes. He is dying to rummage through all the gossip, the theories, the screwed-up relationship Sasuke has with his family, his brother’s interviews about him, his father’s dismissal of his accomplishments, his mother’s veiled praise of the same. His stomach twists at the thought of how this might very well be seen as betrayal of trust, even though he barely knows the guy.

Despite the urge to pry, his mind is made up. He reaches for the mouse again, draws the cursor to the top right-hand corner of the window and clicks it closed with a determined twist of his lips. Plenty of time to irritate it out of him next year, he thinks with a grin.

---

Two months after this happens, Naruto is back on the court under Jiraiya’s watchful eye. He needs to return to his previous form, and it is essential that he regains muscle flexibility after being in a cast for so long. His muscles twinge painfully for weeks, and he can’t hit a decent serve to save his life – he just can’t push himself off the ground with sufficient force. The fifth time it happens, he wants to cry.

The atmosphere in the Namikaze-Uzumaki household is tense. Both his parents know what this means to Naruto – possibly as much as it would mean to either of them. Minato scours physical therapists obsessively; when all of them fail to meet his exacting standards, to his wife’s endless frustration, Kushina pesters Tsunade until she comes to their house and shows her how to do it herself.

The three notice an immediate improvement. “Stands to reason,” Tsunade says. “The muscles must be worked in all directions and they’re not doing that on the court. Also, they need a warm-up just like any other muscle, so that there’s no further injury.”

So it is that Kushina takes over Naruto’s physical therapy altogether. They spend an hour every morning doing exercises and massages, and only then is Naruto allowed back on the court. Six days later Naruto can serve again; two weeks and he can run laps around the court at his previous pace; a month and he’s back to hitting shots like he had done five months back.

Jiraiya works him mercilessly, but Naruto takes it all without complaints and pesters him for more. Jiraiya relents and starts teaching him more complicated shots, how to backspin and topspin the ball, how to drop it just so over the net, how to draw his opponent to engage closer to the net, how to then jump smash the ball so it flies right over his head and scores on the baseline.

He learns defensive techniques, too – his favourite ever is the leapfrog. His eyes almost pop out of his head when he manages to fool Jiraiya and jump smash the ball over him, only for Jiraiya to make a run for it, jump ahead of it and hit it with the racquet coming up between his legs in an inside-out forehand. Naruto’s seen his father do it on the court many-a-time, and he is insufferable until Jiraiya gives in and teaches it to him, with Minato shouting instructions from the side of the court.

Naruto struggles to juggle schoolwork and tennis quite a bit more this year, because of the intensive training he’s talked his way into. Help comes from a surprising place – one evening he’d spent an hour complaining to Shikamaru about his stupid physics homework on Skype until even the laid-back boy had had enough of his whining, and had proceeded to explain to him in ninety seconds what Naruto had been unable to grasp for three days. From then on, Shikamaru’s tutoring via Skype becomes a nightly ritual; Naruto’s grades settle and start to rise steadily.

And if Naruto wonders a bit too often about what Sasuke is studying in that far-off boarding school, he doesn’t mention it to anybody else.

---

It’s the second week of July, and Naruto wakes up on Friday with the knowledge that on Sunday he’ll be setting out for tennis camp once again burning in his mind. He bounces out of his bed, too excited to lie in, and runs into the kitchen where Kushina is poring through a textbook of some sort while she’s waiting for the pancake batter she’s just poured into the pan to settle and start bubbling. A slightly singed smell permeates the room, and Naruto can see the several slightly charred previous results waiting on a plate by the stove. Kushina is absent-mindedly spreading butter onto the topmost one as she turns the page with her other hand. The butter is starting to run, and Naruto notes that she’s not doing a particularly good job of getting it to go over the pancake, and not under it.

He rolls his eyes. This is a more and more frequent occurrence these past few months; he and his Dad know better than to say anything, though.

“Morning, Mom!” he says cheerfully, eyeing the fresh pancake in the pan that’s still salvageable.

“Oh! Morning, love!” Kushina starts, reaching out and ruffling Naruto’s hair with preternatural speed before he can jump out of the way.

“Moooom,” he whinges even as his nose twitches and he turns to look at the pan again, which has started to smoke slightly.

“Bloody hell,” Kushina yelps and scurries over to the stove, deftly flipping the pancake in the air so it lands on its other side. The top is only slightly browner than golden; Naruto considers this to be a success.

“Mom, can we go shopping today? I need some new socks, and a few more T-shirts would be useful.”

“Sure, sweetie,” Kushina says fondly as she flips the text closed. Naruto glances at the cover – Sports Injuries: Their Prevention and Treatment. Oh. There are bookmarks all over the book, sticking out in an untidy mess.

“Mom? You know I’m okay now, right? You don’t have to read this stuff anymore.”

“Oh,” Kushina says, flushing a little. “It’s not that, darling. I—Well, if you must know, I found it really interesting and challenging when I was working with you. I’m thinking of enrolling in a course at university next year.”

“Why, though, Mom? You have tennis! You’re one of the best players in the world!”

“That is true, darling, thank you, but I’m also well over thirty now, and so’s your father.”

Naruto scrunches his eyebrows down. Okay, so thirty-four is old and everything, but he can’t imagine ever wanting to do anything else besides tennis.

Kushina sighs when she sees her son’s confusion. Perhaps it’s time to tell him. “Naruto, listen,” she says, and Naruto looks up at her tone. “Your father and I are thinking of retiring soon. We both have other things that we’re interested in doing, and the two decades on the court are taking their toll on us.”

“What?!” Naruto is aghast. “Mom, no! Why would you ever want to do that?!”

Kushina smiles at him, looking more serene than he’s ever seen her. He realises that she isn’t seeing this decision as giving up something she loves, but rather as an opportunity to work on other things she’s interested in.

“I think we should tell him, Kushina, love. He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to things like this, but even he’s going to notice soon enough!” Minato teases from the door.

Naruto scowls at his father. “Hey!” he protests. Minato just chuckles.

Naruto huffs in affront before something registers. “Tell me what, anyway?”

Kushina beams. “You’re going to be a big brother in six months!”

Naruto gapes at her for a moment before launching himself in her arms. “That’s brilliant, Mom,” he whispers. He feels a big hand land on his shoulder and squeeze reassuringly. He sneaks an arm around his dad as well, hanging on tight.

---

Sunday arrives too soon for Naruto, who’s still letting the news sink in. The second he sees the camp gates, though, he feels the excitement take hold of him all over again. There are a lot more cars than usual, but Naruto pays them no mind for now, eager to meet up with his friends after a whole year of not seeing them.

He hugs his dad, then his mom, admonishing her to be careful and receiving another hair tousle for his trouble; then he’s off, blond hair flopping in the wind. Minato rolls his eyes good-naturedly and leaves Naruto’s bags in the growing pile to the side – they will all be taken to the kids’ respective rooms soon enough.

“Kiba! Chouji!” he hears his son yell and pokes Kushina in the side. “Come on, love. Stop staring at him like that, you’ll put him off his stride. Let’s go see who we came to see and be off. We have the house to ourselves, and I’ve been making plans,” he smirks slyly.

Kushina perks up immediately and sends him a sideways glance that makes his temperature soar; they look at each other for a long moment and scarper off to opposite sides of the camp grinning like teenagers.

---

The next morning, Naruto is just getting up for their first practice – far too early in his opinion, since Kakashi is always bloody late – when he hears footsteps running closer and closer outside. The door to the room he’s sharing with Shikamaru again bursts open and Kiba almost falls through the gap, dragging Shino behind him.

“God, hurry up and get dressed already, you two! You’ve got to see this!” he yelps, arms flailing wildly.

Shikamaru just rolls over to face the wall and flips his pillow over his head. “Go away,” Naruto hears being muffled into the mattress.

“Come on!” Kiba whines and grabs Shikamaru’s leg from under the covers, pulling at him until he’s tumbling half-way onto the ground.

Shikamaru levels him a murderous look through eyes still squinting in the daylight. “What the bloody fuck?” he growls menacingly.

“Newcomers! Well, not newcomers, but visitors from the other tennis camps! There’s going to be a tournament!”

Shikamaru’s eyes open all the way. “A tournament?”

“Yeah, with draws and everything! Since there haven’t been many new applicants for the camp this year, they’ve decided to go ahead and try this scheme. If it works, they’ll be doing it every year for the older kids.”

“How do you know all this?” Naruto asks, eyes sparkling with the possibilities already.

“Me mum’s on the committee, in’t she?” Kiba drawls, imitating his mother’s Northern drawl perfectly.

“Brilliant,” Naruto shouts and rushes to the bathroom to wash up and get dressed. Besides, he hasn’t seen Sasuke yet and he’s eager to get started on the ‘irritate the hell out of him’ campaign he’s got planned.

---

They head straight for breakfast on the presumption that that’s where they’re going to be told about the newcomers and the competition. The long tables are packed with people already; Naruto squeezes in beside Lee who shakes his hand delightedly. Naruto grins at him and is about to ask him how his year has been when Iruka stands up and clears his throat.

“Welcome back, everybody!” he tells them, smiling fondly. “We have quite the programme for you this year. As a lot of you may have heard already, since the rumour mill in this place is second-to-none, we are holding a tournament this year. It will take place in the last two weeks so that you all have a chance to get back into the swing of things first.

“For now, I would like to introduce you to our guests. We have a five-strong team from Scotland, headed by Orochimaru Sannin, one of the best coaches in the land. Then we have three guests from Wales, the Suna siblings. We also have four guests from Northern Ireland and six from the Republic of Ireland.”

As their teams are called, the participants stand up and wave, the notable exception being the team from Wales, the members of which just stare impassively at the competition. The front man is a short kid with striking red hair, large black circles under striking pale green eyes and a red birth mark on his forehead that looks like a kanji symbol. Over his shoulders there is a large, heavy-looking racquet bag – Naruto wonders why on earth he’s carrying it with him when he could have just used the practice racquets provided.

---

After they eat, the large group makes their way to the courts and get started on the task that always happens on the first Monday morning of camp – an assessment of how much all of them have improved (or haven’t) over the year. Naruto is excited to see his friends doing so well; his friends are nothing but shocked at how far Naruto has come, especially with the injury from the year before. Kakashi slouches along the sidelines, looking as bored as usual, but the quirk of his eyebrow reveals the fact that he too is impressed despite himself.

Iruka grins effusively at Naruto, clapping his shoulder. “Well done, Naruto!” he praises, and Naruto basks in the approval.

He hasn’t been able to find Sasuke this morning, but as he turns to exit the court he sees him standing apart from the rest, leaning against the fence in the corner, expression unreadable. His eyebrows are drawn down and he’s biting as him bottom lip viciously – Naruto is taken aback by this show of hostility, especially since he hasn’t even done anything yet. He walks over to Sasuke and realises with a shock that Sasuke is now over three inches taller than him. He fights his scowl – he doesn’t want to give Sasuke the wrong impression here – he is excited to see him again, after all.

“Hey,” he says amiably. “When did you get here?”

Sasuke stares at him for a moment before nodding curtly. “This morning,” he answers shortly.

“Oh,” Naruto perks up. “Did you hear about the tournament? Man, it’s going to be awesome! I’m going to get to kick your ass at last!”

Sasuke smirks, finally a more familiar and relaxed expression stealing over his face. Naruto relaxes a little at seeing it. “In your dreams, usuratonkachi,” Sasuke drawls as he starts forward and Naruto grins broadly, canines glinting in the sunlight. Sasuke passes him to take his place on the court, bumping his shoulder a little as he goes past. Naruto’s grin widens and warmth spreads through him. Perhaps there’s still a chance they might be friends.

---

The two weeks rush by at speed, a collage of training, laughing, running, serving, eating, talking, thinking up all sorts of plans and strategies. Naruto sticks to his friends and mostly avoids the newcomers, disliking the sneers and cold looks their group gets from them. The exception once again are the three siblings from Wales, who don’t even bother looking at any of the others, focusing on their training to the exclusion of all else.

The one blip in the flow happens when someone lets slip that it’s Sasuke’s birthday on the first Friday of the camp. Naruto wracks his brains what to do about it while the girls dither and giggle every time Sasuke’s name is mentioned, pissing Naruto off no end. In the end, he decides to do nothing – what could he possibly get the person who has everything he wants and nothing he needs?

And then he chances to see Sasuke’s scowl at the crowd of girls watching his practice – Sasuke must be more annoyed than usual if he betrays this much of what he feels. Sure enough, the constant giggles are putting him off his stride – he must be livid, Naruto thinks to himself. That is when his brilliant plan hatches in his mind, fully formed. Kidnap Sasuke! That’s exactly what he should do! Force him to take at least half of the day off, take him away from the crowds and make him take that stick out of his arse for once!

Naruto is at least smart enough to warn Iruka what he’s up to, so that the whole camp doesn’t panic when their star player disappears without a word. He thinks he notices Kakashi look at him shrewdly that afternoon, but he waves it off as his imagination.

It’s just before lunch break on Friday 23rd July, and the kids are getting antsy to get going. Naruto watches Sasuke carefully – he shows no indication of stopping. Excellent; so he’s sticking to his routine of training through lunch. Naruto checks his backpack to make sure the sandwiches and water he packed earlier are still there, and when Kiba shouts at him that it’s time for lunch, Naruto waves him off and tells him he’s got something to do first. Kiba looks at him oddly – Naruto has never, since Kiba’s known him, refused food; but he shrugs and lets it go, jogging to catch up to Chouji at the head of the lunch group.

Sasuke spares him a glance when Naruto walks over, but ignores him otherwise. Naruto is, all of a sudden, cripplingly nervous. He shuffles his feet a little when he reaches Sasuke, stopping awkwardly by his side. Sasuke raises an eyebrow at him, impassive.

When Naruto makes no move to talk, he sighs in irritation. “Did you need something, dead-last?”

“Don’t call me that!” Naruto fires back, but makes a visible effort to calm himself down. “Erm. I need you to come with me,” he manages, jerking his head over to the forest that starts at the edge of the courts-filled clearing.

“Why would I want to do that?” Sasuke asks coolly.

Naruto winces. Of course Sasuke’s going to be difficult about it. What the hell was he thinking?

“Uh. Please?” he says, trying and failing not to whine.

Sasuke closes his eyes in exasperation for a moment. “This better be good,” he mutters and drops his racquet back in his bag. “Well? Lead the way.”

Naruto jumps at that, scurrying forward quickly. “It’s this way,” he tells Sasuke and grabs his hand, tugging him behind. He feels Sasuke tense at the touch, but he just holds on tighter.

Once they are inside the forest and walking down the path, Sasuke retrieves his hand from Naruto’s warm grasp; Naruto sees it twitching, as if Sasuke is resisting the urge to wipe it on his trousers. They walk for maybe ten minutes, winding further and further inside the forest. Sasuke is starting to get agitated, Naruto can see, but the clearing he scouted yesterday evening is just a little bit further ahead. Just then Sasuke stops and opens his mouth, to tell him he’s going back no doubt, but Naruto looks at him pleadingly. “It’s just around the next corner, I promise!” he says, gripping his bag tightly.

Sasuke makes a face but closes his mouth and keeps walking. They reach their goal moments later, and Sasuke stops in his tracks at the edge. The grass is tall and untamed, a vibrant green even though there has been no rain for the past two weeks. The mystery is solved by the soft bubbling of a brook nearby, just on the other side of the small meadow.

Naruto stands in the middle, eyes uncertain, a cautious smile on his lips. “I thought I could bring you here to relax a little, since it’s your birthday and everything, and you don’t like a crowd. I’ve spoken to Iruka-sensei and you have the afternoon off from training.”

Sasuke stares at him in disbelief. Naruto wonders if this is the first time someone has done something for him for his birthday, the way he’s carrying himself. With a shock he realises it must be – he’s been at this camp for his past six birthdays, really. The thought makes him angry and embarrassed at the same time; he flushes from the contradictory mess of emotions.

He reaches into the bag and takes out a blanket, spreads it underneath the shade of a nearby oak tree. He takes the sandwiches out and puts them on a plate he’d weaselled out of the kitchen along with the food and bottled water. He puts it all on the blanket, then reaches inside the bag one last time and retrieves a large hard-cover book. Sasuke’s widening eyes confirm that he knows it had been swiped from his bedside table by a helpful Lee, who had been reluctant to give it away until Naruto had let slip he was planning a surprise for Sasuke’s birthday; after which Lee had handed it over without protest.

“Um. There’s food, there’s water, here’s your book, although I have no idea who in their right mind reads theoretical physics in their spare time,” he scoffs, giving Physics of the Impossible a disgusted look. Sasuke still hasn’t spoken, and Naruto’s getting a little worried. “I thought you could have a nice few hours off and away from everyone, maybe read or something,” he babbles, repeating himself. The sound of Sasuke’s voice stops him in his tracks.

“And you thought you’d join me, did you?” Sasuke says, voice flat.

Naruto flushes from head to toe. “N—No!” he stammers. “I—I just wanted to set up everything for you, I wasn’t going to bother you. You can—“ he trails off, not knowing what to say. “I’ll just be going now,” he finishes lamely, glances down at the empty bag in his hands and places it on the edge of the blanket, then shuffles forward in the direction of the path.

Sasuke is silent as Naruto passes him; Naruto throws him a last glance from the corner of his eyes.

“There’s enough food for two,” Sasuke’s voice comes softly from behind him.

Naruto stops, but doesn’t turn. “I didn’t know how hungry you might be,” he says back, but he can’t squish the hope in his chest that Sasuke might ask him to stay.

“Not hungry enough to eat all this by myself. It would be a shame for it to go to waste.”

Naruto turns then, and the sight of uptight, perfectly controlled Sasuke picking at the skin on his right thumb with his head bowed makes him want to hug him tight. He knows he’s not getting a better invitation from him, though, so he meets him half-way.

“You’re totally right. I should stay and help you finish it all.” He smiles tentatively, and when Sasuke looks up and smiles back, he retraces his steps and flops clumsily down on the blanket, reaching for the food. “Here’s a ham and cheese one, and we also have chicken salad, egg and watercress and bacon and tomato. What do you fancy to start with?” he says, holding them out for Sasuke to choose.

Sasuke walks over and sits down on the blanket, a hundred times more graceful than Naruto. “The egg and cress, please.”

Naruto grimaces but hands it over, tearing open the bacon and tomato one for himself. They eat in silence, opening two bottled waters to wash it all down with. When they’re done with the food, Naruto flips over on his back to lie sideways across the blanket, shoving the empty backpack under his head. He closes his eyes and sighs contentedly, happy to bask in the sunshine and Sasuke’s company. After a little while he hears the book being opened and a warm, bare foot coming to rest against his side as Sasuke stretches out his legs and leans back on the tree behind him.

Naruto is lying in the shade, but sunlight glints through the leaves and dapples his chest with warmth. The occasional flip of a page and the gurgle of the stream lull him into a light doze; he misses Sasuke’s affectionate look and the small smile that curves his lips when Naruto starts to snore softly.

---

Sasuke had nudged him awake sometime later; the sunlight had slanted already, creating long shadows across the grass-covered soil. They had repacked the bag and slipped back into the camp, no one being any the wiser about them slipping away. It had been one of the best days of Naruto’s life.

He remembers it fondly even now, perhaps especially now, as he looks at Sasuke sneering at him from across the net. It’s the last day before the tournament begins, and Kakashi had poked and prodded at them until he had got them out on the court playing against each other. Naruto’s ecstatic to be playing his rival, and is throwing himself into the game with enthusiasm. Sasuke, on the other hand, is a machine – cold, precise, collected, not a shot or a step out of place. It’s driving Naruto insane.

He’s losing points left and right because he can’t get his emotions in check. So he decides to wind Sasuke up as much as Sasuke’s winding him up. He starts off slow – a slice here, a sly drop ball there, and he can see Sasuke’s composure unravelling. When he returns a vicious backhand with a between-the-legs, inside-out forehand – his ‘leapfrog’-dubbed shot, scoring the point to even out the third set, Sasuke loses it.

“What the bloody fuck are you doing, moron?!” he hisses. “This isn’t playing, this is a damned circus! Can’t you take anything seriously?” There is violence in his tone that Naruto has never heard before; it makes him want to cringe.

Naruto smirks, trying not to show how much it hurts to have Sasuke back to the usual insults and condescension. “What, the great Sasuke Uchiha can’t handle a few tricky shots? Even though they were brilliant, if I do say so myself.”

Sasuke seethes. “I have no idea how you think you can win, when you play crap like that. You’re going to get blown off the court, and I’d rather you didn’t take me down with you,” he says coldly, turns and walks off the court.

Naruto looks after him, his heart sinking in his chest. Did he overdo it? He hadn’t meant to piss Sasuke off quite that much, just enough to get him out of ‘robot’ mode.

“You played very well, kiddo,” Kakashi says from behind him, and Naruto starts. He’d forgotten their instructor was there.

“Not well enough, apparently,” Naruto says bitterly.

Kakashi sighs. “No, you played an excellent game. You have heart, Naruto, and that is worth more to a tennis player than any amount of perfection. Look at Federer. He’s poised to take more titles than any other player in the world of tennis, but he’s like an automation – perfect, but empty. There’s no heart in him. Now look at your father, Sampras, Agassi, McEnroe, Becker, the other great players. They might not have as many titles, but they have so much more heart. That’s why they are the tennis greats. Don’t lose that, kid. Don’t let Sasuke make you doubt yourself. You’re only going to lose if you do.”

Kakashi walks away, leaving Naruto behind on the court alone with his thoughts.

---

It is the second day of the tournament, and already there are miserable, sulky faces everywhere. The first round consists of fifteen matches, since there are thirty players. There are ten courts in the camp, but only six where matches can be played since there are other, younger kids in the camp that can’t take part in the tournament yet and they have to train somewhere, too. From the ten matches played the day before (two out of three games for the boys and the girls), there are already ten sulking players.

To Naruto’s delight, only three are from his camp – Tenten, Chouji and Shino. The rest are from the competitors’ teams, and they are not happy. Shikamaru has won his match already, and so have Lee and Sasuke. Naruto is playing today, along with Sakura, Ino and Hinata. Neji throws him a disdainful glance, saying something about this being the only suitable place for Naruto, in between the girls, and Naruto flips.

“You pretentious arsehole! Just because you have talent doesn’t mean that the rest of us can’t beat your genius with hard work! Just you wait and see!”

“Please, don’t make me listen to your inane rambling. A loser like you could never beat a winner like me!”

The taunt reaches its target much easier than anyone would have supposed. Naruto glances at Sasuke immediately; Sasuke’s face is shuttered, cold. Naruto turns back to Neji, resigned.

“Just because your family has been wronged in the past doesn’t mean that it will happen again. You have options, Neji. You don’t have to push everyone away, and you would do well to open your eyes to who the people around you are, not where they come from or what their family’s background is.” Naruto’s voice is low, sincere – no one present doubts that he believes that with all his heart.

Neji scoffs, but it comes out more hesitant than before. Something bitter twists his face for a moment; “Believe what you like,” Neji snarls, looking between Naruto and the rest of the group. “For someone so privileged, you are essentially useless, just like my dear cousin,” an ugly sneer twists his face at that last. “And for someone with such low-class, distasteful background, Lee is a better player than the two of you put together. Do not lecture me on the fairness of life; to me this is exactly what all of you deserve.” He turns his back on them, long black fair flipping away in his wake as he walks away.

Naruto grinds his teeth in frustration. “Don’t you listen to that twerp, Hinata. We are so much better than his kind. Let’s do our best, eh?” he tells the upset girl, his face falling when he sees her shaking. “Fucking bastard,” he growls and turns to go after Neji, but Sakura catches his arm with almost inhuman strength.

“Naruto is right, Hinata,” she says gently. “We must do our best and show everyone how far we’ve come!”

Hinata stops shaking and a determined light comes on in her eyes.

“That’s the spirit,” Naruto praises, and hopes that no one realises just how fake his smile is. He looks away from the two girls and his eyes fall on Sasuke’s narrowed ones. Sasuke turns and leaves without a word. Naruto takes a deep breath. He’s not crushed. He’s not.

---

Naruto wins his match against Colin from Northern Ireland, almost without breaking a sweat. His friends celebrate; he does not. He has another goal in front of him.

Of the fifteen players left, seven are from their camp. Ino and Sakura have lost, to their shock, from Temari Suna and another girl from the Scottish camp. Almost all of the surviving players now come from Orochimaru Sannin’s group, and from the English camp Naruto and the others are part of. The biggest surprise of all had been Hinata Hyuuga’s win against her opponent, a girl from Northern Ireland. Naruto had never seen her this driven, this motivated, and had cheered her on until his throat had been hoarse.

Now the true challenge starts. The remaining fifteen are broken down into pairs; the odd one out has to wait their turn and play against someone who has been beaten in the previous match. Whoever wins would go on to the quarterfinal.

Naruto draws Kiba. Hinata draws Neji. Sasuke draws Gareth from Scotland.

Naruto can’t believe he has to beat Kiba into the ground if he’s to go on, but his goal is clear and he will not hesitate. Neither, it appears, would Kiba. Naruto only wins by scoring 7:5 the final tiebreak in the third set, with a slice so fine it almost doesn’t make it over the net, confusing Kiba and fooling him into dropping it. Naruto wants to apologise, but he supposes that if he wants to be the best there is, it would mean winning against his friends many times over. Kiba doesn’t mind; he’s disappointed, but he shakes Naruto’s hand just like always.

“If I have to lose, I’d rather it be to you, mate,” he tells Naruto sincerely, and Naruto hugs him, overwhelmed with relief for a moment.

Hinata and Neji’s game is utterly brutal. Hinata gets battered, but she doesn’t give up, even when Neji virtually obliterates her in the first set. She keeps on getting up after falling, never faltering in her determination.

“Fucking give up already!” Neji shouts, composure forgotten.

“Never,” she says, and keeps making him fight for every point.

She loses, of course – very few players are a match for Neji, and she is not one of them yet – but she does so with such dignity that she is applauded on her way out of the court by everyone present. The quiet satisfaction in her eyes is something to behold.

Sasuke and Gareth’s game is violent in the extreme. So many falls are recorded that the umpire has to caution them on it. Sasuke only wins because one of the falls makes Gareth stretch a ligament in his shoulder – he concedes the match since Sasuke leads him by a game at the time and he can’t continue playing. Sasuke is not happy to have won like that.

The rest of them don’t fare so well. Shikamaru wins, barely, against another player from Scotland, using his toughest strategies and several jump smash shots that lob the ball over the opponent’s head and land on the court backline, making them virtually unsaveable.

Lee plays Gaara Suna; this is the first time for the rest of them to see the newcomer in action, since they had all been playing their own games when he had been on court the last time. Naruto finds out the reason for Gaara carrying his own racquets around – they have blood-red frames with orange cords stretching across them. If they were anyone else’s, Naruto would beg and plead to be allowed to play with them.

Lee – loses, to put it mildly. He strains ligaments in both his arms, one of his ankles and a shoulder, and still he fights on until finally his other ankle goes and he can’t walk anymore, let alone play. He is devastated, but determined to do better next time.

---

The quarterfinals are to be played the next day. The draws are revealed that evening, to mixed reactions. Naruto draws Neji. Shikamaru draws Temari Suna. Sasuke draws another player from Scotland, Akadou something.

Neji smirks, supremely confident. Naruto grits his teeth. The other two brood, coming up with strategy after strategy. All their friends are silent, and everyone goes to bed early so they can get as much sleep as possible. Not all of them succeed.

---

The quarterfinals are all to be played on the same day, on two separate courts. Naruto and Neji are on Court One first, followed by Sasuke and Akadou. Naruto shakes his roommate’s hand, wishing him luck; before he lets go, Shikamaru draws him closer.

“Remember, Neji’s pride will be his downfall. Use as many tricky shots as you can come up with – he is overconfident and will miss over half of them because he won’t go after them with as much speed as he should.”

“Thanks, Shika,” Naruto says softly, drawing him into a one-armed hug.

Shikamaru’s advice is, as usual, spot-on. Neji loses the match because he doesn’t believe that Naruto is a strong enough opponent to pose any danger to him. Neji is good in his own right, but he learns the hard way that a dead-last really can beat a genius if he puts all of his being towards that goal.

When Naruto scores the match ball, Neji drops his racquet numbly to the court. Shock is displayed all over his face; his knees fold and he sinks to the ground. Naruto runs over to him quickly to check that he’s alright. Neji looks at him with dull silver eyes.

“I—I—“ he stammers.

Naruto reaches down and offers him a hand. Neji stares at it for some time before he reaches for it and allows Naruto to pull him to his feet.

“You see, Neji, you really do have a choice. Do not become like your uncle, someone uncaring enough to let his own brother sacrifice his future for him. Be better. Be like your father.”

Neji looks at him for a long time. Around them, the court starts to clear to prepare for the next match, Sasuke versus Akadou.

“Thanks, Naruto,” is all Neji says in the end. He shakes Naruto’s hand and leaves, not looking back. His posture is still ramrod-stiff, but there’s a softness around his spine that hadn’t been there before. Naruto dares a small smile that he loses in the next instant. There’s Neji sorted, and then there’s…

“Sasuke,” he says, walking up to him. Sasuke does nothing but look at him, eyes flat. “Good luck,” Naruto sighs and leaves the court, the silence of no reply ringing in his ears.

Sasuke wins, naturally. It’s a tough match, but this is Sasuke. Naruto wonders if there’s anyone their age that can win against him any more. He tries not to watch the game, tries to head over to Court Two for Shikamaru’s match, but can’t quite seem to make his feet want to move. For the first time in his life, Naruto is experiencing someone hating him through no fault of his own. It’s awful.

He wonders how someone who once saved him from being hurt, who stayed with him when he needed to not be alone, who shared his birthday with him, can hate him so deeply. He doesn’t understand it; it’s not something he himself is capable of.

---

The semi-finals are to be held two days later, and Kiba has heard from his mum that their parents are invited to watch. The semi-finals will be played in the big court, the only one that has seating around the perimeter. It is used when people from outside the camp come to watch the students play – like parents or scouts, for example. Naruto can’t wait to see his mom and dad; it’s been over three weeks and he misses them fiercely.

Then everything flies out of his head when the draws are announced. Naruto’s draw is Gaara Suna, and his friends close their eyes in despair. There is no way Naruto can beat Gaara Suna. The only one with half a chance of winning against him is Sasuke, and he and Naruto are still not speaking. Even Iruka’s forehead furrows in concern. Kakashi though – Kakashi just smiles.

---

Naruto wins.

His clothes get torn in several places.

So do his shoes.

He gets the worst friction burn possible from throwing himself on the court too often, chasing after a nasty little twist of a ball.

He sprains his left shoulder, though not too badly.

He bruises his face from falling on it too hard.

He breaks two racquets.

Kushina almost has a heart attack watching him sustain so much damage, but she never asks him to stop.

Neither does Minato, although he’s chewed through the skin of his lower lip and there’s blood on his teeth. He doesn’t seem to notice.

Gaara Suna is a goddamned machine. Naruto used to think that Sasuke was a robot, but Sasuke has nothing on this guy. Naruto has no idea how he manages to return Gaara’s hits, no idea how he gets to the balls on time. The world has ceased to exist outside the game; he’s only dimly aware that he has two match points, so if he scores now, Gaara loses and he wins. His body is one giant hurt, but there is absolutely no way in hell he is giving up now.

The crowd roars; it takes him a moment to realise that the point he just scored has won him the game, set and match. He barely has the strength to get to the net and shake his opponent’s hand, but he manages it somehow. Gaara is standing there, face impassive, almost no indication on him that he has even played a game at all, let alone such a gruelling match.

“I salute you,” Gaara tells him and Naruto wants to frown, because who talks like that any more? But he doesn’t, and offers Gaara his hand.

“Until next time,” Naruto smiles wearily and for the first time since Naruto has met him, Gaara cracks a small smile in return.

Naruto turns to greet the shouting crowd, but as he spins on his heel he trips and he’s falling; he has no strength left in his body to keep himself up. He sprawls on the ground, eyes closed, a happy smile spreading over his face. He won, he won against the toughest opponent he has ever played against, tougher even than…

He raises his head with a monumental effort and scours the crowd for a stupid haircut that makes him want to laugh and cry at the same time. He finds it on the second row of the stands, staring straight at him with huge eyes. Naruto lifts his hand off the ground to wave at him, but just then his mom finally reaches him.

“Oh, darling, I’m the proudest mother in the whole world!” she babbles, turning him over on his back. “I love you so much! Now tell me where it hurts,” she adds in her usual ‘or else’ tone of voice.

“’M fine, Mom,” Naruto grins, but tries to turn to look at Sasuke again. By the time he’s back in vertical mode, though, Sasuke is long gone and the next game isn’t until four hours later.

If he knows Sasuke, and he likes to think he does, he will have holed up somewhere for some last-minute training. His first instinct is to find him, but he is well aware that he would not be welcome. So he allows his parents to support him to Tsunade’s office for some seeing-to instead.

---

He misses Sasuke and Shikamaru’s match because the damned witch drugs him so that he’ll get some rest while she cleans him up. He wakes up long after dark, flailing in a panic because he’s late for the game. His dad is sitting in an uncomfortable chair by the bed in the Infirmary where he’s been left to sleep off his exhaustion.

“Sasuke won,” his father tells him quickly and Naruto settles back on the bed in relief.

“Tell me?” he asks his dad, and Minato does.

When the story is done, the implications sink in for Naruto.

“I’m going to play him in the final, then.”

“That you are. They’re holding it in three days, to give you and Sasuke a chance to recover from your previous games. Both of you managed to bang yourselves up pretty badly.”

Naruto thinks of what his father’s told him. “Sasuke won’t be able to play with a sprained wrist. It’s gonna hurt like hell.”

“Yes, it will, but the sprain is mild and on the left for both of you, so Tsunade will wrap both spots up tight and freeze-spray the muscles so there’s no pain. You two will have the same handicap as each other,” he tries for a light tone, but his eyes are still worried.

“It’ll be fine, Dad. I’ll rest up for the next three days and we’ll put plenty of ice on it to fight the swelling. You know that Tsunade said it’s not a bad sprain; the ligaments and muscles are intact, just stretched.”

He notices his father gaping at him. ‘What?” he says defensively.

“I wasn’t aware we had enrolled you in Medical school recently,” his father says, bemused.

Naruto flushes. “Mom’s books are actually interesting, is all,” he mutters, embarrassed.

“Is that right?” Minato smiles. “What say you we enrol you in the Biology class this coming year?”

“That would be awesome!” Naruto enthuses.

They talk until Naruto gets drowsy from the painkillers and slips into sleep again.

---

“Fugaku and Itachi are here,” Naruto hears his father say, just as he walks through the door of the VIP room where his parents have been staying for the past few days since they came over for the tournament. It’s a day before the final and he’s feeling as well as possible. The only sour point on the horizon is the fact that he hasn’t seen Sasuke since that glimpse he’d got of him in the stands. Fact of the matter is, he’s worried about the bastard, and said bastard has been avoiding him.

And now Sasuke’s horrid father and brother are here, and Naruto has no idea how Sasuke will react. He’s frozen in the entryway to his parents’ room, not knowing whether to go in or run off to find Sasuke and—well, he doesn’t know what he’ll do when he finds Sasuke, except perhaps kick him, but he still wants to be there for him. However, Sasuke hates him, and he has no idea why.

“…Naruto?” Kushina says, worry creeping into her tone. Has she been calling him all this time?

“Sorry,” he says quickly. “Just thinking. Shut up, Dad,” he goes on automatically when he sees his dad open his mouth with that smirk on his face.

“What is it, love?” Kushina asks him while shooting Minato a glare. Minato looks affronted at their lack of good humour.

“Are Sasuke’s father and brother really here?”

“They are,” Minato says, serious for once. “I saw them arrive this morning.”

Naruto’s forehead furrows.

“Do you want to try and find him, darling?” Kushina tries again.

Naruto’s face seems to crumple for a second; then he’s fine again. “No,” he says, too carefully. “Sasuke and I are not really friends.”

He has reckoned without his mother; evasion has never worked well on her and it isn’t likely to start now.

“Naruto Uzumaki-Namikaze! You will tell me what’s wrong, this instant!”

Naruto stares at her. “Bloody hell, Mom, what’s gotten into you?”

The fact that she doesn’t correct his language tells him quite enough about her state of mind.

“I can see you’re upset, young man, so there’s no use trying to wheedle your way out of telling me what’s wrong!”

Naruto looks at his father for support; he’s shaking his head helplessly, as if to say ‘you’re on your own, kid.’

“Did you two have a fight?” Kushina is relentless.

Naruto sighs; he’s not getting away from this one. “He hates me,” he says dully.

Kushina blinks. “Why would he possibly hate you?”

“I’ve no idea,” Naruto says, perhaps a bit louder than is really necessary. “I’ve tried to be nice to him, I made him that picnic for his birthday, I said ‘thanks’ when he helped me after I broke my ankle, I’ve not insulted him for ages... I just don’t know!” he yells, hands tugging at his hair. He misses the look his parents share.

“Naruto, love,” his Mom starts carefully. “I think he might be a little jealous of you.”

Naruto gapes at her. “Jealous? Of me? What for? He’s a heaps better player than I am, he has all sorts of awesome stuff, everyone loves him—why would he possibly be jealous of me? I’m just a ‘moron’ to him!”

Kushina looks mutinous for a second, but shakes herself. “You have improved very much indeed this year, or so your instructors tell us. And you beat Gaara Suna, the best player your age! He’s already winning on the Junior circuit, and you won against him! I think Sasuke is jealous of the progress you’re making, even as it looks like he’s standing still next to you.

“And you have so many friends, darling, while he doesn’t seem to have any at all. Can you see why he might be jealous of your success?”

Naruto looks at his father once again. Minato shrugs. “Listen to your motor-mouth mother, son,” he smiles at him ruefully.

Kushina glares at him again; then she turns back to Naruto. “I’m pretty sure young Sasuke needs a friend right now. And since you have gotten much closer to him than anyone else, I think you should go find him,” she says. It’s not really a suggestion.

Naruto thinks for a moment and grins widely. “Yeah, you’re right, Mom! And I can pummel him for being jealous of me, coz he’s so much more awesome!” Naruto says while he gives her a hug and then runs out of the door.

“You realise you just sent our son to meet Fugaku and Itachi Uchiha, yes? And come to the aid of Sasuke Uchiha?” Minato says carefully.

Kushina looks startled. “So I did! I’m so awesome! Those two stuffy old crones will benefit quite a lot from meeting our son. Besides, it’s high time you and Fugaku got over that old skirmish. I’m tired listening to each of you rant about the other.”

“Each of—what do you mean, each of us?

“What, you think I stopped talking to Fugaku and Mikoto just because was an arse that one time, like you did?”

“Kushina!!”

“Minato!”

“I can’t believe you support the way he’s abandoned his own son like that!”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake. All of them go to visit him every weekend at school, whenever they can. Would you rather a young boy be left to wonder alone in that huge old house, with no friends or family? At least at school he has friends to talk to.”

“But—but—what about the rivalry? The bullying? You know how hard Fugaku pushes Itachi!”

“Oh, Minato. You’re still so naïve sometimes. Itachi asked his father to coach him. He was worried Fugaku would close himself off after he was forced to retire, so he went to him and told him he wanted Fugaku to coach him when he was barely thirteen. As for that rivalry you mentioned – have you met us?!”

Minato’s mouth curls in a smile. “Point,” he concedes. “So you’re saying that they challenge each other to do better?”

“Yes, because who else out there is on par with them? You excluded, of course, darling.”

“But then why did you tell Naruto that Sasuke would need a friend right now?”

Kushina just looks at him, both eyebrows raised. Minato starts laughing. “Darling, you’re so mean!” he manages after a moment. Kushina just smiles at him in a rather self-satisfied manner.

---

Meanwhile, Naruto is hightailing it over to Sasuke’s room as fast as his legs can carry him, thoughts of evil Fugaku and Itachi pestering poor Sasuke running through his head. There is also a tiny part of him that is rather interested in meeting Itachi, whom he has been following obsessively for over two years now; he pushes that aside with some effort.

He reaches the room and starts pounding on the door frantically. It is yanked open a moment later by a tall young man with shoulder-length black hair tucked away in a ponytail. Even without the deep valleys etched into his face Naruto would recognise him anywhere.

“You’re Itachi Uchiha,” Naruto gasps out, still short of breath.

“I know who I am. The question is, who are you?” Itachi says calmly, looking Naruto up and down rather obviously.

“Who is it, Itachi?” A deep voice comes from beyond the door and Naruto peeks inside curiously. An even taller, dark-haired man sits on one of the chairs by the bed, his back perfectly straight.

As soon as the man sees him, Naruto notices a flicker of recognition in his eyes. “Ah, Naruto. Come on in. I have been expecting you.”

Naruto is flabbergasted. “You have?” he says, voice high with disbelief.

“Indeed. The Namikazes and the Uchihas are quite unable to stay away from each other for some reason. You took my son for a picnic on his birthday,” he says, no hint of question in his voice. “That was nice of you. Thank you.”

“That’s okay,” Naruto squeaks. He feels like he has fallen through the looking glass. Itachi is still staring at him.

The door snicks open behind him and he turns to face it. Sasuke is standing in the doorframe, eyes narrowed. “Father. Itachi,” he greets without surprise, then turns to face Naruto. “You. What are you doing in my room?”

“Your brother invited me in,” Naruto says, but he sounds as uncertain as he feels. “I thought—I—“

Sasuke sighs in irritation. “May I have a moment?” he asks his father, who nods. Fugaku and Itachi leave the room, closing the door behind them.

“Now. I ask again. What are you doing in my room?”

“I—I heard that your father and brother were here, and I thought you might need…”

“A friend?” Sasuke’s voice is so heavy with sarcasm that Naruto flinches. Something flickers in the dark eyes’ depths, but Naruto has no idea what it might mean.

“Save it,” is all that Sasuke says. “You know nothing about me. I don’t need anyone’s help in dealing with my family. Leave.”

Naruto feels worse than he did when he fell and broke his ankle. He stomps to the door, angry with himself for even thinking he might be able to offer Sasuke anything. “Fine,” he growls, “I’ll leave you alone then. See you tomorrow on the court.” He walks through the door and turns to slam it closed; when he glances back at Sasuke’s face it looks strange for some reason, but Naruto is too pissed off to stop and try to work it out.

He passes by the two tall men waiting a little way away, and the manners his mother had drummed into him make him mumble, “Nice to have met you,” as he passes them by. He doesn’t see Fugaku share his head resignedly and Itachi frown before turning to walk back to the room.

Naruto goes for a run, because he is frustrated and he needs to work some of the nervous energy off. His father joins him five laps in.

“How did it—“ Minato manages to get out before Naruto snaps,

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“O-kay,” his father says, but doesn’t push it.

Eventually, fifteen laps of the court later, Naruto tires at last. He collapses on the ground and breathes in the cool evening air in great big gulps. He’s not going to cry, least of all in front of his father who is going to want to know what the matter is, and Naruto is not talking about it.

But “Ready for tomorrow?” is all his father asks, and Naruto nods gratefully.

“I think so.”

Part Three

Date: 2010-09-27 11:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] marley-station.livejournal.com
Ah, Sasuke. The man with the ever-present stick up his ass.

Love that chuunin-exam effect you added in there, it was way cool. And Naruto the underdog coming out on top is totally legit.

OMG Minato and Kushina are having another Naruto? Can you say Shadow Clone Jutsu?

Neji on his knees for Naruto is right off my freaking wish list.

Date: 2010-09-28 07:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sirona-gs.livejournal.com
The man with the ever-present stick up his ass. -- LOOOL SO TRUE! :DDD

Another mini!Naruto running about would be considered to be terrifying under a certain light.

Neji on his knees for Naruto is right off my freaking wish list. -- I'm pretty sure it wasn't your intention, but this made me think really very dirty thoughts indeed. Hnnnng >.>;;

Date: 2010-09-27 01:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] geekgirl62.livejournal.com
I was so excited to see an update, I read it right away!

Naruto is going to be a fantastic big brother! And Minato and Kushina are so adorable together, sneaking away for some alone time :)

I like the way you write Sasuke's family. They look one way from the outside, but really on the inside it's a different story.

Why is Sasuke so angry at Naruto? I can't wait to find out who wins their match.

Date: 2010-09-28 07:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sirona-gs.livejournal.com
Yay! Thank you so much! Naruto would be a fantastic big brother! And I know for a fact that I'm not the only one who thinks that Naruto would certainly not have been an only child had his parents lived.

I love writing The Uchihas! There's so much plotty potential there, and it really irritates me when they're portrayed just as heartless pawns when we have seen how much Mikoto loved Sasuke before her death, and how much Itachi cared for him, too.

Sasuke is pissed off at Naruto for improving at a crazy rate, me thinks, and catching up to him so quickly, because he still thinks of Naruto as a bit of a loser at this point, but Naruto is proving him wrong all the time. I think Sasuke is annoyed because he's starting to see Naruto as someone else, a friend maybe, but it's clashing with his competitive streak.

More up now! :D
Page generated Oct. 17th, 2017 05:02 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios