Chapter Eight: Bell Test
Mikoto was ready at the genkan when Fugaku came home. It didn’t matter how late he came, she was always there to greet him.
It was one of those things that carried over from when they were younger. Mikoto always knew where he was and he wouldn’t be aware of her presence until she wanted him to be.
His wife always left him flustered whether she was his genin admirer that somehow snuck around his defenses or his jōnin retired wife simply assisting him in shedding his attire of the day.
“Bad day?” Mikoto murmured, delicate fingers massaging the back of his neck.
“Are the boys sleeping?”
“Shisui picked up Itachi for an overnight mission earlier and Sasuke is asleep. He has an early start tomorrow. Training with Hatake Kakashi.”
Fugaku grunted. Uchiha did not became jōnin instructors which was unfortunate considering Izumi had asked permission to apply if she were to be promoted. Kakashi had the sharingan and was the teammate to an Uchiha and would be able to help Sasuke if he were to obtain it while away on a mission.
“Hatake never struck me as the type to become a teacher.”
Fugaku followed Mikoto towards their kitchen. She wouldn’t let him rest until he was well fed and then bathed.
“I believe Obito said that the Yondaime thought it would be good for him.”
“And yet it’s not something he offered to Obito now is it? Not something he thought would be good for him?”
Mikoto kneeled by her husband and kneaded his shoulders.
“I’m sure Minato understands that Obito has his hands full with Madara-sama.” Mikoto rose from her seat and with a soft sigh she prepared a fresh pot of tea. “He does speak to his old sensei quite often.”
“How is Madara-sama?” Fugaku took the tea his wife offered and held onto her hand, guiding her to take her seat by him again. “He didn’t give you any trouble today did he?”
“Not much has changed. He had another moment of clarity but it didn’t last long.” Mikoto rest her head against his shoulder. “He thought I was his mother.”
“And he believes Sasuke is his younger brother Izuna.”
Fugaku rubbed his eye with the heel of his hand. Things were really getting to be more stressful than he originally thought they would be.
He was fortunate to have his wife and Obito caring for Madara. The former clan head was more than he could handle with his already busy schedule.
There was a divide in the clan when it came to Uchiha Madara. There were those who believed he still threatened their peaceful life in the village and then there were those who believed it would be wrong to euthanize the man and that he should be allowed to reach the end of his life naturally. And then there were the small few that believed it would be akin to blasphemy of them to kill off the only remaining pure blood Uchiha.
Despite what everyone believed, the Uchiha━unlike the Hyūga━were not a clan of blood purists. The clan had survived and remained as large as it was by intermingling with the smaller clans that followed them. Long before the Uchiha co-founded Konoha, their loyal bannermen abandoned their old names and were allowed to take that of the Uchiha.
They married amongst each other, finding love within their clan, although the ones with the most claim to Uchiha blood believed themselves superior.
Though there were none above the Uchiha that awakened the clan kekkei genkai, the sharingan.
“I almost didn’t expect Itachi to have a mission,” Mikoto’s soft voice cut through Fugaku’s musings. Her brow wrinkled in confusion. “The shinobi life…isn’t for Itachi.”
That was something Fugaku couldn’t argue against. It was starting to become difficult to ignore the fact that his eldest son, despite all of his talent, did not have the qualities one needed in a clan head.
His son was a pacifist. He did not enjoy heated discussions or confrontations. Itachi was better suited for a different role.
What that was, Fugaku had no idea.
He had never considered a different path for his eldest son. He had figured that Itachi would become clan head and Sasuke would become chief of the police force someday, as he heard that it was an ambition of his to one day join the police force.
But that was a problem for another day. He would have to set aside time to discuss Itachi’s future when Itachi was available to speak.
Currently Fugaku’s main concern was the Yondaime. Or more specifically, how the Yondaime had been following in the footsteps of his predecessors and utterly failing to show any support for the Uchiha.
Shimura Danzo had been imprisoned for his planned assault on Shisui. It didn’t take a genius to understand what his intentions were.
Danzo had meant for his Root Anbu agents to take the fall for the attack should they have failed.
What Danzo had not expected was for the Uchiha to have an unlikely ally. Orochimaru was the one that gave him up. No one knew what he had hoped to gain by leaking information about the former councillor but the Uchiha clan could not deny that without his information, they could not have gotten proper justice for Shisui.
But was it really proper justice if the remaining councillors were attempting to grant a pardon and return him to his seat?
Right now Fugaku had the support of most of the clan heads, excluding Hyūga Hiashi. The Hyūga had always been loyal supporters of the council. Unlike the other clan leaders, Hiashi wasn’t trying to be included in decisions that affected the villagers.
Fugaku suspected it was because he already had some influence over the councillors.
Fugaku expected Namikaze Minato to put an end to their scheming but he still allowed his elders to sway his decisions.
He was able to hold them, to overturn their decision once. He had chosen to disband Root and imprison Danzo, but Minato did not make the imprisonment indefinite. This had angered not only the Uchiha but the Aburame, Nara, and Yamanaka who discovered the attempt at Shisui’s eyes.
If they had attacked a member of one clan what was to stop them from going after members of different clans?
The clan heads had become wary, no longer fully trusting in the Hokage and his power to properly protect and lead the citizens of Konoha.
Just because one wasn’t a bad Hokage, it didn’t mean they were a good Hokage.
Sasuke had to drag himself to the training field.
Waking up early before first light wasn’t easy but it was something Sasuke knew he had to be prepared for when he went on missions.
When not if because there was no way he was going to be sent back to the Academy. No Uchiha had ever been demoted to Academy student after graduation and he wasn’t going to be the first.
He woke up an hour sooner than he had planned. Shiro needed to go out for a walk and the puppy was still not to be trusted wandering around alone. He was up even before his parents and the quiet of his home was unnerving but it was a silence he had to become familiar with.
Because once he passed Kakashi-sensei’s test he is sure he would have more silent moments in his home and elsewhere when he took on missions in the future.
Sakura’s soft footfalls across the lawn of the training field cause him to look up from his feet.
She was gripping the strap of her usual cross shoulder bag loosely. Her eyes were closed and Sasuke was unsure how she found her way if she was asleep on her feet.
“Where’s Naruto?” She asked setting her bag on the ground.
“I’m here, I’m here,” Naruto whined. Sasuke hadn’t noticed him, Naruto having been silent for once. He was probably too exhausted to make a sound.
They waited over two hours before Naruto nodded off. They had sat down after thirty minutes of waiting for their instructor.
“Is this supposed to be part of the test?” Sakura grumbled. “We’re starving and tired and we’ll be far too frustrated to think straight when he finally shows up.”
Sasuke berated himself for not asking his cousin for more information on his new mentor. He was about to smack Naruto awake and interrogate him when a weight fell on his shoulder.
Sakura sighed and snuggled against him. Sasuke gawked at her as she made herself more comfortable.
Sasuke wasn’t used to this type of skinship. There were subtle displays of affection between those of his clan and they were never done in public. Even holding hands outside of their district with someone that was not a child was too bold a move.
He looked down at her relaxed expression. Curls of pink framed her face, locks falling across her closed eyes.
Hesitantly, Sasuke took a strand between his fingers, examining the upward curl at the end.
“I didn’t have time to blow dry my hair,” Sakura mumbled, looking up at him with tired eyes. “My hair kind of spikes and curls if I don’t but I wanted to sleep more than spend time to look pretty.”
Sasuke didn’t know how to respond to that. In his opinion Sakura didn’t need to spend any time to look nicer. Her features easily singled her out from the common colorings of dark hair and dark eyes and the fair hair and blue eyes that made up the people of Konoha. Those looks were average or pleasant at best.
He knew his family was thought of as beautiful. He had the misfortune of being mistaken for a girl often enough to never grow his hair out the way Itachi did. It was probably due to the fact that he took after his mother who was the most beautiful woman he knew.
But being surrounded by the dark eyes and dark hair of his clansmen and other clans and seeing the blond and blue eyes of Naruto and of the Yamanaka clan so often, made Sakura’s jade eyes and petal pink hair refreshing.
She really didn’t need anything more to bolster her looks. Naruto wasn’t the only loser that went stupid and rambled on about her looks.
“How much longer do you think it’s going to take for him to show up?” Sakura shifted in place, moving away from Sasuke as she adjusted her body for comfort.
As if on cue, Kakashi appeared as if out of nowhere.
“Hello,” he greeted in a sing song voice. “Good morning.”
“You’re late!” Naruto had instantly woken up and shouted along with Sakura.
“Well, a black cat━”
“Save it.” Sasuke stood up and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Obito uses that excuse all of the time.”
Kakashi walked over to the center log pillar. An analog clock laid on it, previously unnoticed by the three of them.
“It’s set up for noon,” Kakashi informed them as he pushed the button on top of the clock. “Your assignment today, is to take these bells from me before that time. Those who can’t do it, won’t get lunch. You will be tied up and you’ll watch me eat my own lunch.”
Naruto immediately started complaining and rubbing his stomach.
“Well that explains why we couldn’t have breakfast,” Sasuke muttered under his breath. Sakura had been right. Kakashi had ordered them to skip out on breakfast to weaken them before their test even started.
“You only have two bells,” Sakura cut off Naruto’s grumbling. “There’s three of us though.”
“Yes.” Kakashi’s lone visible eye crinkled at the creases, a sign that he was smiling. “At least one of you will be tied to a log and disqualify and be sent straight back to the Academy. At least one of you will fail but all of you have a chance of failing today if you don’t obtain a bell before noon.”
He dangled the bells in front of them and then tied them to his pouch.
“You can use all of your weapons and any skill in your arsenal. If you don’t come at me with the intent to kill, you’ll never get a bell.”
“Isn’t that a little dangerous?” Sakura couldn’t keep the concern out of her voice.
“Yeah Kakashi-nii.” Naruto placed his hands behind his head, elbows sticking out. “We wouldn’t wanna hurt you?”
“I’ll take my chances. We’ll start on the count of three. One━”
Kakashi was cut off by Naruto’s battle cry, he aimed a kunai straight at their mentor. Faster than either Sakura or Sasuke could track him, Kakashi had Naruto pinned, his kunai aimed at his own neck instead.
“Jumping the gun already Naruto? Predictable.” Kakashi pushed him towards his teammates. “Actually wait for the signal this time.”
At the count of three the trio launched themselves into the trees, hiding. Sasuke kept an eye on both of his teammates, keeping track of their positions.
There were two bells but three of them. He could ally himself with one of his teammates and take the bells for themselves or they could all three call Kakashi’s claim as a bluff after they took the bells together.
“Hey,” Sakura whispered. She had moved in a direction closest to Sasuke when they first split up and made her way to his hiding spot. “We can’t get those bells on our own. We need to come up with a plan.”
Sasuke nodded. Sakura had taken the initiative to approach him with a plan of teamwork. She would be his ally if Naruto couldn’t be convinced.
“Please tell me the idiot isn’t doing what I think he’s doing,” Sakura groaned.
Gazing back to the clearing, Naruto was standing out in the open.
“Come on, Kakashi-nii. Just you and me, fair and square.”
“God, he can’t be that stupid.” Sasuke’s jaw dropped in disbelief as Naruto ran right at Kakashi, letting out his obnoxious battle cry once more.
“Looks like we’ll be going over taijutsu first.”
Naruto halted in his tracks as Kakashi reached into his weapon’s pouch. He eyed him warily and waited for Kakashi to pull out his own kunai. Naruto flinched when Kakashi withdrew his hand but at the sight of something orange Naruto stomped his foot and shrieked in frustration.
“Put that crap away you dirty old man!” Naruto pulled on his hair. “I can’t believe you read that geezer’s disgusting books.”
“You’re just too young to appreciate it. I just got to a good part and I don’t feel like waiting to read the rest. I can take care of you and read at the same time.”
With a grunt of frustration Naruto swung at Kakashi, missing when Kakashi took a step back. Naruto growled and spun for a roundhouse kick only for Kakashi to duck, his eyes never once straying from his book. He turned a page and stood straight, waiting for Naruto’s next move.
Naruto swung his fist out in a wild attempt to land a hit. Charging blind had him lose sight of his target. He missed Kakashi moving behind him.
“What’s that? A hand sign?” Sakura’s pale eyebrows pulled down into a frown. “A tiger seal?”
“No.” Sasuke’s right eye twitched. He had seen that pose before. It was something Obito did all of the time when he was goofing off during spars.
“He’s going to seriously hurt Naruto!” Sakura panicked. Before Sasuke could stop her she shouted, “Naruto, look out!”
Naruto screamed in pain and went flying into the lake.
“Did Kakashi-sensei just━?”
“How old is this man again?” Sakura groaned, running her hands down her face.
“Twenty-six but I doubt age has anything to do with maturity.”
“I can hear you.” Kakashi lifted his gaze from his book and tilted his head in the direction of Sasuke and Sakura’s hiding spot. “Those growling stomachs are a dead giveaway.”
“Shit,” Sasuke cursed. There was no time to strategize an ambush if their target already knew their location. He and Sakura were forced to split up and find new hiding spots.
“Don’t count me out yet!” Naruto dragged himself out of the lake as six shadow clones formed around him.
“Your father wasn’t kidding about you breaking into the Hokage tower, was he?” Kakashi asked, the tone of his voice bored as if he had expected Naruto’s latest stunt.
We should use this as a diversion, Sakura thought to herself as she watched seven Naruto’s scramble trying to find their teacher.
The idiot is falling for a trap. I’m not even surprised. Sasuke rolled his eyes at Naruto’s naivety. Did he really expect their teacher to have just accidentally drop a bell.
Sure enough, Naruto was soon flailing around, hanging off a tree with rope, his legs tied up. Kakashi was prodding him with a long finger, making him twirl.
Now’s the best time to strike! Sasuke flung his shuriken landing on his target.
“Holy shit, Sasuke!” Naruto shouted. “Don’t you think that’s overkill?”
Wait…shit! Sasuke’s eye widened in shock as Kakashi’s prone form burst into a puff of smoke, only a log left behind. I just gave away my location again.
Sasuke took off through the trees, darting quickly, trying to avoid rustling any leaves as he fled.
He split us up! Sakura looked frantically from where Naruto was hanging back to the direction that Sasuke had taken off in. Kakashi was nowhere in sight.
Gotta go help Sasuke-kun! Sakura flung shuriken and cut down the rope holding Naruto up. Naruto landed with a groan and as soon as she saw him hit the ground, Sakura ran in the direction that Sasuke had run off to.
Kakashi had a head start on looking for Sasuke. Sakura wasn’t naive enough to believe she would be able to track Sasuke’s location before a jōnin ranked ninja but she had to try. Naruto was safe as long as Kakashi believed he was incapacitated, unable to free himself.
Sakura wrapped her arms around the trunk of the tree she was preparing to launch off of to halt her movements. She didn’t find Sasuke but she found Kakashi waiting at the edge of the tree line.
Sakura’s face scrunched up in frustration. She could try to go for a bell but she couldn’t face him head on. Her style of taijutsu was more defensive. She would have to formulate a plan if she wanted a chance at the bells.
Maybe I should go back and check on Naruto…
Sakura had hoped that Naruto would have followed her after he freed his legs from the rope binds but he was nowhere in sight.
Sakura flinched at the lazy intonation and whipped her head to look behind her. Her forehead smacked against a green flak vest and she screamed in terror.
Kakashi-sensei had found her.
Sasuke looked toward the forest. He had assumed that Kakashi would have been drawn away from his teammate after Sasuke had given away his location with his attempted attack. He had used the time he had away from his sensei to set up a trap.
“Genjutsu.” Kakashi appeared behind him, standing at a tree and still reading his book. “I’m sure you know how those work considering your family.”
Sasuke grit his teeth. He couldn’t fault Sakura for falling for genjutsu but now it left her incapacitated until he could release her from the illusion if she couldn’t break herself out of it on time.
“Well, I’m not going down that easily. I can’t afford to━you know, considering my family.”
Sasuke flung a pair of shuriken directly at Kakashi, forcing him to dodge and land in the direct line of Sasuke’s trap.
Another kunai was thrown, slicing through the rope that released a volley of shuriken and kunai.
Sasuke knew it wouldn’t stop Kakashi but it slowed him down enough to allow him to flash step just behind his teacher and swing his leg out for a fierce kick. Kakashi blocked it but Sasuke was ready with another swift attack, aiming a punch at his face only to be blocked again. Spinning his body upward, Sasuke aimed strong kick that Kakashi was forced to block with his forearm.
Forced to brace against the quick and strong attacks, Kakashi almost let his defense of the bells down. A tinkling sound alerted him to Sasuke’s fingers brushing against one of the bells. Kakashi pushed him away quickly, backing away from Sasuke’s grabby fingers.
“Looks like I can’t just sit back and read anymore.”
“No, you can’t!”
Sasuke’s hands flew through a series of hand signs. Chakra built up in his chest and flowed hot up his throat until he released a fireball large enough to consume his sensei.
After a few seconds of releasing a steady stream of fire, Sasuke cut it off. His eye widened at the empty crater left behind.
Where did he go?
The sound of the earth below him cracking drew his attention to the ground. A fist had burst from the ground and grabbed his leg.
Sasuke screamed as he was dragged down into the ground. He squirmed but he couldn’t move his body.
“You’re just about as much trouble as certain other Uchihas I know.” Kakashi sighed and rolled his neck to stretch it out. “Good luck getting out of that. The clock is ticking.”
And with that he left Sasuke up to his neck trapped in the ground.
She had been running for a long time and couldn’t find anyone.
Sakura had woken up back by the empty clearing alone. No Naruto. No Sasuke. No Kakashi.
She went searching for her teammates and their instructor but found no one. She was forced to head back to their meeting spot and check to see if anyone had come back.
The clock on the center log pole stated the time as hours past the deadline.
She had failed and no one had bothered to stick around and inform her of her fate.
They just left me here. Alone.
Sakura leaned against the pole and slid down until she was sitting with her arms wrapped around her knees. She failed. She never failed.
At least not on paper.
She knew that she wasn’t as battle oriented as Sasuke or Naruto. She knew she was going to have a harder time with the bell test than her teammates. But Sakura had hoped she could use her intelligence to find a way around it. There couldn’t be just one way to be a ninja.
But the thought of just being abandoned left darkened her mood, made her go somewhere she hadn’t been in a long time.
Sakura was always alone when she was younger.
In Laolin, the district she lived in, she was an anomaly when it came to looks. Her mother had golden hair that was unlike the fair coloring of Konoha natives and jade eyes and then her father had the most exotic coloring of all.
Sakura was always insecure about how she stood out from her people, how she stood out amongst everyone. She could enunciate better and try to mimic the clarity of a high born native’s accent but she stood out like a sore thumb.
And then her forehead. It just had to be so large.
Being the youngest in her class and the strangest looking didn’t help her when it came to making friends.
One of Sakura’s greatest worries when it came to this test was that if she failed she would lose all of her friends. Would they still be her friend if she couldn’t cut it as a ninja? Would they travel all of the way to Laolin for her? Or would they never set foot again into the crowded district?
They left me…
Sakura stood up with a sigh and dusted off her red dress. It was late and she would need to get home and explain to her parents what had happened. She could go back and finish the year with some civilian classes and then work in her parents’ tea shop.
Quitting already? A snarky voice whispered from a corner of her mind. You can’t be that pathetic.
Sakura brushed the voice off and looked for her bag. She had left it by the poles but it was nowhere in sight. She put her hands on her hips and stomped the ground with one foot.
Don’t tell me they took my bag! I put it right here by the clock! Right by the…the clock?
Sakura tilted her head to the side, confused as she stared at the clock. The larger hand hadn’t moved from it’s position since she had first left the clearing to find the others. The time hadn’t changed at all.
Which was odd considering it was making a ticking sound.
A flaw. Could it be…a flaw?
Sakura formed her hands into the ram seal and muttered the word “Kai.”
Sakura was sprinting through the forest. When she came to she wasn’t in the original clearing with the logs but at the base of the tree where Kakashi had found her.
She had fallen for a genjutsu and was embarrassed at how easily it had happened. She would have to be more alert from now on.
Just gotta find Sasuke and━
Sakura stopped in her tracks when she saw Sasuke’s head sticking out of the ground.
“Sakura?” Sasuke’s head blinked up at her.
“Don’t tell me this is a multi-layered illusion!” Sakura pulled at her hair.
“No, I’m actually trapped in the ground!”
“Oh.” Sakura squatted so that she could examine the ground. “How do we…how do we get you out?”
“I had an idea but it might not work.”
“Well, let’s try it.”
“Uh, back up.”Sasuke averted his gaze. He could feel heat gather at his ears. “Just in case.”
Sakura backed away into the tree line and used a tree as a shield. She felt a pressure like a release of chakra and had to duck as rubble whipped around.
“That’s a pain.”
Sakura came out of hiding and saw Sasuke rubbing at his shoulders.
“I’m glad I found you.” Sakura smiled shyly as she kneaded Sasuke’s arms and shoulders. “I thought I was left behind. I mean, in the genjutsu I was left behind.”
“That wouldn’t happen.” The words rushed out before Sasuke could stop them. “I━we, Naruto and I, would never leave you behind.”
“Yeah?” Sakura giggled, finally releasing her hold on Sasuke. Her stomach growled and her face flushed pink. She chuckled nervously and muttered,“I could really go for some jianbing right now…”
“Jianbing?” Sasuke tried out the word, the sound foreign on his tongue.
“Yeah. It’s a crepe. It’s so good with youtiao! I always pick some up on my way to the Academy. There’s a stall that starts selling them before it’s even light out but Kaka-sensei told us we couldn’t eat.”
“Yeah. Speaking of, we should go for those bells again.”
“I couldn’t even get near those bells,” Sakura mumbled in disappointment. “This is impossible.”
“It is if you have that attitude,” Sasuke scolded her. “I almost got one. I’m sure if we all work together we can definitely get those bells.”
He placed a hand on her back and gently pushed her forward, guiding her in the direction he wanted to head in.
“You think so?” Sakura gave him a weak smile. “How much time do we still have left?”
An alarm rang in the distance.
“None,” Sasuke muttered darkly.
Sakura was shocked when they found Naruto already tied to a pole. Sasuke just kicked at the log.
“You got caught so easily, stupid.”
“As you may have noticed,” Kakashi appeared behind them, “Naruto is already dealing with his punishment. He decided to try and steal the bento reward for those who passed.”
He crossed his arms in front of his chest and began to lecture them. Naruto whined and Sasuke averted his gaze and glared at the ground. Sakura wrung her hands around the hem of her dress, feeling ashamed.
Kakashi made a good point about how she focused too much on helping Sasuke and had left Naruto to his own devices.
“I’ll give you guys one more shot after lunch. But,” Kakashi turned to leave them, “no feeding the thief. You’ll fail if you do.”
“You’re such a jerk Kaka-nii!”
Sakura munched on her rice feeling guilty. Naruto’s stomach was growling right above her head.
“Moron,” Sasuke called out to Naruto. He held up his chopsticks holding up a piece of rolled egg. “Eat this.”
“He just said not to feed me.”
“Just eat the damn food. You’ll be useless if you’re starved. He did say we had to work together. Don’t hold us back.”
“He’s right,” Sakura sighed. She held up a bite of rice for Naruto.
As soon as Naruto munched on the rice, a strong gale blew across the training grounds.
“Oh come on!” Sakura cried out in frustration. “We’re being good teammates.”
“Yep. And for that,” Kakashi gave them a thumbs up, “you guys pass!”
I don’t know if I can be happy about that, Sakura groaned inwardly. What a messed up test.
Sakura was dragging her bag behind her by the time she reached her front door. She was covered in dirt and leaves and her hair was a tangled mess. She barely raised a hand to return her mother’s greeting, her muscles were sore after running around with her teammates.
But she was the happiest she had ever been.