Chapter Two: Locker Room Interrogations

Carter sighed in relief as the heavy, metal door to the boy's locker room slammed shut behind him with reassuring bang. Beads of sweat dripped down the young ninja's face, and the orange track suit he wore was soaked through with perspiration. Nonetheless, there was a grin on his face as he collapsed wearily on the tiled floor.

"Safe at last," he muttered between gasps for breath.

Sara had put up a terrific chase and it had taken all Carter's skill to evade being trashed by his brown-haired crush. He had leaped off of balconies, run across rooftops, shimmed across narrow ledges, but Sara had pursued him with a tenacity that Carter could hardly believe. It was not until Carter had created a dozen clones of himself with a Mass Shadow Replication technique and then jumped off giant waterfall, did Sara finally abandon the chase.

"Up to your usual tricks, eh, Carter?" Carter looked up to see a tall, thin boy, whose black hair was tied in a top knot, staring down at him. There was something about the boy's voice that rankled Carter, a sort of composed laziness that clashed horribly with Carter's energetic, outspoken personality.

"Leave me alone, Dash." Carter groaned. Painfully, he sat up and propped his back up against the wall. Dash, like the rest of the boys in the senior year, were busy changing out of their normal attire and into a pair of simple, blue shorts and white shirts –their PE uniforms. Kyo appeared from behind a row of lockers holding a gym bag.

"Still among the living, huh?" The red-haired ninja asked. He tossed the bag to Carter who caught it. "Hurry up and get changed. Instructor Asuma isn't going to wait forever."

Dash crouched down beside Carter and said, "You're pretty bold to be taking a peek at Sara's panties. Today of all days." He winked at a particularly fat boy who was standing nearby, munching noisily on a bag of chips. "Any idea why Chen is stuffing himself silly?"

"More than usual?" Inquired Carter, peering at the ninja Dash had pointed out. Chen was always eating. In class, out of class –seldom was Chen spotted without a snack of some sort.

"Well…yeah. More than usual."

Carter thought for a moment, and then innocently ventured, "Because he's a giant fat ass?"

"I'm not fat!" Chen roared, spraying Carter with wads of half-eaten chips. "I'm pleasantly plump!"

"Right, whatever." Carter replied. He opened the gym bag and began changing into his PE uniform. He hated parting with his tracksuit even if it was only for the next class. The outfit was like a second skin to the blonde ninja, and he felt almost vulnerable without it.

"I'm not!" Chen protested. "Right, Dash?"

Dash rolled his eyes and patted his friend on the back. "Sure, Chen."

Carter had known Dash and Chen for years ever since they had been in elementary school together, and while they could quite irritating at times, they were also skilled ninjas and reliable allies. Well, most of the time anyway.

"So, what's so special about today?" asked Carter.

Suddenly, a boy about the same height as Carter stepped out of the crowd and stopped in front of him. He had long black hair that was held together in a ponytail by the black forehead protector he wore. Suddenly, the chatter in the locker room fell silent. The boy stared at Carter, his blank, white eyes boring into Carter as if examining his soul.

"Today is Capture the Flag," He said coldly. There was no emotion in his voice. There never was. Without waiting for a response from Carter, he walked to the back of the locker room where crossed his arms and stood quietly.

"Cold as ice -as usual." Dash observed after the boy had gone. "That's Nathan for you."

Neji Henderson, another genius at Koon High, was so perfect it was disturbing. He excelled at everything he tried, from sports to the arts to musical instruments and -just like Jace- was the center of every girl's attention in school. Everywhere he went girls stopped to stare, but did little else beyond that. While the girls had somehow found Jace's disinterest appealing, they knew Nathan's indifference meant something else. He simply did not care. It wasn't that he was gay or anything; he was just so focused on success that little else interested him.

Carter watched the other boy for a minute, observing how others intentionally avoided him. For anyone else this might've been sad. Born and raised without the love of a father or mother, Carter was well acquainted with loneliness and how painful it had been growing up. But Nathan had never sought the assuaging comfort of friendship like Carter; instead, he seemed to find solace in his self-made sphere of isolation. Dash was right as always –Nathan really was as cold as ice.

"That's why I'm eating so much," Chen explained. "We're going to need all the energy we can get or at least I'm sure you will." A wicked grin stretched across his pudgy face. "Because Sara is going to be trying her best to kick your ass out there."

"Nah, I'm sure she's forgotten all about it," answered Carter. He smiled, more to reassure himself of the truth in his words than anyone else. A single look at the skeptical looks on his friends told him that he wasn't fooling anyone. "Yeah…I'm sure she's forgotten all about it…"

"I'm going to kill that little shit!" screamed Sara, slamming her fist into a locker. The metal door gave way, caving inwards and leaving a nice indention in its formerly smooth surface. "The nerve of that little bastard! He was looking up my skirt!"

A pretty, blonde haired girl who was changing nearby paused at the sound of Sara's tirade. She chuckled softly to herself and pulled off her shirt, tossing it on the ground. "A boy wants to look up your skirt, Sara? My, shouldn't you feel flattered?"

A blood curdling shriek followed by another dent into the locker was the response to that question. Her fist still buried halfway into the metal door, Sara glared at the girl. "Shut the hell up, Terri! This is Carter we're talking about!"

Indeed, it was Carter Kendo they were talking about. And that made all the difference in the world. Sara ground her teeth just at the thought of the trouble-making ninja. She had known him her entire life and not a moment had passed where his buoyant attitude had not annoyed the hell of her. She knew he had a crush on her since they were in middle school, but not once had she ever indicated that she was the least bit interested in him. Anyone else would've given up after a few weeks, but not Carter. What had begun as a childhood infatuation had developed into something much more serious in Carter's warped little mind, Sara feared. His latest little perverted escapade only proved it. Kind rejections had not worked in dissuading Carter; even angry ones had done little to deter his hopes of one day winning her affection. Drastic measures were in order.

Like a swift kick in the nuts maybe.

"So you chased him all over campus?" Terri asked with a sly wink. "Sounds like you're totally not interested."

Sara rolled her eyes until they hurt. "Please. I created a replication to do the work for me. Do you really think that idiot could've escaped so easily had I seriously been trying to hurt him?"

"Were you?" wondered Terri.

"Then, no. During Capture the Flag, yes." She cracked her knuckles menacingly. "I'm going to make him regret embarrassing me in front of the class like that."

Holly Henderson, who was sitting beside Terri, gasped in horror. Her large white eyes widened in fear and she clutched Terri's arm involuntarily. "She doesn't mean that, does she, Terri?"

Terri shrugged, but when Holly continued to tug on her sleeve, she sighed exasperatedly. "Sara was just kidding, right Sara?" When Sara did not respond, Terri smiled consolingly to the young girl. "She's just playing around, Holly, don't worry. Your precious Carter is safe from that terrifying girl."

Holly recoiled as if something had bitten her. "W-what? No, you have it all wrong. I wasn't really concerned about Carter. In fact, I don't even like him." She stammered. This argument might have been more convincing had Holly been able to look her two friends in the eye while she made it. Sara and Terri grinned at Holly, like two wolves eyeing a particularly juicy piece of meat. Sara sat down on the bench next to Holly, and together, she and Terri moved in for the kill.

"What's so great about Carter anyway?" Sara asked. "I mean he's not even that good looking."

"No, you're mistaken," Holly interjected. "It's just-"

"OK, maybe he's kind of cute in an abnormal sort of way." admitted Terri contemplatively. She nudged Hinata in the arm and winked. "But a girl as pretty as you can do so much better."

"Sara, Terri, it's not like that." The black-haired girl wailed, but her friends ignored her.

"There are so many better guys in school." Terri said.

"Guys who are smarter." elaborated Sara.

"And sexier." added Terri.

"And more popular." The brown-haired ninja concluded. "I can think of a dozen guys you would do better of with than that loser, Carter."

"He's not a loser!" argued Holly.

Sakura looked scandalized by Holly's statement. "He was looking up my skirt during class, Holly. Is that the kind of guy you want to go out with?"

"Especially when you could be going out with someone like…" Terri thought for a moment and then smiled devilishly. "Nathan. Hm…" She whispered dreamily, licking her lips. "What I would let him do to me…"

Holly's face wrinkled in disgust. "Terri! Nathan is my cousin!"

"Wouldn't stop me." replied the blonde girl, sticking her tongue out playfully.

"So how does he look naked, Holly?" asked Sara teasingly. "You live in the same estate. I know you spy on him."

"What?" shrieked Holly, blushing even more than before. "No! Never!"

"Oh c'mon. I know you have your bloodline technique that lets you see through walls and stuff."

"No!" yelled Holly. "I would never abuse it that way."

"You wouldn't abuse it? Even if you could spy on…who would he be again, Terri?" Sara asked.

"Carter?" Terri guessed.

"Because I'm sure I could find a good spot near the boy's dorm if you wanted," Sara offered. "That is if you're not afraid of "abusing" your bloodline technique."

"Oh leave me alone!" Holly yelled. Finally having enough of her friends' taunting, she leaped to her feet, looking quite angry. Without a word to either of them, she stormed from the locker room, slamming the door shut loudly behind her.

Sara chuckled. "Poor girl is so in love it's almost sad."

"It is sad," Terri corrected. "She's in love with Carter after all."

"A doomed relationship if I ever heard of one."

A moment passed in silence as the two girls sniggered, bathing in the victory of having mercilessly teased their classmate. Holly was a good friend, but her trusting and kind hearted nature made her such an easy target. She would get over it. This was hardly the first time Holly had suffered their shameless interrogations.

"You know, I wasn't kidding about what I said about Carter." Terri said.

"About him being a loser?" asked Sara.

"No, you were the one who called him a loser, though I agree he is." replied Terri.

"Then what are you talking about?"

Ino looked at the youngest of the Hansen family and then said, "He is kind of cute."

"What?" demanded a shocked Sara. "No way! You're kidding me, right?"

Terri did not reply.

Another long silence past with only the rhythmic drip of a leaky shower filling the void between the two friends.

"You are kidding, right?" Sara asked again, almost pleadingly this time.

Terri only smiled.