Previously on Red Eyes in the Dark:
Sasuke is dead. Sakura, Naruto, and Sai are taking the chunin exams and, despite a brief fight with Orochimaru, aren't finding it as hard as Sakura had expected. Now it's time for the final part of the chunk exams.
The line up for the first round of the final exams is as follows:
Rock Lee, Naruto
Shino gets a free pass.
Sakura wouldn't say that her month of training with Hako was fun per say. It was interesting, intense, and educational. Her free time was lonely while Naruto was training with Yamato. She was also constantly on edge, unsure of the truth her eyes presented. So definitely not fun.
She'd worn a blindfold for a full day, with Hako promising that she wouldn't be under any genjutsu during that time. The next day though, she had to wander Konoha, still blindfolded, breaking through Hako's genjutsu as soon as she noticed them. Those two days hadn't been particularly bad except for the fact that half of Konoha saw her walk into walls.
Without a second of hesitation Sakura would give just about anything to get another month of training before the tournament. That's not a choice though, so instead Sakura ties her forehead protector around her stomach.
Now that she's (finally) gotten her hair cut short there's nothing to tie back anymore. Some part of her hates the haircut for the way it makes her look like a boy, but she cares more about the risk to her life if it gets in the way. There had been several chunks too short to tie back so the next best choice was to cut it short.
Looking in the mirror, Sakura can see how much she's changed. She looks older. (Worn.) Her hair is short and her forearms are covered by armoured gloves. ("The fact that they are navy blue like Sasuke's shirt is a complete coincidence," Inner says, rolling her eyes at Sakura's drama despite the fact that her appearance is older, and frankly tired.)
The chunin exam stadium is set on the eastern edges of Konoha, where the trees easily outnumber the buildings, but still protected by the wall around the city. From ground level it's an imposing building and the river of people entering only makes Sakura's nerve sting all the harder. Excitement at seeing Naruto again ("For the first time in 29 day!") helps drive her forward.
In the competitors waiting area, Naruto is waiting.
"Hey Naruto!" Sakura says, sliding up next to him (though not too close, in case he wants some space). His hair's become overgrown, his nail are long and sharp, and his eyes are strangely soft as they turn to her.
No matter how much Sakura wants to ask Naruto about this month, if he doesn't want to talk she's not going to push. She's not suicidal after all.
"Hello," Sai says, from her shoulder. Sakura barely glances at him, though she does note that his voice is somehow more monotone than she remembers.
"Welcome to the Finals of the Konoha Chunin Exam!" A voice in the stadium announces, leading the audience and competitors through the rules and restrictions. "Up first is Rock Lee v. Naruto Uzumaki! If the competitors will enter the stadium…"
The fight is fast.
Sakura can barely see as Lee is kicking Naruto in the face before he's even able to activate the chakra that bubbles around him. As Naruto is flying towards the stadium wall he flips in mid-air so he can dig his hands into the ground to slow. But then Lee's there again and Sakura watches in shock as his foot connects with Naruto's face.
Naruto's chakra coat finally appears as he hits the wall, cracks appearing around him. As he stands up Sakura notices the way the concrete wall around Naruto looks as if it's started to melt.
"My worthy opponent!" Lee shouts, pausing on the other side of the stadium, "You are no match for my speed!"
"No," Naruto says, his voice deep and inhuman, "I'm not." And then he smiles and Sakura would swear his teeth are all sharp and canine-like, the edges of his mouth far too close to his cheek bone.
What looks almost like a tail appears in the orange chakra coat. Huge ears made of chakra appear at the top of his head. He crouches low, as if he means to run like an animal.
The tail waves back and forth like a real tail, leaving a gouge in the concrete wall where it brushes into it.
"I am honoured to see you are taking this seriously! I too will do my best!" Lee says and moves quickly to remove something? The ground next to him turns into a mushroom cloud of dust as something hits the ground.
A breeze around Lee seems to start up as he crosses his arms in front of himself. A vein pops in Lee's forehead and a wisp of blue chakra swirls around his arms before subsiding.
("Huh. They might actually be a good match." Inner Sakura says, slightly stunned.) Even if Sakura used all of her chakra, she would likely only create a single streak of visible chakra.
And then the two of them are running at each other, colliding in the air in the middle of the stadium.
The resulting blast makes Sakura's ears ring.
"I! Will! Not! Lose!" Lee shouts, but Sakura can see the blood staining the front of his green suit. He crosses his arms again and a whirl of blue chakra erupts around him, and they he's running at Naruto once more.
There's a moment of grappling and then Naruto flies into the wall. He barely pauses before Lee's foot kicks the sides of his head.
Naruto's head snaps to the side but his arm is on Lee's leg and even from the sidelines Sakura can hear as Lee's leg is twisted around backwards.
Burning bloodlust makes the hair on the back of Sakura's neck rise and she turns to see sand spinning around Gaara. His breathing is audible and the sound of sand is like a whisper.
"You'll get his blood mother. I promise. I'll feed you." His voice is rasping and Sakura takes half a step back before she remembers herself and turns back to Naruto's fight. Gaara isn't going to kill her. Not right now at least.
In the stadium, Lee is on the ground, his right leg has been twisted 180 degrees and there's charred flesh where Naruto had gripped his leg.
"The winner is Uzumaki Naruto!" The proctor says, his words a bit rushed as he leads medics into the stadium.
For a moment a flash of Naruto's bloodlust fills the air before the chakra coat around his mostly subsides. Then he's ambling up the staircase into the waiting area, the walls softening where his hand brushes over it.
"Good job," Sakura says, smiling at Naruto despite the slight frown on his face. He grunts but doesn't reply otherwise. Sai says nothing, his eyes searching the stadium.
"Next up is Neji Hyuuga v. Kankuro of Suna!"
Sakura completely misses that fight for two reasons. The first is that it only lasts about one minute, total. The second is that Naruto and Gaara decided now would be a good time to start glaring at each other.
"Oh don't worry lil' bro, I won't kick your ass too badly!" Naruto says, a weird smile on his face and the air around him seeming to wobble at the influx of chakra.
"Why does Mother know you, an ant?" Gaara says. His pupils so contracted it's a wonder he can see.
"What, Shukkie didn't tell you about me?" Naruto says, leading towards an almost vibrating Gaara.
"The winner is Neji Hyuuga! Next up is Shikamaru Nara v. Sakura Haruno!"
With only a moment of hesitation Sakura moves down the stairs to the stadium. Shikamaru isn't a great match up for Sakura. (Not that anyone is a good match up…)
Shikamaru's preliminary fight had shown that he could control shadows to some extent. Sakura suspected this was the sort of ninjutsu that required excellent chakra control, which would let him more easily detect and break any of Sakura's genjutsu. Ino had always insisted that Shikamaru was smart, when he could be bothered to try. Given that Ino was better in almost every class compared to Sakura, that wasn't encouraging.
"What a drag."
It seemed to Sakura that the only way she could win would be to make it too much of a hassle for Shikamaru to win. He was lazy on an almost legendary scale. She'd once watched him spend an entire afternoon trying to convince someone else to grab him lunch since he couldn't be bother and Choji was home sick.
Shikamaru immediately raises his hand,
"Winner, Sakura Haruno." The proctor gestures for the two of them to return to the waiting area. "Next up is Sai of Konoha v. Gaara of Suna!"
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