Chapter Five: Doubt
"I'm so glad we'll be home soon, Sasuke-kun..." Sakura murmured, slipping closer and smiling hopefully. "Being home, after all that walking, ne? I haven't seen my house in three months... It'll be beautiful..."
She smiled at the thought of her house, but was frozen by his yet-again cold behaviour. Would she never melt his layer of ice? She was determined, but her resolve failed sometimes when she felt doubt. What if... What if she couldn't heal him, if he was beyond her reach? What if she could never prove herself to him?
She felt disgusted with herself. 'Even with this sword, I can't defend the people I love...' she thought sighing, her hand rubbing the handle. Naruto turned to her with a worried face, pouting.
"Sakura-chan, what's wrong?" He asked, leaning over to look at her. She sighed again.
"Nothing, Naruto... We'll be there soon, right, Kakashi-sensei?" Sakura asked hopefully, smiling. She definitely needed a shower! Naruto nodded, and Sasuke just... sort of grunted.
"We'll be there in a few minutes actually... see down there?" Kakashi pointed down the large hill they'd just reached the top of. They could just see the village poking out from the middle of the forest. Both Sakura and Naruto cheered, and even Sasuke's tension lifted somewhat. Sakura grinned, running a few steps ahead and drinking in the familiar air of her own country.
'I'm so glad to be back...' Sakura smiled, twirling around once and dropping down the hill at a fast pace. She looked up to see familiar faces. Her parents, Ino, Shikamaru, various other friends all stood by the gate, waiting as the group (or Naruto and Sakura, at least) broke out into a fast run towards the village.
"Not glad to be home, Sasuke?" Kakashi asked his pupil, looking at his from the corner of his eye. Sasuke frowned.
"You should know of all people I have nothing to go home to, Kakashi..." Sasuke said quietly, before walking a bit faster. Soon, Kakashi was left to himself, and his students were being greeted.
"Mum, Dad!" Sakura grinned as her father picked her up and swung her around.
"Oh, Saku, I was sooooo worried about you!" Her mother leaned down, hugging her daughter close. "I'm not a ninja, but I know they end up in a lot of dangerous situation... Come on home, have lunch and a shower, tell us all about your adventures..."
Sakura grinned, and tossed a look to the approaching Kakashi, who was speaking to a Jounin that had come up to them. Naruto, who was in the process of hugging Ino, noticed Sakura and followed her glance.
"You three go... But tomorrow we have regular mission and training. Ja!" Kakashi grinned as he disappeared in a burst of smoke.
Sakura smiled, glad for the day off. But... The whole village seemed excited, tense, strange. Ino was grinning widely, though that would normally fit when her three favourite people had just come back, it also made her think...
She headed over to where Naruto and Ino were talking. She smiled at the two.
"Ino, do you know what's going on?" Sakura asked, curious. "Was something mentioned while we were gone?"
"Sakura..." Ino sighed. "You honestly don't know what it is? You don't know what almost every genin in the village has been obsessing over, well, since graduation? The CHUUNIN EXAMS are in TEN DAYS!"
Sakura's eyes widened. "Oh, I remember! We can become Chuunin... Ino, my team's going to become chuunins before your's ever does!"
"Yeah right, Sakura. InoShikaChou vs. you three? I think you only have a chance 'cause you got Sasuke-kun on your team! And Naruto might help with the awesome jutsu he learned, but other than that, you don't have a chance!" Ino crowed.
Sakura smiled, and sighed. "Well, let's just hope we all make it, then. It'd be disgraceful if someone in either of our teams failed, ne?"
Ino nodded, grinning. "Exactly. Well, we've got all day, wanna grab something to eat? Ichiraku's open..."
Sakura smiled. "What about the rest of the gang? Wanna get everybody for a big lunch?"
Ino's grin faded into an identical smile. "Definitely."
"Thank you for the reports, Kakashi-san. Ummm... How is Naruto doing...? I mean..." Iruka leaned over the counter, interested in what the teacher could tell him as he took the Wave Mission report. "I've been rather busy, lately, and I didn't see much of him when he got back. I only had time to catch a peek of him, not really any time to talk to him... So... How is he? And with his teammates?"
"He's fine himself... and working with his teammates? As you know, he's in the team with Uchiha Sasuke. He sees Sasuke as a rival, and the two's relations are strained, but they are improving greatly. They may surpass you soon, Iruka," Kakashi said, with a hint of smugness in his voice.
Iruka faked a smile, recoiling from the insult inwardly. "Is that so? And how is Sakura?"
"She... She's the one with problems of the group. She and Naruto bicker a bit, but her obsession with Sasuke may get her killed sometime. Her genjustu and her sword skills are developing, and her chakra control is perfect, but she still has problems. She may not, in the end, rise much higher than Chuunin level without hard, hard work. I'm really not sure how to handle her..." Kakashi said, looking disappointed.
"Well, Kakashi-san, teachers sometimes have to encourage their flailing students and ignore their stars to ensure success, you do know that, right? You won't ignore Sakura, or Naruto either, just because Sasuke might be more trainable, easier to handle, at a closer level to you, ne?" Iruka's voice was not only encouraging, but critical. This annoyed Kakashi to no end - He refused to be criticized by some weak little schoolteacher!
"I'll do my best. But remember, these three are no longer your Academy students, they are my responsibility. I've never had a team before, but I doubt I can fail with these three. They ARE the first to pass my test, remember?"
Those were Kakashi's last words before he turned his back on Iruka's answer, leaving the room. Kakashi didn't see it, but the rest of the room could have noticed Iruka's eyes hardening slightly after their meeting.
Again, the large group of friends sat together under the trees, eating a seemingly random array of food. Tenten sat with Sakura, the two muttering incoherently under a tall tree. Naruto and Ino were training, or doing something at least that involved hitting eachother. Shikamaru was trying, slowly but surely, to teach Chouji to play Shougi.
"It is good to be back..." Sakura murmured, having showered, eating and drank to her hearts delight, though she drew the line somewhere (she was on a diet, after all - Though after all that travel, the diet seemed almost extravagant). "It feels weird, though... Like I've grown up a bit, somehow..."
"That is how it feels with your first real mission, isn't it? You guys are lucky - Gai-sensei made us wait almost half a year before we got any useful missions. It was irritating... What exactly happened in Wave Country, Sakura? You seem..." Tenten avoided the word 'depressed', though it sprang to mind. Tenten had seen Sakura briefly when she'd returned, she'd seemed happy then... Had something happened... Or had she been thinking?
"It's just... so many things happened on that trip, Tenten... It was so much to think about, for me. It was really the first time I've had a serious fight..." Something in her tone told Tenten what she found was less than comforting. Tenten patted her on the back.
"What exactly happened, there?" she asked, looking at Sakura. "You've been mopey since you got back..."
"Yeah... I've been doing some thinking, is all..." Sakura's voice faded away as she watched her hand play with some grass near her feet. Tenten grumbled inwardly, annoyed at Sakura's vague answers, but guessing why her general cheeriness was shattered.
"Sakura?" Tenten touched Sakura's shoulder, and Sakura looked up at her. Tenten nodded. "You're a great ninja, Sakura. You just gotta develop... I know I was useless after Academy, but look where I am now?" Tenten grinned, and threw a kunai. It speared a falling leaf through the centre.
"You just gotta find your element, right?"
"You've been assembled here for only one reason. It should be obvious by the members here."
The Third Hokage's voice rang out through the room, breaking the expectant silence. The gathered Chuunins, Jounins, Special Jounins, and ANBU all hung on his word. once he broke the silence, however, a mumbling of conversation flowed.
"It's already that time..." Kakashi murmured, patting his pocket and thinking about his students, hoping they were ready for his decision.
"It's already been reported to the other countries, I saw them in the village. I;'ve heard rumours, ten days, a week, four days... so when is it?" Another Jounin, Genma, added.
The Hokage paused for a moment. "In a week," he said decidedly, pulling the necessary paperwork from one of his desks folders and watching the rippling reactions.
"Wow, that soon?" A Jounin asked, hesitant to contradict his superior. The Hokage smiled.
"Well, I'll announce it properly. 7 days from now, on the first day of the seventh moon, the Chuunin Selection Exam will commence!"The Hokage smiled, watching the various parties of the room as they prepared themselves.
"First," he said, breaking the noise of shuffling papers and clicking pens " We will hear from those watching over newly graduated genins. Now..."
The three recent Jounin sensei's stepped up: Team 7's captain and sensei, Hatake Kakashi, leading Haruno Sakura, Uchiha Sasuke and Uzumaki Naruto; Team 8's captain and sensei, Yuuhi Kurenai, leading Hyuuga Hinata, Aburame Shino, and Inuzuka Kiba; and team 10's captain and sensei, Sarutobi Asuma, leading Akimichi Chouji, Nara Shikamaru and Yamanaka Ino.
"Kakashi, Kurenai, Asuma, are there any genins you wish to nominate for this exam?" The Hokage asked, his eyes smiling. "I don't need to tell you this, but a genin must have successfully completed 8 missions to qualify, at which point they may be nominated by their sensei. Now... Starting with Kakashi..."
Iruka sighed from his desk, looking up at the three sensei's: Kakashi, Naruto's team leader and the one Iruka disapproved of; Kurenai, Ino's preferred sensei and Iruka's 'girlfriend', though lover might be the more appropriate term; and Asuma, the sensei Ino almost completely rejected, exclaiming her annoyance at whom almost daily. None of them would be foolish enough...
"Team 7, led by Kakashi: Uchiha Sasuke, Uzumaki Naruto and Haruno Sakura. Under the name of Hatake Kakashi, I nominate these three for the Chuunin Exam." Kakashi said this without any tone of regret or hesitance in his voice. Iruka muttered annoyedly under his breath.
"Team 8, led by Kurenai: Hyuuga Hinata, Inuzuka Kiba and Aburame Shino. Under the name of Yuuhi Kurenai, the same as to my left."
Iruka looked up at Kurenai, feeling betrayed. He'd told her numerous times that they weren't ready...
"Team 10, led by Asuma: Yamanaka Ino, Nara Shikamaru and Akimichi Chouji. Under the name of Sarutobi Asuma, the same as to my left-" Asuma's statement had barely left his lips before another voice was raised, this time in a protest.
"Wait a second!" Iruka stood, looking at the three sensei's in annoyance."Hokage-sama, please let me have a word!"
"What is it, Iruka?" The Hokage's voice was unfettered by annoyance, just patient with the sensei's request to speak. Iruka looked at the three sensei's, who had turned around to look at him: Kakashi with annoyance, Kurenai with suprise, Asuma with indifference.
"I may be speaking out of place, but most of these nine were students of mine... Of course they are talented, but I know I have had more chance than any of these three to tell that none of these genin are ready for the exam!" Iruka exclaimed. "They definitely need more experience. these are children never faced with a life-threatening mission being thrown into a dangerous situation!"
"I became a chuunin when I was six years younger than Naruto..." Kakashi said, looking at Iruka in annoyance.
"Naruto is different than you are! These children, all of them are! This isn't a war anymore, Kakashi!" Iruka said, his eyes blazing. This exam is-"
"They are always complaining about missions... Some pain might knock them into reality, ne? Crushing them... could be fun," Kakashi said, his visible eye smiling, almost silently goading Iruka on.
"What the hell does that mean?" Iruka asked, stepping towards Kakashi.
"That," Kakashi said, "Was a joke, Iruka-sensei. I can understand your feelings on this matter, you must be upset..."
Kurenai mumbled something to Kakashi, almost inaudible. Iruka's glare turned to her for a moment, as if he'd expected her to help him... But no, she'd nominated her students, too... Kakashi continued anyway.
"Iruka, stay out of this matter. They are no longer your academy students. They are my subordinates," Kakashi's glance was level with Iruka's annoyed one, his one eye as strong as Iruka's two
Asuma yawned. "Can we get over with this already? I'm tired of this..."
The Hokage paused, a sign for all parties to sit down. Iruka and Kurenai shared a look, then Hokage started to speak.
"Now for the more experienced Jounin... Gai-sensei, Kumori-sensei...?"
"Kurenai... what was that in there?"
Just outside the Hokage's office building, a few metres into the city, two ninja were talking quietly as they walking. Kurenai listened as Iruka talked to her, annoyed, and a little sad, at the same time.. "Why couldn't you have helped me? You're a Jounin..."
"Iruka, I'm a newbie, a rookie, someone who's been a Jounin for barely a year. I'm surprised they let me have a team at all, considering my junior position. Do you think I could have changed the 'Great Sharingan Kakashi's opinion?" Kurenai shrugged as she and Iruka walked through the crowd. "Besides, I don't know about Kakashi's kids, but Kiba, Hinata, Shino... They're ready. And I know Ino is too, even though she's not technically on my team. Iruka.. If you knew the amount of growth that these kids go through in just a few months after school..."
"Kurenai, I've been an Academy sensei for a long time, and I know that the number of sensei's who send rookie genin into a Chuunin exam have a larger chance of having a smaller team after it," Iruka said, trying to catch up with Kurenai. "Are you trying to run away from me?"
"Iruka, nobody knows about us. I'd prefer if it stayed that way, at least for a while. They wouldn't understand, anyways... Iruka, I have to meet my team. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Fine..." Iruka let himself slip back into the crowd as Kurenai seemed to disappear. He stood silently, then turned around.
'But.. what if one of them dies, because I couldn't stop them...?' he thought, guilt already filling him. "It will be my fault..." he muttered, as he made his way to his house.
"I hate rude midgets... Makes me want to kill them..."
Sakura's eyes widened. They had just been playing, Konohamaru and his two friends, Sakura, and Naruto... but Konohamaru had run into a strange, unfamiliar ninja... He'd grabbed Konohamaru, and was staring at him, annoyance showing in his voice.
He couldn't be much older than they were, maybe a year or two. His face had a strange design of purple inks, points from the middle of each cheek and his forehead from under his hood, and from under his chin. Also, lines at the top of his eyes and around his mouth. His strange black hood, with weird cat ears of the same fabric attached, obscured any hair. The plate attached was of the Sand, that was what Sakura could tell. He wore black for the rest of his clothing: a shirt with a black and white circle, divided from the rest with a white border; black gloves; Black pants; and open-toed sandals. Hanging on his back was a large, long thing as tall as he was, wrapped in bandages except for brown fur or hair coming from the top.
He was backed by a taller girl, also a nin. Sakura would have scrunched her nose at the girl, if she wasn't so worried about Konohamaru. Her hair, all dry and uncared for, was pulled into four rough ponytails that sprung out behind her. She wore her sand headband around her neck loosely. Her clothing, an odd one-piece shirt/skirt ensemble of white material and some underlayers of fishnet, made Sakura want to scream. And she had some large metal thing strapped to her back. When her partner had picked up Konohamaru, she's admonished him, but not done anything beyond 'We'll get yelled at' to stop him.
"Hey, let him go!" Naruto yelled, pointing at him. "I'll beat you up!"
"Che, yeah right..." The nin said, looking ready to laugh. Naruto's hands curled into fists, as Sakura's eyes filled with worry. She looked at the two strong, strange ninja.
Suddenly the were both running forwards. The nin twisted, holding Konohamaru and still kicking Naruto's blocking hands. Naruto made a grab for Konohamaru that resulted in the nin kicking him again, sending him skidding back o where he'd stood minutes ago. Sakura, though, had jumped over him and her sword was out in a flash pointed to his back, prodding him as he stopped moving.
"Drop him..." Her voice, strong but hesitant, showed her doubts of her own strength.
WOOSH! The girl standing beside him had pulled open the metal thing on her back and made a wind to blow Sakura into the wall. A giant fan! Sakura slammed into the nearby wall as Naruto got up, swearing.
"Damn it..." Naruto muttered, looking at the ground, looking ready to go again. "Grabbing Konohamaru and knocking Sakura-chan over..."
As Naruto looked up, something struck the boy on his knuckle, causing him to shout a rude word and drop Konohamaru. A pebble dropped to the ground as Konohamaru ran over to Naruto. They all looked up.
"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura smiled and yelled.
"Another nuisance..." The girl muttered, stashing her fan on her back. A tinge of red flowed to her cheeks for a second,and then disappeared.
Sasuke was sitting on a tree branch, tossing a pebble up and down, glaring down at the group.
While Naruto and Konohamaru argued ("I believed in you, bro!" "I coulda beat him with my eyes closed!") and Sakura rubbed her back from the pain, Sasuke glared at the foreign, violent nin. Her started unraveling the package at his back, but his older companion grabbed his shoulder.
"Kankuro, don't be and idiot," she said, grabbing him and keeping him from moving.
"Where you going to use Karasu?"
A new voice invaded the area, a monotone similar to Sasuke's drone, but even less animated if possible. a boy had appeared, upside down, on a thicker tree branch of Sasuke's tree. Short red hair; dark, sleep-deprived eyes; strange clothing; another Sand headband, and a symbol on his forehead: Ai, the symbol for love.
"You're an embarrassment to our village."
Everyone, from Sakura to Naruto, to Sasuke to the Sand-nins themselves suddenly had a worried look. The veiled hostility was enormous, the aura stifling. 'That's sneakiness worthy of Kakashi-sensei...'
"Ga... Gaara..." The boy who'd attacked Konohamaru attempted a nervous smile, looking obviously afraid. Sakura wondered, 'What's behind all this...?'
"Getting yourself lost in a fight... How pathetic. Have you forgotten why we've come to this village in the first place?" The boy intoned dangerously.
"Listen, Gaara, they started it and-" The boy, apparently named Kankuro, looked completely spooked, not daring to move a muscle.
"Shut up... I'll kill you..." The boy with the red hair, Gaara, threatened. It was obvious he would follow through on his threat if provoked.
"Okay, I'm sorry..." Kankuro said, shivering.
"I'm also sorry, really sorry..." The girl added. Sakura wondered, the aura was dangerous, but not THAT dangerous - Sasuke could handle this kid. Was there something hidden underneath it that she couldn't sense, that he'd repressed?
"Sorry to you guys. It looks like we're here early, but we didn't come to play around with... genins." Gaara appeared between the other two in a swirl of sand.
Kankuro stepped back. "I know that..." he said quietly.
"Let's go," Gaara said, turning around and starting to walk away from the group. Sakura stepped forwards, now that she could see his face clearly.
"Ninjas of the Hidden Sand, right? That's what your headbands say," she said, making eye contact for a second, then breaking it immediately. 'He might take it as a challenge... and I couldn't fight him... But, just in case...'
"Genin from the Hidden Sand, here for the Chuunin Exam? Otherwise, unless you have a valid reason, we'll have to ask you... to leave," she said, breathing heavily.
"You're right, pinkie," The girl said, making Sakura grind her teeth in annoyance. "We're here for the chuunin Exam. Now, out of our way." Her hand flew to her fan, but she was interrupted as Sasuke jumped, landing neatly in front of Sakura.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"You mean me?" the girl asked, blushing. Sakura wasn't sure whether she'd be glad that Sasuke was finally taking an interest in a female and that she'd learn the older girl's name, or to be annoyed that the girl would be poaching on her Sasuke. Sakura moved to Sasuke's side to see their faces.
"No. The one with the gourd," Sasuke said, brushing the girl aside, leaving Sakura to sigh. Hadn't they stated the boy's name already?
"...Gaara of the Sand. I'm also interested in you. Your name?" The boy seemed mildly interesting. Sasuke grinned.
"It's Uchiha Sasuke," he said, as Sakura melted at his grin. He was so...
"What about me?" Naruto yelled, grinned. Gaara sighed, and turned around.
"Not interested. Let's go."
Naruto whined to Konohamaru as Sakura pondered her position. She'd been more successful than Naruto, but she'd been blown away so effortlessly, while that sand nin, Kankuro, had needed a bit of force to knock Naruto away from him.
"Ummm... Naruto, Sasuke..."
Her quiet voice was ignore as Sasuke left, and Naruto continued squabbling with Konohamaru. Sakura sighed, and left.
"Hey!" Kakashi grinned, waving to his students from a tree. The three stared up at him, clearly annoyed. "I got lost on the road of life-"
"LIAR!" Naruto yelled, pointing at Kakashi annoyedly. Kakashi shrugged and leapt down gracefully.
"Anyways... this is sort of sudden, but I've nominated you three for the Chuunin Exam-"
"YAHOO!" Naruto ran around, cheering. Kakashi sighed, and Sakura's eyes widened, and she grinned.
"When is it, sensei?" She asked him hopefully.
"Tomorrow- Naruto, get over here... Here are your applications." Kakashi held out three cards with writing on them, and his signature.
"Sensei, you're awesome!" Naruto jumped up on Kakashi, grinned, then dropped down and looked at his card, giggling.
"Now, that's just a nomination. Whether you want to go or not is your own choice. If you do, turn them in at room 301 on the day of the exam... Tomorrow," He said, and Sakura bristled.
"Why did you wait so long to tell us, sensei?" She asked, clearly annoyed.
Kakashi just smiled, said, "Missions are off today," and disappeared.
"Well, that was... sudden..." Sakura said, pocketing her application and smiling at Sasuke. "We'll do great, all of us, ne?"
Naruto was lost in visions of grandeur, apparently, and Sasuke just shrugged and left. Sakura sighed, wondering to herself whether Kakashi had looked at her on purpose when he said it was their choice whether to enter the exam or not...
Sakura stood at the edge of the Hokage Memorial, feeling the wind blow through her hair and looking out on the village. Everyone was moving, bustling around, and she felt such a love for her village. Everyone there, she felt, she should protect them as well as she could. But...
She looked down at the sword in her hand, closing her eyes biting back a tear, remembering everything that had happened, her path as a ninja, her path as a person, had been rocky. Not because she was stupid, or didn't master her clans skills (her parents were both non-ninja), but rather a difference in her ideology. Ino, Naruto, Tenten, Shikamaru, they'd been there for her ever since she was little, supporting her dreams to the fullest.
To think, such a small remark brought on such a different path in her life...
"Hey, Sakura-chan!" Naruto had said, kneeling down to the crying Sakura. "What's wrong, Sakura-chan?"
"Yeah, Sakura? This isn't like you..." Ino said, with concern in her voice. The two sat beside their friend as she smiled a little.
"I know all the jutsu, I know every rule of conduct, I know all the kunai trajectories and everything Iruka-sensei has told us... But, everyone's so much further than me! Kiba has Akamaru and his jutsu from his family, Ino, you have your family's jutsu's, Naruto is even better than me with making jutsu! You two are awesome... But I'm weak, I can't really fight..." Sakura had mumbled, then laughed a little. "Yeah, me, highest kunoichi of her year, can't beat5 a snail in a fight..."
"Oh, Sakura, I know you'd put up a good fight, that snail wouldn't beat you down that easily," Ino had said with a hint of humour in her voice. When Sakura looked at her, hurt, Ino had apologised. "It's just a joke.. Sakura, you gotta find something to focus on. You know, since your family aren't some big hotshot clan, right?"
"Hey, Tenten-san from the class above us uses weapons from far away! What about a close weapon?" Naruto suggested, with a hint of pride in his voice for having such a good idea.
Sakura looked confused. "What? Naruto, you don't make any sense! What do you mean, a close weapon?"
"I think he means close range, like an axe, or a staff, or..." Ino racked her mind for a suggestion.
"A sword, like the ANBU use!" Naruto had said, grinning. Sakura had nodded.
"That's a good idea, Naruto. Sasuke-kun will notice me if I get a sword!" She said, grinning.
"Oh... This was about Sasuke? Ick." Naruto had very specific feelings towards Sasuke, and most of them weren't very nice. Okay, all of them.
"Eugh, Naruto, would you stop complaining about Sasuke-kun?" Ino groaned as she whacked him over the head.
Sakura smiled as she remembered her Academy troubles. She'd always felt out of place in her class... Knowing everything, but being useless in a fight. She'd felt better after being on of the nine or so who's graduated of their final year's exam, but the mission in Wave Country had dented her ego.
She'd stood there as Sasuke almost died, stood there as Naruto and Kakashi fought. Their assignment was to protect Tazuna-san from bandits, a regular C-level mission that escalated to an 'A' after a very powerful missing-nin showed up to kill him. Momochi Zabuza and Haku, two powerful ninja of the Mist, had been under the employ of Gato, a powerful head of a corporation trying to completely control the Wave Country. Tazuna had been in charge of the bridge being built that would secure trading routes, making Gato significantly less powerful and saving their country.
Haku had pulled out a very powerful Bloodline technique, to turn control water and ice. His technique involved ice-mirrors, almost unbreakable. A circle of them had trapped Sasuke and Naruto inside, while he could (from Sasuke and Naruto's descriptions) make it seem like he was in all of them at the same time, then jump between them at hyper-speed to deliver shots with needles. If Sasuke's Sharingan hadn't developed, and Naruto hadn't suddenly pulled out an enormous amount of power, the two would have died. For a moment, Sakura had been convinced Sasuke was dead.
Kakashi-sensei had fought Zabuza, the older missing-nin, who was as powerful or more than Haku. He'd tried to kill Zabuza with a powerful jutsu, but Haku had sacrificed himself and died for Zabuza. Gato had come, trying to kill them all with a crowd of hired thugs, but Zabuza (with neither of his arms working) had borrowed one of Kakashi's kunai, rushed through the crowd, become a sword/spear pincushion, and killed Gato where he stood. Then, he'd returned to Haku's body and died beside him, while Kakashi, Naruto and the villagers scared the thugs away.
Note: In this fight, all Sakura had done was stand there and futilely attempted to protect Tazuna, while not coming to terms with the fact that she was the one who needed rescuing nine times out of ten, and that not matter how much she'd trained she was exactly like she was all that time ago and that having a sword didn't matter if you can't use it and-
"Woah, Sakura, stop thinking for a second, you're going to go insane..." she muttered, sighing. Now, she wondered whether she should bother with this Chuunin Exam. Heck, if they let her pass they should be charged as a criminal offense. There was no way she'd be ready for this.
Was she even cut out to be a ninja? She couldn't fight, her accuracy with a kunai couldn't hold up to her calculations anyways, and memorization of the ninja code could never save her life. Her parents had been constantly worried, even her ninja grandfather had shown his doubts...
"Sakura..." Her grandfather looked down at her with a disappointed tone. "I thought you knew better than this?"
"Than what, grandfather?" She'd asked, her eyes tearing up at his glare. He shook his head.
"You use this sword... You use it like a samurai, not like a ninja. To a ninja, a sword is merely a tool, like a kunai or a shuriken. A fool, a samurai, is the only type who uses a sword in place of jutsu, because he is ignorant of how to use them at all! A sword will always be inferior to a ninjas art, Sakura."
Sakura had cried for hours after that incident, but after had resolved that, with her sword skills, she would be a great ninja in spite of her lack of skill with jutsu, and capture Sasuke-kun's heart!
Had her future always depended of Sasuke? Yes... A little voice in Sakura's head whispered nastily, and she had to shake her head to dispel it. But it was right, after all. Yes, she'd joined the Academy before she'd known him, but he was the reason she'd used so many times to not drop out.
You're going to have to admit to yourself that Sauske doesn't even see you, Sakura. Will you still want to be a ninja after that? The voice whispered again, and Sakura couldn't dispel it this time.
Was she a ninja because of a goal she couldn't meet, a person she couldn't attain? Could she ever have a hope with Sasuke, and did it even matter? Being a ninja was more serious than one person, because it was sacrificing your life for one cause: Your village. 9 out of 10 ninja died because they were ninja, in situations based on their status as a ninja.
Did she really want that, for herself, for her family? It would be her fault if her children had to grow up motherless, pr never even have the chance to exist. Would she damn them to nonexistence over Sasuke?
No. Because her original reason was Sasuke, but now she had more to prove. She had decided, years ago, the day that her grandfather had rebuked her, that she would become a great ninja in spite of the fact her skills were in the area of sword fighting. She could beat most flat-out taijutsu users, and some jutsu hotshots as well.
She was not weak, she was not useless. She just needed to find her spot. Was she ready to give her life for her village? Yes.
But would she sacrifice Sasuke for her dream? No, because he was her dream. She would do her best to support his dreams, help him, keep him from self-destructing. Tenten had told her stories from Neji of Hyuuga prodigies who had committed suicide when their life had become too stressful. Too many disappointments, too many tragedies... They built up after time.
Haruno Sakura would die for her dream, because he was her dream and she would die for him at a moments notice, end of story. But she was also someone who fought this ideal, someone who wished to become great. Tenter's influence on her, steady but true, had meant a lot to her, changed her more than she was willing to admit. Tenten was her idol, the person she thought was a great role model: A girl who had a dream and followed through. Sakura wanted to follow this ideal.
Sakura turned around, sheathed her sword, and smiled. She'd need her sleep, tomorrow was the Chuunin Exam!
-End Chapter Five-
A/N: Hey! Sorry bout the chapter... A lot more Sakura, more taken-from-manga events and not enough Ino, and definitely not enough Naruto. Any of you out there dying of lack of Naruto? Don't worry, after three chapters Naruto will make his comeback. He is the main character of the series, ne? Next chapter: Teams 7 and 10, as well as 8 and Gai, head off to the Chuunin Exam!