A/N: Thanks to my beta, Kilerkki:)
Perhaps in some of the more well-adjusted teams there weren't any fights. Kakashi didn't know, since he was deeply involved in his own team's argument over who was the strongest and weakest. Yoshino-san had seemingly teleported into the middle of a heated argument with Ume-san over who was stronger in their team, which left Kakashi and Kai standing next to a group of Cloud nin who were shouting at each other about who would go first through the three doors on the other side of the room.
"Guess that means the brat goes last," said Masuyo casually, coming closer to where Kakashi and Kai were standing.
"I'm not the weakest here," said Kakashi in a low voice.
Masuyo made a show of looking around. "I don't see any other six-year old brats here."
"Exactly," said Kakashi, proud of his achievement.
Masuyo rolled his eyes. "Look. Maybe when you're older you'll be this fantastic ninja, but…"
"I'm the strongest here," said Kai suddenly. He was staring at the three doors on the other side of the room.
"Kai!" said Kakashi. He hadn't expected Kai to get involved.
Kai smiled. "Well, I think I'm the strongest." He turned to look at them both, and lowered his voice. "Not that it matters."
"What?" asked Masuyo.
"Amaya-sama said to divide our teams up from strongest to weakest, but she said nothing about sending the strongest through first."
Kakashi's eyes widened. He was ashamed he hadn't noticed. "She said nothing to indicate we shouldn't," he pointed out thoughtfully.
"Yet, we're being allowed to choose who goes through each door," said Kai. "Her rules were surprisingly unspecific."
"Why would they try to trick us?" asked Masuyo.
Kai shrugged. "Why not? This is the chuunin exam."
Kakashi tuned them out, thinking hard. The problem was that it didn't help to know that they were supposed to look beyond the actual rules because there were too many options. Any sort of test could be behind each door. They could all be ridiculously hard, or easy. The first door could be the hardest, or the last door, or the middle door. The doors could even all lead to the same place. Or maybe the tests changed every time. Judging by what she had said, Amaya-sama wanted them to send in their strongest fighters first, and those who didn't think about it would do so, but that didn't help unless they knew her goal.
Wait. They did know her goal. It was to fail as many genin as possible. Kakashi knew the final rounds of the exam only had around ten participants. Considering how many people there were in the room, the most efficient thing to do would be to eliminate the weak and unready at this early stage. So, if her goal was to eliminate the teams in this round, and she wanted the strong to go first…
"I'll go last," he offered into a break in Kai and Masuyo's rather heated discussion.
"Why?" demanded Masuyo, giving Kakashi a suspicious look. Kakashi tried to look innocent but had the feeling his innocent look wasn't working as well on the young man as it did on other adults.
"They'll be expecting us to send our weakest through last, and in their eyes he is the weakest," said Kai, looking pleased with the plan.
Kakashi avoided meeting his friend's eyes, as he realized he had forgotten his cover in the excitement of the exam. He vowed not to do it again, but was happy that it fit well with what he wanted to do.
"So who's going first then?" asked Masuyo, gesturing between himself and Kai. He and Kai stared at each other. For a moment, Kakashi thought neither of them was going to back down, but then Masuyo looked away. "Janken," he suggested. "Life's all about luck anyway."
Kai nodded. "Mmm."
"Ready," said Masuyo, and held up his fist. "Three, two, one."
Kai's hand was in a fist, while Masuyo's was flat, his steel rings shining dully in the light. Masuyo would go first.
While they were arguing, the other teams had been moving. Some were still gathered in tight knots of arguments, but the majority had lined up, a single man from each team, in front of a particular door. It was difficult to judge by sight alone, but the majority of the strongest nin did seem to be in the line for the left door which Amaya-sama was standing beside, already ushering them through at timed intervals. Kakashi was mildly surprised to see Arata from Saburou's team in that line, but a quick scan of the other lines and the stubborn expressions on the two girl's faces showed that it had been an unhappy compromise. He stared at Ume in the right-side line, who was fixing her bright orange hair into a tighter bun, and wondered if he was right.
If a team passes or fails based on their combined performance, then there's no point in testing the strongest. You go after the weakest member first. Even better if the team identifies their weakest member for you and leaves them alone for you to attack. Of course, the tests behind the doors might be equally hard, but then it wouldn't matter what order you went in, and Amaya-sama had been insistent in her own way. A glance at her face as she ushered the first line through revealed nothing but hard angles and a bitter twist to her lips.
"Good luck. You're going to need it," muttered Masuyo, and headed towards the first line. Kai left for the middle, so Kakashi took the right line. It didn't surprise him that the nin in front of him – a genin from Mist a few years older than Kai – looked like a competent fighter. A few other teams had to have figured it out, or perhaps they were strong enough that even their weakest fighters were strong. It occurred to him to look for the Stone team who had stalked him the day before, but they must have been near the front since they were nowhere to be seen.
Both the middle and right line were now moving, though the pacing was different for each, which told Kakashi that each test was probably unique depending on your door. He waited, impatiently going over his conclusions again for flaws. Occasionally, a Stone nin would appear and announce a team had failed. Those who were still in line looked angry at their team mate's failures, but any who refused to leave or who tried to argue were simply knocked out by a well-thrown needle from Amaya-sama. She really didn't like questions.
The first line was almost finished, which made Kakashi think he was right in thinking their test was quick and easy. Kai's line was almost as fast now that it had started moving. Another quick test. It was Kakashi's line that was worrisome. It moved in fits and starts with long pauses in between of varying length. An obstacle course?
Finally, it was his turn. He had watched Kai go through his own door minutes before. Kakashi was full of carefully hidden nervous energy as he was issued through his own door. Inside was a small room, and the Mist genin who had been in front of him was crouched in one corner. Kakashi scanned for obvious traps, but could spot none. A Stone jounin appeared near the opposite door with a quiet grace and regarded them blankly.
"You two will be fighting. You are welcome to forfeit now," he said kindly. "But once you pass through that door, one of you must kill the other in order to pass."
Kakashi could feel his whole body tense.
The Mist genin chuckled darkly. "Guess I chose the right door," he said, looking at Kakashi. Kakashi met his hard, amused eyes with a glare of his own, then abruptly looked away and let some of the adrenaline he was feeling sink into his body so that he was trembling slightly. He was supposed to be weak, and if the Mist nin thought he was, it would help him in the coming fight. Because there was no chance of him forfeiting here. He didn't care what he had to do.
"You can surrender," said the Stone jounin helpfully to Kakashi. He actually looked concerned. "Someone else will fight him." He indicated the Mist genin.
Kakashi shook his head no, not meeting the jounin's eyes. They would be watching this fight. He had to somehow defeat the other boy without giving away his skill level.
The Mist genin ran his hand through his dark, spiked hair and came away with an array of knives in his hand. He flourished them in front of him, and met Kakashi's eyes with a surprising blood lust. "I'm Onisawa Ren, and if you think I won't kill you because you're a kid, you're mistaken. In order to graduate the Academy, we Mist nin fight and kill our best friends." He laughed softly. "If I could kill him, I certainly won't have any trouble killing you."
"I'm Hatake Kakashi and−" What was it idiots said in these type of situations? "You don't scare me!"
The Stone jounin gave up. He gestured towards the door. "Get in there, and finish it quickly. We don't have all day." He was talking to Ren now, as if he'd blocked out that Kakashi ever existed.
Entering the room, Kakashi was struck by the smell of blood. The large room looked clean, but underneath the smell was fresh. Many had died here today. The weakest fighting the weakest, but with enough of the strong mixed in to guarantee a high failure rate. It wasn't what Kakashi would have chosen had he been in charge, but it was effective.
They both paced to the center of the room, with Kakashi keeping a wary eye on the older boy. He seemed to fight with knives, but those probably weren't his only trick.
"Begin," called out the Stone jounin from outside, and slammed his door shut. They were now alone in a wide, low room. It looked empty and bare, but there was no doubt they were being watched.
Predictably, Ren threw one of his knives to start the fight. Kakashi pretended to freeze for a second, then dove to the side at the last moment. He rolled, came up on his feet, and kept moving, keeping to the edges of the room and as far away from Ren as possible. He wanted Ren to think he was running away, scared.
Kakashi nearly missed the justu, but he caught the end of a hand seal out of the corner of his eye. When a cloud of knives came flying at him, he knew that some of them couldn't be real, but knowing that didn't matter in the end. A competent ninja would have used kawarimi to get away. Kakashi let his momentum carry him forward and crashed rather painfully into the floor as the storm of knives passed harmlessly over his body. Hopefully, it looked like he had tripped.
He reached out his right hand to grasp two of the knives as he got up. They were thrown at Ren, followed quickly by some of Kakashi's own shuriken. He had deliberately aimed them at outer body parts, knowing it would look like he had poor aim. His purpose was to see how well Ren dodged, and he learnt more than he expected. It was subtle, but Ren hadn't moved his leg quite far enough to dodge the last shuriken. The weapon should have cut through the bandages on his legs, maybe drawn blood, yet there was no sign of any injury.
Kakashi skidded backwards to avoid another set of knives, and stopped. Ren was talking, but he ignored it. The only explanation was that Ren wasn't really standing in the center of the room, and that meant that he was either in the walls, floor, or ceiling. Kakashi used bunshin to clone himself and sent the clone running off in the opposite direction. Ren wouldn't be fooled, but the point was to provide enough distraction for Kakashi to search for the real Ren. If he was hiding somewhere, there should be some sort of telltale – the knives had to be coming from somewhere and there were often other signs when a nin was trying to hide in such an enclosed space.
His bunshin was destroyed, and he spent a few minutes frantically avoiding knives with chakra threads attached before he spotted a faint shimmer on the ceiling in one of the corners. A closer look revealed it was an upside down puddle of water, which either meant there was a leak, or Ren was using a typical water jutsu to hide. There was no sign of a matching puddle on the floor, so it most likely was the latter. Seconds later he realized Ren was herding him in that general direction. Apparently, the Mist nin had gotten bored of playing.
He felt cold with the knowledge that he would only have one chance. Ren's bunshin would back him into the corner, while the real Ren descended from above. It would be better to avoid the trap, but if he took a risk, he could end this fight quickly and without revealing any more of his abilities than he already had. He let himself be led.
Ren's bunshin had stopped throwing knives, or rather, Ren had stopped making it look like the bunshin was throwing knives. The bunshin was approaching him instead, backing him even further into the corner. "This is the end," he said, and gave a low laugh. "At least I got in some knife practice."
Kakashi stared at him, his senses focused on the space above him. One chance.
Ren's bunshin took a step closer, and Kakashi moved as he felt a faint breeze ruffle his hair. He twisted around in place, then threw himself backwards, his eyes nearly crossing as he watched a large knife blade narrowly miss splitting his nose down the middle. If he hadn't moved, he'd have been split apart. The realization was enough to send an extra jolt of adrenaline through his body. He was alive, so it was time to finish this.
Flailing wildly, Kakashi grabbed onto the other boy's wrist as Kakashi hit the ground. That bent Ren over, making it easy for Kakashi to kick out hard against the other boy's shin and lean back even further. Ren's knife was dangerously close to Kakashi's face, but it was too late for Ren to compensate. He fell on top of Kakashi, and as he did, Kakashi pulled a kunai out of his sleeve, and pointed it up, letting gravity do the work of driving it through Ren's ribs and into his heart.
Ren's full weight crashed into him, the handle of the kunai digging mercilessly into his own chest. He winced as the knife in Ren's hand managed to score his neck before Ren went limp. And that was it. He concentrated on breathing, and tried not to think too much about the fresh smell of blood, or the warm, liquid spot that was spreading across his chest.
It was his first time killing someone, but that shouldn't make a difference. He had to be strong. He pushed at the other boy's heavy body, but couldn't get it to budge. Kakashi stared at the ceiling, blinking quickly. He wasn't even strong enough to move Ren's body.
"Looks like you win," said a voice he recognized. It was the concerned Stone jounin from before. Ren's body was pulled off him. "It was good to see you recover after running scared. You've got good reflexes at least." The words would have been more reassuring if the Stone jounin hadn't turned Ren's empty face to face the jounin's. "And you. You shouldn't have given the kid a chance to get lucky. Tsk tsk." He shook his head, then tucked the body under his arm, and walked away. "Door's open," he called over his shoulder. His form blurred, and he disappeared, leaving Kakashi staring after him. He wasn't sure if it was scary or comforting that jounin everywhere seemed to be insane.
He headed for the door that had appeared opposite the one they had entered, wondering vaguely if they had hidden it with genjutsu during the fight or if he had been too focused to notice. Now that it was done, he really didn't want to face his teammates, or anyone else, but he forced himself to push open the door and walk calmly into the next room.
There was silence as the room full of genin stared at him. Those who had already passed through the first two doors were waiting anxiously to see how their third team member would determine their fate. Kakashi ignored them to focus on the Stone nin behind the desk next to the door.
"Name?" she asked.
She checked through her papers. "Team Namikaze passes! Team Myuki fails!"
Kakashi turned back toward the rest of the room, expecting to see Kai and Masuyo waiting for him, but instead it was a genin from Mist. "You fought Ren-san?" he demanded, towering over Kakashi.
"Ren-san made a mistake," said Kakashi tiredly, and pushed past him. He had to get the blood off before it dried.
"Kakashi!" That was Masuyo, and he felt a wire around his waist, jerking him forward. A fist passed harmlessly over where his head had been, and suddenly, both Masuyo and Kai were standing beside him. They stared defiantly at the two Mist genin who had accosted him.
"There's no way Ren-san lost to a kid like that," sneered the taller one.
"But he did," said Kai. The other Mist genin snarled and started to move, but the tall one stopped him.
"Stop protecting him then. If he killed Ren, then he can certainly take us," he said.
Kakashi probably couldn't, not two on one. He wasn't strong enough yet, and even if he wasn't, he was supposed to be weak. "Leave me alone," he said with surprising feeling, hating this mission for what it was making him do.
"Hey! No fighting. Those of you who failed get out of here," snapped the Stone nin from behind her desk. For a second, the Mist genin looked like they would disobey, but then they pushed off through the small crowd that had formed.
"Thanks," said Kakashi to both his teammates. "Where's the bathroom?"
Masuyo shrugged, not meeting Kakashi's eyes, but Kai pointed him towards a nearby door and followed him there.
Once inside, Kakashi staked out one of the sinks and began methodically stripping off any piece of clothing that had blood on it. The blood should come off easily at this stage. His clothes would be wet for the next part of the test, but it was better to have wet clothes than ones that reeked of blood.
"You all right?" asked Kai, watching him wash.
Kakashi left the clothes to soak for a moment, and went over to another sink to wash the blood off his face. At least none had gotten in his hair. He considered Kai's question as he cleaned. His weapons would need to be cleaned too. He winced as he pressed too hard at the already bruising spot on his chest from where the kunai handle had dug in.
"It wasn't what I expected," he said. "What was your door like?"
"Simple genjutsu. Masuyo didn't even get tested. They just had them walk through to the end, then told them what was going to happen with the rest of their teammates. He was pretty worried by the time I came through."
"It's a good test," said Kakashi. "It's guaranteed to remove over half the participants one way or another." He splashed water on his face again, even though it was clean, then used his med kit to treat the small cut on his neck.
"You knew," said Kai.
Kakashi moved back to the sink with his clothing and turned the faucet to hot. "Something like that."
"So you were stupid enough to go through instead of letting your older, stronger teammates handle it?"
Kakashi glared at his friend. Kai had never spoken to him this way before. "That line was for the weakest," he pointed out. He didn't want to talk about this anymore. They were both skirting around the issue of his other mission too much, and who knew if the Stone nin were listening. "You said it was a good idea."
"Hmm," said Kai, and wandered over to use the urinal. Kakashi finished his washing and switched to cleaning and drying any weapons that had gotten wet, while Kai took up a relaxed guard near the door. Wringing the fabric out as much as he was able, Kakashi sniffed the cloth to make sure the blood was gone. It still smelled faintly of iron, but Kakashi suspected that was the water, and pulled the wet, clingy fabric back on. He headed for the door.
His hand was on the handle when Kai spoke.
"I've killed three nin since I became a genin. It's stupid."
Kakashi looked at his friend, unable to speak and wondering just what his face was telling Kai. He nodded, then pulled the door open. He let Kai go first since the older boy was so determined to act as his bodyguard. The first exam was nearly over and there would be no time to think if they wanted to survive the second part. Still, he couldn't help but wonder if he was stronger or weaker than he had been when he started.
Next chapter: Fun with Yondaime:)
A/N: Out of curiosity, how did everyone like the first part of the exam?