AN: Hey! It's the chapter the SasuSaku fans have been anticipating – the SasuSaku special! I hope I do justice with it – it's been a long time since I wrote a chapter that's dedicated SasuSaku. Of course, it's not just them either – there are a couple of other matches that are important to this story as well. There are two matches between two pairs of OCs – why this is important will be explained as the chapter flows. For those who might want to skip these matches just because they're OCs, be warned: some important plot details are going to be revealed in those bits of storyline, so you might miss them.

It's already February, and I know I promised to have it in before December ended. But like I've been saying quite oftener, real life gets in the way a lot. I have a feeling this is going to be shorter than the last two chapters I've churned out, though – there are only three matches, and no sidestories whatsoever. But I'll try to put in a lot of commentary to lengthen it a bit. Gasp! You found out about my technique! – faint -

Thanks for the reviews, by the way! I'm really relieved that you found the fight scenes okay. I hope it's the case for this chapter as well. Please continue supporting me! – bows -

Chapter 24:

SasuSaku Special – A Combo Is Born!

The crowd buzzed in anticipation, masking the conversation of the hidden ones overhead. "What did you think of the Kyuubi jinchuuriki's battle, sempai?" Tobi asked enthusiastically. "He was pretty skillful and flexible with taijutsu, wasn't he?"

"Che," Deidara muttered, still remembering how badly he had been beaten the last time he had encountered Naruto, who was with Kakashi at that time. "He's not that special, hn."

"Still – that wasn't his full power yet, was it?" Kisame asked. His sharp teeth glinted when he grinned. "It'll be wonderful to see what kind of power he can draw with the Kyuubi inside him. It's fascinating. I can almost feel my Samehada eating up the power…"

"The Nibi girl was also remarkable, hn," Deidara said, nodding. "That was excellent puppetry, though she didn't bring out the Nibi's power at all. We have yet to see her draw strength from it, hn. It'll be a challenge trying to capture her."

"Let us focus on the next match," Itachi reminded them. "It's the Hachibi jinchuuriki's turn now, and it seems he will be showing us a glimpse of what his tailed demon can do."

Meanwhile, on the Kage viewing deck, Tsunade was ecstatic about the results of the previous battle. "Naruto did excellently, wouldn't you say, Gaara-dono?" she asked the jade-eyed young Kage enthusiastically.

He nodded. "I've always known him to surpass expectations."

"It's times like these when I feel confident I can leave him my title as Hokage," Tsunade said, smiling proudly.

"But isn't he a jinchuuriki?" Tsunade heard the Tsuchikage mutter under his breath.

"Do you mean something by that, Tsuchikage-dono?" Gaara asked quietly, politely tilting his head.

"A-ah, no," the Tsuchikage amended. "I merely thought… ah, never mind."

Even now, the term jinchuuriki still sounds ominous to most, Tsunade said to herself. But Gaara and Naruto are going to change that, in the near future. I'm counting on them. They have the power to change the world.

Down on the stands, sitting in a row, were the four jounin teachers. "The youngsters have shown excellent skills so far," Asuma said positively. "I'm pretty proud of the way my group turned out."

"So am I," Kurenai agreed, nodding. "Hinata, especially. She was the one I was worried about the most, but it looks like she's bloomed into an excellent kunoichi. And though Shino and Kiba lost, they showed great skill nevertheless – I don't regret being their jounin teacher at all."

"My Lee and Tenten let their youthful awesomeness burst forth!" Gai exclaimed, proud tears running down his cheeks. "As expected of them – they will become jounins, and my students shall all be on even footing with me, letting us bask equally in the sunset of glory!"

Kurenai laughed sheepishly at this declaration. Kakashi merely shook his head. "Even if my students make jounin this year, I doubt they'll be on even footing with me any time soon. They still have a long ways to go."

"That's pretty harsh, Kakashi," Asuma commented, laughing.

The white-haired Copy Ninja merely shrugged. "The three of them are aiming for some pretty high ambitions, especially that Naruto. I can't say that they haven't improved since I first started teaching them, though – I have to admit that, in some ways, they've equaled me or surpassed me. Naruto really surprised me with that last battle, though. It's good to see him take the lead like that, and be good at it. He's grown up a lot. Now I just want to see how Sasuke and Sakura are going to measure up."

"Let the sixth match… begin!"

Those two Glass nin don't look quite so ordinary, Sasuke thought, observing the Glass nin who were in the stadium, facing the two Cloud nin. I've never seen a face that arrogant on a Glass nin's face before, in the previous matches. He drew his dark eyes towards the smirking brunet nin, and frowned a bit. There's an odd feeling about him. Something… that I might have found in the Sound. I can't put my finger on it though…

"That Hokujo Bokun sure is something," Sakura said under her breath.

"Hm?" Sasuke grunted by way of asking.

"You've heard of him, haven't you?" Sakura asked.

"Not really."

"Well, Hokujo Bokun is a powerful nin from the village of Hidden Glass," Sakura explained. "The Hidden Glass village has been falling apart since a few years ago, since around the war. Their village elders thought that if they gained a powerful tailed demon, they would rise above the Five Great Shinobi Countries. Of course, it didn't happen that way. It's unknown if they really ever acquired a tailed demon, but they've only fallen into deeper troubles since."

"And what does that have to do with Hokujo Bokun?" Sasuke pressed.

"I heard that he was supposed to be a candidate for jinchuuriki when he was conceived," Sakura replied. "He's rumored to be really powerful, though, jinchuuriki or not –but this power of his made him pretty arrogant. Kind of like someone I know," the medic added, grinning at Sasuke, who merely snorted derisively. "Anyway, it's this arrogance that sort of contributed to their village's downfall. He's so arrogant, that when he's sent to other ninja villages as a bodyguard to ambassadors who will forge treaties for Hidden Glass, he always manages to ruin it with his enormous amount of pride. But rumor has it that Hidden Glass can't do anything about it, because of his tendency to go berserk. It goes to show how low the Hidden Glass village has fallen. They can't even control their own ninja."

"So I'm guessing a smack to his pride will make him go berserk?" Sasuke asked. Sakura nodded. "Figures. It's looking to be dangerous for those two Cloud nin."

On the other viewing deck, Akai and Midori were watching over their male cousins, now fully healed after their match with Kiba and Shino. "Aoi-nii and Shiro-nii have been training for this exam for a long time," Midori said enthusiastically. "I hope they win!"

"They're bound to," Akai said confidently. "I've watched them train – no one has a better tag-team tandem than they do. They don't suck individually, either. They've got this exam covered."

"Go, Aoi-nii, Shiro-nii!" Midori cheered, waving her right arm up and down. "You beat those guys!"

Aoi and Shiro grinned at each other, then waved at their cousins. Bokun made an impatient noise. Before he could blink, though, the two Cloud nins had started their attack. Aoi, a blue-haired nin, began his attack with quick cat-like moves, his fingers tipped with sharp steel. He wore several bells around his waist, creating a dizzying ringing sound around the two Glass nin as he moved swiftly. Before the two Glass nin could formulate a counter attack, Aoi attacked them with agile, lightning quick moves, scratching them in their faces and chests. The only action Bokun and Dangan could seem to take were to block these attacks, so that only their arms were injured.

Before the two of them could recover, Shiro had jumped in for a new attack, his two tabby cats leaping into action with him. The white-blond nin attacked Bokun with agile punches an kicks, to which the brunet responded to with blocks with his arms, while the two tabby cats attacked Dangan, one biting his ankles and the other trying to reach over and scratch his eyes. The raven-haired nin flailed around, trying to get the cats off him, but they had a firm hold on him and refused to let go.

"The advantage of having small animals like cats to be battle partners is rather large," a voice behind Ino and Chouji said.

"Ah, Shino, you're back!" Naruto exclaimed.

"I wasn't too injured," Shino explained. Kiba came in after him, looking nearly as good as his dark glasses-donning teammate.

"Oh, Kiba-kun, you're all right as well?" Hinata asked, her eyes full of concern.

"Eh, they healed me up as best as they could," Kiba said, shrugging. "The service here is great! Konoha doesn't heal like this – to 100-percent efficiency, that is."

Sakura gave him a dark scowl, to which he cringed. "Konoha medics don't heal you to 100-percent because they need their chakra to heal other people, given that we have a lot more nins going through our hospital," she shot at him. "Besides, we let the natural healing process take place in your body as well, or else your body will become resistant to healing techniques."

Urgh, I forgot that Sakura is a hospital crew member, Kiba thought, grimacing.

"Besides, Kiba-kun," Hinata added good-naturedly, "they heal you 100-percent here because you might get to move on to the next part of the exams, the one-on-one. They need you in tip-top shape, after all – that's what our senseis keep saying."

"Anyway, Shino, why did you say that cats are an advantage?" Naruto piped up.

"They're small animals, so the enemy tends to underestimate them," Shino explained as they continued watching the battle between the Glass and Cloud nins. "And the fact that they're small lets them get under the guard of their opponent." Naruto nodded at the explanation.

Finally, Dangan managed to drive the cats away by slashing at them with kunai – they let go of him and he jumped away from them. As he was in mid-air, he threw small bombs at Shiro, driving him away from Bokun. Aoi and Shiro regrouped at one side of the stadium, while Bokun and Dangan went to the other.

"I don't need your help, Dangan," Bokun hissed.

"This is a teamwork exam, Bokun," Dangan reasoned. "I'm supposedto help you!"

"You help me by taking care of the other opponent," Bokun muttered harshly. "Keep that one busy, while I take this one out."

Dangan didn't like it, but who was he to refuse? "Got it," was all he said in reply.

The two rushed into battle again, but the Nekotachi nin were alert and rushed headlong into the skirmish as well. Aoi and Shiro, seeming to sense that Bokun was the more powerful one, went to gang up on him, while Shiro ordered his cats to take Dangan on.

"Use your agility to dodge his bombs," he ordered the cats, who nodded before jumping into battle with Dangan.

"Here comes one of their deadly combos," Akai observed, leaning against the railing with a smirk.

"The Glass nin are done for," Midori agreed. "Go, Shiro-nii, Aoi-nii!"

Shiro used his speedy cat-like taijutsu on Bokun again, effectively breaking his defenses. He swiped his own steel-tipped fingers at the raven-haired Glass nin, effectively breaking the skin on the chest. Bokun aimed a heavy-handed punch at Shiro, but the Cloud nin merely ducked under his outstretched arm and swung his leg to knock Bokun's feet off the ground. Bokun tripped, but he managed to gain his bearings and flipped in the air before he could fall on the floor.

He landed two meters away from Shiro. But before he could do much else, Aoi threw several kunai, which were tainted with paralysis poison, at him. The dark-haired Glass nin deflected the rain of kunai with several shuriken of his own, but a kunai managed to slice him across his shoulder, making him wince.

"Bokun!" Dangan yelled, still busy with the ninja felines. Crap – I have to get to him before he…

Bokun tried to widen his eyes, but he looked a little punch-drunk. That didn't stop Aoi and Shiro from attacking him, though. Shiro dived for another attack, kicking and punching, and Bokun's sluggish movements weren't enough to defend against them. Shiro flipped away, and Aoi went in for the offensive again, until Bokun slumped to the ground, nearly defeated.

"This match is over," Tenten commented, leaning over on the rail. "This match is going to the Nekotachi duo." However, beside her, Neji narrowed his eyes in scrutiny.

"I-I'm… not so sure…" Hinata piped up softly, leaning against the rail as well. "There's an odd flux in that cocky one's chakra system."

"Odd flux?" Kiba asked. "What does that mean?"

"I can't describe it either," Hinata confessed. "It just looks… unstable."

"Will it affect the match?" Sakura asked.

"It should," Sasuke replied. "You've seen it happen. Me and Naruto, remember?" The Konoha shinobi surrounding him all frowned. They knew how chaotic those encounters were.

They turned their attention to the fighters below. Shiro and Aoi were poised to give their final blows, placing themselves a few meters from the struggling Bokun. Dangan threw one cat off, and slashed the other one with a kunai. "Bokun!" he yelled again, rushing towards the slumped over Glass nin. The two Nekotachi shinobi then leapt into action for the final blows.

"It's over!" Akai exclaimed happily.

But then, Midori gasped in horror. "L-look!"

As Aoi and Shiro were in midair, a sudden wave of energy surrounded Bokun, completely throwing them off course. Shiro toppled towards the floor, while Aoi barely managed to not get slammed on the wall. "What the hell…?" the blue-haired nin muttered.

Tsunade chanced a glance at the seats in the box below them. Sitting in the box were the Kages of lesser villages. Among them was who she knew to be the Kage of the Hidden Glass. He looked calm, but there was no mistaking the anticipation in the way he leaned forward to see what was going to happen to Bokun. Whatever you're planning for today, Tsunade thought disdainfully, it's a hundred years too early. Whatever invasion you're planning isn't going to work.

But that didn't seem to be the concern of that particular Kage right now – Bokun was. They said he was powerful, Tsunade thought to herself. I wonder by how much…

Bokun was getting up, slowly, his expression dark and oozing with malice. Dangan gritted his teeth and muttered a few choice curses under his breath. "I was too late – this is going to be dangerous."

Shiro's face turned grim. "That Bokun fellow is too dangerous to take down," he said quietly. "Let's take his partner down instead, before he decides to take us down." Aoi nodded in agreement. They leapt into action, aiming for Dangan, who readied himself for the onslaught.

Of course, the Glass nin thought, not that it's coming.

Before Shiro and Aoi could get a meter within Dangan's radius, they were forcefully knocked away by a blur. Aoi hit his head on a wall, blood trickling down his forehead, while Shiro was able to get up, though, he felt as though he had fractured a rib. And standing a meter in front of Dangan, radiating a kind of dark blue energy, was Bokun, his face murderous.

"Whatis that chakra?" the Mizukage said under his breath. "It couldn't be…"

It's exactly what it is, Tsunade said, frowning deeply. In the corner of her eye, she could see Gaara's face twitch a bit. It's a tailed demon's chakra.

"There it is, it's coming!" Tobi said excitedly, clapping his hands. "Isn't this exciting, Deidara-sempai?"

"Yeah, yeah, hush," Deidara said impatiently. "I want to know what happens next."

Bokun faced Shiro and Aoi, who had regrouped at the other end of the stadium, evaluating their opponent. "So why are you playing with small fry," he indicated Dangan, "when you could play with me?" The Nekotachi pair tried their best not to show their fear. Bokun's face turned feral, and the audience could have sworn that he had suddenly grown fangs. "ARE YOU UNDERESTIMATING ME!?"

Before anyone, even the agile Nekotachi two, could react, Bokun had raced towards their end of the stadium, appearing before them to attack. He took Aoi by the collar, threw him in the air, and slammed his elbow down into the blue-haired nin's gut. "You were the one who poisoned me, "Bokun seethed. "Now, how does it feel to be defenseless!?"

"Aoi!" Shiro exclaimed, jumping up to help his brother. However, it was to no avail, because Aoi was slammed into the floor. As Shiro was in mid-air, Bokun met him. The white-blond nin's eyes widened as Bokun grinned malevolently at him. He couldn't dodge in air, but he tried to block Bokun's oncoming punch. It was to no avail, as even Shiro's arm guards were no match for Bokun's powerful blows. At the last blow, Shiro hurtled to the ground as well, shards of his broken arm guards digging into his skin.

That guy isn't normal at all! Aoi thought, straining to stand up. How can he move with the paralysis potion in his system, and how can he release such dangerous chakra?! Could it be… he's just like what Midori is?

The Nekotachi boys tried to stand up again, as everyone watched nervously. Bokun was not done yet, however. He proceeded to attack Aoi and Shiro, who couldn't evade or block his attacks anymore, as the blows came with a strength that their defenses couldn't withstand.

"Aoi-nii! Shiro-nii!" Midori yelled worriedly. "Oi, you! That's enough!"

"The match has to be stopped," Tsunade said curtly as the crowd roared.

"Stop the match!" the Yamakage yelled to the stunned Gem nin referee. "Stop it!"

Several Gem jounin went on the scene, along with the referee, to restrain Bokun from beating Aoi and Shiro to within an inch of their lives. "Stop! Stop!" the referee yelled.

"Wait!" Dangan shouted, rushing forward. The Gem jounin looked at him. "Ican stop him. This is what I'm here for. This is still our match – please don't interfere." The crowd of Gem jounin let him pass, and he took out a paper seal. Putting together a few hand seals and then molding chakra, he leapt to where Bokun was still pummeling Aoi and Shiro. His momentum was slowing down, and the two Cloud nins were able to block out his attacks better, though they looked worse for wear.

As Bokun was still preoccupied with trying to get in more attacks, Dangan had jumped in and stamped the seal on Bokun's forehead. A long silence followed – the entire stadium fell into a hushed murmur, as they waited to see what would happen.

Finally, the dark-haired Glass nin fell on his knees, suddenly placated. The Gem jounin retreated to their previous stations, and the referee looked at the two sides of the battle. On one hand, Aoi, who had gotten the brunt of Bokun's force, was unconscious, while Shiro was heavily bruised and wounded. On the other hand, Bokun was nearly unconscious, but still blinking a little dazedly from the power of the paper seal on his forehead, while his partner, Dangan, was relatively unscathed, save for the scratches and bite marks from the Nekotachi's tabby cats.

The Gem referee shook his head. They don't pay me enough for this."Winner of this match – Hokujo Bokun, and Dangan, of the Hidden Glass!"

The crowd burst into loud conversations once more. "Was that right? Was that supposed to happen?" Naruto asked, confused. "Those cat dudes had great teamwork! Aren't they supposed to be judged through teamwork?"

"But they lost, even with that teamwork," Ino said, tearing her eyes off from watching the Nekotachi duo being brought by Gem medics out of the stadium. "I suppose the judges are keeping the teamwork as separate criterion. Winning is apparently a different factor."

"It was sort of teamwork as well, when that guy restrained Bokun from killing those Cloud nin," Sasuke commented.

"But still!" Tenten exclaimed. "It… It just doesn't feel right awarding them the match!"

"All's fair in love and war," Shino said quietly. "The decision is final and irreversible. We'll just have to see what happens in the one-on-one matches."

The Konoha nins agreed with nods. Soon, the battlefield was cleared for the seventh match of the day. Tsunade glanced at the diagram on the giant screen and frowned. Another two Sound nins – Taido and Juugo. She bit her glossy lips. From what I've heard, Juugo was the one with the Curse Seal who attacked Sasuke and the others last night, while Taido is…

Her train of thought broke as she caught someone's eye, way across the stadium, skulking in a corner, obscured in darkness. His thin mouth twitched to another small smirk, but Tsunade stared back defiantly, her fingernails digging into her skin.

Orochimaru was not seated in the place of honor, where all the Kages from the different participating villages were seated. He was not respected as Otokage, for everyone knew of his status as an S-Rank missing nin. But as long as they were observing the Jounin Exams, no one would be able to touch him. It was all part of the Jounin Exam treaty, and she cursed herself for agreeing to those terms. But if she hadn't, it would not bode well for the status of Konoha.

That was why Tsunade felt frustrated. She was close – so close ­– to the target of her wrath, but right now, he was protected by something more than physical force. He was protected by law –the very force he had broken when he left Konoha – and Tsunade's adherence of it.

She sighed – no good would come from worrying about Orochimaru. She would deal with him when time came, but as of the moment, the Jounin Exams were more important. She put her attention back to the two Sound nins, and their opponents, which were another pair of Glass nins.

"You're enjoying this," a white-haired nin beside Orochimaru commented. "Tsunade-hime squirming like that… it's like a treat for you, is it not?"

An amused smile crept up the Snake Sannin's face, as he regarded his assistant. "You know me too well, Kabuto," he said silkily. "It's rare I ever get to see the famous Tsunade-hime, and even rarer to see lose composure like that. I'm positively ecstatic at the chance."

"It's Taido-kun's match that's next," Kabuto said, prompting.

"Ah, yes, that Taido-kun," Orochimaru said, nodding as Juugo and Taido made their way to the battlefield. "His eyes aren't quite as useful as the Sharingan, but his clan's eyes, the Shakugan (1), can do multitudes of mind-altering things as well. If we should fail to retrieve Sasuke-kun again, he will be the replacement. He's strong, nearly as strong as Sasuke-kun, and he will serve his purpose well.'

"The fact that he's unquestioningly loyal to you is an advantage as well," Kabuto added. "He has not run away, not once, unlike Sasuke-kun."

"But if everything goes right," Orochimaru said, a vicious grin spreading on his mouth again, "we can change that."

Taido and Juugo made ready to get into the arena, but a white hand with long, red fingernails clasped onto Taido's upper arm. "What is it now, Tsubame?" Taido asked, his face as indifferent as always. Their jounin guide snapped her large red-and-gold fan close.

"There will be a moment in time when you'll have to control Juugo," she said quietly. "Have you worked out what you will do for that?"

Taido pried off Tsubame's hand. "I've got it." With that, the conversation was over, and the two Sound nin jumped into the stadium to face their opponents.

"Let the seventh match… begin!"

"It's started!" Chouji exclaimed.

"That nin's the one we fought in the hedge maze," Naruto pointed to Juugo. "The heavy-set one."

"And his companion was one of persons I met in the labyrinth," Sasuke added quietly. "I don't think he showed me any real skill back in the labyrinth, but we shall see what he can do now."

Juugo and Taido's opponents were two Glass nin – a bulky six-footer with heavy metal shackles on his wrists, and a small nin with monkey-esque features, sitting on the huge one's shoulder.

The fight began. The bulky Glass nin molded his chakra into his shackles, and punched the ground, using the shackles as amplifiers and making the ground quake. Juugo and Taido jump into the air to avoid the debris that came flying as a result of the ground breakage.

The small Glass nin jumped and did a few seals, creating glass swallows aimed at Taido, while the large Glass nin, quick for his size, ran towards Juugo to ram him in. As Taido ducked and flexed, weaving through the glass swallows effectively. Juugo, on the other hand, was having a hard time keeping up with his opponent, with whom he was engaged in heavy taijutsu in. Aside from the sheer power that the Glass nin packed in his punches, glass shards seemed to appear at the end of his punches, which was double jeopardy for the auburn-haired Sound nin.

The heavy Glass nin gave Juugo a solid left hook, followed up by a full punch in the gut. He flipped away, clutching the sore part, and the Glass nin ran to him again, aiming another solid fist at him, this time at the face. He ducked under the glass-tipped punch, just missing it by a hairsbreadth. He threw a punch of his own at the Glass nin's gut, but the larger nin didn't even seemed to be fazed – his rock-solid body was so hard that Juugo had to recoil after the punch, his fist sore.

The heavy-handed taijutsu battle continued, the huge Glass nin on the offensive, Juugo on the defensive. Meanwhile, Taido was still dodging the small Glass nin's attacks – this particular Glass nin seemed particularly adept at creating animal figures with glass. For the past minute, he had been chasing Taido around with deadly flocks of glass swallows, or else, glass renditions of deadly predatory creatures, which Taido had been deflecting using taijutsu or defensive ninjutsu, but he had yet to hurt his opponent. They were currently even.

The glass nin leapt into the air again, and created another speedy, but bigger flock of swallows directed at Taido. He flipped backwards out of the way, creating an earth barrier to block the last barrage, but as he leapt backward, a huge glass tiger came towards him, baring its teeth. He barely twisted out of harm's way, gaining a large gash on his side for his effort.

Gaara leaned forward, completely engrossed with the battles. There were very few instances when he, or anyone, for that matter, could actually see what was going on, but the scenes he actually saw made up for it. Those two pairs of nins are quite skilled, he observed. The Sound needs some refinement on their part, but on the whole, everything's even as of now.

"I'm putting my money on that Taido guy," Temari announced to Kankuro. "He made an examiner faint in the exam before."

"I'm betting that Taido finishes everything in less than 10 minutes," Kankuro said.

"I bet you 150 ryo that he's done in 5 minutes," Temari replied.

"You're on!" Kankuro exclaimed, grinning.

Juugo's face contorted with frustration as he continued battling the bulky Glass nin. He couldn't get a good hit in at all. Besides that, he was not only fighting with the Glass nin as of the moment – he was also fighting the rising urge to let the Curse Seal take control of him. It seems he could not defeat this opponent without a power-up, yet he could not suppress the sick feeling in his stomach that he may, again, needlessly kill someone.

As he dodged an incoming punch from the Glass nin, he caught Taido's eye. There was a glint in them he couldn't accurately describe – but it was though it was reassuring him that things were going to be all right, that he could draw upon his accursed power. The bloodlust rose quicker than ever. His pupils dilated, and his heart rate rose. It was coming.

And suddenly, he couldn't control it. He was slowly losing himself, and slowly, physical manifestations of the Curse Seal began appearing. As the Glass nin aimed another punch to his gut, he found that he could and stop the punch with his bare hands. The Glass nin's eyes widened, and Juugo let out a feral snarl, beginning his rampage.

Taido's smirk was bland, but there was an unmistakable malice in it. The tide was turning in their favor.

"That's the Curse Seal!" Kiba exclaimed, pointing to Juugo. "He even has it worse than Sasuke!"

"I really pity that Juugo's opponent now," Naruto said, grimacing.

"It won't be very good for those Glass nin," Ino said, shaking her head. "They might as well give it up."

Before the huge Glass nin could even draw a breath, Juugo began aiming heavy but quick punches at him, catching every vital area effectively. Though the Glass nin was protected by his hulk of a body, the stress brought on by continued hits was taking its toll. He managed to block a high kick towards his cranium, but failed to see the follow-up punch in the face, which sent him flying.

The Glass nin wasn't one to give up so easily, though. He punched the floor, sending Juugo flying with the impact, and leapt towards the Sound nin to serve another round of glass-ended punches. He got a few hits in, but Juugo managed to deflect anything potentially fatal. The match was becoming uneven in favor of Juugo, who still had a feral expression on his face, snarling like an angered beast. The Glass nin's rhythm finally broke, and Juugo threw his own barrage of fists, effectively hitting more vital spots than the Glass nin could have ever managed.

The smaller Glass nin, in the meantime, grew apprehensive about the state his teammate was in. Instead of direction another glass animal – a bull, this time – at Taido, he re-molded his chakra to aim the glass animal at Juugo. Thinking quickly, Taido leapt backwards, slammed his palm the ground, and made large ten-foot phalluses emerge from the ground, destroying the bull on impact.

"Your opponent," Taido stated quietly, "is me."

And with a speed that hadn't been apparent earlier in the match, he sped towards the smaller Glass nin, burying an upward punch into his gut. It sank in there for a fraction of a second, then the impact sent him flying into the air. Taido brought out several shuriken and aimed it at the Glass nin in midair, where he couldn't dodge. He could only protect his vitals from being hit. While he was still falling, he managed to shrug off the sharp metal stars from his person and molded his chakra.

A bear came rushing from Taido's behind, coming in to ram into him. Taido molded his chakra, and before the bear could reach him, a full gravel wall sprang from the ground, where the glass bear rammed into, shattering into pieces.

But the Glass nin was nearly as quick as Taido. Just as the bear broke into shards of glass, he managed to mold his chakra again and reformed the shards in midair, turning them into sharp-beaked swallows once more. They flew towards Taido, chasing him even as he tried to evade them. What was more was that the slim Glass nin created a second flock, so that the glass birds surrounded him in all directions.

The Glass nin smirked, thinking that he had the upper hand. He met Taido's silver blue eyes, briefly.

He was dazed for a microsecond, the formation of glass swallows fluctuating slightly. Then, to everyone's shock, the glass swallows turned from Taido and aimed from their progenitor – the small Glass nin – instead.

"That's cruel!" Hinata squeaked, shutting her eyes and hiding behind her hands.

"That's the way it is," Shino said, putting an arm around the midnight-haired girl. "It can't be helped."

Those eyes are frightening, Tsunade thought, swallowing, her grip on her chair tight. They're nearly as frightening as the Sharingan. To have your jutsu turned inward… especially when you put all your energy into it… I don't wonder why Orochimaru has this kind of guy under his command.

"That is the power of the Shakugan," Orochimaru said to Kabuto. "It can alter the opponent's eyes by eye contact, and it can hypnotize. But perhaps the scariest ability of those eyes is that it can make you attack yourself."

The barrage ended, and the Glass nin lay bloodied on the floor, unconscious because of his own technique. Taido shifted his attention to Juugo, who had thrown the large Glass nin aside. Without any leash on his power, he was looking around for his next victim.

"The match is over!" the referee yelled to the crowd. "This match goes to Juugo and Taido of Sound!"

But there was still an air of tension in the surroundings. Juugo, still in Curse Seal form, stalked towards the referee, radiating intent to shed blood. He gave a feral snarl, and went to aim a blow at the unsuspecting referee.

Immediately, Taido was in front of him, meeting Juugo's crazed eyes with his own. Juugo paused in his tracks, unable to move, as though having an internal battle with himself. The moment seemed to everyone as though it was disconnected from everything else, standing still until all was in order. Soon, his hackles lowered, and he was back into his original form, quiet and calm, though exhausted.

The Glass nins were brought to the infirmary, now thoroughly unconscious, while Taido and Juugo went back to their place in the stadium. "They were incredibly strong," Midori commented.

"Scary strong," Akai confirmed, shuddering. "I'm so glad we didn't have to fight them."

"But then again, we might have to in the one-on-one," Midori said as-a-matter-of-factly. Akai shuddered again.

Sasuke's dark eyes followed Taido as he began talking to the female jounin guide of the Sound. "Sasuke-kun…?" Sakura asked. "Is something the matter?"

"Nothing at all," Sasuke said. Sakura nodded, though her brow was still knit in concern.

Then, from across the stadium, Taido's eyes met Sasuke's. Taido was too far to exert any power over Sasuke, and vice versa, but there was a clear tension in between them. Avoiding the Sound might be harder this time than last.

"Sasuke-sama's match is next," Taido said to Tsubame. "When do we carry out the plan?"

"Like I told you," Tsubame said, "the Glass shinobi are going to be invading this village today. There's going to be complete chaos later on, and most are going to focus on putting them down. That's when we strike – when Sasuke-sama is overwhelmed with the fighting."

"And what about those teammates of his? They'll be keeping a closer eye on him, after last night's events."

"They won't have time to babysit Sasuke-sama while there's a war going on," Tsubame replied. "This plan has a good chance of succeeding."

On the Kage viewing deck, Shizune was gripping Tonton in excitement.It's going to be Sasuke and Sakura's match! I can't wait to see how Sakura will apply her training with Tsunade-sama and Kakashi-san! How exciting this is!

"That girl is your apprentice, is it not?" the Raikage asked Tsunade.

The hazel-eyed Hokage smiled proudly. "Yes, she is, after Shizune. Though I believe she will eventually grow to surpass the both of us."

A smile played on the Hidden Cloud leader's lips. "That's saying quite a lot, Hokage-dono."

"But isn't her teammate Uchiha Sasuke?" the Mizukage asked shrewdly.

"What about him?" Tsunade asked with a smile, though her eyes were steely. She didn't doubt that the Mizukage would attack her for Uchiha Sasuke's presence in the Exam.

"Uchiha Sasuke was previously a missing nin, until you granted him freedom with probationary measures, was he not?" the Mizukage asked. "May I ask why he is so free that he can even take the Jounin Exams?"

Tsunade was ready for it. "I believe in Uchiha Sasuke, and in the team I've assigned to guard him. I've lived long enough to be able to judge people's loyalties by their mere actions and gestures, and by the things they hide behind their words. And I can say Uchiha Sasuke merely strayed off the path for a while, but he's back now, and that's all that matters."

"And you're not doing it for, I don't know… say, the powers of the Sharingan?"

The blonde Hokage's answer was smooth and effortless. "If I were power-hungry, yes, the Sharingan would be the top priority. But Konoha is powerful enough – we don't need to scrounge for every last bit of manpower we can get."

Shizune nearly whistled as the Mizukage was beaten again. Nicely handled, Tsunade-sama!

Back to the Konoha nin, Naruto exclaimed, "It's your match now, Sasuke, Sakura-chan!"

"G-good luck, you two!" Hinata said as enthusiastically as she could.

"Don't hog the spotlight, Uchiha," Neji advised, smirking. Sasuke scowled at him, while Sakura laughed.

"That's okay, Neji-san," she giggled. "I was better working in the background anyway."

"Sasuke-kun, Sakura-san," Lee said, "don't be afraid to bring out your youthful springtime!"

"In other words, you had better win, Forehead Girl!" Ino yelled happily, poking Sakura's forehead.

"Ow! Ino-pig, that HURT!" Sakura yelled back, pulling on Ino's ponytail.

"That's enough, Sakura," Sasuke said. "We have to go."

"If something happens to Sakura-chan, I'm going to hurt you, okay, Sasuke?" Naruto warned, grinning.

"Don't count on it," Sasuke replied, smirking.

They leapt down into the battlefield, once again clear of the obstructions and damage the previous matches had made. From across the stadium, the twins had also come down, and were now walking towards the referee.

"So this is where we stage our revenge?" Shikyo asked. "I hope we don't get too bored."

"You underestimate our opponent too much," Seikatsu said, pulling gently on Shikyo's long pigtails. "Haruno Sakura did manage to defeat Sasori-sama, after all, and we've been hearing a lot about Uchiha Sasuke's strength. We'll be expending a lot of our strength, so don't use it all up at once."

Shikyo rolled her eyes. "Fine."

"The final match of the day," the referee yelled amidst all the cheering and screaming from the stands, "Haruno Sakura and Uchiha Sasuke, versus Kou Shikyo and Seikatsu."

The two teams faced each other, Shikyo staring with barely masked loathing at Sakura. The green-eyed girl held the gaze without showing any fear.

"Sasuke-kun," she said quietly. "Don't forget your promise."

"Just promise me, okay? That you'll let me fight and not hold me back… even if you're doing it to protect me. Do you promise?"

Sasuke stared at her for a bit, contemplating his answer. Finally, he replied, "Whatever you want."

"No, I won't forget," Sasuke replied, just as quietly.

"But if you get in trouble, I don't want to be held responsible. You're going to have to do it on my terms when you're already dying."

"Let the eight match… begin!"

The two teams stood apart from each other, scrutinizing the situation. In a bold move, Sakura made the first attack. Running towards Shikyo, the female twin, she aimed her chakra-concentrated fist. To her surprise, Shikyo dodged easily, so that her fist landed on the ground, creating a tiny tremor on the battlefield. She wrenched her fist from the rubble and aimed a few more quick punches and kicks at the dirty-blonde Sand nin, but she was evading each attack swiftly and gracefully.

Meanwhile, Sasuke, his eye alive with the Sharingan, threw a batch of kunai at Seikatsu, the male of the Sand duo, and he leapt out of the way. Just as he was about to land on his feet, Sasuke threw several kunai again, towards where he was going to land. He won't be able to dodge, Sasuke thought.

Surprisingly, Seikatsu managed to avoid a critical hit, only getting scratches at his side. How odd – I know my aim wasn't off, the Uchiha prodigy thought, trying not to let bewilderment throw him off focus.How did he dodge?

Sakura, on the other hand, knew what was going on. During the course of her battle with Shikyo, she noticed that the female Sand nin had an eye on her brother, and had flexed her fingers just so, to help pull Seikatsu out of the way. So they are controlling each other to cover for each other's mistakes, even from afar, Sakura realized. It's ingenious.

The coral-haired nin spun to kick Shikyo across the stomach, but she merely bent back. She grinned maliciously, cooing, "Is that all you have, Haruno Sakura?"

The addressed girl sent her a cold look. "I have barely begun, Shikyo-san."

She directed her fist at the female Sand nin once more, but the Sand nin grabbed hold of her arm for leverage, flipped into the air, and waved a scroll open, summoning a puppet spiked with several blades on its limbs and spine. She made it go towards Sakura, its blades catching light. The puppet waved its arm forward, the blade coming towards Sakura's neck.

Sakura managed to block the attack at the last second with a kunai, and she broke the deadlock, leaping away to safety. Now Shikyo was in the offensive, and Sakura in the defensive. The Konoha medic continued to evade the blade puppet's attacks, but it seemed more and more as if Shikyo were merely toying with her.

On the other side of the battle, Sasuke was trying, without luck, to land a good hit on Seikatsu, but it seemed like the male Sand nin was incredibly good at dodging. The Uchiha began to build up chakra into his lungs. As Seikatsu came towards him, he blew out a large fireball, bigger than the usual fireball he dealt to his opponents. Seikatsu was soon covered in flames.

The flames died down quickly, and Sasuke found that what he had burned was not Seikatsu at all, but a piece of cloth. "Kawarimi," Sasuke hissed under his breath, flicking his Sharingan orbs around the battlefield to see where Seikatsu had gone.

The male twin, in fact, was behind Sasuke, having summoned a puppet of his own. The puppet had blunt metal spikes protruding from its fists and forehead. It went headlong towards Sasuke, and aimed a punch at him. Sasuke twisted to his left and rammed the sheathed Kusanagi on the puppet's back.

The puppet broke in half, but not the way Sasuke hoped it would. Instead, it broke in the middle to reveal long metal whips in the core of the puppet, all of which were heading towards him. The whips shot forward to stab him, but he managed to deflect them with the sheathed Kusanagi.

They came towards him again, and almost immediately, the Chidori flickered to life. Before the sharp metal whips could reach him, he molded the electricity in his hand, shaping it into a flowing current and connecting with the whips. Because of the white-hot energy, the metal melded together, rendering it useless, and Sasuke was safe. For good measure, he threw an explosive tag attached to a kunai towards the puppet, and it exploded into pieces.

Sakura, in the meantime, was still playing a deadly game of tag with Shikyo's puppet. "You can't run forever, Haruno Sakura!" Shikyo sang gleefully, making the puppet slash towards Sakura's ankles. The Konoha kunoichi jumped to avoid it, and managed to barely block the puppet's follow up blade stab with a kunai. Without wasting time, she took off again, circling the arena and trying to find a way to break from the chase.

There was only one way. She kept running, and the puppet gained momentum behind her. Without warning, Sakura stopped, pivoted quickly and slammed a power punch into the puppet's chest area, blowing it to pieces.

Shikyo went back to back with Seikatsu, not taking her maroon eyes off Sakura. "Was Uchiha Sasuke bothersome, Seikatsu?" she asked.

"A little," Seikatsu replied. "He managed to destroy one of my puppets."

"Shall we put him away as well?"

"I think he will do all he can to keep us from fulfilling our goal, so yes, we ought to."

Sakura and Sasuke, who were on the opposite sides of the battlefield, had the twins trapped between them. The two of them rush towards the twins, Sakura slower, Sasuke faster. In a fleeting moment, the dark-haired Konoha nin had appeared in front of Seikatsu. His Kusanagi, now unsheathed, sliced across the air towards Seikatsu's abdomen.

Suddenly, Sasuke could feel the Kusanagi vibrating, as though it was being pulled away by an invisible force. Shikyo, who had spared him a glance, was raising one hand in a seal, and soon, the Kusanagi slipped through his fingers and levitated towards Shikyo, who caught it and threw it aside. Sakura, in the meantime, had thrown several kunai, but these also stopped in midair and were thrown aside by Shikyo.

No way, Sakura thought, panicking. The girl can control magnetism too?

While Sasuke was still getting over his shock, Seikatsu took out a kunai and slashed at him. Sasuke blocked the attack, matching the kunai with his own. As iron met iron, Sasuke found that he could not wrench the kunai from the deadlock. His grip loosened, and the kunai remained attached to Seikatsu's kunai. It's been magnetized as well, and I can't copy the technique, the Uchiha realized, jumping away to reassess everything. It must be a bloodline limit, then.

"Magnetism was the power of the Sandaime Kazekage, was it not?" Temari asked Kankuro.

"It was," Kankuro said, nodding. "Those two are probably related to him."

"It seems like a powerful bloodline," Temari murmured to herself. "It renders nearly all ninja weapons useless. Sakura and Sasuke are going to have to rely on ninjutsu and taijutsu for this fight. I wonder who's going to win…"

Sakura now had engaged Shikyo and another puppet in taijutsu bout again. As she continued her attack, weaving in and out of the puppet's traps, she asked, "Why do you have the power of the Sandaime Kazekage?"

"We are his grandchildren," Shikyo replied with a smirk, pride clear in her voice. "Naturally-" A compartment on the puppet opened, shooting senbon out, and Sakura skillfully dodged them, "-we've inherited his skills."

"And you never deigned to realize that it was Sasori who killed your grandfather?" Sakura asked, gritting her teeth.

"We have no attachment to him – he was dead long before we were born," Shikyo said indifferently. "It was Sasori-sama who found us as orphans and decided to train us. We owe our lives to him – and you took him away!" She flexed her fingers, and her puppet went high into the air. Another compartment in the puppet opened, and it began shooting out numerous kunai, and Sakura unrolled an unused scroll so the attack could be blocked.

Back to Sasuke and Seikatsu, who were a few meters away from Sakura and Shikyo, were still fighting. Sasuke could not fight with metal weapons anymore, so he had resorted to using his ninjutsu. As Seikatsu's puppet, with spinning blades, came at him, he readied himself to perform a fire jutsu. With a flick of his wrist, Seikatsu directed the puppet at Sasuke, and the dark-haired nin blew out a huge fireball in response. The puppet was hit, and it began to burn freely, while Seikatsu let go of his control.

Sakura could not get a hit on Shikyo, only managing to destroy her puppets whenever she could. However, Shikyo had multitudes of puppets, and the pink-haired nin was wearing out faster than her opponent. As she dodged yet another attack, she managed a glance at Sasuke and Seikatsu, who were just a few meters from them.

A puppet came at her, long, thin blades at its fingertips. Sakura ran towards the puppet as well, but before they could attack one another, Sakura feinted and went to attack Seikatsu, who was too engrossed with his own battle. Shikyo, acting swiftly, released chakra strings from her fingertips and attached them to Seikatsu. Before Sakura could realize it, Seikatsu, through Shikyo's control, had whipped around to face her, throwing several kunai in her direction. She managed to stop herself, but the kunai still wounded her, embedding into her skin.

"Sakura!" Sasuke yelled.

"It's okay," Sakura said, standing up again, healing some of her larger wounds. "I'm okay."

"Is Sakura-chan going to be okay?" Ino asked.

"She should be," Shikamaru reassured her. "That's nothing she can't heal."

"They can't get close to either puppeteer, though," Shino remarked. "They haven't landed any good blows at all."

"Well, this seems like it's going to be a long battle," Lee commented.

The battle continued, reaching the 10-minute mark. Both sides were skilled, but Sasuke and Sakura were more exhausted than the Sand twins. The supply of puppets the Sand twins, however, was dwindling with each destructive attack which Sakura and Sasuke dealt.

Seikatsu and Shikyo stood beside each other and they each summoned a puppet. The Konoha nins readied themselves. The puppets joined themselves together, limb to limb, head to head. Several blades emerged from their backs. Then, Shikyo and Seikatsu began to make the puppets cartwheel quickly towards Sasuke and Sakura, who were standing together as well.

The dark-haired prodigy and the pink-haired medic jumped in opposite directions, separating them. The puppets separated in mid-air and began throwing large blades at Sasuke and Sakura. The girl of the duo managed to get out of the line of fire and went to attack the puppeteers while her teammate kept them busy.

Sasuke, on the other hand, was aiming a fireball at the puppets. Just as he blew the fireball, Sakura filled her fist with chakra and aimed at Shikyo. Seikatsu quickly noticed this and pushed Shikyo out of the way, so that Sakura's punch landed on the floor. His twin sister, meanwhile, noticed that the puppets, which were on fire, were about to fall on Seikatsu, and she pulled him to safety as well.

The two teams regrouped again, discussing their options. "It can't be avoided, Shikyo," Seikatsu said quietly. "Our supply of puppets is running low. We're going to have to use Iron Sand."

"Well, it seems we have no choice," Shikyo said. "I can't believe we've been pushed this far."

"Haruno Sakura did manage to defeat Sasori-sama, after all," Seikatsu conceded.

"Tch. It was just a combination of sheer luck and better comrades," Shikyo muttered.

On the other side, Sakura and Sasuke exchanged information. "They can control magnetism," Sakura informed Sasuke quietly.

"I know."

"It's also possible that they can control Iron Sand, just like the Sandaime Kazekage could," Sakura added.

"I see," Sasuke said. "And it also looks like I can either strengthen or weaken the magnetism, depending on how strong my Chidori is. We're going to be depending on the physics of it."

"Then let's try it out," Sakura said, and Sasuke nodded. Without any more conversation, they turned towards the enemy. Sakura flipped forward towards Shikyo and Seikatsu, and, focusing chakra into her index finger, ripped a chasm open in the battlefield. The chasm opened further and further, the earth shaking, until it threatened to swallow Seikatsu and Shikyo up. Shikyo slipped into the chasm, but her brother managed to grab her hand and pull her to safety.

But they didn't anticipate Sasuke's incoming fire attack. Before they could notice it, he had thrown kunai with metal strings attached at them, tying them together. A piece of metal string was still in Sasuke's hand, and through this string, he blew a fireball, which made a direct course for the two Sand nin.

Shikyo, however, managed to cut through the metal strings at the very last minute, so before they could be fully engulfed by the fireball, she pulled her brother with her, taking them to safety. They were, however, not without injuries; Seikatsu's left sleeve had completely burned off, his arm bright red with burns, while Shikyo's long hair and scarf were singed in places, her palms also slightly burned. Sasuke made an irritated noise – he didn't intend to cause so little damage.

Sakura did a few seals, and huge walls of gravel erupted from the ground, dislocating the twins from each other again. Seikatsu seemed to be the one who was getting his bearings first, and Sasuke rushed to him. In a second, he was there in front of Seikatsu, and he managed to land a kick on the male twin's gut. Sasuke's continuous taijutsu attacks started, and Seikatsu was hard-put at blocking any of them.

Shikyo, on the other hand, was being continuously trapped by Sakura in walls of gravel, so she was spending more energy trying to get out of it, to get to her brother. She threw explosive tags, this way and that, to let herself free of Sakura's walls. Then, she caught sight of her brother, losing against Sasuke. "Idiot brother," she muttered as she avoided being trapped into four walls of gravel again. "He always needs me."

What seemed to be her black arm-guards, waist-guards, and shin-guards began disintegrating, as though shedding off her body. So that'swhere she keeps her Iron Sand, Sakura realized. Her armor was the Iron Sand itself!

"What's that?" Tenten asked.

"I think that's what Sakura-san was fighting, that time when we were sent to rescue Gaara-kun," Lee answered. "Iron Sand, I think, it's called. Those two seem to be controlling it with magnetism."

"So they'll probably be able to form it in different sorts of weapon, right?" Ino asked worriedly.

"Basically," Chouji said. "So while Sakura and Sasuke don't have any weapon they can use, those two have a wide array of weapons they can choose from – they just have to form it out of that black sand of theirs."

"I feel rather jealous," Tenten muttered, pouting.

Sakura created another barrier, but Shikyo managed to send her black sand out quickly towards her brother. Sasuke saw this coming, but had not estimated its power. Just as he made to kick Seikatsu again, the Iron Sand made a shield between the two shinobi, so that what Sasuke kicked was the iron shield. Seikatsu reacted to his sister's action quickly by molding the black sand himself into several spikes, one of which embedded itself in Sasuke's foot.

"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura yelled. Sasuke gritted his teeth in pain, determined not to yell out.

Seikatsu smirked and quickly pulled out the iron spike from Sasuke's foot, causing him more pain. Sakura abandoned her task of trapping Shikyo and grabbed Sasuke before Seikatsu could think of more ways to impale Sasuke with the Iron Sand.

"So that was the Iron Sand?" Sasuke asked as Sakura healed his foot.

"Yeah," Sakura replied. "That's not the full extent of its power, though."

"Don't heal me too much. You'll lose significant amounts of chakra," Sasuke reminded her. Sakura wanted to disagree, but it was the most logical thing to do. "It seems that they fight a lot better when they're in sync, as though they are one. Even if they're not in sync at times, they have a good tag-team strategy."

"So you think that's what we should do?" Sakura asked.

"We may not be as in sync as they are, but we are definitely more powerful in taijutsu," Sasuke said as Sakura finished up. "We just need to think and act as a single unit. We have to finish this as soon as we can, or we'll lose too much chakra."

"It looks like those two from Konoha are finally getting serious," Midori mentioned, sitting on the railing. "They've been doing well since the beginning, but not well enough."

"I suppose they're planning to finish this as soon as they can," Akai said. "It's been, what, 13 minutes?"

"The longest battle," Midori agreed. "But certainly one of the most exciting."

Moments later, Sasuke went ahead to begin their attack while Sakura stayed behind, forming seals for a major Earth jutsu. Seikatsu did his own seals as well, creating giant blocks of iron form the iron sand on his own armor. He was aiming to crush Sasuke, much like how Sasori's was in his battle with Sakura and Chiyo. With the Sharingan, however, Sasuke managed to read where Seikatsu would try to direct the iron blocks, and he managed to avoid them, aiming straight for the twins.

Shikyo, on the other hand, had directed a puppet, trying to cover for each of Seikatsu's mistakes. When he missed Sasuke, who had evaded to the left, Shikyo brought the puppet beside the Uchiha to intercept him. But Sasuke was nearly always able to avoid this follow-up attack, or else managing to destroy yet another puppet of theirs.

"Urgh, what is this!?" Shikyo exclaimed, frustrated as she brought another puppet out again.

"That's the skill of the Sharingan, his clan's special eyes," Seikatsu replied, his usually calm face now showing some frustrated emotion as well. "It can predict movements. We're at an especial loss here – since we're puppeteers, it doesn't even take the Sharingan to predict our next movements."

"Argh!" Shikyo screamed, and she opened all the weapon compartments present in her current puppet. As Seikatsu directed an iron block at Sasuke, aiming to crush him from above, Shikyo went in to attack upfront. Sasuke's eyes narrowed when a barrage of shuriken assaulted him, but he deflected them with his empty sword hilt. Before he could recover, multitudes of kunai came shooting at him, and he flipped away to avoid them.

The block was getting closer, and he had not destroyed the puppet yet. Rushing forward, he used his hilt to hit what he predicted was the weak point of the puppet, and he managed to bring it to pieces.

However, something was not right. The angle of the iron block is wrong, like it's not heading towards me. Wait. Sasuke's eyes widened and he doubled back. Fuck. It's heading for her!

Sakura was still concentrating on doing her jutsu, which had an incredibly long succession of seals. Sasuke leapt into action before the iron blocks could hit her. Spinning in the air, he threw two kunai at the twins. Shikyo magnetized them, making them stop in midair, but failed to notice the explosive tags attached to them until they exploded, the power of the explosion forcing her and her brother apart.

Sasuke's job was not done yet. Seikatsu was still controlling the block of iron. Before it could crush the pink-haired girl, Sasuke powered his Chidori as much as he could and slammed it into the block, the strong current demagnetizing the block and disintegrating it.

Almost immediately after, Sakura finished her seals, and before Seikatsu could regain control of the Iron Sand scattered around them, a dragon formed out of the earth and launched itself towards the twins. Shikyo managed to act at the last minute by creating an iron shield around her and her brother, but the force the earth dragon held when it slammed into their barrier still managed to throw them off their feet, and across the battlefield.

The light-haired twins were not going down yet, though. To Sasuke and Sakura's exasperation, they were still getting up, though their physical states were just as bad as the Konoha duo's, now. "Seikatsu!" Shikyo hissed, narrowing her dark-red orbs at her partner. "I thought we were going to destroy her in this exam!"

"Patience, Shikyo," Seikatsu said. "We're going to be ending this soon. And if we can't destroy her now, well, we still have the next exam."

"She has to die, now," Shikyo replied acidly.

"I can't believe they still aren't down!" Sakura said to Sasuke. "What aren't we doing right?"

"We just have to react and weave through our teamwork quicker than them, that's all," Sasuke said calmly. "They're not good at close combat – that much is obvious. Let's finish this with a quick taijutsu combo."

"I thought that attack was going to finish it once and for all!" Naruto cried. "What's taking Sasuke and Sakura-chan so long!?"

"Their opponents are pretty strong, after all," Shikamaru drawled. "But Sakura and Sasuke are stronger – they're going to be finishing up soon."

"And I have a feeling it's going to be something flashy," Kiba added. "The three of you love big finishes, after all."

"I wonder what their finishing move will be…" Hinata murmured.

"It'll certainly be something big," Ino affirmed. "You go, Sasuke-kun, Forehead Girl!"

Sasuke leapt into the air just as Sakura made the battlefield shake with her fist again. The twins, anticipating this, leapt up, Shikyo with the black sand shaped as metal spikes, and Seikatsu with the puppet. They went towards Sasuke, with their weapons aloft.

However, Sakura was ready again. Before any of their weapons could attack Sasuke, she was poised on the ground. Leaping up at an angle, she grabbed the twins' heads, and, flipping in the air, managed to flip them over as well. The twins, stunned at the quickness and unpredictability of the attack, were rendered helpless.

Then it was Sasuke's turn. He alternated punching and kicking the twins in a style reminiscent of the Shishi Rendan. As they were still in mid-fall, Sakura leapt into the air beside Sasuke. They exchanged a brief smirk. In perfect synchronicity, they slammed their right elbows on their respective opponent's abdomen, followed up with a strong palm to the chest, and finished with a knee to the gut. Then came their shout-

"Sasu-Saku Rendan!"

And their opponents slammed to the ground, unconscious.

"Ufufufufufu." Kakashi grinned rather widely from behind his mask, as he watched from his designated seat with Gai, Asuma and Kurenai. So the children aregrowing up, in more ways than one.

Tsunade and Shizune exchanged half-puzzled, half-amused glances. Gaara and his siblings blinked a few times. On the Konoha part of the stadium, the Chuunin were excitedly chattering about this new development.

"Sasu-Saku Rendan!?" Naruto exclaimed in disbelief, the first one to get his voice back from the shock. "What the hell!? Why couldn't we have a Naru-Hina Rendan, Hinata-chan!?" he added to the dark-haired Hyuuga girl beside him, who blushed.

"N-naruto-kun, we didn't take time to n-name our combo, so…"

"That was kinda unoriginal, if you ask me," Kiba said, frowning in contemplation. "I mean, if Akamaru and I had a combo, I wouldn't name it Aka-Kiba Rendan…"

"Oh, be quiet, Kiba," Tenten admonished. "I thought it was sweet!"

"It sounded like Sakura was claiming Sasuke-kun for herself, though," Ino said, a mischievous grin spreading over her face. Tenten began to mirror her expression.

"Or maybe it's the other way around!" the weapons mistress cackled, and she high-fived with Ino.

"Is that all what girls ever think about…?" Shikamaru muttered under his breath, more to himself than anyone.

"Tenten!" Lee exclaimed. "Let us make our own Lee-Ten Rendan of Youth as well!"

"Lee!" Tenten said, grimacing. "It kind of only works for Sasuke and Sakura-chan, you know!"

Lee looked downcast, then turned a hopeful puppy eyes at Neji. "Neji! Let's-"

"No," Neji said curtly, making it clear that it was the end of the discussion.

"And the winner of the last match of the fourth exam – Uchiha Sasuke and Haruno Sakura!"

Sakura, who was a bit more exhausted than Sasuke, leaned on her teammate a little, though her grin was still proud. The raven-haired Sharingan user looked rather smug, though from the victory or from something else, it was a mystery.

A few interested eyes followed Sakura and Sasuke up the stairs, where they took their place with their fellow Leaf Chuunin after they retrieved Sasuke's sword. "So that's Uchiha Sasuke's real skill," Suigetsu said, nodding appreciatively. "Real nice. No wonder that Orochimaru wants him."

"I doubt that's his full strength, though," Karin, now fully healed, interjected. "He lost his sword in the battle. If he had not lost his sword, he may have shown more skill than that. There's still a lot of talent hidden inside him."

"Oh, just admit you have a shrine to him in your closet, already," Suigetsu drawled, clearly bored. Karin raised her fist to punch him, but Taido spoke up.

"He's powerful, but not loyal enough to Orochimaru-sama," he said in the same toneless voice. "When the time comes to capture him, I think I can manage to change that."

Below the Sound nins' viewing deck sat their master and his lieutenant. "Sasuke-kun has gained new skills since we last met him, it seems," Orochimaru said softly.

"True, true," Kabuto agreed. "I don't recall seeing that sword in the Chuunin Exams."

"It is a Kusanagi as well," Orochimaru said approvingly. "I believe it will become mine as well, once Sasuke-kun's body is mine."

"And what of the Kyuubi and the Haruno girl?" Kabuto asked.

"I'll have use for them later," Orochimaru said dismissively. "As of now, all I need is for Sasuke-kun to come to us."

In the shadows, another pair of eyes, nearly identical to Sasuke's, observed him as he tried, in vain, to fend off the teasing that his Chuunin friends were giving him. These eyes noticed the Kyuubi jinchuuriki's admiration hidden under rivalry, and the unmasked adoration that the little pink-haired girl seemed to give his brother.

Maybe a little more strength, foolish little brother, Itachi said to himself.

Next Chapter…

Sasuke: Well, this should be some cause for excitement – the one-on-one matches are next. I can see Naruto and Lee can't contain their joy. Feh, as usual.

It seems that some rather unimportant battles are coming first. I don't even feel interested… except- wait. That's… my battle. Oh. Kay.

Well, it doesn't really matter now, does it? There are a very few number of persons who can beat me, and my opponent isn't about to become one of them.

Next chapter, Explosion! Head to Head.

I suppose I should be interested in Hinata's battle too…

AN: (1) Flaming Eyes. Borrowed from the series "Shakugan no Shana," so it definitely doesn't belong to me or Masashi Kishimoto.

Don't kill me yet for naming it "Sasu-Saku Rendan"! Not until I'm done with the epic!

Honestly, when I was writing this I thought the idea was cute. But the cuteness sickens me after a while, so… eh. But it's too late to change it. Argh.

Anyway, that SasuSaku battle has got to be the longest single battle scene I've ever written, ever. Or at least, it could rival the Sasuke vs Naruto battle scene back in chapter 18. Whoo. I hope you liked this one though – it was tough conceptualizing it, and even tougher putting it down in words.

Edit: I understand that the first two fight scenes may not seem so important, even though they are, but I do want to know if they've been read by most of the reviewers. So can you tell me in your review if you read them or not? And if you did, just how thoroughly? Thanks. As always, I'd like long reviews!