Uzumaki Naruto, Sorceror for Hire
You couldnt take two steps in the Uchiha district without having to walk through a ghost. It was no wonder, Sakura reflected, that Sasuke was so... cold, and driven, given that he spent the vast majority of his time there.
She'd tried to wander through and find him, but it had only been a matter of minutes at best before the sheer, palpable magnitude of death that had occurred here had gotten to her and she'd had to stagger right back out and clutch desperately at a street lamp until she'd caught her breath.
So much for that idea... it seemed she wouldn't be getting Sasuke's input on the upcoming exam after all. She briefly considered trying to hunt Naruto down... then reconsidered after recalling the two or three times that she'd tried before. No, if Naruto wanted to be alone, there was no way she would be able to find him.
In similar manner, Kakashi was also struck off that list, and she'd never been particularly close to either Zabuza or Haku. That left only one person.
"No time to train today kid, I've got stuff to do. Take a day off."
"Wait! I... need to talk to someone."
Anko didn't look particularly impressed at the announcement, but at the very least she hadn't left yet.
"Kakashi-sensei... today, he's offered us the chance to participate in the chuunin exams. I'm sure that Naruto and Sasuke won't think twice about entering, but...." Sakura trailed off, not sure what else to say, or how to say it.
"But you're not confident that you're capable of taking that exam yet." Anko finished for her. "Can't say I blame you. It's been what... barely a few months since you made genin? Most take a lot longer than that to actually be ready... and even then, there's a really high death rate. I guess by your face that Kakashi didn't drop that little tidbit on you."
He hadn't, and Sakura was even less confident now.
"I just... I don't... I'm not sure that I'm ready yet... to kill..."
Anko snorted, then let loose a howl of laughter.
"Ah... that's rich. Not 'I don't wanna die', but 'I don't wanna have to kill'. Gotta say though, that you've picked the wrong proffession. Even if you dropped my training right now, went into the medic program, and never left Konoha's walls again, you'd still have to kill someone, somewhere down the line. There are times when someone's beyond all hope, and that's the last mercy available."
Sakura's head drooped a little, humiliated. But it wasn't like she could really explain her reasonin, or go too deep into her sudden shyness of death.
"S'not like its exactly an uncommon problem though." Anko admitted. "Just... wasn't expecting something like that to set in for a while yet. Something happened... on your last mission, didn't it? No, don't tell me. That's personal stuff, and I don't want to hear about it. Fact remains though... as a ninja, you're going to be ordered to kill someone sooner or later. You're just going to have to deal with that, because there's no escaping it. As for when your orders don't involve assassination..."
Anko paused, then shrugged.
"You'll just have to figure that out on your own. But one thing you should keep in mind... lots of ninja that are KIA? It was usually at the hands of someone that they'd fought before, but not finished off. Think about that."
Anko was silent for a very long moment before she drew a scroll out from somewhere in her tossed it idly to Sakura.
"I don't really think you're quite ready for this... but I'm not going to be available for training for the next month or so, so I might as well pass this along now and see what you make of it. It's an application of the summoning technique... Suggest you pick up something with long, loose sleeves for it."
In spite of not synchronizing their watches, team Seven showed up at pretty much exactly the same time, with two birds perched on Naruto's shoulders.
"Are those..." Sakura got out, pointing vaguely at the birds, but not able to quite complete the question. Naruto shrugged.
"They just refused to stay behind..." He said. "So this was obviously the best solution for everyone."
The raven seemed to disagree with that conclusion, cawing and beating its wings rapidly before settling down and turning away in disgust. The smaller sparrow simply considered for several moments before pecking repeatedly and incessantly at Naruto's ear, until he flipped the hood of his cloak up to make it stop.
Sasuke hesitated with the snide remark he'd had ready at just how different his teammate suddenly looked, then shook it off and turned inside instead, mumbling something vaguely about not taking the blame if he got caught sneaking them in.
There was a subtle tugging of genjutsu trying to set in as they reached the second floor, and Sasuke hesitated again, trying to decide whether or not to show off a little by humbling whoever had set it up... and then the moment passed, with Sakura and Naruto not even pausing as they continued up the stairs to the third floor and he had to move slightly faster than norml to keep his place.
Kakashi was waiting for them and nodded at the trio before stepping away from the door an flickering away, not giving the birds a second glance.
Somehow, Sasuke knew without even turning around that Naruto was either smirking, or mouthing 'told you so' at his back.
Team seven was actually a little early, and one of the first groups into the room. Seemed like a lot of people were being held up... Sasuke snorted, recalling that thing on the second floor as he suddenly realized its purpose. No matter... if they were dumb enough to be drawn away by such a simple trick, then they didn't deserve to be here.
Naruto had been disgusted with the first exam. A paper test. Seriously. And the questions hadn't even been terribly difficult. Oh yes, that last bit had been a twisty catch, and people had been sent out in droves because of it, but he was still pretty disappointed in the whole thing.
In comparison, the second exam was shaping up to be pretty good.
"Five days?" a portly kid that Naruto vaguely recognized from the academy cried in shock. "What are we supposed to do about food?"
"Not my problem kid. Try to pick out plants that aren't poisonous, find something that you can eat before it tries to eat you, hell barbeque one of the other contestants for all I care. We had you sign those disclaimers of responsibility for a reason."
Not many of the assembled genin took that pronouncement calmly... and it didn't exactly help that the Akimichi... Naruto still couldn't for the life of him recall anything but his family name... had apparently taken the female proctor completely seriously and was now eyeing up the other genin with the air of a butcher who'd walked into a chicken coop.
The two or three others who were making equally unsubtle appraisals, including Naruto himself, didn't much help either.
"In any case, like I said, you start off with one scroll.. either marked 'Heaven' or 'Earth'. You get five days to make it to the tower in the middle of this training ground with two scrolls... both Heaven and Earth. Go over the time limit, you fail. Don't get the second scroll, you fail. One of your teammates dies, you fail. And the contents of the scrolls are a secret... open them before you make it to the tower and guess what? You fail. That simple enough for you?"
There was a vague sort of grumbling of assent from the gathered chuunin hopefuls, and the time seemed to stretch out into a sense of intermenable boredom for Naruto as his attention wandered further and further away... then snapped back into focus as he found himself waiting outside one of the many gates into the patch of hugely overgrown forest that made up the training ground. Haku-sparrow had made his way inside the hood and decided to take a nap at some point, while Zabuza the raven had started a staring contest with the amused chuunin guarding the gate and toying with a stopwatch.
Then that proctor opened the gate and his teammates were off in a flash, leaving him behind as he sauntered slowly in, rather than put too much effort into this right at the very beginning.
Naturally, Sasuke was less than pleased with having to stop and wait for the mage to catch up. And he had no compunctions about soundly berating him for it, albeit in a lowered volume. Naruto just took it for a minute before responding.
"Do you know how to track people, then?"
Sasuke started to reply, then stopped, realizing that that was, in fact, not one of the skills that he was well practiced in. Sakura freely admitted the same, but hesitantly pointed out that maybe a snake could help.
"Right. As such, there was really no point to either of you running off ahead of me. Wait here, five minutes.'
Naruto tugged his crystal ball out of his cloak and mumbled something under his breath before wandering off. Sure enough, five minutes later he was back, scroll in hand and a blindfolded and tied up genin from that new Sound village underneath one arm.
"Well, that was anticlimactic." Sakura admitted. "What's with her?"
"Seems her team split up to hunt for scrolls... pretty dumb."
"I think she meant 'why did you take her too?'." Sasuke countered.
"Oh... that. Hostage. Bartering chip. Meat shield. Emergency food supply. Pick a reason."
The genin whimpered softly, fumbling just a little more frantically with the little blade she was slowly working out of her sleeve. Naruto absently plucked it away from her and tossed it in a random direction.
"Well... you can just let her go outside the tower then. If we don't have to hunt for other teams and just run flat out, we'll be there in... fifteen minutes?" Sasuke guessed.
It was an accurate guess. Orochimaru, who had known that there was no noted tracker on team Seven, would be most disappointed when he finally realized that they had struck it lucky, or rather, won the grand prize of a lottery, in finding a scroll and getting to the tower before he picked up their trail, and fast enough to miss all the genin that were huddling near their gates and making plans to set up traps and ambushes, or circling the outside of the forest to find those plan-makers.
Ironically enough, it merely cemented his desire to... 'claim' the Last Uchiha of Konoha for himself.
"Well, that test was a dud." Sasuke decided aloud. "What now?"
"Open the scrolls." Naruto suggested.
"Look Sakura, I could make my case here with a variety of logical points and convince you that I'm right but, really, I've been having a very disappointing day and just don't feel like it. Just open the scrolls."
Sasuke did, and Kakashi appeared in a puff of smoke, entirely naked save for his mask and forehead protector, hair heavily shampooed, wet, and singing softly to himself. It took him several long, awkward moments to realize he was no longer in his shower, and even then only because Sakura had begun taking pictures, having a heavy sense of blackmail opportunism instilled into her by Anko.
Kakashi stared at them for a long moment, then withdrew a watch from... somewhere... and stared at it before looking up again, completely ignoring the flashes from Sakura's cheap ninja-spy-pen camera.
"That was unduly expedient of you." He stated flatly. "It's not even been- Naruto." He cut himself off.
"Who's the girl, Naruto?" He asked dryly, and the hooded mage straightened up, subtly jerking the rope tied around her neck in a quick and dirty fascimile of a collar and leash.
"Prisoner of War, sir. Intend to thoroughly interrogate her as to the strengths and weaknesses of her village, keep her confined until her team forfeits this stage or runs out of time and fails, then... either auction her off to the highest bidder, keep her as a pet, or simply execute her on the spot. Haven't decided yet."
"Ah... well.... Good for you. One moment."
"Didn't I tell you to get rid of her outside the tower?" Sasuke hissed irately.
"Hey, you aren't the boss."
Kakashi wandered out of the room through an interior door, then wandered back in a minute later with a towel wrapped around his hips and a book in hand, which he was rapidly flipping through. After a minute he finished and set it to the side.
"Well... I think nothing like this has ever happened before. On the other hand, and probably closely related to that fact, there are no actual rules against it as such, so.... carry on, I guess."
The bound and still-blindfolded kunoichi whimpered again, severely intimidated. She didn't know who had captured her, as it had happened so suddenly and quickly, she didn't know what village they belonged to, and so she had no idea what to expect. That was, frankly, terrifying.
Standard Oto-nin protocol in this sort of situation was to quietly go along with whatever happened, but take the earliest opportunity to either escape or kill yourself. Escape sounded good... but given how thoroughly she'd been disarmed, and the fact that she'd specialized to the point that without her bells, she was pretty much a pushover, it wasn't looking likely. At this point, best bet was to wait for a chance to hang herself on the bit of rope around her neck.
"You should know, though, that a POW of your very own is a really big responsibility though, Naruto. You have to keep it clean and feed it at least once or twice a week, and you have to keep a close eye on it so it doesn't die before you want it to. Oh and, you know, if its village leader contacts us about this we'll probably need to discuss things with Hokage-sama, but given that there was always a chance of immediate death or worse in these exams to begin with, whoever it is probably won't put up much of a fuss."
Her hopes twisted and died at the rapid de-humanization as her captor immediately loosened the noose from her neck and looped it around the bits of thick wire holding her arms tied behind her back instead.
"Right. Now, I was supposed to give you this whole big speech about the purpose of this test, tying it into the scrolls and the poem on the wall, but to be perfectly honest I can't be bothered right this second. I'll send you a memo later, if you really want it. Meanwhile, let's get you kids a set of rooms. You'll be spending the better part of a week here."
Sasuke grunted softly and left the room only a moment behind Kakashi, the others trailing slightly behind as Naruto jerked his captive to her feet.
"This... really isn't right, Naruto." Sakura said, troubled. "Taking someone prisoner, just because you can and nobody will stop you? What if she has a family in... music note village, or what if-"
"I think I have to change her clothes. These do nothing for her. Do you have anything frilly, with ribbons and lace, Sakura?" Naruto asked, 'innocently'.
"Oh! Yes... and we should really do something about those split ends. We'll make a day of it and makeover- No! Bad Naruto! Stop tempting me!"
"Aww... come on, Sakura. It'll be fun! For us." He hastily qualified.
The raven on his shoulder made a noise very much like a choked snort, but distorted by having to travel through avian vocal cords and a beak. For her part, the captured kunoichi's worries had suddenly shifted to indignation, and a sudden uncertainty about her chosen apparel.
Kakashi had disappeared after marking a Konoha symbol with a superimposed '7' into the door plaque, to go finish his shower. Or possibly to just shut it off so as to keep his water bills down. Kazumi was just glad that they were inside a building and so safe. Relatively.
In the fifteenish minutes it had taken them to get here, the concealed familiar had nearly been eaten three times. First by large, hideous slug-like things that had actually turned out to be leeches, then by a snake as she paused to rest from the exertion dodging the falling leeches had brought. The third time had been a ridiculously huge centipede that had been remarkably silent and sudden in both its arrival and attack. That one had come the closest, its mandibles closing around her with scarcely a hairs breath between them and her fragile skin before she drained her reserves in hurling a blast of pure magic down its throat, not having the time to shape it into any form of spell.
It hadn't been immediately killed by the attack, surprisingly, but it most certainly hadn't been happy as it lurched wildly about and thrashed in agony on the ground as she made her getaway. Either the thing wouldn't last the night, or it would mutate into something even more horrible than it already was, and either way Kazumi wanted no more part of that forest.
On the other scale of things, Zabuza was only becoming mildly grumpy about the new form overlaid on top of the other new form, but understood that Naruto couldn't just use this spell to fix that previous transformation. In the same vague sense that he'd understood once that it wasn't a terribly good idea to think too much about where Haku's gaze tended to linger in the bathhouses. In short, Zabuza just grumpily accepted matters when Naruto had said it wouldn't work, as what had happened on the bridge was permament, and this was only temporary, with a definite end and reversal point.
Haku, in comparison, had settled into his temporary bird-hood all too easily and happily, taking every opportunity to chirp happily at pretty much everyone and everything. The elder boy on the Suna team had seemed quite aggrieved at it, amplified no doubt by the obvious boiling rage that crossed his face every time his gaze passed over Naruto.
The mage made certain to flaunt his presence in his face as often as possible.
It was two days after their arrival, while Naruto was off teasing and messing with the head of that Suna-nin, that it happened.
Sasuke came up short just a step into their temporary domicile, Sakura's idle chatter shutting off as he raised one hand.
"Someone's here." He mumbled, eyes darting rapidly through the room, changing to the red hue of the Sharingan with a flicker.
Sakura's hand dropped into her pouch, fondling the shuriken inside and not even hesitating to question if he might be sensing the girl chained to a pattern of boards that had been hastily nailed into a wall. By this point, she had really begun to see her as less of a person and more of a slightly distasteful decoration anyway.
"Where?" She hissed back to him, only to be interrupted as their intruder revealed themselves.
"Kukukuku.... Hello, Sasuke-kun." He..? hissed softly, ignoring Sakura altogether as completely inconsequential.
It burned like a fiery coal in the eye, but she bore the disregard as she edged slowly to the side, both giving Sasuke room to maneuver and setting up for an attack of her own.
"I don't know who you are, but you shouldn't be here." Sasuke stated coldly. "This room is currently off-limits to all but team 7... and, uh... guests." He tacked on, not finding a better way to describe the bound kunoichi quite in time to save all of his dignity.
"Kukuku. Perhaps I am a guest? How do you know your teammate hasn't-"
"Sen'ai jashu!" Sakura snarled, thrusting a hand forward as she summoned a fairly common but poisonous snake, which launched itself automatically.
Had it been any other attack, the disguised Sannin would have avoided it entirely and without any real effort on his part whatsoever. However, the shock and sheer burning gall at having some mere, random slip of a girl use his own technique against him, no matter how ineffectively, left him stock still. Just for a moment... just the span of an eyeblink at most. But long enough for the attack to hit home.
It was only a moment after that that Sakura realized that something was wrong, as the intruder had been bitten in the jugular, but hadn't yet dropped to the floor and begun spasming in agony. Then the snake dispelled itself, just before an aura of murderous intent filled the room.
"Sssso. Little Anko-chan hass found an apprenticsse of her very own. How lovely." He snarled, each syllable feeling like knives digging into the flesh of everyone else in the room. "Commendable effort, brat. Now let me show you how it's done. SEN'AI JASHU!"
When he unleashed the technique, it put Sakura's pale imitation to shame... over a dozen serpents, each as thick around as a beefy mans wrist and each twice as deadly as the one she had summoned shot forward, impaling her with venomous fangs and slamming her against the wall with momentum alone.
She hacked once, violently, spewing a large mouthful of blood before they retracted and dispersed, leaving her to slump to the floor. Quivering, breath steadily slowing, and eyes rapidly glazing over.
"Kukukuku. Without immediate medical attention... she won't last another minute. What will you do now, Sasuke-kun?"
Orochimaru turned, to see that Sasuke had dropped to one knee and was clutching at his forehead and scalp with enough force that rivulets of blood had begun to trickle down. Then his gaze snapped up, spinning pinwheels morphing into a-
Orochimaru got a body flicker off just in time to see the wall that had been directly behind him erupt into a gout of black flames. Then Sasuke's remaining knee gave out, leaving him supporting himself by his hands alone, panting and sweating heavily from the exertion.
"So disappointing, Sasuke. And yet, so interesting as well." The sannin said as Sasuke's eyes morphed back into pinwheels and then to his normal pools of black, not having enough chakra remaining to sustain even that level.
It was Sasuke's anguished scream, a moment later, that drew a nearby test proctor to investigate, and by that time Orochimaru had already left, leaving behind his token to the Uchiha, Sakura, who's breathing came to a complete stop just a moment after the door opened, and the pawn that had so completely failed his plans.
Haha, you thought Sasuke would be getting out of the Curse Seal, didn't you? Nuh-uh.
And yes, Kin's teammates are very unhappy right now. Also yes, Sasuke can use the Mangekyou. But because he's screwed up in the head, only when Sakura is either dead or dying.
While this will be an uncommon occurence, it won't actually be too terribly rare, so expect another Amaterasu or two out of brooding boy at critical moments. Also, expect him to be completely useless after that.
Also, see my profile. Specifically the bit about BvS. Yeah, I'm eying you, buddy... I need recruits for my dark armies.