Authors Note: I'm still working on this story! I refuse to give up until I get to the point where I originally planned on stopping. I doubt I ever will do the 'sequel' I had planned, but I will finish this story, whether or not it ends up the way I planned or not. Thanks to my readers for giving me reason to continue, no matter what. I hope you are all still enjoying!
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Same disclaimer and summary as other chapters!
Episode 68: Forces Beyond Control
"Where is Sasuke?" Sakura wondered out loud.
Ino glanced over at her, brushing a few strands of light blonde hair away from her face. "I haven't seen him since the preliminaries - no one really has..." she said.
"Well, he's on my team, so I've seen him at our training session. I'm surprised you haven't run into him before...he's usually out and about with Sutefanii."
"Team bonding?" Ino asked scathingly. Sakura's cheeks turned the same shade as her hair.
"Um, more like...relationship bonding?"
"EXCUSE me? You did not just say RELATIONSHIP, did you?" the blonde gasped, holding a hand to her chest, as if her heart had just been ripped out and stomped on in front of her eyes.
"Take a look," Sakura said, tapping a fingernail on the small pair of binoculars resting on Ino's lap. The teal-eyed girl had been so preoccupied with the action of the matches that she had forgotten what she'd brought with her. Ino raised them to her eyes and glared at Sutefanii. The brunette had just bent over holding her stomach, apparently laughing hysterically at something Naruto had just said - the blonde boy was grinning from ear to ear. A flash of silver caught Ino's annoyed gaze, as the Uchiha charm necklace fell out of Sutefanii's shirt and danced in sunlight. Naruto's face solemn as he spied the tiny fan and Ino lowered the binoculars, her face pale.
"I can't believe it...he can have ANY girl he wants and he picked HER?"
Sakura shrugged. "They seem very happy together..."
Ino shook her head sadly at her friend. "For now, maybe. But hopefully he'll come to his senses and figure out what he's missing..." Sakura rolled her eyes.
Sutefanii's giggles began to fade as she realized the next match hadn't been announced yet. Genma was consulting with the Hokage and Kazekage, wildly gesturing at his list and at the door. The genin on the balcony all watched as the Hokage shook his head slowly. Just as Genma was about to head back to the arena floor, the Kazekage raised a hand to stop him. He said something that must have struck a nerve with the Hokage, in a good way, because the red-capped leader smiled at him, said something, and waved Genma away.
"It seems that we are continuing to alter the match schedule...so next up is...Kankuro versus Aburame Shino," the proctor said. Sutefanii let out a breath she hadn't realized she's been holding in - and also found Hinata had done the same. The girls' gazes met and they smiled weakly at one another.
"You can do it, Shino-kun," Hinata said softly to her teammate. He nodded curtly to her and headed down the stairs, with Kankuro following silently behind him.
Cherushii squeezed her hands together tightly in her lap. I wish I could have hugged him or something before he had to go out there...even if things are still slightly weird between us these days.
Kankuro smirked to himself as he stepped out into the arena, his hands in his pockets. He rubbed his thumb gently across the charm resting in his hand. I'll return this when the time is right...for me to make my move. For now, it's time to squash this buggy-freak. Shino's face remained impassive as he faced his opponent in front of Genma in the center of the partially destroyed field.
"Begin," the proctor said, stepping back.
Shino's insects immediately began to pour out of his clothing. Kankuro also moved to unwrap his puppet from his back before the bugs could fully form a swarm. Karasu opened its six arms and lunged forward at the Leaf ninja, with the help of Kankuro's chakra strings. Shino made no move to dodge the giant puppet, but let it capture him in a deathly grip.
"Surrender yet?" the Sand genin smiled cruelly as he tightened the grip on the other boy. Shino didn't reply, but suddenly burst out from the puppet's hold. Kankuro's face betrayed his astonishment as he watched Shino's insects pour out of Karasu's body and joints. The hooded boy tried to jerk his puppet away, but found that it wouldn't budge.
"It's useless," Shino said monotonously.
"The hell it is!" Kankuro shot back, tugging one particular string to let loose a small cloud of poisonous gas. Shino quickly moved out of the way. The Sand ninja scowled at him, when he suddenly felt an odd pull on his fingertips. He looked towards the motionless puppet and saw Shino's bugs attacking his chakra strings.
"They're eating your chakra," Shino stated calmly from behind him. Kankuro let out a stream of inappropriate curse words, released his chakra strings before the insects could get too close to him and drain him dry, and swung around to face his opponent all in the same moment. It was nearly too late though, as Shino punched him squarely in the face, breaking his nose.
Kankuro stumbled back a few paces, but refused to fall to the ground in pain. He clutched his now-bloody face with one hand, while the other conjured new chakra strings that attached themselves to Karasu's head. The puppet's mouth cracked open and revealed a large needle, dripping with poison. The venom was so potent that the grass the droplets touched turned black and shriveled into nothing.
The purple face-painted boy twisted his fingers and sent the head straight at Shino. The Leaf genin dodged the attack easily and seemed almost amused that Kankuro was trying so hard.
Suddenly, the puppet's head stopped in mid-air, inches from Shino's left leg, and fell to the ground. The Sand shinobi, still pinching his nose with one hand, looked confused and tried to move Karasu's cranium before realizing his fingers, no, his whole body, was frozen in place. Shino stepped directly in front of him
"Unless you would like to conclude your life much earlier than it should, I suggest you surrender now. My insects have already depleted your chakra levels to a dangerously low level. Any less in your system and you will not be able to continue being a shinobi. Act now, before it is too late."
"I surrender," Kankuro whispered, his head falling limply to his chest.
Genma stepped forward. "Since Kankuro has forfeited the match, the winner is Aburame Shino."
The Leaf genin's bugs swarmed back to their 'home' and Kankuro was lifted onto a stretcher and carried out of the arena.
Neji lay motionless on a bed in the medical area as TenTen hovered over him, fluffing another pillow. She shooed a nurse away and helped her teammate sit up slightly so she could place the second pillow under his head.
"TenTen?" Neji said quietly.
"Yes, Neji?" she asked briskly, helping him to lay back down before sitting on the edge of the bed next to him.
"Thank you. I...don't know what I would do without you." His face was an emotionless mask, but his pale eyes betrayed the honesty of his words. TenTen's brown eyes watered.
"Well, you don't ever have to worry about that," she replied, brushing his long dark hair away from his face and taking his hand. I'll always be around to take care of you...and waiting for you to return my feelings.
In his bed across the entirely too small room, Kankuro turned away from the pair to face the wall. Cherushii slipped in quietly through the door and made her way to his bedside.
"Kanky..." Her voice was like a caress, but he refused to turn towards her. His brown eyes were shut tightly against the temptation to look into her blue ones. "I know you're awake," she said gently, "but you don't have to see me. Just listen..." He was motionless, completely breathless, with every muscle tensed, and every nerve on fire.
"I don't know what will happen in the future. I know how I feel now, at this moment in time...but, things change. People change...Feelings change. That's why I just wanted you to know...there's a chance for us. I'm willing to see what happens if you are. Um, that's all I had to say. I'll leave you alone now..." As she turned to leave, his hand shot out and grabbed hers. Cherushii glanced over her shoulder to see him staring at her seriously.
"I'm in. I'm all in." Forever, he added in his mind. She smiled at him and his heart almost burst.
Meanwhile, Gaara was frantically checking all of his pockets for his 'love' kanji necklace from Cherushii. Temari, unaware of the charm's real meaning to her brother, tried to reassure him that it was probably back in his room, but the red-head shook his head. "I never go anywhere without it. I would NOT just leave it lying around..."
"You need to relax. We'll find it. But there are only two more beginning matches left, and yours is one of them. You need to concentrate," the dark-blonde-haired girl told him. Gaara turned away from her and clutched at his head. "What is it? What's wrong?" Temari asked in concern.
"Shukaku..." he said between gritted teeth. "I'm...emotionally weak. He's...trying to...take control."
"You can't let that happen! Fight him. You're strong enough!" she panicked.
The turquoise-eyed boy shook his head slowly, his eyes screwed up in pain. Temari dug her fingernails into her palms. "I'm going to find Baki and Cherushii. They can fix this. Just...stay calm, stay in control. I'll be right back!" She rushed towards the stairs as Gaara sank to the floor and covered his ears, shaking uncontrollably.
Sutefanii and Hinata watched wide-eyed as Temari pushed her way past them towards the staircase. Shino silently placed himself between the female genin and the red-haired boy, but Naruto was a statue as he stared in shock at Gaara. That could be me one day. The Kyuubi is just as vicious, if not more so than whichever demonic force is inside of him. I don't understand why I'm not a complete basket-case like he is. He's stronger than I am, more skilled as a shinobi...and yet he still can't control what's happening internally. I don't get it... Gaara suddenly looked up, his eyes glazed with icy determination, and met Naruto's startled stare. Something's wrong, Naruto thought immediately. That's not what his eyes normally look like...
"The next match is Hyuga Hinata versus Jeraado Sutefanii," Genma announced loudly, just before the main doors to the arena burst open with a gust of win. The entire crown gasped as Sasuke strolled in, with Kakashi gripping his shoulder securely.
Sutefanii felt her heart nearly stop with the overload of situations happening. She was frozen in place. It wasn't until Hinata tugged on her sleeve that she turned to make her way down the stairs to begin her match. She passed Kakashi and Sasuke on the field. The silver-haired jonin didn't glance her way, but the wordless power behind Sasuke's stare made her stumble.
"Good luck," he murmured. Her eyes lit up.
Questions to be answered: What will happen to Gaara? Will Kankuro ever give his brother his necklace back? Why are the ANBU at the Chuunin Exam? Will Sasuke and Sutefanii's relationship last through the Chuunin Exam? Will Sutefanii lose her match to Hinata on purpose, as she's been instructed to? What will happen next with Shikamaru and Temari's flirting? Where's Lee and what was wrong with his attitude? Who is that mysterious scarred Sound ninja Masshuu and why has he been sent after Sutefanii? What will Kakashi decide concerning Kurisuten's proposal for a relationship? Will Hinata ever stand a chance with Naruto, or will he be too busy chasing after Surtefanii's affections forever?
These questions and more will be answered in future episodes of A Complicated Situation! Stay tuned!
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