Wrong Again

Chapter 18

"Alright brats," Anko snarled, "Try to keep up." That was the only warning the still half frozen genin received before she kicked in the opposite wall of the room and jumped out. Murmurs and half curses among the stunned genin were heard as confusion took a hold of some.

Sasuke was one of the first to move after her; dashing out of the hole in the wall and into the hallway leading to a broken window. With his team right behind him they chased after the destructive kunoichi. Not too long afterwards the room was empty of genin leaving behind an annoyed Obito.

"Does she always have to destroy things?" one chuunin complained. Not bothering to stay and listen to them moan he teleported out to the roof top where he could view the chase. Knowing Anko, she wouldn't lose them but she sure as hell was going to make them work for it. This first little exercise was to test their tenacity.

If anyone asked him, just meeting Anko was enough to test anyone's tenacity at wanting to become a ninja. He'd never say that to her face though; not many lived to tell the tale after pissing her off. With a shudder he tuned back into the chase at hand.

Naruto's team wasn't having any trouble keeping up. With Sasuke's sharingan they were actually chasing the original. Anko had several clones running about the makeshift course that would eventually lead them to the Forest of Death.

One Stone team was running along an alley way with a clone of Anko just ahead of them. Unaware of their surroundings they failed to take notice of the many doors and windows next to them. The clone turned a corner only to burst out from a window to their right, knocking down the third member of the team. It looked like Anko had already decided on which team wasn't going to make it to the next round.

Obito could only chuckle at the typical move. Whenever she was in her own element, Anko could still even surprise him. Minato had said something about her learning that from her previous and last squad leader. He also said something about her being the way she was because of him. No one talked about her past and for good reasons too.

"Damn brats!" Anko yelled as she ducked under a kick. She'd have to get serious with this bunch. They were tricky and extremely persistent. In truth she wasn't surprised that they were the ones who had found her. It was the Hokage's brats and the Nara's kid. It would have been pathetic if they were chasing after one of her clones.

Rumor was that they'd been training under Obito and even that creepy little Uchiha nerd that never laughed. Some even accounted that the Hokage himself gave them personal training! Special treatment tended to inflate heads so she'd taken it upon herself to teach these kids a real lesson. After all, no one got anything unless they deserved it, right?

She drew back from a swing by the blue one only to block a well-timed kick from blondie. She nearly couldn't avoid the shadow that darted straight for her own. The fight continued and Anko couldn't help but smile deviously. She'd show them. She'd show all of them.

This was the most fun she'd had in a while.

This was annoying, Sasuke thought. While it might be a nice warm up for the actual exam they didn't have time to play around with Anko. Hell, he didn't give a damn about the exam. After surveying the genin he had confirmed that Gaara wasn't there. His brother and sister were though.

The puppeteer and the wind user looked a lot less intimidating without their psychotic little brother. He had wondered briefly why they were here a year early but dropped it. It didn't matter, without Gaara, they wouldn't be a problem.

He hadn't spotted Kabuto or anyone resembling the man. The Fourth hadn't reported any matches to that description either. Grass didn't have any weirdoes that could house a creep like Orochimaru; not that he saw anyway. Besides, the man was dead, he had to remind himself. Naruto and the chuunin were keeping their chakra low while in the presence of the other genin. He could tell from the random spurts and oozing chakra which genin were worth keeping an eye out for. He barely saw the Hyuuga but his chakra was unmistakable. He didn't have to see him to know that he was there. The over-excited and exuberating green copy of Gai wasn't there surprisingly but the plain weapons girl was there. He didn't recognize the third member of that Leaf team.

The silence back in the room had been thick, surpassed only by the tension. During the chuunin exam was the only time so many foreign ninja could be crammed together in one room without a fight breaking out. Tradition was that each village sent out their potential ninja to show off to the others. It was a way of keeping an eye on who was who and which village to keep an eye on. It was still pretty much the same.

Bored and tired of waiting Sasuke had started to meditate as he waited for someone to start.

Before Anko had even crashed through the wall he had felt Naruto twitch. It was an involuntary reaction that he'd learned to depend on.

He flipped back from a sneaky serpentine swipe. Back to the present fight he glanced at Naruto and tilted his head. It was time to go. Another glance at Nara and they all rushed in for a direct attack. Several Naruto shadow clones appeared to join in on the fight. Several seconds later more shadow clones of Sasuke and Shika popped up too.

Attacked from every which way Anko could only block before it all turned into nothing more than a dog pile with her on the bottom. Taking the chance the three fled towards the Forest of Death before the mad woman could resurface.

It'd been a long time since he had done any sage training. The wind had directed him to the forest but once inside it was eerily calm as if its duty was complete. He didn't make a move as he surveyed the area. On the edge of his consciousness just out of his reach was a presence. It wavered in and out, weak and then strong.

He couldn't grasp it. Focusing his chakra he began the process of entering sage mode. It took longer than it used to. He knew how but his young, inexperienced body didn't. When it started taking like what seemed forever to him he furrowed his brow and growled.

With one last ditch effort he finally let out a long breath and tried to calm down. The sudden impatience had upset him; he couldn't remember when he was this unhappy about something so stupid. He could still hear the old frog master yell at him but he could no longer even fathom the pain of the whack that accompanied his turning into a frog.

Not at all at ease he gave up for now and sat back. How was he supposed to meditate when all he wanted to do was brood and beat something-someone up? Stupid Sasuke for making him feel this. And what did he feel?

The question had him wondering. He'd never really actually thought about what he was feeling. After a second he wasn't sure why Sasuke made him mad. He wasn't sure why he felt so alone-he had everyone that mattered nearby.

Didn't he?

His father was alive, Sasuke hadn't run away from him, and although Kakashi was dead, Obito wasn't bad at all. Creepy Itachi was decent every now and then to him. Sakura didn't know him at all, yet, so he wasn't worried about them; same with the others. He knew they were keeping things from him but he was willing to go along with it if it made them happy.

So why did he feel so alone?

Sometimes it felt like they didn't recognize him, like they didn't appreciate that he had gotten along just fine by himself all these years. They might consider it as protection but Naruto could only feel it as mockery. He was always last-last to his classmates, last to learn, last to past, last to Sasuke.

Always dead-last.

A sudden wave of hatred surged up inside him. For a second it felt like Kyuubi was going to overwhelm him but he snapped back to his surroundings. He shook it off, unaware of the lingering whisper of chakra. He had to start meditating again; never before had he ever let his anger get the better of him. He only gave a passing thought to Kyuubi's interference. It was a common occurrence now to have the fox demon voice its emotions.

He lay back against the green covered ground and closed his eyes never ever thinking that his drifting thoughts of anger would come to life. And that he would come to hate those he held dear to him. His precious people.

His Sasuke.

At the perimeter of the Forest of Death, Shika leaned against a tree with his eyes closed. For those who didn't know him it looked like the genin was bored. But to those who did, which were few, they'd at least suspect that the genius's mind was working. And it was.

In the short amount of time that he'd known the other two genin, he'd come to know quite a bit about them. Most of the information he'd gathered was simply from observing them interact with each other and the few questions that he had asked them and his father.

There really wasn't a simple summary for those two. Their rivalry and bond went deeper than just the span of twelve years. The explanations that could account for that were far beyond anything normal. He would need to know several more things before he could even determine why he knew this.

For now, according to Sasuke's explanation, all he was to them was a third team mate. Becoming chuunin was an important step for these two and they needed him to complete the three man team. Despite never having been in a real battle before he wasn't worried about the competition today. Naruto and Sasuke had proven themselves to be great team mates. They'd made it clear that all he'd have to do was his best and they'd cover for him.

With all that he knew about them, he knew Sasuke was quiet and calculating, unless he was interacting with Naruto and then all Hell broke loose. And Naruto was a handful, even on his best behavior, which was why when he was totally surprised when Naruto had been quieter than a mouse back in the room. There wasn't even a twitch or peep from him. The boundless energy had been muted today, if not missing altogether.

He opened one eye and snuck a peek at the dynamic duo. Sasuke appeared to be meditating while he sat on the ground cross-legged. Naruto was standing and slightly pacing but his attention was on the Forest of Death. Whenever Shika could catch a peak at Naruto's expression, it seemed far off, like he was looking at something deeper inside that only he could see.

If Sasuke noticed Naruto's behavior he didn't show any indication of it. Perhaps this was the way the two acted when outside of training. He didn't know. All he could do for now as wait for the rest of the others to get here and get started on this exam.

It wasn't too much longer after that thought that several teams burst through the light scattering of trees surrounding the fenced perimeter of the Forest of Death. There was the Sand team with three of the Stone teams. Not too long afterward the rest of the teams showed up. Some teams were a little out of breath after chasing the snake woman all over the course. They were short one team though.

"Well, well, well. Not too bad!" Anko dropped out of the trees in front of the majority of the group. Her sharp, toothy grin along with her pounding chakra scared some of the less experienced genin.

"One bunch of little kiddies down, sixteen bunches left to go!" she boasted as her gaze swept over the rest of the genins. She abruptly turned around and then whipped out some paper.

"Unfortunately, before I can throw you to your death, you all need to sign these death waivers. When you die here, you can't blame me, yadda yadda blah blah," she rambled and started handing sheets out to the genin. When one genin froze to the spot and refused to take the paper she grinned from ear to ear, "You don't have to sign this, brat. But if you don't, your team can't participate."

After several minutes and all the waivers were signed and collected Anko collected herself and began talking in all seriousness.

"The rules are as follows. There are sixteen teams so there is an even number of you. There is a reason that you were trained in a three man team. Three is the most efficient number for completing missions. If you couldn't work with your team you wouldn't be here. This exam tests your team's ability to operate as an interceptor and as a retriever. In future missions, your Kage will assign your team to retrieve vital information. Other missions your Kage will assign your team to protect vital information. This exam simulates an actual mission.

"Half of you will be start off as retrievers and the other half will start as interceptors and some teams will have scrolls. There is precious information involved contained in the scrolls that only some teams will start off with. This information is confidential and shall be opened only by an authorized person. Your job is to get it to the right person. If you don't have one, try to get one. If you do start off with one, prepare to be attacked! The goal is to get a scroll to the tower to the right person. Your entire team must make it there. You have three days. I'll see who survives at the end of those three days!" Anko laughed maniacally before disappearing in a swirl of leaves.

A dozen Leaf chuunin dropped down from the trees and start escorting the majority of the teams to different start places around the edge of the forest. He couldn't see which teams had a scroll. They didn't receive any scrolls from their chuunin.

Shika finally got a good look at the other Leaf team that was competing as well as they moved away. Earlier in the room they had been obscured by several teams. The long haired genin with the white eyes was definitely a Hyuuga but he didn't know who he was. He didn't recognize the other two; a girl and another boy. They looked pretty unremarkable compared to the Hyuuga.

He had no idea if they were any good and he didn't know anything else about any of the other teams. He almost didn't recognize the Hidden Waterfall insignia on one of the teams. Never having actually left the village, he only knew where the other countries were from the map he'd learn about in school. Certain places were known for their specialized technique and Konoha was no different. Sasuke and Naruto didn't look concerned so he turned his gaze to the forest. When something or someone moved further into the dark shadows of the trees away from his sight he frowned. Was Naruto looking at that earlier?

A glance at Sasuke showed that Sasuke had noticed as well. For the first time in the day, Naruto seemed to come to life. His chakra level rose and he smiled in the most feral fashion that Shika had ever seen before.

"Get ready!" the chuunin called out. Shika braced himself. It would suck to have to deal with someone right away.

"Go!" The gate opened and Naruto yelled out, "Let's do this!" and off they went.