Hinata stared, worriedly, at Naruto. Thus far the boy hadn't written anything down at all on his question paper, just sat there frowning at Ibiki.
"Naruto-kun," she whispered. It wouldn't matter for her if she got disqualified for showing him her answers. Someone as weak as her couldn't pass, but if she could help someone else pass then that would be a triumph of sorts. But if she cheated she would be hurting Kiba-kun and Shino-kun's chances...
The blond boy drummed his fingers on the table for a moment and then nodded abruptly to himself, as if in decision.
Much to the astonishment of everyone in the room he stood up, picked up his question paper and then walked along the bench to where Kabuto was sitting, checking his completed test. Naruto plucked the paper out of the old genin's hands, passed him his own blank sheet and ambled back to sit next to Hinata with Kabuto's answers in front of him.
"...what the hell do you think you're doing?" Ibiki asked, somewhat incredulously.
Naruto gave him an innocent look. "Cheating," he replied, in a voice that conveyed an implicit 'duh'.
The pencil in one of the chuunin observer's hands snapped as he tried desperately not to break out laughing at the expression on his superior's face.
"I think that that costs me two points, didn't you say?" added Naruto. "Which means that unless Kabuto screwed up massively and only got two questions right - and I don't think that's too likely - I've got at least one point left."
Ibiki sighed. "The general point of cheating is not to get caught, dumbass."
"Yeah, but if you don't disqualify everyone who cheats, just penalise them, then cheating's allowed in the rules. So... I cheated once." Naruto shrugged. "And made sure that once was all I needed."
"...I guess that that works," Ibiki conceded reluctantly.
Anko shunshined into the Tower at the centre of the Forest of Death, appearing in a cloud of smoke that masked the leaves that she had intended to arrive with.
"What the hell!" she snapped, instantly aware that there were unknowns behind her and lunged forwards, rolling to bring them into view as she came back to her feet, a kunai ready in one hand.
She need not have bothered however as instead of a hostile force, she saw instead a tumbled trio of genin, one of them the loud brat she'd scratched up before briefing the candicates for the second round. He was more or less on the bottom of the heap, which didn't help much since he was the only one not tied up. The Uchiha brat was glaring as impotently as... well, as an Uchiha, who as a clan tended to take impotence to new depths from what she recalled. The pinkhead girl was trying to beat up the blond, but it wasn't working out so well given she was tied up, if less comprehensively than the Uchiha brat.
Anko shook her head. "What the hell are you three playing at?"
The responses suggested that it was Naruto's fault. Not exactly a surprise, but getting to the tower this soon after the start of the exam had to be some kind of record.
Then Naruto managed to work one hand out of the tangle and display two scrolls. Anko blinked. Getting to the tower with two scrolls, technically completing the mission in... what, not quite an hour? That really was a recordbreaking performance.
"Okay..." she said. "Well, you're here and you have the scrolls. That's good. You're in the time limit. You have your whole team. And the scrolls are sealed."
"It's not our fault!" Sakura protested as Naruto released her. She promptly smacked the boy and went to help Sasuke, who had mostly managed to get himself loose.
The special jounin shook her head. "Actually I can't think of a reason to disqualify you. He completed the mission, after all, even if he did it by tying his teammates up and carrying them. Who did you take the scroll off?"
"No one," Naruto confessed. "I sneaked into the back of the stall and replaced a couple of the scrolls with fakes while the spares were being packed away."
"That happened after you were sent into the Forest, didn't it?"
"I sent kage bushin into the forest," explained Naruto. "Then I sealed Sasuke and Sakura into a storage scroll and henged myself into a senbon while I was holding the scroll. One of my bushin stuck the senbon into the hem of your coat. I guess your shunshin must have broken the henge and the storage scroll."
Anko shook her head. "So you cheated and got the examiner to smuggle you past the whole exam... You deviant little bastard," she said in admiration.
"Did Sasuke win?" Naruto asked Naruto as he ambled back up the steps to the balcony.
Heads turned as they saw Konoha's Most Orange Ninja arriving somewhere that they had already thought that he was.
"Yeah. Kicked ass." The Naruto on the balcony agreed. He leant over slightly. "Uh, you need to..." He pointed, indiscreetly, at Naruto's groin.
"Huh? Oh, okay." Naruto said and the first Naruto vanished in a puff of smoke. "...oh." He reached down and zipped himself up. "Someone could have told me. Jeez."
Everyone sighed and turned away, except for Ibiki and Anko, both of whom seized upon the truly important point: Uzumaki Naruto had been out of their sight for an unspecified period of time. Oh shit.
"Akamaru," Kiba instructed. "You stay out of it. I'll fight alone." He raised one fist illustratively. "I feel bad for you, so I'll end it with one punch."
"Ah, is that so?" Naruto asked. "What are you going to do? Punch yourself in the groin?"
"Stop acting tough," snorted Kiba.
"Then... cough - please begin," announced Hayate. Kiba immediately crouched, forming the seals for Beast Effect Ninpou: Quadraped no Jutsu. Naruto ran forward at an angle, not closing in.
"Here I come!" Kiba shouted and hurtled forwards, striking Naruto in the chest and hurling him back - through the high doors of the chamber. "He won't be opening his eyes for a while referee," the Inuzuka boy laughed.
"Is that so?" Naruto's voice came from through the doors. "Funny, I thought that you'd be stronger than that Kiba. Oh well, be a good dog." He whistled shrilly. "Heel!"
"Why you!" Kiba yelled and charged out of the doors towards Naruto's voice.
"Is that allowed, leaving the room?" Sakura asked.
The Hokage chuckled. "I suppose that it is. Hayate did say no rules, after all." There was a crashing sound from through the door and the strong smell of bleach and other cleaning fluids wafted through, along with Kiba cursing. "I suppose that I shall have to insist that Naruto clean up after himself though."
A moment later, Naruto trotted back into the room, towing a hogtied, foulmouthed and brightly painted Kiba behind him on a length of rope. "Really Kiba, you should be better at spotting traps than that."
"Uh, victory to Uzumaki Naruto," declared Hayate, stepping aside to stay upwind of Kiba.
"How did he set traps for Kiba in that length of time?" Kurenai wondered out loud. Then she blinked. "Wait... he went to the toilet during Uchiha Sasuke's match. He did it then... That's..."
"Rather ingenious," Anko told her. "After all, in a real fight wouldn't you want to lure an opponent into an area you've boobytrapped?"
Orochimaru blinked as he saw the level of security arrayed around the stadium. It looked as if the entirety of Konoha's ANBU were there in full wargear, watching not only the approaches, but the entire audience. Teams of chuunin and even jounin were examining everyone as they entered. "This is quite an impressive display," he said politely to the Hokage as they walked together towards the elevated box where they would be sitting. "Putting on a show for the potential clients."
The Sandaime Hokage shook his head. "That is a useful side-benefit," he said. "This is more on the nature of ensuring that no one tampers with the outcome of the matches."
"You aren't suggesting that someone would try to embarass their nation by cheating in front of all these witnesses?" the supposed Kazekage said with clearly feigned innocence.
"One of the genin has demonstrated a creative, if not technically illegal, perspective on the rules," the Hokage explained. "It's certainly a good sign that he's ready to be promoted, but not the sort of thing to share with outsiders. However, with all these guards, I'm sure that nothing will go wrong. If anyone so much as tries to form a genjutsu my ANBU will be onto them in an instant. And as for sneaking in under a henge... no, nothing like that will be permitted."
"How reassuring," Orochimaru said, although the words tasted like ashes in his mouth as he started making covert 'abort' signals to Kabuto and his other minions.
Neji backed up as Naruto used his summoning. The younger boy had considerable chakra, so it was possible that he might summon something large enough to pose a minor threat to the Hyuuga. Granted, he was destined to fall before Neji's greatness, but arrogance might allow him to wear the prodigy down before his next match against Uchiha Sasuke.
The smoke dissipated to reveal a toad... fortunately one small enough that Naruto could lift it easily on one hand, which was exactly what he did.
"You are pathetic," Neji snorted. "You actually think that you can defeat me?"
"Shut up," Naruto said absently. "Adults are talking. Hey, Gamakichi, tell your bro to do that thing we talked about, okay?"
"And I'll get candy, right?" the toad insisted in a high-pitched voice.
"Here's some now," Naruto told him, handing over a small bag to the toad who vanished in a puff of smoke with a shrill, "Bye!"
Neji rolled his eyes. "Shall we proceed with your inevitable defeat now?"
"Actually, I'm gonna win," Naruto said smugly.
"And how do you think that you're going to do that?" sneered the Hyuga.
"I'm going to trick you."
"Give it up. It is your fate to be defeated. Your simple tricks won't defe-" He said before he vanished in a puff of ninja smoke.
Naruto smirked. "Di-ver-sion!" he caroled. "Hey, Mr. Examiner, how about you declare me the winner now?"
"Uh... what did you do to him?" Genma asked. "Vaporising him is a little much, you know?"
Naruto grinned foxily. "It's legal to use a summons, right?"
"Yes, that was fine. But how..."
"One of my summons used a summoning scroll for Neji. They're under orders not to bring him back until I'm declared the winner."
"...how did you make a summoning scroll for your opponent?"
"Examiner-san, a good shinobi never reveals his secrets," Naruto said.
"...you win," Genma admitted.
"Uzumaki Naruto," Gaara said flatly. "I will kill you."
No, you fool, surrender immediately! hissed a voice inside his head, causing the Sand genin to blink in surprise. That didn't sound like mother.
"Who are you?" he mumbled out loud, eliciting a puzzled look from Genma.
Who are you talking to? replied the more familiar voice in his head. Crush the orange fool to prove your existence!
I am the great demon Kyuubi! the first voice shouted desperately. I order you to cease this before the boy destroys everything!
"Destroy... everything..." Gaara twitched.
Yes... destroy everything... his mother crooned.
You'll be killed, you idiot! the voice shrieked. He's a monster, it's taking all the power of myself, the great nine-tailed nogitsune, to stop him from ending your existence on the spot.
Gaara frowned. "Kyuubi?" he asked.
Shuukaku hesitated. Kyuubi?
Yes, you imbecile! the voice shouted. I've spent the last decade trying to keep him from waking up and your petty efforts are just making it harder. Do you want him erase you from the universe?
The Ichibi vessel began to shake. "Kill him... before he destroys me..." he mumbled, sand rising around him towards Naruto.
For god's sake! screamed the voice, Don't you understand? I sacrificed my life to enter Konoha and bind him away - haven't you heard how I was 'vanquished' by their Hokage? Would I, the greatest of all the Bijuu, have permitted such a slight if the entire world's existence did not hang in the balance? You can't kill him! All you could ever do is awaken him and if you do that then You. Will. Die!
What are you waiting for? Mother asked. Kill him. Prove your existence.
He's noticed you! the Kyuubi shrieked and Gaara noticed Naruto walking slowly forwards, a vile red chakra pouring from him.
"...I must exist..." Gaara mumbled. "Mustn't die..." Sweat broke out on his brow, loosening the sand slightly. "I surrender!" he screamed suddenly at Genma.
Utter silence filled the arena.
"What?" Genma asked the Sand genin, who was now trying to hide behind him from a puzzled looking Naruto.
"I said I surrender!" Gaara practically snivelled. "Don't let him kill me!"
What... the... hell... Shuukaku wondered.
There was no verbal response from the other voice, only a slight puff of air in one ear that Gaara took for a sigh of relief.
Naruto grimaced. "Seriously," he said, looking at Gaara. "You need to clean your ears out. That was totally disgusting. Have you ever heard of cotton buds."
Kankuro's eyes were wide as he looked down at Gaara. "I don't believe it..." he muttered. "Gaara's... scared of him? I thought... I didn't think that Gaara was scared of anything. I didn't think he could be afraid, Temari." He paused. "Temari?"
His sister was still standing very still, watching the arena floor, completely ignoring the disgruntled crowd watching Gaara leave and Genma beckoning for her to come down.
"Temari?" Kankuro touched her shoulder and the kunoichi turned to reveal that her face was shockingly pale and her eyes large and desperate.
"I have to fight him?" she asked in a childish voice. "Someone that Gaara is scared of?"
Kankuro looked around for help and saw no one was present to witness what he was about to do.
"What the hell!" Temari snapped, touching her face where her brother had backhanded her.
"Snap out of it, sis," Kankuro hissed. "We're looking like a bunch of pansies. I quit because of a plan that got trashed, Gaara just quit. You're the only chance Suna has of salvaging our reputation here. Just go down there and play things defensively. Hold out a respectable time and then surrender. No one expects you to win against a monster that can make our monster back down."
Temari stared at him and then nodded respectfully. Then she frowned. "Kankuro... I don't think a monster can be afraid. If Gaara..."
"There's no time for this," Kankuro growled. "Go!"
"Hai, hai, Kazekage-sama," she said sarcastically and hopped off the balcony, landing easily on the ground below.
Genma chewed on his senbon. "What kept you?"
"I was in the shower," Temari shot back, focusing on the examiner and not the enigma that she was going to have to fight.
"Right, whatever. Okay. Fight now." Genma said, throwing up his hands and backing up to what he hoped would be a safe distance. Uzumaki's tactics might be unusual, but they also tended to be quite precise - the Suna kunoichi was another matter.
Temari raised her fan as menacingly as she could while also preparing to dodge like her life depended on it. Naruto watched her and then smirked. "You don't really look like you want to fight," he told her.
"Shut up," Temari snapped, trying to ignore the sweat that was running down her neck or the itching on her cheek. She couldn't scratch it right now without lowering her defenses so she'd just have to live with it.
"Oh shoot," groaned Naruto, looking at her face. "It's itching, isn't it? Anko told me it would but I thought that I'd got it neutralised."
"What's itching?" Temari asked nervously and jumped back, holding the fan in one hand as she rubbed quickly at her cheek.
Naruto shrugged. "Your cheek, of course... uh, you probably don't want to do that, now you've got it on your fingers..."
Temari went white. "What did you do!?" she shouted. Her finger tips were itching now.
"Uh, three different types of sap mixed in just the right proportions," Naruto told her. "One of my clones applied it when you thought you were talking to your brother. It's really quite humane - the itching is the nerves burning out before the mixture starts eating through your skin. You probably won't feel a thing in a -"
"Forfeit!" Temari screamed. "I forfeit! Get this shit off of me, you bastard!" She grabbed a corner of her skirt with the hand she'd rubbed her face and tore it off, using the scrap to rub frantically at the side of her face.
"Ah!" Naruto yelled. "Don't do that! You're rubbing it in deeper."
"Now what we need is a neutralising agent," Naruto said, rooting around his pockets for something. "A very specific mix - much more complicated than original toxin. I mean, really, when was the last time you had to hand distill something..."
"Get over here and give it to me!" roared Temari, noting that Naruto wasn't actually getting any closer to her.
"Uh... well there are some fumes from when it mixes with your blood that I'd really rather not breath if you know what I'm talking about..." he told her reasonably. "I'm not going to be able to help you if I'm seeing purple horseflies the size of elephants, am I?" Naruto paused and frowned. "You know, I'm sure that I brought the neutralisation fluid with me. Where did I put it..."
Temari gave a frustrated scream and started stomping towards him. "I'll rub this all over you!" she shouted, pointing at her itching cheek. "That should motivate you, dammit!"
"Wait!" Naruto shouted, backpedalling. "There's another way!"
"Take a shower!" he offered hastily. "That usually washes itching powder right off!"
Temari froze for a moment. "Itching powder?"
"Uh, you know, the fight is over..." Genma shouted after the two of them as pursuer and pursuee disappeared into the distance. He shook his head. "I thought that she'd already had a shower."