"Again," Gwendolyn ordered.
Naruto grunted with effort. He felt the wind gather at his command, like fireflies around him, moving in a uniform direction guided by his will, surrounding him. He then grouped them together, tight enough that their movement caught light and slowly bent it around him.
"Good," Gwendolyn nodded. "Keep it up."
The wind began swirling faster and faster around him, so tightly packed that there was no breeze. He held it for about ten more seconds before his concentration broke, and the wind that gathered to him scattered, leaving nothing but gentle wind running through the trees.
He muttered a curse.
"Naruto…" Gwendolyn shook her head. "Good effort, but I think you're going about it the wrong way."
Naruto gave the Wind Mana a glare. "I'm doing it as you told me."
"I taught you the basics. You cannot maintain a veil with just basic techniques."
"Then teach me!" Naruto growled.
Gwendolyn met his glare neutrally. "It wouldn't matter. Commanding elements is something more than just me teaching you how. You have to find your niche and methods in incorporating your will to them."
Naruto muttered more curses. He stalked around the training area. He was supposed to meet his team four hours from now, instead he was up, doing last minute training with Gwendolyn. If Naruto hadn't regularly been drinking a synthesized medicine that allowed him to get a full night's sleep for only 3 hours, he'd be dead tired, and most likely sleeping in the grass.
And yet even with that, there was not enough time to train enough to make Naruto feel prepared enough for the exam.
Instead of training with Kyuubi, Mercedes and Gwendolyn equally, he divided his time so the bulk of his hours go to Gwendolyn, reasoning that, as Gwendolyn mentioned once, he was more attuned to Wind, and would learn it quicker.
He did. He learned to slow his perceptions, borrowing the speed of the wind to make him move faster. He could now hear the wind, in a limited distance even while running. He learned to create gales of wind enough to defend him from small projectiles, including mist or poison. He even learned a cool trick, coalescing wind in his hands, allowing him to bend light slightly to make him see farther.
The next step was a veil, the basis similar to the last trick. Except instead of gathering wind on his hand, he formed it all around his body, theoretically making him invisible to sight, scent and even sound.
Of course, it wasn't going too well.
"You'll get there," Gwendolyn smiled. "I never had a more able student."
"I don't want to get there. I want to be there, now," the boy muttered, sitting down on the grass, arms and legs crossed.
"Some things take time," the Wind Mana stated calmly. "You did our best, more than I expected, even, with the time you had."
"Yeah, cheer up, Naruto," Mercedes, sitting down serenely at one of the nearby trees, said cheerfully. "You'll get more after the whole exam."
"I also want to know why we're wasting time in doing a stupid veil," Naruto muttered. "Why can't I learn something else?"
"The next step would be controlled flight," Gwendolyn said.
"That! I want to learn that!"
The Wind Mana smiled. "Naruto, flight, while easier than forming a full veil, isn't something you can do. Not until you can hold a working wind veil for at least five minutes."
"This sucks," Naruto sighed. "I mean, I can veil myself fine with Mercedes . . ."
"My camouflage system only works on wooded or grassy areas," Mercedes replied.
"This is Hidden Leaf," Naruto replied. "It's always wooded. And grassy," he added as an afterthought.
"And if you travel to other Elemental Countries, like Wind Country, where there is nothing but sand?"
"Well, we're not going to Wind Country now," the blonde retorted.
"Naruto, you're not thinking this through," Gwendolyn stated calmly. "Ask yourself this . . . do you know where the exams will take place?"
"Here," Naruto muttered, leaving the implied 'obviously'.
"And is the whole Hidden Leaf Village a forest, or do you have buildings?"
Naruto fell silent.
"And would it be possible that your exams would take place in one of those buildings?" the Wind Mana continued.
"If you ask nicely, I'm pretty sure they can put some hay, leaves and dead wood in those buildings," Mercedes smiled.
The blonde nodded in concession, and raised his hand. "Alright, I got it. But still. It's frustrating. I think I could do much more . . ."
Mercedes just smiled, while Gwendolyn nodded. Both understood his frustrations.
After weeks of being able to learn fighting moves and chakra techniques easily with the Jade Shift technique, learning to command elements was a very different matter. Gwendolyn explained that Chakra is energy and in a broad general spectrum enough that almost anyone with a similar mind frame can manipulate.
Elements on the other hand, are a mixture of energy and nature, which on itself, is a living being. One does not manipulate elements as easily as Chakra. Each element has their own baseline, and depending on the person's personality, his ability to command them differs in effectiveness. Naruto is more attuned to the wind elements, which he learned is as almost as fickle as he was, scatter-brained and easily distracted.
And if that wasn't enough, the only one who effectively could learn to use elements was Prime alone, none of his Jade Shift counter-parts. Fortunately, anything Prime learned, his personalities will be able to follow up afterwards.
Still, he wished they could help him out. Or at least have one personality that could learn wind.
"Naruto, you learned what you can," Gwendolyn stated. "You are more ready now than the first time you got the invitation to the exam."
"What if something goes wrong? What if I could have learned something that could have helped out -?"
"What if the tree I am sitting on suddenly cracked and tumbled down your direction?" Mercedes suddenly asked.
The blonde blinked at her.
"HHHHaonestly, Naruto, you worry too much," Mercedes shook her head, and jumped down, gently landing on the grass. "You did everything you could. It's not like you're out to save the world. It's an exam. Granted, you got someone like you running around, honestly, why did you join in the first place?"
"Well . . . to keep others safe. I guess," Naruto muttered.
"Not to defeat that Sand kid, yes?"
Naruto could only nod.
"There you go," Mercedes nodded like she had gotten her point across. Naruto was still unsure about what the point was though. "All you have to do is just have your classmates avoid confrontation with the Sand kid… or at least warn them to keep away. I mean, what were you expecting, you to go up and alone to the Sand kid, and beat him to death?"
"Well, if I did take him out of the picture, it would be much easier - HEY!" Naruto shouted as a gust of wind blew dust in his face, making him wince. When it died down, he glared at Gwendolyn. It was always something the Wind Mana did when he was doing, or even saying something wrong while they trained. It wasn't painful, but definitely annoying.
"Naruto, you're good, but if you go in charging like that, it will be a replay of your survival training with your Team except with more blood," the Wind Mana said. "And if you're dead, how will you learn more of commanding wind elements?"
"Or wood elements for the matter?" Mercedes interjected.
Naruto sighed. Part of him knew they were correct, but still couldn't help but feel worried. Taking calming breathes he moved around slightly, stealing looks at his surroundings for a moment. Moonlight reflected the grass. The passing wind whistled along with the rustle of small animals moving from trees to trees. The stars twinkled over the velvet sky.
"Alright . . . you guys made your point," he finally said. "Time to sleep."
Mercedes and Gwendolyn nodded. They gave him comforting smiles, which he returned half-heartedly. They were right. He was worrying needlessly. In a few hours, he was going to take a test that he still felt he wasn't ready to face. As he walked out of the training area, he hoped that sleep will clear out his doubts.
First thing she saw when she woke was her family seal, the fan symbol of the Uchiha she had nailed on the ceiling. Saki blinked the sleepiness off her eyes before she slid off the bed, her pajamas ruffled and unfastened in a few places. She stood in front of her full-body mirror, slowly unbuttoning her top.
She was developing too fast, she thought, looking at her naked chest.
She put on sweats and began to do her morning stretches and drills before taking a long shower, enjoying the lukewarm water for a while before wiping herself off. She got back in front of the mirror, and began doing her chest bindings.
Kakashi was right. Her secret was not something she could keep for long. Sooner or later, those who don't know will find out, and there would be a falling out; some might understand, others won't. Then there's also the political aspect. As the last female Uchiha, she will be pressured to marry, and produce off-springs to continue her family legacy.
Not before her brother gets what he deserves, though. Not before.
She sighed as she slipped on her blue and white shirt, and began binding work on her legs, putting on her shorts and her sandals. She sprayed herself with a musky scent, strong enough to make her cough, and began working on her hair.
Satisfied that her Sasuke look was complete, Uchiha 'Sasuke' began to gather her tools. Shurikens, kunai, wires, and a few explosive tags. With that done, she took a look at her bed. On the headboard, just above, the Uchiha sword, the one her mother, and her mother's mother, owned and wielded.
She took a moment to look at the magnificent weapon. Forged from the fires of the Uchiha, imbued with seals and blood to make the weapon ever sharp and durable, it was the last memento she had of her mother.
And when she took it up, it meant she took a big step. It meant she had made a choice. It meant that sooner or later, blood will be spilled by its blade.
She grabbed it, and secured it on her back. Until it drinks his blood, it's a weapon. Nothing more, nothing less. And right now, she had an exam to go to.
Sakura looked at herself in the mirror. For the first time, she wasn't even trying to do a checklist on her head regarding her looks. Oh, sure, she had made sure she took a long bath, put on a full body herbal scented shampoo and conditioner, and even got her make-up just right to make it look 'natural', but those things were done out of habit.
She didn't pose. She didn't do faces. She just stared at her reflection.
For a moment, she had wondered if she is making the right choice in entering the exams. Kakashi had warned her that it was going to be difficult. Before, difficult meant bearable as long as she was with her Sasuke-kun. Until her mission in Wave Country shaken her enough to plant doubts.
She was no fool. She had realized that right now she is dragging the team behind. Before, it was clear who would be dead weight. She had smarts, Sasuke had skills, and Naruto . . . well, Naruto had pranks. Now, her blonde teammate was an alchemist, with skill sets that now made him useful in combat and tactics.
All she can do right now is being a talking encyclopedia.
"Sakura, you awake? You're going to be late!" her mom called downstairs.
Sakura looked behind her. She looked at herself again. Kakashi had told her to take ninja training seriously. And she complained that she was. She did everything as she did back in the Academy days, adding some tree walking as well. Her accuracy had gone up, and her hand to hand combat skills improved. Yet why was she being left behind by even the class clown?
"Coming!" she said. She stole one last glance in the mirror, again wondering if she's making the right choice.
The walk back to the Academy was a bit of a nostalgic run for Naruto. He kept remembering spots where he had run from the chasing ANBU, spots where his teacher, Iruka, spotted him, and even amused himself by back-tracking his steps every time he entered or exited the academy.
In front of the academy, two of his teammates were also there, and judging by the way they interacted, they just got there as well.
He was glad that they dressed up as they always did. Granted, Sakura looked like she had a really bad stomach ache, and didn't even flirt at 'Sasuke', and Saki had that brooding stare, her hand seemingly longing to get to her sword, but really, any other day, it was like Team Seven going to another mission, and are just waiting for Kakashi to show up.
"Naruto," Saki greeted. She paused for a beat. He could imagine her saying 'Ready?' but she chose to forgo that statement, and just walked to the entrance of the academy, with Sakura and Naruto following behind her.
After two flights of stairs, a crowd of other gennin seemed to greet them, gathering around a door 301, the door where the exams were supposed to take place. But for some reason, Naruto felt a little off looking at the door, before remembering that he was, one: on the second floor, and two: that the room was originally 208, where Konoha History was taught.
He looked at Saki, who gave him a slight nod. It seems she had caught it too.
There was a slight yell and thud as a young female Konoha genin was roughly pushed away. She had fell down the floor, and looked at one of the two male older Konoha genins with heat in her eyes.
"Why won't you let us in?" she demanded.
Naruto, as per insistence of Gwendolyn and Tertius, noted anything that seemed interesting or out of place. First thing he noticed was the large scroll on her back. Then he noticed she had a really odd set of clothes that looked almost like pajamas. They looked like it hugged her well developed form, and he probably wouldn't have noticed it before but he could spot glints of metal hiding underneath.
And for some odd reason, he could have sworn he recognized her.
The other older genin shoved another male Konoha genin as well, who wore really ugly green spandex-like clothing, down to the ground. And the first thing he noticed was a really ugly bowl cut hair, with really big eyebrows to match.
"Huh. Bushy brows," Naruto muttered absently. For some reason Sakura, beside him, snorted.
"I'm doing you both a favor," one of the older genins declared. "Kids like you can die in the exams."
"Maybe so," Saki suddenly spoke, which garnered the attention of almost everyone in the room. She strode forward, seemingly clearing out her way with just sheer force of her personality, and stopped just in front of the two older genin, with the two fallen younger ones between them. "But you will let me pass."
Naruto raised an eyebrow. What the hell was the crazy girl doing?
"Take off that pathetic genjutsu as well," Saki said.
"What genjutsu?" one of the older genins asked.
"You've noticed it, didn't you, Sakura?" Saki asked without looking at her.
Sakura blinked, her face finally having some more color in her cheek. She then nodded, and gave a smile. "Of course. We're on the second floor."
Naruto watched some of the grouped genins in action. Most began to chatter amongst themselves, tones of surprise mingling with a bit of anger. Most of them, he guessed didn't catch on until it was pointed out.
"You think that you're better?" the other older genin demanded. "You're just like the rest of them!"
The older genin seemed ready to attack, and Saki looked like she was expecting it.
It all would have been a blur had Naruto not borrowed speed from the wind around him.
It was an odd sensation. The world suddenly seemed to mute and slow down, with details showing with increased clarity. Gwendolyn had explained that while borrowing the wind does make him faster, it mostly just increases Naruto's perception, allowing him to make split decisions seconds faster than normal.
With that, he saw Saki raise her arms, her front thigh and leg muscles shifting slightly to put weight on it, and the older genin, his shoulders, abdomen and legs moving as he charged in, going for the attack. Saki, almost at the same time, shifted her shoulders, hips and abdomen to raise her rear foot forward to a kick.
The older boy had more reach, but Saki seemed slightly faster. Up to that point, it was anyone's game, until the genin with bushy eyebrows suddenly stood from his downed position, and blocked the two attacks.
Impact made his arm muscles wobble slightly, but it all disappeared when he shifted his shoulders, the wobbling flowed to his back, down towards his immovable legs.
Naruto's perception went back to normal, and then felt slightly off balanced as he found it odd to hear voices. He watched on, though, taking a look at Saki's face, then back to the older genins. Both were surprised.
"That's enough," the bushy browed genin declared.
"Lee!" the girl, all her weakness and frailty somehow disappeared as she stood up. "I thought we were supposed to stick to the plan!"
"I'm sorry, Ten-ten, but…" Lee then stole a glance to Naruto's direction. And suddenly, his eyes were shaped into hearts.
And that really raised Naruto's eyebrows, until he followed that gaze back to Sakura, who seemed to realize that the bushy browed genin as looking at her, and she turned pale again.
The female genin, Ten-ten, followed his gaze as well, and spotted Sakura. She slapped her forehead with her left palm, exclaiming, "Oh for goodness' sake, Lee, we're in an exams. Can't you…" and she stopped, suddenly looking at Naruto.
"Hey!" she shouted as she paced to him. Naruto took an involuntary step back; her expression reminding him of Sakura's when she chased both Konohomaru and Pentius with intent to hurt. Before he could react, she was in front of him, staring at him in the eyes, and her hand suddenly slithered in his waist.
"Hey!" Naruto half-shouted, in a tone different from hers, before her hand reached to his kunai and pulled it out. As she did, he could only yelp a groan of protest and surprise.
She stared at it first, seemingly impressed, working with both hands, careful slowly moving her fingers up and down its length. She licked her thumb and index finger on her right hand, and slowly slid it down the edges, carefully, making it glisten with moisture.
For some reason, Naruto felt . . . weird.
"Nice," Ten-ten exclaimed. "Balanced and sharp. Where'd you get this?"
"Um… made it?" Naruto replied, honestly not knowing how to react with a girl handling his kunai. It was a bit of a first experience for him as Saki would never, preferring her own weapons, and never mind Sakura.
"Hah, yeah right," Ten-ten snorted, looking at him and then moved her head slightly, as if thinking. "Hey, I know you."
"Yeah. You're that brat who keeps buying pig iron," she declared.
Now Naruto recognized her. She was the daughter of the blacksmith and weapon maker where he buys his materials.
And then the insult sank in.
Saki felt oddly disconcerted that all the attention went to the rest of her team. She was trying to make her team as alpha dogs to the rest, gaining small psychological advantages. Also, she had to kick Sakura back, as her nervousness was too obvious to ignore. Then, for some reason, attention shifted to the weird green genin who blocked her kick, to her disbelief, and that wasn't enough, that girl who seemed to be the weird guy's teammate was all over Naruto.
Handling his kunai, of all things.
She turned her attention to the genin in green, only to find him staring at Sakura.
"Sakura-san," he declared, walking towards the girl. "I'm Rock Lee. I will protect you with your life."
And he finished it off with thumbs up and a smile fitting for toothpaste advertisement.
"Um . . ." was the only thing Sakura could say.
"Let's go out!"
Sakura seemed to recover. "Uh . . . no. You're a weirdo."
But Rock Lee wouldn't take rejection lightly. He began to send, unbelievably, flying hearts to her direction, and Sakura just began dodging them almost comically.
"Don't throw weird things, you weird brows!" Sakura exclaimed. "I almost didn't escape with my life!"
Lee looked a bit put off. "You don't have to be so negative you know . . ."
Saki would have appreciated the irony, having someone as hard-headed as Sakura given a taste of her own medicine, but now wasn't the time. The momentum she had tried to build halted - no, crashed, as the other teams began to laugh at the sight, and began to disperse.
She sighed. She couldn't blame anyone. Naruto, for once was quiet and let her do the work. Sakura followed her queue almost perfectly. All was well until another team began flirt and talk about kunais with her teammates.
As the crowd dispersed, one lone figure emerged. Judging from his clothing and his pale eyes, he was from the Hyuuga clan. He looked at Saki, studying and contemplative.
Saki felt apprehension flood through her, but squashed it soon after. The Hyuuga clan was one of the few clued in. There was nothing much that could be hidden from their eyes, but at least they were sworn to silence. So she thought, what the hell, and mimicked the Hyuuga's posture, and returned his stare.
"You handle yourself well," the Hyuuga muttered. "What's your name?"
Saki smirked a bit. So he wanted to play eh?
"You know, if you want to know someone's name, you have to introduce yourself first," she replied.
"Are you a rookie?" he asked.
"That is none of your business."
The Hyuuga 'hmphed', and turned away. "Lee, Ten-ten. Let's go."
"Okay, Neji!" the girl, Ten-ten, declared, dragging the disappointed Lee with her. As they walked the halls, the girl began to berate Lee, voices fading as they moved further and further away.
"Sasuke," Naruto called behind her.
She turned, and her mouth opened for a moment. She quickly changed her mind, snapped it shut, and just gave him a nod.
It wasn't his fault that the other team was composed of weirdoes. And besides, having some normal attention to an older female with interest in his kunai would have definitely left him a bit confused.
They climbed the stairs to the third floor, which opened to a vast expand of a hallway. The third floor of the academy was mostly bare bone as its primary function was a general room for the first and second year genin.
Naruto smiled as they passed by the hall. He could see folded matting that would be placed on a sunken portion of the floor, creating a perfect place for them to spar without worrying about litter or stones on the ground. The enclosed surroundings ensured that excitable rookies wouldn't overthrow sharp weapons that would hit civilian passerby. And it also severely limits how many students would skip classes.
"WAIT!" a voice shouted from behind them.
Team 7 stopped, and turned. Naruto blinked, surprised to find the bushy-browed teammate of that weirdo blacksmith girl was there again, staring at them. He gave a polite bow, and slowly pointed towards Saki.
"You with the dark eyes," he exclaimed. "I'm here to challenge you."
Saki blinked, and then snorted. She stepped forward, and crossed her arms at her chest. "Oh?" was all she said.
The boy shifted his pose, spreading his legs slightly into a fighting pose. "I am Rock Lee. As you have said earlier, if I wanted to know someone's name I should introduce myself first, right, Uchiha Sasuke?"
Saki lowered her hands, and slowly smirked. "You know who I am, yet you are foolishly challenging me?"
"I want to test myself and my skills against a genius of a great clan," Lee replied calmly, raising an open palm facing outwards, his other arm going right behind him.
Naruto frowned, and slowly moved to Saki's side.
"Hey, Sasuke," he said. "Why don't you let me handle this?"
Saki stared at him for a moment, a question lingering in her eyes. But before she could even reply, Lee said, "I am sorry, but I have no time or interest in you."
Naruto blinked. It was a while since he heard from Kyuubi, and then the comment hit him. He felt something hot flash through him as he glared at Lee. "HEY! That was uncalled for!"
Lee didn't waver. "I apologize, and I don't mean to be rude, but I am not interested in fighting you right now. Only Uchiha Sasuke."
Naruto growled, his hands shaking into fists. Before he could charge in though, a steady hand grabbed his shoulder. He looked back towards Saki, who shook her head slightly.
"Don't lose your temper," she whispered, barely audible.
"Let me go," Naruto muttered in the same volume. He shifted his shoulders hard, but her grip wouldn't loosen.
"Think about it for a moment. He's baiting you to attack. In a way, he's trying to bait me too," Saki stepped forward. "Don't be used against me, Naruto. Or I won't be too pleased."
Naruto growled again, but he began to take a few calming breathes. Psycho girl was right, as much as he hated to admit it. Part of his anger was of his memories during the Academy days, being pushed aside in favor of the brooding Uchiha. It was bad enough that adults talked bad about him, and kids of his own age seemed wary of him at first, but his teachers. . .
Most of them always favored for 'Sasuke'. He came from a prestigious family; he was skilled, mature, and quiet. And he wasn't Uzumaki Naruto. Everything he did was always overshadowed by his Uchiha classmate. So he pitted himself against the brooding bastard who always smelled funny, whose face was too feminine, and who always had that arrogant smirk on his face.
He now knew that wasn't the whole truth. Saki lived a double life, and while she is arrogant, and definitely quite psychotic, she wasn't purposely showing him up. She spoke with reason.
'Or you're just whipped.'
Naruto ignored the fox as he heard Tertius in his mind beginning to advise him on other things to think through.
Lee, as weird as he looked, was still a ninja. He was also older, more experienced, judging him from the moment he dropped his helpless act to impress Sakura. There was definitely a possibility that he may have been baiting him to attack, maybe to even illicit a response from Saki.
Tetrius didn't need to advise him further as he began to lean towards a logical conclusion. Lee would have most likely kicked his ass to the curb if Naruto had just charged in without second thought.
'Heh. . . maybe you do learn.'
'Oh shut it, Kyuubi.'
"Don't underestimate him," Naruto finally muttered, turning to Saki.
Her eyes turned red as her Sharingan activated. "I won't," she replied with a slight smile.
Naruto nodded, and moved to his other teammate, who began to berate him slightly for trying to act cool as her crush. He partially blocked her out, opting to watch Saki slowly approach Lee, her arms slowly relaxing at her side, something she always did before their spars. After a few seconds, she began to slide to her fighting stance.
"Seriously, Naruto, don't be jealous," Sakura finished, huffing out the last sentence.
Naruto scowled at that. Jealous? He wanted to deny that, but he could hear Tertius calm voice advising him that something is about to happen, and he should gather some intelligence.
So he watched.
"The Sharingan," Lee declared as he looked at Saki's eyes. "I'm honored."
Saki snorted. "You are either brave, or really stupid."
"We will know soon, won't we?" Lee challenged.
Saki waited for exactly just a second before she charged in.
Naruto borrowed the speed of the wind surrounding him, and the world slowed again with clarity. Saki's speed had increased tremendously by the past week, no surprise really, having spent most of her days sparring with Naruto, and continuing the tree climbing training with her single Kage Bunshin.
But Lee was faster. His open palm caught her fist and led her forward. Riding the momentum, he ducked and swept his leg.
Saki wasn't caught unawares. She jumped away immediately, turning as she swept her own leg to the crouching boy, only for the attack to get blocked. Grunting, she spun around, keeping her momentum, and kicked out with her other leg, only to catch a hard hit in her midsection that got her flying.
Sakura's mouth was open, her expression mingling between shock and awe. "B . . . But Sasuke-kun's Sharingan . . . What kind of ninjutsu or genjutsu is Lee using?"
Naruto's eyes narrowed. "He's using neither," he whispered. "He moved using pure - "
- speed, Saki thought, her thinking the same line as her blond teammate's. Understanding must have shown in her face because Lee nodded.
"As you found out, I'm not using ninjutsu or genjutsu. I'm using taijutsu."
He disappeared again, and Saki raised her arms to block the next attack. She defended herself from a few attacks until she felt another hit on her abdomen. Growling, she spun around, aiming for a kick, only to see Lee calmly move away, and sent a powerful kick to her face.
She moved her arms to defend. She missed completely, as she felt a hard kick rattle her teeth as she was launched in the air. Another chakra burst and she detected Lee right behind her, shadowing her flight.
"You are hailed as a genius so you may have realized that the Sharingan allows you to see through attacks, and copy techniques," Lee's bandage wrapped around his arm began to loosen. "But it's useless if you can't move fast enough to act. And I will prove it that a hard worker like me can beat a genius like you."
Naruto saw enough. He moved his arm swiftly into one of his storage seals in his sleeve jacket, and summoned Riblam. He aimed at Lee, setting for stun, finger ready to pull the trigger.
He was beaten by a second.
A pinwheel, of all things, caught the loose bandage, pinning it to the ground like a kunai would. Lee, his arm caught, saw the pinwheel and instantly twisted his body and landed cleanly on the ground. Saki, a little bit disoriented, landed in a heap, her breathe rasping as Sakura ran for her. Naruto still held Riblam, and looked around alert, not wanting to get caught off guard.
Someone must have thrown that pinwheel, and that someone was still in the room.
Naruto turned, aimed Riblam at the source of the shout, only to balk. Of all the things he expected, a turtle wasn't one of them.
Lee immediately kneeled down in front of the turtle.
Ignoring the scene, Sakura checked Saki, and asked, "Are you okay, Sasuke-kun?"
Saki wouldn't reply, her arm shaking slightly as she spotted Lee talking to the talking turtle.
"You were watching," Lee muttered.
"That technique is forbidden," the turtle muttered in a grave voice.
"I'm sorry. I was just. . ."
Lee's explanation was cut off when the turtle's eyes narrowed to a glare.
Naruto sat there for a minute, trying to get his brain to work. He couldn't. All he could think of was that a turtle of all things is scolding Lee.
'Don't be stupid, brat. It's a summoned creature. Though it has a magnificent glare.'
Naruto had to agree. Lee flinched when it was directed to him. "I wasn't going to use the other technique - "
"That is no excuse," the turtle exclaimed. "You are a shinobi, and without reason, you revealed your technique! I thought you were taught better than that!"
Lee was silent.
Naruto dismissed Riblam, and began to slowly make his way to his teammates. He automatically took out a healing potion from his storage seal of his jacket, and handed it to Saki, who gave him a brief thankful look before she drank it. Only then did her breathing begin to normalize.
"Are you ready to pay?"
"Yes," Lee replied, though he probably didn't mean it. His swallow was pretty audible.
"Then . . . here comes Gai-sensei!"
Naruto felt unnerved as he felt the wind suddenly blow around the top shell of the turtle, and another a controlled burst of chakra. Smoke was produced out of nowhere, and then dispersed, slowly revealing . . . an adult Lee.
In a weird pose.
"Geez! You guys are the epitome of youth!" declared the adult Lee.
Three jaws dropped down. Sakura's was probably the lowest, driven speechless. Saki looked worse off since the fight. And Naruto. . . he didn't know what was more disturbing; the appearance of an adult Lee, or the fact that Kyuubi was pretty much laughing his tail off.
'Oh Ancients! Spawns! Spawns!'
'Shut it fox. . . it's weird!'
"Yo, Lee," the adult Lee greeted, smiling. His teeth sparkled too.
"Super thick brows. . . super bowl cut. . ." Naruto whispered. "I'm still sleeping. . . aren't I? 'Cause this is too freaky, even for me."
Lee turned and glared. "Hey! STOP INSULTING GAI SENSEI!"
'I love this exam already.'
'Easy for you to say. This exam is filled with weirdoes!'
"Lee," Gai called.
Turning his back to Team Seven, Lee flinched, but looked resolved as he faced his sensei, and nodded. That was apparently the signal, as Gai suddenly shouted, "YOU FOOL!" and gave an explosive punch that drove Lee flying.
Saki couldn't even react to what she was seeing.
Team Seven watched, still, maybe thinking that any slightest movement will garner the attention of those in front of them, watched as Gai approached Lee, and went down to one knee. His eyes began to tear up and fall like faucets.
"Lee," Gai said. "You. . . are. . ."
"Sensei!" Lee declared, his tears also falling like his teacher's. "I . . . I . . ."
"Enough, Lee. You don't need to say anything anymore."
Apparently, that was also another signal as Lee shouted, "SENSEI!" and hugged the older man.
"Can we go now?" Saki whispered.
"This is what youth is about!" Gai declared. "Youth and mistakes go hand in hand."
"You are too forgiving, Gai sensei!" Lee replied.
Gai just smiled, and stood up, pointing towards a wall, and said, "Now, towards the sunset! One hundred laps around the practice range!"
"Yes, Gai-sensei! I will run those laps now!"
"Yeah, I think we should go," Naruto agreed with his teammate.
Gai blinked, and then smiled. "As much as I appreciate your youthful enthusiasm, maybe you should do it after the exams."
Sakura just nodded, maybe agreeing to Naruto wholeheartedly for once. But before she could move a step to sneak away, she noticed Gai looking at her.
"Too late!" she declared. "He's looking over here!"
Gai smiled at them, and then looked thoughtful. "Excuse me, but aren't you three Kakashi's students?"
"Uh. . . yes?" Sakura mumbled.
"How is he doing?" Gai asked.
"Um, okay, I guess," Naruto replied. "Why? You know our sensei?"
Gai just smiled. "Some people may refer us as 'Eternal Rivals'."
"I don't believe it," Saki muttered, dead-pan.
Gai's reply came from behind them. "You should."
Naruto blinked, and almost in synch with Sakura and Saki, turned around, and spotted Gai behind them. His eyes widened. Lee's sensei wasn't even a second in front of them . . .!
"We have an ongoing record," Gai continued, as if he hadn't teleported behind them, or even paying attention to their flabbergasted expressions. "50 wins, 49 losses to my advantage. You can say I'm stronger than him."
Gai flicked a kunai lazily, hitting the windmill releasing the bandage without even looking. His eyes were on Saki. "I apologize for my student, Lee. This won't happen again, I swear on this beautiful face," and proceeded to point at himself with his thumb.
Sakura just stayed still, not wanting to comment.
Naruto's eyes strayed towards Lee again.
"Well, you guys should go to the exam room," Gai smiled. "And Lee!"
"Good luck!" was all he said before he disappeared in a puff of smoke.
A few minutes passed in silence as Lee began to reapplying the bandages in his hand. When he seemed satisfied with it, he nodded towards Team Seven, and pointedly said, "Uchiha Sasuke, I must say one last thing."
Saki looked at him, her face still blank.
"I have come here to pit my abilities, as there is one genin, who is probably the strongest of the Leaf that I wish to defeat. He's on my team," he said. "And you are also one of my targets." He walked away. "Good luck with the exams. Until we meet again."
Saki watched as Lee faded from view, and suddenly felt a wave of nervousness. Her fists began to shake as she felt her cheeks burn.
Humiliation. Not the worst since that fateful day, but nonetheless something she rarely experienced, and an emotion she loathed.
"Wow," Naruto finally broke the silence. "Seems Uchiha's aren't worth much these days."
Fire. Her nervousness faded, giving way to anger.
"Naruto!" Sakura exclaimed.
"Shut up!" Saki seethed. "I'll beat him next time."
"You'll probably get your ass kicked next time."
Saki glared at her blonde teammate, her body turning aggressively towards him. How dare he?
How. Dare. He!
Naruto met her glare neutrally, his face relaxed. "You saw his fist?" he muttered. She must have looked confused, because Naruto turned to his side, placing his hands behind his head. "Callused. His hands were heavily callused."
Saki blinked. She then remembered what Lee said during the fight. "Prove a hard worker can beat a genius," she quoted.
"Exactly," Naruto shook his head. "He worked hard. More than you probably ever did."
Saki growled, and turned. The blond idiot had a point.
There was another minute of silence, Saki's fire of emotions slowly built up to something else. Her fists began to relax. Her usual smile began to form in her face.
"Good," she finally declared. "It seems the exams will be fun."
Naruto looked at her, his smile almost similar to hers. "No doubt. Come on."
He walked, leaving the bewildered Sakura and the smirking Saki alone going towards the hallway. A few moments later, Sakura followed, calling Saki to move as well.
Uchiha Saki moved her hand to the hilt of her family sword her lips forming a somewhat satisfied smile.