AN: Well how about it, an update without waiting two years? Who knew I was capable. Anyway this is what y'all have been waiting so long for, sort of. At least this chapter is longer than the last. But for now, let the action begin!

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, nor any of its characters. Kida, however is mine.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Chapter 27: The Beginnings of War

Dust rose and gravel crunched beneath Shadow's heavy hooves as I pulled him to a hasty stop just outside the arena's gate. In a rush I slid from my saddle and grabbed the reins, ignoring Shadows mulish pull against me as I jogged to the nearest tree. My fumbling fingers clumsily tied the leather straps, and barely succeeded to not drop them. As soon as the reins were knotted I turned and sprinted for the stadium. At the rate this is going I'll be lucky to make it in time to even see the last match! With each panted breath I imagined ways to get back at Gaara for his betrayal.

Pant. Push him down a flight of stairs. Gulp. Run him over with Shadow. Wheeze. Drop a scorpion down his shirt. Gasp. Make him a stew of wasabi, red chili, onion, and sardines...Perfect. My lips twitched into a quick smile as I raced up the steps to the entrance and through the open doorway. I pretended not to see the guards laugh knowingly at the disheveled civilian rushing past them, ignoring the mocking cries of, "Run girl, run!" that followed me down the long hall. Stupid bastards.

My footsteps echoed loudly through the concrete walls as I ran, drowning out the sound of my heavy breathing with a rhythmic slap. Inside the air was cooler and I welcomed the feel of it against my flushed skin. I sprinted with breakneck speed down the empty corridor, but was so distracted by the wonderfully crisp breeze that I ran right past the entry to the stairwell.


I slid to a stop and narrowly avoided falling head over heels in my haste. Turning back around I flung myself up the steps, taking them two or three at a time. I'd reached the end of the fifth flight and was almost halfway up the sixth when someone-else rounded the bend. The person slowly walking down the stairs was dressed all in black, and had a large calabash gourd strapped to his back. Gaara? Once again I found myself skidding to an abrupt halt. Mouth hanging open in shock I gaped at him as he methodically descended the stairs. I hadn't expected to run into the person responsible for my ire here of all places. Maybe I'll get to push that son of a bitch down a flight of stairs after all.

"You!" I snapped venomously, righteous anger flaring to life and setting my blood to boiling. "I am so angry with you right now that I could spit! Because of you I'll be lucky if there is even a single match left! I should-" The look I saw on Gaara's face cut my rant off short. A sadistic smile stretched across his thin lips that I hadn't seen since the night I was attacked. Its pointed edges held the same dark promises of pain as it had before. His face was twisted into something hideous, and a demonic flame burned in his usually expressionless eyes. I could almost see the demented and scattered thoughts racing across his unsound mind like broken bits of glass, all fragmented and sharp.

Worry cooled the fires of my temper, concern taking the place of rage. "Gaara?" I asked uncertainly as he approached. "Gaara are you oka-" a sudden pressure against my throat cut me off, forcing the air from my lungs like a blow to the chest. The weight grew heavier with each step that he took, and I swallowed dryly, struggling to breathe. I knew what this was, this invisible force of nature that was bearing down on me. On several occasions I'd sensed this energy, his chakra, as the shinobi would have called it. But this wasn't like the other times I'd felt it, felt him. Before it had always just been there, existing quietly, almost like a second shadow, nothing more than a part of the background other than the occasional stirring of energy. But not this time.

Now it felt like a tsunami, an unstoppable, crushing force not so unlike his bloodstained sand. I could feel his chakra rolling off of him in violent waves, thrashing against me from all sides. Almost suffocating me by his presence alone. The torrent scratched against my flushed skin, scraping at my arms and face like twisted fingers. Pushing and pulling me from all sides. The weight grew stronger as he got closer until my knees shook under the strain. "Gaara," I gasped, clutching the handrail with a white knuckled fist in an attempt to stay on my feet.

Sweat dripped into my eyes in thick globs and drenched my hair. I gasped for breath, fighting against the terrible weight on my lungs; almost unbearable now that he was mere feet away. He was close enough that I could have reached out and touched him if I'd had the strength to lift my arm. I looked into his cruelly twisted face and searched his burning eyes for any sort of recognition, any sign that he even saw me, but found none. Only madness lurked in those haunted, bloodshot eyes.

My heart clenched in my chest and I swallowed dryly. He doesn't see me, he doesn't even know that I'm here. The hem of his shirt sleeve lightly brushed my arm as he walked by. A faint whisper of cloth in the otherwise quiet stairwell. The tension began to ease as he continued down the steps and soon I was able to move again. Sucking in ragged breaths I looked over my shoulder as the last of the overwhelming pressure faded only to see the stairwell behind me empty.

Leaning against the cold concrete wall I gulped in deep lungfuls of air as quickly as I could. Gaara...what's happening to you? Shivering I wrapped my arms around myself, trying to stop my shaking. Was this why he wanted me to stay away? Oh, Gaara...why didn't you tell me there was something wrong? What if he gets hurt? He wasn't even aware that I was standing right in front of him, so how is he supposed to protect himself in a fight? Worry knotted my stomach, and I tasted bile in the back of my throat. This is bad, this is really, really bad.

Pushing myself off the wall I continued my mad dash up the stairs to the spectators seats. If Gaara was heading down, it likely meant that his match was next. I had to be there, I needed to know that he'd be okay. The next landing up led into a glaringly bright, sunlit hall. I ran down it, racing for the open platform at the end, ignoring the sharp sting of my feet hitting the unforgiving concrete. My footsteps echoed loudly off the stark-white walls, but was quickly drowned out by the eruptive cheering of the crowd.

Once I'd reached the exit I slowed to a walk and looked around. The immense size of the mob was overwhelming, and the sound of so many people yelling was thunderous. Nearly all that was said by any individual person was lost in the massive torrent of sound. Only a few fragmented bits and pieces could be understood amid the crowd, a few scattered "Go for it, Sasuke!" or "I've got money on you, Sand kid!" the rest was an unidentifiable mass of noise. It crashed against my ears and thrummed so loudly that I could feel the uproar vibrate in my bones, echoing through me in unison with my frantic heartbeat. As if the roar of the spectators wasn't enough the stuffy smell of popcorn was almost suffocating.

I stared in awe at the amount of people who'd turned up, gaping transfixed at the masses for a moment before I was able to tear my eyes away. Looking down below I could see the stadium, but from this angle I couldn't make out where Gaara and Sasuke were. I jogged up to the guard rail and grabbed it, ignoring the baking hot metal as it burned my hands. Leaning over I looked down, squinting my eyes against the suns harsh glare. After a moment I was able to see them standing down at the center of the arena, and with them were two older men that I didn't recognize talking to each other.

What's going on? What are they talking about? Argh... I wish everyone would shut the hell up so I can hear what they're saying!

My grip on the burning handrail tightened and I chewed on the inside of my lip. I don't understand, what are they- but my thought derailed when the gray-haired man suddenly disappeared from sight. The other guy turned to the competitors and appeared to be saying something to Sasuke and Gaara, but from the looks of things neither one was paying him much attention. They were too busy glaring intensely at each other. After a gesture from who I assumed was the competitions Procter the two approached each other, and as they did the crowd immediately quieted. The air dripped thickly with anticipation, and I could suddenly hear the sound of a fly buzzing lazily above a nearby garbage can. The silence was almost louder than the cheering.

Without warning the older man slashed at the air with his arm and jumped back before disappearing much the same way as the other seasoned ninja had. Sand launched from Gaara's gourd and twisted in the air above him, squirming fluidly like a living creature. In the same movement Sasuke had already leapt backwards, standing at a safe distance from the reach of Gaara's sand.

A violent shudder racked Gaara's body and he grabbed at his head. One hand clasped claw-like over his right eye, and it looked as though he were talking to himself. Even though the crowd was no longer screaming the distance was still too great for me to hear what was being said. Though the disgusted look on Sasuke's face and the perverse smile on Gaara's spoke volumes.

Gaara? What's wrong with you? An almost instinctual desire to go to him tugged at my limbs, and I had to grip the rail tighter to fight the idiotic temptation.

A whole body spasm seemed to overtake Gaara, and the hand that he'd had fisted against his skull now grasped at the empty air before his face. His shoulders shuddered and the sand that had been floating above him fell to the ground in a lifeless heap and laid there, motionless. He stood slumped over and panted with his arms hanging limply in front of him. After a moment he looked back up to Sasuke and said something directly to him this time, and the sand at his feet slowly began to rise once more. This time it quivered at his knees like an obedient dog, twitchily awaiting a signal from its master. Almost boredly Gaara crossed his arms as they stood staring each other down. I could feel the tensions risings, static seemed to bite at my own limbs and made the hair on the back of my arms and neck stand up.

In a sudden blur of motion Sasuke reached into his pocket, pulling out a pair of shuriken, and flung them with surprising speed towards Gaara's face. Seemingly without effort a wave of sand rose and swallowed them, and as soon as the metal stars touched the barrier the sand morphed into a second Gaara. My grip on the rail loosened and I blinked in surprise. I didn't know he could do that.

The twin made of sand stood between Sasuke and the real Gaara. Heedless of this Sasuke rushed in, and was almost struck down by a violent explosion of sand from the clone's chest. Sasuke jumped high into the air and the duplicate flung the shuriken back at him. The Leaf genin stopped the assault with a second set of stars and came down from his leap with a violent kick to the doubles head. The fake Gaara lost both his arms defending itself from the savage attack. The moment Sasuke's hands touched the ground he twisted around and was on his feet again, and was once more on the attack. His fist slashed violently through the clones neck, and I was immensely grateful that it wasn't the real Gaara that received what would have been a devastating blow.

A startled look twisted across Sasuke's face as he tried to pull his arm free of the sand, only to find that he was stuck. The clone smiled wickedly at him, but before it could take advantage of the situation Sasuke had already destroyed it with his other hand and was free again. Not wasting a moment now that the way was cleared he lunged at the silently waiting Gaara with his fist already drawn back. Nervously chewing my lip I tried to take comfort from the fact that Gaara had not bothered to so much as uncross his arms.

Sasuke's fist flew at Gaara's face, but just before he would have made contact a wall of sand rose up to protect him. I'd expected his hand to come crashing down into Gaara's sand shield once more, but at the last possible second Sasuke disappeared in a blur of motion and reappeared behind him. Gaara hardly had time to turn his head around, his expression rapidly shifting from shocked to worried, before Sasuke delivered a punishing blow to his cheek that sent him flying.

The solid punch had him crashing to the ground faster and harder than his sand could protect him. Gaara hit the dirt and rolled, but somehow managed to land in a crouch. He glared up at Sasuke thoughtfully as his opponent took up a fighting stance, waiting smugly for the shorter boy to make his move. The two faced off like this tensely before Sasuke appeared to lose his patience with the sand shinobi.

Lunging at Gaara again he dodged around another wave of sand before appearing behind him once more. Evading the golden onslaught Sasuke twisted around until he was close enough to manage a powerful kick to Gaara's chest. Once again the Suna nin went flying, and a frantic wave of sand tried in vain to stop him from crashing into the stadium wall. As the dust settled he lifted himself into another crouch, and barely had time to get his back away from the retaining wall before Sasuke was at it again. This time running dizzying circles around Gaara.

Quicker than the eye could follow he slipped again past the sands defense, swiftly kicking Gaara in the face before he could do any more than flinch. Sasuke grabbed fistfuls of Gaara's clothes as he stumbled backwards and struck again, fast as a snake. Pulling Gaara towards him as he savagely thrust his knee into his gut. Digging deeply into his abdomen so that spit flew from Gaara's mouth and his grunt of pain could be heard all the way up to the stands.

I looked away cringing as yet again Gaara hit the ground and rolled. The crowd exploded in approval while I stood rooted to the spot, trying to blink back tears. This isn't what I wanted. I'd come to see the exams to have a good time, to see the newest shinobi show what they were made of. I hadn't put any thought into that Gaara might actually be hurt. Sure, I'd joked about it, but the reality of it was quite another thing. The possibility of him being beaten to a pulp before my eyes hadn't even crossed my mind, and now seeing it... this just wasn't fun anymore. Why did I so badly want to see this?

"Gaara..." I whispered to myself. Clasping my hands together in front of me I wrung at my fingers. I didn't even care anymore that I was supposed to be mad at him for tricking me. That seemed so petty and unimportant now. Grabbing a stray curl from my face and twisting it around my fingers I looked back to the match. By now Gaara had gotten back to his feet and was finally making a hand sign, hopefully this meant an end to the one-sided beating. The sand slithered up forming a molted dome all around Gaara, completely hiding him from sight. Sasuke sprinted forward, trying to get to Gaara before the sand finished sealing. He might have made it too if the dome's outer surface hadn't turned into a layer of jagged spikes.

Sasuke panted, frozen in place around the pikes that had nearly skewered him. With a fast jerk he jumped back, safely out of the sands reach once again. Staring at the impenetrable wall he fought to catch his breath, flinching when a second, smaller, ball of sand took shape in the air above. It transformed into a wide, staring eye, fixing its soulless gaze down on the leaf genin.

It didn't take long for Sasuke to regather his courage, for he lunged again at the giant ball of sand with a determined battle cry. He threw a set of knives valiantly at the shield before leaping over the top of it, but they fell uselessly to the ground without so much as leaving a scratch. Appearing around the backside Sasuke charged the dome, dodging between spikes to try punching at the wall again. Once more he had to lunge back before he was ran through by the sand. Only this time the skewers chased after him, and only by being lighter of foot than I'd ever seen anyone in my life did he escape capture. Leaping into the air again Sasuke jumped to the top of the shield, this time narrowly avoiding being stabbed from below.

A ragged sigh of relief escaped my lips. At least now I shouldn't have to worry too much about Gaara getting hurt anymore, but how long can he just sit there? Is he buying time to come up with a plan? Or is he just out of options? Maybe he's just waiting for Sasuke to wear himself down, or for him to make a mistake and get caught? Whatever he's doing I just hope he hurries up. I don't like the stance Sasuke is taking, nor his smile.

I watched with worried eyes as the leaf nin flipped backwards towards the arena's edge before jumping nearly to the top of the amphitheater's wall. He was so far away he now looked like a speck from down here. The silence stretched on, and I nervously started to twist my hair again. I don't like the look of this. What is he doing up ther- My thought was abruptly interrupted as Sasuke's hands quite literally sparked to life. Electricity danced wickedly at the end of his arms, cracking the plaster wall beneath them and screeching so loudly that it could be heard even all the way down here. It sounded like a flock of birds screaming.

Sasuke ran down the wall, dragging his laden arm behind him, and leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. My stomach twisted in distress as I watched him make his way directly for Gaara. He hit the ground level in an explosion of dust, and charged onwards toward Gaara, screaming a battle cry as he went. As he reached the dome the sand launched its own attack, but Sasuke dodged between the deadly spikes with inhuman speed. Thrusting his glowing fist directly into the shield he pierced the crust with a sickening crunch, and shards of clay flew in all directions.

For quite sometime he stayed like that, frozen elbow-deep in Gaara's shield. As the seconds drug on the crowd grew restless, people began to whisper amongst themselves. I didn't even try to pick out any individual words, letting the voices all melt into the background. Instead I focused on the pair down in the stadium as worry numbed my body, and what felt like icy fingers squeezed into my heart until every loud beat was painful.

"Aaahhhhh! Blooood! It's my bloood!"

"Gaara!" I screamed, leaning over the guard rail. He's hurt! Gaara's been hurt! With horrified eyes I watched as the leaf genin struggled to pull free from the sands vice-like grip. With a savage growl Sasuke ignited his arm again, and I could hear Gaara's screams of agony even over the sound of chirping birds. "No!" He's going to kill him! I shoved myself from the rail and turned, sprinting back to the stairs. Ignoring the sudden gasp from the crowd I ran on, knowing that whatever it was they saw couldn't be good. Hang on, Gaara! I'm coming!

AN: Oh, Kida. Just what the hell do you think you're going to do to save Gaara? Oh well, there it is. I hope you guys liked it, because this was awful to write. I had to spend hours studying this scene from the anime as I wrote this chapter. Good grief, I never want to do that again. Anyway I hope it isn't too boring.

If you spotted any mistakes please let me know! I don't have a beta anymore so I'm flying solo here, and no, I don't want a new one. No one could replace the last. *Sniff* Anyway, do feel free to review! Thanks for reading!