Author's note: So here's another chapter. Sorry it's late and short, but this is all I wrote and all I have to publish. I hope I will be able to update again soon, but I make no promises.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto
Through the Eyes of Death
The days and weeks flew by quickly. Things between Team 7 were still awkward after Naruto's confession. Nobody had quite figured out what to make out of it yet. Teamwork suffered for it. It made Kakashi long for the days in the Wave Country, where his three genin miraculously cooperated. He wondered what it would take to make them act like a coherent unit again. Should he take another C-rank mission for his team? But C-ranks tended to be boring and uneventful, what had happened in Wave was a rarity, so it probably wouldn't help. His team needed some real danger to make them work together. And that was why, when he suddenly found himself in a jounin meeting, with the Hokage asking them who wanted to enter their team into the Chuunin Exams, he entered his students despite being almost certain that they weren't ready. But the Exams were guaranteed to supply just the kind of danger his three students needed. The fact that they wouldn't have to travel to another village was an added bonus. He ignored everybody's surprised gasps, which became even more surprised after Asuma and Kurenai entered their teams as well. He didn't understand why everybody acted so shocked. The Exams were an excellent opportunity to teach the new genin about the realities of shinobi life and how their abilities compared to others. And considering they were held in Konoha, he was surprised that more rookie teams weren't entered. When he heard his self-proclaimed eternal rival Maito Gai enter his team as well, he couldn't help but chuckle behind his mask. This exam was going to be interesting.
For Naruto, the day started like any other one. After the team training in the morning ended a bit sooner than usual, the trio of genin parted their ways. Naruto wanted to go to Ichiraku's for lunch, when he noticed an oddly painted box with holes following him. He smiled. So Konohamaru and his friends decided to show up again. He always loved it when they came to play. The three children were funny without trying. Like now. Their attempt at disguise was downright hilarious.
When he was sure he could speak without breaking into a fit of giggles (because Konohamaru usually threw a fit when people laughed at him, making them laugh even harder), he told the trio to come out. They did it in an attempt of a dramatic manner, which was ruined by the fact that they exploded the smoke bomb in their own faces.
After the three children stopped coughing, they talked for a while, Naruto promising that he would play ninja with them. But then Sakura appeared, in bad mood because her attempt to get Sasuke to eat lunch with her failed again, and Konohamaru had the bad sense to make a comment about her forehead. That never failed to tick the kunoichi off, so the three children plus Naruto ended up running from an enraged fury. In their haste to get away, they completely failed to pay attention to where they were going. They soon came to regret it when Konohamaru ran face-first into something.
That something turned up to be a young ninja with a Suna hitai-ate, black suit, big package on his back and facepaint that was probably meant to be scary. Instead it made him look like a clown. But the expression on his face made up for it.
The Suna genin reached down and picked up Konohamaru by his collar. "That hurt, you little piece of turd," he growled.
"Konohamaru!" Moegi screamed.
"Stop it, Kankurou, we'll get in trouble," a Suna kunoichi said to the clownish boy, who was probably her teammate, despite being clearly older than him.
"Let go of me!" Konohamaru yelled angrily. Kankurou just grinned widely.
"Let's play a little before the boss comes," he suggested. His voice left no doubt that his idea of 'play' was enjoyable only to him.
"Let go of him unless you want to cause an international incident," Naruto warned him. The black-clad Suna genin was unimpressed.
"Don't be ridiculous," he scoffed. "Who would ever care about this little piece of crap?"
"The Hokage might, considering this is his grandson," Naruto replied evenly. Kankurou looked doubtful.
"Yes!" Konohamaru screamed. "So let go of me before I get mad!"
"Anybody could say that," the Suna genin scoffed.
"You really should let him go," the kunoichi suggested.
"Don't be a spoilsport, Temari," Kankurou said. "I'll just roughen him up a bit. Maybe it will teach him to watch where he's going."
"You can't do that!" Konohamaru screamed with fear in his voice. "I'm the Hokage's grandson! Let me go!"
"Not a chance," Kankurou shook his head, grinning maliciously.
"Konohamaru!" Moegi shouted.
Naruto realized that the Suna genin meant it. He had to do something to save his young friend. But what? The other boy was bigger, older and probably even stronger. And he was also unconcerned about causing an incident, which was strange. But there was no time to wonder about the possible reasons for his behavior. He had to figure out how to outmaneuver an opponent who had no qualms about hurting other people. And whose abilities were a complete unknown. Distraction might be his best option.
He took advantage of the fact that they were standing next to the corner of a building. He quickly created a pair of Shadow Clones, making them appear behind the corner, so the duo of Suna shinobi couldn't see them. He didn't even glance in their direction, so he wouldn't give away their presence. The clones knew perfectly well what they were supposed to do without his instruction. He didn't have to look to know that they took off through the street and disappeared behind the corner. He could fully concentrate on dealing with the black-clad Suna nin.
"You must feel really strong, picking on a little kid," he called at the Suna genin.
"You must feel really smart, sounding like a cliché cheap book," Kankurou shot back.
"That's still a lot smarter than somebody who attacks a citizen of a village he's a guest in. Do you want to get arrested?" Naruto asked walking to him.
"We can really get in trouble," Temari said worriedly.
"Like they are any trouble," Kankurou scoffed, making a small movement with his empty hand. Naruto suddenly stumbled and fell. "Konoha genin are really weak."
Naruto slowly got up. He recognized the technique Kankurou had used on him. So he was a puppeteer. It was an art Suna was renown for. Naruto had never encountered it before. But he had heard some tips on dealing with it. He started with sticking his feet to the ground using the tree-walking technique.
"That was a neat trick," he said, "but just a trick. If you can't do anything worse than trip people up, it's pretty useless."
Instead of an answer, Kankurou tried to trip him up again. But he realized that he couldn't. An angry scowl appeared on his face. He tried to trip Naruto again, this time using more force. Naruto had to bit back a cry of pain, because having his shins pulled at by Kankurou's chakra strings was really unpleasant. But he stood his ground.
"So when are you going to do something?" Naruto taunted. "I'm waiting."
"Shut up," Kankurou growled, released the chakra strings and made a movement like he wanted to do something, probably reach for the bundle on his back, but then he realized he'd need both hands for it and that would mean letting go of Konohamaru. He reached into his hip pouch and took out a kunai instead. Naruto tensed. Things were getting dangerous. He could dodge or block a kunai at this distance, but there was a whole crowd of onlookers it could hit instead. And not all of them had ninja reflexes. But fortunately it looked like it wouldn't get that far. Naruto's clones finally completed their run around the block and were now creeping towards Kankurou from behind. The Suna duo remained oblivious of their presence. Now all he had to do was occupy his attention until they finished their task.
"Careful with that thing, you might cut yourself," Naruto said in a mock-serious tone. Kankurou's painted face twisted in anger. He sure was easy.
"Suna nin know how to handle their kunai, unlike you Konoha wimps!" he shouted angrily. He lifted his hand to prove it by throwing his weapon at Naruto, but by the time the clones got close enough to act.
Kankurou turned in surprise when he detected movement behind him. He slashed with the kunai and dispersed one of the clones, but the second one managed to thrust something small in his face. It turned out to be a smoke bomb and it exploded right under Kankurou's nose. The boy started coughing violently. He dropped Konohamaru so he could wipe his face with both hands. Some of the dust had gotten into his eyes too. The original Naruto quickly swept in, grabbed the Hokage's grandson and carried him away from the Suna duo.
"Are you alright?" Naruto asked the small boy. Konohamaru nodded, despite looking shaken.
"I'm going to..." Kankurou started angrily before breaking into a fit of coughs.
"I told you to stop it," Temari said smugly, obviously trying hard not to laugh at her brother's misfortune. As he was trying to wipe his eyes, he had smudged his warpaint and looked really comical now.
"What are you bastards doing in our village?" Sasuke's voice asked from nearby. Naruto turned in surprise to see his teammate sitting in a tree. He had never noticed when had the last Uchiha appeared. Which was strange, considering that his ghostly entourage was hurling insults at the Suna ninja. Naruto had a hard time not to blush at some of them.
Kankurou scowled, but the effect was lost because his eyes were tearing after being hit by Naruto's smoke bomb. Temari blushed slightly. Naruto rolled his eyes. Why did all the girls like Sasuke? What did they see in him?
"Stop crying, Kankurou," a new voice sounded from nearby. "You're an embarrassment to our village." Kankurou and Temari immediately froze in terror. That seemed odd to Naruto until he turned and looked at the newcomer. Then it became immediately apparent what they were so scared of.
There, upside down on a tree branch, stood a redhead boy of about Naruto's age with a big gourd on his back. He had large black circles around his eyes and the look he was shooting his teammates could freeze flames. But that wasn't what was so scary about him. That would be the sinister aura surrounding him. And the ghosts. Naruto had never seen so many ghosts following one person. They were everywhere. They crowded around the redhead, pushing each other, silent and scowling, trying to get as close to him as possible They seemed to be occupying the same space at once. Naruto had never seen something like it before. What did it mean? And what could have happened in the boy's past to attach so many ghosts to him? Naruto didn't want to think about it. The answer couldn't possibly be good.
"G-gaara," Kankurou stammered. He had stopped coughing. He appeared to be too terrified to cough.
"Loosing yourself to a fight and then loosing the fight, how pathetic," Gaara continued. "Why do you think we came to this village?"
"They started it..." Kankurou began a rather childish explanation.
"Shut up or I'll kill you," Gaara said in a flat, conversational tone. Yet there was no doubt that he would really do it. Kankurou immediately fell silent.
"I'm sorry," he said after a second.
"I'm also really sorry," Temari added, her voice trembling. Gaara seemed to ignore her completely. He stared at Naruto for a moment and then jumped down from the branch, landing between Temari and Kankurou.
"Let's go," he said. The Suna trio turned to leave. Naruto exhaled in relief. He didn't want to spend a moment longer in their presence than he absolutely had to. Especially Gaara's.
"Wait!" Sakura's voice stopped the three in their tracks. Naruto cursed inwardly. What was his airhead of a teammate thinking? Didn't she see she was way out of her league here, despite her recent training? "Judging from your hitai-ate, you are ninjas from the Hidden Sand Village, right?" Naruto wished she would stop it, but she paid him no attention. "You might be allies of our village but it is forbidden for shinobi to enter each other's village without permission. State your purpose. Depending on it, we might not be able to let you go." What was Sakura thinking? Did she really think she could do something about these three? Did she think she was being brave? In Naruto's book, it was a show of sheer suicidal stupidity. Even Sasuke, usually eager to confront strong opponents, was content to let them go this time. And his dead clan was huddling behind him, obviously scared.
"Talk about clueless," the Suna kunoichi scoffed, finally not looking scared anymore. "Don't you know anything?" She showed them her pass. "You're right. We came from Suna. We're here to compete in the Chuunin Exams."
Chuunin Exams? Naruto mused. Was it the time already? Well, it wasn't like it mattered. There was no way Team 7 would be actually entered. Even Kakashi wasn't that crazy.
Sasuke jumped down from the tree, obviously not wanting to be outdone by Sakura's sudden show of daring. His dead relatives didn't follow him. They stayed in their place, some of them shouting at Sasuke to come back.
"What's your name?" Sasuke asked.
"You mean me?" Temari asked, blushing. This time Naruto didn't bother to stop rolling his eyes. Seriously, what was it with girls and Sasuke?
"No," The Last Uchiha said coldly. "You with the gourd."
"Gaara of the desert," the redhead said. "I am also interested in your name." Naruto didn't miss the expression on Gaara's teammate's faces. They were both scared and pitying. Naruto suddenly had a very bad feeling about everything.
"It's Uchiha Sasuke." Naruto really didn't like the expression in his teammate's eyes. It seemed too eager. Didn't he realize how dangerous the Suna genin was? Come to think of it, why was somebody like him even a genin?
"I'd like to meet you in the Exams," Gaara spoke, looking first at Sasuke and then Naruto. The orange-clad shinobi felt dread run along his spine at the sight of the cold teal eyes. At that moment, he was sure that the Suna boy wasn't all right in the head. He was glad that they wouldn't be entering the Chuunin Exams. If he never met Gaara again, it would be too soon.
And then he spotted her. She stood among the ghosts surrounding the Suna genin. At first glance, she seemed to be merely one of them, but on the second she was different. It was the look on her face. She wasn't angry or scared like all the others. She was sad. The sadness in her eyes was deep and heartbreaking. Such level of grief was rare even among the lingering souls. She was looking at Gaara with regret in her eyes. And then she turned to Naruto, gazing straight into his eyes. He stared back, transfixed. The woman's ghost then slowly walked halfway to him.
"You can see me?" she asked slowly. Naruto nodded. "He didn't always used to be that way," she sighed, turning to Gaara once more. "I wish he could be like he used to once more."
Then Gaara and his teammates turned and walked away. The woman shot Naruto an apologetic half-smile and rushed after them. They soon disappeared from his sight.
Naruto felt like he woke up from a dream or a nightmare when they were finally gone. Or maybe like a great weight was suddenly lifted from him. Or that the sun started shining again. This was one of the most eerie and scary experiences he ever had. He was relieved that it was finally over and they survived it in one piece.
"So, Gaara of the Desert," Sasuke spoke slowly. "I want to meet him in the Exams too." Even Fugaku wasn't supporting his decision this time. Mikoto was pleading him to reconsider with tearful eyes. The dark haired boy remained oblivious, for once not picking up even a trace of the ghosts' fear. Naruto felt like hitting him on the head to beat some sense into him, but he could tell that it would be useless. When Sasuke got this look in his eyes, there was no reasoning him. Besides, there would be no point anyway. They wouldn't be entering the Chuunin Exams anyway. Even Kakashi wasn't that crazy. Sure. And even if he was, Naruto could just not enter or have his whole team fail in the first round. Then they wouldn't have to face Gaara again. Sure, Sasuke would hate him for it, but that was something he was used to and could live with. They would survive and that was what was important. Everything else came second.