Disclaimer: Shit not mine.

Chapter Nine


Kabuto was beyond pissed. Beyond pissed. Flames of rage licked his eyes as he stared down his companion for the duration of the test. His ex-companion.

"You... god... damn... idiot," He hissed, his voice laced with acid. One hand outstretched, Kabuto held his hand firmly around the neck of a terrified Yoroi.

"Y-you're going to kill me? You won't make Chunin that way!" He exclaimed.

"I don't give a damn about Chunin! You think I couldn't've passed this test years ago if I wanted? All I needed was to get into the second round, but you had to go and ruin that, didn't you?" The enraged medic nin bellowed hatefully.

At this, Yoroi realized that he was apparently being held captive by the medic nin. A nin that had thus far proven himself to not only be weaker than he and his teammate, but often-times a coward.

His fist closed around Kabuto's wrist and he planted his feet, firmly pushing to remove the weaker ninja's hold on his neck.

His arm didn't budge. He shoved again but the arm holding him seemed more like a tree limb or or a metal pole. He put more strength into the shove but still no matter the effort Kabuto's hand wouldn't move. Fear began to creep across his mind. "Wh-what are you... Aggghhh..."

Yoroi didn't even notice the feather light touch of a green chakra scalpel working its deadly magic around his neck. Instead he felt a vague sense of... dizziness. His throat felt strangely hot and suddenly his eyes began to droop. Sliding downwards he stared in fascination at the torrent of red liquid dying his shirt black.

'Blood.' He realized mutely. Why was blood flowing down his chest?

That would be his last thought.

Weeks would pass before the body of the chakra stealing ninja was found.


"Sakura..."

"...We need to talk."

Naruto and Sasuke took equal and opposite poses standing on the same huge tree branch together, arms folded across chests and eyes trained solely on Sakura. In truth, Naruto was copying Sasuke. Not imitating, literally copying. The Stance Of Cool, that he'd always been so freaking jealous of was now 'his to command!' He would be the awesome one!

Truthfully it was all he could do not to break the cold, hard eyed pose he knew that Sasuke probably perfected in front of mirrors. Instead he wanted dance and shout at the world that he too had a Sharingan. He too was 'special.'

Maybe the villagers would cut him a break now. Their hateful eyes did get... overbearing at times.

Logically he knew how much bullshit the idea of him being special just for his eyes truly was. He told himself he wouldn't rely on the beastly set of cheat eyes but he was quite certain he was wrong. They were already so much god damn fun that he didn't think he'd be able to not use them for a week.

"Oh... Uhm... what do you want to talk about, you guys?" Sakura asked with a nervous grin. She scratched the back of her head in a way that Naruto was quite familiar with and it made her look both adorable and strangely guilty.

She tried to hide the shock at seeing a Sharingan spinning in Naruto's eye, but even the blonde was smart enough to catch on that she had been shocked out of her mind by that one. "Naruto is an Uchiha? Naruto... Uchiha?" She murmured disbelievingly.

"So... you're from the future." Sasuke said lowly.

"WHAT!?" Naruto burst, his cool utterly broken. "Sakura-chan is that true!?"

The girl bit her lip and Naruto found himself wanting to kiss her. He hadn't seen her look so vulnerable since... well... since she'd run away for three days after the first fight with Zabuza. That was around the time she started changing in fact. This realization crept in and his eyes widened.

"So... So, that's what happened after the fight with Zabuza! That's when you... when you changed." He said hesitantly, his sharingan searching her expression for signs of a lie without his conscious direction.

She hesitated, unsure of what to say. What to do. Her eyes kept wandering between Sasuke's piercing gaze and Naruto's three tomoe with a shudder.

"Well? Speak, dammit." Sasuke demanded. "Are you from the future or aren't you?"

The girl folded in on herself, her hands clenched together as if in a prayer. A silent plea. Naruto was shocked to see tears begin to well in her eyes, but the reaction alone was more of an answer than her words were.

"I... I'm sorry. I just... I..."

"Sakura? That night after we fought in Wave... what you said to me. Was it all a lie?" Naruto asked. Tears began welling in his own eyes as he thought back to the moments they had shared since Sakura had finally acknowledged him.

"Naruto? I just wanted you to know… I acknowledge you. You're… gonna be great someday." The words seemed half an eternity ago now spoken in a forest in the depths of night, but they burned through Naruto's memory, etched into his heart. The first true acknowledgement he'd ever received, from his most precious person. It had been a crowning moment of awesome in a life that had never known praise.

Built on a lie...?

"No!" The pink haired girl hissed, holding both hands out as if to ward away the thought. "Naruto nothing I've ever said to you was a lie."

"Hnn." Sasuke injected with his usual sarcasm. To Sakura's and Naruto's shock, the boy brought the back of his hand to his lips in a girly sort of manner and spoke in a high pitched imitation of Sakura's voice.

"I was afraid. I was so useless in the battle with Zabuza... I thought. I thought maybe I should just quit. But I'm over that now. I'm going to become stronger," His voice then dropped to his own baritone. "What a load of shit."

Sakura growled, irritated at being outed for something mostly pointless. "What would you have done? Told the truth? Doubtful, Uchiha. Doubtful."

He smirked in his usual way and Sakura felt chills trail down her back. She'd been fucking a man with that smirk not three hours ago by her reckoning...

Unexpected emotion began to pour forth, probably from knowing that the man she'd once loved was well and truly dead, and probably a bit from knowing that she was responsible for it. The words reflected their conversation but her heart still dwelt on that one immobile fact.

"I... I just wanted to be the strong one for once! God... Do you have any idea what it's like to watch you two soaring above me, never able to do more than glance at your backs as you fly? Just... just once. I wanted to be better than you two. Just for a little while."

"S-Sakura-chan." Naruto's voice was calmer than one might expect but he was never very good at dealing with a crying girl.

"It won't be long now. You'll both probably go flying right past me again. Naruto... with a Sharingan? The world won't know what hit it. Sasuke... you were always the best. I've seen you destroy an entire hidden village, just wipe it off the map in five minutes. It was awesome... and terrifying. And I'm just Sakura. Always third best," She spoke, trying not to inject self pity into her words and failing miserably.

It was an odd thing for Naruto to note that Sakura literally considered him better than she was. Did he really grow so much in her time? Sakura had become a sort of unattainable goddess among shinobi in Naruto's mind during their spars over the last few weeks. Her chakra control and the vast quantities of it that she could call forth at once were utterly astounding, to the point that Naruto had almost started to fear that she might be competition for his place as next Hokage! Seeing her match him clone for clone and watching her clones overwhelm his time and time again was a humbling experience for the boy. He'd thought that the Kyuubi had been the source of her new power. But to find out she came from the future...?

'Hard to believe... believe it,' He thought with a profound sense of enlightenment.

Through his now sharingan-enhanced eyes, he realized that the boy was also surprised. While they'd had a profound effect on him, Naruto watched his teammate drink in Sakura's words like a sober alcoholic. Could Sasuke really become so powerful... to wipe a hidden village out in five minutes on his own?

"And... did I... ever achieve my ambition?" The Uchiha asked, as if almost afraid of the answer.

The memories Sasuke received had been staggered. Misleading, all unerringly focused around his older self's interaction with Sakura. Their first kiss, gleamed in his mind's eye like a diamond. Viewings of their incredible battles that tore the countryside into shreds. Sakura Haruno: A taijutsu expert to match the Sage of Six Paths, with a bloodline even he was envious of at times... Yet she was outmatched by him. In them he'd seen amazing things... some nearly impossible. Him? Hokage? That was Naruto's dream! He'd almost feel guilty taking it from the dobe at this point. Plus... now that Naruto had Sharingan... he would have to become not a dobe. Sasuke would have to see to that. Naruto would not stain the Uchiha name.

Sakura hesitated, biting her lower lip again. "Itachi was... slain, yes. But-" The girl stopped as if unsure how to continue.

"But?" Sasuke prodded irritably. He had to know.

'No more lies Sakura,' Shannaro-chan told her softly. 'This is your chance. You can be who you really are around these two now, if you just Be Honest. You're a bit of a habitual liar you know.'

For once Sakura agreed, on both points.

"You... didn't kill him, Sasuke. I did."

Their split flashed through the Uchiha's mind. Sakura's anger, and the fact that she couldn't have children. Sasuke had been overwhelmed with rage both at himself and at her. He'd hated himself for wanting one specific girl, rather than following his dream to revive his clan, and he'd hated himself for choosing to abandon her in order to create a new generation of Uchiha. The scenes his elder self had shown him snapped into clarity. He would've resented her for stealing the kill that should've rightfully been his but...

A wind suddenly picked up, sliding through the trees around them and whipping Sakura's hair along with a gale of twigs and leaves. Her tears blew into the air, sunshine glinting down through the upper layer of foliage to catch them as they flew. And Sasuke knew... he knew what his older self had seen in this girl. Why he had so desperately sought Tsunade's advice in curing her sterility. Why the girl featured so prominently in almost all of the images his future self had given him.

He'd been almost madly in love with her. Sickening really.

"I suppose you hate me now like you did in the future," Sakura murmured wistfully as she wiped at her eyes, tears fading away for the moment.

Naruto for once was content to merely watch in silence as Sakura's secrets came falling free. His thoughts were awhirl with curiosity. He remembered well Sasuke's reply that day when they'd first become a team.

"My dream... no. My ambition is to kill a certain man."

Naruto gleaned this man's name after all these months for the first time. Itachi. So that was who Sasuke wanted to kill so badly.

'Who the heck is that?' He just stopped himself from voicing aloud.

Sasuke had been silent for a long time after Sakura's question, but finally he folded arms in front of him and leaned casually against the tree trunk. And chuckled.

"Even after what he did with you in the Tsukiyomi, you still believe he hated you?" He asked, with a smirk.

Sakura's face flushed a beet red and she began tapping her fingers together in a way that reminded Naruto very much of Hinata. "H-he showed you that...?"

"A thing or two." Sasuke replied. "But I'm not interested in that. What I care about... is knowing what you know."

Sakura blinked.

"Not Interested!?" Shannaro-chan howled in despair.

"Huh?"

"You're going to train us until we do fly beyond you."

Sakura blinked a few more times. Sasuke... being reasonable? It was hard sometimes not too see her own unbearably stubborn Uchiha in the younger ones eyes. So easy... so easy to forget that the Uchiha had once been as human, if not more than any of them.

"You haven't killed my Itachi. And you won't. You'll give me your wings. And we won't let you fall behind."

'Sasuke... is placing his faith in us! Don't let him down Older-Me!' Shannaro-chan exclaimed in her mind, somehow recovering from her internal wails of agony as Sasuke's words pierced her.

A brand new chapter was beginning in their lives. Naruto grinned up at her, wiping at red eyes, and Sasuke's usual smirk was more of a smile than she had ever recalled. She was doing it! She was changing the past and working towards a future that would be her own. Bright and wonderful, without the mind numbing loneliness she'd felt before. She would rise beyond anything limit of her previous life.

The wind picked up as if in answer.

"Mmm! I will!" And for the very first time in all her living memory, Sakura voiced what her inner self had always wished she could.

"Shannaro!"


Naruto hung back, his thoughts running wild at all of the changes their team had undergone so quickly. A day had passed now and they still hadn't run into any enemy teams. Lucky that, as he wasn't sure Sakura wouldn't simply dispatch any enemies without even giving them a chance.

Their conversations over the past twenty four hours had been enlightening and somewhat painful for the blonde.

He was slated to die. And it was all due to this Orochimaru bastard lingering around in the forest waiting to attack Sasuke for his Sharingan. He didn't really understand a lot of what Sasuke and Sakura had been telling him, but he got the gist.

He died, saving Sasuke from turning into even more of a bastard and defecting. Would he ever do that for the Uchiha?

His mind returned to the bridge in Wave. Haku and Sasuke's near death. Yeah. Yeah he could see it.

But damn though... This Orochimaru. He'd apparently beaten them all the first time around without even trying. Knocking him out cold and putting a weird swirly tattoo on Sasuke's upper back. A tattoo that evidently had enough mind altering powers to convince Sasuke to defect from Konoha!

'That'll never happen.' He told himself soundly. 'I'll never let that happen.'

Which he surmised was probably exactly what his counterpart in Sakura's world had thought. And he apparently had died for it. Or so Sasuke had been shown.

Sakura had been biting her under lip while they'd talked about it. She did that occasionally under stress and Naruto found himself unconsciously trying to mimic the action due to the Sharingan's influence. It was so easy. So easy to see someone do something and then let the Sharingan's influence cause him to follow suit. With henge and an hour to watch, he found himself entertaining the thought that he could be anyone.

But he'd noticed, looking back, that Sakura often bit her lip when she was lying. Or rather, wasn't telling the full truth. Perhaps they were missing something.

Abruptly, Sasuke, who had been leading the procession until now, halted, coming to a stop on the forest floor, and waiting for his two teammates to land beside him without a word.

"Sasuke?" Sakura questioned.

A moment of silence passed while Naruto dropped down beside them. "Hey! What are we stopping for!? We've only got three days left and we haven't found anybody!"

Sasuke sniffed. "We'll find someone. But it occurs to me..."

He trailed off as if that was supposed to be his entire point. Naruto bristled.

"What?" Naruto finally barked as Sasuke turned away and began to stride out into the small tree covered clearing they now inhabited.

"You need training with the Sharingan."

His hands began to flash in a series of very familiar seals...


Neji leaped.

Narrowly dodging the lighting fast sting of a snake the size of a tree, he landed upon the creature's back and slammed his fingers into chakra points that he hoped were vital.

The cobra loosed an ear-shattering squeal that rocked Neji to his core, but he smiled anyway. Victory... At least a temporary one. At once, the snake itself erupted into a cloud of smoke and Neji fell, no longer supported by the weight of the summoned beast that he had destroyed.

He hadn't anticipated the second one.

Another snake, equal in size to the first if not bigger reared back as he fell. Gravity abandoning him, Neji could only curl into a defensive position as the snake's tail coiled back, waiting for it to strike.

Like a bat hitting a falling ball, the snake's tail reared up and whipped him, crushing his guard along with his whole body. He flew like a bullet, dazed and wincing as he tried to lift his arms to soften the blow. He felt the bones in his forearms nearly crack under the strain. Broken or not, they were the only thing he had to break the fall and they were strong enough to protect his face from the full impact. Slumping down to the grass, he felt the rough roots of the tree scrape against his tender skin. His forearms burned in agony. A Hyuuga whose arms felt like butter? What good was he now?

Rolling onto his back and trying to see through the cloud of dust his landing had unsettled, he saw his teammates desperately trying to dodge the single, unbearably powerful man that had descended upon them.

'His aura is... immense,' Thought the downed Hyuuga as he looked on with guilt. He tried to stand but his limbs failed him. Fear gripped his heart with a fury.

"Neji!" Came a horrified shout from Lee. Neji found this odd. The boy's voice... it wasn't enshrouded in the ever-present youthfulness that sensei had endowed it with. That was strange.

Lee turned and Neji watched as a hatred that he had never known the other boy capable of, began to cross his eyes.

"Lee don't! We can't beat him! We have to get Neji and run!" Tenten screamed as she valiantly fended off her own foes. Swarm after swarm after endless swarm of smaller snakes rushed her and were cut down by her vicious accuracy. Shuriken peppered the landscape around her in the thousands. Cuts had shredded her clothing to to bits and the wrapping with which she bound her breasts was exposed to the world, her shirt having been long since disposed of. Blood from snakebites she'd been unable to deflect cast her body in a sheen of red.

'A beautiful form,' Neji thought, slightly embarrassed that his mind was wandering so at a time like this. Suddenly however his attention was drawn sharply back to his other teammate as a massive concentration of chakra enveloped him in green flames.

"Gate of Limits! OPEN!" The green-clad boy bellowed into the darkness, and Neji shuddered as he watched his friend's body transform from that of a human into a swirling mass of chakra nearly obscuring all but a vague green outline from view.

'My... god... Lee! What is this power?' thought the downed ninja as he stared in awe.

"How dare you!?" Lee shouted, eyes filled with an internal rage. "I will not allow this to continue! No one but me is allowed to defeat Neji!"

And like that, the boy vanished. A soundwave suddenly blasted across Neji and pain buckled his weakened body. Time seemed to stop for a moment as his Byakugan enhanced eyes only barely followed the path of his enraged teammate. He was okay. He was still alive. Though he didn't know if he'd ever be the same mentally as he had been before seeing his Dead Last teammate throw punches that left earthquakes as side effects.

The snake on the receiving end of Lee's shockwave fist imploded. The ground behind the snake crunched in as if a thousand tons had suddenly crushed into itself. Trees crumbled under the awesome weight of the punch's pressure alone. The snake had only a scant second to scream in agony before it erupted into smoke like its brethren before it.

Lee spared the dead summon no mind as he flashed, already moving to rid Tenten of thousands of tiny enemies still descending upon her. Like a whirlwind the boy delved into their midst, dancing amongst a cacophony of summon smoke and flying kunai as He and Tenten systematically decimated the horde of snakes.

When they were finally finished and Tenten stood panting in exhaustion, Neji could do little more than stare at his teammate in awe.

Where was this opponent when he wanted a true spar?

Neji didn't know. But he was thankful for the boy's power now.

Lee didn't even seem winded as he vanished from his place near Tenten to stand a few paces away from the older nin that had crushed them like vermin until now. He held a taijutsu stance that the Hyuuga had never seen the green clad boy use. Neji only prayed that this power his teammate held would be enough.

Lee didn't remain stationary for long though. Completely breaking his usual character, the boy spared no time for words, no second thoughts. No. Only that one calculated moment where he examined the other man's stance before he engaged.

'No wasted time,' Neji thought soberly. 'Lee can't keep this ability of his up for long. I must recover!'

Slowly. Painfully, the Hyuuga brought a quaking right hand towards his left forearm where it had impacted the tree. The bone had been fractured, though not broken. He could still fight. 'Oh this is going to hurt!' He thought.

Chakra flowed. Searing his fractured forearm as it traveled down to his fingertips and laced out in a tiny lance of green. His right arm, the one channelling the chakra brought tears of pain to his eyes but he persevered. He would not allow his teammates to die. Not without him by their side... at the very least.

After an eternity, an age, he finally felt his left forearm was healed enough that he would be able to use it to mend his now screaming right one. Fast as he was able, he brought his left hand to his right forearm and began to heal.

Relief poured through him almost the very instant his chakra began its work, sealing cartilage along with mending the weakness in his bones. Fatigue from his first and only real injury came to the fore as his healing finished and he realized that he was much less combat ready than he had hoped.

'A full Kaiten, and the snake had just...'

When faced with the very real horror of being crushed by the body of a snake larger than a tree, Neji had begun the motions for his heavenly spin, expecting the snake to be propelled away from him just like everything else was.

The snake had not budged, and instead, coiled itself tight. Neji's spin was stopped dead, and his body was constricted within the snake's coil. If not for his teammates, Tenten in particular he would be dead already.

Angry and ready for revenge, he'd charged in ready to decimate this feeble genin who'd dared challenge Neji Hyuuga...!

...and received a near fatal lesson in humility. As Tenten and Lee repeatedly saved him from more and more dire situations, Neji slowly realized that he was hopelessly outmatched. Juuken didn't work. For the first time in his memory his precious family art, his only solace, the one good thing about being a Hyuuga... failed him. Summoned serpents. They had Chakra-points, oh yes, but since they were constructs produced by their users own power, closing them did little more than momentarily faze them, which proved disastrous as hordes of enemies he'd thought defeated, wobbled their way back up to slither at his back.

A kunai could pierce their skin and disperse them. A punch, or kick... or hell anything Lee chose to attack them would would send them scattering back to their ether-realm with their tails between whatever limb Lee had chosen to skewer them on. But the Juuken... his prized Juuken... was worthless.

A painful lesson for the humbled and disillusioned Hyuuga.

But he was a god damned ninja. He would adapt... His vision was perfect. His chakra was still massive since most of his damage had been taken while he was surprised, he hadn't really expended much yet. He was ready... and the army of snakes his allies had been fighting seemed to have dwindled. He would not be the weak link in this team!

Only it appeared that he already was.

Lee was trashing his opponent. The half a moment Neji took to process the battle and where it had gone since he had begun his rudimentary self healing had turned sharply in their favor.

Lee was a green whirlwind. His face glowed red, monstrous and yet awe inspiring. Veins seemed to throb on his forehead, and each kick produced sonic booms that shattered the sound barrier twice over.

When Lee finally stopped his relentless battery, Tenten took up the battle.

A hurricane of sharp, pointy death rained down onto the nin's crumpled body. He dodged, but failed many times over. They sundered his legs, pierced his arms, and sunk though superior body armor. Sprays of blood painted the forest a dark hue, and Neji gaped as he saw many of the weapons narrowly miss the ninja's forehead. Tenten...? He'd never seen her so serious. He latched on with absolute clarity to the fact that every single one of Tenten's weapons had been aimed to permanantly disable, maim, or kill this enemy.

This horrid enemy.

When the rain of blades finally trickled and died, Neji took the opportunity to assess the damage. The pale man who had been their opponent was torn to shreds. He looked almost forty, or perhaps even older still. Pale didn't even begin to describe the body- no the corpse that them. Neji had a good memory for faces, and this man had definitely not been one of the genin.

The man twitched, and the three genin jerked, unwilling to believe that this demon of shinobi had truly died.

"Surrender or I attack once more. Force my hand and you will rot in this forest for harming my team," a voice that did not belong on Lee's tongue said in a tone that demanded obedience.

The body... quivered. It kept... shaking as if he were...?

"Ku Ku Ku..." The laughter sent a shudder down Neji's spine.

Involuntarily, Neji stepped back as the human pincushion rose, amidst a river of his own blood. It was small comfort that Tenten also reared in shock.

Lee didn't bat an eye.

"Well met!" The manikin- for what else could it possibly be? -spoke. "Konoha's genin, not even their most superior genin, are a treasure! I am proud."

"Stand Down!" Lee barked, his dark eyes deadly in the fading sunlight.

The man stuck out his tongue, and Neji was unsurprised at its forked appearance.

"I don't think I will..."

Even Lee was shocked by what happened next.

Before their very eyes the man... molted. His skin seemed to fade to a sort of pale plastic, until it looked like some sort of sickening overcoat with the muscle and bone moving beneath it, detached from its casing.

The man's jaw widened to a ridiculous degree, far beyond what even a broken bone could account for. Something slid out of the dark crevice formed by his gaping maw. A... head?

First a head covered in similar dark black hair, followed by a neck and body, until an entire man slithered out of the skin of their dying opponent like a snake shedding its skin.

The new man was fresh. Undamaged. In the grip of terror they faced, even Lee couldn't move.

"Y-you're an abomination!" Tenten cried.

"Worse," Neji intoned gravely. He now knew their enemy. The snakes should've given his identity away before but they had failed to click in Neji's mind until just now. The pale shinobi could be none other than the legendary traitor.

"We face Orochimaru."

Tenten stiffened, and her eyes turned to regard the man in question fearfully. "Wh-why would one of the Sannin attack us?"

"A good question," the snake sannin interjected. "But not one you will live to find the answer to."

This remark enraged Lee and Neji felt his own anger swell as well. Had Lee not just destroyed him? How many times could he molt like that? Hmph. They would not fall so easily.

"I don't care if you're a Sannin, or a god, or one of the bijuu! Any who attack my team like you have shall pay with their life!" Lee hissed a final warning. Then his form blurred.

Faster even than Neji could see Lee's crossed the air ready to once again dismantle Orochimaru.

Orochimaru smirked.

The punch collided with the Sannin's palm. A split second of visibility, and Neji watched Lee's eyes widen. Then again he vanished.

Punches rained in the thousands as Lee encircled his opponent but this time Neji would not sit on the sidelines. His Juuken was useless on the snakes but this was a man.

He blurred himself, flanking the offending Shinobi. He struck with a forward knifehand to the man's neck which was swiftly dodged. Neji twisted, barely dodging the kick the man responded with. Unperturbed, Neji's fingers struck at the tenketsu in the man's lifted leg, but he missed as the man leapt with his other foot, flipping over him. All the while Lee's constant wailing had never ceased. Each punch crashing into the Sannin's open palm sounded like hammer on cement but not a single punch broke through the man's guard.

Neji spun to meet Orochimaru's sudden focus. He ducked, narrowly dodging a vicious backhand and responded with a desperate attempt for one of his vital tenketsu on the chest. His attempt was met with a knee to the face that pushed him back and left him dazed. Luckily Lee was there to prevent further attacks, forcing the Sannin to concentrate his full effort on catching the boy's punches.

Neji slid in behind the Sanin once more and lead with a low leg sweep that the Sannin flipped over. Rising, Neji followed the sweep with an uppercut filled with chakra. Not a traditional Juuken style and it surprised the Sannin, catching him in the chin. Only half a second of daze but that was enough for Lee to follow up with a devastating two punch combo followed by a roundhouse that crushed the pale shinobi's defence. Neji spared half a second to grin at the other boy before they both cleared armageddon.

"Twin Rising Dragons!" Came Tenten's attack and weapons fell like rain. Held by strings and guided by low powered chakra bursts, the flurry of weapons was unlike anything Lee or Neji had ever seen from their companion but they were unsurprised.

Neji only barely caught it but just before the girl's tsunami of weapons landed... Orochimaru grinned.

Using a speed that he had not previously shown, the Sannin blurred. He caught the first Kunai and sickle and proceeded to slice at the air, batting weapons away with a practiced ease that bordered on godlike. Neji jerked to the left as the elite ninja began batting the weapons towards him and Lee. He too began to catch them and bat them out of the air while Lee avoided the situation altogether by taking to the trees above.

The man was not done. While Tenten still hovered in midair, her attack failed beyond repair, the man grabbed the chakra strings that she still held, and yanked.

Horrified, Neji leapt forward through the barrage of incoming weapons. Heedless of the multitude of cuts, he flew faster than his feet had ever taken him and leapt high over Orochimaru's head. Moments before Tenten would've slammed headfirst into a tree-trunk he caught the girl, enveloped her in his arms and skidded heavily across the rough dirt atop the girl.

He moaned, and listened to the girl do the same. He had been unable to flip her and take the damage of the skid himself but at least she was still alive.

Hesitantly, he pushed himself up, feeling the girl shuddering beneath him. "Tenten? Are you all- AHH!"

Neji was unprepared for the pain that tore through him. Unsure of what was even upon him his byakugan focused and found the Sannin's foot had crushed him atop Tenten into the ground, pinning them there like a stake. His eyes bulged as he tried to move and found himself completely unable. His ribs creaked as they were crushed against Tenten, but the Sannin was not done. His foot lifted a moment before he slammed it back downonto Neji's back.

Blood sprayed from the Hyuuga's mouth. Tenten's screams below went unheeded as Neji's spine shuddered and groaned under the Sannin's foot.

"Let them go..." The green-clad boy uttered lowly, standing several feet from the S-ranked ninja.

""Hmmph. You're in no position for demands. But I find I like you, boy. I'll use you I think... A boy capable of using five gates at the age of thirteen? I've never seen the like," Orochimaru said with a slight hint of boredom.

To Neji and Tenten's relief the foot lifted from them, and the Hyuuga gasped for air. It wasn't much but it was enough for Neji to regain the slightest bit of focus...

Death was to be theirs. Fate had declared it. Well... if that was the way of it then...

"Lee," He gasped out barely. "R-run..."

Lee's eyes faced the downed Hyuuga, and he cocked an eye. "Would you run Neji? And leave your friends behind?"

'Gai-Sensei told me to never open this gate. Even in the most dire of situations... He told me I wasn't ready... Sorry sensei. For my team, I will do whatever it takes.' Though the crippled boy.

"Gate of Veiw! Open!" he screamed. Digging deep the boy felt that shimmering spot inside him. The point deep within his stomach where the Gate of View was located shimmered. Chakra oozed from it and he grasped...

A cold fist buried itself in his belly, and all thought left Lee's mind. His air stolen, he quivered as he slumped forward onto the older man's arm. Gasps left him as air failed to fill his lungs. His breath was stunted and harsh. The green chakra aura that had hovered around him since he'd opened the fifth gate fluttered and died then, and the fist that felt like it had truly run him through trailed up to grasp his collar. Unable to even struggle, Lee felt the Sannin lift him bodily up until they were eye to eye. Through the pain, he managed a hateful glare, but the enemy held no malice. Just a sort of detached calculation. He looked as if he were studying a particularly difficult math problem.

"...Hmm. All that chakra and not one ninjutsu...? It doesn't make any... Ahh. I see. Crippled," the Sannin spoke more to himself than to Lee but the boy caught the gist, and it pissed him off.

"I am a prodigy made from hard work! Not a cripple!" he screamed ineffectually. He kicked but found that without the power of the gates, kicking the older man was like kicking a stone wall. The Sannin hardly seemed to notice.

"Hmm... yes. Even Tsunade wouldn't be able to heal this. She's never run across such a problem like this... I can though. Yes, you'll still do. You deserve that much, for entertaining me so. Not like those two weaklings." He still seemed to be talking to himself rather than actually to Lee.

"I will not lose to you here! I can't! I must prove my dream! Acckk!" The boy screamed at the top of his formidable lungs as a... yellow chakra began to seep into him from Orochimaru's arm.

"Lee! Stop it... please stop hurting him!" Tenten cried from the ground.

"Hurting him?" the man seemed surprised. "Little girl, I am healing him! A cripple will not be a suitable mask for me."

Neji had finally managed to roll off her but he ached. He wasn't certain but he thought his back might be broken. His... his Byakugan wasn't working right. He was seeing but it was as if his eyes couldn't focus, and so his three hundred and sixty degrees were still visible, yet he couldn't discern which was front.

"Spinal injury..." He thought. "I am... useless."

Now here he lay. Broken. Unable to even move let alone stop an S-Ranked missing ninja from killing his... his best friend. Lee... how had he been so strong without ever showing him? If only he'd been able to keep up, maybe he could've done... something.

But no. Fate had spoken. Death was theirs today.

"And what is your dream, hmm? If it's good enough, I might use the little Hyuuga over there instead, and let you live to see it," asked Orochimaru as the yellow chakra ceased its flow from his hand into Lee.

"I... I must prove that with enough passion, enough effort, I can be stronger than any prodigy or bloodline. That a genius of hard work can defeat any naturally born genius." He hissed. "I must..."

Orochimaru sniffed. "Not good enough. You see. There is one problem with that. What happens when you meet a prodigy, who is also a genius of... 'hard work'?" He mocked casually.

"Then you meet someone like me!" cried high pitched female voice.

Orochimaru slid back, dropping the genin in favor of keeping his arm as a shuriken cut the air his limb had just occupied. Flying at speeds Tenten hadn't even come near, the projectile was followed by a series of kunai and shuriken that Orochimaru found himself straining to dodge as he backed further and further from the bowl-cut genin.

'Jounin?' He thought with anger. He fixed his eyes on the direction the projectiles had come from and they widened comically as he found... a genin? A pink haired little...

"S-Sakura-san!?" Lee's strained voice echoed as his skin sizzled from the strange yellow chakra that had just coursed through his entire body.

The girl leaped, arcing through the air to fall down in a cascade of pink hair and wind, landing softly between Team Gai and Orochimaru.

'Sasuke's teammate. Well, there goes my need for a disguise,' he thought irritably. The girl had talent for her age to throw like that. Her strength was belied by her petite form, he could already tell. And was that... yes. His sensory skills showed him jounin level chakra at least.

'No matter,' he thought. 'I've killed hundreds of Jounin.'

The girl's hands were held casually behind her head and she grinned as if her fellow genin weren't dying in front of her. A wide, happy grin that spoke of a confidence that Orochimaru didn't think he'd seen on an opponent since the last time he faced Jiraiya. He'd long since taken for granted that any enemy, even that Pein fellow, would fear him and rightfully so. This girl's easy smile in the face of certain doom annoyed him.

"Hey, Lee. I'll protect you till I die, kay?" She said with a wink.

Lee, for all the pain he was in, blushed a solid pink. Then the seriousness of the situation caught up with him. "Sakura-chan this is no normal enemy! This isn't a Genin, this is-!"

"Orochimaru of the Sannin," the girl interjected her smirk widening if possible. She turned back to face the snake sannin and regarded him much like Orochimaru might regard bad milk. "Good. I'd like to see how close I've come to my old skill. Let's see if you're strong enough to push me."

The Sannin wasted no time with words. Instead he blasted out an aura of killing intent so powerful that it would make even the strongest jounin freeze in terror. His plans were being ruined. Sasuke was not supposed to know who it was that he was fighting. That would skew the test. He could hardly believe that the girl had managed to sneak up on him in the first place but that was no matter now. If she knew he was here then it was safe to assume that Sasuke knew as well. A botched experiment but not completely failed. He would just have to test the Uchiha honestly.

The man's hands flashed in a series of complicated seals that Sakura had never seen save in her other battles with him. She had no idea what they did but she was best when thinking on her feet. She leapt, running up the side of one of the many trees in the vicinity began a series of her own seals.

As Orochimaru's hands seemed to develop their own gravitational pull, sucking her in off the tree and making it more and more difficult to cling to its side, her own seals completed.

Battle in its purest form.

Sakura was happy.

Her whiskers shimmered and her eyes took on a decidedly fox-like quality. This... was going to be fun.


Naruto watched the pink-haired daemon as she danced around the Sannin with awe. This? This girl was Sakura? The girl danced like a feather around lightning quick blows delivered by the pale man without even a care. Strikes that shattered trees seemed to be deflected without thought. Lighting danced on her fingers occasionally and steam of burning air seemed to slide off her pink jacket during the few moments when she stopped long enough for the blonde to notice.

This was their teammate?

"You gonna listen to her, Naruto?" Sasuke murmured. "Sit back and let her hog all the fun? She's so fast... But we can keep up."

Naruto was still a bit flummoxed every time the Uchiha called him by his actual name instead of dobe or idiot but he had taken to doing so ever since Naruto had acquired the Sharingan. Only two days ago... but it felt like a lifetime.

"Hell no! But we gotta get fuzzy brows and his team out first. I've got this new jutsu I can't wait to try..." the blonde said with a mischievous smirk, then let his hands flow into their favorite seal. The ram. But unlike before, where clones would appear in a horde around him, they slid into existence with an almost ghost-like quality.

Sasuke gave his usual half cocked smirk. "Good. You really are starting to learn."

Naruto threw his hands behind his head and failed to suppress the beam of pride that threatened to destroy any and all trace of his 'Uchiha Cool.' Somehow though, he managed the silence with an easy grace that until a few days ago would have been completely beyond him. His thoughts wandered for a moment to the first day of this exam. One of many different times they had stopped and Sasuke had decided to randomly educate Naruto on the ways of his Sharingan.

"Naruto. Watch," the words themselves were not all that impressive but the fact that Sasuke had used them were. Sasuke had openly and blatantly called Naruto by his first name. Not even an ounce of mockery in his voice.

Of course that sailed right past Naruto's head and he glared at the Uchiha angrily, barely noticing the complex kata the boy was running through.

"What the hell are you showing me? I don't want to watch you fight ghosts!"

Sasuke stopped mid-kata and gave Naruto a half lidded stare emphasizing that he was highly unamused. "Turn on your damn Sharingan," the black-haired boy deadpanned.

Naruto scowled but did as asked. Before words could reach his mouth, Sasuke's hands were moving. A familiar pattern, even without the Sharingan, but Naruto had never been able to make it work. The Grand Fireball. It lay before him now, dissected, its secrets bare to his perusal.

He watched as the fireball scorched a patch of ground, turning green blades of grass to black char. He knew. The technique was his. He didn't even have to try... that was the magic of Sharingan. You just knew.

"So thats what I was doing wrong..." He murmured, mildly depressed. He'd been doing everything wrong. Chakra pooled in the lungs. Meld it with expended carbon dioxide waste. A single spark of catalyst fire element chakra at the edge of the lips to light charged gas aflame as it touched the open air. It all seemed so simple now.

He felt... cheated.

"Its so easy," He murmured. "But I could've tried for years before I figured it out."

"I know," Sasuke replied. "But not anymore. Come on. Learn. Your fighting style is more like brawling than any actual form. I'm going to change that."

Coming back to himself, Naruto reflected distantly on the Sasuke's words. Simple. Short. But they expressed volumes. He could no longer hold back.

"Why?" the blonde asked, turning to stare into the avenger's eyes. "Why did you stop calling me dobe, Sasuke?"

Sasuke frowned, eyes trailing between his blonde haired companion and the fight raging ahead. "Is this really the time?"

"This might be the only time! That guy's a Sanin right? We're good Sasuke. Not that good. So if we're going to go jumping into our own death trap, I need to know why!? Why now, after all we've been through?"

Sasuke's eyes widened. Naruto was very rarely serious, but the way his eyes blazed made him deadly so. Flumoxed, the raven-haired genin stumbled over what to say. "You... are Uchiha."

Naruto's eyes narrowed further. "Thats it then. Risking my life for you in Wave didn't mean shit... no. No the only way to be acknowledged by you is the eyes. I was worth something before the Sharingan dammit!"

Sasuke glared. "Yeah. About as much as the dirt you're standing on. But with the Sharingan you can actually be a ninja! Maybe even Hokage! You being Uchiha changes everything. Don't you see!? Since you are one too, now I..."

'I'm not alone.'

Naruto didn't see the pleading need in Sasuke's eyes. He didn't see the fervent wish for family that had permeated his entire being since that day six years before. No. Naruto only saw red, but somehow he didn't rage. Instead the anger boiled down to a cold loathing.

He surveyed the battlefield and found that his clones had already moved fuzzy-brows and his team out of the area. Good. Now he could unleash hell.

"People are worth more than their goddamn bloodline. Hasn't Sakura kicked your ass enough to prove it?" He barked towards the taller boy irritably.

"She's a Jounin who traveled back in time! Of course she would beat us!" Sasuke retorted.

Naruto hissed. Couldn't he see? Sasuke. Born with a gifted bloodline that nearly guaranteed him top tier. From birth he knew he was special. From birth, his ability was unquestioned. Naruto's birth was a different story. While Sasuke would grow strong because of what he was born with, Naruto had to find a way to do so in spite of his own... 'bloodline.' Kyuubi. God damned fox, perverted everything it touched. He'd been so pissed he hadn't even been able to tell that he was going to hurt Sakura in the wave. That was his bloodline. His legacy.

Sasuke had to see. He had to see that there was more value in a person then how they were born...

But...

"I don't know how I can do it. Now that I have the Sharingan its impossible. But I'm going to prove to you that people are worth more than their family name. Uchiha means nothing. You are strong because you've worked for it. I'm not Uchiha. I'm Naruto Uzumaki, and I caught an unlucky break when an old bastard decided to trade me eyes!"

Sasuke twitched.

"Fine," He replied. "We'll talk about this later. Sakura needs–!"

Naruto was a step ahead of him. His clones leapt onto the battlefield, flooding it. They came like a tsunami of orange. The green of the trees was blotted out by the sheer overwhelming number of clones that suddenly faded into existence. Sasuke gaped and even the heated battle between the pale ninja and their pink-haired teammate guttered for a moment.

"Sakura! Clear out!" One of the clones bellowed, and Sakura grinned leaping high.

In syncronization, three tomoe spinning wildly, Orochimaru's eyes widened at the trap he had found himself maneuvered into. He recognized the jutsu. Anyone who'd fought a Konoha Nin in the past fourty years could easily recognize the combination of seals.

At the last moment, he frowned, eyes connecting with one of the smirking genin clones.

Almost quietly, one clone's words echoed over all the sounds of the forest.

"Firestorm no Jutsu."

And all was cast into the lake of fire.


Author's Notes:

Would you believe this chapter has been nearly complete for almost a month and a half, just sitting on my hard-drive, getting moldy? Sorry for the long update. I had little motivation for it and 90% of my energy has been concentrated on either Error of Soul (Next chapter 60% complete), my own book, or work.

So again, sorry for the length of time between updates. I know its been a while but

Had my wisdom teeth removed. That was a bitch.

Well. Not much else to talk about. Hope you like the chapter! Character development out the ass and a bit of humor spliced in with a shitload of fighting.

Leave a review if ya feel like it!

Till Next!

MB