Chapter 14! Here be cannon divergence. ;)

Hey all... yeah... it's been a year. A lot of things have happened and I'm in my last semester of undergraduate study in university so I've been super busy, but maybe you're all still there? XD I hope you all haven't given up on me this time... I am still writing this story in case any of you were wondering. (which reminds me, you can all thank Meota Tsukiko for messaging me requesting an update status to get this chapter out to you)

Keep an eye out for anything that seems contradictory or poorly explained (now that we're getting into the thick of things it will be easier for me to miss plot holes and stuff, so I'm depending on you all! :D).

Also shout out to scurryfunger as your fantastic pairing idea has taken over some of the proceedings in the exam. ;) And on that note please enjoy this chapter!

.!.

"The next round!" Hayate jumped in as soon and the medics had left the room with their newest patient, and the names flashed on the screen above, "Aburame Shino and Abumi Zaku."

Naru grinned, "Yeah Shino! Kick his butt!"

The stoic bug user, to the surprise of many who knew him, turned and nodded to the blonde in recognition of her support, "I shall do my best, Naruto-san."

Kiba blinked, "That's more than you said to me practically the whole time in the forest!" he complained and his teammate decisively ignored the protest before heading down to the arena floor.

.!.

Shino moved calmly back to his spot on the balcony in a stunned silence. Zaku was unconscious on the ground and was sporting several less hands than he had been at the beginning of the match.

"G-good match, Sh-shino-kun," Hinata mumbled and pushed her fingers together nervously.

Shino nodded to his teammates, "Thank you Hinata-san, Naruto-san," he also turned to the blonde who was loudly cheering his victory. She grinned back brightly.

Sakura's eye was twitching at the carnage on the arena floor, "remind me to never get him angry," she whispered conspiratorially to Ino.

"Only if you do the same for me, forehead," the blonde replied, just as freaked out as her former friend.

Soon they realized they had almost had a normal conversation without fighting and went about glaring and ignoring each other again.

Two more names flashed up on the screen as soon at the bodily parts were removed from the ring.

Sabaku no Kankurō vs. Tenten

"Yosh!" Lee loudly exclaimed, "My youthful teammate! It is your turn to show the power of that the beautiful, youthful-," he didn't get to finish his sentence as his weapon specialist teammate slammed her fist into his face.

There was a moment of silence before she grinned and jumped over the railing, leaving Lee (who was more surprised at the attack than hurt by it) to pull himself back to his feet.

"Lee! You must be more vigilant!" Gai was next to his prized pupil in an instant.

"Yes Gai-sensei!" people were once more forced to look away as the beasts of Konoha once again started hugging to a sunset-lit background.

"Feh," the genin from sand, Kankurō, scoffed, "Here I was hoping for a challenge, but of course I get paired against a girl."

Tenten smirked at the insult and ignored the angered feminists on the balconies, "Hah, I would warn you not to underestimate me, but I know it's already too late so I'll just have to beat you into the ground to pay you back for the insult to my gender."

"Begin!" Hayate raised his hand from the sideline.

For a moment, neither leaf nor sand moved, then by some unseen mark they both darted forward. Kankurō dropped the large wrapped object on his back in favor of increased speed as he matched Tenten in a taijutsu bout.

He started with a vicious right hook aimed straight for her face, and was only half surprised when she seemed to dodge it with ease (after all with those two green freaks on her team he figured she had to have gained some survival skills). He was wholly surprised, however, when she proceeded to grab his still-extended arm and pull him off balance to execute a powerful knee to his exposed abdomen. Recoiling from the blow he tried to pull away but the girl kept coming, giving him little time to respond to her furious attacks.

"Just because my sensei is embarrassing to be seen with in public doesn't mean he's not the most skilled taijutsu user in the village," she explained with a haughty grin and a final kick to chest to propel him backward into the wall.

Kankurō hit the wall hard, cracking the back of his skull against the wall with enough force to knock him out… that is if he'd been there at all.

"What!?" Tenten backed up a pace as the body of what she had assumed to be her opponent rose awkwardly from the heap he'd fallen in. 'Awkwardly' because he wasn't standing up, his upper body was just rising from the ground in a way that no human muscles could replicate. Tenten quickly scanned the area and her eyes fell on the pile of wrappings that Kankurō had dropped before. Her opponent was smirking through them with fingers outstretched to the other body.

"So you've got something else to do the fighting for you?" Tenten goaded, "And you called me the girl? You're the one wearing make-up!"

"It's not make-up! It's war paint!" Kankurō's smirk dropped at the insult and he turned to glare at his snickering blonde teammate, "Shut up, Temari!"

Tenten decided that if they weren't her enemy right now she might like that Temari girl, but quickly turned her thoughts back to the match as Kankurō looked like he was starting to get serious. She recognized he seemed to be an accomplished puppeteer and made note to watch out for the unnatural movements that puppets could perform.

"YOSH! Tenten!"Lee's voice exploded over the arena, "Show them what it means to be burning with the power of YOUTH!"

Used to such outbursts, her brain hardly even registered that her teammate was ever talking and focused on reaching for her weapons; if her opponent was getting serious it was time for her to bring out her specialty.

Her hand moved to her weapon pouch and in a swift movement she unleashed several kunai in a single throw. The clothes on the puppet were pinned to the wall, slowing it down a little, and she darted forward with the intent of catching Kankurō off guard. Kankurō saw it coming even though he wasn't in the best position to respond and equally as fast countered her move defensively.

Only instinct caused Tenten to duck at that moment when a barrage of kunai from the direction of the puppet flashed overhead, without much thought a seal scroll was pulled from her belt and returned the favor. But now the puppet was on the move, it blocked every kunai and shiruken that had exploded from the scroll from hitting Kankurō.

In a swift movement that she had no chance of defending against the puppet had its arms and legs wrapped around her body, pulling her limbs into awkward positions she couldn't break free from.

Kankurō, still fuming over the make-up comment, grinned wickedly, "Now… what to do with you…? I could break an arm," to punctuate his words he twiddled a couple fingers and the puppet started putting pressure on Tenten's arm, pulling her elbow to extension and then some.

Tenten started screaming and a massive protest arose from the balconies. Hayate called the match over.

"What about an ankle?" Kankurō continued without pause, the puppet once again mirrored his words, twisting Tenten's ankle viciously to the side, a crack was heard as several bones were broken. Her screaming intensified until she hung limp, passed out from the pain. Another wave of protest and Hayate once again called the match.

"Maybe your neck," Kankurō made to finish the thing, but before he could move he found himself surrounded by several jōnin, including the ref, with his hands and fingers locked into position by several lengths of wire and the chakra strings holding his puppet cut (Kakashi discretely repositioned his forehead protector).

"This match is over," Hayate spoke clearly, calmly, for the third time with a hand on his sword poised and ready to strike, "Continue and I'll be forced to disqualify you," however his glare promised more than just disqualification.

"Fine," Kankurō replied, lowering his hands and backing up a pace, the jōnin straitened from their threatening poses and the medics hurried out to the floor.

.!.

Naruto's face fell from the cheers that she had been shouting the whole match at the scene below, "Who do you think you are!?" she screamed at him.

Kankurō only glanced her way with a vicious smirk before completely ignoring her and returning to his place on the stands.

Naruto was literally half-a-second away from launching herself over the railing and teaching him a lesson herself before Kakashi's hand on her shoulder stopped her, "There's no fighting outside the ring," he reminded her, "and don't worry, Guy's student will be just fine after a couple weeks rest."

This sated her need for revenge at the moment so Naruto, still frowning however, lowered her foot back to the ground. Kakashi gave her hair a comforting ruffle and stepped back as well.

"Let's get the next competitors down here," Hayate was staring expectantly up in the stands with the next names already flashing on the screen above him.

Nara Shikamaru vs. Inuzuka Kiba

Shikamaru groaned loudly and banged his head audibly against the wall he was leaning on.

"Ha!" Kiba laughed, "I got this in the bag if I'm up against lazy-bones here!" with his customary smack talk officially started, he and Akamaru were quickly over the railing and onto the floor.

Shikamaru, in his typical lazy fashion, simply pushed himself up from the wall and walked leisurely down the stairs, "troublesome."

"Hurry up, Lazy!" Kiba yelled impatiently when he was halfway down.

"No, that would be too much effort," Shikamaru replied calmly, earning a couple snickers from around the room.

By the time Shikamaru got to the arena floor (in all honesty it was probably only another ten seconds) Kiba was practically whining out of boredom, losing his energy to fight.

Thus he was not as prepared as he should have been when Hayate called the match, "Begin!"

Finally getting his chance to fight, he sprung into action, only to find himself not moving. Shikamaru stood before him wearing a lazy smirk with his hands folded into his signature shadow imitation technique, "Kagemane no jutsu, Success."

Kiba growled at being caught off guard, but even though he couldn't move he could still turn this match around. Shikamaru, no matter how smart he was, had forgotten one thing.

"Let's go, Akamaru!" Kiba shouted, his companion, not caught by the shadow, did what he was trained to do.

Shikamaru was quickly forced to defend himself and Kiba felt like a complete idiot for having to copy whatever movement his fellow nin was doing.

When the other boy started running away from Akamaru's attacks Kiba assumed it would only be a matter of time before Shikamaru got tired out and had to release his jutsu.

Then he hit the wall full speed.

Dazed and fading in and out of consciousness at this point, he could hear Hayate declaring Shikamaru the winner and Akamaru pining near his face.

"A ninja always pays attention to his surroundings and uses them for his advantage," he must have blacked out for a moment because in the next second Shikamaru was at his side helping him up and supporting him back up to the balcony.

Then Kiba realized that Shikamaru had played the whole match right into his hands, completely controlling it from the moment their names had been called. He'd known the Nara was smart, but to be this smart… Kiba could feel a cold chill run up his spine, suddenly grateful that Shikamaru was on their side.

"Haha!" Naruto laughed as the two reached the balcony again, "You lost by running into the wall, Kiba!"

Kiba, instantly cured of his half-conscious state, launched into attack mode once more, "Shut up, Naruto!"

Shikamaru rolled his eyes, "troublesome," and leaned back against the wall to relax once more.

"If I had been fighting you then I would have used an awesome jutsu that made me and Akamaru ten times stronger!" Kiba argued.

"Oh yeah! Well then I would have beat you into the ground at the same time as Akamaru!" Naruto replied, she paused and then addressed the dog, "No offense Akamaru."

The pup yipped happily in reply; Shikamaru noted this as another indicator he had missed that Naruto was female. She and Akamaru had always gotten along famously even though she and Kiba only really got along when they were escaping class together. Shikamaru had also noted then that Akamaru was always gentler and more responsive around the female populace of the class and had wondered why it was similar with the blond prankster.

He groaned to himself and muttered another "troublesome," before turning back to watch the competition's abilities in peace.

Hyūga Hinata vs. Hyūga Neji

The names flashed up on the screen and Kiba's fight with Naruto instantly died, "crap."

Naruto blinked and turned to look as well, "What? What's going on?"

Hinata's hands lifted to her mouth and she began to tremble.

Naruto watched as Lee's broody teammate confidently made his way to the floor.

"Hinata," Kiba was suddenly at her side, "You don't have to do this, forfeit the match."

"I-I-I…" Hinata stuttered harder than Naruto had ever heard before.

"Common Shino," Kiba looked to the bug user, "Back me up here."

Shino gave his female teammate a look that spoke volumes between them, even through his sunglasses, "Hinata-san is free to follow the nindō that she chooses."

Something in Hinata changed and she looked up sharply (well, for her at least) into Shino's eyes, he nodded and turned away to study her cousin waiting on the floor.

"Shino!" Kiba complained, "That doesn't help!"

"A-actually, Kiba-kun," Hinata spoke up, a fire lit in her eyes.

Kurenai blinked as she watched the change come over her student, she had seen it several times in training, but never during a battle or a mission. Her self-depreciation would always win out over this rare look of confidence in stressful situations.

Naruto, not really understanding the proceedings but wanting to input anyway, resorted to her usual loud self, "Yeah! Go Hinata! Kick his butt!" Naruto and Hinata locked eyes for a moment and Hinata's resolve strengthened.

"I-I won't give up," she replied and turned to the stairs.

Neji on the floor raised a cynical eyebrow for a moment, What a bunch of losers, his lips twitched into a hateful sneer for half a second before regaining his usual indifferent appearance.

"Hinata-sama."

"Neji-nii-san."

"They're related!?" Naruto screamed disbelievingly.


And that's the end... for now!

What did you think? No one's paired up with the right person! (:) mwahahaha) I did say there would be cannon divergence, with Sasuke gone something had to change! Maybe you want to suggest something for future chapters? Or maybe I totally misspelled a word (such as kezmet pointed out several chapters ago that I used bride in place of bridge... haha! maybe I'll get around to fixing that sometime...). Or maybe you miss Pakkun as much as I do!

Unfortunately it will be a while before I post again (17 science credits and three part time jobs are a serious sap of my time) but I just wanted to give you all hope that I haven't abandoned this story! Until next time!