A/N: It took me a while to decide on how to play Naruto and Sasuke's fight, especially since the drop in reviews for the last chapter didn't give me much inspiration to work with (where did you guys think I got my motivation and inspiration?), but then I remembered a little event from the Forest of Death that more or less decided the issue for me. There were also issues regarding character development that one reviewer pointed out which also aided me in figuring out the best way to keep the ball rolling on that end.
By the way, there are several references to a particular webcomic that I enjoy during TenTen's little moment. If you can guess which comic it is, you get a cookie.
Naruto and Sasuke were frozen, staring at the screen in front of them. Naruto had a death grip on the railing, and Sasuke's right eye was twitching dangerously.
Then Sakura grabbed both of them, Karin right behind her, and dragged them both into a small circle.
She looked both of them in the eye, and then her breath whooshed out in a heavy sigh as she steeled herself for what she knew was necessary to say. "One of you has to forfeit."
"What?!" Naruto shouted, and then yelped as Sasuke elbowed him in the ribs.
Sasuke glared at Sakura, causing her to cringe slightly, though she held strong. "Explain, now."
"I can do that." Karin spoke softly, hesitantly, but she continued anyway when the three members of Team Seven turned their gazes on her. "You both got seals that mess with your chakra in the Forest, right? And… and I wouldn't have suggested this in any other case, but you're fighting each other, so you probably won't mind forfeiting as much. The thing is…" She gulped, but continued. "Naruto's seal is messing with his control, but since he doesn't really use any techniques that need a lot of precision, it's not that big of a deal for now. Since you mostly just use your Kage Bunshin, you'll probably just get a few more or less, since the number is based off of the amount of chakra you put in, right?" Karin looked at Naruto, biting her lip.
"I, uh, I guess?" Naruto shrugged, rubbing the back of his head. "I think so, anyway."
Karin nodded, continuing. "But Sasuke-kun… if you use too much chakra now, it could really hurt your system. I can tell what it's doing to your chakra, and… listen, you really shouldn't fight, especially if you accidentally trigger it, because that might cause Naruto or… or the other Jinchuuriki to lose control, because the chakra in that seal is really nasty, and, and…" She trailed off, looking hopefully at both boys with wide red eyes, tearing up behind her glasses.
Naruto and Sasuke looked at one another, ignoring Yuugao's calls to get down into the arena as soon as possible. Sakura looked between them and swallowed her nervousness, knowing that what she was about to do was going against everything she'd done for the past few years, but… "Sasuke-kun, I think you should be the one to forfeit."
Naruto's jaw dropped, a slight blush coming onto his cheeks. "S-Sakura-chan?"
Sakura glanced between the two of them, and then kept going with her explanation. "It doesn't really matter who chooses to forfeit in terms of your… issues, so long as someone does, but later on, there's a big tournament held to choose who will become chunin; there always is. And… Naruto, you don't have a good reputation in the village, and you told us as much. Most of the village is going to be at the exams, and it could be your chance to prove yourself to the village. Sasuke-kun doesn't need to prove anything; he's already respected by most of the civilian population, and the shinobi don't mind him, but…" She trailed off, trying to find the words to explain herself further.
"I'll do it."
All three heads turned to Sasuke. He frowned and sighed, elaborating so that they didn't proclaim him a foreign spy impersonating himself. "You're right. I don't need to prove anything to anyone but myself. I don't need a huge tournament to prove myself when I can get to most of my competitors outside of it, and just challenge them to a spar or two. The dobe needs to prove that he's not the demon to most of the village, and this is the best chance for it. So I'll do it."
"Teme, you'd do that?"
"Didn't I just say I would?" Sasuke snorted, and then walked over to the railing as Yuugao called for them to get down there, now, or she would disqualify both of them.
There was collective silence in the room for several seconds, and then the collective exclamations of surprise.
Except one, which wasn't much of an exclamation, nor very surprised.
"Should I assume that you were listening in on them and can explain what happened to make Sasuke agree to something like this, given his personality?" Kakashi leaned forward against the railing, head turned slightly to look at Robin."
"I wouldn't suggest ever assuming anything. It's not very polite, after all." Robin smiled at him. "But yes, I was tracking the conversation."
"And?" Kakashi prompted.
Robin tilted her head, watching her friend's team through the corner of her eye. "Karin and Sakura convinced them that it would be better for both if one of them forfeited, and convinced Sasuke that Naruto needed to fight and prove himself in front of the village more than he did."
Kakashi mulled it over. "So… you're saying that Sasuke forfeited as a selfless act of kindness for a teammate?"
Robin tilted her head to the side. "Not completely selfless, but he did forfeit for Naruto's sake."
Kakashi eye-smiled at Robin and put an arm around her shoulders. "You'll help me take the team out for their favorite foods later, right? I want to show them how proud I am."
Robin chuckled. "I suppose. We'll bring Karin-chan along as well."
"We should probably contact her sensei," Kakashi pondered. "Actually, we should have done that as soon as we found out what happened."
Robin patted his shoulder. "We'll do that as soon as we get out of the Forest."
"Oh!" Gai finally came out of his momentary depression, pointing at the board.
Aburame Shino vs. TenTen
Robin felt a smile grow slowly on her face, the one that she wore when she had information that no one else did. In this case, she was not the only one that knew, but as the rest were the members of Team Gai, and Team Gai alone, she was fairly certain that most of the room would be surprised soon.
Though Neji seemed rather on edge… perhaps TenTen had taken her special training a little too far?
"Robin…" Kakashi seemed a little worried that he didn't know what she was smiling about, particularly as it involved one of Gai's students. Considering the fact that Neji, the other sane student, seemed to be calmly panicking, and Gai himself was grinning, and TenTen seemed overly giddy, and Robin knew what was going on, and oh kami, this was going to end badly for someone, probably Kakashi, wasn't it?
"Yes, Kakashi-san?" Robin turned to him with the sweetest smile to ever exist.
Kakashi felt a tiny part of his soul die as the rest wept in terror of the sight of the woman before him.
The two genin jumped down to the arena floor.
TenTen and Shino were a match-up that had most of the room relieved. Like Kiba and Sakura, they were both Konoha shinobi that weren't likely to kill or seriously injure one another. They were both good enough to be a little flashy, and whichever one ended up in the finals was bound to put on a good show, but there wasn't the nerve-wracking anxiety that had been caused by some of the other matches.
The fight started out simply enough, almost boring as the two made to test one another's defenses. As fast as Shino's bugs may have been, TenTen was faster, a testament to her survival under Gai's harsh training methods. As good as TenTen's aim and power may have been, Shino was deceptive enough to always have a bug clone ready to take the hit, a testament to his skill with his clan's techniques.
Once both of them had tested the other fully, TenTen decided to get creative, and the audience finally realized just what had been the reason behind the reactions of Robin, Gai, and Neji… sort of.
Shino stared at the strange object in TenTen's hand. "What is that?"
TenTen grinned. "It's called a pistol."
"It appears to be a strangely shaped piece of plumbing." Shino pointed out, "Though by the way you are holding it, I assume it is more than a simple club?"
TenTen stared at him, mildly horrified, and turned to the side, cradling the weapon to her chest. "How dare you! It's more than just a pipe!"
Up in the stands, Kankuro leaned over and whispered to his sister, "It looks like a metal banana."
Temari slapped him upside the head.
Shino stood silently, appraising TenTen and trying to determine the possible threat of her new weapon.
Of course, then she pointed it at him and fired.
Shino, as mentioned before, always had a clone ready to switch out with, and it was a clone that had been standing in place to catch TenTen's attention, not Shino himself. Nonetheless, the clone began to dodge as soon as TenTen's arm began to move, its momentum carrying it just out of the path of the bullet (and if the clone's shoulder got clipped, well, no one really noticed). What did catch the attention of most of the room was the explosion of rocky shards that blasted out from the wall upon the impact of a projectile that few of them could even track.
TenTen's eyes narrowed, and she slipped the pistol into a holster that had been attached to her hip for days now, empty and awaiting a chance to fulfill its purpose. She brought her hands up into a seal in front of her, pulsing her chakra and muttering the normal "Kai!" that all shinobi, even the ones that were only in training, learned early on enough to never be caught too unawares.
From that point on, it was a game of cat and mouse, though no one was sure just which was which, or whether it was a game of cat and cat or mouse and mouse. TenTen's shots were accurate, but Shino knew to be on his guard against TenTen's strange, otherworldly weapon, and, though she did catch him once in the abdomen, she caught clones more often than not. Shino did, at one point, attempt to clog the barrel, but it only lead to the death of the bugs he sent to perform the mission, as the barrel was strong, and well-used to the explosive power that it held so often.
At least… that's how it was until TenTen ran out of bullets. When she shot, the empty clicking echoing around the arena rather than the bangs from earlier, Shino knew to take his chance. TenTen had a rudimentary shunshin to get out of the way, but as she released sprays of kunai and senbon to cover her as she reloaded, Shino managed to slip bugs past her guard, quick enough in his movements that the kikkaichu began to cover TenTen, immobilizing her legs and draining her chakra, crawling up and up as Shino came closer with a kunai to hold it to TenTen's neck and cause the match to be—
TenTen swung up her arm, aiming point-blank at Shino's forehead, only inches away.
The two stared at one another, judging the situation and one another.
Shino gestured at TenTen's legs. "They've been trying to drain your chakra for much of the fight. As much as you have been moving during this fight, particularly during the beginning, you cannot be far from exhaustion. Your chakra will be fully drained within the minute."
"I'm a trigger-pull away from sending a small ball of metal careening through your head at the speed of sound. I think I have the upper hand." TenTen grinned, even as she felt herself draining. "In a real fight to the death, I'm the one that would be winning. It may not be a kunai to the neck, but with everything that you've seen, having this pointed at your brain is just as effective."
Yuugao took that time to step in. "Winner, TenTen."
Shino frowned behind his collar, even as he ordered his bugs to withdraw. He had not forfeited, so the match should not have been called. The only times that was allowable was when the opponent was dead, unconscious, or was refusing to cooperate when they were clearly in a situation that they would not be able to escape. Shino was quite certain that, had he and TenTen truly been in such a situation, his bugs could have distracted her, either by biting her or crushing her legs, long enough for him to get in close and have the kunai to her neck.
However, had she fired as soon as she had gotten the pistol into position…
Perhaps the proctor had not been so hasty in her decision.
He needed to think on this.
"Yosh!" Gai punched the air. "Two of my most youthful students have proceeded to the finals!"
"But not the most youthful one." Kakashi pointed out. Gai turned to look at him, nearly pouting.
"My Eternal Rival, do not say such harsh and unyouthful words!"
Robin chuckled. "Ah, you should be glad that he survived, ne? If that poison had been fatal, imagine what could have happened. He could have coughed up blood, or been asphyxiated, or simply died without a visible reason. I used the last one often enough myself a few years ago."
"…Robin-san, you're not helping." Despite his words, Kakashi smiled at her, uneasy as it may have been.
Asuma coughed, drawing the attention of the three. "Last match is up."
Hyuuga Hinata vs. Yagira Torame
Kurenai paled as the other Jounin winced. Robin stopped smiling, though she did not quite frown.
"Oh my. I hope he isn't as rude as his teammates."
Kabuto looked over the page that he had just written out, ready to be rolled up and sent to Sasori. The role of a double agent, no, a triple agent, was a difficult one to keep up, particularly when only one of the factions was aware that he was gathering information from all three sources, and distributing it as he wished to, not necessarily as he was told.
However, Kabuto did what he was supposed to (for Orochimaru, at least), and did it well. He kept up the charade almost perfectly, after all. Sure, he had almost incurred Sasori's wrath several weeks ago when he had admitted that he didn't have a high chance of meeting the enigma that was Nico Robin and gathering the information that would allow Sasori to capture her and successfully turn her into a puppet, but the incident had passed without pain on Kabuto's part, though Sasori had grumbled, long enough to make that strange blonde partner of his start complaining, that he was going to have to deal with someone else's anger, a man named Kakuzu, at the bribes and payments he'd have to make to get the information from another source.
However, another source didn't really matter to Kabuto, so long as it didn't interfere with him. He had even managed to find a path to Robin through Hanabi, however roundabout it may have been, and was slowly going to pick his way along to get the information, though it would not be going to Sasori, but to Orochimaru.
Little Hanabi was a sweet girl, but she needed to learn to recognize when someone was using her for their own gain.
A/N: I think I'll leave it at that, ne? And some predictions for this last fight would be nice from you guys. I want to see what you think will happen, how I'll play it out. I doubt Torame's first actions are going to be anything you expect, though. He's a little… off.
Yes, I'm milking Kabuto's position in this story for all it's worth. Don't hate me when the point of what I'm doing with him (or points, since there are at least two that aren't present in canon) becomes clear. Because you will. You will hate me a lot. You've probably just managed to figure out the (rather blatant) hint in that last scene, and are already hating me for it.
A reminder: there is a contest that I'm holding on DeviantArt, and you can win a one-shot from me if you do well enough.
Another reminder: you can choose which story I work on after I finish "Gender Confusion," and while most of them are Naruto-based, there is one for the One Piece fans, so go check it out and vote, ne? Personally, my favorites are "It's a Twin Thing," "Guardians of Killers," and "Civility," but the results may not follow along with that, so… we'll see how that goes.