Robin was quiet as she entered the room, not drawing any attention from the two that were arguing in the front. Unfortunately for her, she knew both of them.

Hayate stood behind her, a silent shadow hidden from Ibiki and Kinishi.

"—no legitimate reason to hold her here! It completely violates the—"

"—suspicious behavior, and you're under suspicion as well by association, so unless you want to—"

"—absolutely ridiculous that you would hold a genin as a—"

"—actually think she's a genin? That's complete bull—"

"Ahem." Hayate coughed, and Robin was rather relieved that she had not needed to be the one to break up the argument. "So, we've got our mediator?"

Mediator. So that was what she was meant to be now. Just what was going on?


Sakkaku tilted her head to the side, near-white hair swinging behind her even from that slight movement. The arguing outside the cell had stopped, and she was rather thankful for that. She doubted they would let her out of their own volition, but it wasn't as though she would be stuck there forever.

She could already feel her blood boiling in her veins, and that could only mean one thing, one person.

All she had to do was wait.


"Kabuto-sensei!" Hanabi almost squealed, but managed to hold back (like a proper Hyuuga) at the last second.

"Hello, Hanabi-chan." Kabuto chuckled, and then actually picked her up and swung her around in a circle like a little kid, setting her back down after a few dizzying turns.

She glared up at him, even though, given her age, it did little to intimidate him. "I'm too old for that, sensei!"

"Hm… no, I don't think you are." Kabuto smiled at her. "Now, why don't you show my how much you've improved since the last time I saw you?"

Hanabi grew quiet, and then took a breath. "Kabuto-sensei, where were you? I know you weren't training for the third exam like Neji, so why have you been gone so much?"

Kabuto grew thoughtful. "Well, there are a few reasons, but mostly because I've had to put in more time at the hospital since I failed out of the exams. Plus, my team's sensei decided we have to do more missions to be ready for the next exam, so that's been taking up a lot of time as well."

"Oh." Hanabi looked down at the ground, and then looked back up at Kabuto. "I think I've gotten better, sensei!"

The white-haired medic chuckled. "Alright then. Let's see it."


The noises were deafening.

Karin had talked her sensei into letting her stay with Sasuke for viewing the finals, something that hadn't taken too much work, all things considered. With the amount of time the two had spent together over the past several weeks, Sasuke was actually one of the few people Karin felt completely at ease with, and her teacher had noticed it enough to somewhat trust Sasuke with her. The two were somewhat isolated in the crowd, not knowing anyone nearby. On the one hand, that meant that they didn't have to listen to one of Sasuke's fangirls yammering away at him and annoying both of them.

On the other hand, it was incredibly crowded, which meant that Karin was pressed into Sasuke's side in attempt to shield herself from the sheer noise, as well as to try and distract herself from the ridiculous levels of chakra that were pressing in on her from all directions.

"Are you okay?" Sasuke's voice was flat and he didn't really sound like the answered mattered to him, but he had asked, so that meant that he at least cared a little, right?

"Not really." Karin winced as a particularly loud wave crossed the crowd. "I can handle it, though."

"Alright." Sasuke muttered, eyes scanning the crowd in hopes to see someone he knew well enough to sit by. His eyes immediately caught the sight of the Hyuuga in one corner, but seeing as he didn't know any of them other than Neji and Hinata (one of whom was competing, and the other of whom was sitting with her team), he didn't head over.

"Who's competing in which order, again?" Karin asked, lightly squeezing his arm to gain his attention.

"Gaara and Neji are first." He knew that with confidence, "And then… those other two from Suna. Puppet guy and the girl with the giant fan."

"Kankuro and Temari." Karin nodded. "I think I talked to them once or twice when we were inside that tower in the forest."

"Right." He hadn't bothered to remember their names. "Then Naruto and Sakura." Like he could forget that one. "Followed by TenTen and the guy from the mercenary team. Shikamaru's got a bye, unless someone forfeits from the get-go."


Sasuke's eyes finally stopped as he caught the sight of several familiar heads. "I see Akimichi Chouji and Yamanaka Ino. They're with team eight and Rock Lee."

"…I don't know who's on—"

"Hyuuga Hinata, Inuzuka Kiba, and Aburame Shino." Sasuke rattled off. "None of them are really my first choice of company, but if you don't mind, we can go sit with them until the fights start."

Karin nodded. "Sure."


"You ready?" TenTen muttered to Neji, though her eyes weren't focused on him. Rather, they were roving around the area reserved for contestants, trying to do some last minute analysis of the competition. Her first opponent would be Yagira, but the boy himself wasn't showing much other than panic, and from what few mutters she heard, that panic was unrelated to the exams, and more connected to his teammates and something regarding a jail.

"I am." Neji's eyes were doing the same, the pale irises near indistinguishable from the rest of his eyes. "However, I am… uncertain."

TenTen's mouth quirked up a little. "Yeah, one time your little fate obsession is being challenged. You're fighting the son of the Kazekage, one that apparently has some sort of demon, if the rumors are true. No way to predict the outcome of that, huh?"

"TenTen, don't—" His retort was stopped by the presence of his teammate's hand over his mouth.

"Sh…" TenTen bit back a chuckle. "It'll all be fine."

Neji didn't even bother to roll his eyes at that.


"This is ridiculous." Crocodile spoke from his spot between Daz and Robin. The former had several thin scars dotting his person, while the latter was more or less immaculate, her customary half-smile on her face though it was strangely fixed.

"Perhaps it seems that way to you," Robin's eyes were on the empty arena below, and her thoughts elsewhere completely. "But this is a tradition, an important one, to them. It even functions to prevent wars from breaking out."

"Hmph." The unnaturally tall man (at least, unnaturally tall for this world) was unimpressed. However, interest darted its way across his features as three people made their way onto the field. One of them was visibly the proctor. One of them was Hyuuga Neji. And the last…

"That's the brat that can control sand because of some demon, correct?"

Robin nodded, her eyes tracking Gaara. The boy seemed… tired. Somewhat apathetic, really. Rather than having the same murderous look in his eyes as she had seen before, he seemed distracted, not even looking directly at Neji.

She hoped he was alright.