Naruto waited hidden outside the exam building and watched the early risers enter. The kazekage's children were some the first; a team of hidden stone genin followed them closely in what they obviously thought was a circumspect manner.
One of the hidden stone ninja had their arm wrapped up in a splint an another was favoring one leg heavily. Naruto was fairly sure he knew exactly where the team had gained their wounds, and had a sneaking suspicion that they were about to try for a bit of revenge. Naruto mentally crossed the hidden stone genin off of the competitors list and wondered if he should inform one of the examiners. It would look bad for the leaf if they let a murder occur right under their noses.
Before he could leave his hiding spot he caught a chakra signal flare on the roof of the building. Naruto looked up in time to see a chuunin vanish with a body-flicker, and felt a bit foolish for thinking the other observers needed his help.
Naruto fiddled with one of his tanto for a few seconds before quickly sheathing it when a familiar chakra signature entered his range. Naruto jumped down from the tree he was sitting in and walked into the paved plaza in front of the exam building in time to catch Sasuke.
Sasuke gave Naruto a nod when he caught sight of the blonde, and the pair of them walked towards an out of the way bench. The bench wasn't exactly hidden, but it was far enough away to keep them out of most competitors view; more importantly the only place someone could listen in on their conversation was the single big shade tree hanging over it.
Naruto took the time to focus his chakra sense and carefully scan the tree before he gave Sasuke the all clear sign. Sasuke's eyed the tree a moment before asking, "Did you get them?"
In response Naruto pulled out a small packet of extremely complicated seals and handed them over to Sasuke. "Danzo-sensei was a bit doubtful, but even an idiot like me can copy something a master created." Naruto paused a moment before asking, "So since you asked about I assume Kakashi taught you the technique?"
Sasuke scrunched up his face in obvious annoyance. "You would not believe how much of a pain it was to get him to show me."
"Yeah he probably made you-" Naruto suddenly rolled his eyes, "Sakura's sneaking up on us again...Wanna screw with her?"
"Clones of Kakashi and Danzo?"
"Nah, we did that already."
"And she will never recover...how about we just pretend she doesn't exist?"
Naruto's rather evil smile told Sasuke that his proposal had been accepted. Sakura appeared on the branches above them before using her tree climbing skill to hand from it less than a few feet above them in what she obviously thought was a stealthy position. It might have even worked if both Naruto and Sasuke hadn't been tracking her with their peripheral vision the entire time.
Naruto fought to keep a smirk of his face when he asked, "So where's Sakura?"
Sasuke leaned back a bit to get a better view before replying with that obnoxious Uchiha grunt, "Hn. She's probably fixing her makeup or something."
Naruto saw a small frown form on her face before she shouted, "Hi guys! How are my youthful teammates this morning?"
It took everything Naruto had to not snicker at Sakura's over the top greeting. He kept his gaze focused on Sasuke and said, "No that Lee guy she keeps talking about finally asked her out on a date."
"They are probably buying each other flowers while only walking on their hands-"
"And if they can't do that then they will run five hundred laps around the village while kissing."
Sakura dropped from the tree and complained, "You guys suck." Then an evil little smile spread across her face, "Well if I'm getting ignored there is something I always wanted to do."
Sakura had her lips puckered and was leaning towards Sasuke, who started edging away. Naruto was laughing outright now and asked, "Sasuke why are you acting so strange..."
Sakura dove for Sasuke, who to Naruto's great amusement yelped and rolled off of the bench. Naruto suddenly sensed something behind him, and turned around only to stare into the eyes of another Sakura who was inches away from his face.
The both blushed a bit before Sakura awkwardly said, "Isn't the clone technique useful?"
Naruto followed her lead. "I see you finally figured out how to erase its signature entirely."
Sakura flipped over Naruto and grabbed the bench seat Sasuke had vacated before he could reclaim it. Once she was settled she asked, "Could you sense anything?"
Naruto frowned a moment before deciding to answer honestly, "I could sense you using the clone technique about three hundred yards back, after that nothing." Naruto smirked, "And because I'm amazing, you must be super amazing Sakura! Believe it!"
Sakura giggled at Naruto's sudden over the top antics.
Sasuke picked himself up off the ground and returned the conversation to serious ground. "Naruto got the seals and I learned the technique. I'm going to need your vial of blood Sakura. You too Naruto."
The each fished a few stoppered vials of blood out of their pouches and handed them over to Sasuke who carefully wrapped the vials in the sealing tags that Naruto had given him. After he was finished he handed each vial over to Naruto for a quick inspection. Naruto gave them back after making sure that the lines of the seal weren't crossed and Sasuke stowed them in one of his pockets.
The three of them were quiet a moment before Sakura finally asked, "So are we still going through with it?"
Sasuke mutely nodded and Naruto affirmed, "We've worked for weeks to come up with this plan. Now we just have to find the conviction to see it through. Plus I found the perfect scapegoats."
Sakura clapped her hands and said, "Alright lets go pick a fight then." The three of them walked together into the older office building which had been cleared out just for Ibiki's exam.
Gaara waited quietly for Baki in the almost deserted hall outside of the waiting room and tried to ignore his Mother's frustrated shouting over not being able to feast on blood of the rock ninja who had been foolish enough to attack them. He knew Mother didn't really mean it when she said that if he let another prey get away she would leave him. Mother never left him and never could, because they loved each other.
Gaara's internal dialogue finally wound down when he agreed in a hushed whisper, "Yes Mother, next time we'll taste the blood of those idiots in masks too." Gaara ignored the twitch from his sister. If she tried to get in his way he'd feed her to his sand.
A movement across the hall drew Gaara's attention away from his sister to the very same set of rock ninja that the masked leaf ninja had saved from his sand. Gaara frowned at the sight. The rock ninja should have at least been bared from the exams after he had failed to kill them. He was about to comment when Mother made a wonderful suggestion that sent shivers running through the sand around him. Gaara smiled; Mother would get her blood after all.
The slight hiss of sand grinding against sand sent a shiver running down Temari's spine. Gaara felt a surge of contempt for his sister, but suppressed the urge to feed her to Mother as well. If he killed his siblings he wouldn't be able to compete and father had promised him so much blood if he played along with his designs just a little bit longer.
Gaara felt a small smile growing as the rock ninja squared off a few feet away from him. He turned to their apparent leader and asked, "Have you come to prove my existence?"
"Don't underestimate the hidden stone."
Gaara felt his irritation surge when Kankuro opened his mouth, "Ha! We crushed you weaklings before, why would it be any different now?"
Gaara didn't bother to correct his brother. The relaxed stances of the rock ninja, the way their previous wounds didn't seem to bother them, and the confidence each of them was radiating. Everything was different than their first encounter with the trio. In a manner of minutes they had become excellent prey. Gaara wondered if it was really the same group they had fought before, but Mother assured him it didn't matter.
The apparent leader of the stone ninja slid his arm out of its sling and laughed at Kankuro. "Crushed us? Like this arm?" The ninja's body language suddenly shifted into something altogether menacing, "It's time to die sand rats."
"Mother agrees. No more taunting, its time to die now."
Gaara spent a fraction of a second to insure that the masked ninjas from before wouldn't interfere again before he unleashed the powers Mother had given him. Sand rushed forward to capture and crush his prey.
The leader of the rock ninja jumped over the surge of sand and sent a spray of kunai down at Gaara's head. Gaara didn't bother to defend since such a weak attack could never pierce Mother's armor. He willed his sand into a small pool beneath where the rock ninja would land.
Gaara was already mouthing desert coffin when his prey realized the danger. The rock ninja's eyes went wide and he pulled himself to the ceiling just in time to dodge the coffin. Unfortunately for the ninja the ceiling of the exam room wasn't designed to support weight. The entire chunk that the stone ninja was clinging too came down with him right into Gaara's waiting sand.
Gaara spent a single second enjoying the desperate look on his prey's face before he whispered, "Desert Funeral." Instead of the normal rush of satisfaction Gaara felt from his enemy's blood drenching his sand Gaara felt nothing when he tore his enemy apart. At first he thought the enemy had just been too week to give him any meaningful satisfaction, but then Mother sent a surge of her power him shattering the genjutsu he was caught in with ease.
Gaara snarled in a rage that mirrored his Mother's as the blood leaking from his sand turned into bits of dirt and stone. He turned in time to see his sister's blood spray into the air. A hooded ninja in a hidden mist hunter ninja's mask had sliced a kunai across the back of her knees while she had focused on the earth clone in front of her.
For a heartbeat Gaara agreed with his Mother that Temari should just die for being so pathetic, then he remembered the genjutsu that his sister was probably still caught in. His sister had never even known that the hooded ninja was there.
The sand on the ground literally exploded towards the hooded ninja in a burst of unfocused wind. Temari and Kankuro went sprawling from the unexpected blow, but the hooded ninja jumped forward and over the spray of sand. Gaara smirked and called the sand in the air behind her back towards him.
The sand blasted together with a cry of sand coffin as soon as she touched the ground. But the coffin was empty. The hooded ninja had just vanished in a burst of speed he couldn't follow. Gaara lost track of the hooded ninja altogether until he heard the loud screech of the hooded ninja attempting to drive a kunai through the sand armor on the back of his neck.
The force of the blow actually drove Gaara forwards despite the sand armor, but he was far from out of control. As he fell Gaara called the last of the out of his gourd. The hooded ninja was fast, but the opening of the gourd was literally inches away from the hooded ninja's arms. Gaara's remaining sand got caught up in the ninja's arms just as he hit the ground.
Gaara's armor protected him from his trip to the floor and he didn't hesitate to command Sand Coffin. The masked ninja attempted to pull that vanishing trick again, but the sand already wrapped around the masked ninja's arms stopped the effort cold.
Gaara calmly pushed himself off of the hallway floor and smirked at his desperately struggling captive. Gaara smiled cruelly at the hooded ninja and raised his hands to finish it. Before he have the satisfaction of crushing his foe to death his brother interrupted the moment.
"Gaara Don't! We need to find out why we were attacked!"
Gaara stared at his brother a moment and wondered if he should kill the idiot for daring to command him. It only took a second for his brother to guess his chain of thoughts. The shiver of fear that ran down Kankuro's spine when he responded with a flat, "No." Without even turning around Gaara twisted his hand and commanded, "Desert Funeral."
His prey gave a shriek, then nothing. Their was no corpse, not even the bits of rock from the previous earth clones. Mother's power surged again breaking the second layer of the illusion an he turned just in time to see the hallway door swing closed.
Gaara ignored his Mother's shouting. He knew he was a terrible son for letting the prey escape, but a double layered illusion was a step up from the normal dredges his father sent after him. Or at least that's who he thought had sent the assassin. The disabling blows against his siblings compared to the obviously lethal attack on him certainly fit the form of previous assassination attempts. But why would father try to seriously kill him in leaf, so far away from his real base of power.
The arrival, and angry shouting of a pair of examiners interrupted Gaara's thoughts and the sand on the ground around him twitched. Before he could crush the idiots for further ruining his volatile mood, Kankuro started shouting back how about how they we're assaulted.
The interruption gave Gaara time to remember that they still had to take the stupid exam if he wanted the blood father had promised. He sent an irritated glance at his sister who was using some bandages from her kit to tie a wrapping around her knees. Gaara wondered if the enemy ninja had deliberately cut too shallow to hamstring his useless sibling or if the stupid girl had just gotten lucky.
His brother's frantic shouting and Baki's timely arrival was somehow enough to convince the examiner's from kicking them out of the exam for 'causing a disturbance' and they were released with a warning that any more 'disturbances' would result in an immediate disqualification and a swift boot from the hidden leaf village.
Gaara was thankful enough to Kankuro for keeping them in the exams that he decided not to break a few of his bones for his earlier attempt to command him not to kill the hooded ninja. Baki helped his sister then berated the three of them for taking unnecessary risks that might endanger the plan. Gaara laughed in the jounin's face at the little tirade, which brought Baki to an awkward and abrupt pause. He finished by weakly telling them that he couldn't lodge protests against the attack without disrupting the plan.
Gaara understood of course, the last thing they could afford was leaf shinobi snooping around. Not to mention that lodging a protest almost always resulted in the complaining team being dismissed from the exam no matter what the results of the 'investigation.' And that was assuming that the leaf themselves weren't behind the attack. But more important to Baki's continued well being, Gaara really didn't care. The look he sent Baki said as much if the speed with which the jounin vanished was any indication.
Gaara waited for his sister to stand on unsteady legs and smashed open the door to the exam hall with a burst of sand before stalking inside with his worthless siblings in tow. Every one of the early arrivals waiting inside stared at him. He gave them a bloodthirsty grin back and wondered which group he should feed to Mother next.
Sakura sat on the windowsill a level down from where she had engaged Gaara and fixed Naruto with a hard look, "Your clone's substitution was slow."
Naruto wasn't sure how exactly to respond to that. Sakura's body language was radiating anger, frustration and more than a little fear and she was obviously just venting on him. And Sasuke smirking up from his seat on the floor wasn't helping at all. He finally settled on giving Sakura a simple, "Sorry."
"I could have-" Sakura caught herself and continued in a softer almost shaky voice, "I could have really died. I knew he could control sand, but seeing it-"
"Is something else entirely." Sasuke cut her off.
Naruto was fixing the Uchiha with an irritated look when Sakura finished in a half whisper, "And we're supposed to stop that monster?" Naruto whipped his head back around to Sakura so fast he almost got whiplash. Her eyes were more than a little dilated, and her breath had started coming in short gasps. But before he could say something she shook her head slightly. So he tried to his best to not draw attention to it and hoped for the best.
Sasuke pointedly ignored the byplay between his teammates and asked, "How did you convince those examiners to cover for us anyway?"
"Danzo-sensei got me a copy of the one in the bandanna's file. He's applied to ANBU twice and hasn't made the cut yet. I might have implied that this whole thing was part of some giant village plot and if he played along he'd get his promotion."
It was Sasuke's turn to fix his teammate with a non-expressive stare. A small and flat "What." slipped from his mouth unnoticed.
"I told you I would handle it."
Sakura giggled a bit and Sasuke just shook his head before steering the conversation back on track, "How long until the toxin starts to take effect do you think?"
Sakura frowned and answered, "Intelligence has her at around 45 kilograms and she got more than her brother so I would say about fifteen minutes for her and after an hour we should at least see some affect for the idiot in the hood."
Naruto couldn't help but ask. "You got Kankuro?"
Sasuke flashed his sharingan and confirmed, "Yeah, he swapped with his puppet at the start of the fight. That kunai that sliced along the side of the wrappings actually nicked his left arm."
"Hmm, I missed that."
"I still think we should have just tried to kill them."
Naruto shook his head at Sasuke, "I don't want to kill allies over a game."
Sakura couldn't help but quip, "Allies, do they know that?"
Naruto wanted to shoot a joke back, but couldn't afford to let the argument drop before he made his point. So he sighed and reaffirmed the obvious, "We've been over this. The political ramifications of assassinating the son of an allied kage would enormous. Jump starting the fourth ninja war isn't my idea of a good time."
Sasuke obviously missed Naruto's cue to drop the subject and continued the argument. "I still don't think it would lead to that. Hasn't the kazekage been trying to kill the brat off anyway?"
Sakura rolled her eyes at the reply, Sasuke was obviously just trying to rile Naruto up a bit or he would have gone for a less ridiculous argument. So she took the bait before Naruto could, "You can't be serious. No kage would fail to kill someone living in their own village if they really wanted that person dead. It's probably some twisted plan to toughen him up."
Sakura's reply gave Naruto enough time to figure out exactly what was going on. He closed his mouth without a word and shot Sasuke an irritated look. Sasuke sent Anko's 'I feed on your pain' smirk right back at the blonde while internally congratulating himself for using the sharingan to copy that smile.
Naruto ignored the smile as best he could and asked, "So do you want to go ahead and meet the competition?"
Sakura gave him a nod and Sasuke added, "No point in waiting," before he stood up. Sakura hopped down from the windowsill and immediately felt a flash of pain shoot through her ankles.
She swayed awkwardly a moment and then her teammates were besides her helping her keep her feet. She gave them a bit of silent thanks before waving them off with awkwardly, "Thanks, Utatane-sama wasn't kidding when she said using multiple foot techniques in quick succession would put more strain on my ankles than I could handle right now."
Sakura was simultaneously touched and put off by the concern Sasuke's voice when he asked, "Are you going to be able to proceed?"
She forced a small cocky smile on her face and said, "Yeah I'll be fine, worse case they will swell up a little tonight." Her little show didn't fool either of her teammates, but they either trusted her to take care of herself or were too eager about the competition to care. They nodded together and started off towards the stairs of the third floor.
The smile fell into a grimace as flooded her raw ankles with chakra to speed the healing a bit. It was a long way from a real medical technique and it felt about as pleasant as one of Gai's 'youth specials', but it was the best she could do. So she gingerly put one foot in front of the other and trudged forward to confront her new and greatest enemy, stairs.
The exam hall was a still a bit deserted when the three of them arrived, but that was fine with the trio. They didn't really want notice this early in the exam, and they especially wanted to avoid the notice of the redhead jinchuuriki who was subtly taunting a hidden rain team near him.
Sasuke subtly gestured towards an empty spot along the wall and his teammates subtlety signed that the spot was acceptable before all three of them walked over towards the gap and leaned up against the wall. Sasuke was deliberately given the middle spot so if they were attacked then Sakura and Naruto could screen him long enough to bring his ninjutsu into play. Naruto thought the setup was probably overkill bordering on paranoia, but there was never a bad time to get into a good habit.
The room was almost awkwardly quiet, with only a few broken whispers between the teams to keep the silence from becoming oppressive. Naruto hated the quiet. Not because he was intimidated or anything, but because it was boring. But he wasn't about to call attention to himself, that path only lead to lectures from Danzo-sensei or even worse Sakura.
So instead of doing something interesting Naruto occupied himself by discretely taking observing every team present to see if he could pick out anything to indicate the information Danzo-sensei had provided them with was outdated or plain wrong. Naruto half expected the latter being done deliberately to 'keep them on their toes'.
It wouldn't be the first time. After all Danzo-sensei was the one who once described training ground forty four as 'the genin obstacle course' in a mission briefing just to see what would happen. Sasuke still twitched when he saw one of those spiders.
The quiet lasted right up until the other members of their academy class arrived. Ino took one look around before cutting a direct path towards team seven. Naruto couldn't help but notice that she came within striking distance of four different teams on her merry little jog over. He glanced over at Sasuke and saw that the Uchiha had his sharingan active for some reason or another.
It wasn't until Ino leaped at them shouting "Sasuke-kun!" that he froze in horrified realization. The hesitation cost him dearly. Before he could really process that Sasuke had placed a genjutsu on Ino,
she already had her arms wrapped around him. Worse she was trying to rub her breasts up against him, that was creepy. Really really creepy.
Naruto had a brief moment to wonder if his current predicament was karma for thinking Sasuke was batting for the other team during their academy days. Then Sakura couldn't hold her laughter in anymore. She broke out in rich, hearty laughter that actually seemed happy. It was nothing at all like the catty mocking laughter she normally gave them.
It was so shocking that two things occurred. First Ino snapped her head around and snapped something mean about Sakura's forehead. Second Sasuke was so shocked that he outright dropped the genjutsu. So when Ino turned back around she got a face full of Naruto.
If her earlier antics hadn't drawn every eye in the room to them, then the shriek that followed certainly did. It was loud, like Sakura's mother on a bad day loud.
Ino followed up her screech with a shout of, "Naruto you idiot!" and took a swing at him. Despite the short range and near absolute impossibility of missing a hit when you were literally already on top of your target Ino's fist never got close. The pair of razor sharp kunai points drawling little dots of blood on her throat might have had something to do with that.
"Ino-pig- Only I get to hit stupid." Sakura's quiet calm threat carried throughout the room in the quiet left by Ino's little show. Naruto realized they absolutely could not allow the confrontation to escalate further, so he calmly looked past the suddenly wide eyed Ino and almost jovially said, "Shikamaru I've got something of yours."
The Nara obviously realized exactly what Naruto was doing. Which was probably the only reason he grabbed the back of her collar and yanked Ino out of her predicament. Because his face was all but shouting, 'You can keep her'.
When the still shocked Ino was lead docilely away Sakura dropped her kunai back into one of the hidden holsters on the back side of her hip pouch and quietly frowned. Naruto almost missed her whisper, "I didn't even hesitate."
Naruto was about to comment when he caught Sasuke making ANBU hand signs in the corner of his eye. Naruto gave him a small tilt of the head back and let him try his luck with a moody Sakura. He started off with a tone that was a lot more comforting that Naruto had believed him capable off, "Sakura you did the right thing. I know Ino's your friend, but at that moment she was a threat to your teammate so you just...reacted. We were trained to do things like this, don't be ashamed of what we are."
She looked like she wanted to give Sasuke a caustic reply, but she managed to bite it back. Instead she gave him a fake smile and said, "I know what your trying to do, thanks."
Naruto cut into the conversation at that point. "Hey that's Lee in the bowl cut right? What's with the giant eyebrows?" Naruto didn't have any trouble at all ignoring the irritated frown Sasuke was sending him, the Uchiha had blown his shot to comfort Sakura. And a distraction was better than a lecture rehashed from Danzo-sensei any day of the week.
Sakura paused a moment before answering. "Apparently having big eyebrows prevents things from coming out of your forehead."
That actually through Naruto in a loop for a bit. He stared at Sakura and couldn't decide if she was just pulling his chain or if she was serious. She obviously guessed what the flat stare meant and shrugged back, "All I know is it somehow is related to the tragic loss of Gai's guitar."
All of a sudden Naruto felt like he was the one that needed comforting. He actually felt less sane just by hearing the explanation, and a bit of it might have slipped into his voice when he quipped, "You know what, I'm just going to go back to thinking they are freaks of nature."
Sakura nodded thoughtfully and responded, "And that is probably the safe thing." When Naruto turned his full attention back to the crowd of chuunin hopefuls. Gaara was staring at the three of them. Naruto didn't quiet grown, the very last thing they wanted was the attention of one of the very few competitors they thought would kill them in an open fight.
Even worse a gray haired leaf genin, Kabuto Yakushi if their info was correct, was moving through the crowd to them. The information on the genin had been frustratingly vague. In fact instead of the skills description given to every single other competitor including the ichibi jinchuuriki, Kabuto had a single line: 'Not a genin. Do not engage.'
Which meant that the man was either a known spy left in place to discourage further attempts at penetrating leaf village security, better than an unknown threat after all, or he was a ringer the hokage had put in the exam for some purpose or another. Naruto thought he might be for security, after all they had a huge amount of high value targets competing including two Hyuga, the last Uchiha and one insanely and stupendously awesome future hokage.
Team seven was saved from whatever Kabuto wanted out of them by a sudden strangled gasp from Temari. It was a sound a human shouldn't make. Almost every head in the room jerked towards the girl who was swaying unsteadily on her feet while clutching the bandages around her knees almost desperately.
While the majority of the room was focused on the Suna kunoichi Naruto caught a glimpse of something a lot more interesting. For a second there was a look of genuine panic on Kabuto's face. It had only lasted a second before he had schooled it back into something more like the vague interest that rest of the room was wearing.
Temari's swaying didn't last long. Sakura had coated her kunai in a very special and powerful poison used to capture ninja for transport and interrogation, which the village had gotten it off of a traitor from hidden mist a few years ago. It was also something no genin should have access too. Of course rules like that only existed for honest people who weren't willing to violate village regulations and beg favors off of ANBU they happened to know.
The first part of the poison was a very powerful and somewhat painful muscle relaxant, which caused poor Temari to hit the floor with a weak yelp moments later when her knees gave out entirely. If the description Naruto had been given was correct then over the next few minutes the poison would spread up through the rest of her body, targeting very specific types of muscle tissue as it went. Temari would lose control of most of her voluntary muscle groups, but things like her heart muscles would be left almost entirely alone. The poison wouldn't kill her, but it would leave her utterly helpless for the better part of two to three hours.
Since the Suna trio didn't have a real medic and their closest thing to a poison expert was Kankuro they had hoped that the muscle relaxant in the poison would be more than enough to get the team kicked. And it would have been if the resident 'Not a genin' mystery hadn't made his way towards the two still standing members of the sand trio and offered his assistance.
Gaara responded with a sudden wave of sand. A wave which every member of team seven noticed he could have dodged but didn't. Naruto was so concerned with figuring out exactly what game the silver haired ninja was playing he actually missed whatever threat Gaara made. Kabuto shouted back, "If I help you here it's too my benefit. You're obviously one of the stronger teams here so allying with you will increase my margin of security in the exams."
Naruto thought it was good excuse, one in character with the genin Kabuto was playing at if not one particularly likely to convince Gaara to not kill him. Then Kankuro did something totally out of character, he deliberately got Gaara's attention with a shout of, "Gaara! Let him help, it will be just like that time at Trench Oasis."
Naruto didn't know or care what happened at Trench Oasis if it was actually an event instead of just some codeword. Kankuro had just risked his neck to save Kabuto, something that their intelligence indicated would absolutely not happen for a random leaf genin. Which meant that Kankuro knew Kabuto was more than a genin and even worse that they were probably allies. Naruto thought the whole thing could have been handled at lot better by Kankuro. If they really were allies, he had just shot a big hole in Kabuto's cover.
Gaara didn't look like he really cared and Naruto wondered if he was just that much better of an actor than his brother or if he just felt like taking his frustrations out on Kabuto. Naruto took it as confirmation that Kabuto really was a spy when instead of crushing the gray haired genin to death, Gaara snarled, "Get her able to compete or you both die," and recalled his sand.
If the death threat bothered Kabuto he was in too much of a hurry to show it. He dragged Temari out of the little ball she had fallen into and left her laying flat on the floor. After a few quick hand signs he pressed his hands flared with green chakra and he went to work. Sakura narrated in a mumble just loud enough for the rest of team seven to hear, "He's using the deadly poison extraction technique; he must have had at least a few years of training as a medic."
Sasuke mumbled back, "Good to know." and Naruto glanced over to see the Uchiha's fully matured sharingan taking careful note of everything that Kabuto did.
Naruto mumbled a quiet question to him, "Can you actually copy something like that."
"I can copy it sure. But I don't have nearly enough anatomy knowledge or medic training to actually risk using it on someone I like. Give me a few months to hit the books though..." He finished with a feral grin.
Naruto gave him a small nod back. It would be useful if Sasuke actually did pick up that knowledge. They had all passed Danzo-sensei's poison immunity course, but that really only covered the basics. The foe they had promised to help Sasuke kill was anything but basic.
That train of thought was derailed when Temari started thrashing and screaming. Kabuto had obviously succeeded in removing most of the muscle relaxant from Temari's system. It really was too bad that the muscle relaxant had been acting as a neutralizer for the second part of the poison. Right now every single one of her tenketsu probably felt like it was on fire.
The damage to her tenketsu would send her chakra system into shock. And medical techniques would just make it worse. After all it wouldn't do for a target to escape just because they knew a pesky medical technique or two. Kabuto obviously reached the same conclusions, which surprised Naruto more than a little. The spy shouldn't have had enough info to do that.
After two minutes Temari was still thrashing and Gaara looked more than a little pleased he would at least get to kill someone. Kabuto started digging desperately through his hip pouch and produced a syringe filled with something. He held it at eye level and squirted a little of whatever substance inside out of the syringe before promptly jabbing it right into the girl's abdomen.
Naruto hoped no one in the crowd noticed just how startled he looked when the girl's trashing started to slow. That poison didn't have an antidote. They had chosen it precisely because leaf's medical research division hadn't been able to come up with an antidote after two years of trying.
Naruto whispered in a voice that seemed abnormally steady to him, "Sakura can you go check with Hinata? We need to know what's happening right now."
Sakura nodded once and activated her concealment technique before quietly moving along the edges of the room to where the last team of their graduating class was sitting. Naruto turned his attention back to Kabuto and Temari in time to see the spy haul Temari to her feet. She looked really pale and was still more than a little unsteady, but Naruto thought she looked well enough to compete. After a moments pause Naruto rephrased that thought into 'looking well enough that she would compete when the other alternative was death by Gaara's sand.'
Naruto felt like breaking out into a stream of curses then and there. He resolved then and there to go out of his way to make Kabuto's life as miserable as possible once they finished the mission Danzo-sensei had given them. Naruto would make him rue the day when he annoyed Konoha's prankster god.
Of course Ibiki decided to make his grand entrance at that exact moment. He arrived in the center of the room in a little explosion of smoke and instantly saturated the room with killing intent. It was weak enough that Naruto was certain he was holding back. There was no way that the head of the hidden leafs torture and interrogation department had a killing intent inferior to Zabuza's.
Not that you would have guessed that from the state of some of the idiots around the room. Naruto supposed that team seven should have acted like they were overwhelmed to preserve their 'easy target' image, but he really couldn't be bothered. They had already ruined that image with how they handled Ino anyway. Ibiki stood silently radiating killing intent for another moment to see if anyone would drop from the pressure before he started screaming. "Alright Bugs! That's more than enough excitement. The next time one of you insects steps, looks or twitches in a way I don't like I will personally ruin you. I am the head of this chuunin selection exam's first test, but you don't need to know that. All you need to know from now on is that I am the man other gods call God. So when I say move you damn well should already be where I want you. Am I clear!"
Naruto was impressed. He had thought that Danzo-sensei was the king of drill instructor speeches, but this guy could give Danzo-sensei lessons. So when Ibiki barked out the last line of his little speech Naruto couldn't help but snap back. "Crystal clear, Sir!"
He almost wished he hadn't when Ibiki's eyes met his a fraction of a second later. Then Ibiki was abruptly in front of him, using every bit of his height advantage to tower over Naruto. Naruto kept his face clear of emotions and stared back up at the man. Naruto could literally feel the heat of Ibiki's breath when he shouted, "What did you say genin Uzumaki?"
Naruto knew he absolutely couldn't hesitate. So he shouted right back, "I said crystal clear, Sir!"
For a second Ibiki had an absolutely malevolent smirk on his face, then as fast as it formed it was gone and he was back to shouting, "That's right! You must be some kind of god damn genius! Genin Uzumaki! You are the only bug in the room that managed to get my question right."
He snapped around to the rest of the room and spoke slowly, forcing as much venom as possible into every little word, "Now lets try this again. Am! I! Clear!"
"Crystal clear, Sir!" The reply wasn't quite unanimous. A few were too out of it to reply, and Gaara just looked bored. But it was still more than enough to satisfy Ibiki.
"Good Buggies. Maybe you can learn." Naruto finally realized that while Ibiki had been occupying everyone's attention the other examiners had taken up positions around the edge of the room. He ruefully took note of the mistake he had made in focusing solely on Ibiki and committed the tactic to memory so he could abuse it in the future.
Ibiki vanished and reappeared behind the desk at the front of the room and paused to take a breath before continuing in a less hateful but equally loud turn. "Instead of your current seating arrangements you will take a chit from this bag and go to the seat indicated. After you are seated we will hand out the exams."
Naruto really really enjoyed Kiba's expression when he realized that the first test was a written exam. For a few seconds he honestly wished he had Sasuke's creepy eyes just so he could remember it forever and ever.
Sakura caught his gaze as they were taking their seats. She started to form a an ANBU handtalk sign, but before she could finish Naruto gave her a small shake of the head. Whatever Hinata had told Sakura would have to wait until after the first exam.
Ibiki waited until everyone had taken their assigned seats before he began again. "Listen up bugs. This exam has many rules and no questions will be allowed so I hope you are quick learners." Naruto listened carefully. He wanted to know if the rules had changed since Danzo-sensei had given them information on the test, and more importantly he didn't want to tip others off about team seven's insider information.
"Rule number one: You will all start out with ten points. This test uses a subtraction system, for every question you miss you will lose a point."
"Rule number two: This is a team test. Whether you pass or not will be determined by the combined score of you and your teammates."
Naruto couldn't help but whip his head around when some idiot in the back of the room shouted out some protest or another. Naruto wasn't actually sure what the protest was going to be, because before the idiot finished his first word a kunai slammed into his test, stunning him into silence. "Fail. How hard was it to remember 'no questions' for fifteen seconds." Ibiki didn't even bother to raise his voice when he dismissed the idiot and his team.
He waited for the three expelled candidates to leave before he finished, "Rule number three: Anyone caught cheating by the testing officers will lose two points." Ibiki paused a moment to see if he could kick anyone else out for protesting before he continued, "So there will be some who lose all of their points during the exam and be asked to leave."
Naruto had to hand it to Ibiki, the way he was slowly ratcheting up the pressure as he gave out instructions...It was excellent. Naruto honestly wasn't sure if he would have been able to see through Ibiki's mind games if he hadn't know ahead of time.
One of the chuunin examiners on the side of the room called something out to distract everyone long enough for Ibiki to launch into his next tirade. "Those bugs that are caught cheating will of course only have themselves to blame. If you are here to achieve the level of chuunin then be proud ninja." Naruto had to bite back a smirk at the double meaning of Ibiki's rhetoric. The he paused in sudden thought; had Ibiki just made the joke for himself...or did he actually expect a few people in the crowd to get it? Then he almost laughed in realization, Ibiki was actually placing hints for the crowd in his little intimidation speech.
Ibiki waited just long enough for hope to build back up before he continued, "And the final rule: if any of you bugs lose all of your points during the test or fail to answer on measly question correctly...will be failed along with their two teammates." That brought the panic back out in full force.
Ibiki gave them all an evil smile before he finished, "The exam will last one hour, you may begin."
As expected the exam was hard bordering on impossible, luckily it was also the same exact exam that Danzo-sensei had gotten them a copy of. Not that it mattered if Danzo-sensei was correct about how the first test would play out. Naruto briefly considered trying to actually cheat. He really did want to see if he could do it, but the risk was just too much. So he filled in the first answer box with a cypher of his own.
When the shadow clone with a binoculars on the roof next door decrypted the cypher would read, 'Going ahead with canned answers. Tell Danzo-sensei that Kabuto interfered with plan to eliminate sand team. Neutralized poison through unknown means."
Naruto waited a minute for his clone to copy down the cypher before he erased it from his paper and started filling the test in with the correct answers. He couldn't help but add at note at the bottom that read:
Ibiki-san your speech was great. By the way I cheated,
Love – That God damn Genius Genin Uzumaki.
Forty five minutes later Ibiki's puppy killer grin was out in full force. "It is now time for the tenth question."
"This question has special rules of desperation. First you must choose to take the question or not."
Naruto was actually surprised when someone shouted out, "What happens if we refuse to take the question?" He was even more surprised when Ibiki just didn't kick the genin who had spoken up out.
"If you refuse to take the tenth question...Your points will be reduce to zero and you will fail the exam." Ibiki paused the exact right amount of time before continuing, "And if you choose to take the tenth question...then the second desperation rule comes into play. Anyone who fails to answer this question correctly will be barred from not just this chuunin exam, but any future chuunin exam."
It was a bald face lie of course. Ibiki didn't have nearly that kind of authority. But somehow his little act throughout the exam made it really hard to remember that fact. Naruto estimated that Ibiki had just managed to fool ninety plus percent of the room that he really could ruin their lives over an exam. The way he crushed the guy who protested that he couldn't do that probably helped the image a bit.
People dropped like flies. Not just idiots who hadn't figured out they had to cheat to pass the exam either. More than a few smart ones judged the risks too great. Even more quit because they saw others quit. But Naruto wasn't interested in any of that; he was obliquely observing Hinata's reaction to the pressure.
Naruto suspected that either Danzo-sensei or old man hokage had arranged for Ibiki to proctor the first exam specifically to force Hinata out. That was the vibe he got from the hokage when he asked for the old man's opinion anyway. It would have been easy to sway the girl into giving up, which would have completed their mission to protect her during the exams admirably.
But it was just too cruel. Especially since when they had discussed doing exactly that Sakura had bluntly informed him that the shy Hyuga respected him for not giving up and also had a bit of a crush on him. He didn't know her all that well, but the list of people who respected him was small enough that he wasn't about to make it shorter over a game like the chuunin selection exams.
So he made sure that only thing that would affect whether Hinata stayed in or bowed out under Ibiki's intimidation was her own merits. Naruto honestly thought the girl was going to quit more than once, but every time her hand started to rise a bit of steel creeped into her eyes and she firmly sat it back on the desk.
He gave the girl a mental smile and wondered if Danzo-sensei had really underestimated Hinata Hyuga or if the flicker of steel in her eyes was all according to some plan to complex for him to grasp. Knowing Danzo-sensei it was probably both at once. The man was like a spider weaving webs in the dark.
When Ibiki finally announced that those who remained had passed the first exam, Naruto took advantage of the sudden outcry to give Hinata an earnest congratulations. He watched her blush cutely under his praise before Ibiki forced the room silent again.
Ibiki fixed the room with a hard look and proceed to explain the purpose of his exam. "One of the rules of this exam was to not cheat. After the way I introduced myself more than a few of you never questioned it. Then I gave you a test that was impossible for someone at the genin level."
Ibiki's evil smile was back for a moment and Naruto suspected that Ibiki had just barely held himself back from telling them all how fun it was to watch them squirm. Ibiki let the smile fall after a second and continued, "The purpose of course was to see who would work out that they needed to cheat and cheat well to pass the exam. Those that failed to cheat well were of course dismissed."
Naruto took careful note of the few that didn't flinch when Ibiki took off his bandanna and made it crystal clear to what extent chuunin were expected to protect the information they were entrusted with. Naruto was honestly glad that Ibiki had bothered to teach that little lesson to those present. Well maybe not the foreigners, but definitely his graduating class. To ninja information was literally a matter of life and death. It was a lesson that Danzo-sensei had pounded into team seven's head relentlessly.
In comparison to his staunch agreement with the lesson of the first nine questions, Naruto wasn't all that sure how he felt about Ibiki's tenth question. It was almost painfully similar to his own ninja way: Never give up; Never abandon a comrade; Never break a honest promise. That was his ideal, and he was bitter enough to recognize the faults of it.
Faults that had been pounded into him over long discussions with Danzo-sensei. To hear Ibiki so casually tell everyone that ninja should be willing to put their destiny on the line in a situation of uncertain stakes where they had no information...it seemed an almost insulting simplification of something very personal and complex.
Naruto banished his thoughts with a mental shake and looked around the room. He was genuinely happy to see that all of his graduating class had passed the first test despite the dangers they would now face. There was no way the real story of Ibiki's exam wouldn't leak out, and to those who chose to not face the tenth question would take a crushing blow to their confidence. He didn't want to see that happen to someone he knew.
When Ibiki finished up his speech Naruto felt someone's chakra flare on the roof of the building next door.
Naruto put a hand on one of his tanto and let the other slide into a one handed seal against the side of his pants, but forced himself to not react ahead of time. Naruto didn't so much as flinch until he heard the sound of breaking glass. A second later He let the hand sign subtly drift back to an open hand and let go of the tanto he was holding when he saw that their second examiner had arrived.
Anko had made what Naruto thought was a brilliant entrance. She even had a sign. He was totally going to steal her entrance the next time he felt like playing around with Konohamaru and his friends. Now if only he could decide if he should make the entrance as Naruto Uzumaki or as the legendary masked ninja-sama.
Naruto ignored the rest of Anko's introduction speech and rejoined his team as soon as possible. As soon as they could the three of them formed their own little group a a few yards behind the back of the group of chuunin hopefuls Anko was leading to the second exam. Before any of them spoke Sasuke threw up a terribly useful little ninjutsu that made it almost impossible to overhear them.
Naruto started, "So what did you learn about Kabuto's little miracle?"
"Hinata indicated that Temari's current chakra flow is abnormally low. As in barely above what is required to maintain consciousness. A civilian has several times the amount of chakra that she currently has access to."
Sasuke frowned and asked, "So what do you think happened then?"
"My guess would be that he injected her with a chakra suppressor to force her chakra flow so low that it wouldn't be able to damage her tenketsu." Sakura's voice was more than a little uncertain. It would require a huge amount of skill to instantly judge the precise amount of chakra suppressant needed to limit damage to the tenketsu while simultaneously allowing the subject to maintain consciousness.
"But that would mean-"
"Yeah Temari won't be able to jutsu or something like tree walking or even move faster than a slow jog for weeks. Right now she's more helpless than a civilian."
"Well that at least confirms that they knew Kabuto. Gaara would have definitely killed him for such a substandard job otherwise."
Sasuke noted Naruto's conclusion about Kabuto, but a more dangerous thought occurred to him. "Why exactly are they forcing her to compete like this?" Both of his teammates sent Sasuke a sharp look and he continued, "Sending someone who is currently below a civilian into the second exam. Its insane. Even with Gaara babysitting her the chance of her survival is incredibly low. Its not the sort of situation that a jounin who values his life would send the kazekage's daughter into without consulting his superior."
Sakura paused in obvious thought a moment before replying, "Well Suna is currently experiencing economic hard times right now. Now that you mention it that's probably why they broke one of the unspoken rules of these exams and sent a jinchuuriki to compete in the first place."
To her surprise Naruto shot down her logic before Sasuke could even open his mouth. "No Sasuke's right. The gain in revenue they can expect from preforming well in the chuunin exams doesn't begin justify the way that the Suna team is risking everything. There is definitely something else going on here."
They all knew the next logical course of action, but to Sakura and Naruto's surprise Sasuke was the one to say it, "This is above our pay grade. We need to pass all of this along with or conclusions to Danzo-sensei."
Naruto nodded in agreement before asking, "Sakura have your ankles recovered enough for you to use your high speed movement techniques?"
"Okay, then you're up Sasuke. Use the message drop we arranged on the roof of the bakery and meet us at the main entrance to the forest of death and try not to cause a disturbance." Sasuke nodded and vanished in a body-flicker just as Naruto pressed his hand against his shoulder and activated Jiraiya's seal with a burst of chakra. The shadow clone transformed into Sasuke instantly after its creation.
Naruto wasn't arrogant enough to think they had fooled Anko or the other four examiners he could feel shadowing the group, but he doubted that they would interfere. After all the chuunin exams were an 'as long as its not obvious' sort of test.
With the more importantly business completed Naruto decided to ask Sakura something that had been bothering him for almost the entire walk to the forest of death. "Why is Ino turning around and glaring at me every few seconds?"
Sakura chuckled to herself, "She should have thought it through before she invaded a genjutsu user's mind."
Naruto quirked and eyebrow and pressed the question, "Your humiliation technique?"
It was only when Sakura stumbled that Naruto realized he wasn't supposed to hear her response to his first question. Sakura answered awkwardly, "Ah...no."
Naruto frowned at his teammates antics and felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that the earlier incident with Ino was somehow involved. So he gave Sakura a very level look as asked, "Are you going to tell me?"
Sakura at least had the curtsey to blush when she answered, "I was thinking about earlier and I...um, I made her get married to you."
"Wait what? That's all kinds of creepy Sakura."
"Aww, you would be a cute couple."
Yin-Yang manipulation – apparently this is a real thing in the Naruto manga. I didn't know that and don't have any real intention to use the manga version in this story. I'm just using this type of manipulation to explain why something like vacuum techniques are different than normal wind techniques. Don't expect yin-yang manipulation to have a major role in this story at all.
I found out that the 4th kazekage's special ability is manipulating gold dust. Isn't this the guy who is starting a war because his village is broke? Does anyone else see the inconsistency here?
In other news I heard tobi=obito. I so called this. And people said that similar names wasn't a good reason...
Seals – At least a few of you are giving Naruto way to much credit with seals. For this fiction think of a seal like a circuit board. Anyone with a schematic can make something like it, but that doesn't imply that they actually know how it works. Danzo gave Naruto and Sakura access to most of his non-forbidden seal notes, so they are using more than one thing that is way outside of their actual understanding.
Omake Contest: I will post a page full of omakes after the conclusion to part 1 of this story. If you want to submit an omake for the page then please pm it to me.
If I was going to try and force the Suna kids out of the exam I would try to target the not Gaara parts of the team during the first part of the exam by framing them for something. But I really wanted to write at least one Gaara PoV scene so you got the fight instead.
I'm not sure if Kankuro would have actually known Kabuto's identity, but that's the only way I could think of to make the scene work out how I wanted it too. Plus it makes since for Baki to pass that information along to Kankuro.
I'm sure at least one of you is going to wonder why Naruto didn't pick up Orochimaru. I have two answers. One I'm not actually sure when he stole the grass genin's corpses. Two Orochimaru is really really good and Naruto has been an ninja for a little over six months.
Sorry this is a bit shorter than normal, but I didn't want to start the second exam arc with only a thousand words or so to do it with.
Next up the Forest of Death!