Happy thanksgiving, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I know I missed the first two but I have good reasons... mainly the first two holidays. I don't know how many times I tried to write on this the past two months only to have the holidays interfere with it. I swear

Soooooo, everyone... I know it's been awhile for this story, and several other of my stories but now that it's the new year I'll attempt to make a more concerted effort to write on my stories... attempt is the key word there. It's annoying, I know how you feel, it's bugging me too.

So instead of making any more excuses and gilding the lily, I'll just get right into it.

Fic'o the day: One World by Stellar Magic A very interesting take on a Harry Potter who actually has a family. Harry potter is raised by the Grangers in this exciting tale and it's every bit as good as you can imagine a smarter, more rounded Harry could be.

Word of the day: TOMATOES! Because hey, why not?

Song/vid of the day: Skream and Example - Shot Yourself In The Foot Again Love this song, been listening to if for a while now.

Disclaimer: Sadly I do not own Naruto, if I did, I'd probably have ended the series differently. Though I do think that some of the kids might have a future in one of my Fanfictions, if for nothing else than to have Sarada and Boruto fumbling around in an alternate universe because of shenanigans. And yes, I ship them like Noah's-fucking-Arc.

-ooo-

-ooo-

"speech"

'Thoughts'

"Kyubi speech"

'Kyubi thoughts'

-ooo-

Chapter 21: Life's a beach (Grab a Kunai and dig it.)

"The next match is decided; Sakura Haruno vs Gaara of the Desert."

"Fffffuck all kinds of duck." Sakura hissed, a shiver of doom going up her spine

"Sakura."

A shiver of doom which was dampened by the comforting hand of her teammate.

Naruto squeezed her shoulder gently. "You know you don't have to do this and I wouldn't hold it against you if you didn't want to fight him."

Sakura stared at Naruto in equal parts shock and outrage. "Did you just ask me to give up?"

Naruto smirked. "Just checking, can't have you losing your nerve now, you'll face worse later on in life if we ever make it that far." The boy's smile faded, leaning in closer to whisper in Sakura's ear. "Kyubi says that Gaara's housing the Ichibi and to expect sand, lots of sand. Most likely it'll come from that gourd on his back and act like an extension of his body, don't get close and don't get cornered or it will end you faster than you can blink." Naruto hesitated for a moment, deep in thought. "I know you used some of the water during your fight in the forest... how much is left?"

Sakura listened intently, glancing at the gauntlet on her arm. "Um... I think I used... maybe a third?"

Naruto's grin returned full force. "Kyu says that if you ever find yourself cornered, let him have it all, the racoon'll sink like a stone. Same with the other one, if you need juice don't hesitate to use what I left you."

The pinkette nodded. "Right, wish me luck?"

A slap on the back and a small shove pushed her towards the stairs. "You know it, get out there and kick his ass!"

Filled with more confidence than before, Sakura strode purposefully out to stand in front of Gaara, who had sand shunshined down right after the match had been called.

"Weak." Gaara responded dryly in a emotionless monotone. "You are not strong enough to give my existence meaning."

A vein throbbed on Sakura's brow as she clenched and unclenched her fists, terrified of facing a Jinchuriki on open ground but too stubborn and filled with confidence to back down. "Don't think I'm weak just because I'm a girl." She held a fist out grabbed her bicep with the other arm. "I'll show you just how strong us girls can be!"

"You tell him Sakura!" That was Ino, cheering from the sidelines.

Gaara seemed less than amused. "Your gender doesn't matter to me, mother only cares about your blood."

Ok, that was a bit unnerving.

"Alright, the match between Sakura Haruno and Gaara of the Desert will now-" The proctor slashed his hand down while jumping back at the same time. "Begin"

Sakura responded with a volley of bladed weapons.

"Not the smartest opening move." Naruto bit his lip.

Gaara's sand stopped them cold.

The exploding tags attached to the handles detonated in a raging fireball.

Naruto blinked, an eyebrow raised. "I stand corrected."

Kakashi gave him a funny look. "I've seen you hand them stacks of exploding tags before but... just how many of those did you give the both of them?"

"Enough." Naruto replied simply. "If you want a definite amount..." He paused for a moment, as if contemplating telling him, then shook his head a moment later. "Enough."

Kakashi's uncovered eye twitched, the orb staring blankly at his student.

Back on the field, Sakura appeared through the cloud of smoke, hitting the ceiling and sticking to it's surface. Her eye's flickered around the room watching for any signs of movement that would signal-

A moment later a wall of sand exploded from the smoke to wrap around her leg, yanking her towards the ground.

"You can't escape now." The dull droning voice of her opponent remarked as he appeared out of the now settling dust, unharmed but for a small bit of hair out of place. He pulled Sakura closer, as if inspecting a particularly boring insect, poking at it to see if it would squirm. "Pathetic."

Sakura spat a blob of water at him, the sand coming to his defense to stop the ballistic wad of phlegm.

Gaara scowled at the woman, raising a hand to crush the life our of her.

Several of the Jonin tensed, ready to interfere if they were given the chance.

Sakura didn't seem too worried, if anything she seemed... smug? The girl grinned viciously as her form disappeared in a puff of smoke to reveal a log.

Gaara's eyes widened.

A log loaded with enough explosive tags to level a small apartment complex.

*BOOM*

When the smoke cleared this time, there was now a giant smoldering crater in the center of the arena which had a veritable web of cracks leading away from it, a similar crater in the wall opposite Sakura was now playing host to the smoking form of Gaara. Had the walls not been made of sterner stuff and reinforced with seals the building could have very well collapsed atop them.

The Hokage breathed a sigh of relief, even he had some doubts about the safety of such a tactic, noting the odd creaking in the walls around him, perhaps it would be a good idea to call a recess after the match to repair the place before it started falling down around their ears?

Kakashi deadpanned, eyes boring into the student he thought he knew.

Naruto chuckled, a small smirk on his lips. "Like I said 'Enough.'"

"You are an evil, evil bastard." Sasuke grumbled, though there was no real bite to it, he had just as many explosive tags on him. And him, being the pyromaniac that he was, could really appreciate a good explosion now and again...

Temari, who had though the pink haired brat had been nothing to write home about all through the first exam, hesitated ever so slightly in her questioning "Do... do you think Gaara could be...?" She turned to look at her middle brother, who was just as on edge as she was.

"Doubt that." He whispered. "It'll take a lot more than that to put him down." He nodded towards his younger brother. "See, his sand armor is still on, cracked but there."

By chance, it was at that moment that Gaara let out a groan of discomfort, eyes slowly regaining focus as well as a deep seated need to cause grievous bodily harm to the person who had caused him such discomfort. "I... am going to relish killing you... slowly" It was almost a growl as the cracked sand on and around his body started forming along the boy's arms, creating a disfiguring pair of meathooks that had once been a pair of human limbs.

Naruto grimaced as a mental image from Kyu showed him that such a thing was but a prequel to a first stage Biju cloak, something Sakura would have no chance against as she was, she needed to wrap this up quickly if she had even an inkling of hope against the monster that Gaara could become.

Sakura meanwhile was wracking her rather generously proportioned brain to come up with some method to get around the shifting sands that were starting to become rather annoying, on top of that the sand could clearly be condensed and hardened into a shell, which had protected the bastard from her precious explosion!

Sakura twitched slightly, trying and failing to ignore the fact that she had just called an explosion 'precious' and that maybe Naruto was influencing her fighting style more than originally thought... not like that was a bad thing... but it can't be a very good thing either...

Sighing, the girl clenched her hands into fists as she ducked and dodged the sand attacks that came her way, using substitution whenever she could to escape certain death by suffocation, blunt force trauma and crushing, not particularly in that order either.

"Stop running girl!" Gaara's voice was now quite a bit more gravelly than before, sending little tingly arcs of warning up the spines of those there that now knew exactly what Gaara was. "How do you plan to defeat me if you're too afraid to face me!?"

Sakura bristled, her hackles raising at the insult to her determination. Glancing up at Naruto, the girl sought his permission to use everything he'd gifted her up to that point to utterly ruin this little twit.

Naruto nodded, none too subtly and sharing a matching devilish grin with a girl who was beginning to look far more fun than previously thought.

Oh? He hadn't taught her how to rig explosions like that, the cheeky girl had come up with a few things on her own time it seemed.

A weighted net appeared from a scroll somewhere on Sakura's person, each strand covered liberally with exploding tags. A snap of the wrist had the thing sent towards the half-turned Jinchuriki.

With a snarl, Gaara threw a hand forward to launch several sand shuriken at the net, which shredded the thing into ragged cords.

Ragged cords that were still somewhat explosive, not smart on his part...

Another series of explosions rocked the arena, sending people scrambling to hold onto the railing provided.

A scream and loud snap caused several of the genin to shudder. As the smoke cleared, many of them assumed the match had finally come to an end.

Naruto sucked air through his teeth, lengthening nails digging harshly into his palm.

Sakura spat up a bit of blood as the giant hand made of sand held all but an arm and leg in it's cocoon like embrace.

The one leg visible was bent at an odd angle, nevermind that one of the femur's were sticking out through the skin...

"Nowhere to run now." The demonic growl in Gaara's voice had turned sinister, as if he was deriving pleasure from the blood and pain; In some way's that was exactly what he was doing.

Several of the proctors readied muscles and prepared jutsu in case they needed to stop the crazy boy from killing one of their own when the match was clearly over.

"Who said anything about running."

That stopped them cold as each one of them noticed the girl raise her weakened arm up into Gaara's line of sight.

Remembering well the girl's devious explosions, the boy-turned-beast attempted to squash the life out of her.

Attempted.

With a small flash of Chakra, what was once a dry, almost dusty arena, was now beginning to look more like an Olympic sized swimming pool.

"GAH!" And that was the sound of a child, clad in hundreds of pounds of sand and the superior drowning skills accredited to those growing up in a desert wasteland, struggling to find purchase in the tumultuous rapids of The River Sakura.

Sakura coughed up a mouthful of red tinged liquid as the last remaining bit of water from her gauntlet trickled out until coming to a complete stop, her own waterlogged body struggling to remain on the water's surface with just a single working leg and a crouched hand placed on the water.

Gaara was nowhere to be seen.

Then.

"Ahhh!" Gaara's head splashed up out of the water, hands desperately pawing at the water trying to use what few chakra control exercises he knew to grab hold of the waters surface.

Sakura would have none of that! Dipping into the gauntlet on her other arm, a bright blue and thick chakra seemed to ooze out of the metal, permeating the girl for several moments before seemingly settling around her in a circle of power.

The girl nearly shuddered at the outflow of energy; the intoxicating 'Naruto-ness' that was his chakra, it was almost a scent unto itself that reminded her of scorched earth that had recently been soaked by a thunderstorm. A strange analogy, sure but Sakura took a deep breath anyway, reveling in that power as she pulsed the chakra out of the hand that was touching the water, using what little knowledge she had of her element to brute force what was most likely an A-ranked jutsu.

It started slowly, a subtle current but building into a noticeable stream that started pulling everything in the water towards the center, including Gaara, who was struggling against the pull while desperately trying to get to his feet.

A glob of spit impacted his forehead, the wet and sluggish sand doing a far poorer job of dissipating the kinetic force that staggered him back into the water.

The Jinchuriki screamed bloody murder, which turned out to be a bad thing as water went down his throat, causing his screams to choke off into desperate hacking. "H-help!" He manage to get out, The desperation in his voice a far cry to what he had used before.

Up in the stands, Kankuro and Temari nearly had a heart attack, hearing their brother say such a thing and sounding as desperate as he was.

Sakura, not wanting to drown the guy, no one deserved such a horrible death, no matter how batshit insane he was, decided to help... by standing over him and gloating.

She could be a right vindictive bitch when she wanted to be, she had to repay him for the broken leg and likely cracked ribs after all.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity for all those involved as well as the audience watching, Sakura reached a hand down into the water and snagged the drowned rat that was Gaara and hoisted him up onto the waters surface. Once there she held him up with her own chakra and fished a kunai out of her pocket. A quick glance around showed that the boy's sand was making a slow slither towards her and she needed to act fast, with a spinning flourish she had the blade pointing downward, hand raised to slam the blade tip first into the boy's eye and into his brain, likely the only place not covered by sand.

The blade came within a hair of Gaara's eye when it was stopped by Hayate. "I believe that's enough." He coughed into his open hand. "The winner of this match; Sakura Haruno!"

There was a silence where Gaara's eyes widened, staring up at the blade that would have, if not interfered with, claimed his existence. A subtle twinge in the back of his mind screamed at the insult, but there was only a sense of melancholy as the blade was moved away and he was gently hoisted onto a gurney by medic-nin.

Then the dam broke.

"She won." Naruto crowed, whooping happily.

'She won!?' That was the scandalized thought of a certain snake faced Jonin who was quickly thinking of a way to fix this travesty towards his plan.

"She won!?" That was the general consensus of the room, ranging from shocked disbelief from the other Jonin who knew what Gaara was, to the just plain disbelief of the many who were clueless to Gaara's true nature but knew that the girl fighting him shouldn't have stood a chance in hell.

"I won?" Sakura looked down at her shaking hands, the burning inside of them telling her that she had stretched her chakra network a bit too much with that last push of chakra and would likely take many days to get back to normal. Then the adrenaline started to wear off and the pain in her ribs and leg was getting harder to ignore. She was almost grateful when a similar gurney was placed next to her. After she was carted off by medic-nin as well, Hayate took a moment to get the rooms attention.

"*Cough* There will be a 30 minute recess in matches to clear the arena and repair damages *cough* Now would be a good time to use the facilities or visit an injured teammate."

Most of the nin in the room nodded, filtering out through one of the doors that had an earth jutsu cast around it and the water drained to allow exit.

The rest of team Kakashi and surprisingly Ino were the first to make their way toward the infirmary, followed closely behind by the elder two of the sand siblings.

-ooo-

Sakura sat uncomfortably in her hospital bed, leg already reset and chest bound, the skin on her leg mostly healed and wrapped in thick, uncomfortable bandages.

Say what you will about medic-nin, they worked fast.

Unfortunately for Sakura, they had stuck her and Gaara in the same room.

Right across from each other.

Yeah...

Gaara, who was still rather wide eyed and unblinking in the face of his defeat by someone who he had considered 'weak' sat quiet as the grave across from her, staring into her eyes, expecting her to finish what she'd started.

Sakura just wanted to sleep, she hurt all over and this creepy kid was keeping her awake.

"How?" The raspy and raw sounding voice was filled with something not quite an emotion.

Sakura looked over to Gaara who was the only one in this particular room that was conscious enough to speak. "How what?" She growled, not particularly in the mood to talk to the person who broke her leg.

"How can you be so strong?" Gaara retorted back. "You are nothing special... and yet you called upon such power, how?"

Again the boy's rude words stung at the girl's pride, but then the words themselves caught up to her. "It was a gift from my teammate, Naruto."

"The one who is like me?" Gaara mumbled, though loud enough for her to hear.

"Like you?" She blew a raspberry. "Hardly. Shares the same burden as you? Yeah... he's like you in that regard only." Sakura shrugged. "He's acted the way he has for as long as I can remember."

"I don't understand..." The boy sighed. "Why does he care for others... what makes him so strong that he can so easily give others his strength... Am I so weak?"

Sakura grimaced, she really didn't want to have to deal with this. She wasn't Naruto, she couldn't bullshit an explanation for other people's problems like he could. "Look, I'm not the best at this but I'll give you the short version. Okay?" The hesitant nod was more than enough. "Alright, In that order; because he loves and appreciates them, they're his friends and family; because he has something to protect and helping teammates is what Konoha does, nevermind that helping people in general is never a bad thing; No, you just have an absurdly contrived weakness that would normally be covered by your teammates." She inhaled sharply then released it. "That answer your questions?"

"Friends...family... teammates...?" The boy grit his teeth, raising a hand to his head as if he was in pain. Slowly, he growled a reply. "They don't love or care about me... my father has tried to kill me every chance available and my siblings fear me like all the rest." The bitterness in his tone was more than clear.

"Have you ever asked them?"

The boy stilled, the thought having never occurred to him. Had he ever asked them what they truly felt about him. His father would probably tell him that he was the villages mistake but he had never actually asked him or his siblings what they thought of him. No... it couldn't be that simple. "Regardless, they would still fear me."

Sakura shook her head. "Then it would be your fault, they were willing to meet you half way but you were unwilling to control yourself and do the same."

Gaara was shivering now, the pain in the back of his head worsening. "I can't control myself. I cant' rest without the voices taking a bit more of me with them every time I try. Mother... she tells me to kill... even now she want's your blood... she always want's more blood!" That final word ended with a snarl.

Sakura tensed, ready to defend herself -restricted as she was- to the best of her abilities. "I honestly doubt that's your mother talking. You're a Jinchuriki, has it ever occurred to you that maybe, just maybe that was your burden making your life miserable because it's trying to get out of you?"

No... no that thought hadn't occurred to him. A sharp spark of pain hit him right in the temple but the boy latched onto that thought like a man possessed. When was the last time he'd questioned his 'mother?' It certainly hadn't been lately. Even now he could feel the tension building, as if in protest to what he was thinking. But why? That brought on another sharp stab of pain. NO! The boy latched onto that pain and pushed it away. Immediately he felt the pressure weaken, as if his will alone was holding it back. Gaara's insides churned, as if the loss of that subtle thread of pain spun him around onto his head. The world spun but he kept pushing against that pain with all the willpower his small body could manage, hell bent upon this course of action to the bitter end. After almost five minutes of forceful grunting and pained groaning, the sand nin gave one last desperate push and almost immediately his mind stopped.

No... not stopped. It was quiet... there wasn't a voice... there wasn't a pressure on his mind, crawling around in his brain as if it had a mind of it's own. Slowly, Gaara returned to an upright position, having folded over to grip his covers tightly with fists and teeth, even now he could see the mauled wet spot where his teeth had ground the fibers of the cloth. Blinking once, the sand nin glanced up at Sakura who was giving him a very cautious if not outright hostile stare.

"Everything alright." Sakura asked slowly, She did NOT want to be stuck in a room with an unstable AND trigger happy Jinchuriki.

Gaara blinked, feeling an odd tingling sensation on his stomach. Looking down after he pulled his shirt up, the two were treated to the sight of the boy's seal appearing on his skin, with one spot, which had never looked right to Gaara, appeared to... fill in, completing what was otherwise a broken circle.

The implications were not lost on Gaara as he closed his eyes for several seconds, listening for the subtle beat of his heart, something he hadn't heard for many years now thanks to his 'mother.' Feeling a tingle in the back of his brain, Gaara's head tilted slightly, the overpowering effects of his near-drowning along with the exertions just a few minutes ago were starting to take their toll. Idly the boy heard voices coming from the door to the room. Glancing over, Gaara was treated to the sight of his siblings walking into the room behind the rest of Team Seven

"Willing to meet half way..." Gaara mumbled, a slight twitch of a smile forming on his lips. Maybe the pink one was on to something...? Whatever else he might have thought was soon lost to the darkness of blissful sleep.

-ooo-

Naruto raised an eyebrow at the older duo of the Sand Siblings as they walked into the room, took one look at the sleeping Gaara and froze in their tracks. "I take it that doesn't happen often?"

"He never sleeps." Kankuro muttered. "Except when..." The boy's eyes flew wide as he took a hesitant step backwards.

"Wait..." Temari grabbed a fistful of the puppeteer's shirt and pulled him to a stop. Slowly, oh so slowly she walked toward her sleeping brother. Gently, as if she was touching thin glass, she placed a finger on her brother's cheek. To her shock and secret pleasure, the skin was warm to the touch rather than the hard grainy shell of sand armor. How long had it been since she'd touched her youngest brother skin to skin?

Naruto glanced over at Sakura who looked relieved for some reason. "What happened?" he asked her curiously.

The girl shrugged in response. "He started rambling on, asking why you were so much stronger than he was and why you seemed to care about me enough to share that power." She snorted. "I told him that you had a reason to help us and that you actually cared about people." She glanced over at the Sand Siblings to see Kankuro hesitantly reaching out to touch his brother as well. Sakura frowned. "And I suppose him saying that his family feared him was true too."

Kankuro, having overheard the girl, turned, a scowl on his face. "Of course we fear him. Don't you think we've tried to do something? He-" The teen shut his mouth before he said any more, not thinking about what his words would entail, they were, after all in enemy territory with no backup.

"We already know he's a Jinchuriki." Naruto rolled his eyes at the surprised on Kankuro's face. "Hell we knew before the exam even started, I told your sister as much when we were making out during the first exam." That brought a small twitch of the eye to Kankuro's face.

"Speaking of." Sakura interrupted. "He kept talking about his 'mother' whispering things to him. Did either of you ever try to tell him that the voices her kept hearing were probably the Ichibi?"

Kankuro shook his head. "We couldn't even get close to him until a few years ago, he was always kept away from us... it was when we became ninja that we found out why..."

Naruto held a hand to his chin, in thought. "So he was intentionally isolated from people and forced to make assumptions on his own." He raised another brow at the duo. "And then on top of that, the seal you gave him was so screwed up it allowed the Biju direct access to his mind. How fucked up was the person who sealed Ichibi into him? Did anyone think that maybe the Biju would corrupt his mind?"

"That's what I told him." Sakura sighed, shifting a bit into a more comfortable position. "He looked surprised, like he hadn't thought of that before. Then he started grabbing his head and looked like he was focusing really hard on something.

Kakashi, who had remained quiet up until that point, broke in. "Did he say anything?"

Sakura shook her head. "No, after a few minutes of straining himself he collapsed, though he looked like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He checked a seal on his stomach and it looked like a piece of it was repairing itself. He... looked surprised... well as surprised as I've seen him."

Naruto glanced up at Kakashi. "You think he forced his Biju down and somehow repaired his seal?"

The Jonin shrugged. "I don't know a thing about Biju seals. My skills are more about combat oriented seals."

Naruto breathed out his nose in annoyance. "Do you know of anyone else who'd know?"

Kakashi stroked his masked chin in though for a moment, silently humming to himself. "Well, I do know that Master Jiraiya would probably be the best to ask in this case. He is, after all Konoha's greatest living Seal Master... though I'm not sure if he's in the village right now." Kakashi glanced down at his student and immediately noticed the sour expression that appeared on Naruto's face. "Is there a problem?"

"Yeah." Naruto grouched. "The lazy perv hasn't come to visit me for over a year now; he said he'd be here during the chunin exams." Naruto rolled his eyes. "Knowing him he's probably nose deep in some bathhouse wall doing 'research.'"

"You know Jiraiya?" Kakashi asked curiously. "I knew he was Sensei's Sensei but..." Kakashi's single eye widened for a second before he looked down at a frowning Naruto. "Wait, he's your-"

"Keep that bit of information under your mask Kakashi." Naruto glanced over at the Sand Genin then pointed to a nearby bathroom.

The Jonin schooled his features -what few there were- and nodded. "Noted." He blinked away the annoying brightness as they closed the door to the bathroom and the florescent bulb turned on "Though that does answer a few of my questions..."

"And raises a few more I'm sure." Naruto rolled his eyes, leaning up against a stall. "If it wasn't for him chasing after that 'snake' of his and investigating this rumored 'organization' that he keeps mentioning in his messages, he'd likely be here now, annoying me to no end."

Kakashi raised an eyebrow. "I expected you to be a bit more bitter than that after finding out."

Naruto snorted. "And you'd be right, I met him a year after I met Anko and he let that slip on the Third's orders. I don't think he expected me to go second stage on his ass." Another small chuckle. "Broke two of his ribs before he had a chance to explain himself." Naruto rubbed the back of his head as if a phantom pain emanated there. "The third smacked me in the back of the head with Enma and knocked me out cold. I woke up a few hours later in a hospital bed with the old perv bandaged up next to me. He explained a few things and for obvious reasons he couldn't drag a kid, especially a baby around while he did his work. He sent money back of course but he couldn't, wouldn't bring any attention back on me, he had too many enemies and too much to do in the wake of the Kyubi's attack."

Kakashi nodded sagely. "I see, that's rather mature of you Naruto." Another snort shattered that thought where it lay.

"Hardly, I decked him as hard as I could across the nose after he explained himself. Just because he made excuses didn't excuse him from abandoning his previous responsibilities." Naruto waved it away. "Regardless, I'm over it now and the two of us have come to an understanding. It's in the past and I have more than enough home to go back to these days."

"Anko?"

"Anko.

The Jonin shook his head, rubbing his students hair good-naturedly. "You are so much like him it's not even funny."

Naruto swatted the offending limb away and straightened his hair. "Like who?"

Kakashi's eye glazed over a bit, as if remembering a painful memory. "An old teammate, one who gave his life to save mine and taught me a few things..." The far off look disappeared as quickly as it came, as did the strained catch in the man's voice. "Tell you what, if you defeat your opponent and all three of you move on to the third exam, I'll call in a few favors and get some people from my ANBU days out here to help you, Sasuke and Sakura."

Naruto frowned at that. "Why can't you teach us?"

Kakashi eye-smiled. "I have to remain impartial, if I'm training three separate contestants at the same time any of the visiting dignitaries could accuse me of sabotaging any or all of you, even the Daimyo himself." He ruffled the boy's hair again. "It's why most only take one of their students and sub out the other to someone else. Since all of you are probably going to make it through to the third exam I don't want to alienate over half my team, so I'm bringing in sensei for all of you ." Noticing Naruto's deadpan stare the scarecrow hastily added. "That doesn't mean I won't write up several technique scrolls for all of you on some of my elemental techniques, as well as some helpful tips on their use." The man sweatdropped lightly when Naruto's stare didn't lessen in the slightest.

-ooo-

After a quick visit with Sakura, where Naruto gave the blushing girl a hug as reward for her awesome victory, the trio of Team 7 and the older Sand Siblings made their way back into the arena.

"Sorry we're a bit late coming back." Kakashi eyesmiled, waving up at the rest of the room. "We just had to stop and help an old Lady cross the street."

Those who knew Kakashi facepalmed at that.

Once everyone was back into position, the attention of those left were drawn back to the board where the names of those who were left spun rapidly until their inevitable stop.

"The fourth match has been decided. Tenten vs Kankuro!"

Tenten leapt over the edge of the railing and landed down in a crouch while Kankuro took a slow methodical stroll down the stairs, mind more on the fact that his brother might no longer be a crazed psychopath hellbent on murder and destruction. He still kept his eyes on his opponent, hand almost caressing the strap attached to the bundle of cloth on his back.

"Are both parties *cough* ready?" Hayate looked between the two, getting a nod of confirmation. "Alright then. Begin!"

The proctor barely had time to get out of the way as a veritable hail of kunai sailed out from Tenten in a wide arc, all of them homing in on Kankuro like heat seeking missiles.

Kankuro cursed, pulling a Kunai up to block a few of the projectiles while quickly dodging the others. His eyes widened momentarily as dozens of Shuriken attached to wires appeared around him, wrapping him up and forcing him to drop the bundle off his back.

"I don't know what kind of weapon that is but I'm not giving you the chance to use it!" Tenten pulled another kunai from her pouch before launching it right at Kankuro's forehead.

With a wet thunk the blade sunk tip first into the Sand ninja's skull, drawing a gasp from Ino.

Kankuro's mouth hung open, eyes dull and lifeless as he fell to his knees.

Tenten raised an eyebrow, holstering the Kunai she'd pulled to protect herself, that almost seemed too ea- The girl leapt back, hearing a click come from the Sand nin's body before the space she'd occupied just moments ago bristled with senbon, each glistening with a dark purple liquid. 'Poison?' A finger ran along her arm, unsealing a wooden bo staff which was brought up and spun rapidly, knocking another barrage of poison senbon out of the way. A dark shadow loomed over her as a number of scythe like blade tried to pierce her from the sides. Tenten leapt back, lashing out with the bo staff, catching whatever it was trying to attack her in the face.

A distinctly wooden and hollow sound echoed out, knocking the thing back long enough for Tenten to gain a bit of breathing room, now that she had a good view of the thing, she couldn't help but shiver a bit. The thing was a wooden puppet, humanoid with four arms, a pair of legs, three eyes, a jaw of sharp teeth and a mane of scraggly brown hair. The ragged brown cloak around it fluttered open and a pair of the hands launched forward, blades extending from the hand.

Tenten cursed, swatting the first out of the way while blocking the second with the tip, which caught and roughly snapped the blade when she slammed the arm into the ground. As soon as the blade separated, the arm it was attached to floated back up into the air, returning to the puppet and apparently locking in. Behind the construct, the bundle that Tenten had assumed was the Sand nin's weapon unraveled, revealing Kankuro hidden underneath. The man quickly got to his feet, strings of chakra connecting to the puppet and pulling it around himself like a shield.

"I'm impressed, not many people can deal with Karasu up close" Kankuro sneered. "Let's see you dodge this!" The wrists of the puppet opened up, revealing a hollow tube. A sharp whump proceeded a pair of smoke grenades launching forward where it exploded at Tenten's feet, expelling a dark purple gas into the air.

Already guessing at what the gas could be, Tenten closed her mouth and held her breath, fishing out a pair of scrolls while she did so. Flying through several seals, she slammed the scrolls on the ground with her palms held atop them 'Twin Rising Dragons!' The scrolls activated sending her spiraling upward into the air, the scrolls trailing around her in a double helix of dragon shaped smoke which ejected herself from the poison cloud. Taking a breath of fresh air the girl noted that Karasu had disappeared into the cloud below her, probably to attack her while she was distracted. A shark like grin formed on her face as she unsealed the first pair of kunai, unleashing a menagerie of weapons on the surprised Kankuro.

Dodging the hail of steel with a curse, Kankuro yanked his puppet out of the smoke, bringing it in front of him as a shield to block the blades as they stuck point first into Karasu's wooden chest. That proved to be only a temporary measure as the blades began to weigh down the puppet's mechanisms. Thinking it better than to let his puppet be destroyed, Kankuro separated it into it's ten or so parts, working each of them to deflect and block all of the girl's blades.

Beads of sweat rolled down Kankuro's face, smudging his face paint as he concentrated, each of his fingers moving independent of each other to stop the hail of weapons from getting through, even grabbing a few of them with the puppets hands and tossing the blades back, that also didn't work as planned as the girl only knocked them aside with yet more weapons. 'How many of those things does she have!?' The teen all but screamed in his mind, ducking under a bardiche that spun in between the grasping hands of his puppet and would have decapitated him had he not done so. He couldn't move without creating an opening, which made this a matter of quantity vs technical skill, whoever ran out of their's first would lose their momentum, most likely ending the match.

As the final blade - a kama by the looks of it- lodged itself into Karasu's forehead -taking a blow that would have struck a similar spot on Kankuro- the puppeteer brought all of the pieces he controlled in around him to block any sneak attacks from the girl. A smirk formed on his lips as he stared up at the girl still suspended in air. "That all you got girly? I could keep this up all day!"

Tenten smirked. "Oh really!?" The area in front of her fingers shimmered as she yanked hard. Behind Kankuro, a number of weapons launched forward, the wires attached to them pulling them toward the Sand nin.

A swear and a quick lurch of a finger had Karasu's torso in the way of most of those blades, though the sharp wine of wire alerted him to another hoard of steel approaching him from behind. From there it was a game of puppets, Kankuro blocking with his chakra strings while Tenten attacked with her metal ones, the former realizing only too late that the latter was using her wires to entangle him. In desperation Kankuro switched out with one of his puppets arms which was not far away from him as the death trap of wire and steel closed like a coffin on the rest of his puppet. Swallowing heavily, Kankuro turned back just in time to catch the blunt end of a bo-staff to the head, knocking him out cold before he could even defend himself.

"Winner of the Fourth Match; Tenten!"

"GO TENTEN!" Lee cheered from the stands, grabbing his sensei in what many people would consider inappropriate and hugging him, tears in his eyes and sunset genjutsu hanging behind the both of them. The room was only spared the horrible display when both Naruto and Kakashi used a simple earth jutsu to create a cubicle to suppress the image.

Sparkles and rays of light still seemed to eek over the top of the barrier anyway, which brought shivers of disgust from the audience, and a few nods of gratitude towards the two Leaf-nin.

As Kankuro was drawn away on a stretcher and Tenten took her place next to her team-in-a-box. Hayate called attention to the board. "The Fifth match will be between." The board clicked to a stop. "Naruto Uzumaki and Kabuto Yakushi!"

Naruto's eyes hardened as he glared over at Kabuto, the silver-haired nin matching his stare. A small smirk, barely perceptible made it's way onto Kabuto's lips. It wasn't friendly and did not bode well for anything.

-ooo-

Well that's it for now everyone, a Happy New Years to you all!