AN: this chapter is monsterously long and the other chapters will be too, so don't expect quick updates. this is a what if story. i made sakura stronger, but it doesn't happen over night, or because of an unknown kekkei genkai, and she isn't invincible. She just takes training seriously.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
That was the only word he had said to her.
It was the only one he had needed to say. It was still ringing in her head.
His insult wasn't unfounded either, unfortunately. The only thing Sakura had been able to do during the torturous three hour survival "mission" was fall for a rather obvious genjutsu, or what should have been a really simple illusion and a walk in the park to release, and faint upon seeing Sasuke talk while he had been buried in the ground up to his chin.
The pink haired kunoichi-in-training sighed, rolling onto her back to face the dull white ceiling of her bedroom.
She had contributed absolutely nothing to the survival exercise. The only advantage she had on Team 7 was her brains.
But what good was having knowledge without the skills to use it?
On paper, Sakura was an excellent ninja. Written tests, no matter the subject matter, was the one area where she positively excelled, shining brighter than the rest of her classmates. She came out on top where her test scores were concerned, beating out even Sasuke; the rookie of the year.
She had listened to anything and everything Iruka-sensei had to teach them, her brain absorbing the information like a sponge, but lacked the necessary skills to apply her knowledge.
Both of her teammates had shown more skill than a normal fresh out of the academy gennin should be capable of, even Naruto who was dead last.
Sasuke had certainly surprised Kakashi-sensei with his above average taijutsu and his ability to produce viable fire jutsu. The dark haired boy had managed to get close enough to touch the bells they were supposed to be taking from their sensei.
Sakura knew that shadow clones were harder to create and maintain than regular clones because the user's chakra was divided between the clones and the clones were solid. But that was exactly what Naruto had done. The so dubbed loser of the class had consecutively managed to make multiple solid shadow clones. It was a jutsu that required enormous amounts of chakra, way more than a gennin should have, so Naruto must have unnaturally large reserves in order to perform that jutsu more than once when he was only twelve.
She turned on her side as she began to inwardly examine her own skills.
She knew basic ninjutsu. She could create a simple bunshin, henge perfectly and effectively every time, and use the kawarimi technique. Nothing more than what was taught at the academy. Sakura thought she probably didn't have the chakra reserves needed to perform most C-rank jutsus.
Sakura had a talent for genjutsu. Or so she had thought from the practical tests. After today she wasn't so sure. She didn't actually know any genjutsu, aside from the one that made people sleepy, but she was really good at realizing she was trapped in one, usually she was the first to notice, and dispelling it.
She shouldn't have fallen for Kakashi-sensei's earlier. The only reason she had was because it had involved her crush, Sasuke, severely injured and asking for help (which should have made it obvious because he never asked for help), causing her to react instead of thinking logically.
Her taijutsu was rudimentary. It was good enough to scrape by the academy standards, barely. But Sakura knew it to be her greatest weakness. She had no stamina, strength, or speed to speak of. Any sparring at the academy was quickly and embarrassingly lost.
In reality, her skills as a ninja were nonexistent, and Sakura knew her quiet teammate and sensei were right. The rosette had absolutely no skill and cared more for her appearance and her crush on Sasuke than she did for her training.
And it showed. The gap between her and her teammates was cavernous. She honestly wasn't sure if it was possible for her to bridge that gap and catch up to her teammates.
But Sakura couldn't help it. The dark haired boy had come to her rescue once when she was being bullied for her unusual colored hair and abnormally large forehead, and she had vowed then that she would always stand by his side and offer him her support and whatever else he might need or want.
She knew his dream was to prove himself to his strict father. To step out of his older brother's eclipsing shadow and be acknowledge. Sasuke had said so himself during his introduction on the rooftop.
Her display today had proven she was useless to him. How could she help him achieve his dream if she was weak? Her own dream was to make sure that Sasuke succeeded in proving his worth to his father, and from what she knew of the man, she knew impressing him was beyond difficult.
The obvious answer was to take training seriously. The only way to help Sasuke was to help herself. Currently she was only holding him back, dragging him down. She was a liability to him and his goals.
Satisfied with her plan, Sakura finally succumbed to sleep.
She needed to get stronger in order to help Sasuke, so that's exactly what Sakura would do.
Sakura was dirty, bruised, and more exhausted than she had ever been in her life when she arrived at Team 7's designated training grounds. She proceeded to studiously ignore both of her teammate's questions and the looks they gave her in favor of resting against the third stump.
Given the fact that their sensei was exactly three hours late to both of the previous meetings, Sakura had reasoned that the pattern would continue and he would be late again today and every other time they would meet.
She decided that a surprise visit to Iruka-sensei was time better spent than watching the other two members of team seven fight while they waited, be it verbally or physically.
"Taijutsu?" the spikey haired chuunin questioned. Iruka Umino observed the young pink headed girl standing before him as she shifted her weight to the balls of her feet and leaned back slightly, smiling nervously.
"Hai, Iruka-sensei. I'm not very good at it, so I thought you might know someone I could ask for some pointers."
That was certainly true. He knew that Sakura Haruno had struggled with taijutsu throughout all her years as an academy student, to the point that she almost had to redo one year. Iruka certainly wasn't going to deny her and turn her away when she was seeking help to improve.
But he was curious as to her rather sudden change of heart. He knew the girl had the potential to be a shinobi, but lacked the drive. Sakura was rough and unpolished, but she loved learning new techniques and other things and she learned them quickly as well. Given the chance, he believed she had the ability to grow into a strong kunoichi that would be a credit to her village. But before now she had never seemed interested. Becoming a kunoichi only served the purpose of getting her close to Sasuke Uchiha.
Iruka decided that, as a teacher, it didn't matter the reason for why the sudden willingness so much as the fact that Sakura was willing and prepared to actually become a true kunoichi for her sake. And not for Sasuke Uchiha. It would be remiss of him not to provide her the help she needed.
"Well, Gai Might is the taijutsu expert. He really knows what he's doing, even if his methods are a bit unorthodox," he said. Seeing that Gai's questionable methods had not deterred her determination, Iruka informed her that Konoha's self-proclaimed Green Beast could usually be found at Training Ground 13.
Sakura's face lit up with a bright smile and her eyes sparkled as she gave her former sensei a hug and dashed out of the classroom, throwing an "arigato" over her shoulder.
The pinkette ran all the way to Training Ground 13, anxious to speak with this legendary taijutsu master. She had slight doubts in the back of her mind that he would refuse to train her, thus destroying her dreams.
Once there she paused.
There was a man there dressed in a bright green full body spandex suit doing one handed push-ups. From what she could see, he had bowl cut thick black hair and a lean and muscular body, but not bulging awkward looking muscles.
She only approached him after he had finished, with an exclamation of 5000 that left Sakura in awe of him and envious of his stamina and upper body strength.
"Ano . . . Excuse me. Are you Gai Might?" she asked him.
The spandex clad man leapt to his feet, striking a pose with one hand on his hip and the other giving her a thumbs up. He sported a grin larger than any she had seen on Naruto's face. And it literally shone, practically blinded her.
"Indeed that would be me. Konoha's Sexy Green Beast!" He wiggled his large slightly fuzzy looking eyebrows as Sakura tried not to react. "What can I do for you on this morning of eternal youth?"
Figuring it was too late to run screaming back to her own slightly eccentric sensei because of his weirdness, Sakura explained what she wanted.
"How youthful of you to want to improve your taijutsu Sakura-chan. Let us see what you are made of!" Was he going to say youthful in every sentence?
Before Sakura had the chance to move Gai was attacking her, springing forward aiming a roundhouse kick at her head. Instinctively, she threw herself at the ground in order to keep him from detaching her head from her neck.
The petal haired girl made to get up, but was forced back into the ground by the knee planted firmly on her back and the kunai pressing gently against her throat.
Gai had said, "Well that won't do at all, young blossom. You must make a more youthful effort and show me the skills of your youth," pulled her to her feet and promptly disappeared.
Sakura spun around looking for him and was met with a strong punch to the gut, which had her stumbling back a couple steps. The jounin attacked again before she could regain her balance, send her flying forward with a well placed heel to her back.
She turned it into a hastily executed tumble and remained crouched low to the ground, spinning on one foot and lashing out with the other in hopes of knocking the taijutsu expert off his feet.
The man in green simply jumped over her leg, causing Sakura to scramble to put any distance between them. Not that is really mattered at the speeds he could move but it made her feel safer.
She aimed a punch with her left hand, which he slid by, and tried to kick him with her right leg.
Gai blocked it with his forearm, not even flinching. She thought it probably didn't even hurt him. He gripped her leg and twisted it, throwing her over his shoulder where she landed on the ground with an"oomph" as the breath was knocked out of her.
Sakura laid on the earth, attempting to regain the breath she had lost. She had known she was terrible at taijutsu, but this one sided spar had just proved her wrong. Quite simply, she sucked at it.
Gai watched the young girl closely as she went through the training regime he had designed for her. It was pretty basic. 30 reps each of sit-ups, crunches, push-ups, pull-ups, and five laps around the training grounds. The warm up would set a foundation for her to build upon, slowly building up her muscle mass and stamina. Once her body adjusted to the routine he would add the first set of weights, moving slowly and increasing the number of push-ups, laps and such as she improved.
He wondered what caused her to seek him out. She had no taijutsu experience, and as a gennin it was her sensei's responsibility to nurture her abilities and teach her the ways of a shinobi. So why come to him?
It would be different if Sakura wished to specialize in taijutsu, like his student Lee. But she obviously didn't. All she wanted was to learn some new techniques and build up her stamina and speed. But why wasn't she asking her own sensei for this training? So he asked her.
"Kakashi-sensei gave us a training exercise yesterday and I was useless. The only thing I was good for was my large forehead," Sakura stated bitterly. "But he's always late and he hasn't taught us anything. He focusing more on our teamwork than our abilities." She finished her explanation by saying she decided to use the time that she would be wasting to find someone who could train her in taijutsu.
Her sensei was his greatest rival. No wonder she came to him. Gai had won every challenge that had dealt with taijutsu (and he was currently winning 76-74.) Of course she would want to be trained by the best.
Well, never let it be said that Gai turned down a challenge. He would train the youthful blossom in the ways of taijutsu, and if she had the brightly burning Will of Fire, he would have her at Lee's level in four months.
Sakura was regretting her decision to come before Kakashi-sensei arrived, despite knowing to the dot exactly how late he would be.
It only gave her two teammates a half hour to interrogate her on where she had been, why she was late (SAKURA-CHAN, YOU'RE NEVER LATE!), what she had been doing to make it seem like she had eaten multiple servings of dirt, and just who did they have to beat up for daring to do this to their teammate.
She was so frustrated with the pair of them she almost cried in relief when their sensei finally appeared in a poof of smoke, (switching Naruto's attention to him – "You're LATE, Kakashi-sensei!") with the excuse of babysitting his great-grandfather's daughter-in-law's son-in-law's brother's second wife's nephew (which after weeks of thinking and the knowledge that her sensei had no cousins she realized it was him.)
The silver haired jounin didn't react to Naruto calling him a liar or Sasuke glaring, besides to shrug unrepentantly. "Team 7 has its first mission today."
"Really, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto stopped yelling at Kakashi and started ranting. "I hope it's something really cool. Like fighting bandits. Or guarding a princess. Or escorting someone really important. Or finding and revealing a spy. Or learning to be a samurai. Or . . ."
Sakura shut him up with a hard hit to the back of his head, telling him to stop yelling and let Kakashi-sensei explain.
"It's much cooler than any of that," the mask wearing jounin said.
Naruto's eyes lit up in anticipation and Sasuke leaned forward, slightly interested himself.
Sakura thought she might have believed him.
If not for the strange glint in his visible eye.
The blonde sulked as he furiously scrubbed at the dish in his hands.
Sakura couldn't blame him. She thought it was unbearably unfair to promise washing dishes to be the coolest mission they could do, but it was even more so because they were at Ichiraku's.
When Naruto complained about cleaning ramen dishes ("There shouldn't be anything left in the bowls. This is the food of the gods") and not being allowed to eat any ramen while on the mission, Kakashi-sensei had said it was payback for the eraser.
After that Naruto got all gloomy and silent, mumbling under his breath. Although he did start washing at a much faster pace. She and Sasuke were hard pressed to keep up with him.
She was willing to admit to herself that she was surprised by both boys work ethic. With Naruto being the loud, boisterous person he was and Sasuke with his 'I'm an Uchiha. You are beneath me' attitude, Sakura had been expecting to be forced to do all the work. If only because the both of them would complain that washing dishes was women's work and therefore her responsibility.
But both boys were working studiously. Naruto scrubbed the dishes squeaky clean, Sasuke dried them to the point where they shined, and all she had to do was return them to their designated cupboards. If she was honest, Sakura was a little worried when she found out the details of their mission. Did either of her boys know how to wash dishes?
The answer was yes. And after a mental slap to her forehead, of course Naruto would know, Naruto was an orphan and had to take care of himself for twelve years. Sasuke knowing how to do dishes confused her. He came from a privileged clan, as he constantly liked to remind everyone he spoke to, so what possible reason could he have for knowing how to do common chores?
As much as Naruto hated this mission, Sakura loved it. It caused her to realize just how little she knew the other two gennin that had been placed in Team 7 with her and made her resolved to invite them over to her house in order to understand them more.
Maybe that way, Sakura thought, Naruto could feel what family was like and be a part of one and Sasuke would have a place to go if the pressure of his clan was ever too much for him. She knew her mother would smother them both with affection and make them feel like they belonged.
Kakashi released them for the afternoon once the mission was complete. As soon as they had finished he had disappeared, supposedly to file the mission report.
Sakura was starting to see a pattern where their gravity defying silver haired sensei was concerned. Aside from his tendency to always be precisely three hours later than the specified time and having some bullshit excuse that is.
Any day they had a mission, he disappeared immediately afterwards, dismissing them until the next day, and the team would do no training what so ever. She was peeved at him for running off instead of using the afternoon to actually train them. What times he did train them, he cared more for them working together as a team than teaching them new techniques and jutsus. She thought this was a gross error on his part. Not that teamwork was necessarily a bad skill to have, but it shouldn't be his sole focus. He should be training them in areas that they excelled in, diversifying their skills so that they could function as a team, watching the others' backs and making up for each other's weaknesses.
Well, if Kakashi-sensei was going to be remiss in his teachings, then she would take advantage of the extra time away from Naruto and Sasuke to work on her self-improvement. Sakura was sure that Gai-sensei wouldn't mind if she sought him out again to continue with her training.
She thought wryly, as she ambled in the direction of Training Ground 13, that he would probably think her youthful for her persistence and for coming back for more.
Sakura hovered on the outskirts of Training Ground 13. Apparently, Gai Might was a jounin sensei, if the three gennin sparring were any indication.
They could probably sense her there, but she hovered on the edges observing them. This was obviously a team that had been together for a long period of time. Despite the fact that the spar looked to be a serious match, it appeared to be more of a choreographed dance. The three gennin flowed as they switch effortlessly from attacking to defending. They clearly knew each other well enough to predict the others' thoughts, actions and movements, and when an unexpected move was made they could adapt easily.
As the fight was called to a halt and Gai yelled for her to come and join them, Sakura wondered if her team would ever reach that level of comfort, to be able to effortlessly predict what their next move would be. Was this what Kakashi-sensei was trying to achieve? If so she would have to give him more credit.
Sakura surveyed each member as Gai introduced them.
Neji Hyuuga had long dark chocolate locks for a male that was bound towards the bottom. His pupil-less white eyes unnerved her. She felt like he could she through her straight to her soul. From what she had seen he was very good at taijutsu, which wasn't much of a surprise considering he was on Gai's team, but his style was very different from his sensei's. She figured maybe it was the Hyuuga clan's style. He was looking at her with a cold, calculating, emotionless mask on his face that reminded her of Sasuke and made her feel uneasy.
Tenten, the female member of Gai's squad, had no last name, something that made Sakura curious. Her brown hair was put up in buns so it wouldn't interfere with her visibility. The pinkette thought that was a smart idea and vowed to do something with her ridiculously long hair before it got her killed. During the spar she had used more weapons than the other two combined, and her aim with them was always perfect. Steel littered the ground, and it wasn't just academy regulated kunai and shuriken. Sakura guessed the scrolls in her hip pouch were used to store all these weapons so they could be summoned when needed.
Gai's last student made her take a second look just to make sure she wasn't seeing doubles. But she was. Rock Lee was a mini-Gai from hair to his ninja outfit and down to his personality. He also focused on taijutsu during the spar exclusively; his style was also an exact copy of his sensei's. Lee had not used any jutsu or even a kunai. He used the advantage he had in his speed. He had moved so fast that Sakura could hardly keep track of him. The Gai clone was clearly placed on Gai's team because he specialized in taijutsu. Perhaps he wanted to be a taijutsu expert too. Later Sakura would learn that Lee could not mold chakra like everybody else and struggled with genjutsu and ninjutsu.
Gai bounded over to her, threw an arm around her shoulders, and dragged her over to his team. "This is the young blossom I was telling you about. Lee. Can you see the youthfulness that radiates off of her? It shines even brighter than it did this morning! I told you she would return!"
"I can Gai-sensei! She is a beacon of youthfulness!" Flames appeared in Lee's eyes as he proclaimed just how youthful Sakura was.
Sakura had to grit her teeth before traitorous thoughts of abandoning her training went through her head. Her new sensei's personality may not be one she liked, but she could get used to it, perhaps turn a blind eye to his more eccentric antics like she did with Kakashi-sensei.
She wouldn't let her dream die because Gai was as abnormal as they came and he had a younger clone. Besides, maybe the enthusiasm that he put into everything he did would benefit her.
"I see you have returned, my youthful Sakura-chan! Was your training this morning not enough? Or did you realize that I am a much better sensei than my youthful rival Kakashi?" He was literally bouncing around her as he proclaimed very loudly every way in which he was a better sensei than her own.
Sakura wasn't so sure any more about that coming back for the afternoon was a good idea. She had not known he already had a team to teach, and she didn't want to burden him by forcing him to split his attention between her and his team. She also didn't want his team to suffer because she didn't take training seriously while she was in the academy. It certainly wasn't their fault she was a terrible kunoichi and needed extra help.
"Well, Kakashi-sensei let us go early once our mission was over, so I thought I might as well see if you were available and if we could continue. But I don't want to burden you since you're busy with your team. I'll just come back tomorrow morning." Sakura made to leave.
Gai flashed in front of her. "Don't leave yet blossom. Wanting to learn is never a bad thing. I shall always encourage you to come find me when you have free time. How else are you going to improve if you don't come for training?" He winked as if they shared some secret, which she guessed until she had showed up they had, and flashed her a grin.
"Well, as long as you don't mind," Sakura trailed off.
"Never, my youthful blossom!" Gai yelled "YOSH! Let us train. We shall start with 50 push-ups. If you cannot do 50 push-ups then you will do 50 sit-ups. If you can't do that you will have to do 20 laps. If . . ."
Sakura tuned Gai-sensei out as she weighed the pros and cons of coming to him for help. With a sigh as she placed her palms on the ground and pushed her body up and lowered it back down, she decided the benefits were worth the exhaustion she would feel when he was through with her.
Lee threw himself down beside her, promising to do ten times the amount she was or he would do 500 laps around Konoha on his hands.
Neji and Tenten returned to sparring. From what she could see, Neji was working on a technique to repel physical attacks by emitting chakra.
With her focus completely devoted to counting, Sakura never noticed the cold appraising look the Hyuuga gave her.
Sakura could feel the difference a week later. Without fail she showed up every morning for training instead of waiting at Team 7's bridge waiting for their chronically late sensei. And she returned again in the afternoon when Kakashi-sensei released them from whatever mission or training session they had that day.
She was still nowhere near Naruto's or Sasuke's level, but her stamina had definitely improved. And she had muscles. She went home, weary and aching to the bone, and crawled into a warm, relaxing bath every day. But the pain and fatigue didn't matter.
What mattered was the fact that she was improving. If she could become physically stronger, she could get stronger mentally as well. All she needed was to find someone who could teach her genjutsu. But, aside from her sensei, who she was averse to asking for help, and the Uchihas, who she knew would scoff and refuse to teach her, Sakura didn't know anyone that was a strong genjutsu user.
The rosette also worried about her training this afternoon. Team Gai had a mission that would last a couple of days. That left her morning and afternoons completely open, because without Gai-sensei there to supervise, all she could do was multiple repetitions designed to increase her stamina and speed. And she was disappointed since she had really wanted to start learning new styles of fighting like Gai-sensei had promised to teach her this week.
She would also miss Lee and Tenten. She had built a tentative friendship with the weapons mistress and one could not help but become friends with Lee. He was a lot like Naruto in that respect. Even Neji tolerated her. He seemed more approachable when they were having an intelligent conversation. Sakura actually found it disturbing that she got along so well with Neji, Tenten and Lee when she could hardly get along with her own team. Sasuke ignored her unless had to and she found Naruto so annoying sometimes.
She reached the bridge shortly before Kakashi would arrive, noticing that both her teammates were already there and wore looks on their faces indicating that they had been here for hours. Both of them insisted on showing up at the time Kakashi-sensei specified even though they knew he would never come on time.
As she watched them determinedly ignore the other, Sakura vowed to make more of an effort to make her team get along. Maybe now would be a good time to invite them to visit her house. She only hoped that getting together outside of missions and training would help them build closer bonds, otherwise Team 7 would fall apart because they couldn't work together.
The pinkette was starting to wonder if Kakashi examined every possible D-rank mission the Hokage had to offer in hopes of finding the most inane and boring ones he could to annoy his team with as she returned scrolls to their correct shelves.
Team 7 was currently in the library. Their mission was to work as the librarian's assistants. Sakura's task was to return checked-in books and scrolls to the right place according to some crazy and confusing filing system, dusting the shelves as she went. Naruto was working behind the desk, it being the place where he could cause the least amount of damage or trouble. Sasuke sat behind the help desk. He was supposed to be helping with questions asked or directing a visitor in the direction of what he was looking for, but instead he was glowering at any that dared to approach him and ask for assistance.
She didn't know who was happier when Kakashi-sensei said they could go, but she prayed that he didn't find a job duller than that one. Sakura would be required to kill him if he did. She didn't think she could take another mission of being a mediator between the two boys on her team.
Sakura knocked on the door of the apartment address she was given by Iruka-sensei, hoping that Kurenai Yuuhi had finished with her gennin team for the day. Kurenai Yuuhi fought primarily with genjutsu; she was so good at illusions that she could trick Uchihas and their Sharigans sometimes.
A tall woman with slightly wavy haired that curled at the ends answered the door. Sakura hoped, upon noticing the woman's eyes were red, that red irises weren't an indication of genjutsu ability, otherwise her genjutsu training was over before it could even begin.
The coral haired preteen was brought out of her musings by the older woman's question. "Can I help you?"
"I hope so," Sakura replied. "Iruka-sensei said I have really good chakra control and that was good for genjutsu types. I was hoping you could teach me some genjutsu. You are Yuuhi-san, right?"
The black haired woman confirmed that she was indeed Kurenai Yuuhi ("You can call me Kurenai-sensei from now on.") and said if Sakura was serious about learning genjutsu they would start right now.
Sakura could admit it. She was beyond confused. Why on earth was Kurenai-sensei making her wear a blindfold? How could this possibly help her learn genjutsu? How could she tell if she was in an illusion if she could not see?
She felt a bolt of inspiration strike her, but was interrupted before she could ponder the idea.
"Alright, now. Before I teach you any genjutsu you need to learn how to recognize an illusion. And to do that you have to stop relying on sight and use your other senses as well, because most often ninja believe only what they are seeing." Kurenai-sensei explained.
"Not that your eyes can't spot something wrong with an illusion, I just don't want you to fall into the same trap as most shinobi. Remember, just because something looks to be normal doesn't mean it is," her third sensei advised.
Sakura knew training in genjutsu would be tough. Any jutsu that affected the mind had to be difficult to cast, notice, and break. She just didn't know how difficult. But training to realize the effects of a genjutsu was harder than she had imagined.
For the first two hours Kurenai-sensei put her through the paces, sharpening her all her senses. It was amazing how hard it was to train herself to notice a change in her surroundings with her senses other than her sight.
Sometimes the flaw in the illusion was so flagrantly obvious that she wonder if Kurenai-sensei wasn't taking pity on her because she had no skills and she didn't think Sakura was capable of noticing a simple genjutsu. How could she not notice the drastic change in weather or the moon replacing the sun in the sky?
Others, however, were so subtle that her sensei had to remove the genjutsu and point out the difference. These miniscule changes in the environment that went unnoticed never failed to make her feel embarrassed for being incapable at detecting genjutsu. A different scent of flowers not present in the clearing, a slight breeze that could have been real, she stumbled on the minor changes so many times that Sakura wonder if she really was supposed to have an affinity for genjutsu.
Kurenai-sensei let her go as the sun fell and their stomachs growled, reminding Sakura that her mom was making her favorite tonight, with the instructions to strengthen her senses with various exercises she recommended.
Sakura fell into bed that night mentally and physically exhausted. Even with her excellent memory, memorizing everything in a room and picturing in detail was hard. She was always forgetting a few things. But it was even harder to remember to add the scents and textures to the images.
Kami, genjutsu was just so complicated. At the rate she improved, she wouldn't be ready to actually use genjutsu on a mission,
'If that's the case,' Sakura thought determinedly, 'I'll just have to practice more.'
Sakura was glaring holes into the back of Naruto's thick head. If she could shoot lasers out of her eyes, the blonde ramen loving idiot would be dead. It was his entire fault that they were in this situation.
Team 7 was currently in the Torture and Interrogation Headquarters. Their mission was to repaint the interior of the building.
The three gennin were huddled in the middle of the hallway waiting for the paint to dry so they could apply a second coat. If it wasn't bad enough that they were essentially sitting around waiting for paint to dry, they were doing so under the watchful eye of Ibiki Morino.
The guy gave Sakura the creeps. He towered over them at six foot three, dressed entirely in black, covered his head with a bandana, had two scars across his face, and fairly radiated creepy and scary and intimidating. She thought even Sasuke felt slightly uncomfortable in his presence.
Naruto, on the other hand, was just as happy and bubbly as ever, and Sakura seriously wondered if the blonde had any survival instincts.
Her immediate thought was no, because it was his lack of them that got them assigned this torture in the first place. God knows how he did it, but Naruto had somehow managed to spill his ramen all over their sensei's precious Icha Icha book. She had witnessed it herself and still didn't believe it.
But it had. And so here they were, twitching in the presence of a master interrogator waiting for paint to dry so they could finish and get the hell out of there.
"So," he said, and all the members of Kakashi's team nearly jumped out of their skin. His voice was smooth, yet gravelly, and exuded waves of sinister desire. No wonder the guy was head of the unit.
The strawberry haired preteen was nervous. What could a guy like him possibly want to ask them? What possible knowledge did they have that they could want?
"How did a team of misfits pass Hatake's test?"
'Misfits?' Sakura rankled. They were misfits.
She wasn't the only one to take offense. To her left, Sasuke had bristled and straightened his posture. To her right, Naruto had leapt to his feet, pointing an accusing finger in Morino's face, screaming about how they weren't misfits and how he was one to talk, before launching into the explanation of their gennin test.
Of course, Naruto was prone to dramatic exaggeration, which she and Sasuke corrected each time, and when Naruto had stated he had almost had a bell, Sasuke had called him a loser "You were nowhere near that bell, dobe," and Naruto responded in kind, resulting in flying fists in the halls of Torture and Interrogation right under the eyes of its commander.
It was then the two of them knocked over the cans of paint.
Sakura could only watch in horror as the cans hit the ground and exploded, splashing dark blue paint everywhere.
Naruto and Sasuke had stopped moving the second they had hit the tower of paint cans. The two of them were drenched in paint, and quite a bit splattered on her as well.
She groaned at the thought of more work. Now they would be stuck in this god awful tower all day.
Sakura glanced at Ibiki Morino, taking note of the lack of dark blue paint on his person, and noticed the small sadistic smile he was wearing. The look in his eyes told her everything.
The man had already known exactly what happened during their bell test and had asked the question to deliberately provoke the hot headed blonde, because he knew how each of them would react and found it amusing.
Sakura thought, as she furiously scrubbed at the paint on the floor, she hoped to never see this man again, because his definition of fun terrified her.
"What happened to you?"
The question came surprisingly, not from Gai-sensei or Lee, but from Neji Hyuuga, who had never spoken to her during her previous training sessions with his team.
Sakura grumbled incoherently under her breath about idiots, paints, Kakashi, books, and ramen.
The Hyuuga just gave her a look that said to elucidate.
"Naruto spilled ramen on Kakashi-sensei's book, so he got revenge by giving us a mission to repaint the Torture and Interrogation tower. And then Morino-san provoked Naruto and Sasuke into a fight and they hit the paint cans and the stupid mission took even longer."
Neji, Gai, Lee, and Tenten, who had joined just as she was explaining, blinked at her.
"Hn." The Hyuuga grunted.
Lee and Gai started yelling about how unyouthful Kakashi was for assigning that mission and her teammates for not behaving as expected and causing unnecessary trouble for their beautiful blossom.
Sakura was starting to think she should have skipped her afternoon training and gone home to take shower. And since when was she their blossom?
"Yosh. Let's start, young blossom. Today we are going to test your reflexes."
On a normal day and if any other person had said it, Sakura would not have thought anything was out of the ordinary. But, as it was such a terrible day and it was Gai-sensei who said it, Sakura felt a chill go down her back. Gai-sensei's ideas were never normal.
"And to do this you are going to be blindfolded while my team attacks you!"
Sakura felt her jaw drop. He wanted her to defend herself blindfolded against the rookie team of the year from last year's graduates.
Lee was jumping around screaming how it was such a cool idea, and surely Gai-sensei's training would help Sakura-chan's ability to dodge improve. Tenten looked anxious. How would the pink haired girl dodge weapons she couldn't see? Sure, there were jounins capable of such a feat, but Sakura was a recently graduated gennin, and not a very skilled one at that. Neji finally looked something other than bored or annoyed. He actually seemed like he was interested in such an activity.
That hardened Sakura's resolve. She would show that smug asshole that she was a kunoichi and could defend herself.
Sakura lay on the ground gasping for breath. Her only consolation was that Team Gai, aside from the sensei, was in the same condition as her.
Her first few tries were, admittedly, pathetic and totally deserved the scoffs the Hyuuga gave her.
However, in the past three weeks of working with their team, the rosette had grown use to their fighting styles and could predict their attacks to a certain extent. Her additional training in awareness of her surroundings with Kurenai had also helped.
The best thing, Sakura thought, besides completely shattering the Hyuuga's illusions of her being pathetic, incapable and weak, was the fact that she could both feel and see the improvement in herself as the result of three weeks of serious training.
While still nowhere near Lee's level, her stamina, speed and strength had improved to the point she could dodge most attacks directed her way and block the others.
She wondered if she could convince Kakashi-sensei to have a training session like this. It would be great for laughs and her ego. Her teammates were strong ninja, but she had a feeling they would fail miserably at this.
Gai watched with a proud look in his eye at the four gennin sprawled undignified, or as undignified as Neji could be, on the ground. Sakura had held up much better than he had anticipated at this point in her training.
Being naturally on the small side, she was quite hard to hit. It hadn't helped his team that she was very flexible either. The pink haired girl had seemed to see a pattern in his team's attacks and had used that to her advantage. She ducked, dodged, whirled, and weaved around and between them.
He was unbelievably proud of how far she had come in such a short amount of time. The Will of Fire burned brightly, ever present in the shine of her green eyes. He was glad he had taken the time to train her, because one day, the young blossom in front of him would bloom into a wonderful flower that would go on to do great and amazing things, and he had a hand in shaping her.
Gai only hoped that his rival would wake up and see the potential the Sakura had.
Sakura didn't know about the other two, but she was getting sick of D-rank missions. She was positive Kakashi chose them specifically to torture them.
And she knew that was true when he revealed the details of the mission.
Catch Tora the cat and return her to her owner. The cat ran away so many times that doing this mission was a rite of inheritance. You couldn't call yourself a gennin until you officially caught the cat. It was also a challenge to see who could get the fastest mission complete record. The fastest current time was five hours and thirty-six minutes.
All three of them complained about having to do this mission again. This was the fourth time Kakashi had signed them up for the Tora mission as it was dubbed by all gennin and their senseis.
"Tell you what, if you finish this mission up in less than five hours, I'll show you something new," their sensei grinned.
Sakura looked at him dubiously.
"Do you promise, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto asked unbelieving.
The silver haired jounin held up a hand. "Promise."
Sakura relaxed at that. Lazy bastard her sensei may be, but the man had always kept any promise he made to his team.
She got to her feet, clenching her fist. She was determined to finish this mission as quickly as possible. From the other two's stances, she knew they felt the same way.
Team Kakashi would knock this mission out of the park and learn whatever new thing their sensei had planned for them.
Their plan was simple. Sakura, with the best chakra control, would send out her chakra to probe for the cat. Naruto would create two or three dozen clones to surround the cat and Sasuke, being the fastest member of their team, would dash in and snatch up the feline.
However, catching the cat was not that simple. The damned beast was fast and elusive, and despite being fatter than most cats could still slip through small spaces that they couldn't.
All three of them were getting annoyed. They had no idea how much time had passed and they were being bested by a cat.
Surprisingly, Naruto came up with the idea to bait the cat with food. He had actually being thinking about ramen at the time, but Sakura had given him a slap to the back of the head and went off to procure a fish.
The blonde's revised plan worked beautifully. Sakura had found the cat, and using the fish, had lured it into a dead end. Naruto clones that were waiting on the rooftops jumped down, blocking the cat's escape. Sasuke leapt over rows of orange to snatch up the cornered cat.
The three exchanged proud and smug smiles as they stood in the Hokage's office, Tora now safely, if you ignored the fact that he was being strangled, ensconced in his owner's arms.
Kakashi stood behind them, smile hidden under his mask.
"Well, I guess I have to show you something new. Meet me at the bridge." Then he disappeared in a poof of smoke.
He did promise after all. And they had shattered the record by catching Tora in two hours and seventeen minutes.
"You said you were going to show us something new Kakashi-sensei," Naruto complained. "What are we supposed to do with these pieces of paper?"
"This is special chakra paper. Insert a bit of chakra and it will tell you your chakra nature. If it burns it's fire, becomes damp it's water, splits it's wind, crumbles it's earth, and crinkles it's lightning." He explained.
"So cool!" Naruto rushed to add chakra to his piece of paper. It split cleanly in two.
"You have wind nature chakra, Naruto. That's good. There's not many futon users in Konoha, so any enemy you face will not be expecting you to use wind jutsu."
He turned to Sasuke whose paper had lit on fire and crinkled. "Well, the fire's not surprising. Most of the Uchiha clan jutsu are based on fire. I wouldn't have expected you to have a second one. There's even fewer lightning users, but I can teach you some jutsu."
Kakashi was visibly surprised by Sakura's results. He had expected her to be one of those people who didn't have a nature chakra nature given her ability for genjutsu. Most genjutsu users, aside from the Uchiha clan, could only perform genjutsu because they had trouble with elemental jutsu. He was going to focus on her genjutsu skills, maybe find some jutsu that weren't elemental based to teach her.
But he hadn't expected for her chakra paper to become wet and crumble.
Sakura was pleased with her results. She had two natures, which, combined with her genjutsu, would give her a wide range of jutsu. She was especially pleased with the earth ability, because doton jutsus could be used both offensively and defensively.
She would have to go to the library that afternoon to look for some scrolls on doton and suiton jutsus. She absentmindedly noted that between the three of them, the team was well rounded, having each of the chakra natures present.
Kakashi dismissed his team, only vaguely hearing Naruto complain about being the only one to possess just one nature.
When he had first received his team he had doubts as to whether or not they could pass his bell test. It was a difficult test that not even he had passed as a gennin, although Minato-sensei had made them gennin for the small attempt to work together and the skills shown.
He had been wary of the Uchiha. He had heard from Iruka how sullen and superior the boy was, and he knew that he had been obsessed with surpassing his brother. There was no way Sasuke would have, in the boy's opinion, lowered himself to work with the other two gennin that had been placed on his team.
Kakashi had nothing against Naruto. He was his sensei's son and he cared for the boy. But the blonde was loud, obnoxious, and dead last in the class. Despite the skills that Kakashi thought he should possess if he could prank the village and not get caught, he had failed the academy exam twice. He had been beyond shocked when the boy had produce shadow clones. It was not an easy technique to learn, and it was definitely not taught to gennin. Until he had talked to Iruka after the test, he had no clue that Naruto had managed to steal the forbidden scroll from the Hokage tower and learn the jutsu in two measly hours.
Sakura was the one he worried about the most. From the file he was given on her, she was a fangirl. A paper ninja. She knew the theory of being a ninja, but didn't have to skills to be a proper one. If she passed, the best she could hope for was a desk job or teaching the next generation. All her focus went into stalking her precious Sasuke-kun, which he noticed she had not called him since their first day as a team, and not to her training. Kakashi had been utterly disappointed in her during the bell test. He had expected her to realize she was in a genjutsu and escape it, but she had succumbed to it instead.
But now he had noticed a drastic improvement. And he couldn't help but wonder where it had come from. She had completely stopped squealing at Sasuke and trained without complaint, which not even the other two did. She was performing better in spars, keeping pace with the other two, dodging more often and effectively, even getting in hits of her own.
And now she had earth and water jutsu. Kakashi honestly thought Sakura's only skills would be in her unnatural intelligence, almost on par with a Nara, and her genjutsu.
But he was also glad that it was not true. With her current work ethic, intelligence, gen, suiton, and doton jutsu, she had the makings of a great kunoichi.
He watched Team 7 separate in the distance.
Perhaps, his team could become as great as the legendary sannin. The potential was certainly there, waiting to be nurtured. All Kakashi had to do was guide them and help them learn and grow.
The jounin could do that.
'The Hokage was right,' he wryly thought as he strolled through the village with his hands in his pockets. Taking on a team wasn't going to be a chore, and he was actually enjoying it.
Sakura had picked up few basic earth and water scrolls from the library on her way home. She knew element based jutsu were difficult to learn, and if she ever wanted to master her two natures, she would have to start practicing now.
Any spare moment she had between early morning training with Gai-sensei, then Kakashi-sensei, Gai again, Kurenai-sensei and missions would be spent study these scrolls and practicing new jutsus.
She knew from Naruto, the ability to make clones was a useful one. If she could make water, rock or mud clones they could be of great help to her. Having an affinity to an element meant she used less chakra when using suiton or doton jutsus, so if she could make water or mud clones, she would be able to fight better and conserve chakra.
She wondered if it was possible to build up her chakra stores like she did with her muscles and stamina. Compared to Naruto and Sasuke, she had very little chakra. The two of them were chakra powerhouses. She didn't feel much accomplishment in the fact that her control meant she wasted less chakra per jutsu than they did. They had so much chakra available to them that they didn't need to worry about having perfect or even great control over it.
Sakura brought herself out of her musings and focused on her scrolls. At the present, her time was stretched too thin, she couldn't afford to find jounin that could use water or earth style. Spreading herself out amongst five different teachers would only be detrimental to her health and her improvement as a kunoichi. It would do her no good to take on too much and land herself in the hospital from over exhaustion. She would have to learn what she could on her own.
"Doton: Shinjuu Zanshu," she read. The description sounded like what she had seen her sensei use on Sasuke. Maybe she would learn this one first and surprise her team by trapping Sasuke in the ground again.
Before Sakura knew it, days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. She had been a gennin for three months now and she was surprised at how much she had learned in that amount of time.
She had mastered the Headhunter jutsu that Kakashi-sensei had used on Sasuke, and had used it to great effect, Naruto's hysterics, Kakashi's surprise and Sasuke's annoyance during a spar a few weeks ago.
Sakura panted lightly, taking the opportunity to hide herself and catch her breath when Sasuke turned his attention to Naruto. In the eight weeks since she had graduate, she had improved in leaps and bounds, reaching the point where Sasuke had to keep an eye on her. It wasn't the kind of attention she was hoping to receive from him, but at least he was being forced to look at her, even if it was only to defend himself in a mock spar.
Eventually she would show him she was worthy of him and he would come to truly see her.
But Sasuke's attention to her wasn't the problem at the moment. Or at least not in that way. Unfortunately, his keeping a close eye on him was making it impossible to catch him off guard with the new jutsu she had learned from the earth scroll.
She had worked so hard on it. She desperately wanted to see her team's reactions to her getting one over on the rookie of the year by trapping him mostly underground.
But in order to do so she needed a good distraction. There was no way she could cast the jutsu if the Uchiha was watching her like a hawk. The minute he saw her weaving hand signs he would make her defend herself, forcing herself to use her hands so she couldn't make hand signs.
However, she couldn't use it while he was preoccupied with Naruto because there was a greater chance of Naruto, with his dozens of clones, getting caught in it instead. And if that happened, she would lose the element of surprise.
She wasn't skilled enough to beat Sasuke one on one. Sakura could only hope to catch him off guard.
She turned over multiple plans in her head. She figured her best chance was to aim for the ground behind him while appearing to be attacking him. Maybe she could attack him in a way so that he would throw her to the ground.
It was a risky plan. It depended on if she was lucky enough to be left to her own devices afterwards, which would only happen if she and Naruto attacked simultaneously.
But it was her best plan at the moment, so she would have to go with it and hope to high heaven that Naruto attacked him after she did.
Sakura made two mud clones, another jutsu she had learned out of the scroll, and charged out of the bushes.
Sasuke easily blocked the attacks from her clones and dispersed them. He caught her punch and returned one of his own that sent her flying a few feet.
Naruto engaged Sasuke in a flurry of hand to hand combat. Sakura took the chance to form her hand signs, and the moment the black haired boy had sent Naruto crashing to the ground with a kick she slammed her hands on the earth and yelled. "Doton: Shinjuu Zansh!"
The look on Sasuke's face was comical as he found himself trapped in the ground except for his head again.
Naruto completely forget they were fighting a free for all, every ninja for themselves battle and promptly crushed her in a hug. He was yelling about how she had totally showed that teme and how did it feel to lose to a girl. The girl comment hurt her, but she didn't let it show. She hoped he meant by her because she was the weakest on the team and not the female gender in general.
Sasuke was quite angry with her, if the glare he sported was anything to go by. Only, Sakura didn't know if it was because he had lost to her, or because he had lost to her because she had used that jutsu, or because he was trapped in that jutsu for a second time.
The best part was when Kakashi-sensei congratulated her and ruffled her hair. It was something she hated her mother doing, but it felt right when her sensei did it. He had said he was proud of her. Proud of how she had grown as a kunoichi.
She was quite glad when Naruto finally caved and demanded the Hokage give them a mission that wasn't D-rank. Kakashi-sensei had stayed true to picking the most mundane and torturous jobs he could find. She felt they were ready for something a little more difficult.
Sakura listened with one ear as Iruka-sensei reprimanded the blonde asking for missions he wasn't ready for and explained how the missions were classified and assigned. She focused again when the Hokage agreed to assign Team 7 to a C-rank mission.
This was just what she needed. A mission out of the village where she would have the chance to truly show off everything she had learned in the last three months.
She wished she was as pleased with the client as she was with the mission. When Kakashi-sensei had told them it was an escort mission, Sakura had gotten excited. A C-rank escort mission meant some trouble along the road, mostly likely bandits and thieves.
None of Team 7 had expected to be protecting a bridge builder. A drunk one at that who insulted them and didn't believe them capable of performing their duty and protecting him.
Tazuna, the master bridge builder from the Land of Waves, was a drunk, slightly miserly, grouchy old man that disliked everyone but Kakashi and kept insulting ninjas.
Sakura had to repress the urge to strangle him every time he said something along the lines of a girl being a shinobi and how she should just quit and find a man to settle down with. Just because she was female didn't mean she wasn't or couldn't be a ninja.
She wasn't the only one. The old man easily got under Naruto's skin, and Kakashi had to remind him multiple times that one did not attack the client they were hired to protect. She could even see Sasuke bristle sometimes.
Sakura glanced down at the puddle she had just walked in. It hadn't rained in Konoha for days. When she removed her foot it came away dry, and the surface of the water didn't ripple. So it was a genjutsu, and a poorly cast one at that.
She looked behind her at Kakashi-sensei, but he just shook his head slightly, a signal to stay quiet and let him handle it.
Two ninja with a scratch through their headbands rose from the water behind the jounin. Before anyone could react, Kakashi had been wrapped in chains. The two ninja pulled tightly and Kakashi-sensei was torn to pieces.
Sakura watched horrified as the two ninja advanced towards Tazuna. She pulled out a kunai from the weapons pouch on her hip, unsure if she could defend herself and the bridge builder from the men who had killed her sensei. That was when she noticed the pieces of log on the ground.
Inwardly, she let out a sigh of relief. Kakashi-sensei wasn't dead, and he would never let any of them get hurt if he could prevent it.
She slipped into a more balanced defensive stance and watched as the two ninja approached. Then her view was obscured by the Uchiha clan symbol proudly presented on the back of the shirt Sasuke wore.
Sakura could only watch angry as her teammates took care of the two enemy ninja. Why had Sasuke felt the need to protect her? Had she not shown during practice that she could take care of herself? That she didn't need their help. They were acting like she was some damsel in distress or the client, not able to protect herself. And it wasn't true.
She didn't get the chance to say anything because Kakashi-sensei had literally popped out of the woodwork, apologizing for not acting sooner and saying he needed to know who they were targeting.
Then he gave them the option of continuing the mission or returning to the village to find one appropriate for their skill level.
Sakura took the time to think it over as Naruto immediately yelled that they had to continue with the mission ("We can't give up now! I never give up! That's my nindo, my ninja way!"), and Sasuke nodded in agreement. With the identities of their charge's attackers being the Demon Brothers of the Mist; that meant this mission was really B-rank. Having to fend off high level chuunin wasn't something gennin were supposed to be capable of, but they had managed, or Naruto and Sasuke had anyway.
In the end, Sakura agreed with her teammates and Team Kakashi kept going. The old man had lied about the mission rank because his country was poor, and he needed protection to get back to his village so he could finish the bridge that would improve Wave's economy, which was terrible under Gatou's control. Plus, they had already proven that they could take care of any enemy this Gatou person sent their way.
The next attack hadn't come for a couple hours. They had the split second warning from their sensei to duck, in which all three gennin dove for the ground, Sakura taking Tazuna with her, positive he couldn't react as fast as they could, before a giant sword flew over the place where their necks would have been and slammed into tree.
Another rogue ninja appeared, standing on the sword, critiquing the group of ninja on the ground in front of him. The lower half of his face was covered like Kakashi-sensei's and he wore camouflage armbands, stripped pants, and no shirt. The strappings of his sword's sheath formed an 'X' on his chest.
"Zabuza Momochi's a master of the silent kill. He is a missing-nin from the Village Hidden in the Mist. Often called the Demon of the Hidden Mist. This guy's on a whole other level. You three stay back and protect Tazuna. I'll handle him."
"I'm not interested in three gennin. Especially when the Copy Ninja is in front of me. And once your dead I can deal with those three brats and kill the old man." The demon said sadistically.
Zabuza moved first, landed on top of the water. If Sakura wasn't afraid for her life, she would have been thinking it would be really cool to be able to stand on water.
Whatever jutsu their opponent had just used caused the already rising fog to thicken until she couldn't she her own hand inches in front of her face. The pinkette was practically shaking as she stood before Tazuna. She was unable to see anything, even her teammates. She could only hear the clang as metal clashed as her sensei fought the demon.
'What? Eight choices for what?' Sakura was worried, the killing intent this guy was releasing was crippling. The hand gripping her kunai was trembling.
"Liver, lungs, spine, clavicle vein, neck vein, brain, kidneys, heart. Which one should I go after?"
Before they even realized Zabuza had moved, he was behind them, sword ready to tear through them.
Sakura had broken out into a sweat. In close proximity his aura was crushing her. She wouldn't have time to move before he swung his huge sword. She was going to die and fail her first mission.
Then he swung the huge blade. She could only watch as it bore down upon her.
Then Kakashi-sensei appeared between his team and Zabuza. In the same movement he halted Zabuza's blade and pushed her and her teammates away. Then he looked at them sideways.
"Don't worry. I'll protect you guys even if it kills me. I don't let my comrades die."
The Zabuza standing behind him with a kunai in the gut turned to water and splashed to the ground.
'That was a water clone. I couldn't tell it apart from the original. I can't wait to learn that jutsu,' Sakura thought.
Then she screamed, because Zabuza had appeared out of the mist and ran his sword through her sensei, cutting him in half.
She breathed as her sensei turned into water as well. Sakura marveled at his ability. He had made a water clone without anyone noticing. It was amazing what a jounin was capable of. She couldn't wait for the day when she reached this level of fighting.
Kakashi-sensei was now behind the demon, a kunai pressed against his throat.
Sakura felt the adrenaline in her system start to leave. Her body felt like it would become limp any second now. This fight was over.
"I'm not that easy."
The rosette watched on horrified as another Zabuza appeared behind Kakashi-sensei. The jounin drove his kunai through the Zabuza in front of him, which dissolved into water. The one behind him pulled his sword back and then swiped at Kakashi's head.
Or where his head was previously because he had ducked.
The demon of the mist spun with the momentum of his swinging blade and delivered a kick to the silver haired man's chest, throwing him into the water.
Zabuza was behind him as soon as Kakashi surfaced. "Water prison no Jutsu."
If Sakura wasn't so busy freaking out about how her sensei was trapped in a orb of water which would/ eventually drown him, and if there wasn't yet another Zabuza water clone forming in front of them, she would have been mentally gushing about how cool that jutsu was and wondering how long it would take her to learn it.
"You guys! Take Tazuna-san and run away! You have no chance of beating him! As long as he's keeping me trapped in this prison, he can't move. The water clone cannot go very far from his real body. Just run away now!" Kakashi yelled.
What could Naruto, Sasuke, and she do now that he had trapped their sensei? This guy was way too strong for them if he had taken out their sensei so easily. Even Sasuke, child prodigy that he was, couldn't face this guy on his own.
"Now way, Kakashi-sensei! Those who break the rules are scum, but those who abandon their comrades are worse than scum. That's what you told us when we passed your test. There's no way we're leaving you behind! Believe it!" Naruto yelled.
On his own. 'That's it!'
If they worked as a team, utilizing all their strengths, maybe they would be able to free their sensei. Sakura decided to use a genjutsu Kurenai had taught her a few days ago. She hadn't perfected it yet, but with the cover the mist provided, it would give her a chance to talk to her teammates without Zabuza noticing.
"Magen: Kokoni Arazu no Jutsu." Her Demonic Illusion: False Surroundings Technique would hopefully make it seem like Team 7 was foolishly fighting Zabuza in hopes of getting him away from their sensei.
She only prayed he didn't recognize the genjutsu immediately and dispel it.
"Sasuke, Naruto," she hissed. Both males stopped bickering to look at her. "We have to work as a team if we're going to save Kakashi-sensei."
Her teammates focused their attention on her as she explained her plan.
Kakashi watched horrified as his students charged at the water clone. Naruto created dozens of his own which dog piled the Zabuza clone. Sakura, Sasuke, and the real Naruto ran around the wiggling mass of orange and shot towards the real Zabuza holding him captive.
He had told them to run away! They were no match for a rogue ninja like Zabuza. If they tried to fight him they would die. Kakashi didn't want to watch any more of his comrades die. Especially not the team he was supposed to be teaching to become great ninja.
Naruto had made more clones to act as a line of defense as the three gennin bore down on Zabuza. Sasuke threw a handful of poorly aimed shuriken as Zabuza, who easily evaded them all by tilting his head to one side.
'Wait a minute. Poorly aimed. Sasuke never misses his mark.' Kakashi would have sighed in relief if he could without alerting Zabuza that something was wrong. Sakura had clearly cast a genjutsu to keep the demon occupied while they retreated. He wondered where she had learned this one though, because he hadn't taught her any.
The silver haired jounin blinked as the illusion of Naruto that was about to punch Zabuza disappeared. Had he been wrong? Was there no genjutsu at all? Had Sasuke missed on purpose and the Naruto charging at Zabuza was actually a clone?
Kakashi blinked again as the mist lifted to reveal his three students and no water clone. What were they still doing here? And how had they dispatched the clone? Why had Sakura ended the genjutsu? It would have been better to leave him under if they were going to attempt a rescue.
"Hey you eyebrowless freak. Put this in your handbook. The man who will one day become Hokage. Naruto Uzumaki."
Kakashi blinked once more at his blonde student's declaration. Why on earth had he said that?
Zabuza scoffed. His dark eyes were riveted on Naruto. So much so that he missed fact that Sasuke had taken a demon shuriken out of his pack and Sakura had moved backwards. Kakashi wondered when Naruto had given Sasuke the demon shuriken.
Zabuza used one hand to create another water clone, which wasted no time and ran towards Naruto and Sasuke, removing his sword from its sheathe and preparing to swing.
Kakashi was totally caught off guard when his female student used the Moving Earth Core technique. And he was even more so when it worked. The Zabuza clone plummeted as the ground beneath him vanished. Naruto and Sasuke, clearly anticipating Sakura using that jutsu, simply split up, running around opposite sides of the fairly large hole in the ground with ease, and continued rocketing towards Zabuza in mirrored unison.
He was going to have to sit down with Sakura and have a serious talk with her about where she was learning these C-rank jutsus.
Naruto attacked first. Zabuza easily caught his fist and threw him away. The boy created a clone mid-air to use as a spring board and launched himself back at Zabuza, kunai in hand.
He was caught by a hand around his throat. Sasuke then threw his demon shuriken.
The rogue ninja dropped Naruto in order to catch the large shuriken. He was surprised by the second one hidden in the shadow of the first.
"A shuriken is no use against me," he said as he jumped and let it fly under him.
Kakashi watched as the shuriken vanished in a poof of smoke to reveal Naruto with another kunai in hand.
'So Naruto transformed himself into a demon windmill shuriken and used his clones to distract Zabuza. With one hand keeping me trapped and the other blocked with the real shuriken,' Kakashi thought as Naruto aimed the kunai at Zabuza's face, 'Zabuza is going to be forced to release me in order to escape.'
Zabuza wrenched his hand out of the water prison but still received a slice across his cheek from Naruto's kunai.
Kakashi felt pride for his students flood his body. He couldn't believe they had designed and successfully executed a plan to free him from Zabuza's water prison jutsu. He never would have thought three gennin could have stood up to the Demon of the Hidden Mist. He was certain this would give him bragging rights against Gai. His team had been gennin for a year and had never pulled off a feat like this. It would probably win him bonus points in their rivalry competition too.
Zabuza spun around enraged; those damn brats had gotten in his way. He should have killed them first. He had no idea three little kids could cause him so much trouble.
The demon shuriken Zabuza had been about to throw at a defenseless Naruto was blocked by the metal on Kakashi's fingerless gloves. He glared at Zabuza as watered streamed off him and blood dripped from his fingers. Naruto landed with a splash behind him.
Sakura watched amazed as Kakashi-sensei's and Zabuza's hands blurred, racing through hand signs. Two enormous water dragons formed, crashed into each, and returned to the water.
Zabuza tried to attack Kakashi while the water poured down around them.
Kakashi-sensei blocked the attempt and the two men stared the other down for a few seconds before springing apart.
"You can't beat me you monkey bastard! All you're doing is copying me!"
They both raced through identical hand signs. Sakura watched fascinated as Zabuza froze and Kakashi-sensei performed the Suiton: Daibakufu no Jutsu. A great spiraling vortex of water slammed into Zabuza. The force of the water sent him crashing into a tree.
Kakashi-sensei had been about to kill him when two senbon sprouted from Zabuza's neck.
The hunter nin that had been tracking Zabuza thanked Kakashi for his assistance and disappeared with the body.
Kakashi-sensei replaced his headband over his sharingan eye. "Now we have to get Tazuna-san back to his home. Let's go." He took one step and collapsed.
Sakura sighed as Naruto and Sasuke fought over who would carry their sensei. She smiled fondly. Only Kakashi-sensei would let them do most of the work, save the day in the end, and then collapse and leave them to deal with everything else.
However, Sakura thought, as they continued on having finally decided to have Naruto's clones haul Kakashi-sensei's dead weight, she couldn't help but feel this niggling in the back of her mind that she was forgetting something.
They reached Tazuna's house with no other problems. Team 7 settled their sensei in the room they were given and trooped out to let him rest and recover in peace.
All three of them were quiet, unsure of when their sensei would awaken. Not one of them believed themselves capable of protecting the bridge builder if he was attacked while Kakashi-sensei was unconscious. They may have defeated Zabuza, the Demon Hidden in the Mist, but that was due more to luck and his own arrogance than any real skill on their part.
Dinner, provided by Tazuna's daughter, was silent on Team 7's part. All three of them were worried about their sensei. Once the meal was over they excused themselves. Naruto and Sakura returned to the room they would be occupying during their stay, and Sasuke headed for the roof to keep watch. They weren't really expecting anything to happen, but wanted to set up watches just in case.
Naruto went straight to his bed. He would have the second watch so he needed to sleep now. Sakura should have gone to sleep too, but she sat on the floor beside Kakashi-sensei instead. She wished there was something she could do for him as she scanned his peacefully sleeping face.
She eventually drifted off keeping vigil at her sensei's side. A hand on her shoulder gently shook her out of her slumber during the early hours of the morning while it was still dark out.
"It's your turn, Sakura-chan." Sakura nodded at Naruto, stretching and groaning as her back cracked. She made her way outside, careful to wake none of the family, and scaled the building. She settled herself in, sore from sleeping in sitting position, and spread out her chakra senses. They weren't really good. She could only sense ten meters max, but it was enough to warn her teammates if something did happen.
But nothing did. The night passed peacefully, and Sakura watched as the sun rose, painting the sky shades or orange, red, yellow, and pink.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?"
Sakura startled so badly that she nearly tumbled off the roof, and she would have if not for her sensei grabbing her by the back of her shirt. When on earth had he woken up? And how come he had been able to sneak up on her? She should have been able to sense him. And where did he get the crutches?
"You're awake, Kakashi-sensei!" she exclaimed. "How are you feeling?"
Her sensei chuckled and ruffled her hair, which she scowled at. "I'm fine, Sakura-chan. A little sore, and I'll need the aid of the crutch to move, but I'm okay."
Sakura was relieved. They sat in companionable silence just watching the sunrise.
"I wanted to ask you Sakura, where did you learn that genjutsu and earth release jutsu. They are both C-rank jutsu. Not something most gennins are capable of. I haven't taught you any C-rank jutsu yet."
Sakura rubbed the back of her head sheepishly. "Well, the day you had us do the chakra paper test I went to the library to find some scrolls on earth and water jutsus. I've been practicing on my own."
Kakashi had noticed she had not answered where she had learned the genjutsu but decided not to press the girl for answers. He had already guessed that she most likely had sought out another teacher. He supposed he only had himself to blame for his student leaving him for another teacher. For the three months he had been their sensei, he had focused more on promoting teamwork and completing D-rank missions than actually teaching them anything. Perhaps he could do something about that while they were here.
"Well then, why don't we head back inside and wake the other two. We're going to need to start training if you want to beat Zabuza."
Kakashi smiled behind his mask as his pink haired student pestered him with questions of "Didn't we already beat him?" and "Do you mean he's still alive?"
Kakashi-sensei had explained that he believed Zabuza was still alive; the hunter ninja that had supposedly killed him was actually his accomplice. Then he brought them all outside saying they were going to need to train harder if they wanted a rematch with the rogue ninja.
"All right. I want you to climb these trees."
"Climb trees? How is climbing trees going to help us beat Zabuza, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto yelled, confused. But he wasn't the only one. Both Sakura and Sasuke were staring at the jounin like he had hit his head too hard when he collapsed.
"Yes. You're going to climb trees. But you're not going to use your hands."
"But that's impossible!"
"No it's not. Just focus your chakra to the bottom of your feet and . . ." Kakashi-sensei stopped talking and started walking forward.
All three of his students gaped as he walked straight up the tree.
"That's so cool, Kakashi-sensei!" Naruto charged at the closest tree, and landed hard on the ground as he failed to make it even one step up the tree.
"It's not as easy as it looks." He threw three kunai, one landed at each of his students' feet. "Use these kunai to make a slash in the bark to mark your progress."
His students stared at him. "Well, what are you waiting for? Get at it." Kakashi-sensei ordered.
Sasuke and Naruto immediately grabbed their kunai and raced for a tree. Sasuke made it six steps up before the bark exploded under his foot and he was pushed away from the tree. Naruto made it four before he lost his grip and fell.
Sakura took a couple seconds to clear her mind and focus her chakra. Once satisfied, she ran at her tree. She made it quickly up ten steps, twenty steps, thirty, forty. Soon she found herself out of tree trunk. She stood on the highest branch, marveling at the fact that she had got it on her first try when her teammates were still struggling with making it up a foot.
She figured she must have been over fifty meters up, because Kakashi-sensei was only a dot of silver. Naruto and Sasuke were easier to spot due to their orange and black clothes respectively. Sakura sat down on the branch, enjoying the slight breeze that blew across the treetops making her pink locks dance, and wondered how long it would take the rest of her team to notice that she had never stopped moving up the tree.
The pinkette observed her teammates, critiquing their improvement. Each successive try got them a little further up the tree, but they were still a far cry away from reaching the first branch. From what she could tell, Sasuke was putting too much chakra into his feet and the pressure was breaking the bark and launching him from the tree. Naruto, on the other, tend to not focus enough chakra, or couldn't maintain the flow, and he lost his grip and fell.
Naruto had slipped off the tree for the umpteenth time. "Hey, Kakashi-sensei," he called out, looking around the clearing they were practicing in, "where is Sakura-chan?"
His question had shocked Sasuke, who hadn't noticed his female teammate's disappearance, and frightened Kakashi because he did not know what had happened to his third student. How could he have lost her?
"I'm up here guys." Sakura's voice came from above.
All three males of Team 7 looked up to see their pink haired teammate standing on the highest branch of her tree. She grinned broadly and waved at them. Not that they could tell from that distance.
"That's unbelievable, Sakura-chan! I can't believe you got to the top of the tree so quickly."
"Well, it looks like Sakura is the best at controlling chakra on this team. Why don't you hurry on down and we'll move on to the next step while these two keep working."
"Next step? There's another part to this training. Can we just skip this part and go onto the next with Sakura-chan?" Naruto whined. Kakashi-sensei shut him up with a quick hit to the head and told him to get back to training.
Sakura decided to do something different on her way down, instead of running down. She bounced from branch to branch until she was back on the forest floor. Kakashi looked visibly surprised that she could control her chakra to that extent already.
'Walking on water will probably be easy for her as well.' He thought.
Naruto started ranting and raving about how cool she was. Sakura had to hide her hurt when Sasuke scoffed at her and then ignored her. She had hoped he would acknowledge her.
She would just have to train more and get even stronger, she thought as she trailed after Kakashi-sensei. She would do whatever it took to prove to Sasuke that she could help him achieve his dream.
Sakura was suitably impressed when Kakashi-sensei walked on water as easily as if he was walking on solid ground. It was amazing what the ability to manipulate chakra could let one do.
"All right, Sakura. This is the same concept as the tree climbing exercise, but more complicated and more advanced. Give it a try." Kakashi-sensei said from his place on the water's surface.
She focused her chakra to her feet once more and tentatively placed one foot on the water. It sunk up to her ankle before steadying. She frowned and pulled her foot back out and tried again. This time the water came up to her mid-calf. Walking on water was much harder than she had thought it would be after the success she had with climbing the tree.
Kakashi chuckled at the frown on her face. "This is harder than the tree climbing exercise because you need to adjust the level of chakra in your feet to adapt to the constant movement of the water. Before, the tree was stationary, so you needed a consistent flow of chakra. However, the water's surface is always moving, so you have to change the amount of chakra in your feet to combat the water's movement and keep your balance."
Sakura listened as her sensei explained this new exercise. It made sense. Now that she had a better idea of what she was supposed to be doing, she placed another foot on the water. This time it stayed on the water's surface. She let a grin form on her face as she put her second foot next to the first. She wanted to make sure she could stand on the water before she attempted to walk out to where her sensei was standing.
She stood steady on top of the water. 'All right,' she thought, 'I can do this.' She took a few slow, cautious steps across the water towards her sensei who was watching her silently. Did he think she would be able to master this technique so quickly, or was her expecting her to only manage a few steps before she fell into the water? Sakura decided it didn't matter. If she fell she would only stand up and try again, and keep trying until she exhausted her chakra reserves.
When she didn't lose her grip on the water's surface after a few baby steps, Sakura started walking normally. She grinned when she realized how easy it was now that she knew the trick to it. Then she started running, losing herself in the exhilaration she felt as she ran on top of the water.
Kakashi's lone eye widened in shock as Sakura switched from hesitant steps to running in a matter of seconds. He hadn't expected her to pick it up this quickly. Walking on water was much harder to learn than climbing trees. But there she was, dashing towards him as if running on water was as natural as breathing to her.
Wait a minute. Was she skating? Kakashi watched her feet closely. She was. Sakura was skating across the water. She wasn't taking her feet away from its surface. Kakashi nearly lost his control on his own chakra. He had never heard of anyone who could skate on water.
Sakura clearly had an amazing gift for chakra control, and unprecedented one if she could adjust a jutsu that had been around for decades with no effort. Maybe he should see to finding someone to teach her some medical ninjutsu. She had the chakra control to excel in that field, and it would benefit the team if one of its members could perform medical jutsu.
Sakura was undeniably pleased as Kakashi-sensei congratulated her and stated how proud of her he was. She was even happier when he told her she could do as she saw fit for the rest of the afternoon while he went back to supervise Naruto and Sasuke .
She watched him vanish into the trees before she broke out into a completely embarrassing happy dance that she was glad none of her teammates had seen or would ever see. Now she would have a chance to practice on the water jutsus she had been studying.
Now that she had the chakra control, she could start on the Mizu Hari jutsu which would form senbons out of water that she could throw.
Sakura was exhausted when Kakashi-sensei came to fetch her to return to Tazuna's house. Even with her new mastery over her chakra, she hadn't gotten as far as she would have liked with her Water Needle jutsu.
Though, judging by the dirt, scrapes, and scowls the boys were sporting, neither Sasuke nor Naruto were happy with their progress today either. She basked in the accomplishment she felt because she had finished not only the tree climbing exercise before the boys, but the water walking one as well. It looked like chakra control was the one area she was better than both Naruto and Sasuke.
Dinner turned into an eating contest between Naruto and Sasuke, both of whom she berated for wasting food when they brought it back up. Despite Kakashi-sensei's assurances that he was fine and that Zabuza and whoever he was working with work take a couple days to regroup, the three of them set a watch schedule for the night. Tonight Sakura was first so that her teammates would have time to restore some of the chakra they had used during training while they slept.
It took Sakura three days to master the Mizu Hari jutsu. The two male gennin of Team 7 were still working on reaching the top of the tree. Kakashi-sensei had decided she should accompany Tazuna to the bridge to guard him. It had been four days since Zabuza's attack, and her sensei thought that was enough time for their enemy to ready themselves. He still thought it unlikely that they would attack yet, but he sent Sakura on protection duty as a precaution.
She still had the evening to practice her water jutsu. It was so much easier to do so in Wave, where there was a large abundance of water present every way she turned. Many water jutsus required a preexisting source of water, and a large one at that. The largest source of water in Konoha was property of the Uchiha clan, and Sakura wasn't comfortable enough or close enough to Sasuke to ask him if she could use his family's lake to practice water jutsu.
The next jutsu she planned on trying was Suiton: Teppōo. The Water Release: Archerfish jutsu would create a jet of controllable water that shot from her mouth. It was a short range jutsu but at point blank it would certainly be damaging, and Zabuza preferred close quarters fighting.
However, this technique was even harder to learn then Mizu Hari had been. Sakura was growing extremely frustrated with the pitiful stream of water that emerged every time she tried the jutsu. It wasn't anything like a stream, really. More like she had been choking on water and someone had slapped her on the back causing her to spit it out.
Sakura had gotten annoyed with her failures, so she decided to take a break. Ever since Kakashi-sensei had taught them chakra control she wondered if it would be possible to draw water from the air around her. She knew it was partially made of water vapor. If she could turn that vapor into water, Sakura would have a constant viable source of water wherever she went, even if it was to Suna's deserts.
But this was proving just as hard, if not more so, as the Water Release: Archerfish jutsu to perform. All things considered, it was probably more difficult because she was turning a gas into a liquid and there were no set seals for such and endeavor.
She wondered how she would go about this. Should she wait until they got back to Konoha so she could do some research on the topic, or keep trying to do it on her own? It was possible that nobody else had ever thought of it. Iruka-sensei had never mentioned it during his lesson on famous ninja in the Five Great Nations, and Sakura was sure if someone had managed to make water out of thin air he or she would be well known.
Maybe if she focused her chakra into her fingers she could extend it from her fingertips into the air and use it to mold the water.
Kakashi watched the girl that he called his favorite student, only to himself in any case. He decided to check in on her and see just what she had doing the fast five days he had given her free reign while he coached Naruto and Sasuke. He could sense the chakra building in her hands, but he had no clue what she was attempting to do. She wasn't weaving any hand signs, so it wasn't any jutsu, but he couldn't think of any reason for her to gather chakra in her hands if it wasn't for a jutsu.
Sure there were chakra control exercises that used such methods, like catching a leaf and floating it above one's palm, but that was a technique taught in the academy and she had already mastered the more advanced forms of chakra control.
The jounin blinked and furiously rubbed his eyes, sure he was seeing things. When he looked again it was still there. Sakura had somehow formed water in the palm of her hand. It wasn't much, just a couple drops, but the fact that she had done it was incredible. How had a green behind the ears gennin managed to create water?
Kakashi was going to end up in the hospital if the girl kept surprising him like this. He watched as the water in her hand expanded until she had to use two hands to hold it. He made up his mind to keep a close eye trained on her and to make more of an effort to actually teach her new jutsu. If she could learn this quickly and come up with amazing things without prompt she could certainly start learning C-rank jutsus.
For being the daughter of civilians and the first ninja in her family, Sakura was definitely a strong ninja, even at the age of twelve. The ball of water was growing in size and now floating above her outstretched hands. She was turning out to be a child prodigy like Itachi Uchiha, Sasuke and Neji Hyuuga.
At the rate his students were improving, maybe he should consider signing them up for this year's chunnin exams. It was unusual to nominate new gennin for the chuunin exams, but he felt reasonably well that they could pass.
'Maybe even with flying colors,' he thought.
Team 7 had been in the Land of Waves for a week before Zabuza came after them. Just the night before Naruto and Sasuke had finally managed to master the tree climbing exercise. Sasuke had joined her and Kakashi-sensei on the bridge for babysitting duty as she had dubbed it. Naruto was back at Tazuna's house recovering from exhaustion, both physical and chakra.
However, the sight that greeted them at the bridge was not one Sakura was used to. The few workers that hadn't quit on the old man in fear were injured.
'So Zabuza and his partner are here.'
Sakura took a protective stance in front of the bridge builder, gladly letting Kakashi-sensei and Sasuke take charge of this battle. Her taijutsu still wasn't good enough to fight Zabuza in a hand to hand combat fight, even if she had a nearly endless supply of senbon.
Hopefully she would be able to let Kakashi-sensei handle this and defend herself and Tazuna if the need arose.
Just like the last time they had battle Zabuza, the mist rising off the water thickened, cloaking the rogue ninja's presence.
"Long time no see, Kakashi," the demon said sarcastically. "Just look at you, still associating with brats. The dark haired one is shaking."
A half dozen water clones surrounded Sakura, Sasuke, Kakashi and the bridge builder at the announcement. Sakura formed the hand signs for the Earth Release: Earth Dome jutsu. It would form a rock dome around her and Tazuna, shielding them from most normal attacks.
With Kakashi-sensei's encouragement, Sasuke dealt with the water clones. He smirked as he returned to his place on the bridge builder's right. "I'll take care of the masked guy."
Kakashi-sensei nodded in agreement with Sasuke's plan. Sakura had Tazuna move a safe distance away from the upcoming battle, fully prepared to protect him and provide the support her sensei and teammate might need.
She was shocked at the speed at which the masked guy moved, and even more so when Sasuke managed to match him. She hadn't known Sasuke could move that fast. She could hear the clink that resulted every time their kunais struck.
After a few minutes of fast, furious fighting, they both stopped, standing motionless with kunai pressed against each other. "I'm impressed you could keep up with me." She heard the masked guy say. "But you won't continue to do so. I have two advantages."
"Two advantages?" her teammate parroted.
"The first is the water on the ground. And the second is that I have occupied one of your arms. Now you will only be able to run from my attacks."
How could he attack? If he was occupying one of Sasuke's hands that meant the mask guy only had one hand available to him to use. 'Unless he could perform one handed signs like Zabuza did!'
Sakura didn't want to take any chances. "Suiton: Teppōo!"
A jet of water shot from her mouth and blasted into Zabuza's accomplice, forcing him to disengage from Sasuke and retreat. Sasuke shot her a glare for interrupting his battle.
"Ah, there's the pink haired brat that felled my clone. I had wondered where you had gotten to. I owe you for that you know."
What did that mean? Was he going to target her because she had screwed up his plan the last time? That was not good. She was in no way capable of standing up to Zabuza if he tried to kill her. Why on earth did she have to attract the psychotic ninja's attention?
"I can't have you underestimating my team by calling them brats. Sasuke is the Leaf Village's number one rookie. Sakura here is the brightest in the village, quite the genius. And the other one is the number one most unpredictable, hyperactive, knuckleheaded ninja in the village." Kakashi-sensei deadpanned.
Zabuza chuckled darkly. "At this rate we'll be driven back. We can't have that, Haku."
Before Sakura could even contemplate what the rogue ninja was hinting at, Haku had acted. "Makyou Hyoushou: Demonic Ice Crystal Mirrors!"
A wall of ice mirrors surrounded Sasuke, blocking his escape 360 degrees around and even above.
'What is this jutsu?' Sakura thought as Haku sank into one of the ice mirrors.
Sasuke was trapped inside Haku's jutsu and Sakura didn't know how she could help him. She would be off the most use if she worked to end the jutsu from the outside, where Haku couldn't reach her, but she didn't know any long range jutsus and couldn't risk leaving Tazuna unprotected or bringing him with her across the battlefield. That would make it too easy for Zabuza to get him.
Kakashi-sensei tried to get around the mist ninja, only to find his way blocked by him once again. "Your opponent is me. Besides, with that jutsu he's finished."
Terror and fear gripped at Sakura's heart. Was Sasuke truly finished? Was there nothing she could do to help him? Maybe she could use her Water Needle technique to give him a weapon. No. That wouldn't do any good. Sasuke didn't have her water nature chakra or her skill with chakra control. He wouldn't be able to use it. Maybe she could throw it at Haku instead.
Sakura molded two water needles and launched them at the gap in the mirrors where the older boy appeared when he moved between them. However, a few meters away from her and the needles lost their shape, becoming a puddle of water on the bridge.
She winced when Sasuke yelled out in pain. She felt so useless. She couldn't go help Sasuke without leaving Tazuna unprotected, and she couldn't aid Kakashi-sensei in his battle with Zabuza, even though it did look like he was going to come after her.
She desperately wished Naruto would show up. With everyone's attention occupied in some form, the blonde would be able to help destroy the ice mirrors from the outside, and there wasn't anything Zabuza or Haku could do to stop him. If Zabuza tried to interfere Kakashi-sensei would stop him, and in order for Haku to do anything, he would have to leave his prison of mirrors, which would allow Sasuke to escape.
Smoke appeared and curled upwards. "Naruto Uzumaki had finally arrived!" Sakura wanted to hit her head on the nearest hard surface at his loud arrival. What kind of ninja was he?
And then he became even dumber in her eyes by sneaking into the damn mirrors. It was like he didn't stop to think about the best strategy to defeat an opponent of an unknown level.
"Hidden Mist no Jutsu."
Not this jutsu again! Now Sakura wouldn't be able to see anything. How could she defend herself and Tazuna if she couldn't see the attacker?
What was Kakashi-sensei so worried about? Had he lost sight of Zabuza? Was the demon going after Naruto and Sasuke? She got her answer when she felt the spike in killing intent appear behind her. She whirled around to the other side of Tazuna, placing herself between him and Zabuza.
"Earth Release: Earth Dome jutsu!" Zabuza's giant sword rebounded off the dome of rock that had formed around her and Zabuza.
Sakura was trembling and sweating as she made sure to keep her chakra flow steady. This barrier would only last as long as she didn't move and focused all her attention and chakra on maintaining the technique. Even then she was afraid the shield would fall apart. She hadn't mastered this jutsu yet. Her unfamiliarity with this jutsu might mean that it would only last a few more seconds.
But it didn't. The earthen dome continued to hold and Sakura sighed in relief. Until Zabuza found a way to break through the dome, she and Tazuna were safe. The only disadvantage was she couldn't see the battle going on around her. She would just have to believe in the rest of her team and hope they won before her jutsu ran out.
Kakashi was so relieved when Sakura had managed to use the Earth Dome jutsu to protect herself. With this damn mist and Zabuza fighting with his eyes closed, he was at a distinct disadvantage. He would have to wait for Zabuza to make his move and try to counter.
But he knew that wasn't good enough. Just now he could have lost another teammate because he couldn't react fast enough. If Sakura had not made that dome, she would have been dead.
'I need to end this fight now. Sakura can't hold up that technique indefinitely. It will drain her chakra reserves until she's dry, and when it falls she'll be defenseless.'
"I don't just rely on my Sharingan, Zabuza. I was a former member of the Anbu." He removed a scroll from one of the pouches of his flak vest, unrolling it and smearing the blood on his fingers from when he blocked Zabuza's kunai on it.
He froze as a massive killing intent smothered him. Was it Zabuza? No, this was much more evil, more malicious. It couldn't be! 'Did the seal break? Had the Nine-Tails been released? No. It has just weakened. The fox's chakra and killing aura is just slipping out. But still, this isn't good. What could have happened to make Naruto lose control?'
Kakashi sealed the scroll up and slammed it into the ground. "Kuchiyose: Doton: Tsuiga no Jutsu!"
"These are my cute nin dogs. I purposely let you spill my blood so they could track you." He said to an immobilized Zabuza. The ninja hounds he had summoned had all latched their teeth onto some part of Zabuza's body.
"Now you will die. You went too far, Zabuza, when you tried to kill my comrades. I told you before I wouldn't ever let another one of my comrades die. Now I will show you an original jutsu that I created."
He gripped his right wrist with his left hand. He focused chakra to his hand, so much that his chakra became visible. The high concentration of lighting created made a sound reminiscent of thousands of chirping birds. "Chidori!"
He stood from his crouch. "I'll ask once more. Surrender. Your future is death."
"I don't care for your ideals." Zabuza answered.
Kakashi sprinted at Zabuza. His lightning covered fist came forward and impacted.
The silver haired jounin's eyes widened as blood splattered his face. His hand had gone straight through the Haku guy's chest. He had appeared out of nowhere in front of Zabuza. Kakashi didn't even notice his nin dogs had disappeared as he stared at his hand in the boy's chest cavity.
The battle went downhill from there. Zabuza and Kakashi fought a fast paced taijutsu battle; Kakashi clearly had the upper hand. He aimed for the demon's arms, rendering them both useless so Zabuza could no longer make seals.
"So you're getting your ass kicked. How pathetic." And then Gatou and his army of mercenaries showed up. "The plan's changed. I'm going to kill you here, Zabuza. This was actually the plan from the beginning. I was never going to pay you your money."
"Kakashi," Zabuza said, "I'm sorry. This fight is over. Now that I have no reason to go after Tazuna I have no reason to fight you."
Kakashi "Aa-ed" in agreement.
Then Naruto started shouting at Zabuza about how he should do something about Gatou, who was kicking Haku's body, because he was Haku's friend and didn't he have any feelings.
Naruto kept up his speech, tearing strips into the Demon Hidden in the Mist for only thinking of Haku as a tool to be thrown away when it was broken and useless when Haku had loved him and given his life for Zabuza.
"Kid," Zabuza interrupted, "you don't need to say any more." Zabuza was crying. Somehow, miraculously Kakashi thought, Naruto's words had reached Zabuza's long dead emotions.
"Kid, let me borrow your kunai."
"Huh? Oh, yeah." Naruto threw his kunai to Zabuza, who caught it in his teeth.
The Demon Hidden in the Mist proceeded to show just how he got that name as he attacked Gatou's men with just a single kunai held in his mouth. He tore through the paid lackeys until he reached Gatou, removing his head from his shoulders when he did so.
"Ne, Sakura-chan, you can release the jutsu now."
Sakura sagged in relief when she heard her sensei's voice as he rapped on her rock barrier. She released the jutsu and fell into Kakashi-sensei's waiting arms.
She looked at the carnage that had occurred while she couldn't see. Zabuza and Haku were both dead, their bodies placed next to each other. At the far end of the bridge were more bodies she didn't recognize, but she figured one of them was Gatou.
The citizens of Wave had shown up, hold an assortment of weapons. Inari, who was in the lead of them, ran across the bridge upon seeing his grandfather was alive.
She gazed up at her sensei's face. His Sharingan was still uncovered and there was drying blood everywhere. "Where are Naruto and Sasuke? Are they okay?"
Kakashi-sensei gave her a soft smile. "Naruto's just fine. Sasuke is going to need a couple days to recover, but he's alright."
Sakura smiled and fainted. The loss of adrenaline and extreme chakra exhaustion was too much for her body to handle.
It took two weeks before Sakura and Sasuke had recovered enough to travel. Team 7 held a small funeral for Haku and Zabuza before starting their return journey. Naruto bragged the first couple of miles about how Tazuna had name the bridge The Great Naruto Bridge. Sakura secretly wondered if Tazuna was drunk when he did so but felt Naruto earned it because he had been the hero of the battle.
All in all, Sakura was pleased with how their first mission out of the village had ended. For being a C-rank turned A-rank mission, Team Kakashi had handled the difficulty extremely well. Just the fact that they had survived against an opponent like Zabuza was a miracle.
But it gave her bragging rights over Ino-pig. She had completed a dangerous A-rank mission before her rival even stepped foot out of the village.
The one thing she was not pleased with was her two teammates' behavior. Ever since they had returned from Wave a week ago they had become unbearable. The smallest things all of a sudden became a competition between Naruto and Sasuke. She was getting ready to tear her hair out.
At this point she quite preferred training with Gai-sensei and Kurenai-sensei than she did with her own team. Although she had to give Kakashi-sensei credit. After giving them three days off as a reward for successfully completely an A-rank mission, he had actually taken to teaching them a new jutsu before giving them the day's mission assignment.
While she was happy Kakashi-sensei was taking his duties as a jounin sensei seriously, the atmosphere surrounding Team 7 was so intense. She second guessed every word she spoke and every action she made, afraid she would somehow incite her teammates' rivalry to ridiculous levels.
They had just finished a mission pulling weeds for a client. Unfortunately for Naruto, he pulled out her medicinal herbs as well as the weeds and got smacked around by a broom for it. Said blonde was currently walking her home despite her protests that it wasn't necessary.
She was surprised when her blonde teammate seemed to know the three creepy kids that were following them in the disguise of a square shaped rock of all things. Surprise turned to rage when Konohamaru insinuated that she was Naruto's girlfriend and the idiot agreed with the brat.
Knuckles cracked, skin bruised, noses bled, and little boys ran away pissing their pants for calling her ugly. Both Konohamaru and Naruto received lumps on the head.
Then the annoying brat with the way too long scarf insulted her forehead. Naruto froze, completely aware of the world of pain he was about to enter for his somewhat apprentice's unfortunate comment. In hopes of escaping the inevitable fist to the skull, Naruto told the three academy students to run, an the four of them ran like their lives depending on it while and enraged Sakura chased after them.
The situation got worse when Konohamaru bumped into two strange ninja. Sakura knew by the headbands they wore that the two newcomers were Sand ninja. Both of them gave her the creeps.
The female was glaring down at Konohamaru, her blonde hair pulled back into four spiky ponytails. She was standing with her hands on her hips and had a large metal fan strapped to her back. Her partner was male, dressed in a mostly black jumpsuit and wearing purple makeup on his face. He had something creepy wrapped up on his back. She could see the hair sticking out over his shoulder.
The male ninja easily lifted Konohamaru up by his scarf. "I hate brats like you."
Naruto, in a stroke of genius in her opinion, said, "You better put him down. He's the Hokage's grandson. You'll get in major trouble for threatening the Hokage's grandson."
However the Sand ninja didn't seem to care. If he did anything it was tighten his grip on poor Konohamaru's scarf practically choking the boy.
Sakura could only watch as the confrontation unraveled, reaching the point she thought a fight would break out between Naruto and the male foreigner. Then Sasuke showed up, sitting in a tree, nailing the male ninja in the hand with a rock, forcing him to drop Konohamaru.
"What are you bastards doing in our village?"
"Hey punk! Get down here. I hate show offs like you the most." The guy in black made to remove whatever the thing on his back was.
"Kankuro stop it." The voice that had halted Kankuro set Sakura's teeth on edge. It came from a male Sand ninja standing on the underside of a branch of the same tree Sasuke was sitting in. He had blood red hair, a kanji on his forehead that she couldn't determine, and a gourd strapped to his back. But his eyes, the cold jade eyes were dead. The only thing she could see in them was thinly controlled bloodlust.
'How did I not notice him?' she thought as he continued speaking.
The one identified tried to make explanations to the red head called Gaara but he was having none of it. In the same breath he threatened to kill his own teammate and gave an apology for his behavior. In a whirl of sand he appeared crouched on the ground between the other two Sand ninja.
"Wait a minute. Judging by your headbands, you're ninja from the Village Hidden in the Sand. What are you doing in Konoha?"
The irritable blonde female explained how they were there for the chuunin selection exams, which set Naruto off into a burst of uncontrollable excitement at the thought of being able to become a chuunin so soon. ("We'll just have to convince Kakashi-sensei to sign us up. No way am I going to pass up the chance to kick the teme's ass and become a chuunin. This will get me one step closer to becoming Hokage!")
Sasuke and Gaara exchanged names and then the team of gennin from the Sand village left. Sakura ignored the commotion still going on behind her and went home to study some more of the jutsus in the scrolls she had taken from the library before the escort mission turned insane grudge match.
Kakashi-sensei was once again late to the meeting he called at the bridge. Sakura was getting fairly annoyed by her sensei's attitude. Why call a team meeting if he was going to be late every damn time?
Of course he appeared just as tensions were running high and her patience was fraying thin. He completely derailed any possible breakout of a fight between Naruto and Sasuke by announcing he had nominated them for the chuunin exams.
Naruto took his application eagerly and glomped the jounin. "I love you, Kakashi-sensei!"
"Anyway. It's up to each of you if you want to actually participate. If you do, take those papers to room 301 by four p.m. tomorrow." And then their sensei was gone.
Sakura knew she was going to take the chuunin exams. She had to prove to Sasuke that she was strong. This was the perfect opportunity to do that.
Team 7 had decided to meet up outside the building where the test was taking place. One look at her teammates told Sakura they were just as ready and excited for this test as she was.
For the life of her, Sakura couldn't understand why there was a crowd of ninja blocking the second floor. She understood when she saw two chuunin standing in front of a door with a sign that proclaimed they were blocking room 301. They were pushing around a gennin from the Leaf Village that was trying to get by them and enter the testing room.
"Naruto, Sasuke," she whispered. Both boys turned their heads to look at her. "This is a genjutsu. Let's go around and go to the third floor. I think they're trying to pick out the weaker ninja."
Her teammates nodded their assent and the three of them edged around the crowd to the stairs that led to the third floor.
They were almost there when a male voice called out. "Where are you three going?"
Sasuke turned around, smirk on his face. Sakura mentally begged for him not to pull anything like what she expected Naruto to do. "We're going to the third floor. This hallway is covered in a genjutsu. Sakura here spotted it immediately. She has the sharpest eyes on our team."
Sakura was pleasantly surprised. Not only was it the longest she think she had ever heard him speak, but he had praised her ability to detect genjutsu quickly. That meant her training was working. He was taking notice of her!
On the other hand, she was a little annoyed that he carelessly offered that piece of information to all these enemy ninja.
Determined to get out of their before Sasuke unintentionally told any more of their abilities to the competitors, Sakura grabbed both boys by the wrist and dragged them upstairs. Their complaints about being manhandled fell on deaf ears.
Sakura nearly had a heart attack when she saw Kakashi-sensei standing outside room 301. Who on earth would have thought he could show up early for anything?
"I'm so glad all three of you showed up."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Sakura asked, suspicious.
"I lied earlier. The chuunin exams can only be taken by teams of three. If one of you had decided not to participate none of you would have been able to take the test."
'Great. Thanks for tricking us Kakashi-sensei.'
"Whatever, Kakashi-sensei. We're all here so let's go show those guys just how strong Team Kakashi is!" Naruto cheered.
Kakashi-sensei smiled at them proudly as they entered the double doors.
Sakura nearly stopped walking at the sight that greeted her green eyes. The room was crowded. 'There's so many gennins taking this exam. Can we really pass? Some of them look pretty strong.'
They were only a few steps in the room when someone screeched and tackled Sasuke from behind. It turned out to be Ino. That meant Shikamaru and Chouji were around somewhere.
Then Team 8, made up of Kiba, Shino, and Hinata showed up. Surprisingly, it was Kiba who commented on the fact that all of this year's rookies were participating in the exams.
A fellow Konoha gennin Sakura had never seen before approached them. Sakura was immediately wary of him. He explained the basics of the chuunin exams, he knew them well enough seeing that this was his seventh time in them, and offered to share information he had on any gennin taking the exam.
Sasuke took up his offer, wanting to know about Gaara of the Desert.
"Gaara of the Desert. Mission history: Wow, 8 C-rank and 1 B-rank as a gennin. I don't know much about him since he's a newcomer from a different village, but it seems that he's returned from all of his missions without a scratch."
'Without a scratch? How was that possible?' They had gone on an A-rank mission and all three of them had gotten injured in some way, Sasuke more so than her or Naruto.
Kabuto left after giving them that information. The rookie gennin eyed the other gennins warily. It was looking like this exam was going to be even harder than they imagined.
Then Naruto did something that only Naruto would have ever even contemplated doing.
"My name is Naruto Uzumaki! I won't lose to you bastards! You got that!"
Sakura was horrified. Was he trying to get them killed? Now every team in this test was going to be gunning for them.
Outside the doors Kakashi sighed. Maybe he was underestimating his gennins. Although shouting out the competition certainly was something only Naruto would ever do.
He knew even though they had only been gennin for four months that his team was capable of taking this exam. He knew they were each strong in their own right, but even he wasn't expecting any of them to make chuunin their first time through. This was another learning opportunity for them. They needed to see that there were gennins out there stronger than them. Hopefully they would come out of this exam more mature than they went in.
Although he wasn't sure himself if Naruto could grow up.
A huge cloud of smoke formed in the front of the room. It dispersed to reveal Ibiki Morino ('oh dear god! Is he going to be proctoring this exam?') and two dozen or so chuunin behind him. "Thanks for waiting. I'm Ibiki Morino, the examiner for the chuunin selection exam's first test."
Sakura wanted to bash her head against something hard. So she did. There was no way this exam wasn't going to be torture if he was in charge. For god's sake he turned a simple D-rank painting mission into a nightmare with a single question.
"There will be no fighting without the permission of the examiner. Even if permission is granted, killing your opponent will not be tolerated."
Was he trying to psych them out, because if that was his goal he definitely succeeded. Every ninja in the room gulped. Were they going to be fighting already?
"Those pigs that disobey me will be failed immediately. Do I make myself clear?" he glared at the entire room. Everyone hurried to show that they understood. Sakura was starting to feel really nervous and began doubting herself. She wasn't sure now that she was ready to take the chuunin exams.
'No. Remember what Sasuke said. You have the best eyes on the team. And you've been practicing really hard for this. Don't let all that training go to waste. Don't let this freak scare you away. You have to prove to Sasuke that you are strong.' Her brain shouted at her.
"We will now start the first test in the chuunin exams. Instead of your current seating arrangements, you will pick one of these numbers and sit in the seat assigned to you. We will then hand out the exam."
Sakura was worried as soon as she spotted the papers clutched in one of the chuunin's hands. While she and Sasuke could easily pass a written exam, Naruto was practically guaranteed to fail. It only got worse when Ibiki explained the rules of the exam.
"There are many important rules to the first exam, and questions will not be allowed so listen carefully," the man began. "The first rule. You guys all start off with 10 points. The test is made up of ten questions each worth a point, but this test uses a subtraction system. Basically, if you answer all the questions correctly, you keep your 10 points. But you lose a point for every wrong answer.
"The second rule. This is a team test. Whether you pass or not will be determined by the combined score of your teammates." That made Sakura feel so much better. Even if Naruto completely bombed the test, she and Sasuke would be able to pull them through. "So each team will compete to see how many points they can hold on to from the initial team total of 30.
"Now the most important rule, the third rule. Anyone caught by the testing officers cheating will have two points subtracted for each offense. So there will be some who will lose all their points during the exam and be asked to leave. Realize that the pathetic ones that get caught cheating will be destroying themselves. As shinobis trying to achieve the level of chuunin, be proud ninjas.
"And the third rule. Those that lose all their initial points during the test and those that don't answer any questions correctly will be failed along with their two teammates." Sakura's heart dropped to her stomach. Naruto now had to answer one question correctly or all three of them would be failed.
"The exam will last one hour. BEGIN!" Ibiki shouted the last word.
Sakura scanned her test. The first question was a cryptogram that wasn't too hard to figure out. 'Second question. Line B, seen in the picture, is the greatest possible distance a shinobi can throw his shuriken from a tree of 7 meters. For enemies that appear within the circumference of the shuriken's range, explain the attack options using this distance. Show your work.'
These questions were impossible. No normal gennin, let alone Naruto would be able to answer them. Of the people Sakura knew, she believed that Sasuke, Shikamaru and herself would be able to answer these questions with ease. 'But why would they give us a test that was impossible to pass?'
Realization came to Sakura. It didn't actually matter what answers you out down, but where you got the answers from. Ibiki had made such a big deal about how cheaters would be punished to put many shinobi off the idea, but it was the only way to insure that you got the right answers. The whole point of this test was to gather information without being noticed.
Sakura set to work on her test. She believed even if Naruto couldn't answer any of the questions that he would realize the real meaning behind the test and find a way to get the answers.
When the forty-five minute mark rolled around, thirteen teams had been disqualified. "Okay. Now we will start the tenth question.
"Now before we get to it I would like to go over the added rules for this question." He was briefly interrupted by the Kankuro guy returning from the bathroom. "I'll now explain. These are the rules of desperation. For this tenth question you must decide whether you'll take it or not."
"Choose! What happens if we choose not to?" Temari shouted.
'If you choose not to, your points will be reduced to zero. You fail along with your two teammates!"
"That's not even given us a choice." One gennin shouted.
"Of course we'll choose to take it if not doing so means we fail." Another said.
"And now the other rule. If you choose to take it and answer incorrectly, the person will lose the right to take the chuunin selection exam again!"
Protests rang loudly through the room. That wasn't fair.
"But I'm giving you a way out." The room became silent. "Those that aren't confident can choose not to take it and try again next year.
"Now let's begin the tenth question. Those that do not wish to take it, raise your hand. Once your number is confirmed, leave."
One by one gennin raised their hands. Teams started piling out in droves.
Sakura worried about Naruto. She was confident she could answer the question, but Naruto most likely wouldn't. Naruto wasn't a tactical thinker. Maybe it would be better if he raised his hand and they took the exam again next year.
Just as she was thinking of raising her own hand so Naruto wouldn't lose his dream of becoming Hokage, Naruto stood and raised his hand.
He slammed it on his desk. "Don't underestimate me! I will not run! I'll take it! Even if I'm a gennin forever, I'll will myself to becoming Hokage anyway, so I don't care! I'm not afraid!"
No one spoke after Naruto said his piece. All eyes were on the examiner, awaiting the final question.
"I'll ask you again. Your life is riding on this decision. This is your last chance to quit."
"I follow my unbending words. That's my ninja way." Naruto said, not backing down. He meet Ibiki's gaze head on.
"Good decisions. Now, to everyone still remaining, I congratulate you on passing the first test!"
Sakura sagged in relief. She had been so worried that Naruto would cause them to fail. She tuned out the clamor around her. She decided, as Ibiki explained how there really was no tenth question and the overall purpose of the exam, that he was much more scary when he was smiling.
She changed her mind again when he removed his bandana to reveal the top of his head. The shear amount of burns, screw holes and scars made her sick to her stomach. She never wanted to be a prisoner.
The window exploded inward. In a matter of seconds a woman with spiky purple hair and a tan trench coat stood before a banner. "This is no time to be lying about. I am the examiner for the second test! Anko Mitarashi! Now let's go! Follow me!"
Nobody moved. Ibiki stepped out from behind the banner and mutter, "Bad timing."
"78. Ibiki! You left 26 teams! The test was way too easy this time!"
'Easy?' Sakura thought. 'She thought all that stress and pressure was easy?'
"I'll cut them at least in half in the second exam. I'll explain everything once we've changed places, follow me."
The second part of the chuunin exams was going to take place in the largest, darkest, creepiest forest that Sakura had ever seen. There were multiple chains and locks on the entrance gate and a sign that proclaimed 'Danger! Stay Out!'
"Welcome to the stage for the second test. Practice Arena 44." The proctor of the second exam said with a smile. Sakura bemoaned the thought of having to deal with another sadistic examiner. "Also known as the 'Forest of Death.'"
The grin on her face got scarier. "You'll soon find out why it's called the 'Forest of Death.'"
Naruto mocked her. She sliced his face with a kunai.
"Kids like you are killed quickly." She was behind him, giggling of all things. Then she totally creeped Naruto and Sakura out by licking the blood from the cut on his left cheek.
"Now, before we start the second test there's something I need to pass out." She waved a stack of papers. "You have to sign these agreement forms. There will be deaths in this one and if you don't sign these it will be my responsibility." The lady was smiling again.
"I'm going to explain the second test, then you can sign it afterwards. And then each team will check in at that booth behind me.
"Simply put, you will attempt the ultimate survival."
Sakura got the feeling that this would be nothing like Kakashi-sensei's survival exercise. This one was for real.
"First I'll explain the arena in which it will take place. Around Arena number 44, there are 44 locked gates. Forest, river and a tower in the center. From the gates to the tower is about ten kilometers.
"During the survival in here, you will be asked to complete a certain task. Using your many weapons and jutsus, you will compete in a no rules scroll battle. You will fight over these two scrolls." She showed them a black and a white scroll, each one marked with a kanji. "The 'Heaven' and 'Earth.'
"There are 78 people here, meaning 26 teams. Half will get the 'Heaven Scroll,' and the other 13 teams will each receive the 'Earth Scroll.' To pass this test, your team must make it to the tower with both scrolls.
"But there's a time limit. This test will last exactly five days. 13 teams passing is not likely. As the days go on, the distance to the goal will become longer, and the time to rest will grow shorter. And the arena is crawling with enemies, so you won't get much sleep. So not only will some fail by losing the scroll, but some will die because of the harshness of the course.
"Now I'll talk about what will disqualify you. First, those that don't make it to the tower with both scrolls within the time limit. Second, those that lose a teammate or those that have a teammate killed. As a rule, there is no quitting in middle. You'll be in the forest for five days. And one more rule. You must not look inside the scroll until you make it to the tower.
"Exchange the three forms for a scroll and choose a gate. A final word of advice. Don't die."
Team Kakashi hurried to get their scroll and pick a gate. Sakura pointed out that the best gate to pick would be one that was close to the river. The map that Anko had showed them depicted the river going right under the tower at the forest's center. They would be able to follow the river to the tower and would always have a supply of water on hand.
As soon as the instructor threw open the gate, the member of Team 7 dashed through and took to the trees.
Sakura was surprised how quick flying their first two days in the forest were. From what Anko had said, she expected to never have a moment of peace from the second they stepped through the gate. But aside from some giant ferocious wolves, a colony of blood sucking bats, a patch of deceptively innocent man eating plants, vines that tried to pull them into the ground and strangle them, a colony of venomous spiders taller than the three of them, and a pack horses with six legs that tried to stampede them, the test was pretty peaceful so far.
They were maybe halfway to the tower, but they had yet to see a sign of any other ninja.
Sakura was leaping through the trees between the two boys. Her body was tightly wound. The laws of karma would eventually come into effect and they would be facing danger beyond their imagination.
She shook her head and tried to shake off the impending feeling of doom that was creeping upon her. She needed to focus on this test or she would get killed. She sent her chakra out once more, listening intently. It came back to her. There were no ninja anywhere with 25 meters of them, and she could hear nothing but the sound of their shoes on the branches.
Nothing but their shoes on the branches.
How could she not have noticed? She was so surprised that she momentarily lost control of her chakra and fell out of the tree. Luckily she caught herself, grabbing a lower branch and using it to swing herself back up to her teammates level.
Both of them had stopped and were staring at her.
She quickly jumped to the branched they were standing on. "Guys, listen."
Naruto cocked his head, trying to listen to whatever he was supposed to be hearing. Sasuke simply gave her a long suffering look and raised an eyebrow, demanding that Sakura explain why she had stopped them.
"What do you two hear?"
Naruto was the one to answer. "Nothing, Sakura-chan."
"Exactly. We're in the middle of a forest. It shouldn't be silent." Sasuke's eyes widened as he caught on to what she was hinting at. "I think we've been caught in a genjutsu."
They argued for a few minutes in undertone, but eventually decided the best path would be to cancel the genjutsu and force their opponents into the open where they could fight.
It took a couple minutes after Sakura had done away with the illusion before the enemy showed up, making her think one, that they wanted to tire them out before attacking, and two, that they were terrible ninja if they couldn't tell immediately when their genjutsu was ended.
They came out of the trees, literally. The Mist ninja was crawling out of surrounding trees and the ground around them. Sakura had read about this technique. She could even use it herself. The user of the Kasumi jusha no jutsu would create a large variety of clones that could phase in and out of the ground. Any weapons the real enemies threw would be hidden in the illusionary ones of the mist servants. That meant they would have to block or dodge every single weapon thrown because there was no way to recognize the illusionary weapons from the real ones.
Naruto charged before Sakura could tell him not to. His fist destroyed the left side of the clone he had punched, but the clone simply reformed itself, launching a double bladed kunai at Sasuke.
Naruto went to attack again but was stopped by Sasuke's shout. The dark haired boy had activated his Kekkei Genkai. "Don't, Naruto. They're all clones. This is a genjutsu."
"Sasuke's right. The real enemy is hidden somewhere, attacking with the clones so that it will seem like they're the ones attacking." Sakura said. She knew they were at a major disadvantage. The real enemy was safely hidden, using the clones as a shield to attack them. Until they pinpointed where the caster of the jutsu was and took care of him, all they could do was dodge.
So that's what they did. As the sun blazed across the sky, Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura dodged their hidden enemy's attacks. As the night wore on they tired, stumbling and taking more hits. Exhaustion was starting to set in. Soon, Sakura knew, the real enemy would reveal himself. She just had to keep dodging until then.
"Argh! This is pointless!" Naruto yelled. "I'll just make a bunch of shadow clones. If we defeat all the illusions at once, the enemy won't be able to throw kunai, because they'll be found while the clones are reforming!
"Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" A hundred Naruto clones exploded into action, tearing through the illusionary enemy.
Sakura gaped in amazement. 'I didn't know he could make so many clones. This is unbelievable.'
"Psst, Sakura-chan." The pinkette nearly jumped out of her skin when Naruto whispered into her ear. "I'm going to have a clone transform into you and Sasuke. You two hid and let me and my clones deal with this."
She had been totally surprised by this moment of genius from Naruto. Maybe he wasn't so bad at tactical situations after all.
They had only been hidden for a half hour before the real enemies came out into the open.
"That's enough, Mubi. The sun is rising. It's time to go for the kill." The mist servants all disappeared as the jutsu was finally ended.
"You're trapped rats."
The three Mist ninja spun around. Sakura and Sasuke had stepped out of the bushes behind them. "When? How?"
They looked back at the three gennin that had collapsed on the ground. The Sakura and Sasuke on either side of Naruto had reverted back to their original appearance and before them stood three Narutos.
"The Kage Bunshin was just a trick! It was a diversion while I became the whole team!"
"The moment Naruto released the jutsu the two of us hid." Sasuke continued the explanation.
Naruto fell to his knees. "You've used too much chakra, Naruto. Let us handle it from here." Sakura told him.
Sakura slammed her hands into the ground. "Doton: Shinjuu Zansh!"
Three pale hands gripped the Mist ninjas' ankles and dragged them into the ground. Naruto and Sasuke turned to look at her, both wearing different looks. Sasuke looked annoyed that she had stolen his moment, but she honestly didn't care because he was talking too much. Naruto looked put out that Sakura got the last move. He had wanted so badly to sock the real one in the face.
Three Sakura clones broke through the ground. One had a heaven scroll in hand.
"When did you make three clones, Sakura-chan?" Naruto asked.
"When we first hid. I sent them underground to wait." She threw the scroll at Sasuke. "We don't need this one. Burn it."
He glared at her for ordering him around but he set the scroll on fire. That was one less team that would pass this part of the exam.
Sakura jerk herself upright when she realized she had almost fallen asleep again.
She and the rest of her team were currently taking cover under the upraised roots of a large tree. Her eyes fell on her two unconscious teammates. She replaced the clothes on their foreheads with new ones she soaked with water from her canteen.
Naruto was still unconscious from chakra exhaustion. Sasuke had somehow managed to get bit by a poisonous snake. His face was even paler than normal, contrary to the raging fever he had. She would let them rest for another hour in hopes that Naruto would come around and help her with Sasuke. If not she would use clones to move them closer to the tower.
However, she really hoped Naruto woke up soon. She didn't think she'd be able to handle it if they were attacked while she was the only one that could fight. She was weary from keeping watch all night.
"Heh, up all night?"
Sakura snatched up a kunai. How did people keep sneaking up behind her like this? When she got out of her she would have to learn more about hiding and sensing chakra, because this was starting to get ridiculous.
It was the team of sound ninja. The one in front reminded her of Zabuza, only with more clothes and no hair. The girl was tall and had longer hair than she did. The third member of their team was resting on a tree root. His hair stuck up kind of like Kakashi-sensei's.
"Looks like we hit the jackpot with this one, Dosu." The guy on the tree root said.
"Yes. It's just one girl. Her teammates are down for the count. Get rid of her and take her scroll quickly," the female said.
Sakura mentally reviewed all the jutsu she knew, looking for one that would let her deal with these three as quickly as possible without too much chakra.
"Doton: Doryūheki!" A wall of earth sprang to life behind her, blocking Naruto and Sasuke from view and protecting them. Now she could fight without worrying about a stray attack getting her teammates.
Sakura attacked first, forming Water Needles.
The unnamed male jumped in front of Dosu, both arms outstretched. She could she a single hole in the middle of each palm. The guy released a gust of pressurized air which repelled her needles. Dosu ran out from behind him, pulling up the sleeve of his right arm.
His lower arm was covered in some sort of arm guard with holes in it. She was blasted onto her back by a sonic wave. She stumbled as she tried to get back onto her feet.
'What happened to my sense of balance?' she thought as all three Sound ninja smirked at her.
As she managed to get her feet under her, Sakura realized that she wouldn't be able to use her Water Needle attack. Not only was she swaying and seeing the enemy in triplicate, but the skinny guy would be able to repel any singular attacks directed at one person with those weird holes in his hand.
And considering the fact that she wouldn't know which version to aim at, such an attack would be useless. What she needed was a large scale attack that would hit all of them and wouldn't be easily blocked.
The team of Sound ninja just stood in front of her. They were clearly under the impression that she would no longer be able to fight after that attack. Sakura punched her fist into the ground.
They all leapt backwards as a giant mudslide came rolling towards them. Seeing as the ground wasn't safe, they took to the trees.
"So, you've still got fight. Let's see how you deal with this, pinky."
Sakura had to stop her jutsu to roll away from the jet of pressurized air that had been shot at her. Smoke rose from the tree it hit. The attack had drilled two holes through the tree. She didn't even want to imagine what would have happened had the jutsu connected with her.
The pink haired girl decided to use the jutsu Kakashi-sensei had taught her upon their return to the Leaf Village.
An orb of water that she could move formed in the air. A dozen sharp whips of water emerged and shot towards the ninja crouching safely in the trees. Sakura used her chakra to direct it. The whips changed trajectory with every move her opponents made. She kept up the Water Dragon Whip technique until she had forced them out of the trees and onto the ground.
They kept their distance from her, trying to regain their breath. They never would have believed that a pink haired brat could have forced them to actually fight.
Sakura having wasn't going to give them a second to compose themselves and launch a counterattack.
"Doton: Arijigoku no Jutsu!"
The ground between Sakura and the Sound ninja collapsed in on itself, dragging the ground surrounding it down with it. The Sound ninjas, unprepared for such an attack, were sucked into the jutsu. Only Sakura was unaffected due to the chakra in her feet sticking her to the ground.
She stopped the jutsu when all three were buried up to their shoulders.
She moved to stand in front of Dosu, who seemed to be the leader of the team. "I'm going to release your upper body. When I do so you are going to give me any scrolls you have. It you make any move I deem threatening, I will completely bury you underground and leave you to suffocate. Understood?"
Left with no other choice, Dosu nodded. Sakura let him partially out of the jutsu. He slowly reached for the pouch on his left hip and pulled out an Earth Scroll. Sakura nearly danced in delight. She took it from him and put it in her weapons pouch.
She activated the Earth Release: Antlion Prison Technique again, trapping Dosu in the ground again.
She screamed in pain when his hand wound itself into her hair and pulled her head backwards. The son of a bitch was trying to drag her into her own jutsu! Sakura blinked tears of pain out of her eyes and scrambled for a kunai. She swung it randomly behind her head.
The kunai cut through her pink locks easily. The gripped on her hair disappeared and she was able to ease the pain in her neck by pulling her head upright.
Sakura lowered the rock wall that had been shielding her teammates and packed up her supplies. A quick look at Sasuke's ankle told her that she needed to move fast. The bite wound was red and inflamed; his ankle had swollen to twice its normal size. He needed medical attention fast.
She created three clones, two to carry Naruto and one to help her carry Sasuke, and beat a quick retreat from the area. She didn't want to be anywhere near here when those three managed to escape her earth prison.
Despite the exhaustion she felt, Sakura never stopped moving. The only thought on her mind was reaching the safety of the tower. Any decision she made to stop and rest could mean the chance for another team to attack and delay her, and she couldn't afford that in her condition. She wouldn't be able to fight at all. And it meant longer before Sasuke could be seen to.
It was the early hours of the night when the tower appeared in the distance. Sakura, with a burst of adrenaline she didn't know she had, sprinted to the tower's doors.
The room she entered was empty except for the writing on the wall.
Sakura set her two unconscious teammates on the ground gently and turned to examine the scroll on the wall. She figured it was part of the second exam because there was nobody there to greet them when she entered.
"If you do not possess Heaven," she read, "gain knowledge and be prepared. If you do not possess Earth, run through the fields and seek strength. If you open both Heaven and Earth scrolls, dangerous paths turn into safe paths. This is the secret of something, something. It shall lead you on your way.
'But it looks like it missing words. It's probably referring to the scrolls. I think it means for me to open them.'
Sakura fished both scrolls out of her weapons pouch and created another clone so she could open the Heaven and Earth scrolls at the same time.
The scrolls immediately started releasing smoke. 'A Summoning Jutsu!' Sakura mentally screamed. This meant the second exam wasn't over yet. She threw the scroll away and took a defensive stance before her fallen teammates.
The smoke cleared. Sakura tightened her grip on her kunai. "You're. . ."
"Long time no see, Sakura-chan." Kakashi sensei grinned underneath mask. "I'm so proud of you three for making it this far. I didn't think you would finish this early."
Then Kakashi seemed to realize the condition his cute students were in. Sakura was the only one of his students in the world of the living, and she was standing on wobbly feet, exhaustion clearly written in the tight, drawn lines on her face, and dried blood trailed down the right side of her face from her ear.
Both Naruto and Sasuke were unconscious. He wasn't quite sure what was wrong with the spikey blonde haired boy, but Sasuke was clearly in pain. His facial muscles were pulled tight in a grimace.
"What happened, Sakura?" He listened patiently as she explained that Naruto had collapsed over a day ago from chakra exhaustion and had yet to awaken. She told how Sasuke had somehow managed to get bitten by a poisonous snake. She briefly mentioned having to fight a team from Sound to protect them both. He had a feeling she wasn't telling him everything about her fight, but he let it go and helped her bring her teammates inside the tower where they could get medical attention for Sasuke.
Sakura spent the fourth day of the exam catching up on sleep. Naruto and Sasuke had been seen to and the medical ninja said they would both be fine, so Sakura finally allowed herself to relax.
When she awoke, she found both boys seated at her bedside. Apparently Kakashi-sensei had repeated her summary of what happened after the second day to them. Sasuke, even if it seemed somewhat grudging, thanked her for saving his life. Not that she thought he would have died from that snake bite, just suffered a lot of pain until it was properly treated. Naruto had congratulated her on winning the fight against the Sound ninja and getting the scroll they needed to pass this part of the exam.
Naruto's first question had not been the expected 'how exactly did you manage to take on those three Sound ninja all by yourself, Sakura-chan?' but 'what happened to your hair, Sakura-chan?' she lied and said she had to cut it because it got tangled in some brambles. She didn't want to admit her long hair had almost got her caught in her own jutsu.
Sakura used the extra time they had since they had gotten to the tower early to study the genjutsu scroll she had brought with her. She wasn't going to practice in a tower full of enemy ninja, but she could at least learn the theory behind it.
She was glad when the exam ended the next day. She didn't fancy the idea of a third part of the exam, but Kakashi-sensei had told them to prepare for it with the motto of a chuunin in mind. He had explained the scroll that had been hanging on the wall and filled in the missing words when they all awoke. She already knew that she had to improve her stamina. It was why she was doing the insane and willingly training with Gai-sensei.
All the gennin that had passed the second portion of the chuunin exams gathered in a large arena. Standing in the front of the arena was the Hokage, the proctors of the first two exams; a jounin Sakura guessed would proctor the third exam which was probably about to start if he was present, and the jounin senseis of each team that passed.
Sakura turned her head to look at the rows of gennin to her right as the Hokage congratulated them on passing the second part of the chuunin selection exams. The first team from her right was from Konoha. She was glad Gai-sensei's team had made it through. It would have been disappointing if they hadn't. Next in line was Kabuto's team, and then the team from the Sand Village. On the far right was the Sound team she had beaten in the forest. To her left were the other two teams that made up the rookie nine.
"Before we begin the third test I will tell you one more thing." The third Hokage said. "This is not just a test. This is a life risking battle with your dreams and your village's prestige on the line."
Another man spoke up. "As the referee from here on, will you allow me to explain?"
The Hokage nodded his consent to the man. Sakura thought he looked rather sickly. He proved when he coughed every sentence.
"Before the third test, there's something I'd like you to do. It's a preliminary for the third test, to decide who gets to participate in the main event."
'Preliminary?' Sakura questioned. "Why aren't all the people here allowed to participate in the last part of the exams."
"Because the first two exams were too easy this year." Sakura mentally scoffed. Why did they keep insisting this year's exam was easy? "We have a bit too many people remaining. According to chuunin exam rules, we must have a preliminary and reduce the number of participants for the third test.
"So those who are not feeling up to it may quit now, because we are starting the preliminaries immediately."
Kabuto was the only one to quit. Hayate gave a last call and then began to explain how the preliminaries would work.
"The preliminaries will consist of one on one fighting. You will basically fight as if in a real life confrontation. Now that we have exactly 20 contestants, we will conduct ten matches and the winners will move on to the third test.
"There are basically no rules. The fight continues until one of you dies or is knocked out or admits defeat. But when I decided that the winner has been clearly established I'll jump in and stop things, since we don't want to pointlessly increase the amount of corpses."
'Was that supposed to be a joke?'
A wooden panel above the giant statue in the shape of a hand sign moved upward to reveal an electronic scoreboard. "This electronic scoreboard will show the match-ups for each battle. Now, let's announce the two names of the first fight."
Sakura watched names flash on the screen, finally settling on Sakura Haruno vs. Dosu Kinuta. So she would be fighting first. And against him too. She had already experienced his attack first hand in the Forest of Death. She knew that he attacked using sound waves. She wondered how she would beat him this time. She had found no way to block his attack and he had already seen she was capable of water and earth style ninjutsu.
"Now, these two entrants come to the front. The two participants in the first fight are Sakura Haruno and Dosu Kinuta. Are you ready?"
Both replied in the affirmative. Dosu was glaring at her with one eye. Sakura got the distinct feeling that he was not happy with her earth prison jutsu.
"We will now be starting the first match. Will everyone except the two participants move to the upper level?" Hayate coughed.
All the other gennin and their senseis made their way to the second level to watch the fight. Team 7 was worried about Sakura. None of them had actually seen her fight the mummy guy and they were afraid that she might lose this battle.
Sakura knew she had to end this battle quickly before Dosu got the chance to use that weird device on his arm. If he hit her with that and damaged her ear, it was over for her. She wouldn't be able to fight him like she did in the forest in this enclosed space.
Her first move was Earth Release: Earth Style Wall. He had already seen her use this jutsu. She would let him think that the few jutsus she used in the forest were all she knew. Unless he had been looking at Kabuto's ninja information cards, he wouldn't know about her ability for genjutsu.
Kakashi didn't even bother to pretend to be interested in his Icha Icha book. He was probably one of three in the stadium that actually believed that Sakura could win.
"Doton: Doryūheki!" A rock wall sprung to life in front of Sakura blocking her from view. Kakashi could instantly tell that neither of the two Sakuras that ran out from behind the wall was the real one, but they fooled the mummy look-a-like.
Kakashi was actually pretty sure that they were both earth clones like the ones she had used to carry Naruto and Sasuke to the tower. He could also sense the genjutsu the second she cast it. He wondered just when she had the time to learn the Demonic Illusion: Double False Surroundings technique. Whatever she had made Dosu see he didn't believe, because he canceled the first layer immediately. But he didn't seem to notice that there was a genjutsu still in place.
Kakashi applauded her for using the wall not only as a barrier to block his devastating sound wave attack, but also as an object to obstruct his line of sight so he couldn't see her creating both earth clones and regular clones and casting the genjutsu.
As he watched Sakura fight, Kakashi never imagined when he was assigned his team that the pink haired Sasuke fangirl would be the one to improve the most. During the first few weeks of training he had, admittedly he thought feeling guilt curl in his stomach, favored the two males. He had believed that their strong wills and unbreakable determination gave them the potential to go far in the ninja world. And he couldn't help but think his female student would be stuck behind a desk for her entire ninja career.
But, watching her outmaneuver a gennin older, stronger, and crueler than her, Kakashi was glad she was a part of his team. Now that he knew what she was capable of, he believed Team 7 would go on to become legendary in the ninja world, just like the legendary sannins.
Sakura's fight ended with her victory. Until the very end where she had trapped the Sound ninja in the Headhunter jutsu, he had never realized he was still in a genjutsu.
Sakura grinned happily when the proctor announced her the winner. Just by looking at the watching crowd, she could tell that only her three senseis believed her capable of winning. Everyone else thought the poor little pink haired girl was going to be crushed by one of the strongest ninja left in this competition. But she had showed them.
She went to the upper level to watch the rest of the preliminary matches with her team, quite glad she had gone first. Now she wouldn't have to wait and bite her nails worrying about who she was going to be paired up with.
The rosette reached her teammates. Naruto glomped her in a bear hug and spun her around in circles, yelling at the top of his lungs. Kakashi-sensei rescued her, setting her on her feet. He ruffled her hair and gave her his signature one eye smiled that said he was proud of her. Even Sasuke, still mad that she had finished the second exam for him, awarded her a small smile
Sakura leaned against the railing as the examiner had another coughing fit. Then the names started flashing again.
Fear gripped her gut as she read the two names it had stopped on. Tenten vs. Gaara. The red head was going to kill her friend. She had heard from Kiba and his team about the fight between the Sand ninja and a team of Grass ninja that they had witness. Gaara had enveloped them with sand and crushed them.
Gaara transported to the floor of the arena in a swirl of sand, glaring up at Tenten. Tenten was engaged in a whispered fight amongst her teammates. Sakura guessed they wanted her to forfeit, and that Tenten was being stubborn and foolish, wishing to fight.
Tenten ignored all three males and vaulted over the railing, landed in a crouch before Gaara and the proctor. Sakura swore the red head's jade eyes darkened a shade.
The match started and the bun headed girl immediately launched onto the offensive. Gaara made no move to defend himself against the oncoming projectiles. And apparently he didn't have. As soon as the kunais were in front of him his sand flew up to block them. He hadn't moved at all, not even to make a hand sign.
'It's like the sand has a will of its own.' Sakura wondered how that could be. It was the only thing that made sense as she watched it block Tenten's weapons at every turn, even when she tried to direct them with wire.
Kunais with explosion tags attached had no effect either. The sand completely blocked Gaara from the blast.
Tenten tried her Twin Rising Dragon technique. Sakura thought maybe she intended to overwhelm the Sand ninja with weapons in hopes that larger numbers meant one or two would slip through his defense.
They didn't. Gaara was starting to look a combination of bored and annoyed. It was very easy for Sakura to tell, even though his face was blank, because she saw Sasuke wear the same look many times already.
It seemed Tenten could tell as well. Or maybe she realized she couldn't beat him, because she raised her hand and forfeited. Although disappointed her only female friend hadn't made it through, Sakura was glad because she wasn't dead.
The third match was Naruto vs. Kiba Inuzuka.
It went down like nothing she could have expected. It started with the brunette male throwing Naruto across the room. Sakura hadn't even seen him move. Everyone had believed Naruto to be down for the count, so of course he stood up just to prove them all wrong.
Naruto said some things with pissed Kiba off. Kiba and Akamaru attacked, using a cloud of smoke to blind the blonde ninja and take him by surprise. Naruto was knocked to the floor again by the dog, which turned around and bit Kiba's arm.
The dog was actually a henged Naruto. A shadow clone was holding the real Akamaru. Kiba fed his canine companion a soldier pill. The dog's fur turned red and he struggled out of Naruto's grip. Kiba used his clan's jutsu, Jūjin Bunshin, and Akamaru turned into a clone of Kiba.
Both Kibas attacked, equally animalistic. Sakura couldn't tell which one was human and which one was the dog. Now they were even faster. Kiba and Akamaru in his Man Beast clone form were throwing Naruto around like a rag doll.
"Piercing Fang!" Kiba yelled. The two Kibas spiraled around Naruto, bashing him from all sides.
"Get up, Naruto!" Sakura yelled. 'All these people are finally acknowledging you, just like you wanted. Don't give up here, Naruto.'
Naruto climbed to his feet, making a speech about how he was going to be Hokage. Kiba used his Piercing Fang attack again, and when the smoke cleared there were three Kibas standing. Naruto had transformed into Kiba. Now he would be able to attack both Kiba and Akamaru and they couldn't attack him on the chance that they might be attacking their partner.
"Henge won't work!" Kiba yelled, punching another version of himself, "Because I can smell you, Naruto."
The Kiba he hit slid across the ground, sprawled on his back groaning. The henge disappeared only to reveal that Kiba had hit Akamaru instead. "But. . . How?" He swung around and punched the third Kiba, which turned out to be Akamaru as well.
The first Akamaru dropped the transformation, revealing Naruto this time, who delivered a swift kick to the underside of Kiba's chin. Kiba fell backwards, spitting out blood.
Naruto tried to perform a new special technique, Sakura wondered what technique he was talking about because she hadn't seen him working on anything new, but Kiba used his enhanced speed to get behind Naruto so he could attack before the knuckled headed ninja had the chance to use it.
And just when it looked like Kiba was going to take Naruto out, the boy clad in an orange jumpsuit farted right into the gennin's face. Naruto took advantage of the time Kiba was clutching his nose, eyes streaming, to make four shadow clones.
One Naruto leapt into the air. The other four surrounded Kiba and kicked him into the air with a cry of "Uzumaki!" the Naruto above Kiba brought his heel down on the brunette's head, yelling "Naruto Rendan!"
Kiba slammed face first into the ground, spitting out more blood.
"Winner: Naruto Uzumaki!" Hayate proclaimed. Sakura cheered.
Naruto ran back up to Team 7, with the energy he seemed to never run out of, and basked in the congratulations of his teammates.
The room quieted as they waited for the names for the fourth match. Sakura was surprised to see Sasuke's name pop up. She never would have thought all of Team 7 would get their matches out of the way so quickly.
The second name was decided. Sasuke Uchiha vs. Hinata Hyuuga.
Sasuke jumped down, smirk clearly visible on his face. He was clearly anticipating an easy win. And Sakura couldn't blame him. From what she had seen of Hinata, the girl was worse than she had been when they were first assigned teams.
The white eyed girl shakily made her own way down. Sasuke attacked as soon as Hayate said begin. He didn't bother with jutsu or even activate his Sharigan. He gripped a kunai and aimed a hit to the girl's neck with the blunt end, hoping to knock her out.
In the loudest voice Sakura had ever heard the purple haired girl use, which wasn't saying much because she never spoke above a whisper, Hinata activated her Byakugan.
She backed away from Sasuke's blow, falling into the standard Gentle Fist taijutsu stance of the Hyuuga clan. Sasuke's eyes bled red as he activated his own Doujutsu. Sakura wondered how the two eye techniques would hold up against each other.
The Byakugan would let Hinata see 360 degrees and Sasuke's chakra, but Sasuke's Sharingan would allow him to predict her move and make it seem like she was moving slowly.
The battle ended quickly after the two preteens activated their clan's kekkei genkai. While Hinata managed to block a handful of Sasuke's chakra points, he was the superior fighter and could easily defeat her without ninjutsu.
The handle of a kunai to the temple had Hinata unconscious, and Sasuke was declared the winner of the fourth match. He returned to their team with a smirk on his face, and despite the fact that she loved him; Sakura wished he had fought Neji instead, because the outcome probably would have been different if the male Hyuuga had fought.
The next match was Temari vs. Ino Yamanaka. The fight was over when Sakura blinked. The proctor said begin, the sandy blonde haired girl covered the distance in a flash, took the giant metal weapon from her back, smashed it into Ino's, and sent the platinum blonde sailing across the arena.
Sakura was starting to fear the gennin from Sand. If they were all this strong? She didn't finish that thought. She knew, though, that she didn't want to be pitted against any of them during the third part.
Ino was carried out on a stretcher and the next battle began. It was the last of the Sand team, Kankuro, versus Misumi Tsurugi.
Misumi's ability creeped Sakura out. Somehow, he could stretch any part of his body. It didn't help him. The Kankuro he was trying to strangle, he actually broke his neck, turned out to be a puppet controlled by the real Kankuro hidden in the wrappings on the puppets back.
The puppet's arms enclosed around Misumi and Kankuro unwrapped himself. The proctor declared the match over in favor of Kankuro.
The seventh match: Neji Hyuuga vs. Kin Tsuchi.
The female of the Sound team didn't fare well at all against the prodigy of the Hyuuga clan. Neji saw through the genjutsu cast by her bells easily with his Byakugan, and just as easily closed half of her chakra points.
Rock Lee versus Chouji Akamichi.
Lee danced his way down to the arena, glad his turn to fight had finally arrived. Sakura was surprised when it was Chouji that made the first move. Though when she actually thought about it, it wasn't that surprising since Lee preferred to let his opponent attack first to probe their skills.
Chouji's body expanded and his arms, legs, and head were retracted. The giant ball of Chouji tried to literally run down Lee. And it was moving much faster than Sakura would have believed the Akamichi capable of.
She knew that Chouji couldn't touch Lee. Even with the insane amount of weights the Gai clone was wearing, he was still faster than Chouji. Lee simply jumped to the side and let Chouji bulldoze straight into a wall. The heavyweight boy staggered to his feet, clearly dizzy from his own jutsu. With his hard earned speed, Lee finished the match.
The second to last match was Yoroi Akado vs. Shikamaru Nara.
Yoroi lunged towards Shikamaru, hand glowing blue with chakra. Shikamaru dodged the punch and jumped back into the shadow of the giant statue.
"Kagemane no Jutsu." Shikamaru's shadow stretched and expanded, speeding across the ground to connect with his opponent's shadow. The lazy genius stepped out of the shadows and maneuvered them both so he was standing in the middle of the arena and Yoroi stood in front of a wall.
Shikamaru reached into the weapons pouch on his hip and pulled out a single shuriken, Yoroi unwillingly copied his movements. "Now," the genius smirked, "let's play a game of chicken."
He hurled his shuriken, forcing Yoroi to do the same. At the last moment Shikamaru bent backwards, causing his opponent to bash his head on the wall. Shikamaru straightened up by preforming a backwards handspring.
The final match was Shino Aburame versus Zaku Abumi.
Sakura decided, after watching Shino destroy the Sound ninja's arms that she never wanted to fight the bug wielder. She didn't know how he managed to do it, but his Kikaichu got inside the tubes in his hand, preventing him from using his pressurized air attacks. Then the fool decided to try it anyway with the Kikaichu plugging both openings, and his chakra tore his arms apart from the inside.
"With this, the preliminary trials for the third exam have been completed!" The winners of the ten preliminary matches lined up before Hayate and the Hokage. "To all of you who won the right to compete in the third round test of the chuunin exams, congratulations!"
The Hokage took over to explain the third test. "As I told you before, in the main event, your matches will be seen by everybody. Each of you will fight to represent the strengths of your countries. I'd like you to show off all your powers with no reserves. Which is why the finals will be held one month from now. This break will be for preparations.
"There are pieces of paper inside the box Anko is holding, so each of you take one piece. Now then, I'd like you to tell us that number, from left to right.
"Alright, now I will reveal to you the final tournament!"
The final part of the exam was a standard tournament. Well, semi-standard anyway. With ten competitors it was set up so that the winner of the first match had to fight an extra match. It made Sakura very happy that she had drawn the number five. Two back to back battles in front of a huge crowd that would be judging her was not her idea of fun.
She was even happier when she learned that she could be promoted to chuunin even if she lost her first match, not that she was planning to. Her first opponent was Shino. From what she had seen his Kikaichu at chakra, so she would need to fight him at a distance. She couldn't risk losing any of her chakra to those bugs when she didn't have much to begin with.
The Hokage finally let them go, with a final good luck to the ten finalists, and Sakura went home, very glad to be back in the comfort of her own bed after five days sleeping in the forest.
Sakura knew she had a lot of work ahead of her as she prepared for the final part of the chuunin selection exams. She needed to learn more long range jutsus, increase her chakra reserves, and keep up her training in genjutsu and taijutsu.
She was waiting on the bridge for Kakashi-sensei along with Naruto and Sasuke. She still couldn't believe all of Team 7 had made it to the finals. Just thinking about the tournament made Sakura anxious. Naruto and Sasuke would be fighting each other in the first round, and the intensity of their rival made her worry. One of them would have to lose, and the loser would probably be bitter. Or at least Sasuke would be if he was to one to lose.
It also made her wonder what Kakashi-sensei would do about their training. There was no way he could train both Naruto and Sasuke, and it would be completely unfair for him to pick one over the other. She briefly thought that he would train her, so as to not favor one boy over the other, but she dismissed that thought quickly. Even if she did win her first match, there was no way she would get to the end of the tournament. Kakashi-sensei would just be wasting his time if he focused on her training. So maybe he would find someone else to train all three of them for the next month.
She learned she was half right when Kakashi-sensei finally arrived, actually five hours late today. He would not train either Naruto or Sasuke (who hn'ed and said he was training with his father and brother), but he would be training her. It wasn't all day every day because he also had arranged for Sakura to learn the basics of medical ninjutsu.
That decision had surprised the pinkette and made her think. She had never considered training to become a medical ninja before. She thought it was stupid to not have considered it by now. She wanted to help Sasuke in any way possible, and if she were to become a medical ninja she could certainly do that. Then Sakura would always be able to heal any injuries she might have. And it would help the overall success rate of her team.
And so the most hectic month of Sakura's life began.
She woke up early every morning without fail to do her basic endurance training before meeting with Gai-sensei in the morning. Sakura would have felt guilty about that, but Lee did not mind training with, as they green duo dubbed her, Konoha's most youthful blossom, and Neji trained in secret with the assistance of Tenten.
Taijutsu was followed by genjutsu with Kurenai-sensei, when she wasn't busy with Shino. But Shino, like Sasuke, spent most of his time training with his clan, so the genjutsu mistress was often available and willing to train her, despite Sakura being her student's opponent.
Afternoons were spent at the hospital. The path of a medical ninja was a difficult one, but Sakura was taking to it like a fish to water.
It was Sakura's first day of training at the hospital. She wasn't quite sure what to expect, but it definitely wasn't being sat down in the Head Medic's office and given a stern talking to about the expectations of a ninja aspiring to be a medical ninja and of the many dangers that came from this profession.
"If you wish to learn medical ninjutsu I expect you to continue through with the training of a medical ninja. You can't stop just because you think being a medical ninja is too hard. I will require absolute dedication and one hundred percent effort from you. If you cannot give me that then get out."
The young girl swore to see this endeavor through to the end, determination burning in her eyes. The Head medic nodded acknowledgment and continued his speech.
"A medical ninja is one of the hardest professions in the shinobi world. It certainly has to be one of the most stressful. There will be no slacking in your duties. Always arrive early. If you ever come late I will terminate your training. Lives are depending on you."
Sakura gulped. This was a huge undertaking. Was she really ready to commit herself to this? She was only twelve.
"Being a medical ninja is a dangerous profession. Since you are the one that supports a whole squad, enemy ninja will be aiming for you first. Take out the medic of the team, and the rest of the team is handicapped. That's why there are rules that dictate a medic's role on the team, the Medic's Code.
"There are four clauses to the Medic's Code. If you do not think you can follow this code, leave and don't come back." Dark gray eyes glared at her.
"First clause: No medic ninja shall ever stop medical treatment until the lives of their party members come to an end.
"Second clause: No medic ninja shall ever stand on the front line.
"Third clause: No medic ninja shall ever die until they are the last of their platoon.
"Fourth clause: Only those medic ninja who have mastered the Strength of a Hundred Technique and the ninja art Creation Rebirth are permitted to discard the above mentioned laws."
While Sakura agreed that the medic was the most important member of the team, she was not going to let that stop her from being an equal member of her team. She refused to sit back and let her teammates protect her. She would learn those last two techniques so she could stand by her teammates' sides at all times. She wouldn't stay safe in the village working in the hospital. She would be a field medic.
In Sakura's opinion, her medic training was the hardest to master. She had been given the task of healing a fish close to death. The Head Medic had left her to her own devices with the advice of not getting too discouraged, being a medic required effort and dedication. It was a skill that took months to develop even the basics.
But Sakura had only one month. So, when she was done in the late afternoon with her training with Kakashi-sensei, she would return to the hospital. Her pink hair had become a common site around there, and nurses and medics stopped asking her what she was doing lurking around in a hospital room.
Her Saturdays were completely taken by training with Kakashi-sensei. He was helping her increase her chakra reserves and teaching her to sense chakra signatures. Surprisingly, he was never once late to their training sessions. He was actually there before her every day.
She devoted all day Sunday to the hospital as well. She thought she had even surprised the Head Medic with her determination. He was certainly amazed at her progress each time he came to check in on her. According to him, no one since Tsunade, one of the Legendary Sannin, had ever learned this fast. Sakura thought he was exaggerating her ability because she had yet to heal the fish.
Sakura's schedule was so busy that she never even thought about how Naruto and Sasuke were doing and if their training was progressing as well as hers. Finally, the day before the tournament had arrived. It was Sunday and Sakura was still trying to learn the Mystical Palm technique.
The Head Medic entered the room she was using to practice to check in on her progress that day and to wish her good luck in the finals. He was met with an unusual sight, at least for those that worked in the hospital.
Quiet, reserved, determined, composed, polite Sakura was dancing around the room laughing happily and loudly.
The Head Medic opened his mouth to give the rosette a dressing down on appropriate behavior while in a hospital, only to drop his jaw when the girl danced to the right and gave him a view of the fish she had been working on for the last month.
It was flopping around on the scroll! It was alive! He couldn't believe it. A little slip of a girl with ridiculous pink locks had managed to master the first step in just one month. One month!
He dismissed the girl early, both as reward for her accomplishment and because she needed to take the time to relax before tomorrow. He had never seen anyone learn medical jutsu so quickly. After a few moments thinking, he decided to take her on as his apprentice. It wasn't a difficult decision for him to make, for it would have been a crime for him to let that much talent and potential go untrained
The ten finalists of the chuunin exams stood in a line behind Hayate, the proctor for the third exam. Sakura was between her two teammates, Naruto on her left and Sasuke on her right.
Behind each contender was their sensei. Aside from the Suna team, which had one jounin between the three of them, and Gai-sensei who stood between Neji and Lee, each gennin had their own. All of Sakura's senseis had agreed that Kakashi should be the one to stand with her on this day. Kurenai-sensei stood behind Shino, an old man with long white spiky hair that Sakura recognized as Jiraiya, another one of the Legendary Sannin, was behind her blonde teammate. Sasuke's older brother, Itachi, stood at his shoulder.
"Thanks everyone for coming to the Hidden Leaf chuunin selection exam! We will now start the main tournament matches between the ten participants that made it through the preliminaries." The Hokage welcomed.
"Alright guys, this is the final test. The arena is different but the rules are the same as in the prelims, there are none. You fight until one of you dies or acknowledges defeat. But if I determine the fight is over I'll step in and stop it, you got that?" Hayate was still coughing.
"Now, the first fight, Rock Lee versus Kankuro. Those two stay here will the rest of you go to the waiting room. Senseis can go with the students or take a seat in the stands."
Sakura was pleased when Kakashi-sensei followed her to the room she would be watching the tournament from. He didn't say anything, just placed a supporting hand on her shoulder, which she was grateful for because she was sure that if she tried to speak nothing would come out.
"Now, the first fight, BEGIN!"
Sakura watched the first fight with interest. It wasn't the best match up for Lee, a close combat fighter with no chakra, against a puppet master who could hold Lee at a distance. Then again, she knew firsthand just how fast the gennin in green spandex could move.
She had to mentally correct herself the next second. Unbelievably, Lee's already incredible speed had gotten faster in the last month. He was a blur of green and orange that her eye could only keep up with because the arena was brown.
Kankuro, however, seemed to have no problem defending against Lee's speed. He used his puppets four detachable arms to help block Lee's attacks from every direction. After five minutes of getting nowhere, Lee removed the weights, which Sakura wasn't even aware he had and made her jaw drop in disbelief of how fast he was with them, he had been wearing hidden under his orange leg warmers.
The weights literally shook the ground when he dropped them, creating craters five meters across. And then he disappeared from sight.
The Sand nin had trouble at this point. He was no match for Lee's insane speed, and he realized it too. To counter his inability to doge, Kankuro summoned another puppet, this one much larger than the first, and hid himself inside.
Lee continued his relentless attack, but whatever wood that puppet was made of prevent Lee from shattering it to pieces and revealing the ninja hidden inside. Sakura thought its durableness most likely came from Kankuro inputting chakra to enhance its sturdiness.
Lee stopped, realizing that repeatedly attacking the puppet wasn't getting him anywhere.
"Third Gate: Gate of Life, open!"
Next to her Kakashi stiffened, his lone eye widening in disbelief. Sakura watched Lee as green chakra surrounded him and his skin turned red.
"Fourth Gate: Gate of Pain, open!"
Kakashi-sensei's knuckles turned white, he was gripping the railing so hard. Sakura was starting to worry about him.
"Fifth Gate: Gate of Limit, open!"
Sakura swore a blood vessel or ten burst in her silver haired sensei's forehead. By this point Lee's skin had gotten darker, veins erupted around his temples, and his eyes were completely white.
Impossibly, in Sakura's opinion, Lee was moving even faster, and one punch destroyed the puppet that Kankuro had taken safety in. Before the puppeteer could summon another puppet, Lee had punched him clear across the stadium and into the stone wall. He grinned in triumph, the redness of his skin receding and his eyes returning to normal, and then he collapsed.
Hayate looked at both gennin, waiting for one to stand. When neither moved, he declared the first match a draw. Medics removed both unconscious gennin as the sick man called down the next two fighters.
Meanwhile Sakura was edging away from her sensei, who was muttering darkly under his breath about irresponsible senseis teaching gennin to open the inner gates.
The blonde kunoichi unfurled her giant fan and floated down to arena floor. Shikamaru didn't seem to be in any hurry. Actually, Sakura thought, he looked like he just wanted to forfeit. With a little encouragement from Naruto, the lazy genius quickly made his way down to the arena. And by encouragement she meant a shove in the back that shoved Shikamaru over the railing and onto the ground at the base of the stadium wall.
Temari, seeing her opponent had no intention of getting off the ground, charged, "If you won't come, then I will!" completely disregarding the proctor's protest about not having started the match yet.
The kunoichi slammed the metal butt of her fan down at Shikamaru's head, raising a cloud of dirt.
The dirt settled to reveal Shikamaru standing on two kunai he had thrown at the wall. "Ya know, I don't really want to fight, and I don't really care if I become a chuunin or not, but I'm not about to lose to a girl."
Sakura wasn't the only one offended by that remark if she was reading the blonde's face correctly. Sakura silently vowed to find the Nara once this was all over and kick his ass.
Temari opened her fan all the way and swung it in Shikamaru's direction. It created a large gust of wind, but Shikamaru was no longer standing on the kunai, having taken refuge behind one of the few trees in the arena.
Temari held her fan in front of her with one had at the base. "Kamaitachi no Jutsu!" The wind sliced through the trees Shikamaru had taken shelter in, tearing holes into his shirt and giving him a few superficial cuts.
Sakura watched closely, cursing all the dirt the wind user's attack overturned for blocking her vision, waiting for something to happen.
She didn't have to wait long, as the weapon wielder gained a look of horror on her face and jumped backwards three times, chased by Shikamaru's Kagemane no Jutsu. The shadow fell short and the girl drew a line in the ground with her fan to mark the extent of the male's jutsu.
"Looks like there's a limit to how much you can stretch, shrink and change the shape of your shadow, isn't there?" she asked, smirking. "No matter how much you change and stretch the shape of your shadow, you still can't stretch it any further than the surface area of your normal shadow, that right?"
"That's right," Shikamaru chuckled, crouching and putting his fingertips together, arms bent at the elbows and thumb on top. After half a minute of thinking he opened his eyes, reaching his left arm back into his weapons pouch.
Temari moved first, using her Kamaitachi no Jutsu again. Shikamaru took cover behind a tree.
A kunai came flying out towards Temari, who easily blocked with her fan. The shadow came out again, but this time, to the blonde's shock, it went passed the line she had already drawn.
Sakura reasoned that Shikamaru had tried to waste time to increase the length of both his own shadow and that of the wall's in order to catch the girl by surprise when it went further than she expected.
This time Shikamaru did not immediately release his jutsu. Temari focused her eyes on the ground, watching Shikamaru's shadow and thinking hard about something. She was so engrossed in her thinking that she didn't notice the shadow that appeared on the ground in front of Shikamaru's extended one.
Before the girl could react, Shikamaru's shadow had connected with the new one and shot out the other side, connecting with Temari's shadow and trapping her in the genius's Kagemane no Jutsu.
Shikamaru had attached his shirt to a kunai with his headband to make a make shift parachute in order to create the shadow he needed to give him that little bit of extra distance.
"Finally, Kagemane no Jutsu, success!"
Shikamaru walked forward out of the wall's shadow, forcing Temari to walk to the middle of the arena with him.
"Kage–Kubishibari no Jutsu." A shadow in the shape of a hand reached up and wrapped its dark fingers around Temari's throat. Faced with Shikamaru's shadow strangle jutsu, the female ninja forfeited.
Kakashi placed a hand on her shoulder, causing the pinkette to look up questioningly at her sensei. He gave her a one eyed smile. "You'll be fine, Sakura-chan."
Sakura took a depth breath and followed the quiet bug user down. Kakashi-sensei's faith in her bolstered her spirits.
Neither gennin wasted any time once the proctor allowed them to begin. Shino raised his arms and a mass of writhing bugs flew at her. Sakura implemented the plan she had been working on since the preliminaries had ended and her opponent for the finals had been chosen.
"Earth Release: Earth Dome jutsu!"
The barrier of earth sprung around her, completely blocking the pink haired girl from the Aburame's Kikaichu. She knew she had to move fast because the bugs fed off of chakra and would soon eat through her earth dome.
"Doton Kage Bunshin." She was glad the rock barrier between her and Shino would prevent him from hearing which jutsus she was using.
"Doton: Moguragakure no Jutsu." The Earth Style: Hiding Like a Mole technique which Kakashi-sensei had taught her worked perfectly and Sakura was able to burrow into the ground. The Earth Style Shadow Clone she left behind would distract and confuse Shino long enough for her to launch her surprise attack.
Sakura waited until she felt her earth dome jutsu falter, signaling that the Kikaichu had eaten their way through and were no focused on her clone before she attacked.
She released her Hiding Like a Mole jutsu and came up behind Shino. Before the bug wielder could react to her sudden appearance, Sakura had him trapped.
"Suirō no Jutsu!"
Sakura spat out a stream of water which formed a ball around Shino. Now that he was in her water prison jutsu, he wouldn't be able to use chakra. She was so glad she had taken the time to learn this jutsu after Zabuza had used it on Kakashi-sensei. It had to be the only way to defeat an Aburame.
Hayate ended the match, declaring Sakura the winner. She released her jutsu and her and Shino returned to the viewing deck. Kakashi-sensei had ruffled her hair again. Sakura was beginning to think he did it on purpose because he knew it annoyed her.
Naruto barely had the time to offer her congratulations before he was called for his fight with Sasuke.
Sakura had to restrain herself from biting her nails as cerulean blue eyes clashed with dark onyx eyes. Naruto extended his right arm, hand clenched in a fist; Sasuke mimicked him. And then they bumped fists. That was when Sakura let out a sigh of relief. This was just going to be another spar between them. A match between rivals.
The pinkette relaxed her posture and got ready to enjoy the fourth match, wondering who would come out on top this time. The two of them had fought so many times, but the record of wins and losses was pretty even. Sasuke was faster than Naruto. He had better aim and could strategize, which Naruto seemed incapable of. Naruto, however, had numbers on his side, along with his creativity, ability to think on the fly, and his pure stubbornness. Sakura had no way of predicting who would win this fight.
Her teammates put on an impressive display. Sasuke's control of fire jutsu had gotten even better, and he had shown off some basic lighting based jutsus as well. Naruto had gotten faster, he could now keep up with the dark haired boy, and he had learned some wind jutsus. He even used them tactically to his advantage.
The fight devolved into hand to hand combat, and from there into a whaling match. They were literally trying to just beat the crap out of each other, and they were doing a good of it. Splotches of black and blue bruises bloomed into existence any time they landed a hit.
In a plume of smoke, Naruto exploded from one Naruto to one hundred. As he charged Sasuke, who easily managed to defend himself with use of his Sharingan, Sakura got the feeling that her two boys weren't actually aiming to win the match, but use the other's skills to best show off their own.
The smirks on their faces only made her more confident of her theory. 'They probably planned this since they and drawn numbers.'
The fight continued to grow in intensity, the two males of Team 7 completely dazzling the audience with their display of power. After ten minutes of showcasing new skills they had worked on for the last month, both Naruto and Sasuke stopped.
They stood facing the other with only 10 meters between them. Silence reigned in the stadium as they waited to see who would move first.
Sakura face palmed. Of course they had to insult each other. It wasn't an official fight between them if they didn't.
"Let's finish this."
"One final attack."
And then they charged. The distance between them was eaten up quickly. Fists were drawn back. Both ducked under the incoming attack and spun around, placing a kunai at the other's throat.
There was absolute silence. Then Naruto laughed loudly and Sasuke chuckled. Hayate ended the match in a draw.
Sakura wondered how the second round of the tournament would work with three competitors. Would it became a three way battle, or would one of them get a bye into the final round?
Naruto and Sasuke had rejoined her and Kakashi-sensei. The blonde was grinning broadly with his hands behind his head. The raven haired male had his hands in his pockets.
"You two planned for that." Sakura asked, although it sounded more like a statement.
Sasuke's lips quirked up slightly at one end and Naruto's grin turned sheepish, confirming her suspicions. She shook her head fondly; of course those two would rig a battle of the chuunin selection exams.
The final match of the first round had gone nothing like Sakura had expected.
Of course she knew it was a battle of who had the greatest defense. Neji attacked the blood red haired boy with his Gentle Fist, and when he was blocked by the sand the responded instinctively he was blocked by the armor of sand Gaara wore. Gaara would send tendrils of sand to slap at the Hyuuga, but he skillfully dodged and weaved his way between them, and when he couldn't he rotated and expelled chakra from his chakra points creating a shield of pure chakra that the sand couldn't get through.
This was a battle of intelligence and defense, and to be quite honest, it bored Sakura to watch a whole fight based on defending in the same manner repeatedly.
That was when chaos descended.
The red head formed the ram seal. "Tanuki Neiri no Jutsu."
'What? He's putting himself into an induced sleep? Why?'
That question was answered when what could only be described as a monster took form. It was a sandy brown color with black markings all over its face, body, and really huge tail that was slamming into the stadium wall. The majority of its eyes were black and the pupil was yellow.
The monster let out a roar. Gaara, she could see, was on top of the beast's head.
"Sakura, go after them!" her sensei ordered.
'Go after who?' she thought. Naruto and Sasuke were running down the stadium wall towards that damn beast that could kill them mindlessly with a swish of its tail. 'Those idiots!'
Sakura, Itachi, and Kakashi-sensei all took off at the same time. Sakura down the wall, chasing after her two idiots of teammates that she was going to murder when this was all over, and her sensei and the Uchiha towards the Hokage's battle on the rooftop.
She reached her teammates, who were having no success attacking the giant clawed feet, and promptly slammed her fists into their skulls. Not that she thought they did any damage. The two of them had very thick skulls or else they wouldn't have literally ran head on into this situation.
"Are you two crazy? Don't answer that. It was a rhetorical question." She snapped when Naruto opened his mouth to refute her. "If you were actually planning on fighting this thing you should have attacked Gaara. End his sleeping jutsu and whatever the hell this thing is will disappear."
"Get lost all of you. This is my fight."
Sakura stared in disbelief at Neji. She had actually forgotten he was fighting Gaara when that monster appeared. Was he serious? There was no way he could beat this thing on his own.
"Just who the hell do you think you are, you bastard!" Naruto yelled. "You can't fight Gaara on your own."
The Hyuuga leveled them with a cool look. "The proctor has not called this match as over, therefore, it is still my battle. Do not interfere."
'He was serious,' Sakura thought weakly.
Naruto didn't agree with that answer. He nailed Neji right in the face, and giving that there was a loud crack, broke his nose. "You're going to need help if you're going to take this thing down." He said, gesturing to the monster that was systematically destroying the stadium behind them.
"I will not. I was destined to fight Gaara." Neji said thickly. Sakura was surprised his voice didn't come out muffled or unintelligible. She guessed a Hyuuga was always dignified, even if he did have a broken nose.
"What does fate have anything to do with this?" asked Naruto. He didn't wait for an answer from the brunette, instead turning to face his teammates. "So, how are we going to do this?"
He had directed the question at her, but Sasuke chose that moment to finally speak up. "Dobe, you and I will climb up there and wake up the sand ninja. Sakura, you stay here."
Sakura gaped at his demand as he and Naruto ran up the monster's leg. How on earth could he expect her to just stand here while they were in danger? Never mind that she could be crushed if the monster ever moved its feet.
The beast let out another loud roar, this time accompanied by chakra. A section of the stands was blown apart, completely destroyed by the blast of chakra enhanced air.
Sakura watched unbelieving as her teammates scaled the beast and it never noticed them. They had reached his chest before it had finally realized there were two people running up him.
The beast stared at them with beady yellow eyes as if unable to comprehend what he was seeing.
"Sand Shuriken!" the monster's voice was higher pitched than she imagined, and when it growled she wanted to laugh. The desire was lost when thousands of shurikens made of sand were launched from the beast's arm. There were way too many for Naruto and Sasuke to dodge, and they seemed never ending.
Sakura knew she had to do something. She couldn't just stand here like a civilian when her teammates were in danger. With Kakashi-sensei's words echoing in her mind 'a ninja who breaks the rules is scum, but a ninja who abandons his comrades is worse than scum,' Sakura scaled the beast herself, determined to be of help to Naruto and Sasuke.
She finally reached them; they had stopped their ascent to block the sand shurikens before they were impaled. "Suiton: Teppōo!" A wave of water gushed out of her mouth. It made the sand heavier. The water logged sand was too dense to move quickly, and it allowed Sakura to grab her two teammates and haul them up to the monster's shoulder.
Sasuke brushed her arm off violently. "What are you doing, Sakura? I told you to stay down there." He glared at her. Sakura ignored him, more concerned with reaching Gaara and waking him up then with his being upset at her.
Naruto also seemed to be focusing on the issue at hand. He made twenty shadow clones and used them to throw himself at Gaara. It didn't work as, unfortunately, even in this state the boy's sand defended him without his direction.
The sand stirred itself into a frenzy, making it impossible to get within five meters of the red head.
Then what seemed to be difficult became insane. A sand clone of Gaara rose into existence next to the real one. It glared at the three of them. Apparently, it was going to do everything possible to keep them away from the real Gaara and prevent them from ending his Feigned Sleep jutsu.
The sand clone proceeded to attack, drawing Sasuke and Naruto into a three way battle. Sakura didn't know whether to thank Kami for the stroke of luck or be annoyed that she clearly wasn't considered to be a threat.
She went with thanking Kami because otherwise she would enter the fight that was out of her league and get herself killed. Besides, if the sand clone was going to conveniently forget about her, she would use it to her advantage to bash in Gaara's skull.
And that's exactly what Sakura did. Unnoticed by all three ninja, she walked right up to Gaara and slammed one of her fists into his forehead. His cold jade eyes snapped open to glare at her. With him awake, the sand clone disappeared, causing Naruto and Sasuke to look at Gaara and see him awake with her standing next to him.
The giant monster started to crumble into sand. Gaara, not at all pleased with the outcome of this fight, slammed a tendril of sand into all three of them, throwing them clear off the crumbling monster's head.
Sakura slammed into something soft. With a groan she picked herself up to see what had broken her fall. It turns out she had landed on Naruto. A groan from beneath the blonde alerted her to Sasuke's presence underneath them both.
The rosette quickly scurried off of Naruto and dragged his dead weight off of their teammate. Sasuke, too, was unconscious, but in pain if the blood falling down from the corner of his mouth was anything to go by.
Sakura placed her hands over his chest, using the Mystical Palm technique to diagnose his injuries. Whether from the fall itself or her and Naruto landing on him; Sasuke had broken two ribs on his right side. She hesitated to heal her dark haired teammate. She had only managed to use the Mystical Palm technique successfully for the first time yesterday. Would she be able to heal Sasuke, or would she make his injuries worse by attempting to do so?
Sakura decided she didn't have much of a choice when he coughed up more blood. Her healing chakra flooded his body. She wasn't sure what she was supposed to do in order to speed up his body's natural healing of broken bones. She settled for willing her chakra to knit the bone back together.
The pinkette was so focused on her jutsu, unwilling to lose her concentration and end up hurting Sasuke that she didn't notice that crowd of ninja that had formed around Team 7. If she had the chance to look before she fell unconscious from exhaustion, she would have seen all of the Konoha gennin and their senseis, Sasuke's parents and brother, and two members of the medical core that had been assigned to attend to injuries during the chuunin exams gaping at her.