Almost three weeks had passed since the Zabuza arc. During those three weeks, team 7 had been kept to doing small jobs, and light training. After working with my team, I would head off to the training grounds to meet with Hinata.
The first time I met up with Hinata after the Zabuza arc, I gave her a brief run down on what I'd like to specifically improve in i.e.; how many times I could heal someone before fatigue overwhelmed me; how to keep focus and concentration in the heat of battle in order to heal myself; quicker reaction time; also, more improvement on my taijutsu in general.
Hinata, being the amazingly-epically-adorably-awesome person she was, knew exactly how to help me in most of the areas.
From four to ten we trained during those almost-four-weeks. For the first two hours we worked on endurance, both Hinata and I finally being able to reach the two-hour limit of nonstop attacks at the end of our almost-four-weeks training session.
The next hour, we worked on taijutsu. Dodging and delivering blows. Mostly, we spent the first half hour going through drills; tumbling, flipping, punching, and kicking. The next we would spend sparring.
The following hour was a little different for both of us. Hinata needed more help with her taijutsu (she was just fine enduring blows, kind of, but her overall damage with strictly taijutsu was a little below average. Not that I was complaining; she was too adorable for me to be complaining) and I needed help with keeping focus in battle long enough to heal. So, she would hit me and after a couple of hits, I would try to heal. The first week of doing this, she gave me space and time to gather my focus and heal. The following weeks she just charged right through.
I had to confess that I quite sucked that first week at it. Every time she charged at me, I lost focus and my chakra would fade. Towards the end of the first week she gave me a few tips to keep my focus. My inner was a huge help, also. Only on the last day of our training was I able to successfully able to heal myself in battle.
The last two hours were a little different for both of us. I needed help in healing more than just flesh tissue. Inner was right that practice was the key to expanding my endurance, so during those two hours I would heal my fatigue and Hinata's. Once I finished, Hinata would practice her gentle palm technique on me. It kind of sucked at first, but I knew she needed some kind of practice dummy, so I volunteered. Usually my chakra was blocked for about ten minutes each. During that time Hinata and I would stick to taijutsu without chakra which was immensely tiring—at least for myself. Then at the end of the ten minutes when my chakra came back, I healed away our fatigue, and we started again.
This daily training was extremely tiring for both of us. The moment I reached 'home', I crashed in bed and slept. I rarely took a shower at night anymore, simply too tired to do shit about it. Occasionally, I'd be able to stay up a little later after training, during that time though I usually read more medical books.
Anyway, that was pretty much all that happened. Completely uneventful and boring. At least it was… until at long last… the Chūnin Arc arrived.
It was after another meaningless mission of walking dogs. We were all heading in the same direction when a hawk sounded from above.
Sasuke and Naruto were bickering again, so they didn't notice, but Kakashi did. His head tilted up as he looked up at the sky, the hawk crying out again.
"Now then, huh?" he mused, so quietly, under his breath.
I felt a frown pass over my face for a moment as a sense of déjà vu washed over me.
Sasuke started walking away, pulling my attention from my all-time favorite silver-haired man.
"Oi, Duck-Ass," I called.
He paused, glancing over his shoulder, his eyes narrowed.
"We're still going to spar tomorrow, right?" I asked.
At that question Naruto's eyes widened. "What? When did you two make plans? Sakura-chan why do you want to spar with him?"
Sasuke and I momentarily ignored Naruto. Forgive me, Oh-Adorable-One. Sasuke smirked slightly. "Hn. Of course."
Then without another backwards glance, he headed off. Only then did I answer Naruto's question. "Well… I've been wanting to improve my medical training, as you know, and I've been privately sparring with Hinata-chan for a while now… She's been a great help and all, but I'm afraid I might be getting too used to her fighting style. I figured I'd test my theory and spar with Sasuke."
"Then why not spar with me, Sakura-chan?" Naruto pouted.
"'Cause I couldn't dream of harming that adorable face," I cooed, moving my hand to pat his cheek. He blushed. "And Sasuke was the one complaining about not finding a suitable sparring partner. I may not be the best, but I'd like to imagine I might be able to endurance through most—if not all—of his attacks. Or outwit. Who knows?"
Naruto sighed. "Damn it… why didn't I think about asking Sakura-chan first…?"
Suddenly, a bright light flashed above my head. I grinned. "Ne, ne, Naruto…"
"Hmm?" Naruto asked.
"Hinata-chan could probably use a sparring partner too," I sung. "Why don't you spar with her?"
Naruto brightened. "Really? You think she'd want to spar with me?"
"Abso-friggin'-lutely," I said, nodding my head. "I'll talk to her tonight when we train, okay?"
Naruto beamed. "Thanks Sakura-chan!"
Before I could reply, there was a loud poof from behind us. I turned around to see Kakashi was gone. I gave a slight inward pout.
Aww… someone sad their sensei is gone?
Yes! I wanted to walk a little more with him. Damn it.
Someone has a crush on their sensei?
It's not a crush. In a fangirl idolization.
Well does someone have a crush on anyone?
Not that I know of.
Not even a little?
I don't think so. I used to have a crush on Tobi.
But… he's old.
So is Kakuzu and I had a crush on him, too.
That's just disturbing.
Meh. I thought his voice was sexy in dubbed.
Okay… I guess I can understand that. But, what about now? I don't suppose you like Duck-Ass?
Just because I'm Sakura now, doesn't mean I'm going to be giving SasuSaku fans any help.
What about NaruSaku?
Ew. No. I think of him as a brother now. Besides, I support NaruHina. Hinata and him are just too cute together. Don't you dare try to deny it.
Although not as cute as Kisame-sama, of course.
Hey, who are they?
I was pulled out of my zonings to see Konohamaru, Moegi, Udon, Naruto… and Kankurō and Temari? Damn it! I missed their big entrance.
Kankurō was holding Konohamaru up and glaring at the kid. "You're very energetic, kid. That actually hurt."
Naruto glowered at Kankurō before rushing forward. "Let him go!"
Kankurō smirked, using his free hand he waggled his fingers. Naruto fell face first into the ground. I scowled.
"Oi, make-up boy," I said, stepping up. "Put the brat down."
Kankurō's eyes narrowed. "Stay out of this, little girl."
I placed my hands on my hip. "Let him go or I'll kick the shit out of you, doll boy."
"Doll—?" Kankurō's face flushed and he prepared to move his fingers again. In the same instant my hand dropped down to my side, pulling out a kunai and twirling it in my fingers.
Before anything could happen, though, a rock flew out of the air and hit Kankurō on the hand. Kankurō winced and released Konohamaru. The kid fell to the ground before scrambling away. Kankurō glared and looked up to where the rock came from.
There looking like some wannabe cool guy, sat Sasuke in the tree branch. He was smirking, tossing a rock up and down in the air with his left hand. "What do you think you're doing here?"
"Tch," Kankurō growled. "Another kid that pisses me off…"
Sasuke stopped throwing the rock, catching it in the air and then crushing it in his hands. He glared. "Get lost."
"Hey, come down, kid," Kankurō said, glaring right back up at Sasuke. "I hate kids like you, who think they're so clever." Kankurō reached behind him, pulling down his mummified puppet.
"You're going to use Karasu?" Temari asked, her eyes wide.
Before anything more could happen, a single, chilling voice broke through the air.
Sasuke's eyes widened, as did my own. There, behind Sasuke, was Gaara. He stared down at us—mainly at Kankurō with an apathetic gaze. "You're a disgrace to our village."
I continued to stare at him, my eyes wide. This is…
"Why do you think we came all the way here to Konoha?" Gaara continued, his voice a deep whisper. A hushed voice, almost. But, held no emotion in it.
I didn't pay attention to Kankurō's pitiful excuse.
"Shut up," Gaara said, his voice never rising.
Holy tamoli, it's…
"I'll kill you," Gaara finished, his eyes narrowing.
I don't believe it…
"Excuse them," Gaara said, turning towards me and the others. He then dispersed into sand, reappearing on the ground. "Let's go. We didn't come here to fool around."
He, Temari and Kankurō slowly turned to leave before I found myself stopping them. "Wait."
They paused, Temari and Kankurō looking back. I took a step forward, hesitantly. "You're here for the Chūnin Exams, right?"
"Chūnin Exams?" Naruto asked. I gave him an impatient wave of my hand, motioning that I'd explain it to him later.
"Correct," Temari answered.
I smiled and gave a slight bow. "I'm Haruno Sakura, I'd like to personally welcome you three to Konoha."
Both Temari and Kankurō looked a little caught off guard by my—I'm sure—unnervingly warm hospitality. I could definitely feel the questioning gazes of my teammates.
"I'm Temari," Temari said after a moment.
"Kankurō," Kankurō said.
Gaara had slowly turned around now, his apathetic gaze meeting my own. "I am Gaara—"
Of the Funk!
"—Of the Sand."
"It's a pleasure," I greeted them. "This is my teammates, Uchiha Sasuke and Uzumaki Naruto." I gestured to each of them separately. "I hope you have a very nice day."
Sasuke had now jumped down from his tree, staring at me skeptically. Gaara gave an ever so slight nod of his head before he began walking away, Temari and Kankurō right behind him.
Never before had I ever expected this outcome.
It was official.
I was now a Gaara fan girl.
Up close and personal, he really was as cute as everyone claimed him to be. I never really gave him a second look for fangirl material, to be perfectly honest, when I watched the series, but… seeing him in real life—he was friggin' cute… and hot at the same time! How was that possible?
I didn't know how, but it was. With his panda bear eyes and amazing voice… it's damn near impossible not to adore him.
Inner, I now have another goal.
And what might that be, Outer?
I am going to become friends with Gaara, I decided.
…That's it? No GaaSaku love going on? What the hell, that's too anticlimactic. Some readers would like a little romance you know.
No time for such silly things! Now is the time for making plans in becoming BFFs with Gaara.
… You disturbed little child.
"I don't suppose you'd mind explaining what that was about?" Sasuke asked after the sand trio was out of ear shot.
"Yeah, Sakura-chan, why did you get so friendly all of a sudden?" Naruto voiced.
"He's amazing," I breathed, still staring at the spot where I had last seen Gaara. "I want to hug him, so bad."
"Who's amazing?" Naruto asked, both eyebrows raised.
Sasuke stared at me for a moment before frowning. "You mean… Gaara?"
I nodded my head absently. "Don't you just want to hug him? Did you see his eyes? Weren't they phenomenal? No… weren't they absolutely adorable? Didn't they remind you of a panda?"
Sasuke shook his head in exasperation. "I don't believe you. You've become a fangirl for him."
"Yes," I said breathlessly, practically swooning. "Yes, I believe I have."
Naruto gaped at me. "But, he… he was so cold…!"
I waved my hand in a dismissive gesture. The gesture must have seen familiar because Naruto's eyes widened briefly before he asked, "What are the Chūnin Exams?"
Sasuke rolled his eyes. "Idiot."
"Bastard!" Naruto growled.
"The Chūnin exams are a form of selection for Genin to obtain the Chūnin rank, if you pass that is," I answered. I then shook my head. "Enough about this… I better get going…"
The next morning we were all gathered on the bridge.
"Good morning everyone," I greeted. Sasuke looked completely zoned out while Naruto looked slightly irritated by Kakashi's late arrival.
I turned to Naruto. "Hinata-chan said she's willing to spar with you tonight at the training grounds around seven—so long as nothing comes up, that is."
Naruto's irritation faded, and he grinned at me. "Yatta! Thanks, Sakura-chan."
"Ohl don't thank me," I replied, grinning. "I'm doing this just as much for Hinata-chan as I am for you."
"Sakura," Sasuke said. "What time are we sparring?"
"Seven, or six is okay with me," I replied. "Do you want to meet at training ground five?"
It was at that moment Kakashi decided to present himself. "Good morning gentlemen, and Sakura-chan."
I beamed at the honorific.
"I got lost in the path known as life today…"
"LIAR!" Naruto exclaimed.
Kakashi's eye crinkled. This time I couldn't tell which one. It was either his oh-how-amusing-you-caught-me-oh-well or his I'm-only-smiling-at-you-because-I'm-fantasizing-ways-of-killing-you. Hmm… As his fangirl this was something I absolutely had to know. It was a disgrace that I didn't know, really.
"I'll get right to the point, then," Kakashi said. "I recommended all of you to the Chūnin exam, so…"
Kakashi pulled out three faded-brown pieces of paper, handing them to each of us. We each took one. "However, the recommendation does not force you to take it. You can decide if you want to take it or not."
"Yes! I love you Kakashi-sensei," Naruto shouted, rushing up and jumping on Kakashi. Kakashi gave a start of surprise before prying the hyperactive Genin off him.
I smiled at the display. Kakashi continued, "Only those who wish to take it are to sign the application and five days after that, get to school by 3 PM and go to room 301. That is all."
"Hey, Duck-Ass," I greeted.
Sasuke stood, leaning against a tree in the training grounds. No one else was around but I knew Hinata and Naruto were sparring a few grounds away from us. When Sasuke noticed me, he pushed off from the tree, walking up to meet me.
"Just on time," he said.
I grinned. "Too bad Kakashi-sensei doesn't have my punctuality."
"Alright," I said. "Is there anything you want to work on specifically?"
He shook his head. "No. You?"
"Yes," I confessed. "I'm having trouble holding focus in battle long enough to perform a heal. I kind of got the hang of it a couple days ago but… it doesn't always work. I think practice will play a major key for it."
"Okay," he said. "I suppose we could work on some taijutsu. Unless you want to try some ninjutsu…"
I winced. "I don't actually… know any Ninjutsu."
He raised an eyebrow. "That's something I'd expect from Naruto, not you."
I gave him a sheepish smile. "I've been so focused on learning medical and taijutsu I just haven't really had the time."
He nodded his head. "I understand. I don't blame you for it, either. Medical training is supposed to be really complicated and takes a lot of time to learn."
"Huh, I didn't expect you to be so understanding," I said, a little surprised.
"So… do you mind if we stick to taijutsu for the first half? Then you can work on your Ninjutsu while I try and heal away my fatigue while trying to dodge you…" I trailed off.
He nodded his head, smirking slightly. "Sure. Ready?"
I let out a soft breath. "Ready."
He rushed forward.
All in all it was a very good sparring/ training. By the end, I was able to remain focused roughly seventy-five percent of the time. A nice improvement from before. Not to mention Sasuke said he felt more comfortable using his fireball jutsu, after repetitive use on an actual moving target. So, it was a win-win for both of us in the end. We said our goodbyes and headed our separate ways.
On the way back home though, I ran into Naruto and questioned him about his sparring.
He grinned hugely before answering that it was amazing. Hinata was really nervous at first, but once they actually started she was really great. He said he learned a lot of things from her. If they stuck, however, only time would tell.
The next four days went by smoothly, none of us had any missions, so we spent all the time training. The last day before the exams, however, I advised everyone to take a breather and relax.
Much to my surprise, Iruka and Kakashi didn't test us.
I guess Kakashi was confident enough in our abilities this time around.
I couldn't hide my huge beaming grin at that prospect.
The first day of the exams, the three of us arrived together. We entered the academy and headed up the stairs. When we reached the top, we arrived on the scene.
"…A Chūnin is a commander of a squad," sneered one. I didn't pay attention to which.
The three of us walked on the scene, Lee and Tenten on the ground with Neji staring indifferently at them. I ignored the rest of what they were saying, following behind Sasuke and Naruto.
"That's a sound argument. But, I will pass," Sasuke said.
I tilted my head. "And while you let us pass, undo the genjutsu. We want to head to the third floor."
"Oh? You noticed?" one of them asked, glancing between Sasuke and me.
"'Course we did," I snorted. "We can count. This is the second floor."
"Hn," the other grunted, smirking slightly at me. "You're pretty good. But, just being able to detect it isn't enough…"
He twisted in the air, raising his leg. Sasuke reacted first, pulling out his leg to meet his. Before either of the two could collide, Lee was right between them, grabbing both of them. He released them both.
Sasuke stepped back. Neji and Tenten walked towards Lee. "Oi, you broke the promise. You're the one who wanted to hide our abilities."
"But…" Lee said helplessly, glancing over at me.
Tenten sighed, shaking her head. Neji glanced over at me.
Lee walked over to me.
Oh, shit, I knew where this was going.
Run, honey, run.
"My name is Rock Lee. You're Sakura-san, right?"
"Um… yes…" I said hesitantly.
He grinned, closing one eye in a wink and holding up a thumb. "Let's go out together! I will protect you until I die!"
His teeth sparkled.
I inwardly cringed. "No… No, let's not."
"No… just… no…" I said, inching closer to Sasuke and Naruto.
You don't suppose they'd let me use them as shields?
I'm sure Naruto will.
I don't think Hinata would appreciate me doing that to her future husband. And I'd be a bad mother if I did that.
Mother? What the hell?
I've decided I'm going to adopt Naruto. I think I'll tell him the good news after the exams before he leaves to train with Pervy-Sage.
I don't think he'll find that as good news…
During my inward musings, I had once again zoned out long enough to miss Sasuke and Neji's introduction.
"Mmm…" I murmured, grabbing Naruto and Sasuke's hands. "Let's go, boys. I want to hurry up and take the exams already."
When we reached the top floor, we were stopped by the voice. The voice of Lee that was.
"You there with the sharp eyes. Wait."
We all stopped, glancing up to find Lee above us on a balcony.
"What do you want?" Sasuke asked.
"Will you fight me right here, right now?" Lee asked.
"Right here, right now?" Sasuke repeated, his eyes narrowing. I let out a soft sigh. Lee jumped down from the balcony.
"My name is Rock Lee," he said. "You're supposed to identify yourself before you ask for someone else's name, right? Uchiha Sasuke-kun."
"So you knew my name already?" Sasuke muttered.
Lee positioned himself in a fighting stance, his legs spread apart, tensed and waiting. "Let's fight. I would like to see how my moves will do against a descendant of the genius ninja clan. Also…"
He glanced at me. He blushed, his face completely serious. "Sakura-san, I love you."
I gawked. "What the hell?"
"You're an angel," Lee said. He then blew me a kiss.
And I swear to God/Kami/Pein/Jashin/Madara's and Tobi's sexiness… a heart flew out at me. An honest to God anime heart. Right at me.
My eyes bulged. I dodged to the left. It landed with a sickening splat against a stone pillar behind me.
"Very nice. How about this?" Lee then sent a barrage of hearts at me.
"THAT'S NOT NATURAL!" I shrieked, dodging most of them before ducking behind Sasuke. "KISS DUCK-ASS! NOT ME…!"
Sasuke scoffed at me. "Are you using me as a shield?"
"Damn straight! Not shut up and shield me."
He rolled his eyes at me before turning back to Lee. "So you're challenging me, knowing my name is Uchiha? I'm sorry to say this, but: you're ignorant. Do you really want to see what the name Uchiha is capable of, loser?"
"Please," Lee said, positioning once more in a fighting stance.
We all know where this was going. Before they could actually fight, Naruto intervened, Lee single handedly kicked his butt, knocking him out against the wall. I rushed over and healed Naruto's ever so slight concussion—huzzah for me! Finally, he and Sasuke start fighting. Long story short… Lee kicked Sasuke up in the air preparing to do his Leaf Hurricane…
When Gai kind of made his appearance.
A paper windmill flew across the room, catching Lee's attention. The moment Lee saw it, his eyes trailed after to where it came from. He quickly disengaged from battle, flipping in the air to kneel before… a turtle.
Sasuke then began to fall from his position high up in the air. Seeing how he was incapable of flipping and landing correctly, I rushed forward to catch him. Excellent timing on my part. I caught him in my arms and we slid across the floor.
"I'll heal you," I told Sasuke after helping him into a sitting position.
He spared me a glance before nodding slightly. I moved my hand to the bruise on his cheek, pulling out the chakra in me and letting it flow to my hand. After weeks of training and intense practice, my hand no longer waited to turn blue. It flickered once a pale green, before holding a steady rhythm. In a matter of seconds the bruise was gone. I moved on to his bruised ribs and stiff shoulder.
While that was happening Gai was scolding Lee. When I finished my healing Sasuke gave me a slight nod as thanks, though his glare was still fixated on Lee and Gai.
Then the turtle poofed and appeared the real form of Gai. Naruto and Sasuke gawked while I merely raised an eyebrow.
Gai scolded Lee some more and then they embraced and… wow an actual sunset appeared behind them as they cried in each other's arms.
I had to give them a little credit. It took major skill to pull out a sunset background.
I cleared my throat. "Anyway… so… don't you think we should you know… head off to turn in our applications now?"
Before Gai notices we're Kakashi's kids and wants to prolong us even more…
Time to zone out.
I wonder what Gaara is doing right now…
Probably waiting for the exams to start after turning in his application.
Probably… I wonder what Kakashi is doing right now…
Waiting for us, of course.
I wonder what Kisame-sama is doing…
…I have no clue on that one. Killing some people? Cleaning Samehada? Drinking tea with Itachi?
What about Tobi?
I have even less of an idea for that one. Is he even a recruit yet? Or is he totally off the charts from the world until Shippuden?
That's a very good question. Do you think he'll answer it when we see him?
I think he'll kill us when we see him.
You don't know that…
…Pretty sure I do.
I noticed that Gai and Lee were gone. Damn it I missed their exit!
I shook my head. "So… we going?"
"Yeah," Sasuke said. "Let's go."
We stood outside room 301 in front of us stood Kakashi.
"You can officially register for the Chūnin exams," Kakashi said. "To tell you the truth, this exam can only be taken in teams of three. I said you could take it individually so none of you would pressure the other into it—not that I think any of you would do that.
"But, the three of you came here of your own will," Kakashi continued, "Sakura… Naruto… Sasuke… Well done."
His eye crinkled into his I'm-very-pleased-with-you crinkle, and I beamed.
"I'm proud of you three, as you are my team."
My beam just went super-nova.
Kakashi stepped aside and Sasuke, Naruto and I stepped forward, opening the doors to reveal the first test of the Chūnin exams.