A Song for Them @nihilistic_bunny
Written Exam Arc, Ache

Naruto Fan Fiction!

Adventure! SI-OC!

(Title)

"A Song for Them"

A/N: Dun-dun-duuuun! Well this chapter came easier than usual. So! Early post!

Yay! We've gone over 500 reviews! As you should might guess by now, I like keeping track of what I consider milestones. Notice! I've posted another two pictures on my DeviantArt page. One of Sora&Kakashi and one that is probably my best work yet, Sora's Team Seven having dinner together. I really, really like it. But, I'm biased.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own 'Naruto' or any of the cannon characters! If I did then I would get my own damn green spandex suit.

WARNING! RATED M! For Gai exposure, harsh language and mentions of child abuse in the form of 'training' so beware. Oh, and a closer look at Sora's mental state.

Written Exam Arc,

Chapter Twenty-Six: "Ache"

"The more anger towards the past you carry in your heart, the less capable you are of loving in the present." -Barbara De Angelis

Perspective:

空 (Sky)

"...psst! Sasuke! Sasuke, I think he broke Sora-chan."

Naruto was peering up at my frozen face with a worried frown. Lee was standing a little behind him with a concerned look of his own. Sasuke leaned over and narrowed his eyes at me.

"Hm. I think I like her better like this. Easier to deal with." On reflex my hand came up to smack his head and he effortlessly avoided my swing. "Nope, she's fine."

I narrowed my eyes at him in annoyance, coming back to my senses again. Lee had broke my brain. It's one thing when I'm looking at Scarecrows pretty, pretty face or when a boy steals my first kiss without any prior warning, but to actually be confessed to? I wasn't ready to deal with something like that!

Hesitantly, I glanced back at green-clad boy and he was grinning so sweetly at me again while my face burned as I'm hit with the very real realization that Rock Lee just confessed to me!

There are many things that I have planned for.

This? This was not one of them.

"So, will you go out with me Sora-san?" Ah, he did it again!

"Lee!" Neji hissed, his chakra giving off the feeling of being vaguely betrayed. Tenten just slapped a hand to her forehead and groaned quietly. I absently noticed that there were still a lot of people watching us. That's right you guys. Watch on. I'm sure this is all very amusing for you. Best entertainment you'll get all week.

A hand landed on my shoulder and was a bit dumbfounded as Naruto pushed me to stand behind him. The blonde faced a very confused looking Rock Lee and crossed his arms over his chest.

"No." he said.

Lee's brows knit together. "Excuse me? I don't-"

"No. She won't go out with you 'ttebayo." the Hero said matter-of-factly. I blinked as I realized what happening. Hey, he can't do that. He can't reject a confession for me... can he? No! Naruto can't do that! Lee deserves an honest answer from me!

"Can I ask why you disapprove... uh... I'm sorry, I did not learn your name." Lee asked and Naruto grinned.

"The name's Uzumaki Naruto, the man who's going to become Hokage one day! So remember it!" he said proudly, always eager for a chance to introduce himself. Then he pointed a rude finger at Lee, "And it's 'cause you're weird! So, no!"

My palm connected to my forehead. This was just too much. I tapped the Hero's shoulder and tiredly motioned him to move aside. I would be handling this now. He looked back at me with a serious face.

"Kitty-guy and I talked about it. We agreed that you shouldn't have a boyfriend until you're much, much older 'ttebayo." he said gravely. As if this situation couldn't get any weirder-waitaminute-

-He and Neko did what?!

Ohh... making a mental note to have a talk with Tenzō when he gets back from his mission. Kami, a headache is beginning to form and we haven't even began taking the exams. I looked over at Sasuke pleadingly, couldn't he do something? Like, distract Naruto or something or cause a scene with his broodiness and nice hair?

Duckie saw the pitiful look on my face and the come-smack-me-smirk pulled on his lips as he shook his head at me.

The brat was laughing at me.

So much for helping out a teammate. Jerk. I pulled out my notepad and wrote out my response. Planting a firm hand on Naruto's fluffy head I forcibly moved him aside, causing him to squawk in indignation. Taking a step towards Lee, his face lit up hopefully again and I violently pushed down the blush that threatened to surface at the thought of actually having to do this. I handed him the pad and stepped back.

To my mortification he actually read it aloud.

"Thank you for your feelings Lee-san, but I have to decline your offer. I apologize, but I am not looking for romance right now and am instead focusing on training myself and becoming stronger to reach my goals. I truly hope that we can become friends given time though." he repeated blankly and loud enough that I'm sure everyone heard.

I bent at the waist, giving him an apologetic bow. To my further embarrassment the nosy-busybody crowd around us voiced their opinions like 'oooh, tough luck' or 'saw that one coming'. Kami, people! Didn't you all have anything better to do, like take an exam?!

It was a polite and gentle rejection. He can understand my reasons, can't he? This is Rock Lee, of course he'd understand wanting to train and get stronger. He won't be hurt by my rejection, right? This was just a crush that developed less than five minutes ago so there couldn't have been any real feelings there, there just hasn't been enough time.

"Sora-san, please raise your head." At his voice I glanced up at to see that Lee's lips were pressed into a hard line before straightening and standing up again.

"I thank you for the honesty of your reply. So-" He made a fist and slammed it against his chest, over his heart. His large dark eyes were suddenly shining. and his grin seemed brighter. "-I will also endeavor to grow stronger and one day become a man worthy of winning your affections! I swear on my pride as a shinobi that even if it is years before you are ready, I promise to wait for you!"

I couldn't fight down the blood that rushed to my face that time and felt the heat bloom on my face again as he grinned bashfully, his own cheeks tinted red.

...I made it worse? But... but...

Before I knew it I was being pulled down the hall.

"Okay, we've wasted enough time here. We're going to be late if we spend any more time on this nonsense." Sasuke, to my astonishment, was the one who said that as he dragged me behind him. Naruto was quick to grab my other wrist and further quickened our pace down the hall.

I think Lee was still standing there grinning at the empty space I previously occupied.

I rubbed my now sore wrists as I glared at the two boys beside me. They'd continued to drag me behind them until we were on the third floor where I snatched my now-bruised wrists away from their grabby hands.

'Was that needed?' I asked with an irritable frown as we continued down the hall.

Sasuke rolled his eyes at me. "Yes, it was. You were standing there like a gaping idiot in front of everyone. We didn't have all day for you to deal with your boyfriend issues."

'I told him no!' I signed with despair. I just wanted to let Lee down easy, not encourage it... somehow. 'And this was all your fault.'

"What? How the hell was that my fault?" he demanded.

'I didn't want to draw any attention but you-' I poked his shoulder and he scowled. '-pointed me out to spite me!'

"Like I'm supposed to know that you're in a pissing match with a Hyuuga? And that has nothing to do with you collecting boyfriends!" he scoffed. I gaped and Naruto's head whipped around.

"WHAT!? What does that mean 'ttebayo?!"

I swung hard and Sasuke leaned the side, effortlessly dodging me. That was getting pretty annoying. Surely, I wasn't that predictable.

"You have boyfriend'sss, Sora-chan! Who are they?" the blonde demanded, scowling and looking like he was going to beat the imaginary guys up. The thought had me warm and fuzzy again as I raised my hands to calm him down.

'I don't have any. He's being a jerk.' referencing the Uchiha beside me. Naruto relaxed and Sasuke sniffed in contempt.

"Why was that Hyuuga so angry with you? And how do you even know each other?" Duckie asked, thankfully changing the subject. Beside me the Hero snorted a laugh at the mention of Stick.

'We met a long time ago. And...' I hesitated. 'he used to have longer hair.'

A pained looked crossed Sasuke's face.

"...what did you do?" he sighed, sounding completely done. Almost like this was expected behavior from me. Which, it's not! Neji was the one who chased me!

I frowned defensively, 'It was his own fault.' I signed.

He gave me withering look. "Sure... and you're entirely innocent." he drawled sarcastically.

'And you are very talkative today.' I pointed out irritably. I think I like it better when he only communicates through 'Hn's' and glowering looks.

He blinked at me before frowning and picking up his pace. "Hn." he grunted in annoyance. Oh, is he pouting now? That's... great, just great. Nice job, Sora.

We continued to head towards room 301 and after seeing that there was another mislead with a crowd on the most direct route and we decided we shouldn't get caught up in it again and risk being late, so we took a more roundabout way of getting to our destination. The Hero tried taking the lead at one point only to make us go in a literal circle, which, I didn't think was possible before. All the halls went straight. I then led us through the mazelike corridors of the building, purposely avoiding the indoor training halls that could hold a spar.

It was as we were passing through one of the Academy's indoor weapons training rooms when someone called out to us. "You, with the unpleasant look. Wait a minute!"

We all turned towards the voice and saw that Lee was standing in the doorway behind us. So much for avoiding a fight and consequently riling up Sasuke by kicking his butt. How did he sneak up on us without me noticing? I hadn't even sensed his...

I blinked.

I just realized that I couldn't feel his chakra. At all. But, I could've sworn that I had at some point. Didn't I? I know that I'd felt his very excited and overwhelming feelings at one point.

Without permission, his voice rang through my head again.

"-even if it is years before you are ready, I promise to wait for you!" he was grinning bashfully, his own cheeks tinted red.

He's such a sweet kid. Operative word here being; kid.

Lee stepped into the room, passing the straw target dummies. His face was completely serious as he spoke. "I want to fight you."

Duckie's curiosity peaked as he regarded the Green boy with what I dread to note was excitement of his own stirring his chakra. So he had noticed how fast Lee was earlier when he stepped in between Neji and I.

"A fight right now? Weren't you the one that stopped your own teammate from attacking mine?"

"That was different." Lee glanced my way and blushed, then pressed his lips together like he was trying -and failing- not to smile. "It was obvious to anyone that Sora-san was not looking to fight."

"I don't think you realize what you're asking." Sasuke asserted, taking a step forward and drawing attention back to him.

"You are Uchiha Sasuke, correct? Member of the genius Uchiha clan and Rookie of the Year. My name is Rock Lee and I am currently the strongest of the Leaf genin."

Duckie narrowed his eyes. "The strongest? Isn't it cocky of you to claim that title?"

"Not if it's the truth." Lee said, his foot slid behind him gracefully and he raised his hands, his body taking on a more solid stance. "I want to fight you. I want to test my skills against a so-called genius."

We don't have time for this. In fact... I looked for a clock and when I found one high on the wall I paled at the current time. Naruto bristled with anger beside me.

"Hey, hey! What about me? I'm way stronger than that bastard is dattebay-" I grabbed his blonde head before he could move away and made him face the clock. "...oh."

Yeah, 'oh'. I walked over and grabbed Duckie's sleeve, he looked at me sharply from the corner of his eye, 'We don't have time for this.' I signed. We really didn't.

"Don't worry. This will only take five minutes." Sasuke dismissed as he shook off my hold.

"Less than that, actually." Lee murmured.

"Challenging me when you know the Uchiha name. Frankly, you're a fool." Sasuke's body tensed up in preparation, "You're about to learn what this name means, thick brows."

"Please..." Lee smiled.

I scowled. I really didn't like being ignored. Walking up to stand in between the two knuckleheaded boys, I lifted my hand and pointed at the large clock on the wall. Both pairs of eyes followed my line of sight and their faces fell.

3:5-'tic!'-3:55

We didn't even have five minutes.

Before anything else could happen and because it was just that kind of day, a billowing cloud of smoke appeared and a deep voice boomed throughout the hall. "LEE!"

All heads whipped around to see a six-foot green-clad Beast posing with his fist on his hips. I felt as Naruto and Sasuke became shocked, disgusted yet also fascinated as they couldn't look away. I was dramatically less effected as this was not my first time seeing the Blue Beast in person. I could only wonder how the boys could've have missed seeing a green blur running laps on his hands throughout the Village. The man has been doing it for years now.

"Gai-sensei!" Lee cried in surprise.

"ACK! HE'S GOT EVEN THICKER EYEBROWS!" Naruto shouted disbelievingly.

Lee was about to respond in defense of his idol but Gai cleared his throat and regained his disciple's attention. "What are you doing here, Lee? Your team is waiting for you at the Exam room! You know that they cannot proceed without you!"

Lee suddenly looked like a wounded puppy and I filed that thought away because it was really not helpful at the moment. "Gai-sensei... I-"

Lee went flying as Gai punched him.

Oh, there's that headache now. I lifted a hand to pinch the bridge of my nose. Now, under normal time constraints I'd probably be elated to be meeting these two like this, they are really awesome, but as it is...

As the Green Beasts began to embrace with tears and sobs, I felt the distinct fluttery feeling of a visual/auditory Genjustu disruption in my chakra network and I flushed it out as approached them, only briefly hearing the crash of waves as it died away.

I waved to get the Green Man's attention, he looked up with a sniffle. "I-ah, yes?" I pointed at the clock, his eyes followed my finger.

3:56

In less than a second Gai was standing and pointing epically down the hall.

"GO! GO NOW!"

I didn't hesitate as I ran back and grabbed the boys' sleeves as they were still a bit shell-shocked from the whole situation and pulled them through the hall. We had nearly made it to the exam room before Lee had found us, before we got out of earshot though, I heard Gai passionately wish his student good luck and to make him proud.

As we left the strange man, all I could think was that Kakashi-sensei is never that excited about us.

"You guys are cutting it pretty close, you know?" Scarecrow drawled from where he was leaning against the wall as we ran past. I'm pretty sure Lee had went and scaled the outside of the building and climbed into a window or something because I didn't see him pass us by. Or maybe he just went that fast?

"Tch. We got held up by a couple of weirdos in green." Duckie said in explanation as he laid his hands on the doors, the Hero and I were right behind him.

As we pushed the heavy doors open I felt the exasperation and embarrassment rise in Kakashi-sensei's chakra as he lifted a hand to his face. I grinned. Glad I wasn't the only one that felt that way.

The metal hinges on the doors creaked as the doors swung open. The first thing we noticed as we stepped in is that there were over a hundred pairs of eyes zoned in on us. And it was disturbingly silent as everyone's conversations stopped with our late arrival.

The doors shut behind us and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on edge and I shivered against the feeling. The intent gazes on us almost seemed to burn through my skin as I looked right back. I hadn't even realized I was searching for a specific face in that crowd until Terra spoke up.

He's in here. Kabuto is somewhere in here, right now, watching us.

'Doesn't matter. We're fine.' I reassured my other half. 'Kabuto at his core, is a spy, and I know his face and his name. If he approaches us then he'll risk blowing his cover and distinguishing himself as a threat, therefore alienating himself to my teammates and losing any chance to gather data on them up close.'

Besides, I told Kakashi-sensei who Kabuto was months ago. Who says that the spy is even here in the first place? Maybe Sensei found him and threw him into a dark ANBU cell for interrogation and our ANBU are in the middle of thwarting all of Orochimaru's carefully laid plans this very minute.

...it could happen.

"Sasuke-kun~ You're late!" Duckie froze in mild horror before Yamanaka Ino and her blonde ponytail leapt onto my teammates back. I noted with amusement how she must have been lying in wait for him like a true predator-I mean, Kunoichi.

"I haven't seen you in forever, I've been waiting for you in excitement!" She cooed. Duckie just glared over his shoulder at the girl, when he looked at me I simply grinned and crossed my arms over my chest smugly. Naruto snickered beside me.

Karma works her magic fast.

Crystal blue pupiless eyes landed on us and her face flattened out, "Oh... you're here too." she said, sounding bored. Then she dragged her eyes up my form and I'm not ashamed to admit it, I felt a bit self-conscious under her scrutiny. She clicked her tongue in distaste. "Aren't you trying a bit too hard with that outfit, Zakuro? And what's with all the black, are you mourning your fashion sense?"

Geez! That's harsh. My outfit is actually very practical! She was just picking on me because Sakura wasn't here and... right. I'm not Sakura, her best friend and rival. I'm just the strange introverted mute that never attempted to befriend her.

I think the reason I've never actually tried to get along with Ino before is because she's actually scarily observant, being from a clan of mind-readers and psychiatrists and all. And being the paragon of mental health that I am, spending any amount of time around her makes me a bit uneasy.

I mean, Shikamaru's too observant as well and can usually figure out what I'm up to given enough information, but he's just lazy about it. He doesn't try to figure out what makes me tick and is content to just leave me to myself. But Ino...

Ino will dig and dig and won't stop until she gets at whatever she's after. That is bad for me.

"You guys are here, too? Man, this is a drag." drawled a sleepy voice. Well speak of the Nara and he comes, with an Akimichi right beside him. I waved at the boys with a smile as they approached.

"Yo, Shikamaru! Chōji!" the Hero greeted excitedly. "Didn't think I'd see you guys here 'ttebayo!"

"...not like it was our choice." the Nara grumbled under his breath.

I raised a brow in question and both boys of Team Ten wearily looked at the squealing blonde girl who had... I think she's got Duckie in some sort of affectionate chokehold. For now he's gently trying to separate himself from his new accessory but he's getting irritated quick.

"Yahoo! Found you!" shouted another voice followed by the yipping of his canine partner and trailing behind him was-Mouse! I skipped over and pulled my friend into a one-armed hug. She squeaked and blushed at the public display of affection but didn't pull away.

"You almost didn't make it, Sora-chan." she murmured quietly. Her worry that we wouldn't went unsaid. I squeezed her tighter in response. Her eyes slipped over to the side and she tensed up, "...h-hello, Naruto-kun." Naruto grinned cheerfully and I swear she almost went limp in my arms.

Shikamaru frowned, "Everyone is here? Did our sensei take bets or something?" he grouched. And... he was probably onto something with that.

Kiba grinned toothily. "Heheheh, all nine of us are taking this exam. I wonder just how far we'll get, eh Sasuke?"

Finally finished shaking off the blonde mind-reader, Duckie smirked himself. "Awfully confident, Kiba."

"We've been doing a lot of training, we're not gonna lose to you." the Inuzuka laid down the gauntlet. I felt a grin pull my lips as well.

I released my hold on Mouse and stepped forward, raising my hands, 'Challenge accepted, Dog-boy. We have gotten stronger too.'

Ino snorted a laugh, "Ha! Sasuke-kun I believe, but you two? I seriously doubt it."

My head whipped around and I looked at Ino in shock. She actually understood me? Since when? Then my eyes snapped around to look at Shikamaru and Chōji. The Nara boy shrugged at my questioning look.

"It's useful to know." he said in way of not really explaining.

'How did you even get her to learn?' I asked, still in disbelief. I didn't think it was possible to teach Ino something that had anything to do with me. In the Academy she'd always make fun of how I had to move my hands so much.

"It's was troublesome, but I told her that if she didn't learn then you would be able to have secret conversations with Sasuke without her knowing what was being said between you." he drawled.

I gaped at him. Feeling both impressed and a little bit betrayed. He used Ino's jealousy as a motivator to learn another language. As true to his nature, a lazy smirk pulled his lips as he saw my shocked expression.

A chakra stepped out from the crowd and my first reaction was to throw up as my stomach flipped.

nu-MB and SteRiLee. Soaked in aPaThy and detached from even itself. Unsettling like something crAwLIng UNd-D-der mY sKIn. A feeling like standing in the middle of a room full of mirrors. LoS-Ttt.

A voice called over to us.

"Hey, you guys should really be more quiet."

Perspective:

友達 (Friend)

I relaxed in one of the chairs in the security room, pulling out my novel and keeping an ear out for any interesting conversations. Kurenai and Asuma were nearby exchanging quiet observations -read: gushing/grumbling respectively- about our genin as they watched the live feeds on the screens. The foreign jonin leading some of the genin teams had been escorted where they could watch the feeds in a screening room without having to be in the heart of the Academy's security. Where, coincidentally, we could also keep a close eye on them.

A green blur burst into the room. I didn't look up from my page as he stood in front of where I was comfortably reclined. "Yo, Kakashi!"

"Gai." I greeted mildly. Hah, Katsumi's aim never ceases to amuse me. Or lack or it, I suppose. But, Takeo really deserved that one, he shouldn't have made that comment about her choice in clothing.

"I ran into your students on the way here, my rival! They were about to have a hot-blooded exchanged before I stepped in and stopped them before they became too late for participation in the Exams. I couldn't help but notice-" I spilt my focus again so I could also listen to Gai's ramblings and praises of his student as I read.

Takeo will never learn will he? You just don't say that. "-adolescent passion of-" That reminds me, Isn't Icha-Icha Violence supposed to be releasing sometime soon? "-brought tears to my eyes-" August, I think. "-the boldness of it-" There hasn't been an official release date yet. I wonder what Jiraiya-sensei is up to? "-he even had given a declaration of love and a solemn promise of abstinence to the young Kunoichi! It was the most-" The words just registered.

"What?" I looked up to see Gai's face was just a little bit smug for getting my attention.

I could've been imagining it but did he just say his mini-me confessed to Sora? Yeah, I need to hear this. Tenzō's gonna shit bricks when he finds out the miniature Green Beast is pining after his dear little sister. It'll be great.

Asuma called over. "Hey, things are fine here so we're gonna head over to the lounge, you two comin'?"

"Hm? Yeah, I'll be there in a minute." I answered distractedly before I turning back to my long-time friend. "What were you saying about my student?" Gai grinned and most wouldn't be able to tell that it was his mischievous kind.

"Oh? Someone is approaching the kids." Kurenai murmured. I glanced out of the corner of my eye and saw a grey-haired teen walk up-

-the chair spun behind me as I stood and moved closer to the screen. The age is around the same. Ash-grey hair. Black eyes behind the same pair of fucking glasses.

It was him and he was moving directly towards my students.

"Fuck." I hissed under my breath.

He stepped closer and Sora instinctively readied a kunai and faced him head-on. Good girl. She placed herself in between him and her classmates and she had an expression that I hadn't seen from her before.

Complete apathy.

That's not an expression that should be on her face.

"What just happened?" Kurenai asked, her sharp tone betraying her calm appearance. I suppose my reaction was cause enough for concern, but to those that didn't know the whole story it looks like Sora just drew a weapon on a comrade of the Leaf without any provocation whatsoever.

I knew there had been a chance that he would attend these exams, sure. He's been to each of the other ones over the last four years so it wasn't implausible. What I hadn't been expecting was for him to fucking walk up to a girl he kidnapped!

He was looking at her now with a smile and I read his lips as he addressed my student.

"Hello, Sora-kun. It's been a while."

That son of a bitch.

"Kakashi." Gai's voice was serious and closer. He had narrowed his eyes at the screen. "Who is that young man?"

I couldn't explain. We weren't alone here. There were a number of other shinobi monitoring the exams around us and any one of them could be former Ne and give Yakushi a heads-up. I need options.

Without going in there right now and intervening, subsequently disqualifying the kids and removing them from the exams I won't be able to do anything until at least the second test is over. I don't know where Yakushi's alliances lie at the moment and damn it, Tenzō. You had to be out on a mission, didn't you?

...I could still go in there right now and pull them out.

I focused back at the screen. The rookies were closing ranks around Sora, obviously alarmed with her reaction and a part of me unwound at the sight. They were going to be fine. They had each other and they would protect one another.

Doesn't mean I was just going to sit on my ass and hope for the best. Out here I can get someone to keep surveillance on Yakushi while I go and inform Hokage-sama that an ANBU-level infiltrator is currently taking the chuunin exams while simultaneously being a ghost in the active-duty rosters. Maybe even get some answers as to who Yakushi answers to now.

I watched the screen until Yakushi was sent away my the Nara and Ibiki finally showed up. As they began to take their seats I left the security room with the intent of seeing the Hokage. I noticed how Gai, Asuma and Kurenai followed me. i didn't stop them.

I don't know why Yakushi's here but I'm going to fucking find out.

Perspective:

匿名 (Anonymous)

She's grown up quite well, I thought. Tall and fit. Her skin was healthy looking, so she's been eating right and spending a good amount of time under the sun. The muscle definition on her arms and legs were visible so she's also been keeping up with her physical conditioning. That's good.

The picture of good health.

Sora-kun hardly resembles that little frail girl that I found fearlessly walking down those darkened streets all those years ago.

I remember a girl, much smaller, lying broken and bruised from the day's training on the floor of Ne's training hall. Bright violet eyes glaring up at me through a swollen face as I healed any major damage sustained, even going a bit further so that she would be able to sleep comfortably that night. Well, more comfortably than she would have, and... that was if she chose to sleep as well.

I wonder if she's also been keeping up on her lessons without me? She always had a good disposition for being a medic, if not a bit too compassionate at the oddest times. I also remember pitying the small girl and thinking how our world was going to eat her alive and leave nothing but a hollow, empty shell behind.

That was if she survived the rest of the Foundation's training, which, back then the odds weren't in her favor.

Yet, here she is all these years later. It was a pleasant surprise, I thought. Finding her face again wasn't something that really I hadn't expected to find when I first discovered who Sasuke-kun's genin teammates were.

Now, she has an alertness in her bright eyes as they roamed the faces of the crowd and a tenseness to her form that betrays the easy smile on her face as she watched the other rookies approach and greet them. Not the same naïve little girl from all those years ago, yet... she's still smiling with bright eyes.

I'm glad to see she hadn't broken yet.

Now how was I going to approach them? I was here to gather data on Sasuke-kun's abilities after all and I have a funny feeling that Sora-kun wouldn't be letting me get anywhere near her or the people that bring such a genuine smile to her face. Then again, perhaps she wouldn't remember my face? It has been years and since then, and I have fully matured and outgrown my once childish face. Though... I have to admit that I haven't changed my appearance all that much. What was the point in changing an already forgettable face.

It's always a possibility that's she has repressed the memories from that time as well. It's normal for the mind to try and cope with unpleasant things by blocking them out, and considering her age it's likely that's what happened. I've no doubt that she considered what happened to be traumatic.

...perhaps that's how she's been able to keep her eyes so bright after going through so much?

Well, I can speculate and make conjectures all day but I won't know anything for certain until I try. Walking towards them I raised my voice and called out to the group. The reaction was as immediate as it was telling. Even after the changes that puberty put my voice through she seemed to be able to recognize it as her spine went rigid as soon as my voice carried over to them.

She remembers me.

Sora-kun turned on her heel and pulled a kunai from the holder on her leg without any preamble, holding at it her side and placing herself in between me and the other rookies. Her face was wiped of all emotion but I knew that fire in her eyes. I remember it so vividly.

Her first reaction was interesting. A protective instinct instead of one of self-preservation? This is exactly why she'd never have survived the Foundation or it's methods. She was just too compassionate. She knew what I was capable of doing to her yet she put herself in front of the others as the first line of defense.

I smiled at her.

Sora-kun was not stupid, she just had never been afraid of me. She despised me and hated our training sessions, I'm sure, I could see in the way she looked at me with those eyes. But she was never afraid of me, only of the pain I caused her. She only ever trembled when Danzō himself was present and any other time she was all fire and dirty looks.

...but then there were the rare, solemn moments as I healed her wounds when she would look at me and I could swear it looked like she pitied me.

My course of approach finally decided, I lifted my hand in a wave. There was no point in playing dumb, I'll have to make a calculated risk.

"Hello again, Sora-kun." I said with a friendly smile. "It's been a while."

Her eyes flashed darkly. The rookies around her seemed to be surprised with her sudden change in mood, their eyes flickering in between staring at her and evaluating me.

I notice her knuckles were going white around the handle of the kunai, thumb tracing the Kanji writing on the cloth. Was that an explosive note? Or... no, it was something else.

"Do you know this guy, Sora-chan?" the blonde boy now at her side asked. Uzumaki Naruto: Ranked 27th in his class rankings, barely became a genin if I recall. Nothing really noteworthy about him. She didn't acknowledge her teammate whatsoever as her pupils dilated.

I'm curious. What will you tell them Sora-kun? You've kept your silence for years now, will you finally break it?

I was surprised to learn that she hadn't went around telling her self-appointed guardians all about what she went through considering that Danzō hadn't had me terminated following her departure. It showed compartmentalization abilities beyond her years.

"Sora." Uchiha Sasuke called her name. Ranked 1st in his graduating class, named Rookie of the Year and one of the two last surviving members of the famed Uchiha clan. Also the current subject of Orochimaru-sama's attentions.

Sora-kun also did not acknowledge her other teammate as her breaths became shorter and quicker. Auditory exclusion it seems. I could vaguely see the carotid artery in her neck pumping faster under her hitai-ate, indicating an increased heart-rate.

...I wonder how that scar of hers looks all these years later? I'd seen it when treating her and found it irregular that the wound had still looked so fresh and raw after receiving it almost a year prior. I had attempted to heal it but Sora-kun had reacted quite violently when I neared the area.

I would very much like to examine it now that I've had more experience under Orochimaru-sama's tutelage.

I smiled abashedly and raised a hand to rub the back of my neck. "Sorry for just coming up like this! I know we hadn't left on the best of terms, but I'd had been hoping I could at least apologize?"

Ignore the weapon and obviously aggressive stance and give off the impression that I had done a simple wrong and she's just overreacting. Her psychological profile says that she's prone to being dramatic to lift a tense mood, often times to stop a fight between her classmates. It fits. Sora-kun made no move or acknowledgement and her calloused fingers were trembling around her tightly held weapon. The adrenaline seemed to be kicking in now.

The others around her were starting to get visibly concerned the longer she didn't respond. They were so open with showing their emotions. Naïve as well. Didn't they realize when someone was in the middle of a fight-or-flight response? The only things that existed in Sora-kun's world at the moment was her and the object that the triggered stressful response.

I wonder... would she really attack me if there was no one else watching?

The Nara heir laid a hand on her shoulder and her pupils contracted as she inhaled slightly sharper at the physical contact. Wait, does she still have that touching phobia? That's not good. That can be used against her quite easily in a fight.

The Nara looked at me, a calculating intelligence behind his now alert gaze. "I think it's probably best if you head back over to your team."

A dismissal. Not unexpected.

I smiled sadly, "I see." I said morosely, inflecting regret into my tone. I glanced at Sora-kun's tense form once more before I turned around, speaking to her over my shoulder. "Maybe another time, Sora-kun."

Behind me I heard a harsh exhale and the other children start to bombard her with questions. As I walked away I couldn't help but find myself pitying Sora-kun once more.

Orochimaru-sama was surely going to break her.

Perspective:

空 (Sky)

There was wHite nOise-stATicK-RinGIng in my ears as I watched Kabuto retreat back towards the other two skeevey looking guys in matching outfits. -BrEatHe- My fist was still clenched painfully around my kunai and I felt like I couldn't fully fill my lungs no matter how much I breathed. -'brEaThE!'- My chest constricted painfully around my heart and the ghost of his breaks ached in my bones.

Breathe.

Slower. In and out. In and out.

Breathe deeply.

In...

...out.

With my next breath I took everything that he kicked up, every negative thought, angry and bitter emotion, I took all of it and I imagined a large steel box and stuffed it all inside. I then locked 'The Box' securely in chains and buried it deep under leagues of sand and sun.

I let out a harsh breath, expelling all lingering dirty feelings and thoughts to compose myself again. He kicked up so much emotional crap by simply walking up to me. I can't let that happen. I can't let him get to me. I can't screw up like that again.

Around me I could feel the heavy emotions of my classmates and their burning stares on my neck. Further on I could start to feel the chakra of the people sitting around the desks and it was really starting to give me a headache. I quickly pulled in my senses and turned to my friends, giving them a sheepish smile that could usually pass for the real thing.

None of them were fooled by it this time.

"What's wrong with you?" Sasuke asked, to the point as ever. He was frowning at me and it wasn't his usual 'you-annoy-me-to-no-end' one. My smile actually softened as I looked at each of them, all their genuine concern was soothing. Much more than my breathing exercises.

"Sora-ch-chan... who was that?" Hinata asked worriedly as she came to stand next to me.

I raised my hands and signed. 'Dangerous. Stay away from him.' I locked eyes with each of them, trying to convey just how serious I was.

"That didn't answer the question." Shikamaru pointed out. I looked at him, he was frowning and I could practically see the well-oiled gears running in his head. I gave the Nara boy a look. It was pretty obvious I didn't want to talk about it. "It's not like you to act like that. In fact I've never seen you act like that, period." he continued.

I scowled at him and crossed my arms over my chest, not budging. He was not deterred by it and instead he just shoved his hands in his pockets as his too observant eyes started picking me apart. It was even worse when I noticed that the others were starting to try and do the same thing.

Ino had a unsettling glint in her eyes as she gave me a look over, Kiba was getting frustrated and tried to get me to answer by barking out questions of his own, Hinata and Chōji were frowning with worry clear on their faces, Shino was watching passively but I knew he was paying close attention because there was a sudden buzzing around us that wasn't there before. And Sasuke...

Sasuke was alternating between assessing Kabuto and staring holes into my head. Naruto was much the same except his big baby blues looked lost as he waited for an explanation to what just happened. My behavior confused him the most.

"...who is he to you?" Shikamaru asked, his voice hushed and his too observant eyes flickered towards my covered neck.

No one, and you should stop.

Stop. Asking. Questions.

There was a rush of sound and shouts as multiple chakra signatures appeared in the already packed room. All eyes went to the front of the and out of the cloud of smoke were a number of intimidating-looking shinobi. At the front was a man that looked like a villain pulled right out of a movie with his scarred face and, admittedly, cool black trench coat.

"That's enough chatter, all of you!" his deep voice bounced of the walls. "I am Morino Ibiki, the examiner for the Chuunin Selection Exam's first test."

Thank Kami.

The man, Ibiki, instructed us to exchange our applications for seat numbers and soon we were all separated with a paper test in front of us. Naruto had briefly freaked out at the mention of a paper test but I just pat his head and told him to trust his gut, ignoring the looks most the others were still giving me.

I didn't want to talk about it. Not here. Not now. Not ever if I could help it. Why couldn't they understand that? It was bad enough Kakashi had asked but I knew he and Tenzō could handle it. They knew I was a bit cracked around the edges before and it didn't change how they looked at me now.

Naruto and everyone were still just children who have no idea just how cold and dark the world can be. It's not the same as telling two grown men that have seen the worst parts this world has to offer. Sasuke is the closest to understanding but he still has no clue of the depths. He won't even find out the extents Itachi went to for years. But until then...

Until then I wanted them all to be able to smile without seeing movement in the shadows. I wanted them to be able to sleep without having nightmares. I wanted them to keep believing that there were no monsters waiting around each corner. I want so much for them.

I want to protect them.

They needed to be protected.

I raised my hands and tightened the red ribbon in my hair as Ibiki wrote down the rules of the first part of the exam.

That's what I was going to do. I was going to protect them all.

Or, at least, die trying.

Written Exam Arc,

Chapter Twenty-Six: "Ache"

END

A/N: Okay, so I'm going to do something a little different because someone put an idea into my head and I couldn't for the life of me forget about it. Thanks Diabolical. This is the Omake I mentioned last week. It's a 'What If' segment about Sora following the disguised Iruka down into the dark alleyway.

WARNING! The following events is based on the strange and idle musings of two people and this is basically crack and it never happened and it SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY WHATSOEVER.

OMAKE: "Iruka's Test (The Real Version)"

"If he only wants your breasts, legs and thighs send him to KFC." -Pffft.

I just wanted to test Sora-kun to see if she really was ready for the Chuunin exams like her jonin-sensei was so convinced she was. I had my doubts though. Especially after hearing about her recent actions.

I'd heard from Iwabe-san who'd heard it from Kake-kun who'd heard from Ishimura who was talking to Taro-san who'd overheard a conversation between a few off-duty ANBU a few days ago at the bar that my former student, Sora, had approached two foreign shinobi unarmed and alone and then proceeded to escort them around the Village without asking to see any proper identification or asking their reasons for even being inside Konoha's walls as per proper procedure.

It troubled me greatly when I'd heard this.

How could Hatake-san even think she was ready for something as dangerous as the Chuunin Exams if she was being so careless? They could've been infiltrators and she could've been killed!

After I finished testing Hinata-kun I'd found my quietest student easily enough, she'd been out shopping when I made my approach, disguised as another chuunin that I'd went on a mission with years ago. I'd made up an excuse, asking for her help with something so she would follow me and she tilted her head at me.

Then she smiled at me cheerfully and nodded.

I withheld a sigh.

I lead the way into the darkened alley to the back-street with the beginnings of disappointment coiling in my gut. I thought that I had taught her better then this! Though I knew that these kids weren't ready for the Exams, a small part of me had hoped that what Hatake-san said was true.

Scanning the street I found it was deserted. Good. The least I can do as her teacher is give Sora-kun one last chance. If she is going to walk into traps then she better know how to get out of them. I turned around and began slowly advancing on her, when she took a few step back I continued forward.

She paled and her eyes widened. Good. She's finally realizing the potential dangers of-

-She pulled out a whistle from out of nowhere and blew it.

"FWEEEEEEEEH!" A high pitched cry echoed throughout the alley and I had to cover my ears or else I thought that they might begin to bleed.

At one point I had closed my eyes and when I opened them again there were Kunoichi filling the alley. One moved closer towards Sora, leaning down to her eye-level, "What's happened little girl? We heard you use the kunoichi distress whistle, is everything alright?"

Sora-kun raised her hands and signed in Standard, pointing at me with her free hand.

'PREDATOR'

"Huh?"

Several pairs of eyes narrowed at me and the ambient Killing Intent spiked as I suddenly broke into a cold sweat. In that moment I felt unmistakably like an animal waiting for the slaughter. I raised my hand in a pacifying manner, trying to diffuse this situation. "No-No! Wait, this is all just a-"

"Shut it!" one of them hissed. My jaw clicked shut. "You think that you can get away with something like this because you are a shinobi!?" she demanded harshly.

"No, really, this is all just a big misun-"

"Shut up, pervert." another snarled. One of the Kunoichi dressed in ANBU gear stepped forward, cracking her knuckles as she did. "We've been dealing with your kind long enough to spot one from a mile away."

"No! This is all just a test-look!" I released the henge but they didn't stand down. "Sora-kun is my student and-"

"Your preying on one of your students!?"

"Pervert!"

"You sick bastard!"

When I caught Sora-kun's gaze again her mouth was hanging open as she had a look of total betrayal written on her face, tears gathering in the corners of her eyes.

"How could you, Iruka-sensei?! I'M TELLING NARUTO!" she threw her notepad at me before turning away in disgust.

"What!? No! No, please! Sora-kun, this is all just a horrible misunderstanding!"

There was a sound of knuckles cracking.

"That's what they all say..."

"GAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!"

After that night Iruka never did try to lure young girls into dark alleyways again.

Fin~

A/N: Hehe. Originally it starred Pervy!Iruka creepin' on his female students but I just couldn't do it when it came down to it. I couldn't do that to Iruka. Instead a buncha Kunoichi came to kick his ass.

Well, you guys got Sora's reaction to Lee's confession and his reaction to her rejection! The Rookies and reunited and Kabuto actually showed his face! Kakashi's doing stuff. I think that covers this chapter?

On a side note, Gai is such a pain to try and stay in character with. I keep trying to have him go on flowery, epic speeches when in reality he talks more like a normal person in casual conversation. Only when he gets pumped up does he go overboard.

Now on the other hand, Kabuto was scarily easy to write. Think I did him well? It's actually a bitch to try and figure out how his mind works. The guy is a walking, talking contradiction. He is naturally kind and generous due to his life in the orphanage yet he became twisted and lost most of that when he began spying. He can be cruel and critical yet at the same time be perfectly polite and even heal Sakura when they're supposed to be enemies.

Author Question!

"Okay, so, what are you watching right now? Well, not right at this moment, but, later."

I'm asking because I keep running out of anime to watch with my baby bro! He finally finished watching ALL of Naruto with me and every time we find a show it's over just as we're getting started! Right now we're alternating between SAO (Sword Art Online) and Durarara but it won't last!

Ahh, 'till next time luvs! Wuv yew all~

-Nanami

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