A Song for Them @nihilistic_bunny
Dark Forest Arc, Match, START

Naruto Fan Fiction!

Adventure! SI-OC!

(Title)

"A Song for Them"

A/N: Sorry for the lateness guys, but you know how I am with fight scenes and such, it just takes me longer than usual whenever they come up. Plus I posted for some of my other stories, so there's that too. But enough gabbing, you probably want to get to the chapter, eh? Well, enjoy!

DISCLAIMER: I do not own 'Naruto' or any of the cannon characters! Thank goodness.

WARNING! RATED M! For language, violence the usual. No mental breakdowns though! So, yay!

Exam Deux Arc,

Chapter Thirty-Six: "Match, START"

"The pessimist complains about the wind.

The optimist expects it to change.

The realist adjusts the sail." -William A. Ward

The morning of the fifth and final day of the survival test came, looking oddly brighter than it was yesterday. I woke up first, having slept dreamlessly throughout the night with my Hero curled possessively into my side, one hand still fisted into my dirty shirt. I was deliciously warm with the little blonde space heater next to me. Duckie had vehemently refused to sleep anywhere near either of us, claimed we were 'too clingy'. Pfft, Naruto and I, clingy! Can you believe that? Yeah, right. We are both just a healthy amount of attached to the moody boy. Totally healthy.

I raised a hand to run through short blonde locks and Naruto's face buried deeper into my shoulder, causing a burst of warmth to bloom in my chest. I felt drained, totally and completely from the events of yesterday. But... in the good way. like everything that had been building up and festering was flushed out of my system all at once. Painful when it's happening, yes, but worth it when it's over.

If I had to use a metaphor then... where Sasuke had repeatedly knocked on the door of my issues like a particularly determined girl-scout, Naruto just took a fire axe to the damn thing, stormed in and demanded I pay proper attention to what he was selling.

God, I love him.

…I'd really do anything for him.

Lying here, staring up at the cracked ceiling, I realized something with a start.

I just got Talk-no-jutsu'd.

Well... not that that was a bucket list item but it does make me think that I should maybe seek help from someone other than a twelve year-old. magical protagonist powers or no. Something to think about at least, whether or not I act on that thought later... well... It was time to wake up anyways.

I carefully untangled the Hero from myself and slipped out of the bunk, lightly stepping to the center of the small, concrete room I held my hands out and over my stomach. Resuming my morning routine after all these days, my morning exercises. The movements came as easy as breathing to me, a bend backwards, stretches that had my poor muscles being reminded of the last few days. I tried very hard not to think on the parallels of the movements were so similar to how a snake might move or strike, or how all my life the Cobra pose has always signaled the end of my routine.

Deep breaths.

One problem at a time. Today we have fights. Tomorrow we can deal with all the other crap. I could deal with it all if it's one step at a time. My hand reached up to the burning on my arm. It had started burning again and I was trying very hard not to begin scratching at it. Since my collapse yesterday I've been dealing with periodic waves of burning pain from the Mark and I was eagerly waiting for Kakashi to show up and seal this thing. I've been dealing with it so far by distracting myself from thinking about it but it almost seems like they're coming faster.

That was... very not good.

"Mmn… nna? Nah... So-ch'n?" Naruto mumbled sleepily from where he was sitting, rubbing his fist against his eye. I wiggled my fingers in a wave and a look of despair came over him before he flopped back down onto the bed, "It's too earlyyyyyy… go b'ck to sleeeeep…" his whine was muffled by the pillow. I let out a huff of a laugh before I continued with my routine, with more enthusiasm this time. Next activity to check off the list?

Dragging Naruto's butt out of bed.

"So," Naruto started around a mouth of what I assumed to be porridge, he spoke towards Team Eight, "have any of you guys heard of a 'Sannin' before 'ttebayo?"

Sasuke's eyes snapped towards the blonde and I think there was a kick under the table because Naruto grunted before shooting daggers at the boy beside him. Huh. I hadn't actually told them to not mention the whole 'being hunted by a S-Rank ninja' thing -why on earth would I?- but it seems that Duckie wanted to err on the side of caution. He glanced at me and I shrugged, shoveling down more of what I'd hoped was porridge. They could ask what they like, they were the Nine-Tails Jinchuuriki and Last Uchiha. I mean, what was going to happen? They were going to get gagged?

Shino adjusted his glasses further up the bridge of his nose, "The Sannin? Yes, they are known as some of the of the most accomplished Shinobi in Konoha's history, said to be the greatest of their generation. This is because of their efforts in the Second and Third Wars."

"Really?" Sasuke asked with only a hint of interest coloring his tone. Shino practically beamed under the attention and continued to answer Naruto's -and Sasuke's subtle ones- questions to the best of his knowledge. The history books were always quite vague about Orochimaru and Jiraiya. Learning about Tsunade, Konoha's princess, was the easiest even with her being unofficially a missing nin. When asked, people tend to give different answers to why she left and hasn't returned yet, whether she's on sabbatical or just expanding her medical knowledge, it's never anything that's remotely near the truth curiously enough.

I listened to them with half an ear until I spotted something interesting out of the corner of my eye. Temari and Kankurō strolling into the cafeteria. Then, almost as if they felt my eyes on them, the siblings scanned the cafeteria until they spotted our table off to the side. On instinct I raised a hand in a friendly wave. Then Kiba slapped my hand down in a slight panic and I looked at him in surprise. That was rude, even for the Dog-boy. Temari had blinked at us before her eyes narrowed at me in what I guess was recognition.

Kankurō lifted a hand in a wave.

Kiba gawked incredulously and Temari slapped her brother upside his car-eared head. I snickered and I could feel the stare Kiba was giving me but I ignored in favor of mentally giving Kankurō some points for friendliness, for an invader/enemy he was rather easy-going. Temari glanced our way once more before grabbing breakfast for three and leaving without even saying hi.

"Hey," Kiba hissed lowly after they were gone, "you don't want to mess with those guys, yeah?"

Duckie, who had an exasperated look on his face after my interaction, was now listening attentively to the Inuzuka boy. "What do you mean?" he asked.

Kiba grimaced as Akamaru began to whine, "Those guys are bad news. Especially their third member, a guy with red hair. You'll want to keep your distance if you don't want to end up dead."

"You mean Gaara?" Naruto piped in curiously, apparently done questioning Shino.

Kiba's face full-on twitched, he was quiet for a moment until he exploded. "You're on a first name basis with them?! What the hell!"

Naruto scowled, obviously upset with being yelled at for no good reason. "Oi, it's not like I'm the one who wanted to know! It was the bastard who asked'im!"

In response to the questioningly looks, Sasuke coolly pointed his chopsticks at me without making eye-contact. "Sora was the one who was taking them on a tour around the districts."

The Inuzuka boy gave me a look and I defended myself quickly. 'They were lost! I was only being polite!'

Mouse gave me an understanding smile while Kiba just shook his head at me, surprisingly, Shino was the one to speak next. "There is no need to explain your actions, Sora-san. That is because, we know that you are a considerate person."

I blinked in further surprise. That was... really nice. I grinned and thanked him. After that chatter became much more lively than it was during dinner as I actually had some energy to spare to engage today. Kiba was quick to start some friendly trash talk which the Hero and I leapt to reply to and even Sasuke made some. Sometime before we finished breakfast, I'd learned off-handedly from Shino that Kabuto's team had finished during the night.

It was expected and yet still I felt uneased.

Besides a quick drop in from Team Gai sans Lee, breakfast ended without much fanfare and the six of us headed into the common room to kill time. Hours passed by in the common room fairly quickly as we were undisturbed. I had briefly felt Kabuto's chakra lingering in the hall at one point but to my relief he didn't enter and make a whole lotta awkward happen.

An hour before the deadline Team Ten finally made their appearance, looking like they'd been put through the ringer. I had a relieved smile on my face until my eyes met Ino's. She held eye-contact for an entire twenty seconds before an unfamiliar expression came over her face and she looked away again. If I didn't know any better, I'd almost think that looked suspiciously like pity. But that would be... unlikely. Huh. Yeah, still have to... deal with that. Somehow.

Later. Later is good.

You don't learn, do you?

'Shuddup.'

And then a chuunin showed up and we were all led to a large the arena on the first floor, all the teams lined up in front of the already assembled elite shinobi. Scary proctor lady whose name I can't seem to remember for the life of me was standing in front with a clipboard and a microphone headset. It's odd, I'm usually a lot better at remembering names.

"First off, for the second test, congratulations on passing!" Her already loud voice bounced off the walls thanks to the microphone on her head. "Hokage-sama will now explain the third test. So listen carefully! Now Hokage-sama, please..."

Hiruzen-jiji then began his speech about the Exams. I listened with half an ear as I took in our surroundings. I'd feel a little more guilty about not giving it all my attention if I hadn't already known what he was going to say. There were a couple blank spots about this day from Before but I remembered everything important, I was sure. Important being Naruto and Sasuke and their matches and Lee... Lee gets...

Lee was standing right beside me in our rows and it was getting hard to pretend not to notice all the glances he was sending me, I was thankful that I couldn't feel his chakra in this moment because I'm not sure how I would've reacted to if his feelings were saying what his face was.

I'm happy to see you.

I wanted to say something. I wanted to tell him to not fight so bad and only knowing how entirely pointless it was stopped me from asking the sweet boy from step on all his cherished beliefs. I stepped aside and told Hinata I believed in her, knowing what would happen, how much stronger she'd be from the loss. I... I can do the same for Lee, can't I? Believe in him?

I continued not to notice.

Also not noticing? How the Sound team's eyes were on me and the unordinary intent-laced glance Neji shot me out of the corner of his eye. What the hell is his problem? I could faintly feel that he wasn't nervous like Tenten or annoyed by my very existence as per usual, instead he felt very... intense. That unsettles me more than when he's tries to kick my face in.

Sigh. It's hard being so popular.

…damn it, Scarecrow. He was right, I really didn't like having all this attention. Other distractions? All our teacher's were lined up behind the Hokage and looking professional, even Scarecrow wasn't slouching for once. His back was probably aching from all that good posture by now. Ibiki-san was doing a very good job of looking terrifying, just standing there. It wasn't even like he was trying to, I think. The jonin rep from Sound was doing a good job of giving off the creepy vibe, looked ordinary enough though, unlike most of Sound. Suna's rep had a professional stink-eye going on that made me wonder if that was what his face looked like all of the time? Besides the couple of chuunin whose names I'd be hard-pressed to remember but have undoubtedly met in passing once or twice in the Academy building, the scary lady proctor was standing to the side with a clipboard looking the slightest bit displeased that she had so many maggots leftover. Pooh.

Hiruzen's chakra was roaring like a sun of it's own today which was odd, he was usually more subtle than this. I could barely even feel the comforting pull of Kakashi's chakra under it and he was standing right there. I'll admit it did help to mask all of Gaara's Intent filling the area, but it wasn't as if the red-haired boy was consciously pressuring the air with all of that unfocused Intent, it was just leaking through the seal that practically screamed 'I was made by a whack-job!' all over it. Naruto's seal is hardly even noticeable unless you look really hard, it was literally a masterpiece in design. That being said, Gaara's chakra is certainly more prominent than it was the last time we ran into him. If it was possible he seems even more on edge. He's even giving poor Akamaru the shakes.

"I don't care what it is." Gaara rasped suddenly, breaking me from my observations. "Just hurry up and tell us what this 'life-risking' battle entails."

Hiruzen frowned. He was rather rude, wasn't he? "Yes, I'd like to now explain the third test, but-" Someone coughed. Then that same someone appeared in a kneeling position in front of the Sandaime.

"Actually, I -cough- I apologize, Hokage-sama. From here on, as the referee, will you please allow me, Gekkō Hayate." Wow, he looks even worse than I do, and that's saying something. Hiruzen gave his assent and Hayate-san stood and turned to face us. He was an unhealthy shade of pale and gaunt-cheeked. He seriously looked like he was a zombie or something. "Hello everyone, I'm -cough- Hayate. Uhm… before the third test there's something I'd like you to do. Umm... it's a preliminary for the third test to decide who gets to participate in the main event."

There was an outcry. He explained how we had too many and the fights might take too long and that we were short on time to spend on them, he asked if anybody wanted to quit, saying that this was no longer a team effort and our forfeit wouldn't effect our other team members. My eyes scanned the our little crowd until they landed on Kabuto's raised hand. I felt a tension in my gut unwind. I was a bit worried about what he'd do, I didn't remember if he fought in the preliminaries but this was good. That was one more thing off my mind. Nobody paid him any mind as he walked out. Except, to my infinite relief, Kakashi whose lone eye was trained on the spy. He knew, I realized. He knew that was the same Kabuto I told him about. That eased me as well. If Scarecrow knew Kabuto was someone to be watched then he was doing something about it, right? Right. Probably.

Nobody else looked like they were going to raise their hands and Sasuke and Naruto both glanced back at me with questioning looks. I made a face. It was... a good question. Did I really need to continue any further than this? If I left now then I was mostly sure that Sensei would whisk me away to wherever that sealing array is and put a stop to the constant pain shooting through my body. And I was right in thinking the waves were getting faster, it was every ten minutes now that it hits compared to every half-hour it was this morning. It's not like I really need to continue past this, right? I mean, what could happen with my forfeit? My arm began to burn. I gripped it to stop it from shaking. Sakura had fought... Ino, right? and they knocked each other out. So if I dropped out then Ino would maybe progress? Or... Ino might end up fighting someone else with the change in match-ups.

Someone like Gaara.

Oh.

Well...

I gave them both a solid nod. I was good. I could hold out a bit longer, just to make sure nothing unnecessarily bad happens to Ino because of me. I could do that at least. We'll fight and I'll manage it from there. I was fairly confident that she wasn't going to try and go back inside my head after what happened last time so she'll probably rely on her brains and whatever tools she has at her disposal. I'll manage. I was really not going to try and debate the morality that I was okay with letting Lee get hurt yet not Ino because then it would be my fault. I couldn't do that in the ten seconds I had to make the decision, I was going to feel guilty no matter what I chose to do. There was no right answer to this. There was no happy result here. If this becomes one of those things that keep me up at night, then... so be it.

Hayate-san continued, seeing that no one else had backed out, he explained that the fights didn't have any rules and if things got too one-sided then he'd step in before anyone could go overkill. A screen then appeared on the far wall and the first two fights were about to be announced. Everyone looked up expectantly and I glanced around for the stairs. There was a second floor, right? Where we all went up to watch? I could use a seat right about now. A various degree of Intent spiked through the room and I spotted the staircase. Hayate-san spoke, "Now, these two entrants -cough- come to the front please..."

I was waiting for our dismissal and it was at that point when the silence stretched on that I noticed everyone's eyes on me. I admit, it took me a moment longer than it should've for me to grasp what that meant. My head whipped back around to look at the Board. I recognized the characters very clearly but my mind was rejecting what my eyes were seeing. It was... impossible.

Tsuchi Kin vs. Sora

This wasn't happening.

Hayate-san cleared his throat, "...have you changed you mind about fighting, Sora-san?"

Oh, dear. No, no this is really happening. Well-Shit! I shook my head quickly and almost stumbled over my feet in front of everyone to stand opposite of Kin, who was already at the front and holy crap, what was happening right now?

"Alright, the two participants in the first fight are Tsuchi Kin and Sora. Are you ready?" Hayate-san asked. Not really, I thought to myself. I had no idea what was happening! Why was I going first? I nodded anyway. "Now we will be starting the first match. Will everyone except the two participants move to the upper level?"

Everyone else began to filter up the stairs, leaving Kin and I the only ones on the floor, Naruto and Sasuke lingered a bit behind the group. My mind was spinning when I heard Naruto call out to Kakashi-sensei as the silver-haired man approached me.

"Sora." he murmured, I glanced up at him out of the corner of my eye. "Don't use chakra. If that mark on your arm becomes active then you might lose your life." Wow, so not what I need to hear right now. He continued, "If that happens then I'm going to stop the match, understand?"

My fingers dug into my arm, trying to stop the burning under my skin. I grit my teeth and nodded. He stared at me another moment before following the boys up the stairs and joining everyone else.

Okay, right about now would be a really good time for my brain to start working again. Think. If I wasn't fighting Ino then who was? Who did Kin fight again? Shikamaru? And If I wasn't fighting Ino-and I seriously doubt that they'd match-up two teammates against each other then who the hell were Shikamaru and Ino going to be fighting? Shit, shit, shit! This isn't supposed to be happening. Okay, so, think. What am I going to do? Kin, I... didn't really know what she did. She used senbon and disliked Sakura's hair but that was about it. Great. I'm doin' great. All aces here.

How the hell is this even happening? Weren't the matches supposed to be random? I mean, didn't he say-Uh, now that I think about it... well, I know I wasn't paying full attention before but I'm pretty sure that no one had mentioned randomized matches. So... I'm going first so, oh, ho-ly shit! I changed things I haven't even considered would be effected. If these fights have changed then who else's has? Hinata's? Lee's? Holy shit-who's fighting Gaara?

There really aren't any guarantees anymore.

Fuck. It spat at me, It's Taken This Long For You To Grasp That? Damn, You're Thick.

Ah, there really is nothing quite like being chastised by your inner psychopath.

What the hell have I gotten myself into now?

Hayate-san stepped back, "Now... please begin."

Senbon flew and I dodged to the left, avoiding Kin's attack. Well, someone's eager. Something jingled behind me, drawing my attention. I looked back to see her senbon lodged in the wall with small bells attached to the ends. Sound, each of them had some special ability related to sound, didn't they? I wish I remembered what she could do. Shit. I need a plan right about now. Kin chuckled. I glanced back and she was now smirking as she looked at me, why? Why was she smirking?

"Heh, I don't know what happened to that cold bitch from the other day, but look at you now, you can't even stop fucking shaking." I let go of my arm and clenched both of my fists at my sides. Her smirk widened as she raised another round of senbon in hand, "I'm going to enjoy paying you back for that kick."

The bells rang again from behind me and I only had a brief second to look back, spotting the ting attached to the ends of the senbon and feel the burst of her chakra before my vision blurred and my muscles seized up, causing me to fall to my knees. I quickly found out I couldn't move any of my muscles. That was bad.

"Having trouble moving? I bet you are." she snickered, I was still frozen facing behind me, "These aren't just any normal bells, you know. They-" I tuned her out at this point because a wave of pain radiated out from the mark and I just about choked because-Oh my God, that was so much worse than it's been so far! Damn it! I grabbed my arm on instinct to futilely try and stop the pain and Kin sputtered, "What the hell!? Y-You shouldn't be able to move!"

The wave passed and I could breathe again, the minor-to-major throbbing in my brain could be overlooked for now. Back to what she said, that's interesting. Okay, so paralysis via bell ringing sounds an awful like auditory Genjustu. Pun totally intended. Genjutsu is typically broken by a disruption in the chakra or by pain unassociated with the illusion. Also, the influx of her Yin chakra on my system would definitely account for the spike of pain from the Mark. That's good and bad. Good because it broke her Genjustu, bad because the Mark wouldn't stop burning and it was getting really hard to ignore it! Intent spiked and I rolled, wincing as a flash of hot pain ran across my lower stomach, I stopped in a crouch and pressed my hand against it. My palm came back bloody and I grimaced.

She cut my shirt!

Yes, because THAT'S what's important here! Terra chastised, loudly.

'It's important to me!' I protested, not thinking about the fresh wound on my stomach.

Just Fucking End This Already. You Are Wasting Everyone's Time. It said irritably. I rolled my eyes. That was not going to happen.

'Thank you, Peanut gallery.' I said sarcastically.

The bells rang again and my vision became worse. I actually was beginning to see double. Or... I blinked at the half-dozen Kin's glaring back at me. I could feel the chakra in my system and-ARGH! White-HOT-It's spread out to my chest and it hurts! Damn, that's annoying! I barely even registered the two new senbon in my right shoulder under it all. With a lingering numbness I pressed my hands together and pulsed my chakra outwards, absently noticing how my fingers began to prickle with loss of feeling, dispelling the Genjutsu and regaining some movement in my extremities just in time to roll out of the way of another volley of senbon. The needles grazed my skin and further ruined my shirt, but before I could even do anything else, she rang those damn bells again, stiffening my muscles and causing my to see over a dozen copies of her. Cursing inwardly, I pulsed my chakra again to regain movement, grimacing at how my arm began to burn with all the Yin chakra I've been expelling. I can't afford to use much more than this but she just keeps ringing those bells!

I was a second too slow in dispelling the Genjustu this time and took another of her damned needles in my arm. I was on my knees, one hand clutching my newly-skewered forearm and the other was planted on the ground to keep my balance. I could faintly hear her taunting me over the pounding in my ears but I was honestly too focused on trying to figure out how to counter her Genjustu other than spamming release and risk activating the Mark. I cannot allow that to happen, if the Mark activates then Scarecrow will end the fight and that's no good. I have to win here. If there are no more guarantees then that means there's no guarantee that the third round will be the same. I can't sit by and hope for the best if this is any indication of how things are going to go from now on. I have to work for the results I want.

Unconsciously, my eyes slid up to meet passive teal ones.

I can't afford to lose here.

Kin's voice reached my ears once again. "Have you given up already? Tch. This is just pathetic, I should just put you out of your misery now." an unpretty smile pulled her lips as she looked down her nose at me. "...wouldn't you like that, you stupid girl? What's wrong, can't you answer? Have you lost the ability to speak with all your trembling or are you just too scared shitless? You know, I-" she continued to talk and I just tuned her rambling out. I will never understand the need to monologue aloud, especially when in the middle of a fight.

Keeping my breathing measured, I racked my brain. I can't keep dispelling the Genjutsu like this and she isn't giving me even a chance to get close to her. The second I move she's already pulling on those strings. I need something to disrupt her chakra or to block it from getting into my-my eyes widened as I had a eureka moment.

The Revival Seal.

My tongue darted out to wet my chapped lips. That... that could work, it is a filter for chakra. It would take the foreign chakra in my system -Kin's Genjutsu- and filter it down into positive Yin that would be flushed through my body. It should work.

It has to work.

It took less than a moment to find the seal and apply it to my chest. After that... well, there's really no satisfactory way to explain what happened next. To describe what I felt in those next few seconds. But, in short... the second I placed the seal on my chest, my chakra erupted.

My blood began to boil in my veins and I collapsed onto the floor. I saw Kin move forward on the attack and reacted on instinct, my hand dug into my tools bag and I pulled out my barrier scroll and spread it across the stone floor. I slammed my hand down and the ink came alive, glowing, spreading and creating a barrier. Shit, I-I couldn't breathe. The blue wall raised around me, stopping her flying senbon. My chest was constricting so tight I couldn't even breathe. Can't breathe. Can't scream. Can't-I-She cou-NO! Nonononono! Not here, not now. Please, not now! Distraction, I need a distraction!

It hurt so bad, I could feel it twist and scar under my skin, writhing and trying to get out! I could see the red and orange dots crawling around from the corner of my eye, the Mark was active. I squeezed my eyes shut, feeling the buzzing in the back of my skull grow louder. I could feel the fire running through my blood and in my muscles and it...

…felt...

Incredible.

律動 Rhythm

My grip on the railing tightened when I saw the fiery dots on her skin creep out from under the bandages and run up her neck. It was just like what happened last time, right before she...

Sora was losing.

Hinata gasped from beside Naruto. I glanced over to see the veins swelling around her widened eyes, she'd activated her Byakugan. "Sora-chan! Her ch-chakra... it's..."

"What? What is it?" Kiba snapped when she didn't continue. I activated the Sharingan and understood why she hadn't. That same distorted chakra was leaking from the Mark on Sora's arm. It was happening again, just like it did in the forest. Her hair was hanging over her face as she was crouched but I had caught a glimpse at the side of her mouth stretching into a too-wide smile. That chill ran up my spine again.

'I can't control it.' She signed as she lowered to her knees. Her entire body was shaking and she looked like she was going to burst into tears at any moment.

I had my hand on the door. I couldn't move from where I was standing. I just stood there and watched as her walls continued to break in front of our eyes.

'I don't want to lose myself.'

She was losing this.

The dots stood out black against her skin and Kakashi was already stepping forward, he-

"Wait." Naruto said. His hands were wrapped around the railing so tightly his knuckles were turning white.

Kakashi glanced at him sharply but he did stop, his voice was more authoritative than I'd ever heard before. "I'm sorry, Naruto, but I can't let this go on any further. Sora needs-"

-Naruto let go of the railing to slam his fists down on it. "Just wait, okay!? She can beat it, I know she can! You just gotta give her a chance!" Kakashi stared at him. his dull eye boring into Naruto's stubborn ones. After a moment the man sighed, crossing his arms over his chest as he resumed watching. Then Naruto turned his attention back to the fight and inhaled deeply, raising his hands around his mouth before-"C'MON SORA-CHAAAN! KICK HER ASS!"

…that damned Idiot.

Everyone turned their attention towards my moron of a teammate, including Sora's opponent whose face twisted into a snarl because she obviously thought he was talking about her. He wasn't, but I was one of the only two people here that could possibly know that. I looked back below and noticed Sora's smile was gone, she wiped her hand across her face, smearing the blood that had begun to run down her cheeks. Her kekkei genkai… her eyes were hidden by her hair but I didn't need to see those glowing slits to know why she was bleeding.

I waited to see what she did next.

She pulled her hands away and raised them in front of her face.

"Quit fucking hiding, you coward!" the other girl, Tsuchi, taunted, "Come out of there so I can finish this already!"

She's stopped shaking.

…come on, you idiot.

Then she slapped both of her hands on each side of her face. I watched as the dots slowly slid back down her neck and under the bandages again, the distorted chakra receded as Sora shakily stood back up. Naruto whooped loudly into my ear and I glared at him which he ignored completely. There was a smile on her face again as she glanced up at us folded her hands into the Bird Seal. Her chakra spun before she expelled it out. She began tapping her heel and I... heard music. I think. The words unfamiliar and sounded like it was coming out of an old radio.

"I'm alright... Nobody worry 'bout me. Why you got to gimme a fight? Can't you just let it be? I'm alriiiiiiight~"

She pulled her headband up and over her mouth and nose as she reached back into her bag.

"I'm alright~ Nobody worry 'bout me. Why you got to gimme a fight? Can't you just let it be? Do what you like!"

She threw something down and smoke exploded out and filled the barrier, hiding her inside. The music sped up as the barrier dissolved and the smoke washed over the stone floor, Sora dashed out of the smoke, hands full of kunai. She ran wide around the edge of the arena and threw at the other girl, the kunai landed a few feet behind the Sound nin. Tsuchi laughed and pulled the string around her fingers again, pushing her chakra through it only to gawk when Sora wasn't stopped this time. She just kept running and throwing her kunai which the Sound nin continued to dodge.

"Why the hell are you still standing?!" she screeched as she raised more senbon, throwing them at Sora who ducked and didn't stop running, kicking up the lingering smoke on the floor.

"Gai-sensei, I can't dispel it-The Genjutsu, it just comes right back!" it was Lee's teammate, the girl, who said that. "What's happening?"

Team Eight's sensei spoke, the woman with critical red eyes on Sora as she sidestepped more senbon. "That's because she is continuously using an area-of-effect Genjustu on herself and we are just getting caught up in it. Sora is using the Genjustu to push out her opponent's and nullify it, over-writing one with her own." she glanced over at Kakashi, "...that is quite the advanced technique for a genin."

"Is it?" Kakashi said disinterestedly, looking as bored as ever with-when did he pull out that damn book?!

"Is she... is Sora-san dancing?" Lee murmured quietly from beside me, wide eyes impossibly wider as he watched Sora move. Wait, when did he come to stand next to me? Frowning, I looked back at the fight and... it... kind of did look like that. She was putting more spin in her jumps than was necessary and was actually spinning when senbon came flying at her vital points. Idiot.

For a moment the smoke thinned as she kicked it up to where I could see under it and I narrowed my eyes at the floor. So that's her plan...? I shook my head. Sora's just lucky the girl is dense or else she wouldn't be able to get away with this. Any idiot should be able to figure out what she was doing.

"Got-ta catch 'ya later! No, no cannonball it right away! Some Cinderella kid... Get it up and get you a job! Dip-dip-dip-dip-dip-dip-dip-dip!"

"This is what goes on inside her head?" I wondered aloud, mostly to myself. Naruto just snickered, beginning to try and repeat the incoherent words along with the tune. He sounded like a dying cat. Sora continued to dodge the senbon, occasionally stumbling in her steps but never stopping, keeping her opponent's full attention on her as she threw kunai after kunai, each of them lodging deep into the floor.

"Why is she missing so much?!" Kiba growled from the other side of Hinata, "I don't remember her being such a crap shot in the Academy..."

I felt my lips twitch up. He hadn't noticed it yet either?

"She's not missing." I glanced over to the voice that spoke, the Hyuuga on Lee's team was watching Sora's movements critically. He had the same look on his face as he did in the forest after he'd seen her kill those men. He was looking at Sora like she was a target.

I found didn't like that look.

The Sound nin let out a frustrated shout, dropping the strings in her hand and pulling out a handful of senbon, changing tactics. She was about to charge and Sora took this moment to stop in her tracks, her grin widened before she lifted her hands and stopped fueling the Genjutsu. Revealing the wires wrapped around her knuckles, then she pulled. Wires snapped up from the ground, ensnaring Tsuchi's body and immobilizing her where she stood.

"W-What!?" Tsuchi's face twisted with rage, "You don't think that this can actually-" she stopped, paling considerably when she noticed the dozens of explosive tags strung onto the wires.

Huh. Nice touch.

The referee stepped forward and looked at the Sound nin, clearing his throat after another coughing fit, looking at her expectantly. Tsuchi glared darkly while she kept her mouth shut, apparently needing time to realize that she's lost. Meanwhile Sora's breathing was labored but she held on tightly to the wires, even pulling on them once, causing Tsuchi to wince in pain. She actually looked like she might go through on the threat.

"God dammit!" she snarled angrily, "I fucking forfeit!"

And then it was over.

"The winner of the first match, Sora, has passed the preliminaries!"

"YEAH! WAY TO GO, SORA-CHAN!"

I scoffed, resisting the urge to bring my fist down on the Idiot's head for yelling right next to my ear. "I'd be more impressed if she didn't look ready to pass out at any second."

As if on cue, Sora collapsed to her knees in a heap on the floor, a hand reaching up to grab at where the Mark on her arm was. A couple of medic's arrived but Kakashi had appeared down at her side and waved them off. He asked her something I couldn't make out and after a moment she shook her head negative. He leaned down and picked her up in his arms and left the arena, down the hall and out of sight.

"Uhm, we will now -cough- start the next match!" the referee announced.

Hinata took a step closer towards us, "I-Is Sora-chan g-g-going to be okay?" she asked, stuttering like she was a little kid again.

The Idiot grinned way too confidently as he turned to her. "Of course she's gonna be okay! It's Sora-chan!" I watched as the tension released from the girl's shoulders, she had believed his every word.

I didn't. Kakashi hadn't said what he was going to do with Sora, I had only barely overheard him telling her that he'd stop the match if that Mark on her arm became active, which it's obvious it did. Since that he already knew about the Mark it's safe to assume he knows how to neutralize it and take one more thing off Sora's mind. Kami knows she needs it.

"Will the next two -cough, cough- ahem... come down?"

The Idiot groaned in disappointment from beside me and there was a sigh from the right as Shikamaru passed us, mumbling under his breath about something being too 'troublesome'. I looked back up at the screen and figured out what that lazy ass was groaning about this time.

Nara Shikamaru vs. Tsurugi Misumi

慰め Comfort

"Are you going to make a habit of this...?" Scarecrow asked me lowly, eye resolutely forward as he carried my like I was glass in his arms. I was thankful, I don't know how I'd be able to handle any extra movement right now. I can't imagine how Sasuke was even able to bear this.

This is unlike any pain I've ever felt before. I tried not to think about how my legs were burning like icy-hot fire were shooting though them, I really did. I was so fucking stupid to try and use a seal on my body when I already had an unstable one of my arm. The sudden influx of Yin set it off and it almost consumed me. So fucking stupid. I was paying for it now.

I forced a smile as I signed, 'But you are so good at it.'

"Maa, you give me good practice, Sora. You seem to end up needing assistance walking more than anyone else I know." he reprimand with a light voice, cheery almost.

'You need the exercise.' I retorted.

"Oh Sora, I do hope you're not trying to imply anything, are you?" he drawled.

I paused, a real smile trying to rise. My fingers, I could barely feel them over the fire running through my blood. It hurt. It hurt so much more-'You have been eating out more. Extra ramen and easy missions don't mix well.'

He didn't miss a beat, stride never slowing. We were walking behind the medics as they escorted Kin to wherever they had planned on taking me before my dear sensei stepped in. "Now that you mention it... you are a bit heavier than I remember."

I looked properly scandalized, well, I tried not to look like I was grimacing. 'You shouldn't say things about a lady's weight. What about my delicate feelings?'

He glanced down at me and I think I failed in my self-appointed mission to not look like how I felt, which was, total crap. Scarecrow starts moving a little bit faster and I feel a wave of pain at the extra movement, cringing and curling my body to try and stop the fire burning my insides. Frustration and anger rises in his White Hot chakra, making it hotter as he resumed his previous pace.

"But what about my delicate feelings?" he retorted perfectly, "I'm going to get self-conscious about my figure now."

This was good. Good and distracting. I almost wasn't thinking about how my vision was blurring a bit. 'I'll still love you sensei. Even if you get a bit soft around the edges.'

He sighed, sounding despaired. I fisted my hand into the front of his flak jacket as a new wave came up on it's own, gritting my teeth. My body convulsed against my will and Kakashi didn't react to it at all, frustration still rising.

"How lucky I am to have a student like you." the sarcasm was oozing from beneath his mask and tightened jaw.

Oh, there goes the feeling in my legs.

'Cherish me.'

He snorted.

'I am a gift.'

"Uh-huh."

I leaned my head against his chest, entirely of my own free will, definitely not because I was light-headed now, no. Not because of that.

This was fine.

We were fine.

I was fine.

流用 Diversion

I gently set her down in the center of the floor, finally reaching the vault located under the Tower. I don't know why there was a place specifically designed for cleansing the surrounding area of ambient chakra -something required for this particular Fuinjutsu- but I had heavy suspicions that revolved around the Uzumaki clan from the time of the founding of the Leaf and left it at that. Following the instructions given to me by Hokage-sama I set the two sets of kunai around her in two circles at equal distances as anchors to keep the chakra isolated so there's no chance of a breach mid-sealing. I cut my hand, letting it bleed to begin drawing the characters required for the formula.

"I'll need to apply the formula to you're skin so-" I turned around to see that Sora had already taken off her shirt and her mesh and tossed them far to the side, leaving her in only shorts and a-I narrowed my eye sharply, my uncut hand subtly reaching back to check my pouch for- no. It was still there. But I was sure my eye wasn't deceiving me. There was an undeniably orange cover sticking out from her... undergarment.

Why did Sora have a copy of my Icha-Icha?

"Why do you have that." I punctuate my last word with a finger pointed at the item she should really not have. Her purple eyes widened and shot to her chest. She pressed her lips into and firm line as she ducked her head down and was giving off a feeling very much like, 'Oh, shit'. She smiled meekly as she peeked up at me from under her bangs, shakily reaching a hand behind her and produced her notepad. I did not frown.

"Have I ever told you that you're my favorite sensei?" it read. I snorted at the half-assed attempt, walking over to begin writing the first string of characters needed in the formula.

"Well, you are definitely my least favorite and most bothersome student." I informed her. She extended her arm for me and gave me a plastic half-smile, not disagreeing with me. She must be really hurting.

It wasn't until I drew the characters down her arm and to the first anchor when I heard her pen scratching again, "Can you take me back when were done here? I really want to be there to see the other matches. Especially the boys'."

I began over her shoulder and back, briefly lifting the back of her undergarment to write. "Sorry to tell you this but you'll need to get checked out at the hospital at soon as we're done, just to make sure I didn't screw up anything too bad here."

She made a face at my attempted joke. That didn't stop her from trying again though. "Seriously, I want to be there. The medics can wait a little while longer... please?" I was quite unmoved, continuing to copy the characters down from memory, "Please? Please? Please? Please? Please? Please? Plea-" she stopped when she realized it wasn't going to work on me.

I was firm on this point. She may have not realized it, but my female student has pushed herself past her limits already and this sealing will take what little she has left. She needs to be admitted to the hospital as soon as possible, and that means missing out on the rest of the matches. Besides, I'm sure that Naruto will not fail to give her every detail of his and Sasuke's matches, no doubt exaggerating every second word. She'd be safer under the ANBU team's watch anyway. She chewed her bottom lip, shivering a bit when I drew the fourth string over the back of her neck and down the other arm. Then she wrote once more.

"I don't want to be alone."

…and there goes all my damn resolution. So much for that. I sighed quietly and she grinned, like she already knew she'd won. I began the sixth string and spoke up when her face contorted in pain once more, hoping to keep her from thinking about it. "So, you feel like telling me the story behind your new tattoo?" I teased.

She didn't attempt to smile this time, fingers twitching in her lap before she picked up the pen again, "Full version or short and sweet?"

"Let's do a full debrief. We have time." I murmured. Seventh string done. Now all that's left is aligning the anchors with her chakra signature and isolating the chakra I'm going to seal. It'll only take another minute or two.

She glanced over at me from the corner of her eye. "You sure you want to hear it?" I met her eye. It was unlike her to hesitate like that, at least with me. I nodded as I drew the ninth character in line with the third column around the outer layer of the anchors, equally wary as I was curious now.

"Well, to start I pushed Sasuke off the side of a tree and got bit by the Snake creep instead. Fell unconscious. Had a bit of a mental breakdown. Woke up a third, more bloodthirsty, personality and killed two men, terrorizing the team from Sound while I was at it. Got into a big fight with Naruto and then another one with Sasuke. Met a sweet girl named Karin, became friends I think. Made up with Sasuke after running into Kabuto in the middle of the night. Made it to the Tower and then had an emotional breakdown with Naruto and made up with him. There are a lot more details and I think I'm forgetting a few things but I think that just about covers most of it." she paused, thinking it over. Then she made an 'oh' with her mouth. "And I took a kunai to the chest."

I had long ago halted in my strokes. Actually needing a full moment to process that.

"So how was your week?"

I didn't answer that as I inhaled deeply. Contemplating a great deal of things. Too many things if I'm being entirely honest with myself. Ignoring the little voice in the back of my head that just confirmed that I had smelt blood in her hair earlier. That wasn't important at the moment. And then Sora cringed in pain once more, reminding me of my task and I continued writing down the formula. She was supposed to be the easy one. I distinctly remember thinking that at the beginning. Even with her-My eyes snapped back to the top of her page.

"-pushed Sasuke-" "-got bit by the Snake creep instead."

Fuck.

Boar, Dog, Bird, Monkey, Ram. I slammed my hand already bloodied hand down on the stone floor and by the time the smoke dissipated I had already torn off the page of Sora's pad and was holding it out for Akino and Urushi. "Akino, deliver this upstairs to Yūgao. Now. Urushi, go keep an eye on Sasuke until I'm finished here."

Both my ninken nodded and set off on their assignments and when I turned back around, Sora was staring at me with a panicked look in her purple eyes. She thought we knew. Her eyes darted towards the direction of the entrance and I raised my hand to draw her attention back, breathing was shallow. She was panicking or on the verge of doing so. I kept speaking to keep her distracted.

"He's in the safest place he can possibly be right now, Sora. Hokage-sama is there and the other jonin are standing not five feet away. Both he and Naruto are safe." I assured her. She faced forward again, closing her eyes and pressing her lips into a firm line as she took deeper breaths. I finished the ninth string of characters, ending over the major chakra point on her stomach. "Okay, I'll warn you now, this is going to hurt." She tightened her jaw and faced forward, she probably already knew that without my telling her.

Taking that as consent preformed the hand seals and placed my palm over the Mark, activating the Fuinjutsu. In an instant her body seized up as hew jaw fell open in a silent scream. I felt the drain on my chakra as the formula skated across the ground and up her skin, blood turning into ink black script that encircled the three tomoe. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head and her body went limp, collapsing onto the stone.

It was done.

試合 Match

"The winner of the second match, Nara Shikamaru, has passed the preliminaries!" the referee announced. Soon after Shikamaru himself began to trudge up the stairs, looking no worse for wear. Seriously, his opponent was from Konoha, he should've at least heard of the Nara clan's technique before today. He had talked so big at the beginning too.

I scoffed. Arrogant.

Naruto was grinning as he slapped the Nara n the back in congratulations, "Nice job winning 'ttebayo! Even though you hardly even moved, you lazy ass!"

"Ouch." Shikamaru grumbled, shrugging with a faint smirk. "It'd have been even more troublesome to lose right after a girl won. Ino would've never let me hear the end of it..."

Ino began to yell at her teammate for his comment and Naruto opened his mouth again to speak but stopped, narrowing his eyes at something behind us. I raised an eyebrow as he leaned closer to me with his hand raised to his mouth. "Oi, Sasuke… how long has that dog been sitting there 'ttebayo?"

I blinked.

Looking behind us I notice one of Kakashi's dogs. Just sitting there. When did-"Ahem! Uhm… now for the third match." the names on the board changed.

Uchiha Sasuke vs. Kinuta Dosu

Who? A form on the opposite side of the room began to move towards the stairs. It was Bandages from Sound. I smirked. So it's a rematch, huh? From the looks of his bent out of shape arm there's a good chance that gauntlet is unusable still but it wouldn't hurt to keep my distance anyway. He should be aware of my injuries and will probably try and exploit that. I began to head to the stairs when a column of smoke appeared in the way.

Kakashi nodded at us, an unconscious Sora in his arms. "Yo."

"Kakashi-sensei!" Naruto shouted, running ahead of me. My eyes scanned her appearance, her shirt was gone and she had Kakashi's flak jacket on instead. Fresh bandages were wound around her bicep. So then... I looked to Kakashi for confirmation as Hinata approached behind Naruto. He met my eye and nodded.

She was going to be okay.

Kakashi spoke as he set Sora against the wall, "Sora's all fixed up, she wanted to be here to cheer you all on but I guess she over did it in her fight and fell asleep on the way back." he glanced at the board, "Looks like I made it just in time. Sora will be disappointed but you could try and wake her-"

"No." was the answer from multiple sources.

Kakashi blinked.

I rolled my eyes at the others, heading downstairs. Was Sora's -lack of- sleeping habits always so well known? "I don't need her waving at me from here like some kind of moron. Just let her be." Bandag-Dosu, was already on the floor waiting for me when Naruto called out to me as I passed him.

"Hey!" I looked at him from over my shoulder, he was smirking at me. "We can't let Sora-chan be the only one out of Team Seven to pass, right bastard?"

I smirked, turn back to the stairs.

"I'm looking forward to kicking both of your asses in the finals, loser."

Exam Deux Arc,

Chapter Thirty-Six: "Match, START"

END

A/N: Yay! First two matches down! Okay, so, I'm fairly certain that the prelims won't last another chapter but who really knows with me. Mostly about Sora and getting that Mark finally sealed. What did you think about her match? And what are your thoughts on the rest of the match-ups? Do you think Lee vs. Gaara is still happening? How is Sasuke's POV of this? Oooh! So many questions!

I know a lot of you want to hear Naruto and Sasuke's thoughts on Sora's past but sorry to say that we didn't get a Naruto POV this time and Sasuke is a fairly focused individual, he's just not going to be thinking about Sora's backstory when he's in the middle of analyzing the competition. I got to make up for it with Kakashi time though! Writing their little banter was too much fun.

Thank you guys for every time to take the time to write to me. I really appreciate it and I love reading all of your comments and answering any questions you guys might have. More than a few times I've gotten inspiration for a particular scene so don't be nervous to talk to me if you feel like it!

Author Question! Story related too!

"Do you think Sora has what it takes to become a Chuunin?"

I'm already decided on the answer but I really want to hear what you guys think! Do you think she has the qualifications?

I wuv yew all! 'Till the next time!

-Nanami

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