So, funny thing about this chapter... I actually had 80-90% of this one already written for the longest time. The problem was that I couldn't figure out how I wanted to lead into the next chapter from this one. I did finally figure something out, as you can see from this new update, but I feel like I should apologize for how long this one took to get out. So, I'm sorry.
I hope you enjoy the chapter.
Covered in soot, Jiraiya scanned the trees with precise eye movements, "That explosion was just a smokescreen, but it did it's job. It's gonna be a pain picking up the trail." He grit his teeth, "Damn it, Naruto! What are you thinking?" He shook his head, "I have to find him, before it's too late." He managed to spot something, a slight scuff on a tree branch. It was a characteristic of tree hopping that a lesser eye would have missed. The toad sage took to the trees. Under his breath, he cursed again, "Damn it."
The crowd had roared at Sasuke's sudden entrance, their excitement palpable. There wasn't a person in the crowd who hadn't heard of the powerful Uchiha clan, who's eyes had inspired terror all across the elemental nation. They wanted to see that legacy live on, indeed many of them had high hopes for the heir of that legacy despite having never met the boy in question. The attention of the entire arena was focused on Sasuke. But that soon changed.
As the cheers died down, the crowd began to notice something. A feint pulsing, buzzing sound. Almost like the beat of a drum. From the shadows, a small red haired boy emerged and walked slowly to the center of the stage. Sand rose and fell around him, grinding against itself and slamming into the ground in time with his measured steps.
Sasuke followed Gaara with his eyes, watching the short red hair sway across the dirt. Sasuke remembered what he'd seen that sand do back in the preliminaries. He couldn't let that sand get a hold of him.
Gaara stopped in front of Sasuke, and the sand dropped to the ground. They stared at each other in the quiet.
Gaara spoke first, "Hello." His rough voice floated toward Sasuke.
Sasuke remembered the pressure he felt when he passed by Gaara back during the second stage. An oppressing air of bloodlust even stronger than Zabuza had stopped him from getting too close to the boy. Sasuke couldn't feel that now, but that didn't ease his mind at all. Is this some sort of ploy? Sasuke didn't take his eyes off of Gaara, "What are you playing at?"
Gaara didn't blink as he explained, "It is a greeting. When you meet someone, that's what you say." His eyes were open wide and completely focused on Sasuke, "You say it, too."
A scoff tried to rise out of Sasuke's throat, but instead he squeezed out a low response, "Hey."
Gaara nodded, "Right. Next is..." Gaara's voice trailed off and he peeked at the palm of his hand, "We introduce ourselves."
Sasuke caught sight of some scribbles as Gaara let his hand drop back to his side. There's something written on his hand. Sasuke crossed his arms, "I already know who you are. This is meaningless. Proctor, start the fight."
The proctor nodded and commenced the fight immediately. He chopped the air and shouted, "Start!"
Sasuke burst into motion, getting as much distance as possible. But Gaara just stood there mumbling to himself. The cork was still solidly plugged into the gourd on his back.
"Introductions are important."
"Whatever." Sasuke hadn't seen much of what Gaara could do back in the preliminaries, he needed to test the waters before he could get serious. He threw some shuriken from the side to see how the red head would move, but it seemed like Gaara didn't even notice the threat. He was still mumbling.
Sand rose from the ground and caught the shuriken, seemingly on it's own! As it fell, Gaara's eyes landed on Sasuke, and he shouted, "Don't skip my introduction!" The cork flew off of the gourd and a geyser of sand shot roared into the air.
Sasuke's eyes widened at the wave of sand that cascaded toward him. There was a lot more of that stuff than he was expecting! Sasuke launched himself onto the nearest branch and flung another shuriken, this one faster than before. He'd hoped to interrupt the attack, but only a small portion of the sand split off to stop the weapon. What kind of defense is that? He's not even doing anything! Gaara's effortless control of the sand reminded Sasuke of someone else. The face of his teammate briefly flashed through his mind, but Sasuke shook it away. There was more sand for him to dodge.
After the end of the second exam, Gaara watched the moon creep across the night sky. He didn't say a word to his siblings after declaring his new name. Eventually, they left, but Gaara paid them no heed. He simply watched the moon. His eyes grew heavy, and when he opened his eyes the morning sun shown on the horizon. The moon was nowhere to be seen.
"G-gaara?!" Standing at the door was Temari. She'd never seen her little brother collapsed on the floor, but he looked fine. There weren't any signs of a conflict either, the room was just as she and Kankuro had left it. She took a cautious step into the room, "What happened?"
The sand gathered underneath Gaara and lifted him to his feet. He stared at his hands, "I fell... asleep?" He looked up at Temari, and saw the shock on her face.
"That's..." Her voice trailed off, "Baki-sensei needs to hear this."
Gaara ignored his thoughts on the past month that were bubbling up within him. The Uchiha was quick and stayed just out of his sand's grasp. But it was only a matter of time before he was caught.
The sand spread farther across the field with every unsuccessful attack, and it wasn't long before he caught the Uchiha's foot during one of his evasions.
The sand was upon the dark haired boy an instant later, and Gaara slowly dragged him over in a cocoon of sand.
As the cocoon floated over, Gaara began to recite the lines he'd practiced in his head, "I am the man who strikes fear into the hearts of men in all directions. North, south, east, and west. Anyone who called themselves my enemy was crushed beneath my sand." He extended his hand toward the clump of sand in front of him that held Sasuke, and the Uchiha's face was uncovered. Gaara stared at his pale face, "I am the Gallant Gaara."
Gaara waited for Sasuke's expression to crumble, for the sternness to melt into the fearful panic that always came out. Gaara would show the world that he had changed by sparing the weakling in front of him when he pleaded for his life.
But Sasuke's face remained firm, and he said, "I don't care who you are. You're just another obstacle in my way."
Gaara watched Sasuke furrow his brows. Nothing was happening. He turned to wave the proctor over, and he felt something. Gaara lost his grip on the sand and it fell to the ground at Sasuke's feet.
Stunned, Gaara mouthed, "What?" But Sasuke was upon him, the blade of his kunai flashing under the sun. The crowd that had fallen silent burst with cheers of excitement. The sand rose to defend Gaara, but it scattered like dust before the Uchiha's blade. Gaara could tell Sasuke wasn't breaking through with force. He felt goosebumps on his neck just before contact, and then his sand became inert. Mere grains in the wind.
Gaara saw the blade snaking toward his neck between the falling grains of sand. In that split second, he gathered the fallen sand under his feet and launched himself away like a cannon shot.
Sparks arched off of Sasuke's body and his hair stood on end. He charged after Gaara, incomparably faster than before, and the kunai in his hand glowed with electricity and he aimed it at the youngest sand sibling, "Your sand can't protect you now!" As he closed in on Gaara, Sasuke recalled what he'd talked about with Kakashi.
Kakashi and Sasuke sat on top of the Hokage Monument overlooking the village. They were discussing Sasuke's training regiment for the next month, "As you are now, you'll be killed no matter how many chances you have to fight Gaara."
Sasuke folded his arms as he watched Kakashi fiddle with his cast, "You didn't drag me all the way up here just to tell me to give up. Tell me your idea."
"Before that, I need to test something. Here." Kakashi handed Sasuke a slip of paper that he pulled from his cast.
"Is this a joke?"
"No, it's chakra paper. Now channel your chakra into it."
Sasuke stared at the paper in his hand, "...Fine." The paper crinkled, and then set itself ablaze, "So what does that mean?"
"It means," Kakashi stared at the ashes that the wind carried out over the village with his one eye, "You're like me."
Naruto crouched on a branch, clenching his shaking arm. It had started twitching after he gave that old man the slip, and it was getting worse. Like this, I can't go far on my own. I need a diversion. The sound of many footsteps reached his ears. A large force was marching toward the village. A smile spread across the boy's face, "Bingo." His arm having settled for the time being, Naruto disappeared among the leaves.
As Sasuke chased Gaara, sparking as he swung his kunai and spread his wires across the coliseum, his eyebrow twitched. Sasuke was doing everything he could to try and catch Gaara with his lightning-charged attacks, but the red-haired boy was using his sand to dodge and avoid everything Sasuke threw at him. The sand had already spread all over the arena, and while Sasuke's attacks managed to disrupt Gaara's hold on the sand the boy had shown the effects were merely temporary. Couple all of that with Sasuke's quickly depleting energy, and the last Uchiha was feeling the pressure.
Sasuke had been maintaining a current of lightning on his feet to keep the sand off of him. This was Kakashi's plan. Sasuke spent the whole month learning generate lightning nature chakra from his body. He'd shown off at the beginning of the match, but his technique didn't really make him immune to Gaara's sand. It was a stopgap, an experimental idea that Kakashi had come up with. With the lightning chakra flowing through him, Sasuke was faster than ever, but his eyes could hardly keep up. Despite that, Sasuke had maintained a clear image of the arena's space by listening to the movements of Gaara and his sand. Still, Sasuke knew he wouldn't last much longer under these conditions.
Sasuke had finished his preparations, all that was left was to tighten the electric net that he'd woven. He was almost out of juice, but he was confident that he would catch Gaara. After all, without his sand to defend himself Gaara was little more than a bloodthirsty kid.
That's what Sasuke thought as he began his mad dash toward Gaara, secretly preparing his wires to catch the Sand genin. Then, his sparking foot hit a patch of sand and the ground fell from under him.
When Gaara saw Sasuke fall into his trap, he wasted no time taking the sand that had scattered all over the arena and funneling it into the hole.
Sasuke had surprised Gaara, nullifying his sand with lightning like that, but the Uchiha had been frantic. Gaara had used his sand to dig pit traps all over the dirt floor of the arena, while using that sand to maneuver himself out of Sasuke's attack range. He maintained a thin layer of sand over the top of the holes so that Sasuke's jutsu would disrupt his control and the Uchiha would fall in. His plan worked perfectly.
It was a different sort of Sand Burial. Gaara folded his arms. Once the proctor confirmed his victory, he would unbury Sasuke and show his benevolence that way. That's what Gaara thought when the sand at his feet rose into the air behind him only to fall back to the ground with the sound of sparks. Gaara used his sand to slide away in time to avoid Sasuke's Kunai, and the two stared at each other. Sasuke's heavy breaths contrasted with Gaara's calm demeanor. Dirt and dust clung to their clothes, and the crowd was going wild.
Sasuke spoke first, "I think it's about time we end this."
Gaara folded his arms again, "Are you sure? I've only just started though. The Gallant Gaara's stamina is endless."
Sasuke frowned, "...Are you a monster or something?"
"I am no monster!" The floor of the arena quivered in response to Gaara's sudden roar.
Sasuke tightened his fist around his kunai and licked his dry lips, "You monster!"
"Shut up!" Gaara surged forward, the sand at his feet swelling and pushing him further, soaring through the air from all over the arena and gathering into his hand. Sasuke had to protect his face from the sand that was whipping around. The sand that gathered there spun and spun, grinding against itself like a shrill, spherical blender. He would use his new secret move that he copied from The Gallant Jiraiya to silence Sasuke's taunting.
"Perfect." Sasuke smirked and pulled on something. All across the arena, small flashes of light spread around the different kunai that Sasuke had thrown over the course of the fight. The wires attached to the handles tightened and stretched into a net that wrapped around Gaara's body and then split him apart.
Sasuke's eyes widened, "What-?" The audience gasped as blood sprayed in every direction. Some even splashed on Sasuke's face, but it was dry and grainy. His eyes sharpened, and he reached for a kunai as he turned around.
Gaara was already behind Sasuke, having risen out of the sand when his sand clone had been destroyed. The sand was gathering in his hand once more, spinning and grinding, as thrusted it into Sasuke's back. Gaara called out the name of his attack, "Sandstorm Sphere!"
Lightning arched across Sasuke's body and he turned around impossibly quickly, passing his kunai through Gaara's sandstorm sphere. The lightning chakra disrupted the structure of the orb, and it burst. Sand sprayed in every direction and the cloud of dust obscured the boys from the eyes of the audience.
Everyone gulped. It was quiet. The proctor strained his eyes as he stared into the dust. There was a hunched silhouette, and as the dust cleared, Gaara's figure was revealed to the crowd. Something dripped from his hand.
Gaara stared at his hand, "Is this my blood?"
Gold eyes pierced through the darkness, "The time has come."
As Jiraiya landed on a sturdy tree branch, he reached a finger toward the scuff marks on the bark next to him, "Naruto..." A moment later, a giant toad landed next to him. Jiraiya scanned the area, "Gama, what did you find?"
"You're not going to like this, Jiraiya-sama." Gama took one look at the flat stare that Jiraiya directed at him and continued, "It seems the boy has slipped into the ranks of the approaching Sand Ninja. His trail leads directly into their marching path."
Jiraiya cursed, "To think he would stumble on the enemy invasion." He held his nose and muttered, "I'll apologize to Sarutobi-sensei when this is all done. He knows my priorities." Then he did a few short stretches, "Gama, go ahead of me and monitor the Sand army. Try to pick out Naruto."
"Understood, Jiraiya-sama. I will retrieve the boy immediately." Gama prepared to leap into action, but Jiraiya stopped him.
"Wait, don't try anything until you see my signal."
Gama tilted his toad head, "Jiraiya-sama?"
Jiraiya showed a grim smile, "Don't worry, you'll know when you see it." He cracked his knuckles, "When it comes to my godson, I won't hold back."
So, Sasuke couldn't beat Gaara without the Sharingan, Lee's taijutsu, or Chidori. I don't think anyone is particularly surprised, but hey! Kakashi flexed his jutsu-genius brain for our boy. Now he's equipped with a rudimentary version of the Raikage's jutsu. I figure Kakashi may not have seen the jutsu himself, but I'm sure there were reports and descriptions from eye-whitnesses. Kakashi is smart enough to reverse engineer a jutsu of the element he specializes in from that much.
In the end Sasuke lost but he was able to put the pressure on Gaara by utalizing his type advantage, and even managed to draw blood from Gaara in the last moment of the fight(something that had never happened before), so props to him.
Of course, Jiraiya is alive and well. He's even come up with a plan of his own, so that's gonna be fun. Sarutobi had a plan already, but Jiraiya's throwing that out of the window.
Naruto's hiding among the soldiers of the Sand Village Army, and everything is about to blow up in everyone's faces.
See you all next time,