Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ Training for the Job ❯ Volume 3 Chapter 33 ( Chapter 43 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
Volume 3 Notes: Okay, something that has been brought up a few times before: Jutsu vs. Jitsu -- specifically, ninjutsu vs. ninjitsu. In every circumstance BUT 'ninjitsu,' I do intend to use jutsu. However, that's because every other instance I'm using the Japanese form of the word. However, 'ninjitsu' is English for 'ninjutsu.' It is a word which has been brought across to the United States, unlike 'genjutsu' or 'taijutsu,' and has been altered when translated. Therefore, while I feel 'genjutsu' and 'taijutsu' and 'bunshin no jutsu (for ex.)' should all be used, as they don't otherwise translate well, I much prefer 'ninjitsu' as the English form of the word. Now, as far as 'bunshin' v. 'bushin' goes... yeah, I've been making that mistake. I've been KNOWING that I've been making that mistake for the last twenty chapters or so... I suppose one could say I'm keeping it 'bushin' for consistency sake. If and when I go back and make revisions on this fic (which may or may not happen), I'll do a global search and replace for it... but, until then, I'm using my bastardized form of the word... for, as I just said, consistency. Someone asked about the other Academy students I mentioned way back in the early going of this volume. Well, they haven't been forgotten -- in fact, a few of them are showing up again here, briefly -- but their importance isn't coming up until after this tournament is over. I've long planned to bring them back into the story upon their graduation from the Academy, but until then the only ones who are involved in the main storyline are (or were, rather) Inari and Adaha. A couple of them are being reintroduced briefly in this chapter, but mostly they won't be reappearing until after this arc is over. I haven't forgotten them, exactly, but I haven't really been able to juggle their 'just a reminder that they exist' appearances into the parts of the story I've already written without it seeming too forced. I also have a question about the genin being able to summon and do things like kage bunshin. Well, kage bunshin (in this fic, at least) is NOT a kinjutsu -- it's just 'step one' on a scroll teaching said kinjutsu. I also figure that -- with good control and only a slightly higher amount of chakra then average -- a kage bushin is within the skill level of a normal genin -- otherwise, people like Zabuza -- who was unaware of Naruto's kyuubi enhancement -- would have been more surprised to see Naruto perform it. Please recall, also, that several of these genin are borderline chuunin. As far as whether summoning would be beyond the capability of a genin... well, remember that Temari -- while still a genin -- could perform a summoning. So, no, I don't see that out of the realm of possible abilities for genin who are borderline chuunin level, either. Yes, Moegi's fishnet underwear is more or less see-through. It's also a bit of a, um, tribute to fashion in the Naruto manga -- most of the girl ninja (and a few of the guy ninja, like Shikamaru) in Naruto seems to be wearing a fishnet something visible outside of their clothes. Even Hanabi is seen wearing fishnet under her shirt in the manga. I think Kishimoto has a fetish or something... ahem. Anyway, if you're going for the 'distracting' sort of underwear, and you're a girl, what better to cover yourself with then the cheap, easily available, and certainly racy when used in the right spot material of fishnet? I will not confirm or deny that Moegi will win that third slot, since that would be giving away what is about to happen in this chapter. I will say that (since Hanabi's skill is a given) all the remaining girls do have a shot at winning the tournament. Take this from Naruto's perspective: Hanabi cannot be counted out, Futaba's definitely pretty good as he's seen from her experiences earlier in this fic, even if he didn't get to see much of her abilities in the first match, and Matsuri is a bit of an unknown who has some of the same techniques which made Jiraiya a legend (and which he knows by now, himself). Moegi is definitely at a level of combat ability that would qualify her to become a chuunin, however. So are all three other girls who made it this far. Udon's not there, yet, but he should be at that level soon -- perhaps not for his fighting technique, which is rather limited, but for his tactical ability. In other words, Udon's another Shikamaru in the making (god help us). Nobori is a medi-nin in training, and likely will be sent along that path to advancement just as Sakura was, but probably isn't ready yet. Kouji is dedicated like Naruto, but doesn't have the demonstrable tactics-on-the-fly thinking that Naruto did, nor any techniques or abilities to compensate for the lack of a kyuubi to make him the equal of Naruto was at this stage in his development, so probably is a ways away yet. Daichi is still struggling to learn his family techniques, and hasn't learned how to use them, yet, so he's not ready. Konohamaru -- despite his loss -- demonstrated good use of technique, sound tactical thinking, and a lot of power... as well as a bit of clumsiness, but he'll outgrow that. So, Hanabi, Konohamaru, Matsuri, Moegi, and Futaba all are vying for three slots. Udon should be ready by the time of the next exam. Daichi, Nobori, and Kouji, while all still well below the level of chuunin (in mental preparedness, at least, even if they have enough power already), seem to have all found a path to travel which is likely to get at least one of them ready soon. All put together, this tournament is telling him (and the readers, hopefully) a lot about the genin. As far as who will be going to that chuunin exam? Well... read and see, ladies and gentlemen...
Chapter 33
Naruto had written the rules for his pre-exam tournament as close to the rules of the chuunin exam's as he felt he safely could, which meant he only allowed a five minute break between rounds to treat the wounds and recover the energy that one needed to fight. Much to the amusement of many, all of the boys had already been eliminated, likely meaning that the team going to the exam would be composed of at least two girls. There were also a few... more salacious comments made about the circumstances.
"Hey! It's all going to be cat fights! Sexy!" came from the general area of one of the groups of Academy students in the crowd -- seemingly the voice of Komakai Chikan, the boy who had accidentally walked in on Sakura in the nude during their early days in Blossom. Naruto shook his head, wondering if maybe he should come up with some additional humiliation for the boy, just to remind him of what could happen when the boyfriends of the girls in question decided to take action. Apparently, being tricked into streaking across the village wasn't enough to cure the boy of being a pervert. Then again, the angry looks on the faced of both Inari and Adaha seemed to indicate that he'd be finding out, again, soon enough.
Watching the two students -- both of whom were in the top of their class (and, because they seemed to work well together, both of whom were likely to be placed on the same team once the students graduated) -- Naruto couldn't help but sigh. He wondered if Inari had picked up, yet, on the fact that Adaha's arranged marriage was to Hanabi... the girl Inari was courting. He also wondered what would happen when the girl who had the painfully obvious crush on the boy -- Ran Umiko, Naruto recalled -- found out about the relationship (and it was a relationship) between Hanabi and Inari.
Sakura finally returned to her place by Naruto's side, shaking her head as she came. "I don't know... I'm not sure she'll be up to fighting when the time comes."
"Hanabi?" Naruto asked. At her nod, he shrugged. "Well, that's okay, I suppose. She didn't really need to be in this tournament for me to know she should take the exam... but I think Moegi-chan'll be disappointed that she's lost her shot at 'revenge.'"
"Why can't she fight? Was she hurt bad?" Inari asked, looking concerned. Adaha also fretted, behind him, but remained silent.
Sakura grinned sympathetically at the two Academy students. "No. She had some bad burns and bruises, but I was able to fix that without any problems. However, she's exhausted her chakra -- simply summoning the byakugan would cause her to pass out, at this point, she's so low. If the fight between Matsuri and Futaba goes on long enough, maybe she'll regain enough strength to make an appearance... but she really only knows her clan's techniques, and all of the Hyuuga clan techniques involve the use of quite a bit of chakra. It would be pointless for her to fight."
"I'm not so sure of that, Sakura-chan," Naruto mused. "She might surprise you."
Her eyes narrowed at him. "You haven't been teaching her things behind my back, have you?"
"Me?" Naruto snorted. "She wouldn't let me teach her anything, even if I wanted to. I think she's found another teacher, however."
Adaha's eyes narrowed. "She has? Who?"
Inari blinked, then squinted his own eyes at the other boy suspiciously. "Why do you care?"
Uh oh, Naruto thought, realizing that Inari had just noticed Adaha's interest in the Hyuuga girl. "Oh, look," he called out as a distraction, his voice almost cracking with stress. "Ebisu's back. The tournament must be about to restart."
"The first match of this next round," Ebisu called, "Is between Inuzuka Futaba and Hikigaeru Matsuri. Ready? Fight!"
Matsuri was rattled. There was no other way of describing her at the moment -- she had just nearly destroyed beyond repair the arm of her boyfriend (well, really, it wasn't that bad -- at least, not according to Sakura -- but it didn't look that way to Matsuri when she finally realized what had happened), and was now about to fight a match against another girl who was one of her better school friends. She hoped she didn't do anything quite so catastrophic, this time, but... well, it was a fight. People were bound to be hurt in a fight. Usually, those people didn't include Nobori, but she would have to learn to deal with it... starting now.
Futaba looked across at her opponent, concerned. "Are you all right, Matsuri-chan? Are you sure you're up to this?"
"Yeah," She sighed, not exactly happy about being asked. Maybe she was a bit upset, still, but she was a trained ninja, too -- she could deal with being upset.
"Well... if you're sure," Futaba replied, taking up a stance. Unlike her previous match, she had brought Gonta into the the ring with her... but she nevertheless hoped to win without him. However, she knew that Matsuri could pose something of a challenge, so perhaps she should use one of the 'extra' weapons in her arsenal. That decided, she pulled out a soldier pill, chewed it up, and swallowed it. "Let's rumble, then."
Matsuri winced. In their Academy class, there were a few standouts. Hanabi was considered the top of their class, but she wasn't actually in their class -- she had taken an equivalency exam, and her placement was based on that. Below her, Futaba was just about the top kunoichi... and Matsuri was pretty near the bottom. Matsuri had improved since those days, but given the company Futaba had been keeping these past several months it seemed rather likely she had, as well. A plain, normal Futaba -- without the aid of soldier pills or Gonta the dog or anything else -- might be beatable. A high-powered Futaba, juiced up on soldier pills and with her dog at her side, on the other hand... well, she'd have a hard time putting up a fight, at least.
Before she had a chance to do anything -- even her usual practice of sharpening her hair into spiked armor -- the Inuzuka girl was upon her, somehow outflanking her and striking her from behind. Matsuri wasn't sure what she was hit with -- a tsuuga, most likely, considering the spin she felt in the attack -- but it sent her flying across the floor to land face-first in a tree. Fortunately, even without hardening it her hair provided an adequate cushion to keep her from being knocked unconscious... but she decided to feign it for a few seconds while she regrouped and recollected her senses.
Futaba seemed to sniff the air for a few seconds before grinning. "Come on, get up, Matsuri-chan. I know you're faking."
Wincing, the other girl rolled onto her feet. "And just how the hell did you figure that out? Surely you can't tell if I'm awake or not by smell."
"Not exactly," Futaba agreed. "Although you'd be surprised just how different in strength the odors a person gives off can be when they are asleep, sometimes. However, I don't just have a dog's sense of smell... I can also obtain a dog's sense of hearing, as well, using the same techniques. It's very hard to hide just how hard your heart is beating, did you know that?"
"Never even thought of it," Matsuri admitted, quietly pulling a near-invisible wire from out of her hair. "But if you're using that sort of technique, then your hearing must be exceptionally sensitive, musn't it?"
She grabbed the wire in her other hand, pulled it tight, and plucked it with her pinky. The chakra-amplified sound which echoed out was much louder then the plucked wire had any right to generate. The technique was easily recognized by some of the older jounin and Jiraiya -- many of the sound-based techniques Orochimaru had trained his village in had originally come from Konoha, including this one -- but its use had become quite unfashionable since the Sand-Sound War. Apparently, however, not all genin were ignorant of it....
Futaba clutched at her ears in pain, nearly falling to her knees as the deep base tones came out of that one wire. She almost looked ill, and had to close her eyes and swallow to keep from vomiting. Grinning, Matsuri stepped forward, intending to finish things off while she had the advantage. It would be simple -- one last pluck, then a quick snap-kick to the jaw. That would knock Futaba out with no problems.
"Grr," came an inhuman growl from behind her. "Let... mistress... alone!"
Matsuri spun, to find Gonta doing the growling -- in a tongue that was just barely understandable by normal human ears, but the key there was understandable -- and leapt back. As she went, she dragged the heel of her foot into the Inuzuka girl, hoping that would be enough damage to at least prevent her from losing her advantage. Gonta jumped on her, however, tackling her to the ground before she could see what -- if any -- damage she had done. She shoved the animal away, rolling to a crouching position... but stopped when she felt the dagger point pricking the back of her neck.
"I'd resign, if I were you," Futaba suggested from behind her.
"Um... okay," she replied hesitantly.
"Futaba wins," Ebisu announced. He waited for the two -- well, three, if you counted the dog -- to leave. No need for medical attention this match... but he greatly feared what would happen during the next. Moegi was obviously pursuing some sort of vendetta against the Hyuuga girl, and Hanabi... well, assuming Hanabi even had enough energy left to fight, she'd not likely back down very easily. This... wasn't going to be pretty.
Up in the stands, Naruto did his best to assess the match that had just taken place. "Hm... the puppy girl's actually a little more advanced then Kiba was at this point of his career," he mused.
"What do you mean?" Sakura asked, curious.
"When Kiba and I had our chuunin exam match, he couldn't enhance his hearing like she can. He also hadn't trained his dog to talk by then," Naruto explained. "Hana-chan's done a good job teaching Futaba-chan the family techniques."
Sakura nodded slowly. "I can see what you mean, but... how do you know that Kiba never knew that technique? He might have just never used it around you or something...."
"No, he didn't know it," Naruto answered. "He was a bit upset with himself for not knowing it, and he told me so, when we were both in the hospital together. He thought it would have given us the edge we needed to succeed if he'd had it while we were chasing Sasuke. I don't know how, but..."
"I think all five of you -- no, make that six of you, since Lee-kun joined you later -- had a lot to come to terms with after that mission," Sakura noted sympathetically. "You lost your best friend -- and you felt you had failed me, even though it wasn't you but Sasuke who had failed. Chouji and Neji both came so close to death they shouldn't have survived. Kiba apparently didn't think he had trained hard enough, if what you say is true. Shikamaru thought he was a failure as a leader because--"
"Shikamaru wasn't qualified to lead a mission of that type," Naruto sighed. "He's brilliant, but if someone's able to press their advantage against him he'd crumble -- he needs time to think strategically. He's just not a front-line officer. He should have been busy trying to organize supply chains and engaging in diplomatic missions, especially as green as he was, not leading combat missions against the elite guard of Konoha's greatest enemy."
"Tsunade-shishou couldn't send anyone else," Sakura rebuked. "He was the only commander available."
"I don't blame the old hag," Naruto replied, shrugging. "She only had word of mouth about Shikamaru's 'brilliance' in the tactics department and a serious lack of manpower. She let him pick his own team, and he picked the best he could... but he shouldn't have been put in charge because he wasn't suited to the mission. Anyone who had seen his fight against Temari knew he'd make an excellent officer, after all, but that's probably all they would have told her. They wouldn't have pointed out that his weaknesses would make him best suited to behind-the-front-lines type of work. He should have been told to relieve someone -- Gai-sensei, perhaps, or possibly even Iruka-sensei -- so that they could lead the mission. He... understands this, now, I think. That's why he's been volunteering for diplomatic work and Academy stuff since we got back, and had refused to take the jounin exam for so long."
"What mission is this you two are talking about?" Adaha asked.
Inari, however, had another question. "You... you failed a mission, Naruto?"
Sakura faked a laughed. "He's failed lots of missions."
"But... but..."
"Most of them class D. Hey, why is that really so surprising? It's not like it was a few hundred years ago," she continued. "We don't kill ourselves if we fail. If we did, think of how many ninja we'd be losing every time a lost cat managed to stay lost?"
"But you--"
"I was killed," Naruto finally said. "For a moment, anyway -- I have something resembling a bloodline limit which brought me back, but first I was mortally wounded and then I died. For a split second, anyway...."
Sakura winced. Even she hadn't been quite aware of that, although she suspected it after learning a few things from kyuubi about just how bad the battle with Sasuke had been. "It was a one-on-one battle between Naruto-kun and Sasuke," she explained. "Sasuke had become a missing nin, and Naruto was trying to retrieve him. The memory... isn't exactly pleasant for either of us, you know."
"How could you have been killed?" Adaha asked, gaping at him. "You're breathing, aren't you?"
"A person can be revived from clinical death as long as their brain continues to function," Sakura pointed out. "Not quite sure my boyfriend's brain, here, has ever been functioning--"
"But he does have a very advanced healing ability which can revive him, on occasion."
Naruto grinned ruefully at her joke, then said, "I've been dead a few times in my life. I died once fighting Kabuto, and twice while fighting Sasuke, and... well, there were a few times I would have wished I was dead while training under ero-sennin, but I suppose those don't count."
"Kabuto?" Sakura said. "I know you first performed a proper rasengan when fighting that guy, but I hadn't heard about what he did to you...."
"I don't really remember," Naruto said, scratching the back of his head. "I know I was actually closer to really dying with him then I was against Sasuke. It took both the old hag and, uh, my powers in order to restore me from Kabuto's attack. When I fought Sasuke, I only had a broken neck and a failed heart, and I was able to heal that myself... well, um, sort of. I wound up having to stay in the hospital for longer then I ever have in my life, afterwards, because of what that did to my chakra system."
As the two of them talked, Adaha and Inari's faces both got more and more horrified. They both had hero-worshiped Naruto since he helped save the bridge which had, in turn, saved Wave Country. They both knew he hadn't had a perfect life, but niether had realized just how much pain he had gone through to get to where he was. There were also the rumors about how the people of Konoha had treated him since his birth -- Inari, in particular, remembered hearing Kakashi's stories of his growing up. They had assumed, however, that things had gotten better since becoming a ninja... but if so, then just how bad had life been that actually fighting until he was dead -- and coming back again -- could be considered a step up?
They all were saved from either hearing -- or talking -- more on Naruto's life and deaths and returns to life when Ebisu finally came forward again. "Sorry for the delay -- we needed a medical report before we could decide how to continue. The next match will pit Akimichi Moegi against Hyuuga Hanabi. Are both fighters ready?"
Normally he would not ask with quite so much meaning. Moegi, of course, had been ready for quite a while, and so her readiness could be assumed... but Hanabi was a definite questionmark. The Hyuuga girl had two choices -- say she was ready, and take her chances with a bare minimum of chakra, or say she wasn't... and forfiet. She wasn't fighting for anything substantial, so perhaps the forfiet made more sense... but pride was definitely at stake. Also, there was the matter of Moegi's anger -- while it was mostly just a plot, and almost everyone realized that, nothing short of a fight would exorcise that bitterness, now. It was fight now... or fight later. And now, there was some control involved that would help prevent the girls from killing each other in the fight.
To Hanabi's mind, however, there was no choice. Her answer was out almost before Ebisu could ask the question. "Damned straight, I am," she said.
Her attitude was mostly bluster. She knew that she was essentially defenseless in this fight -- she couldn't use the byakuugan, couldn't use the kaiten, couldn't even use most of her jyuuken-style taijutsu, since it largely involved the precise release and control of chakra and was much less effective without the vision granted by her chakra-using eye techniques. In essence, she had... almost nothing. She might be able to conjure up enough chakra for, say, a lone bushin, henge, or kawarimi technique -- she could actually generate chakra faster then she would use it with those three techniques. She also had some shuriken techniques shared by standard Konoha-style taijutsu and her clan's jyuuken, plus... plus a few simple taijutsu moves that she would be rather embarrassed to admit that she couldn't have performed had Inari not been training with her for a couple of days... and there really wasn't really enough time to learn much of that taijutsu while also learning the henge and kawarimi techniques. She had, however, decided she would fight, regardless -- whether for pride or for other reasons, even she wasn't sure -- and, as a great military mind once said, when you were weak, project strength.
If Moegi was at all intimidated by her bluff, however, she wasn't showing it. If anything, the smirk she had been wearing grew, as if she knew that it was a bluff. "Oh, yes," she purred, almost licking her lips in anticipation. "I'm ready."
By this point, Konohamaru had been released from the hospital and had made his way into the stands. "Hey, chief -- anywhere to sit with up here? Moegi-chan'd kill me if I missed her fight."
Naruto shrugged -- the stands were pretty much full, all over, so it wasn't any worse anywhere else. "No, there isn't, but I think we'll forgive you if you sit in the aisle. Fair warning, though -- I think the two Academy students next to you are loyal to your girlfriend's opponent."
"Moegi-chan isn't my girlfriend!" the genin protested, then looked mildly abashed. "Well... um, actually, I take that back. Yes, she is, but... uh... well..."
"Begin!" Ebisu called, stopping his protests.
It started as a stare down. Neither girl seamed willing to make the first move, which was just fine for Hanabi. The longer she had before she had to fight, the more time she had to recover just that much more chakra. When the attack came, it would be powerful and sudden... and there wasn't much Hanabi could do about it. She certainly couldn't strike first -- she didn't have any offensive techniques available to her outside of a tiny bit of taijutsu which needed to be saved for just the right moment. In short, she didn't have a shot at winning this battle... but she'd sure as hell put up as much of a fight as she could.
Moegi smirked. "Seems my Konohamaru-chan really put you through your paces. Not got much left, do you?"
"He didn't exactly 'put me through my paces,' Moegi-chan," Hanabi replied slowly, keeping as close an eye on the other girl as she could without using the byakugan. "I just overdid it when fighting him."
"Huh," Moegi hummed. "Not sure I believe you, there. Even so... you're exhausted. Weakened. Too weak to fight that battle again... and I am even stronger then my Konohamaru-chan."
Up in the stands, Konohamaru winced. Naruto glanced at him briefly. "I've never seen her fight before this tournament. Is that true?"
"Well... sort of. She's got about ten times the speed, double the strength, and just about the same amount of chakra as I do," Konohamaru admitted. "She also beats me whenever we spar..."
Naruto grinned. "I can hear a 'but' coming...."
"But I kinda... let her win," he finished. "It's a lot easier letting her win then dealing with her when she loses."
Inari, overhearing the conversation, frowned. "Sometimes... it's better for the girl if she knows she needs to know more. It's better if she knows you can beat her. Assuming you can, that is...."
"Oh, I can beat her," Konohamaru answered, grinning. "But... if you're going by pure power, she's definitely stronger then I am. If you're going by technique... well, that's a bit of a wash between us. She's a bit... inconsistent, though, with her performance. I do 'challenge' her more, when I see her getting sloppy, but... well, I just have a hard time trying to win against her. She knows I always fight her with some of my better techniques 'handicapped,' so I think she realizes I can beat her."
Naruto paused, then glanced at the girl in his arms, who seemed a bit amused. "Sakura-chan... if you and I were in a sparring match, would you want me to let you win?"
"No!" Sakura replied forcefully.
"Hm... but wouldn't it bother you to lose all the time?" he asked.
Sakura's eyes narrowed. "First off, I wouldn't lose 'all the time,' buster -- while I know you're more advanced as a ninja then I am and probably better then I could ever hope to be, I know that if I kept sparring with you long enough, I'd eventually figure out some flaw I could use against you. Second, I'd like the challenge, and if I thought the challenge of facing you was too much I'd probably ask you to limit yourself in some way to give me a fighting chance. But I'd never want you to let me win... hell, I wouldn't let you let me win."
Naruto nodded. "Thought so. Konohamaru... there you have it, straight from the mouth of another girl. Letting her win might not be what she wants."
A very odd expression showed itself in reply. "Maybe not... but I'm not really just letting her win by choice. I... well, I understand how your perverted ninjitsu works, now. Moegi-chan uses it -- or at least something very like it -- on me all the time. That's why I let her win."
Sakura turned pink, then laughed. "Well, yes, that's one way to win." She grinned slightly at Naruto. "Maybe you and I should spar together more often... but without an audience like we normally have, huh?"
On the field, the two combatants once again managed to save Naruto from a rather awkward situation. Moegi had charged in, moving at speeds not many genin could match. She launched herself into the air only a couple of steps from making contact, intending to tackle the other girl into the ground, but her target moved in the last second. Instead, she stuck her arm out, intending to clothesline the other girl.
Her arm passed right through Hanabi -- or rather, Hanabi's image. "A bushin?" she gasped. Before she even landed, she felt a kunai dig into her arm. Moegi landed, rolled, spun, and presented a more defensive crouch to her opponent.
Hanabi stood there, a rather stoic expression on her face. "Speed is a great advantage," she said. "However, with no control, speed can do more harm then good."
Moegi grit her teeth, pulling out the now bloody dagger. It was a very minor wound, given that it had to first pierce the leather armor taped onto her arm, but it stung... and so had the comment. She knew that, but had let her temper get the better of her... again. Konohamaru had been working with her, on that, but it didn't seem to be working too well. However, the wound was so minor it didn't cause her any problems, and she still had a significant advantage. Making sure to maintain more control over her body, she once again rushed the other girl, sending a powerful punch her way.
It connected, and she definitely hit something solid... and pierced through it. For one horrified moment, Moegi feared she had actually killed the other girl -- something she was definitely not attempting to do -- but then she realized that there wasn't enough blood. Something was wrong. A puff of smoke, and the Hanabi in front of her dissolved into one of the hard-packed balls of earth which had been torn up from the landscape during the previous matches. "A kawarimi!" Moegi exclaimed, realizing what had happened. She pulled her fist from the mound of dirt and glanced at it. Her hand had become badly scratched up, and was bleeding from several places... nothing serious, but definitely irritating.
Hanabi was actually about twenty paces away, facing her flank. Another brace of kunai was just barely dodged. "Great strength is also a powerful advantage," she proclaimed. "However, unless you are sure of hitting your target, expending so much strength can leave you vulnerable."
Moegi's eyes narrowed, and she took a deep breath to calm herself down. She reached over and picked up one of the discarded kunai, throwing it as hard as she could at her opponent. She followed it in, deliberately slowing herself so as to give the shuriken a chance to prove to her that the image in front of her really was of Hanabi. The kunai passed right through the image, and immediately Moegi knew it was another illusion. She pulled herself to an immediate stop, and started looking around as fast as she could for where the other girl might have gone.
An apparent rock behind her morphed into the Hyuuga girl and threw a powerful kick into her back. Moegi was sent tumbling, her eyes widening. "Henge," she huffed.
"Stealth is our primary advantage as ninja, however," Hanabi declared with finality. "Someone who can hide well enough... can strike against any enemy, whether they are stronger and faster or not. I may not be at my strongest, right now, but strength is a luxury. I may be slower then you, but unless you know exactly where I am and what I am doing, that speed is useless."
Up in the stands, Inari and Adaha were cheering so loud their voices almost went out. "Yeah! Alright!" Inari screamed. He turned and shoved a finger in Konohamaru's face. "Seems my girl is making mincemeat of your girl!"
Adaha froze, glancing at Inari. "Your... girl? Um...."
Konohamaru had merely raised an eyebrow calmly. "I suggest you keep watching the battle. You might learn something."
Moegi was standing up slowly, rubbing her back. "Actually, Hanabi-chan... you're wrong."
Hanabi frowned. "Wrong?"
"Stealth isn't a ninja's primary advantage," Moegi said. "It's merely a component of it. The true primary of a ninja isn't stealth... it's surprise!"
With that, the girl in front of her disappeared into a mound of dirt, crumbling before her eyes. Hanabi's eyes widened. "An earth clone?" She spun around frantically, trying to determine where the attack was coming from. She didn't see anything. If only she could activate her byakugan.
"Nikudan sensha!" came Moegi's battlecry, although from where the other girl couldn't say.
A shadow started covering Hanabi, causing her to glance up. "Oh... crap."
Unable to dodge in time, the full wieght of the cannonball-like Moegi crashed down upon her, slamming her into the ground and knocking the breath out of her. The ball rolled off of her, deflating into the ninja girl she knew. "God, I hate using that technique... now, Hanabi-chan. I think I've gotten my revenge, and you seem down for the count. Do you want to keep fighting or what?"
Hanabi struggled to get up, but the strength in her arms and legs failed her. Yes, she could have kept fighting, could have managed one more move which likely would have beaten Moegi... but to do so, she would have to exhaust her remaining chakra. To do so would hospitalize her for a week... and she'd miss the tournament anyway. No... just as she'd decided before she started the match, she couldn't use her family techniques here.
"I could still win," Hanabi observed, rolling into a sitting position. "But it would be a pyrrhic victory, for I would lose more then I could hope to gain if I did what I need to do. So... I concede. Good fight, Moegi-chan."
"Winner... Akimichi Moegi," Ebisu said.
"What's this about Hanabi-chan being your girl?" Adaha demanded of Inari once the battle was over.
Inari blinked. "Um... well, we've been dating for a couple months, now. Why?"
Adaha's eye twitched. "Dating? That... you aren't allowed to date her! She... she..."
Inari's eyes narrowed. "I'm not, am I? And just why is that?"
"She's my fiance!" Adaha snapped.
Inari's mouth opened and closed a few times before he finally found his voice. "But she never said anything!"
Adaha deflated slightly, sighing. "Well... she might not know. It's, ah, an arranged marriage. Her clan wants me to marry back into it, as my ancestors once were a part of theirs... um, I..."
"Which member of her clan contacted you?" Naruto asked, suddenly very interested. He hadn't wanted to get involved in the conflict, but he was very concerned about the Hyuuga clan and what they might be doing.
"I... um, had two seperate clan leaders contact me," Adaha explained. "Her father, Hiashi-san, and... someone who would only go by 'Hyuuga-san.' They sent me letters -- I've never seen either of them face to face. I, uh, had assumed Hanabi-chan had asked her clan to make the arrangements for her."
"Her clan is currently involved in a three-way civil war," Sakura pointed out. "They may be trying to use you to influence her to pick one side or the other."
"Hyuuga-san is her mother," Naruto added. "She and Hiashi are two of the three factions' leaders. The third... wouldn't be involved in this kind of thing." He paused. "Hanabi-chan is to be allowed to make her own decision in this matter, while she stays here in Blossom. Niether of you are to fight over this -- you can both attempt to, um, date her or whatever, but don't bicker with each other over it. I suspect that there's more to this 'arrangement' then meets the eye, although perhaps it's nothing you need to worry about."
Adaha hesitated. "Does this mean... my arranged marriage is a fraud?"
Naruto glanced at Sakura, who shrugged. "What? How am I supposed to know?" she asked.
"I... think there's no way of telling until the civil war is over," Naruto said. "And I'm not sure Hanabi-chan would go along with it, even if she was. Clan affiliation means nothing in Blossom, you know, so... she is not obligated to obey her clan's instructions. Unless she chooses to."
Inari looked upset. "Hanabi-chan and I have been dating for months, and you've never even shown the slightest interest in her," he snapped at Adaha. "What makes you think you have more of a right to her then me?"
"I said not to fight over this!" Naruto ordered. "Hell. You two are friends -- it's possible this arranged marriage was put in place in order to... well, complicate things here in Blossom. I get the feeling at least some of the Hyuuga aren't exactly very happy with the way this village has been set up."
"But--" they both protested.
"No buts! Inari, Adaha... you'll just have to let Hanabi make her own choices. You are forbidden from stopping Inari from dating her, Adaha... and Inari, the same goes for you. Adaha has the right to approach her, inform her of the arrangement, and ask her to go out on dates with him. And you are to remain friends. I realize that, with Hanabi between you, that may prove difficult... but whatever it is that's going on, we cannot allow it to damage Blossom. Got it?"
"Yes, sir!" the two students acknowledged. They glared at each other briefly, but then Inari sighed and stuck out his hand. "I guess that it's not either of our fault -- nor is it Hanabi's. And I'd like to keep you as a friend... so I'm not going to let this get between us. How about you?"
Adaha hesitated and then nodded. "Yeah... I suppose I won't, either."
Grinning, Naruto clapped both on the back. "Good! Now, let's watch the next match. Hanabi-chan really impressed me despite losing the last match... but then, Moegi-chan did, too. Why don't we see how she does this round, huh?"
Inari paused, then smirked at Konohamaru. "Yeah, let's see how this guy's girl does when she's fighting someone who hasn't already worn herself out."
Konohamaru blinked. "Hey, Moegi's good. Your Hanabi-chan's probably a little better, when they're both fresh, but Moegi-chan's good. Just watch! You'll see...."
"I wouldn't overlook the puppy girl, if I were you," Naruto chimed in. "I've been on a couple missions with her, and I fought her once, and I've even helped her train a little when we were both working with Hana-chan. She's not half-bad, you know."
Konohamaru froze. "Do you think Moegi-chan's going to lose?" he asked very hesitantly.
Naruto considered the question for a second before shrugging. "I dunno. It should be a great match, though."
A loud explosion drew their attention to the field, where the next fight had already begun. "Is a great match," Inari corrected softly, awestruck. "Wow!"
A six foot wide impact crater showed where Moegi's fist had hit the ground moments before, but niether girl was anywhere near that spot any more. Moegi was using all the speed she'd already demonstrated and then some, but Futaba was still able to avoid her. It seemed they were practically equals in speed. Power... well, that was definitely another matter.
As the ground exploded underneath her for the sixth time, Futaba cried, "So how much of the landscape are you planning to tear up before you try something else, huh?"
Moegi smirked. "Well, you haven't shown me I need to try anything else, yet. It's rarely wise to show all your hand until you have to...."
"You want me to prove you need to do more? Fine!" Futaba growled, coming to a complete stop. The next time a punch came her way, she ducked inside of it, grabbed Moegi by the arm, and spun in an elbow that collided with Moegi's jaw as she flew over the Inuzuka girl's shoulder.
Moegi was startled, and barely had the composure to adjust in mid-air to land on her feet. A tsuuga crashed into her the moment she did, however, sending her flying back into the wall, which she bounced off of before another powerful elbow slammed into her gut. She coughed once and fell into a kneeling position.
Futaba backed off, grinning arrogantly. "I could win it now, you know," she taunted. "But I don't think either of us have..."
Her voice trailed off as Moegi stood up, smirking slightly. "Is that all you can do?" she laughed. "I won't say that didn't hurt... but I've had worse sparring with Udon-kun. Keep trying! I'm sure I'll feel it after the tenth or twentieth time you've hit me in the exact same spot."
Eyes widening, Futaba called "Gonta!" The dog darted from its hidden location, running towards his human partner as fast as he could. The girl pulled two soldier pills out of her pocket, tossing one to Gonta and trying to take the other herself. It was time for the power boost her beast-human fusion techniques could accomplish. Niether soldier pill reached its intended destination, however. The pill she'd tossed to the dog had vanished in mid-air, and the one she'd planned to take she had to drop when a kunai stuck itself into her hand. "Ah!" she cried in pain.
Moegi stood in the path of her toss, ignoring Gonta as he darted by her to examine the little grey pill in her hand. "Interesting," she mused. "These little pills your clan uses so much... were you aware that they were created by my own? In and of themselves, they aren't really strong enough to last one of us for even a minute -- in order to get pills that were useful for us, we had to develop stronger pills -- more dangerous pills. For you and most other ninja in the world, however, these little things can keep you going for days on end." She popped the pill into her mouth. "I don't need a full minute, however, to take care of you, so this little thing will do. Baika no jutsu!"
"Oh... crap," Futaba gasped, staring as the girl in front of her -- and, somehow, her clothing -- started growing right in front of her eyes. "Gonta, take the pill I dropped! Hurry!"
In the stands, Naruto started to extricate himself from his seat. "This... could be bad."
"Why?" Sakura asked, clutching at him to avoid falling out of his lap as she noticed his growing panic.
"Because the roof is shorter then the height Moegi-chan should grow to if she's executing this technique right, so she might knock it down... and right on top of our head," he explained, gathering his chakra to his hand. "I may have to do something fast, so let go for now. I need to be standing."
Sakura released him, standing so that he could get up and move around on his own. He kept his eyes on the growing girl on the stage, and got his hands ready to start making seals. Sakura stood by him, wondering if there was anything she could do to help. Once he was in whatever position it was he was trying to get to, however, he seemed pretty confident in himself.
Ebisu, however, was the referee... and one of the more important jobs a referee had in a ninja tournament was to protect the spectators. "Watch the cieling!" he called, knowing there wasn't much he could do if she were to literally hit the roof.
Moegi heard the warning at the last moment, ducking her head less then a second before it would have collided with one of the steel support beams. She bent her knees out, lowering her profile so that she could stand and move around with no danger of collision. This caused... something of a stir in the stands.
"Um... Konohamaru-san, why doesn't your girlfriend wear any panties underneath that fishnet?" Adaha asked, mesmerized, over the bawdy cheers and whistles coming from certain individuals in the stands.
Konohamaru blushed. "Um... I have no idea. It's, ah, got something to do with distracting her enemies. That and, well, while she sometimes pretends she is for people she doesn't know, she's not exactly very shy...."
"That's... a pretty good distraction," Inari admitted, also unable to tear his eyes away from the spectacle.
On the field, Moegi grinned. There was nothing Futaba could do to her now... she'd achieved a level most Akamichi didn't manage until they'd been become jounin, and she knew that Futaba was pretty average for an Inuzuka female of her age. Well, maybe a little better then that -- she knew that both of the Inuzuka in Blossom had been helping Naruto to train, and she was more aware then most in Konoha that Naruto was a pretty impressive person to be training with. Still, she can't have improved that much.
"Gatsuuga!" came the cry from below her, right before a powerful double hit -- at least fifty times stronger then the previous tsuuga she had felt -- crashed right into her jaw. She only had a few more seconds of lucidness before she realized that, in increasing her power so heavily, she'd also given her enemy that much more of a target. She'd known that, of course, but she'd believed that she was in no danger considering how insignificant the previous blow had been. A definite miscalculation on her part... and one which, it seemed, would cost her the tournament. The last thing she saw before blacking out was the approaching stadium seats....
In the stands it was chaos. Moegi was about to fall right on top of them, and despite the fact that several of them were trained ninja they could still be crushed if something the size of her were to drop upon them. Even Sakura was panicked -- she might be able to avoid being hurt, thanks to Tsunade's training, but there were so many others who didn't have the strength to lift the bulk of the oversized girl off of them. Naruto might not be able to, for example. She looked at him in distress, wondering if she could protect him. There he was, standing in front of everyone, and he was... performing seals?
"Doton!" he intoned, his voice echoing over the clamor of terrified spectators. "Doryuuheki!"
Whatever it was he was doing seemed to just add to the panic, as the earth under them all seemed to start to tremble. Then, however, Sakura saw what technique he was performing, as a giant wall of earth started lifting itself out of the ground, imposing itself between the audience and the impending disaster. A loud, rumbling crash sounded as the girl slumped against the wall and slid out of view, quickly followed by the ground shaking yet again, knocking dust and pieces of debris from various places, and even more screaming and shouting. The panic seemed to grow, even as the threat ended, until Naruto leapt up on to the wall he had just created.
"Everybody, just shut the hell up!" his voice boomed. That stopped everyone cold -- while Naruto was known to be a bit coarse at times, he was rarely that coarse unless he was angry. "Okay, this match is over, and..." He glanced behind him, sighing. "And it's a draw -- both competitors have knocked each other out. Go home, everybody, it's over. My decision on the chuunin exam will come later today. Sakura-chan? I think there are a few patients over here for you. Hana-chan? I think we have need of a vet, too."
Sakura leapt to his side, and as the spectators slowly came back to their senses they started mulling around trying to leave. Conversation was generally subdued, but one theme running throughout the crowd was amazement that the blond boy had managed to step in and save all their lives when they had been too panicked to act. It soon turned, once more, to a discussion of politics. Namely, whether Kakashi should somehow be ousted (peacefully, for whatever else they felt about him no-one wished him ill) so that Naruto could resume his role as their leader. After all, Naruto had just saved all of their lives, while Kakashi... had yet to show up, despite the fact the tournament was already over.
* * * * *
Ignorant of the debates going on about him, Naruto was examining the three people left unconscious in the arena alongside Sakura. "How is she?" he asked as they examined Futaba.
"Well... I think she just fell, and wasn't fallen on. The shock of the fall has likely paralyzed her, temporarily, but I can accelerate the healing easily enough so that she could be good to go on another mission in an hour," Sakura replied. "Although I would suggest she sleep on it, nonetheless."
Naruto let out a breath he wasn't aware he was holding and nodded. "Good. How's your patient, Hana-chan?"
"He's fine," Hana answered dismissively, massaging one of Gonta's legs. "He had a mild case of negative chakra, when I got here, actually -- they must have been going all out to stop Moegi-chan -- but I was able to fix that easily enough. Now, he just needs time to rest... and to let bruises heal."
Naruto hesitated. "I don't know much about how your clan works with your dogs. Could Futaba temporarily work with one of yours, at least long enough for the chuunin exam? If Gonta's dealing with chakra exhaustion, he probably won't be ready to leave before the chuunin exam starts."
"Then she's got the slot?" Hana asked, restrained pride leaking out in her voice.
"Well... I don't know, yet," Naruto sighed. "I have four people who all equally deserve to take the chuunin exam, and only three slots for them. I'm going to want to talk with them all, first. If she doesn't take it this time, though, I'll make sure she's in the next one. If she's in this one, though..."
"Kuromaru will take Gonta's place," Hana said finally. "He's the only one who could do it. My dogs won't fight for anyone else but me."
"Good. Thanks, puppy lady, I knew we could count on you."
Hana grinned ruefully. "'Puppy lady,' again, huh? You know I technically outrank you, now, and you're no longer my superior in the chain of command. That sort of insubordination might not go over well when it comes time for your promotion."
Naruto laughed. "I'll keep that in mind. Now, where did Sakura-chan go?"
The pink-haired girl was kneeling by Moegi. At her side was a rather distressed looking Konohamaru, who kept hesitantly reaching out with his hand as if to touch the unconscious girl before drawing it back again as if afraid he might hurt her. With a sigh, Naruto made his way over to her. One thing he had learned about Sakura -- when she was working on her medical ninjitsu, she'd usually become a bit... absent-minded. So her forgetting to let him know she'd moved on wasn't too surprising.
"Leader," Konohamaru greeted with what sounded like a broken sob. "I... she shouldn't have done that, I know, and she's been a real pain this tournament, but... but... I'm so worried about her. What if... what if she's really badly hurt? What if--"
"Sakura-chan?" he prompted, overriding the genin's rambling fears.
"Eh? Oh. No, Moegi-chan's fine. I was worried she might have a concussion or something, but I guess she was just knocked out -- her pupils are nice and clear, her breathing is steady, and everything seems fine," Sakura replied. "You don't have to worry, Konohamaru-kun. Moegi-chan's a lot tougher then she looks... at least, a lot tougher then she looks when she isn't taller then the building she's in."
"Thanks," Konohamaru replied, now reaching out to take one of Moegi's hands without fear. "Is it alright if I stay with her?"
"Yeah, she'll be okay. Now... on to that last patient."
Naruto followed her to Ebisu's side. Ebisu had been the only one to escape the battle conscious, but that hadn't lasted long -- Moegi had fallen on one of his legs, and he had been screaming in pain when Naruto first showed up. Sakura had told him to knock the jounin out, which Naruto had been glad to do as his ears were starting to hurt. His injuries, however, were the only ones Sakura could be sure weren't life-threatening, so she had looked in on the others, first. Now it seemed that his were the most severe injuries... and Sakura immediately noticed that, as well.
"Hm. He's out for a month, at least -- I can make sure his leg heals right, but he won't be able to walk on it for two or three weeks, regardless of how fast I heal it for him. This isn't quite as severe as the damage Lee-kun took against Gaara, but it's no wonder he was screaming."
Naruto sighed, looking over at Hana speculatively. "Well, I guess that means he won't be leading the genin to the exam. I guess we'll have to pick someone else."
Sakura nodded. "Yeah, he won't be going anywhere for a while."
"Well, let's get these three to the hospital. Then you, me, Hana-chan, Aoba-san, and Kakashi-sensei -- if he ever shows up -- need to get to work on deciding who's going to go where." He smirked, although not happily. "Looks like it's going to be a long night for all of us."
* * * * *
Notes: I will never, EVER write a tournament again. This sucked, and by sucked I mean 'the life out of me.' Sure, it didn't help that I had a gazillion things to do in real life, but this... I hated writing this. Outside of the Moegi-Hanabi fight, I was frustrated the entire time I wrote, and I hated it. I needed to do it -- all of it -- but I just hated writing it. So, sorry for the relatively long period between updates, but this chapter nearly killed the fic for me, I was struggling with it so much. I think it needs a rewrite, but I'm too sick and tired of it to try, so I'll just post it as is and move on. Next chapter: I won't even be starting until Monday, I know, so expect it late again. Essentially, decisions will be made regarding who goes to the chuunin exam and how. Hopefully, I'll get it out sooner then this chapter, but we'll see.