Sasuke glared at the little rivulet slowly filtering through a folded-up length of bandage, leaving brownish-gold tracks on the white cloth. The gourd underneath was only a third full. He had a feeling this was going to take hours.
Frowning, he wedged himself in a sitting position on a rocky ledge, a foot pushing against the opposite wall of the narrow crevasse, his other leg dangling just over the muddy, sluggish stream that ran at the bottom. At least he was out of sight. He'd reached the miniature waterfall by wading through the stream from the sea up, and hadn't touched anything; his scent should have evaporated by now.
This was the morning of the second day of the test and they hadn't found anyone to steal tokens from yet, be they other genin or wandering jounin. Sasuke pulled his own out of its hiding place in his arm-warmer and turned it over in his hand. It was a simple coin-sized disk of copper, with the Mist Village symbol and a serial number engraved on it.
"You get three per team!" they'd been told, "And if you want to pass, you'll bring nine back. That's nine per team, provided you're a full team; lose a member, and it's every man for himself at the exit."
Sasuke had made calculations. Taking into account the lone members' augmented need for tokens and the expected brutality of the Mist genin in the competition, it wasn't so surprising they'd had to add Jounin to the mix if they wanted the tournament of the third test to be anything worth looking at. No doubt every country wanted an acceptable number of new Chuunin made this exam to strengthen their villages; no one would be satisfied if only a handful of people passed because the level was insanely high, and the rest all died or were sent home too badly crippled to ever try again.
The wandering jounin weren't supposed to attack the genin or make the test more difficult; but they carried a token each, and if you could steal it off them, Sasuke supposed that was one less you had to pry from a fellow genin's cold, dead fingers. But so far Team Seven hadn't seen anyone at all, jounin or genin.
The stream kept dripping. Might as well do something productive... Sasuke cupped his hands, concentrated his chakra. The stone would protect him from chakra-sensitive people, and if anyone heard the chirping, well, there were enough birds nesting everywhere on this island to account for it.
Ox, Hare, Monkey.
Of course, if anyone got close enough to see the glow... Maybe he'd get some exercise.
And again. Ox, Hare, Monkey.
He was in the middle of his fourth Chidori not-quite-sphere, and getting no closer to mastering the highly unstable shape, when the dense tangle of plants at the surface started rustling. It was a specific pattern of movement : someone running. Someone running really fast.
Two someones. Maybe more, but in that case they were quieter about it.
And not his teammates. They came from entirely the wrong direction for that. Sasuke screwed the half-full gourd top closed and secured the precious water to his belt. Swinging his legs off the ledge, he slipped out of his seat and crept up the rocky wall, and looked out through the gray-green leaves of the low bushes hanging over the edges of the canyon.
When he saw the kunoichi team, the ones who'd hung all over Naruto on the ferry, running for their lives from three burly, sword-brandishing men, he was tempted to stay in his hiding place and let them fend for themselves. But unless they changed directions, they would cross paths with his own teammates in short order.
And then he got a closer look at the men chasing the kunoichi trio, and hiding ceased to be an option. It was close to impossible for triplets to be identical, which meant the trio of Rock ninjas were kage bunshins. Which meant the guy with the oversized scimitar still had two teammates crawling around somewhere. Somewhere where his teammates might be.
Sasuke sprang out of the canyon under one of the triplets' feet. His kunai buried itself in guts to the hilt, and for a second, Sasuke thought he'd gotten the caster, but it burst into smoke as Sasuke landed. Two enemies left, and they reacted fast. A large, viciously curved sword whistled through the air where his head should have been, prompting Sasuke to throw himself down and roll through the thorny bushes.
He still had the chakra he'd intended for a Chidori sphere in his hands, and by now his hands flew through the seals without a pause. The footing was bad for launching himself fast enough; he wouldn't reach his target.
But he still remembered what Naruto had said on that boat, about lightning wanting to take shapes more natural to it. Not wanting to be static. He shoved the energy outwards, trying to force it down a straight, narrow beam.
He'd been aiming for the one on the left, but the other one's metal sword was closer and his Chidori beam broke his control and crackled to the side. The man exploded in a puff of smoke and dust; Sasuke swept through the opening. Too late to stop the original as his hands flitted through hand seals Sasuke knew all too well. Two other clones popped into existence to replace the two he'd just destroyed.
At least now Sasuke knew who was the original. If he knocked him out... but the clones blocked his way as the original went back to giving chase to the kunoichi team. He caught a glimpse of the blonde with the curly hair stumbling, and the brunette with the spear whirled around, swinging her longer weapon at the Rock ninja's legs under his guard, but Sasuke couldn't see more than that before his own assailants demanded his attention again.
For a few intense seconds, it was all he could see -- the synchronized dance of two large, curved swords, forcing him to weave and dodge. He was good enough to avoid any close calls, but if he slowed down too much, they would get him. He needed to end this, quickly.
He allowed them to corner him, to leave him only one escape route; they predictably pushed him into it. Kicking off the rock at his back, he jumped high in the air. No trees to ricochet off of; they knew exactly where he would land. They were waiting, matching smirks on their faces.
"Katon: Goukakyou no jutsu!"
By the time he landed, the bunshins were gone -- but so were the kunoichi team and the last, real enemy. Sasuke gave chase. He couldn't see them anymore, no doubt hidden behind a falsely shallow bump of the ground, but they hadn't made any efforts to hide their tracks; he saw trampled grass, and even a few uprooted bushes.
He crested a hillock, and first saw the tall, brown-haired girl. She lay in a tangle of gangly limbs in the middle of a thicket, a few feet down the slope; the shrubs had been half-uprooted by her weight, threatening to dump her down the sharper incline of the hill. Blood soaked her bandaged arm and her zippered bodysuit and she'd been disarmed, but she was conscious and no one tried to finish her off; there were more urgent things to do than to stop and chat. Sasuke leaped over her body, skidding down the slope in a shower of loosened rocks and dust.
"H-hey!" she called weakly behind him.
Growling impatiently, Sasuke snatched her spear off the ground, screeching to a stop on a rock to send it sailing toward its owner. That was all he was disposed to do in her favor; turning back, he caught a glimpse of the brunette crawling through the bush to get at the spear, and then he was running again.
The rest of them weren't far; he just had to turn around the corner of a small cliff, and here they were. The Rock ninja with his big, curved sword -- no bunshins this time. Sasuke was briefly surprised to see he hadn't taken the time to make a few more -- as poor fighters as the blonde and the transvestite were, comparatively, it was still two against one.
The Rock nin was targeting the blonde, who held him at bay with wild slashes of razor wire, making cut-up leaves and flowers fly; but as Sasuke ran to meet them, the guy blocked the wires with the thick edge of his sword; he let their momentum wrap them around the blade, and yanked the girl off her feet. A kunai thrown at the wires by her teammate cut her free, and she rolled away just as the Rock nin's sword came down.
She wouldn't dodge the follow-up slash; Sasuke put on a burst of speed, but unless she managed to dodge again, he was going to be too late.
That was when her teammate tackled the enemy.
Sasuke would have done the same -- provided he somehow managed to lose every single one of his kunai and drive himself to the very edge of chakra exhaustion when his enemy was still good for another round or three. But someone needed to explain to that idiot that a guy who could successfully pass for a small-boned, delicate girl had no business hurtling himself at a hulking warrior, especially one with such a solid, rooted stance.
The gray-haired guy had had the foresight to braid his too-long hair and stuff it down his shirt; the rest of his flowing clothes made aiming for his body more difficult, though Sasuke could see a few shallow cuts on his upper arms and ribs, but they weren't so safe against getting grabbed. The Rock ninja did lose a second that the girl used to crawl clear -- but he only switched targets, elbowing the gray-haired boy who clung to his back in the ribs hard enough to make the boy gasp.
Sasuke was close enough to throw kunai now, but they kept moving, the Rock ninja trying to get a good hold on the boy, the boy doing his best not to let him. Sasuke chose to snatch up the girl instead, throwing her across his shoulder and bouncing up the cliff. He dumped her on her ass at the top, where she couldn't get in the way, and jumped back down, ignoring her outraged shriek.
By the time he got back down, the Rock ninja was holding his squirming adversary under one arm, sword in that hand, and was doing his best to search him for tokens with his free hand.
Sasuke personally thought solid, Earth-rooted stances were good for one thing; at the last moment, the Rock guy saw his kunai coming, but he wasn't fast enough to dodge it. It stabbed home just over his hip, and his hold on both weapon and prisoner went slack. The gray-haired boy squirmed free and scrambled away down the canyon. Sasuke didn't bother keeping an eye on him. Another kunai in hand, he stared down the enemy.
"Give me your token," Sasuke said, the first and last ultimatum he was ready to offer. The rock ninja only sneered, but Sasuke's sharingan caught the barest twitch of a hand toward his belt, where he had no doubt stashed it.
He didn't need a sharingan to catch the way the man paled when he realized the hidden pocket was empty.
"The little shit!" the Rock ninja snarled, incensed.
Sasuke had to dodge back quickly when the enemy pulled out an explosive tag and threw it at him. The cliffs shook; gravel rattled down. He jumped forward through the thick dust, squinting, only to see the swordsman's back as he gave chase to the escaping transvestite. From her perch up the cliff, the blonde hurtled rocks at his head, slowing down the burly, injured ninja a little more, and for a second Sasuke assumed he would have no trouble catching up at all.
And then the blonde screamed down. "Look out! Water!"
What tipped Sasuke off to her actual meaning was the rush of displaced air at his back, as if pushed along the canyon by something massive and rather hurried.
He glanced over his shoulder. A twelve foot tall wall of water rushed down the canyon, forcing Sasuke to jump for the closest jutting rock and scramble up. He got clear in time, but the splash soaked his legs and made his hold a little slippery. He scanned his surroundings for the caster of the jutsu, a corner of his mind noting that the flash flood wasn't that long; it was already losing speed and mass, leaving behind soggy moss, wet rocks, and a lot of mud in the cracks.
Sasuke climbed to the top of his rock and leaped to the cliff, scanning his surroundings. He found the caster after a few seconds; he was pale and a little shaky, but then such a huge mass of water probably required effort. But when Sasuke advanced on him, the enemy's hands snapped up into a series of seals Sasuke had never seen before. Sasuke's hands came up to mimic his, knowing he couldn't block a water attack with fire or thunder.
... And then Sakura popped up behind the enemy and brained him with a rock.
Sasuke sighed, scanned their surroundings for an eventual third Rock ninja, didn't find any, and allowed himself to let the battle high simmer down.
"Sasuke!" Naruto called from the other cliff. "What the hell happened here?"
Sasuke growled and nodded toward the blonde girl who stood a dozen feet away, half-hidden behind a boulder. "What do you think happened, genius?"
Naruto blinked and waved at the girl. "Hey, Kigane!" While Sakura efficiently hogtied and searched the ninjutsu user, Naruto stepped up toward the edge of the cliff. He gave the wet ground below a dubious look, and then he glared at Sasuke. "You coulda gotten some water while you were at it! I bet you forgot."
"... Oh, fuck you."
Naruto didn't even pay attention. With a big leap, he crossed the gap, sauntering up to the blonde bimbo. Sasuke's eyes narrowed. On the other side of the canyon, Sakura yanked a bit hard on a rope, making her prisoner moan weakly.
"You okay there, Kigane? Where are your teammates?"
She gave him a look full of anguish, with a little despair sprinkled on top, and latched onto his arm, all but cuddling it in her cleavage. Sasuke stalked toward them. The nerve of her, trying to play that card here and now...
"Beni-chan got hit and she fell, and Jin-kun -- that big guy with the sword chased him, and I don't know where he is now, and --"
Her breath hitched; Naruto gave her a worried look and patted her hand awkwardly. "Hey, hey! It's gonna be alright. We'll go find Beni and patch her up, and -- Sasuke, did you see which way Jin went?"
Sakura landed between Sasuke and Naruto before Sasuke could make contact. She looked about as annoyed as Sasuke felt; he didn't try to push past her to yank the clingy bimbo off Naruto, since he had a feeling Sakura intended to do just that. And Sakura did; she patted the girl's shoulder with perfunctory compassion, and detached her from Naruto's arm under the pretense of running a quick health check on her.
"Your wrist is sprained, you shouldn't use it like that," Sakura said, expressionless, as she took hold of said wrist, unhooked the razor-wire bracelet, and felt for deeper damage underneath.
From the way Kigane grimaced, it wasn't a very gentle check, but the girl didn't complain. The way she watched Sakura, Sasuke was pretty sure the underlining 'you should also never touch him again' had gotten through.
Naruto scanned the horizon, frowning. "If that sword guy is still after Jin, he's gotta be in trouble. Sasuke, you saw which way they went--"
Sasuke pointed out the right direction. "I was down in the canyons, I didn't see much more. You can track them better than I can. You go." Naruto looked like he was going to protest, even without knowing that the kunoichi team and their hunter tended to leave tracks like a troop of rampaging bears. Sasuke frowned harder. "I need to lead Sakura to where the other girl is."
"-- Right, right." Accepting Sasuke's reasoning, Naruto patted Kigane on the shoulder, grinning at her. "Relax, I'll get him back." He was gone in a flash, running along the edge of the cliff until they lost him from view behind a clump of gnarly trees.
In unison, Sasuke and Sakura turned around to stare at the interloper. The girl beamed at them, playing with her curls nervously.
"... That's... So great of you to help us like that! But then, that's the Konoha spirit, right? You guys saved us."
Sakura gave her a narrow-eyed 'can the bullshit' glare; Sasuke noted and filed away the unexpectedly fierce expression.
"Konoha spirit, my ass. Hand over your token."
Kigane's sunny grin faltered and her shoulders slumped. "Man, you guys are harsh."
"Token," Sakura demanded again, holding out her hand. "You've got three, you can spare one."
"Aw, come on..."
"Your teammate's bleeding out," Sasuke mentioned, crossing his arms, and fought not to smile, or smirk, or anything of the sort.
"Fine!" Kigane gave in with a pout. "But I don't have them, Jin was the one who kept them all. We'll give you one when Naruto-kun brings him back, how's that?"
Sasuke didn't say anything, letting Sakura decide. Her brows were furrowed, her jaw set, and he didn't remember her eyes being quite that green before, or quite that sharp.
"... Fine. Depending on how badly your teammates are hurt, I'll ask for a second token. Let's go."
Kigane looked like she wanted to protest, but in the end her worry for her teammates won and she sighed. "Alright. I think it was this way?"
Sasuke nodded absently and let the blonde go first, still watching Sakura. She stood with her shoulders drawn back proudly, her fingers curled into loose fists, and she stared at the other kunoichi with that razor-sharp suspicion that dared her to try anything. Scowling darkly, she took a step forward.
Sasuke thought he rather approved of Sakura like this, irritated and possessive and determined not to give an inch.
He was standing a little lower than her on the slope, and her bare shoulder was there, and there was no one to see, so he kissed it, and then when she blinked at him in surprise, he smiled a little bit.
Man, how Sasuke expected him to track down those guys when the whole area had just been flushed with saltwater, he didn't know. Naruto kept running down the canyon anyway, assuming they wouldn't have wasted time climbing up just yet. Maybe he wouldn't need a scent trail; he could see skid marks through wet moss here and there, and a few overturned rocks... A few freshly broken, as if the sword guy had hit and missed. No blood on the ground, though. Well, that was good.
He couldn't hear anything but the wind over the rocks and the waves on the beach. The canyon broke open on a narrow band of thick sand that the waves lapped at. Cursing under his breath, Naruto squinted and looked around for a clue. If there were tracks in the sand, they had been erased already -- what was that?
Naruto trotted down the beach, sticking close to the cliff. Foam frothed around his ankles, sneaking gritty, thick sand in between his toes.
The rock was dark, but Naruto could see and smell the splash of red on it, not yet washed off by the sea. A few feet farther, a stretch of damp sand still sported footprints.
He found the cave soon after. It started like any other canyon, but after a few feet, the walls started leaning into each other, to meet in a twisty, narrow tunnel. The guy wouldn't have much space to swing his sword there, Naruto assumed, but unless there were several exits, Jin was pretty much trapped. He stalked inside, clambering over the boulders on the ground.
"It's dark as Kyuubi's ass in there," he muttered as he passed the first bend. The tunnel was long, and awkward to navigate, but eventually the cave widened a little, and he fell into an easy crouch. It stank of bird shit and decaying seaweed and dead fish, and his eyes watered. "Urgh! Almost as stinky, too."
He didn't see or smell anyone nearby; but he had a strange feeling, like that dead cave was a little too still. Like maybe they'd been playing cat and mouse in the dark, and of course they'd noticed him coming. Hard not to, when there was no way to prevent his body blocking some of the light. Well, in that case...
The echoes deafened him. The cave was a lot bigger on the inside. He crawled farther down the tunnel before the echoes died, so the sounds he made as he moved would be covered. He was almost flat on the ground; a good move, because a second later a handful of shuriken struck the wall over his head.
He tried to listen for movement, but there were dripping sounds inside, and the soft whisper of wavelets licking a shore. Great, so there was water inside, too. Better not fall in it, there was no way to tell how deep it was, or how full with slippery seaweed. Naruto slowly crawled along the ground, trying to breathe past the stink to find Jin's scent.
He found the smell of blood first. It was powerful enough to be easily recognizable, even over all the rot and decay; he followed it, despite not knowing which of the two it belonged to.
When a hand pressed against his lips, he didn't think; he bit down. The body beside him tensed up, and he heard a quiet intake of breath. A second later, the scent registered as vaguely familiar; not the person itself, so much as indefinable traces of having lived in Konoha. Apologetic, he loosened his jaw. He could taste blood just under the skin.
Jin pressed his fist against the top of Naruto's head and gave him an irritated little shove, pushing him down. Naruto hunkered down, feeling around cautiously. The boy appeared to be hiding under an overhanging bit of rock. Naruto closed his eyes and breathed in, trying to catch another scent, but the Rock guy was too far away for his smell to reach Naruto over all the stinky things inside the cave.
He lifted his head, squinting, wishing his eyes to adapt faster to the almost total darkness. Jin hadn't been touching him to notice, but he pushed it down almost immediately. Jin's hand stayed atop Naruto's head, and he leaned closer, as if trying to be ready to use his whole body to pin down Naruto if he tried it again.
"You can see me?" Naruto mouthed soundlessly, his cheek pressed against the damp ground.
He felt a nod, a jaw brushing against his temple. Jin had to see him real well, to read his lips in the dark. Naruto started smiling.
"Can he see us?"
A no, this time. Jin's lips brushed his ear, and he breathed a few words, so softly Naruto wasn't sure he'd really heard. "Listens real well, though."
Naruto frowned a little. Hrrm. Okay, the guy would hear them coming. ...That was okay. Naruto was pretty sure anyone with working ears could hear him, anyway, and that had never bothered him before.
"Where?" he mouthed when Jin leaned back.
Jin took Naruto's wrist and pointed his hand in the right direction, slowly tracking silent movements. Naruto realized belatedly that there was a boulder in between them and the guy. Huh. Maybe Jin was an illegitimate Hyuuga or something.
Jin paused, as if considering the wisdom of telling Naruto, before leaning in and whispering again, pointing Naruto's hand toward said obstacles; "Rocks, waist-high. Pond. Fish inside."
Naruto snorted quietly, and could almost feel the tangible disapproval coming from his companion.
"With stingers," he enunciated, barely any louder.
Naruto didn't know whether it had been his snort or Jin's voice that prompted it; but suddenly Jin clambered over his body and ran away, just as Naruto recognized the quick, soft slapping sounds as someone running at them barefoot.
He rolled back, making no attempt at being quiet now. His hands slapped together in a familiar seal. "Jin! Where?!"
"Front-left!" the boy shrieked; sparks flashed as a kunai he'd lifted from Naruto struck the enemy's blade and incidentally revealed his position to the Rock ninja. But the guy was only a lunge and a slash away from Naruto.
Naruto grinned a fangy grin and completed the seal.
"Kage Bunshin no jutsu!"
A dozen clones mobbed the ninja, tackling him to the ground. A few exploded as he slashed wildly at them, but Naruto just made more to replace them, so much that he had to step back to stay clear of the melee. He didn't want to trip on anything nasty and end up in the pond.
Jin's hand found his shoulder and squeezed hard. "... How many -- shit."
Naruto grinned wider. "Looks like we're done here. You got some rope?"
"Uh -- yeah. How many did you -- they're not all real, right?"
Naruto snickered. "Sure they are."
"... Hell... You told us you'd fought Gaara of the Sand, but we didn't believe you..."
Naruto preened, and then made an outraged face that he hoped Jin could see. "Hey! I'm not a liar."
"Well, no, but everyone boasts--"
"I," Naruto said proudly, drawing himself up, "don't need to boast."
Then the Rock nin swept his feet through three bunshins and almost managed to pull free of the melee, and Naruto had to join in and got clipped on the jaw for his trouble. Ow. Stubborn bastard.
The guy struggled, swearing at them. Tying him up in the dark proved rather difficult; Naruto had to dissipate two of his bunshins that had gotten tangled up by mistake, which gave the Rock nin just enough slack to start punching around again.
Huffing in irritation, Jin waded through -- the bunshins could feel his slim body pushing forward -- and... did something. The Rock ninja's body went slack a few seconds later, mystifying Naruto. He felt for his pulse, for a second fearing that Jin had poisoned him.
"What did you do?"
"Trade secret," Jin muttered tiredly.
Naruto snorted. "Oi, I just saved your ass."
"Fine! It's just a sleeping powder. When it's wet, you can paste it on skin and it goes right through and into the bloodstream. Happy? Let's get out of here."
... Brr. Note to self, don't let Jin stick anything paste-like or wet to his skin. Naruto tied up the guy anyway, hoisting him on his shoulder.
"Oh, just leave him here, he can always cut the rope on the rocks."
Naruto shrugged, and turned to face the area where a faint, useless glow signaled the tunnel. "I'm not sure how high the tides get. What if he drowns before he wakes up?"
"What --" Jin spluttered. "He tried to gut me! To cut off my head! To cut off my HAIR, do you know how long I spent growing that shit, do you think I want to wear a stupid wig ever again -- shit! 'Wouldn't want him to drown,' you say! I wouldn't mind."
"Hey!" Naruto snapped. "You damn well better be joking."
Jin didn't answer. Growling in disgust, Naruto stomped his way toward the exit. His foot slipped in something muddy, and tepid water sloshed up his pant leg as he stumbled, but he was annoyed enough that he just growled and pulled himself up, refusing to surrender to gravity and dump his captive in the pond.
The other boy followed in sullen silence, though after the first time Naruto tripped on some kind of stalactite -- or was that a stalagmite, he could never remember -- Jin condescended to step up and guide him by the elbow. Naruto noticed Jin never did fully take into account the mass of the ninja on his shoulder when he led the way to the tunnel. Poor guy would have a headache and funny bruises when he woke up. Naruto didn't say anything, because, well, yes, after all, said poor guy had come after an unarmed boy with a very big, very sharp sword, and that wasn't really fair at all.
"...What happened to Beni and Kigane?" Jin asked as the faint ambient light started allowing Naruto to get an idea of where he was stepping once again.
Naruto's anger abated at the badly hidden worry in his voice. "My teammates went to help them. Kigane's fine, I think she got a sprained wrist but that's it. Not sure about Beni, I didn't see her. Sorry," Naruto added quietly, thinking about how worried he'd be if it was Sasuke and Sakura he'd had to leave behind bleeding. Hell, he rectified, he wouldn't have left them behind at all. But still.
"... Oh. Okay. Thanks." Jin sighed, wobbling a little on his feet.
"Uh, but Sasuke didn't seem to think she was dying or anything!" Naruto hurried to reassure him. He hit the ass of the guy he was carrying against the wall and almost lost his balance.
Jin paused briefly, and then gave a quiet, strangely subdued chuckle. "Thank you."
He wouldn't thank Naruto if he knew what exactly Sasuke qualified as 'okay.' Sasuke standards just weren't sane people standards at times. "Eh, I didn't to anything."
"You didn't?" Jin asked, slightly ironic. "Because I was under the impression that you kind of saved my life there."
"Well, I meant, not for your teammate." Shit, now Naruto was starting to blush. He hoped Jin couldn't see that. "So, um, how d'you see in the dark like that? Do you have the Byakugan or something?"
Jin's silence gained a frosty edge.
"Oh, 'cause I think you have pupils, and all, but I thought, maybe you were -- ow! Hey, what was that for?"
"I'm a Kagami, thank you very much." Jin puffed up, not that he looked much bigger. "Not some other clan's bastard. We're just as old and noble as they are!"
"I've never heard of you guys," Naruto replied candidly, and then realized there was just enough light to see Jin's death glare. He shrugged as best as he could. "Eh, I don't pay attention to that kind of stuff. Okay, you're from an old clan. So, the eyes?"
Jin sighed tiredly, and considered him a few seconds, before taking the lead. He only started talking when he was a few steps ahead. "It's a combination of photographic memory, great night vision, ability to zoom in on very small details, and things like that."
Jin muttered something uncomplimentary under his breath. "Basically, we can see reflections in reflections, even when the 'mirror' is tiny. The cave is full of mica," he added, a hand brushing against the stone. Tiny faceted crystals sparkled weakly in the light. Naruto hadn't really noticed on the way in. "It gives a very low-grade image, but still good enough to catch movement."
So as long as there was something to reflect it into something else that reflects it to them, they could see it? Naruto pulled the prisoner up on his shoulders and slowed down to cross a tricky part of the tunnel. He had to admit, it sounded convenient. "...But still, if there's a wall in the middle, you're fucked. Byakugan still tops."
Jin sent him a dirty look, and for a moment Naruto thought he was going to snap back, but the boy closed his eyes briefly and kept silent, dragging his feet out of the cave.
The waves covered the beach by now. Naruto squinted against the sun's glare, and waded after Jin toward the nearest canyon. White, foamy water massed around their calves.
The guy on his shoulders was getting heavy. Naruto huffed in annoyance and considered climbing up the cliff right now, but if the guy's last teammate spotted him and charged and he had to fight again, Sakura would have his hide. With a sigh, he sped up a little.
He didn't say anything the first and second time Jin tripped, but by the third time he was starting to wonder. "... You okay?"
"Ah -- just a little tired."
"You're exhausted from just one chase? Huh. Did they start hunting you guys at dawn or something?"
Jin twitched and glared at him, and once again Naruto thought he was going to get snapped at, but the boy obviously had a little more control than some other people Naruto knew. He glanced at Naruto, and then stared down.
The ground was a little tricky, sloping up to the canyon mouth, with waves lapping at their ankles, stealing away the sand under their heels and hiding rocks and branches under its foam. Jin rubbed at his eyes with the heel of his hand and slumped wearily. "... It's been a long day."
Obviously, 'train more' wasn't going to help much. "Well, er. Sucks."
The Rock nin on Naruto's shoulder squirmed weakly, unbalancing him, and Naruto spent a few seconds trying to keep his footing on wet sand. Grumbling, he hurried toward the bunch of dry seaweed that marked the upper tide limit.
"Aw hell. Jin, how long is your paste supposed to last?"
The boy swore between his clenched teeth. "Depends on metabolism. Dump him and let's go!"
Naruto growled at him, flashing his teeth. "I already told you no."
"But it's not even the highest tides!"
"I don't care -- aw, shit." The guy was squirming more now, nothing too bad yet, but it didn't help Naruto's balance much. Naruto veered toward a boulder that seemed to him like it would stand over the water, and tried to sit the guy in a crevice toward the top. It was awkward enough to unload the Rock ninja, so heavy and limp and frustrating with his floppiness, but it wasn't half as awkward as when the guy opened a blurry eye just as Naruto started feeling him up.
Naruto gave a guilty grin. "Uh. Token? Hey, I beat you fair and square."
The guy blinked fuzzily at Naruto, making a faint grimace -- and then his eyes latched onto something behind Naruto and he sneered and tried to lurch forward. The drugs were still acting, and the ropes were tight, so he barely flopped a little before falling back in the crevice.
"Huh?" Naruto looked over his shoulder. Jin stood there, shoulders hunched, as if trying to hide behind him.
"... Gimme mah -- mah ... 'm token back... Little bitch thief..."
Naruto blinked and watched the Rock ninja squirm. Well, he was kinda well-stuck for now. He wasn't gonna get free for a while. Naruto shrugged and jumped off the rock, holding out his hand to Jin. "Oh well, if you're the one who's got it. Pony up!"
The boy looked displeased, but he fished it out of his armband and handed it over. Grinning, Naruto stuffed it in his pocket and started walking.
He'd taken a dozen steps already by the time he noticed the way the other boy trailed behind. Eyes averted, shoulders a little slumped, Jin followed unenthusiastically. Naruto grimaced. "Hey, what are you moping about now?"
"I'm not moping!"
"Is it because I took that guy's token?"
Jin glared at him, and then deflated in a way Naruto found extremely alarming. "... No... You're right, you beat him and you saved me, you deserve it... It's not that."
Where was the yelling back and the hitting? Gah. Like Naruto knew anything about being comforting. Well, he could comfort Sakura just fine, but that usually implied cuddling and flirting, and, well, no. He risked a friendly tap on Jin's shoulder, and winced as the boy's lighter body was propelled forward. "Uh, sorry." Gah. What kind of man couldn't take a little back-slapping?
Jin sighed and shook his head. "... It's fine. It just helps driving it home some more."
"Uh, driving what?"
Jin looked away, making a vague hand gesture that Naruto had no clue how to interpret. "I'm so freaking girly." His voice was quiet, somber, so Naruto refrained from mentioning that Sakura was plenty girly and could still smash boulders into tiny little pieces. Not to mention Granny Tsunade and Gaara's scary sister. "I can't defend myself. I can't defend my teammates. I have to sneak around behind people's backs and flirt and be pretty --"
The boy took in a ragged breath, and Naruto winced, took a step closer. Damn it. He could inspire people just fine, but comfort them? Not a clue. "Aw, come on, man -- you, uh, you have your sleeping paste thing? And your eyes, it's good, you can see people coming --"
"And when they come I can't do anything to stop them!" The boy looked up at him, light gray eyes full of frustration and a hint of pain. "And Beni got injured and I have no clue how bad, and I couldn't do anything to shield Ki -- shit." Jin kicked a rock, and hung his head. His hair fell in sleek strands over his face, hiding his eyes from view. "How can I call myself a man when I can't do anything for them?"
Naruto winced again. Yeah, that he could understand, he thought. Being powerless, watching his precious people get hurt -- that had to be the most horrible feeling in the world. "Well, um, nothing says you've got to be a spy all your life, right? I mean, you'll have a growth spurt eventually, so you might as well start training now? Right? Uh, your teacher will understand if you explain it to him?"
Jin's hands trembled minutely, and he clenched them into fists. His shoulders shook briefly. Naruto flailed in alarm and grabbed them, trying to make the boy look up at him.
Instead, Jin bowed his head, pressed his forehead against Naruto's chest, just under his collarbone, and took in a shuddering breath. Naruto froze. Silken hair brushed his arm, and puffs of shaky breath warmed his t-shirt. Shit, shit, shit, what should he do? Anything he'd do for Sasuke or Sakura was non-applicable, and his buddies -- for Shika he'd just sit down beside him and wait; if Chouji did, Naruto would get Shika for him; Kiba'd never break down and lose face -- a punch to the shoulder would work; Lee -- maybe back-patting would...
He gave Jin's narrow back a cautious pat. The boy shuddered and moved a little closer. He seemed even smaller like this, curled up, as if asking for Naruto's protection.
That or comfort sex.
Except he didn't smell like sex. And not that much like distress either, actually, now that Naruto was paying attention to his scent. Naruto sighed, placed a hand on Jin's shoulder, and gave a warning squeeze.
"Oi, Jin. This hand had better be going for my ass and not for my token." Because a 'not interested, sorry' would hurt Jin a lot less than a punch in the face.
Sakura hadn't been in any kind of suiting frame of mind, so when she felt Sasuke's lips on her shoulder at first she didn't even get it. There were a few seconds of blank as her thoughts screeched to a stop, derailed from jealous anger to a kind of shocked little thrill.
Sasuke had just kissed her. It had been genuine -- approval and affection -- and entirely spontaneous. And, oh, she didn't even know where to start wondering.
So she wasn't really paying attention when Sasuke took point to direct them where the last of the kunoichi trio had fallen. But when the curly-haired blonde slowed down to her side, well, Sakura wasn't about to act grossly unprofessional in front of her, and like hell she would let the annoying girl see her flustered. Thankfully, she was pretty sure Kigane's back had been turned for the kiss...
Her unfriendly sideway look didn't seem to faze Kigane any. "So." The blonde smiled. "I just wanted to make sure, so I don't step on your toes again... Are you and Naruto-kun going out, or what?"
Sakura's eyelid twitched, her elation entirely snuffed out. Was Kigane trying to get in her good graces via girl talk? After that stunt with cuddling up to Naruto, all 'ooh, you big strong male, take me in your arms, protect me...' Urgh!
"I didn't even think you two might -- I mean, there was this rumor about you and another girl and the shower room, so I kind of assumed..."
Sakura's face caught on fire, and with it her only chance to categorically deny any of it. "H-how do you -- what makes you think I --"
Kigane waved a hand in denial as she trotted at Sakura's side. "Oh, please, there aren't many kunoichis with pink hair around the island, you know. Well, there's one with magenta and I think another with peach, but it was more orangeish."
This time, Sakura paled. "You thought I was a lesbian?!"
A few steps ahead, Sasuke's foot skipped on a stone and he almost messed up his landing. Sakura's mortification reached new heights.
"Come on, two girls, one shower stall, funny noises..."
Sasuke's shoulders twitched in a suspicious way and he made a quiet snorting noise. Sakura briefly wished to die.
Kigane caught sight of Sakura's face and winced, lifting her hands defensively. "Oh, there's nothing wrong about being a lesbian! Some of my good friends are lesbians. I mean, alright, like I told Naruto-kun, a Chuunin exam isn't the best place to come out, but..."
"I'm not a lesbian!"
Sasuke stopped pretending not to listen to the conversation, looking over his shoulder. Sakura looked away quickly, aware that she was blushing once again.
"Naruto came out, huh?" He quirked an eyebrow at the blonde. "When'd that happen?"
"Oh, we were just joking!" Kigane paused. "...I think."
Sasuke's lips twitched downward. Sakura knew Sasuke's expressions intimately, and this one only happened when he was trying to repress a smile. Curse him.
"Naruto's not ga -- not a girl! Crossdresser. Lesbian. Thing."
Kigane blinked innocently. "Transexual?"
"Yes -- no! He's not. He's a hundred percent man. He was just -- it was a henge. In the shower."
"Oooooh. Things totally make sense now."
Sakura, once upon a time, had been prepared to say there was nothing that would ever make her want to bite Sasuke. Or punch him a little. That was before she caught similar 'I'm not going to laugh, I'm not going to laugh' twitches on both his face and that boyfriend-stealing bimbo's.
She could have snarled something back -- something she would have regretted later, such as 'shouldn't you worry less about a stranger's sex life and more about how your teammate is bleeding out on those rocks?' -- but then she caught sight of the teammate in question, and her foolish embarrassment disappeared, along with any intention of making light of the situation.
"Sasuke-kun. Perimeter check," she snapped without looking away from the prone girl, all joking forgotten. "You, come with me." Sakura leaped up the series of jutting boulders, going straight for the unmoving body caught on the slope.
The trail of gravel and torn plants was clear, as was the blood tracked down the slope; if the girl hadn't managed -- or been lucky enough -- to get her spear's butt stuck in a crack and wedge her body underneath, she would have slid all the way down to the bottom. Or at least all the way to the closest sharp-edged boulders. The way the brunette lay curled around the wood shaft, Sakura hoped the impact hadn't been violent enough to break her floating ribs.
"Beni-chan!" All elegance or daintiness forgotten, the blonde scrambled up to her teammate on hands and feet, kicking up dust and loose pebbles.
There was nothing to easily stick to; a shallow chakra hold would only mean more earth and small rocks would come down with you. Sakura spread her area of contact, reaching down vertically with her chakra so she could get to the packed earth underneath.
"Don't touch her." She stepped up slowly, making sure of every hold. Kigane slid back down, bumping against her leg. Sakura's hold strained for a second as rocks shifted under her heel, and then stabilized. "... There. Don't move. Beni? I'm a medic-nin." Sakura's heartbeat sped up for a second. She wasn't -- she just wasnt, not yet. But she had some training, and that would have to be enough. "I'm going to touch you now."
She leaned forward, placing the back of her hand against the brunette's lips. For a second, she didn't feel anything, and then there was a puff of breath. Another. She counted.
"She's breathing," she said neutrally. No red foam at her lips. Hopefully her lungs were fine. "Kigane, I need you to find another hold. You're in my way."
The blonde moved to the side and skidded down to the closest rock -- laughably easy to control, for one who wasn't already injured. Beni really hadn't needed any of those wounds aggravated. Sakura braced herself for what she might find, and moved closer, pulling off her gloves and tucking them in her belt pouch.
First, check up the skeleton. Green haloed her hands, which she ran lightly over the girl's skull -- no swelling in her brain; good -- down her shoulders and dangling legs. She had to reach up and over to be able to check on her spine -- no break, no swelling. Sakura breathed a little more easily. The ribs were more difficult to access, with how Beni curled on her side around the spear, but Sakura reached her chakra farther until she could have a clear image of them. She found a crack; they'd have to be careful not to let it splinter, Sakura had never learned how to heal bones and she wasn't willing to wing it. No, she was only sure of herself with flesh wounds.
She had her work cut out for her. The girl had been stabbed just over the hip, her arms and legs showed more abrasions than whole skin, one of her knees was sprained, and her abdomen was one giant, painfully deep bruise. Sakura looked up at Sasuke, perched at the top of the hill. "Her spine is fine. We'll move her. Kigane, try to prepare somewhere comfortable up there."
The girl opened her mouth to speak, but in the end she went, her face a picture of worry. Sasuke came down the side, to avoid showering them in dust, and joined Sakura. She'd caught the flash of Sharingan, so she wasn't surprised when he grasped the way she held steady on the loose soil right away. Cheater.
Sakura pulled the light canvas they used to ward off the rain out of her pouch as she considered it. She wasn't sure; Tsunade had never covered it. Beni's position wasn't the best. They couldn't roll her on her back since it was uphill and she would slide right out of the improvised stretcher, and if she rolled downhill, she would fall face down on her cracked ribs and injured arms before she rolled on her back again.
"We'll slip that between her and the spear, try to get it under her as much as possible, then we block her body with our legs and the cloth and pull the spear out... Then we'll see. Her ribs are cracked, so be careful," she cautioned.
Sasuke worked Beni's legs in the folded stretcher in silence, following Sakura's slow and cautious lead.
"That's where I'm missing Naruto," she commented quietly. "It would be so much easier with you two holding the ends, we could make her slide right in." She looked up; she didn't think Kigane's arms were strong enough to hold steady, and she didn't trust the girl's chakra hold either. Oh, it wasn't too difficult for anyone who knew how to water-walk, but Sakura wasn't prepared to risk it just yet.
Eventually, Beni was loaded on the improvised stretcher, laying straight enough that Sakura wasn't afraid they'd break her ribs. They carried her up. Kigane had prepared a hollow, up where the slope softened, kicked rocks away and pulled grass and leaves to cushion the ground a bit.
Kigane sank to her knees beside her teammates, a hand on her mouth as she took in the drying blood and abraded skin. "Oh, oh Beni-chan..." she whispered, caressing the brunette's forehead lightly.
"Most of that is skin-deep," Sakura commented dispassionately as she crouched on the other side of the unconscious girl. "Do you have any water? It needs to be cleaned."
Kigane pulled a gourd out of her skin pouch and handed it to Sakura, who frowned slightly as it sloshed. Not a lot of water left, but she wasn't going to use her own water to clean up a rival.
The stab wound was mostly clean, but she made sure no dirt stuck to the lips of the wound before she started working on closing it. "Try getting the gravel out," she told the other girl absently. "As much of it as you can."
Kigane's eyes roamed over the larges stretches of scratches, dust and blood stuck together around shredded bandages. She sucked in her breath, and nodded. "... Okay."
Sakura spared an uncharitable thought on the girl's uneasy silence and vaguely green face -- it was a cruel thought, but this Kigane was much better than the Kigane giggling in Naruto's ear -- and pushed her awareness of anything but the wound out of her mind.
Beni woke up at some point, but Kigane petted her hair until she relaxed again. She didn't make a sound. Sakura sealed the last of the stab wound and started picking out gravel and washing off various debris.
"Stupid bandages... 'sposed to prevent that..."
Sakura arched an eyebrow and picked cloth fibers out of a scabbing scratch; Beni was in enough general pain that she didn't notice the twinge. "It would have been a lot worse without them." She eyed the girl's skin thoughtfully. A lot of the damage was on the same side, where she'd slid; the rest was just a couple of scratches. She nudged Beni to lean on that side and started in on what she could reach of her back. "I'll close the ones that might scar, but I can't waste the chakra needed to close everything."
There had been internal bruising to fix, too. That one, Tsunade hadn't exactly taught her -- but it was close enough to flesh mending for her purposes. She'd been careful.
"Can't do anything for your ribs, though. We'll bandage them tight, but you'll have to pay attention."
Beni grunted and closed her eyes. Sakura wasn't sure she was in any state to listen, but hopefully Kigane would remind her.
Picking out gravel was a long, painstaking process, and a rather gross one at that. Sakura would have blood under her nails for days, she just knew it, and there were so many little bits of flesh and flaps of skin that only held by a string. It didn't really bother her, not until Kigane found a pot of salve to combat infection in Beni's pack.
The salve was a creamy white paste, one whose components were known to Sakura, all perfectly safe and appropriate.
The scent hit her nose, and suddenly she could smell everything, the thick, cloying salve that seemed to gather at the back of her mouth, the sourness of the binding agent, and the heavy smell of raw meat. Human meat.
Very professionally, Sakura sat back on her heels, wiped her hands on a length of bandage, swiveled around in a precise half-circle, and threw up.
Sasuke was at her side in an instant. "Sakura?"
"It's nothing," she said, and sipped a mouthful of water to rinse her teeth.
Sasuke moved loose earth over the incriminating spot with his foot, dampening the stink of stomach acid. He stepped a little closer, his leg brushing her shoulder. "Are you sure?"
Sakura spared a little smile for him. "Uh huh. Just, you know."
Sasuke's eyes softened a little, and his voice went quiet, a little teasing. "Bothersome. It's not even morning."
Sakura chuckled a little and rubbed at her temples. She was lower on chakra than she'd thought. She turned back to the wounded. Kigane was still holding the pot, staring at her.
"... Uh. Has it gone bad?"
"No, it's fine," Sakura said, and hoped she wouldn't have to explain herself.
"Are you sick -- oh! By 'morning,' you meant..." Kigane's vaguely interested expression became confused, and a lot more serious. "... You're pregnant?"
... Damn it. Sasuke's voice hadn't been quiet enough. Why wasn't she paying attention to her teammate, damn it? Alright, maybe keeping on applying a salve that made your medic throw up was a bad idea...
"Yes," Sakura growled, and hoped her tone was forbidding enough. It wasn't any of Kigane's business. "The salve. Are you trying to have it dry out?"
Kigane started applying it on clean scratches again; Sakura went back to cleaning dirty areas. "Don't put it on too thick," she commented neutrally, though she still frowned. She had absolutely zero interest in becoming friends with that team. Especially Kigane.
"D'you start thinking of names yet?"
Sakura stared down at Beni, who lay stiff and wincing, and grinned ruefully at her.
Beni's features were strained with pain and exhaustion, but she managed a little smirk anyway. "Baby. Names?"
Kigane blinked and smiled too. "Oh, that's right! I mean, you're not very far along right now, I don't think? It doesn't show. But maybe you've thought about it anyway?"
Sasuke twitched and retreated to a boulder a dozen steps away. Sakura barely noticed; she was still trying to get her brain in gear.
Baby... Names? ... For the... baby?
... For her child?
... Oh. Oh.
She'd forgotten a little, she thought, that it wasn't only a growing lump of cells that made her get sick and demanded so many difficult sacrifices. It was a little person-to-be, too.
It needed -- he or she needed -- a name, too. A name to represent them -- him, her.
"Uh, doc?" Beni said, tone dry and amused. Sakura blinked down at her uncomprehendingly. "That's still attached."
Sakura looked down at her hand, and realized she was trying to pull out some skin along with the bit of straw stuck there. "Oh crap, I'm sorry! I didn't mean --"
"Eh, hurts everywhere right now. 'S okay."
Sakura cringed guiltily. It was because Beni hurt everywhere that she shouldn't make it worse! Sakura feathered soothing green chakra along Beni's side, closing more scratches as an apology. The girl relaxed a little, closing her eyes to enjoy the momentary relief.
Sakura took the salve from Kigane and started applying to Beni's legs as the blonde updated her friends on everything that happened from the moment she was knocked down and left behind. Sakura pretended not to listen, offering them some privacy as her mind kept running. A baby, a child, a person. Sakura felt dizzy. One day a teenager, and then her age, older even...
"And then we came back and found you pinned to the side of the hill, my god, don't ever scare me like that again." Kigane shot an angry look at Sasuke, who barely deigned to glance back before he turned his attention back on their surroundings. "... Someone could have taken a second to pull you up before you fell," she told Beni, who chuckled and immediately regretted it.
"Oww. S'okay, Ki-chan..."
"She should have been fine," Sasuke said, glancing at them over his shoulder. From him, Sakura knew it was almost an apology, an acknowledgement that his assessment had been wrong. Kigane's eyes narrowed.
"Yeah, there was a big rock underneath," Beni acknowledged easily. "Just wasn't rooted as deep as it looked, I guess."
"Two seconds later and I would have arrived in time to see that guy cut you in two," Sasuke said, vaguely annoyed. "You'd rather I had wasted the time?"
"And since we're talking about unpleasant things anyway," Sakura cut her off before an argument could explode, "This taxed a lot more of my chakra than I can casually spare. So that will be two tokens."
The blonde really didn't look as friendly and easily approachable when she glared, stiff with offense. "Her ribs are still broken and she can't even walk! That's not worth two tokens."
Sakura's eyes narrowed. She didn't need to break eye contact to know that Sasuke was slowly moving to stand at her back, silent, his presence enough of a threat that he didn't need to say a thing.
"Kigane-san," Sakura said, and smiled as gently as she could fake. She was out of patience with her, and with that nausea and the baby talk and the chakra depletion and everything else. "You can either give us the second token, or we can take it. We're not willing to see other Konoha ninjas die, but that's as far as we're going to be taken advantage of."
"And you think she won't die, if she has to lay here for a week waiting for the test to end?! She can't even breathe without pain!"
Sakura scowled, false smile melting off. "Fine. I can't fix her ribs. I'll throw in a healing for either the knee or the skin. Your choice, Beni. Be aware I can't fix the knee entirely. Muscles and skin are one thing, ligaments another. It still won't heal entirely without rest."
She looked down at the exhausted brunette, who watched them fight with an air of weary cynicism.
"... Knee. Rather be able to move. Gotta hike."
Kigane gave her a worried look, but ultimately nodded, though with visible reluctance. "Fine. A second token."
Sasuke was frowning, as if asking 'are you sure?' Sakura nodded and gave him a brief smile. She was going to be tired, but nothing huge. She just wasn't willing to drain herself to the brink of exhaustion for anyone not part of Team Seven. She still had some leeway.
"Okay. Hand them over first."
Unhappily, Kigane fished a little purse out of her obi-like belt and handed two of the copper disks inside to her. Sakura stuffed them in her pocket, noticing without surprise that she'd lied when she told them Jin was the one keeping them for the team.
Healing the knee took a little more concentration than she'd hoped; ligaments were complex things. Still, she pushed herself to the limits of Tsunade's teachings, because she had her pride, damn it.
Besides, there would still be the cracked ribs and general soreness to make sure they didn't try to backstab Team Seven.
She hadn't really been aware that Sasuke was a little tense; but she noticed when he relaxed. "Here comes Naruto. Not too soon," he added with fake annoyance.
For a second she wondered what kind of baby names he would prefer. Sakura nodded, and kept working. It wasn't the right time for those thoughts.
Almost done... Almost... There! When she sat up in triumph and wiped her forehead, Naruto was standing at her side and looking mildly concerned. She took him in quickly -- no wounds, though he would heal fast on his own, no torn clothes. It seemed to have gone easily. Clothes dirty, hair in disarray, Jin looked a little frazzled, but more grouchy than injured.
He wouldn't look Naruto in the eye. Oh, who cared. Naruto was back, he was safe, and he'd gotten the boy back safe and sound. Sakura climbed up on her feet and smiled. "What took you so long, slowpoke?"
She was pretty sure all his baby names would be utterly ridiculous. She looked forward to hearing them, almost enough to forgive him the bathroom lesbian fiasco.
She kept smiling up until Sasuke stepped up to them, stone-faced, and plucked a single meter-long, smoke-gray hair off their boyfriend's T-shirt.
It could have been meaningless. They'd been in a fight; accidental crashes happened. Naruto could have picked Jin up to throw him to safety. Hell, Jin could have been combing his hair in an air draft, with Naruto at the other end.
But none of it would have made Naruto cringe.
He didn't look guilty, though, he looked a little pained, as if knowing what this looked like, and having no good defense, and already bracing himself for the backlash.
"... Argh!" Sakura snarled, whirling to face the little trio. "First that blonde bimbo, and now you!" She slapped her fist into her palm, but Sasuke's shoulder checked her before she could think about pouncing. How could he not be livid? She was livid! "I swear if you two ever put the moves on Naruto again ...! And you." Sakura pointed. Beni blinked. "I fixed your body, I can break it again!"
"Chill, I'm not interested." Sakura narrowed her eyes suspiciously; Beni chuckled weakly. "I don't date guys who are smaller than me."
Sakura huffed and crossed her arms. Naruto touched her shoulder, and made a little grimace. "Sakura-chan -- I didn't --"
"I know you didn't, but he did!"
"Well, um, it's kind of his job..."
Turning to glare down Naruto with his stupid, undermining honor and facts that were getting in the way of her righteous anger, Sakura didn't understand what Sasuke was doing at first, when he stepped closer and touched her hip.
Then, as he lifted his prize in the air, she wondered how she had inherited one of Jin's hair.
Except it wasn't a hair. It was way too thin, floated more like spider-web, and almost entirely transparent.
... It also came from her pocket. The one where she'd stuffed their newly gained tokens. And as Sasuke gently tugged on the ... hair, strand, wire, the tokens slipped free, dangling from the sticky tip of the wire.
Kigane gave them a sheepish grin. "Hey, I had to try, right?"
Four copper tokens chimed in Sasuke's hand as he strolled casually in the general direction of the lighthouse in the distance. Sakura stomped along at his side, more than ready to leave the kunoichi team far, far behind. Naruto was still grinning in relief of not having been blamed, and she felt a little bad for that, for him thinking they trusted him so little.
"Sakura, Naruto, you still have yours?"
Sakura was pretty sure that if anyone had tried to get at her breasts, she would have noticed, but she checked for her personal token anyway, brushing her hand discreetly against the underside of her bra. She got a leer from Naruto for her trouble. "... I have mine."
Naruto tapped his forehead protector. "Got mine too. I'm gonna have a circle branded on my forehead in the end, I swear."
"Plus their three, plus that Rock ninja's... Only two more to get," Sasuke commented as he threw one new token each to his teammates. Sakura snatched hers up and turned away so that Naruto couldn't ogle as she slipped it in her bra. She'd forgotten Sasuke could, and she blushed, but at least the glance he snuck down her top was more discreet.
"Heh. We rule!" Naruto lifted a fist in victory, then slouched a little. "Still, I feel kind of evil, for ruining their chances like that. We shoulda targeted another team, one not from our village..."
"They deserved it for not knowing when to quit," Sakura growled. "We saved their skins and fixed them, and they still tried to trick us. There's a difference between being generous and being a sucker."
Sasuke shrugged. "They would have been eliminated anyway. Just with more blood."
"Hey, you don't know that," Naruto replied halfheartedly.
Sasuke rolled his eyes in annoyance. "Know what? If we end up with too many tokens, you're welcome to offer the surplus to random losers."
"Except it will mean more enemies for the tournament," Sakura commented. Naruto and Sasuke gave her a look like she was missing the point.
"That's bad how?"
"That's supposed to be bad?"
They blinked at each other and gave each other half-serious glares. Sakura sighed heavily and allowed them to lead the way. Men.
Now that she was a little less angry, she did feel slightly bad for snatching the token bag out of Kigane's hand and declaring it payment for use of Naruto, and for trying to fool them again after they'd gone out of their way to save their teammates' lives. Well, Beni probably wouldn't have died, but she would have gotten an infection and spent a few more weeks recovering, at the very least. And maybe the Rock guy would have only beat Jin up instead of gutting him... And Sakura was tired, and cranky, and hungry except she was also feeling slightly sick again. And pregnant. She felt pregnant, too, not that she would have had a clue how to describe it, whether it was a physical sensation or a passing mood brought about by another chemical imbalance or purely in her head.
She lifted a hand to her belly, felt for the almost invisible curve there. "... Hey, guys..."
Sasuke and Naruto paused and turned to look at her, puzzled by her soft tone.
"For a girl, what do you think of Nadeshiko?"
[Chapter 3] [Chapter 5 ]